ROYAL(9)

By: Winter Renshaw



Like mother, like son.

In the early days, it took Brooks the better part of a year to tell me he loved me, and after that, he reserved those words solely for special events. Birthdays. Valentine’s Day cards. The occasional breathless declaration after an earth-shattering orgasm.

“I’ll be fine,” I say. Brenda doesn’t need to worry about anything other than her son. What happens to me is insignificant compared to everything he’s going to be dealing with when he wakes up.

If he wakes up.

The doctors say he might not be able to walk or talk. They’re unsure about the amount of brain damage he’ll have to contend with. Every organ and bone in his body is swollen, broken, or extensively damaged.

“We need to postpone the wedding.” Brenda lifts her eyebrows, shoulders slumping. “Obviously.”

My gaze snaps into hers. Now is not the time to say anything, but I feel the words right there, on the tip of my tongue, tingling and threatening to bring the truth to life.

“I’m not even thinking about the wedding right now.” It’s not a lie.

“This is nothing more than a setback. He’s going to wake up and get back on his feet. My son’s as stubborn as a mule. He wants to marry you, and when Brooks sets his mind to something, there’s no stopping him. Wouldn’t be surprised if he wakes up tomorrow and marches on out of here just to prove he can.”

I snort through my nose. Brooks is stubborn. He’d proposed to me on four separate occasions, refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer. The first three times I declined, telling him I wasn’t ready, begging him to wait another six months, then another, and another. The truth was that I was still in love with someone else, and I needed more time to get over him. You can’t love one man and marry another. It isn’t right.

And maybe . . .

Maybe a teeny, tiny, microscopic part of me hoped that Royal would . . .

No.

I hate thinking about it, because I know how completely ridiculous and unrealistic it sounds.

I said yes the fourth time Brooks proposed because I realized exactly why I was with him in the first place: he was the antidote to Royal Lockhart. The antithesis of the one man who shattered my heart and crippled my ability to feel a shred of the happiness I’d once known.

Brooks Abbott was the only thing that could cure me of the obsessive love sickness I’ve been plagued with since the day Royal left and never came back.

“I’ll make sure he knows you never left his side,” she says. “I’ll remind him every damn day for the rest of his life.”

Brooks lies lifeless in his bed, his back propped up against pillows and his chest rising and falling in sync with the machines. His beautiful, electric green eyes are swollen shut, his strong, square jaw broken in four places. Flecks of dried blood cling to his thick, blond mane.

Gone are his pressed white polo shirts, crisp khakis, and navy dinner jackets. Gone are his fancy watches and money clips and Gucci loafers. You strip Brooks Abbott down to a hospital gown, and he’s no more special than any other person in this hospital building.

Royal would detest Brooks if they ever met. And maybe a small part of me is secretly pleased by that.

I almost wish Brooks could see himself like this. He was always so obsessed with crafting this perfect image to the rest of the world.

Perfect house.

Perfect fiancé.

Perfect smile, perfect cars, perfect friends . . .

The list went on and on.

He had it all, and nothing ever kept him satisfied for very long.

I wish I could ask him where he was going that night. He sure as hell wasn’t upset about calling off the wedding. The man didn’t shed a single tear. Kept the entire exchange short and sweet. I should’ve suspected something was up when I came home from work and saw a packed bag next to the front door. His keys dangled from steady hands, and the laces of his boat shoes were tightly tied.

Brooks’s nurse clears her throat from the corner of his room. I cover his legs with a white flannel blanket, place the lotion aside, and gather my things. I need a shower. I need a hot meal. I need a full night’s rest. I need to organize my thoughts. Maybe have a good cry.

Brenda slips her phone from her pocket and leaves. She’s been doing that all day, taking phone calls and spreading the word. One of his aunts started a Go Fund Me page for the “lengthy recovery and medical bills he’s going to face” despite the fact that Brooks is a very successful financial planner, and the Abbotts are one of the wealthiest families in Rixton County.

And despite the fact that we don’t even know if he’s going to pull through.

On at least four occasions, I caught Brenda taking screenshots of various headlines from online news articles discussing the accident. She claimed she pinned them to a Pinterest board to make a “digital scrapbook” for Brooks to see when he wakes up.

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