They want me to pull the plug on her. I won’t. Not now, not ever.
Word is she could go any day now. I refuse to believe that as I sit with her, holding my new bride’s fragile hand, my fingers entwined with hers. I have hope. I won’t let them take that hope from me.
Prayer can work miracles. So can love. Love is so dynamic and all-encompassing. It can heal anything, even a brain-dead girl hit by a semi.
The gentle rasp of her breathing machine and the monotonous beep of her heart monitor offer no comfort.
I kiss Emma on the hand and whisper, “Don’t worry, baby. I’ll protect you.”
My mother steps inside the room. She knows I don’t want to talk anymore. We’ve been over this, and I’m not budging.
“Cody, there’s something else,” she says, her expression troubled.
“What is it?” I ask her, trying to control my growing exasperation. I’m so mentally exhausted and worn down physically. They say I have bags under my eyes, and I can’t remember the last time I combed my hair. The past few months have been a living hell. How ironic that my love can’t wake, and I barely sleep.
“Emma’s grandmother is trying to get a court order to force them to pull the plug,” my mother says cautiously, gauging my reaction.
“What?” My heart stops in its tracks. I rasp disbelievingly. “I’m her husband.”
“They’re going to fight this, son, and they could win. One way or another, you’re going to have to say goodbye.”
“Over my dead body,” I grit out between clenched teeth. She knows better than to push the issue and judging by the way her shoulders hunch and her head is bowed; I’ve hurt her feelings. It’s not her fault, and I whisper, “I’m sorry.”
I place an extra knitted blanket on top of Emma to keep her warm. It feels like an icebox in here, and it’s the least I can do to keep my baby comfortable.
Twenty-years-old and all I can think is “what a waste of her life.”
I love her. Love doesn’t even come close to how I feel about my Emma.
How can I say, love, when she’s become the air that I breathe and my reason for living?
I know this accident that happened is all my fault, and it sickens me to think about it. I clench my teeth and take a deep calming breath. My anger won’t help her come back from the brink of death.
We had so many plans and so many dreams. I should never have let her go. I know that now more than ever.
The first time Emma walked into my life, there was an eruption inside me I hadn’t experienced before. Not since the horrible break up with my ex two years ago had I thought of girls as anything but conquests.
The day my life changed forever, I was supposed to be with my best friend, Aaron. He wanted to meet at the apartment we shared to practice a new song for our band that he was raving about starting up.
I loved the band but being cooped up with them 24/7 took its toll sometimes. So, instead, I was alone tuning my guitar in the makeshift garage we’d rented back in Beaverton, Oregon.
The place should have been remodeled—no, torn down decades ago. Scattered in the crowded unit, our equipment looked like a tribute to The Rolling Stones. Lined with concrete and rusted metal, it reeked like a cheese factory.
Emma sauntered in the open door as if she’d walked onto a million dollar yacht. Strawberry blonde hair rested on her shoulders, her flawless skin marred only by a smattering of light freckles and her eyes the color of the ocean—the type I could stare into for hours.
She wiped the dust from the doorframe as she entered, her face contorted in disgust. “This place is a fire hazard.”
I plucked the strings of my bass guitar and said, “Excuse me?”
“You deaf?” She folded her arms and leaned against the door. “And ever heard of a mop or air freshener?”
I shook my long hair out of my face. “You sure you got the right place, lady?”
“I read online you’re giving music lessons, right?” She strolled to the keyboard and ran her fingers over the keys.
“Don’t touch that, and no, not anymore.”
She poked at the keys again, as if daring me to do something. “Why not?”
“Changed my mind,” I said and stood, joining her at the keyboard.
A semblance of a mischievous smile curved her lips as her eyes searched for something else to touch. “So you said you’d do it in the ad, but now you won’t?”
“Too much hassle and too many broke assholes,” I said as my eyes followed her wondering what she was going to touch next. “Do you always walk around other people’s places touching their stuff and snooping around? Wanna take a seat or something?”
She placed her hands on her hips and looked around the room. “Take a seat where? On the dirty floor or the filthy futon?
“What?” I asked with indignation as I raised a brow. Did this girl really come here to insult me? We didn’t have much at that point, but we were serious about our music and determined to make it. Having a band may have started out as a way to get laid, but now it was more than that.
“So … which am I? A hassle, an asshole, or broke?” She tilted her head, widening her eyes.
Two could play that game. “My guess is all of the above.”
