Domino Effect

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Chapter Twenty Nine

Saturday brought a new perspective to Ace and Bailey’s relationship. There was an end in sight. Ace only had a month to go. Then he’d be free of the hospital. He’d be free to choose what he wanted to do with his days. He’d be free from nurses and schedules and physical therapy.

He’d be free to date Bailey.

They could finally be out in the open. The two foreigners who weren’t really foreigners could hold hands in public and hug each other with the intention of more than a platonic relationship. Ace and Bailey could visit each other in their respective homes. They could drive in the same car, go to the grocer’s together, cook dinner together.

They wouldn’t have to worry about Bailey getting laid off or fired.

Ace could continue to heal with Bailey at his side. She could take care of him and help him recover, both physically and mentally. She could bring him with her to England. Ace could meet her relatives and they could travel to all of Bailey’s favorite childhood spots.

Ace could also meet Bailey’s mother. It was something that came close to terrifying Bailey, but she knew it had to be done. It was a simple rite of passage for Ace in becoming her boyfriend.

Bailey’s mother was ecstatic, of course, when Bailey told her the good news. Ace would be out in a month and they could set up a lunch date for the three of them, she told her.

Bailey gave her the pick of the restaurant, and her mother still hadn’t come up with an adequate answer. Bailey decided she was nervous. That was why she was stalling. Bailey hadn’t had a boyfriend in years, and her mother wanted this to go well. She wanted it to go as well as anything could go.

The terrific, glowing feeling only lasted the weekend, to Bailey’s immense panic. That Monday, she went to work as usual, but she stopped in to check with Ace before she started her rounds. Melissa should have been there to let her sneak into the office, as she was supposed to be the only one on duty until the middle of the day up at the front, but neither Ace nor Melissa was anywhere to be seen.

Bailey walked through the entire office, looking into the rooms that didn’t have their blinds down as she went. The patients that were awake waved to her. They knew she was there to see Ace, as Bailey had been friendly with most of them since Ace started doing his PT there. But Ace wasn’t in any of the rooms.

Just then, Bailey’s phone rang. Curiously, Bailey brought it to her ear. “Yeah?”

“Bailey, you need to get here.” It was Sam. Her voice sounded strange. Bailey thought she seemed to be tight-lipped about something.

“What’s wrong?” Bailey felt as though a stone had dropped to the bottom of her stomach. It was heavy, wrong. The pressure built in her throat. It constricted it until she was forced to take a shuddering breath. “Sam, what is it?” she asked unwillingly.

“It’s Ace, Bailey,” she told her. Her voice still sounded off. There weren’t any noises in the background, wherever she was, so it was eerily quiet. Sam sniffled the tiniest bit.

“Where are you?”

“In the ICU.”

What could be wrong? Bailey hung her phone up and dashed out of the office. She skidded around corner after corner and was glad there weren’t any stragglers from the night shift out in the hallways. Bailey realized, with a very uncomfortable jolt in her stomach, that she felt the way she’d felt in the dream with the skyscraper. No matter what she did, she probably wasn’t running fast enough.

Her feet glanced off the smooth tile of the hallways and she slipped a few times, twisting her bad ankle. Bailey swore. If a bad ankle was going to keep her from seeing whatever was happening with Ace, she’d be right to break it all over again.

Bailey took the stairs two at a time. It was at a time like this that her marathon training paid off. She wasn’t even out of breath when she collided with Sam at the reception desk in the ICU wing.

“Where is he?” Bailey asked, reaching for a stitch in her side.

Sam’s eyes were puffy. She looked at the ground. “I’m sorry, Bailey,” she whispered.

Bailey clenched Sam’s arms between her fingers. “What happened?” she insisted. She could feel a whine building in her chest and she fought to control it. Maybe nothing happened. Maybe they were pulling a prank and Ace was getting released early. Sam was probably putting on the waterworks because …

But why would she do that? If this was a prank, wouldn’t Sam be having trouble concealing her smile? Sam was never good at hiding things. It spoke to her love of gossip. She wouldn’t freak Bailey out intentionally. Not this much. Sam wasn’t that mean. She could be insensitive, sure, but she was never cruel.

Sam sniffled. “I’m not usually like this,” she said, laughing weakly. “I hate crying.” She glanced at Bailey and looked away as more tears fell. “I was just so happy that you’d finally found someone that—”

Bailey brushed past her and opened the door to the first room she came to. There, hooked up to life support and just about every other machine imaginable, was Ace.

Doctor Arrington was at his bedside and he looked up when Bailey burst into the room.

“Ah, Bailey, I assumed you’d find out. It is a bit sooner than I thought,” he said. Ace’s file was held loosely against his chest.

“Why is he here?” Bailey gasped. “He was getting better!”

“I think you should take a seat, Bailey.”

“No! I want to know what happened to him!”

Bailey was starting to get irrational. She wanted to know what happened to Ace. She wanted to know why he was hooked up to so many machines. She was starting to shake, so she clasped her hands around each other. Bailey looked from Ace’s still face up into Arrington’s solemn one.

“Please,” she whispered. “He’s my friend.”

