A/N: This update is dedicated to FridayIsForever, who pretty much predicted this entire chapter.

Right back at square one

Like I said. Shenanigans.

Honestly, I don't know what it is about the Hammond children and their apparent fascination with near-death scenarios. And what the hell is with the Secret Service agents? Aren't they the ones that are supposed to be throwing themselves into the street for the sake of the first family? Seriously, as much as I loved Tyrone, I was beginning to think that the guy needed to find a new vocation because he was really sucking at his current one.

So for the second time in three months, I found myself lying in the middle of a road after taking the hit of a moving vehicle for a member of the most important family in the country. Unlike last time, however, I remembered every single moment of it.

The car struck me like a battering ram and I felt my ribs crunch under the pressure. Then the car kept barreling through me and I flew over the windshield, over the roof and finally fell to the ground in a crumpled heap behind the car.

"MIRI!" Johnny's panicked voice pierced through the icy January air. But I could barely hear him through the ringing in my ears.

Every part of my body ached. I had cracked my head on the way back down and a sharp pain rang through my head. Both of my sides ached from the impact and I was certain I had re-broken my ribs, which made it difficult — if not impossible — to breathe.

"Someone call an ambulance!" Tyrone's deep voice commanded.

"Miri," Johnny sobbed. All of a sudden he was at my side, holding my bruised hand and stroking my bloody face. I didn't know where all the blood was coming from, but I had to blink it out of my eyes. "Miri, Miri, Miri, come on. Please stay with me. Please, don't go away."

I struggled to hold onto a breath long enough to speak. "Johnny…" I gasped.

"Miri!" he shouted with relief. "Oh thank God, you're alive. Stay with me, okay? You're going to be okay, I promise. Don't leave me. Don't leave me."

"Johnny…you idiot."

He laughed through tears I could hear him shedding. "I know. I know."

"I told…you…to move…"

"I know. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, for everything, Miri. You have no idea."

I was drifting in and out of consciousness, but I kept struggling to hold onto it. My lungs contracted and I started coughing when I felt something wet that kept was dripping down my face. Belatedly, I realized it was my own blood.

"WHERE'S THE AMBULANCE?" Johnny roared.

"It's on its way," Tyrone answered. "They say they're five minutes away."


"Johnny," I gasped.

"It's okay, Miri." But he kept sobbing like it wasn't. "You're going to be okay. I'm going to make sure of it. You're going to be okay."

"Johnny." I tried to inject urgency into my tone but it was difficult when my own blood kept getting in the way. "Johnny, I'm…sorry, too. I didn't…I just…"

"Shhh," he whispered as he ran his knuckles across my cheekbones. "I know. Just focus on staying with me right now."

"But, Johnny," I protested weakly. "You have…to listen. If I can't…if I don't make it—"

"NO!" he bellowed. "No, Miri! You're going to make it! You have to!"

"If I don't," I insisted, "if I don't…tell my mother…that I love…her."

It was getting harder and harder to hold on and all the aches in body were fighting to keep me submerged beneath my consciousness. But I had to get this out in case I didn't wake up. "Tell Drew and Laney…that I love them…" more coughing, "that I love them too."

"You'll tell them when you wake up again," he insisted. "You'll get the chance to tell them."

"But if I don't," I urged, "if I don't…if I don't you have to tell…them."

"Don't say that." He was openly crying now and the sight of his watering, sparkling blue eyes hit me harder than the Hyundai ever could. "Please don't say that. You have to make it, Miri. You have to."

I summoned what was left of my strength to raise my arm and wipe away some of his wayward tears. "Johnny…" I kept coughing. "I…I love you…"

His tears came faster and harder than before. "I love you, too, Miri," he sobbed.

I coughed some more and this time my broken ribs felt like they were squeezing all the air out of my lungs, which made it incredibly difficult to get air back in them. "It hurts," I gasped.

"I know, I know," he said. "The ambulance is on its way." He kept stroking my face over and over, as if my bloodied cheeks were the key to keeping me alive.

It kept getting harder and harder to fight through the pain and hold onto my consciousness. And I could feel my strength rapidly ebbing away.

