From the moment the gun fired, all he could think about was her. Where was she? Was she safe? Why hadn't he made an effort to follow her after seeing her with that crook? I'm such an idiot! he thought. She was acting so strangely—it couldn't have been because she was still mad at him. Something was clearly wrong, and he had allowed his pride to keep him from acting.
As the moments passed and he still could not find her, he became increasingly more desperate. She had to be alive, she just had to be! Talking to Lucas had yielded no clues, and Sharlene and John had not been able to find her either. It was almost as if she no longer existed, had never existed, and, yet, he could have sworn that her voice was caressing the edges of his soul.
Eventually, Derek, Stacey, and Reuben had helped him determine her whereabouts, and, together, the group raced against time to find her. Neither the construction workers nor the threat of explosives could keep him from getting to her. She had become so integral to his existence that the threat to his own life was nothing compared to the potential loss of hers.
Now, as he placed her gently on the ground in front of him, his emotions threatened to overwhelm him. She was so still. How could she be so still?
"Please, you have to be okay," he begged, a lone tear spilling from the corner of his eye.
Almost as if she sensed his desperation, Frankie turned her head.
"She moved," he cried out hopefully, praying it was a good sign.
Reuben told him to let the paramedics put her in the ambulance, but Cass could only hear the sound of her breathing, could only see her face as it turned back toward him.
Caressing her arm and stroking hair, he called to her, "Frankie, can you hear me? Frankie?"
Taking her hand in his, he asked again, "Frankie, can you hear me?"
Opening her eyes, she reached out to touch his mouth lightly. "You look like hell, Winthrop. When was the last time you took a shower?"
He laughed in relief, knowing that his spirited Frankie had returned to him, that she was safe. He leaned over her then, gently cradling her cheek in his palm. She mirrored his loving touch, locking her gaze with his.
"Excuse me," the paramedic said apologetically. "I'm sorry, sir, but we really need to take her to the hospital now."
"Of course," Cass said, moving away swiftly so that Frankie could get the medical attention she needed.
"Come with me, Cass," Frankie pleaded, not wanting to lose contact with him.
"Can I?" Cass asked the EMT hopefully.
"Sure. Just let us get her loaded, and you can jump in."
"OK, but I don't think she needs any alcohol," Cass quipped.
"Watch it, Winthrop!" Frankie replied laughingly. She was about to say more, but the paramedic interrupted.
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but we need to ask you some questions."
"Sure," she replied as the wheeled her toward the ambulance.
"Are you in any pain?"
"My head hurts a little."
"Did you lose consciousness?" he asked, helping his partner load the stretcher into the vehicle.
"She lost consciousness after the first blast. I had to drag her out of the air vent and carry her from the building," Cass volunteered.
"You did?" Frankie asked him, amazed.
Turning his head toward her, Cass replied, "Yes, I…"
"How long was she out?" the paramedic asked, interrupting.
Keeping his eyes locked with Frankie's, Cass said, "Thirty of the longest minutes of my life."
Floored by the depth of emotions she saw in his eyes, she reached out to take his hand.
They remained quiet for the rest of the ride, his thumb softly stroking her hand as the paramedics performed their tests and monitored the equipment.
Upon reaching the hospital, Cass kissed her hand lightly, and stepped out of the ambulance to meet with Sharlene, Stacey, Derek, and Reuben. Together, they followed Frankie into the emergency room.
Having heard about the incident, Ronnie was the first nurse to greet them. "Hey. I hear a building fell on you."
Smiling, Frankie replied, "Oh, it wasn't that tall."
As Cass came in to reclaim her hand once more, she continued, "I'm fine, but nobody's listening to me. I don't need this high tech skateboard."
"Is she going to be okay?" Cass asked worriedly.
Ronnie responded patiently, "Seems like she's going to be fine, but John's inside. He's going to take a look at her, but I think you are going to have to take--let go of her hand first."
"Oh, I'm sorry," he said sheepishly, realizing how tightly he had been holding on to Frankie.
"That's okay," Frankie replied, grateful to have him with her.
Leaning down to look at the woman he almost lost, he said sternly, "You do exactly what John tells you. No arguments, all right?"
"I'll be right here."
"Okay, guys, lets move it," Ronnie commanded.
"Take care, sweetie," Sharlene added, reaching out to touch Frankie in support as they wheeled her away.
Cass followed them to the door of the examining room, leaning heavily against the frame.
