My phone buzzes and I ignore it. It’s one of my sisters. The guy in the sound booth shoots me a dirty look. I’m working on a track for the new album, because I wanted to see how some new beats sounded mixed with our new single. He hits a button. “Do you need to take a break?” he asks.
I shake my head and keep playing. I play drums for a band, and I don’t have time to stop right now. Anything my sisters have to say can wait until I’m done here. My phone rumbles again.
“Let’s call it quits, shall we?” he says from the booth.
I throw my drumsticks down and pick up the phone. I put it in my pocket, because I’m just annoyed enough to ignore them.
Sometimes it’s hell having four sisters. And sometimes it’s awesome. I go out into the sound area and sit down next to him. “Let me hear it one time, will you?” I tap my drumsticks on the table while I talk.
He mixes it all up, and music comes into the headset he gave me. I like it. I like it a lot. I smile at him and nod.
He smiles back. “It’s better,” he says. “You were right.”
“Don’t look so happy about it,” I tease.
My phone rings again, just as the door opens. It flies inward, slamming hard against the wall. I jump to my feet when my sister Lark comes sliding into the room. “Oh, my God, I have been trying to call you for an hour,” she bursts out. She bends at the waist, trying to catch her breath. She stands up, pressing a hand to her side.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I can’t breathe,” she pants. She holds up one finger. “Stairs.” She gulps air.
One of her gloves slips down her wrist, and that’s when I realize how serious this is. Lark never takes her gloves off. She never lets anyone see her hands or arms. Ever. For a long time, I thought she was just a germ freak, until I learned the truth. But the fact that she just let her glove slip tells me a lot. “Did someone die?” I ask.
She nods. But then she shakes her head. Then she nods again.
“Oh, my god!” I cover my mouth with my hand. “Who?”
“Sam Reed,” she pants out.
My heart lurches. My stomach dips and blackness crowds the corners of my vision.
“Emily just called to say he was in a really bad accident. They’re all on their way back from the beach to go to the hospital.”
I sink into a chair. “And he died?” How could he? We had unfinished business.
She waves a hand through the air. “No, no, not yet.”
I jump up. “Then why the hell did you tell me was dead?”
“At the time, I was trying to breathe!” she yells back. “It’s not my fault you misunderstood!”
The door flies open again and another of my sisters runs into the room. Finally. Someone who can make sense of it.
“Emily just called again,” Wren says. “They just got to the hospital and Sam is in surgery.” Wren might be a mess on the outside, but she’s got it together on the inside. Thank God.
I jab my drumsticks into my back pocket and start for the door.
“Where are you going?” Wren calls to my back.
I don’t wait for her. I hail a cab and get in it, my heart beating about a mile a minute. Sam’s in the hospital. In surgery. I left things at a bad place the last time I saw him. A really bad place. I can’t stand the idea of him being injured and possibly dying without knowing how I truly feel about him.
The cab stops at the Emergency Room doors, and I get out. I go to the desk, and they tell me where the waiting room is for surgery, and I go in that direction. “Are you one of them?” she asks me.
I lift my brow at her, because I can’t get my thoughts together enough to talk.
“There are a lot of them here for him.” I look blankly at her. “His family.”
Oh, yeah. There are a lot of Reeds, and all of them in one place can be a little intimidating.
I stop in the doorway of the waiting area. I can hear the low murmur of male voices and stick my head into the room. The Reed brothers are all over the place, not to mention their wives. I find Emily and motion toward her. She waves me into the room.
I sit down beside her and she takes my hand. How bad is it? I ask her in sign language. Emily’s husband, Logan, is deaf, so the whole family signs. Thank God these people speak my language. Because if I opened my mouth right now, one big long stutter would come out, and nothing else.
Pretty bad, she replies.
She shrugs and shakes her head. He left the beach right after the wedding to go home. He had to get to practice. He’d already missed way too much training time. And on the way from the airport to his house, he was in an accident.
Can I do anything?
“Pray,” Paul says from behind her.
Well, there’s that. I nod. Anything else?
She shakes her head.
Pete is sitting across the room with his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands. Reagan rubs his back and talks softly into his ear. He nods, albeit reluctantly, and kisses her quickly, pulling her against him for a hug. She falls into his arms, like she’s meant to be there.
Is it okay if I stay for a little while? I ask.
