3 Weeks Later
Ryan was hard at work, preparing for the continuation of the Jansen trial. Chad’s firm had contacted him at the beginning of that week and told him that a Mr. Steve Thomas now had carriage of the file and that he planned to resume trial in two weeks. Ryan was excited and eager to get back at it, prepared to knock opposing counsel’s defence out of the water.
Still, things hadn’t been the same for the last few weeks. He missed Nicole and Hudson incredibly and he felt empty without them in his life. He knew that was his own fault, but still. He had gotten so used to being involved in their lives that now that he was no longer involved, he didn’t know what to do with himself. He had been a coward. His assistant had told him that Nicole had come to see him that day after their fight and she had also called him twice that day, leaving messages for him each time. He couldn’t bring himself to call her back. He had no idea what he would say and he thought that his actions were unforgiveable. He had no idea who that guy was that said those horrible things to Nicole that night, but he was ashamed of that side of him.
“Mr. Wilson,” Jan said from the doorway into his office, “There is a Beth here to see you.”
“Send her in,” Ryan replied, wondering why Beth was here to see him.
Ryan sat down at his desk just as Beth let herself into his office. She gave his office a quick once over and then looked at him for a moment before she sat down in the chair across from him.
“Hey Ryan,” Beth said with a smile, “I’m sorry to barge in here like this.”
“It’s no problem,” Ryan replied nicely, “To what do I owe this surprise visit?”
He honestly felt like he was about to be interrogated, because he had absolutely no doubt in his mind that Nicole had filled Beth in on everything that had happened between them. They were best friends, he wasn’t expecting Nicole to keep the situation a secret from her.
“I’m going to say this as nicely as possible,” Beth said, her eyes burning into his, “You have to stop being a coward.”
Beth saying the words that he had been thinking for the last three weeks was like a slap in the face. He knew they were true, but it hurt to have someone say them out loud to his face.
“Nicole misses you Ryan,” Beth stated, “Not only that, she needs you.”
“Beth, I don’t think you realize how horrible I was that night,” Ryan stated, looking over at her, “I don’t even know what came over me. Everything I said to her was astoundingly inaccurate. I want to be that person for her. I absolutely love playing house and I wish I could be daddy to Hudson and the little one on the way. I am completely head over heels in love with her, but that’s not what she needs from me right now. And besides, she said that she doesn’t want to see me again.”
Ryan watched as Beth’s eyes glassed over and her cheeks turned red. A small smile spread across her face after he had told her how he truly felt about Nicole. His heart ached because of how he hurt her, but he wasn’t sure if he could take those words back and make her trust him again.
“Ryan, I guess you will never truly understand women,” Beth replied with a laugh, “We are complicated creatures.”
“You’re not kidding,” Ryan indicated with a smile, “Please, try to explain your kind to me, because it’s driving me crazy.”
“She told you she never wanted to see you again,” Beth explained, “But that’s not what she meant. Nicole actually meant the opposite of what she said to you. Ryan, she was hurt and she was tired and sad and she didn’t want to face you or see you in that moment. But every time I’ve seen her since that night, I can see it in her eyes and it’s written all over her face how much she actually misses you. I think you need to man up, swallow your pride and go see her!”
“How is she doing?” Ryan asked her, leaning his forearms on his desk.
“She isn’t doing very well,” Beth replied sadly, “She is trying to take it one day at a time, but it’s obvious that life is getting to her. If she isn’t at work or at soccer practice with Hudson, she is at the cemetery talking to Chad. She barely eats, she is depressed, she is lonely, she barely talks to me except while at work, her mother has heard from her twice in three weeks. She only drops off Hudson at her parents’ when her mother is still asleep so she doesn’t have to deal with the lectures she knows she will get from Holly. She is a shell of her former self. Part of me wonders if she will ever bounce back from all of this. I have to believe she will. Ryan...”
Ryan looked over at Beth, the tears now falling over her cheeks. He reached across his desk and grabbed Beth’s hand and they sat in silence for a long moment before anything else was said. He had a feeling he knew what she was going to say next and he was ready to do whatever it took to get the old Nicole back for her sake and for everyone else’s sake.
