The Angel,The Devil,The Nerd

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Chapter 58 - Not Alone

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CHAPTER 58 - NOT ALONE

NATALIE'S POV

I'd booked the first flight available for Denver, Colorado, had frantically taken the first taxi and fought with the woman at the reception to know where he was and now here I was, in front of room 203, my legs not wanting to move, my mind reminding them of what a painful sight that would be.

I took a deep, deep breath and entered. My knees already buckled as soon as I spotted him on bed, seemingly asleep, but in reality unconscious and connected to a machine that helped him breathe, all those tubes and everything around him ... it already made me want to cry. I didn't even breathe but my legs moved by themselves and I stepped closer to the bed.

It was a double room, but there was no one occupying the other bed. It was such a desolating sight, my Eric breathing only thanks to a small mask, his body completely blocked to the bed and nobody around him ... tears prickled behind my eyes at the idea that he'd been, as a matter of fact, lucky, because he might have died all alone in who knows what God forsaken place, none of the people that love him around ... though he's not going to ... pass away, right? Coma doesn't mean ... death. And he's strong. He ... he's going to make it. Yes, he's going to make it and ... and then he'll leave me again because he can't stay.

I don't have all this strength. Not anymore. He used to tell me I had inner badassery I never knew, but after all these years, after all these blows ... I can't lose him again. Knowing he's who knows where fighting is one thing, but having the absolute certainty that he's no more in this world ... no. No, I can't accept that. NO.

Tears already streaking my cheeks, I stretched a hand to caress his hair, but my palm had just brushed his temple that I was startled to hear a voice from behind me: "He's gonna pull through."

I turned around immediately, only to meet the surprising sight of Kyle in a green hospital uniform. He looked pretty identical to the last time I saw him, with his tousled black hair always in a complete mess, though he sported a light stubble and his look was pretty dull, bags underneath his eyes ... clearly he was stressed.

And why am I surprised? Right behind me there was his brother lying on bed, profound come to keep him from us. Obviously Kyle was stressed. But I focused on his words as he went on, with a small, bittersweet smile: "We've operated him during the night, that's why the coma. He didn't respond to the cures. But ... I've just talked to my boss and ... he says there's a 70% probability that he's gonna make it."

My heart already entered in frenzy mode, but Kyle sighed, dropping his head as he came closer, grazing the back of his neck, not sure if out of frustration or simple being sorry. "He's lost a lot of blood, Nat. Dr. Weng had to extract lots of bullets from him and there were cuts here and there ... it's a pure miracle that he made it."

Tears fell silently as I listened carefully, my hand, on its own, reaching behind me to grab Eric's cold and stilled one. That it was cold it meant nothing. He's going to make it. They said he will. The thing was knowing how close I'd been to losing him for real.

Kyle's smile got a little bit more cheery as he looked up at me, clearly wanting to give me hope, or at least so I thought, because his words proved me wrong: "I don't want to give you false hopes, Nat, it's not set in stone. Everything can always change and technically he's not out of danger yet, but ... according to Dr. Cox the chances that he'll make it are ... enough high for us to hope."

Out of the blue and unable to retain myself, I left Eric's cold hand, but only to jump in his brother's arms and hug him tightly, thanking him for such news. It was better than nothing.

Kyle hugged me back and hid his face in the crooks of my neck. When I heard a worrying sob I said nothing, knowing he, just as much as I, needed to vent out. I've never seen Kyle crying, but it was his brother we were talking about here, those six weeks were great for their brotherhood too and when Eric went missing Kyle was just as distraught as I was.

I was just too selfish back then to realize that I wasn't the only one to suffer. It wasn't just me to have lost Eric, there were his brother and father too. Kyle in particular, while having spent years waging war to each other, since they accepted their brotherhood they bonded for real.

That's why when I felt something wetting my shoulder I didn't say anything, just hugged Kyle tighter and hid my face behind his neck as well. There we remained, for I don't know how long, crying on each other's shoulder because we'd been both too close to losing that someone so important to us.

That's something Eric never understood. He's not alone. While he believes we're be better off without him, he doesn't understand that there are people that love him deeply and couldn't endure losing him. Only now I understand that it's not just about me. It's about Kyle and Charles and even Dana and everybody Eric has had an impact on. That's what he never saw. He does have an impact on people's life. A huge impact.

Everybody that got enough close to him to see the real Eric was scorched by his loss. He never saw that there were people that couldn't bear his loss. He just assumed that nobody would miss him except me or that we'd all move on easily. He failed to see that once one like him has entered your life, there's no going back. That's why both me and his brother cried like babies at the thought of having been so close to losing him. That's why we weren't able to stop our tears from falling.

