The house was its usual cacophony of noise and Mick wouldn’t have it any other way. For too long mornings in his house were silent, only his mother and Jess for company. And often they were only company for each other.
Now though it was like grand central station, despite the fact that most of his kids no longer lived in the house, they somehow always found themselves at his breakfast table. Their Gran’s breakfast was the major draw, but more recently Mick highly suspected that ultimately it was family too that led them there. Particularly on the weekends, like today, a bright Saturday morning, where the sun was high in a sky that went on forever.
He allowed himself to feel contented despite the fact that there was someone missing. Megan hadn’t made her way to the house yet. She had texted him last night to say she was driving up the coast a bit to do some sunrise sketches and to make sure he saved her some of Nell’s pastries before the kids devoured them all. Given all the years they spent apart, he was surprised at how much he missed her when she wasn’t there.
“I like this one,” Mick was interrupted from his musings by Bree’s exclamation about one of the brochures Abby had scattered on the counter.
“I like it too but it’s only 3 bedrooms and no office. I want to be able to work from home if I can and I’d like the girls to start having their own rooms.”
“You could just stay here,” Mick muttered not looking up from his paper. While he was happy that Abby and Trace had decided to commit enough to their relationship to move in together, he wasn’t happy that it meant she and the girls were moving out.
Abby smiled indulgently at him, “Yes Dad, I am sure you and Trace would *love* living together.”
He grinned back at her, “Who said anything about letting Trace move in?!”
She rolled her eyes at him and turned back to the brochures and he looked at his watch again. Megan must have got caught up with her sketches and not realised the time.
“You got somewhere to be, Dad?” Bree asked pointing towards Mick’s watch.
“No. I thought your mother would be here by now.”
“She’s probably been overtaken by her muse,” Connor said around a mouthful of pancake.
“Probably,” Mick chuckled back, “I’ll try calling her.”
He got his phone out and dialled, the line ringing out without an answer. He frowned at his phone and caught Nell’s concerned look.
“Nope. It’s not like her not to answer.”
“Maybe she’s driving and doesn’t want to pick up.”
Mick nodded, “If she let me just put her on the tracking app, I would know and I wouldn’t have to worry.”
He felt rather than saw his family roll their eyes at him. He thought it was a perfectly reasonable idea to have his family on the tracking app. No one else agreed with him.
“And big brother strikes again,” Connor said with a laugh.
His cell began to ring and Mick took the opportunity to strike his youngest son round the head with his newspaper as he went in to the living room to answer, away from the noisy rabble.
It was Sarah.
Mick felt the blood drain from his face as he listened to his son’s wife.
Later he would marvel at how calm and factual his daughter-in-law was. How she answered his questions calmly and honestly, even though he suspected he didn’t sound calm and collected and he had probably asked the same questions again and again.
They’d been called out to an accident on the coast road. They’d found Megan’s car, Sarah and her team had cut it open and Kevin as part of the first response team had pulled her out.
No she didn’t know her current condition, she had been focused on getting her out. It looked like she was struck by another driver who had been dead on their arrival. They didn’t know if he had been drinking. No she didn’t know how bad Megan was. Kevin was with her and they were on their way to the hospital.
He looked up to see the pale faces of his mother, children and grandchildren.
“I’m on my way,” he told Sarah and hung up.
He took a breath, “It’s your Mom, she’s been in an accident. Kevin’s with her, he was one of the first on the scene.”
“Do we know how bad it is?” Abby asked, her voice breaking while she reached out to her girls who were understandably shocked and upset.
He shook his head, “Sarah didn’t know, she was focused on…” he trailed off as he looked at the faces of his grandchildren. They didn’t need to know those kind of details.
“I need to get to the hospital,” Mick tore his hand through his hair.
“We’ll all go,” Abby stated, pulling herself together more quickly than the others.
“I’ll stay here with the girls,” Nell said.
Mick nodded, struck dumb as the weight of what had happened hit him and the fear of what he didn’t yet know began to sink in.
He was glad Abby offered to drive, as he entered the hospital he honestly couldn’t remember getting there.
He marched up to the reception desk, “Hi, I’m looking for Megan O’Brien, I was told she had been brought here.”
A nurse nodded at him, “Are you next of kin?”
“Yes, I’m Mick O’Brien I’m her husband,” he answered and saw Bree’s look of surprise.
“Let me find out for you,” she answered and disappeared.
He looked round at the chaos of what was the ER on a weekend in the summer. Swimmers half drowned, sailors capsized, jet ski accidents. All was the norm when you lived on the coast. What wasn’t the norm was getting rammed by another car on the long straight of the coast road on a bright Saturday morning when there was hardly any traffic.
After five minutes and still no sign of the nurse that had originally spoken to him, he tried another. Yes he was next of kin, yes he could fill in a form, but could they please just get someone to tell him what was going on?
When he still didn’t get any answers, that was when the limited control on his emotions began to fail.
“I just want someone to tell me how my wife is!” He shouted at the next unfortunate staff member at the reception desk.
He felt Connor’s hand on his arm, “Dad, they’re trying to find out. Come sit down,” he said calmly. Mick followed him blindly, catching Bree mouthing “Wife?” at her elder sister. But before he could sit down, he finally saw Kevin walking through some double doors that obviously led in to the heart of the ER.
Mick almost ran towards him and grabbed him with both arms, “Kevin, is she ok?”
Kevin smiled at him gently in that calm manner he had and returned the embrace.
