It Had to Be You | Chapter 14 of 49

Author: Susan May Warren | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2865 Views | Add a Review

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Chapter 5

EDEN CLUTCHED THE COLLAR of her parka to her neck and hunched against the cold, hating that the bus had seemed to inch along today. She’d thought about getting out and running but doubted she’d get much speed in this wind. Now it streaked down her back and turned her body to ice.

His teammates were overreacting. So like hockey players to reach for the dramatic and overblow the incident. After all, with all the injuries Owen had already survived, a little black eye wouldn’t take him out of the game. He was only twenty years old; his entire spectacular career stretched before him.

Wrong. They were simply freaked out and wrong.

And even if he had suffered a painful injury, well, she’d nurse him back to the game. How many times had she soaked up his blood from split lips or iced his knees or fetched Gatorade to keep him hydrated? And ER visits to stitch up stick wounds were routine.

They’d get through this. He wasn’t going to lose his eye.

Eden pushed inside the ER and stood for a moment in the entry under the heaters that fought to ward off the chill. She pulled off her gloves, then pressed her hands to her cheeks as she walked to the nurses’ station. Glancing around, she didn’t see Max or any of the other Blue Ox players.

“Did Owen Christiansen pass through here earlier?”

The nurse looked up at Eden wearing a half-tolerant smile. “Who?”

“Owen Christiansen —a hockey player. Might have had a black eye?”

“And you are?”

“His sister.” Eden pulled out her wallet, showed her license.

“I . . . uh . . . Yeah, I think so. Let’s see.” The nurse sat down at the desk. “He plays for the Blue Ox —”

“Yes.”

“He’s in surgery. You can go up to the surgical waiting room, and the doctor will find you.”

Surgery? So maybe Max hadn’t just been freaking out. She drew in a long breath and found the elevators.

The university hospital had an academic feel about it. As she got into the elevator and pushed 3, following the directions to the surgical floor, it gave her a moment’s pause that they’d brought Owen here.

A handful of players sat in the lounge. Some snoozing on the sofas; others, like Max, wearing shock, their faces pale. Max sported a freshly opened lip.

He got up as she entered. Smoothed his hands on his jeans. They were shaking. It made Eden shake a little too.

“What’s going on?” She lifted her bag off her shoulder, set it on one of the vinyl couches. She’d already called in sick, but she didn’t see the need to worry her parents until —and unless —she had news.

“He went into surgery over an hour ago. They called in a specialist —”

Eden held up her hand. “Tell me everything.”

Max glanced at one of his buddies —she recognized Kalen, who pushed himself up into a sitting position. His Mohawk now resembled a bad toothbrush.

“It was my fault,” Kalen said. “I guess I started it. We were slapping around the puck, and I threw one of the Denver players into the snow. He came back at me, and we ended up on the ice, throwing fists.”

Max added, “I tried to get in there, but Owen jumped in for Kalen, and I followed, still holding my stick, and then we’re not sure what happened . . .” He looked away. “All at once, he was on the ground, screaming. There was blood all over the ice —the cops came. They took him to Hennepin County Medical Center, and then the doc there sent him here. We met the surgeon in the ER, and we’ve been here ever since.”

Eden sank down onto the couch. “And no one thought to call me?”

“What are you talking about? We called you constantly.”

Right. “Sorry. I thought it was Owen, pocket dialing me.” She pressed her hands against her roiling stomach.

“Do you need a drink?”

She looked at Max, made a face.

“I meant coffee.”

“Oh. Uh . . . no. I just want to wait for the doctor.”

“They called about fifteen minutes ago, said he was out of surgery. He should be here any —Jace, man, I’m so glad you’re here.”

Eden glanced up as Jace Jacobsen came into the room, looking like a man who’d walked through fire. His cheeks red from the cold, his hair blown back from his face. He carried a coffee in his whitened hand and wore what looked like the same clothes from last night.

Of course. She didn’t presume to think that J-Hammer would have gone straight home.

He frowned, then surveyed the room before returning his gaze to Max. “Update me.”

After a glance at Eden, Max gave Jace a similar rundown on the night’s events.

