Thank you EVERYONE – for the great feedback and encouragement! It's meant the world to me – and inspired me to keep on writing. Hope you enjoy! - MAC
Beep. Beep. Beep.
I feel completely comfortable and safe - and dry. The last thing I remember was being soaking wet in a steaming hot sauna, a breath away from passing out and being saved.
I don't have to open my eyes to know that he did it. Cooper. He came through for me. He saved me. Once again.
Did I think for a second that he wouldn't?
Feeling content, warm and safe, my eyelids flutter open and I see the image I'm completely expecting - and elated - to see. Cooper. I'm in a hospital bed, peaceful beeps signaling that my vitals seem normal, and he's about a foot away from my bed, sitting in a chair. He's fast asleep. I smile and look at him closely.
My stomach lurches at the sight of a big bandage on his forehead – and I remember hearing Barrett and Angie referring to a bad-looking head wound. They seemed to think he'd need stitches. What happened to him?
Well – I guess I can't worry over it too much. I mean, we're safe. I am almost positive – what with Cooper sleeping soundly beside me and all – that this nightmare is finally over. I feel fine. Well, almost fine. My head is kind of throbbing. And Cooper – he's here, and he seems okay.
Though he looks like he hasn't slept in a week; he's so out of it right now, so relaxed. And yet – worry lines crease his face. I really hope they're not permanent; he's so handsome! I'd hate for this case to have lasting effects on him.
The door opens to my room and I see Magda walk in. When she sees I'm awake, she opens her mouth – most likely to scream in joy – and I immediately put my finger to my mouth to shush her. She opens her mouth confusedly, and I point toward Cooper.
She nods in understanding and proceeds to tiptoe to my side. The minute she's close, her arms stretch out, bringing me into the tightest bear-hug ever.
"I was already planning your funeral," she whispers.
I laugh quietly. "Way to stay optimistic," I say.
"I was very optimistic! I even painted my fingernails with four leaf clovers and hearts and other very positive symbols. But then Cooper called us… and his voice." She shudders visibly. "Well, I thought you were dead already. Then he told us you'd been kidnapped!"
She's so emphatic and expressive while she talks, I get lost in the mystery she's talking about, as if I hadn't lived through it! I find myself wanting to say "what happened next?"
She looks back at Cooper; he's still completely out of it. Assured he's not awake, she turns back to me and looks like she's about to cry.
"We were so scared. He was so scared. I've never heard him sound like that. Ever. He could barely get the words out. And he was so mad at himself. I could tell he was beating himself up over the fact that that creep got you while you were basically under his watch."
"Technically," I correct her. "I was only under his watch when he was around to watch me. I mean, he left to go save the day, wouldn't tell me his plans or anything he was up to, and then he was the one kidnapped. He was getting all beaten, and… and I had to do something. Sure, it didn't go quite as smoothly as I hoped – but… I had to do something. He probably would've gotten himself killed," I say.
"Well, we all know you can't sit idly by when someone – especially someone you're in love with – is in danger. You never could. So I know why you got yourself all kidnapped. Cooper knows. We all know. You have some weird superwoman complex. If you could just be Lois Lane – or any damsel in distress – and let people rescue you, we'd all be better off."
I chuckle softly. How I've missed Magda's theories and assessments… how closely she reads me and how she never holds back but instead just tells me what conclusions she's come to where I'm concerned.
I look past her at Cooper, still slumped in his chair, his rhythmic breathing still indicating a deep sleep. "He looks like he hasn't slept in days," I say.
"Um… did you hit your head when you were kidnapped? Of course Cooper didn't sleep. You were in danger. Possibly mortal danger!"
"Yes, you've mentioned that," I say, rolling my eyes. "I had it totally under control, by the way."
"Well, sort of," I amend. I sigh and look into her eyes, seeing – behind all the jokes and comments – a real fear. "I'm really sorry I scared you all."
She hugs me again. "Well… I'll forgive you this time. But don't expect me to be so easy breezy next time you decide to play Superwoman."
I hug her back tightly, my way of assuring her that I'm okay.
"Your dad really wants to see you," she whispers after a heart-felt moment. She pulls back and looks at me. "I'll be right back; I'll go get him."
"No – help me up. Let me go see him. I really don't want to wake Cooper."
