This was worse than dying.
The seat I was sat on was cheap and scratchy, tiny little bits of plastic protruding out of the edges of the burgundy fabric and pricking my legs and hands when I fidgeted. One of the lights above was flickering, making my eyes hurt. The smells of disinfectant and polish filled up every particle of air, suffocating and overpowering. But none of this was as painful as what I was witnessing in front of me.
Lydia. Lydia looked as radiant as ever, even with bits of twigs in her hair, mud on her face and fine scratches on her hands. I wouldn't have waited a second to get up and kiss her right there, hold her close, tell her everything was going to be alright. I loved every single part of Lydia, except the expression on her face.
Total and utter adoration. Not for me – the person that had risked his life and fought off two giant men to save hers. But for him. Sam.
Why hadn't I let him die. It would have been so easy – nobody had known I was even there – I could have said I followed Lydia but was too late when I got there, maybe even have tried to save him but failed. It would have been a tragic accident, but nothing anyone could have done about it. Maybe then I would be the one Lydia was fawning over instead of him.
"Julian?" I glanced over to see Amy looking at me, her features etched with concern. Marlon sat close beside her, along with Dad and Sam's parents.
"You should really get yourself checked out, you're getting a black eye." She could tell I was suffering, she wanted me to get away.
"No. I'm fine." I replied flatly. But I wasn't. The sight of Lydia like this was tearing me apart. But I couldn't leave her.
"Julian please." I shifted my body so I faced away from my sister and fixed my gaze on Lydia. Her and Sam were talking about something, not loud enough for anyone to hear. Lydia had one hand in Sam's lap and the other in his hair, playing with it between her fingers. I remembered her doing that to me once, how nice it had felt…
Suddenly Lydia switched her gaze to look directly at me. I was surprised, but realised Sam must have seen me smiling and said something about it, Her eyes lit up, something that made me burst with happiness but also stabbed me in the gut at the same time.
"Julian." The way she said my name, the relief, it clawed at me like my jealousy. "Come over here." She stretched out her hand, revealing another scratch on her wrist and flexed her fingers, beckoning me over. Slowly, stupidly, I got up and walked to the bedside.
By the time I reached them Lydia had already moved her hand back to link with Sam's, he was analysing the newly revealed scar just as I had.
"Julian are you ok?" Lydia asked, a hint of concern in her voice but still that string sense of relief. Why was that?
"Yeah, they were nothing I couldn't handle." My reply has meant to sound like a joke, maybe even a dig at Sam, but instead it came out flat and monotone. Lydia's face dropped.
"Oh Julian… You really should get checked out by somebody you know." Her hand not linked with Sam's reached up to touch my face. I felt myself breathe in sharply as a finger brushed across my lower eyelid, examining what Amy had said were the beginnings of a black eye.
"Julian?" I realised I should have replied.
"I'm fine." I said again, still not meaning it at all.
"No you are not. I'm going to call somebody over." Lydia began to reach for the nurse buzzer on Sam's bed, but suddenly a hand reached out and stopped her.
"Lydia, wait." Sam's voice was still weak, but it was enough to make her stop and look. So what, he was depriving me of treatment now?
"I want to talk to Julian, if that's ok." With his last words, Sam looked at me. I almost laughed. Since when had Sam Hallard ever had to ask permission from me? He had everything I wanted already.
"Julian?" Lydia's hand touched mine almost protectively, like she didn't want another fight. I was beginning to notice that no matter how many times she touched me, she never once let go of Sam.
"Yeah, sure, whatever." I still couldn't get the monotone out of my voice, but Sam took that as my blessing and turned more towards me.
"I just wanted to say thank you. For saving my life." I was shocked. Here we were, Sam and I, talking properly for the first time since I'd tried to beat him up, and he was thanking me.
"I know it must have been a tough decision, I mean, we haven't got along very well-"
"-You got that right." The response was instinctive - I didn't even realise I'd said it until Lydia let out a short laugh that she quickly curtailed.