Jace listened, his expression grim. Finally he asked, “So where are the Blades players now?”

As if he might round up a posse and finish the fight? She should have expected as much.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said, standing. “Owen is all that matters.”

“Of course,” he said, glancing at Max. “Where’s Doc?”

“He was here —I think he went to talk to Coach.”

Jace said nothing, just took a sip of his coffee.

Eden wanted to strangle him. She knew —she just knew —that Owen would get himself in trouble. He had it written all over him last night.

She should have tracked her brother down instead of letting Jace drive her home.

Eden turned away before she said something she might regret, although at this moment, she didn’t know what that might be.

She had to do something, however. She walked to the coffee table, began to pick up the debris of candy wrappers and Coke cans, and dumped them in the garbage. Then she went to the coffee station, found the pot empty, and filled it, brewing a fresh batch.

The clock ticked out the seconds in the room.

She watched the coffee brew, straightened the sugars. The surgeon would fix it, whatever it was, and Owen would be fine. Just fine.

Behind her, someone had turned on the news.

She closed her eyes. Please, Lord, don’t let him lose his eye. God wouldn’t take away the one thing that Owen longed for . . .

“Is there an Eden Christiansen here?”

She turned at the voice and saw a doctor in blue scrubs, his feet capped in cotton covers, his scrub hat still partially covering gray hair. Behind him, a female nurse waited, carrying a chart.

“I’m Eden.”

“Dr. Harrison. I’m the ophthalmologist on staff. Can we talk privately for a moment?”

She looked at Jace, at his team, all leaning in. “I need to call my parents. But . . . tell me. How bad is it?”

The doctor pinched his mouth into a thin line. “The blow crushed parts of his orbit, or the socket that holds his eye. It lacerated the eye, which we repaired, but he has quite a bit of papilledema, or swelling of his optical disk. It was a blow to the head, too, so we’re watching his intracranial pressure. We’re concerned with his raised levels of cerebrospinal fluid pressure, so we’ll be moving him to ICU to keep a watch.”

A head injury. Eden had the sense of the room tilting, of Dr. Harrison swimming in front of her. But she couldn’t fall apart.

Not when Owen needed her.

“Will he lose his eye?” Jace asked quietly.

The doctor looked at Jace, then back to Eden. “It’s too early to know the extent of the damage. But you should call your parents.” He pressed a hand to her arm.

“We’re going to get through this,” she said softly. “He’s going to be just fine.”

No one answered her.

dingbat

“I’m scared, Daddy.”

Maddy lay in her bed, and even Sam, a nonprofessional, a parent who wanted to camp long and hard in denial, could admit that his daughter appeared worse. At death’s door. Her feet, hands, and face were plumped up with fluid, she ran a low-grade fever, and she couldn’t go off oxygen without her breathing becoming labored. A muted cartoon played on the TV on the wall, but behind her, another screen monitored her heartbeat, her oxygen levels. He tried not to let it trap him as he watched the stats.

“It’s just a biopsy, honey.”

But it was still general anesthesia, still his baby wheeled away, out of his arms. Still needles and pain and more fear, held back by the faintest press of hope.

He rubbed her forehead, his hand cool against her skin. “They need to test your heart and see how it is.”

“But it hurts.”

“I know.”

Jace had sent over balloons from the gift shop, as well as a bear the size of a buffalo, but Maddy hardly had the energy to thank him when he’d stopped by with coffee and breakfast. Then the phlebotomist came to draw blood, and Maddy had dissolved into hysterics.

Sam wasn’t sure what had happened to his brave, strong daughter, but he didn’t blame her. He wanted to let out a feral cry as well.

Jace had mentioned some kind of emergency with the team, and Sam could hardly expect him to hang around the hospital all day.

No, that was his job.

He wouldn’t even think about the bar and grill. Nell could manage for a day or two, but not a month or two . . . or eight like last time.

He would go under, and then they’d lose even the restaurant. That would look stellar in the transplant viability report.

Please, God, don’t let Maddy need another heart.

The nurse came in wearing a uniform with bears on it. Around her neck dangled a pink stethoscope with Dora the Explorer clipped to it. “Good morning, Miss Maddy. My name is Britta, and I’ll be taking you down to surgery.”