"You can't get out of bed," she says, her eyes wide.
Oh god. I hadn't thought about why I was in the hospital. I assumed it was precautionary – knowing Cooper. But what if I was, like, paralyzed or in a coma for a month?
"I can't?" I ask, my throat feeling tight and my pulse speeding up. "Why? What happened to me? Can I walk?"
"You can walk," she assures me quickly. "But you're on bed rest. Doctor's orders."
"Oh!" I say, dismissively. "Well if that's all, then help me up."
"You really don't understand the word 'orders', do you?" she asks, putting a hand on my back to help me along – super quietly, so as to not wake up Cooper, who's beginning to quietly snore – which he only does when he's completely overly tired.
A few minutes later, I am walking into the waiting room. I spot my dad – sitting in a chair, his head down, his brow furrowed, like he's deep in thought.
"Mr. Wells!" Magda shouts happily. He looks up and when his eyes fall on me, they light up. Really light up. He's elated to see me… and it just makes my heart swell.
He runs to me, and pulls me into a warm, sturdy hug. I fold myself in his embrace and take in all his familiar smells, while he puts a hand in my hair.
"You had us scared stiff," he whispers.
I look up at him. "Surely, the doctor would've told you I was okay," I say, confused.
"Oh yes. The doctor said you were completely dehydrated, had a weird drug in your system, had some bruises all over you and that you'd most likely be unconscious for hours."
I sigh. Added up like that, it did sound kind of bad. I can see why he looked so worried when I walked into the room.
"We knew that you were okay overall," he says, relief evident in his voice. "But before Cooper found you, we knew nothing."
"I'm so sorry, Dad. I really didn't mean for everything to get so out of hand. I guess I really wasn't thinking about how wrong it could all go. I just wanted Cooper—"
"I don't know what that cop was thinking, going along with your plan."
"I was so sure, dad… so sure… that Tad was unstable enough that all I had to do was get Cooper free and play his little game, let him think we were dating, and I'd get the upper hand. I just wasn't counting on how scary he'd be once we were one-on-one."
"Please tell me that your detective days are over."
I just smile up at him. I can't make that promise. He knows that. "I will be smarter in the future – overall."
He sighs. "I had so much lost time with you – all those years that I was barely there, and then when I was in jail… I have you in my life now and I really can't go back to a life without you."
I wrap my arms around him tightly. "I'll stay safe," I say. I immediately realize – probably at the same moment as him, that such a promise really can't be made. So I say "I'll be careful," and squeeze him tighter.
"Your mom called and sent her concerns. She wants you to call her when you're out of the hospital."
I roll my eyes. I really never would've thought in a million years that my dad would be the parent that I would cling to after a life-threatening situation.
"What are you doing out here?" I hear a voice behind me say.
I know that voice.
I turn around and my eyes meet the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen. At the sight of his eyes, my own fill up with tears. In Tad's lair, I had begun to think I'd never see Cooper again. And here he is – just feet away from me. Gazing into my eyes. Handsome as ever.
"You're awake," I say, forcing the lump out of my throat.
He walks up to me, never taking his eyes off mine for a moment – seeming to check me over in a way, to make sure I'm really here. "You stole the words right out of my mouth. By the way, thanks for leaving the room you were ordered to stay in. It was great to wake up and see that you were missing… again," he says.
"I just took a little walk to see my dad," I say, defensively. I cross my arms. "Nice to see you too," I add.
His mouth twitches so quickly, I'm not sure it even moved. And I can't tell if he nearly smiled or nearly frowned. But… I just woke up from being unconscious following a big, messy, not to mention emotional ordeal. I really don't need to deal with attitude from Cooper.
He looks briefly at my dad then back at me.
"Your room. Now," he says.
"But I'm not done talking to—"
"—yes you are," my dad interjects, like he's in on some joke. He kisses my forehead. "Go and rest."
I frown at my dad and turn on my heel, stalking away from Cooper and back toward my room. How can he have the nerve to come and track me down in the hallway and then immediately begin spouting out orders without even giving me a hug? After the two days I've had, it's just wrong. Wrong!
I mean, the last time we talked on the microphone, he told me – more or less – that he loved me! And now it's back to normal – him treating me like some kind of fragile, breakable doll, some kid sister type – I mean, seriously, he just ordered me to go to my room! And I'm stuck pining for him, wishing when he yells at me that he'd just hug me instead. Or better yet, kiss me!
