Stormer opened her eyes, drawing a deep breath of air into her lungs as she tried to get a fix on her bearings. She had been dreaming - a wild and troubled dream about boats and aeroplanes and people needing help, and for a moment she could not place where she was. Then, as she heard the gentle tick-tock of her travel alarm clock, she remembered.
"So what woke me?" She wondered, sitting up in bed and reaching to switch on the bedside lamp. A gentle glow illuminated the spacious bedroom, and she squinted at the clock dial, frowning at what she saw.
"Half five." She murmured. "My sleeping's as all over the place by all this as Jetta's. I suppose it wasn't her who woke me? Maybe she's up and about...I should probably go check."
To think was to act and she pushed back her bedcovers, grabbing her dressing gown and pulling it over her shoulders as she felt around the floor with her toes for her slippers. Tying the cord of her gown around her waist, she picked her torch up from the bedside cabinet, switching it on and dousing the lamp.
The house seemed quiet and, as she made her way down the corridor to the room Jetta was using, she realised that it had not been her British bandmate who had disturbed her sleep. Jetta's cheeks were stained with the tears from her earlier outburst and around her eyes was still suspiciously red, but she was fast asleep and, if there was the occasional catch in her breathing, she seemed to be sleeping peacefully.
"Then what?" Stormer wondered, leaving Jetta's bedroom as silently as she had entered and pushing the door shut behind her. "Because something did. Oh well. I guess I'll get a glass of water and go back to bed. Maybe it was only in my dream."
She made her way slowly down the stairs, pausing at the bottom to switch on the hall light. She turned off her torch, setting it down beside the phone as she crossed the entrance hall to the kitchen. Then, as a sound caught her ears, she froze.
Someone was in the house.
She held her breath, tiptoeing carefully across the carpet to the living room door, from where the sound had come. As she touched the handle, there was a thud and a whispered curse, and Stormer's heart skipped a beat. She gathered her courage, flinging open the door and slamming on the light. Then she let out an exclamation of surprise.
"You damn near gave me a heart attack!" Roxy exclaimed, her hand going to her chest. "What are you playing at? I thought everyone was asleep!"
"Everyone is. Well. Except me." Stormer amended. "Something woke me...I guess it was you."
"Roxy, you're soaking! It must be tipping it down out there?"
"Not so much." Roxy shook her head. "I'm all right, Stormer. I'm going to go have a hot shower and change...it's warm in here at least."
"We didn't expect you...I mean, you said...Pizzazz told me you told her..." Stormer faltered, then, "She said you weren't coming back till you found something. Does that mean...?"
"Did we find something?" Roxy's tired brown eyes sparkled. "You bet we did. We found the missing section of the boat...and we found Justin."
"Oh God." Stormer's hand flew to her mouth, then, "He...is he...?"
"He's alive." Roxy nodded. "He's a bit of a mess - actually, a lot of a mess, that lake's damn cold and he's been in it a long time. But he was hanging on when I left him. They wanted to poke me around, because I was so wet and stuff, but I had to come back here and speak to you. And, well, you know. Jetta. Tell her that we'd hauled him out at least."
"Oh!" Stormer's eyes widened. "But...how? Roxy, he was missing for over a day...how did he ever survive?"
"He's a Pelligrini. We're tough." Roxy said simply. "Though between you and me, I ain't sure how either. He's too damn cold at the moment. Hypothermic, they're afraid of complications and brain damage but he said my name so I know he's okay. Just cold and tired. They think that the cold slowed his body down enough to keep him going for as long as it did...though it makes no sense to me. Cold kills, it doesn't cure...I think he's just damn lucky, in truth."
She shivered involuntarily, and Stormer frowned.
"You need to get out of those wet things, before you come down with a cold." She said practically. "If you were with him at the hospital, you must have been in them long enough. Didn't they think to give you fresh ones?"
"I wouldn't let them. I'm tough enough to put up with it and I didn't want their fussing." Roxy dismissed this with a shrug. "I've spent nights colder than this one, Stormer. It's okay. Like I said, I'll go up and change in a minute. I just wanted to pass the news on first."
She bit her lip.
"I came back to tell Jetta." She added slowly. "Because...dammit, I don't know what I think about this whole marriage crap just at the moment. But I know Justin would want me to speak to her, and right now what he wants matters, I guess. So I'm here. I just..."
She shook her head, running fingers absently through her drenched white-blond hair.
