Post by wildheartashley on Feb 12, 2023 10:38:42 GMT -5
Interesting that Ava has been thrown into the mix. You can definitely tell that Tripp is feeling the strain of everything. Poor guy. Hopefully Stephanie and Joey coming will help take some of that strain off him.
Author's Note- Evening all! This chapter for some odd reason was giving me trouble, hence the delay, but I'm planning to have the next installment up and running soon.
"Steve, any doctor on staff at the hospital would tell you the exact same thing that I have!" Kayla insisted as Steve rolled his eye.
"Anyone of 'em but Doctor Tripp Johnson, though, right baby?" he snapped. "He was content not to say a damn word about this, Kayla. At least not until he got the go-ahead from you!"
"No, baby." Running his hand over his face, he shook his head, then handed Kayla the shirt again. "Look, just get dressed so we can get the hell out of here and get you to the hospital."
"And you can get out of being mad at me?" Kayla scoffed. Balling up the shirt, she threw it back into Steve's closet. "Or at least get your mind off the fact that you are?"
"You're allowed to be, you know," she said in a smaller voice. "I'm mad at myself. Telling Tripp to keep quiet, putting that on him. It was wrong, and I hated doing it. I just couldn't bear the thought of putting anything more on you!"
"Well, I can't bear being kept in the dark about you, Kayla!" Steve roared as she nodded, swallowing back the lump in her throat.
"I know. And I put you there anyway. And I'm sorry."
"You told me what happened, but not before you tied us all up in knots here trying not to!"
"I was just trying to protect you!"
"Baby...," Steve sighed.
"I know. Whenever you tell me that, it makes me insane," Kayla groaned, running both hands up through her hair and pressing the heels of her hands to her temples.
"Here I am, though," she squeaked. "Doing the exact same thing."
When her eyes welled up, turning that too-bright blue that hurt his eye to look at, his frustration giving way to fatigue and just plain heartache, Steve joined Kayla back on the bed and, on reflex, started rubbing slow circles on her upper back.
"I gotta tell you; it's throwing me being on the other side of this fight, Sweetness," he said after a beat.
"You got your playbook handy by any chance?"
"No. No playbook," Kayla sniffled, pulling a crumpled, sad excuse for a tissue from her robe pocket. Looking on disapprovingly, Steve got to his feet.
Cutting over to the nightstand to grab the Kleenex, then flashing to a particular afternoon in his wife's office, a smirk filling his face, he picked up the tissue box and lobbed it at Kayla's left shoulder.
"What the…!" she sputtered.
Picking up the box, Kayla looked from it to Steve and back again, gape-mouthed.
"You're gonna catch flies if you're not careful there, baby."
"Did you actually just-"
"Not so fun being on the receiving end now, is it?" Steve asked, joining her back on the bed.
"What are you talking about, 'receiving end'?" Kayla asked, hitting at him with the box. Grabbing it from her, asking whatever happened to 'do no harm,' Steve returned it to the nightstand.
"Tell me. When did I ever throw something at-"
"In your office from behind your desk," Steve reminded. "The day you told me that the danger that follows me follows the both of us," he said as her face fell.
"You said we should share it, Sweetness. That we were a team and that anything that was a threat to us, we had to work together to wipe out."
"So the box wasn't enough? I have you throwing my words at me, too?" Kayla sighed as Steve reached over and gently turned her face toward his.
"They were some pretty smart words, baby," he said, thumbing a tear off her cheek.
"We are sharing this, Kayla. We have been since we watched that maniac's goddamn tape, so you can't go shutting me out now. Not when that filthy pig has played around and screwed with and done his best to end our life together, Sweetness. Yours and mine!" Steve said roughly.
"I may not be the one lying here sick with a fever, baby, but you know-"
"Of course I do," Kayla choked out. Covering the back of Steve's hand with hers, she turned her head to kiss his palm.
"I know if this were all up to you, it'd be the other way around. You'd be the one who was-"
Trailing off, shuddering at the thought, picking up on her distress Steve stroked her hair comfortingly.
"Well, I know how much you like seeing me all hot and sweaty, baby."
Rolling her eyes, Kayla cleared her throat, only to give a coughing fit the all-clear.
Covering her mouth, willing herself not to start wheezing when her chest felt tight, she didn't pick up on Steve moving off the bed until he returned moments later, shakily holding a glass of water for her.
"Shh. Here you go, Sweetness."
Hearing the panicky edge to his voice, seeing the tremor in his hand gripping the water glass –before half its contents spilled out and onto her lap– startled out of her coughing by the state her husband was in, Kayla looked on as he swore, apologized, swore again, then tried to towel her off with a throw blanket.
"No, it's fine, just lemme grab a towel, baby-"
Grabbing his arm right as he got up from bed, when he stood frozen in place but trembling, Kayla stood up in turn and moved to stand in front of him.
"Just get back into bed now, baby, c'mon," he pleaded, bowing his head as Kayla shook hers stubbornly, running her thumb over the back of his hand laced with hers.
"You need your rest, Sweetness. You need to-"
"I need you to give yourself a break," she cut in, stepping closer to him.
"It's okay..." she soothed as Steve shook his head.
