Stephenie Meyer owns the Twilight parts.
Thanks to Iris for cleaning this up and to M and Nic for pre-reading. Any mistakes left are mine.
His hair is pushed back and tucked under a backwards ball cap today. It's still long enough to curl up around the edges in a mess of brown.
"Hey, Seth." My hand flies up in a lame attempt at a wave, and Jane giggles next to me, digging her elbow in my side. "Stop it."
He glances over his shoulder one more time and leans over to pick up his board. Alec calls his name once before taking off down the ramp.
I wish Alec would crash and fall on his butt just once. All of the other girls are here to watch him, and his ego could use a good knockdown. He's a gross doofus, but I have to admit, I'm glad they all like him and not Seth.
Seth's too quiet for them. Too shy and too sweet. But he reads books, listens to grunge music from the 90s, and he ollies and 360 hardflips better than Alec or any of the other boys.
"Alec invited Seth to come to Heber with us," Jane says.
"Nooooo." If he goes with us, I'll have to hang out with him in front of Dad.
"He can't come. You can start breathing again."
"Yeah, Uncle Edward would kill him for staring at you all the time."
A month ago, I would have argued and called her silly, but Seth asked for my number the second time I came here with them. He's been texting me ever since.
It sucks that Alec is his best friend. And that he'll turn 15 right after I turn 13. If Dad stays true to his word, I won't be able to date Seth or anyone else until I'm 30. Although, I don't know how he'll stop me after I go away to college.
It's not like I want to marry the guy. I just want to watch him skate.
Aunt Rachel lets us stay at the park past dinnertime. When the sun goes down, she's waiting in the parking lot with Brady in the minivan. She doesn't feel like cooking, so we stop and pick up pizza on the way back to Jane's house.
Alec calls dibs on the TV upstairs in the game room, so we're stuck sharing the one in the living room with Brady and Aunt Rachel. Her phone rings midway through a Disney Channel movie, and she gets up quickly to walk into the kitchen.
"Alec!" she yells a few minutes later. "Get down here!" She comes back into the room and reaches for her shoes. "Get your shoes on."
"Mom?" Brady looks up in confusion.
"Put your shoes on now, Brady." Her face is covered in tears, and she's shaking.
"Mom," Jane says. "What–"
I don't think she's even listening to us.
Alec lopes down the stairs, pokes his head around the corner, and groans. "Jeez, Mom. Where's the fire?"
The smile slips from his face after she bursts into sobs in the middle of their living room. "Your dad… They're coming to get us."
Jane leans over slowly, slides on her Chucks, and ties them in silence while Brady cries. "Is he dead?" she finally says.
Aunt Rachel shakes her head, and Alec walks over to her and hugs her. "Okay, Mom. It's okay."
Headlights sweep across the front window, and Alec keeps his arm around Aunt Rachel as she grabs her purse and keys from the table by the door. Brady is still on the floor, wailing and confused, so I walk over and pick him up.
It's hard, because he's half as tall as me, but he wraps his arms around my neck and doesn't let go.
"Jane." She looks up at me from her spot on the couch, tearless but pale. "Come on. They're here."
A black Tahoe is sitting in the driveway, one lone driver waiting for us. He blue lights it all the way down Poplar, through every neighborhood I've ever lived in. Aunt Rachel calls Grandma, and I feel selfish for choosing the skate park and Seth over staying with her.
She's all alone and upset from what I can hear of Aunt Rachel's end of the conversation.
Even though I know Dad's working, I still try to call him. Instead of leaving a voicemail about something this awful, I hang up and send a text.
Call me when you can, no matter what time it is. I love you. Be safe.
Maybe he'll get the message before he gets off tomorrow morning. Grandma might have the number for his station. Maybe she'll call him.
He's just starting to get better from Grandpa. We're all starting to get better.
The driver and Aunt Rachel lean forward in their seats when we pull up at The Med. I've seen the footage from outside the hospital the night Grandpa died. Jane and I searched it on YouTube one night and then cried ourselves to sleep.
That was nothing compared to this. Police cars line the streets, blocking traffic on the side streets so we can get through. There are six ambulances and two fire trucks. I try to search the faces in the crowd, hoping that wherever Uncle Paul was tonight was far away from downtown and my dad's unit.
Whatever happened must have been huge.
