Chapter Twenty Six
‘I wish I could tell you how to be brave. I tried. It didn’t work. Maybe it did, a little. You seem more you, at least.’
The letter was open on a scrubbed wooden kitchen table. A pair of delicate hands held the corners down lightly.
‘I know you think I don’t love you sometimes. I will always love you. You’re just everything I tried not to become. And don’t take that the wrong way. You’re always jumping the gun. Hear me out this time.’
The hands holding the letter tightened the slightest bit.
‘I had to be strong the moment Dad died. You came and rode with me to the hospital, but you had already checked out. You were there physically, but mentally you had died with Dad.’
A tear slid down the nose of the reader and landed on the lined paper.
‘And I get that. I truly do. You just lost the love of your life. You lost part of yourself. And if you hadn’t needed me so much, if you hadn’t placed so much trust in me to keep us going, I would have fell into the same hole. I’m grateful for how you handled it, Mum. Though I was angry and sad and manipulative as a kid as a result, I realize now that you helped me become independent. You actually did wonders for me, Mum.’
Bailey’s mother smiled. She wiped another tear from her cheek and continued reading.
‘I didn’t want to be like you. I didn’t want to be scared of everything. I was scared of driving around corners and of tight spaces—elevators, obviously—and I still am a bit, but I had to keep this family intact. I knew that if I could do that for you then, you would do it for me in the future.’
The letter rose off the table and came to hover a few feet from Bailey’s mother’s face. Her hands were shaking.
‘And you did, Mum. You needed time to heal. I think those twenty years that you checked out, I think that was the best thing you could have done. You felt your emotions. You dealt with the sadness as it came over you. I was sad too, and confused as to why my mum wasn’t brushing my hair anymore or why she didn’t wait up for me when I went out on a date. But I realize now that you were giving me time to heal, too.’
A car honked outside. It was Tuesday evening. Bailey had gone back to work the day before, and her mum had gone back to her own house. The sun was setting. The letter Bailey had written continued onto the back of the page. Her mother flipped it over.
‘I’m writing this because I wanted to thank you. I think you’re strong enough now to know something else, too. I said I couldn’t tell you how to be brave; I think you did it yourself. You came to me when I needed you. You put your life on hold for me. And I think now is the right time, Mum. You can do it.’
The hands holding the letter almost dropped it.
‘You’re strong enough. You’re brave enough. Go visit Dad.’
Bailey knew this letter might not go over well with her mother. All the progress they had made together the past week and a half could go out the window. But Bailey had to hope. Visiting her husband was probably the last thing her mother had to do before she was herself again. The mother Bailey knew as a young child.
She knew the damage that her mother’s depression had caused both of them couldn’t go away because of a touching letter. It wouldn’t be erased because they spent more than a few days together making peace rather than war—silent or bickering. Bailey just hoped that she’d be seeing more of her mother soon.
The day before, Sam ran into Bailey in the hospital’s locker room. She was excited that Bailey was back. Ace was a gentleman, she told her, but he was nothing like Dane. Bailey had to laugh at Sam’s weak attempt at cheering her up, as Bailey had just gotten into work and was dreading going to see Ace.
“What if he thinks I was avoiding him?” Bailey asked her.
“No,” Bailey replied truthfully, shaking her head. She sat on the bench. Sam plopped herself next to her.
“Then why are you nervous? If you weren’t avoiding him, he should understand that you were out because you were sick,” Sam reasoned.
Bailey should have been reassured by this. She hadn’t really been avoiding Ace, not intentionally. She hadn’t wanted to be off his case in the first place. But with all the time that had been overlooked when Bailey was at home, would seeing him be awkward?
“It’s only awkward if you make it awkward,” Sam said politically. There was a barely-held-back waggle to her eyebrows.
“I didn’t do anything.”
“You never do anything.”
“I know.” Sam smiled and reached for her pager; it had just gone off. “Arrington needs me in General. You can take my shift with Ace.”
