“So, is that what we are?” I asked, lacing my arms around the back of his neck. “Boyfriend and girlfriend?”
He flashed me a boyish grin. “If that’s what you want us to be.”
“But what about when I go to Cali? Cause the Clay I know hates long-distance relationships.”
His mouth quirked up on one side as he held my eyes. “I’ve waited long enough to have you, Frank. Long distance doesn’t mean a damn thing to me. We’ll make it work.”
“Wow! Listen to yourself!” I said, punching him playfully on the chest. “I don’t know this mature Clay at all, but dare I say, I really like him!”
“Shut it.” He laughed, then held me tight again, nuzzling his nose into the crook of my neck. I giggled as he picked me up and carried me to the sofa, and for the rest of the night, we curled up together on the couch and watched movies until we fell asleep.
It was the best sleep I’d had in a really long time.
I clasped my hands in my lap as Clay drove his Jeep to the hospital. I’d never been more nervous than I was in that moment. We were on our way to see Aria, and Clay was sitting so confidently behind the wheel. He wore jeans and a solid white T-shirt. His hair was still slightly damp from the shower he’d taken before we left.
As Clay pulled into the parking lot, I sucked in a breath and clasped my hands together in my lap.
“Hey, it’s gonna be fine,” he said after finding a spot to park.
“I know. I’m just so nervous.”
“Yeah. I am too…but I think it’ll be for the best.”
Clay unlocked the doors, and I climbed out to collect the lunch bag from the back seat with Aria’s food in it. As we walked into the hospital, the scent of lemon and bleach overwhelmed me and caused a churning in my gut, but I continued walking with Clay, gripping the hell out of the handle of the bag.
After signing in, we found the elevators that would take us to the oncology wing. Inside the elevator, Clay took the bag from me, then pressed in closer.
“Look at me, Frank,” he said, and I peered up into his green eyes. “We’ll be fine.”
I nodded, swallowing thickly, and he planted a kiss on my forehead that sent a soothing warmth through my body. I was surprised when he grabbed my hand and gripped it in his as the elevator doors spread apart. We walked down the hallway hand in hand, approaching Aria’s room, and when we stopped at the door, Clay looked my way and asked, “You ready?”
“Yep,” I breathed. “Ready.”
He gave the door a knock before walking in, and the first thing I saw was Aria on the hospital bed. She had a teal scarf on her head and was lounging with the TV remote in hand. Three wide windows were to her right, overlooking the vast parking lot and a slice of the Atlanta skyline. I couldn’t help tugging my hand out of Clay’s as Aria’s head turned our way, and to avoid him giving me a funny look, I rushed toward her and wrapped my arms around her shoulders.
“Hi, Aria,” I said.
“Oh, hi, baby!” she sang. “I didn’t know you guys would be coming so soon.”
I pulled back but held on to her shoulders. “Yeah, well, we wanted to see you. Make sure you were okay.”
“Oh, I’m fine. They only kept me overnight to run some tests, but I get to go home tonight, so that’s good.” Wrinkles formed around her mouth as she smiled and rubbed my arm. Then her attention shifted to Clay, who stood by a chair and raised the bag in the air.
“We brought you some real food so you wouldn’t suffer another day with bland hospital food,” Clay said, setting the bag on the table.
“Ohh. What’d you make?” she asked him, eyes lighting up.
“It’s some leftover chicken tortilla soup, and it was Clay’s idea to bring one of those Hershey pies you love,” I informed her.
“Well how about you give me that pie right now?” Aria said, and I laughed, walking away from the bed to get the pie from the bag. As I did, Clay cleared his throat, and I peered up at him.
“Now?” he whispered.
I shook my head, taking out the pie and a plastic fork and carrying it to Aria. She opened the package and dug right into it, then moaned as she sat back against her pillow.
“Mmm. This was exactly what I needed.” She pointed the prongs of her fork at the pie. Then she looked between us. “Did you two come here together?”
I slid my eyes to Clay, who took a step forward and nodded. “We did.” He placed a kiss on her cheek, then sat in a chair on the opposite side of the bed. I pulled a chair from the corner and sat too.