okay, this isn't my only account here, but some of the stuff on that account is... ugh. I don't like it. So, I have a new account.
This story is written from first person point of view (duh) and it's almost a letter, I guess. Hard to describe, it's in a weird format, I know. Let me know what you think if you do read it--a not-so-subtle way of saying reviews are nice.
I suppose it began with the accident. Those screeching brakes are present in my worst nightmares now, and I honestly don't remember sleeping the night through recently. Though, if I think about it, it began before the accident. How could it not have? Maybe it began the day you stole my heart, Grace… as stupidly cliché-ly Disney as that sounds.
Of course, that brings up the subject of when you stole it. Was it that dance at prom? I didn't ask you to go with me, I was too scared, so I bullied your date and cut in on a slow song. It must have been before that as well, though, maybe the first kiss we shared. Watching asteroids fall like feathers against the starry black of the sky, I couldn't help it… but you kissed me back.
The first and only kiss we ever truly shared.
But it was before that as well. Maybe the way you stood up for me against your parents, when I got that Thunderbird. They didn't like me, they thought that you could do so much better than what they saw me as—a useless drug-addicted boy who spent too much time around their precious daughter.
Of course, I don't think that what I felt for you as a child was love. I don't think children can really fall in love—remember, my dear, you have cooties at that age, and boys are scary monsters who like to pull your hair and chase you around the playground. I was no exception, I recall that I was quite guilty of putting frogspawn in your lunchbox one day. I thought it would be funny, but I didn't expect tears. I felt horrible about that… until you retaliated by putting a snake down the back of my shirt.
Then I didn't feel bad any more. Funny how children work, isn't it?
Although, I guess it doesn't matter when or how you stole my heart. Does it ever really matter? I don't think so, and if it does, it shouldn't. The point is, I love you, as I always have.
And it's my fault you're lying as though dead right now.
I sit here, in the hospital, head in my hands. The nurse has come around and told me that there's nothing to do but wait, and she also gently said that it does no one any good to stay here, a nice way of telling me to go home. But I can't.
I'm pacing now, in the waiting room, the closest thing to hell on earth. There are other people here as well. Most of them don't pay me any attention as I trace short laps around the square, pale green room. It's got that doctor's office smell which has always made me despise clinics and places like them so much—I haven't been to a doctor since when I got my ribs broken, and only then because you forced me. Though you never asked how I'd gotten them broken… thankfully. You would have been mad. You really liked that cheating bastard.
Tough love, you called it, when I said I didn't need a doctor, you were making me go anyway. I just called it your version of torture, because you threatened to punch me in my broken ribs unless I went and got them taken care of. I didn't think you'd actually do it.
I wince and touch my ribs as I remember. I hadn't thought that you were serious.
I guess I underestimated how much you cared.
I stop pacing and sit down, pick up a magazine and flick through it feverishly. A woman sitting across from me gives me a sympathetic look. I barely meet her eyes and toss the magazine aside. The face of some movie star surrounded by garish pink glares at me from the cover.
I lean back into the chair, then crouch forward over my knees. The woman stands for a moment, then walks over and sits next to me. She's a grandmotherly-looking type—a bit pudgy in the middle from age, curled hair starting to go grey, glasses, and a smell of cookies. My eyes give her a moment's look then go back to wandering restlessly around the room.
She speaks. "Dear, who are you here for?"
She doesn't patronize me and ask if I'm alright, thank god. I look at her again and sigh, somehow managing to catch around half my emotions in that simple sound. "My…" I stop, not sure of what to call you, my dear. My girlfriend? You've always hated that term. My love? You don't know how I feel about you. My friend? I can't call you that.
She gives me a knowing look. "You're not sure where you stand?"
I nod. "I guess." My voice cracks from lack of use and worry.
I stop moving and for just a minute sit totally still. What should I say? I settle for "There was an accident. My… she's… in a coma." I barely whisper the last part, hating myself for both not being able to put it better and for it being my fault.
The woman gives me her grandmother look again, all love and understanding. "My name is Rita, Rita Lavender."
I nod. "Nice to meet you, Mrs. Lavender. I'm Theodore Grey. Theo."
"Please, just call me Rita. I can tell you need to talk."
Do I? I don't know what I need, beyond that I need to you come out of a coma.
I say as much to Rita, who laughs gently. "Why don't you tell me about her?"
I nod before I realize what I'm doing. I don't know how to explain you, my love. You've always been such an enigma to me, such a mystery. "I guess… it couldn't hurt." My voice is sounding a bit better.
"Of course not. Now, what's her name?"
"Grace." It's a prayer on my lips.
Rita laughs a little more. She has a sweet laugh, but not as sweet as yours. I'm biased, I know. "How old is she?"
"27. I'm 28."
"How did you meet Grace?"
"Gracie, most people call her. We met when we were little, at school. About five years old…"
The first time I saw you was on the playground. It was that cooties and monsters thing back then, so I thought that you were nasty. You were standing on the play structure, cute little French braids in your hair, laughing at something your friend just said. You and your friends were playing some stupid girl game.
Then, I and my friends decided to torment you and your friends. We chased after you shouted 'boy cooties!' at the top of our lungs and you and the other girls ran screaming, in mock fear or real, I don't know. I remember, my dear, that I caught you and ran my hand along your side—there was nothing harmful about that back then, except for the nasty cooties.