"Johnny…" I murmured.

"Just hold on, Miri. Hold on to me. I'm right here. I'm not leaving."

But I couldn't hold on any longer. The pain kept dragging me farther and farther down until I closed my eyes and couldn't fight the heaviness to bring them back up.

"MIRI!" I heard Johnny's voice cry. And his broken sobs were the last thing I remembered hearing before drifting into the darkness that consumed me.

"Do you think she'll mind if I eat her pudding?"

"What flavor is it?"

"It looks like tapioca…"

A huff. "Tapioca doesn't come in brown, Drew."

"So? Besides, she's still recovering from internal bleeding. Not like she's going to be able to eat for weeks anyway."

A smack. Then a loud, "Oww…"

"Shh! Look, I think she's waking up!"

The voices kept talking but at a lower volume. My mind struggled to hold onto the sound of one of them. They were like my lifelines and I had to grab hold of one so I could drag myself to the surface of my consciousness.

"Miri?" a soft voice I recognized as my mother whispered closer to me. "Miri, sweetie? Can you hear me?"

I grabbed a hold of her voice and used the strength of my recognition to drag my eyelids apart. "Mommy?" I murmured.

"Miri!" she cried jubilantly. When I had forced my eyes completely open, all I saw was my mother's. Her hazel eyes were brimming with tears, but her smile was bright enough to light up the darkest room. "Miri, thank God you're awake!"

I was indeed awake. And now that I was, I recognized a few things.

First, I was in a hospital. I could tell by the beeping and the smell and the fact that the pillows underneath my head were like rocks.

Second, the hospital must have seriously doped me up because I could barely keep my eyes open long enough to say hello to my visitors. But I was glad for the massive amounts of morphine I must have been on because if it weren't for that, I'd probably be in a ridiculous amount of pain.

Third, I was surrounded by a forest of flowers. Wonderful.

"Mommy," I protested weakly. "The flowers…"

She laughed with surprise and wiped away her tears. "I know," she smiled. "I know. We tried to tell people to stop bringing them, but they wouldn't listen."

I tried to sigh, but breathing was a little difficult.

"What happened?" I asked.

"You jumped in front of a moving vehicle," Drew's voice announced. "Again." Mommy pulled away a little to reveal my best friends standing behind her. They approached with faces just as relieved as my mother's and it made me wonder how long I had been out.

"You should really see someone about that," Laney said. Her dark eyes were swollen and I could tell that she had been crying.

"Yeah, I should," I smiled. "Do you know a doctor who specializes in hero complexes?"

"Miri, thank God you're awake," Mommy whispered. "We were so worried…"

"Why? How long have I been out?"

"Three days," Laney said sadly. "They rushed you to emergency surgery after the accident and you were asleep for three days. All the doctors were worried that you wouldn't wake up and that you'd be stuck in a coma."

"Well I'm not." I tried to smile reassuringly, but even my face muscles hurt. Good Lord.

"Thank God for that," Laney smiled.

"We should go tell Johnny," Drew said. "He's been beside himself for days."

That was like the magic word. Johnny's name triggered something in my brain and it forced all the mind-altering drugs aside to focus solely on him. "Johnny's here?" I asked.

"Yeah," Drew replied with a sly smile. "He hasn't left. He's been sleeping on that chair since you came out of surgery."

"I've gotten to know him pretty well," Mommy grinned. "And I gotta tell you, honey, you couldn't have picked a more devoted boy to fall in love with."

I felt my cheeks heat up. "If only he were smart enough to move out of the way of an oncoming vehicle. Then he'd be perfect."

They all laughed.

"Where is he, anyway?"

"He went to go rant at the nurse's station for the millionth time about the flowers," Drew said as he rolled his eyes. "We tried to stop him, but it's no use."

"I think he just wants to feel useful," Mommy said thoughtfully. "Waiting for you to wake up was fraying on his nerves. It was making all of us nervous, to tell you the truth."

