The Good Luck Charm Page 3

Ethan squeezes Jeannie’s shoulder. “I’ll stay, too.”

Jeannie’s hand covers his. “You don’t have to do that. You can go back to the house.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

Those four words feel like a serrated blade sliced across my heart. He promised me that once, too. It meant something, until he went back on it. “I’ll have to get clearance for a second person. The hospital may not allow it.” My anger makes it come out snappy rather than a soft caution, and I immediately feel bad. This isn’t about me; it’s about Martin and Jeannie having support.

“I can stay in the waiting room if I have to.” He tries to meet my gaze, but I can’t hold his without potentially breaking down again.

“I’ll try my best.” I direct the comment at Jeannie. She’s wearing her favorite apron, one Ethan and I picked out almost a decade ago as a Mother’s Day present. I need to get out of here, away from all the memories that come with his presence. “I can stop by the house and get you something more comfortable to wear.”

“That’s so kind of you, Lilah. You’re always so helpful.” Jeannie looks down, smoothing her hands over the worn cotton. Her eyes go wide with panic, and she looks to Ethan. “The pie! I left it in the oven!”

“I took it out before I left,” he reassures her.

I’m 100 percent sure the house will smell like apples, cinnamon, and butter. Apple pie has always been Ethan’s favorite, and Jeannie is the kind of mom who would make it because he’s come home for a visit, or to stay, as seems to be the case.

“I could pick up things for you, as well, Ethan, if you’d like.” His name feels sharp and bitter on my tongue.

Jeannie pats his chest. “Or you could go together.”

“No.” I don’t mean to shout, but I can’t be alone with Ethan, closed in a car with his scent and his voice and a million memories I can’t hide from. I clear my throat and try again. “I’d feel a lot better if you weren’t alone, Jeannie.”

Ethan’s expression is impassive. I’m sure he’s as relieved as I am not to be in a confined space with me for any length of time. “I have a duffel in the basement bedroom.”

Another shot of relief hits me. Before I moved into my town house earlier this year, I stayed with Martin and Jeannie for a couple of months in Ethan’s old bedroom. I might have left a few things in there, and the last thing I want is Ethan finding my pajamas in his dresser.

“I’ll bring the bag back, then.” No way am I going through his luggage. I switch into helpful, action-oriented mode, something I excel at when faced with stressful situations. “Jeannie, I’ll grab your favorite yoga pants and a sweatshirt. Anything else you think you might need?”

“That would be wonderful. My travel bag is in my bedroom closet, and maybe you could bring my crossword book in case I have trouble sleeping?”

“On your nightstand?”

“Or the living room. The usual spots.”

“Okay. I’ll be back in a bit. Text if you think of anything else. I’ll talk to someone about getting a lounger brought in and about having two people stay the night.” I don’t honestly think it will be difficult to get approval for Ethan, but it makes me feel marginally better to envision him trying to get comfortable in one of those tiny chairs in the waiting room, which is petty considering Martin’s current state.

Jeannie steps up to hug me again. “Are you sure you don’t want Ethan to go with you?”

“It’s better if he stays with you, don’t you think?”

Jeannie steps back, holding my shoulders as her eyes move over my face. “We’ll get through this together. Everything happens for a reason, Delilah.” She lets out a pained sigh and presses her hand to her chest.

I pat her hand and smile, but say nothing. I can’t understand the reason behind Martin having a stroke, my almost ex-husband having apparently lost his balls entirely, and my first-ever ex-boyfriend, and once best friend, returning to Minnesota all in the same day, unless I’ve done something horrible to warrant this kind of hellish karma. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

I make a right out of the room and speed walk down the hall, exhaling a long breath. I need to keep it together until I’m in my car. I stop at the nurses’ station and put in a request for two lounge chairs and two overnight family members for Martin. Fairview is a smaller hospital, people know each other, and my connection to the family allows me some leniency in what I can reasonably ask for.

Just as I finish filling out the paperwork, Ashley, the receptionist, pokes me with her pen. “I know you’ve had a bad day, so I’m going to do you a favor. Do not turn around right now, but there’s an EFF at three o’clock. Wait, three for me and nine for you. Be nonchalant when you look.” I roll my eyes and suppress a grin. EFF is Ashley code for Extra Fine and Fuckable.

She wags her eyebrows. “Have a good night.”

“I have an errand to run. I’ll be back in an hour.” I tap the desk and turn in the direction her eyes keep moving.

I should’ve known her EFF would be Ethan.

He takes a step toward me, then stops and shoves his hands in his pockets. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you?”

I grab my purse and step away from the desk. “Did Jeannie send you out here to ask again?”

I move toward the exit, absently waving to Ashley, who I’m sure will be all over me with questions when I get back.

Ethan falls into step beside me. “I thought it might give us an opportunity to talk.”

I speed up, heading for the employee parking lot and the fresh air I seem to need so badly. It’s hard to take a full breath again. “You mean about Martin? We won’t know anything until he’s awake and they do more tests in the morning.” I know that’s not what he wants to talk about, but I’m not going to give him the satisfaction.

Warm summer air does nothing to cool my already heated skin as I push through the doors.

“DJ, wait.”

I close my eyes, taking a deep breath so I don’t snap. I’m raw. This day has been too hard, and I’m not ready for this kind of conversation with him. Especially not now, when his father’s health is so uncertain and our emotions are all tied up in the potential for loss. Because no matter what happens, there’s a chance Martin won’t be the same man he was before the stroke.

“Please, DJ.” His fingers wrap around my wrist.

I don’t want the sensation to be electric, but it is. I don’t want the warmth that floods my veins at the foreign familiarity of his touch. I don’t want my body to react in any way to him, but it does. My heart remembers that he broke it, but the rest of me seems to have forgotten.

I jerk away. “I told you, I go by Lilah now.” It’s so stupid, a pointless thing to be stuck on, but it’s the only place I can put focus so I don’t break down.

“Sorry. I’m not used to it.” He runs an unsteady hand through his hair, sending the thick dark strands into disarray. “I could drive?” His tone is layered with regret and remorse. Emotions that do me no good, not this long after the fact. Not when they only exist because of all the other things happening to him.

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