I woke up to the smell of a typical hospital. Alcohol, and soap permeated the air, as I breathed in through the oxygen mask that was draped over my nose, and mouth. The blurriness as I opened my eyes caused me to strain them, in an attempt to focus. The blackness felt like it had extended indefinitely, and I could hear ringing in my ears causing me to grimace heavily. My mind was foggy, but the pain in my side was unbearable.
“O-Ouch…” Breathing out the muffled sound I felt movement against my hand, and I flickered my eyes to the other side, of the hospital bed, and I noticed the unkempt dark brown hair of my brother. His head was resting on my bed linens, with deep, but steady breaths emerging from his lips. Every intake gave another drawn out breath.
He didn’t appear to have even changed out of his work clothes, his soft features had been hardened from years of abuse, but for the moment his face was relaxed. I didn’t want to wake him, but I needed to know what happened. I remembered the last glimpse I saw of Anna—Anna! What had happened to her? The sudden memory of her head meeting with the edge of the dresser came to mind, and I realized that she had saved my life, as well as the life of my son.
I still didn’t know what she had come to our house for, but it was by an unfortunate turn of events that she wound up in this predicament because of me.
Squeezing his hand, I felt him shift, rubbing his eyes with sleepiness he lifted his head. Clearly he wasn’t yet fully alert, because he offered a sleepy smile in my direction prior to his eyes bulging, and his hand firmly lifting mine.
“Belle! You’re awake!” Kissing the back of my hand he gave an elated breath of air.
“Mmmm, Yes….I feel like I was run over by a mac truck. But—I am alive…” I croaked out, wincing as I made a slight movement with my free hand, removing the oxygen mask so he could hear me.
“I thought I lost you—I was so afraid…” Tears welled in my his eyes which was causing an overdue clenching to occur in my stomach. I knew that my previous acts against him had been cruel, but even though I had been so rough on him, still he was there for me, when I was hurting.
“I am here—I’m not going anywhere…” I tried to reassure him, smoothing my fingers through the strands of his hair, lovingly cupping the curve of his cheek, as I finished with his hair. “Tell me how the children are? Tell me they are alive, Eli…” I croaked out, worry, along with fear in my eyes.
Squeezing my hand he nodded, “They are alive, they had their stomachs pumped, but it will take time to figure out if they had permanent damage…” He admitted.
My stomach clenched in worry for my children, picturing them in fear, huddling with one another underneath the bed, whilst they had watched the fight in their bedroom. I knew that they would be traumatized for a long time now.
“How long have I been out?” I inquired, “Have I missed Christmas?” I had wanted to spend the holiday, holding my grieving children as they celebrated without Cooper by their side. I had wanted a memorable Christmas Eve, followed by an excited Christmas Day, but instead all they would remember ( if they ever remember anything ) was this dreadful experience.
“It’s Christmas night.” He told me, squeezing my hand, solemnly, “You have been out an entire day, but the doctor said you were incredibly lucky, he didn’t damage any of your organs. He told me you will be just fine, given time to heal.” Even as he said these words his hands were trembling, which made me believe there was something more—something worse.
“Anna—What about Anna?” I questioned him, finding my voice even through the tears that were welling in my eyes. I wasn’t as concerned about myself, as I was about her. I had seen how many times she had been stabbed with that knife—the blood that had stained her winter coat was the last image I had before the blackness set in.
He didn’t speak, his eyes were downcast for the longest moment, his hand still trembling while it held my own. Every moment that he didn’t speak—couldn’t speak—I felt even further stabs of fear rush through my system. She was dead—she had to be dead. He wouldn’t wait that long to tell me, if she wasn’t, I kept telling myself. Stricken with fear, I swallowed thickly in the back of my throat, clenching my jaw as I finally gathered up the courage to speak again. “Eli…Please…” I managed, squeezing his hand that was still latched on to my own.
“They hooked her up to life support…the swelling in her brain…Belle—she has no brain activity…” He managed to breathe out, tears were rolling down his cheeks now, unabated. He wasn’t even attempting to prevent them at this point. Instead he was simply letting them fall, and they did, dripping down onto the sheets of my bed, his trembling fingertips still clutching tight to me.
“What—? No…” I began shaking my head, disbelief spreading through my system, tears echoing Eli’s, rolled down my cheeks. “That can’t be true—Eli, she saved my life! She saved Gabe’s life…”I hadn’t thought of it yet, but then like a ton of rocks it hit me. “Eli—your baby….” She had been carrying his child, and despite the fact that I had stopped speaking to both of them because of their transgression the child was innocent…I could never wish ill on a child. Not after Cooper. Especially not after what Taylor had done to my remaining children.
He was still clutching tight to my hand, letting the trembling settle in until he was practically vibrating my entire arm. He reached down into the pocket of his workpants pulling out an ultrasound picture, with trembling fingers he handed it over to me. Furrowing my eyebrows I stared at the picture seeing the outline of not one, but two children.
