This story was written to and inspired by the following piece of music. Please feel free to listen before, after, or while you read. It may take a moment to load.
“If It Kills Me (from the Casa Nova Sessions)” – Jason Mraz
I rounded the corner tentatively, trying to swallow my embarrassing panting. I recognized his foot from behind the curtain, relieved that it was the right room. I couldn’t believe I’d finally made it. I was here. He was here.
I poked my head in front of the curtain as I slowly walked in. As soon as I saw him, I gasped. “JESUS! Charlie! Jesus, God… Charlie, oh my God!”
His laughter filled the room. “I knew it was you. Gee, you really know how to make a guy feel better.” He readjusted in the bed, flinching a little. “Please, suppress your jealousy.”
I could make out about half of him; the rest was just bandages and slings. His left leg was in a full hardened cast, his left arm hung by a cloth supported by a metal bar. His hair stuck out in little tufts from between the bandages around his head. As bad as I felt, as deep as the pit was in my stomach and in my chest, I couldn’t help but think of how dorky he still looked, how much cuter his smile seemed with those little sprouts of hair…
Wait. Shit. Don’t do that. You’re angry, Violet. He just caused you the most miserable morning of your life. You’re so mad. You’re livid. Relentless.
I nodded after the short internal pep talk and straightened my gaze. “What. Just… How. How did this happen.”
He grinned. “Could you be more specific?”
I could feel my face flush. “NO! None of that, asshole! None of your stupid, snarky, annoying little things you do!” My hand flailed in his general direction. “This! All of this! What did you do!”
His eyes grew wide with feigned recognition. “Oh! Oh, you mean this. Well that is a long story, Vi. We don’t have all day. I mean, I’m expecting another morphine dose innnn…” He glanced at what I assumed was the clock behind my head. “26 minutes!” He raised his lazy right hand and cupped it behind his head, casual as ever. “They run a pretty tight ship here.”
I attempted to blow an aggressive strand of hair out of the corner of my mouth, but succeeded only in shaking my head and spastically coughing a little.
He squinted. “Umm…”
“Shup up. You shup—… Shut… You…” I snarled, wiping the hair from my face with an irritated hand. “Damn it, just be quiet.”
I stalked over to the chair beside the bed and sat with a huff. In seconds, I was hit with that horrifying falling feeling in my stomach and I was tipping backwards to see the ceiling. In my helpless, frantic flailing, I panicked and fought to find something to steady myself. Luckily, I found a nice, sturdy object to latch onto: Charlie’s IV pole. By some miracle, before it rolled backwards and did any damage, I’d regained my balance in my seat, my feet landing with a thud on the tile. I cast a few alert glances around to be sure I’d stopped moving.
“Yeah, the chair’s broken.”
I caught my breath, then shot him an annoyed glance through slitted eyes. “You don’t say.”
I leaned forward on my knees and put my face in my hands, ignoring the gross smell of dirt and sweat that rubbed against my nose. I slowly massaged my temple under my bangs and released the long, exasperated breath that I’d been holding since the call.
“What happened to you? Did you sprint all the way to the hospital or what?”
I sighed again. “Only part way, only after my bike broke. It was just a few blocks.”
He sat up a little, his eyes widened. “What, what bike? From Falmouth?” He gave an incredulous shake of the head. He looked at me like I’d lost my mind. “Are you crazy?! What happened to your car?”
“Phil and Mom took it; they’re at a charity thing. Also, I was in Mashpee babysitting. I had to call Glenn to cover for me. So, yes, sort of crazy.”
He sighed. “Geez, no kidding. I wasn’t going anywhere, you know, they have to keep me here until who knows when.”
“I wasn’t worried about you going anywhere, idiot…” I lowered my hands and met his eyes, ready to fling a retort his way, when I noticed a fresh bruise above his right eyebrow. I knew he was hurt, that he didn’t mean for all of this… I was just so mad. Of all the times to go get into a life-threatening accident, why today? Why, after I’d just realized…
My eyes slid down to his own again. I couldn’t help but notice how the purpling bruise brought out the beautiful color of his deep blue eyes. Like an ocean…
Shit. No. Focus. I tore my eyes away and hid them in my palms once more. Another heavy sigh.
“Ooooh, and she’s without a word to say! This is rare. Nurse, I need a camera!”
I didn’t respond. I couldn’t look at him, couldn’t bear his smirk. I just kept my head in my hands… I had to pull myself together.
After some silence, I heard a groan, the creak of the bed, and a long, hefty sigh. There was a heavy pause before a small, defeated voice emerged from the bed.
“It was a Smart Car.”
I blinked, then squinted up at him through a hole in my fingers. “What?”
He sighed again, rubbing the right side of his face with his free hand. “I was riding to work, and I was late, and I couldn’t have a demerit on my record after they cut the first round of interns, and I was just coming down Montgomery, and I… I got T-boned by a Smart Car.”
“You…” I tried to find the words. “A Smart Car? Did all of this?” I motioned in his direction. “But… they’re so small…”
“I KNOW!” He flailed, tugging on a tube and causing him to wince. “Ow. Yeah. I just…” A sigh. “Do you know how insulting that is? A man of my size, of my bulk, of my overwhelming masculinity…” He tried to flex. “Plowed. Flattened like a pancake. An itty bitty Smart Car with a cutesy little blue stripe on the side.” He looked around the room like he was searching for something, but gave up and threw his hand in the air. “I would’ve done more damage if I hit them. And it was so tiny, so insultingly eco-friendly… And you’re laughing at my pain.”