You shrieked loudly, I recall, and stared at me with those green eyes of yours. I grinned, missing my right front tooth and you glared. "Wha'd you do that for?"
Your voice was young and so was mine as I replied, "Now ya gots cooties!"
We were so mature. You started chasing after me then, trying to give me girl cooties, while I taunted you about being a slow girl.
It's funny, but that's what bonded us. Cooties. It wasn't long before you were walking home together. You lived in a nice big house, nearer to the school than mine. You never came to my place, which was good. I lived in the rough side of town, but before we got to your house we would stop and play in the river.
There was a tiny river, more a stream than anything, and several small ponds around it. The frogs would lay their eggs and we'd try gleefully to catch tadpoles, which darted frantically in the water to evade our grasping hands. We laughed and shouted so happily—I think it might have annoyed the neighbors, but they never said anything.
As a joke, one time I put frogspawn in your lunchbox. It got all over your sandwich and apple, and you wouldn't talk to me for a week. It was the first time I'd seen you cry, and I felt really bad afterwards. I tried to apologize but your friends informed me that you didn't wish to speak with me.
I finally cornered you after school and you smiled at me, to my shock. I'd given you a hesitant smile in return, and held out my hand. You took it, still smiling, and patted me on the back.
About three seconds later, you were laughing your head off as I shrieked like I was a girl (though I still say, Grace, that five year old girls and boys sound nearly the same when they scream—I do not have a girlie scream) and was jumping around, trying and failing to ride myself of the small garder snake you'd slipped down the back of my shirt.
It was my turn not the talk to you for a week, but you didn't try and find me. I guess you were still annoyed about the frogspawn.
I eventually got tired of not talking to you and hunted you down again. We'd been best friends ever since, having gotten even with each other after the childish silent treatment.
Rita laughs gently throughout my telling of the snake incident. I find a small smile on my face as well. "Best friends because of reptiles and amphibians," Rita muses, drawing my smile a bit wider.
"I guess so."
"There's more to this story…" Rita trails off as a nurse enters the room. My smile turns to a look of urgency and I rise halfway out of my seat, but the nurse talks with another family and leaves. There's a little boy with the recipients of the news, and he reminds me of your little brother. He grins at me, and his mother wraps him in a hug. They'd gotten good news.
Rita nods at me, bringing my attention back to her. "Is there more to the story?"
I nod as well. "Yes, of course. If you're sure you want to hear it."
"Of course, hun. You need to talk and I don't want to brood about my son." She doesn't offer up any more than that, and I don't ask.
"Well, alright. I guess the next part comes when we were around 16."
"A very fun age to be. Does this part involve a car?"
I laugh a bit. "Yeah, of course."
I'd just bought my first car. I'd been saving for over two years, dreaming of the freedom a car could provide me. I had a rough home, nothing abusive but still hard to deal with, and getting away whenever I wanted was like heaven for me. You were excited too—your parents said you couldn't drive alone and wouldn't buy you a car of your own, so you'd shyly come to me or call and ask for rides around the town, to and from school, down to the movies, to the store.
I didn't mind—how could I? You were my best friend, Grace. You were becoming more than that, if I'd let myself realize it. But I was stubborn and stupid. Sorry about that. I'm a guy, I can't help it. Being stupid at the age of 16 is practically grafted into our DNA.
Your parents didn't like me at this point. I dressed in black, lived on the shit side of town, and they'd seen me with my brother's cigarettes. I'd been about to try them when you bombarded me with all the facts you'd learned in health class. Frankly put, I didn't much like the sound of my lungs turning black, my brain cells dying, my hair and teeth looking as disgusting as you'd made it sound, and smelling like smoke all the time.
So after a thorough discussion, where you talked at me and I actually listened (of course I listened, it was you), I decided that if you found it so nasty, I wouldn't do it. The first of many things you convinced me not to do, my dear.
It was one of those times, driving along in that 1970-something Thunderbird, when you spilled Coke in the back seat. How you managed that at seventy miles per hour on the freeway while sitting in the front passenger seat is still a mystery, but somehow it happened. You were so apologetic I couldn't be angry.
I laughed instead, and ruffled your hair. You glared at me, that cute little glare I was never scared of. "Don't ruffle my hair! But…" you suddenly looked nervous. I got a little hesitant. "I'm sorry about the Coke!"
"Don't mention it, Grace." Grace was what I've always called you, even though everyone calls you Gracie. I've never been able to bring myself to shorten your name—it fits you so well. "It's fine. I was bound to spill something eventually. Besides, the cars over twenty years old. I know stuff's been spilled before."
"I guess…" You trailed off. I ruffled your hair again. You turned that adorable scowl on me, that scowl that had potential boyfriends running for the hills. Your parents loved that scowl and so did I, though for entirely different reasons.
I soon came to associate you with Coke. It was always your favorite drink, even though you knew it was bad for you. You'd bored into my head the ingredients of Coca-Cola. Caramel, high-fructose corn syrup, sugar, caffeine… I knew the list as well as you.
And Coke somehow because associated with freedom, and the open road, and that 1970-something Thunderbird. You loved that car, probably more than I did. Or maybe we loved it the same.
We used to ride around blasting the Beastie Boys. We had to fight for our right to party, or just live and be friends. It amounts to the same thing. Your parents didn't like me and I accepted that, or at least I pretended to, for your sake.