“I think you’re the only one who can bring her out of her funk,” she whispered with a sad smile, “Her lifestyle right now isn’t healthy for her and it definitely isn’t healthy for the baby.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” Ryan replied, squeezing her hand gently to reassure her.
It was 6:00 and Nicole was sitting on the grass in the cemetery beside Chad’s grave. It was a cloudy evening, but it was very warm outside. It had been a long and busy day at work and she escaped from the office as soon as she could, hoping that she wouldn’t have to talk to Beth about how she was feeling or how she was coping. She was doing horribly and it had been a pretty lousy three weeks since she buried Chad and lost Ryan. She didn’t feel like listening to Beth tell her what she already knew. She should be eating more, she should get more sleep, she needs to be healthy because there is a precious baby growing inside her. She felt guilty enough on her own without someone else pointing out the obvious.
Nicole had been coming to the cemetery three or four times a week and usually she would have so much to say to Chad, but today she sat there quietly with nothing to say. It sounded silly and she knew that he wasn’t there and couldn’t hear her, but talking to him somehow made her feel better. Talking to him had somehow comforted her, made her feel at peace.
She took a deep breath and leaned her head back, looking up at the sky. The ominous looking clouds had begun to part and the sun slowly creeped through. She smiled at the beautiful sight in front of her and decided that that moment was as good a time as any to make a change. Yes, Chad had died and she felt alone, but she had to do the right thing for herself and for her little family. She had to start taking care of herself.
“Wherever you are Chad,” Nicole whispered, “I miss you.”
Nicole picked herself up off the ground and nearly jumped out of her skin when she turned around to see Ryan standing behind her. He had a bouquet of flowers, daisies to be exact, in his hand, which she assumed were for Chad’s grave. Her heart was racing, she was not expecting him to be here. She didn’t want him to see her like this.
“Crap, Ryan,” Nicole gasped, putting a hand to her chest, “You scared me.”
“I’m sorry,” Ryan replied, “What were you smiling at just now as I walked up?”
Nicole moved so she was standing beside him and pointed up at the clouds and sun sneaking through.
“The sun, mixing with the gloominess of the clouds,” Nicole replied as she looked up at him, “I just thought it was timely. Everything in my life over the last few weeks has been dismal at best, but as the sun broke through I felt at peace and I felt like this is the time for me to start putting the pieces of my broken life back together. But I wasn’t expecting you to be a part of my epiphany.”
“Nicole, I screwed up,” Ryan said quietly, “I have been a coward for the last three weeks and I understand if I’m too late to try and make things right. But I thought I would come and see if you were here and try my best to make you see that that man you witnessed three weeks ago, he wasn’t me. All those horrible things I said, none of it was true, completely the opposite actually.”
She turned so she was facing him and reached for his free hand. His words made her heart race and she couldn’t stop the smile from spreading over her face. She hoped and prayed that it would only be a matter of time before Ryan came back to her and she was over the moon that he had picked today to do it.
“I forgive you,” Nicole replied, “I just really need my friend right now and despite what might happen in the future, I just need to know that you aren’t going to run away again when things get difficult. Because they might get hard again, but I can’t handle losing you a third time.”
“I’m not going anywhere Nic,” he whispered as he reached for her and pulled her into his arms, “I’m all in this time. I promise you that I will be there when you need me.”
“Good,” she replied, her response muffled against his jacket.
When they parted a couple minutes later, Ryan knelt down in front of Chad’s grave and laid the daisies down in front of the headstone. She smiled as he stood up and brushed the dirt off his jeans. She couldn’t remember the last time she had smiled like she was right then. Ryan was a better man than he ever gave himself credit for and she was so thankful that she had been blessed to have a friend like him.
“Chad was a good man,” Ryan said quietly as he wrapped his arm around Nicole’s shoulder, “It was tragic what happened to him, but I know he’s watching over you and Hudson and I’m sure he is beyond thrilled that you are bringing another little Sanders into this world.”
“Despite the crap he put our family through, I will never stop loving him,” Nicole replied with a small smile on her face, “I will always miss him.”
Ryan smiled down at her and kissed her forehead gently. He then reached for her hand and they stood there and looked at Chad’s grave for a moment. Nicole was a loyal and caring woman and even after all the hurt and pain Chad had caused her, she still had nothing but positive and loving things to say about him. All he had to do was look into her eyes and it was clear that the love she had for Chad would always remain. There would always be a place in her heart for her husband.