“She’s just in radiography, they are doing a scan on her brain,” one of the girls, he couldn’t tell which, let out a choked sob.
“What happened?” Connor asked.
“When we arrived, it was clear that Mom’s car had been hit by another. It looks like the driver was going too fast and lost control. They were dead on the scene. Mom’s car was a bit of a mess and they had to cut it open before I could pull her out,” he looked at his dad, steeling himself.
“She was unconscious,” Kevin said gently and Mick had to swallow deeply, “The good news is, she regained consciousness for a bit in the back of the wagon on the way here. She recognised me, which is a good sign.”
“But she was only conscious for a bit?” Connor clarified and Kevin nodded.
“She’s obviously taken a blow to her head, and they are just checking her out. It’s likely that there is just some bruising and we just have to wait for the swelling to go down. But the scan will clarify.”
“Does she have any more injuries?” Mick asked, regaining some control.
“She’s a bit bruised and I think she may have a couple of broken ribs but nothing major.”
“So it’s the head injury you’re worried about?”
Their attention was turned then by the sight of Jess and David rushing through the doors of the hospital, Mick looked at Abby and jerked his head towards his youngest. She nodded, getting immediately that she was going to have be calm for Jess.
“Can I see her?” Mick asked Kevin.
“Yeah, they are just bringing her up and once they get her settled you can go on in,” Kevin replied quietly, both not failing to hear Jess’ sobs as Abby and Bree tried to calm her down.
They were interrupted by a doctor in scrubs coming towards them, “Kevin?”
“Dr Sotez, this is my dad Mick O’Brien,” Kevin introduced the young doctor to his father.
“Mr O’Brien, I take it Kevin has filled you in on what has happened?”
Mick nodded mutely.
“Your wife’s scans were inconclusive due to swelling around part of her brain, we’re going to need to wait until the swelling goes down before we can take another picture and see what’s going on. The good news is that she regained consciousness for a bit on the way to the hospital, that’s a good sign.”
“Can I see her?” Mick asked.
“Of course,” the doctor replied, “I’ll take you through.”
Mick went to follow but stopped to murmur to Kevin, “Can you ask the rest to give me a minute before they come in?”
“Of course,” Kevin nodded.
Mick followed the doctor, feeling with each step that he was in some alternate universe. He couldn’t believe that any of this was happening. He felt sure that any moment he was going to wake up. He’d be at Megan’s house, she would be in his arms and all would be right with the world. And all this would be just the stuff of nightmares. Of fiction.
He entered the room with trepidation and gazed down at her on the bed. She looked like she was sleeping except she never slept on her back. Normally she was curled around him or he was curled around her on their sides. She told him that even during all their years apart she had still slept the same way, on the same side of the bed, as if there was a phantom Mick beside her.
He wanted to crawl in to bed with her now, make her comfortable, make her feel safe. He wanted to take all the wires off her body, the bp cuff, the nasal tube. He wanted it all gone and for her to just open her eyes at him and tell him everything was going to be ok. They’d wasted so much time already, he didn’t want to waste anymore.
He looked at the doctor, “Can I hold her hand?”
The doctor smiled kindly and nodded, “Of course, just mind the wires. You should speak to her too, it’ll help. I’ll leave you to it.”
Mick nodded as he heard the doctor leave, his gaze still riveted on Megan. He reached down to take her hand in his, reassured by its warmth and the pulse beating through her wrist. He collapsed in to the chair by the side of the bed and rested his forehead on top of their clasped hands.
Kevin looked worriedly at his dad as he left with the doctor, the last time he’d seen him like this had been when Jess had been in the hospital after the boat accident. He suspected his Dad also probably looked like this when he had been brought home after Afghanistan but he’d been on so many meds he couldn’t remember.
“Hey,” Connor said, getting his attention, “Are you okay?”
Kevin nodded, “Of course.”
He felt Abby put her arm around his shoulder, “There’s no ‘of course’ about it Kevin, you just pulled our mother out of a horrendous car accident.”
He bowed his head, choking up, “I think I was just on auto-pilot. As soon as I realised it was Mom’s car I was barking orders at the crew to get the choppers out and then I just did my job. I don’t think it’s hit me yet.”
“Has Dad gone to see her?” Bree asked as she walked up to her brothers and sister, her arm around Jess, David following silently with his hand on Jess’ back.
Kevin nodded, “Yeah he asked us to give him a minute before we go in. She’s in a side room so we can all go in to see her in a bit.”
The siblings all fell silent, not having the words to describe how they were feeling. Kevin suspected that they were all in shock and he shook his head ruefully at this happening now. They were all in such a good place. The years of angst and heartbreak seemingly behind them, moving forward as a family. HIs mom was an everyday part of his life in a way she hadn’t been since he was a teenager, and happy in a way she hadn’t been since before then.
“You know,” Bree said, breaking his revery, “This is probably not the time, but did any of you notice that Dad has either referred to Mom as his wife or him as her husband on numerous occasions since we got here?”
Connor nodded too with a small laugh, “I noticed that too, the Doctor referred to Mom as his wife and he didn’t even blink.”
“I mean it’s weird, but it’s sort of nice too,” Bree mused.
“You don’t think they eloped and never told us?” Kevin asked slightly horrified.
“If they did you are the last one who gets to moan about it mister,” Abby scolded him and the siblings all laughed, even Jess.
“If you guys think for one minute that Mom would agree to some crappy little ceremony when she could plan Chesapeake’s wedding of the century you are obviously crazy,” Jess sniffed through her tears.