"She wasn't right in the head earlier on." She said bluntly. "She damn near passed out on me and though she said it was jetlag, I think Justin's accident freaked her out. More than it did me, even. I don't know why, but I even felt protective of her. I sent her back here because I really thought she might fall off the boat and drown herself if I took her out...but...well, if she's still...not right, I don't know as I want to speak to her. Not face to face. She might get...emotional. She looked emotional earlier. I don't want a scene. I couldn't deal with it."
"Do you want me to tell her?" Stormer asked softly. Relief flickered in Roxy's eyes. She nodded.
"Yes." She agreed. "You'll phrase it better, anyway. And she might be my sister in law now - I might be stuck with that. It doesn't mean I'm her best friend all of a sudden. She needs to know, but...well. I've done my bit."
"I'll run upstairs and wake her." Stormer assured her. "Which hospital is it? She'll want to go, no doubt, and it won't take me long to dress...I'll go with her, if you want to shower and get some rest. You must be exhausted - it's been a hell of a night for you."
"You have no idea." Roxy said ruefully. "But yeah. I am kinda beat."
She stifled a yawn.
"Now I know where my stupid brother is, I can get some rest." She added. "I told the hospital to call his mother, too - she's the lucky one in this, she'll not know he was even missing till after he's safely found. And Justin can wait to see me. If he's awake, he'll probably want to see Jetta more, anyway."
"I don't think Justin has favourites...you're his sister." Stormer began, but Roxy shook her head.
"It's cool." She said with a tired grin. "Right now I'm willing to share him with her. At least, you know, I've still got something to share."
She shivered again.
"I'm gonna hit the shower." She decided. "It's the big hospital by the lake...I didn't catch the name - in the dark with everything happening my eyes aren't so good and I didn't make it out. But you can't miss it. It's not far from the lakeside."
"All right." Stormer nodded. "You go warm up. I'll go speak to Jetta. And Roxy?"
As the fair girl turned to leave.
"I'm glad you were right. I'm glad he was alive."
"Me too." A smile touched Roxy's lips. "Night, Stormer. I guess we'll talk more later...but right now there's a shower with my name on it."
With that she was gone and Stormer followed in her footsteps, her mind whirling. So Justin was alive...but how serious was his condition? Would she wake Jetta, only to get to the hospital and find it was too late again?
"But right now, all I have is Roxy's news and I can't keep it from her." She muttered, hurrying up the stairs and along the corridor that led to Jetta's bedroom. "I promised that, whatever happened, I'd wake her. And much as she needs the sleep, she'd never forgive me if I didn't."
She pushed open the door, crouching at the bedside and reaching over to switch on Jetta's lamp. Gently she laid a hand on her friend's shoulder and the other girl's eyes flickered open in an instant, struggling to focus on the intruder.
"Stormer?" She murmured. "What? I just got to sleep!"
"I know." Stormer nodded. "And I'm sorry to wake you, but Jetta, you'll forgive me when you know. Roxy just got back from the lake. You're not a widow after all."
"Not a..." At first Jetta looked befuddled. Then comprehension lit up her expression and she pulled herself into an upright position, throwing back her bedclothes. "Dammit, are you sure? He's alive? Please God, Stormer, tell me that you're really 'ere tellin' me this an' that I ain't dreamin' it?"
"I'm real." Stormer squeezed her friend's hand. "Roxy told me he was a bit of a mess...that he's got hypothermia from being in the water so long. But he's alive. He's at the hospital by the lake. He's in the best hands he could be now."
Jetta drew a shaky breath of air into her lungs.
"I 'ave to see 'im." She murmured. "I 'ave to go there, Stormer. Now!"
"That's what I thought you'd say." Stormer nodded. "And I'm coming with you. You get dressed and so will I. I'll meet you downstairs as soon as possible, and we'll go. Okay?"
"You don't 'ave to..."
"After this afternoon's chat, I'm coming with you." Stormer said firmly. "Roxy's said you were dizzy earlier and you haven't eaten anything since we got here. I'm not trusting your judgement behind the wheel...if you're going, I'm driving you. And that's final."
"Yes, Mum." Jetta retorted, but there was a sparkle in her eyes that belied her words and Stormer grinned.
"Right then. I'll go dress." She said. "Pizzazz is still asleep, so don't go falling down the stairs or anything crazy. I'm half tempted to make you eat something before we go, in case you pass out on me..."