So we drove forever and ever in that car, or we would have if you didn't have a curfew. We broke it a few times, but you were always apologetic (falsely so, I might add—I knew your moods and lies better than your parents did) and those green eyes got away with it. I don't know where you got those eyes from—your father had dark eyes, you mother blue, but you and your brother both had jade eyes.
Your curfew got the better of us, but one night you slipped away. It was during the asteroid showers that summer, and the night tasted like dry heat and the crushed grass underneath the 'Bird. You'd taken to calling my car 'Crow' as it was black and a Thunderbird. I laughed and let it slide. You could get away with anything.
We watched the asteroids fall like rain against the blackest night sky I'd ever seen. The stars were tiny pinpoints of light, and the moon a golden-silver orb, but it all paled in comparison to you. That time, for the first time, I saw you as more than a friend. I think it was then. Your pretty red lips were parted slightly in wonder, your eyes reflected the moonlight and were luminously green. We were laying on the top of Crow and your profile was starkly outlined against the black of the night. Your skin seemed to glow.
I took your hand in my own. You looked over at me and my breath hitched in my throat. I'd had feelings for girls before, but I was always too shy to ask them out. Anyway, most of them had their eyes on better guys, with more expensive cars, designer clothes, big, luxurious houses… I had a battered old 'Bird, clothes from wherever I could find them cheap enough, and a house on the nasty side.
But you looked at me, and you seemed to know something I didn't. I was more scared than I'd ever been before, though I hadn't honestly had many terrifying experiences in my life. I kissed your hand first. You blushed, turning a lovely shade of pale pink that I'd rarely seen on you before. I slowly, so slowly, moved forward and pressed my lips to your own.
I was pulling away when you started kissing me back. No tongue, nothing dirty, just a sweet kiss. You tasted like Coca-Cola.
I stop and sigh, and my smile is still on my face. Rita gives me another one of those knowing looks. "You're sweet, you know that?" She asks.
I shrug and shift a bit in my seat. "I guess."
I don't tell her everything I think, of course. I keep the most private thoughts for myself, but I still remember, my dear. I don't forget anything when it comes to you. I remember the first words we spoke to each other, even now as I sit in the hospital hell.
Another nurse enters, but again, not for me. Visiting hours are coming to an end, and I know I'll have to go home. I can't go home. I have to go home.
Rita notices that something is wrong and smiles sympathetically at me. "She'll be okay through the night. She'd want you to take care of yourself and sleep."
I don't tell her I can't sleep a night through any more. You've been in a coma for a few days now, a week, two weeks. I can't even remember, my dear.
Rita says something about going home again. I nod, but I don't mean it. She can tell. Sympathy is written all over her body and I suddenly wonder why she's here, what's wrong with her son.
I don't ask, though. It's not my business.
Still another nurse enters the room. She nods towards the door wile murmuring something about 'closing time.' This room is for visitors only. They won't let me in to see you, and you're not in the emergency room, so this is where I am. It's like purgatory for the hospital. Your loved ones aren't safe yet, but they're not in mortal danger. It's the limbo, and I hate it, Grace, I hate it.
Rita patted my shoulder. "You'll be okay."
She is wrong.
I go home like a good boy.
I pace the house.
I lay down on my couch and flick channels on TV.
I make dinner and can't eat.
I make coffee and can't drink.
I throw out the Coke in the fridge.
I fall down on my bed and am unable sleep.
I dream, those horrible waking dreams that are nightmares. I dream of screeching brakes and your screams.
I wake up from my bad sleep and head to the hospital again, calling my boss on the way. I'm supposed to be working, but I can't. My boss is kind—I work in a small but very good law office, she's had to hear all about you. She understands, and says it's only fair as I've never taken a vacation from work. She's always known about you. She offers to come over later and fix me dinner, as doubtless I'm not eating well with you… as you are. She's a sweet lady, and utterly ruthless when it comes to our cases.
I park my car in the parking lot. I still have that Thunderbird, Crow. I have another car that doesn't cough and shake when I start it too, but I want to drive you home after you wake in the 'Bird. It was always your favorite car. I was going to give it to you but you wouldn't take it, telling me that 'it would lose something without you in the driver's seat.' I always hoped you were flirting—your eyes had lit up when you said that, and I let myself dream, but, as usual, nothing ever came of it.
So I've kept the car, because it has too many memories to sell. It still smells like Coke, too.
I sit in the waiting room, the little slice of hell on earth. The nurses and other people who work at the hospital give me looks. I've been coming here since the accident—they recognize me by now. I don't guess they've had to deal with people like me before, the obsessed people in love who stake out at the hospital and don't leave until nearly forcibly removed. Or maybe they have—I know I'm not the first.
Rita is back as well. She smiles at me and motions me over. I walk to her and sit down in an unnaturally colored seat. Those weird little checkered patterns that doctors and dentists seem to like so much in their waiting room chairs. You hate that pattern. When my ribs got broken we had to wait almost an hour. I listened to you whining and complaining about stupid chairs and, if I recall correctly, stupid boys who break their ribs by stupidly diving of some stupid cliff into the stupid ocean. Stupid was your word of the day. That death glare you gave me when I mentioned that quietly still hurts. But in a funny way, of course. Always behind those glares of yours, I imagined that I saw little bits of love.
Rita is sitting with a man who looks around my age. She smells like chocolate chip cookies, and laughs as she notices my twitching nose. "You men are all alike. I bake cookies and you can immediately tell." She hands me a plate of warm cookies.