"Yes, but I hope now, after all we've been through, we can begin to put our differences behind us, maybe even be friends." On the word 'differences' Sam looked towards Lydia, who seemed torn between looking at him and my reaction. There were a lot of differences between Sam and I. He was rich, I wasn't. I had straight A's in school, he didn't. He'd had two near death experiences, I'd only saved him from one. In fact, Lydia was just about the only thing we did have in common. And I hated him for it.
"Julian? What do you say?" Lydia was touching me again, her hand on my arm, an encouraging look on her face. Of course she wanted me to say yes – she wanted us all to be one big happy family – me, her and Sam hanging out together so she could flit between the two of us whenever she liked. The anger boiled up inside of me, building every time I thought of when I'd been dropped for Sam, when Sam was more important. Even now he was, even after I'd risked my life to save his, he was the one she sat beside, clung onto, thanked God he was still alive. I was just an extra for Lydia.
"No thanks." I said, pushing Lydia's arm away as I spoke. I turned round to leave but she grabbed hold of me again, making my head whip violently around to face her.
"Don't bother with me, Sam's the hero, Sam risked his life for you, go fawn over him." Before she had a chance to say anything that would make me stay I stormed out of the room, ignoring Amy's cries of protest.
I didn't really know where I was going, the corridors and stairways all merging into one with my anger. I just knew I wanted to get out. Luckily, people seemed to gather I was in a rush and hurried to get out of my way, eventually directing me to an exit.
For once the cold, moist air outside was a blessing, hitting my face and mingling with the thin line of sweat that had formed on my brow and upper lip. I stalked past the main exit and its sliding automatic doors, turning the nearest corner. It was a dead end but I followed it anyway to a space paved with gravel and surrounded by white brick walls.
"AAARGH!" Bits of grey gravel thundered into the wall, pinging off in different directions, some hitting me back in the leg. I did it again and then kicked the actual wall for good measure. Why was life so unfair? Why couldn't Lydia realise that she loved me? Why was I the one alone in the gloom kicking a wall?
"Julian!" I'd been so involved in my inner rant I hadn't even heard anyone come up behind me. I recognized the voice instantly, so spun around, but had to wait for the cloud of gravel dust I'd created to settle before Lydia's face became visible. She'd come after me. Sam had probably told her to – made himself look like the hero again. But she'd left him.
"What are you doing?" Her expression was strange, like she was upset, but also strangely angry about something. I became defensive again.
"Why do you care." Immediately she changed.
"Oh Julian, of course I care!" With three long strides she was in my arms.
At first I was so shocked I didn't know what to do. Lydia's warmth and sweet scent washed over me, her fingers pressed into my back and her arms crushed my sides. A twig embedded in her hair poked me on the chin, but I didn't care one bit. I wrapped my arms around her and pulled her in as tight as she would go. I was alive. She was alive – I'd saved her. We were alive together, here in the moment, together.
'I love you.' I shouted in my head. 'I love you I love you I love you.'
"-Can't you see?" Lydia's voice brought me back to reality and I realised the whole time I'd been rejoicing she'd been talking to me.
"Er, see what?" She pulled back, an annoyed look on her face. I tried to bring her in close again but she resisted.
"Julian. I was saying that Edward's just come out of a terrifying experience, he needs me now more than ever-" Great. It had only taken a couple of seconds, but Sam was already back on the agenda. What was even worse was that she was still calling him by that stupid name he'd chosen to adopt. Edward.
"Lydia, I don't care about Sam." I said harshly, probably interrupting her mid lovey-dovey flow. She stopped and looked at me angrily.
"You cared about him enough to save his life!"
"Boy I wish I hadn't done that now." Abruptly Lydia turned round and began to leave. Panic ripped through me and I grabbed her arm.
"No! Lydia, wait!" To my relief she turned back around. I thought she was going to say something but she just glared at me.
"I'm sorry. But you know how I feel about you and Sam."