“No!” Maddy turned to Sam and grabbed his arm. “Please, Daddy, don’t make me, please —”

His chest threatened to implode. “Maddy. It’s okay. You can do this.”

“Tell me the story again. Please.”

The story. He took her hand, soft and fragile in his. “Your mommy knew, from the day you were born, how strong you were. She would lay you down to sleep, and you’d get so angry.”

“I would cry.”

“Yes. And your little face would get red and your back would arch and she’d say, ‘My little girl is a warrior.’” He cupped her face with his hand, ran his thumb down her soft, wet cheek. “You had eyes as big as saucers, and your hair stood on end, but you were the cutest thing your mommy and I had ever seen. I just knew that angels sang over you. One day you were in your walker and we’d forgotten to close the gate, and before your mommy knew it, you headed toward the stairs. She dove to catch you, but down you went, tumbling head over tail in your walker —”

“Like a bouncy ball.”

“Right, like a bouncy ball.” He moved aside as the orderlies wheeled in a surgical gurney. They picked up Maddy and transferred her over.

She shot Sam a panicked look. He kept his voice even. “The crazy, miraculous thing was, you bounced from the bottom step into the air, right through the middle of the doorframe without touching it, and then . . . you landed right-side up, holding on to the sides of your walker like you’d just gone on a roller-coaster ride.”

“And I didn’t even cry.” Her lip trembled through her smile.

They moved out of the room. “You didn’t even cry. And your mom said, ‘My little girl is brave.’”

Bless her tiny, frail heart, Maddy put on her brave face. She managed a shaky smile, her eyes filling. “I’ll be right back,” she said, remembering.

“Yes. And I’ll be right here,” he responded, smoothing back her hair and kissing her forehead.

“’Kay,” Maddy said, but her eyes grew wider as they wheeled her down the hall. She tightened her hold on Sam’s hand. “Sing to me, Daddy?”

“Yeah, baby.” He licked his lips, his voice shaking. “Uh . . . ‘Jesus loves me . . . this . . . I know . . .’”

Shoot, he could do better. He took another breath. “‘For the Bible tells me . . . so . . .’”

Maddy’s lips moved with his, her brown eyes so big they might swallow him whole. Just a few more feet . . .

And then she’d be gone. His voice died.

“‘Little ones to Him belong.’” Maddy’s voice picked up the song. “‘They are weak, but He is strong.’”

Oh, God, thank You for my strong, brave daughter. “‘Yes, Jesus loves me . . .’”

Yes, Jesus loves me. Please.

They finished the song together as they stopped by the doors to the surgical suite. “‘The Bible tells me so.’”

Then they wheeled Maddy through the surgical doors, leaving him alone in the hallway, his heartbeat so loud in his chest, he could hear nothing else.

Not even the song.

dingbat

“Sam, how are you holding up?”

Jace sat in a chair across the hall from Owen’s hospital room, cell phone to his ear. They’d posted a guard and cordoned off the area from local press, but he’d still had to run interference when the hospital transferred Owen out of ICU.

He didn’t know what impulse compelled him to stick around all day —save for the two hours he escaped to his condo for a shower and a change of clothing. Maybe he couldn’t dodge the sense that Eden might need him.

Probably just hopeful thinking.

No, not hopeful. Just a sense of responsibility or guilt. Because he also couldn’t get past the look in his teammates’ eyes when he walked into the waiting room. As if he were the father of a bunch of juvenile delinquents.

He’d aged a couple decades right before his own eyes.

Still, maybe he should have picked up on the chatter in the locker room last night after the game when they suggested finishing what they started on the ice. He’d been tired and just glad to escape without a headache.

Jace had finally sent Max and the guys home to shower and sleep and get ready for practice.

He, however, decided to stay and keep an eye on Eden, who’d sat in the ICU waiting room all morning, downing cup after cup of coffee but otherwise stiff and unmoving, as if willing her brother to wake up. Maybe it had worked because around noon he’d woken briefly, and the team doc, Dr. Wilson, had set up a press conference for later today. Jace had no doubt the PR department would prepare a hazy, nonspecific statement about the night’s events.