"Thanks," I say to her. Her companion looks like her, so I assume he's her son.
She nods over to him. "This is Andrew. My son, one of two. My other, Marcus, is in the hospital."
Andrew holds his hand out to me. I shake it. "I'm Theo. Theodore Grey."
"Just call me Andy. Mam told me about your girl. Grace."
I smile softly at your name, which draws an amused snort from Andy. "Lovestruck, are we?"
I eye him. He doesn't sound like a typical guy my age… but then again, I don't really either. His grin turns a little abashed. "I know, I sound like a girl."
I punch his shoulder gently. "Dude, so do I."
Now that we have that over with…
Rita shakes her head at the two of us. "Theo," she says, which draws my attention back to her, "would you mind telling us the rest of your story?"
I sigh, but it's a good sigh. Might as well.
"Okay, this next part's about my senior year in high school."
"Prom?" Rita asks.
"I knew it." Andy's comment is a touch proud. "What? Don't look at me like that, if it's a love story and you knew each other before prom, something most def happens at prom."
A girl walks up, rather unexpected on my part. She sits down next to Andy and smacks him. "Don't say 'most def,' Andy, you sound like a thirteen year old girl." She turns to me and smiles cutely. "I'm the sister in this family. Jasmine, but I'll maim you if you say that. Jazz."
I grin back at her. This is more than I've smiled since the accident. "As you wish, Jazz."
"Ooh, he's polite too." Her grin is impish, and she has a pixie-like haircut that frames her face, dirty blond hair and bright blue eyes. She looks to be about seventeen, certainly not out of high school yet.
"I try, Jazz."
"Good boy. Now, stop it with the polite and tell the damn story."
"Jasmine!" Rita says, though it is that tone of voice that says they've been through this conversation a thousand times over.
"Oh, stop it Mam. You say it too. However. Theo. Story. Now." She is so earnest I just nod.
"Alright, prom. Being me, I was too scared to ask Grace out myself, so I ended up going alone…"
You looked so beautiful. Of course, I'm highly biased, and I think you look beautiful every single second of the day. Even when you had the flu. Even when you were crying, rare as that was. Every single day, when you'd rush to school because your 'jackass of an idiot pestilential brother' (you always used such pristine language) shut off your alarm clock. Your brother is almost 10 years younger than you, but you never saw him as cute, nor did you ever mince your words.
It drove your mother insane, and understandably so. You little brother was only seven or eight then, and your nasty language was rubbing off on him. Your father and mother tried to discipline him, but for some backwards reason, little James only listened to you. You pretended to hate him, called him names. He, in his own turn, stole your clothing, shut off your alarm clock, shut off the water main when you were taking showers, stole your keys when you finally were allowed to drive… in short, he was everything you called him.
And yet, you two had the closest, weirdest sibling bond I've ever seen. When Jamsie got in his first school fight and came home with a bloody lip and black eye, you were the one he went to. Not your parents. He went straight upstairs to your room and I know, because I was there. You patched him up and made sure he was okay, the most tender thing I'd ever seen you do, then sent him on his way with a loving and snappish, "Get lost, jerk. And don't come back."
He grinned, nodded, grabbed your diary, and fled.
I waited for you to come back from chasing him and just thought. Maybe you both were bi-polar, Grace. I'd never ask you that, but I mean, your demeanor when Jamsie had entered the room, bleeding and bruised, was immediately concerned and worried. You'd sat him down on the bed and treated him, drawing the story out and piecing it together.
But now I'm waxing poetic. And this has nothing to do with prom.
Some other guy asked you out. I couldn't get up the courage—what if you said no? In hindsight (bear in mind that this is something I only realized the other day), even if you did say no, the worst that could happen is I wouldn't have a date. We'd established long ago that nothing would come between us, not even feelings for the other person. It was something that was unspoken, but I like to think that we both knew it.
But, what I'd realized was that the fact that the worst that could happen was that I wouldn't have a date… well, I didn't have a date anyway. Maybe you would have gone with me. Maybe everything would be totally different. It's water under the bridge now.
You were stunning. I still keep a picture in my wallet. We'd gotten pictures taken together, which pissed off your date. You were wearing a creamy, off-the-shoulder dress that looked like spun sugar. It showed off your lovely body, a result of running every day after school and archery in my backyard. You scared me when you held a bow.
But it made you gorgeous, like everything else.
I know you still have that dress, my dear. I saw it in your closet when I was looking for my sweatshirt that you'd borrowed. I didn't say anything.
I cornered your date at the punch table. You were talking with one of your other friends, and I practically pounced on the guy. "I'm taking Grace for one dance, got it?"
I was much taller than he was, and I swam on the school team. Suffice to say, I could beat him up without a second thought… but I wouldn't, because then you'd be mad. Faced with little choice, your date, whose name I honestly don't remember, my dear, gave in without much of a fight.
The next song, as fate would have it, was a sweet slow song. One of those pop-y hits of that year, but I honestly don't remember what it was. Something nice and easy to dance to. I held you closer than I'd ever dared before, and you buried your head in my chest. You were sniffing, so I asked you why.
You blushed. And you never blushed, so I was immediately curious.
"You smell nice."
That was the only type of laundry detergent I used from that day forward.
