I think it’s the pain in my head that wakes me. Or maybe my chest. My leg still isn’t feeling great either.
I subconsciously remember enough not to stretch or move much, instead I just take a slow steady breath and blink my eyes open.
I fucking hate hospitals. Especially when I’m the patient.
A flash of red hair and a mint green dress catches my eye and I turn my gaze toward the door to my hospital room with a grin, ready to flirt with the new nurse on duty.
What the hell is she doing here?
By the way her smile trembles I suspect I’m not hiding my surprise very well.
Distantly, I recognize I should be angry or annoyed or hostile, but frankly I don’t have enough energy to be any of those things. Or maybe it’s the drugs I’m pumped full of right now. I just feel mellow. And maybe a little curious.
“You’re… Riley. Right?”
If I’m remembering correctly, a fairly big if at the moment, she’s a teacher. And an outsider in her own right, an orphan like us, although she was taken in and raised by Luke’s family. She had a good, cushy home.
Not the hell Luke and I were raised in.
She nods. I got her name right.
She’s clearly nervous and that combined with my natural inclination to flirt my way through awkward situations eliminates any remaining desire I have to give her a hard time.
Well, really I flirt my way through all situations. Now that I can. It works. And I’m too exhausted to fight Luke’s battles right now. Besides, she’s cute in a wholesome 50s housewife kind of way. Not my type. But she seems harmless enough.
“I’m Jax. Nice to meet you,” I offer when she remains silently shifting from foot to foot just inside the door.
She let’s out a burst of laughter she seems surprised by. “You too.”
I smirk, still mostly curious why she’s here. And a little suspicious I know why.
“You want to sit?”
Finally she moves farther into the room accepting my offer. “I – ah – I brought you some contraband.” I smirk again as she glances over her shoulder nervously. A real rule-breaker this one.
“Oh yeah? Bribe or peace offering?”
She has a gigantic purse and it takes her a second to find what she’s looking for. Triumphantly she hands me a white paper bag. I recognize the logo immediately. I may start drooling like a trained dog.
“You brought me Duk’s?” How the hell did she know about my favorite hot dog stand?
I go to grab the bag, forgetting for a minute about the whole not moving thing and immediately feel pain radiate through my chest. I fall back to my pillows with a grimace, sucking air in through my teeth. “Shit.”
“Are you okay? Should I call anyone?” She rushes over a look of concern on her face.
“No. I’m fine. Just need a minute.”
I feel her studying me, probably trying to decide whether or not to call in a nurse. She must come to the conclusion I’ll survive because she turns away and unwraps my gift. Her bribe. We both know that’s what it is. I’m just not sure what she wants for it.
I’ll still eat it. I fucking love a good Chicago dog.
She takes one of the seats next to the bed with a small smile.
She has kind eyes.
That’s the drugs. I stomp that thought and turn my attention to my meal. I take a bite and groan with pleasure. This is the stuff.
She’s giggling at my expense and I don’t even care.
“This is exactly what I needed. How did you guess?” I ask taking another bite.
“I watch the show.”
Her answer causes me to shoot her a swift glance. I’d never really thought about any of the Abbott’s watching our show. It feels weird. Like they’re spying on us, even though tens of thousands of people tune in every week. But those people had never dealt such a brutal rejection to my best friend.
I focus on my hot dog, processing this information.
Eventually she breaks the silence by asking me how I’m feeling.
Like I’ve been shot. Like my head has been cut open. Like I’ve had multiple surgeries bringing me back from death in the last week.
But that’s not what I say. She knows that.
“Bored. But now you’re here so I suspect that’s going to change.” There’s a little bite to my words. I guess I can muster a little anger for her and her family after all.
“I – I was -”
“What are you doing here, Riley?” I interrupt. “Hoping to see Luke?” I’m not sure why that annoys me as much as it does. Of course she’s here because of Luke, not because of me.
“I wanted to see both of you,” she says softly, almost as if she heard my thoughts. “I heard about the shooting, obviously. I wanted to check on you, see if either of you needed anything.”
“Why?” Luke has rebuked every effort the Abbott’s have made the last couple years. Too little, too late. And he’s my best friend, the closest thing I have to family in this fucked up world so of course I’ve backed him up.
“Because that’s what you do for family.”
I study her. Trying to figure out what, if anything, is her angle. But she just raises her little chin and looks back at me with those wide gray eyes.
Suddenly uncomfortable under her calm scrutiny I change the subject.
“Who’s the lucky guy?” I nod at the engagement ring on her finger.
She looks down, finally breaking eye contact and starts to fidget with, what I’m sure, is an impressive rock.
“Oh, uh, his name is Daniel.”
She bites her lip and her eyes seems to shutter. I don’t have a lot of experience with engagements, weddings, happy marriages but I know women pretty well. And I have to think I wouldn’t want the woman I planned to marry to have that particular look on her face when talking about it.
And now I feel like an asshole for giving her a hard time.
“So. What do you want me to tell Luke?” I offer in an attempt to assuage my guilt.
She sighs returning her attention to me. But she seems a bit defeated now and I hate that something I said made her feel that way. Even if she is just trying to get to Luke through me.
“Nothing. Really. I just wanted to see how you were doing and hopefully cheer you up a little. I know it’s no fun to be stuck in a hospital bed.”
I try to remember the details of how she lost her parents. They died in a car accident. Was she with them at the time? The only survivor? That’s rough, especially for a kid.
“Thanks for the dog,” I offer, breaking the silence.
Her wide smile is so simple and so pure it almost knocks the breath out of me. Fuck.
I break our eye contact by closing my eyes and laying my head back against the pillows. “I like KitKats too. I don’t think that’s been on the show but next time, see if you can smuggle in some KitKats for me, will you, Teach?”
She laughs and unbelievably considering everything happening in my body right now I feel my dick twitch in response. Fuck. This is the last thing I need.
“I can do that.”
I hear the door opening once again but keep my eyes closed. I don’t think looking at her creamy skin and innocent gray eyes are going to help my current… situation.
“What the hell are you doing here? How did you get in here?”
Well. Lucas is pissed. Maybe she should have brought him a dog too.
She stands ready to bolt in the face of the six-feet-two tattooed and pissed-off male that is my best friend.
I interject to try to diffuse the situation. “I told the guard it was okay. She’s not some crazy fan,” I lie. The guard is there to protect my privacy not keep actual friends or family out.
But Luke hates his family sooooo…
“Did Ethan send you? I told him to stay the fuck away.”
“No, it’s okay. I’ll go. I just wanted to see if either of you needed anything.” Riley grabs her giant purse and gives me a wobbly smile. If I see tears in her eyes I’m going to punch my friend in the gut. After I’ve recovered from my injuries.
She pauses at the door and tells him, “Ethan didn’t send me. Neither did Uncle Theo. I just -” she leaves before finishing her thought.
I yell after her, “KitKats!”
Lucas is looking at me with an expression of disbelief on his face.
“You didn’t have to be such an asshole to her. She brought me Duk’s.”
You can see this meeting from Riley’s perspective here.
Curious about why Lucas hates his family? A little of his story is here.