Noel closed his eyes and groaned. “Oh God. You got drunk and went to one of those insta-wedding chapel things?”
I lifted my chin proudly and narrowed my eyes. “And I don’t regret it at all.” Standing, I cleared my throat. “Excuse me. I need to return this to the nurse.”
When I returned, Noel was resting his elbows on his spread knees and cradling his face in his hands. He watched me from dark, troubled eyes as I sat in a chair across the room but facing him.
He didn’t say anything. We stared at each other for about thirty seconds. I’m sure my gaze was as defensive as his was disappointed.
His phone rang; he popped to his feet to answer it.
“Hey, baby. No. No word yet.” He walked from the waiting room and into the hall so I couldn’t listen in on any more of his conversation. But with him gone, and no reason for me to keep playing the obstinate little sister, my worries returned.
Just how badly had Oren been hurt? Why wasn’t anyone telling us what was going on? Was he still alive or not?
Right about the point where the panic mounted and I didn’t think I could contain myself a second longer, Noel returned. He sat beside me without a word and wrapped me in his arms. I turned to him and buried my face in his neck to weep.
“I should be pissed at you,” I sobbed as I clung to him harder. “The way you’ve been treating Oren lately, the asshole thing you did at the bar to trap him, the fact that you stopped going to the coffee shop on Saturday mornings and he still does, waiting for you to show. I should hate you right now.”
Noel sucked in a breath. “He still goes to the coffee shop?”
I nodded. “Every fucking Saturday.”
“Shit.” He closed his eyes and shuddered out a breath. “I’ve been a stupid, stubborn, blind ass. I know that. I knew it while I was doing and saying all the shit I did, but I just couldn’t stop myself. He made me so mad. I didn’t think he’d ever go behind my back like that. I...it hurt.”
“That’s no excuse for—”
He lifted his hand and shook his head. “I know. I...damn it, Caroline. I’m sorry. I’m so fucking sorry. I made myself focus on everything bad he’d ever done, and I just let it fester.”
“I love him,” I said simply. “And he loves me. He’s good to me, too. No one’s ever been as good to me as he is.”
Noel kissed my forehead. “I see that...now.” Now that it could be too late, he didn’t add, but seemed to relay with his tortured gaze.
Closing my eyes, I turned my head to the side. “You haven’t said anything about our marriage.” I don’t know why I pushed that subject. Maybe because it kept me focused on something besides my fear.
Noel blew out a long breath. “That’s because I don’t know what to say. You’re just so young, but...I’m not scared. Not for you. Because I...honestly, there’s no one else I would trust with you more than him. I lost sight of why he was my friend for a while. But he is, and there’s a damn good reason for it. He’s always had my back, and now I know he has yours, which is so much more precious to me than him having mine.” Taking my hands, he looked deep into my eyes, begging. “Do you think you can ever forgive me?”
I gave him a watery smile. “I think I have to, because I really need my big brother right now.”
“You have me,” he promised. When he hugged me again, I held him tight, grateful for him for about the millionth time in the past couple hours. I probably should’ve tried to hold on to my anger longer, but I just couldn’t, because I really did need my big brother.
At some point, I must’ve exhausted myself because Noel nudged me awake.
I looked up to find Oren’s parents in the waiting room, looking a little lost as they glanced around as if looking for help. When I pulled out of Noel’s arms and sat up, Brenda finally focused on me.
“Caroline.” She gasped and hurried forward. “You look awful. What happened? Were you with him?”
“Yes. I...” When I stood, she grasped my wrists and spread my arms to see me better. I glanced down, and it was the first time I got a real look at myself. My shirt was grass-stained with flecks of blood soaking through from where I’d scraped my stomach along the ground. And now that I was seeing that, I realized my abdomen and elbows were sore. Then there were my palms, my palms that hadn’t been able to keep hold of Oren and stop him from falling. They were scratched and coated with dried mud.
Tears filled my eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry,” I sobbed.