I get back into my room and turn to close the door, surprised to see that he's here. Cooper, I mean; he's beside me. I guess my angry thoughts were so loud, I didn't even hear him walking behind me in the hall.
"What are you doing here?" I ask. "I followed your orders, I'm in my room. You don't have to make sure I'm obeying or babysit me."
"Well, I had to make sure on your walk over that you didn't see some dark stairwell with a dead nurse and run off to investigate at your own risk and come head to head with a deranged doctor… or something," he says quickly.
I want to snap at him, to tell him that I've been through a lot, and it's been a long couple of days, and to just get off my case. But… I honestly don't have the energy. The idea that it's back to status quo for us takes any energy that I had left and just zaps it right out of me. It makes my heart ache and, since my sight is suddenly blurry, I realize that it also makes my eyes well up.
It makes me sad. Downright sad.
I turn away from Cooper, swallowing my feelings as best I can, and go back toward my bed. I reluctantly climb back in and get under the covers. Once settled in, I look at Cooper.
"I'm not going to make any trouble, Coop. So… you can just go. I'm okay," I say, my quivering voice betraying me to Cooper – only because he notices everything.
He stares at me for a long moment – his expression impenetrable – and then finally he releases a long, quivering breath. Then he's walking toward me, and I begin to see the hardness fall away and a much more vulnerable expression take its place.
"Are you?" he asks, quietly, when he's by my bed.
"Huh?" I say, very eloquently I might add.
"Okay," he says. He closes his eyes for an instant, then looks into my eyes. "Are you okay?"
In a second it all makes sense. His overbearing behavior, the fact that he seems kind of on-edge, the fact that he freaked out that he woke up to me not being in my hospital room, and why he didn't hug me when he saw me.
He's still worried. Even though I'm here, and I'm clearly okay, he's worried. I can see it all over his face.
"I'm okay," I say. "Really. I am."
He shakes his head and sighs. "Heather, when we found you, you were soaking wet, in a room that was hotter than hell, you were unconscious, you had bruises on your arms and legs and a bump the size of an egg on the back of your head. Not to mention the fact that once you got here, the doctors said you hadn't had food in two days and had a drug with a really long, strange name in your system that they had to get out of you."
I listen and my heart lurches. This whole thing has just been awful for him. And he's still completely breaking down over it… and no doubt blaming himself for it. Just like he did all those years ago.
"I'm not sure what happened," he continues, "but you switched off your microphone that allowed you to hear us anymore when you walked into the house. We tried to ask you a couple questions and prompt you to answer by coughing, but you didn't. And we knew. Thank god you didn't touch the other one, because I got your clues about the bear head and floorboard. And we heard you talk about the moving book shelf and Moby Dick. We heard enough to know where you were and how to get to you once we got there." He puts a hand through his hair and clenches his jaw. "But once you got into that back room where all the gym equipment was, we lost the microphone that allowed us to hear you anymore."
I had known there'd been a broken connection. My whole Save Me crew had just gone radio silent on me. I mean, of course there had been a technical problem, or I'd pressed the diamond ring accidentally or something.
"Our men that had gone after you guys in the tunnels were heading in the opposite direction," he explains. "Tad and his cronies had carved out the most intricate and long route to that house – underground. Barrett and I were heading in the opposite direction of New Jersey. We thought they were going North with you, based on what the underground guys were saying. So when you gave those clues… I was over an hour away from you."
"I'm really sorry, Coop," I say lamely. "You must've been nervous—"
"Nervous," he says, with a small, humorless laugh. "I had no idea what was happening to you." He stares at me for a long, painful moment. "So please tell me. From the time that you got into that room until the moment you passed out – what happened?"
I sigh. If I go through the whole thing, he's just going to get more upset. "What does it matter, Coop? As you can see, I'm fine."
"You're alive, you're breathing, you look okay overall – considering," he says. "But… I have no idea if you're really okay. And it does matter. It matters to me."