Who knew but there might be suspensions in Owen’s —and Max’s and Kalen’s —near futures.

“I’m okay, Jace,” Sam said. “Maddy’s back from her biopsy and feeling pretty punky.”

“When do you get the results?”

“Later today.” His voice was muffled as if he was holding his hand over the phone. “But I think we’re in trouble. She’s bloated with the fluids, and her temperature is up.”

“I’m sorry, Sam.”

“What’s going on with you?”

“Owen Christiansen took a hit to the head last night while mixing it up after the game. He’s out of ICU, but he’s got some damage to his eye.” He glanced at Eden, now sitting in Owen’s room by his bedside. Vigilant as he slept. Jace should get her something to eat.

“Wow, that’s rough.”

“Yeah —hey, I think his family’s here. I’ll talk to you later. Call me if something changes.”

Jace clicked off as a troupe of Christiansens tromped down the hall, led by Graham. He spoke to the guard, who let them pass.

Jace recognized members of the family from the few times Owen had brought them to games, but he’d never really seen the entire tribe together. Owen’s father —Jace couldn’t remember his name —recognized him and came at him with a handshake. A big man, he wore a skullcap and a canvas work jacket and looked like a man used to handling everything life threw at him. He gave Jace a grim smile. “Jace Jacobsen. I recognize you. Thanks for being here.”

“Good to see you again, sir.”

“John.”

“Right.”

“And you remember my wife —” He turned, but the blonde woman had already walked past him, into the room, and Jace watched as Eden wrapped her in a hug. “Ingrid.”

“Yes.” Jace gave him a nod, and John followed his wife into the room. Behind him shuffled in a couple girls —a redhead and a blonde like Eden —and then a brother, a taller version of Owen, except with dark-brown hair.

He stopped at the door. “Aw —you’re J-Hammer.” He stuck out his hand. “Casper. I’m Owen’s brother.” He glanced behind him. “We had to endure the radio news the entire way down. What don’t we know?”

“Call me Jace, and I don’t know —just that it was an accident.”

“Casper!” Eden had suddenly come to life and run out of the room. She didn’t look at Jace as she wrapped her brother in a hug. “I’m so glad you’re here.”

Casper kissed the top of her head. “Hang in there, Sis.”

She nodded, but Jace saw the fatigue on her face, her forced smile. He hung back as the doctor came down the hall and entered the room.

Probably it was a good time to exit. Maybe find some grub. He’d stick around for the press conference and then head over to practice.

Jace walked past the cop, then down to the elevators. He was thumbing through the tweets with Owen’s hashtag when he saw Eden walk by.

She reached up as if to wipe away a tear. He glanced down the hall —the door to Owen’s room remained closed.

Where was she going? He didn’t mean to pry, but something about it felt abrupt —enough that he followed her. At a distance, casually looking at his phone.

She had turned down a corridor and stopped, slipping into a crouch and burying her face in her hands.

And he got it. After sitting all day, stoically holding together Team Christiansen, she had to run away to crumble. Sort of like his own escape two years ago.

He didn’t want her to accidentally end up in a lake, nearly drowning, freezing from hypothermia.

Which was why he put his phone away and walked toward her.

She must have heard him because she looked up, her eyes red.

“Eden —”

“Just . . .” She held up her hand as if to keep him away.

“What did the doctor say?”

She stood, tugged at her sweater. “Uh . . .” She brushed her hair away from her face, hands trembling. Then she glanced behind him. “Not here.”

Right. Media. He glanced around, saw an empty room, the curtain drawn through the center. “In here.”

She followed him into the room, let him shut the door. Blew out a long breath. “It’s horrible. He’s got some serious damage to his eye. The doctor says that even if they save it, they’re not sure if he’ll regain his peripheral vision.”

Jace leaned against the edge of the empty bed.