"C'mere," she coaxed. "C'mon."
Looping her arm up around Steve's neck, Kayla pulled him close. When he finally broke down and buried his face in her shoulder, she rubbed at his back and did her best to calm him as he cried in her arms, content to cling to her for dear life.
She stood holding him tight until he finally pulled back, looking as spent and exhausted as she felt. Examining his hand, relieved to see it wasn't quivering anymore, Kayla took his pulse on reflex.
"Did I pass inspection, baby?"
"Strong and steady."
"Well, Dr. Johnson's got that magic touch."
Smiling as she stepped around him, Kayla tugged at his hand and nodded for him to follow her.
"Hang on, now. Where-"
"Well, you got us started on a bath already. And I know I'm a mess that could use cleaning up," she reminded, giving him a soft smile. "C'mon."
"Baby, are you sure up for- "
"A bath with my husband? You and I pulling ourselves together before our kids show up at the door? Yes. I am. I-"
"Hey now, easy. No need to twist my arm that hard, baby," Steve lightly laughed as Kayla abruptly dropped his hand, then apologized, then realized when he burst out laughing exactly what she'd just done.
Running her hand over her face in embarrassment, Kayla shook her head as Steve continued to laugh.
"I didn't mean literally, baby!"
"I know that! I... just....you...I know," Folding her arms, she stamped her foot in a half-hearted, pouty protest.
"I'm tired," she whined as Steve's smile went sad.
"I know, baby."
Stepping closer, he slipped his arm around her waist as she leaned against him.
"I'm so tired," she repeated as Steve scooped her up, then carried her to the master bath barely a few feet away from them. Rather than arguing, though, Kayla snuggled against his shoulder, too worn out to argue and too content in his arms to care.
Author's Note-Sorry for the delay in this update, but it's a little longer to make up for it. It's also leading up to some scenes I've been looking forward to writing for a while. Thanks for reading if you are! More to come soon.
"Wait, hold on. Hang on, honey. I just want to make sure I got this straight."
Leaning back against the couch cushions, the hand not holding Ava's phone to her face went to her hair as she shook her head in disbelief.
"So this guy, Orifice-"
"Orpheus, Mom," Tripp corrected.
"I think my version's better," Ava scoffed. "You're telling me this bastard abducted three women, threatened to blow them up in a bunker, but actually dosed them with a lethal mystery toxin that has no known antidote."
"Yeah, in a nutshell."
"Look, I know with my past…glass houses, stones, all that. But this is still-"
'I know. Even from a jail cell, the bastard sent that freaking tape to Dad and John and Roman all so he could brag about what he did."
"He's got some good help, then. Resources. People on the outside," Ava mused.
"To help him make a crappy video?"
"No, sweetheart," she laughed. "Any idiot could smuggle a phone into Statesville or scam one off a guard. No, I meant this freak has a plan and all that he needs to see it through. Otherwise, he wouldn't be so cocky."
"Yeah, right now, he's sitting on all the answers and laughing at all of us."
"Well, I think that smile should be wiped off his damn face," Ava said in a too-calm tone, making Tripp sit straight up in his chair.
"He took one off yours, Tripp. You're upset, and that's upsetting me. I won't just sit back and let-"
"Okay, I appreciate what you're saying, more than you know, but that past you mentioned, glass houses, stones, I don't want you going back there because of me, Mom."
"Who says I'd be going anywhere?" Ava asked. "I've got a phone, and I'm not afraid to use it."
"Not afraid. That makes one of us," Tripp muttered under his breath.
"What was that?"
"Mom, please just-"
"Tripp, do you think I'm going to do anything to jeopardize this chance I have with you? When I swore to you I was going to distance myself from.... who I was, I meant it."
"All I've gotten out of the family the past year is a Christmas cookie recipe, sweetheart. And knowing Angelo, he's left out an ingredient to spite me," Ava scoffed, then smiled when she heard Tripp laugh.
"Plus, I can be pretty persuasive without needing to bring my last name into the conversation."
"Let it be known I'm not asking you to do anything."
"It's known, honey," Ava assured. "Good instincts too, there, making sure you have some plausible deniability-"
"I'm kidding, Tripp," Ava said but could sense even through the phone her son was in the furthest thing from a joking mood.
"So, those lab results you said you were waiting on, I take it those have to do with-"
"Yeah," Tripp sighed, running a hand through his hair.
"Honestly, though, if University Hospital can't get their act together for their Chief of Staff-"
"I'm just saying, next time I need lab work done, I'm going to Rush."
"Well, she's got a pretty terrific doctor in her corner," she said with a smile. "And she's got Patc....Steve. And Joey with all his golden retriever energy."
"I'm sorry, golden retriever what?" Tripp asked.
"He's got big puppy eyes and that sweet, loyal, and protective thing down. Plus he likes digging around for answers to try and be helpful."
"I can't believe you just compared my brother to a dog and that it...weirdly fits," he laughed, shaking his head.
"I'm serious, though, Tripp. Kayla's got a lot of people around her who are good at getting answers. You'll all get to the bottom of all this, and once you do, she's gonna beat this."
"You sound really sure, Mom."
