Passion on park avenue t.., p.22
Passion on Park Avenue (The Central Park Pact), page 22
Oliver selected a bouquet of pink roses at a corner shop, then headed home, taking the stairs two at a time up to the fifth floor.
Pre-Naomi, Oliver had always stopped by his own place to catch his breath, change his clothes, switch gears from architect to patient’s son.
Post-Naomi, getting to his father’s place and seeing her there was the highlight of his day. Week.
The woman was becoming the highlight of his life.
Oliver pulled out his keys, then skidded to a halt when he saw the door of his father’s apartment was open.
His heart pounded as he slowly walked toward the door, pushing it open with a combination of urgency and dread.
No response. The only sound he heard was the History Channel on full volume.
Oliver broke out in a cold sweat. They could have gone for a walk, but there was no way Naomi would have left the door unlocked, much less open.
“Dad!” he called, more urgent now, going to the bedroom. Empty.
Absently, he reached for the remote to turn off the TV, the silence only ratcheting up his sense that something was very wrong.
A cell phone buzzed against a hard surface and he scanned the room until he saw Naomi’s phone on the kitchen counter, distinctive in its coral case.
Oliver went for it, reaching for it, when he came up short.
His heart stopped.
“Naomi,” he said on a rush.
She lay crumpled on the floor of the kitchen, a small pool of blood beneath her head.
“Naomi!” She didn’t move.
He crouched beside her, running a hand over her side, even as his first aid training reminded him not to move her.
Oliver softly touched her cheek, but she didn’t stir. He pulled out his phone and dialed 911 with a shaky hand.
“Yes, I need an ambulance at 517 Park Avenue. There’s a woman unconscious.”
He barely recognized his own voice as he answered the operator’s questions.
No, he didn’t know what happened.
Yes, there was blood.
Was she breathing?
Oliver swallowed. He hadn’t checked, because it hadn’t occurred to him—he wouldn’t let it be true.
With a shaky hand, he put his fingers to Naomi’s wrist. Found a pulse. To calm his heart, he put his hand beneath her nose, felt her breath.
“Yes. She’s breathing.”
“Okay, an ambulance’s on the way. Can you stay on the line, help me tell them where to go when they get there?”
He started to say, yes, of course, when he remembered. Walter. Walter was missing.
And suddenly Oliver was faced with the worst decision of his life: stay with the bloodied, unconscious body of the woman he loved, or try to find his lost, ill father.
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6
Naomi’s first words upon opening her eyes were ones she’d learned in the Bronx housing projects, and most definitely not fit for church.
But damn her head hurt.
She lifted her hand to the pain, only to freeze when she noted the tubes sticking out of the back of her hand.
“What the . . .”
She felt a wave of panicked nausea and closed her eyes again, both to try to ward off the pain and to remember.
She was in a hospital, clearly.
It came back. Slowly. Blearily. Walter. He’d been in one of his moods. She’d asked him to turn the TV down, he’s shouted . . . Well, let’s just say she wasn’t the only one with a foul mouth.
He’d demanded whisky, she’d said no, knowing alcohol would only inflame his current state, and he’d . . .
Hit her. Shoved her?
She couldn’t remember the details. She only knew the fear of seeing his much larger frame coming at her, eyes unfocused and furious, remembered hearing the crack of her own head against the cabinets . . .
Naomi felt a soft touch against her hand and turned her head slightly, opening her eyes to see a concerned-looking Deena.
Deena’s eyes went wide. “The nurse was right! You did call out!”
“Rather spicy, too,” came a male voice to her left. Naomi slowly rotated her neck, and looked over to a portly man in scrubs adjusting something with her IV.
“How you feeling?” he asked.
She tried to speak, but her mouth felt dry. She swallowed and tried again. “Like you better be increasing the morphine in that thing.”
He smiled. “Any dizziness? Nausea?”