Emily squeezes my hand. “Of course.”
There’s a commotion in the hallway and my four sisters come into the room. They’re on their tiptoes, almost, trying to be quiet. Emily gives them the story, and they sit down beside one another on the floor, and lean against the wall.
The Reeds take people in like they’re family. Anyone. The only requirement is that you have a pulse. And if you don’t have a heart, they’ll give you theirs. So, my sisters and I already feel a connection here, but I can’t help but think that we should leave and give them some privacy.
A man in green scrubs walks into the room. “Reed family?” he asks.
“Here,” they all say at once. The doctor looks around the room and shakes his head.
“Immediate family?” he asks.
“Here,” they all say at once again.
“Get on with it,” Paul barks.
“Your brother is a very lucky man,” he says as he pulls his glasses from his face and brushes a finger over the bridge of his nose. “He broke his tibia, one of the bones in the lower leg, in the crash, and has a pretty bad head laceration. We stitched him up, set the leg, put him in a cast, and we’re going to need to keep him at least overnight.”
“Why?” Pete asks.
“The team physician wants us to keep an eye on him.”
So they know who he is. And what he does.
“How did the team know?”
The doctor shrugs. “I called them.” He glares at us. “He plays pro ball.” He says it like he’s reciting the Holy Grail. “They’re sending the team physician to evaluate him in the morning.”
The door bursts open and a couple of men and a few women walk into the room. They’re loud and noisy and they’re extremely disrespectful.
“Will he be able to play?” one of them asks.
The doctor shakes his head. “He’s going to be on the bench for a while. It’s a damn shame, too.”
Paul swipes a hand down his face and takes a deep breath.
“Some players come back from an injury like this,” the man says.
Oh, hell, there’s a chance he might not play again?
“Can we see him?” Pete asks.
“One at a time,” the doctor says with a nod.
“Which way?” Pete asks. The doctor points.
Pete takes Reagan’s hand and drags her down the hallway. “Only one!” the doctor calls.
“We are only one,” Pete yells back, but he doesn’t stop.
“Matt, you should go next,” Paul says. “You have kids to get back home to.”
Matt nods, but he says, “So do you.”
“I’m going to hang out for a while anyway.”
“You know Pete’s not going to go home tonight,” Matt says.
Paul nods. “I know.”
Pete and Sam are twins. They have a bond.
The doctor shakes hands with Paul and leaves the room. The people who came in last swarm Paul, asking questions. It turns out they’re from the team. And the girls are cheerleaders.
“Only family can visit,” Paul warns.
“We know,” one of the girls says. “We won’t stay long.”
I sit down beside my sisters. “Y-you should go h-home,” I say to them quietly. I talk to my sisters. I always have. My stutter isn’t bad when I talk to them. Not as bad as it with anyone else.
“We’ll wait,” Lark says. She leans the back of her head against the wall, and tilts so that she can look at me. She takes my hand and gives it a squeeze. “He’s going to be fine,” she says.
I take a breath.
I sit quietly as his brothers come and go. Pete and Reagan come out, and Matt and Sky go in. And the cycle continues until everyone has had a visit. Pete kisses Reagan goodbye. It looks like he’s going to spend the night after all. “This is a pretty sucky wedding night,” he tells her.
“You’ll make up for it later,” she teases him. He hugs her, and then walks her and the rest of them out to waiting cabs.
When Pete comes back, I stand up and wipe off the butt of my pants. I should go home. I can do nothing for anyone here.
Pete motions toward the hallway. “Come on,” he says. He doesn’t want the team members or the cheerleaders to see me. I sneak to the doorway and follow him down the hall. The smell of disinfectant tickles my nose.
When we get to Sam’s room, he’s sitting up, but his eyes are closed.
I don’t want to wake him, I sign.
He smiles. “You’re the only one he asked for.”
My heart thuds. He asked for me?
He nods. “He’s a little fucked up.” He grins. “Okay, a lot fucked up.”
I walk into the room and sit down in the chair beside the bed. Sam’s hand lays outside the covers, so I take it in mine. I can see the veins in his hand, stark against his too-pale skin, and I move his IV line over so I don’t bump it.
Sam’s hand suddenly squeezes mine. I look up and find him smiling at me. It’s a goofy grin, and I’m so damn happy to see it that tears fill my eyes.
