“Viper!” I spun around as Michelle hurried toward me. “I called you back, but you didn’t answer. Follow me.”

I gave the woman at the desk a quick wave and caught up to Michelle. “What’s going on?”

Her tiny legs were moving so fast I practically had to jog to keep up with her. She let out a heavy sigh. “I got a call from Regina a little bit ago—”

“Regina?” I interrupted.

“Gam’s friend.”

“Oh, right.”

“Don’t yell. Promise?”

“What?”

“You have to promise not to yell.”

“Michelle, are you kidding me right now?”

“Fine.” With a heavy sigh she pushed another set of doors open and turned right, following the red arrow toward the emergency room. “Regina said they went out on the Segways after we left and there was an accident. Gam went over a curb that was too big and fell off.”

“Holy shit. Is she okay?”

Michelle shook her head slightly. “She’s not critical, but she’s not great. They’re doing X-rays right now. They think she might have broken her hip and possibly her femur. She’s in a lot of pain.”

We got to the crowded waiting room and walked to two open seats in the far corner. A couple of people stared at me, but I avoided eye contact with everyone except Michelle.

If anyone has the nerve to ask for an autograph right now, they’ll be needing a room of their own.

“Are you okay?” Michelle asked in a shaky voice as we sat down. She rested her hand on my knee and my heart rate instantly slowed a little.

“I don’t know what I am. I’m glad it wasn’t more serious, but a broken hip isn’t a small thing either. She’s going to need round-the-clock care and nurses and meds and I’m just at the beginning of a new season—”

“Hey,” she interrupted softly, giving me a tiny smile. “Calm down. Take a breath. I’m here. I can handle whatever you need me to handle, okay?”

I studied her thoughtful blue eyes. The same thoughtful eyes that had saved me so many times when it really should have been me saving her. “I don’t know what I would do without you, you know that?” I put my hand on top of hers and squeezed.

“I know exactly how you feel because I feel the same about you.” She closed her eyes and leaned into me, resting her forehead against my cheek.

I closed my eyes against her skin. “Where are the kids?”

“Taylor is with them. They’re fine.”

Before we could say anything else, a woman’s loud voice called out, “I need the family of Elizabeth Finkle!”

We both stood quickly. “That’s us,” Michelle said, gripping my hand tightly.

“Come with me, please.” The nurse turned and pushed open a set of double doors, leading us down the hall.

As we followed her through the sterile-smelling halls of the hospital, she started quickly filling us in on Gam’s condition . . . but her words clogged my brain and my mind drifted. I found myself staring at her shoes. There was nothing special about the pink and black gym shoes, but I couldn’t look away.

“Viper!”

The sound of my name broke through my thoughts. Michelle was standing in the doorway of a hospital room, staring at me with her eyebrows pulled down low. “What’s going on? Are you okay?”

“Yeah.” I nodded. “I’m fine.”

She eyed me skeptically and waved for me to follow her.

The instant I stepped into the room, the familiar hum of machines made every muscle in my body tense up at the same time. I hadn’t been in a hospital room since I said good-bye to Mike, and hearing those same beeps, smelling those same smells, and seeing those same blue curtains made my stomach churn violently.

I stopped in the doorway and ran my hand through my hair, desperately trying to slow my breathing. “Uh . . .”

Michelle took a step closer to me, wrapping her arm around my waist. “What is going on?”

“Nothing,” I lied. “I’m fine.”

The sound of metal scraping on metal filled the room as the nurse pulled the curtain back. Gam was lying in the hospital bed, half sitting up, half lying down. When she saw us, her face lit up in a big, goofy grin.

She pointed at us. “Hey! I know them!”

The nurse shot Michelle and me a look. “The pain that comes with a broken hip is excruciating, so your grandmother will be on heavy pain meds until surgery—”

“That’s my cute grandson,” Gam cut her off. “His name is Lawrence, but that name is pretty stupid, so his friends call him Viper, which is even stupider because he’s not a snake. I’m gonna call him Bob instead.”

The nurse looked from Gam to me and rolled her eyes. “Really heavy pain meds. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She stepped past us, out into the hallway, and disappeared.

“Come here, Bobby!” Gam raised her arms and tried to sit up.

“No, no. Don’t move. We don’t want to make anything worse, okay?” I said sternly as I walked over and gave her a hug.

“I don’t think it can get any worse,” she said, shaking her head. “I just hope the horse is okay.”

Michelle narrowed her eyes. “What horse?”

“The one I was riding!”

“Gam, you weren’t riding a horse,” I answered with a laugh.

“Oh yes I was,” Gam insisted. “A big brown one named Cinnamon. We were galloping through the neighborhood, looking for Phil, and she got spooked by a little bastard squirrel and bucked me right off. And now here I am. Ta-da!”

I gaped at her in amazement before looking at Michelle, who was having trouble keeping a straight face at that point.

“You were on a Segway, not a horse,” I corrected her.

“No, it was a horse,” she said adamantly.

“I promise it wasn’t.”

Her eyes grew wide as they darted around the room. “Well then who the hell was I feeding carrots to?”

 

 

Once Gam was done with stories of imaginary horses and instigating squirrels, she passed out until it was time for surgery. Thankfully her surgery went great and she came out on the other side with four shiny new screws in her hip. Her surgeon, Dr. Chams, met with Viper and me in the waiting room and said that if Gam’s health hadn’t been as great as it was, that fall could have easily had a very different outcome . . . a grim one. When he said that, I could practically feel all of the air leave Viper’s lungs.