We only did when a nurse entered, claiming she had to check the patient's conditions, but I perused her for a long moment ... she looked familiar. Redheaded, piercing green eyes ... no, her being dressed as a nurse didn't disguise her. Uncontrollably, my jaw clenched, especially as she nonchalantly pretended to be checking his conditions while in fact she was just gazing at him.

Moving away from Kyle, I spat: "Why are you here?"

She looked up at me and I lost a bit of my badassery as I noticed her face was pretty pale, there were bags underneath her eyes and ... well, she didn't look too good. "I could ask the same to you." She hissed, going back to gazing at an unconscious Eric.

My blood boiled only at the sight of her, not even because I recalled all too well how her hand wrapped around my throat felt, but because she was daring to even brush his temple, touch his hand in a tender way ... I don't know what's their real relationship, but she had no right to do such thing. In front of me even! It was like a slap on my face. A reminding me that she was the one close to him now, not me, not anymore.

Kyle beside me saw me clenching my fists as I glared at the girl beside Eric. We held a stare contest and while I could see the slightest hint of a cheeky smirk, she didn't look as smug as I remember her. As if ... beholding her partner on that bed hurt her too.

"What happened?" I asked harshly, Kyle looking at me funny, both our faces still bearing the traces of our tears, neither of us feeling the need to wipe them away.

"I'm not allowed to speak." She replied in a monotone. I glared at her, crossing my arms over my chest. Last time we saw each other she nearly killed me, but I wasn't afraid of her. Not even in the slightest bit. Things change.

And the only thought of my love lying on that damn bed unconscious gave me enough courage to face his partner and: "I don't give a damn about that. Tell me what happened. Why is he reduced to this?" I hissed, hinting at Eric. As if on cue, she glanced at him too, worry and guilt molding her features. Wait, was she responsible?! Why was she here if she was responsible for his conditions?!

I barely heard Kyle beside me asking for explanations, I just stared at the girl, till she sighed, dropping her head as her hand raked through Eric's hair, already irking me, obvious. I couldn't stand the slightest touch of her on him. It was as if something primeval deep inside me wanted to duel with her because he was mine and mine only, the thought of her having spent these years with him while I couldn't only angered me more and more.

She was close to him when he needed while I was stuck here, unable to comfort him if he felt bad, to cheer him up, unable to be there and say the silliest things just make him laugh and rejoice of the lovely sound like I used to. In a word, she was with him all the time while I could never be there with him and it irked me, because it was my right only to do that!

I guess Eric kind of infected me with his possessiveness, because he's always told me he was possessively jealous of me, and while I never said it, it's always been the same for me. Proof is how I humiliated his ex in that gym seven years ago. Double proof is how much I wanted to smack this girl's hand off of him right now.

"I can't give you details. But we were ambushed." She admitted then sighed once more, her features showing even more guilt as she brushed Eric's hair. "This jackass here sacrificed himself to save me."

My eyes widened at that and I could see Kyle just as shocked as I was. The girl, whose name I still don't know, leaned against the wall, visibly tired, and, seeing a red halo dirtying the upper side of her nurse uniform, Kyle immediately rushed to her, uncovering her shoulder despite her protests, only to see she was wounded as well.

He insisted she got patched up, but she said she wanted to talk to me first, yet she nearly fainted in Kyle's arms, so he dragged her away. She forced him to stop when they were beside me and I flinched when she brushed my arm as she spoke: "I'm sorry for what I did to you, Natalie. I was just trying to protect a friend."

She sighed as she turned to the unconscious Eric on bed. "He really means a lot to me." Her dreamy tone had me feel even more irked. So there was something more to their relationship. Well, if there wasn't four years ago, maybe it was born later on. Yet she proved me wrong: "Not in the way you think, Natalie."

I turned to her and, while going paler and paler, Kyle having to hold her completely to avoid her crumbling down, she cracked a small smile: "I've known John-well, Eric, since almost five years now, and while I normally don't get attached to people, I love him, Natalie ..." My heart skipped a beat at the idea of them being actually more than just partners. Yet ...

"... but like a brother." She straightened herself up a little. "Sure, we've had our moments, nothing too big, just a bit of playing here and there, but we're really just friends and partners." She sighed, dropping her head in a way that seemed a little ... disappointed to me. "His heart belongs to you, Natalie. There's no place for anyone else."

I remained there interdicted as Kyle dragged her away. She said she loves Eric like a brother but they played a little together and her tone sounded disappointed ... maybe she half lied, to herself before me?