Kevin held his arms out to his little sister and she came willingly, feeling fragile in his arms but he knew her true strength. One by one his siblings and David joined the embrace, and for a moment found solace in each other and their bond.
After a few moments, they all agreed silently to go to their Mom’s hospital room. Kevin led the way but stopped short as he looked through the window in to the room. His dad looked broken. He held up his hands to his siblings silently asking them to wait and they all turned to look at their father. Bree turned away stifling a sob and Jess went after her. Kevin looked at his older sister and she nodded, “I’ll go first,” she said. He always knew she was braver than him.
Abby walked in with Kevin close behind, their dad raising his head and quickly brushing the tears off his face as he realised he had company.
“Dad?” Abby questioned.
“I’m okay, it’s just a bit of a shock. Seeing your Mom so quiet,” he smiled at his two eldest.
“Where’s the others?” He asked but no sooner had he said it when Connor, Bree and Jess walked in. David had gone off to get them all some coffee.
The girls walked mutely to the side of their Mom’s bed and Jess picked up her hand, “Hey Mom,” she whispered breaking Kevin’s heart at the restrained emotion in the words. Jess had perhaps been the most resistant to their mother coming back in to their lives at first, but they’d really bonded in the last couple of years.
Kevin looked at his dad, his gaze still fixed on the bed, “Dad do you want us to call Gran and update her?”
His dad looked up at him, devastation flooding his face, “I hadn’t even thought, she’ll be going out of her mind,”
“It’s okay dad, honestly, she’ll understand. I’ll do it, I want to check on the girls anyway.”
“Can you ask her to pack me a small bag, I’m going to stay here tonight,” Mick said resolutely.
“Dad, there’s not much you can do here, they’ll call you if there’s any change,” Kevin said reasonably, worried that his father wouldn’t get much rest if he stayed here.
“I’m not leaving her,” Mick said firmly his eyes burning, almost spoiling for a fight.
“Why don’t I go back to the house and get you some stuff? I can check on the girls and if Gran wants to come to see Mom tonight, Trace can watch them and I can drive her over,” his sister came to the rescue.
Agreement reached, Abby made her way out and the rest settled down on the various chairs in the room or against the wall.
The O’Brien family once again sat in silence, but this time no one could blame them.
It was late by the time the last member of his family had left Megan’s bedside. The nurses had brought in a cot bed for him but he couldn’t rest. He was too scared to take his eyes off her for a moment. He didn’t want to miss her waking up.
Doctor Sotez had made clear that he didn’t expect her to wake up until the next day at the earliest but still Mick’s head was too full to be at rest.
He’d been proud of his kids, Kevin especially. It can’t have been easy for the boy pulling his mother out of a terrible wreckage but he’d been a calm tower of strength all day. Abby had been her organising and reliable self and the others had made it their mission to try and keep everything as light as possible despite the obvious distress they were all in at seeing their mother in such a state.
His mother had enfolded him in her arms as soon as she had arrived, her eyes knowing, as if she could read the turmoil within him. She’d sat for a few hours, whispering to Megan, he wasn’t sure what about. He loved that they had such a close relationship. Too close sometimes, he thought with a smile. Megan had confessed that it had been Nell who had encouraged her to take the leap with Mick. After they had kissed for the first time in nearly two decades both had decided that taking it any further would be a mistake given what had happened the last time around. Nell, Megan had told him, had convinced her that it would be easier to live with mistakes than regret. Thank God she did, these past few months with Megan had been some of the happiest of his life.
They’d taken it slowly, gone on over a dozen dates before they had ended up in bed together and they’d been discreet around the family, Megan had never stayed overnight at the big house. They had talked about it and both had decided that they should build their new relationship between themselves first. Now he was beginning to wonder whether that had been a mistake. They had been so concerned with what the others thought they had never really asked themselves what they wanted.
As Mick looked down at Megan it all seemed so clear to him, he didn’t understand why they had pussy footed around for so long. He wanted her in his life in every way, as a friend, as a partner, as a lover, in his house, in his arms and in his bed. He wanted to sit and watch her paint the sunrise, he wanted to listen as she described the latest shenanigans at city hall. The ‘beloved’ mayor and his latest culture obsessions. He wanted to sit on the deck with her and talk about their day, the kids, the grandkids. He wanted to watch her laughing with the family at the dinner table. He wanted to put his arms round her as they watched the flames dance in the fire pit as the kids toasted their s’mores.
He wanted to lead her up to their room and make love to her with all the passion he felt for her, until they were both sated and boneless. He wanted to wrap her up in his arms and wake with her still there.
He wanted it all.
He kissed her lightly on the lips, dodging the various wires that adorned her, silently promising to her and to himself that when she woke up he was going to do all in his power to make sure she knew just how much he loved her.
“So David wants us to have a proper priest do the ceremony, but I thought it would be fun if Connor did it. Connor reckons he can become a celebrant for $50 and it would be nice, for it to be someone we loved to marry us, don’t you think?” Jess asked her unconscious mother, she’d been with her for nearly an hour, describing every little bit of wedding detail. She didn’t know why she was doing so, her mother knew it all anyway, had been helping to plan everything every step of the way.
“Uncle Thomas had Gran do it when he and Aunt Robin renewed their vows,” she continued thoughtfully. “And I’ve finally decided, that last wedding arch you designed is the one. Now I know I’ve said that before but this time I mean it. It’s your finest work.”
She stroked her mother’s hand, “I’d really like to discuss colours with you though, I’m having doubts about the red and wondered what you thought about blue? Or pink? Or maybe red works best after all.”
