Joe woke alone in his room, with the memory of the light kiss against his forehead. He smiled and awkwardly reached for the phone. Ignoring the pain his movements were causing, the detective dialed the number and waited for the call to be answered.
"Art, it's Joe."
"Joe, I was just getting ready to come see you. Is there anything you need?"
"Yes, there is. I need you to go by my place and pick something up for me."
"Sure, what is it?"
"There's a small jewelry box in my desk…I need you to get it and bring it to me," Mannix said.
"Joe, did you do something I should no about?"
"I can't tell you right now, Art. Will you bring it?"
"I'll get it."
"Thanks, Art," Mannix said and hung up the phone. He knew the older man had a key to his place in case of emergencies and right now this was an emergency. He lay back against the pillows, breathing shallowly, as he tried to contain the raging pain that threatened to take his breath away.
Mannix opened his eyes at the soft voice from beside his bed. He waited for his vision to clear and recognized the sympathetic nurse.
"No, thanks, already have one," the detective said with a slight grin.
"I'll get your medication as soon as I take your vitals," Paula told him.
"O…okay," Mannix said. He felt the BP cuff wrapped around his arm and waited for the woman to finish what she was doing.
"Joe, I'm going to add Zofran as well because they'll be bringing your dinner soon," the nurse said as she injected the medications into his IV. "Do you want the blinds closed?"
"Please," the detective answered and soon felt the medications lulling him toward sleep once more. He felt the nurse put the nasal canulas in place, but did not have the energy to mount even a token protest.
Art watched his friend from the doorway as Mannix tried to get comfortable. 'An impossible task,' Malcolm thought given the nature of the injuries. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the small jewelry box, and again wondered what was inside. He had a pretty good idea, but had fought the impulse to look inside. He moved into the room and smiled at the man as he looked his way.
"Did you bring it?" Mannix asked.
"Right here," Malcolm answered and placed the box on the table, next to the partially eaten tray of food. "Are you going to tell me what this is all about?"
"It's for Peggy," the detective explained.
"Don't tell me you're finally going to ask her to marry you?"
"Already did and she said yes," Mannix said, smiling as he opened the box. The ring was nestled in a bed of red velvet, and the diamond sparkled in the light from overhead.
"Wow, you went all out," Malcolm said of the gold band with the diamond solitaire surrounded by small gold hearts.
"Think she'll like it?" Mannix asked.
"Hi, Joe! Hello Mr. Malcolm!"
"Hey, Toby, where's your mom?" the lieutenant asked as Mannix hid the jewelry box.
"She stopped to talk to the nurse," the boys explained and tried to climb onto the bed. He didn't see the grimace of pain on Mannix's face, but Malcolm did and caught the child before he caused more pain.
"Toby, why don't you let me help you," Malcolm said, and helped the boy sit on the edge of the bed. He saw the gratitude on the injured man's face before the sound of footsteps could be heard.
"Hi, Joe…are you all right?" Peggy asked, worried when she saw the pain in the man's eyes.
"I'm okay, Peggy. Just moved to fast," Mannix explained.
"Toby, you shouldn't be up there."
"It's okay…he's not doing anything wrong, Peg," the detective told her.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am," Mannix said, and fingered the box hidden under the blanket.
"I'm going to run down to the cafeteria and grab some coffee…can I get you anything?" Malcolm asked.
"Coffee would be great," Peggy answered.
"Can I have hot chocolate?" Toby asked as he changed the channels on the TV.
"Sure you can," Malcolm answered. "What about you, Joe?"
"No thanks, Art," Mannix said and waited for the other man to leave.
"Yes, Mom?" the child answered.
"Your Mom and I have something to tell you," Mannix said and pressed the button to raise the head of his bed and saw the smile broaden on the child's face.
"You can come to my game!" Toby said excitedly.
"Maybe…hopefully, but that's not what we wanted to talk to you about," the detective told him.
"Did I do something wrong?"
"No, Toby, you didn't do anything wrong," Peggy answered and hugged her son close. "Do you remember asking me about families at the last school picnic?"
"I remember it made you sad," the boy answered.
"How would you like to be a real family again, Toby?" the woman asked.
"A real family?"