“Look, I know it’s getting late, but can I take you and Hudson out for pizza?” he asked, a smile spreading across his face as he remembered their pizza dinners on Nicole’s living room floor, “Or whatever you guys want to eat?”
“Hudson is at my parents’ place right now, but we would love to,” Nicole replied happily, “I’ll have to go pick him up and then go home and quickly get changed. Do you want to meet us at my place in 45 minutes?”
“How about I go pick up Hudson and you go home and get ready?” Ryan suggested with a smile, “I wouldn’t mind spending some time with him.”
“That sounds like a great idea!” Nicole exclaimed happily, “I’ll see you at home in a little while then.”
Nicole drove home with a smile on her face and the music blaring. She sang along to the music with the windows rolled down so she could feel the wind blowing through her hair. The sun had finally managed to break through the clouds completely and it had turned out to be an exceptionally beautiful evening. She was looking forward to spending the next couple hours with her baby boy and her dear friend. It was these moments that she had taken for granted before everything with Chad had happened. She never really took the time to truly appreciate her family and friends before, but now she was going to make a conscious effort to enjoy the little things and relish in the moments she had with them. She was, just then, realizing how short life really was.
Nicole pulled into her driveway and noticed a beat up old blue Honda Civic parked along the curb in front of her house. That looked like Anna’s car, Nicole thought to herself as she pulled the keys out of the ignition and dropped them into her purse. She wondered what Anna could possibly need from her that made her drive across town to see her. Anna wasn’t in her car and as Nicole got out of her car and looked around, she couldn’t see Anna anywhere.
She pushed it to the back of her mind as she walked up the drive to the front door. She noticed a dark figure huddled in the corner by the front door and squinted to try and get a better look.
“What the hell...” Nicole whispered as she took a couple steps towards the figure.
As she got closer she realized it was Anna. Anna was wearing a black hoodie with the hood up, covering her head and a pair of dirty blue jeans.
“Anna,” Nicole said loudly, “Are you ok? What are you doing here?”
When there was no response from Anna, Nicole rushed to her side and knelt down in front of her. Nicole noticed that there was blood on Anna’s jeans and on the ground around her and she began to panic. Anna was slumped over and barely conscious as Nicole checked Anna for any wounds when she noticed that the sleeves of her sweatshirt were wet. She lifted up the sleeves and noticed that Anna’s wrists were slashed.
“Shit,” Nicole gasped as she rummaged through her bag for her cell phone, “Anna, wake up! What did you do?”
She quickly texted Ryan. If you have Hudson take him back to his grandparents. We have a situation and I need here...NOW. She dialled 911 and put the phone to her ear as she continued to try and wake Anna up.
“911, what’s you’re emergency?” the operator said on the other end.
“I need an ambulance to come to 3230 W 31st Avenue,” Nicole rattled into the phone urgently, “I think we have a possible suicide attempt.”
“Ok miss, I’m sending an ambulance out now,” the operator replied, “Is the individual awake? Are they able to talk to you?”
“No, not right now,” Nicole replied, feeling panicked, “I don’t think she is conscious. What do I do?”
“Try to wake her up and if you can’t, hold tight, the ambulance will be there shortly,” the operator replied, “Maybe check to see if she has anything on her. Any drugs? Any injuries?”
“I didn’t check for drugs, but her wrists are slashed,” Nicole replied.
Nicole was running on pure adrenaline at that point. She was scared and worried about Anna and she couldn’t stop herself from wondering what had made her do this to herself. She checked the pockets of Anna’s hoodie, her jean pockets and noticed her bag sitting there and she quickly rummaged through that. She noticed a razor blade beside the bag as well as two small packets of white powder and an empty packet, which she assumed had the same white powder in it, inside the bag. Nicole made sure to leave everything where she found it and made sure not to touch the razor blade or the drugs. She couldn’t believe that Anna was going down that road. This was not the same girl that Nicole had grown up with and it broke her heart.
“I just found a razor blade, two packets of some sort of white powder and one empty packet,” Nicole said into the phone, “This is not like her. I had no idea she was doing drugs.”
“Ok, I’ll stay on the line with you,” the operator replied, “Try and see if you can get her to wake up.”