“So many decisions to make, and you’re here, not moving, not talking. It’s really inconvenient,” she huffed in frustration.
“You know I waited all my life for my parents to come home, you finally do and this happens!” She couldn’t help the slight sob that caught in the back of her throat.
“Please wake up Mommy, I need you.”
“So as you know the play didn’t do *quite* as well as we wanted it to on the West End. But on the plus side I found out today that some of the regional theatres want it, so it’s going on tour! My agent is ecstatic obviously and I’m pleased. I am. Okay I was a little disappointed at the sales on the west end, but at least I can say I did it? Right? And I wasn’t a fan of London, it felt too far away. Can you believe I was homesick? It didn’t help that I kept wondering if I was going to bump in to Simon. I didn’t. He apparently came to opening night, left me some flowers at the stage door. How am I supposed to react to that?”
Bree took a breath,”I’ve asked you many, many questions and you’ve not answered any of them. Don’t you think it’s time you woke up now?”
“Dad is freaking us all out. You know he has referred to you as his wife or himself as your husband or allowed others to over a dozen times now. At first I thought, hey he’s just trying to get information and probably thinks they wouldn’t give it to him if he said he was your ex-husband. But now I’m not so sure. I think he’s convinced himself you’re married.”
She laid her head next to her mother’s on the pillow, “I don’t think he works without you anymore. I mean all those years he did or we thought he did but he didn’t really did he? It’s been nice us all being a family. I think that’s why I was so homesick, because it is home now isn’t it? All of us together.
“I think this has taught us all something. But we just need you to wake up. Please, Mom.”
“You warned me it would happen didn’t you? That my O’Brieness would get me in to trouble. Well it has. Uncle Thomas was right. If only I hadn’t rushed off to get my new job, I’d be in New York, first chair on the Hubert case.
Obviously I wouldn’t be there right now, because I’d be here but you know what I mean.”
Connor took his mother’s hand in his, “Did Bree tell you about the whole wife/husband thing and Dad? Freaky right? I think you best prepare yourself for when you wake up. Dad is not going to let you out of his sight, and I reckon it’s going to drive you mad. We’re all going to be on the tracking app! Our rights undermined! Understandable though…you’ve given him a bit of a shock. Us all a bit of a shock actually.”
He sighed deeply, “It’s been good, hasn’t it? The past couple of years? I know I don’t always say it or show it but having everyone back, it’s made me realise what’s important. My family is everything to me. You’re everything to me. And I miss you. I didn’t realise how much we spoke every day until the past two days. And dad…” he choked on a sob, “He needs you Mom. We all do.”
“The girls are really anxious to come and see you but we’ve tried to convince them to wait a little longer. Did you like their cards though? They’ve decided they want to be artists, just like Mimi. They definitely channel you these days!”
Abby stroked the bed covers over her mother, making sure they were comfortable for her, “Trace has been amazing, he took the girls over to Wes’ this morning. We thought being away from the house would help. He and Wes had a long chat about you, about how great you are and how lucky they are to have you as a mother-in-law. I think they bonded!”
She paused, remembering, “I don’t think I’ve ever said thank you. During my divorce, I’m not sure how I would have gotten through it without you. You were my rock.You still are. I know, I know, I’m a daddy’s girl. But I’m a mommy’s girl too don’t forget.”
“I’m worried about Dad, I don’t think he slept at all last night, we managed to persuade him to go and get some food and have breaks while one of us sits with you but…” she trailed off, “I’m worried about him, and Dad being Dad won’t talk about it. He just sits and stares at you or your monitors. I’m not sure if he talks to you, he says he does. I hope so. I hope he’s telling you everything you need to hear so you’ll come back to us. We really need you to come back to us.”
“I’ve got a secret to tell you. It’s early and we didn’t want to tell anyone until she was 12 weeks, but you’re going to be a grandmother again,” Kevin told his mother as a tear made its way down his cheek.
“Sarah said I could tell you, she agreed if anything was going to break through, you being Mimi to another O’Brien would do it. Also I think she still feels guilty for us eloping so this is her making it up to you.”
“What can I do Mom? What can I do to make you better?” Kevin whispered as he stroked his mother’s hair.
“My precious girl. You know you’ve always been my precious girl. Charles’ too. We knew your parents obviously. That was enough to want to make sure we loved you like you deserved from the moment we met you. You always deserved better from your parents than what you got.”
Nell sighed, thinking of all Megan had gone through, “You deserved better from Mick too.”
Nell clasped Megan’s hand and stroked her hair, “I told Mick when you left he was making a big mistake, I told him again when the divorce papers came through. I told him again when he brought you back. Him not fighting for you, it’s one of the few times he has disappointed me.”
She sighed deeply, “People think Mick is the strong one, but it’s you isn’t it? You were the one who had the strength to walk away. You had the strength to come back. And you had the strength to rebuild your relationship with your children. I’m proud of you.”
“Watching you both these past few months, I can’t remember the last time I saw you both so happy. But you’re still both far too concerned about everyone else and both still too fearful about making another mistake. You have learned enough from the past. It’s now time to let go of all of that and focus on the here and now. But to do that you’ve got to wake up. My darling daughter, now is not your time to rest. It’s your time to live.”
It was just him and Megan in the hospital room. Everyone else had gone down to the canteen to get something to eat for their evening meal, leaving him alone with Megan for the first time since he’d awoken with a crick in his neck to Kevin handing him a bagel this morning. He’d only got an hour or so, along with a few strained tendons.