"That's right, Son, I asked your mom to marry me…"
"Did you say yes, Mom?" Toby asked, eyes wide as he looked at his mother expectantly.
"Yes, I did," she told him, anxiously waiting for his reaction.
"Yes! I told Danny if I didn't tell my wish it would come true and it is!" Toby said, jumping excitedly on the bed, unaware of the pain the motion was causing the injured man.
"Easy, Toby, Joe's hurt remember?"
"Oh…I'm sorry, Joe, I forgot."
"That's okay, Kiddo, I'd be jumping up and down too if I could. Now, why don't we make it official?" Mannix asked and removed the box from under the blankets.
"What's this?" Peggy asked in surprise.
"Open it and see," Mannix answered with a grin and watched her face as she lifted the lid.
"Oh, Joe, it's beautiful," Peggy said.
"Let me see!" Toby ordered like most kids his age when they are excited. He looked at the ring and smiled as tears slipped from his mother's eyes. "Mom, why are you sad?"
"I'm not sad, Toby," the woman said and looked at her fiancé. "Would you do the honors?"
"My pleasure," Mannix said and using his left hand he slipped the ring on Peggy's finger. It fit perfectly and Joe watched as she looked at the ring.
"Wow, Mom, that's nicer than the one Danny's dad gave his mom."
"Toby, you know we don't brag about the things we have," Peggy said.
"I know, Mom, but it is," the boy said. "Does this mean Joe's going to move in with us?"
"Not until after we're married, Toby," Mannix answered and pulled the woman closer. They kissed and heard the child snickering as he watched them.
"Get used to it, Son, because I love your mom, and plan to show her just how much every chance I get," Mannix explained and reached out to rub Toby's hair.
"Did I miss something?"
"Art…Joe's going to be my dad!" Toby answered and jumped off the bed as the older man entered the room.
"He is? When did that happen?" Malcolm teased.
"Just now. He gave her a ring and everything." Toby stood on his toes as Malcolm bent low to hear his whispered words. "They even kissed!"
"They did…well maybe you and me should leave them alone for a few minutes," the policeman said.
"We only just got here!"
"I know, but there's a clown doing magic tricks on the children's floor and I thought you might like to see the show."
"Really. What do you say?"
"Mom, me and Art are going to see the clowns!"
"Art and I, Honey," Peggy corrected and nodded her thanks as Malcolm led the child from the room before turning back to the injured man. "Joe, I'm sorry."
"For what?" Mannix asked and tried to get comfortable.
"I know Toby's jumping around didn't help any," Peggy told him.
"It's okay, Peg."
"Don't lie to me, Joe. I can see it in your eyes. How long before you can have something for pain?"
"How long?" Peggy asked, arms folded across her chest in a no nonsense stand.
"I guess I was due an hour ago," Mannix told her.
"I'll get your nurse…"
"Not yet, Peggy."
"It makes me sleep, Peg, and right now that's the last thing I want to do. I'll sleep after you guys leave."
"Promise," Mannix said with a grin.
"All right," Peggy said and turned to see a nurse enter the room.
"Joe, you didn't eat very much," Carrie Wallace said when she lifted the tray.
"Wasn't hungry," the detective answered.
"Joe, they won't take those IVs out until you're eating properly, the nurse warned.
"I know…I'm trying…it just doesn't set well."
"I'll make a note of that on your chart. I also noticed you haven't had anything for pain in a while. Do you need something?"
"Not yet," Mannix answered.
"He's being stubborn," Peggy said with a smile. "When Art and Toby get back we'll be leaving and Joe said he'll buzz you then."
"All right, just let me know," Wallace told her before leaving the room.
"Yes?" The woman answered and sat on the edge of the bed. She looked into his eyes, feeling the heat rise in her body as he pulled her close and their lips met. The kiss deepened and the couple explored each other's mouths until Peggy pulled away from the heated exchange. "I don't think you're in any shape to continue this, Joe…for that matter neither am I."
"I love you, Peg."
"I love you too, Joe," Peggy said and knew there were no truer words ever spoken. She really did love this man with every ounce of her being. She held his hand and looked at the ring on her finger, a true symbol of the love that glowed within their hearts.