The truck stops in front of the entrance to the ER, and the driver leaves it parked there, lights still flashing. Aunt Rachel takes Brady in her arms and walks in before us. Max is waiting at the door with guys in uniforms like Uncle Paul's and…
And Emmett is here.
"Where's my dad, Max?" If Uncle Paul is hurt and my dad's unit is here, he should be the one meeting us at the door.
Max looks at the floor.
"Where's my dad?" A dozen faces snap in our direction, but none of them are his. "Emmett?" Emmett stares at the floor in front of him.
"Mack," Max says, stepping forward and laying a hand on my arm.
"No." I shake my head. "Where is my dad, Max?"
"He's in surgery."
"Okay." Surgery isn't dead. Jane's dad is in surgery, too. Surgery is alive. "What happened?"
"Maybe you should wait until your grandma gets here…"
"Tell her now," Aunt Rachel says, voice steely.
He puts his hand on my back and moves us through the crowd to a small corner of the waiting room. Aunt Rachel follows with Jane and the others. Before he can start, Grandma walks in with another guy in an MPD t-shirt like our driver was wearing.
She sits next to me, listens to Max start from the beginning, and cries silently. The rest of us are too… stunned to say anything.
"Edward and Emmett went up to get the little girl… None of us imagined… They're waiting to get the story from her now, but somehow, she got her hands on a gun. She must've thought… She was hiding in a closet with her mother. When Edward opened the door, she shot him."
"Shot him? With a gun?" I stand, take a step, and then another. The room feels really small, and there are people everywhere. "He's a fireman, not a cop! You let him get shot?" I yell the last part in Max's face.
Someone tugs on my shoulder, pulling me back and away. "Don't do that." Alec tucks me under his arm and refuses to let go when I try to push away from him. He hugs me and lets me cry on his shirt. "You know how it works. We all know how it works."
Emmett pushes away from the wall where he's been leaning since we walked in. He glances at me with red eyes, mouths the words "I'm sorry," and shoves his way through the uniforms until he gets to the exit. A couple of guys follow him out at the same time Bella is trying to fight her way in. Jasper is with her, and another guy in TACT gear is on their heels.
She stops just inside the door, staring at me and waiting.
This isn't at all how I imagined meeting the woman who managed to make my dad smile and blush. I'd hoped for chips and salsa at Molly's, since she somehow convinced him to go there again.
When she starts walking, I do too. We meet in the middle.
"Hi." She looks as petrified as I feel, but gives me a small smile.
"Wow." No wonder she's had Dad tied up in knots. "You're even prettier up close."
"So are you," she says, eyes searching mine for a moment before hers water and she looks away. "How is he?"
"He's in surgery. He was shot."
"I know." She nods. "My dad told me what happened. I'm late because he was held up and I was already on my way home. He came to get me as soon as he could get away."
"Your dad was there?"
She looks over at the man who came in with her. He's busy talking to Max and a couple of other people. "Yes," she says. "He was."
I nod, trying to take all of this in. Nothing makes sense. My dad's been shot, my uncle was burned, and I'm meeting my dad's girlfriend for the first time… without him.
"Are you okay?" she asks.
"No, I don't…" The tears start again, and I swipe them away with the side of my thumb. "Do you…" I glance over my shoulder. Grandma is sitting next to Aunt Rachel. Jasper is on one knee in front of her, talking to her and holding her hand. "Do you want to meet my family?"
I need to feel like I'm doing something.
Aunt Rachel stands to hug her when we walk over to them, but she lets me introduce Bella to Grandma. Before the word girlfriend is out of my mouth, Grandma is on her feet with her arms around Bella, too.
Alec stares at Bella, studying her arms and checking out her legs. He's so preoccupied that he misses the dirty looks I give him.
Before I can slug him, Bella's dad comes over to us. He pulls Aunt Rachel and Grandma away from the rest of us, and talks to them quietly. I take my original seat next to Jane and invite Bella to sit with us.
Her dad walks over with Grandma, and stands in front of me and Bella. "I've got to go for a little while," he says to her. "There are a few people who want to talk to me. There's a lot to sort through, but I'll be back as soon as I can."
She leans forward and catches his hand as he turns to go. He pauses to look at me and then her. "Thank you, Dad…" Her eyes water again, and she swipes at the skin beneath them with her free hand.
The corner of his mouth turns up. "I'll see you soon."