"Because I am," Ava said simply. "Look, I'm not going to go dredging up everything, but I'll say this much. Kayla gave back as good as she got from me. And for me to say that..."
"Yeah," Tripp said as an awkward quiet crept in before-
"You know she's got a mean right hook."
"No, I did not know that. And I won't ask how you do."
"I'll just say I underestimated her scrappiness. You take it into account, though, and her being one of the good guys, in my experience, that combo tends to win out. Even if it takes a little time," Ava said as Tripp swallowed hard, nodding in agreement.
"You know, you're not one of the bad guys, Mom," he said, only to hear the bedroom door open and footsteps in the hall.
"Hey, look, I've gotta go, but thanks. This helped, more than you know."
"I'm glad, baby. And remember, if you need anything-"
When the line went dead, getting to her feet, Ava cut over to her bedroom, then unlocked a side table drawer and took out a burner phone still in its plastic packaging.
"I'll be right here to help."
Curious at the abrupt way Tripp ended the call he'd been on but not having the bandwidth to call him on it, Steve turned his attention to reheating tea, then making sure the yellow roses hadn't wilted.
"Damn it," Tripp spat. "I was supposed to bring the tea over to... I'm sorry, Dad, I just got caught up with-"
"It's fine, son. I've got it covered."
After taking the mug out of the microwave, Steve asked Tripp to grab the vase of flowers.
"So I take it we're staying here? No need to drive these over to the hospital, tell Steph and Joey to-"
"Doesn't make sense when they're more than halfway here, right?" Steve interrupted.
Sensing from his tone that the hospital was still a sore subject but not wanting to let an elephant into the room, Tripp stepped into Steve's path.
"Listen, Dad. Before, my not saying anything to you about..."
"We dealt with it, Tripp. Kayla and I talked, and-"
"Yeah, well, we didn't," he sighed. "Look, I'm not sorry for doing what Kayla asked. I'm pretty sure if I was in her shoes, I would've done the same thing. But I know it was wrong keeping you out of it, and I really hated doing it."
Frowning when Steve chuckled and shook his head, Tripp looked on in confusion.
"What's funny about what I just-"
"Just Kayla saying the same exact thing, using the same exact words not ten minutes ago," Steve noted.
"Drs. Johnson and Johnson channeling each other now?" he asked with a proud gleam in his eye.
"Was bound to happen at some point, right?" Tripp shrugged as Steve clapped him on the back with his hand not holding the mug of tea.
"We're alright, buddy. I'm telling you, though, same as I told your stepmama. If anything else happens-"
"You'll be the first to know. I swear," Tripp assured.
Walking with Steve back to the bedroom, they found Kayla under the covers with her hair up and readers on, thumbing through a textbook and bundled up in a pink fleecy robe.
"Sorry, the tea got sidetracked. Think these might make up for it, though?" Tripp asked.
Smiling when he set the flowers on the nightstand, Kayla nodded, then frowned curiously at the bouquet.
"These aren't from the florist two doors down, are they?" she asked, plucking a rose from the vase and finding thorns and a partial root still attached.
"If they are, Mr. Robertson's definitely losing his touch."
"So they're a little more locally sourced, Sweetness. You have a problem with that?"
"Not until we get a call from buildings and grounds asking why the front flower bed has a gaping hole where a dozen yellow roses should be."
"They're not that local, baby," Steve scoffed, sitting beside her on the bed.
"Well, what garden's between here and Saint...Steve."
"Saint Steve of what, baby? Hopeless one-eyed causes?" he quipped, getting Tripp grinning and Kayla staring him down.
"You stole me flowers from a church?!"
"He did say the Big Dude wouldn't object since it's the church where you guys got married," Tripp interjected.
"Right, because celebrating a sacrament earns you a get-out-of-a-commandment-free card," Kayla scoffed as Steve shifted closer to her.
"C'mon, Sweetness. I'd left my wallet at home but wanted you to have some roses. And I was sitting on the bench where I saw you sitting that day. Right in that garden where we got married. I finished the call up with the kids, then looked across the way and saw a whole bunch of these," he said, picking up the rose from her lap and putting it back in the vase. "I figured it was the Big Dude's way of smiling down on us."
"Trying to make me forget your petty theft with some sweet and poetic words, Mr. Johnson?" Kayla teased.
"Well, if it's working, baby..."
Nodding, pressing a kiss to his cheek, Kayla snuggled into Steve's shoulder before he slipped his arm around her tight.
"Okay, so I'll leave you guys to reenact the last scene of a rom-com together. Give Steph and Joe the heads up that you two don't need an audience..."
Interrupted by a chirp alerting a text, Tripp took his phone from his pocket and opened the message from Sarah.
"No change. Still no results showing in the system for K/K/M," he rattled off before he swore, jamming his phone back into his pocket.
"No results?" Steve repeated as Kayla asked who had sent the message. When Tripp told her, she nodded calmly, getting him frowning.
"Hang on, Kayla. Why are you so cool about this?"
"It's been over 48 hours and the University lab hasn't come close to- "
"Because our panels and bloodwork aren't being tested there, Tripp."
