Harper had not left the hospital since she had returned from dinner with Chris on Friday evening. Aiden had never awakened while she was gone, so she never admitted to him that she had escaped for a while. And she certainly did not share with him that she had done so with his favorite superhero. No, there were some things you just didn’t share.
She did, at least, tell Aiden that Chris had stopped in to see how he was doing. She thought he might get a kick out of knowing that bit of information. Although he was mad that his mom didn’t wake him up because that ‘would have been the coolest thing ever!’ She didn’t want to get his hopes up that it would happen very often; she wasn’t sure it would happen again, although she certainly hoped it would.
The entire weekend, she had colored, read books, or watched movies with Aiden. It was no surprise that he wanted to watch Captain America or The Avengers movies; she could not deny him those requests! She kept up the act that she was not interested in superheroes; but she was glued to the television, unable to take her eyes off of Chris.
She could not get him off her mind either. She had not talked to him since they parted at Aiden’s door on Friday night; she desperately wanted to reach out to him, but she didn’t have his number. They never exchanged phone numbers when they were together on Friday. Honestly, who was she kidding, he used the term ‘relationship’ at dinner, but she knew he meant friendship; she was in that zone and even then, it was not a normal friend zone. She was a widowed mother with a seven-year-old child that was dying, she was not prime dating material for this man! Who in the hell was she kidding?
Aiden had fallen asleep while watching The Winter Soldier; she decided to quit torturing herself and turn the movie off. She hadn’t dated in ten years, and Chris Evans wasn’t going to be the guy she got back into the dating pool with. She covered Aiden up, kissed his head, and settled into her chair to work on some of her projects from the office. She thought the solitude might provide her an opportunity to get caught up and maybe even get a leg up on Monday morning’s to-dol-list.
It evidently worked, because she worked herself right to sleep, projects still open on her lap. She jolted herself awake and noticed it was a little after 5 am. She had accomplished quite a bit before she had fallen asleep. She packed everything up and gathered her things, electing to jump in the shower and to get ready before the 6 am vitals check for Aiden.
When Claudia came in, she let Harper know that they were going to start Aiden on the next round of radiation and chemo today. This meant a new set of drugs and the chance they could have an adverse reaction. She wanted to remind Harper to be prepared and to have her phone handy, just in case. She gave Aiden a kiss, wished him luck and headed for the parking garage. She pulled out of the garage and hit the highway, saying a prayer as she drove to the office, hoping that his day went well and that she had nothing to worry about.
The drive into the office was relatively smooth and fast, she even had time to stop off and buy a breakfast sandwich and a coffee. She had barely eaten since Friday night, and her stomach was protesting. She got into her office and began working on the presentation that Max was going to need. She knew how this would work; she would give him exactly what he needed, and he would review it and make constant changes to it. She would do the presentation at least five times before it met with final approval.
The first draft was on his desk, along with the contract notes he wanted, by 9 am. Harper was feeling fairly confident with this draft when she left his office, only to be summoned twenty minutes later with a stack of revisions and the request for a new report that needed to be created and added to the presentation. Her confidence level suddenly took a nosedive. She was so wrapped up in the new report generation, she sailed right through lunch. She had no idea what was going on around her or even the time until her phone rang and startled her.
The call was from the hospital and one that she definitely did not want. The new drugs in the treatment had caused an adverse reaction for Aiden, he was violently ill, and his vital signs had dropped rapidly; he was in critical condition, and she needed to be there immediately. His life was in the balance, and she would have to make some important decisions regarding his care; these decisions could not be made over the phone, she needed to be there in person and would have to sign paperwork. She held back the tears as she listened to the words being spoken. She acknowledged what was being said and advised them that she would be there as quickly as she could. She hung up the phone and threw a few things into her bag and started for the door.
As she was walking towards the lobby, she passed by Max’s door, she poked her head inside, “I’m sorry Max, I need to leave, I have a family emergency with my son, and I’m not sure when I will be back.” The tears were threatening to spill over from her eyes, and she did not want her boss to see her cry.
“Harper, you can’t go, I have a deadline, and I need that presentation. Can you get that done first and then leave?”