Nicole put the phone on speaker and laid it on the ground beside her. She placed two fingers on the side of Anna’s neck and she felt relieved when she felt a pretty strong pulse. That reassured her slightly, but it still didn’t put her mind at ease as she pulled Anna into her arms.
“Come on Anna, wake up,” Nicole said, nudging her slightly, “Please wake up for me. The ambulance is going to be here soon. Come on…Anna, wake up!”
There was a quiet grunt from Anna, but nothing more than that. Nicole cried silently as she held her best friend’s sister’s limp body in her arms. Nicole was sure that all this was her fault. It was her fault because she forgave Anna and then she took back the forgiveness and blamed Anna for everything that her family had been put through, she even blamed Anna for Chad’s death.
Her head perked up when she heard the squeal of tires as Ryan’s truck pulled into the driveway beside her car and the sound of ambulance sirens in the distance. She held Anna close to her, checking to make sure she could still feel a pulse everything thirty seconds or so.
“Jesus…” Ryan exclaimed when he approached Nicole in front of the house with Anna in her arms, “Nic, what happened?”
“I don’t know Ryan,” Nicole replied as the tears began to fall from her eyes, “I walked up the driveway and saw her hunched over in the corner by the front door. She grunted once, but I think it’s bad. I’ve already called 911 and the ambulance is on the way…I haven’t even called Beth yet…can you call her?”
Ryan nodded his head and the panic subsided slightly as she watched him pull his phone out of his pocket and walk away. Nicole looked down at Anna, pale and lifeless in her arms and she continued to entertain the thought that it was her fault that Anna was in this place right now.
Nicole looked up as the sirens pierced through her neighbourhood and the ambulance screeched to a halt in front of Nicole’s driveway. She watched as the paramedics jumped out of the vehicle and ran towards Ryan.
“We got a call,” one of the paramedics explained, “A possible attempted suicide?”
“Right over there,” Ryan replied pointing at me as he slipped his cell phone back into his pocket.
The paramedics ran over to me and one was on his knees in an instant checking Anna for a pulse.
“She still has a pulse,” he said to Nicole with a small smile, “Has she been awake at all? Has she said anything to you? Do you know what happened?”
Nicole held onto Anna desperately for fear that she may lose her for good if she let her go. All of the paramedic’s questions flooded her brain and she was having difficulty processing everything.
“Ummm…she gave me a grunt, that was all,” Nicole replied, “I don’t know what happened. Anna was here when I got home. She was already unconscious at that point and that’s when I noticed the blood and the cuts on her wrists. The operator on the phone told me to look around for things, clues I guess. I found some sort of drug in her purse and a razor blade on the ground there, but I haven’t touched anything. I only moved her so I could hold her.”
“That’s fine,” the paramedic replied, “You have done everything right. How do you know Anna?”
“She is my best friend’s sister, I grew up with her,” Nicole answered quietly, “She was also my husband’s girlfriend before he passed away a month ago.”
The paramedic stopped and looked over at her for a moment and then sympathy spread across his face.
“Shit,” he mumbled, “So if we don’t actually know what happened, my guess is the guilt she felt became too much. Unfortunately, this will become a police investigation, but considering you didn’t touch anything or mess with the evidence, you won’t have anything to worry about. I need to get her on a stretcher now, but thanks for everything you did tonight.”
“Come on Nic,” Ryan said quietly from behind them, “I’ll take you to the hospital. Beth is going to meet us there.”
Nicole reluctantly let the paramedic take Anna from her arms and she looked up at Ryan with fear in her eyes. He held his hand out for her and once she took it, he pulled her up and slowly led her down the driveway to his truck. Nicole kept turning her head back to look at Anna’s lifeless body, but the paramedics were blocking her view. She also couldn’t help thinking about what the paramedic had said to her about it becoming a police investigation. Could they possibly find her responsible for this, could they accuse her for this? For possibly making this whole thing look like a suicide attempt? They could, but would they, that was the question. She did have motive, but this was the last thing she wanted. She never wanted Anna to get hurt.
Ryan held the door to his truck open for her and she got in without saying a word. She closed her eyes and for the first time in years, she prayed for Anna to be protected and prayed that she would make it through. She couldn’t lose another person in her life, no matter what they put her through.