"Why not, though?" Tripp asked. "I mean, I know our lab's been backed up but farming out the testing to some random, outside place exclusively-"
"Okay, hang on, just...hang on a second," Kayla interjected. "I would never farm out tests needing to be run on you or me or any patient to some random lab, even on my worst day. Two days ago was right up there, but even then, I was prepared to go down to the lab and run all the damn tests myself," she said sharply.
Nodding, Tripp swallowed hard before apologizing.
"You know I didn't mean to. I just-"
"I know. I….I know," Kayla sighed, letting out a slow breath before speaking again.
"Like I said, I was ready to run everything down to our lab and run tests myself if I had to. But the ISA filed a request with my office for all the labs, the panels, everything that was run on myself and Kate and Marlena."
"Wait, the ISA filed..." Steve repeated. "Baby, you're saying you didn't seek them out? They came to you insisting their lab be the one to handle-"
"Yes," Kayla answered as Steve's jaw clenched.
"And even after demanding you turn everything over to them, they haven't put a rush on the testing? On getting the results back to us?" Tripp asked. Met with silence, before seeing the wary look in Kayla's eyes and the deadly one in Steve's, Tripp shook his head and, grabbing his phone from his pocket, all but ran out the door.
"I've just got to make a call. Take care of something. I...I won't be long," he muttered, texting Ava as he walked down the hall to the living room.
"Your offer still stand from earlier?" he messaged, getting a quick thumbs-up reaction in response.
"Come by my place. We'll talk things over."
Grabbing his keys off the kitchen table, he was nearly out the door before he felt the knob turn under his hand.
"Well, hey little brother," Stephanie scoffed as she and Joey stepped around a frazzled-looking Tripp into the apartment.
Author's Note- Evening all. Sorry for the delay with this update, that's a little different than the previous chapters and is setting up for some upcoming stuff. Take it as you will and thanks for reading if you are! More to come soon.
"Nice to see you, too, little brother," Stephanie scoffed, pulling Tripp into a hug as Joey stepped around them and into the apartment.
"Let me guess, Dad couldn't give you a pizza lecture over Facetime, so he summoned you for one in person?" he quipped, then looked on curiously at the condo's semi-cluttered and chaotic state and the storage bin out on the coffee table.
"I wish," Tripp sighed as Stephanie pulled back, frowning curiously at him.
"Tripp, is everything alright?"
"I'm sorry, Steph," he dodged. "You guys just caught me off-guard. I was just about to head out and-"
"Oh, c'mon. Seriously?" Stephanie scoffed.
"You mean aside from how you already blew me off once today?" she said, rolling her eyes. "Left me stuck with too much pizza and this guy."
"Well, that's the last time I visit you at work," Joey scoffed, sitting at the kitchen table as Stephanie opened the fridge, grabbing a pie tin from the back.
"I just meant I wanted to spend some time with my other little brother, too."
Shutting the fridge, she grabbed some forks from a drawer, then sat next to Joey at the table.
"I mean, we're never all in town at the same time, and now that we finally are, between work and life, it feels like we hardly see each other!"
"Okay, Stephanie Kayla..."
"Why'd you call her that?" Tripp asked as Stephanie punched Joey in the arm, then ate a forkful of apple pie.
"It's her nickname for when she's channeling Mom," he answered, earning another punch.
"Hey, okay! Once was enough!" Joey whined. "And how the hell are you still hungry after all that pizza we ate?"
"Because it's dinner time. And it's Friday." Stephanie reminded, handing Joey a fork as he caught on, then smiled.
"Tripp, come have pie."
"It's a Friday night rule, Dr. Johnson," Stephanie said with a grin that faded when Tripp got a text and a nervous look on his face.
"I'm sorry, guys, but rain check. I really have to-"
"Leave before cleaning up?" Joey asked.
"Hey, you guys are the ones who are eating. Not me."
"I'm talking about that," he said, nodding to the storage bin.
"I already put it on the top shelf of Mom's closet once. You helped her take it down, fine, but you're the one who's putting it back."
"May I ask why it's out in the first place?" Stephanie asked as Tripp replied to Ava's text, then shoved his phone into his pocket.
"Look, just talk to Dad and Kayla, alright? They'll explain."
"Explain what?" Stephanie asked as Joey leaned over towards her chair.
"Why he's acting so freaked...." he stage whispered as Tripp sighed.
"Look, I need to go, but I'll be back here later and see you guys then, okay?"
"What makes you think we'll still be here later?"
"Just trust me, okay." Grabbing his keys off the table, Tripp threw on his jacket, looking pained as he walked out the door. "I... I'll see you."
"Well," Stephanie scoffed, turning to Joey. "What the hell was that?"
"You got me," he shrugged. Getting to his feet and walking over to the coffee table, he picked the storage bin up.
"Guess I'll put this back since the Drs. Johnson couldn't be bothered," he said as Stephanie nodded, getting up to put the pie plate back in the fridge.
"While you're at it, see what's keeping Mom and Dad," she said as Joey stopped short, adjusting his grip on the bin.
"You know, on second thought, maybe I'll just leave it out here," he said, setting it back on the table.
"Why?" Stephanie asked.
"Well, Mom may still want to get stuff from it, and who knows with Tripp and-"
"You're babbling, baby brother."