I stop and feel a slight tinge of heat in my cheeks. A little personal, but they asked about prom, and well, I guess I didn't have to give them that much information but scents have always been a big thing with me. Like Coke, and your shampoo, that clean and refreshing scent of Pantene. Jazz leans over and sniffs at me. "Ooh, you do smell nice."
Andy pulls on the back of her shirt, causing her to stumble back into her seat. "Down girl."
I clear my throat. "That's about it to prom. I really wanted to kiss her, but… I couldn't. Too scared."
Andy nodded sagely. "Dude, I understand completely."
A nurse comes in and I tense. She looks over at me and nods, and I almost knock my chair over in my haste to rise. I also manage to trip over my feet, but I don't fall. Thank god.
"Is she… Grace…?" My former eloquence quickly vanishes.
"She's not awake yet. I was just coming to say that there's no change, and you'd better help her by going home and taking care of yourself." It's a gentle and yet sharp reprimand. This isn't the first one I've gotten, so naturally I pay no attention.
I slump, dejected. I walk slowly back over to my seat, no intention of going home of course. Rita gives me her grandmother look again, even though I'm realizing that she's not all that old, and Andy and Jazz just smile sympathetically. "You don't have to go home. Tell me the rest of your love saga," Jazz says to me.
I cough out a laugh. "It's not really a saga…"
"Liar. Story. Now."
"You really have a thing with those one-word sentences, don't you?"
Andy cuts in. "Jazzie, he can't shut up and tell the story at the same time. You're gonna have to pick, little sis."
She smacks him again. He yelps slightly, drawing scowls from others in the waiting room of hell.
I put a stop to their spat by starting to speak again. "I guess the next part was graduation. From college. Her graduation—I'd graduated the year before. Her boyfriend had just dumped her, the bastard, but she was determined to make it through the ceremony without tears…"
But then some moron gave you the news before I could intercept it. Your parents, on the way here with Jamsie, had gotten in a car accident. Jamsie was alive but in critical condition, your father dead on impact, and your mother dead on the way to the hospital. Why they couldn't have withheld that information until after the ceremony, I'll never know. I did verbally abuse the messenger of the news (the phrase 'don't shoot the messenger' not registering in my mind at all, even though it was his fault for not waiting until after graduation to give you the lowdown), but that didn't stop your tears.
You still walked across the stage though. Your body was shaking with sobs, but you'd fought for so long to graduate college. You were never naturally brilliant, though you were still perfect to me. You had to claw and scratch your way into the university, and only stayed there for your masters' degree by sheer willpower and multiple after-school, before-school, even a few during-school jobs.
I didn't know how you managed it. Your parents were never wealthy, but they helped you where they could. I'd gotten a job as a domestic-abuse lawyer. It was something I'd had more experience with than was healthy, and I was making a pretty decent salary. I was good at what I was doing, and paid well for it by the firm. I wanted to help you but you wouldn't let me pay for your classes. I didn't realize how desperately you needed money until I saw several bills sitting on your bed in your dorm.
I'm not normally a person to pry into your life—I save that for my clients. And they pay me for it, so I don't feel guilty. But seeing the bright red 'overdue' markings, I couldn't help it. You were gone for the moment and I tore into the envelopes that you'd already opened. I scanned them quickly, mentally tallying the sums.
As fate would have it, you were back in the room by that point. You met my eyes with weary resignation. It was a look I didn't like seeing on you, so I bundled you into a hug and murmured against the sweet scent of your hair, "It'll be alright."
But you never let me pay for anything. So instead, for Christmas I bought you gift cards to bookstores so you could buy the needed authors for your literature classes. I would spontaneously show up with dinner… 4 nights a week. I learned how to cook because no one else in my family did, and I was sick of microwave meals.
Seeing you walk across that stage, the most composed you could be under the circumstances, nearly tore me apart. You'd just been informed that your parents were dead and your little brother in a bad way, and yet here you were. Walking across a stage you'd dreamed about for the past eight years, with tears glistening on your cheeks.
You fell into my arms after the ceremony, and I took you back to my place. You always were whining about your dorm, and I had a flat courtesy of my sizable income. We sat together on the couch—the doctors had said they would call when Jamsie was stable, and you hated waiting rooms. You were actually scared of them, whereas I just hated them. I don't know if it was a technical phobia, but you were terrified. We waited at my apartment.
Your phone died as you were staring at it and you panicked, until I calmed you down with a call to the ER and gave them my phone number instead. You fell asleep at one point, as we lay on the couch, your auburn hair stark against your pale, bloodless cheeks. I got the call at about four in the morning, and I woke you gently.
"Grace," I murmured against the top of your head. Your eyes blinked open, and for a moment you didn't remember anything that had happened. You looked a little confused, then the hurt came clouding in again. I pressed my lips to your temple. "The doctor called. Jamsie will be okay."
You closed your eyes in silent relief. "Can we go see him?"
"Kanyeshna." Your lips flicked upwards just a tiny bit at my use of that word. We'd taken Russian in high school—one of the few words we remembered, my dear, and it meant 'of course.'
I drove to the hospital, you on the edge of your seat. I felt your hand slip into mine as we walked inside, and I bit back a smile. You wouldn't appreciate me smiling just then, but even the slightest touch or look from you could make my day. I asked at the reception desk for James Barnard, your brother.
When we entered the room you nearly started crying again. Your little brother, he was almost fourteen and hooked up to a bunch of beeping machines. In my little, hated experience of doctors offices, I understood that beeping was better than not beeping. You dropped my hand and knelt at the side of James's bed. He'd opened his eyes and smiled weakly at you.
