The smell assaulted Alex the second she entered the room. The small space was thick with the odour of illness, disinfectant over....what? If she was neutral to the situation, or if she was being honest with herself, she would have said death....she was neither. That thing in the bed, that grey lifeless thing was her father.
His chest rose and fell in time with the machine that pumped air, pumped life into his lungs. Alex took a hesitant step forward. She could see now that the thick clear tube entered her father's body through a slit in his throat. A dressing surrounded the gash, but she knew it was there.
She turned back towards her mother. "Why the respirator?"
Her mother just shrugged. "There was some damage to his lungs. Assisted breathing I think they called it. It was supposed to be taken out this morning but...." her voice trailed off.
Alex turned back to look at her father to see that his eyes were open. He gazed at her beseechingly, begging her forward with his eyes. Alex took the final two steps to his bedside and picked up his hand. His fingers were cold, even icy.
"I'm here daddy," she croaked out around the lump that had formed in her throat. Her eyes were glassy, but she had promised herself she would not cry in front of him. "How you doing old man?"
At just forty eight years of age Gino Belle was far from old, but it had been a joke between them since Alex had become a teenager. At the tender age of thirteen, thirty seven had seemed ancient. It didn't seem so old anymore.
Gino smiled up at his daughter weakly. "Better...," he swallowed thickly and with great effort, "...now that you're here, angel." His voice was thin and thready.
A single tear slipped over Alex's lower lid and down her cheek. She turned her head away from her father and looked towards Jon for help. He had been hanging back near the door, but now he moved forward to stand near her. He put a hand on her cheek and discretely swiped at the tear with his thumb, before wrapping one arm around her, pulling her in close to his side, lending her his strength. She was almost as pale as her father, and he hadn't thought it was possible to be that pale and still breathing. She leaned into him and rested her head on his shoulder for a moment.
"Daddy, do you remember Jon?" Alex asked. "He was kind enough to offer me his private jet to get me here as quickly as possible. He even came along to make sure I'd be ok." She offered by way of explanation. It came out in a nervous whoosh of breath.
Gino opened his mouth to speak again and winced sharply.
Jon rested a hand lightly on Gino's arm to halt his attempted speech. He marvelled at the strength of the muscle beneath his fingers, it was a complete contradiction to what his eyes were showing him. When in good health, this was a formidable man. "Please Mr. Belle, don't try to talk. It's good to see you again, Sir. I just wish it were under better circumstances." Jon said politely.
Gino nodded in agreement then mouthed his own name.
Jon smiled at him, "Ok then.... Gino," he replied, instantly getting the older man's meaning.
Gino lips curled slightly in response and slight raised a thumb. The move was barely perceptible in his weakened state. He glanced past Jon and Alex, and the both turned to see what had caught his attention. A nurse in scrubs, pushing a stainless steel trolley was just entering the room. Sophia followed her in from the corridor.
"She's here to remove the respirator." Sophia explained. "Well have to go wait in the visitors lounge until she's done."
"Sorry," the nurse apologised, "you're mum explained that you just got here, but this was scheduled for this morning and we've had so many emergencies come through, this is the first chance we've had to get up here."
Alex smiled weakly at the nurse, "That's ok. I haven't spoken to mum yet. We'll just go catch up on the news." She turned back to her father. "We won't be far Daddy...just right down the hall here. And we'll be back as soon as we can."
Gino nodded slightly in acknowledgement. Alex could see that even that small movement was causing him pain.
"I'll take care of her Sir." Alex had turned away and wasn't sure if Jon's statement was independent or in reply to some gesture of her father's. He led her out of the room and down a pale blue corridor. Why was it that all hospitals seemed to have the same color schemes? Either beige, pale blue or pale green. She much preferred the blue, though she wasn't sure she'd feel the same after today.
About twenty yards down the corridor, in the direction from which they entered, Sophia indicated a Visitors Lounge off to the left.
"I'm just going to the bathroom," she said, "I'll be back in a minute." She continued on down the hallway.
Alex and Jon stepped into the room, it was small and cozy. It housed two softy upholstered, warm gold sofas - a two and a three seater, and a small maplewood coffee table. Off to the side on the left wall was a small sideboard with tea and coffee making facilities.
Jon pulled Alex into his arms and cradled her gently against his body. Neither of them spoke a word. They didn't need to; the comfort was in simply holding each other.
Jon felt Alex tremble in his arms and a patch of dampness slowly increased in the soft cotton of his t-shirt. Gently he tilted Alex's face up to his and kissed away her tears. He placed feather light kisses on each of her cheeks, and then moved lower to capture her pouting lips in a chaste but leisurely kiss. It was at that exact moment that Sophia returned from the bathroom.
She cleared her throat in the doorway to announce her arrival. Jon pulled back from the kiss and released Alex from the circle of his arms, but did not relinquish contact completely. He wrapped one arm supportively around her waist, and watched as Sophia strode purposefully into the room.
Sophia sat at one end of the nearest couch and indicated the spot next to her for Alex. It was the two seat sofa, and Alex wondered whether the gesture was purposely meant to exclude Jon, or simply an oversight. She tended to think the former.
Alex took a step towards the other sofa, but Jon pulled her back gently and steered her towards the seat next to her mother. Once she was settled he perched on the arm beside her, her hand firmly held in his own, resting on his lap.
Sophia looked at their hands thoughtfully for a few moments. Finally she spoke. "Alex, what's going on here? Is there something you need to tell me?"
"What do you mean?"
"Don't play dumb with me young lady. When I saw you last, you had just married Rick," Sophia watched Jon flinch at the mention of the name, "and yet here you are in another man's arms and your husband is nowhere to be found."