Shutting the fridge, Stephanie looked at Joey curiously.
"What's the problem?"
"Tripp told me once when he stopped by, and Mom and Dad didn't hear him come in, it was 'cause they were in the shower. Like they told him that."
"And what?" Joey sputtered. "Like if they're…I don't-"
"Just make sure there's not a sock hanging off the doorknob."
"Joey!" she laughed. "Get a grip, will you? They're both adults. You're an adult. Technically," she snorted as he rolled his eyes.
"One who knows how to knock on a door and to do that first, right?"
"Of course, I know how to knock first," Joey scoffed.
"Do you know your face is still fifty shades of red?" Stephanie crowed, getting a pouty glare in return.
"Okay, would you rather clean the burnt-on gunk out of the coffee pot or put the bin back in Mom's closet? Your choice," Stephanie offered.
"Fine, I'll brave the master suite."
Turning, Joey picked up the storage bin again as Stephanie reassuringly patted him on the shoulder.
"You got this, buddy."
Rolling his eyes, he adjusted his grip on the bin before heading down the hall, not paying mind to a binder on the top of a book stack that slid off and fell to the floor.
"Wait, Joey," Stephanie called after him. "This fell-"
"I'll come back for it!" he called back. "May as well be hauling bricks in this freaking thing."
Rolling her eyes, not having griped that much when she single-handedly hauled the same bin from the storage unit in L.A., Stephanie set the binder on the desk, only to see a laminated folder poking out from it.
Recognizing it, thanks to the pair of colorful, big-eyed cartoon kittens on the cover, Stephanie opened the folder to find a rubber-banded stack of black construction paper flash cards, a small spiral notebook, and a legal pad.
Taking the notebook out of the folder she flipped it open, then rolled her eyes at what she'd written in dark blue gel pen.
"God, Mom, what don't you hold onto?" she asked with a laugh, before squinting to read what was written on the legal pad in Kayla's cursive scrawl.
Author's Note- Well, here's the latest, shamefully delayed update to this story. Real life has had me neglecting this fic the past few weeks but I'm working to change that. Anyway, thank you for reading if you are. More to follow soon!
"Okay, it's not too soupy, right?" Stephanie asked nervously, walking into the dining room.
"'Cause I added some shredded cheese to the powder cheese 'cause I thought extra cheese would keep it from being soupy, and-"
Stopping short, seeing her mother fast asleep at the table, and using her plate of mac and cheese as a pillow, Stephanie bit her lip. She was tempted to let Kayla sleep, but knowing how upset she'd be to realize she'd slept through (and in) their dinner on a night she wasn't on call, the ten-year-old walked up and cleared her throat, then moved the legal pad Kayla had been scribbling on aside.
Not getting a response, she repeated herself, gently shaking Kayla's shoulder.
"You wanna wake up?"
Her eyes fluttering open, Kayla frowned, slowly starting to realize she was bent over at a right angle and that the side of her face, along with some of her hair, was stuck to or in something.
"What the..." she muttered before her eyes focused on her daughter's wide ones, jolting her awake and upright in her chair.
"Guess it is a little soupy," the girl sighed, seeing bright orange streaks in Kayla's chin-length blonde bob.
"Oh my God. Baby girl, I'm so…how long was I-"
"Just a little while! It's okay."
"It is most definitely not okay," Kayla snapped as she stood up, guilt and self-loathing kicking in after seeing the time and realizing she'd been dead to the world and her elementary school-age daughter for at least a half an hour.
Ducking into the bathroom, wetting a washcloth, she started scrubbing the cheese sauce out of her hair and a clump of noodles off her left cheek.
"At least you didn't fall asleep at your desk again," Stephanie offered, coming up behind her. "Mac and cheese is softer, right?"
Turning off the water, Kayla shook her head, smiling in spite of herself.
"Yeah, I guess that's one way to look at it."
After cleaning herself and the kitchen, Kayla brought two bowls of mac and cheese into the den, where Stephanie was curled up on the couch and flipping through the legal pad.
"Good choice adding in the shredded cheese, baby girl."
"You are a regular gourmet, my darling," she praised. Sitting down next to her, she handed her one of the bowls and a fork, then pulled the legal pad off her lap.
"Baby, let's be done with this for tonight, alright?"
"But Mama, I was just-"
"No. No buts," Kayla cut in. "Right now all I want to focus on is you and this terrific dinner you made for us, and to tell you again how sorry I am for falling asleep in it," she said, tucking a stray lock of auburn hair behind Stephanie's ear as the girl nodded, then started wolfing down her dinner.
"I promise you, you're not going to see any more of that from me," Kayla insisted. "I'm done with the late nights."
"But late at night is when you're trying to help Uncle Roman."
"No, Mama. You do your residency stuff at the hospital during the day, so that means you have to do your research to help Uncle Roman at night," Stephanie reasoned as Kayla sighed. Leaning back against the couch cushions, she ate a particularly large forkful of her mac and cheese.
"I know that's what I told you, beauty, but it's looking like there's not much more research that I can do."
"There's not?" Stephanie asked as Kayla's eyes clouded over.