She stood and held out a hand for Bailey. Bailey took it, her mouth hanging open. There were dozens of exclamations and reasons why she shouldn’t see Ace, but Bailey couldn’t say a single one. She took that as a sign that she had to see him. Noting the resolve in Bailey’s eyes, Sam nodded her approval.
“Just talk to him. He misses you,” she told Bailey. Sam let go of Bailey’s hand; it dropped back to her side. “Don’t forget to tell me about it afterwards, okay?”
Bailey nodded mutely.
“We can have dinner at my place.”
Again, Bailey only nodded. Sam walked over to the door and opened it. She turned back and said, “Hurry up before you’re late!” with a wink as she closed the door behind her.
Nurse Brown was welcomed back with open arms. The rest of the staff hadn’t seen Bailey yet—she’d been very careful to avoid eye contact with anyone until she’d slipped into the locker room—and the only one who had talked to her was Sam. But as Bailey walked in a slightly panicked daze through the halls of the first floor and then up the stairs, nurse after nurse and attending after resident smiled at her. They were actually happy that she was back at work. No one seemed angry or jealous that she’d had paid leave, and they didn’t seem suspicious of her.
Luckily, there weren’t any whispers behind Bailey’s back. Mathews wasn’t mentioned by anyone she passed. Sam had saved her from a morning of torture; Arrington must have had a staff meeting to talk about how to handle the subject when Bailey returned. He was the Head of Surgery now that Mathews was gone. Bailey was happy for him. He was an excellent surgeon; he deserved it, maybe more than Mathews had. And Sam had probably threatened to break anyone’s nose if they dared to mention him in front of Bailey.
“Bailey.” A familiar voice gripped Bailey and she snapped back to the present. “You look tired.”
She was standing in Ace’s room. The door behind her was open but she couldn’t hear the commotion of the busy hallway around it. Bailey’s eyes found Ace’s. He was lying in bed, a thin sheet over his chest and the rest of his body. He looked okay. He looked…tired.
But his smiled erased any worry Bailey had had about awkwardness. Was she going to cry? She could feel tears welling up against the lids of her eyes. Was she going to let Ace see her cry? Bailey sniffled and grinned sheepishly, pulling the door closed behind her.
“I’ve been better,” she told Ace. Bailey glided over to him and sat on his bed. “You look like you’ve been through the wringer.”
Ace laughed. “You could say that,” he said. He searched her eyes. “Are you feeling well?”
“Yes, thanks.” When Ace put his hand brazenly on top of hers, she flinched, but didn’t pull away. “Ace…”
“Hear me out.”
Bailey suppressed the smile that the recognition triggered with difficulty. “Go ahead,” she said reluctantly.
Ace wiggled himself into a sitting position. “Gemma hasn’t been seen since you left,” he began. His voice was strong but his quickened heartbeat gave him away on the monitor. “I’ve tried calling her, to help the authorities, of course. They wanted my utmost cooperation.”
Bailey waited as Ace gathered his thoughts. His heart slowed a bit.
“My inheritance won’t be void if we call it quits. There’s nothing between the lines in my father’s will that outlines that. I know she has to be present to sign the divorce papers, and if she’s in jail, the process could become much more arduous than it needs to be.”
A flood of images overtook Bailey’s eyes. She began to imagine Gemma behind bars. The prissy, perfect Barbie doll had old, caked makeup on her face. Her hair was unkempt instead of its usual pristine waves. The bright orange jumpsuit didn’t flatter her figure at all. She was sitting on her mattress with a mix of moroseness and fury in her eyes. Meanwhile, there were jeers and catcalls from the other female inmates floating on the air.
They knew this place wasn’t for her. They knew she wasn’t like them. Gemma’s mind was much sharper than theirs, but she would never get her immaculately-manicured hands dirty like they would.
Bailey also began to imagine what came before that most invigorating scene. Bailey could see Gemma’s pen swishing delicately over the divorce paper signature line. She could imagine the disgust and unwillingness on her face as Ace signed it as well. There wasn’t anything around them. All was black. Only their hands and the paper on the sleek wooden table could be seen. The light shifted, and Gemma’s sneering, beautiful face swam into view.
