The doctor came, talked, came again, talked, and now I’m being lead up to the ICU by a nurse. My mind is in a giant ass fog after the bombshell the doctor dropped. It still feels like this is all just a dream...fuck that, a fucking nightmare, and I’m about to wake at any moment. I should wake at any moment, and I won’t have the words of the doctor cutting me deep like a fucking knife.
I’m sorry, Mr. Copeland. The words play on a fucking loop. I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I wanted to throw the chair in the room through the damn wall, I wanted to destroy something, and I wanted to find the fucker who plowed through us and beat him until the end of his life. Or hers, I’m at a point where I don’t care if the driver was a woman or man. I want to find them and force them to see what they took from me.
“She’s just on the other side of the door. If you need anything, the nurses’ station is right outside her room.”
“Thank you,” I barely manage to whisper as I come to a stop outside of Ryann’s room. The blinds are open, and I can see straight in. The tube coming out of her mouth is so unreal, and I know as soon as I walk in, I’ll be greeted by the familiar sounds of the beeps, the fluid pumps, and the ventilator. I stand outside of her door long after the nurse has left my side, just staring in. The knot in my throat is tight, and this time, I can’t swallow it back down.
Taking a deep, shaky breath, I open the door into Ryann’s room and find myself beside her bed. Her arm is in a black sling and resting across her chest. There is a bandage across her head, and her neck is in a neck brace. She’s hooked up to all kinds of IV lines, and each bag is labeled with something different. When I talked with the doctor again, I told him about Ryann’s sobriety and her drug of choice. He assured me more than once that they’re taking every precaution and protocol to ensure Ryann stays comfortable without hindering her sobriety.
I just hope we’re doing enough.
Pulling the chair up next to her bed, I take a seat as I take her hand. Her hand is warm, and I can tell it’s still filled with so much life, but when she doesn’t flex back against my hold, my heart plummets once again, and I can feel the emptiness slowly creeping its ugly head in.
“Ryann,” her name leaves my mouth as I attempt to hold back a sob. “I love you so much, and I’m so, so sorry. You’re right. I’m afraid what going public with our relationship would do. Not because I’m ashamed of what we have, but because I’m afraid of what it could do to you. I watched you nearly crash and burn once before; I didn’t want to be the cause of another.” Bringing her hand to my lips, I place a longing kiss to her soft skin. “But I know you’re strong, and no matter what we go through, we will always have one another to lean on. I know that, and I’m so sorry for everything, but I need to ask one last selfish thing. I’m begging you, babydoll, please come back to me. Please. I need you, and I can’t live in this world without you. I love you so much, and I want you to know that when you do wake up, I will be right by your side.”
Laying my head down next to our joined hands, I allow my tears to fall as I watch my finger skim the top of her hand in a comfort for myself and for Ryann. I just hope and pray that she can still hear everything that I’m saying, and she knows how much I need and love her.
I’m woken by a soft knock on the metal door frame. I don’t even remember falling asleep. And with how groggy I feel, I couldn’t have been out for more than ten minutes. Sitting up suddenly, I groan out in pain and see Val standing in the doorway with two large coffee cups in her hands. She gives me a small smile, “Can I come in?”
Stretching my back out, I lean back in the chair I’m sitting in and feel all of my muscles ache as I attempt to stretch them out. Okay, clearly, I slept longer than ten minutes. I don’t remember being woken by nurses coming in and out of Ryann’s room to check on her. But I know they’ve been in here because two of the IV pumps she was hooked to last night are now disconnected.
Rubbing my eyes, “Ya, of course.”
I hear Val’s footsteps softly make their way into the room, “How is she this morning?”
Looking over to Ryann’s sleeping form, I feel the tug on my heart once again, “I haven’t talked to the nurses today, but no new updates from when you left last night. What time is it?”
Val looks at the watch on her wrist, “Seven in the morning. I’m sorry, I couldn’t sleep last night. I released a PR statement, and Pearl was blowing up my phone....”
She shrugs a shoulder, “I don’t know. I didn’t answer my phone, and she never left a voicemail.”
Great, just fucking great. She’s the last person I want to deal with at the moment.
“Jen called me too,” Val whispers as she hands me a cup of coffee. Taking a sip, the liquid is scalding but welcoming and rich. I’d like to say that it’s waken me from this bad dream that we’re all in, but that would be a delusional wish.
“And?” I ask, uninterested in knowing what Ryann’s family has to say. The only reason why I am asking is because Jen is Ryann’s sister.
“She’s in New York. I arranged a hotel room for her so she wouldn’t have to sleep at the airport. I’m not sure what it is with the Anderson sisters and sleeping in airports.” Val says with a slight laugh.
Arching a brow as my eyes dart to the empty doorway, “And the rest of her family?”
Val shrugs, “It’s only Jen here for now. She claims that she got a call from a friend and was told about the accident.”
Leaning my head back against the chair, I find myself looking up at the ceiling and counting the tiny ass holes in the tile. But no matter how many I count, it doesn’t seem to be helping my stress level.
“And she managed to sneak off to New York without telling her mom or husband?”