Speak of the devil. Right when Mommy finished her thought, Johnny came back into the room looking more disheveled than I had ever seen him. His polo and khakis were wrinkled, his hair was stringy and unkempt like he hadn't washed it in days, and his cheeks and chin were covered in a dark scruff that made him look…a little sexy to be honest.

"The nurses still won't do anything about the flowers," he huffed. "Miri can't possibly wake up to all this, she'd start sneezing immediately…"

Drew cleared his throat significantly and jerked his head in my direction. Johnny looked confused but turned his gaze my way. When he saw I was awake, his entire expression lifted and I was knocked over by the power of his amazing blue eyes.

"Miri!" he shouted as he rushed to my other side. "You're awake! Oh thank God!"

"Come on, guys," Mommy said to Drew and Laney. "Let's leave them alone for a little while. We'll be back, sweetie." She winked significantly at me, and I would have groaned if I could.

"See you in a few," Laney said as she dropped a kiss on my forehead. Drew saluted me with a spoon as he carried my pudding off with him.

The door closed behind them and it was just Johnny and me.

"Miri," he breathed. When I examined him more closely, I saw that tears were brimming in his eyes. It was like he couldn't believe I was alive.

"Hey, don't cry," I said as soothingly as I could, which was kind of difficult because my voice was still hoarse from three days of disuse. "I'm alive. I'm still here."

"I'm such an idiot," he hissed. "If it weren't for me, you wouldn't be here. If I had just moved or if I had just respected your wishes and left you alone, none of this would have happened."

Tears were leaking down his face and my heart broke at the sight of them. "Hey," I whispered softly. I summoned all my strength and ignored the pain to reach up and stroke his face with my bruised hand. "There's no use crying over spilled milk, Johnny. It happened. I'm still alive and you're safe. That's all that matters."

He held onto my hand with both of his and pressed it against his face. "It should have been me," he wept. "It should have been me that got hit by that stupid car."

"No," I whispered. "If it had been you, I'd be just as distraught as you are right now."

After he drank in the fact that I was alive, his tears of guilt turned into tears of relief as he recounted for me everything that happened since I had been out. He told me how Laney and my mom and several of the burlier nurses actually had to hold Drew back when he saw Johnny.


I have to admit, I laughed a little at that one.

"Yeah, the nurses were having a hard time trying not to laugh either," Johnny smiled self-deprecatingly.

"What else happened?" I asked. "Mommy said the two of you talked a lot. What did you guys talk about?"

He fidgeted uncomfortably. "You know. Stuff."

"Oh, right. Stuff."

He made a face at me and said, "I'll let your mom fill you in on that conversation. It was embarrassing enough for me to have to go through it, much less relive it."

I frowned, but let it go. Mommy would tell me, no doubt.

"Look, Miri."

I glanced up and noticed Johnny's suddenly serious expression. "Yes?"

"Please, let me explain what happened after the show. It's not what you think."

I took a deep breath. "All right," I said reluctantly. Honestly, I still didn't want to. I wanted to avoid it as much as possible, considering I was already in an excruciating amount of pain. But it seemed important to Johnny, so I'd let him do it.

"First of all: that kiss was amazing. I mean it, Miri. That kiss was more than I'd ever felt before in my life and I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that I liked you. I was going to call you the next day and ask you on a proper date, but right when I picked up the phone, Karinne called. She called to tell me that she and Brian had broken up and she had been thinking a lot about it and she wanted to give our relationship another go.

"I couldn't lie to myself, Miri," he whispered sadly. "There was a part of me that still loved her. I still just…I couldn't let her go. As much as she hurt me, she still held a part of my heart."

Okay, so in my lifetime I've been hit by: Laney, Drew, rubber chickens, baseballs, baseball bats, motorcycles and wayward Hyundais with neglectful drivers. But nothing, and I mean nothing, compares to the pain of being hit by Johnny's admission that he was still in love with his ex. It was worse than all of those things combined.

"But then there was you. I couldn't deny my feelings for you, either. And you were so unlike Karinne in every way: you were carefree, you were funny, and you smiled all the time. Whenever I was around you, I felt like I could be myself. I didn't feel this constant pressure to be perfect. I could joke around with you and you'd get it. Hell, you'd even laugh, no matter how bad my jokes were. Being with you made me feel free, for the first time in my life.

