I stood outside the building, quivering in deepest meanders of my core, and swallowed hard. I must do this. I must. After that, I can move on, turn on a blank page, start over again.
Taking a deep, deep breath, I entered. I didn’t ask at the reception, I knew where I was headed. When I reached the room, I saw Colin at the end of the corridor, gesticulating, talking loud. I thought he was talking on the phone, but as I neared, I noticed Serene against the wall, looking grim as ever. They were fighting, judging by the whisper-yelling, so I didn’t bother saying hi. I just swallowed the lump in my throat, and knocked.
Nobody answered, so I just entered. I found an unmade bed, but no patient. The room was neat, clearly, it had been recently tidied up. When the white door across from the bed – presumably the bathroom – opened, my heart skipped a beat. I purposely kept my eyes on the bed, but his voice had me quiver in my decision anyways: “You shouldn’t be here.”
I let out a silent sigh, forcing myself to be cold as I responded: “And you shouldn’t be standing. I hear your wounds are still fragile.” I didn’t need to look at him.
“A man needs to socialize with the toilet now and then, you know.” Jake sassed.
I rolled my eyes, but turned when I heard hopping. Yeah, hopping. And it was easily explained when I noticed he was literally hopping his way back onto the bed. I barely had time to move to go to his help that he was already sitting, evidently wincing because of the pain.
Giving him a better look, I noticed he wore basketball shorts instead of a hospital pajama, and, hadn’t it been for the plaster covering his leg up to below his knee, the gauzes covering his torso and his left shoulder, he’d have been pretty much half naked. What had my heart drop to my ribs, however, was that horrible gauze all wrapped around his head, covering his forehead too.
“So, what are you doing here?“Jake asked, his voice gruff, despite the clearly pained efforts he made at sitting properly on the bed. I watched, speechless, as he struggled a little then finally heaved a sigh as he dropped his back against the pillows behind him.
The sight had tears prickle behind my eyes, and consider I’m not an emotional person. Gulping down every emotion, I moved closer, and went to stand at the edge of the bed, gripping the board at its feet, staring at the brown blanket just not to meet Jake’s gaze.
“Silvia?” He called.
I took a deep, deep breath. “I ... came to see you.” I tried to sound as nonchalant as possible, but, it was hard as ever to repress every emotion. Must be because of this damn place, and the memory of that horrible night last week, and ... ten years ago.
Jake snorted, though. “You’ve seen me. I’m still alive. Bye.” His tone was so cold. And he had every reason.
I sighed, my head hanging low as I gripped the board. I can’t say I didn’t expect this. “I’m sorry, okay? I ... I just couldn’t make myself –”
“You don’t need to apologize, neither justify. It’s fine. I get it.” I looked up, only to meet his disappointed gaze. “You were here throughout the night. I guess that’s what counts.” He said with a shrug. Clearly lying.
“Seriously. It’s fine.”
I sighed, standing straight now, and raked a hand over my face, bypassing the bed to walk up to the window. I crossed my arms as I leaned against the windowsill. I took a deep breath, eyes onto the floor, and gathered my strength to explain my reasons. It was obvious that I’d have to, and I’d prepared a whole speech in my mind, even, but ... well, as cliché as that sounds, words were failing me right now, which is weird if you consider my job.
“Alright.” I started, already tormenting my hands. “I have no excuses. I should have been there for you. I understand if you’re ... mad at me. You have all the reasons. I was ... an awful friend. All I can do is apologize.” Even I heard my voice sound cold, as if it were the metallic one of a voicemail or something, and I wouldn’t have wanted it to be, but I couldn’t avoid it. It’s like a self defense mechanism, I have no power over it, it just raises its shields every time that’s needed.
“No, you’re right. You’re absolutely right.” I shook my head, scolding myself for having been so selfish. “I disappointed you. And I didn’t want to. I hurt you. And I never wanted that either. But I did. And I’ll never apologize enough.”
Jake sighed, so I went on, my voice blank, monotonous, as if I felt nothing while saying those things, while in truth, my heart was already aching. “It’s normal to expect friends to be close to you throughout such a predicament, and I wasn’t, so you –”
“For God’s sakes, shut up!” I flinched at the loud and harsh sound of his voice, but I didn’t move. “I was disappointed, yes.” Jake sighed, well, more like wheezed, as if yelling had entailed a too big effort for him. “Honestly, if there was one person I wanted close when I woke up from the anesthesia, that was you, Silvia. But that doesn’t mean I hold it against you.” He continued. “Hell, Silvia, I know you enough to be sure you had a damn good reason.”
I swallowed once more, tormenting my hands while I still stared at the floor, trying hard to force strength into me, but it was corroded all when I entered this building again. I felt the bed shifting, and I looked up to see Jake struggling to sit up on the edge of the bed, so I tried to prevent him, but he waved me off. “I know you Silvia. I told you that. I know you better than you know yourself.”
“I find that hard to believe.” I scoffed, without thinking.
