My Darling Bride: Chapter 30

GRAHAM

The LA sun sets in a fiery blaze over the edge of the stadium, casting long shadows across the field as I finish my stretches with the rest of the tight ends. The air is thick with anticipation for tonight’s preseason game. I head to the end zone for a catching drill before the start of warm-ups, feeling the adrenaline pumping through my veins like a tiger ready to pounce.

“Hey, G, I was thinking,” Jasper says as he jogs over, mischief dancing in his gaze. “If you could either be a cockroach or a rat, which would you be?”

“Neither. Both are disgusting.” I take my helmet off to drink down some Gatorade.

“Come on. Indulge me. You have to pick one.”

“Fine. A rat. They’re tough bastards, especially in New York.”

He makes a grunting noise as he picks up his water. “See, I think it’s cockroach. I mean, sure you gotta look out for spiders and pesticide, but when the nuclear bombs start to drop, you’d have the entire city to yourself.”

“Maybe rats could survive. They eat cockroaches.”

He rears back. “No shit?”

I nod and chuckle as we head back to the field. I run a quick route in front of him and catch the pass he throws before lining up next to him again.

He backs up to throw the ball, then stops short. “How about this one. If you had a crystal ball that could tell you the truth about any one thing, like your death day, would you want to know?”

He finally throws the ball, and I catch it, toss the ball back to Coach Marlon, and then line up near Jasper again.

“You got a crystal ball in the locker room?”

“No, asshole, these are hypotheticals. I’m a thinking man. I like to consider life. But if such a thing existed, I’d say no to knowing my future. Ignorance of self is bliss. I don’t want to know anything. I just wanna live life to the fullest, take all the chances I can, and be fucking happy.”

I slap him on the back. “I think you’ve got that covered.”

The whistle blows, and I follow the team into the locker room to finish dressing out. We’ll have another pep talk before heading back out for introductions.

I’m stoked about the game, my body vibrating, but there’s also apprehension dancing down my spine. I’m fully aware that each time I take the field, I’m taking a chance. Hasn’t that been part of the message in my dreams, that feeling of being suffocated as players pile on top of me? And yeah, if I had a crystal ball to tell me something, I’d ask about my injury.

My head churns as I open my locker. No, fuck that, I’d ask about Emmy. My mind goes to her, circling round and round since our conversation. What is she doing right now? Is she okay? Happy?

A long exhale leaves my chest, and I scrub my face in frustration. I think—okay, fuck, I know—I hurt her before I left to come out here.

She wants more from me.

And me?

I admire her. I need her.

She’s an image, always walking in the back of my mind.

She’s natural and funny. Beautiful without being aware of it.

And her loyalty and self-sacrifice to others? It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it all because I’ve never had someone like that in my life, except for Brody.

And the truth is, an empty space inside my rib cage has been ripping me apart, ever since I left New York. Something feels off. I’ve barely been able to concentrate since arriving. I seem to be doing things on automatic. Practice, work out, eat, sleep. And my dreams? She’s there, smiling, telling me she loves me.

I grab my wallet and pull out the fortune I got from the diner across the street from the motel that night in Old Town. Come out of the dark and embrace the sunshine.

She’s sunshine.

My heart sinks and my stomach jumps as I hold my phone and check my messages to see if she’s sent one, but she hasn’t. My breath hitches as I hesitate over what to do; should I call her, or should I maintain this wall of silence between us? My palms get slick with sweat, and my fist clenches so tightly that my knuckles turn white. An intense ache in my chest starts as an overwhelming desire to reach out to her pricks at me. Dread hits, for what reason I don’t know. I shouldn’t have left her without talking. I shouldn’t. What if . . . what if something happens to her? Or to me?

I notice I have a few random texts and three voice mails. I rarely have voice mail.

I listen to the first:

Graham, it’s your dad. Wanted to wish you luck, and I’ll be watching tonight on TV. I just ask for you to be careful out there.

I click the save button.

