Chapter Thirty Seven
I had drifted in and out of consciousness for a while, not being able to see or hear anything when I did so. Just brief flashes of light before I went under again, back to square one.
When I finally woke up for real, my eyes were disorientated and my limbs were tired. I struggled to open them with the bright light directly above me, and when I did all I could see was white. My eyes adjusted, and I saw a ceiling that was white. I already made the assumption of a hospital, but my mind couldn’t put together why I was here.
I moved my head to the side, and I suddenly heard people talking. I recognised my mother’s voice, and soon enough I saw her come into my line of vision. I had to remind myself to breathe as my mind started to panic a little, the beeping on the monitor increasing.
“Shh, Stephanie, calm down,” she said, trying herself to remain calm as she bent over me. “You need to be calm and relax.”
I listened to my mother and tried my best to calm down, my mind still confused and unknowing. I didn’t dare move any of my limbs, and a sudden throbbing in my ankle started to become more and more obvious.
When I spoke, my throat was sore and dry. “Water, please,” I pleaded. My mum rushed to the bedside table next to me, picking up a cup of water with a straw. She brought it to my lips, and I greedily downed the whole cup.
“My ankle?” I asked after a moment, my voice still sounding a little scratchy. “It hurts.”
“Yes, Stef,” my mother said, sitting down on the bed while making sure that she didn’t sit on my leg. “You’ve broken it.”
“How?” I asked, my mind still confused. I put the pieces together, I must have hit my head.
“You slipped and fell down the stairs,” she replied. “You must have been rushing, and your foot hit a stair in a bad position. You’ve snapped it, and then you hit your head,” she said sadly.
“Did this happen yesterday?” I asked.
“No, three days ago. You were out for one, but they kept you under to do some extensive testing,” she replied.
I was fully awake now, and aware. I didn’t try to move, I didn’t want to. “What testing?”
“They.. A—they...” she looked down in her lap, beginning to sob.
“Hey mum,” I said, suddenly feeling guilty. “It’s fine. I’m okay. What did they test?”
“The treatments aren’t working,” she blurted out, covering her mouth with her hand. “It’s getting worse, Stephanie. Your cancer is growing.”
My heart dropped fourteen miles. I couldn’t speak, I didn’t know what to say. My whole body seemed to slump, and my face turned from hopeful to depressed in milliseconds.
“No, but it’s..” I tried to speak. “It’s.. that’s a lie..”
“I’m sorry darling,” she said, trying to stop the sobs. “I’m so so sorry.”
She carefully hugged me, as if I was as fragile as glass. I heard her words, her apologetic and destroyed words, but I couldn’t process them. It was like a numbness. I didn’t want to die. We stayed like that for many minutes, none of us speaking a word.
My mother sniffed and wiped her eyes, finally calming herself down. “Your father is bringing down some clothes, so he will be here soon. You have some, uh, friends? Visitors? They’ve been waiting outside.”
My blood went cold, and my mood suddenly turned stoic. I nodded. “Let them in.” The words were reluctant, and she gave me a hesitant look before standing up.
She nodded, turning towards the door and walking out. I heard her talking in the hallway, before the door opened. Four ashamed boys walked in, looking like they just committed the worst crime of all.
“What a surprise,” I said. “Very cliché of you. Did you not get my happy message of fuck off?” I crossed my arms.
“We deserve that,” Jordan muttered. I continued scowling harshly at them. “We deserve everything.”
“You deserve a lot more than what I gave you,” I retorted. “I didn’t even get to the violence part. Shame.”
“We came to apologise,” Xavier cleared his throat. “We are sorry.”
“I don’t want a big group apology,” I said confidently. “I would rather talk to you each in private. That way I’ll actually listen to what you have to say without having the urge to grab your heads and smash them all together.” I would’ve crossed my arms if I could.
They all nodded in agreement, before looking at one another. Jordan, Blake and Xavier all began to walk out.
That left Ethan, the one who had managed to cause the most pain. My throat closed up as I remembered everything, my mind almost registering a feeling of guilt.
Wait, guilt? Why the fuck was I guilty? They had deserved everything I had said, right? I shook my head and looked down, clearing my mind, before I looked up again. I almost couldn’t do it, I couldn’t look him in the eyes. Betrayal hurt so bad, the hurt on my face must’ve been clear as his shameful look worsened.
“Why did you do it, hm?” I said, my face becoming flustered and red as a singular tear rolled down my cheek. “I-I thought that we.. you..” I bit my lip, sucking in air.
It was a shameful silence. He opened his mouth, closed it and then repeated the cycle. There was a lot of pain in the room, and I couldn’t handle it without crying. I hated crying.
“One minute we were..” I said. “And then you betrayed me. You threw away everything because of something out of our control. I thought you guys were my friends. Did you.. did you even care about what you were doing to me?” I was calm, but breaking. The cracks in my voice were obvious, demonstrating a type of ache that would be sticking around for a while. When he didn’t say anything, I stared him down. “No excuses?”
“I don’t have any excuses,” he said honestly, hanging his head to stare at his clenched fists. “I made one of the biggest mistakes. I don’t deserve to make an excuse.”
“You really don’t,” I said, laughing sadly. “I don’t even know why I’m allowing you to be in this room.”
“I don’t either.”
More silence. I didn’t know what to say, and neither did he.
