Chapter 17: Homecoming

"This doesn't mean we're giving up," Mel said in a hoarse voice, as she fluffed the pillows behind Rick's head.

"We thought you could use a change in scenery." Maureen parted the curtains at the window. Sunlight streamed into the Bauer den. The ray's light provided little warmth to ward off the chill in the room. "I'll start a fire. I remember how much you love the blaze of the fireplace. There's a stack of logs beside the backdoor. I'll be right back."

She rushed out. Rick noticed the glisten of unshed tears in his stepmother's eyes. He also heard the tears in his lover's voice. His hands clutched the blanket that covered him. The two women he loved most in the world were falling apart and it was all because of him. He was dying and there was nothing anyone could do to save him.

"Mel." He reached out his hand. She took it and sat beside him on the hospital bed. "I don't want you or Maureen to be sad. If my being here is too hard, I can go back to the hospital."

She tenderly ran her fingertips along his jaw. "Baby, this isn't about what's hard for me or Maureen. The only person who matters is you."

"When I returned home, I thought it would be after a successful surgery. I never believed it would be like this."

Her grip tightened on his hand. "Rick, don't. You're talking like we brought you home to die. I refuse to give up."

"You're as tenacious as a bull." His lips parted into a weak smile. "That's one of the many things I love about you."

Dashes of pink colored her cheeks. She released a sigh. "I'm glad you said that. I was afraid you'd disagree."

His eyebrows shot up. "Disagree? With you? Am I crazy or what?"

She leaned in close to him. "I'd like to believe you're crazy in love."

"Believe it." He suddenly closed his arms around her. "I'll love you forever, Melisande. Even when I leave this place, I'll still be loving you and wanting the best for you."

"You are what's best for me."

He threaded his fingers through her curly locks. This was conversation he'd put off for far too long. He couldn't wait another day especially when he didn't know if he had another one.

"You are for me, too. I can't believe how long it took for us to find each other. I love you with my whole heart, as damaged as it is. You've taught me so much, Mel. Having you and Jude in my life… I want you both to remember me and remember how much I love you. Jude will have Harley and Philip. He won't be alone," he said, pausing to find the right words. "Mel, I don't want you to be alone."

She shifted uncomfortably within his embrace. "I won't be. My family--"

"I'm not talking about Clayton, Felicia and Remy." He cupped her face between his palms and gently forced her to look at him. "You are a woman who was meant to be a mother. A wife. You would make some lucky guy so happy. You deserve love, Mel and if I'm not around to give it to you… If the heart doesn't come and I die, don't mourn me forever. That's not what I want for you."

Tears pooled in her chocolate brown eyes. Rick's throat constricted. Her sadness was nearly overwhelming. But the words had to be said. She couldn't waste any more of her life on him than she already had.

"Promise me, Mel," he said in a choked voice. "You'll live."

A single tear rolled down her cheek. "I'll promise to try."

~*~

"How's he settling in?" Philip pressed the telephone receiver against his ear. He sat in his home office. Work beckoned, but the ability to follow through on anything escaped him.

"He's happy to be home," Maureen replied. "He's asleep now. I'll let him know you called."

"Thanks. I'll stop by later."

"Okay," she said. "I'll see you then."

He placed the receiver on its base. His chest felt heavy. Like all of fears were pressing down on top of him. He didn't want to imagine a day without his best friend. Rick had a huge impact on Philip's life and shaping him into the man he was. No one made Philip laugh the way Rick did.

And, now his best friend had gone home. Possibly to die. Philip's shoulders shook. He closed his eyes and fought the grief that had built up inside him.

"Philip."

Startled, his eyes flew open. He stared at the figure in the doorway. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to ask for another favor," Alan-Michael began. He took careful steps from the doorway. His face was pale and a faint sheen of perspiration glistened on his forehead.

Philip stood and quickly went to his brother. "You should be in a hospital bed."

"No," the younger man stated firmly. "I don't have much time. Alan's back in the States. I don't want him to find me here."

Philip nodded in understanding. "What's the favor? Want me to come with you?"

"No, it's better if I go alone. Especially now." Alan-Michael gripped Philip's forearm. "Your place is here. I'm sorry about Rick. He's been more of a brother to you than I've ever been."

"Don't say that."

Alan-Michael shrugged off Philip's protest. "It's true. You and I both know that. If I could stay here for you, I would."

"It's okay. Gilly needs you," Philip stated. "Since you don't want me to come with you, what else can I do?"

"Money," Alan-Michael said. "My assets are frozen. I could use a loan."

"Consider it done."

~*~

"The carryout will be ready in about ten minutes," Felicia said. She glanced at her watch. "Mel's expecting us in thirty so that should give us enough time to pick up the food from Company."

Clayton shut down his laptop and rose from his desk. "How did she sound?"

"You know our daughter," Felicia responded. "She's being strong. I wish she would admit she's scared."

"I don't see what good that will do, but then again, I'm not a shrink." He kissed his wife's cheek. Rubbing her arms, he kept her close to him. "Maybe you should talk to her."

"She'll think I'm treating her as a patient."

"You're probably right."

She patted his backside and smiled. "Sweetheart, I'm always right."

Before Clayton could respond, the front door opened. Remy entered. He looked as if he hadn't slept for a week. The angry bruise on his cheek didn't help the expression on his face any.

"What happened to you?" Felicia rushed to Remy. Clayton followed.

"Does the other guy look worse?"

"No, otherwise I'd probably be dead," Remy replied.

Clayton took his son's chin and tilted the boy's head toward the light. "Who did this?"

"An officer of the law." Remy spoke through clenched teeth.

Blood rushed through Clayton's veins. He willed himself to be still and listen. "Everything from the beginning."

"Marah met me after the game. We went for a ride in her car. She let me drive. I got pulled over. According to the officer, I ran a stop sign, which happened to be non-existent. He made me step from the car. I did. He started to pat me down and stepped back. That's when he hit me. The whole thing is crap."

"Yeah, it is," Clayton agreed, "and I'm not letting them get away with it."

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