"Well, don't worry," I say, trying so hard to reassure him. I can see it's not working and that he's still worrying. "It all sounds a lot worse than it really was. The bruises are nothing – Taylor and Angel and that other guy grabbed my arms and legs so they could carry me into the sauna after I'd gotten out of the pool – because, you know, I'd refused to do ten laps after doing ten minutes on the treadmill, so I got out of the pool in kind of a bad mood, because the whole thing just reminded me of that poor guy that Tad drowned at Fitness World – and they had sort of vice-like grips on me, Angel, Taylor and that other guy, I mean, hence the bruises. And then instead of nicely placing me in the sauna, they sort of threw me in, and I hit my head on the wall. I passed out because of everything put together, I'm sure. It wasn't, like, because of any weird or violent misconduct. I promise. And that's basically it," I finish.
I try to look at him in a way that says "that was so nothing, right?"
But he just clenches his jaw and shakes his head again, looking at some invisible space between himself and me. Then, finally, he looks back up at me. "I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. About everything. That they got their hands on you, that you went through any of that—"
"Coop, stop, please. If you're just going to sit around focusing on the fact that they got me for a little while, and not focus on the fact that you saved my life… again… well, then, I don't really want to have you as company. You see – from where I'm sitting, it could've been a lot worse. From where I'm sitting, this whole thing could've gone on for so much longer. But it's over now. And I'm okay. And you saved me like I knew you would. So I apologize that I won't join your pity party, but I am not going to think of you as anything other than the guy who saved me – the guy I knew would save me. Ever. Okay? So… there."
I cross my arms stubbornly, and after a long moment, he laughs. Not a lot – but I can see the smile go to his eyes, and it's just the best sight to see.
"You do seem like you're okay," he says finally, relief evident in his expression.
"I told you."
Looking like a major weight has been lifted from him, he sits down on the edge of my bed. "Just so you know, these have been the worst couple days of my life," he says. And while his voice seems less intense than it was before, I can hear the seriousness in his words.
Without even thinking about it, I reach up and brush a dark, reckless curl off his forehead gently. "It's really over now… right?" I ask.
I pull my hand away from his face and place it in my lap with my other hand, willing myself not to make any more automatic gestures that could be construed as romantic. After all – we're back to Cooper and Heather: Platonic Friends for Life. Status Quo.
At least I think we are.
"It's over," Cooper verifies. "They're all in jail awaiting trial – and they will go to jail for a long time after the trial, I can promise you that."
I wince. "Do I have to testify at this trial?"
"Yes," he says. "Don't worry. You'll be safe. This time, I really can promise you that. And anyway, it's not like you'll be alone."
I smile at him. "I have a sneaking feeling that you will be there with bells on."
"You've got that right. The trial's really a formality; they were caught in the act by multiple officers. They're going away – and I am going to be there to see it with my own two eyes," he says.
"You know, I can't believe you didn't knock Tad out when you found us," I say to him, resting my head back on the pillow, suddenly tired, which is weird because, you know, I'd just woken up like fifteen minutes ago.
"Yeah, well, I probably would've if I wasn't desperately trying to figure out where you were and if you were okay. We had some other officers with us – they got to take care of all of them. I barely got to look at Tad."
"Probably best," I say.
I yawn and smile at him sleepily.
He looks at me for a long moment and smiles softly. "You should rest," he finally says.
"Where are you going to go?"
"I could use a little rest myself," he says. "And a shower," he adds.
At that thought, my cheeks flush as I automatically think of Cooper in the shower. I sensor myself enough to keep the thought PG-13. But I still picture him all shirtless and wet, which causes my cheeks to turn a sweet shade of crimson, I'm sure. I shake the image out of my head and look at him. He's watching me closely, smirking slightly like he's thinking about something kind of amusing.
"Um," I say, before clearing my throat. "I think that's a good idea. The nap, I mean. You looked pretty out of it before. You know, when I woke up."
"I feel like I haven't slept in weeks," he says, running a hand through his hair.
"I think you should definitely go home, then. And… and sleep."
He smiles at me softly. "I'm not going home until your room is fixed."
"Ah, right – the broken window and fire-damaged bedroom. Well, where will you go?"
"Believe it or not, my parents' house. We're just down the street from there right now," he says.
I'm shocked when I hear him say he's willingly going there, but… then I think about how nice his mother was to us when we went there to hide out. How nice she was to me. And how estranged they've been. And I feel happy he's going there. Really happy.
I smile. "I'll see you later," I say.
