The Day Ryan Woke Up
Every member of Benson Security’s London office had an allotted time during the week to spend at Ryan’s hospital bedside, waiting for his coma to end. Of course, that didn’t stop them from turning up at other times too. In fact, his private room at the neurological hospital had become a weekend meeting place, with people popping in and out all day long. Elle liked it that way. It felt like Ryan was still with them, joking along with his friends.
She shuffled her position in the huge armchair beside his state-of-the-art hospital bed, crossing her legs tailor-style before opening her laptop on her knees.
“I’m giving you another month to wake up,” she told her best friend. “Then I’m doing something drastic. I don’t know what yet, but you won’t like it.”
If only her threats worked. Unfortunately, they lacked any real menace. Because if it weren’t for her, Ryan wouldn’t have been there in the first place.
“You have to wake up,” she said. “I need to tell you I’m sorry.”
Even now, months later, she still had nightmares about seeing Ryan take a bullet while protecting her. She’d witnessed him crumple to the ground as she’d been hauled off by one of her father’s mobster minions. It wasn’t until hours later that she’d found out he was still alive—barely. Two shots to the chest, one to the head. He’d almost died. Because of her. It was a feeling she never wanted to experience ever again. Now all she could do was sit in his hospital room, willing him to wake from his coma and tell her he was fine.
Because Ryan had to be fine.
“I want to get married.” She leaned forward and gently poked his side. “And you’re the maid of honor, which means I can’t get married unless you wake up.”
“You do know a man can’t be the maid of honor.” Rachel Ford-Talbot swept into the room as though she owned the place.
Which she might actually have done. Elle made a mental note to do a little hospital hacking to see if Rachel had only paid for the private suite or if it was owned by her family. People could do that, right? Keep their own hospital accommodation on standby? Well, filthy rich people anyway.
As soon as it became clear that Ryan wasn’t leaving the hospital anytime soon, Rachel had informed anyone who’d listen that she couldn’t be expected to visit him in a public room. Next thing they knew, he was asleep in luxury. And Rachel had access to a bathroom that she didn’t have to share with the unwashed masses.
Of course, everyone knew she’d gotten the room for Ryan, not for herself. Well, possibly everyone except for Rachel. The woman had an aversion to showing even the slightest hint of thoughtfulness. Elle had told her on more than one occasion that she could relax—her reputation as a bitch was totally secure.
“Yes, they can. I’m sure I saw a movie about it once.” Elle pointed at Ryan, asleep on the bed. “Plus, if he doesn’t wake up soon, I’m going to put him in a pink dress and get married in here with him looking like an idiot beside me. You hear me, Ryan? I’m serious!”
“Oh, for the love of Prada, just get married and get it over with. You don’t have to wait for Ryan.”
“Get it over with? And they say romance is dead,” Elle muttered before cocking an eyebrow at Rachel. “If I remember right, you had a big affair. Royalty in attendance and everything. Which, by the way, Ryan’s going to be pissed about when he wakes up. Especially because he missed out on the food.” The food had been out of this world. Rachel being Rachel, had hired a Michelin chef to cater. “Any chance you’d pay for the same guy for my wedding? As a gift?” She batted her lashes, even though it was wasted on the barracuda.
“No,” Rachel said.
As usual, she was dressed in designer office wear. There was a Gucci handbag slung over her arm and an iPhone in her manicured hand. She looked like she’d just come from the salon, and her perfectly painted red lips sat in their usual disapproving smirk.
“Why are you here anyway?” Elle asked. “You aren’t scheduled until Monday.”
“I’m here to ensure the money I pay for this room isn’t being wasted.” She sat in an armchair, crossed her legs and casually looked at her phone. “And I had an appointment in the area.”
“Yeah, right.” Elle hid a grin.
Rachel did not like anyone thinking she might care for them, despite it being an open secret that her crusty exterior hid a kind heart. Okay, maybe not kind. Feeling? Elle shook her head. Functioning? No, that wasn’t right either…
“Why are you sitting there shaking your head?” Rachel asked.
“I was debating whether you have a heart or not.”