"Don't you even dare." Jetta shook her head. "I need to see him, Stormer. As soon as possible...sooner. An' if he's that sick...I need to see him before...well...will he be all right? I mean, how sick is he?"
"I don't know for sure." Stormer admitted. "And all right. I tell you what. We'll go see Justin and then I'll buy you breakfast at the hospital cafe. Okay? That's my compromise."
"You like nagging me when I'm down." Jetta muttered. "Fine. All right. Jus' go dress, will you? If you ain't downstairs before me I might just take Pizzazz's car anyway!"
"Not if I have the keys." Stormer said simply. "I'll see you downstairs."
* * * * * * * * *
Jetta sat down slowly beside the bed. Though there seemed to be a mass of cables and tubing surrounding her husband's still body, she found that they comforted her rather than scared her. They were at the very least, she told herself, proof that he was alive and that, despite his pallor, she had not lost him.
Not yet, anyway.
She hesitated, then slid a tentative hand underneath his, feeling the chill of his palm against her own.
"Hypothermia." She murmured. "You 'ear about it, an' read about it, but you don't ever think about it 'appenin' to someone you know. They say that the cold probably stopped you from bleedin' to death, an' they stitched up that 'ole in your arm pretty smartish. But what of the rest of you? What other damage 'as it done? Roxy told Stormer you said 'er name...but...oh, it's 'ard to believe that lookin' at you right now."
She bit her lip.
"You're a git." She added. "A complete an' utter git, have you any idea what you've put me through?"
She reached up to touch his cheek, running a finger gently alongside one of the faint scratches.
"I'm glad to see you." She whispered. "I didn't think I ever would again."
"Excuse me, Miss? Are you supposed to be here?" A nurse poked her head into the room, surprise registering on her face as she realised her patient had company. "Mr Pelligrini is very sick - we're keeping visitors to a minimum. Immediate family only."
Exhaustion mingled with indignation flared Jetta's temper and she glared at the hapless nurse.
"I'm 'is bleedin' wife." She said coldly. "My name is Sheila Pelligrini - is that family enough for you?"
The nurse looked stricken.
"Oh! Mrs Pelligrini, I'm sorry!" She said, holding up her hands. "I just thought...well, your sister-in-law did mention...but I thought you'd come and check in with us beforehand. I mean, well, your husband is quite unwell, and..."
"I don't need a degree in medicine to see that." Jetta interrupted. "Jus' cut to the chase. Tell me it straight. Roxy said they'd stitched up 'is arm wound - that it 'adn't been as bad as they thought, an' all that. I know 'e 'as hypothermia, but I ain't interested in long an' fancy diagnoses. I jus' want to know one thing. Is 'e going to live?"
The nurse hesitated, then she spread her hands.
"We're doing everything we can." She said softly. "I can send down your husband's consultant to speak to you, if you'd like a firmer opinion on his condition. He's stable, I can tell you that much. But it's too soon to know how well he will respond to treatment. We're just taking it a step at a time - and of course, it will do him good to have you here, as well. We don't know if he's truly with us or not at the moment - he has roused briefly a couple of times but neither time has he been particularly coherent. We could only make out a couple of words...his sister's name, and 'jet'...nothing else."
Tears touched Jetta's eyes, but she forced them back.
"I see." She said, fighting to keep her voice level. "Thank you."
"I'll tell Dr Ryan that you want to speak to him, too." The nurse smiled, then withdrew from the room, and Jetta turned her attention back to her sleeping companion.
"You tried to say my name too, didn't you?" She whispered. "Oh, but do you know 'ow bloody weird it sounds, bein' called Mrs Pelligrini? That's the first time...I mean, I didn't even stop an' think when I gave 'er my name. It just came out that way. Pelligrini. Not Burns. Funny, ain't it?"
She sighed, glancing down at her nails.
"I'm tired an' I'm babblin' to myself. You can't 'ear a bleedin' word I'm sayin'." She said sadly. "But at least you're here...an' not lost. I jus' hope you do wake up...Justin, I need to talk to you. An' I can't unless I know that, well, you can 'ear what I'm wantin' to say."
The words were so soft-spoken that at first Jetta was sure she had imagined them. She turned her gaze on her husband once more, meeting his brown eyes with her grey ones and she let out an exclamation.