There had been no change and the anxious ball of fear in the pit of his stomach was beginning to grow.
The kids had been great, all taking turns to sit with their mother while he took breaks to get showered or eat. Not that he could eat much. He took some time to speak to Thomas who was in Arizona but he and Robyn were getting a flight down. He told him he didn’t have to but Thomas and Robyn were insistent that they wanted to be there. And he was glad, he’d missed his brother over the years. They were in a much better place these days.
“Thomas and Robyn are flying down, you know it’s serious if Robyn is voluntarily coming to Chesapeake Shores. They seem okay though don’t they? Got to say it surprised me. I know, I know, you told me. But after 30 years of trying it just seemed inevitable that it wouldn’t work out.”
He stroked her shoulder and sighed, part of him felt ridiculous talking to her like this but Abby and Kevin and the Doctor had been insistent.
“It was brave of them really wasn’t it? Do you think we’ve been brave too, trying again? I wonder if we’ve been brave enough. Perhaps we’ve been too worried about getting it wrong, about hurting the family, hurting each other.”
He stroked her hair thoughtfully, “You’ve never stayed at the house, why is that? Perhaps we need to be braver, perhaps we need to take the leap. Because you’re it for me Megan O’Brien, you always have been.”
He stared at her, willing her to do something, twitch, move, open her eyes. But there was nothing. He moved his hand down from her hair to her hand and squeezed gently.
“You know Carrie and Caitlyn have taken to calling you Sleeping Beauty, I’m pretty sure they think all I’ve got to do is kiss you and you’ll wake up. I’ve kissed you a few times and you haven’t woken up, that either means fairy tales aren’t real after all, and the girls will be crushed, or maybe I’m not your Prince Charming?”
He scrubbed his face with his free hand, trying to not let the feeling of helplessness overwhelm him. He was so tired. The loose control he had over his emotions fraying with every second she remained unconscious. Part of him wanted to run out of the room and howl, another part of him just wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. But still he sat there. Waiting.
“Hey,” Abby whispered as she entered the room.
“Hey,” he replied.
“I brought you some pie in case you felt hungry,” Abby said as she handed him a box and he took with a slight smile. They’d all been trying to get food in to him all day.
“Thanks, I’ll save it for later.”
She rolled her eyes at him, “Dad I don’t want to nag…”
“Then don’t nag!” Mick said with a laugh but Abby’s attention was taken by movement in the bed.
“Abby, go -“
“I’ll go get a doctor.”
Abby left and Mick stood up to lean over Megan who he could see was trying to blink her eyes open. After a moment that felt like forever, her eyes finally opened to reveal those beautiful baby blue eyes he loved so much. He held his breath as he wondered whether she would recognise him.
“Hey,” he said softly to her.
She frowned at him and his heart sank. He could see that she was trying to speak and he reached for the water and straw the nurse had replaced earlier and gently lifted her head so she could wet her mouth.
She looked at him again as he helped her lay back on the pillow, “Did you lose your razor?”
He blinked at her in response, “What?”
She motioned to his face and he realised that he had over two days of growth on his face and his heart sang as tears fell on to his cheeks.
“Mick…” she questioned, typically more concerned about him than why she had woken up in a hospital bed.
“It’s been quite the couple of days, these are happy tears I promise,” he said as she lifted her hand to wipe the tears from his cheek, still obviously concerned about him.
“I love you, Megan. I love you so much,” he whispered urgently to her, not wanting to waste a moment and she smiled her beautiful smile at him.
“I love you too,” she whispered back, “But honey, the beard has to go.”
The relief of the past few days since his Mom had awoken had been euphoric, Kevin knew the entire family felt the same. Megan’s scans came back clear with no damage and after a couple of days the doctors were happy for her to recuperate at home for a period of rest and relaxation.
“You’ll need someone to be with you Mrs O’Brien for at least the next few days but I think you’ll recover more quickly at home than you would here,” Dr Sotez said kindly.
“I’ll be with her,” Mick confirmed and Kevin watched with interest as Megan turned to him with raised eyebrows.
“You’ve already taken most of the week off to be with me Mick, I can’t ask you to take another,” she said earnestly.
“It’s not up for negotiation. I’ve already told the office, arrangements have been made, everything is in hand. I might have to take a few phone calls every now and then but I can do that from our bedroom.”
His Mom’s eyebrows rose so high he almost laughed out loud and Bree snickered.
“Our bedroom?” Megan asked and Kevin did laugh out loud as his dad blushed although hid it well with one of his killer grins and leaned over to kiss her.
“Yes, our bedroom,” he said between kissing her, “It’s always been ours honey, even when you haven’t been in it.”
Dr Sotez gave Kevin a look and Kevin shrugged in response, he hadn’t filled the doctor in on his family’s complicated history. The doctor chuckled in response and made his way out, promising to come back when Megan was ready to check out.
“Mick, are you sure? I can go back to my house,” Megan said nervously and Kevin realised that the epiphany his father had obviously had when his mother was ill hadn’t been shared with her yet. He caught Bree’s eye who had been looking on the scene with glee.
“Give it up Mom,” Bree said with a laugh, “It makes sense, Gran is there to help out, Abby and the girls too. But,” she said mischievously, “If you’re surprised that he’s been referring to a bedroom you haven’t set foot in for two decades as ‘yours’, you might want to ask Dad at some point about how many times he’s referred to you as his wife since we’ve been here. It might help to clear a few things up.”