He moves forward a fraction of an inch and then stops himself. He looks at me closely. And then he moves forward again, swiftly, and kisses my forehead. He lingers a moment too long for a friendly kiss – not that I mind. My stomach does Olympic-worthy flip flops.
And then he pulls back and looks at me.
"See you later."
I stare at the door when he's gone, thinking about what Cooper had just done. He kissed my forehead. Sure, it was sweet and made me feel great, and warm, loved and safe.
But… it was my forehead. Not my lips. Basically, it was a kiss of friendship – with an extra moment in there borne from the fact that we'd both been through hell and had come out alive and safe.
At that thought, though, I smile. I'm alive and safe. Tad's gone – a horrible memory of something safely in my past now. And I have a great family. Magda, my father – they're right outside. Caring. They're here. And Cooper. He's my best friend in the world. And he's safe too. And he just kissed me. And he told me he's not going home until my bedroom is fixed.
How sweet is that?
Wrapped in warm and fuzzy feelings, I fall asleep.
The next day, I walk into the Cartwright mansion for the second time this week – though this time I'm not sporting pink Superman pajamas and scared for my life. Magda is holding my arm, acting as if I can't walk without assistance, even though the doctor said, right in front of her, that I was completely healthy and good to leave.
Mrs. Cartwright was at the hospital this afternoon to pick me up, and she's been even nicer to me than she was a couple of days ago. Probably because I am so pathetic-looking now. I'd actually lost seven and a half pounds during my ordeal with Tad. My hair's looking stringy as ever, since I haven't been able to use a decent conditioner in days. My skin is still pretty pale. And I keep jumping at every little thing – like on the car ride home, when a car beeped a half a block away and I gasped as if someone had shot a gun inches from my face.
I really am okay… but I guess this whole thing has unnerved me a little more than I originally thought. I think that's normal.
But ever since yesterday, the whole Cartwright clan has been overly nice to me. Even Mr. Cartwright came by this morning with a bouquet of flowers, saying he hoped I made a speedy recovery and that I was always welcome at their house. Jordan came by to tell me he was sorry he helped to put me into danger; and that he – and Tania – hoped I was okay. The only person in the Cartwright family I hadn't seen all day was the only one I really wanted to see.
"Where's Cooper?" I ask Mrs. Cartwright, folding my arms nervously across my chest.
She touches my arm gently and smiles. "There was something he had to do this morning."
She goes to get me some chamomile tea, telling me it'll relax and soothe me.
Madga and I walk to the living room and sit down.
"This place is huge," she says, throwing a blanket on me. I can't believe you used to party here when you were a kid! You really lived it up!"
"Oh yeah, I really lived it up. I was forced to leave my childhood behind, I had my mom begin to love what I could bring her more than she loved me, she eventually robbed and left me, I came into this house and felt incredibly unwelcome by Jordan's parents and management, I got a scary stalker – twice – and when I lost all my fame, my fiancée cheated on me with someone else who still had 'it' going on."
"Well when you put it that way," she says.
I laugh, and pull the blanket up over my chest. "It all worked out. If none of that had happened, I wouldn't be who I am."
"Well I, for one, love who you are," she says. "Even though part of what got you here was quite unpleasant."
"Thanks, Mags," I say, pulling her into a hug.
When Magda leaves, I sit with my tea looking around the huge house that held so many memories for me.
The best memory of this place, though, by far, is the night I met Cooper Cartwright. We reminisced about it the other day and I didn't let myself really relive it. I was so concerned about his new plan to catch Tad.
But right now – I remember butterflies in my stomach when my eyes locked with his. And I remember feeling really confused. Why would I have butterflies when meeting Jordan's brother when Jordan was the man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with?
I had no idea at the time. In fact, I had no idea until this moment – as I'm thinking about it. I can see the whole memory cast in a whole new light now.
That night I fell in love. Just not with Jordan.
"Earth to Heather."
I look up and see that Cooper is standing on the other side of the room from where I was zoning out.
"Hi," I say, smiling. "Where are you coming from?"
"Our house," he says – which makes my heart rate speed up – his choice of words. "I, uh… I just wanted to make sure they were moving along so we could get back there quickly. Where are you just coming from?" he asks.
He walks deeper into the room and squats down in front of me.
"The hospital. Where else?"
"I meant just now. You looked like you were miles away."
