Afterward

It hurt to wake up in the hospital. I remember how every muscle screamed against it, how I opened my eyes to see Grandma, Grandpa, Bob and Ann-Marie standing over and between me and Uncle Charlie. They said I had been out for two days.

The first thing I did was try to sit up and make sure that Uncle Charlie was all right. But I had apparently broken a rib, and my leg was up in a sling. My arms and back itched like mad. But Grandma and Grandpa crowded around me and Ann-Marie and Bob smiled at me and said that everything was going to be all right. And I almost cried when I saw mom, her arm in a sling and bandages over half her body, come into the room. She was in a wheelchair, but that was just because it was a hospital, and she kissed me all over and held me like only a mother can, even with just one free arm. I can't describe how wonderful it was that she wasn't dead. It's like nothing else, and there's absolutely no way to define or describe it.

I was in the hospital with mom and Uncle Charlie for some time. There was lots of physical pain, but compared to everything else, it was one of the better memories from my fourteenth year. The nurses were all right, Aunt Karen came out and stayed with us for almost two weeks and brought love from Alex, Uncle David and the baby twins and Grandma, Grandpa, Ann-Marie and Bob – or any combination of them – were always around, helping Uncle Charlie fill out disability papers and trying to make it not sound as bad as it was.

I came off okay, considering. By the end, all that really remained were some big ugly scars on my arms, hand and legs, and that was about it. They didn't hurt or anything, they just looked bad. Really bad. They were large, brownish-white and keloided in some places, puckered in others. You wouldn't believe the things people asked about them. I've gotten a lot of questions (as well as innumerable looks) but my favorite was, "Were you doing a re-enactment of the Wish You Were Here cover without the special suit?"

Mom was pretty much okay, too. She had some scarring, as well, but that was more because the webs had stuck to her skin and when they took away the webs, the skin came too. She never told me exactly what had led up to her being stuck on the ceiling like that, and I didn't ask. I didn't want to know, though I wondered often enough. They fixed her arm, too. She was more worried about Emily more than anything, but Grandma and Grandpa took care of her while mom was in the hospital. Ann-Marie got on well with all of them, though she coughed up thick, white phlegm for almost a month.

Uncle Charlie, though… He took a beating. In addition to all his previous afflictions, his hands, eye and legs were damaged from her web-bindings in the flesh cavern. She had wrapped him in them in such a way that it did something to his nerves that was going to take a long time to heal, if it ever did. It was almost impossible for him to walk, too – not much control. It took a while for his hands to get back to normal, though it did happen eventually. His eye and the right side of his face were also badly damaged. There was a lot of scarring and his lost most of his vision in that eye, and some control over that side of his face. He could talk, but didn't like to. He could read, I guess, and do some stuff on the computer, which he didn't like much. He could go places in his wheelchair. But he couldn't live alone.

In the end, this is what happened. Uncle Charlie went to Pennsylvania, to live with Grandma and Grandpa. Mom got rid of the apartment and moved to Hyattsville, to be with her brother and her sister-in-law. Emily went with mom, of course. Ann-Marie stayed in the city and Bob kept running his store (the street hadn't been damaged all that much, except for some paint that had been stripped and mortar knocked out by the webs). And me?

I stayed with mom for about a month, while Uncle Charlie was in the hospital. No one is less impressed with the metro than I am, believe me. But when he moved in with Grandma and Grandpa, I couldn't bring myself to stay away from him for that long. I talked it over with mom, who talked it over with my grandparents, who asked Uncle Charlie, and they all agreed that he would be much, much happier if I was there. So I went. I moved in with Grandma and Grandpa and got into the remedial courses for missing the second half of freshman year and stayed with Uncle Charlie.

They'd said, at first, that it would only be for a few months. But once I was there, I couldn't make myself leave again. He had no one, really. His mom and dad did what they could for him, but I could tell that, on a fundamental level, they didn't understand exactly what he'd gone through and exactly what chain of events had led to his present position. He didn't talk to them much, either. Ann-Marie came to visit on weekends, and Bob came whenever he could, but they were never there often enough and when they could come their visits were painfully short. It wasn't their faults – they had lives, after all – but I could tell how much it hurt him, and how much he hated it that he couldn't go to them. The school there wasn't worse, or much better, than the one I'd be going to in Hyattsville, and it wasn't as if I had any friends to miss (Gavin and I never made it up). I stayed.