Bailey shook her head to clear it. What if they got to Gemma first, forced her to sign the divorce papers, before she was carted off to jail? But what would happen then? Would Bailey be relieved? There was still the hospital’s policy of no employee-patient relationships she’d have to get around.
She could be fired. Bailey chanced a peek at Ace. He was staring at her. Like before, he wasn’t glaring. He wasn’t angry or suspicious or apprehensive. Ace was just waiting for her to say something.
If she was going into it, she might as well go all out and learn more about him. The small smile on his lips gave Bailey the courage to say what she did next. “What did you do as a kid? I mean, you told me you had some interesting friends, but you didn’t tell me what you did to land in the hospital so often.”
“Well,” Ace said, a little taken aback, “we crashed my parents’ car when I was ten. That left me with a broken arm and a few busted ribs.”
“I broke my finger slamming my door in my mum’s face,” Bailey added. When Ace’s smile turned into a snort, she giggled. “I put too much force behind it, a’right?”
“What else, Mr. Show-Off?”
Ace grinned and said, “I shot me mate in the foot with a firecracker, which led to a brawl that left a few teeth knocked out.”
“Your teeth look fine to me.”
Ace licked his tongue across the front row of his teeth. “I got some great implants,” he informed her, starting to laugh. “That was quite funny, actually.” He gasped and clutched at his chest.
“What’s wrong?” Bailey stood and fluttered her hands anxiously above him. “Do you need more morphine?”
Ace’s order left both him and Bailey pink in the face. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“I apologize, Bailey. Because…because I was in and out of the hospital so often, I—”
“Tell me what else you did,” Bailey interrupted. She could tell that Ace hadn’t meant to bark at her, but she also realized that this must have been the reason Ace wanted to keep lowering his medication; whatever the reason, it pained him to think about it.
Ace smiled gratefully. “When we were sixteen,” he said, “me mates and I stole a car. We were piss drunk, of course, so we ran from the cops. Was stupid, that was. My parents bailed us out, naturally, but the owner of the car found us and gave us a good beating.”
He patted the bed beside him.
“I got so drunk once that I needed my stomach pumped,” Bailey challenged. Ace’s disbelieving expression pushed Bailey to add, “And that night I moved out of my mum’s.”
Ace’s eyebrows pulled up in the middle sympathetically. “What happened?”
“We had a row.”
“And? It must have been about something important if it made you drink that much.”
“It was about Dad.” Bailey caught herself from saying any more. She wanted to tell Ace how bad that fight had been. She wanted to tell him that she regretted saying everything she had towards her mother. But something stopped her.
It was probably the same reason Ace couldn’t tell her about the morphine.
“Another time, perhaps,” Ace said quietly. His blue eyes were calm. “I’m healing well, at least.” He gestured grandly to the bandages across his chest. “Arrington thinks I’ll be out in a few days.”
Alarm shot through Bailey like electricity. It was inappropriate, constricting, overwhelming. She wasn’t ready for him to leave the hospital. But…if he left, that meant that they could have a normal life together. A bubble of excitement started to rise from her toes; it settled, nuzzling, in her chest. Bailey felt like purring.
But… Worry began to darken the wonderful glowing sensation she was cradling. Would Bailey be able to handle dating a real person again? Inside this hospital, Bailey felt a sense of control. Outside the hospital, the only control she had was in her apartment or out on a run.
She could function normally, yes, but Bailey was still shaken from her father’s death and their accident. She’d never get over that. She put up a front so that everyone around her stayed happy. Bailey wasn’t used to disrupting the calm. A relationship with Ace would certainly disrupt the calm.
Bailey’s mother had only come back into her life a short while ago; they were still figuring each other out. They were a different case, though. Both Bailey and her mother had lost Robert, so they knew a bit better now how to interact amongst themselves. Both mother and daughter could handle the other’s emotions—somewhat—because their emotions were on the same wavelength.
“Bailey.” Ace’s soft voice brought her thoughts back to him. “You were gone for a few minutes. Where’d you go?” he asked gently.