"Bloody hell, Justin! Are you tryin' to give me an 'eart attack?" She demanded. Justin's lips curled into a faint smile.
"I thought I heard your voice." He murmured. "I thought I was dreaming."
"Well, you weren't." Jetta struggled to get a grip on herself. "How long 'ave you been listenin'?"
"I don't know." Justin admitted. "I'm hazy...confused."
"Do you even know where you are?"
"Hospital in Michigan. Roxy told me that." Justin agreed. "I don't remember getting here, just that I was on a boat and then I was here. And I could hear you...I didn't know if it was real or if it wasn't. A lot of things seemed not real at first...water and then lights and noise and people all around me. I wasn't sure."
"Well, this is real." Jetta grasped his hand again, squeezing it gently. "See? I'm 'ere."
"Yes. In Michigan." Jetta nodded. Justin's fingers stretched feebly along hers, pausing at her wedding ring. He smiled.
"Your ring..." He whispered. "You're wearing it."
"Of course I am, you dolt." Jetta scolded him, but there was affection in her tone and Justin smiled again. "Look. Now you're awake an' all, an' while I'm too tired an' wound up to bleedin' care so much what I say, we need to talk. Or rather, I need to talk. You need to listen. I 'ave things I want to tell you, an' they won't wait."
"All right." Justin nodded his head imperceptibly.
Jetta took a deep breath.
"When we got married in Vegas, all kinds of things went through my 'ead." She said slowly. "An' I got caught up in the excitement of it without really considerin' what it was goin' to mean for the future. I know I freaked out at you pretty badly the next mornin' and I said things...well, you know what I said."
"Anyway, the last few days 'ave been some of the worst of my life." She added softly. "I thought that I'd lost you - forever. An' I realised that I didn't want that. That I've been dumb an' prattled away about 'ow I don't care an' ain't committed to you an' that it's all a big game...but it isn't. I just seem to be the last one to figure it out, that's all."
She glanced at her hands.
"I guess what I'm tryin' to say is that the threat of losin' you made me realise what I was losin'." She added awkwardly. "An' I might've jumped the gun in Vegas an' said 'I do' without really understandin' what I'd done...but now I do understand. An' Justin, the one thought that's been in my brain since Roxy got the call that you were missin' was that...well...I wanted you back."
Justin did not speak, but he squeezed his wife's hand slightly and encouraged, Jetta gathered her composure.
"I'm glad you're alive." She said softly. "Because we parted on such bad terms and I could not 'ave lived with that the rest of my life, bein' a widow at twenty six knowin' that the last time I saw my 'usband, we fought. And I've never said this to you before, because I've never thought that I 'ad to or that it mattered. But you're the only person that really understands what goes on in my 'ead, better even than I do some of the time. And I need you to know that I..."
She swallowed hard.
"I love you." She finished.
Justin's eyes softened.
"I love you too." He whispered. "And it means a lot to hear you say it. More than you know."
"No, perhaps I do know." Jetta bit her lip. "It ain't been easy, comin' to terms with the idea that I might not 'ave you in my life any more. I guess I took for granted that you would be, even if I messed you around and lied to you an' convinced myself I didn't care about you. But this kinda jolted me. I mean if not this, somethin'...right? Eventually you'd 'ave 'ad enough. Eventually you'd 'ave given up an' moved on. Death ain't the only way to lose you...just the most bloody painful. And I don't want to lose you. Any way."
"Meaning you aren't going to ask me for a divorce?" Justin's eyes twinkled. Jetta looked rueful, shaking her head.
"Not a bleedin' chance." She told him firmly. "You're stuck with me."
"Good." Justin smiled, this time a real, genuine smile. "That's what I hoped you were saying."
Jetta hesitated, then she bent to kiss him on the cheek.
"I don't know 'ow to be a wife an' I can't say...you know, those words all the time." She said quietly. "It's not me. I said them today, because you needed to know 'ow things were, an' I'm tired enough to believe I ain't makin' a fool of myself. But...just because I ain't sayin' it, Justin...it doesn't mean it's changed. I just...well...I find it 'ard to talk like that. Even to you."
"I know." Justin agreed. "And it's all right. It's understood between us. I don't expect you to say it often - or even again, if you don't want to. It means enough to me that you said it once, and meant it."
"Then you better hurry up an' get well." Jetta said
"Because this damn state 'as a curse over it, I swear, an' the sooner
out of it, the better!"