"Oh… um… the night we met," I admit.
He smiles. "You know, it rained that night."
"I remember. Your hair was all wet when you came home for dinner."
"And you jumped at the sound of lightning. You still do that sometimes – during bad storms."
"I want you to know," I begin, before stopping and biting my lip nervously. I put a piece of hair behind my ear and look into his eyes. "That night – meeting you – it changed my life."
He takes my tea out of my hands and holds them – my hands I mean. "Likewise," he says.
After a couple long, interminable moments, I look away. "So… how is the room coming along?"
"It'll take about a week," he says.
"A week? Coop, you don't have to stay here for a week. I mean, your room's okay. You can go there and then I'll come when it's ready—"
I see him bend his head and shake it. He looks back up at me. "You know, I never minded living alone, Heather. I kind of loved it, actually. I would come and go as I pleased, watch anything I wanted, eat whatever I wanted… I didn't have a care in the world."
My heart speeds up – again – because I kind of feel like he's getting ready to evict me. Sounds like he really enjoyed his freedom before I came and moved in. Right?
"Then you came along."
"Do you want me to leave?" I ask, my voice small even to my own ears.
He laughs. "I want you to listen. Really listen," he says.
"Um… okay," I say, unsure of what I'm listening for. All I've heard him say so far is that he was pretty darn happy on his own.
"Before you moved in, I used to stay out late. Really late. My house was the place where I slept and kept my stuff."
He looks down at our joined hands and begins running his thumb smoothly over the skin on my hand.
"It was almost instantaneous, what happened when you moved in. I don't remember the change happening, I just know that I loved coming home. I loved buying takeout for two – for us – and listening to jazz together. I loved having Lucy jump on me and lick me when I walked in the door. And I loved falling asleep listening to the soft sound of a guitar playing the most beautiful music."
I feel my eyes fill with tears and I smile at him.
"You made my house into a home so quickly, I didn't even notice the change… until you started dating Tad. You weren't home as much, and instead of feeling the same way I'd felt before you even moved in, I felt this huge emptiness."
I look at him with my mouth open slightly in shock. I had never meant to make him feel empty.
"I'm sorry," I say.
"Sorry?" he asks. "I told you I wouldn't be your rebound guy," he says, his voice low. "I basically told you to date someone else, knowing that it would make me nuts if it actually happened. I don't know why I said that. But then before I could take the words back – or do something about it – you were doing it. You were dating him. And it made me so much more nuts than I thought it would."
"In the end, it made me kind of nuts too," I say, trying to lighten the mood.
"Yes, it did turn out to be a bit of a nightmare."
"A bit," I agree jokingly.
"I want to stay here until your room is fixed," he says eventually. "I don't want to go back there without you. It's… it's our house. It's been that way since the second you moved in."
I pull him into a hug, and squeeze him tight. "Thank you, Coop. You have no idea how much it means to hear you say that. I mean… your house is the only place that's ever felt like home for me."
When we pull back, I see he has tears in his eyes too.
"So, does the fact that my rebound romance ended with me in the hospital mean that I need to find a new rebound guy now?"
"That sounds like a good idea," he says, inching closer to me. "I think I know someone who's interested."
"Who's that?" I ask, staring at his lips.
He stares at my lips and then lifts his eyes and looks into mine. "Me."
He bends forward and captures my lips with his. There's no pretense, no ruse – just love. His lips feel so right on mine, and as the kiss deepens, I feel his tongue touch my lips. I wrap my arms around his neck and bury my hands in his hair as he leans further into me.
When he breaks the kiss, he kisses my forehead again, and my eyelids, my nose, my cheeks – every inch of my face it seems.
"I love you," he says, short of breath, in what seems like a mix of nerves and passion.
"I love you, too," I admit – feeling free as I say the words I've kept hidden for so long.
He kisses my lips again, briefly, before touching his forehead to mine. "I've wanted to do that for a long time."
"I knew there was something about you – something special – the moment I met you."
"You've cared about me since then?" I ask, short of breath myself.
I feel him nod.
"Me too," I admit quietly. "Well if this wasn't the longest run to first base in history," I say.
He laughs. And then he holds his hand out to me and stands up.
I stand up. I take his hand.
He looks in my eyes and smiles – and I feel like I can see his soul.
And then he leads me upstairs.