Brenda cooed out a sound of understanding and enfolded me into a huge, comforting hug. I told her everything, about the picnic, and that we took my little brother to the waterfall to show it to him, how Colton fell in, and then how Oren saved both our lives. When I got to the part where Oren told me he loved me right before he let go of my hand to keep me from falling in with him, Noel cursed fluently and buried his face in one hand.
Oren’s parents glanced at him. “I don’t believe we’ve met yet,” Phil finally said.
Noel looked up, and then straightened. He blew out a breath before holding out his hand. “Sorry, sir. I’m Noel Gamble. I’m the one who called you.”
I blinked, startled. I hadn’t even thought to contact anyone, let alone Oren’s parents. Grateful that my big brother had had the forethought to get a hold of them, I found a smile for him somewhere in my grief, thankful he was here with me, to help me through this.
Oren’s parents seemed startled by the introduction. “Noel Gamble?” Brenda repeated. “The Noel Gamble who lived with our son for nearly three years and we never met?”
Phil shrugged. “We saw him play ball when we went to Oren’s games.”
“But we still never—”
“He’s my brother,” I spoke up, feeling the need to defend him. “Noel’s my big brother.”
“Oh.” Brenda shook her head as if confused. “Well, that explains how you met Oren, then.”
She patted my hands in a motherly fashion, and I smiled uneasily. I don’t know why I felt so uncomfortable. Brenda’s hands trembled as if it was taking everything she had to hold herself together. It seemed like I was deceiving her somehow, maybe because I’d lied to her about Oren seeing a therapist the last time I’d seen her. Or maybe I was so strained because it was all my fault he was here and she forgave me so easily. No wonder Oren had so much trouble being around them after his sister died. He’d felt responsible and they’d pinned no blame on him. It’d probably made him blame himself even more.
“So, have we heard any updates at all?” Phil asked.
I shook my head, and the Tennings seemed to wilt with more worry.
Just then, the nurse who’d had me fill out all Oren’s paperwork popped her head into the room. “Mrs. Tenning?”
Brenda looked up. “Yes?”
A moment of awkward confusion crossed the nurse’s face before she pointed at me. “I...was actually talking to this Mrs. Tenning.”
She darted to me, holding out another clipboard. “Sorry. There was one more form I needed you to fill out.”
I froze as both of Oren’s parents whirled to gape at me. I sank closer to Noel, who wrapped a supportive arm around my shoulders. “O…okay.” I reached out and snagged the clipboard from her and sat in the nearest chair where I began to write with a trembling hand.
The Tennings kept staring. Finally, Brenda said, “You’re married?”
“I, uh…” I cleared my throat and pressed the pen flat against the clipboard. “Yeah. We…uh, we are. Oren and I are...married.”
The strap of Brenda’s purse slid off her shoulder and the entire thing plopped to the floor, completely unnoticed by her.
Her eyes narrowed with accusation, right before she repeated, “You’re married?”
I cringed lower into my seat. “Yes.” Noel sat beside me and took my hand. “W-we got married in Lake Tahoe.”
“Lake Tahoe?” Brenda looked like she might claw my eyes out, so I pressed harder against my brother.
Phil hissed a curse under his breath and shook his head. “I guess now we know why he turned down that job.”
“What?” I shook my head. “No. No, he didn’t get that job. He told me…” My voice trailed off as I realized Oren might’ve lied to me.
“Oh, he got the job.” Brenda scowled hard. “He said there were reasons why he couldn’t take it right now. He forgot to mention it was because he was married.”
“I…I…” I looked up at Noel, confused. “He got the job?”
Sympathy filled his gaze as he squeezed my hand.
“Why didn’t he tell me he got the job?”
Noel opened his mouth, but Brenda was the one who answered. “Probably because he didn’t want to distress his precious little eighteen-year-old bride into thinking he’d leave her.”
The truth pummeled me in the chest. Oren had stayed…for me. I wanted to cry all over again. He hadn’t even told me what he’d given up for me.