Ciarda donned the sanitized green uniform and mask. The material was crisp and scratched her skin. She ignored the discomfort. It couldn't be nearly as bad as what Dom was going through. Dr. Scanlon nodded at her as he opened the door into Dominik's room.
"Just a few minutes," the doctor reminded her.
She nodded and stepped inside.
Despite the dim lighting of the room, she immediately noticed Dominik's pale skin. He'd always had a fairer complexion than his siblings, looking exactly like his father. But Dom liked the outdoors. He usually kept a year round tan. She'd never seen him this ashen before. The sight reinforced her fears about his health.
She stepped closer. The machines' whir synchronized with the pounding of her heart. Having known him all her life, she never imagined a life without him. Broken heart aside, one of her dearest friends was fighting for his life. There had to be a way to help him.
Ciarda pulled a chair close to his bed and sat. Her legs still hurt from Seth's attack. But she didn't want to think about that. What happened in her boarding school parking lot wasn't important right now.
Dominik's hand lay above the covers so she tentatively placed her hand on top. To her surprise, his hand wasn't cold. It was kind of warm and extremely pale against her darker complexion. The difference brought a slight twinge. She ignored the sensation and focused on her friend. So many nights, she fantasized about holding his hand. The moment finally arrived and only one of them was consciously aware of it. She shook her head at the bizarre irony of it.
"Hey, there," she said. The words came out scratchy. She cleared her throat and tried again. "Dominik, hi."
She paused. Silence followed. She half expected him to answer and laughed at herself when he didn't.
"I traveled all night to get to you. I won't say what I went through because that's not important." She gathered courage with each word. "Okay, maybe it is. My family would die if they knew. I'm so embarrassed... I don't get it."
Tears suddenly stung her eyes. She blinked them away. Crying wouldn't solve her problem. It never had before. As she inhaled a deep breath, she looked down at their joined hands. A distinct memory came to mind. Something, she hadn't thought about in years. She smiled as she mentioned it to Dominik.
"This isn't the first time we've held hands. I'd almost forgotten. That day was so long ago. We were so little, Alanna and I. You looked so much older and smarter. You called us squirts, but you played with us anyway. You and Ben were always teasing us. Brad, too. Alanna and I have always been lucky to have you guys around.
"But before that, I remember a tree and not wanting to come down. Daddy climbed it and brought me down. I remember thinking my dad could do anything and that yours could, too. It was Noelle's birthday party and everything was so weird. Our dads were thick as thieves. They've always been like brothers and I remember always feeling safe with them around. I wish Daddy had been with me last night."
The episode with Seth came from nowhere. Maybe he was a little possessive, but he'd always been so attentive. She never thought a guy would care about her like that. Why did he turn on her? What did she do wrong?
"Dominik, I don't think our dads can get us out of this. That's why you have to wake up. You have to find a way to come back to us. Everybody's worried about you and sad because they don't know how to help. So many people need you. I need you. Please, don't wait too long."
Ben looked away from the view of the hospital parking lot to see Brad standing beside him. "Hey. Did you just get here?"
"Yeah, I almost blew off my mid-term, but Dad told me to go ahead and take it. A low grade is better than an F."
Ben smiled. "Justus is always about the bottom line."
"Lawyers for parents ain't what it's cracked up to be."
"They're not that bad. How's your mom? I thought her saw her talking to Dom's grandfather."
"She's worried about Dominik," Brad said. "I think she and Uncle Stefan are plotting something. My aunt Monica looks like hell. Um...has Lesley Lu been around?"
"She and her mom were here, but they left. I think they're coming back, though." Ben gave his friend a knowing smile. "Lesley Lu asked about you."
Brad blushed. "She didn't."
"She did. Have you asked her out, yet?"
A few feet away, Ciarda joined her sister. She'd changed back into her regular clothes. The twins huddled close together and their aunt Shana stood nearby. Everyone was taking turns sitting with Dominik. There was a break between visits, but the rotating schedule seemed to work. Ben put his bid in for later. He knew the girls were desperate to see Dom. With so much on his mind, Ben wanted his head clear before he went in.
"What about you?" Brad jutted his chin toward the twins. "Are you still pretending that you're just friends with Ciarda?"
"I'm not pretending. She has a boyfriend."
Brad frowned. "Who?"
Just then, the guy in question rounded the corner and headed straight for Ciarda. She stepped back upon his approach. His face reddened in response. Ben, watching all this, got an uneasy feeling in his stomach. His hands flexed into fists at his sides.
"Him," he said through clenched teeth. "I'll be right back."
He made a move toward them. His cousin's hand shot out and stopped him. "Wait! You can't just go over there like that."
"Ciarda's not acting right."
"Storming over there won't make her feel better," Brad said. "You know that as well as I do. Let's just hang out and see what happens."
"What are you doing here?" Ciarda tried hard to keep her voice from shaking. Seth's arrival was unexpected. She hoped to have time to collect her thoughts before seeing him again. Heck, she wasn't even sure if she wanted to see him again.
His cheeks turned beet red. He glanced at Alanna and Shana. "Can we go somewhere and talk?"
Ciarda felt her family's curiosity like it was a ball thrown into her midsection. She gave them fake, bright smiles. "We're going to the patio. We'll be right back."
Alanna caught her hand. "We'll be right here."
Ciarda nodded. The unease on her twin's face mirrored the discomfort running through Ciarda's veins. She tried to shrug if off. "We won't be gone long."
She avoided contact with Seth by walking ahead of him. Ben and Brad stood near the patio doors. She dreaded walking past Ben. He already noticed too many things. If he ever guessed what happened between her and Seth, she'd die of embarrassment. Feeling his gaze boring into her, she consciously remained focused on the space ahead of her.