A woman in scrubs comes over from the desk and asks if we'd be more comfortable in the waiting room on the second floor. It's starting to get crowded down here, and she promises to send someone as soon as there's word on Dad or Uncle Paul.
A morbid shiver runs down my spine when Max leads us over to elevator, insisting that family should go first. We fall in line next to each other the same way we did after Grandpa's funeral on the way to the waiting limos.
That was the first time I realized that life isn't like the books I read. Limos aren't just for proms and weddings.
Bella steps on with me, and I reach for her hand, gripping it to keep from screaming and crying. She looks over at me, surprised, but she squeezes back with a matching desperation.
She loves him. He may not know it. She may not even know it. But it's written all over her. As much as I want to be brave, a few tears fall when we step out on the second floor.
"My dad's been shot twice," Bella says. "Once in Arizona and once here in Memphis. This place? They excel in trauma. You saw him downstairs… They fixed him right up."
I nod and swipe at the tears on my face.
There's a fresh pot of coffee in the open lobby waiting area on the second floor. The TV is already tuned to the Disney Channel, and a sweet nurse is waiting for us. She tells Aunt Rachel and Grandma where the nurses' station is, and repeats the same promise we were given downstairs.
But for now, no news is good news.
The waiting area fills slowly as more and more people join us from downstairs. Jane and I sit next to a window, and watch the flashing red and blue lights die out a few at a time on the street below us.
We catch snippets of different conversations. They're enough to piece together why Emmett is sorry and that it was Bella's dad who went up to get mine.
She's tucked into the seat next to Grandma's, talking to her and Aunt Rachel. She catches me staring at her, and I duck my head like some kid with a crush. She's brave like her dad. Maybe she's had more time to get used to stuff like this. I don't feel very brave right now.
An older guy in scrubs steps off the elevator and calls Aunt Rachel's name. She stands as he makes his way over to us.
He shakes her hand, introducing himself as some sort of specialist in the burn unit. They had to remove burned material from some of Uncle Paul's body. He's knocked out, and they're giving him IV fluids and pain meds. There's a collective sigh of relief despite words like skin grafting and functional reconstruction.
He's alive, and he's going to be okay.
Jane hugs me tightly, and I want to tell her that's great. I want to look happy like Alec and Aunt Rachel.
"I'll be right back," I say instead.
It's easy to slip away with all of them distracted. I've never been here before, so I start walking. Away from the voices and happiness, down the hall, and finally, into a ladies room.
My phone buzzes in my pocket.
Alec told me about his dad and yours. Are you okay?
The text below Seth's is the one I sent to Dad… before I knew he was here.
My back hits the bathroom wall. I don't think I am.
I was such a bitch to him when I got here. I wasted an entire week, pissed and bratty.
I told him I hated him.
I can't ever take that back. I should've told the truth – that I missed him.
I missed his laugh and the way he used to throw me up in the air. I missed his happiness and the way the skin around his eyes crinkled when he smiled. I missed his face. He was always clean-shaven before Grandpa died.
Now, I get it. I don't think I could live without my dad, either.
I end up on the floor with my arms around my knees. That's how Bella finds me – covered in snot and tears. She doesn't say anything, just sits down next to me and puts her arm around my shoulder.
"He'll be okay," she says. "If there's one thing I know about your dad, it's that he can't stand to disappoint you."
"I feel so bad for not being happier about Uncle Paul…"
"Your grandma is still pretty upset, too. So are Rachel and the others. They're all worried."
"I know. I'm being selfish again."
"I don't think you're selfish at all."
She sits with me until I can pull myself together. When we stand, she wets a few paper towels for me to clean my face.
Uncle Jared and Aunt Kim are with the others in the waiting area. Their kids are with her sister, and she's here to take Brady and the rest of us home with her. Grandma spends 20 minutes arguing with me, Alec, and Jane, telling us to go with her. We refuse to leave.
I'm not going anywhere until I see my dad.
My cousins feel the same. Brady is smaller and barely keeping his eyes open, so Uncle Jared carries him out, promising to return as soon as they're safely out of the parking lot.
While he's gone, a different man in scrubs arrives by elevator and asks for the family of Edward Cullen. My brain says get up, but I'm paralyzed head to toe.
Grandma does it for me. She walks over to me, and he follows.