Comforting him and pulling him away from the room, Sharlene said, "Cass, sweetheart, I don't how I'm ever going to thank you."
"Oh, Derek did most of it. He got us out of there."
"Well, Stacey got the guys to stop blasting," Reuben added.
"You were good, too," Derek chimed in, addressing Reuben. "You know, you really know how to create a diversion."
Not really listening to the round of congratulations, Cass said, "It's kind of warm in here, isn't it?"
"Yeah…," Sharlene began, a worried look on her face.
"Are you okay?" Stacey asked.
"I just want to make sure that Frankie is all right, you know? She was out for so long."
At just that moment, the nurse made an appearance.
"Ronnie, is she okay?" Cass asked worriedly.
"Oh, yeah. John says she's got some bruises, but she'll be fine." Seeing that Cass wasn't entirely convinced, she added, "Look, she's going to be raising hell before you know it."
Relief washing over him, Cass sagged to the floor, unconscious.
Throughout her entire ordeal in the prop room, she had prayed that she would see him again. She had been so stubborn, so unforgiving, and her choices had put her life in danger. Why hadn't she listened to him? Why had she insisted on pushing him away, even though she desperately wanted him in her life? Sharlene was right—she was afraid of love. Cass had hurt her, but he had done everything in his power to try to make it up to her, and she had cut him off at every turn. Why he kept coming after her was a mystery, but she hoped that he would make one last effort to find her. She swore to herself that she wouldn't run away this time.
As she lay stuck in the air vent, however, she began to lose hope. No one had come for her, and she began to wonder what had happened to Griffen. Was Cass safe? Had Griffen gone after Cass instead? Please let him be safe, she thought. Just as she reached the height of her despair, however, she heard Cass' deep voice calling to her. He found me, she thought elatedly, just before losing consciousness from the force of the explosion.
Upon waking, his was the first face that she saw. She was stunned by the emotion she saw in his eyes and the tear slipping down his nose. How could I have ever doubted his feelings for me? she thought, her hand reaching up to touch his face.
The next few hours passed in a whirlwind of activity ranging from an ambulance ride to a trip to the emergency room, complete with an entourage. Fortunately, John's examination had indicated that she only had a mild concussion and a few bruises. Ignoring her doctor's orders, she insisted on walking out to the waiting room to see Cass.
As she entered the room, however, she found him slumped on the floor.
"Cass?" she questioned, fear taking over her body. "What's wrong with him? What happened to him?"
Sharlene quickly put her arm around Frankie, guiding her away from the nurses trying to help Cass. "He heard you were all right, and he just seemed to give in."
"What's wrong with him?" she asked desperately, unable to take her eyes off of Cass.
"He is all right. Frankie," Sharlene said reassuringly.
"It is all my fault. He has been trying to tell me about Griffen for weeks, and I wouldn't listen to him. Sharlene, it's all my fault,"
Maneuvering the panicked Frankie over to a row of chairs in the waiting room, Sharlene urged her niece to sit down.
"I should have known something like this was going to happen to him," Frankie said.
"Just sit down. You're in no—sit down. Sit down, honey."
"Frankie, you can't help him if you don't take care of yourself."
"I'm the reason he's hurt. He would have been fine if he hadn't come after me."
"Frankie, I'm sure he's just exhausted. He stayed up all night looking for you. I don't think he slept at all, and I doubt he's eaten."
"If anything happens to him…."
"It won't, honey. John will take good care of him, I promise," she soothed, embracing Frankie tightly.
Coming over to check on his friend, Derek asked, "How are you doing, Frankie?"
"I'm fine, thanks to all of you," she said gratefully, managing a smile for her friends even as a tear meandered slowly down her cheek.
"We were so worried about you when you disappeared," Stacey added. "I'm so thankful we were able to find you."
"So am I, Stacey," Frankie said, reaching out to clasp her hand.
She was about to add something else when John entered the room. Standing up quickly, Frankie asked, "How is he?"
"He's fine, Frankie. He basically fainted from exhaustion. I'd like to keep him here for a little while for observation, but I don't think he's seriously injured."
"Can I go see him?" she asked, even as she brushed past him.
"Could I stop you?" he chuckled, watching her go.
Frankie gave no reply, however. Her mind was filled with one thought: I need to see Cass.
Upon entering the examining room, she rushed toward his bed and immediately began stroking his forehead. "John says it's not terminal," she began, lightheartedly.
