“Is she going to be okay?” My voice wobbled a little, betraying the tears I tried so hard to keep in.
The doctor standing on the opposite side of Mrs. N’s bed was an older gentleman, handsome in a distinguished way, if not a little tired-looking. His smile was bland yet sympathetic.
“We really have no way of knowing until Mrs. Nichol wakes up, but her brain function appears to be normal, so we’re hopeful she can make a full recovery.”
Joe’s hand on my back was a silent, steadying presence. If it wasn’t for him I think I would have curled up on the floor and sobbed. Staring down at Mrs. N lying so still in her hospital bed was the hardest thing I’d ever had to do. She looked so small and frail that it broke my heart.
“Then I guess we just have to wait,” I said as I tried to muster up a little confidence. Joe patted my back in silent support.
The doctor smiled again. “Time will tell Ms. Barnes, but from what I understand Mrs. Nichol is a feisty lady, so if anyone can pull through a stroke, mild or otherwise, it’ll be her.”
“Thank you,” I whispered past the lump in my throat. The doctor nodded and excused himself, leaving Joe and I alone with Mrs. N. Her granddaughters were sitting out in the waiting room. They’d had a long night at the hospital and Joe had agreed to take them home when he and I were done with our visit.
My composure balanced on a razor-thin edge. I took a few deep, shaky breaths. Joe moved to put his arm around me. He rested his cheek against the top of my head.
“It’s okay to cry,” he said in a gentle, low voice.
I bit my lip hard. The pain helped to keep me from losing it.
“Rhiannon Barnes does not cry,” I reminded him and myself. “Besides, Mrs. N would hate it and I’m sure the granddaughters have been blubbering over her for hours.”
Joe chuckled softly and kissed the top of my head. “I’m sure they have. And I’ve seen you cry before, darlin’, so you’re not foolin’ anyone. Don’t worry, I won’t tell.”
I elbowed him in the ribs but he didn’t even flinch. “You’re not helping,” I muttered.
He hugged me hard. “Do you wanna stay here while I take the girls home? I can come back for you later.”
I hesitated for a moment. I hated hospitals and the urge to run away danced in the back of my mind, but strong was the fear of leaving Mrs. N alone. I nodded.
Joe pulled a nearby chair closer to the bed then kissed me softly.
“I’ll be back,” he promised.
I sank gratefully into the chair and watched his broad, strong back as he retreated towards the door. He shot a reassuring smile over his shoulder and closed the door quietly behind him.
It took me a minute to get up the nerve to look at Mrs. N again. She was so pale and still it was eerie. Only the constant beeping rhythm of the heart-rate monitor and the barely visible rise and fall of her chest as she took slow, shallow breaths gave any indication that she was still alive.
I took her hand, and careful of the IV, held it in my own. Her skin was cool and dry, paper-thin and soft. They were hands I’d seen busy at work a million times, whether dancing over the calculator or feeding yards of fabric through the sewing machine. I don’t think I’d ever seen them sit still even for a moment.
“Hey,” I said shakily. My voice seemed over-loud and alien in the quiet of the room.
“You’re giving us quite a scare here,” I chided. “It’s tourist season, you can’t be taking a break now. Who’s going to sell over-priced designer handbags to rich Torontonians who don’t know any better?”
There was nothing I wanted more than for Mrs. N to open her eyes, turn her head, and laugh, but she didn’t.
“I really need your advice,” I continued. “Joe and I are in a bit of a pickle, as you’d say.” I told her all about the events of the previous day, about Joe’s fight with his parents, about the Tanner siblings siding with me, about my own anger and helplessness. I talked on and on, hardly pausing, otherwise the room would get too quiet for my comfort. More than an hour passed before I’d said everything I wanted to say.
“I hate shit like this,” I reminded her. “I hate not being able to do anything! If I stay, Joe will lose the farm. If I leave…” I swallowed the new lump in my throat. It was hard to even get the words out. “If I leave, I know I’ll break Joe’s heart and I just can’t do that to him. Besides, I need him… I think I…” I paused for a moment, stunned by the revelation which crashed into me like a physical blow. My insides turned over and fluttered, as if the life inside them agreed with me. I leaned back in the chair and closed my eyes, wrapping my free arm around my abdomen.
“Oh God. I think I love him.”
There was a dry, almost inaudible wheeze, and I opened my eyes in surprise to see Mrs. N’s baby blue gaze locked on to my own.
“Well of course you do, you ass,” she murmured.
“Jesus!” I practically jumped out of the chair in surprise.
Mrs. N gave a soft chuckle.