It's been four years now. The time went really fast, somehow, I think because I was marking time in units – two weeks until Ann-Marie comes again, three days until the therapist's appointment, four hours before school ends. It's a weird way to live, even weirder when the schedule of units is interrupted, like when Bob came to visit, or when I got to see mom and Emily again. Mom misses me but she knows that it's better for Uncle Charlie that I stay with him. She says she and Ann-Marie have gotten together a few times. We talk a lot on the phone. There are things that I don't tell her, like about the dreams I sometimes have of dad, and there are things she already knows, like that I'm taller than her now and look an awful lot like my uncle. But other than that, our relationship is pretty open, or as open as it can be when I don't see her all that much. I didn't see Emily much for a while, but when I got my driving license I started going down to Hyattsville pretty regularly and taking her places with me. We get along pretty well, though at first she was wary of me. We're getting closer, though, I guess. She almost doesn't seem like my sister.

I still play the violin a lot. In all modesty, I'm pretty good. Uncle Charlie has said so, and I'd trust him. I like playing it. It was hard, right after the incident, because my left hand was hurt, but it's much easier now – as easy as breathing. I feel like something happened when I met her, that some talent was transferred to me from my uncle, because I seem to have made a major leap forward in talent around that time. So maybe it's not all bad.

Uncle Charlie lived mostly in the house for a long time, though now he's started to go out a little more. I read to him a lot, and that's how he spends most of his time while I'm at school. At first, he wouldn't talk unless he had absolutely no choice, but the therapy has helped and he does better now – he'll carry on a complete conversation, though he words are sometimes a little slurred. Therapy has also helped him regain the use of his legs. He can use one of those cage-like walkers now, and it's better than nothing. He's doing so much better than he was. Right after the incident, he was verging on suicidal and almost nothing would bring him out of it. But it got a lot better after he kind of decided he was going to make his hands work again and started playing the cello. He doesn't play with the kind of fire he had when I first met him – I have all the fire now – but he has something just as good that I can't quite name. Knowing that he could still do what he loved helped him so much, I can't tell you. He's almost happy now.

But I was uncomfortable with him for a while, recently. I want nothing but the best for him, but I couldn't help but wonder… What would happen to me? Was this the rest of my life, living with Grandma and Grandpa, helping Uncle Charlie take care of himself?

I think he knew what I was thinking, because a few months ago, a few weeks before school ended, he took me aside after another silent dinner with Grandma and Grandpa.

"Jamie," he said. "I spoke to Ann-Marie the other day." That is, the preceding weekend. "She wants to get married." He smiled at me just a little. "So do I."

"That's great." I smiled to show I meant it.

---

Ann-Marie and I had a talk. We're going to get married. We've decided it's the best thing, since most of our differences are settled (she scared her when she felt her). It will be happy.

It will be happy.

But Jamie and I had to get this story down. It was terrible (I dream about it all the time, about her all the time, even with Ann-Marie when she makes me smile) but we cannot let it be forgotten. That's what we've done this summer. We have sat in my study with the fan and boom box blasting (I forgot how much the radio stations here suck but we have CDs) and wrote everything down, made sure it all tallied, made sure it was all right. Then, we're going to put the pages together and put them someplace far away. Or maybe Jamie will take them when he goes off to school. I'm not sure.

I guess this is the happy ending – I get the girl, Jamie gets the rest of his life (one of us is getting a short stick and it's not me but I'm sorry Jamie I really am).

Bob is my best man. The wedding's going to be in the High Church in the city. Ann-Marie and I will find a place and Bob says he can get me work with a small press he knows about that's looking for editors (like it'll pay, but it's better than doing nothing all day and we'll get to be together, which will be wonderful after all this time).

It will be happy.

I think I've said all I can say. Jamie ended up doing the bulk of the writing – his memories of the incidents are clearer than mine, on most things. But he wants me to have the last word.

He wants me to end the story (but I don't know how). I think all that I can say is that we will try to live our lives and pray she doesn't ever come back.

It will be happy.