The second message starts:

Graham. David here. I wanted to check in. Good news: the inheritance has arrived. The only way they could attempt to claw it back would be by lawsuit, and I highly doubt that would happen, especially with Vale supporting you. Whenever you’re ready, you can transfer to Brody, or keep it, or whatever. It’s yours. Since that came through, I dropped off the divorce papers with Emmy. I’m flying out tonight to join my wife and kids on a Disney cruise, so I wanted to get that done. Once I get back, we can get those filed. I’ll reach out in a few days from whatever island they’re dropping us at, just to make sure there’s nothing else.

Fear spikes as thoughts zigzag in my brain. Yeah, he knew I wanted the divorce, but that’s not how the papers were supposed to be delivered. I wanted to be there. Fuck. I wanted time to think first.

The third message is from Jane’s number:

Dick move, jackass. You could have at least given her a heads-up that you wanted her gone. I’ve met some dumb men over the years and felt I was a pretty good judge of which ones were good people and which ones were trash. Congratulations, you actually fooled me. Apparently you’re just like the rest, a professional narcissist that can’t think of anything beyond your own bank account or prick. Well, I better let you go so I can go in and wish your ex-wife good luck with her HEART SURGERY tomorrow morning. Enjoy being rich and alone, motherfucker.

What?

My stomach jumps as nausea swirls in my gut. What is she talking about? What surgery?

What the hell is going on?

I call Emmy, and it goes directly to voice mail.

I switch to text: Is everything okay? Just got a voice mail from Jane. Please call me.

There’s no response, and I try Jane and Andrew, but there’s no reply.

Reaching over my neck, I grab my pads and pull them over my head and toss them to the ground. Snatching my joggers and a T-shirt, I start changing.

“Yo, Graham. Tight end meeting before we go out. Something wrong with your uniform?” Marlon asks.

“What? No, I can’t. Sorry, I gotta go.” I stick my feet in my sneakers. Was she having issues? Is this an emergency? Why didn’t she tell me? A million thoughts dart through my head.

Marlon grabs my shoulder to get my attention. “What are you talking about? I know this is preseason, but it’s important you get more live reps. I—”

“Fuck that, Marlon, I gotta go.”

Jasper walks up, frowning as he searches my face. “What’s going on?”

My throat feels so tight I can barely swallow. “It’s Emmy. She’s gonna have heart surgery tomorrow. I gotta get back.”

Marlon shakes his head. “If you’re part of this team, priority one is getting into season form. We’ll get you home after the game. You can still make it.”

I shove everything in my duffel bag and flip around. “Emmy’s more important.”

He gives me a blank look, not comprehending. And I get it. Sometimes players take the field regardless of what’s going on in their personal lives, but not this time. One of our defensive linemen played while his wife was giving birth. Our safety played when his father passed away.

I pat his arm. “Tell Coach I’m sorry. I’ll see you guys next week.”

“Call me and let me know how she is!” Jasper yells out, and I give him a thumbs-up as I walk out the door.


The next morning I land in New York. I was able to get a flight last night and barely made it through LA traffic to the gate to board the plane. My thoughts were only on Emmy.

I head straight to the apartment, hoping she hasn’t left. No one in her family answers my calls, even Babs.

I feel pushed to the brink of exhaustion as I rush into the apartment, and the silence is deafening. My heart jerks painfully when I find a neat stack of legal papers on the kitchen counter. The divorce papers. The last page is signed by her, and there’s an empty line waiting for me. Dizziness hits me as I take a walk in the den. Her books are gone, her teacups, even the cat litter box. Shit. I head to the bedrooms. My bed is made, and so is hers. The entire place has an empty feel, as if she hasn’t been here for a few days. Her toiletries aren’t in the bathroom, and when I see that her clothes are gone from her closet, I feel sick to my stomach. I stalk back to the dining room, wincing when I see that she’s left her wedding and engagement rings, her iguana bangle, and the signed Charlotte’s Web I gave her on top of the table.

