Cole was trying to decide what to get Yasmine for Christmas. He wanted it to be special, so he sought out Blake. “What should I get? Perfume, clothes? I have no idea,” he asked her, somewhat frustrated that he couldn’t come up with something himself.
“Wow, that’s hard,” said Blake thinking. “Hmmmm. Perfume is nice, but clothes are a personal thing. How about a romantic weekend somewhere?”
“I love you!” said Cole and kissed her cheek making her blush, “That’s perfect! We have a little time over the winter break. That would also give you and Landon some alone time.”
Blake’s cheeks turned redder, if that was possible, and Cole couldn’t help but laugh at her. “Hey, I am willing to do my part to further the Blakedon ship,” he said, teasing her.
Blake’s eyes got huge. “What? You didn’t just call us Blakedon?”
Yasmine came around the corner and heard Blake’s remark. “Honey, we have been secretly calling you guys that since our Freshman year.”
Blake looked between the two of them speechless.
Yasmine slid her arm around Cole so he wouldn’t take the brunt of Blake’s wrath alone. He quickly put his arm around her pulling her tight.
Finally Blake spoke. “Fine! Casmine!”
Yasmine and Cole began to laugh. “Oh, I kinda like it,” said Cole, “We should name our first born Casmine!”
Suddenly, Yasmine went stiff and pulled her arm from around Cole’s waist. “I forgot, I need to go study for tomorrow’s final,” she said and took off to her room.
“Wow, I must have hit a nerve,” said Cole, “So, she doesn’t like kids?”
Blake just shrugged.
Cole’s phone began to vibrate in his pocket. It was from Avery, which was foreboding because Avery never called. “Avery, hi, is everything okay?” asked Cole, completely forgetting about Yasmine’s odd behavior.
“Hi Cole. Um, I have some news. Leroy, he had a heart attack last night and they rushed him to the hospital.”
Cole felt like the air had been knocked out of his chest. “Avery…” was all he could muster.
“He’s okay. But they are going to do bypass surgery in the morning. He’s stable. Your family is there with him. Your mom asked me to call you. She won’t leave Ben and Kaitlin.”
“I need to get there. Tomorrow morning is my last final, then I can jump on a plane,” explained Cole, frantically trying to figure out logistics in his head.
“He should be out of surgery by the time you arrive then. Do you need me to pick you up?”
“Yes. Please. I will call you with my flight number. Can I talk to him?”
“Why don’t you call your mom. Ben’s not doing too well because Kaitlin is a mess. He’s worried as much about her as he is about Leroy. But Leroy is tough. His prognosis is good. But then, your Mom is upset about Ben and Kaitlin, and then Ami….yes Cole. They need you.”
“Shit. I need to come tonight. Let me call my professor and see if I can get something worked out. Thanks Avery. I’ll call you right back.”
When he hung up Yasmine had come back into the room. Evidently Blake could tell he had received bad news and went to get her. He looked at her with tears in his eyes. “My grandfather, he had a heart attack. Everyone is a mess. I need to get home. They need me.”
“Oh Cole. I’m so sorry,” she said and pulled him into her arms.
He could almost breathe when Yasmine held him. Then he realized he didn’t fully explain what was going on. “No…no…he survived, but has to have bypass surgery in the morning. I need to get there before they take him in.”
He realized he needed her with him, in the same way his father needed his mother by his side. “Yasmine, go with me please.” He begged her with eyes to say yes.
He watched her work it out in her head as she studied his face. “Please,” he begged again, “Only for a few days, then we’ll come back when everyone is settled down. I just need to make sure everyone is okay. And I need you.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” she said softly.
Cole didn’t realize he was crying until a fat tear rolled down his cheek. He quickly swiped it away. That must have been what broke her.
“Okay,” she said finally, “but exams?”
Relief flooded through Cole. With her with him, he knew he could get through this. “Call your professor, he’ll probably let you skip since your grades are perfect.” Then giving her a smile, he added, “Overachiever.”
She smiled and punched him, “Look who’s talking. Go, make reservations and I’ll start packing.”
They arrived at the hospital 6 hours later. Avery showed them to the waiting room where Ami and his mother were sitting. Ami was playing on her phone and his mother was reading a book.
When Ami saw him she ran into his arms, and began to cry. “Hey baby girl, it’s gonna be okay,” he said.
“I’m scared,” she whispered, and sniffed back her tears.
“I know. But Papa is strong. He’ll be fine,” he said and released her. He motioned over to where Yasmine was standing. “Hey, you remember Yasmine? Right?”
Ami stood back and looked at the woman standing next to Avery. Yasmine shyly waived at Ami and said hi.
Ami’s eyes lit up at seeing her rescuer from three years ago, when she was only 13. “Hi Yasmine! It was so nice for you to come with Cole. . . . Ohhh! . . . Are you Cole’s girlfriend now? Cole, you didn’t tell me!”
Cole looked at all the women in the room, from his mom, to Avery, to Ami and finally to Yasmine, his girlfriend. She looked mortified. They had never described their relationship that way. But she was.