“You’re a real charmer,” she mumbled with sarcasm. She flipped her hair over her shoulder and turned around to sashay past me. Her heels clicking and clacking, echoing against the concrete floor as I watched her tight, sexy body walk away. Every curve was exactly where it should be, and my imagination was going places it shouldn’t. My mother always believed in love at first sight, and I’d always laughed at her. I had a feeling my mother would be getting the last laugh this time.
Emma screamed class. She was a lady and a lady like that deserved to be treated with respect. Something I haven’t done in quite some time. I was going to have to play this cool and be a good boy which wasn’t an easy feat for a guy like me.
“Yeah? Not too bad yourself. Hey, stop touching things. Cool it, will you?” I growled, growing irritated.
“Did you just tell me to ‘cool it’?” she asked, gasping in mockery and then looking at me with false irritation. Damn, she’s so pretty I can’t stay annoyed at her.
“Now, who’s deaf?” I smirked.
A mischievous grin formed on her face again, as if she enjoyed the challenge and a man who would stand up to her.
“That your bike parked out front?” She sat at the keyboard and crossed her legs, but not before she wiped the seat.
“Hmm.” There was a glint in her eye.
“Hmm, good? Or Hmm, bad?”
“What do you want it to be, good or bad?” she teased.
My imagination stirred, but I had to be a gentleman.
“Yep,” I said, surprised a woman like her would notice.
“1200 Explorer, right? 950 Watt alternator?” she said, brushing her nails.
“Yeah, you know bikes?” Fancy girl who liked bikes, hot. Maybe it was that or those eyes of hers, or maybe those legs that made we wonder where they led to.
“I hope so. My dad owned a chain of motorcycle shops,” she said. “I like your tattoos.”
My muscles flexed as I set my guitar down, my arms wrapped in designs on my biceps and triceps. I worked out a lot, and it was moments with a girl like this, which made me glad I did.
“You like tattoos?” I asked her.
“Yep,” she said, blushing a little.
“Got any?” I asked her, eyeing her up and down.
“Not that you can see,” she teased.
“When can I see them?” I asked in a low sultry voice.
“So … lessons?” she asked, changing the subject and giving me, “come get me” eyes.
I liked this girl, strong sassy, wild, spoke her mind, held her own. I wanted to tame her, and I would, or at least have fun trying. Never imagined I’d ever entertain the thought since my ex-girlfriend.
“Piano or guitar?”
“Piano, of course.” She flipped the keyboard on.
“It’s fifty dollars a lesson,” I offered, blocking her view from the keyboard. God, she smelled good; expensive too, way out of my league, but I was intrigued.
“Are you insane? I’ll pay you twenty,” she bartered, standing up to challenge me head-on.
Man, she looks good.
“Forty and I’ll take you to dinner.” My grin spread across my face. I may have to open up those lessons again, just for her.
“Fifteen and I don’t do dinner on the first date.” She wetted her lips with the tip of her tongue.
“No?” I whispered, my voice husky as I stepped over the line into her personal space. My eyes fought from looking at every inch of her curvaceous body.
“No. I don’t want to get stuck with you longer than necessary.”
“Longer than necessary for what?” My eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“To know …” she said, letting the word hang in the air.
“To know what?”
She looked at me as if wanting me to fill in the blanks.
“Do we get to ride on your bike?” she asked, changing the subject.
“Does that mean you’ll go out on a date with me?” I asked hopefully, but not trying to sound too excited.
She pondered my question for a beat, and then answered, “Fine, only because I want a ride on your bike. Don’t get any other ideas.”
I grasped her hips and pulled her to me, wearing a sly grin. “And what kind of ideas would those be?”
She placed her hands on my chest and nudged me back a step. “I know of a nice little kosher restaurant a few miles away.”
“Your wish is my desire.”
“We’ll see about that.” She smiled.
I looked at this girl sitting across from me at some kosher dive place I’d never stepped foot in before. I wondered how I got such a hot, classy chick sitting across from me. I’d prefer to take her to a better place for dinner. But she insisted we go to Arnold’s Deli, one of Beaverton, Oregon’s finest establishments—not quite.
She was a walking irony. Classy, but didn’t mind dumps like this. Sassy, but I sensed there was a softer side she liked to hide. It was just the perfect amount of contradiction to keep a guy interested.
Having a rock band in such a small town, I had my set of female groupies, and though they had their benefits, they were clingy. This girl was anything but. Confident, didn’t miss a beat, called me on my crap. I’d never met anyone quite like her. Despite the bad breakup I’d been through not too long ago that had kept me on guard, somehow she was able to dissolve my reservations at every turn.