“I know you had a reason to stay away, and I’m not questioning it.” Jake went on, then grunted. “I’m not a little kid in need of attentions, so don’t treat me like one. I’ve been fine this week, I am fine, so there’s no need for you to feel guilty or sorry or whatever. I’m perfectly fine.” His harsh tone had some of my coldness come back, but for some reason I knew he was doing it on purpose, to bring me to that very same condition, as if he could read through me and know I felt weak.
It’s always like this with him. I don’t even need to talk, he just... reads into me. And it frightens the hell out of me. “That’s bullshit.” I spat. He looked up to meet my eyes, and I held his gaze, even though my strength was already wavering. “You’re all gauzed and plastered, every damn movement makes you wheeze. Like hell you’re fine.” I nearly barked.
Jake sent me a dirty look. “Well, excuse me, I had an accident just a week ago, my bones obviously need to heal.”
“Then don’t say you’re fine, because you’re not.”
“Neither are you.”
I pressed my eyelids to repress tears as my heart ached. What is it these days? Why is it so much harder to live through this heart-shattering pain? Why do tears fall so easily? Why am I so weak? Right. The anniversary. Reliving the whole situation with Jake. If he knew what I’ve been through this week, if he knew his accident brought me to my knees once again.
“I’m sorry.” Jake’s voice filled my ears, as if it were far, far away, yet when I opened my eyes and looked up, he was still there, sitting on the hospital bed, wearing an apologetic and guilty look. “I shouldn’t have been so harsh.”
I shook my head to say no, but he waved his hand in dismissal. He took a deep breath, then consequently brought a hand to his gauzed chest, pained, though recovered almost immediately, I bet not to let me see anything.
“I’ve missed you.” Jake breathed out, and my own breaths caught in my throat. I’m not one for this sort of display of emotions, but I craved to say it back. I let it die in my throat, though.
Jake took another deep breath, this time his hand was holding his chest, as if to prevent any wave of pain. “How ... are you?“I inevitably rolled my eyes, and he cursed. “I’m trying to cheer you up, damnit, can you at least cooperate?”
I couldn’t help but crack a small smile. “You get cranky when ill, I see.”
He smirked, then silence slipped in between us, but in the end Jake had to break it, and in the worst way: “I know it has to do with her ... it’s 10 years tomorrow, isn’t it?”
I clenched my fists, digging my nails into my flesh, trying to resist. I won’t cry. Not again. Not in front of him for the umpeenth time. I shouldn’t have even come here, not in this state. This way I made it all too easy for him. And maybe that was my subconscious wanted. I told myself I wanted to clear the air between us, and I have, so I may as well go. Before Jake does what he knows best and breaches through my walls, weakening me to the point of no return.
“Don’t repress it.” He stood, though squinting his eyes just at the mere movement. “We’ve been through this before.” He hopped his way to me, and I tried to stop him, but he didn’t bother.
“You shouldn’t strain your bones, you-”
“For fuck’s sakes, shut the hell up, I’m fine!” He sat on the windowsill, wheezing at every breath. “It’s just a couple of wounded bones, they’ll heal, nothing to worry about.”
“Yeah, but –”
“Jeez, Silvia, let it slide.”
I remained dumbfounded, but not because of his harshness. Because I could spot it, there, in his eyes, that glint, that feeble glint that was meant to convey one single message. He reads through me. Like no one ... aside from Matilde, ever has. And he could read it in my eyes that his predicament scared me. He knows about her ... he doesn’t exactly know what happened, but we’ve talked about her, who she was.
Jake stretched a hand – for how painfully – and brought the chair to him, only to leave his plastered leg there for support. He took a deep breath, raking a hand over his face, and when he turned to me, he had a small smirk plastered on that gorgeous countenance. “I keep telling you, I’m a tough cookie, you don’t need to worry about me.” I glared at him, especially as his smirk got smug – the same he wears when he’s shielding his emotions. “I appreciate, though.”
I rolled my eyes. “Be serious for once.”
“I’m always serious.”
“Good God, Silvia, I’m stuffed with pain killers. It’s like I’m practically high, for fuck’s sakes. Give me a break. And damn, just smile for a moment, will you?”
I couldn’t help but do as he practically ordered. After a whole week of tears, smiling felt almost foreign, not to mention it felt like my muscles were a little sore for the lack of usage. “Where’s Tess?” I asked, just to break the silence.
Jake shrugged. “Home. She needed some rest, so I sent her to sleep.”
I chuckle, the sound foreign to my ears after so long. “She gave you a hard time, huh?”
“Hard time? She was a freaking nightmare! And she got the damn nurses to side with her, so I got all of them against me.”
“You mean, dedicated to curing you.”
He shrugged. “Same thing.”
He snorted. “The only nurse I wanted would have punched me every time I argued with her.”
“Serene doesn’t seem –”
“I mean you, Silvia. You.”
“Oh.” Awkward silence again. Yay.
Jake sighed, raking a hand over his face. “I’m sorry. I know I shouldn’t ... flirt with you, but –”
“This was you flirting?” I mocked, snorting. “You suck at flirting, then, Watson.”