For my sanity, and because it was really out of context, I did my best to ignore the whole thing. How could I think of anything he's done in these years while he was in a damn bed, fighting for his life? Kyle said he isn't exactly out of danger yet. But he'll make it. Right?

Sighing, I sat down on the chair beside the bed and grabbed Eric's hand, squeezing it, and, finally, I leaned my head on the side of the bed. Only tears followed. Endless tears. Till my eyes closed.

***

When my eyes opened, they hurt. Obvious. They were bloodshot for how much I'd cried. I could feel a blanket on my shoulders, so I guess someone, presumably Kyle, saw me sleeping. I glanced at my hand. Still gripping Eric's. Still not a single movement. I'd passed hours just crying at his bedside and when I finally fell asleep, it was out of pure exhaustion.

I gazed at an unconscious Eric. He was still the same, just a little aged, pretty ragged with his stubble and tousled hair. I couldn't help but rake my fingers through it, unconsciously hoping for that simple gesture to cause him to shudder or anything. Just a little move. Something. It had been ... I don't know, 24 hours since I arrived?

I arrived in Denver that it was early morning, something like 3 am maybe, didn't really pay attention to it. After Kyle left with that girl I remained sitting there for hours and now it was night, as I could see from the window, though my watch signed six pm, which figures, it's early October, it's pretty obvious that it's night already at six o'clock. Ugh, why do I even care about these things?

It hurt to keep my eyes open, but I barely felt it, I just kept on staring at my unconscious love lying on that damn bed. Jake recounted me, time ago, about a car accident Silvia was involved in: she spent five long days deeply asleep and he remained there all the time, watching over her, barely eating or sleeping, just to keep an eye on her. Never thought I'd end up doing the same thing.

Sighing, I squeezed Eric's hand, my eyes filling with tears once again as I spoke, voice broken: "You need to wake up. You need to come back to me. Us." I sobbed, unable to retain myself, wetting the sheets as well as I went on: "You've left me twice. I won't ... I won't allow you again. You can't ..." My voice broke even more. "Y-You can't leave me again, Eric. Please. I can't ... I-I can't live without you."

Though part of me, deep inside, was sure that, even if, no, when he did wake up, he'd leave again, shattering me once more. He keeps doing that. He keeps abandoning me and telling me to live my life, always forgetting that I have no life to live without him.

Sure, I have Noah, and that little boy is a bliss, but I need his father just as much as I need him. I know it's selfish, but I can't lose him again. Especially not like this. Not so ... definitively.

My phone ringing caused me to jolt, the sudden noise making me recoil as I was so focused on my love lying on that bed, a stupid mask to help him breathe. Wasn't it for all those machines and tubes around him, one could even think he was just sleeping.

Blindly, I took my phone from the nightstand, but one of my hands was still squeezing Eric's. Just in case there was a sudden movement. Even with my blurred vision, I was able to see that I had a lot of missed calls and texts, but they were all of this morning, then nothing.

Mostly those calls were from my apartment's landline, which figures, because I left mom there with Noah, but there also calls from Sam, Jake and even texts from Silvia, Tara, Jamie ... all my friends. Possibly, mom told them what happened and they were worried, I mean, it's not like me to miss calls and texts from them, I used to when I didn't have Noah, when I needed moments for myself, but now, no, we're always all in contact.

I should have responded to all of them, but I didn't feel like it, so I just placed the phone back on the nightstand, yet as soon as it'd touched the thing, it restarted ringing. With a sigh, I grabbed it again, careful to still keep my hand in Eric's, stupidly thinking that maybe he'll feel my presence and have a reason more to fight back. Maybe. Maybe if he feels I'm here for him he'll come back to me. Maybe.

I distractedly took the call, eyes always on him, and could hear a boyish voice whining in my ear: "Mama! Where are you? Come back!" Noah cried. I inhaled deeply, trying to recollect the strength to talk to my son in the most normal voice possible.

Obviously, he couldn't hear me so broken, he'd get worried, Noah is such a sensitive boy, even while being so little, he always perceives my bad moods. Normally, when he sees me sitting on the couch, all pensive while he's sitting on the floor watching his cartoons while I pretend to be reading, he grabs my book and climbs on my lap, cupping my cheeks in his little hands as he fixes his piercing blue eyes on me, gazing at me interrogatively as he tilts his head to the side.

It's amazing, just like his father, even while being only four, Noah can always read my moods and acts consequently, to cheer me up. His father has always been able to read me so well, I guess he took that from him too.

"Hey, Po ..." I greeted lowly, trying to sound normal, but keeping my voice barely above a whisper, just not to give my tears away. In four years, I've always done my best not to let my son see me crying, but a couple of times he did and he was just 2, so he couldn't understand why was I so sad, so he just mimicked me and cried too. You know, children normally mirror our every action.