“Do…do you want me to get the doctor?”
She halkalı escort shook her head a little. “Not yet,” she said on an outward breath. “Just you is enough.”
My heart skipped a beat. “You’re not about to die, are you?”
Mrs. N sent me a disparaging look. “Hell no. Who’d keep you in line?” She spoke each word slower than usual and even as I laughed I noticed how much effort speaking took for her.
I squeezed her fingers gently. “You just take it easy and I’ll stay and keep you company.”
“Tourist season,” she reminded me.
My peal of laughter rang off the walls of the small, sparse hospital room.
“Yes, I know, and the store will survive for one day if you’re not there. It’s been around for thirty years, it’ll last for thirty more.”
Mrs. N tried a weak smile. “It’s yours now.”
“What? The store?” My head whirled.
She gave a faint nod.
“W-what about the girls?” I asked, thinking of her granddaughters. Stephanie, Kelly, and Jessica had always been more dedicated to their jobs than I ever was.
“They know. Have for a while,” Mrs. N said. “They agree. I may have opened the store, but you made it great.”
“No, no.” I shook my head in disbelief. “No, it’s your place Mrs. N—I just work there when I feel like it.”
She got that stubborn look on her face that I’d seen a million times before and I knew I couldn’t continue to argue with her.
“Joe will help you.”
“Joe?” I snorted with mock derision. “That man doesn’t know shit about fashion.”
Mrs. N sighed. “Support you,” she stressed. “Joe will support you no matter what.”
“I know.” I realized the truth of the words even as I spoke them.
“Marry him.” After another slow breath she said, “Marry him Rhiannon. No man will make you happier. No man could.”
I looked down at our joined hands. “I know,” I whispered.
“Well what the hell are you waiting for?” Mrs. N chuckled.
I raised my eyes just in time to watch as she closed hers. I listened silently as Mrs. N slipped back into sleep. The steady beep of the heart-rate monitor slowed with her breathing and I sat for a long time just listening to the comforting sound.
What was I waiting for? It was suddenly as if a life I didn’t even know I wanted lay spread out before me, just waiting for me to stop being such a fool. A husband and a home. A business and a baby. I could have it all if only I were brave enough to reach out and take it. And why shouldn’t I be? Because it was so idyllically traditional or because it was something I’d never even allowed myself to dream about?
I thought about how long I’d put off growing up. My father’s money meant I never had to worry about anything, never had to think about anyone but myself and my wants. There was a whole world of people out there who had to work for what they wanted, had to struggle and sacrifice every day of their lives, and now when that same opportunity came to me, the chance to prove myself, to have a family and finally put others needs ahead of my own, suddenly then I was revealed as the coward I truly was.
It was time to quit making excuses, to quit putting off the reality of my life. I was pregnant and in love with a man who’d given up everything to be with me. There was nothing left to do but to ‘put on my big girl panties and deal with it’, as Mrs. N would say.
“Thank you,” I whispered as I leaned in to brush a kiss on Mrs. N’s forehead. “I’ll be back soon. There are a few things I need to take care of.”
I eased my fingers from Mrs. N’s grip, which was remarkably tenacious even in sleep, and left the room. I stopped by the nurses’ station to inform them Mrs. N had woken up for awhile but had fallen asleep again. Everyone was pleased to hear that she’d been lucid..
Joe sat in the waiting room with a copy of Sports Illustrated open on his lap. His hat was pulled down low over his eyes.
“I ain’t sleepin’,” he murmured when I bent down over him and put my hand on his arm. “I was just resting my eyes.”
I laughed for the first time in hours. “Sure, sure.”
Joe tipped his head up and pushed his hat back before gifting me with a slow, sexy smile.
“Hello gorgeous. How’s she doin’?”
My stomach did happy cartwheels from the compliment. “She’s good, I think. She was awake for a little while and we talked. She’s sleeping again now.”
He nodded. “Good. She could probably use the rest more than anything. Did you have a nice talk?”
Even though my knees and hips protested, I crouched down so I was eye level with Joe. “Yeah, a really nice talk,” I admitted.
His smile lit up his big sapphire eyes.
“Do you have anything planned for tomorrow?” I asked.
Joe furrowed his brow. “What’s tomorrow? Saturday?”
“Nothin’s in the book darlin’. Why?”
I took his hands between my own. They were warm, work hardened, and perfect.
“Will you marry me tomorrow, Joe?”
He sat for taksim escort a moment in stunned silence before tipping his head back to roar with laughter. “Tomorrow, next week, ten years from now!” Joe promised. “Pretty short notice ain’t it? I don’t want you makin’ a rash decision you’ll regret later.”
Though Joe was still chuckling, I knew he was serious. “I won’t regret it. I swear I won’t. I know won’t.”
He sobered and took my face between his hands. “Tomorrow? Are you sure? That’s not enough time for you to get a dress or flowers or a caterer or anything like that. It won’t be fancy.”
“It doesn’t need to be. I don’t need a dress. Or flowers. Or a caterer. I don’t want to get married at the Plaza. I don’t want a thirty piece orchestra. I don’t need that stuff. I just want you,” I said earnestly. “I just need you.”
Joe shook his auburn head slowly back and forth. “You’re actually serious.”
“Completely,” I assured him. “I want to be your wife and I don’t want to wait.”
“You know this means Mrs. Nichol won’t be able to come if we do this tomorrow. Unless we have the wedding here.” He looked around the hospital waiting room.
“No, I don’t think your entire family would fit in her room,” I pointed out. “Besides, she won’t want strangers seeing her like that. I don’t think she’ll mind missing it, just as long as the ceremony actually happens.”
“It is actually going to happen?” Joe asked with a bewildered tone. “I mean, you’re not gonna change your mind?”
My eyes wandered over Joe’s face. It was hard to believe that I ever thought him ordinary, that I went all those years without truly seeing him. I reached up to trace the lines around his eyes, lines etched from all those years of sun and wind while on the tractor tilling the earth he loved so much.
My mind flitted to our own little patch of land, our snug cottage in the cove which bordered those tidy fields of rust red rows that rose and fell with the curves of the land. I knew why he loved it so much. It burrowed deep inside of you, that smell of earth and sea and the endless sound of the wind and waves. It was reassuring in it eternalness. I was learning to love it too, like he did. For the first time ever, I had a place that felt like home. I would get it back for him if it was the last thing I did. I owed him that much. Hell, I owed him so much more.
“I’m not going to change my mind,” I told him. “Not today. Not tomorrow. Not ten years from now.”
He kissed me then, his mouth scalding hot, his tongue hitting spots which shot pleasure to my toes.
“Well then,” he said a little breathlessly when we parted, “let’s get hitched.”
The remainder of the day was a blur after we stopped at City Hall to get the marriage licence. There were a hundred phone calls to make, a million things to do. Adam offered to prepare the meal. His best friend Reverend Nate agreed to perform the ceremony. I asked Adele to be my maid-of-honour, Joe chose Matt as his best man.
Evening fell before I realized it. Lilly, Adele and I inspected the fancy clothes I’d left in the walk-in-closet of my condo since I moved in with Joe. Each dress waited to be chosen as my wedding dress.
“There’s not much white, is there?” Lilly teased as she flipped through the selection of dresses and gowns. “You can’t really get married in red or black, you know.”
Adele and I laughed. “I can’t believe you don’t have a twelve-thousand dollar Vera Wang wedding dress stashed in here just waiting for the day,” Adele added.
“I never thought I ever would get married,” I confessed. It had always seemed so distant a possibility that I never allowed myself to even fantasize about it. Other girls got married, Rhiannon Barnes did not.
While Lilly’s smile was bright and happy, Adele’s had a slightly bitter edge to it. But then again, her view of marriage was a little more jaded than Lilly’s and mine. Not only because her own had failed, but because she was a lawyer and saw divorces nearly every day. I did have to give her credit though for not trying to talk me out of it.
Lilly pulled out a butter yellow cocktail dress. The three of us eyed it with a little uncertainty. “It’s worth a shot,” she suggested.
I stripped down to bra and panties and with Lilly’s help wiggled into the dress. She struggled to get the zipper up and no matter how I held my breath, it refused to fit.
“It doesn’t matter anyway,” Adele said with a laugh as I tried to hold back my growl of frustration. She put her hands on my shoulders and spun me to face the full length mirror. “Too small or not, that’s way too much cleavage for a wedding.”
“Oh my goodness!” Lilly gasped, before breaking out into giggles of her own. “That’s practically pornographic! Have they gotten bigger?”
“Hormones,” Adele explained as I silently stared at my reflection.
My breasts strained against the fine silk of the dress. It had always been a sexy, tastefully revealing gown, but with my extra weight şişli escort it had become obscene. Not only was I busting out in the décolletage, but the new, gentle curve of my belly was obvious. I looked blatantly pregnant.
I searched my closet in agony and felt like crying when I realized there probably wasn’t a single thing in there that would fit.
My ragged emotions must have been evident on my face because Lilly gave me a hug. “Its okay, Rhi. Even if I could get the dress done up its too fancy for a small wedding anyway.”
“You’ll have to save it for the honeymoon,” Adele teased. “Because when Joe sees those girls of yours in that dress he’ll lose his mind!”
I blushed when I thought of the look on Joe’s face if he had seen what I had on. It would be that hungry, sexy look I liked so much.
“How is he anyway?” Adele asked as she helped me out of the gown. “You’ve been remarkably close-mouthed about it, which is odd for you.”
I joined in her laughter and was just about to comment when Lilly clapped her hands over her ears and started humming.
“He’s my big brother,” she reminded me as she turned bright pink. “I don’t want to know!”
My grin matched Adele’s.
“Never mind then,” Adele sighed with faked disappointment. “But on a scale of one-to-ten?” Her amber coloured eyes sparkled.
I considered the idea for a minute. Just the thought of Joe’s large hands dancing over my skin and the slow slide of his wonderful mouth against my own made me shiver.
“Thirty-seven?” I replied.
Adele hooted with laughter.
Lilly snatched the abandoned yellow dress from Adele’s hands and jammed it back on the hanger. “I’m happy for you Rhi, I really am,” she muttered. “But… ew!” Still, she shot me a small smile. “No details, okay?”
I wondered what it must be like for Lilly to have one of her best friends marry one of her brothers. The Tanners were such a close-knit, protective clan that marrying one of them was practically tantamount to marrying all of them.
“Okay,” I agreed. “No details.” I turned towards Adele and winked at her. “But there is this one thing he does with his tongue…”
Lilly started humming again and retreated deeper into the bursting confines of my closet.
“We have to focus, people!” she said. “We have a wedding tomorrow! How ’bout this?” She pulled out an orange and grey Pucci dress. Both Adele and I shook our heads.
As much fun as it would have been to tease Lilly for hours, I accepted her change of topic. We had a strict timeline anyway. Adam still had to call to finalize the details of the meal and since there was no time for a rehearsal, Reverend Nate had promised to stop by and go over some of the ceremony with me. I couldn’t very well meet with him while in my bra and panties.
Two hours later I must have tried on more than half of the dresses I owned. Lilly was slumped against a bare spot on the wall, while Adele sat on the small footstool I kept by my shoes. A red and black Christian Louboutin pump dangled dejectedly from one long, slim finger. She yawned.
“This is impossible!” Lilly muttered. “Honestly. How could you own so much and yet have nothing to wear?”
I shrugged myself out of a little pink dress.
“Half the stuff still has the tags on it!” Adele said as she slid her foot into the shoe she’d been holding and admired it.
“And more than half of it doesn’t fit anymore!” I wailed.
“Don’t worry, it will in about seven months,” Lilly reminded me gently.
I snorted with derision. “Doubtful. I’m going to be fat forever!”
“You’re not fat!” Lilly and Adele chorused in unison.
“Besides,” Adele added in an absent, dreamy sort of voice. “Once you have the baby you won’t care anyway.”
I smiled to myself as I thought about the baby. A whole closet full of designer clothing didn’t compare to the warm and fuzzy thought of finally holding Joe’s baby in my arms. Adele was right; I didn’t care if I’d ever wear any of the damn clothes again. Only I did sort of hope that the shoes would still fit.
Lilly moaned. “Think. Think Rhi, there isn’t anything that you’ve bought ever that you could wear tomorrow?”
I was getting tired and hungry and my feet hurt from standing for so long. Reverend Nate would to arrive any minute. I was just about to say something snarky when a bit of blue and white floral cotton caught my eye.
I crossed my closet in two long strides to pull the sundress from its place.
Adele and Lilly shared a sceptical look.
“Are you sure?” Adele asked.
“You’ve had that forever,” Lilly said. “Isn’t it sort of casual?”
I pulled it on, and other than being a tad snug in the chest it fit perfectly.
“It’s the dress I was wearing the first time I came out to the farm. The first time I met Joe,” I reminded them.
“Really?” Adele sighed. She smiled wistfully. “That’s sweet.”
“You remember what you were wearing?” Lilly enquired at the same time.
I hadn’t, but Joe sure had. Neither of them needed to know that though.
“It is very pretty,” Lilly conceded. “Blue is a good colour for you.”
The doorbell rang then, and each of us jumped. Adele glanced down at her watch then smiled. “Eight fifty-nine. Probably Nate, he said he’d be here at nine. I’ll let him in.” She rushed from the room before either of us could respond.