Art and Toby returned to the room an hour later to find the couple talking softly about the future. Malcolm could tell Mannix was growing tired and knew it was time to leave.
"We're back," Toby said upon entering the room.
"Hey, Kiddo, how was the clown?" Mannix asked.
"He was so funny, Joe," Toby answered.
"Toby, it's time we said good night to Joe," Peggy said.
"It's okay, Toby. You can come back tomorrow…if it's okay with your mom," the detective answered.
"Can we, Mom?"
"Sure, after you get your homework done," Peggy said and returned her attention to her fiancé. "Joe, if you need anything just call. I'll see you tomorrow."
"I'll send your nurse right in," the woman said, kissing his forehead before leaving the room.
"Joe, I'll be in the office tomorrow, but if you need anything just call," Malcolm said.
"Thanks, Art," the detective said and closed his eyes. It wasn't long before he heard footsteps and the soft voice of the night nurse.
"Joe, I'm going to do a set of vitals on you and then get your meds."
"Thanks, Carrie," Mannix said, and felt her wrap his arm with the blood pressure cuff. It didn't take long for her to finish and adjust the flow of his IV before injecting the prescribed medication into one of the junctures near his hand.
"That should help with the pain, Joe, but you really shouldn't try to tough it out," Wallace lightly chastised.
"It wasn't too bad…"
"But it is now, because you waited so long."
"Guess so," Mannix said and placed his left arm over his eyes.
"Would you like me to turn off the lights?"
"You're welcome…just hit the button if you need anything," the nurse ordered.
"I will." Joe felt the pull of sleep and gave into the dreams that often plagued him since this ordeal had begun.
'I could have made something of you, Joseph!' the words echoed and re-echoed through his sleep drenched mind as he sank deeper into the nightmare. His soft cries for help went unheard as his head moved side to side as if something was striking him. For Joe Mannix, the real ordeal might have been over, but the dreams were a constant reminder of the life he lived.
There'd been only one thing on Joe Mannix's mind for over two weeks now, and today his stubborn streak had finally paid off. He was going home, a place he hadn't seen for so long he wasn't sure he could remember where everything was. The nurse and orderly had been in earlier and helped him into what they called 'comfort clothing' and he realized they were right. It had been a lesson in pain when they'd helped him into the sweats and he finally lay back on the bed while the room spun around him. He laid there until his vision cleared and his stomach stopped doing flip flops before asking the nurse to help him into the chair. That had been nearly an hour ago. A smile formed on his still pale features when the door opened and Peggy Fair stepped inside.
"I hear someone needs a ride home," the pretty woman said.
"You're not kidding, Peg, let's go before Dr. Lewis decides there's some test he hasn't done," Mannix told her.
"Too late, I met Dr. Lewis outside and he's already signed your discharge papers, written instructions, and your scripts," Peggy said with a grin. "You're going home and straight to bed."
"Damn, and here I thought I was escaping."
"You are, but you may just find I'm as bad as the nurses here if you don't follow instructions completely…understood?"
"Understood, but Peggy…"
"I'd love to see you in a nurse's uniform," the detective said and smiled when she placed a quick kiss on his forehead.
"If I did it would mean I'd have to follow the same rules as the nurses here and that would mean no more personal attention, including this," Peggy said and this time made the kiss last longer before staring into the eyes she knew and loved.
"Guess the nurse will have to remain a fantasy, because I don't want this to stop," Joe said and pulled her too him, ignoring the pain that awakened at his movement. "God, Peggy, I love you so much."
"I know and I'd love to shout it to the world, but right now I want to get you home and tucked in bed so I can look after you properly. Dr. Lewis has arranged to have a private nurse come to your home…"
"Our home…at least I hope that's what it will be once we're married," Mannix told her.
"Our home," Peggy chuckled softly. "But before that can happen we need to get you back on your feet…and that won't happen without physiotherapy and proper care."
"Peggy, I'll do everything the doctor says as long as I know you're going to be there," the injured man vowed.
"There's nowhere else I'd rather be, Joe," the woman assured him and turned when a soft knock sounded on the door.
"Hi, sorry to interrupt, but I figured Joe would be anxious to leave so I brought his mode of transportation for the next…"
"Twenty years," Joe said half serous.