“The file is on the shared drive and the stack of revisions is on my desk. Molly might be able to assist; I’m sorry I have to go, this can’t wait,” with that, she ran to the elevator bank and began frantically pushing the down arrow to call the elevator car. She knew pushing the button more than once did not expedite the process but she was feeling utterly helpless.
The large oak doors for Kinkaid Development swung open, and Max walked out. She could tell he was not happy, but he was calm as he approached her. He stopped just short of where she was standing, placing one arm against the wall, he made eye contact with her, “Look, Harper, you can’t just walk out. I need you to finish this project, don’t let me down; don’t let the company down.”
“I’m sorry, Max, this really is a medical emergency. I’m not just walking off and abandoning you.”
“Our company’s future is dependent on this presentation, and you can’t leave me hanging like this,” his tone in his voice was steadily rising, “If you walk out, I can’t guarantee what will happen, and I think you know that.”
“I had made my way through most of the revisions, anyone else can quickly pick it up and finish it. You know me, Max, I would not be leaving if this was not important.” Just then, the elevator dinged, and the doors opened. Harper stepped into the car and pushed the button, “I’m sorry Max, I’ll let you know what is going on as soon as I get to the hospital and find out what’s going on.” As the doors closed, she was fairly sure she had just lost her job, and there would be no need to fill him in on Aiden’s status.
She could not think of that at the moment, she needed to get in her car and get to the hospital and hope that things had not gone from bad to worse in the time it took her to get there. The drive was unusually easy; traffic was not a problem, and she was able to maneuver her way into downtown rather quickly. She quickly found a parking spot, sprinted down the hall towards Aiden’s room. As she opened the door to his room, her heart stopped, and she immediately collapsed to the floor; her fears of being too late had overtaken her. The bed was disheveled and empty, and all of the machines were dark, there was no sign of life.
She wanted to scream or cry, but she couldn’t. The shock and pain were overtaking her body, she started to shake. A slight tremor at first but the full body shaking followed soon after. This hurt, while she had tried to prepare herself for this day, she just wasn’t ready. She heard footsteps approaching and realized that someone was beside her; suddenly arms were around her shoulders.
“Harper, he’s okay honey. We moved him down the hall to Intensive Care,” it was Aiden’s nurse Claudia speaking in a hushed and calm voice, doing what she could to ease her fears and calm her down. Claudia could see the pain in Harper’s eyes and knew she had imagined the worst, “I’m sorry I missed you when you came off the elevator.”
“I saw the room, I thought he was gone,” she choked on the sobs, the tears now streaming down her face, “I figured I was too late.”
The nurse helped Harper stand up, holding her around her waist to keep her steady on her feet, “No, you’re not too late, he is doing a little better. We have him on some new meds to get him back on track, and we put him in a room where we can monitor him a little closer, that’s all.” She started to turn Harper and walk her toward the door, “Come on, I’ll walk you down the hall so you can see him.”
There were five individual ICU rooms for this ward at the end of the hall; each room had a glass sliding door to make it easier to monitor the room. Curtains could be pulled for privacy; the curtains for Aiden’s room were pulled all the way and provided only an opening near the headboard of his bed, providing the nurses the ability to see his monitors but otherwise providing privacy to the room.
Claudia stopped short of the door and turned to face Harper, “You need to know that he has tubes and wires, more so than he has had in a while, it will be a shock and will probably scare you a little. He’s heavily sedated, we want to get his vitals back to normal, and we need him to be calm and to not fight back. Just be prepared, okay?”
Harper nodded vigorously, “That’s fine, I understand, please just let me in there, I need to be in there with him.”
“He’s in a medically-induced coma, and he’s on a ventilator.”
Those words felt like a punch to the gut; she had to let them sink in before she could move forward. That was not what she was expecting to hear. She had to just keep telling herself that he was alive and that he could overcome anything. She took a deep breath and slid the door open, pushed the curtain aside and walked in. She stumbled, the sight of him took her breath away, his body was lost in the maze of tubes and wires. The only sounds in the room were the beeping of the machines and the mechanical rhythm of his breathing; it was jarring, to say the least. She slowly walked toward the bed and sat in the chair, her back to the nurses that would be watching from the station just outside.