“You didn’t even introduce yourself, you know?” she scolded playfully, interrupting my thoughts. She broke apart a piece of bread, and then popped it into her mouth.
“Neither did you.” I scooted the stool closer to her, smelling that minty scent. I had to get closer to her.
“Not my job to introduce myself,” she said.
“And why not?” I had to hear this one.
“‘Cause I’m the lady, silly.” She grinned, throwing a piece of the straw wrapper at my forehead.
“And?” I chuckled, throwing a piece back at her.
“And ladies don’t have to do that sort of thing, it’s the man’s job.”
“Go gender equality,” I mumbled, rolling my eyes and toying with my salad, which tasted like rabbit food.
“Are you always this loveable?” Her eyes flicked over the tattoos on my arms.
“Are you always this beautiful?” I winked, leaning forward and gazing into her ocean blue eyes.
She bit her bottom lip, and I could tell my proximity was affecting her. “You shouldn’t pick at your food; it’s rude.” She was playing with me by changing the subject. She placed her soft hand on mine. It was the first time we touched, and I’ll never forget the electrical connection that passed between us. I know she felt it too, because her breathing pattern had changed, and she couldn’t let go of me.
Her touch gave me peace as if I was coming home after a treacherous journey of broken hearts.
“Anything else, madam?” I replied, smiling.
“Mademoiselle. I’m only nineteen.”
“You know French?” Surprise lifted my brow.
“I hope so, I studied it for four years. Half my professors at the fashion university are French.”
“I hope there are no French guys sniffing around you,” I told her, trying to get a feel if she had a boyfriend.
“Maybe, maybe not,” she teased. “One thing about the French, they know how to treat a lady.”
“And I don’t?”
“That’s yet to be seen.”
“Oh, and how’s that?” I asked, grinning. This girl didn’t have any problem expressing herself, and I loved it.
“You didn’t open the door for me when we came in here. You didn’t pull out my chair, and you didn’t let me order first,” she admonished, counting each accusation with her fingers.
“Here’s the thing, ma chérie. This is me, sweetheart. You don’t like it, then one of us has a problem and it ain’t me.”
She arched an eyebrow as if she’d been challenged to a duel. “Oh?”
“And,” I went on to say, “If I’m so awful why are you still here?”
“Cause I’m hungry, and you’re paying,” she declared, crumbling a napkin and tossing it at my head.
“Oh, I’m paying for this date alright,” I teased her.
“Date? Who says this is a date?” The way she tried to hide her smile by dipping her head made my heart skip a beat.
“Beautiful girl like you, in a fine establishment like this, I’d call it a date,” I said. “Makes me wonder, why hasn’t someone snapped you up yet?”
She flashed me a frown, before trying to cover it back up, and I had to wonder if she were thinking about a painful past relationship. A moment of vulnerability she tried not to show as she said, “Well, maybe not everyone is as kind, charming and funny as you.”
I took her hand in mine and kissed the back of it, never removing my eyes from hers. “Maybe not everyone sees how amazing you are.”
A shade of pink flushes her cheeks, and I smile, I actually made her blush. She was going to be much more than a conquest to me; she was special. She was smart and witty. How she’d dealt with the waiter earlier told me she cared about people. The dude had fumbled our order and she’d given him the sweetest smile while she corrected him.
But there was a pain in her eyes that made me want to protect her, show her not every guy was going to hurt her. I couldn’t help it. My best friend Aaron said I had a bleeding heart which is what had gotten me in trouble in the past. I couldn’t help but put my heart on the line for this one.
“Why don’t you have anyone?” she asked.
“Did but … when you don’t make a million bucks a year like the guys she was seeing behind my back …”
“That sucks. Sorry. What was her name?”
I didn’t even want to say it. Every time I did all the feelings of the past rushed forth. I sighed. “Marie.”
“Marie. Even sounds like a snob.”
She tilted her head to the side, studying me for a while. “You know, I can tell things about you.”
“Oh? Things?” I arched my eyebrow. I had to hear this one. “What kind of things?”
“Like give you a bath and a haircut and you’re cute enough that you might make a half-decent boyfriend.”
“Put you in anything and you’re gorgeous and smart enough, you might make an amazing girlfriend.”
“Who says I’m interested?”
“Who says you’re not?” I had to hand it to her, she didn’t hold back. “Cody White.”
“Cody … interesting. Is that your real name or your stage name?”
