By: Cora Brent

“I’ll tell Saffron,” I said. “I’m sure the doctor will have some news for you soon.”

“Thank you,” said the woman gratefully. “What did you say your name was again?”

“Cecily Hickey.”

“Cecily Hickey,” she repeated.

“Ah, no.” I grimaced. “Wait, that’s wrong. My name is actually Cecily Barnett.”

“Cecily Barnett?” she said but at this point she sounded like she was wondering if I had a few screws loose. “Well thank you, Cecily,” she said somewhat stiffly. “I’ll be calling the hospital now.”

“Good idea,” I muttered, wondering why in the hell I had spat out a name that hadn’t been mine for nearly seven years. I’d barely gotten used to my married name and switched back to my maiden name as soon as the divorce was final.

A different nurse passed by and eyeballed me as I leaned against a white wall outside the triage area.

“Can I help you with something?” she asked.

“No,” I sighed. “I wish you could.”

I pocketed Saffron’s phone, took a deep breath and marched back into the lobby. Somehow I figured he wouldn’t be there, that he would have left or maybe that I’d imagined him after all. Perhaps this was all some vivid dream or I’d been briefly sucked into an alternate reality vortex.

Branson Hickey was real though. At least he was real enough to be casually sprawled in an orange chair in the hospital lobby and paging through a People magazine as if he hadn’t anything more important to think about than what dress Beyoncé wore on the red carpet.

I paused and studied him, seeing both the boy I’d loved and the man who was now a stranger. I hadn’t heard his voice in seven years and I wasn’t even sure of his whereabouts, other than the fact that he was in the Army. Except for Antha I steered clear of acquaintances from Ohio and didn’t join any of the popular social media sites. I never wanted to know too much. I never wanted to remember.

As Bran turned another page of his silly magazine a couple of soccer mom types with messy topknots and tired faces nudged each other and stared. Bran’s black hair was cut short but the shadow of a beard dusting his jaw meant he hadn’t shaved in at least several days. He was wearing a faded Army t-shirt that strained at the seams over his muscles and distressed jeans that appeared as if they’d suffered through six hundred wash cycles.

He looked careless, wild and delicious. I couldn’t blame those women for staring. If I didn’t know who he was I would probably be searching for a way to get his attention too.

It didn’t seem fair.

The guy should have managed to acquire a few physical flaws in seven years. Instead he shows up here in my part of the country looking like he drank a gallon of sex appeal for breakfast every morning.

Bran stopped thumbing through the magazine and looked up at me. Brown eyes usually aren’t described as striking but his always were. There was a piercing quality to his gaze that once had the power to keep me hypnotized. The tremor that rolled through me as we locked eyes told me some things hadn’t changed.

“Hey, Cess,” he said and casually tossed his magazine to a nearby table. “How’s the girl?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

He surveyed me as if I amused him. “Didn’t you go back there with her?”

“No. I mean yes but they took her to get x-rays and she hasn’t met with the doctor yet.”

Bran nodded and grimaced slightly. “Damn, she looked pretty bad. I was walking past the pool when I saw her make the jump. And the assholes who’d been cheering her on scattered while she started screaming so I picked her up and brought her indoors.”

“What the fuck are you doing here, Bran?” I blurted.

He frowned, crossed one ankle over his knee and touched the seat next to him. “We ought to stop shouting across the room.”

There hadn’t actually been any shouting, not yet, but we were attracting some attention. The soccer moms stared. The security guard stared. The two receptionists behind the intake desk stared. An elderly couple holding hands and yawning in some nearby chairs stared.

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