"Are you feeling sorry for yourself, Joe?" the nurse asked.
"No, not really…not now when I'm finally being sprung from this place…"
"Now, Joe, if you keep talking like that we're going to think you dislike our company," Jenna told him.
"Sorry, Jenna, but right now I'd do anything to see the last of this place" Mannix assured her.
"I'm sure you would. Don't worry, Joe, I understand how you feel," the nurse told him and helped him move to the wheelchair. Once he was settled, Jenna looked at the pretty woman standing to is right. "Miss Fair, I know you have everything Dr. Lewis left for you, but please don't hesitate to call if you have any questions."
"I will…thank you, Jenna," Peggy said when the orderly took control of the chair. She picked up the overnight bag that held Joe's toiletries, amongst other things, and walked beside the wheelchair until they stopped at he discharge doors. "I'll bring the car around."
"Thanks, Peg," Mannix said and winced when she was out of sight. He'd refused anything for pain this morning because he wanted to be free of the heavy feeling associated with the drugs they'd been giving him. It wasn't long before Peggy was back and she opened the passenger side door and moved to help him into the seat before thanking the orderly and moving to the driver's side.
"Yes, Joe?" the pretty woman asked.
"Any chance we can stop at Martini's and pick up something for lunch?"
"I take it you're in the mood for Mrs. Martini's soup," Peggy said.
"I was hoping she'd have some fresh bread as well," Joe said, suddenly hungry after so many weeks of hospital food that did little to tempt the pallet.
"I'm sure Mrs. Martini has something that will satisfy you, Joe," Peggy said and drove away from the hospital.
Joe looked at the phone on the dresser beside him and was unsure whether he could make the call. Peggy had gone home with his promise that he would call her if he needed anything. What he needed was to call his father and give him the news before he found out by accident. He hoped the man would be happy for him, but sometimes Stefan Mannix could be a stubborn SOB. That thought brought a chuckle from the injured man when he realized he had the same trait and earned it honestly from his father.
Taking a deep breath, Joe reached for the receiver and lifted it to his ear before dialing the number he knew by heart. A familiar voice answered and a smile formed on his face.
"Maria, it's Joseph…"
"Joseph, are you all right…I heard you were hurt badly…"
"I'm okay, Maria…is he around?"
"Yes, he is…hold on and I will get him for you."
"Thank you, Maria," Joe said and closed is eyes. He waited for what felt like an eternity before his father's voice reached his ears.
"Joseph, is that you, Boy?"
"Yes, Pa, it's me."
"Are you out of the hospital?"
"Yes, I'm home and I wanted to tell you something before you heard it from anyone else."
"What is it, Joseph?"
"I'm going to be married, Pa…"
"It is time, Boy. Who is she?"
"Peggy…I love her, Pa, more than life itself and I want to be with her…"
"I have seen the love she has for you, Joseph…it is a rare gift. You make me and your mother proud."
"Thanks, Pa," Mannix said and felt as if a weight had been lifted from his heart. He knew things would be hard for him and Peggy, but as long as they loved each other they could and would get through anything that was thrown their way.
"Joseph, I have always wanted you to be happy and I have seen this when you are with her. Do not make an old man wait too long for grandchildren."
"I won't, Pa, you know Peggy has a son from her first marriage."
"Yes, this I know and he will be my first grandchild. I am hoping you will bring them both to Summergrove to give us a chance to really get to know each other."
"I'll talk to Peggy…maybe we could visit over Christmas," Mannix offered.
"That would please me very much, Joseph…are you looking after yourself?"
"I don't have much choice in the matter…not if I want to make a life with Peggy. I'm kind of tired now, but I'll call you as soon as I talk to Peggy."
"You rest, Joseph…rest and sleep…that is what you need. Good bye, Joseph."
"Bye, Pa," the detective said, smiling when he replaced the receiver in the cradle. The last few months had been hard on them all and had taken a toll on him, but he was not going to let Al Pulverante defeat him. He had too much to live for and that's exactly what he was going to do. He was going to live and enjoy sharing is life with the woman who'd captured is heart and agreed to become his wife. Sighing contentedly, Joe Mannix closed his eyes and slept peacefully for the first time in a long, long time.