“You were angry,” I said slowly. “I understand that. But why did you leave me for dust? Anger fades, so why did you decide to hate me?” He came closer, dropping onto his knees. I looked down at him, trying desperately to avoid crying.
“I wasn’t just angry, I was heartbroken,” he admitted, his face turning red. My eyes widened, and my heart froze up. Was I about to witness him cry? Surely not. No way. The thought of it caused my heart to drop. “I fucked up.”
I swallowed a lump in my throat. I didn’t say anything.
“I ran away like a coward,” he sniffed. “I didn’t want to deal with the fact that I might lose you forever. My friend, more than that.”
He looked up at me then, and that singular look broke my heart. A boy who had already been losing his mother now plagued with more heartbreak. I had never seen Ethan break his tough character, but now I had as his voice broke and finally a tear slipped out of his eye. He sucked in a breath, looking back down.
“I’m sorry,” he sucked in a sob. “All of these apologies mean nothing. They should mean nothing. Finally, something amazing happens and I push her away. That can’t be forgiven.” He wrung his head in more guilt, sadness oozing throughout the room as I watched him grit his jaw.
My head was filled with indecisiveness, I was horribly conflicted. Forgiveness, or no forgiveness? What did I want? I held the power, but did I want to use it? Did I want to give them another chance, to be weak and give in, or did I want to be cruel and cause more pain?
“Son of a bitch,” I said, sitting up straight. My cast rendered me unable to move, but I stretched my arms out. “Come here, you asshole.”
He looked up in confusion, a frown on his face. He saw my outstretched arms and impatient face, before quickly making a decision in his own mind. He rushed forward and embraced me, resting his face in the crook of my neck. I couldn’t make up my mind, but I was no horrible person. I heard him sniffle again, my hands tightening on his shirt.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I fucked up everything, ruined it, destroyed it,” he kept chanting. I listened as he ranted, feeling the small sobs cause his large body to shake.
“You weren’t going to lose me,” I said calmly. “You made the decision to do that, and mission success.”
He stayed silent, seeming to treasure the moments. We rocked gently back and forth, me comforting him more than anything.
I sighed, tired and now aching on the inside. “Even after that, you found a new girl. You replaced me,” I said, finally saying those stupid words out loud. It hurt, a lot. I breathed in a lot of air, preventing my chest from caving.
“I allowed myself to be manipulated,” he said. “She faked documents to do it too.”
I froze again, this time in confusion. “What?”
We let go of each other, me being the one frowning now.
“She faked hospital documents,” he said, regaining some relaxation now. “Told us that she had been paying for my family’s bill. I-I believed her, and she said we could compromise if we all aided her in her stupid plans.”
My mouth stumbled as I went into a moment of shock. Then more anger. Seemed like I had felt constant anger for a while now, and it was resurfacing once again.
“It’s true, isn’t it?” he asked, clenching his jaw. “You were the one paying for my bill? Not her?”
I refocused my mind back onto Ethan. I didn’t move for a moment before I nodded.
He rubbed his face with his hands. “What did I do to deserve you?” Tears made their way to his eyes again. “You’re too much of a fucking good person to have showed kindness to me.”
“You guys were my friends,” I replied. “I would’ve done anything for you. And you really hurt me.”
He shook his head, mostly at himself. “What can I do? Can I do anything to make this better?”
When he said that, I went into a thoughtful state of mind. Was there anything they could do? Would I even be able to forgive them at all? I didn’t know, and it was too early to tell.
“I need to think about this,” I said. “For a while. But for now, I need to sleep. Tell the others to go home, I’ll talk to them later.” I looked down, fiddling with my hands in my lap.
As I looked up at him now, I couldn’t help but feel the need to be close to him. The attraction I felt was messing with my decision making, and I almost gave in right then and there. I wanted to be near him, to hug and kiss him. I wanted to forgive him, and the others too. But it still hurt too much.
Not now, not yet.
His already broken facade seemed to crumble even more as a hurt disbelief covered his expression. He wore an understanding look if anything, and knew why I was making this decision. He nodded, in pain, as he walked towards the door slowly.
“If I were you,” he said, turning back one more time. “I wouldn’t forgive me.”
He walked out, closing the door gently. That was the moment where my own facade shattered as my face crumbled into a sad, tear filled mess. My cries filled the room as I tried to hold them in. I wiped my eyes furiously.
After minutes of this, I had barely calmed down when the door opened again and a familiar kind face walked in. Christen, holding a unicorn plushy, came in.
“Hey cousin,” he said, walking closer before sitting down on the bed. “You look like you’re feeling like shit.”
I offered a small, fake smile that resembled a pathetic attempt at happiness. He put the unicorn plushy on my left side, before he motioned for me to move over. I scooted over, careful not to move my leg. He crawled in next to me, and I immediately wrapped my arms around his waist.
“That Blake guy told me everything,” he slowly explained. “All four of them out there are already destroyed enough, so I told myself not to beat the shit out of them.”
I didn’t feel like speaking, but Christen knew that as he rubbed my back. I had the urge to cry again, not because of him but because I couldn’t express my emotions in words anymore. It was too hard.
“I’m sick of hearing apologies,” I finally said. “I just want to be left alone.”
“I know,” he said, allowing me to rest my head on his chest.
More silence, but I liked it now.
“You’ll be okay,” he said. “You’ll be fine.”