She considered, then shook her head. The nausea she’d felt when she’d first opened her eyes had passed, and she wasn’t seeing doubles of anyone. “Just the headache.”
“I’ll send the doctor right in to look you over. I gave your friend there some ice chips if you need any.”
Deena shook a paper cup, but Naomi shook her head no. She didn’t want ice. She wanted answers.
“We were hoping you could tell us,” Deena said with a smile.
“Who’s we?” She scanned the room, but it was only Deena.
“Oh, you know, only everyone from the office. They’ve all been clamoring for a visit, but they’ll have to get in line.”
“In line behind . . . ?” Naomi asked, her heart desperate for one name, and one name alone.
“Me. Those fancy girls who were sleeping with your ex.”
“Claire and Audrey are here?” Naomi asked, feeling a little guilty that her heart sank that Deena hadn’t mentioned Oliver.
Deena nodded. “They’ll be back any minute. It was their turn for a Starbucks run, and I hope they got my order right. What’s the point of a Frappuccino if there’s no extra whip?”
“Deena,” Naomi asked softly. “Have you seen a guy here? A—”
She was interrupted by a knock on the door as a woman in aqua scrubs walked in without waiting for a response. “Hi, Naomi, I’m Dr. Estrada. Rumor has it you got quite the bump on the noggin.”
Yay, one of those doctors.
Deena squeezed her hand in reassurance and then backed out of the room so Naomi could speak with the doctor in private.
Dr. Estrada checked something on the IV, jotted something on her clipboard, and then pulled a small flashlight out of her pocket.
Several annoying minutes later, after having the light shone in her eyes and being instructed to follow the finger and do basic math and describe her pain level on a scale of one to ten, the doctor announced that she wasn’t showing any signs of a concussion, but that they wanted to do a CT scan to be sure.
“When can I leave?” Naomi asked.
Dr. Estrada gave an impersonal smile as she scribbled on her clipboard. “Depends what that CT scan says. I’ll have someone in shortly. You need anything?”
An escape route. Oliver. Answers.
“No, I’m good.”
Dr. Estrada nodded and left. There was another knock, and Naomi resisted the urge to tell whoever it was to go away so she could think for a minute, but her protest died when she saw who it was.
She smiled, but he didn’t smile back. In fact, he looked . . . different. Not just because of the jeans and sweater in lieu of the usual suit, but he looked . . . cold. Removed.
“Oliver, I’m so sorry,” she said, trying to sit up. “Walter—is he?”
Oliver gently pushed her back to the pillows, though it was an impersonal, don’t-do-that sort of touch, not a lingering touch of a loved one.
“He’s fine. I found him at the Central Park dog park.”
“Oh, good,” she said, a little confused by the anger in his tone. “He does love that place.”
Oliver didn’t nod in acknowledgment. Didn’t smile. It was like dealing with a robot.
“Do you remember what happened?” he asked, crossing his arms.
Naomi hesitated. How did you tell someone that you were in a hospital bed because their sick father had gotten violent?
Oliver sighed and his arms dropped. “I figured it was something like that. Walter couldn’t tell us anything, but—I apologize.”
“You apologize,” she said, mimicking his frosty tone. “It wasn’t your fault. It wasn’t even Walter’s fault, he didn’t know—”
“No, it was his fault,” Oliver interrupted. “And mine, I suppose, for not recognizing sooner that someone of his size, in his condition, needed more than home care.”
“What do you mean?” She searched his face, trying to read him.
He swallowed, the motion so awkward and strained that she heard it.
“I dropped him off at a facility this morning.”
“Oliver,” she said, reaching for his hand.
He didn’t reach back. “It’s up near Westchester. A little further than some of the places in the city, but it’s nicer. More outdoor space. He didn’t—” He swallowed again. “He didn’t seem to hate it.”
“You didn’t have to do that just because of this—it was a onetime thing—”
“No, it was a first-time thing,” he said quietly. “I’ve known for a while it would come to this. Sooner than I thought, but . . . it’s better this way.”