He smiled at her and walked over to where her feet were firmly planted in the ground. He put his arm around her. “Yes, she is,” said Cole. “Mom, I want to introduce you to Yasmine Parris, Yasmine, my mother, Sofia Murdock.”
“Nice to meet you Mrs. Murdock,” said Yasmine as she shook Sofia’s hand. “I’m truly sorry it wasn’t under better circumstances. Cole says Mr. Chapman is a fighter. I’m sure he’ll do fine.”
“Thank you, and it’s nice to meet you as well,” said Sofia graciously.
Then Sofia looked at Cole and he held his arms out to her. She gratefully stepped into his warm embrace. “How are you holding up Mom?” he whispered as he held her tight.
She looked up at him and wiped the tear that escaped. “I’m okay. Thanks for coming. Why don’t you go see Leroy?” she suggested.
They were only letting two visitors in Leroy’s room at a time. Ben had to step out so Cole could go in. When he walked out, Cole was surprised at how exhausted his Dad looked. He quickly hugged him.
“I’m so glad you are here,” said Ben, his voice thick with emotion, “he’s such a strong man and it’s just so hard to see him like that…..” He stopped and swallowed hard. Cole knew he had more to say so he waited. “Leroy was more of father to me than my own. I owe that man everything.”
Cole was getting more concerned. “Dad, is everything really okay?” he asked in a low whisper, “Are you okay?”
Ben swallowed hard again. “Yeah.”
“What about Gigi?” asked Cole.
He blew out a slow breath before answering. “She’s trying to be strong, but she’s terrified of losing him. He’s her whole world. But she’ll be happy to see you. Go in and talk to him. Just . . . be prepared.” His dad clapped him on the back and turned around to go back to the waiting room.
Cole steeled himself before he walked in. His dad was right. It was really hard to see his grandfather laying in the bed hooked up to IVs and a heart monitor.
His grandmother looked up when she heard the door, giving him a sad smile. She got up from her husband’s bedside to give him a hug. “My sweet baby boy. You didn’t have to leave school to come here,” she said softly.
“I needed to see him Gigi. If anything happened…”
“Shhhh. Don’t even….” she said and big tears ran down her cheeks.
“Hey, are you two talking about me?” came the unmistakable voice of his grandfather, albeit a bit hoarse and weak.
“Papa!” said Cole and went to his bedside and smiled down at his now white headed grandfather. “There are better ways to get attention you know.”
The older man smiled, “Tell me about it. It’s good to see you.” He looked around Cole to his wife. “Is there something I should know, dragging this young man away from his studies.”
“No,” said Cole and gave his grandfather a reassuring smile. “School just finished, and I wanted to be here with everyone to help out.”
“You are such a good boy. Who would of thought Ben would have raised such a fine young man. Such a hellion, that boy. I thought he was gonna drive your grandmother – and me – crazy.”
“Leroy!” exclaimed Kaitlin in a loud whisper, “Don’t listen to him Cole. Just the ramblings of an old man.”
“Kate, you know it’s true. Sofia calmed that boy down. Well, in truth, it was you, Cole, that saved Ben. He’s such a hard worker and loving father now, instead of sitting in some prison somewhere.”
“Leroy,” warned Kaitlin again, “that’s enough. I think the meds are doing a number on you.”
Cole was confused. Prison? A hellion? His father? He must be talking about someone else or he is confused. “I need to get back out there. I left my girlfriend with Mom and Dad. I’ll see you tomorrow Papa. Gigi, you should come and meet her.”
“Okay, sure,” said Kaitlin, distracted and looking around him at her husband.
“Later. You can meet her later, tomorrow,” said Cole as he hugged his grandmother one last time and left the room, more than just a little shaken.
When Cole walked into the waiting room, he was shocked, but pleased. Yasmine had everyone eating out of her hand. He had no idea what she was talking about, but his parents and Ami were captivated. At first he hoped she wasn’t telling stories about him, but the on second thought, he didn’t care.
Avery spied him standing by the nurses station. She quietly got up walked over to him before he could interrupt their conversation. “Seems like your Yasmine has won over your family,” she said in a low whisper, “So, looks like you were able to win her over too. You sure she is the right one for you Cole?”
“What does that even mean?” he asked confused.
“Nothing. Except she likes to party and I don’t see you as the party type. When we first arrived she was shy, but now look at her. She has them wrapped around her little finger. And I know what she did to you.”
“She was hurting. She’s better now,” snapped Cole. He was miffed that Avery was questioning their relationship. He probably invited it by sharing his feelings about Yasmine in the first place last summer, so he figured he could’t really blame her.
“Excuse me Avery,” he said harsher than intended, “I need to talk to my family.” He was anxious to get away from her because, sadly, she had hit too close to home on the one thing still standing between him and Yasmine. Not the partying itself, but the reason behind it. Yasmine still would not trust him with her secret. It was the biggest obstacle threatening their relationship.
But he loved Yasmine, so he would deal. That’s when he realized what he had to do. He would propose when this was over. That would say more than his words could ever say. It would demonstrate how committed he was to her. It would help her trust him and feel safe. With this new plan in mind, he felt better and walked over to his family, which he hoped, in the not too distant future, would include the beautiful and charismatic Yasmine Parris.