“I was…” What could Bailey tell him? The truth wouldn’t scare him. It was he who’d thought of the relationship in the first place. She had to tell him. “I was—”
The door burst open and Bailey was on her feet. Gemma was standing in the doorway. She looked quite close to Bailey’s daydream, just without the jumpsuit.
“Get away from my husband,” she ordered Bailey. Her hands were curled like talons.
“You showed,” Bailey pointed out. Amazingly, she was calmer than she thought she’d be when this moment came. Through all the times she imagined Ace and Gemma breaking it off, or the times where Gemma was caught by the cops and thrown in jail, there was one thing Bailey knew to be true: she had to keep Gemma talking. Someone somewhere should have noticed Gemma’s return to the hospital.
“What do you mean, I showed?” Gemma glared. “I was away on business when that doctor went berserk. I came as soon as I heard—”
“I tried calling you,” Ace muttered from behind Bailey. “And she doesn’t work,” he told her.
“Oh, she doesn’t, does she? You should have been here every day that Ace was here,” Bailey accused, pointing at Gemma. She had to keep Ace’s wife’s attention on her. Bailey didn’t want Ace to fall for Gemma’s trap again. “Why weren’t you here?”
“He was in a coma the last time I visited,” Gemma seethed. She ignored Bailey’s question. “You should have called me when he woke up!”
“You stand there and accuse me, but where, may I ask, were you?” Bailey inquired again, an edge to her voice.
“How dare you! What do you think I was doing?”
“Well, you just lied to us, Gem,” Ace piped. “Where were you?”
Bailey could hear running footsteps in the halls beyond their room and she knew she had to continue distracting Gemma.
“I will dare as much as I’d like!” Bailey countered. Gemma had taken a threatening step towards her, but Bailey held her ground. “You only wanted me to inform you if Ace died, not if he woke up. You stand there and pretend like you’d interested in his well-being, but all you care about—”
“Ace, Baby, tell her!” Fake, blubbering tears welled in Gemma’s eyes. She looked over Bailey’s shoulder to her husband.
He shrugged his shoulders as much as he could with the bandages. “Tell her what?” he asked her.
“That I didn’t try to kill you! We’ve known each other since we were kids!”
“Save your tears for someone who cares,” Bailey hissed. She had had enough of Gemma’s games. The footsteps were getting closer. Bailey had to make sure the police got there before Gemma decided to run for it.
All at once, Gemma’s demeanor changed. Her sneer was back in place. “Fine. Big whoop. I wanted to know if you keeled over. Wouldn’t any wife want to know that?” she sassed, flicking the tears from her eyes with the tips of her fingers.
“But I didn’t try to kill you! Mathews did,” she continued hotly. “And why would I kill her? She’s just some nurse who should be fired for fooling around with a patient.” Gemma winked at Bailey; she knew Ace couldn’t see her from where he sat on the bed.
“You knew that if I healed from my injuries, you couldn’t collect the share of inheritance our marriage promised you,” Ace said. He hadn’t spoken in some time. Bailey turned in amazement. He hadn’t told her that before. “It’s been five years—”
“Why didn’t you divorce her after your brother died?” This was something Bailey hadn’t really thought about. If five years had gone by since Brady died, why was he still with her?
But she leapt in front of Ace as Gemma suddenly launched herself towards him with a snarl. Over her shoulder, Bailey saw a uniformed officer poke his head around the corner. It was Stevens. He motioned with his hand: keep her talking.
Bailey struggled to keep Gemma away from Ace. “You wanted his inheritance, didn’t you? You were plenty rich, but you needed just a bit more. What was it for?” she asked her. She grabbed Gemma’s small shoulders and forced her to stand still. “What was so special that you’d kill for it?”
“Let me go, you bitch!” Gemma stalled.
“You’ve known Ace since you were children,” Bailey growled. “Were you always this greedy, or did you become this monster after you learned Ace was going to use his inheritance to save his little brother instead of spending it on you?”
