After Esme left, I closed my eyes, hoping only to feign sleep until the nurse who was supposed to bring me food came and left without forcing me to eat. I ended up dozing off with the pain from my fall still pounding in my skull.

When I woke in the morning, a tray of food was waiting for me. Some kind of meat, mashed potatoes, macaroni, and jell-o. I grimaced and pushed it aside, favoring more sleep to the cold plate of carbs.

"Good morning, Ms. Cullen," a nurse said, different than those who'd attended to me the night before. My eyes opened. So much for sleep.

"G'morning," I muttered. "Do you know what time it is?" "Yes, it's just after ten," she answered.

"Ten?" I made a quick movement to get out of the hospital bed that made my head spin and forced me to fall back onto my pillow. "Where's my purse? My phone? I need to call work."

"I don't believe any of your personal belongings are here, Ms. Cullen," she said as she studied the monitors I was hooked up to and wrote down notes on a clipboard. "I can double check for you, but we usually keep any bags or purses with the patient."

"Yes, double check, please," I said. We had a huge photo shoot at work that I was missing. I hadn't left any notes on the direction of the shoot, so of course it was all going to shit without me. Not only that, but all my credit cards were in that purse, and my driver's license. I grimaced at the thought of having to cancel them and apply for new ones.

The nurse reentered the room a few minutes later. "I'm sorry, Ms. Cullen," she said. "Your purse wasn't brought with you to the hospital. You can come use a payphone, if you'd like."

"That would be great," I said. I made a move to stand up.

"Wait, Ms. Cullen, we have to get a wheelchair for you," the nurse said, placing her hand on my shoulder to push me back onto the bed.

"What are you talking about?" I asked, immediately annoyed. "I can walk."

"I'm sorry, but the fall affected key parts of your brain that alter your balance," she explained. "It's not permanent, but for at least a few days you're not going to be able to walk very well."

I frowned at her. She shrugged apologetically and went into the next room. She came back with a wheelchair.

"Let me help you," she said, taking my arm.

I shook her off. "I think I can take two steps."

As I put my feet down on the floor, I realized I'd miscalculated the distance from the bed to the ground. I stepped too far, tripped, and nearly fell over. The nurse caught me and helped me into the wheelchair.

"You said it's not permanent, right?" I asked, my brows furrowed in defeat.

She laughed. "No, no. Once the healing process is completely finished, you should be back to normal."

"Should be?"

"In very rare cases, patients continue to experience extremely slight balance issues," she said, "but it's not severe enough to be considered an impairment."

She wheeled me out into the waiting room and up to a set of three pay phones. I reached up for the phone.

"Um…" My ears were greeted with silence. "You don't happen to have a quarter, do you?" I asked the nurse.

She chuckled, then reached over a punched a series of numbers into the phone. The dial stone sprung to life.

"Wow, thanks," I muttered.

"Any time," she said. "I'll be right over at the desk. Signal me when you're ready."

I nodded and dialed the phone number for work.

"Chic Magazine, this is Lauren, how can I help you?"

"Lauren, hey," I said, less than enthusiastically. Where was Bree when you needed her? "It's me, Alice."

"Alice," she said, her voice turning into a hurried whisper. "Where are you? I'm getting a dozen calls a minute from the shoot asking about you."

"Shit, that's what I was afraid of," I muttered. "Okay, I can't come into work today. Call them, tell everyone I'm so sorry, but I had an accident and I'm stuck at a hospital until further notice. Cancel all my appointments for the next couple of days."

"But our next issue is due for printing by Friday," she said. "How are we supposed to meet our deadline like this?"

"Isn't Bree there?" I asked. I felt my face getting hot. The deadline was Friday. How could I have forgotten? "She has all my notes and all the information for a last-minute issue."

"She hasn't come into work all week," Lauren said. "She called yesterday, said there was some kind of emergency and she wouldn't be around for a while."

"Can you go to her house and get the notes?" I started to rub my temple, but a sharp pain retaliated and I dropped my hand. "Or send someone to get them?"

"Um, yeah, I can send one of the interns," she said. Why can't you just do it? I asked silently.

"That's fine," I said. "That'll give you all you need. I don't have my cell phone with me anymore, so you can't call me there. I'm going to try to get a computer so I can at least check my email. Forward all my contacts there for now, okay?"

"Will do," Lauren said.

"That's it for now," I said. "I'll call if anything changes. Bye, Lauren."

There was a click at the other end, and then the dial tone again. I dialed Esme's number.

"Hello?" She answered on the first ring.

"Hey, Esme, it's me," I said. "Have you picked up Lacey yet?"

"I'm on my way now," she answered. My heart raced angrily as I thought of her spending the night with Jasper. He didn't deserve her. I should've just kept her with me. "How are you? Are you feeling alright?"

"Yeah, I'm fine, Esme," I said. "Just bring her here as soon as you can, okay? And ask… Jasper," I had to force his name out, "if he just happened to grab my purse from the park when they brought me to the hospital."

