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The chain was on the door when Lanie tried to open it, and she nearly smacked her face into it. “What the – ?” she grumbled, but then, suddenly, Jake was there.
“Sorry, I didn’t want anyone coming in without me knowing. You really should use the chain and deadbolts, Lanie, not just the push lock on the knob.”
Rowan and Lilah stared at Lanie. “Who’s that? Your husband?” Rowan asked in the second it took Jake to shut the door and take off the chain. Lanie ignored them, and they stepped into the house. Now they were gawping at Ben, passed out on the couch, shivering and and pale. He looked like a drug addict fiending for a fix. Lanie swore.
“Is that…?” Lilah started, then snapped her mouth shut, her blue eyes like headlamps.
“What’s wrong with him?” she demanded, kicking her shoes into the closet.
Jake sighed and shook his head. “He’s detoxing from the painkillers he’s been on. I was waiting for you to get home so I could go and find supplies. If you’re really going to do this, we need to do it now. I wish he would just let me look after him – ”
“You’re sleeping with my best friend, Jake,” Ben chattered weakly from the living room, not even looking up. . “You’ve got to get out of my butt if you’re going to make that work.”
Lilah and Rowan gaped.
“We’ve got company, Ben,” Lanie ground out, wanting to go over to him and really show him some withdrawal pain. “Shut up.”
Rowan trembled slightly, but tried to smile. “It’s okay, dear. These modern relationships are complicated. I…I’ll go make the boy a snack for when he gets here.”
“We’re not bigoted,” Lilah added quickly. “Being bisexual…in a threesome…throuple? That’s what it’s called, right? It’s all good. Oh, and hi, Ben. Nice to see you again. Didn’t know you were gay. Makes sense, though. Totally, totally good. Good for you.”
Slowly, Ben lifted his head, but his eyes were blank, as though he couldn’t quite believe what he was seeing. “Lilah?” he whispered. They kept staring at each other, not saying anything.
Cursing more savagely now, Lanie stepped toward him. This was not the meeting she’d envisioned between the two of them. And at the same time, now that it was happening, she felt an inexplicable dark mood settle over her.
“Lilah, no one is in a throuple. Ben’s just the idiot who threw himself over me when we were in an explosion in Africa. Now he’s killing himself because he refuses to go back to the hospital. Jake’s his nurse, and he’s the only one I’m sleeping with for now. They broke into my house last night, and were here when that social worker very unexpectedly tried to drop that kid off.” She turned to the two giant interlopers. “Guys, this is Lilah, and her mother’s in the kitchen. She’s the wife of the pastor of my family’s church, and her daughter, I guess we got along so we don’t hate each other or anything.”
Still, the two just stared at each other. Jake coughed, then shifted away.
“What, do you guys know each other, or something?” Lanie prodded. “You both look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Rowan poked her head around the corner. “How do you know him, sweetie?”
Finally roused from her stupor, Lilah smiled tightly. “We volunteered together once. Very long time ago.” Blushing, she looked down.
Lanie stared, then tried again, even though she suddenly didn’t mind that they were being so aloof toward each other. “Didn’t you – ”
Lilah flicked her eyes toward the kitchen with a pleading look, and adjusted Murphy on her hip.
“ – have fun?” Lanie finished quickly. Why hadn’t Lilah told her parents about her engagement?
“It was a long time ago,” Ben cut in from the couch. The pinched tone of his voice seemed to come from more than just his physical pain. He lowered his head back to the pillow, curling in on himself even more.
Lanie shook herself into focus. Never mind those two for now. Her hands were shaking, and her heart felt like it was about to come out of her chest. That hole that she’d spent so much time plugging, that hole where her baby had been, was suddenly blown right open.
“Guys, there’s no time! I don’t know how I ended up with all of you, but you all say you want to help or whatever, so help!”
Jake fished his phone out of his pocket. He gave an apologetic look, then stepped outside.
Rowan snapped her fingers. “Okay. Lanie’s right. Lilah, you and Murphy come with me. We’re going to make a welcome dinner for this boy.”
Yanking her hair out and wrapping it back around her head again, Lanie moved to Ben. Closing his eyes again, he turned away. He clutched one of her old quilts, and shivered.
“Hey,” she whispered. Her heart melted at the pitiful sight of him, along with most of her annoyance. Unable to help herself, she reached out and pushed his damp hair out of his eyes. His forehead was hot. “You need to go to the hospital, B.”
He took her hand and pressed it to his scraggly cheek as though to cool himself. His dimples tried to make an appearance, but it was short-lived. “I’ll be fine. Jake has a homecare nurse friend, like we discussed. As soon as he gets my medication, I’ll be back to my jolly old self. You forced me to walk yesterday, and I started doing a lot better. I just need the drugs, and I’ll be fine.”
“You sound crazy. You’re literally crazy.”
He tucked her hand under his chin, apparently unable to keep from fidgeting. “I promise I won’t be a burden. I’ll be better by the end of the day, and you won’t have to worry one bit. Then I’ll be able to help you out.”
Jake came back in. “That was your new nurse, Ben. She’s running a little late, but she can be here in the next half hour. She’s authorized me to pick up supplies from her clinic. So I can start your IV while we wait for her, and then be out of your…hair.” He patted Ben’s side, then rubbed his shoulder as though trying to infuse him with warmth. “The clinic is just around the corner. I’ll be back in ten minutes, tops, okay, bud?”
Ben nodded, still clutching Lanie.
“Unless you’re ready to go to the hospital now? I promise I’ll take good care of Lanie, and I’ll come visit you without it being anything medical You won’t have to worry.”
An icy grey glare and possessive tightening of Lanie’s hand was the only response.
“I’m worried about you, Ben. I know that you’ve been trying to get clean – ”
Ben’s hand shot out, clamping over Jake’s mouth. “Don’t.”
Carefully, Lanie peeled his fingers off. “Ben, we really should talk about this…”
But he gave her a look so pleading that her words drifted off. After exchanging a look with Jake, she shook her head with a defeated shrug. With a long-suffering sigh, Jake touched the small of Lanie’s back, then strode out the door.
“Lanie!” Rowan cried from the kitchen. “You have to go shopping. You don’t have any food.”
“What do you mean? There’s plenty of food!”
“If you’re a rabbit.” Rowan sounded like this was the most offensive thing she had seen so far. “Where’s your milk? Your flour? Eggs? Sugar? There’s nothing but vegetables. And fruit. There’s no salt, there’s no meat. What do you usually make for dinner?”
“She’s a health nut,” Ben muttered.
Lanie glared at him. “I’m a paleo vegan. And I don’t cook. There’s plenty of food. Children need nutritious meals.”
“Dear, this isn’t nutritious.” Now Rowan was on the verge of losing it. “This is deprivation. I’m not up on all the modern trends, but I do know what children need. What growing boys need. Lilah, give me Murphy, and run to the corner store for some supplies. We should have enough here for some vegetable stew, but I need a base. And grab some bread and cheese. They should have milk, there, too. Lanie, I need you to show me where you keep your spices. Do you have tarragon?”
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