She had pulled herself together and had vowed she would not cry. Even though he was in a coma, Aiden could hear everything going on around him, she did not want him to hear his mother crying. She would only talk about happy things and would keep conversation and stories light and cheerful. She picked up his hand, at this point, it seemed so very tiny, she told him how much she loved him and that she was no going to go anywhere, he could count on that. The nurses kept a watchful eye on her, they were all aware that she would be beating herself up for not being there when this happened, and that she would not leave his side. They also knew this would break her down and that she would end up being admitted to the hospital if she were not careful.
Sometime during the night, Harper had fallen asleep; the beeping of the machines that at one time seemed so loud had blended into the background and had become more calming than alarming. She looked at the clock, it was 4:30 am; reaching into her pocket she pulled out her cell phone. It had been on silent since she had entered the hospital, she had 8 missed calls and two voicemails, they were all from Max.
Her hands were shaking as she dialed his office number; it was the coward’s way to call a number that she knew he wouldn’t answer and would allow her to quickly leave a voicemail. At the beep she began to speak, “Max, I’m at the hospital, my son is in critical condition, he’s on a ventilator and I just can’t leave him like this. I know you were upset when I left, but family, or what I have left of family, comes first. I don’t know when I can come back, I hope you understand. I should have vacation time that can be used and possibly some sick time. I’ll call you when he is stable.”
Harper disconnected the call, she knew that Max would be angry that she left a voicemail. He would be disappointed that she didn’t call in and speak to him directly. She had every right to request the vacation time and sick time; she had the accumulated time available to her, but he could evoke rules that she didn’t ask off in enough time or didn’t request the time off in person. As the owner of the company, if he were angry enough and wanted her gone, she would be gone.
She didn’t have the energy to worry about what might, or might not, happen. All of her energy and focus needed to be directed toward Aiden. She slid the phone back to silent and put it into her pocket, knowing she would get a call from the office at some point during the day.
Harper had moved from the chair next to the bed over to the couch under the window. There had been a steady stream of doctors and nurses in the room, and she had to continually move. She figured if she just sat on the couch she could stay out of the way, observe what was going on and then move back to his bedside for the evening.
In the late afternoon, she decided to check her phone for any messages. Sure enough, she had a voicemail from the office asking her to call into Human Resources. She had a lump in her throat as she dialed the number and waited to be connected. The woman introduced herself, although Harper didn’t actually pay attention to what it was; it was with regret that she was informing Harper that she was no longer employed with Kincaid Development. She was being terminated for cause, job abandonment, and insubordination. Since her termination was at the beginning of the month, her insurance would be in place for the next couple of weeks. She was able to maintain her composure through the call, after all, she had expected this.
She knew that standing up to Max and leaving when he told her to stay could cost her, and it ultimately did. She now had to worry about how she would survive. She had some money in savings and could cover rent for maybe two months, but after that, well that is when the panic would set in. Right now she needed to focus on Aiden, concentrate on getting him better and out of this intensive care room. She didn’t care if it meant she would live in her car and lose everything she owned, as long as he got better.
~ * ~
Chris spent the weekend hanging out with his friends; wanting to distract himself from the argument with Carly and Scott. He talked to his family about everything and the idea that he had feelings for Harper and could not discuss them with his brother and sister, well it was driving him crazy. His friends were able to keep him distracted enough to keep his thoughts away from his family and from Harper. At least for a while.
Come Monday morning, he decided to avoid the family breakfast; he knew it would be an opportunity to try and set things right with Carly. He just didn’t want to get into the conversation with the kids around; he would just have to do it later that night. Once he thought the coast was clear, he ventured downstairs for coffee and to see if there was anything left over to eat.
His search was interrupted when he heard a voice from behind him, “Cooking isn’t your strong suit, want me to fix you something?”
He shut the cabinet door and turned to find his mom leaning against the doorway, “Oh, hey Ma, I thought you had already left.”
“No, I decided to stick around here in the hopes that I could talk to you. I noticed how you avoided everyone all weekend; Carly and Scott filled me in, so, I thought you might want to talk about it.”
He let out a heavy sigh, his mom always could read his emotions, even if she didn’t see him for a day or so. He poured a cup of coffee and turned back to her, “Yeah, I need to talk about it, but I’m scared to. I don’t know, I’m confused and worried, and all keyed up. I’m angry that Carly was so quick to judge, but what if she’s right and I’m just not willing to open my eyes to it?”