Once they were outside, she wrapped her arms protectively around her waist. "Why are you here?"
"Last night shouldn't have happened." He reached for her and she flinched. "Ciarda, please. I'm not that bad."
"You hurt me."
"You were running off to see another guy!"
Movement flashed on the other side of the doors. Her gaze cut inside. The boys had edged closer to the door. Her sister and her aunt stopped them from coming out. She turned away from them.
"Lower your voice," she said quietly. "I wasn't running off. Dominik is one of my best friends. He's lying in a coma. Why can't you understand that?"
He pursed his lips together. "I understand he's sick, but you don't understand how you made me feel. You were acting like he's your boyfriend. You were in such a hurry! If you had slowed down a little... I haven't felt whole since you left." He ran a hand through his hair. With the other hand, he reached inside his jacket pocket. "This is for you. I'm sorry things got out of hand. It won't happen again."
"I don't want anything—"
"I know." He took her hand and pressed the small black velvet box into her palm. "Just look. Give me that much and I'll leave. Please, Ciarda. You owe me that."
His words plagued her. Maybe their disagreement was partly her fault. Alanna's frantic phone call scared her shitless. Dominik was always healthy and full of life. He rarely got sick. When she heard how bad he was, fear took over. If she had explained that to Seth, maybe he wouldn't have gotten so upset.
She flipped the lid open. A beautiful, shiny gold bracelet shone back at her. A heart-shaped charm lay nestled at the bottom. Her breath caught. Only her parents had ever given her something so exquisite.
"What do you think?"
"I don't... I shouldn't. It's too expensive," she whispered.
He lifted the bracelet from the box. "You're worth it." He carefully secured the bracelet around her wrist. His fingers brushed her flesh. "It looks great on you."
"They're sleeping." Carlotta gave Stefan a triumphant smile. "Mrs. Landsbury will call when they wake up."
"So her herbal remedy worked." He took his wife's hand.
They stood outside their grandson's hospital room. Lesley Lu was inside with him. Nikolas's sister surprised Stefan with her tenacity. When Noelle changed her mind about going inside, Lesley Lu quickly stepped in to replace her. If Dominik's condition frightened her, Laura's youngest child didn't show it.
"Yes. I doubt if either them would have slept otherwise." She sighed. "Have you heard from Tommy?"
"Not yet. He has never been one for checking in when he doesn't have anything new to add. I'll give him another twelve hours before I call."
"I can't believe Matt and Ellen have disappeared into thin air."
He gently squeezed her hand. "Tommy will find them."
"I should talk to Noelle." Carlotta made a move toward their granddaughter.
"Wait," he said. "She's not alone."
During his conversation with his wife, Stefan noticed George's arrival. The young man walked a straight line to Noelle. His demeanor was extremely protective. Stefan wondered where Noelle spent the night. Perhaps, he had an answer now.
"George," Carlotta said with a faint smile. "Noelle's been infatuated with him since she was a little girl."
Stefan understood the nuances of unrequited love. His affection for Laura provided an educational experience. There was always a distinct wall present. The interaction between George and Noelle had no walls. Despite the lack of physical display, the two were connected. There was nothing unrequited between them.
Grace and Lesley Lu left the hospital and took a walk around the block. The two friends needed fresh air after inhaling the hospital's sterile atmosphere for the last couple of hours.
"How's married life?"
"Michael's a great guy," Grace said. "I love him."
"Of course you do." Lesley Lu stopped walking as they neared the garden. "You wouldn't have married him otherwise. Why do I get the feeling you're not telling me something?"
Grace sighed. Worry nagged her for weeks. She foolishly believed that if she didn't say anything, life would fix itself. Not true.
"Grace?" Her friend touched her arm. "What is it?"
"In a minute." Grace found a bench and sat. Lesley Lu joined her. She gave her friend a faint smile. "How was your visit with Dominik?"
"I hope he heard me. He's always been a good kid. What am I talking about? He's not that much younger than we are." She wiped her eyes. "I can't believe this is happening. We're hoping for miracles, you know?"
"Grandma is trying really hard to help him. I've never seen her look so determined." Grace inhaled the scent of the roses. This section of the hospital's garden always reminded her of the Quartermaine mansion. Grandmother Lila loved her flowers. The older woman was so filled with wisdom. When Grace couldn't talk to Keesha or Monica about those important girly things, she could always go to Grandmother Lila or her Aunt Emily or her best friend, Lesley Lu.
"We know she's trying hard. It's just so frustrating," Lesley Lu said. "He has his whole life in front of him. I refuse to think he won't recover from this. Dominik is strong. He'll be okay."
"I wish I had your faith in life..."
"I wish you'd tell me what was wrong," Lesley Lu said softly. "You can trust me with anything."
Grace nodded. "I know." She twirled her wedding band around her finger. "Michael's drinking. It's not just a social thing. I beg him to take it easy, but he doesn't. We've been fighting."
"His dad used to drink."
"I know, but Uncle AJ overcame it. I want to talk to him about it, but I know Michael would never forgive me."
"My dad had a problem with alcohol, too. Lorenzo and I talked about it. That's one reason why he rarely touches the stuff."
Grace's mouth curved into a faint smile. "Michael used to be like that. Because of his dad, he wouldn't touch the stuff. Maybe an occasional beer. Nothing stronger than that."
"Everything." Grace's shoulders slumped. "We found my dad and he wasn't the man we remembered. Mama and Uncle AJ's wedding was put on hold because of that not to mention the custody battle for JE. And, Michael's mom returned. Carly has a way of shaking things up and it's never for the better."
Lesley Lu nodded. "Yes, the Spencers have a way of stirring up trouble. Especially my cousin, Carly." She patted Grace's arm. "What can I do?"
"Right now, listening is enough."