"So for a week I didn't call either of you. I spent all my time pent up in my room, thinking about the situation. I made pro-con lists and I even asked Tyrone his opinion. But that was kind of useless because he's never met Karinne and he's really partial to you."

I didn't laugh, even though I knew he wanted me to. I couldn't laugh when he was telling me that I had been in a competition I didn't even know about.

"Then the night of the party came. And you showed up looking like a million dollars." His eyes were shining at the memory and I blushed at his compliment. "You outshone everyone in that room. No one could have compared to you that night. Not even Karinne.

"So the moment I saw you, I knew that you were the one. You were the one I wanted to be with. And I planned on telling you that night."

My heart swelled with hope.

"She showed up to the party later, and I had every intention of telling her that I didn't want to have anything to do with her anymore. And I did. I told her straight to her face, but she wouldn't hear of it. She told me that I'd be back because a part of me would always love her, no matter what happened or who came along. And then she kissed me.

"I pulled away from her and told her to get away from me because I didn't want to see her ever again. Then I tried looking for you, but you were already putting Alana to bed. I found out later that Alana still thought that Karinne was my girlfriend and had told you so, which was where the whole misunderstanding came from. The media had snapped a picture of Karinne and me kissing and told the world that I was two-timing the pair of you. And what was worse, you refused to speak to me. You just gave me your Christmas gift and left without looking back. I felt like I was going to rip in two as I watched your back walk away from me."

There was nothing for it now. I was openly weeping and I didn't have the strength to reach up and wipe away my own tears.

"I wanted to tell you, Miri. I wanted to talk to you and make you understand how much I loved you. But you wouldn't answer my calls and you turned me away when I showed up at your house. And what you told Tyrone just…it just tore me apart.

"I held onto your Christmas gift for a couple of days. It was still wrapped in the brown paper packaging long after Christmas Day came and went. I just…I just couldn't bring myself to open it. It was the last thing I had of you. It almost felt like if I opened it while you still refused to talk to me that would be the end. You'd never come back. So I kept it wrapped, because I wanted to keep the hope that it wouldn't be the last gift.

"But then I saw those pictures of you kissing that…guy," he spat the word again, like he wanted it out of his mouth as fast as possible, "and I couldn't take it anymore. I was so furious, Miri…I was angrier than I ever was with Karinne or Brian. It was the worst kind of betrayal.

Fresh guilt washed over me. No matter what happened or didn't happen between Johnny and me, I never wanted to cause him any pain and I sure as hell didn't want to betray him. Especially since he'd already been betrayed by everyone in his life.

Just another reason to hate Maxwell Thompson.

"After I saw the pictures, I ripped open your Christmas present with every intention of destroying it. But then I got a good look at it and…" he trailed off, fresh tears springing to his eyes. "It was beautiful, Miri. It was the most touching present I had ever received from anyone in my life.

"In that moment, I realized how much love and care you put into the painting. It made me realize how much you loved me for me, not for who my father was or what I could be for you. It was the mark of how different you were from Karinne; she had been playing me all along to get her ex-boyfriend back and she wanted me as a boyfriend again because she wanted to date the son of the most powerful man in the world. But you weren't playing a game. You hadn't been playing a game at all. You cared for me all along.

"That's when I knew I had to tell you. I couldn't let you just go off with some asshole without at least trying to win you back."

I sniffed as the hope inside me swelled even larger. "Do you really mean it, Johnny? Do you really love me? More than Karinne?"

He pressed both hands against my face and stared at me with the fiercest expression I'd ever seen. "I love you more than I could have ever loved Karinne. Miri, you are the best person I have ever known in my life. You'd never hurt me like Karinne did. In fact, you'd rather die than see me hurt…and you almost did." Fresh tears started pooling in his eyes. "And I know I don't deserve you, Miri, but I'm going to try my hardest until I do.

"Please, Miri," whispered as he came in closer. "Please, give me a chance to deserve you. Please."

I smiled through my tears and nodded. "Okay."