I was laughing before I even realized what I was doing. Part of me was just picturing it in my head, how incredulous he must have looked before it happened. What I would have given just to see him caught off guard for once. And yet, the overwhelming majority of me felt like I’d been uncorked, like all of the emotions from the past few hours just poured out of me at once. He was here. He was alive and joking and an asshole and… So, so wonderfully alive. It was all I could’ve asked for.
“You should’ve seen the driver, too — the only place this woman should’ve been going is to early morning check-in at a retirement home. She looked older than Gran, and that’s saying something. I mean, it was…” He paused, his face turning in an instant. The joke was gone. “Hey, hey… No tears. Hey. Look at me.” His hand reached out and wiped the water from my face. I didn’t even know I was crying. “It’s okay. It’s scary, I know, but it looks worse than it is, I swear.”
I took his hand off of my face and tried to let it go, but he held it tightly in his own. I tried to stifle an embarrassing hiccup and failed, resolving to hide my likely-splotchy face in the crook of my elbow.
My voice came out cracked. I could feel the façade slipping. “I broke up with him yesterday, you know. I was going to go to your house after babysitting and tell you, but you really threw a wrench in that plan, so thanks very much.”
The hand stiffened. “You… what? Like, you— with Garrett?”
“Who else, stupid?” I bit back. I tried to give him a nice sarcastic look in the eyes, but the tears blurred my vision. He’d get the idea. “I just… What you said after we spent the 4th of July with your family, I’ve been thinking about it… I mean, of course I have. It’s all I fucking think about. It just circles around and around in my head. And I would go back with him, and we’d go on dates and spend time around the house together and he’d look at me and tell me he loved me, even after he’d be such a complete jerk to me, and I just… I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want it. I didn’t want him… He’s such a dick, Charlie.”
He chuckled and nodded as his thumb rubbed circles onto the back of my hand, my senses blurring as my heart beat stronger. I wiped some tears away. “And I was so excited to tell you. I was going to tell you what I did, and that I’d been stupid and I finally figured it out, and I knew you’d have that cocky little smile and you’d gloat all day, but I was still so excited to tell you, and then I…” I crumpled. “I get this fucking call from your fucking brother and I… I couldn’t think straight, I was so angry at you, I couldn’t… If anything happened to you, I couldn’t, I had to tell you, you know? You had to know—”
“WHAT!” I burst. “What, Charlie, fucking what?!”
I sniffed an attractively snotty sniff and turned to glare, but stopped dead in my tracks. He was looking at me with the softest eyes, those lovely eyes that melted me down, and that sideways smile that made me drop all the hate I’d ever held. I tried to gain my bearings and refocus on something less breathtaking: maybe an earlobe, or his little nose cartilage, or something, but it didn’t work. In the most annoyingly wonderful way, he was what I wanted. It had taken me so long to see it, to appreciate it, to see him like he’d always seemed to see me, but now I just… felt it. He was all around me.
He glanced down at our hands, then gently slid his fingers between mine and locked them tightly together. I felt every cell of our bodies that was touching. My heart was sending tiny earthquakes through me, one beat at a time. He could probably hear it — Jesus, it was so strong… I didn’t even care anymore. I was past the point of hiding. He saw right through me now. I guess he always had.
He looked up at me and spoke in a gentle hush. “You know… It’s you, Violet. It’s always been you. Through years of your douche-y boyfriends and my poor excuses for girlfriends, years of our family shit and friend shit and life shit and all the miscellaneous shit in between, in the back of my mind… No, at the very center of it, actually, it’s always been you. Almost unbearably so.” He smiled so wide. “I don’t know if you knew, but for me, it’s always been you.”
He breathed out and rocked my hand slowly back and forth. After a moment, he scoffed a laugh and squeezed my fingers. “You hanging in there, champ? Looks like it’s been a rough day for you. I can’t even imagine what you’ve been through. Gotta be tough.”
I hit him in the arm and he laughed a bit, wincing. “You are awful. I hate you.”
His eyes wrinkled. “And I love you.”
I watched him as he brought my hand to his lips, closed his eyes and kissed me softly. My heart gave up; it just stopped beating. All of the blood in my body slid through my veins and into my already-flushed face. He took one sly glance at me and burst out laughing.
“Ahh, if you could see your face! I will never get tired of that face. God, that’s unfair. For someone who loves their little lies, you’re the most honest person I’ve ever known.” He sighed happily, then lightly squeezed my hand again. “You know, through all of this, I’ve never felt better.”
I tried to contort my face into an emotion of some sort, but it was unsuccessful. He grinned. “I know you don’t believe me. But you know, I would endure the wrath of a thousand Smart Cars if I knew I’d have you at the end of this.”
I held it in for a moment, then laughed a bit as I turned to the floor. After a moment, I returned to look at him. I made myself really, truly look at him. It felt like the first time I’d ever seen him.
He grinned and wiped my cheek with our hands. “There’s that smile.”
I turned away, blushing. “Yeah, whatever.”
I hid another smile from him as I felt every fiber of my being come undone. I would never let go of that hand.