Again, Val shrugs, “They were out, I guess, and she left a note for them where she went but didn’t say exactly why.”
Snapping my head back down, I immediately regret the sudden movement as a bolt of pain shoots down my neck. Massaging the nape of my neck, I look at Val confused, “Why?”
Once again, Val shrugs her shoulders, “I don’t know. She’s here if you want to talk to her.”
Groaning out, “Why?” Because the last thing I want to do is entertain anyone at this point. I want to be left alone with Ryann. I don’t want her family here; I don’t want to have to answer questions. I just want to be left alone.
“Thomas, this is her sister. You know Ryann wouldn’t want you two to bicker or keep Jen from seeing her. They’ve been working on their relationship, and Jen is the one here right now. She’s out in the hall, and she’s a ball of nervous energy. Do you know that these two have the same nervous ticks?” Val shares, and I swear it’s a subtle dig to make me feel just enough ping of guilt.
Looking down at my pinky finger, I find both of Ryann’s rings and feel myself slowly spinning them, and that is what brings me some sort of a welcoming distraction. And then it hits me. I’m not sure I’m ready to face her sister or her family. I don’t want them to see Ryann like this and view her as helpless. Not when Ryann has come so far in her recovery and with her confidence.
“Jen has been playing with her necklace and spinning her wedding rings around. Right now, she’s out in the hall counting. I’ll be in the room with you two, or I can leave. Whatever it is you want, but I think she needs to see her sister.”
I know Val is right, but I still feel a wave of selfishness wash over me because it’s been me there for Ryann this past year. When members of her family turned their back to her, it’s been me. It’s been Val, Xayla and my grandparents. Even with the whole Jamie debacle, it was us there for her and Jen, I guess. She did fight for her sister back home. Though, I’m not really sure what all she’s done.
“Okay,” I say softly as I take Ryann’s hand into mine before her sister walks in. Getting to my feet, I lean over and place a kiss to Ryann’s forehead before taking a seat on the couch and my makeshift bed.
I watch Val walk back towards the room door as I set my coffee cup down on the little end table beside the couch. The next second when I turn my attention back towards the door, Jen is standing at the foot of the bed with her hands to her mouth as she sobs out. Val is at her side with her arm wrapped around her and holding Jen up, and it’s then that I catch Travis standing inside the doorway, too, observing close by if needed.
“Why does she have a tube in her? Why isn’t she breathing on her own? I don’t understand. What happened?” Jen cries out.
I catch Val look over to me, hoping that I would give her some sort of help to take over the reins. But I’m not sure how or if I can.
“How did you find out about the accident?” I ask instead of answering Jen’s questions.
Jen turns towards me. The sadness in her eyes turns into a fiery rage. “This is all your fault.” She seethes between her teeth.
“Jennifer,” Val attempts to grab her arm to stop her movement but is unsuccessful.
Getting to my feet, I’m instantly met with a fierce punch to the torso. The blow wouldn’t have caused me to grunt out in pain in normal circumstances, but considering my seatbelt left a sizeable bruise and the fact that I feel like I just did ten rounds in the boxing ring. Jen can easily bring me down to my knees if she wants. Travis makes a haste move into the room, but I hold my hand up, stopping both him and Val from trying to intercept Jen from her onslaught of hits and punches to my torso.
“She wouldn’t be in this damn hospital bed if it wasn’t for you. She shouldn’t be here.” Jen yells as she strikes me again. This time she doesn’t stop and lets out a glass-shattering scream, and I, not sure what comes over me or what else to do, so I pull her into my chest and let her sob everything out. Val’s eyes are wide with surprise as Travis manages to stop a nurse from entering the room.
Everything feels so foreign and even more so with a sobbing Jen in my arms. Her fingers flexing in my t-shirt that is covered in lord knows what. I never did change out of my clothes from yesterday, and I’m praying that Val or Travis managed to find me a change of clothes.
Jen pulls away and wipes away her smeared mascara and her tears before looking me up and down. “Shit, I’m sorry. Are you okay?” It’s like she suddenly realized that I was in the car too.
“I’m fine,” I lie. Because I’m responsible for the driver’s death, and I nearly lost Ryann too. I’m far from fine.
Again, Jen looks me up and down. “Ryann was right about one thing. You are a shit liar.”
Val lets out an amused snort of a laugh, “Your sister talked about me?” I ask, slightly surprised.
Jen shakes her head as she walks back to the bed and takes a seat in the chair next to Ryann’s bed. “No, not since she’s been employed with you. At least, she rarely talks about the job. But you know, and I mean no offense, and please don’t fire her because I told you this. But she was never a fan of yours. I’m kinda surprised that she took this job. She thought you were a shit actor with an ego that needed to be taken down a peg or ten.”
You don’t say.
“Ohh, Ryann defiantly took him down a peg or twenty,” Val smirks as she flops down next to me.
Jen smiles, “Oh, is that why you’ve stopped going to parties and disappeared from the scene?” She pauses for a moment as she stares at her sister. “Sorry, I watch a lot of entertainment shows. Or did. I don’t anymore.”
“One of the reasons.”