“Not,” she said emphatically.
“Now, that isn’t true,” Michael ‘Harvard’ Carter strode into the room and paused to press a kiss to his wife’s forehead. Which—miracles of miracles—Rachel allowed. “We all know you love us,” he teased.
“Please go away.” Rachel waved a hand. “I’ve had enough togetherness for one day.”
Harvard bellowed out a laugh before sitting in the corner of the sofa nearest to his wife.
“You have a death wish,” Elle told him.
His smile was wide and content. “Always thought I’d miss the danger of the CIA, then I met Rach.”
Rachel rolled her eyes and sighed. “Why are you still here?”
While Harvard continued to laugh, Elle glanced over at Ryan. He was the last of their team left single. But he’d never find someone to love and tease him if he didn’t wake up.
“Do you think kicking him would help?” she asked absently.
“Do not kick Coma Boy,” Rachel said. “We still aren’t certain which part of his anatomy holds his brain, and you could do further damage.” She picked an imaginary speck of lint from her pristine black suit.
“Don’t you have casual clothes for the weekend?” Elle asked.
Unlike Rachel, Elle wore a Bat Girl T-shirt she’d gotten at Camden Market, purple jeans she’d dyed herself, and yellow Doc Martens that had seen better days. Oh, and she hadn’t brushed her blue-dyed hair yet that day.
“These are my casual clothes,” Rachel deadpanned.
“Hello, everyone,” Ryan’s mum called out as she bustled into the room.
Elle jumped up to give the woman a hug. “Hey, Mrs. G, I didn’t expect you guys this weekend. Doesn’t Grace have a play or something?”
“That’s next weekend.” Frances Granger enfolded Elle in the kind of hug only a mother could give. “Brian,” she called to her husband, “did you bring the snacks from the car?”
Ryan’s father, they’d all discovered the first time he turned up at the hospital, was pretty much Ryan, only older. He ate continually, liked to wisecrack, and looked far too fit for a man his age.
“Like I’d forget food,” he muttered as he strode into the room. “Elle, great shirt.” He wrapped her in a bear hug that made her miss Ryan even more than usual.
“Please don’t even think about hugging me.” Rachel held up a hand as Mr. G approached.
“Wouldn’t dare.” He grinned and high-fived the hand she held out, much to her disgust and everyone else’s amusement.
“Rachel!” Ryan’s sister, Grace, squealed as she flew into the room. “You’re here. Look at my nails! I painted them red like yours.” She held up a badly manicured hand with pride.
Ryan’s younger sister had Down’s syndrome and was one of Elle’s favorite people. She was sunshine in human form. And even though there was a twelve-year age gap between Grace and Ryan, it didn’t stop their mutual adoration. Which made Ryan’s coma all the more difficult for Grace to cope with, something that was written all over her face every time she saw him. What was less clear was why she’d formed such an attachment to Rachel.
“Oh, for the love of Prada.” Rachel took Grace’s hand in hers. “What did you paint these with? A sponge?”
Grace was unfazed. “And look”—she indicated her ill-fitting black skirt suit—“I have one too.” She beamed at Rachel.
“I’ve told you a million times,” Rachel said with long-suffering. “If you must insist on copying someone, copy Elle. She shops in dumpsters.”
Grace giggled. “You’re so funny.”
Rachel let out a heavy sigh as she stood. “Come on, we’re going to get you fixed. I can’t let you walk around looking like you’ve dipped your fingers in blood. Especially as you insist on telling everyone that you’re copying me.” She glanced over at Ryan’s parents. “We won’t be long.”
Elle grinned at Rachel’s assumption that she didn’t have to ask permission to take Grace away.
“When she says fixed…?” Mrs. G stared after them.
“Don’t worry about Rachel,” Elle said. “Her bark’s worse than her bite.” She thought about that for a second before catching Harvard’s eye. “Maybe?”
He got up and sauntered toward the door. “Don’t worry, I’ll watch them.” And then he was gone.
Mrs. G’s wide eyes met Elle’s. “She scares the life out of me,” she confessed.