"No, there's not," she sighed as Stephanie set her bowl on the coffee table, then snuggled close enough to Kayla so she could slip her arm around her.
"Right now, I think your Uncle Roman getting better is gonna be up to your Uncle Roman, Stephanie. It's gonna be up to him, and all the doctors that are helping him in Salem, and it's gonna be up to God."
"But you still want to help him get rid of his virus, too. I know you do," Stephanie insisted, sitting up enough to look her mother in the eye. "I know you. You're gonna be really sad if you can't help him."
Looking down and away when her eyes welled up, Kayla shook her head.
"Mama? You alright?"
Sniffing back her tears and swallowing hard, she met her daughter's gaze again after a beat.
"I'm fine, baby girl. Just sometimes you are so much like your pop," she said, managing a small smile as Stephanie's face lit up.
"Would Papa have said what I just said?"
"Well, he knew me just about as well as you know me," Kayla laughed. "So yeah. I bet you that he would've."
"Would he have helped you help Uncle Roman?"
"Knowing your dad, he'd probably come up with some way to that I haven't even thought of yet."
When Kayla sat up, then tried and failed to cover her mouth in time to cover up a yawn, she frowned, seeing Stephanie jump off of the couch.
"Hey, now. Where are you going to in such a rush?"
"You can't help Uncle Roman or think of a new way to help him if you're sleepy all the time, Mama," the girl said matter-of-factly, racing over to the kitchen.
"That may be true," Kayla called after her. "But what are you planning to...baby girl? Stephanie?"
Not hearing a response, just loud rummaging through her kitchen cabinets, she got to her feet.
"Stephanie Kay, what are you up to?" she asked, knocking on the shut kitchen door.
"Alright then! Two-second warning!"
Opening the door, she found Stephanie tearing open a cardboard case of pop at the kitchen island.
"Mama, no!" she whined, racing to block Kayla's view of the box and the can of Pepsi she'd just opened. "You're not supposed to look!"
"And I think I know why," Kayla snorted, crossing her arms.
"I'm sorry, but are we at or throwing a party?" she asked, arching a brow.
"Is there some special occasion going on? Are we at the movies or out to dinner or having a girl's day?"
"Nooo," Stephanie muttered.
"Then why are you breaking into the pop I only bought and brought into this house so that you could bring it to your class pizza party next week?"
"Go sit down at the table and I'll tell you!" the girl exclaimed, but her eager smile faded at the skeptical frown on Kayla's face.
"Are you giving me orders now?"
"Please go sit down at the table so I can tell you?"
"Well, since you said please," Kayla relented before Stephanie all but pushed her into one of the dining room chairs, then ran back into the kitchen.
"Stephanie!" Kayla groaned. "Look, whatever it is that you have planned will you please just-"
"Just hang on for a second!"
Hearing too much of Steve in their daughter's exasperated, raised voice to scold her for using it, shaking her head, Kayla smiled, looking up through the kitchen skylight as Stephanie returned with a stack of paper cups, four cans of pop, a pen and a small notebook.
"Okay, tell me. What is this all-"
"You said I reminded you of my pop, and it gave me an idea you haven't thought of."
"What kind of an idea?"
"One that'll keep you from getting sleepy. And it's scientific!" Stephanie grinned, hoping that framing her plan as an experiment would make Kayla agreeable to it. Seeing her mom try her best not to smile, she knew she'd succeeded.
"Okay, this cup had the Pepsi. I'm sure of it."
"How sure are you?"
"I'm sure that if you don't tell me the results right now then this experiment is over," Kayla said before seeing the time. "And it's almost ten," she groaned, not realizing it had gotten so late. "This experiment is definitely over."
"But I wrote in one more round! Please, Mama!" Stephanie begged, putting on her patented, most pathetic pout.
Rolling her eyes, crumpling up the paper cup she was holding, Kayla lobbed it at her daughter's shoulder, getting her giggling.
"One more! Then it's time for bed."
"But wait, we're lab partners now!"
"That's what you called us when we started the experiment! So if you're awake now and can do more research, I should help you."
When Kayla didn't answer, getting up from her chair, Stephanie wrapped her arm around her and rested her head on her shoulder.
"I just want to help you! That's all."
"I know, baby girl."
Hugging her daughter back before asking her to get her notes out of the den, Kayla cracked open a can of Pepsi before Stephanie joined her back at the table and set the legal pad in front of them both.
"I know you were reading through this before, and you can ask me anything you want about what I wrote. I'm hoping maybe explaining it might spark something, make me think of an idea I overlooked. But there's no guarantees, alright? Like I told you, there's only so much research I still can do into what's making your Uncle Roman sick."
"Well, what kind of sick is he?" Stephanie asked.
"See this list here on the bottom of the page? That's all the symptoms that he's had so far," Kayla said as Stephanie read the list aloud.
"Sneezing, persistent cough, low grade fever. Mama, is Uncle Roman smart?"
"I'd say so. Why?" . "Well his fever's not doing that great at school," the girl noted as Kayla nearly spit out her drink.
"Mama, you good?"
"I'm fine, Stephanie Earl," she laughed, wiping at her eyes. "Keep reading."
"Dizziness, fainting, fatigue," Stephanie read off before Kayla added a bullet point to the list.