"I will," she said. "We'll be there soon, okay? Bye, Alice."

"Bye."

I hung up and turned toward the desk where my nurse was waiting. She immediately walked over and started pushing me toward my room.

"Thanks," I said.

"No problem, Ms. Cullen," she said. "I'm just here to help."

That place really disproved my preconceived notions of doctors and hospitals. I'd never been somewhere where the staff was so nice and willing to help.

She helped me back into the hospital bed and left the wheelchair against the wall.

"Were you able to get everything in order?" she asked as she hooked me back up to the machines.

I nodded. "Yeah, it was just a lot of work stuff," I said. "I hadn't exactly anticipated to be off duty for very long."

"Ouch, that's gotta be rough," she said. "What do you do?"

"I'm the head of Chic Magazine," I said, rather proudly. I loved my business. The nurse looked at me with wide eyes.

"You're that Alice Cullen?" she asked.

I blushed. I hadn't anticipated that reaction. "Yep, that's me."

"I absolutely adore Chic!" she said. "I've been reading it since I moved to Seattle. Oh, gosh, I feel like I'm meeting an idol."

"Well, um, I'm glad you like it!" I said.

"It's a complete breakthrough in the world of fashion journalism," she said, turning back to the machines. "Trust me, Ms. Cullen, we'll have you healthy and out of here in no time. Can't keep your business waiting, can we?"

I laughed. "Only if it's no trouble."

"No trouble at all, honestly," she said. "That's our job." She picked up the tray of cold food. "Disgusting, isn't it? It's bad when it's warm. I can't imagine stomaching it cold. I'll see if I can find something better for you, alright?" "Really, you don't have to," I said. There was an empty pit in my stomach and, despite the conversation I'd had with Dr. Newton, I wanted it to stay that way.

"It's no trouble, Ms. Cullen," she said, already walking toward the door. "It's my job."

She was gone before I could protest further. I slumped back into my bed and turned on the television so I could distract myself until Esme showed up with Lacey.

A different nurse came in with a plate of food - hot food - and set it by my bed. She smiled at me, and left without another word. The plate looked much more appetizing. I didn't know hospitals served sandwiches that looked so good. Despite my stomach's insistence, I left it untouched. The Big Bang Theory was much more entertaining than stuffing my face with food.

Three episodes later, I heard the pitter patter of a familiar pair of footsteps heading for my room.

"Momma!"

Lacey ran to my side and threw her arms around me. I jumped, but immediately scooped her up into my lap and held her tightly. When she pulled back, I saw that there was a blue surgical mask over her mouth.

"What's this?" I asked, snapping the elastic on the side and laughing. Lacey giggled.

"Grandma Esme made me put it on," she explained. "She said it'd keep the sickies away."

"She did?" I squeezed her tightly. "What a smart thing to do. Where is Grandma Esme, anyway?"

"She had to go to work," Lacey said. "Jasper brought me!"

She hopped out of my lap and ran to the door. I froze. Why why why why why was this happening to me?

Lacey pulled Jasper into the room. I refused to look at him.

"Hey, Alice," he said sheepishly. "Sorry. Esme asked if I could bring her and I couldn't say no. I did tell Lacey to leave me in the waiting room." I saw him eye her playfully. She giggled. I crossed my arms.

"But Momma likes you, Jasper!" Lacey exclaimed. "Don't you, Momma?"

I turned to him and forced the nastiest smile I could manage. "Of course," I said. My words dripped like poisoned honey. I saw him shift uncomfortably. The sight made me chuckle.

"Lacey, honey, why don't you come sit here by me?"

She smiled and ran back to me. She climbed onto the bed and curled into my side.

"Jasper," she said, "you can sit here!" She motioned to the chair by my bed.

"Um, I'm just going to go back to the waiting room, Lace," Jasper said. My eyes narrowed. I hated hearing him say her name. What gave him the right?

"Yes," I said coldly. "You do that."

"No, Jasper!" Lacey said, her adorable eyes widening. "Stay. It's okay." She looked to me. "Right, Momma?"

Those eyes. I could never resist those eyes. Why did I have to be such a pushover? "Yeah." I sighed. "It's fine."

Jasper sat in the chair next to my bed, but I could tell he was anything but comfortable.

Good.

"Oh, Alice, I just remembered," he said. "I grabbed your bag before I drove Lacey to the hospital yesterday. I left it in my car last night. My bad." He handed it to me. I hadn't even noticed he'd had it with him.

"Yeah, your bad," I said quietly, taking the bag. "Thanks. I was worried." I pulled out my phone and sent an email to Lauren telling her I could take her calls. I noticed thirty new emails. Lacey took the remote out of my lap and started flipping through the channels while I scrolled through my emails. Jasper sat in silence.