That hit a chord. “I wanted Brady to get better!” Gemma cried. She wrenched herself away from Bailey. Her chest was heaving with emotion.
“Did you threaten him once he wanted a divorce?” Bailey yelled. “Did you pay up to have him framed? Why did you stay with her?” Bailey turned back to Ace, incredulous.
Ace’s hands came up to frame his counter but Gemma got there first. The shouting match was giving Bailey whiplash. “Ace was too busy with his idiot friends and my stupid brother to get there in time! He let his brother die and I wanted to take something from him so he knew how it felt!”
There was a tense silence. Bailey sat on the bed next to Ace. It felt like all the air had been let out of her lungs. “Is…is that true?” she whispered.
Ace was stunned that the tables had been turned on him. “I… no—that’s not… Bailey, I tried to give him the best care!” His face was slowly reddening. “I made some poor decisions a few years ago, I admit it,” he continued, “but I did not kill Brady!”
“You were in a coma when his vitals went south!” Gemma bellowed. “He died two weeks after you were discharged. Did you really think all that care that late in his treatment would really help him?”
Bailey looked from Gemma’s outraged, tear-streaked face to Ace’s white, ashamed one. Should she believe Gemma? “Why do you care what happened? I was under the impression that you didn’t care about Ace or his family. You just wanted the money,” Bailey questioned stonily. This didn’t make sense. Why was Gemma so angry at Ace? Had she really loved Brady in a way that she never felt for Ace?
“If you killed Ace,” she continued in a weak whisper, “having his money stolen wouldn’t matter. He’d be dead. It wouldn’t matter.”
Gemma knew she’d been cornered, but she recklessly threw caution to the wind. “I didn’t want Mathews to kill him! I was going to figure out a way to get Ace’s lawyers to believe he was dead so I could get his money,” she told them.
Stevens peaked around the corner then, and Bailey narrowed her eyes desperately and shook her head the tiniest bit. He disappeared around the corner once more.
“You wanted me brain-dead,” Ace said in a shocked voice.
Bailey watched as a vein pulsed in Gemma’s forehead. Her heart sank so fast that she gasped. “Why? Why would you do something like that to him, Gemma?” Bailey insisted. Her chest was tight and she willed herself to stay conscious. The thought of Ace lying in a bed, his body alive but his mind, his soul, not inside him anymore…She couldn’t black out now. There wasn’t anything keeping Gemma from attacking both her and Ace if Bailey went under.
“Father’s will states that if I was brain-dead, that would suffice as being dead,” Ace said in a hollow voice. That brought Bailey back. It anchored her to stay alert. His voice was the only thing grounding her. “Once our five-year anniversary came around, she’d get a sizeable amount transferred directly into her back account. But if I was on life support…my entire inheritance would go to Gemma.”
“Not even brain-dead. In a coma so deep that the doctors wouldn’t know if he’d wake up,” Gemma spat. “And when he did wake up, because no amount of morphine can knock Ace out anymore, he’d have to live with being poor. I’d be so far away that—”
“I’ve heard enough,” came a deep voice from around the corner. Officer Stevens stepped around it and had his hand on his pistol.
“Damn it,” Gemma grunted, arms locking at her sides. She let out an incoherent growl of frustration.
“Got enough?” Bailey asked Stevens. She held in her snort of amusement, just in case Gemma lost it; she was still a danger to everyone in the room. Though Bailey didn’t like her, she certainly didn’t want another death-by-cop in the hospital.
He nodded. “We recorded every word,” he told her. “Mrs. Owens, you’re under arrest for two counts of attempted murder.” When he stepped forward with handcuffs, Gemma shrieked,
“Two?! Mathews tried to kill this bitch, not me!”
“He was your hired gun,” Bailey told her as Stevens wrestled Gemma into the cuffs. “He tried to kill me. You should’ve chosen your assassin a bit better.”
“I want a lawyer!”
“You have the right to remain silent,” Stevens snapped. He tugged Gemma out into the hall. Her wails echoed through the hospital, Stevens’ recitation of her Miranda Rights rumbling underneath it.