Arrington bit back the retort Bailey knew he wanted to make. She could see it in his eyes and the corners of his mouth. He moved around the bed and gently pushed Bailey into the heavy visitor’s chair next to the bed. Silently, he handed her Ace’s folder. Then he left the room.

Bailey felt the folder between her fingers, resting in her lap, but it seemed so far away. Why had Arrington left her? Did he think she needed to see his file alone? He could have explained everything when he was in the room with her. Did he expect her to read his chart and have the ability to make sense of it? She was beyond making sense of anything at the moment.

Bailey’s eyes found Ace’s face once more. His handsome features were there, waiting for her, but they were obscured by the breathing tube. All the machinery made him look wrong. He was akin to an alien, or an experiment in a lab. She knew he was waiting for her. She could feel it in the air. But once again, his tubes were keeping him away from her.

A movement outside the room made Bailey’s finger twitch. She hadn’t consciously noticed; Sam came into the room and Bailey didn’t stir. She just continued to stare at Ace’s face across the room.

“Did you read his file?” Sam mumbled.

“Get out.”

“What?”

“I said get out.”

Sam sniffled and Bailey didn’t see her frown over her pucker. “Bailey, I know it’s—”

“I won’t say it again,” Bailey growled. Her voice was low, quite unlike her own. When she looked over at Sam, her friend took a step back. She wiped the tears from her cheeks and backed out of the room.

Almost instantly, with the click of the door against the lock, Bailey came to. She lifted her hand to stop Sam’s retreat, but Sam was already gone. Bailey buried her head in her hands.

What had she done? Was she so consumed with her ideas of what she and Ace could be that she would push everyone away in order to get that perfect sunset? Bailey stood and walked over to Ace; his folder dropped from her lap and landed with a slap on the tile floor.

“What happened, Ace?” she wondered. Bailey sat on the edge of his bed gingerly.

It was something she had done so often over his time in the hospital. Sitting on the edge of his bed used to bring comfort. Bailey knew she had a shoulder to lean on. Ace was someone she could count on to listen to her problems or just have a chat about the day she had. But now…

Was he really in there? He didn’t look like he had any broken bones. There weren’t any plaster casings anywhere on him. So was his injury in his brain? He could have had an aneurism while exercising. Maybe Melissa worked him too hard last Friday. But he was perfectly healthy other than his slight muscle atrophy and the burns.

That was the problem with aneurisms, though. They could show up out of nowhere. Bailey stood and walked back to where she had dropped Ace’s file. Did he have a family history of them? She flipped open the folder and thumbed through the first page. Her hands were shaking and she knew that this researching of his background was just to distract her. She'd look through his file so often she felt sure she should have remembered all of this. His father had been named James Owens, his mother Macy. They didn’t have any history of aneurisms, so it was most likely not hereditary.

Relieved, Bailey flipped the first page over and skimmed down the lines detailing his history of hospital stays. Ace was telling the truth: he had a broken arm and cracked ribs at age ten. Both his radius and ulna had sharp edges where the break happened. He had almost punctured a lung with the splinters radiating from his ribs. The x-rays were rough, and Bailey had to resist glancing over at Ace. She felt pity for him. Though he chose to do all the stupid things he and his friends did, he had suffered because of it.

He knocked his two upper central teeth out (the ones that people normally associate with buck teeth) when he was sixteen after the fight he told Bailey about. His file also said he came in with a pretty gnarly black eye. There were a multitude of shallow stab wounds and broken fingers, a dislocated shoulder, and a badly torn meniscus. Bailey skimmed down the page with her index finger and found what she was really looking for.

Ace had gotten into a bad automobile accident when he was twenty three. The police report—which was attached to the file with a staple—swung forward and Bailey grabbed the edge to steady it. It said that Ace had been well over the legal drinking limit when he lost control. Bailey bit back the bile that rose in her throat. She closed the file with a snap.

He could have died the same way her father had. Ace must have had something terrible happen to him, to cause him to drink that much. Bailey remembered as if it were yesterday the conversation she and Ace had had. He asked why she moved out of her mother’s house. He didn’t use those words specifically, but he wanted to know why she’d drunk until her stomach needed pumping. He wanted to know what she and her mother had fought about, why her father’s memory had been involved. Ace had been worried about her but stopped himself from pursuing the topic further; he could tell the fight Bailey’d had with her mother still bothered her.

But what if something hadn’t happened? What if Ace had gotten drunk just because he wanted to? There were too many questions that needed asking, and the police report seemed a tad untrustworthy, Bailey thought. The report had nothing in it about the cause of the drinking. Had the police been paid off in order to keep them from questioning Ace? No one had died from his accident. Bailey opened the file again slowly. He hadn’t damaged any property. At least, besides his car.

But as Bailey skimmed further down the page, her finger shaking violently against the paper, she knew why he had been drunk. No one had been paid off. Ace didn’t need to be questioned. His parents had died the day before. Bailey’s lip trembled. James and Macy Owens died in their sleep from carbon monoxide poisoning while Ace was at a friend’s house and Brady was in the hospital recovering from a fresh round of chemo.

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