Chapter 13

"Oh, my goodness! Yes, thank you for calling. I'll see you soon." Stunned, Felicia reached past Clayton to hang up the telephone. She removed a skillet of steaks from the heat and placed a lid on top of it.

"Who was that?" he asked.

"Maureen," she answered, bringing an abrupt end to dinner preparations. "Rick's in the hospital."

"So?" His brow furrowed into a frown. He folded his arms across his chest.

She gave him a scathing look. "I know you didn't just say that. Mel loves Rick, and we love Mel. Besides, Rick's condition is serious. Maureen wanted us to know."

"That was nice of her," he said without sarcasm.

"Yes, it was." Felicia faced him. "Our daughter needs us. Are you coming with me?"

His caramel cheeks flushed a dark pink. "Why wouldn't I? Mel needs us. I have never let my daughter down. Of course, I'm coming with you."

She released a sigh of relief. "I'm happy to hear that."

They left the kitchen. Felicia grabbed her purse from the hall closet and followed Clayton outside to the garage. As they settled inside the car and Clayton started the engine, she said, "I wasn't sure you'd come with me."

"I noticed." He gave his wife a long look. "I'm not happy with Mel's choice. I believe she can do better, but I know she loves him. I can't turn my back on her now at a time like this."

"Mel will be glad to see you there." She placed her hand on his thigh. "I love you, Clayton."

He smiled. "I know."

~*~

"What's wrong?" Nikolas wrapped his arms around Dawn's waist. He just came from the shower and wore only a towel. Her body warmed him instantly.

"Mel just called. Rick was admitted to the ER."

"I thought he wasn't that sick."

She turned within the circle of his arms. "He hasn't been exactly truthful. "

"Obviously." He held her close. "How's Mel?"

"She's strong, but I think she's scared, too. Who wouldn't be? I'd freak if anything ever happened to you. "

"And I you." He kissed her cheek.

"This just reminds us that life is precious. Tomorrow isn't promised and we have to treat each moment as if it's a rare gift that can be taken without notice."

Nikolas held himself still and waited. She had more to say. He knew her.

"Stefan called the other day. I didn't want you to fly off the handle so I didn't say anything."

"Dawn…"

"Hear me out," she said, her voice hoarse. "He misses you and he loves you. I know that you love him. Even if you're too stubborn to admit it. Promise me you'll think about this…"

He loosened his hold of her. "I'm listening."

"You'll think about how it would feel to know that you can never talk to him again. You'll really consider it. All the things you could have said but didn't. Will you think about it?"

Nikolas nodded. "I'll think about it."

She gave him a half smile. "Good. Will you come with me to Cedars? I want Mel to see our faces and know that we're here when she needs us."

"Just give me a moment to dress." He pulled her into a tight embrace. "I love you."

"I know," she whispered. "I love you, too."

~*~

Philip was headed for home when Maureen called him on his cell phone. He made a U-turn right in the middle of traffic. From her voice, Phillip knew his best friend's condition was serious. His chest tightened. He always thought that he and Rick would live forever.

He strode into Cedars and stopped at the ER Nurse's station. The duty nurse directed him to Rick's room. His heart skipped a beat as he noted the pallor of Rick's skin and the number of machines that were attached to him. Philip swallowed hard and put on a brave face. He couldn't let Rick know how badly the present scenario frightened him.

"The things a man will do for attention." Philip entered the room and moved to Rick's bedside. He smiled at Mel. "How do you put up with him?"

"Just barely," she replied. Her brown-eyed gaze was filled with worry.

Philip could hardly stand to witness her anxiety. If Rick's condition caused an ER physician worry, how bad could it be?

"Philip, you didn't have to come," Rick said, his voice weak.

"Yes, I did," he answered. "What happened?"

"We don't know," Mel answered. "We're waiting for the test results."

"Will he stay over night?"

She nodded. "Definitely. He won't be alone, though. I'll be with him. Maureen is coming in the morning."

"Hey, hey, hey!" Rick said as strongly as he could muster. "I'm right here. Don't talk about me as if I'm not."

A lump formed in Philip's throat. "Never."

A few minutes passed and Rick seemed to tire. Philip took that as a queue to let his friend rest. He headed for the door. Mel followed him.

"Thank you for coming," she said.

He stared at her. Of course, she didn't fully understand that Rick was more like his brother than just a best friend. He patted her shoulder. "You don't have to thank me. How are you holding up?"

"I'm hanging in there. I figure I shouldn't worry too much until the results come back. I'm glad you came so quickly. I meant to call you earlier, but Rick was brought in and…"

"What is it?"

"It's your brother. Alan-Michael is a patient in the burn unit," she said. "Let me take you to him."

Philip drew in a sharp breath. Two sucker punches in one day were more than anyone deserved.

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