After Ed woke up, the doctors performed a series of tests that gave Judy the perfect excuse to convince her mother to eat something. Despite Judy's urging, Lorraine insisted that hospital food would only exacerbate the combination of nausea and nerves that assailed her.

At least Lorraine was sleeping.

The night before, when Judy came back to her father's room with some tea that she hoped would soothe her mother, she found her mother using her father's leg as a pillow and his hand as a touchstone.

After Ed joined Judy in her efforts to look after Lorraine, she reluctantly relented. Lorraine left only shortly before the doctor and nurses did, and Judy took her mother's place at her father's side.

"How are you feeling, Daddy?"

Despite the pallor of his skin and sheen of sweat on his forehead, Ed smiled. "I'm just ready to get home. And we need to find out what happened with Arne."

So that's how you're going to play it? Judy crossed her arms over her chest. "Dad, we need to have a serious discussion about what this means." When Ed only sighed and open his mouth to placate her with meaningless promises, she held up a hand. "No, Dad. You're not going to brush this off. Whatever the doctor tells you—to take it easy, to change your diet, to use a wheelchair or a cane until you're strong enough—you're going to do it."

Ed didn't answer right away, but Judy knew better than to think he would concede her point. For a moment, the only sound was Ed's heart monitor and the phone at the reception desk across the hall, but Judy refused to avert her imploring gaze. "Is this about Mary Ellen's dad passing away? Because these are totally different situations."

"That's part of it." How she hated the petulant, childish tone in her response, but she barreled on. "At the funeral, she told me that her dad didn't take the doctor's advice seriously enough. He did too much too soon after his stroke, and it cost him his life." She swiped at the tear that kept her from appearing strong and stern, from being taken seriously by a man who only ever saw his little girl. To compensate, she released her father's hand and began pacing. "You have no idea what Mom has been like for the past eighteen hours."

"I know this has been hard on you both, but your mother is strong—"

"You are her weak spot, and you know it." Judy was seething now. The shrill ring from the reception desk echoed in her ears, and she wanted to rip the phone from its socket just to prove she could solve at least one of her problems. "You think I don't remember that week when you sent me away to Grandma's because Mom wouldn't come out of her room?"

At least in the face of this accusation, Ed had the decency not to rebut. "You're right. I'm sorry."

Now that she'd started talking, she couldn't stop, not even after a concession and an apology. "She is a completely different person. She hasn't eaten, any sleep she's gotten has been an accident, I have to remind her to stay hydrated, to move out of the way when someone is coming down the hall. When we hugged or held hands, it was because I knew she needed the support, not the other way around. Last night, I left to get her some tea, and when I came back, she was gone. I found her wandering in the parking lot because she thought she was following your voice."

Ed winced. "Hospitals aren't the easiest places for your mother to be."

Finally, someone answered that damn phone, so her retort came out louder and harsher than she intended. "Then you better make it your mission to stay out of them." On the last word, her voice cracked, and with it her resolve to be strong. She wasn't ready to be the strong one, and the fear and pressure crushed her like a falling beam. "I can't be what she needs. I'm just now learning how to take care of myself. How can I possibly take care of her?"

"Oh, honey." Lorraine only remained in the doorway long enough for Ed and Judy to notice her, and she crossed the room in a few long strides, her arms already outstretched. "Come here, my angel."

Sniffling and wiping her cheeks, Judy backed away from her mother until her back met the wall. "No, I'm fine. It's okay, Mom." But Lorraine ignored her, and as soon as Judy was wrapped into the familiar warmth and comfort of her mother's arms, she stopped fighting her sobs.

Her mother whispered apologies in between kisses to her hair, but Judy shook her head, unable to summon the composure to contradict her right away. "No, Mom, it's okay. I'm an adult. I should be able to handle this better—"

"You don't spring forth with all the life skills you need when you turn eighteen," Lorraine explained, her voice back to its usual calming timbre. "I'll do better, sweetie."

"You're not the one who has to do better."

Lorraine didn't release Judy to answer Ed, but they shifted in their hug to look at him.

"Any way you could bring the huddle to me?"

Seeing the ache of regret in his eyes depleted Judy's earlier ire, and she allowed her mother to lead her to his side. Lorraine took a seat on the edge of the bed, but Judy remained standing, not quite ready to give in until he gave her some understanding of her request.

"I can't promise not to stay away from cases," Ed admitted.

"I know, Dad."

"But I will listen to the doctors—"

"And to Mom."

Ed lifted Lorraine's hand to his lips. "And to Mom." He tucked Judy's hair behind her ear and looked at her like he had since she graduated high school, like his little girl had gone but that he'd spend the rest of his life protecting the woman she'd become. "I love you both so much."

Mindful of his incision, Judy wrapped her arm around her father and rested her head on top of his. Without letting go of Ed's hand, Lorraine rose and cuddled her daughter close. Nestled in the embrace of both her parents, Judy took her first deep breath since she got the call.

"I'm not going anywhere." Through the whole ordeal, Ed hadn't cried, but now he spoke through a lump in his throat. "I can't leave my girls."