“Real,” I told her, extending my hand.
“Fine, I’m Emma Lohan.” She slid her hand into mine and I felt an instant jolt of pleasure.
“What’s your middle name?” I asked.
“Nice.” I smiled.
“Yep, Emma Kara Vizcarra-Lohan.”
“Beautiful. Sounds exotic.”
“If you call being half Irish, half Mexican and Puerto Rican exotic. What’s yours?”
“Cody Oscar White. C.O.W. Moo…!” She laughed at her own joke. I had to laugh too. Sure, I’d heard this a million times before, since I was in preschool but from her, it was endearing.
I glanced down at my watch and was surprised to see two hours had passed since we had arrived. We’d talked, laughed, and joked about everything and nothing under the sun. I wasn’t ready to let her go.
I leaned closer, my eyes flicked to her lips as I rasped, “Well, ma chérie. I wonder if a fancy girl such as yourself is too fancy for me to invite to my gig tonight.”
I watched her swallow hard, the reality of my lifestyle coming back to the forefront. “So I can be around all your groupies?” There was a slight edge to her voice.
“I’ll give you first dibs,” I joked, cracking a smile.
“No thanks, I don’t share.”
I paused a beat, letting her response soak in. There was no doubt at that point she had been done wrong. I needed to make sure to erase any doubt she might have of me. I tilted her chin up with my fingertips, forcing her gaze to mine, needing her to understand how serious I was. “Neither do I,” I told her in a steely tone. “So are you coming or not?”
“Do I get backstage passes?” She lifted her chin, not missing a beat.
“It’s at a bar, and the only backstage pass is the broom closet, sweetheart.”
She held her gaze on me for a second and then replied, “I’ll take it.”
Screams reverberated in the fog-filled wannabe trendy bar. Packed with gorgeous women like always, Sashes tried to be House of Blues, but it never would be. Older than dirt, it reeked of whiskey and belch but it was the town’s staple, and we’ve performed here for years.
For one night, this night, I wished we had a better venue.
I couldn’t tell if the sound of the crowd deafened me because of the small venue or because the women were crazier than normal. Our usual groupies, teenie boppers to cougars, crammed up front all with their boobs hanging out. Not that I minded. On top of the crappy stage, it made a for great view, but my thoughts were elsewhere.
“You alright?” my best friend Aaron asked as he adjusted his fedora. Full stage makeup, silk vest, and leather jacket — dressed like the superstar he thought he already was.
“Alright? Yeah? Why?” I asked him, tuning my bass guitar.
“That her?” he asked, nodding in the direction of Emma, who had her arms crossed and was looking very out of place.
“Yep.” I couldn’t help but smile looking at her. She looked hot, model material kind of hot if you asked me. I was amazed how we connected from the second she walked into my garage. The fact that she let me exchange phone numbers with her at dinner only confirmed what I was feeling was real. I liked our playful banter earlier. I needed a strong woman in my life, someone who wouldn’t back down and would put me in my place.
“How’d you manage that?” he asked with a grin.
“The same way you managed that blow job with the dude in the broom closet earlier,” I joked with him, elbowing him in the stomach. We were always busting each other’s balls.
“Shut up,” he laughed, catching his breath. “Let’s start this.”
We ran out on stage and Aaron wailed a high-pitched welcome to the crowd. It was his trademark. I glanced at Emma who didn’t seem impressed. The stage lights were blinding, but I could spot that girl anywhere. She didn’t need to display everything she had to show off her body. She was classier than that.
The girls screaming in front didn’t seem to mind Aaron’s wail. I don’t think they listened to us anyway; they just liked the idea of hanging on the arm of a local celebrity. Celebrity, meaning we had more than a hundred online hard rock fans that had followed the four of us since we were teens.
The first song was a hit, and Aaron went on to smooth talk the women like he always did as our drummer tapped the cymbals, keeping a tempo.
“We’ve got some lovely ladies tonight,” his voice echoed over the cheap microphone, and he blew the fans a kiss; such a ladies man.
“I love you Aaron!” a particularly boisterous blonde called out, slurring her words, obviously a little drunk.
“Thank you, baby.” He shot her a wink.
“Cody, come home with me tonight!” another yelled, edging the first lady out of the way. Lord, let this not turn into another cat fight.
I blew kisses back at them although I knew my best friend would give me grief. Any attention diverted away from him was not welcomed to say the least. He’d have to get over it. I laughed as more and more women were calling out to me instead of him. I was flattered, but they weren’t my type. I’d found what I was looking for in Emma. I loved how she seemed to like me for me, not just cause I was on stage like all the other women.