“It’s just not fair. He’s worked his entire life for this. Since he was four four. He was so cute, his little hockey stick almost as tall as he was. He’d go out on the lake the second Dad cleared the ice and spend all Saturday skating.” She ran her fingers under her eyes. “Funny thing is, Casper was the one who seemed to be our superstar hockey player. It wasn’t until Owen made the team in eighth grade that he really started stepping into his own spotlight. It was like he realized that he didn’t have to be in Casper’s shadow anymore and that he had his own mad skills.”

She shook her head. “He got a nineteen on his ACT. He barely passed high school. The kid has ADHD and is borderline dyslexic. What’s he going to do if he can’t play hockey? Sell cars? Work with Darek on the resort? Not that that’s a bad idea, but . . .”

Jace said nothing. Especially since he had this awkward urge to reach out and fold her into an embrace. Weird, since less than twenty-four hours earlier he’d just wanted her out of his car, out of his life.

And in the silence, maybe she remembered their long, painful ride home too, because suddenly she frowned at him. “What are you still doing here? What, now you start deciding to act like a captain?”

Whoa 

“Really, Jace, couldn’t you have shown up last night —?”

“I was busy last night.”

“Yeah, doing what?”

He didn’t want to be snarky, but she had this . . . this way about her. “Well, after I drove you home, I had to take my best friend to the hospital because his daughter is rejecting her heart transplant.”

That silenced her, and the whitened pallor of her expression made him feel like a jerk. But the truth was, he’d already asked himself what might have happened if he’d tracked down Owen and the guys instead of showing up at Sam’s.

He didn’t want to go there.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly.

“Yeah, well, I do feel sick about this. I like Owen, and I understand a little about what it might be like to lose everything.”

“He’s not going to lose everything. He just can’t —”

“What are you two doing in here?”

Jace jumped at the voice of a nurse entering the room. An older woman, she wore turquoise pants and a well-filled-out scrub top patterned with tiny hockey players. For a second, he had the feeling of being in the wrong team’s locker room. “We’re just talking —”

“Arguing. We can hear you all the way down the hall.” She flung back the curtain, and he froze at the sight of a young man lying in the bed. Maybe about Owen’s age, a breathing tube down his throat, his body hooked to machines.

“I’m so sorry.” This from Eden, who looked as horrified as he felt. “We didn’t see him.”

The nurse waved her words away as she checked the monitor. “Maybe he heard you and it will touch something inside.”

“How long has he been like this?” Eden stood at the end of the bed, concern in her expression.

“About a week. He came in hypothermic, with a head trauma, and hasn’t woken up.”

“Oh, his poor family.”

“No family. He’s a John Doe.”

“A John Doe?” Eden said. “You don’t know who he is?”

“Nope. He’s all alone.” She pulled the curtain across. “Come on now, out.”

Jace followed Eden out, seeing how white she’d gone. Even he felt a sting in the back of his throat at the nurse’s words.

“Come with me.” He wanted to reach out to her, take her hand, but he didn’t want to upset their fragile peace.

Thankfully she followed him, and he returned to the elevator.

“Where are we going?”

“This cafeteria has amazing tapioca pudding.”

“Pudding?”

She stood to his shoulder, and close like this, he could smell something pretty and floral, maybe her shampoo. Her blonde hair curled over her shoulders like ribbon, and for a moment, his gaze landed on her full lips, and he felt a latent, almost-forgotten stirring inside.

What? No. Not for Eden Christiansen. He shook it away. Still, he knew what it felt like to sit at someone’s bedside, hoping. “Listen . . . yeah, I’m still here, and I’ve hung around in the hallway all day, watching you stare at Owen, wishing this hadn’t happened. I know that look —I’ve been there. And I’ve found the one and only cure is . . . tapioca pudding.”

She raised an eyebrow, even if she didn’t smile.

Not that he expected it. But he wasn’t the kind of guy to give up, and for some reason he couldn’t quite place, he wanted to see her smile.

“I’m frustrated too. And the last thing I want to do is go to a press conference. Or practice, for that matter. So indulge me. Let me buy you some pudding.”

She considered him a long moment. “This doesn’t mean we’re friends, J-Hammer.”

“Never. I promise. Just tapioca, that’s it.”

“Fine. If you insist. Feed me.”

He finally got that smile.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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