“No, it’s not. You’re obviously upset, you—”
“I came here as soon as I found my dad,” Oliver interrupted. “And my neighbor Ruth was with you the entire time up until then.”
“Oh. Okay. Thank you—”
“They couldn’t get ahold of your emergency contact. I was the first one here, before your assistant or your friends. They asked if I knew how to get in touch with her.”
“With who?” she asked, her head pounding harder, knowing she was missing something but too disoriented to figure out what.
“The name on your emergency contact. Your mother.”
“Oh,” Naomi said, wincing. “I guess I never updated . . .”
She went still, her hand falling away from where it had been exploring the bandage on the side of her head.
Her mother. Oliver had heard her mother’s name . . .
“Danica Fields,” he said, his voice cold. “I knew that I knew it as soon as I heard it, but it took me a while to place it. Took a while for the memories of my mother spitting that name like it was an epithet to come screaming back.”
Naomi closed her eyes. “Oliver.”
“I had no idea you were that Naomi, but you knew I was that Oliver, didn’t you? Carrots?”
His use of her childhood nickname might have made her smile in other circumstances, but not now. Now she was merely the Carrots to his Ollie, and he hated her every bit as much now as he had back then.
The trouble was, she didn’t hate him back. Not anymore.
“I was going to tell you,” she said, still not opening her eyes. “When?” His voice cracked just the slightest bit, and he cleared his throat. “When?”
“I tried, a bunch of times, but . . .”
“But nothing. How could you just—how could you not—”
She opened her eyes, just as he shut his, and the tired pain on his face ripped at her.
“Is that why you moved into the building?” he asked, meeting her gaze coolly once again. “Was it some sort of, what, revenge plan? Is that why you hated me on the spot?”
“Yes,” she whispered. “I mean, I didn’t want to hurt you or your father, I just wanted . . . closure.”
“On something that happened twenty years ago? When I was a kid? When we both were? Grow up, Naomi.”
“Hey,” she snapped, feeling apologetic, but also not prepared to take all the blame. “Those twenty years passed a little bit differently for you and me. Do you know that we had nowhere to go after you lied to cover for your dad? I slept on the street with my backpack as my pillow. From there, it was a homeless shelter, and then on to a disgusting motel. And then a lot more disgusting motels, and even more disgusting apartments—”
“That’s not my—”
“Not your problem?” she guessed. “Not your problem that my mother went off the rails after she got tossed out by your parents? They blacklisted her. And when she couldn’t get another housekeeping job, she just gave up, Oliver. So no, maybe it wasn’t your problem, but it sure as hell was your fault. Your mom never would have let my mom keep her job, but maybe we could have at least gotten her final paycheck. Maybe we could have had time to find someone to stay with had your dad not thrown her and me under the bus.”
Oliver’s gaze flickered with regret, and he stared at her for a long moment. “You’re right.”
She opened her mouth, primed for another fight, but his simple words caught her off guard, and instead she gave an awkward nod that made her head hurt even worse.
He stepped closer. “Naomi. I didn’t know. Really I didn’t, and I can’t tell you how sorry I am. I’m not proud of how I handled that back then. And I know it doesn’t make it better, but though it wasn’t the last time my dad cheated on my mom, it was the last time I covered for him. I was a shitty little kid, but I got better.”
“I know,” she whispered.
“Christ,” he said, dragging a hand over his face and looking at her. “Naomi Fields. I haven’t thought about you in . . . Where are your glasses? Your hair’s darker. You’re not so . . .”
He gave a reluctant smile. “No, you’re still definitely that. I was going to say frustrating, but you’re still that, too.”
His smile disappeared as he held her gaze. “What you did was pretty messed up. I can understand wanting some closure over what happened. Maybe even some sort of reckoning. But to wiggle your way into our lives—you must have been thrilled to see what happened to us. My mom dead. My dad, hardly aware of who he was. Me, falling head over heels for you. Was that the plan, Naomi?”
