"Are we heading right to the hospital?"
"No, visiting hours are later. We'll go by the house, it's closer to the hospital. You can hang out with me and Olivia for a few days."
"I'd like that, Toby. I don't really want to be by myself."
"It's not just Mom, is it?"
Mara couldn't look at him. Was it that obvious? Was she broadcasting to the entire world that she was falling in love? She didn't answer for a minute, but walked silently toward the elevator. How did she tell her brother that she'd met the most amazing man in the world, gone to bed with him at the first possible opportunity, and was falling hopelessly in love like a little kid?
"Mara?" Toby was standing by his car. She had walked past it, half way down the aisle before stopping.
"I'm sorry, Toby. I'm just tired. I didn't sleep much last night, and got up early. Then the flight, I'm exhausted."
"So. Who's the guy?" His gaze fixed her to the spot.
Mara couldn't help grinning, a blush rising in her cheeks. "I met him when his friend hit me with a volleyball. He works down there part of the year. He's fantastic, Toby! He's smart and funny and sexy!"
"Does this paragon have a name?"
"Cole," she said quietly. "His name is Cole."
"I take it this isn't just a vacation fling?"
"No, not for either of us. I am already falling in love, Toby. For the first time in my life. Is that crazy?"
Toby smiled patiently, shaking his head slowly. "No, baby sister, it's not."
They got in the car and Toby drove carefully out of the parking garage, down the ramps and out into city traffic. He merged onto the interstate and headed for his house. It was in a suburb just outside the city.
"They didn't take Mom to the hospital downtown?"
"That's where she went first. Then, when she was stable, her own doctor had her transferred to St. Mary's. It has the best cardiac unit in the city."
He pulled off the highway and headed for home. Glancing in his mirrors, he slowed for a turn and took a narrow, private road that led to his, and five other, houses.
"We were worried sick when they couldn't find you at the hotel, Mara."
"I spent the night with Cole, at his dad's. I guess Denny doesn't have a phone."
"We thought you'd been abducted. The police were looking for you everywhere. Why didn't you tell anyone where you were?"
"I didn't think I was answerable for my whereabouts." Her temper flared before she could control herself. Worry and fatigue were an ugly combination.
"No, not if there's no one to care! Mara, Mom collapsed in your home. If the neighbor hadn't found her, who knows what would have happened! So I have my mother sick, maybe dying, and my baby sister missing for nearly twenty-four hours! Answerable for your whereabouts? Hell yes, you are!"
"I'm sorry, Toby. I deserved that. I've been thinking of myself all this time. I didn't mean to scare anyone, it just happened. We spent the day at Denny's, and he invited us to spend the night. I wasn't thinking...."
"I can't lose you too, Mara." He whispered. "Dad's gone, Mom's sick.... I think I'd go crazy if I lost you, too. Everyone leaned on me when Dad died, and it took me months to get over his death—all by myself. I couldn't call anyone and talk about my feelings, because everyone was calling and crying on my shoulder. I can't do it alone anymore, not again. Not this time."
"You won't have to. I promise. We'll both be there for each other."
They pulled into the driveway of his home. Toby put the car in park and held out his arms to her. She hugged him tightly, holding him close.
The door to the house burst open and Olivia ran out, arms wide, crying and laughing simultaneously. She was very emotional, especially now that she was nearly nine months pregnant. Three dogs and Mara's two cats followed her out creating havoc until they were rounded up and corralled once more in the house.
Olivia grasped the door jamb dramatically, hauling herself over the threshold with difficulty. "Oh, my back!"
"My niece giving you trouble today?"
"You don't know the half of it! I keep telling Toby, this one's it! I'm not going through this again."
"I told her I want three more. She slapped me."
"He'll never touch me again, if he thinks I'm doing this anymore! I got the guest room all set up for you. Toby went and got the cats. They adapted well, I was surprised. The dogs don't even bother them."
"Thanks, Olivia. I appreciate it."
"I'll help you unpack. Toby says you're staying until Mom is better."
"I guess so. Thanks, I can manage."
"Nonsense. I'm helping."
There was no arguing with Olivia when she made up her mind. She wanted to talk to Mara privately, this was a good excuse. They got to the room and Olivia shut the door behind them.
©2021 Dellani Oakes
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