"Shortness of breath. So Uncle Roman's breaths are short?"
"Shorter, more rapid. He has trouble catching his breath."
"Like me when I got sick around New Year's?" Stephanie asked. "You said I had pneumonia from walking."
"Walking pneumonia, baby girl." Kayla corrected. Reaching over, she stroked her daughter's hair, doing her best not to flash back to sitting up all night by her bed with an inhaler ready for when her cough and wheezing got bad.
"And yeah, it's a lot like that."
"Well, can't we give Uncle Roman pink medicine then? The kind you keep in the fridge?" Stephanie reasoned. "When you gave that to me it helped."
"That pink medicine was an antibiotic, baby. Those treat bacterial infections. What Uncle Roman has is a kind of virus. Most of the time those need to go away on their own but this one's a different kind that needs an antidote. A cure."
"Oh," she nodded. "And pink medicine isn't that?"
"I wish it was," Kayla sighed. "I know Roman's doctors are trying to find a cure but they're having trouble."
"You are, too?"
"Yeah," she admitted. Sitting forward in her chair so her elbows were on the table, she let her chin rest in her hands.
"I'm having a lot of trouble."
Nodding again, chewing her lip, Stephanie uncapped a pen and reached for Kayla's left wrist.
"What are you-"
"Nothing," she said, glancing periodically at a nearby textbook as she drew on the back of Kayla's hand. Once through with the black pen, she capped it up and traded it for a yellow highlighter.
"I'm pretty sure it's not nothing. I'm pretty sure you decided I needed a tattoo," Kayla scoffed before getting a better look at the design.
"It's a rose. A yellow one. I just gotta finish filling it in," Stephanie said as Kayla smiled, blinking back tears.
"I know they're your favorite. You said when Papa gave them to you they made you feel better. Plus, he had a tattoo. Now you do, too!" the girl said proudly, capping the highlighter up as Kayla looked down admiringly at the neatly drawn flower.
"I do. And it's beautiful."
"You really like it?"
"I love it, beauty. But I'm still not letting you put all three of those temporary ones you got on your arm all at once."
"Mama, they're just butterflies. They'd look pretty!"
"And one will look just as pretty. Trust me, you don't need a full sleeve."
Met with a pout, rolling her eyes, Kayla pulled Stephanie close and kissed the side of her head.
"Thank you, though, for this," she said. "My daughter, the artist. Between this and the flashcards you made, your art teacher's doing a great job."
"She didn't teach me to draw this, though. I learned from looking."
"You've got a vase of roses in the kitchen, Mama," Stephanie reminded.
"I used this picture, too, though," she admitted. Pulling the textbook over, she pointed to the photo that Kayla noticed was centered in a chapter on botanical medicine.
"See? This one with all the flowers?"
"Yeah. Flowers," Kayla muttered. Pulling the textbook closer to her, she squinted to read the fine print discussing the antiviral potentials of flowering plant life.
"You think we should send Uncle Roman some flowers? See if they help make him feel any better?" Stephanie asked, then frowned when Kayla didn't respond to her and reached for the highlighter.
"Sorry, baby. I….can you do me a favor? Grab my readers out of the den, alright?"
"The pink or the black ones?"
"Either. And grab some more Pepsi for us, too.
"Us?" Stephanie asked with a grin, getting a nod and an even bigger grin from her mother.
"You're my lab partner, right? Now go on, get what we need before tonight turns into an all-nighter."
Remembering that night turning into a productive all-nighter, one ending with Kayla discussing the potential medicinal properties of Orchidaceae with Roman's medical team, a caffeine and sugar buzz-fueled dance party, and her and her mother crashing hard and falling asleep on the floor rug, Stephanie tucked the legal pad and notebook back into the folder before getting to her feet.
"Okay, Mom," she laughed, walking to the master suite. "You've got to see something you inexplicably kept all this time that I just-"
"It can just stay out here, buddy, alright?!" Stephanie overheard.
Turning the corner, she frowned, seeing Joey at the end of the hall holding the storage bin and an agitated-looking Steve blocking his path to the bedroom.
"Dad, c'mon, it's less than a foot to get it back in your room where it belongs and where Mom said she-"
"Just give it here, Joe!" Wrestling the bin from his son's grip, Steve brushed past him and back down the hall.
"What the hell, Dad? What's going-"
”Not here!" he growled before bowing his head. Letting out a slow breath, he took a beat before repeating himself, his voice rough and thick with emotion.
"C'mon now," he prompted, nodding for Stephanie and Joey to follow him.
Post by wildheartashley on Apr 26, 2023 17:24:11 GMT -5
I absolutely loved the flashback of little Stephanie with Kayla. So sweet,and Stephanie giving Kayla a tattoo was the cutest. Love the mother/daughter dynamic that you created. Can’t wait to see what Steve tells the kids.
Author's Note- Evening, folks. A sinus infection and my future sister in law's wedding shower put my fic writing/reading on pause for a bit. I'm back now though and have the next chapter almost ready to go. In the meantime though, thanks for reading this one if you are.
"C'mon now, there's something I've got to tell you," Steve prompted as Stephanie frowned, staying in place even as Joey moved to follow their father down the hall.