And with that she led Kevin out the room, who was only too pleased to leave after Bree had dropped that bombshell.
“Comfy?” Mick asked as he fixed the pillows behind Megan for what felt to her like the twentieth time.
She grinned at him, “For the umpteenth time yes! Are you going to be like this throughout my recuperation? I may have to escape back to my house.”
“I’d like to see you try,” he muttered.
“Why you planning on tying me to the bed?”
“Only if you ask nicely,” Mick replied with that devastating grin of his and she laughed in response and encouraged him to sit next to her.
“You want to tell me what this is all about?”
“The twenty pillows which Nell tells me you’ve ordered in especially. The brand new sheets. The room full of my favourite flowers. The fact you haven’t left my side since I awoke in the hospital. And from what I hear, you barely left my side for the best part of two days before that. Insisting I come here to recover. Referring to this room as ours. Referring to me as your wife. I know I had a brain injury but I’ve got the distinct feeling that I’m missing something.”
“Oh? Mick, come on. What gives?”
“I just want to make sure I’m looking after you.”
He sighed deeply and put his arm round her shoulders.
“You’ve got to understand, all I knew when I arrived at the hospital was that you’d been in a car accident that was so bad the fire crew had to cut you out. I knew that I was down as your next of kin, but I was worried that if I said ex-husband, I’d get questions that I didn’t want to waste time explaining.”
“So you said you were my husband? Seems fair enough. So why did Bree suggest it was something more than that when we were back in the hospital?”
“Well, no one was giving me any answers, I had no idea what had happened, how badly you were injured. I lost my temper. And I demanded, probably shouted, that someone tell me what was going on with my wife. Bree looked at me like I had lost my mind. But I hadn’t, it was instinctive.”
“Mick, we haven’t been married in a long time.”
“Not on paper. But faced with the prospect of losing you, I forgot all about that piece of paper. I forgot all about why we had been taking things slow. I forgot about everything. Except how I feel about you and how I couldn’t bear it if I lost you.”
Megan let his words sink in. Trying to imagine just what he and the rest of the family had been through. She curled in to his chest and he wrapped his arms around her.
“We’ve been so concerned about taking it slow, not hurting the family, not hurting each other - I wonder if we’ve forgotten what the most important thing is.”
“Which is what,” Megan whispered.
“To be happy.”
She frowned up at him, “You weren’t happy? Before my accident I mean?”
He smiled down at her, “Incredibly, but I could have been happier. I could have woken up with you in this room every day. You could have been the last thing I see every night. I could have been kissing you whenever I want, no matter who was around. We could have spent much more time together.”
“You think we’ve been too hesitant? Gone too slow?”
Megan thought for a moment, words and conversations coming to her that she couldn’t quite remember having. Nell telling her it was her time to live, to let go of the fear of the past and live in the moment. Mick telling her they should have been braver, that they should have taken the leap. The kids, all in their own ways reminding her of what was important.
“Did you speak to me about this when I was unconscious?”
Mick raised his eyebrows at her, “You remember?”
“Bits, it’s a jumble but I remember bits of you of Nell, of the kids…Oooh!”
“What?! What is it?” Mick asked urgently and Megan reassured him with a smile, not sure she wanted to break Kevin’s confidence just yet.
“I just remembered something, but I can’t tell yet. But it’s good. It’s all good.”
She felt Mick exhale a breath of relief and she chuckled as she held him to her tighter.
“You know the kids were all really worried about you,” Megan said to him.
“About me? I was fine, you were the one who was unconscious.”
She looked at him and encouraged him to lay down next to her so she could look at him face to face while they lay on their sides.
“I love you. I always have. Even when I was mad at you, even when we were apart and even when I signed those damn divorce papers.”
She snuggled in to him, revelling in the solid feel of him under her hands, tangling her legs in his. It had always been her favourite way to fall asleep. Even during all those years apart she still slept as if he was next to her. The first time they had slept together since trying again, they found their way back automatically to how they had fallen asleep for the best part of 20 years. As if time and separation hadn’t got in the way. She marvelled at it. At how well they fit. The sex had been good too, better than ever in fact. But this, this was what made it all real to her. The intimacy of it.
“You okay?” Mick whispered to her and she nodded in to his chest.
“Let’s just lay like this for a while?”
She felt him chuckle in to her hair and held her tighter, “Sure.”
“Thanks for the pillows.”
A few hours later, Megan was finally alone for the first time in her old bedroom. Mick had gone to see Thomas and Robin out after their visit. She marvelled at how little had changed in the room. A more modern tv aside, it was still the same furniture they had when she lived there, the same decor. Mick had bought a new mattress especially for her recuperation, but the bed frame was the same. In some ways it was almost as no time had passed at all, and yet in other moments it all felt like so long ago.
She smirked to herself, if Mick had his way, she wouldn’t be going home any time soon, if ever, so one of her tasks to prevent her going mad while she was on bed rest would be to plan a full redecoration. Mick surprisingly had merely grinned at her when she suggested it, he was serious about them not wasting any more time and she guessed that her planning on redecorating their room was a sign to him that she wasn’t going anywhere. Their room. She was doing it now. It was obviously catching.
Her revery was disturbed by a light knock at the door and she was pleased to see her eldest son peek his head round the door.
“Hey? Can I come in?”
“Of course honey, come on in.”
He grinned at her and held up two pints of ice cream, “Oh clever boy, how did you know?”
“It’s the law in this house, ice cream in bed. Abby doesn’t let me in unless I bring at least two pints.”