I took my leave at that point, letting you two have brother-sister time. I waited outside for an hour, not liking the hallway but accepting it. You needed a ride home, and I know they'd kick you out of the room eventually.
Which they did, and I took you back to my place again. You despised nearly everything about your dorm room, including your roommate and neighbors. And I liked having you around, plus I never wanted to leave you.
When James eventually got out of the hospital I took him in as well. He was underage but you were being allowed to take care of him until he was eighteen, seeing as you were 24. I let you use my address, to say that you both would have a steady home. It wasn't technically the truth, but it was your home for as long as you needed.
"Grace stayed with me for a few months then moved into a boyfriend's house, but James is still living in my flat. Or he was, until he left for college.," I said, concluding that part of my 'love saga.'
"Boyfriend?" Jazz caught that bit of my sentence shrewdly. "Bet you loved that."
I grimaced. "The one she'd eventually marry, yeah."
"Ooh, the plot thickens…"
Jazz got a smack from Andy. "Shut it, you. You're making it sound like a romance novel, but it's his story."
"Ahh, but all good novels come from truth! Except fantasy novels, which are a special case… I mean, honestly, how many dragons do you see running around Earth to base a story off of? Though, you gotta admit, that'd be totally bomb."
"And you say I sound like a teenage girl."
It was Andy's turn for a smack. "Earth to stupid, I am a teenage girl."
Rita whacked them both lightly on the head. "Stop that, you two. Let the poor boy tell his story."
"Yes Mam," They chorused.
I grin to myself. I like these people. "Okay, yeah, there was that boyfriend. His name was Ronaldo Rumero. He was from Spain. Something about that Spanish accent…" I drift off and scowl to myself. Jazz snaps her fingers lightly in front of my face.
"Of course. Anyway, James stayed with them for about a month then showed up again at my place at about 3 in the morning, begging me to let him come back. He said he couldn't take the nastyness of his sister and her boyfriend. I didn't ask what he meant. My imagination took over from there…"
You never told me what went on with the many boyfriends you had. I never asked. I don't think I could have handled it. However, I was the first one you came to after Ronaldo the asshole, as he was becoming known in my mind, asked you to marry him.
James didn't like him either. I gave the Runt, as you'd taken to calling him despite his being a head taller than you, his first few tastes of alcohol, and the promise/threat that if he ever got drunk and stupid on my watch, he was going straight to you for you to deal with him. That kept him in line. So I let him try alcohol and we whined about Ronaldo after you gave us the happy news.
Okay, truth be told, we whined about him before that too.
You came bursting into my apartment, causing James to scowl at you from his Pre-Calc homework spread out all over the table. "The hell you look so happy about?"
"I'm getting married!"
My thoughts went totally blank at that point. James, on the other hand, exploded. "Whaaaaat? You're like, 25. You can't get married, you just graduated college, you're way too young, what about the rest of your life, who're you getting married to anyway, Ronaldo the asshole? He's just gonna tie you down, I'll bet he forced you into this, that dickhead good-for-nothing shitfaced—"
I clapped a hand around his mouth, effectively shutting him up. You'd gone from looking like you'd been given the world as your Christmas present to looking like you were about to cry. "Grace, we're both happy for you." James growled against my palm and I forced his head to move jerkily up and down so he was 'agreeing.' "I'll just have a few words with the Runt here."
"Alright. I… I actually have to go. I need… to go." You turned quickly and shut the door behind you, but not before I heard a stifled sob.
I released my near death-grip on him turned to James with a glare, causing him to gulp. Good. A little fear was good. "You don't like Ronaldo the asshole either!"
"I know, but I want Grace to be happy. If Ronaldo makes her happy, more power to him."
"Oh, you are such a bad liar."
"Shut up, punk."
"Don't insult me. I know you think it's a bad match, Sissie and Ronaldo the asshole."
I sighed. "It's whatever she feels is right. Now listen… be happy for her, or at least pretend to, all right?"
He grumbled but agreed. That was when he got his first decent taste of alcohol. You were mad at me for that, Grace—we both had rather visible hangovers when you came around the next day, and all the curtains were shut, barring the light.
"You let my brother get drunk?!" Your dulcet tones echoed through my flat.
James and I both groaned. "Don't shout," we chorused. You left, pissed off at the both of us. Me for offering the Runt nasty drinks that he was technically too young for, and him for partaking.
You left, disgusted, but not before saying, "The wedding's in 2 months."
We met in the park a few days after that. You'd forgiven me for getting drunk and letting James do the same. The wind was mussing up your hair and a light rain was falling, plastering the blown-around strands to your face.
I grinned when I saw you. You smiled back, and took my hand. You looked down. "Theo, I've got a favor to ask."
"Oh yeah?" I raised an eyebrow, thinking anything.
"Will you walk me down the aisle? Since Dad's gone and so're both my grandpas, would you please?" You looked hesitant and a little scared.
"Kanyeshna." Milaya. That last part meant 'my sweet' or 'sweetheart.' An endearing term, and not one you'd appreciate on the seeming eve of your wedding.