Noah whined that he missed me and wanted to see me, asked where was I and why did granny always tell him he couldn't see me. Trying to sound calm, I explained as best as I could: "I am ... out of town, sweetie. To see an old friend that ... doesn't feel too well."

That's an understatement, but I guess you can't say to a 4-years-old something like "I'm out of town to stay close to your father who is in a profound coma". Noah doesn't even know who his father is. Better said, he does know his dad is someone really important to me that couldn't stay with us for reasons independent from his will, but he's never seen photos or anything.

He has seen that picture Charles gave me, the one of Eric at 4-5 years and Noah, being the smart kid he is, immediately asked why did he look so much like that child in the photo, so I had to be honest and tell him that that was his father. At first he frowned, not quite understanding how could that be true, so I explained him that that photo was old, that blond little boy in it was his dad at his age more or less, which seemed to make it clearer for him, but he obviously asked to know more about him.

I told him only great things about his father, but I never showed him the photos I jealously cherish in my old phones, the ones of Eric and I having fun together, seven years ago. I haven't showed him those pictures because I don't want Noah to give a face to that someone he could never meet. I'd rather if he keeps the mystery halo of that figure. This way it'll be easier to endure the fact that he doesn't have a father.

Though I'm not too sure about it. I mean, neither mom did ever show me pictures of Landon Pierce nor told me about him, except for the fact that he ran off, but that didn't make it really easier to accept that he left me.

The thing is, I don't want my son to feel the same. I don't want my son to feel his dad didn't want him, especially because, as a matter of fact, his father doesn't even know he exists, and now that I think about it, I'm not too sure I wanna tell him.

Because I already know that when he wakes up he'll say he has to leave again, for my own good, and I don't want Noah to come in contact with him, only to be disappointed when he leaves. I don't want my son to feel as abandoned and unwanted as I felt about my own biological father.

"What does he have?" Noah curiously asked, a bit more understanding, but still whiny. My son is a really smart child, he gets things so quickly that I'll admit, he surprises me, but, mom tells me I was the same as a child, so I guess that yeah, he did take something more from me.

Always trying to sound calm while my heart throbbed, I explained that this friend of mine was momentarily unable to move and he needed someone close, and because we were really friends, I wanted to be that person that remained close to him.

Noah remained silent for a moment, though I could still hear him hiccup, like he does when he's calming down after having cried for long, but then he whiny asked when would I come back and I said I didn't know, so his voice got more weepy as he whined that he missed me and wanted to see me.

I kept trying to calm him down, but the more I spoke about having to remain here for my friend, because he needed me, the more Noah wept, till he flat out burst out crying and mom took the phone, from his hand, I bet lulling him as she asked me how things were.

I don't know if she could hear me over the noise of Noah crying, but I told her that things were sort of stable, better said, Eric wasn't truly out of danger but he was still on coma and there had been no sign of an awakening ... the sole words had my heart trembling, but I forced myself to stay strong and not cry as much as my son was.

Mom sighed, saying she couldn't keep Noah, it had been just a day and a half and he was already champing at the bit to see me, not even Sam proposing to have him come over to stay with them till I was away worked, though he seemed to calm down a little this morning when he spent all the time with Arianna.

The little girl, mom said, always seems to calm him down, but in the end he remembers that I'm not at home and keeps asking when will I come back, and when mom answers that she doesn't know he pouts and, at best, just hides in his favorite spot, namely, the corner of my wardrobe, where I've often found him playing, at worst, he burst out crying relentlessly like he was now. And it's been just a day and a half, imagine when it'll be more ...

Although, sometimes Sam and I do have to leave for business, but normally I leave Noah with Lukas and the kids, considering my friends see to always alternate the days in which they'll be out of town, namely, they plan much in advance, so that when Lukas leaves, Sam remains and vice versa, so, normally when I go out of town for work I leave Noah with Lukas and the kids, so there's Arianna and he seems to be fine, though he does whine when we talk over the phone.

But, mom pointed out, this time I left without a word to him and when he woke up he didn't find me, so was already desperate, because he's used to waking up earlier just to see me before I go to work and I call him in the middle of the morning, but this time he didn't even hear from me ...

I explained to mom that I completely ignored my phone, I spent the night standing watch over Eric (I willingly left out that I cried all my tears at his bedside, of course) and then I fell asleep, but of course, how do you explain such things to a 4-years-old? So even while mom told him what I said, he kept crying, saying he wanted his mama.

In the end, mom decided: "We're coming over tomorrow, Natalie. This situation might take long and Noah doesn't want to accept the distance."