“Don’t cry, cupcake,” he says softly.
His eyes are barely open, and they shaved part of his head.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” I whisper. I tap my thumb on the bedrail, so I can talk without sounding like an idiot.
“It’ll take more than a semi truck with a drunk driver to take me out, cupcake.” He laughs, but then he clutches his head. “That hurt,” he murmurs.
“Can I do anything for you?” Tap. Tap.
“Just stay for a little while.”
I scoot my chair closer.
“Where’s Pete?” he asks.
“I don’t know.” Tap. Tap.
“He got married today. And I fucked his honeymoon all up.”
“He doesn’t seem to mind.” Tap. Tap.
He whispers fiercely. “He’s s’pose to be getting laid!”
I laugh. I can’t help it. “He’d rather be here.”
“If I had a choice between having newlywed, wall-banging, awesomely good sex and hanging out with me, I wouldn’t pick me. I’d be at home fucking Reagan. Well, I wouldn’t fuck Reagan, because that would be gross. But Pete should be home fucking Reagan.”
His words are slurred and I can tell they’ve given him pain meds. But he still makes me laugh.
“Hey cupcake!” he says, like he just had a great idea. “I’m so glad you’re here.”
“Me, too,” I say.
“I thought you were ready to kick me to the curb.”
I was. But when I found out he was hurt, it nearly gutted me. “Would if I could,” I say.
“Do you think you could fall in love with me, cupcake?” he blurts out.
I startle. I know he’s medicated, so I shouldn’t put any stock into his words, but I can’t help it. “You should get some rest,” I say. Tap. Tap.
“So, that would be a no.” He whistles. Then he scrunches up his face when it makes his head hurt. “I’m in trouble,” he whispers quietly.
He squeezes my hand. “I’m pretty sure I’m in love with you, cupcake,” he says. “I just wish you could love me back.”
“You’ve had a lot of pain meds,” I say.
Suddenly, he grabs the neck of my shirt and jerks me so that I fall over his chest. His lips are right next to mine. “Listen to me,” he says.
“Okay,” I whisper.
“I don’t have much going for me, but I know what love feels like.”
“It just is, cupcake. You don’t get to pick who you fall in love with. And God knows, if my head could pick, it wouldn’t be you.”
I push back to get off his chest, because I’m offended. But he holds me tightly.
“You’re not easy to love, because you can’t love me back. But you might one day. I’ll wait. But you got to start taking my calls.” He cups the back of my head and brings my face toward his. A cough from the doorway startles us apart. I stand up and pull my shirt down where he rucked it up.
“Visiting hours are over,” a nurse says.
“She’s not a visitor,” he says. She comes and inserts a needle into his IV, and his eyes close. He doesn’t open them when he says, “She’s going to marry me one day. She just doesn’t know it yet.” His head falls to the side and he starts to softly snore. His hand goes slack around mine.
I pull back, my heart skipping like mad.
“They say some of the most ridiculous things when they’re medicated.” The nurse shakes her head. “He probably won’t remember any of this tomorrow.”
Pete comes into the room. “Everything okay?” he asks. He looks from Sam to me and back.
“Just gave him some pain meds,” the nurse says.
I’m going to go, I sign to him. I turn back when I get to the door. Will you call if anything goes… wrong?
He nods. “I’m going to go get some coffee while he’s asleep.”
I go to the bathroom and sink back against the wall. He was medicated. He didn’t mean any of that. Did he? He couldn’t have. I stand there until my heart stops feeling like it’s going to jump out of my chest. I need to go and tell him that I do have feelings for him. What if something goes wrong during the night and I can’t tell him tomorrow? I need for him to know.
I go to his doorway and stop. Sitting beside his bed is a girl. She’s holding his hand and talking to him. He smiles at her and says, “I’m serious. I’m going to marry you.”
My heart jolts. He may as well have stabbed me with a knife.
I turn and leave. I don’t run into Pete, and my sisters are waiting for me.
“What happened?” Lark asks when we get in the cab.
I wipe a tear from my cheek as it snakes a warm path down my face. “N-nothing.”
“Did you talk to him?”
“And?” Wren chirps.
“A-and the ch-cheerleader is in with him now.”
“Oh,” Wren says.
“Yeah,” I say.
I’m an idiot.