The next two months were clothes fittings, wedding rehearsals, and putting up with Ronaldo the rich asshole. James and I continued to say nasty things about him when you weren't around. I taught him how to hold his alcohol and helped him with his homework. He was a junior then, but he seemed so much older. And he was brilliant—my homework help was me telling him to dumb it down for his poor teachers. Some of it probably came from having you as a sister, but you had to work for your smarts. The age factor came from you, though.
The day of your wedding you were jittery and scared. I was reduced to lies, flat out lies that you miraculously didn't detect about how I knew you'd be fine, happy with Ricardo and taken care of. I promised to always be there for you, one of the few truths I said that day. You were stunning in your wedding dress—it was the snow-white color of perfection.
It was strapless and sheer, baring more skin than your father would have liked. As I didn't want to see you cry from remembering, I kept quiet on that fact. Ronaldo loved your dress, you said to me and James a few days before. James and I had our own opinions on what he liked about it, such as the fact half of your thigh was exposed and it couldn't have taken more than 3 yards of fabric to make. And that's including the veil.
I walked you down the aisle to 'White Wedding.' It was appropriate for you. I never really imagined your wedding songs to feature pompous classical symphonies. You were glorious, and shining, and radiant, and so perfect. Ronaldo was leering at you, or that's what my insanely jealous mind made me see. James was sitting in the front row of the chairs that lined the field. You hadn't wanted a church, which was also in character. I sat down beside your little brother and I could almost hear his teeth grinding as he bitterly muttered out, his voice as full of hatred as I'd ever heard it, "Bastard, you don't deserve my Sissie, oh god, get your filthy hands off of her, pervert, nasty dickface, asshole, Mary mother of god, I hate you Ronaldo Asshole Rumero…"
I stifled my own comments and cheered politely as you two were pronounced man and wife. Kicking James in the ankle made him wince and say, "Oh, yay…" which was good enough for me.
I fall silent again, and I know there's a dark look on my face.
"So," Jazz says lightly, "I think I should meet this James. How old did you say he was?"
I laugh as she breaks the tension. "He's 17, almost 18. It was about a year and a half ago this happened."
"And I'm also seventeen! Why isn't he here now?"
"He's in college in England. Got accepted a year early on a huge scholarship to a really good university. He wasn't sure about going but I threatened to throw him out and never talk to him again if he didn't take it."
"He's smart too… I'm liking the sound of this kid." Jazz taps her finger against her lips as Andy grimaces.
"I don't know what I think about you going after a kid like that…" Andy is protective over his sister, and it shows when he speaks.
"Oh, shut up. He sounds like a much better guy than most I know. And he was practically raised by Mr. Perfect here, so he can't be all that bad."
I laugh again. "Nah, Jamsie's a great kid. I guess he's not really a kid anymore, but he'll always be the Runt to me. He was halfway to the airport by the time I convinced him that his scholarship would be revoked if he ditched in the middle of the semester. He's a good brother, and the best friend anyone could ask for."
"Plus, he'd do almost anything to see you with his sister rather than Ronaldo the asshole, right?"
"Right. But Ronaldo only lasted about six months…"
James wasn't home when you showed up in tears on my 'welcome home' mat. I hurried you inside and dug out the chocolate ice cream. This was about six months after your wedding. You kept both me and James in the dark about your married life with Ronaldo the asshole, so we knew nothing. We weren't particularly curious, either. James had made it pointedly clear that he thought it was a bad idea and he stood firm against your pleas, threats, tears, and all-around depression about his thoughts. I was weaker, just wanting you to be happy… but I sat you down on the couch and pulled you into a hug on that day.
I took slight comfort that I was forcing you to sniff my shirt, and thus smell my amazing laundry detergent. Like I said, I'd never changed the type of powdery soapy stuff since prom. James had taken to using it as well. He said the ladies loved it. He was right, but I made him buy it.
I took the ice cream away after you'd eaten about half the container. "Talk."
"He's having an affair."
I must admit, my mother, had she still been around and had I spoken out loud, would NOT have approved of my language. But I bit my words back, biting a chunk out of my lower lip at the same time. Blood filled my mouth, metallic tasting. However, all was well. You finally realized what an ass Ronaldo was.
I managed to calm you down and put you to sleep in my bed. I called James quietly and he picked me up in his car. We drove to where Ronaldo the dickheaded asshole (his nickname got an upgrade) lived and knocked on his door.
I greeted him with a punch in the nose, feeling something go crunch. James kicked him where the sun don't shine. We then proceeded to beat him nearly senseless, and we ensured that he knew why we were there.
That was when I got my ribs broken, but while you might have guessed how, James and I were stubbornly silent on the issue. James got a black eye but Ronaldo came out the worst. As it should be. James and I had some 'male bonding' after that, in which we dumped Ronaldo at the house of the affair bitch. And no, just to let you know, I'm not above hitting girls. She'd got a broken nose to match his. James pulled me back from her though, because he's nice like that.
"Save it for the asswipe, alright?"
Well, he's sorta nice like that. Don't hold it against him, my dear Grace. We both love you, each in our own way.
I sigh and stop. Jazz is giving me a strange look, and Andy is chuckling quietly to himself. "What?"
"I can't believe you hit girls." Jazz is mildly disapproving.
"She made Grace cry." It makes perfect sense to me, and I can tell Jazz doesn't really know what to say in the face of my conviction about this.
Rita is gone, and due to my language, I'm a little glad she is. I change the topic. "Where's Rita?"
"She went to check on Cous-cous."
"What?" I ask again. Andy groans.