Megan chuckled as she made room for him on the bed and he sat next to her offering a spoon. She groaned in pleasure as she tucked in, “I have to do this more often.”
“Well if Dad gets his way, you’ll be here permanently and rules are rules,” he smirked at her.
“How do you think everyone would feel about that, if I did?” Megan asked seriously.
Kevin rolled his eyes at her, “Firstly, I think it only really matters how you and dad feel about that. But honestly, Mom, I think it would make everyone pretty happy.”
“Really? You’re not worried we’re rushing in to things?”
Kevin shook his head and Megan expelled a breath, “Even before your accident I think most of us thought it wouldn’t be long. But, after what happened, I think all of us are grateful to have you here home with us. You and Dad deserve to be happy.”
“Have I thanked you yet for pulling me out of there?”
Kevin ducked his head in that shy way he had. Megan stroked his cheek fondly, he was easily the most sensitive of all her children, always worried about everyone else.
She lifted his head up so he would look at her, “Hey, seriously, are you doing okay with it all? It can’t have been easy.”
He nodded seriously, “I’d really like to not have to do anything like that again but I’m okay. Everyone kept making me talk about it, I think they were worried it was going to trigger my PTSD, and it helped. But this is helping the most. Sitting with you, eating ice cream sort of makes everything okay.”
Megan kissed his forehead, the only way a mother can, overwhelmed with pride. He really was a special person.
“Well you’re going to need to be okay, aren’t you? What with the new responsibilities you’re going to have,” Megan said mischievously.
Kevin whipped his head round in shock, “You heard!”
Megan nodded in glee, “I did! And I’m so, so happy for you Kevin. You’re going to be an amazing father. And I haven’t told your dad, I wasn’t sure who else you wanted to know.”
“We wanted to wait until the 12 week scan, but I think I’d like to tell Dad.”
Megan rolled her eyes at him, “Kevin, in this family as soon as one knows, everyone will know. Maybe you should speak to Sarah first.”
He nodded, “Good advice.”
“And thank her for me would you, I think being a Mimi again was definitely an incentive to wake up,” Megan said as her eyes filled with tears, happy tears and Kevin hugged her tightly.
“Er we all know he’s your favourite, particularly after the whole saving your life thing, but we want ice cream too,” Megan looked up at Connor’s voice to see four floating heads peering round the bedroom door.
“Well you’d have better brought your own, cos you aren’t getting mine!” Kevin bawled at them and Megan laughed as they each held up their own carton and raced towards the bed. All of them trying to find a spot and Megan smiled at the sight. It was going to be a lot trickier to host them all on this bed than it had when she had last done this with them all. Maybe she and Mick should get a new bed too, one of those extra King size ones to fit them all.
“Wow, Mom, do you have enough pillows?” Bree asked as she snuggled next to Megan.
“You father probably thinks not,” Megan answered around a mouthful of ice cream.
“Is it starting to annoy you yet?” Jess wondered and Megan shook her head.
“Right now I’m finding it endearing. Who wants to bet how long that’s going to last?”
Abby giggled, “He’s basically told us that your every wish is to be granted, every command carried out. So I don’t know Mom, maybe he’s going to get bored of that quicker than you are!”
They all laughed and she watched her kids banter back and forth, all crammed on to the bed Megan couldn’t help but feel a wave of gratitude. It had been a long hard road to get here, a lot fences had to be mended, relationships repaired and remade.
Jess snuggled into her side and Megan squeezed her back. Her relationship with Jess had gone through a complete transformation over the past couple of years and she was grateful for it. She knew she had missed too much with her youngest two but they had found their way in the end.
She remembered early on when she would sit with the family and feel very much like the outsider, not really sure where she fit in. Now, she knew her place, secure in her relationships with all her children, with Nell and with Mick.
Mick had perhaps been the last piece of the puzzle, the one question mark. But she’d been proud of the friendship they had created before they decided to try again. It was the friendship that had made their decision so much harder, they had been in such a good place, the family was happy. They knew it was a risk, that it would be all too easy to fall in to familiar bad habits. But in other ways it was almost inevitable. The real sad part of their separation was that neither had ever loved anyone else before or since their break-up. Love was never their problem.
She hoped that now they were older, wiser, more comfortable with who they both were they could appreciate each other in ways they never did before. Megan had realised that they didn’t have to lose the friendship that they had created, in fact it was the foundation on which their new romantic relationship was built. It felt more like an equal partnership than it ever had before. They certainly communicated better than they ever had. Mick listened more and Megan spoke more. It was a balance they worked at, and it gave her hope that this time they would get it right.
“You okay Mom?” Bree asked, “We’re not tiring you out are we?”
Megan laughed, “Actually quite the opposite, I was just thinking how nice this is. I’m kind of hoping you’ll all stay here all night.”
“Oh God I hope not,” Megan looked up to see Mick and Nell walk through the door. Nell made her way to the chair by the side of the bed and she could see Mick trying to work out where he was going to fit.
“You know Mick if this is going to be a regular thing maybe we need to buy a bigger bed,” Megan said with a smirk.
Mick eyes lit up as Megan thought they would at the word ‘we’, “I’ll order it first thing tomorrow!”
Megan caught Abby’s eye and they all laughed, which got louder as they watched Mick shove Bree out the way so he could sit next to Megan.
“You’re in my spot!”
“Your spot, how is this your spot?!”
“That’s been my spot for over 40 years young lady,” Mick said resolutely as he managed to manoeuvre her to the edge of the bed so he could claim his side.