He smirked. “No, honey, I never suck. It’s usually the girl that –”
“Ew, you’re disgusting!”
“You called for it.”
I rolled my eyes. “I’d slap you, if you weren’t all gauzed.”
He grinned impishly. “You know, that’s the same thing Tess says.”
I smirked. “Because she knows you. She says you’ve been untreatable. I say, when aren’t you?”
“Hey, I’m a good boy!”
I snorted at his protest, actually feeling a bit better, bantering with him like this. We remained there, sitting on the windowsill next to each other, silently, for a few minutes, till I asked if he needed anything and he refused, so more silence reigned.
In the end, I cleared my throat. “I ... should go. You probably need rest, and ...” and being in a hospital suffocates me.
Jake half smiled, nodding, clearly catching it. “It was good to see you.”
I smiled, this time fully. “Same here.” I stood up straight, in front of him, but didn’t move. We remained there, smiling at each other, like friends that didn’t exactly know what to say but had lot to communicate to each other. It was time to leave, though. I just didn’t really want to, which is weird, if you consider that hospitals make me sick to my gut.
“Don’t come here anymore.” Jake said out of the blue, as if he’d read my mind. “I know how it feels.” He mentioned, head hanging low, eyes on the floor, serious. “I used to be so allergic to hospitals, too, but ... you know, when you get hurt so much, you can’t really avoid it. It’s kind of a shock therapy.”
I frowned, not sure which part of his phrase to question first, but Jake preceded me, looking up to give me a small genuine smile, one of his that I bet have panties drop as if gravity got suddenly heavier. “Don’t torment yourself because of me, Silvia. I’m fine. I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.”
“How much strength did it take you to cross that entrance? And how much to act like nothing?”
“Jake, I –”
“It’s fine.” He smiled, half bitterly, half gloomily, and I kind of got the feeling that only now pain killers were kicking in and he was going into weird mode. “Maybe call now and then?” He looked me straight in the eyes, hope clear in his hazel-greens, so much that my heart fluttered. “I know I have no right to ask, but ... you’re the air I need to breathe.”
He laughed forcedly. “Let me be stupid for a moment, at least I can blame it on the pain killers.”
I inhaled deeply, closing my eyes not to meet his anymore, feeling ashamed. The words I’ve learnt this past week clogged my throat, pushing to be set free, but I swallowed them. I flinched when I felt his hand grabbing mine, and I looked down to see he was entwining our fingers, tenderly, as if it were the most normal thing in this world.
“I’m here.” Jake stated firmly. “Whenever you need me, baby. I’m always here. Always.”
I writhed under his touch, but didn’t pull back. “I know.” My voice was uncertain, I knew tears were breaking it again. “Thank you.” I tried to move away, but he didn’t let me.
“I mean it. You know I do.”
“I know, I-”
“I’m going to work something out, and I’ll be free tomorrow. You can wheel me around the park, whatever.”
“I’m not going to leave you alone on such a day, baby.” He pulled me into him, and winced when I accidentally crashed against his wounds. He forced me to sit on his sane leg, and squeezed me into him. I was taken aback, but I didn’t move. Jake kissed my temple tenderly, squeezing my hand. “You can’t be alone tomorrow, you know that.”
“I-I...I-I’ll manage.” I sobbed, unable to retain myself. “I-I always do.”
“That’s the whole point, baby.” Jake half smiled, playing with our entwined hands. “You don’t have to. I’m here. You’re not alone, Silvia, you have me. You’ll always have me.”
“I almost lost you, though.” I squeezed his hand unconsciously, my heart clenching at the sole thought, tears streaming my cheeks.
“But you didn’t.”
“What about next time? I ...” I shut my mouth, knowing too much was coming out already.
Jake brought out entwined hands to his heart, over the gauzes. “Don’t you remember? There’s a string tied here under my left rib where my heart is, tightly knotted to you.” He quoted solemnly. “Every time we part, I bleed. Every time say goodbye, a part of me dies. And I would be okay with it, didn’t I know the same happened to you.” His lips pressed against my temple as he closed his eyes. “There won’t be a next time, because you couldn’t handle it, and I live for you.”
I hid my face behind his neck, sobbing silently. He keeps on tugging at my heartstrings, and I keep staggering back. I keep trying to escape, yet he keeps on pulling me back. Maybe it’s that knot he says, maybe it’s life telling me to quit running, because I’ve found my home.
“Promise me. Swear it.” I begged amongst tears, cupping his cheeks as I pulled back.
Jake cracked a small smile, wiping my tears away with his thumbs. “We made a deal, the Big Boss and I. He won’t call me back until you need me.” He pulled a strand of hair behind my ear, leaning in to kiss my forehead. “As long as you breathe, I breathe, baby.”
I closed my eyes as my head leaned in, and I sought his lips, pecking them for a moment, then slowly deepening the kiss. “Good. Because I love you, Jake. And I need you. Until the rest of my days.”