The bullet went through his side, the edge of his abdomen and shattered one of his ribs. They're still working on him, but it looks like there was very little damage to his lung. The doctor says it's going to be a long recovery, but for now, he's okay.
He says it will be hours until we can see him. None of us move to leave when he walks away.
A few deep breaths help clear my head, and I let it sink in. He's okay. And Bella's right; he won't give up. I don't care how long it takes him to get better. He'll do it for me.
Bella stands and moves to the coffee nook. Her back is to us, but her hand is shaking when she picks up the pot to pour a glass. It takes her a long time to stir in sugar and creamer. When she turns, she walks over to me and Grandma and sits down with us.
"It's probably going to scare you when you go in to see him, Mack." Bella says, looking down at the cup in her hand. "There'll be tubes and stitches… IVs and machines. Just try to remember that those things aren't permanent and they'll be helping him."
I've only ever seen him healthy and strong. The thought of him helpless isn't something I can reconcile in my head. I guess I need to before I go in there. "Okay."
Uncle Jared comes back and Grandma pulls him aside to tell him about dad. He nods and looks relieved.
It takes another hour or more for them to come back and tell us he's in recovery. After that, I lose track of the time with my head resting on my arms propped by the window sill. The traffic lights change from green to yellow to red and back again more times than I can count. The headlights and taillights get fewer and farther between.
Jasper charms a few blankets from the nurses on duty and hands them out. Jane and I share one. We fall asleep with our heads touching, huddled together out of sheer exhaustion.
In the morning, we go to the cafeteria in shifts. Ladies first while Uncle Jared, Jasper, and Alec stick around the waiting room in case of news.
After a late breakfast, a doctor comes to get my cousins and Aunt Rachel. Uncle Paul is awake. Jasper and Bella stay with me in the waiting room. Every time the elevator pings, I stare at the doors and hope for the same news.
Doctors, nurses, visitors…
Grandma comes back before the others, anxious about news on Dad, but we don't have any to give her. By early afternoon, Bella decides we've waited long enough. She promises to get some answers and disappears around the corner.
The elevator pings again, and this time, a small girl with strawberry blonde hair steps off with a guy my dad's age and a nurse. There's a white teddy bear tucked under the little girl's arm. She glances around the room until the nurse gestures to me.
The girl takes a deep breath and steps forward, crying and shaking. "I'm sorry," she says. "Will you please give this to your daddy when he wakes up?"
Her father looks on helplessly, and it makes me mad. Mad that he brought her here. Mad that he's standing there with her – that she has her dad – when she's the reason my dad could have died.
"Please?" she says again. "He's my hero."
All the mad turns to tears when she says that. Because he's mine too. I know exactly why he went in there for her.
I nod and take the bear when she holds it out again.
"My mommy is here, too," she says. "I'm praying for both of them."
"I will, too," I say.
Her father apologizes and leads her back over to the elevators.
Bella comes back a few minutes later with good news. Dad had a little fever this morning, but it's gone now. We can see him, but only two of us can go in at a time. She offers to wait with Jasper while we go first.
As much I appreciate the warning from Bella, I'm not sure it helps me or Grandma. We both cry. A lot.
There are tubes and dressings on his midsection, IVs, all of it… I watch his chest rise and fall over and over, and let my eyes wander over the familiar color on his skin; my flower on his neck. I hold his hand. It's warm despite the chill in the hospital air. His cheeks have color, and I haven't seen him sleep this peacefully in I don't know how long.
And I know. I just know he's going to be okay.
Grandma leaves me to go and get Bella. She wants her to have some time with him too, and she wants to go and check on Uncle Paul again.
I don't expect to hear Grandma's voice again for a while, but she calls my name softly from the door. Bella is with her, and she catches my hand when I meet them at the doorway. She squeezes it and looks me in the eye. "Everything's going to be fine, Mack."
Grandma nods and loops her arm through mine, leading me down the hall. "You have another visitor."
Before I can ask who, we turn the corner and nearly run into Jasper. "Sorry…" He steps aside, leaving me face-to-face with the last person I expected to see here.
A/N – I believe M's exact words when I sent her the last chapter were: "Bitch, I didn't sign up for some Backdraft or Ladder 49 bullshit." Lol.
She feels better now. I hope you do, too.
I'm off to TFMU for the weekend, so I'll see you lovelies as soon as possible.
ps – Trust me… This isn't really a cliffie.