“Neither one of them gave me details, Chris. They just said they were concerned about the circumstances around this young woman you met and had dinner with. They said your discussion got heated, that’s all,” she motioned over to the kitchen table, the place in the house where all problems are solved. “Come over here and talk to me about it. I promise, no judgment from me until I hear the entire story.”
He grabbed his coffee cup and joined her at the table, taking the seat directly across from her. Lisa Evans was always fair when it came to her children. She talked to them about anything and everything. Chris had famously told the story of how he rushed home to tell his mom after he lost his virginity, that was the type of open relationship she had with each of her children. This conversation, though, this one was a little harder for him to get through for some reason.
“Last week, I went to visit the kids over at the Children’s Hospital; you asked me how the visit went,” his mother took a sip of her coffee and nodded in recognition. “I met this one little boy, great kid, his name is Aiden, huge fan of Captain America. He was in his room all alone, Becky told me that his mom was at work and couldn’t be there during the day, I felt sorry for the little guy, and I stayed longer than I normally would.”
Lisa watched her son intently, as he talked about this boy. She could see in his eyes that he was genuine in his comments about his concern for him. That little boy had made an impact on him. It was not unusual for Chris to get choked up visiting the kids in the hospital, he has a soft spot for kids in general. But this seemed different, she couldn’t quite put her finger on it.
“I guess I put my phone down on the table and didn’t realize I had done it because I left and forgot to pick it up. I was freaking out the rest of the afternoon trying to remember where I left it. Eventually, I made my way back to the hospital to see if I left it one of the rooms and that is when I met Aiden’s mom. She had found my phone, and she was giving it to Becky when I walked up. She was so thankful that I spent time with her son, kept telling me how it made his day. I couldn’t take my eyes off her, she was stunning but shy, and I can’t even explain it.”
“Is this the woman you mentioned at breakfast, the one Carly was giving you trouble about?”
“Yes, the same one. I couldn’t get her out of my head, I thought about her all week, not just her, though, I wondered how Aiden was doing, too. So, on Friday I drove downtown and went to the hospital to see them,” he put his head down and took a drink of his coffee. He was waiting for his mom to make a comment or have some sort of reaction, but she didn’t. “When I got to the room, Aiden was asleep and after talking to her for a few minutes, I realized she was doing this on her own. She has no one to give her a break, and she doesn’t look like she’s eating; I thought she needed to get out of the room so I took her to dinner.”
“So, you felt sorry for her and took pity on her?”
Chris ran his fingers through his hair, he hadn’t considered it that way, “Yeah, maybe but I didn’t think that at the time,” he paused, “I was intrigued, I can’t really explain it to you. The night I met her she was closed off and guarded and on Friday, well she broke down a little. I guess I wanted to get to know her, find out her story and try to understand why Aiden was alone the day I met him.”
“So, in a way, you were judging her? You were wanting to know her story and understand what kind of mother leaves a little boy in his hospital room all by himself,” she raised her eyebrow as she questioned her son.
Chris stood up, he walked over and placed his cup in the sink and put his hands on the counter. He stared out the window above the sink, into the backyard, and thought for a moment before he answered his mother’s question. “I never considered for a moment that I was judging her. You didn’t see her, Ma, she had absolutely no light in her eyes,” he turned to look at his mother, never moving from his position at the sink. “You could see the strain on her face, the worry. She’s not plastic or fake, she has real emotions, and I can’t help it, I find her attractive.”
He pushed himself away from the counter and walked back over to the table, taking his seat. “I took her to dinner and found out that Aiden is all she has. Her husband, parents, and in-laws are all gone, they’ve all died, and she is alone with a dying child.”
Lisa took a deep breath, she could see that Chris was emotionally vested in this situation after such a short period of time, and that scared her. She had to ask this next question, even though it could cause him to erupt, “That sounds absolutely horrible and tremendously sad, but is it real? I hate to ask you that but is there a chance that she is telling you that story hoping you will take pity on her because of who you are and the fact that you have money?”
