He called me every day and came by the flat as much as he felt I’d let him get away with it.
Too exhausted to fight him, I did let him get away with it.
“Hullo,” I answered and even I could tell I didn’t sound like myself.
There was a crackle down the line as he let out a heavy sigh. “Braden just called.”
I tensed, hearing the roughness in Adam’s voice, the choked brokenness in his tone.
“God, Ellie,” he groaned as if in agony. “Sweetheart—”
“Don’t.” I shook my head even though he couldn’t see me, and I bit my lip to try and stem the flow of tears. As soon as I felt I could speak without crying, I continued, “We don’t know anything yet.”
“I know I need to come to you. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“No, don’t,” my voice was sharp as I sat up, my heart pounding at the thought of having him here to hold me through this. “I don’t want you to.”
I winced at the hurt in his voice. “Please, Adam.”
“I need to. I need to be with you. I love you, Ellie. I’m f**king in love you.”
He was crying.
I’d never heard or seen him cry before. At his tears and outright confession I started to cry too and collapsed back on my pillow, squeezing the phone tight to my ear. Finally I whispered, “Just stay on the line with me, okay.”
Adam cleared his throat, his voice breaking as he replied, “Anything, baby.”
I sighed and snuggled deeper against my phone. “We don’t know anything,” I repeated.
“It could be nothing,” he added.
“Whatever it is, I’m going to fight.”
“I’ll fight with you.”
“Ssh,” I hushed him softly. “No promises. Not like this.”
“I’m done wasting time, Els.”
I smiled sadly, too weary to go there. “Just waste a little more time for me. Please.”
He was a silent a while and then he replied quietly, “Only a little, baby. Only a little.”
*** Adam’s phone bill would be ridiculous but I doubted he cared. He stayed on the phone with me for two hours and we hardly spoke. I just listened to him breathe as he listened to me breathe. We finally hung up when Braden returned, but Adam refused to let me say the words goodbye and it was the first time I heard undiluted fear in his voice when he begged me not to say that word.
It was a lot. It was huge. But it was one thing for him to admit to me again that he loved me and an entirely different thing for him to admit that to Braden. I needed to get through this crisis before I could deal with me and Adam.
I watched television with Braden for a while, snuggled up into his side as he stroked my hair soothingly. Mum and Clark had gotten into a huge fight with him because they wanted to come to me but Braden insisted there was nothing they could do right now and while I was stuck in limbo it would be best if I had peace and quiet and didn’t have to worry about how they were coping with this. I appreciated it but I also gave them a quick call so they could hear my voice and I could ask them to take me to my appointment the next day. They were okay at first but then suddenly Clark had to say a quick goodbye when Mum started to sob.
Of course that set me off for a while, and then I calmed, and then as it got darker outside and the evening began to pass, the fear over what I’d hear tomorrow hit me.
Braden laid me back on my bed and curled my hand around a mug of hot water and whiskey. He sat on my bed as I drank it and he watched me until my eyes finally fluttered closed.
They slammed open at the sound of my bedroom floor creaking. I was curled up in a ball on my bed in the dark, and through the moonlight spilling in through the large window I saw Joss standing at the bottom of my bed.
Surprised that she had come to me but still gripped by hurt at her defection earlier, I just gazed at her with round eyes.
At a breathy gasp, my eyes grew wider as I realized Joss was crying. Joss was crying.
Joss. I knew she’d run earlier because of the baggage she carried around about her family’s deaths. I’d known that on some level that fear had sent her running from me, but actually witnessing her tears, I realized it all meant that she cared about me. She was frightened of losing me.
The tears slipped down my cheeks and moved Joss to action. She crawled up onto my bed and as she settled in beside me I turned on my back. Joss immediately rested her head on my shoulder and shifted closer to me. She took my hand and held it between both of hers.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s okay,” I promised her and meant it. “You came back.”
“I love you, Ellie Carmichael. You’re going to get through this.”
I’d won the love and affection of someone as lost as Jocelyn Butler? For me that was a whole lot of light in a whole lot of dark and it overwhelmed me. I tried to swallow past an answering sob as I whispered the truth back to her, “I love you too, Joss.”
*** Braden had woken us up that morning and he’d made us breakfast. Even with the appointment with the neurosurgeon looming over me that afternoon, I could tell something had gone horribly wrong with Joss and Braden. Upon asking them, I discovered they’d broken up and attempted not to feel guilty. I failed.
They’d clearly broken up because of me… because of Joss’s reaction to what was happening to me. Hearing Braden’s deadly cool voice with her and seeing the flinch of pain in Joss’s face, I wanted to intervene, I wanted to fix what I had inadvertently helped break, but they wouldn’t have it and I was ushered out of the room and into a shower.
