Chapter 20: Hope Springs Eternal
"Do you want us to go in with you?" Clayton hugged Mel to his chest. He stroked her back and pressed a kiss to her temple.
"No, Daddy," she answered. "I need to be alone with him. But don't leave. Stay?"
"We will, sweetheart," her mother said. "We'll be with you all the way."
"Thanks, Mama." Mel pulled away and headed to Rick's closed door. A hushed silence fell over the Intensive Care Unit. The staff had milled about as soon as it was known that Rick had returned to the hospital. Now, his colleagues, friends and families remained in the hall outside his room, waiting.
She couldn't bear to look at anyone. Eye to eye contact with any sympathetic expression or teary-eyed glance would make her succumb to a fit of sobs. Rick needed her strong and she would be.
Mel walked quietly to his bed. His once full, rosy cheeks were sunken and ashen white. His body trembled with his every breath. She feared that the next one would be his last. She blinked the thought away.
"I'm here," she said, taking his hand. She sat on the edge of the bed. Her other hand caressed his cheek.
"I suppose this is it," he said with a faint smile, "my big exit."
"Don't." She swallowed a sob. "Please, Rick."
"It's really not so bad," he whispered. "Everything dies."
Her resolve broke. She placed her head on his chest and cried.
Remy looked through the plate glass window at his sister and Rick. Tears stung his eyes. He hadn't seen her this sad since their grandmother passed away. Grief didn't accurately describe the emptiness of loss. There really were no words that came close.
Remy's breath caught in his chest. He looked down in surprise. "No…"
Marah nodded. "That's good. That means there's still time."
He shook his head. "You're always the optimist."
"Hope keeps us alive," she said, looking up at him. "Mom is in the chapel praying. Uncle Richard is still comatose."
"I'm sorry about that," he said. "A car accident, right?"
"Yeah." She paused a moment before adding, "So I know what you're going through. All you can do is watch and pray. You see Mel falling apart and there is nothing you can do to make it better. That's how I feel when it comes to my aunt. There's nothing. But hope."
"I'm sorry about everything," he said quietly. "I blamed you for what happened with the cop. It's not your fault."
"No, neither was it yours," she said. "I've missed you. I don't want to lose you."
"—is important," she interrupted, "but that's not what I meant. I care about you. More than just friends."
"I know." He took her hand. "We'll have to see what happens. Come with me to the chapel."
She laced their fingers together. "Okay."
"How are you?" Nikolas went straight to his wife. He pulled her into an embrace. The ICU still held a crowd so he guided them to a more secluded section of the hallway.
"I'm not the one to ask," Dawn said. "Thank you for coming."
"I have to be where you are." His hand cupped her jaw. He brushed his thumb across her cheek. "Is there any word of a donor?"
"Not so far." She removed her cellphone from her belt clip. "But I'm on call. Anything can happen, or so Lillian keeps telling me. Keeping the faith is not as easy as it ought to be."
"Don't give up," he said. "I am living proof that your faith is not in vain. He had faith in me when mine was non-existent."
"That's because I know how incredible you are. You know that, too."
"Perhaps." He smiled. "I called Stefan."
Her eyes widened. "Really? What happened?"
"We talked." Nikolas glanced at the medallion that hung on chain around Dawn's neck. He lifted the heirloom from her chest and rested it on the palm of his hand. "My family is a legacy of revenge and loyalty and sometimes forgiveness."
"Did you forgive him?" she asked.
"I'm in the process."
Alan-Michael found the Tyson farm without any trouble. His wife went there after the explosion. Weeks had passed and he could only hope that she hadn't moved on.
His footsteps pounded across the wooden floorboards. A curtain fluttered. Muffled voices drifted from the open windows. He grabbed the doorknob. The door swung open in his hands. The figure in the doorway came as a complete surprise.
"Alan?" he questioned. "Where's Gilly?"
"I'm here." She stepped from behind his father.
He crushed her to him. Finally, the search was over.