“It’s her gift.” Elle patted the woman’s hand.
“So,” Mr. G said as he approached the bed, “how’s our boy doing today?”
The pain on Ryan’s parents’ faces was hard for Elle to witness. “He has to wake up soon,” she said. “I need to get married.”
Mrs. G’s eyes shot to Elle’s belly. “Are you…?”
“No!” Elle’s cheeks heated. “No baby. I just need to tie David down before he wanders off again. He has a habit of doing that. Trust me, there were years when he just popped in and out of my life, driving me crazy while he did it. I figure if we’re legally tied together, he might be easier to keep tabs on. Although I did manage to tag him with a GPS chip while he was sleeping, so that should help.”
“You’re so funny.” Mr. G slapped her on the shoulder, obviously thinking she was joking about the GPS.
Not so much.
“Anyway,” Mrs. G said as she pulled her knitting from her bag before settling on the sofa, “Ryan looks better. There’s a bit more color in his face. That’s a good sign, isn’t it?”
“Yeah.” Her husband took her hand in his and pressed a kiss to the back of it. “I’ll go talk with his doctors, see what the news is this week.” He turned and lumbered from the room.
“He worries,” Mrs. G said once he was gone. “I think that’s why he’s eating more than usual.”
Elle’s eyebrows shot straight up her forehead. “He’s eating more?” She’d seen the man snack on a whole roast chicken half an hour before sitting down to dinner. How could there be a more than that?
“I know.” Mrs. G grinned. “It isn’t fair. If Grace and I so much as look at cake, we put on weight. While those two”—she gestured to the bed—“have the metabolism of twenty people.” She smiled at Ryan, her eyes welling up.
“He’s going to wake up,” Elle said, her voice full of desperate conviction. “And he’s going to be fine.”
Mrs. G blinked several times. “Yes, I’m sure you’re right.”
They sat there quietly, Ryan’s mum knitting and Elle hacking into a Mexican cartel, as the room filled throughout the afternoon. David came bearing coffee, earning himself a kiss for that. Although, honestly, he’d have gotten a kiss anyway. Joe and Julia Barone brought enough pastries to feed, well, Ryan’s dad. Callum McKay came in, barked at everyone, and then told Ryan to wake the hell up before leaving again. Megan insisted they all watch a new action movie together, even though she was the only one who paid attention to it. And that mainly consisted of her pointing at the screen and demanding they get her the same weapons as the hero.
Eventually, as dinnertime came around, Rachel returned with a beaming Grace. Her hair, which had been colored and cut, now looked suspiciously like Rachel’s, and her nails were a perfectly manicured red. And, if Elle wasn’t mistaken, her ill-fitting suit had been replaced with Prada.
“Wait,” Elle said, pointing at Grace’s hand. “Is that the latest iPhone?”
“Oh!” Mrs. G looked at Rachel. “You can’t go around spending your money on Grace like this.”
Rachel dismissed her concerns with a wave. “I can’t have a cut-price version of me running around either. What would people think? We did have a long talk, though, and I’m hopeful she’ll start to emulate Elle soon. That should be cheaper for all of us.” She took a seat in the only free armchair and stared at her phone, obviously done with the conversation.
Grace, meanwhile, practically bounced on the spot. “For the love of Prada,” she said with a huge grin. “Everyone needs to stop looking at me and do something useful.”
“Rachel,” Elle said. “What have you done?”
When Rachel glanced up to glare at Elle, she received an enthusiastic thumbs-up from Grace.
“Okay,” Joe said through a chuckle. “Guess Rachel has a mini-me.”
Mr. G wrapped an arm around his daughter’s shoulders. “You’ll be taking over her company soon too.”
“Is all this touching necessity?” Grace asked, trying to look haughty while leaning into her father’s embrace.
“Necessary,” Rachel corrected without looking up from her phone.
Elle was laughing so hard that she almost didn’t hear a familiar voice say, “I’m hungry.”
She spun to face the bed. Ryan’s eyes were open, his brow furrowed as he looked at all of them.
“Anybody got anything to eat?” he said.
Read Ryan’s story in Reset.