Chapter 5. Nightmare
Aria and I got the wedding together in a short amount of time. Angel was six months old. We set our wedding date for tomorrow. The money that we had was what made it possible to put it together so quickly.
Aria stayed at the mansion with all the women. The guys and I were staying with my mother.
Austin laid his cards down in defeat and narrowed his eyes at me. “Bro, this sucks. We should be at a strip club or getting fucked up. What kind of bachelor party is this?”
I threw my head back and laughed.
“Damn it, Benny. You’re the best man. It was your job to put something together,” Austin said.
“Don’t blame me, man. It’s Ace’s fault. I asked him about a bachelor party, and he said no,” Benny muttered.
“Bachelor parties are fucking stupid,” I said and chuckled. “I lived out my bachelor years. I’m happy to get married. Seeing some girl dancing on a pole doesn’t sound like much fun to me.”
“That is because you are whipped,” Austin said. Austin grabbed a cashew out of the bowl on the table and threw it at my head.
“Don’t let Kalia hear you talk like that,” Abel said.
“Why not? She would have gone to the strip club with me,” Austin said and chuckled. “She’s fun, unlike you lame fuckers.”
“I’m with Ace. Bailey would chop off my balls and feed them to my dog,” Benny said and chuckled. “In order to keep seeing Bailey’s boobs, I can’t look at any other boobs. And I’m very fond of Bailey’s.”
“That is because it is the only pair you saw,” Joey teased and broke into laughter.
“Whatever,” Benny said and snorted. “I’ve seen plenty for your information.” Benny rolled his eyes. I knew more about Benny’s personal life than any of them.
“Like?” Abel challenged.
“Mila,” I said and laughed.
“Your ex?” Luis arched a brow.
“Yeah, not one of my proud moments,” Benny muttered. His expression held nothing but disgust, and he shook his head.
“How the fuck did that happen, and how were we not made aware of this?” Luis asked and guffawed.
“Spill it,” Joey said.
“It was before Mila and I got together,” I told them.
“We had a one-night stand. I drove her home from a party. She was angry with her boyfriend at the time,” Benny explained.
“Come on. Nobody Ace dated is that bad,” Austin said. “You look like you’re going to puke by the sound of her name.”
“No. You’re right. Mila was great, but a completely crazy bitch afterward,” Benny explained.
I threw my head back and laughed. “He’s right.”
“She blew up my phone for like a week,” Benny muttered.
“Damn, really?” Joey arched a brow. Joey didn’t believe Benny because all the boys saw been as the sweet innocent guy — out of all of us, that’s exactly what Benny is. Benny didn’t have a mean bone in his body.
Mom strolled into the dining room. “Ace, there is someone here to see you,” Mom said.
A petite girl with blond hair and blue eyes walked into the dining room behind Mom. Her hair was shorter than the last time I had seen her, and it had been a long time.
“Carley,” I breathed. “Hey, you.”
Regardless of the fact that she’s one of the girls, we were always friends. Carley got along great with all of us. Having her and Jax not around had been like a double knife through the heart. We missed her as much as we did him because she had hardly been around since he died. All the guys stared at Carley dumbfounded. None of us had seen her since a month or so after the death of her boyfriend, Jax. Jax was one of our friends that had been shot about two years ago.
My gaze flickered to Austin.
Austin’s eyes swept over Carley. Austin frowned and looked down. Austin and Carley were a thing in our earlier teen years. However, after Austin and Carley went separate ways, Carley started seeing Jax and had been with him for a couple of years. However, I don’t think anyone gets over their first love. My first was Aria. I never felt it before her. Austin and Carley had something strong, but Austin was young and stupid, and he hurt her. Nobody else seemed to notice the tension between the two of them like I always did.
“Hey, guys,” Carley said and smiled. “Can I talk to you, Ace?”
“Yeah,” I said.
We went out to the foyer.
I spun around to face Carley. “You’re here. I’m glad you decided to come. I know it must still be hard for you. Aria is going to love that you’re here.”
“It’s getting easier. The guys all looked a bit stunned to see me,” Carley said and chuckled.
“When I sent you the invite, I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want anyone to be disappointed if you didn’t show,” I explained.
“I wasn’t sure where to go. . .” Carley trailed off. “Besides, I wanted to congratulate you before the big day.” Carley smiled widely.
“Thank you. The girls are at the Perez Estate. I understand if you don’t want to go out there. You’re welcome to stay here, as well,” I said.