"I guess," he replied, smiling. "How are you feeling?"
"Thanks to you."
"It was no big deal."
"No, not much."
"I hate to tell you I told you so," he began.
"I owe you one, Winthrop," she replied, placing a finger on his lips even as he finished by saying, "but this should teach you to listen to me."
"I don't know how long I have to stay here, but I know what I want...," Cass said seriously, transforming the mood of the conversation.
"What's that?" she asked, looking into his eyes.
"I want to wake up tomorrow morning with you beside me. I don't know…" he began, but Frankie cut him off with a kiss. "…what...," he continued, but she kissed him again. "…I would have done if I hadn't found you, Frankie. I need you so much."
Unable to formulate a reply, she took his head in her hands and kissed him once more. She needed him to know how much she cared about him, needed him to know how thankful she was that he had risked his life to save her.
After pulling away slightly, she turned her head and rested her cheek on his chest. Listening to his heartbeat, she relaxed, knowing he was safe. She felt his hands stroking her hair and was soothed by the steady rhythm of his breathing. Within moments, she was asleep.
Sharlene cracked the door to the room, making sure that she wasn't interrupting an intimate moment between her niece and the man she loved. She smiled at the sight of Cass tenderly stroking Frankie's hair as she rested quietly against his chest.
Noticing Sharlene at the door, Cass smiled and motioned her into the room, placing his finger against his lips so that she wouldn't disturb Frankie. Stacey and Felicia followed closely behind, anxious for reassurance that Cass and Frankie were both fine.
"How are you doing, honey?" Felicia whispered with concern.
"Now that I know she's safe, I'm fine," he admitted, eliciting a knowing smile from his friend. "I guess I was more exhausted than I realized."
"You had us worried, big brother," Stacey chimed in.
"You know how much I like attention, Stace," he responded good-naturedly, trying to lighten the mood. "It worked, too. Look at all the beautiful women I have surrounding me."
Rolling her eyes, Stacey said, "He's fine, all right."
"Cass, thank you for taking care of her. I don't know…," Sharlene began.
"There's nothing I wouldn't do for her, Sharlene," he whispered sincerely.
"That's for sure," Felicia smirked. "What are you going to do next, dress up as a nun?"
Allowing the round of soft chuckles to subside, Cass retorted, "Felicia, would you like me to tell them about the time you ran that truck into the…."
"That's quite all right, Cass," Felicia responded quickly, cutting him off. "Perhaps we should leave you two alone."
"Perhaps, we should," Sharlene concurred. "We'll be in to check on you later."
"Thanks," Cass said simply, sharing a heartfelt smile.
He then turned his undivided attention to the woman sleeping lightly on his chest. Her hair was in disarray and her face and arms were covered with dirt and soot, yet, he was struck by how beautiful she was. I came so close to losing you, he thought, his heart constricting painfully. Placing a kiss on the top of her head, he whispered softly, "I'll keep you safe, Mary Frances. I promise."
Stroking her hair to sooth his own fears, he rested his head on the pillow and closed his eyes. He lost himself in the sound of her breathing and the silky feel of her hair against his hand. Reassured for the moment, he relaxed and allowed sleep to overtake him.
"Wake up, sleepyhead," she called to him, her voice penetrating the dense fog surrounding his consciousness.
"Frankie?" he mumbled, momentarily confused.
"I'm right here, Cass," she said reassuringly, squeezing his hand.
Opening his eyes, he saw her smiling down at him. "Hi," he said, his face beaming as he reached out to touch her cheek.
"Hi, yourself. I'm sorry I had to wake you, but John needs to check you one more time before he lets us out of here."
"You can wake me up anytime, Frankie," he said with a wink.
Before she could reply, John walked into the room. "How are you feeling, Cass?"
"Couldn't be better, John," he said, stealing a glance at Frankie.
"I can see that," John responded, suppressing a smile and performing a series of quick tests.
"How am I, Doc?" Cass asked.
"Well, aside from an elevated heart rate which can be attributed to this lovely lady holding your hand…," he said, pausing to cast a glance at a blushing Frankie, "…your vitals are normal. It looks like we can spring you from this place."
"Great, John!" Cass exclaimed, rising quickly from the bed.
"Now, hold on a minute, both of you," John admonished. "You've got a mild concussion, Frankie, and Cass, you fainted from exhaustion. Neither of you should be alone tonight."
"I'll take care of him," Frankie volunteered at the same time Cass stated, "I'll take care of her."