"I just want to show something to Mom," she said, waving the folder.
"It'll just take a second, Papa. I'll be right there."
Seeing the bedroom door ajar, she felt confident in her choice, knowing it would be shut if Kayla didn't want to be disturbed.
"Hey, Mama. Two-second warning," she chirped before knocking, pushing the bedroom door open the rest of the way.
"Yeah, I just wanted to show you something. I-"
Trailing off when she saw a too-pale Kayla shove the thermometer that had just been in her mouth under the pillow, Stephanie stood frowning and frozen in place, not hearing Steve come up behind her and not hearing Joey until he spoke up.
"Mom? What the... what's wrong?"
"Joey?" Kayla rasped as she sat up in bed.
"Sick? Yeah, we got that," Joey scoffed.
"But if you weren't feeling well, why'd you ask us to come over?" Stephanie asked, turning to Steve.
"Well, I don't think she's contagious, or I doubt we'd be here," Joey reasoned as Stephanie bit her lip.
"So it's not just a cold or the flu then," she said nervously, seeing the pained expression on Kayla's face that didn't go away even as Steve sat beside her on the bed and slipped his arm around her.
"Little Sweetness, Joe," he started. "Your mom-"
"Steve, I can speak for myself," Kayla cut in.
"Baby, I just-"
"I know," she sighed, running her thumb over the back of his hand that was twined with hers. "Just let me take the lead for now, please?"
"Look, someone just tell us something, alright?!"
"Tripp already knows! Should we ask him?" he scoffed, pulling out his phone as Kayla shot him a cautionary look.
"You can both ask your dad and me anything you want. Once you let us get a word in and give us a chance to explain," she said firmly.
Nodding, Joey put his phone back in his pocket while Stephanie folded her arms protectively over herself, nodding as well though her head was bowed and her eyes were trained on the carpet. She tried her best to let the clinical terms Kayla was using and Steve giving context to the Orpheus message wash over her so she could try to process and rationalize it all. But by the time Joey was through watching the recording and had thrown Steve's phone across the room, her hands were shaking to the point she dropped the folder on the floor.
"Little Sweetness," Steve sighed. When he got up and approached her, Stephanie backed up, wrapping her arms tighter around herself.
"Stephanie, I promise you. All my symptoms right now, they're manageable," Kayla assured. "Really, it's nothing that I haven't dealt with-"
"I know, Mom," Stephanie reminded in a small voice. "I'm sorry, guess I'm not as prepared as you are to see you dealing with it all over again," she choked out before excusing herself, ducking out of the room and down the hall before anyone could stop her.
"Stephanie!" Kayla cried as Joey got to his feet.
"I got her, Mom."
Going off of Steve's nod, one he took to mean he'd keep Kayla from bolting out of bed and down the hall after him, walking into the living room, Joey saw his sister perched on the edge of the couch, wringing her hands.
"Just give me a minute, Joey."
"I can't even give you thirty seconds before Mom pulls some jujitsu move to get past Dad and comes out here to see you for herself..."
Trailing off, seeing Stephanie wipe at her eyes with the back of her hand, Joey stepped closer to the couch.
"She still wants to talk to us, Steph. I know she was in full-blown Chief of Staff mode, and when she goes all medical dictionary, it freaks me out, too. But she just-"
"Wants to talk to us. I heard you," Stephanie snapped as Joey swallowed hard, then perched on the coffee table across from her.
"But we can talk back though—you and me and Dad and her. You know how much she likes having all of us around. It'll make her feel better. Make us all feel a little less freaked out."
"Joey, you don't-"
"No, Steph. With you and me and Dad and Tripp around, Mom will get better, alright?"
"No, she'll relax, and she'll think clearer, and she'll work with Tripp or the ISA or whoever to come up with some way to cure this thing because she's a doctor, and it's what she does. But she's not gonna relax if we're running off or shutting her out. She'll get all stressed out, and that…that can't happen," Joey sighed, trying to keep his own stress at bay even as he kept flashing to hostage situations and subdural hematomas and his mother passing out at the pub before being rushed into emergency brain surgery.
"If we're here, though, it'll be okay. Mom will be okay if we're just there for her and talk to her-"
"You mean like when I was there for her outside that picture window and kept talking to her through the intercom, and she still flatlined right in front of me!" Stephanie cried as Joey shrank back and swallowed hard.
"Joe, go in and check on your mom. Alright?" Steve interrupted from where he stood in the hall. Wiping at his eye with the heel of his hand, he sat on the arm of the couch and glanced at his daughter, who was staring down at the rug.
"Go on, Joe. It's alright," he said as Joey nodded, doing as asked while Stephanie continued looking down and away.
Shaking her head, Stephanie sniffled and wiped at her eyes.
"Papa, you don't... I'm okay. I told Joey, I...I just need a minute. I-"
Shaking his head now, Steve reached over and slipped his arm around Stephanie before she turned, letting out a soft whimper before she broke down in tears against his chest.
His own stinging his eye, Steve swallowed hard and held his daughter tight.
"Shh, I know, little Sweetness. I know, baby," he choked out. "Your papa's scared, too."