But that’s when I noticed my date was leaving the bar. I whispered in Aaron’s ear, “Be back.”
He narrowed his eyes at me, and shook his head as if he didn’t approve, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t needed during the next song anyway. Our guitarist could take over bass for one song, so I backed off the stage and went after Emma.
I rushed out the door, bursting into the heat of the night, scorching and thick with the type of humidity only Oregon could conjure up. Emma was nowhere to be seen.
Where did this girl go? It was as if she completely disappeared.
I wanted to call out for her but didn’t want to cause a scene or seem desperate. Finally, I noticed her leaning against the side of the building as if she hadn’t done anything wrong. Man, she looked sexy. If she didn’t look so good, I would have given her a piece of my mind. I rolled up my sleeves to reveal my muscular forearms. I knew she liked my body. I’d caught her looking many times, and I wanted her to find me irresistible.
I was partially irritated that she left the gig, but it was quickly replaced by worry, because she looked so solemn standing there in the dark all alone. “You alright?” I asked.
“Didn’t want to interrupt you from all your groupies,” she hissed. I was immediately taken aback by her sharpness, and then it dawned on me, she had apparent feelings for me.
“Don’t tell me you’re the jealous type.” I stepped closer with a grin.
“No, I’m not worried about those skanks. I’m worried about my so-called date who was blowing kisses at them.” Her hand looked small on my chest as she placed a barrier between us.
“It’s just an act. I just want ….”
“…Want me to keep watching you get ogled by your adoring fans?” she accused, tilting her head slightly.
“That’s ridiculous.” I squared my shoulders. I didn’t like accusations, reminded me too much of my ex.
“Or perhaps you want me to lose my hearing with that God-awful lead singer.” She poked at me further as if testing my limits.
“Hey now, that’s our music,” I growled. We may not have had the best equipment but one thing for certain, we had potential.
“Music? That’s not music.” She shook her head. “And you’re better than that.”
“How do you know what I am and what I’m not?” I narrowed my eyes at her, not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult.
“I told you, I can tell things about you.” She stopped mid-sentence. “Sorry,” she said, “I’m just …”
The way her eyes avoided mine, there was something she wanted to tell me something but couldn’t.
“Hey, you alright?”
She frowned, and then looked down at her feet, apologizing. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I guess I am a little jealous of those groupies.”
I lifted her chin, and tilted my head to the side, speaking in a soft reassuring voice, “I can promise that you have nothing to worry about. You’re it for me, you’re all I see.”
She looked so vulnerable under the light of the moon, and the way her eyes avoided mine as if there was something she wanted to say but couldn’t. I stroked my thumb over her cheek. “What’s going through that pretty little head of yours, sweetheart?”
Her lips and chin quivered, and her eyes began to water. Clearly, this wasn’t about my band at all. Something else was bothering her.
“Hey babe,” I said, putting my hands on her shoulders and pulling her closer. “What’s wrong?”
She looked at me. “I didn’t mean to say things like that it’s just … it’s been a long time since I’ve liked someone and … whatever you do, be honest and don’t … hurt me.”
My finger wiped the lone tear streaming from her eye. I was right, someone had hurt her. I knew what that was like and looking at her, I could see whoever he was, he’d done a real number on her.
“No baby, I’ll never try to hurt you. You’re an angel to me. I’m just dumb. It’s been awhile since I dated just one girl before, but you’re special. I’m going to make stupid mistakes. I just need you to be patient with me, okay?”
She looked at me and nodded. God, why’d she have to look so innocent and gorgeous all at the same time? I lifted the hem of my t-shirt, exposing abs as I dried the tears from her cheeks.
“Thanks.” She smiled.
“Listen, no strings attached. You ever need someone to talk to about … what happened to you, you let me know. Okay?”
“Sure,” she sniffed.
“Let’s just say, I can relate.” I went on, not wanting to go into it. The memories of what I’d been through with my ex were still fresh to me.
“Is that true?” she asked.
“Yep.” Then I changed the subject. “You know what you need?”
“What? Tell me?”
That’s when I kissed her for the first time. I couldn’t help myself. She tasted like raspberries and her lips were softer than I expected and only made me want to try it again.
She ran her hand down my abs, making me glad I worked out every day, then nipped me on the lip as she pulled away, the sting sharp and fresh.
“Ow. What was that for?” I rubbed my fingers over my lips trying to soothe the sting.