Broken Hearts Do Heal
Joe was sitting in the waiting room of the hospital. He had been given a ride back to town along with Tyler and right now was waiting for his dad and Frank, who had only gotten stuck rather than being in a more serious accident, to arrive to pick him up and take him back home. He was ready for a good night's sleep.
He was about to doze off now when he was suddenly aware that someone had sat down next to him. He jumped involuntarily and saw that it was Iola Morton. She looked confused and surprised.
"Hi," she greeted him briefly and then immediately went on, "Did something happen? Or why are you here?"
"Oh," Joe said, "I'm just waiting for Dad and Frank. The police gave me a ride here when they brought Tyler in."
"You were with Tyler?" Iola asked, her confusion growing.
"We were the ones who found him," Joe explained. "I stayed with him while Dad and Frank went for help."
"Oh." Iola bit her lip. "Thanks. Do you know how he's doing?"
"I haven't heard officially," Joe said, "but he seemed all right to me. I'd be surprised if there was anything serious."
Iola relaxed with relief. "That's good. They just told me that he'd been in a car accident, and I've been imagining the worst." Then she paused. This was an awkward meeting. Other than saying hello when they had happened to meet around town or at friend's houses, she and Joe hadn't had a real conversation since before he'd gone on that fateful trip to Rome about two months ago, and given what that last conversation had been about and what had happened since then, Iola wasn't sure what to say.
Joe could sense Iola's discomfort as she debated whether or not to point out the elephant in the room. He wasn't so sure he wanted to have that conversation now himself, at least not in the middle of a waiting room in a public hospital, so he did his best to smooth things over. "Tyler's car is going to need some work, though. Think Chet can get him a discount with the mechanic shop he works for?"
"I doubt it," Iola said, not in the mood to take the teasing any way but literally. "This is the last thing Tyler needs right now. He's got a lot of stress about work and…" She trailed off.
"I'm sure he'll take in stride," Joe commented. "He just needs to get up the courage to say what he wants."
"So, he told you about it?" Iola asked.
"A little," Joe said. "We had some time to talk."
"He wants to go back to California, you know," Iola replied, "but he doesn't want to leave me behind. He hasn't said so straight out because he knows I'm not so crazy about the idea of moving so far away. But maybe it would be for the best. Maybe if you and I could stop running into each other all the time, you could forget…"
"I'm going to stop you right there," Joe interrupted. "I couldn't forget you, and I don't want to. But don't factor me into your decision. You need to just worry about what's best for you and Tyler."
Iola took in a deep breath. "Joe, right before you left, when you asked me if I would consider going back to you, did you mean it?"
For a moment, Joe looked straight ahead, stalling for time, but then he looked Iola straight in the eyes. "I did then, but now I'm glad you said no. I'm starting to realize that what happened between us happened for a reason."
"When I heard that you almost… died and I thought about how I'd broken your heart again, I didn't know what to do. I felt like I must be the most horrible person in the world, but you know, I couldn't have left Tyler even then. I love him, Joe. I want to spend the rest of my life with him, even if it does mean moving all the way to California."
"I'm glad," Joe said. "Really. It's good to know that you're happy, especially after everything I've done. I hope you can forgive me."
Iola felt her throat tighten. "After what I did to you and the things I thought about you and the things I said to you, you're asking if I can forgive you? Every time I think about it, I feel sick and wonder how you could have forgiven me."
"You wouldn't have thought it if I hadn't given you a reason to," Joe replied. "All those years we were together, I was so self-absorbed in my own issues, I didn't even bother to think about yours, let alone help you like I should have. I'm so, so sorry."
"It's all right," Iola assured. "Like you said, there was a reason for what happened between us. I've found Tyler now, and you're free to find someone who can make you happy. After all, it never would have worked out between us."
"I think it's time we admitted it could have," Joe said.
Iola blinked in surprise. That was something she had taken for granted for a long time now. "What do you mean? We want such different things; how could have we ever made it work out?"
"If we had wanted each other more than those other things, we could have," Joe replied. "Couples have to work things like that out all the time. Just look at Frank and Callie. They want different things, but they're figuring it out because they want each other more. It's not easy for them, but they'll make it work. It doesn't mean we have to rethink our decisions. If anything, it means we made the right decision. We do both have to admit it, though, if either of us ever want to make another relationship work."
"I guess you're right," Iola conceded. "Tyler and I are going to have to make a decision like that about California. Things never are easy, are they?"
"Not worthwhile ones," Joe said.
"You're sure you're okay?" Iola asked. "You're not just trying to soldier through this and put on a brave face so I don't feel bad, even though I should? I know I hurt you terribly when I accused you of all that and didn't even give you a chance to explain."
"You did," Joe admitted. "Nothing that's ever happened to me hurt worse than that, and I didn't recover for a long time. Honestly, I didn't I ever would. Then, when I almost died… It's a little hard to explain and probably just sounds dumb, but I had this dream or something. I don't know that what was in it will happen. I mean, I don't think we just get visions of the future like that, but it did make me think. I've got a lot of life left to live, and I don't want to miss it by holding onto what could have been. I think broken hearts do heal, if we let them, and mine's well on the road to recovery. So, don't worry about it, Iola. What's in the past is in the past. Let's leave it there."
"You're really quite a guy," Iola said. "Thanks. I still wish I could make it up to you somehow, though."
"The best way to make it to me is to let it alone," Joe assured her. He looked up and saw his dad and Frank on the other end of the room, hesitating about whether they should break in on the conversation or not. "I've got to go, Iola. I'll see you around. Tell Tyler I hope he gets out of here soon, but not so soon that he doesn't get out of work for a couple of days."
Iola smiled. "I'll tell him. And thanks again."
Joe smiled back and waved. Then he went on his way, limping on his injured leg. That would heal, though, just as all his wounds were healing. He couldn't let them hold him chained forever. As he had said, he had a lot of life left to live.
A/N: Thank you so much for reading and especially to anyone will (or has, by the time you read this) review, favorite, or follow this story. I appreciate your support and encouragement.
There could be another story in this series after this. I have a kernel of an idea for it, but the spark's kind of going out for this series. Partially, that's because I have an idea for another ND/HB arc that I think will be really fun and that I'd like to write. Whatever I write next, however, I'm going to take a break for a while. I might get started on a story in that time, but I need some time to recharge before I would start posting it.
Once again, thank you all for being so great!