Carley’s smile faded, and she shook her head. “No, I don’t think that would be a good idea. I’ll go stay with the girls,” Carley said. Carley looked past me, and her eyes widened.
“What?” I tilted my head and spun around.
Austin and the other boys dashed into the foyer. Austin moved faster than the others.
“Austin, what’s wrong?” Carley asked.
“We heard over the police scanner in the dining room that they are sending paramedics and firetrucks out to the Perez Estate. Something about an explosion.” Austin’s expression was panic-stricken.
The rest of the boys’ faces were pale and looked like they might be sick.
Without thinking or speaking, I spun around and started for the door.
“Wait for me, guys!” Carley called after us.
Carley climbed into my Expedition, between Austin and me. The Expedition roared to life. I peeled out of my mother’s driveway and down the street. Car horns blared as we raced through traffic.
One of the traffic lights turned red, and I stepped down on the gas pedal. The truck lurched forward. A semi came toward us, unable to stop or slow down. The semi-driver blared his horn. Carley threw her hands over her face and squealed.
“Slow down, Ace,” Austin said. “We can’t do much good if we don’t make it there alive.” Austin took one of Carley’s hands and rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb to calm her down.
Everyone else was panicked by the way I drove, but I was unperturbed. The only thing I could think about was the fastest route to the house.
“Ace, all of our girls are there,” Luis said. “We all want to get there, but you need to slow down. This truck isn’t built for speed.”
“Bet,” I said. I pushed the gas pedal to the floor.
“Ace—” Benny started.
“It’s not just about the girls. My six-month-old son is in that fucking house too!” I roared. “Now shut the fuck up. I know what I am doing. How about instead of the commentary on my driving, you pick up your phones and try to call the girls.”
All the guys pulled their phones from their pockets and tried to call the girls.
After a moment of silence, they all hung their phones up and looked at me. Their expressions twisted into fear.
“Not one of them answered, seriously?” I asked.
All the boys shook their heads. Carley looked up at me as she hung her phone up. “Aria’s went straight to voicemail,” Carley murmured.
“God, you have to be fucking kidding me!” I slammed my hands down on the steering wheel. The truck was going as fast as it could.
When we neared the driveway, I slowed the truck down. Thick black smoked rolled over the tops of the trees, but the mansion wasn’t visible.
The truck broke through the trees, and that was when I saw it. The entire center wall of the mansion, where the front door had been, was gone. Debris spread across the front yard. There were several ambulances and a coroner van. Cops and firetrucks lined the driveway.
My mind instantly rejected the thought. There is no way. They’re fine. They have to be okay. This isn’t real. I’m going to wake up. My lungs suddenly weren’t as capable as they had been. My heart physically burned.
We jumped out of the truck and ran for the house. All of us went separate ways to find who or what was left. I stopped at the foot of the stairs and gazed around, searching for Aria.
It was complete chaos. Ambulances were driving away. People ran around the yard in different directions. Body bags went one way, and stretchers went another way. My head spun from it all.
“Sir, this is a crime scene. You need to—” A cop said as he approached me.
“This is my house!” I shouted. “Where is my—” I stopped.
Aria was on a stretcher with a breathing mask on. The only reason my eye had caught her is that there is a defined tattoo on her forearm. Aria got the tattoo about a month ago. She had two tattoos. One of the tattoos was for Angel, and the other tattoo was for me. Her arm hung over the side of the stretcher. There were black marks on her arm that looked like soot.
“Aria,” I breathed. The air escaped my lungs. It felt like I had been punched in the stomach. My mind went blank. A numbing sensation worked up my spine and brainstem. I blinked several times.
Voices and bodies blurred past me as I ran toward Aria. “Wait!” I shouted.
The paramedics stopped and looked at me.
“She’s my fiancé,” I said. My eyes swept over her to assess the damage. Blood ran down the side of Aria’s head. Bruises covered her face and body along with black soot. I was sure the damage was more extensive than what I could see. I grabbed her hand in mine. Her hand was cold and lifeless.
“Bebita, wake up,” I pleaded. Tears filled my eyes. I brought her hand to my lips.
“Sir, we need to get her to the hospital. Do you want to ride with?” One of the paramedics asked.
“Where is my son?” I asked.
The paramedics looked at me, confused.
“Are you kidding me?” I shouted. I spun around and ran for the rubble that used to be my front door.
Two policemen caught me.
The younger one spoke to me. “I know this is a shock, but you can’t go in there. It is unstable.”
I tore my arm from them. “I need to find my son!” I shoved past the men. I climbed and jumped over the debris. The stairs in the foyer were still intact, but debris spread all over the staircase.
Firefighters and police officers ran after me down the hallway. I threw the door open to Angel’s bedroom.
At this point, I wasn’t sure what I would find. My eyes closed tightly as I stepped over to his crib.
Angel laid in his crib and stared up at the ceiling. Angel cooed and squirmed around.
I breathed a sigh of relief and picked him up. My lips pressed against the top of Angel’s head. “There’s my boy,” I murmured. I turned around.
The men who had been chasing after me entered the room. They stopped and stared at me.
“Okay, sir. Is there anyone else?” The cop asked.
“Not to my knowledge,” I murmured. “Maybe your men should recheck the place, though, since they obviously forgot my son.” I shoved past them.
“Maybe you should let one of us take your son,” a firefighter suggested.
“I’ve got him,” I snapped.
Most of the ambulances had disappeared. My mom was talking to a cop, but she stopped when she saw me.
“Oh my god,” Mom gasped. She threw her hands over her mouth. “Is he okay?”
“He’s okay,” I said. “Take him to the hospital to get checked out, though, just in case. I need to go after Aria. Angel seems to be totally fine.”
“You saw Aria?” Mom asked.
“Yeah,” I murmured. “It’s bad, Mom. I don’t know who is okay, who is hurt, who died,” I choked out the last word.
“Died?” Mom gasped.
“The coroner was here,” I whispered. “I have to go.” I handed Angel to Mom. I turned and dashed across the yard.
“Ace, wait up!”
I stopped and turned around to see Carley and Austin running across the yard toward me.
The three of us climbed into the truck. Carley climbed into the backseat and scooted forward.
“I saw Aria,” Carley whispered. “She’s bad.”
“I know,” I groaned.
“Did you find Angel?” Austin asked.
“Yes, he was in his room. Thank god for that. Mom has Angel. Did you find Kalia?” I asked.
“Yeah, she was on a stretcher. She was able to talk, but she was very disoriented. The paramedics thought that she might have a concussion and a broken arm.”
“What about the others?” I asked.
“I saw Kelsey, but she was the only other one that I found,” Carley whispered.
“What about Andersen?” I asked.
Carley shook her head, and so did Austin.
“I saw Bailey,” Austin murmured. “She’s about in the same condition as Kalia.”
“Nobody else?” I asked.
“Everyone was all over the place, but I saw the coroner.” Austin’s voice broke.
“Do you know who?” I asked.
“We won’t know until everyone is accounted for at the hospital,” Austin said.
We ran through the hospital doors. Carley and Austin were going to try to find out where everyone was.
I took off to look for Aria. I snuck past the nurse’s station and down the hall.
After looking in a few different rooms, I found her. They had the door closed, but the door is made of glass. Doctors and nurses hovered over aria. They cut her shirt open and started CPR.
I swallowed hard.
“Sir, you can’t be back here,” a nurse said.
I turned to her. “I’m sorry. It’s just. . .” I trailed off and pointed at the room. “My fiancé.” I struggled to breathe or find the right words to explain.
“I understand. I’m very sorry. They’re doing everything they can. If you want, I’ll keep a close eye on the situation and keep you updated, but I need you to go back to the waiting room.” The nurse patted my shoulder and gave me an apologetic expression.
“Okay,” I murmured in a defeated tone. I had never in my entire life felt so helpless.
An hour had passed, and I hadn’t heard anything. Mom came into the waiting room with Angel in her arms. Mom gave me a sad smile.
“Hi, baby. How is Aria?” Mom asked.
“I don’t know how anyone is. Not even Aria. How is Angel?” I asked.
“A clean bill of health,” Mom said.
“Good,” I said and smiled. Even under the circumstances, it was impossible not to be relieved that my son was okay. “Have you seen Austin—”
“Ace,” a high-pitched voice interrupted Mom and me.
Carley and Austin came into the waiting room. Both of them wore solemn expressions.
“Hey,” I said. I got off the chair that I had been sitting in. I stopped in front of them. “Did you hear anything?”
“Yeah,” Carley whispered. Carley covered her mouth with her hand and shook her head.
Austin rubbed Carley’s back soothingly. “Jennifer and Andersen were the two who didn’t make it,” Austin croaked.
“Oh, no,” I whispered. “God. Where the hell is Joey?”
“We couldn’t find him,” Carley mumbled and sniffled. “This is a damn nightmare. I finally come back to see you guys and. . .” Carley trailed off and shook her head.
I sighed and ran a hand over my face. “Maybe I should go look for him,” I muttered.
“No,” Austin argued. “Let us. You have enough on your plate.”
“Austin is right. Have you heard anything about Aria?” Carley asked worriedly.
“No,” I said.
“How is Angel?” Carley asked. She peeked past Austin to look at Mom and Angel.
Mom smiled at Carley. “Angel is fine,” Mom told Carley.
“Good,” Carley said. Carley looked up at Austin. “Maybe we should go.”
“Yeah,” Austin agreed. Austin and Carley left the waiting room.
I plopped down in the chair beside Mom.
“I always adored that girl,” Mom said.
“Carley? I know,” I said and chuckled.
“Can’t say I feel the same for the other,” Mom said and rolled her eyes.
“Kalia? How come?” I arched a brow.
“It’s just something about her. . .” Mom trailed off and shrugged. “I can’t explain it. Kalia doesn’t rub me the right way, but Carley. . . such a sweetheart.”
I sighed. “Well, I think we should leave it up to Austin. I swear if I don’t hear something soon, I’m going to go through the fucking roof.”
“Maybe you should ask. Did you call Tammy?” Mom asked.
“I called Tammy and Tina. They’re getting on the first flight back to Los Angeles,” I told Mom.
Mom tilted her head. “Where are they?”
“New York City,” I said. “They planned to be back early tomorrow morning for the wedding, but I called and told them what happened. They’re freaking out, of course.”
Mom nodded in understanding.
“Alright, I can’t take this anymore.” I stood up.
A doctor came into the waiting room. He was a younger man. He pulled his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. “Ace Garcia?”
“Yeah,” I breathed. I slowly sat back down on the chair. I was sure that I didn’t want to be standing from the look on his face.
“We stabilized Aria, but she is in pretty bad shape. We sent her to the intensive care unit. It’s on the seventh floor. You can go up there to see her. Aria’s brain was damaged during the explosion. Her head injuries were significant, to say the least. It is hard to say if she will wake up or what condition she will wake up in. She could be blind, paralyzed, no memory, and that is just a start.”
“If she wakes up?” I murmured. “Like as in she might not?” Am I hearing this idiot correctly? Of course, it wasn’t the doctor’s fault, but I wanted to blame him. I blamed him for not doing more. I blamed myself for not doing more too.
“Aria is a strong girl. It’s a miracle that she is still alive at all,” the doctor said. “If she continues to fight the way she is, I’m sure she will wake up. I wish I had better news for you.” The doctor gave me an apologetic expression and left the waiting area.
“Mom, take Angel home with you, please. I don’t think that I’m going anywhere,” I murmured.
“Of course,” Mom said. Mom stood up and pecked my cheek.
The receptionist looked up my name and let me back into the ICU. She informed me of which room they put Aria in.
A nurse stood over Aria checking her vitals, when I walked into her room. They had Aria intubated. Wires, bandages, and tubes covered her head to toe.
The nurse turned to look at me. “My name is Sarah. I’ll be her nurse until early in the morning. Are you staying here?”
“Yes,” I said. “My name is Ace. I’m her fiancé.”
“When were you supposed to be married?” Sarah asked.
“Tomorrow,” I said. My voice filled with emotion.
“I’m so sorry,” Sarah said.
“Thanks,” I murmured.
“From what I hear, she is fortunate. Hopefully, she will wake soon. Best of luck. Let me know if you need anything.” Sarah smiled politely and left the room.
I grabbed Aria’s hand and pressed my lips to it. “Wake up, bebita. Please, wake up.” I didn’t know what else to say to her. I felt ridiculous. I knew she couldn’t hear me. “I love you.”
My phone vibrated in my pocket. I pulled my phone out. It was a text from Austin. Austin and Carley found Joey. Austin said that Carley would stay with him to keep an eye on him. Austin was coming back to the hospital to be with Kalia.
I leaned back in the chair and stared at Aria. A million questions, regrets, and thoughts tumbled through my head at an impossible rate. Some of the regrets were not kissing her enough or not telling her that I loved her enough. Aria had to wake up because I didn’t know how to live without her anymore. Part of me wondered how I had lived without her for so long. I would trade spots with Aria in a heartbeat.
How does this happen to someone the night before their wedding? It was a nightmare — a nightmare that I couldn’t wake up from.