I sighed. "Mom, no, I ..." I don't want my son to experience hospitals at such a young age. I don't want my son to enter this room and find his father lying on bed unconscious. I don't want Noah to see Eric at all. It's better if he has no memories of his father, it'll be easier. Not that I want him to think ill of his dad or even forget him, I just don't want my son to torment himself with what ifs when he's older, like I did. If he doesn't see him, he won't suffer when he leaves again.

Because, rest assured, Eric will wake up. I have no doubt about it. He will make it. And then ... then, because I know him, he'll leave again, claiming he can't stay close because otherwise I'll be hurt. I can't endure such idea and I'm adult, imagine a 4-years-old, coming in contact with his dad for the first time, getting to have a memory of him and then being left alone again.

I don't want my son to torment himself about why did his dad leave him. I want him to live with the idea that his father would have stayed if he could have, but it didn't depend on him. Noah is a smart kid, but he's still just a 4-years-old, he couldn't understand that his dad leaves him because he has to, he'd just feel the abandonment, and I don't want that. I know how it is to feel unwanted and I don't want my son to experience that.

"I know what you mean, Natalie, but we'll keep out of that room. Noah just needs to see his mother. That's all. No other unwanted encounters." Bitterly, part of me pointed out that right now it was impossible to have such encounters, considering Eric was unconscious, but I kept it, knowing that it was also tiredness to be speaking.

In the end, I agreed and could hear Noah already a bit more cheery, so much that he even asked if he could spend the night at the Grants, so that he could see his Arya before leaving. I agreed, kind of hoping that maybe he'd enjoy the time there enough to forget about joining me here, then after a few moments we hung up, but not even a minute later that my phone rang again.

"Yeah?" I responded in a sigh. I didn't want to talk to anybody, felt too tired, even if I'd just woken up, my eyes were barely able to remain open, due to their being so bloodshot that they hurt, but of course, couldn't escape to my overanxious cousin.

"Finally! How are things out there? Your mother told me." Jake exclaimed as a matter of greeting, which had me crack a very small and weak smile. I should have expected this call. Despite his looking so tough, he's a sweetheart and, like I said, he's taken me under his wings like a sister since the first time we met, seven years ago, so it's obvious that when my mom tells him where I am and why, he worries.

As Silvia says, it doesn't seem so, but he worries a lot, and for a good reason: he's lost people before. I don't know details, but he's lost people he really cared for and doesn't want to live the same experience again so, his wife says, he is a little bit asphyxiating with those few people he really loves, starting from her, their children, his sister and even me, because I am in fact a sister to him, so he worries a lot.

Sighing, I explained the same to him, receiving an apologetic sigh in response, but then: "I'm coming over tomorrow." I was about to argue but he read my mind and prevented me: "Before you say it, yes, I do need to come over, you can't be all alone in such situation. Silvia needs to stay with the kids, but I was able to free myself from work and I'll leave in the early morning, right before Leanne leaves for school."

I sighed, trying to explain that he didn't need to fret for me, I was fine, I could handle this alone, even though, it wasn't really true, but even if he only meant good, what would it change if he came over? It's not like Eric will awake out of the blue just because my cousin is here.

Yet Jake had his response ready: "I know what it's like, Natalie. I've been through this twice."

"Twice?" I asked, confused, and he sighed melancholically as he explained: "Once with Silvia and once with ... my mother."

The line went silent for a long moment and I felt guilty ... I know his parents died that he was young, I don't know details, but I know it took a toll on him, that's why they're never mentioned and neither Leanne or Mike know anything about their paternal grandparents.

Jake in the end sighed and stated: "Listen, I don't want you to live this alone, ok? I know what it's like and sometimes I regret pushing people away ... it's painful to endure on your own."

I bit my lips as I gazed at an unconscious Eric. Nobody could ever understand how it feels like for me to see the love of my life lying on a damn bed, profound coma to keep him from me, but I guess that if there's one person that could relate a little, that's my cousin, given what he's been through, even though I haven't been told details, because apparently only Silvia and his best friend, Colin, know, plus his uncle, Keith.

Not even Serene knows what really happened. Sometimes I get the sensation that my cousin's past is a bit shady, but then Silvia tells me he does hide past ghosts, but those are things he doesn't share because they're just too painful.

Which reminds me of someone else. That someone whose hair I was brushing now. That someone who kept his hurt inside because he didn't want to upset me. And I regret it, because, had I known, I would have been able to help, maybe things would have been different if I'd known the details about his stepfather, maybe life would have taken a completely different detour and we wouldn't be in a damn hospital, me having to witness the love of my life balance himself between life and death.

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