Megan took pity on him, “It’s true, that’s always been his side, this has always been mine. Even when we weren’t together.”
Bree looked at them both as if they had grown two heads, “You’ve slept on the same side of the bed, all this time, with no one else in it?”
Megan giggled at the look on her daughter’s face as she nodded, “Pathetic isn’t it? I could never bring myself to sleep on the left side of the bed. Always felt wrong.”
“But what about when you dated other people?” Connor asked in his usual abrupt and unsubtle way and the room fell silent. If she hadn't been so embarrassed Megan would have found it funny.
Mick coughed and looked at her and she raised her eyebrow in response. They hadn’t really ever spoken about it, the 15 years between her leaving and coming back to Chesapeake.
“Well,” Mick stuttered, “I don’t know about your Mom, but there was no other people - not for me.”
It was Megan’s turn to look at him like he’d grown two heads, “No one?”
He smiled at her, the gentle smile which had just as much power over her as his devastatingly handsome grin. She couldn’t believe it. For many reasons. Mick had never lacked passion, had never lacked admirers. She’d always assumed he had had relationships, she just thought he kept them separate from the family.
Everyone was looking at him in amazement, “What? Why do you all find that so hard to believe?”
“15 years is a long time Dad,” Abby said gently, “You were only in your early forties when you broke up. We always thought any relationships you had you just kept separate from us.”
Mick shrugged, “I went on a few dates after the divorce but..” He trailed off.
“But?” Megan prompted and he took her hand in his.
“They weren’t you,” he finished simply.
She couldn’t help the tear that escaped. “Hey,” Mick said kindly, “It’s not a bad thing.”
She smiled at him as he wiped the tear from her cheek, “It’s just…what a pair we were. All this time…”
“You mean?” Mick asked hesitatingly and Megan realised why they had never had this conversation. Each worried that in the years apart that the other had replaced them, even if only momentarily when they’d never been able to.
“Like you I went on a few dates, mainly first ones. After a while I just stopped. It became clear to me that in every one of them I was looking for you. And no one ever came close.”
Their kids looked at them with wide eyes, not able to believe it. Only Nell looked on serenely.
“Gran,” Jess said, “You are the only one that doesn’t seem all that surprised.”
“No,” Nell said with a light laugh, “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Your Mom and Dad getting divorced was a huge mistake. Neither of them should have let it get to that stage, and Mick should have fought harder to keep your mother.”
Megan felt rather than saw Mick roll his eyes and she nudged him. They both knew Nell was right.
Nell sighed, “You Mom and Dad have always had something special, right from the moment they met. The problems they had, well, I always thought they were fixable because love, they had that in abundance. So the reason that neither of them ever found someone else was because they’d already given their hearts to each other. A piece of paper doesn’t change that. In their heads they may have ended their marriage, but their hearts never did.”
“That’s so sad,” Bree sniffled, “And yet beautiful too.”
Megan looked at Mick, “Your Mom is a very smart woman.”
“I know. Annoying isn’t it?”
“What?” Megan asked as Mick’s smile turned thoughtful.
“I promised myself that when you woke up I was going to all I could to make sure you knew how I felt about you.”
“And you have, honey,” Megan said as she squeezed his hand and he nodded distractedly.
“Kevin,” Mick said to their eldest, “Will you look in the top right hand drawer of the dresser? There’s a box in there, can you you get it?”
Kevin nodded and searched through the drawer before handing his father a small box.
Megan watched with interest as Mick opened the box and gasped as she realised what it was. Was he…?
“This,” he explained to their children, “Was my grandmother’s engagement ring. She died after your Mom and I got married so I wasn’t able to use it to propose. I kept it though thinking I would give it to her on our silver wedding anniversary.
Megan could see as the realisation of what their father was doing dawned on each of their children. Connor and Kevin were beaming, Jess and Bree were crying, and Abby was bouncing with glee.
“Megan O’Brien, this is not the most romantic of situations but I can’t think of anything better than having all of our children, and my mother here as I tell you that I love you, I’ve always loved you and I’d really like to tear that paper up that said we were divorced and replace it with a piece of paper that says I am yours and you are mine from now to eternity. How about it? Shall we get wed?
Megan nodded, unable to form the words for a moment and Mick placed the ring on her finger. It fit perfectly. Almost as if…
“Did you get this re-sized?” Megan asked incredulously.
Mick grinned at her this time, the one that never failed to make her stomach do somersaults.
“I may have been planning this for a while,” he answered.
“Before the accident?”
“Oh honey, I got that ring re-sized a long time ago. I told myself at first it was to give to you as a gift. To seal our friendship. But since that day at the gazebo, I’ve just been waiting for the right moment.”
She didn’t know why, but she felt relieved that he had wanted to do this before her accident. She didn’t want the drama or the emotion of the past week to be what drove them forward. She wanted it to be because it was just, right. She kissed him, not the sort of kiss she would usually give him when others were around, this type of kiss she ordinarily reserved for when they were on their own. A prelude to something more. As they broke apart she could tell in his glazed look he’d appreciated it but then they were surrounded by five adults trying to hug and high five their parents and each other.
It was messy, and noisy but it was them. The O’Briens. Perfect in their imperfections. Happy in the way that only those who have known heartbreak can be. Because when you’ve suffered a broken heart you know better than anyone how to grab on to happiness when it’s in your grasp. You know how to appreciate it and, hopefully, you know how to keep it.
And that is the best happiness of all.