That light-headed feeling hits again, and I sit down and breathe slowly, willing it to go away. It isn’t my injury. No. It’s her absence from my life. She’s left me. She packed up her stuff and walked right out the door.

A few moments later, I call Brody, who answers groggily: “Hey. It’s early. What’s going on?”

“Emmy’s not here. She left all her stuff. There’s divorce papers on the table, signed. I got a voice mail from Jane saying Emmy was going to have surgery. I thought you were keeping an eye on her.” I sit on the couch, regret and fear sweeping over me. “What do I do?”

The sound of rustling covers hits my ears, and he must be sitting up in bed. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. Where is she having surgery?”

My temples pound in frustration as I struggle to find my words. “Her last one was at Mount Sinai. She was there the same day I was in February.”

“Okay, give me a minute to get dressed, and I’ll be at your place.”

“Hurry. I don’t want to wait long.” I lick my lips. “Can you call Dad? Please. I need both of you.”

By the time Brody arrives dressed in shorts and a hoodie, I’ve made to-go coffees for us. He takes a deep sip. “Dad’s on his way to the hospital and will meet us there.”

My leg bounces up and down. I’ve already confirmed that she’s a patient at Mount Sinai.

We leave the quiet building and catch a cab.

My head is throwing around ideas, and my eyes can’t seem to stay off Google Maps as I estimate how long it’s going to take us to get to the hospital.

Brody studies my profile. “You left the game? I’m assuming you aren’t in trouble for that?”

I flick my hand. “I’ll get back to football when I know she’s all right.”

A deep sigh comes from him, and I look at his face. “What?”

“Emmy, me, Dad, the people who care about you the most, it’s hard to watch you play, G. I don’t enjoy it anymore. It’s a death match out there every time you line up.”

I bow my head, the tic in my jaw working. “You don’t have to like it. It’s my passion.”

He scoffs. “Maybe a year ago, but now? Have you thought any more about dying on the field, on what you might have seen? Maybe there was a message there.”

“From a higher power?”

He shrugs. “Who can explain anything in this world? Why we’re here and why we die and why we love? Your near-death experience ended with a mystery person. Sure, your doctor wants to say it could be your brain shutting down, section by section, using your own experiences, but we both know it wasn’t.”

“How do you know?”

“Because you saw someone you didn’t know. She wasn’t me or Dad or Mom or Divina. You saw her, and she pulled you back. Think about it, Graham, she was in the same hospital as you, you found her in the middle of the desert, and she stole your car and I knew her. These aren’t random acts of coincidence. It’s the fucking universe. Maybe sometimes, things really are meant to be.”

I recall the girl from my dream, the long blonde hair, those big green eyes, the serene smile.

I rub my temple, a rough sound coming from my throat. “I don’t know.”

His words tug at me, digging up emotions that frighten me. We get out of the car, and I leave Brody behind as I run to the entrance. Dad is already there in the lobby.

The nurse at the front desk informs me of Emmy’s room number in ICU on the eighth floor. We step off the elevator and enter the family waiting room.

The room buzzes with anxious energy. The smell of antiseptic lingers in the air, and the sound of beeping monitors mixes with the hushed conversations of visitors.

In the corner of the waiting room, I spot Jane, her face pale and drawn. She paces, her hands restless as she swings them, her brow furrowed in worry. I approach her, heart pounding and palms sweating. Her eyes widen in surprise as she says hello to us.

“So. You came,” she murmurs, tidying up the jogging pants and fuzzy jacket she’s wearing.

“Is she okay?” I ask. “What happened? Is she out of surgery?”

She does a hair flip and curls her lip at me. “Like you care.”

“I do care. A whole fucking lot, Jane, so tell me what’s going on. Please.” My voice rises, and one of the nurses in the hall turns to look at us. I exhale and lower my voice. “Can I see her?”

She sighs and looks away. “She’s still in surgery. Nobody knows for sure how long it will take.” She glances back at me, eyes glassy with unshed tears. “The thing is, I don’t know what I’ll do if she . . .” She trails off, unable to finish the sentence.