At one point I heard their escalated voices over the spill of water and then a plate crashing followed by more shouting. Worried, I switched off the shower and clambered out but the voices had quieted to a murmur. Still, I hurried getting dried and pulled on a bathrobe, ready to put myself between them if need be.
Instead as I walked quietly down the hall I heard Braden confessing that he loved her and that he wasn’t going to stop fighting for her. He promised her in his way that he would be relentless. The romantic in me almost passed out on the spot.
“You’re insane,” Joss hissed back.
“No,” I disagreed, coming to a stop in the kitchen doorway, giving them a smile. “He’s fighting for what he wants.”
“He’s not the only one.”
I turned my head in shock at the sound of the familiar voice, and watched with a pounding heart as Adam strode into the flat toward me. He looked like hell with dark circles under his bloodshot eyes, and it looked like he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days.
He was still absolutely beautiful, and the way he was gazing at me, like I was something precious just dancing out of his arm’s reach, was absolutely beautiful.
When he stopped before me he took my hand and raised it to his mouth, squeezing his eyes closed as he pressed a kiss against it. My breath caught as he opened his eyes and I saw the tears from yesterday were back again, shimmering in their depths. I also knew from the determined fire blazing in his eyes that he had really meant it when he said he’d only waste a little more time for me. As in less than twenty four hours.
That’s why when he tugged me by the hand and drew me into the kitchen as he faced up to Braden, I let him. Because in a few hours I’d discover whether or not I had the biggest fight of my life on my hands, and even after everything, the only person I wanted fighting by my side was Adam Gerard Sutherland. We had a history, and I wanted to keep adding years to that history.
“I need to tell you something,” Adam faced Braden and I could feel the tension vibrating from his body.
He was doing it. He was really willing to risk it for me. I squeezed his hand tighter.
Braden crossed his arms over his chest, his eyes moving from Adam to me and then back to Adam again and I knew he knew but he wasn’t going to make it easy. “Go on.”
“You’re like a brother to me. I would never do anything to hurt you. And I know I haven’t been what a brother would consider good material for his wee sister, but I love Ellie, Braden.
I have for a long time now, and I can’t not be with her. I’ve wasted too much time as it is.”
I don’t think either of us took a breath as we waited for Braden’s response. After a minute’s contemplation he finally turned to me, his gaze softening. “Do you love him?”
Adam looked back at me and I was surprised to find a glint of insecurity in his eyes. Silly man. I gripped his arm tighter to reassure him and then smiled at my brother. “Yes.”
And then quite casually, as if Adam and I weren’t tied up in knots over his possible reaction, Braden just shrugged and leaned over to switch on the kettle. “About bloody time.
You two were giving me a headache.”
My muscles tensed in reaction. All this time he’d known? Adam and I had put ourselves through pain and heartbreak these last few months and Braden had known all along how we felt about one another.
“You really are a know-it-all pain in the ass,” Joss said for us all. She pushed past him in annoyance and stopped to say more softly, “I’m happy for you,” to me and Adam before she flounced down the hall to the bathroom.
Braden laughed softly. “She loves me really.”
The bathroom door slammed at that and Braden laughed again. Adam narrowed his eyes on him. “I hope she puts you through hell, you cocky bastard.”
Braden smirked and shifted his gaze to me. “I had to make sure you were willing to fight for her. She’s worth the fight.”
Adam sighed and put his arm around my shoulder, drawing me into his side so he could kiss the top of my head. “I know that better than anyone.”
I closed my eyes and inhaled him, thanking whatever divine being out there that had added another blast of light into my darkness.
*** For a moment I just lay there, my smile pressed into my pillow. Not only had I awoken to the heat of Adam curled into my back, his forehead pressed against my nape in sleep, his heavy arm draped across my waist and his right leg caught in between mine, but I’d awoken to the lightness of remembered relief. I’d awoken feeling stronger than I had done in what had felt like a very long time.
Yesterday, although I knew from the look on his face he wanted to come with me, Adam had, along with Braden, Joss, Hannah and Dec, quietly remained at my flat while Mum and Clark accompanied me to my appointment with the neurosurgeon. Dr. Dunham was a pleasant man in his early forties who shunted the fear of God out of me and my parents with five words, “There’s nothing to worry about.” He assured us that the cause of the physical symptoms was actually a large cist attached to two very small tumors, and the cist was causing pressure. He told us it had to be removed and because of its placement—on the surface of my brain—there was very little risk to the surgery. Like two percent risk. He’d also told us that there was little chance of the tumors proving to be cancerous but that they’d be sent off for biopsy to make sure. He’d scheduled me in for surgery in two weeks’ time, and although now that I had time to think about it I was scared as all hell about going under the knife, the relief of knowing that there was a massive chance I was fighting a small fight and not one for my life was overwhelming and draining.