"Edward is willing to make a truce, Edward has put all his feelings behind him." Oh Edward Edward Edward. Blah blah blah.
"It's easy for Sam. He has you." With this remark Lydia stopped protesting and simply looked at me.
"I love you Lydia. That's why I followed you into the wood, that's why I fought Mark and Ethan. I didn't do it for myself, I most certainly didn't do it for Sam – I did it for you." I know deep down you love me too, and as long as he stands in the way of us, he could save my life a thousand times and it wouldn't make the slightest bit of difference."
I'd watched Lydia's face the whole time I'd been talking. She'd gone from angry, to moved, to sympathetic. Now she just looked sad.
"I'm sorry you feel that way." She said meekly, looking down at the floor and scuffing her shoes on the ground.
"I would, however, save your life everyday – if I had to." Lydia looked up. I could see tears forming in her eyes, tears that made my eyes well up too.
"Oh Julian. I miss you."
"I miss you too." I held out my arms and this time she walked into them slowly, but still nestled herself in tight.
"Don't ever leave me like that again." She whispered into my neck as we held each other. Sadly, I knew I wouldn't.
"They should be back by now." Amy was getting restless. Her head kept twitching from the door back to everyone else, back to the door. Marlon put a comforting hand on her shoulder.
"Maybe he was madder than we thought." I knew I'd been right to make Lydia go after him, He was her friend, probably one of her best friends, and I knew she'd regret it if she didn't. But I couldn't help wishing she were here with me now. All the things he was probably saying… I was immensely grateful to Julian for saving my life, but when it came to him and Lydia – he was no saint.
I looked over to Mum and Dad to see how they were coping. Dad was reading a pamphlet about the hospital that had been placed on my bedside table, obviously not wanting to get involved. Mum had been looking at me and as our eyes met she smiled comfortingly.
"How are you?" She said, leaning slightly forward. Instinctively I looked over to the empty space where Lydia had been, before turning my head back to her.
"Does it…" Tentatively she signaled to my shoulder, now nearly unrecognizable under all the bandages and padding "…hurt?"
"No, not really." I'd been given enough drugs to start my own business – there was still a faint throbbing but nothing I couldn't handle.
That's not to say it hadn't hurt. Lying in that forest I'd been in more pain than I thought was humanly possible. Every movement a sharp stabbing pain that shuddered through my body creating more movement and more pain. I hadn't even been able to tell what was going on, just hear the shrieks from Lydia, the sound of a fight, then the police appearing. My vision had gone black but I knew I wasn't dying – I knew I couldn't die because I'd promised Lydia I'd be with her no matter what. Even if that meant being shot.
I hadn't even realised it has been Julian who had saved me until I'd woken up in hospital and seen him there. Mark and Ethan had bruised him up pretty bad – I'd been surprised he'd risked so much for me, but had then remembered that it wasn't me he'd been doing it for. The doctors had said the impact of him into Mark had shifted the gun to the left, shooting me in the shoulder rather than the chest or heart. If he'd got there just that little bit earlier I wouldn't have been shot at all – but I think he rather enjoyed seeing me in pain. I knew he was the real hero of the story, but I had been perfectly prepared to do whatever it took to keep Lydia safe. And I had paid the worst price.
Suddenly Lydia appeared in the doorway with red eyes but a smile on her face. Instantly my spirit lifted and whatever pain I might have been in vanished into thin air. She didn't say anything, just signaled for me to move over and slotted herself into the space on the bed.
"Is everything ok?" Amy asked straight away, for some reason a hint of accusation in her eyes. I could feel Lydia's body against my left arm and leg.
"Yeah, he's ok now. I took him to a doctor to get checked out." Her nose pressed into my neck and I let out a small sigh. Amy too, seemed to relax.
"Oh, ok." She sat back in her chair and Marlon took her hand. It was nice they were together now, they suited each other.
"Are you ok?" I asked Lydia, seeing as no one else had thought to. She smiled, kissing me gently on the neck and letting her fingers glide across my collarbone.
"I am now."