“Absolutely not! When she gave me my phone back, she had no idea who I was. She never asked for anything, other than how she could repay me for her portion of dinner. I ordered for her, it’s not like she picked out something really expensive and then tried to make a gesture to make herself look good. She had no idea how much dinner cost but wanted to pay a fair share. Someone trying to take advantage of me would not do that, Ma.”
“I’m going to assume that Carly and Scott think you are crazy; that is why you are avoiding them.”
“They didn’t use the word crazy, but it is what they were implying. Carly thinks I will distract Harper from her son and that I will end up hurting them both.”
“You told them to stay out of your business?”
“Yeah, I did. What if Carly’s right, Ma? I don’t want to hurt her, but what if I do without realizing it?” He wasn’t really looking for her to answer him, at least not yet. He fidgeted with the cars that Miles had left on the table, he had to keep his hands occupied. “She’s fighting this battle on her own, I want to be there for her. She loves completely, I want that.”
“You have to make sure you’re doing it for the right reason, Chris. Is it because you really like her, or because you feel sorry for her? Or is it a little of both?” She reached out and put her hand on his, stopping him from playing with the cars, “You do know that as much as you want to be, you’re not really Prince Charming, right?”
He let out a laugh, “Yeah, I get that. But damn, I don’t give up trying.”
“Make sure if you are trying to save her, that she wants to be saved. Be sure if you are trying to sweep her off her feet, that she wants that, too.” She patted her son’s hands and then sat back in her chair, “I think you need to have the same conversation with Carly that you had with me. She didn’t get the entire story, and she didn’t see how you light up when you talk about Harper. She’s protective of her younger brother, don’t forget that. Just ask her for a little understanding.”
“Do you think I’m crazy?”
“No, but I’m worried about you. I worry that you like her but that your emotions are tangled up. I’m not worried about you hurting her, I’m concerned about it being the other way around.”
It had been two days since Aiden had been placed into his medically-induced coma. The doctors were encouraged, he was getting stronger, and his test results were showing that his organ function was slowly returning to normal. They had finally determined that Aiden had a severe allergic reaction to one of the compounds in the new medications for his cancer treatment. Unfortunately, the reaction did a number on his body before they were able to get it under control. They were hopeful that the damage was not permanent, but they could not tell at this point. They were going to start reducing the medication that was keeping him under, slowly bringing him out of his coma, and they were going to remove him from the ventilator.
Harper had not left his room, not for a moment. She had ping-ponged between the chair next to the bed and the couch, only to allow access to the doctors and nurses. She drank the coffee or tea that they brought for her, but she had barely touched any food. The medical staff was getting worried about her; they were all positive they would have to put a bed in the room with Aiden and admit her, she was going to make herself sick. There was also the real fear that she would pass out and hit her head; she hadn’t eaten in days, and everyone held their breath when she would stand up.
During shift changes, the day shift would provide updates on patients and provide an unofficial update on Harper. Becky and Claudia were the two nurses that were the closest to Aiden and his mother, so they also took the time to chat one-on-one about how they were doing.
“Did she leave at all today? Or at least eat?” Becky asked as she came on for her shift.
“No, but I was encouraged to see that she took a nap on the couch for about thirty minutes. I brought lunch in from outside the hospital, thinking it might be more appealing to her. She still didn’t eat it; Doctor Turner is thinking of hooking her up to an IV tomorrow, he’s getting concerned,” Claudia looked back at the room again.
“I have an idea, not sure it will work, but would you mind sticking around for a few minutes? Cover for me while I make a call, I want to see if I can arrange something for her.”
Claudia checked her watch, “Yeah, sure. I thought of offering to relieve her myself, you know she blames herself for this.”
“It would have happened if she was here, it had nothing to do with the fact that she was at work.”
“I know, I told her that, but she thinks that Aiden wouldn’t have been as scared if she was here.”
“Dear God, she needs to stop that guilt trip! Listen, I’ll be right back, hopefully, no more than five minutes.” Becky walked into an empty patient room with her cell phone and hit the contact to dial. After four rings with no answer, she was about to hand up when the call connected.
“Hello?” He answered with labored breathing.
“Chris, it’s Becky, did I catch you at a bad time?”
“I was working out. What’s up, you sound serious?”
“I need your help, it’s about Aiden McDonald.”