“No, it wasn’t like that!” she protested, trying to sit up again, batting away his hand as it tried to keep her still. “Yes, I moved into the building because a part of me wanted you to have to live side by side with the help’s daughter, with the daughter of the woman your father cheated with. But I didn’t know . . . I didn’t know your father’s condition. I didn’t know you had . . . changed.”
“And yet when you did find out, you didn’t exactly rush to come clean. Instead you let us—me—Damn it, Naomi, we cared about you. I mean, yeah, Walter’s form of caring is complicated, but you let me bring you into our lives. Hell, I left my father with someone who hates him.”
“I don’t—Okay, I did,” she admitted. “A lot. But I don’t hate him now, Oliver, I swear to you. I want him to be okay. I want you to be happy—”
“You’ll get your wish on the first one. Walter will be fine. Probably better now that he’ll have round-the-clock care better than I can give him. And as for me being happy . . . I’ll get there, too. Eventually. But not with you, Naomi.”
She croaked out a little sound of dismay as her eyes watered. “Oliver.”
He nodded at the bandage on her head. “I’ll take care of the hospital bills. It’s my fault you’re here. And I’m glad you’re okay, but Naomi . . .” His gaze came back to hers, cold and hard. “We’re done.”
“No!” she said, getting a concerned look from a nurse in the hallway.
He started to turn away, then turned back. “For what it’s worth, I really am sorry about back then. I’m not proud of myself. Or of my parents. And if I could change it, I would.”
“I know you would. Oliver—”
“But,” he continued tersely, interrupting her, “I’ve found another one of your corner pieces, Naomi. The one that shows you’re dishonest and maybe a little revenge-hungry.”
No longer able to hold them back, her tears spilled down her cheeks. “Maybe. But I have other pieces, too.”
He shrugged. “You’re no longer a puzzle I’m interested in solving.”
And then he was gone.
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 18
Turn that off,”
“All right,” Naomi said easily, even though he’d asked her to turn on the television just a few moments before.
“What would you like to do?”
“Where the hell is Margaret? Probably off shopping again.” He tugged at his sweatshirt, then looked down as though surprised to see it.
“I’m not hungry,” he barked, even though she hadn’t said a word.
“Okay, no problem,” she said.
He gave her a suspicious look for a long moment, then he reached for the book on his nightstand and held it out to her.
His eyes met hers in a silent request, and she smiled. “Sure. Let’s read.”
She sat in the chair beside him, opening the enormous biography on Benjamin Franklin to the bookmarked spot. She hadn’t been reading this to him, so it must have been Oliver.
Her stomach twisted a little at the thought. She hadn’t spoken to him since that day in the hospital. She hadn’t even seen him, which was no easy task, considering they were still neighbors, as far as she knew.
Not that they would be for long. The first thing Naomi had done after getting out of the hospital was to make arrangements to move into the place in Tribeca. And fabulous though she knew the condo was, at this point, she’d have been just as happy to be back in one of the various gross Belmont motel rooms of her childhood. Anywhere but at 517 Park.
She’d moved in for all the wrong reasons, and it was as she’d known all those years ago—she didn’t belong there. Not then and not now, though the reasons were different.
Then, because people like Margaret and Walter Cunningham were unlikely to ever think of people like Danica and Naomi Fields as anything but beneath them.
Now, because Naomi knew people weren’t above other people. In character, maybe, but not in status. And her character the past few weeks had been sorely lacking.
Still, even though Oliver had ignored her texts, calls, and the letter she’d slipped under his door, she was holding on to the slight hope that he didn’t hate her entirely.
Last weekend she’d shown up at the only Alzheimer’s care home in Westchester with the large outdoor space he’d mentioned and asked to see Walter Cunningham. Only stupidly, she hadn’t thought it through to realize that of course they wouldn’t allow a random, unplanned visitor access to their patients.
by Lauren Layne / Romance have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes