Abbie felt herself flash cold, and she sank into a chair. Taylor was in the bathroom getting the last few things before they flew back to DC. The winter recess was almost over, and Abbie wanted to spend a few days there with her before she got busy. She set the phone down, still not quite believing why she had been called. "Taylor?" Her voice was quiet as she put down the phone. "Taylor, I don't think I can go with you."
Taylor stepped out of the bathroom, alerted by Abbie's tone that something was wrong, though she couldn't imagine what it might be. "Abbie? What happened?" She went to Abbie's side and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Nora collapsed at the end of her lecture today. She's in the hospital." She shook her head and stood, unsteadily herself. "I just don't understand; they said she had me as her emergency contact...I...Taylor, she doesn't have anyone else close enough to call." That Nora and she had been close was true, very true, but Abbie had no idea how that had lasted in Nora's mind.
"God." Taylor reached out steady Abbie, squeezing her shoulder. "Of course. Do you want me push back the trip? I can come with you." She hadn't particularly been close to Nora, but she knew that Abbie had been…if Abbie needed her to stay, then she would.
"What? Oh, no, Taylor, you should go. You have so much to do." She straightened, trying to compose herself so Taylor wouldn't get stubborn and refuse to leave her, though she was still shaking inside. "I'm fine, but I should go see her."
"Alright." Taylor squeezed her shoulder again. "Let me call you a cab, okay?" At Abbie's nod of assent, she dialed a phone number and quickly spoke to an operator. "Someone'll be here in a few minutes. Do you want me to come down and wait with you?"
"No…" Abbie kissed Taylor's cheek, smiling more bravely than she felt, "No...I'm fine, you don't have long or you'll miss your flight."
"Okay." Taylor nodded and let Abbie go. If anything happened, she knew Abbie would call her, and right now, the only thing she could do was to let Abbie handle things her own way. A few years earlier and she might have tried to take over the situation, telling herself that it was for Abbie's own good. Now, she knew better. She trusted Abbie to deal with it herself and tell her if she needed anything.
Abbie shivered at how immediately a sense could revive a long buried memory. The moment the scent of the hospital hit her, she started to sweat lightly, her body ready to flee. Room 451 was just down the hall now, and the florescent lights beat down on her as carts and staff brushed past. Soon she was hovering at the doorway, and she swallowed a lump in her throat. Nora looked somehow much older than the last time Abbie had seen her. Her eyes were closed, and the monitors behind the bed hummed and beeped in monotone. Suddenly, she wondered if she might just leave—come back later when she was feeling more prepared, but then Nora's eyes opened and met hers. Abbie forced a small smile, hoping her voice wouldn't fail her.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" She finally managed to step into the room fully, closing the door behind herself.
"Tired," Nora said softly. She managed to smile with her usual warmth, but the stiffness in Abbie's worried her. The brunette's eyes were nearly wild with fear and worry. "They shouldn't have called you; I'm sorry." She watched Abbie linger at the closed door, as if she was afraid to really enter, and Nora shook her head. "It's all right, Abbie."
Abbie shook herself, and pulled over a chair to sit by the bed. Slowly, she shook her head. It was the first time she'd seen past what Nora wanted to show of herself, and Abbie found it sobering, nearly unsettling. "Nora, who else should they have called?"
There was a reason she had listed Abbie. Nora had meant to tell her, but some things were so intensely private. She hadn't thought there would be any need to use Abbie as an emergency contact anyway, and she merely shook her head. Her hair was a mess, and the air was too dry; even in her worst moments, Abbie had not seen her like this. Still, she reached out for Abbie's hand, offering comfort instead of seeking it. "It was a mild heart attack," she said quietly. "Not as bad as what they were expecting, but..." Nora shook her head again. It wasn't something she had ever expected.
Abbie watched as Nora tried to pull herself together somewhat, to justify her actions though they both knew it wasn't necessary. Finally, she took a breath. "Well I'm glad for that, but really you need to be careful." She thought of Nora's life, or what little she knew of it, and was startled to find herself thinking that Nora had been lucky she'd been in public at the time. She didn't want to think of the alternative. The thought was startling, as was her instinct to call Taylor and ask when she could get a flight to go with her to DC. Even the notion made her feel immediately selfish.
"It was..." A wisp of a smile crossed Nora's face as she ran her thumb over the back of Abbie's hand. "It was quite a surprise." She withdrew, then, as fatigue began to settle over her. Nora couldn't keep her face bright, but she smiled apologetically anyway. "But you're right...you're right. I will, Abbie." She met the brunette's dark eyes, and Nora could not help but think back to the times Abbie had so needed her. She had given what she could, hoping that it would help, and now she was grateful simply not to be alone. "I won't keep you long, I promise. They say I'll be able to manage, as long as I get rest."
As she watched Nora grow quiet, the familiar tightness in Abbie's throat returned.. She just nodded, knowing she wouldn't-shouldn't stay much longer, and without really thinking about it, leaned closer to rest her head on the cool white bed sheets. Even these smelled the same as she remembered, and Abbie had to blink as a few tears began to sting her eyes.
Without a moment of hesitation, Nora began to stroke Abbie's dark hair, the familiarity settling her. She closed her eyes to the glare of the room, fingers working steadily through Abbie's hair. "I'm all right, Abbie," she repeated. She had been scared, but hearing it, saying it to Abbie made her feel calmer. The reality of Abbie's presence was soothing in the reminder of their once routines. "But thank you for coming."
After a few more hushed exchanges, and long moments, Nora had drifted back to sleep. Abbie was almost reluctant to move, still confronting the past, recapturing it in her own way. Finally, though she relented and slowly moved to stand, so not as to wake the other woman. Abbie found a scrap of paper in her bag, and quickly wrote down her cell and Taylor's number in DC, and placed it by the bed where Nora would be sure to find it. She didn't need to leave a proper note- they both knew Abbie would welcome a call when Nora was feeling better, and expect one if she wasn't. A few more moments, and a painfully slow elevator ride, and Abbie was standing back in the cold city air, nearly gasping for breath. Her panic had been abated for the moment, so Abbie reached for her phone to call Taylor. Even given the striking change in position, what she had with Nora was still there.
Under normal circumstances, Taylor wouldn't have bothered to go to the airport to meet Abbie, but this wasn't normal. She could hear the strain in Abbie's voice, the strain that she had been trying to hide, so rather than getting someone to pick her up, Taylor had gotten in a cab and come herself. She was waiting just on the other side of security, keeping close watch for Abbie's arrival and trying not to pace.
And while Abbie had protested Taylor coming herself, she couldn't deny that her face was the most welcome sight she could have imagined. She had spent the flight trying to calm down and rationalize—Nora was going to be alright, at least according to the doctor she had pulled aside in the hallway on her way out. Still, she felt shaken, small, and did her best not to just fold into Taylor's arms the moment she reached her. "Hey, you didn't have to stop your day just to come get me you know." Abbie did her best to smile. "It's good to see you though."
"I haven't been here long enough to get busy." Taylor's smile was stronger than Abbie's as she pulled her into her arms, knowing that Abbie needed the contact, even if she wasn't yet ready to admit it. "Nora's okay?" Her concern was both for the other woman and for the effect that such a trauma would have on Abbie.
Abbie paused, breathing in comfort from Taylor before starting to walk out to the curb. "Yeah, I suppose. They said she'll be moving slowly for awhile but it could have been worse." The cab driver took her small carry-on bag, and Abbie slipped into the car after Taylor, taking her hand again. "But Taylor...it was so hard to see her like that. And they called me, not her family, not a partner, me. God, I hadn't even kept in touch really." Abbie trailed off, not quite sure she was even making sense anymore.
Taylor put an arm around Abbie's shoulder as she told the cab driver the address. "I know." She kissed Abbie's temple lightly. "Maybe she felt that you would have the clearest head in an emergency?" She couldn't really begin to guess at Nora's motivations, but clearly she still felt close to Abbie, even if that closeness was based more in the past than the present.
Abbie sighed, watching out the window of the car, "Maybe, but that sure isn't the truth. I was there to see her, see if she was alright, and all I could think about was ..." Abbie shrugged. "Just...I don't like hospitals."
"Well, we'll be home soon." Taylor tightened her arm around Abbie, trying to provide what support she could. "And I'll see what I can do to help you stop worrying."
She just nodded quietly, lost for the rest of the ride in her own thoughts. She hadn't been prepared, not at all to revisit the thoughts now swirling in her mind. She'd been too young, or maybe just a few years too old. Either way, the fears were lasting, no matter how many years Abbie had to try and lock the memories away, burying them under the constant minutia of daily life. She barely noticed when the car stopped, and Taylor pulled her out.
Taylor waited until she got Abbie into their suite before she attempted to find out just what was really bothering her. She guided Abbie into a chair and ordered delivery, then joined Abbie on the couch. "Now, are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"I…yes, but what did you order for dinner?" It was a silly question, but Abbie suddenly found herself wanting a peanut butter sandwich. For months it seemed like that was about all she'd lived on, and her father too for that matter since he could barley manage to find much in the kitchen on his own. Had her brothers been there, it would have been different, but the Carmichael family was too stubborn- too pragmatic to bring them home from school until it was almost too late.
"Chinese—did you want me to get something else?" Taylor kissed Abbie's temple and wrapped her arms around her. "I can call back and cancel."
"Oh, no. No, that's fine." Abbie's voice was quiet but steady, and she leaned against Taylor, quietly toying with the soft fabric of her shirt. "I think it's been over fifteen years now." She paused for a long moment, "God, that's a long time." Yet it seemed so close, vivid. She had been so sure of life then, even in a crisis. Abbie felt like she was looking her sixteen year-old self in the eye, seeing determination there like she hadn't felt since. It wasn't the bravado or confidence she could muster now- it was something else, the power you have over life when you have no idea what's really out there to stop you, until it does.
Taylor simply held Abbie, leaving her to her thoughts. It was clear now just where Nora's crisis had sent Abbie's mind. "Your mother?" Abbie had never really talked about her mother's death beyond the most superficial comments.
Abbie nodded again against Taylor, "Yes. Taylor, I don't know why this bothers me so much..." Abbie sighed inwardly; of course she knew exactly why—there had been a very small but strong part of her that had wanted to see Nora that way. It was safer, because presumably Nora would have her own life, her own family in such a moment. Maybe Abbie had always known it was selfish, but she'd needed it. She shuddered quietly, Taylor felt so strong beside her, and that was becoming enough for Abbie, it had to.
"It's okay." Taylor kissed Abbie's temple and pulled a blanket from the back of the couch, wrapping Abbie up in it. "You're close to Nora, and no one wants to think about the mortality of the people they love." She didn't know that there was anything she could say that would really make Abbie feel better, but she was going to offer whatever comfort she could.
"I know." Abbie looked at Taylor, and then finally couldn't hold back a quiet sob. Taylor too…nothing is forever. The thought crossed her mind, and she immediately tried to push it away. She coughed as she tried to speak again, "I'm sorry, it's getting late," she said, even though it wasn't, "I shouldn't be keeping you up." Still, Abbie wasn't ready to let go, and made no move to do so.
"Stop worrying about how busy I am." Taylor kept her arms around Abbie, guiding her head to her shoulder. "There's nothing more important to me than you. And it would be a waste of perfectly good Chinese, which should be here any second." She forced a smile.
Abbie blinked hard, trying to focus. Something about the moment made her let go of the barriers she would normally keep to make life simple enough to enjoy. "Taylor, what about you? I mean, your mother." Abbie realized just how strange it was that there were things that even she and Taylor didn't talk about.
Taylor took a deep breath, sensing that she was stepping onto some kind of unstable ground without knowing the path across. "I don't remember her." She swallowed and buried her nose in Abbie's hair. "Or, I don't remember a time when she ever felt like my mother. She disappeared a few months after I was born, she just... left. I didn't see her again until I was a teenager."
Abbie looked straight ahead, she couldn't imagine meeting someone who was so important after so long. Taylor still didn't talk much about her, much less keep up any sort of relationship that she could tell. "I'm sorry Taylor, really."
"There's nothing for you to be sorry about." She occasionally got a card at Christmas, when her mother could remember, and she always sent one in return, when she had an address, but otherwise, they simply didn't talk. If her mother's disappearance had caused her any pain, she had already gotten over it. "Besides, I think dinner is here." She got up just at the knock on the door came and let the routine busy her.
Abbie watched Taylor go, then wiped her eyes quickly and followed her into the kitchen. Taylor was already putting the food on plates, and Abbie felt a subtle calm fall over the room. More had been shared than said, and it wouldn't be the last time. She slid into a seat at the small table, "Thanks, Taylor, I'm really glad to be here tonight."
"I am too." Taylor forced a smile as she put a plate in front of Abbie and took her own seat, trying to use the hot food to push troubled thoughts from her mind.