She placed the coffee in front of him and sat down across from him at the small table in the corner. “I got one of the girls to watch the counter for a bit so we could chat.” Esther smiled politely at him. “So, you never told me what brought you back to Genoa City…”
He brought the warm cup to his lips and took a sip. “I certainly didn’t,” he grinned. “Actually, it wasn’t anything in particular. I had some time—thought I’d stop in and see what everyone was up to. I know there’ve been some things going on…been a crazy few years.”
Esther sighed. “That it has. I take it you know Chloe’s back in town?”
Ronan nodded. “I heard that.” He narrowed his eyes as he watched Esther’s smile grow. “That’s not why I’m back though. I really just came to see how everything was…honestly. I know it’s a bit out of character for me, but…”
“Out of character is a bit of an understatement….and I’m pretty sure that both of us know exactly what brought you back into town.” Esther studied his face for a reaction, the deep, brooding face never revealing too many secrets. “So, are you going to tell me or do I have to start guessing?”
He sighed, leaning back a bit in the metal chair. “How is she?”
“It really did make the front pages everywhere, huh?”
Ronan nodded. “Well, you know…the papers love a good salacious story, but that had finally calmed down when….”
“It was so sad. I mean, I know the way they got together wasn’t the best, but they were really sweet together and you could tell there was a lot of love there. What can I say…I’m a sucker for a sweet, young couple.” She stopped, seeing the faraway expression in his eyes. “I’m sorry…I know you and Phyllis were….”
“We weren’t ever anything official really, Esther. I just wanted her to be happy and she was for a while. I’m glad for that. She has a baby now, right?”
“She does…a beautiful little girl. Grace—she named her Grace. It was hard for her at first…not having Billy around through the pregnancy but she’s adjusting.”
“You think..” He stopped, already realizing the insanity of the thought.
“Nothing, never mind. It’s crazy to even think about it.”
Esther smiled. “I think she’d really like it if you stopped by. She could use a friendly face right about now and the two of you shared something special…even if you try to downplay it.”
Ronan sighed, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a few crisp bills. “Thanks Esther,” he whispered before laying them on the table. “I might just do that.”
“Anything I need to know before I take over? I’ve only been out six weeks but it feels like six years.” The young nurse quickly flipped through the charts as she checked the notes for information from the previous shift.
“I noted everything,” the departing nurse replied. “Oh, there is one thing…the guy in 415—the one that was in the coma….”
She nodded. It had been almost a year since an EMT had brought in a man found by a local hunter. He had broken bones all over his body and a host of internal injuries. Coupled with severe dehydration and exposure to the elements, they’d been forced to place him in a medically induced coma in the hopes that his body could recover. When they’d attempted to bring him out, he was unresponsive and he’d been in a coma ever since. Though he wasn’t responsive, his vitals were improving and scans and x-rays showed he continued to heal. His slow but steady progress had been quite the topic of conversation among the nurses and doctors when she’d left for maternity leave six weeks ago. Her heart pained a bit as she feared bad news.
“He woke up last week. He’s alert and talking.”
“You’re kidding?” She smiled brightly. “What does he remember?”
“That’s the thing…absolutely nothing.”
Phyllis gently moved Grace to her shoulder as she stood and walked to the door. She wasn’t expecting anyone today and Michael almost always called first. Probably someone from work with a question, she figured.
She pulled the door open just a crack, bracing it against her foot as she peeked through the opening.
Her hand fell from the door as the breath left her body in an instant. “Ronan,” she breathed, stepping back almost as a default movement. “What are you…Why are you?…” She smiled awkwardly, shaking her head and opening the door further. “Please..come in.”
He hesitated, his eyes falling on the baby on her shoulder. “Is this a bad time?”
“No..she’s…she’s almost asleep. It’s nap time.”
Ronan stepped a little closer to her, turning to see the baby’s face. “She’s beautiful,” he whispered, “Looks just like you.”
She felt her cheeks flush with a wave of simultaneous embarrassment and guilt. “She looks like Billy,” she said quickly, walking quickly into the room and carefully placing her into the bassinet. “She looks exactly like him.”
“Right. I didn’t mean to…”
“No, I’m sorry…I know you..”
“Phyllis, I just…”
“You don’t have to…” It was as if the top of a pressure valve finally blew and she felt the air escape her mouth in a bit of awkward laughter. “I’m sorry,” she giggled, smiling at him in spite of the guilt. “This just…it didn’t use to be so hard. I didn’t use to be this incapable of having an adult conversation.”
“You’re entitled. You’ve had a hell of a year.” He gestured to the chair in the corner of the room. “Ok if I sit?”
“Of course. Can I get you anything?”
“Sure. Whatever you’ve got.”
Phyllis walked into the kitchen, opening the refrigerator and retrieving a bottle of water and a bottle of beer. She let the cold bottle rest against her face for a moment and imagined how good it would be to take the edge off with a sip or two.
“Here.” She smiled, handing him the beer.
He raised his eyebrows. “You gone dry on me?”
“No..it’s just..I’m breastfeeding so I can’t..”
“Oh…right..” His cheeks flushed and he took a long drag from the bottle.
The growing smile on her face did nothing to help abolish his embarrassment and he remembered in that instant why he’d missed her as much as he had. She made it easy. He missed having someone to talk to that didn’t take life so damn seriously and, even now—even after everything she’d been through, he still saw that in her. Maybe there was still a chance for them after all.