“Hold on, let me get out of the gym and get some privacy,” he grabbed his towel and keys and stepped outside the gym towards his car. “Ok, I’m in my car, what’s going on?”
“So, Aiden had a setback and has been in a coma, this is the third day. He’s doing better, but he’s still pretty sick,” she took a deep breath before continuing, she knew she was taking a chance with this. “Harper hasn’t let his side, she hasn’t eaten and won’t even trust him with us long enough to take a shower or anything. She’s scared to leave him alone.”
“Becky, that’s awful, what do you need me to do?”
“I know this is a long shot, but she responded to you the other night. I wondered if you might be able to reach her. We’re grasping at straws here, but could you bring her food and see if you could get her to eat or see if she would trust you with Aiden so she could take a shower or sleep? She has to keep her strength up you know?”
“Let me get a shower and then I’m on my way, it’ll be about an hour or so between getting ready and traffic,” he disconnected the call and started to drive home.
Becky walked back towards Claudia with a huge smile on her face, “Problem solved, I called Chris, and he is going to come down here.”
“Seriously? You think he can actually help?”
“Oh yeah, what you don’t know is that he came by here last Friday night and took her to dinner.”
“Oh my goodness, you’re kidding?”
“Nope! I saw him on Sunday, and he can’t get her out of his head, I think he’s hung up on her. So, he can come in and save the day, feel like a real superhero!”
“I sure hope it works; do you think she might like him?”
“I hope so, because if not, my plan backfires.”
They laughed, and Claudia told Becky to keep her updated. Becky started her rounds and had lost track of the time. She was putting the charts up when she saw Chris walking down the hall, with his mother by his side, “Thanks for coming, Chris and it is nice to see you, Mrs. Evans.”
Chris gave Becky a hug, “Thanks for calling me. I brought Ma, thinking one of us could stay with Aiden, and the other could take care of Harper,” he looked around, “Which room?”
“End of the hall, first ICU bay. But Chris, I have to warn you, Aiden doesn’t look the same as he did the last time you saw him. He’s on a ventilator, lots of tubes and wires, and he’s heavily sedated.”
Lisa watched her son reach to Becky’s words; his brilliant blue eyes began to cloud, his shoulders sank, and she could almost see the weight on his chest. She realized he couldn’t speak, she thought she would try on his behalf, “How much of a setback will this be for him? I know you can’t say much because of HIPAA, but can you tell us anything?”
“The doctors aren’t sure yet, they are hoping it is only a minor setback. They want to try a different course of treatment, and they are remaining optimistic. That’s about all I can say without getting into trouble, I’m sorry,’ she wanted to tell them more, she knew Chris wanted to know everything. But she couldn’t risk saying anything more at the hospital, where someone could overhear her.
Lisa had just told Chris that she worried about him getting hurt; this would be a test. She was not sure how he would deal with the implications of this little boy losing his fight. Chris had met kids with cancer, had kept up a correspondence with them and had befriended them. Some of them put up a brave fight and unfortunately, some of them didn’t make it. He had always been upset with each loss, but this time, he was a little more attached, even if the interactions had been brief by all standards.
He took a deep breath and slowly slid the door open, pushing back the curtain and walking inside. He was quiet, not wanting to startle Harper. She was sitting in the chair next to the bed, leaning over with her head resting on the bed, sound asleep as she held Aiden’s hand. As he watched her, empathy was the overpowering emotion; he felt a tap on his shoulder and turned to find Becky.
As he turned to face her, she held out a duffle bag for him to take, “This is her bag, it was in Aiden’s other room, it has clothes in it. If she wakes up, maybe you can get her to take a shower and freshen up.”
Lisa intervened and took the bag, “I think you’re right, it might make her feel better and renew her energy, thanks. I hope she knows you all have been looking out for her.”
Becky nodded and smiled, patted Chris on the shoulder and then left the room. She said a silent prayer that this worked. Harper needed to keep her strength up if she wanted to help Aiden get better and she was going to need help in getting it back.
“I don’t want to wake her, Ma. I have a feeling she probably needs the sleep.”
“I agree, let her rest,” the two quietly walked over to the couch and took a seat. They watched as Harper stirred but didn’t wake.