John just smiled and shook his head as he watched them turn toward one another in delight and surprise. "Sharlene and I can take you home as soon as you're ready to go."
"Thanks, John." they said in unison as he left the room.
"Frankie, you don't have to…," he began nervously.
"I want to," she said quickly.
"Well, do you want to come to my place?"
"Is that a proposition, Winthrop?"
Afraid that he would scare her away, he laughed self-consciously and replied, "No, um, it's just that I've got two bedrooms."
"That's fine," she said quickly, barely able to disguise her disappointment.
"Fine," he replied, deflated by her sudden lack of enthusiasm. "Let's go find John and get out of here."
"I've got to stop by my apartment."
"I need to get some clothes."
"Oh, of course," he replied flatly, frustrated by their nervous attempts to relate to one another.
As she moved to open the door, Cass called to her, "Frankie, wait."
"What, Cass?" she asked turning to face him.
Avoiding a verbal response, he pulled her close to him and gently caressed her lips with his own. Pulling back after a moment, Cass looked lovingly into her eyes. "It will be all right, Frankie."
Breaking into a genuine smile, she replied, "You know, I think it will be."
Leaving the emergency room, Cass and Frankie held on to one another for support. Frankie hooked her arm firmly around his waist, and Cass hugged her tightly to him. The reality of almost losing one another weighed heavily on them, and they needed constant, tactile reassurance that they both were safe and healthy.
Upon reaching the car, Cass entered first and held out his arm to Frankie. She quickly followed, enfolding herself into his embrace and resting her head against his shoulder. Planting a quick kiss on the top of her head, he reached out and captured her hand in his, caressing it lightly with his thumb.
Not wanting to disturb the intimacy between Cass and Frankie, Sharlene and John turned on the radio and shared a knowing, gleeful glance. It was wonderfully amusing to see this couple finally give in to their attraction after fighting it so hard. It reminded them of how they had once done the same, pushing each other away when all they had really wanted was to be together.
The car stopped at the apartment building so that Frankie could retrieve some belongings. Sharlene followed her to the apartment and successfully restrained herself from teasing Frankie as she nervously tried to decide what clothes to take with her. Having looked through every stitch of fabric she owned, Frankie ultimately settled on her most conservative apparel, having been swayed both by her own nervousness and by Cass' earlier comment about his two bedrooms. No need to look foolish, she thought. After all, I'm only going over there to make sure he recovers.
Cass, meanwhile, his thoughts solely on Frankie, managed only minimal responses to John's questions about the rescue. Eventually, John gave up trying to make small talk and increased the volume of the radio. Perhaps Sharlene and I should try to recapture the magic of new romance ourselves, he thought, suddenly restless for her return.
Eventually, the foursome made it to the law office. Sharlene said her goodbyes to Cass and Frankie, whispering a quick word of encouragement to her niece. Cass and Frankie offered thanks to both John and Sharlene, then headed inside.
Alone for the first time, neither Cass nor Frankie knew what to do next. They smiled at one another awkwardly, each waiting for the other to take action.
Ultimately, Cass broke the silence between them. "Why don't you go and take a shower, and I'll order us some food. You must be starving."
"Yeah, that hospital food wasn't too appetizing."
"Not exactly health food."
"No, not exactly. The jell-o was good, though."
"What jell-o?" Seeing her guilty look, he asked accusingly, "Wait a minute…did you steal my jell-o?"
"Well, you were asleep, and I was hungry."
"Mary Frances Frame, I'm shocked. To steal a man's jell-o like that, after I risked life and limb to save you."
"I'm sorry, Cass. I just didn't think you were the jell-o type."
"Oh, really," he said in a low voice, capturing her gaze and moving close to her. "What type am I, then?"
"Oh, I don't know," she said shakily, keenly aware of his closeness. "I thought you preferred pretentious, overly expensive fare."
"Like buche noel and Irish smoked salmon?" he asked, closing the gap between them.
"That was pretty good, actually," she replied, smiling at the memory of their Christmas together as she wrapped her hands around his waist.
"It was, wasn't it?" he said, leaning in to kiss her gently.
Pulling away after a blissfully long moment, she said, "I really should take that shower now."
"I know. But, don't be long, okay."
"I won't," she said with a smile.
"Oh, and Frankie…."
"You owe me some jell-o."
"I'll make a note of that, counselor," she said with a chuckle before turning to walk up the stairs.