"Jon is a long time friend, Mum, he is here to support me until we can contact Rick and get him home." Alex explained. It sounded rational, so why was her stomach still doing somersaults.
"Alex," her mother looked at her from beneath raised eyebrows, "have you forgotten I know the history here...all of the history. Besides, what I just walked in on was far from friendly support."
And there was the reason for the somersaults. Her mother certainly didn't know the whole history, but she sure knew enough to make this very uncomfortable. "Jon, honey, would you mind if I spoke to Mum alone for a while please?"
He looked at her for a long moment. When she offered him a small smile of reassurance he nodded his ascent and rose to leave. "I've got a couple of calls to make. I might just see if I can find a phone. I won't be too far and I'll be sure to let the nurse know where I'll be."
Alex squeezed his hand. "Thanks babe."
Jon bent down then hesitated momentarily before placing a gentle kiss on her lips. It seemed as though her mum was privy to the state of play anyway. He figured it couldn't get much worse.
"Be back soon." He smiled tentatively at Sophia as he left the room; her response was a stony glare. And he thought his mom was a tough cookie to crack. Perhaps it could get worse after all.
Jon was finally situated at a pay phone with a cup of coins sitting on a ledge before him. He was going to do this when they got back to a hotel, but Gino didn't look good and he wasn't sure when or even if that would happen. There was no way he was going to leave Alex.
He dialled the number for an assisted call and the operator picked up and asked for the number. He gave it to her and waited. It would be the early hours of the morning at home now.
Finally the call clicked and he heard Dots voice echo down the line. "Hello? Jon?"
The operator asked for payment and he dropped coin after coin in the slot.
"Yeah...it's me," he said over the clang of change. He leaned his head heavily on his forearm, supported by the phone. The weariness was beginning to hit him now.
"Where the hell are you Jon?" Dot's tone was edged with sleep and irritation.
"What do you mean, 'where am I?' I'm in Sydney with Alex like explained yesterday." Jon replied, trying his best to keep the irritation from his.
"Jon, please tell me you mean the Sydney near Tampa?"
"Why the hell would I be in Florida?" Jon snapped. He looked around to make sure he was truly alone. The last thing they needed was for this to be tomorrow's headlines. ROCKSTAR TRAVELS TO OZ TO SUPPORT DEVASTATED MISTRESS.
"Why the fuck would you be in Sydney Australia?" Dot returned.
"HMMM...now let me think about this for a second," he replied sarcastically, "maybe because Alex is Australian and this is where her parents live."
"Jesus Christ Jon, I wish when you told me you wanted to be there for Alex, you made it just a little clearer exactly what that would entail. I have no problem with you helping a friend Jon...but Jesus...the other side of the fucking world? What do I tell everyone? The tour starts in just a few weeks and there is so much left to be done. That's your problem I guess, but if you don't care about that, tell me what I'm supposed to tell Stephy?" Dot seethed.
"Tell Stephy I'm working...she wouldn't know any different. As for the rest Dot...I don't give a fuck what you tell them." Jon replied coldly.
"Please Jon...Think about what this looks like." Dot said exasperated.
"It looks like I have heart...that's what it looks like!"
"It looks like you have a dick. That's what it looks like." She retorted angrily.
"Oh for fucks sake, Dot!" Jon took a deep steadying breath, forcing himself to look at this from Dots point of view. The fact that there was more truth than not in what she was saying probably helped. It was hard to pull off righteous indignation when you were far from righteous, especially when, just hours before you'd been wrapped body and soul around another woman.
"Look ... I'm sorry if this looks bad from where you're sitting ... But Listen Dot, things aren't looking so good here at the moment. We have been trying to get a hold of Rick but he's in the field with some kind of special ops platoon and can't be contacted. They are sending a scout out after him but that could take days. Sophia is a strong woman, but the love of her life is hanging on by a thread, so it's all she can do to function. Alex is supporting her. And I'm all Alex has at the moment...I can't desert her now." Well that bit about Sophia may have been a slight exaggeration...
There was a long pause and then Dot sighed heavily, all the fight draining from her. "And I wouldn't ask you to. Just get back here as soon as you can. We miss you." Her husband wasn't perfect, by any stretch of the imagination...But he was a good man...and he meant well in what he was doing now. If only she could shake the niggling feeling that there was more to Alex than met the eye.
"I miss you too." Jon said softly. "Is that Stephy I can hear?"
"Uh huh, the phone woke her; she must have crawled in here with me in the middle of the night. She wants to say hello."
"Put her on." Jon heard a little shuffling as Dot positioned the phone at Stephanie's ear and then Dots voice in the background "Say hello to Daddy, Stephy."
"Dadda?" A little squeaky voice intoned.
Jon's face split into a wide grin. "Hey baby girl...watcha doin?"
"Dadda come home?" His little girl asked.
It was the hardest thing he ever had to do...leaving his kids. But the consolation in this was that it was for Alex. "Soon baby...I'll be home soon"
Dots voice sounded hollow in the background. "Say bye-bye Stephy."
"Bye Dadda. Love you." She said in her little girl sing-song voice.
"I love you too Stephy...more than the whole wide world. Kiss Jesse for me." He told her hurriedly.
"I'm back." It was Dots voice again. "I have to go. I have to get this one back to her own bed before she thinks it's playtime. Next time you call can you try for our day so you don't wake the kids. "
"Ok babe, I'll try...thanks for being so understanding about this. I love you." He said sincerely.
"Yeah well with you... 'understanding' is something I've had plenty of practice in." She said. "And I love you too. Come home soon." Then she was gone.