Jen nods her head as she looks back at her sister, “Do you think she’ll wake up?”
“I know she’ll wake up,” the words are out of my mouth before I have time to think them through. I know Ryann hasn’t talked about us and our relationship with anyone in her family, and I don’t want to out us. Not now. Not yet.
Jen keeps her focus on her sister, and I can’t help but watch the rise and fall of Ryann’s chest with each breath the ventilator takes for her. “If I could go back in time, I would. When Ry’s addiction started, I knew the moment she started taking the pills. We were closed, best of friends, until Dad pushed her too hard. Ry really wanted to please everyone she knew and met. It was like a goal of hers. Especially our parents.” Both Val and I look at each other, slightly stunned that Jen is offering up what feels like a confessional. “I knew she was getting her drugs from Jamie, but I never imagined that she would date him. I talked to her once about her addiction, and she was high and nasty to me. It was her way of trying to push me away.” Jen pauses for a moment before wiping away a tear from her face. “I wanted her to get help, and I wanted her to stop seeing Jamie. I begged her. I knew he was pimping her out, and I knew he treated her like trash. He was truly awful to my sister, and I wanted him out of her life. I wanted my sister back.”
I’m not sure if Ryann knows any of this. Because I feel like if she knew how much Jennifer actually loves and cares for her, their relationship might be different. And I know Ryann thinks her sister is vengeful and vindictive, but I’m starting to wonder if Jen was lashing out because she was hurt.
“I threatened Jamie. Did you know that?” Jen looks over to Val and me, and we both shake our heads.
“Ry has only recently started to share parts of her past,” I say to Jen. “And I’m not sure how much of certain parts she actually remembers.”
Jen gives us a small tight smile, “I’m glad she’s finally found a group of friends that she can trust. A family. But I’m not sure if she even knows this. I never told her, and I know Jamie wouldn’t. I told Jamie that I knew what he was doing to my sister, and he had two options. To leave her, or one day, I would end him.” I watch a determined vindictive grin spread across Jen’s face with eyes filled with so much venom and hatred that I’m afraid the room will combust. “And that day has come. I gave Benji evidence that will send Jamie away for a while.”
My heart stops. Benji? There is no way in hell that this could be the same Benjamin from the police report. Could it?
“Benji?” I ask.
“Ya. Ryann and I went to school with him. He’s Sheriff now and has been working for years to bring charges up against Jamie. He just needed his smokin’ gun, and he has it in more than one way.”
Val and I look at each other in complete and total shock. Now I have fifty million questions that I need to ask, but I know not even Jen knows about the police report filed on her sister’s behalf. “I’m sorry, but what smokin’ gun?”
Jen bites her lip with nervous regret as tears start to fall from her eyes again. “Dad was redoing Ryann’s old room. He’s turning it into a guest bedroom and was scrapping everything. I took Ry’s old desk with the hopes of refurbishing it, and I found something in a hidden compartment....”
“A flash drive?”
Jen snaps her head back to me and nods slowly. “I thought it was old writings. You know she used to write her own songs.” I do now. I knew Ryann was more talented than what she’ll ever admit to. “She was amazing and talented. She still is, but I didn’t find old songs on that drive. I saw the photos, and I know there are videos, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch them. Instead, I took it to the only person I knew could help. I gave it to Benji. I knew he would know what to do with it.”
I catch Val looking very indignant. “What is this? Some sort of confessional? To make amends to your sister who is in a MEDICALLY INDUCED COMA?” Jen spits out in a staccato tone. “And you think confessing to me, to Thomas, that this is going to somehow clear this guilt you have deep inside? The person you should be telling is Ryann. If you were half as brave as Ry, none of this would be happening. She needed someone in her corner. She needed her sister. Where the hell were you?” Val demands.
Jen turns to look at us with heavy tears falling down her face, “Because I was a chicken and a teenager who wanted to be accepted. When the nickname Easy Anderson started going around school and the town, Ry pushed me away. She became evil towards me, and I allowed her to push me away. I knew she was trying to protect me when it should have been me trying to protect her.” She practically pleads for us to understand, but I don’t, and I will never understand why Jen did what she did. “Sometimes, it’s easier to act blind to what’s going on in front of you, and I wanted to be blind. I didn’t want to see my sister ruin her life, and I didn’t want to be dragged into her rumors and be associated as another easy mark.”
“Sister of the year award....” Val starts, but I immediately elbow her in the side, which wins me a glare.
“I know I’ve been awful, but I became pissed at Ry because I was being kept in the dark more and more. She was confining in Max, and he was more of a brother to her than I was a sister, and I just became bitter towards her. I regret my decisions, I really do, and I’m so proud of everything she’s overcome. And a little jealous because she’s able to live my dream.” She says with a fond smile as she looks back at her sister.
“Your dream is to be stalked by the press?” I retort.
Jen shakes her head as she takes Ryann’s hand. “No, but Ryann was never one for the attention. She was forced into the attention back home, but with this job, it’s all on her own terms. She back in control of her own life, and I know she’s happy.”
The one thing Jen and I can agree on. Ryann is very much in control of her life, and she’s creating her own happiness with that control.