I swallow thickly. Obviously this is a procedure she’s planned. “Why . . . why didn’t she tell me?”

Her face tightens. “You know why, Graham. She didn’t want to bother you. You just fly off to your game and do what professional athletes do, even though it might kill you.”

I sink down in a seat with my head in my hands. “I never would have left her if I’d known. Never. Not in a million years. Has the doctor been out?”

She shakes her head. “Not yet.”

Dad tells us he’s going to get us breakfast, and Brody tags along with him. They’ve just gotten back from the cafeteria with muffins and fruit and coffee when Jane gives me a hard elbow in the ribs. “Here comes the doctor,” she says as we stand up together.

A small man wearing a white jacket over blue scrubs approaches us and smiles compassionately at Jane. Clearly, he’s spoken to her before. “Morning, all.” He shakes my hand. “Graham Harlan, right? Emmy’s husband? I’m a big Pythons fan.”

“Right, how is she?” I ask, brushing off the “Pythons fan” part. The last thing I want to do right now is talk about football. In fact, it feels pretty damn unimportant. “I’m a little out of the loop here.”

He nods. “Everything went exactly as it should. A perfect procedure. We did a mini-maze surgery and targeted the upper chambers of her heart, the atria, with cold energy to create a maze of scars to correct the faulty electrical issues with her heart. We used a small camera through one of the incisions to direct us to her heart. A second tool was used to create small areas of scar tissue. She’ll have stitches on her sides that will dissolve. I’ll see her back in a week for a postop to make sure everything’s okay.”

“So it didn’t work last time?” I ask, my tone insistent as I try to drag out the information.

“It’s not uncommon to get another procedure. Emmy is a careful person. She was fully aware when she felt the signs of her A-fib recurring.”

I frown, wondering when that happened.

“What if this doesn’t work? What happens?” I ask.

Jane nods, agreeing with me for once.

“Her main issue is that most of the drugs for A-fib don’t work with Emmy. Right now, we’re giving her fluids and pain medication through an IV line. She’ll also be given medication to help control the buildup of fluids. She’ll do some deep-breathing and coughing exercises. This will help reduce the risk of fluid buildup in her lungs.”

My hands clench as I commit every detail to memory.

The doctor taps on his computer, then looks up and smiles. “Hopefully, we can get her up for a walk today. She’s young.”

“And strong,” Jane adds.

“She’ll need to keep her regular appointments for checkups,” the doctor adds. “There’s always the possibility of other ablation treatments, but considering how young and healthy she is, I’m hoping for a successful outcome.”

“Can I see her?” Jane and I say at the same time.

“Of course,” he tells us.

Jane and I walk into her room, a large single room with beeping machines and an IV attached to Emmy’s arm. Her hair is spread out on the pillow as she lies in a reclining position, sleeping.

A nurse is in the corner, sitting on a stool as she types information into a computer. She gives us a smile and tells us that Emmy hasn’t woken up yet, but if all goes well today, they’ll move her to a regular room tomorrow.

Jane rushes past me, grunting as she bumps my shoulder to get past me. She throws me a look over her shoulder. “Points for coming, but I’m the first person she’s going to see when she wakes up. I love her, Graham. She is the toughest person I know. The most beautiful soul. And you can’t see it.”

My heart is in my throat. I do see it. Emotion claws at my throat with sharp nails. She looks entirely helpless lying there.

All those dreams I had, the ones where I’m tackled and can’t breathe, and then she shows up, beckoning me to safety, to love. I’ve been so blind, trying to push her away, when she’s everything. I’ve just been too afraid to face it head on.

“She’s the one,” I whisper under my breath as I grip the rails of Emmy’s bed.

Jane frowns, rearing back. “Don’t you dare fucking cry on me.”

Ignoring her, I sit down and take Emmy’s hand and thread our fingers together, and then I speak to her, even though she probably can’t hear me. “I’m sorry, darling. I’m yours, I’m here, and I’m not leaving. I came back from the dead—for you.”

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