"Look, look!" Lacey said suddenly, shaking my shoulder and making Jasper look up. "Look, it's Princess and the Frog!" She sat forward and rested her head on her hands.

"When did you watch Princess and the Frog, Lace?" I asked. We were watching all the Disney Princess movies together, in order. We were barely on Aladdin.

"I saw it at the daycare!" she answered excitedly. "Remember, Jasper? You taught me to dance like Tiana!"

Jasper chuckled uneasily. "Oh, yeah," he said. "Of course I remember."

I scowled and pretended to look back at my emails. I just wanted to hit him. He had to right to barge into my life like this, no right to create a relationship with my daughter - mine, not ours, mine -when he'd been absent from both of our lives for so long. I had to find a different daycare for Lacey. I couldn't let her get close to him. He'd only hurt her, just like he hurt me.

"Look how she lights up da sky," Lacey sang quietly. "Ma belle Evangeline."

I saw Jasper smile at her from the corner of my eye. Lacey was too enthralled by the movie to notice. I wanted to cry.

"Jasper, I think you should go." My voice was choked up, but I had to get it out. I didn't want him there.

"Are - are you sure?" he asked. "Esme told me to wait here with Lacey until - "

"I'm sure," I said, trying to tone down the sharpness in my voice. "Just… I just think it's better if you get back to work."

"It's my day off," he said. "Really, it's no trouble - "

"Jasper," I cut him off. "Go."

He closed his mouth and his eyes grew sad. He stood up to leave.

"No, Jasper!" Lacey hopped off the bed and hurried to hug his leg. "Don't go."

"No, kiddo, it's okay," he said. He looked up at me. "Your mom's right. I should… go. To work, or something. I should go."

I could see Lacey's lips slip into a pout. He crouched down to her level.

"It's okay, Lace," he said. "We'll see each other real soon, alright? I'll still be at the daycare when you go back."

She smiled and hugged him around the neck. Jasper hesitated. I looked away so I wouldn't have to see him hug her back.

He straightened up. "Catch ya later, Lace," he said. Just before he walked out the door, I caught a whispered, "Bye, Alice." I didn't say anything.

"Come here, Lacey." I put my phone away and stretch my arms out toward her. "Let's finish watching the movie, okay? You'll like this scene. It's my favorite."

She wasn't looking at the screen or moving toward the bed. Lacey looked up at me with sad, confused eyes. Her cheeks were red.

"You don't like him," she said softly.

I sighed. Could I beat around the bush any longer? "No, I don't, honey. Come here."

She moved this time. She let me pick her up and sit her down on the bed so she was facing me.

"I don't want you being friends with Jasper, Lace," I said. "I - he's not the kind of friend you want, okay? Trust me. Please."

I was trying not to cry. I was trying not to say, "He abandoned us once. I don't want to give him the chance to do it again." A single tear fell down my cheek. Lacey wiped it away.

"I trust you, Momma," she said. She curled back into my side, facing the TV. "I love you."

I stroked her hair. "I love you, too, sweetie. More than you'll ever, ever know."

I felt her steady heart beat and her warm breath on my neck. I was suddenly aware of how little there was between the hospital gown and my ribs. I must not have made a very comfy pillow.

I gulped and looked toward the side of my bed where the sandwich, a carton of orange juice, and a scoop of green gelatin were waiting. I took my hand away from Lacey for a moment to pick up the sandwich.

"Whatcha doin', Momma?" Lacey asked me, looking over her shoulder to see what I was reaching for. I held up the sandwich.

"Oh, nothing," I said. "I'm just hungry."

She smiled at me, rested her head back into the crook of my neck, and returned her attention to the movie. I took a bite out of the sandwich and, using all my willpower, chewed and swallowed. I took a second bite and repeated the process.

I felt the lumps of food drop down into my empty stomach. It felt like the grand canyon was collapsing in on itself. It was hard to enjoy.

That is, it was hard to enjoy until I looked down. My sweet little daughter. Lacey was smiling and laughing and singing along to the songs that played on the screen. If eating a sandwich every now and then meant I could stick around to enjoy watching her smile and laugh for a long time, I'd do it. I'd eat a thousand sandwiches, a million globs of jell-o, and drink a billion cartons of orange juice. If it would let me be there for her for as long as possible, I'd do it.

I looked away from the screen for a moment when a movement caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. Dr. Newton stood in the doorway, his clipboard in hand. He smiled.

I smiled back.

A/N: Look who's back :D I've officially updated all the stories that needed updating, and plan to continue doing so. I will NOT abandon you guys again, I promise! I love writing so much, and it's given me such an amazing high over the last few days. I couldn't give it up again if I tried.

Head on over to Unsinkable and You Know My Heart if you enjoy those stories too :) They have fresh, shiny new chapters all for you!

Thanks to everyone who is still here after this handful of years that's gone by. You guys mean the world to me, as do these stories and these characters.

Reviews are love, as they always have been :)

xoxo, April