"Our brother, Marcus. Jazzie thinks it's funny that the second syllable of his name is 'cus' and she made cous-cous one night, and he really liked it… you get the idea. Normal people just call him Marc."
"You are such a liar."
Jazz pointedly turns her attention back to me. "So, what happened next?"
I sigh again. Bad habit. "That's about it. Grace was going to confront him and she got hit by a car. The doctors think she'll be alright if she wakes up from this coma."
"Who brought her here?"
"Me. It happened right outside my apartment building. I was getting really sick of hearing 'where did we go wrong?' and 'what did I do badly?' and I told her, rather rudely, to just go ask him what happened. I guess… I was harsh. I mean, I've been waiting for so long, over a decade, for her to realize that my feelings are more than just friendly to her, and she never gets it. She's always telling me how great it is to have me as a friend, to know I'll always be there for her, but I'm sick of it. And it's been a year since Ronaldo the…" I clear my throat. Rita is back. "Ronaldo, and I'm tired of her talking about him all the time. I know she really liked him, but it's been a year. Over a year."
Rita speaks up for the first time in a long time. "Know what you should do?"
I put my head in my hands. "Please, enlighten me."
It's Jazz and Andy who chorus together: "Tell her."
I groan, now leaning my head on my knees. "Fuck no."
Rita smacks my head. "Mind your language."
I sigh a third time. I should stop that. "Fine."
"Now who's the liar?" Jazz asks.
"Will you drop it if I agree?"
"Of course not. I won't leave you alone until you give me James's number."
I fish a piece of paper out of my pocket and a pen, scribble for a moment, then hand it to her. "Now?"
She's silent for a moment. "Is this seriously his number?"
"Yes. Will you leave me alone?"
"No, I lied. But thanks." She puts the paper in her pocket with a grin.
Andy groans. "Great. Now my little sis is going to try and hook up with some college guy in England. Thanks, Theo."
We fall silent for a while. I can tell that Jazz is staring at me pointedly, but I ignore her. A few nurses come in and then leave, and I'm tempted to ask about the Lavender's own story. I don't though. I'm a coward like that.
Then, suddenly… a nurse motions me over. I sigh and stand, expecting it to be another 'go home, you crazy' talk. But it's not. She tells me to follow her and I do, nearly tripping over my own feet and slamming into the stupid swinging door. The nurse doesn't notice, thankfully.
She leads me to a room and nods me in. I shut the door behind me and approach your bed. Your eyes are closed, and for a second I think she's just showed me in so I can see that you're really not awake. Then, and it seems to me I've never heard anything as sweet, you speak my name. "Theo?"
It's a mere whisper, but it gives wings to my feet. "Grace, Grace, Grace."
I can only breathe your name, and I hold your hand in my own. "I'm so sorry Grace. I'm sorry, please, I'm so sorry…"
I shut up. A slight grin touches your face and you open your eyes, those lovely green eyes that I can never get enough of.
"Theo, you were right."
I was? "I was?"
"Yeah… about Ronaldo."
"He was a jerk. Everything you and James said. I'm the one who's sorry, Theo. You deserve better."
"No, no, I don't. You're perfect." I wince. I've never actually told you that flat out before.
"I am?" You're confused, so I decide to just bull on ahead.
"Yeah, you…" I take the advice of my newfound friends and go ahead and spill. No time like the present, right? "You're perfect to me. You always have been."
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying I love you. I know this might not be the time of place or whatever, but I've waited for over a decade to say it. I love you. I don't know when it started, sometime about ten years ago, but I know that I love you, Grace."
You don't say anything. I say more. "It's like… like all those songs we listen to, about love. One day I'll be perfect, Grace." I start quoting blindly. "I've walked the streets of love for a thousand years, it seems. And I made the biggest mistake of my life, telling you what I did. I'm so sorry for the things that I've done. I want you to know that to forgive… it's like breathing. It's something you need. I love you like the stars above, I love you till I die."
I ramble on, figuring that since rock stars and singers always have girlfriends, they must have gotten something right in their music, listing countless lines and lyrics, and noticing your smile starting to appear. Eventually you cut me off. "Wow. U2, Army of Me, Rolling Stones… and a bunch more. Come here."
I edge closer to the bed, taking your smile as a good sign. "Kiss me." You say.
I blink again.
And, just for the heck of it, I blink a third time.
"What?" I finally stutter out.
You give me that cat-got-the-canary smile. "Normally I'd jump your bones and kiss you myself, that'd be my usual reaction, god knows I've wanted to for a while now, but I'm still waking up from a god awful coma and can't. So come here and kiss me."
I creep just a tiny bit closer. Your smile fades a bit, turning into something like a scowl. "For god's sake, Theo, just kiss me. You say you love me, I pretty much just told you the same, you know I'm not much for the wordy sharing of feelings—people kiss people they love. Unless you don't love me?"
I can't tell if your joking or not, so I lean my face down to yours. I've kissed girls before, Grace, but they… to quote Indiana Jones, they all had the same problem. They weren't you, honey. Not that I'd ever call you honey. You'd probably castrate me. I pause, unsure, but then you decide the matter for me. You bring you hand around the back of my neck and press your lips to my own, and I could die happily.
"Hey bud, I love you too."
"Really?" I'm practically speechless.
You drag me down for another kiss, Grace (not that I'm complaining), and my only coherent thoughts are 'well, that went better than I thought…'