"Darlin' girl, I'm hangin' on by a thread here, and your tears do me in almost as quickly as your mother's, so can we talk about something else?"
"Sure." She blew out a long breath. "But it might make you mad."
Fuckin' fantastic. "What now?"
"We-all your kids-planned a huge surprise fiftieth wedding anniversary party for you and Mom next month. We rented out the Sundance community center, hired a band for the big dance. We came up with a killer menu with amazing food because we wanted to do something really special for Mom since she always makes such great meals for all of us."
"That she does."
"We compiled a list of two hundred of your closest family and friends to invite-" she grinned, "-plus we drafted an announcement to put in the paper the weekend before the party, opening the reception up to everyone in town. That's when we planned to tell you so you wouldn't have been caught totally off guard." Her eyes searched his. "Tell me the truth. Did you catch wind of any of this?"
"Hell no." He hated to burst her bubble, but a big damn party was the last thing they wanted to celebrate this milestone in their lives.
"Now, everything has changed. Who knows how long it will take Mom to recover, so we're cancelling it."
"It's disappointing after you put in so much work, but it's the right thing to do." He paused. "Tell you what, keep all them ideas and use 'em for our sixtieth anniversary celebration."
She smiled. "Good plan. Now that's out of the way, can we talk about the medical stuff?"
"When are the docs starting the coma reversal process?"
"I'm meetin' with them sometime today to hear their recommendation."
"You'll keep in touch with me so I can pass on the information?" Keely nudged him. "It'd be easier if you learned to text."
"No, missy, I surely do not need to learn that. If I need to tell you something I'll call ya."
"I have no idea what you're talkin' about."
She laughed and leaned over to kiss his cheek.
Carson slammed the tailgate shut. "Should I prepare myself for visits from your brothers?"
Her smile vanished. "Like I said, I don't speak for anyone besides myself. But they need to clear the air with you before you let them see Mom. Not as a stipulation for seeing her, but because they owe you an apology. And we both know Mom will pick up on any bad family vibes. She'll need to concentrate on getting herself better, not worry that her sons have redefined jackass in dealing with you. I'll tell them that if you'd like me to."
"Do what you have to, punkin. Your mom will want to see her sons regardless if they've been pissed off at me or not."
"You'll call? As soon as you know anything?"
"I promise. Give Pipsqueak and Katie-bug a hug from me. Same for JJ and LC." He was the only one who called Liam LC, but the boy was his namesake, so he was entitled.
"I will. Love you Daddy."
"Love you too, Keely girl."
His appetite had disappeared so he skipped the cafeteria and stepped into the elevator. He needed to shower and change his clothes but he couldn't get it done in the twenty minutes before he could visit Carolyn again.
He froze inside the ICU waiting room door, seeing Cord gazing out the window.
His son turned toward him. "This is a shitty view."
"Most of the time when I'm staring out I don't see nothin' anyway."
"Wish I coulda heard what you and Keely were talkin' about down there," Cord said.
Carson noticed Cord's hands were jammed in his pockets. An indication of his oldest son's nerves. "That wasn't a bait and switch? Keely talks to me while you sneak up here?"
"Keely don't know I'm here. I was surprised to see she'd shown up at the same damn time."
"She came to apologize."
"I came to apologize too." He blew out a breath. "Straight up, no excuses, Dad, I was an ass**le. I don't know what the hell I was thinkin'. It's like I stood outside my body and watched myself reverting to that twenty-something kid who didn't like what you were tellin' me so you had to be wrong. The only reason you were actin' like that was because you had to show us that you still had power over us and weren't-"
"A retired rancher with nothin' better to do than deny my kids access to their mother when she's in a life or death situation?"
Been a long time since he'd seen his son blush, but he did.
"Sounds like we've got some things to talk about. Have a seat."
"Feels like I'm ten years old getting called into your office for some stupid stunt."
"You spent plenty of time on the bench over the years. Not as much as Cam and Carter." Carson lowered into the chair opposite Cord.
"How is Ma?"
"No change. I'm meetin' with the docs today. I imagine they'll start bringing her out of it in the next twenty-four hours."
"She's…" Cord closed his eyes. "Fuck. I can't imagine how you've held it together."
"Who says I have? I'm a f**kin' mess."