As they exited the long hallway, a person coming the other direction nearly knocked Colleen off her feet. She felt hands on her shoulders, steadying her, and when she looked up, she was looking right into the face of Evan Kane.
He instantly winced and let go of her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean – “ He started again. “I was on the second floor, trying to stay out of your way.” He gave Morgan a pointed look. “I didn’t know you’d be up here.”
“Oh, well yes, sorry. I took her to the meeting room to see the photos of her parents,” Morgan explained.
“Yeah,” he said slowly. “But you could have warned me.” His irritation with Morgan was palpable, but when he turned to look at Colleen again, his energy changed and his eyes became full of regret, and not just for the collision, or the chance meeting. It was more than that, and she felt it squeeze her heart the way it had in her dream. She felt that familiar desire to reassure him somehow.
“I’m just seeing her out now,” Morgan said.
“Okay,” said Evan, hesitating. This is the first time they had encountered each other face to face without some sort of fighting going on. “I’ll leave you to it, then,” he finally said. He turned to continue on his way.
“Wait,” she found herself saying.
Evan instantly put on the brakes.
“I haven’t seen Hillary yet. That is what I came for.”
Morgan raised his eyebrows, as if noting the change in her, but said nothing. Evan spoke up. “I can take you to see her if you want. I was headed in that direction, anyway.”
“Thank you,” she said. She saw the two men exchange quick, almost imperceptible glances.
“Right, I’ll be in my study,” Morgan said, and took her hand. “So very nice to see you again, Colleen. Please come back any time you wish. Just call the number on my card, and I’ll send a car for you.” He let go of her hand and smiled. “I’m off, then.” He left the two of them standing there, presumably to return to the first floor.
They watched him go for a second, feeling like the teacher had just left the class unattended, and then Colleen turned to Evan.
“So…,” he echoed.
“You aren’t going to mess with my head again, are you?” She said lightly.
“No!” He threw up his hands in a placating gesture. “No, no. That was an act of desperation. A bad decision on my part, for which I am truly sorry,” at which point he clasped his hands together in front of his chest. He was talking so quickly, and with so many gestures. She could tell he was nervous. “Can we start over?” He stuck out his hand. “My name is Evan Kane.”
She smiled and took his hand. “Colleen Ryan.”
“That should be easy to remember. I had a friend named Colleen Ryan once.”
“What a coincidence,” she said, playing along.
“Miss Ryan – it is Miss, right? You’re not married?”
She giggled. She couldn’t imagine being married at this point in her life. She still felt like a child half the time. “No, I’m not married.”
“Good – I mean very well, Miss Ryan, right this way.”
He was really quite charming, despite his nervousness, which she could totally understand. Less than twenty-four hours ago, she was banging his head into the concrete and shouting at him to leave her alone. That was enough to make anyone nervous.
The walk to what Evan called “the medical wing” was pleasant enough, if maybe even too short. They had dropped their playful stilted conversational style immediately upon setting off, with Evan pointing out things of interest here and there, but mostly they walked in silence. Colleen had so many questions, she didn’t even know where to start. And she wasn’t sure she was ready for any of the answers. She kept opening and closing her mouth again, until Evan finally spoke up.
“You’ve got a lot on your mind, don’t you?”
“Well yeah, but why do you ask?”
“Because I’m a nervous talker, and you aren’t,” he said, knowingly. “If it were me, I’d be asking a million questions right now. Hell, I’ve been fighting the urge to ask you a million questions! But you – you instead try to think of the right questions to ask. And right now there are too many.”
She stopped and stared at him in distrust. “You’re reading my mind, aren’t you?”
“No. I can’t actually do that, anyway,” he said. They started walking again. “I just know you.”
“How long have you known me?”
“All my life,” he said proudly. “Well, except for the last five years.”
They reached a door with a brass plaque that read “Medical. “This is the place,” he said.
They entered into what looked like a mini-hospital, all white and sterile, with a few medical personnel walking about.
“Why is this here? This isn’t just for Hillary.”
“No, no,” he said. “This goes back to the days of our parents, though it still has its uses today.”
He led her to one of three rooms, the other two unoccupied. She lingered in the doorway. In the room lay Hillary, attached to a couple of machines, looking much the way Colleen had last seen her. The time she had last seen her, when Evan had told her those horrible visions of her mother dying were actually memories. It seemed ridiculous but true, all at once. These people had pictures of her and her family. And they knew her. What reason did they have to lie to her? But what reason did Hillary have to lie to her? Why was someone lying to her? Her heart rate increased and the room started to spin again. Ugh! Why did this keep happening?
“Uncle Daniel thought she would be safer here,” he continued, unaware of her distress.
Uncle Daniel. How was he her “Uncle Daniel?” She didn’t even know him, though he seemed so familiar, especially his voice. His voice…
He had been on the phone with Aunt Hillary that night. It was him! She had called him! She had trusted him with her feelings. Her sixth sense!
Her eyes started to prick with tears and she had trouble catching her breath. No, no, she couldn’t do this. Not here.
Evan looked over at her, and then did a doubletake. “You okay?”
She shook her head, unable to speak.
“Here, let’s sit down.” He took her hand and led her to a chair near Hillary’s bedside and placed her in it. Her breathing was coming even more quickly now.
“Okay, breathe,” he said, kneeling in front of her and taking her hands in his. “In through your nose, out through your mouth. Smell the rose, blow out the candle.”
“How – how do you - ?” she tried to say between gasps for breath.
“I have field medicine training. You’d be surprised how often it comes in handy. Don’t try to talk yet.”
The nurse stuck his head in and looked at Evan as if to say, “You got this?” and Evan gave a quick nod.
“You are okay. You’re safe here,” he said in a soothing voice. She loved the sound of his voice. Was that bad? It made her feel calm. It was like the missing piece from her dream. Why did she dream about him all these years? What would Hillary have said if she had known? Why did she take her away?
Her breathing picked up again. “It’s – all – too – much,” she managed to get out.
“I get it. Everything’s slowed down and it’s really hitting you now. I think you were better off in angry mode. Want to punch me again? That seemed to help.”
She laughed in spite of herself, and felt like she sounded crazy.
Evan looked around himself, as if suddenly aware of where they were. “Ha. I’m sure this place isn’t helping you feel less stressed, is it?”
She shook her head, emphatically. It hadn’t’ really occurred to her until he asked, but the moment she had walked in the door to this “medical wing” and seen Hillary again, she had felt her anxiety level hit the roof. Maybe it was this place.
“How about a change of scenery?”