"Alan-Michael?" Philip hesitated at the foot of the bed. The mummy-wrapped form on the hospital bed bore little resemblance to his younger brother. A lump lodged in Philip's throat. He swallowed hard and stepped closer. "It's me. Philip. Can you hear me?"
The head moved. The eyelids opened. The eyes unmistakably belonged to Alan-Michael. His mouth parted and a hoarse voice said, "Yes. Is there water?"
Philip found the water pitcher on the stand beside the bed. He poured water into the tumbler and inserted the straw inside. "Don't drink too fast."
Philip held the tumbler until his brother drank his fill. Then, he set it on the night stand. "What happened? You look like you've been in an explosion."
"I was." Alan-Michael struggled to sit up. "That's not important--"
"What?" Philip countered sharply. "Of course it is. Tell me as much as you can. I'll take care of who did this."
"I don't care about them."
"I do. No one's walking away Scot free from what was done to you. Mel told me that you almost died--"
"Philip," his brother cut in. "I need you do something for me."
"That's what I want to do!"
"No, never mind what happened to me. I'll deal with that later. Just do one thing for me." He took a deep breath. "Find my wife."
"Lucy was with you?" Philip's eyes widened. "Where were you?"
"Not Lucy," Alan-Michael rasped. "Gilly and I were in Winchester and they found us. Everything happened so fast. You have to find her."
"Gilly?" Philip repeated. "Gilly's your wife?"
Alan-Michael closed his eyes and nodded. "Yes. Find her! Please!"
Rick stared at the worried faces of the two women in his life. Both tried to appear brave and confident, but he knew the truth. They were scared shitless. And so was he.
Mel's hand close around Rick's in an iron grip. She met the specialist's stare head on. "So what you're saying is that Rick's condition was caught in time? I've read the research and all of it concludes that a transplant is mandatory for survival."
"A heart transplant?" Maureen questioned. "Rick needs a new heart. How soon? We can't be sure that he'll get one in time. There are so many factors. Compatibility… There's no other treatment?"
Dr. Yee shook his head. "No, there isn't. His heart is degenerating and the sooner we find a replacement the better."
Sudden tears glistened in Maureen's eyes. "You sound so detached! Transplant surgery isn't easy or unimportant. How can you be so emotionless?"
"Mo--" Rick reached for her hand.
Tears streamed down her cheeks. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, Rick. I'll be right back." Maureen rushed from his room.
"Should I go after her?" Mel asked, despair etched over her face. It was clear that she wasn't ready to leave Rick's side and he didn't want her to.
He shook his head. "She's already upset with herself for breaking down like that. Give her a few minutes. She'll be back."
Mel nodded and then turned to Dr. Yee. "Does he need to stay here until a heart is found?"
"I'd like to monitor his condition. It will be better if he's here." He hesitated a moment and cleared his throat. "I apologize if I seem distant. Analyzing your results wasn't easy. You're both more than colleagues to me. You're friends, too. This is the worst kind of news to give friends.
"But it's not hopeless." The doctor looked at each of them in turn. "Once we find the right heart for you, you'll be on the road to recovery. Don't give up."
Dr. Yee concluded with special orders. Mel promised that the patient would obey. Rick sputtered as the doctor left. "Mel! Nothing but Jell-O?"
"If you don't complain too much, maybe you can have a teaspoon of whipped cream."
"A teaspoon?" He groaned. "Come on. Where's the love?"
She sat on the edge of the bed. Her voice softened. "It's all right here." She placed her head on his chest and hugged him.
Rick's arms closed around her. "Will you be okay? We can get through this."
"I'm fine," she said, holding him tight. "Don't worry about me. You know I'm tough. I can handle anything."
He kissed her forehead, drawing strength from her. As long as she could handle it, so could he.
Mel waited until Rick fell asleep before she left his room. She made a mental note to ask that a cot be placed in his room and to pick up a few things from home. He needed her and she planned to be with him.
She headed for the Nurse's station. "Do you know if Maureen left?"
"She went to the cafeteria," the nurse replied.
"Thanks." Mel saw sympathy flash in the nurse's eyes. Mel turned on her heel to avoid it. The last thing she needed was someone to pat her on her the back and tell her how sorry they were. If she had to endure that, she'd break right in two. Right there on the spot.
She rounded the corner to reach the elevator. The doors opened and her parents walked out. She saw the love in their eyes. Suddenly, the emotions she held in check became too much. Tears flooded her eyes.
"Oh, baby girl." Her father's arms closed around her.
Felicia rubbed her back. "Maureen called."
"We know about Rick," Clayton said, "and we're here for you."