“Twins—She was having twins…” He whispered, and I stared at him questioningly—Where had he gotten the picture? “The police found this in her coat pocket—Her clothes are evidence…”
I stared down at the two little beings developing in her womb, multiples must have come from our side of the family, and I felt a sickness bubbling in my stomach.
“That is why she came over…” I whispered.
“She wanted me to know…” He finished, and I stared over at him in horror.
“Eli—I am…I am sorry…” I didn’t know what else to say, how I was going to get past the fact that my best friend had risked her life for me, knowing that she had two babies to protect. It had been her Christmas miracle, but she wasn’t allowed to revel in it. Not especially now that her life had been taken from her.
“Her parents…they want to keep her alive, so she can have the babies.” His voice shook harder, and I stared back up at him, handing him back the image.
I furrowed my eyebrows, having never heard of such a thing. Could that even be done? After all her brain was no longer functioning, could the children remain inside of her, until they were old enough to be birthed? Could her family honestly watch whilst she deteriorated to have these children? The thoughts were cascading through my mind as I felt the loss of her life deep in my bones.
She had been my best friend for so long that I didn’t know how to exist without her. Even though we had been quarreling I had to believe that it wouldn’t have lasted the rest of our lives. I would have eventually forgiven her, and we would have returned to being the best friends that we had always been. If Eli was my soulmate, when it came to true love, then Anna was my soulmate as a best friend.
“Do you—Do you think that is possible?” I finally asked, keeping my hand in his, kneading his fingers with my own, listening to his uneven breaths.
“I don’t know.” He admitted, and I could see how this was tearing him apart inside. I saw the way he looked at our children, how much he loved them, despite the fear that overtook his mind sometimes. I wanted to reassure him that everything would be okay, but I didn’t even know that for a fact myself. A world without my best friend was a world I wasn’t even certain that I wanted to be in. I had ruined everything before her death, shutting her out, growing angry with her for keeping my brother’s child. I had thought she would never betray me.
But in the end I didn’t know what was real, and what was actually betrayal. I had seen the regret in Eli’s eyes when I had found out about his excursion with Anna. I had seen the pure shame when I had punished him for it. I shuddered remembering how he cowered in the corner of my bedroom, afterwards, his mind elsewhere, whilst he had lost whatever dignity I had helped him rebuild after he came home from the asylum.
“I’m sorry—for what I did to you—after I found out.” I belayed to him, keeping my thoughts at bay, refusing to listen to the mental scolding I was giving myself.
He stiffened the trembling momentarily coming to an end as his eyes widened slightly, before he forced his eyes down. “I deserved it—What you did.” He wouldn’t look at me, he was keeping his eyes down at all costs.
“No, Eli—I was fucked up—I thought, how could you love me, when I can’t even make you happy? When I couldn’t give you what you wanted?” And it was true. Imagining another of my babies dead was more than I could handle. The thought of miscarrying again was more painful that any one person could bear. I had watched Cooper die a slow, painful death, while my next hope for the future had been ripped from me so suddenly it was like the child hadn’t even existed at all. I couldn’t handle that—I still couldn’t. But Taylor had taken that joy from me, he had taken away my hope.
“Belle—I was wrong to sleep with Anna—I was really fucked up myself at the time, the two of us had promised we wouldn’t tell you. It meant nothing to me, I just—You hadn’t been with me in weeks, and she was there whispering about how I needed the relief, and I did—but I could have given it to myself….” He clearly regretted everything he had done. I could see it written in his eyes, and hear the regretful tone in his voice. “I think—subconsciously I thought if I did it, if I ruined what we had, you would finally see that I am not good enough for you—Belle you make me out to be so wonderful—but I am not…not anymore.”
I wiped at his tears, ignoring my own, and I shook my head, “Eli—“
“She was a virgin.” He blurted out, “She told me she wanted me for years—I think she waited just so she could be with me.”
“She wasn’t a virgin—She told me she slept with—“
“She told me she lied to you. And Belle—I felt what it was like to be inside of her. She was untouched…at least in that way.”
I found myself at a loss, uncertain as to why Anna would lie to me about her virginity. Why had she not taken the chance I gave her all those years ago to be with him then? If she was truly waiting for him to come to his senses, why now?
“I told her she could have you once, you know…” I told him softly. “When I was on bed rest, and you wouldn’t talk to me, I wanted her to make you happy. I told her to try to be with you…”
His eyes flickered up, confusion written on his face. “You did that?” He seemed shocked.
“I couldn’t stand knowing that you would spend your life miserable, because you had no one. So yes, of course I did.” He seemed shocked, his hand loosely grasping mine, as he let my words sink in.
“I wouldn’t have chosen her—not then, not now. Once I found out she was a virgin, I just wanted to give her a good first time. I wasn’t thinking straight.” He admitted.
“I’m not mad anymore.” I realized there was no possible way that I was ever going to be able to take Eli for granted again. If I lost him, truly lost him, I don’t know whether I would be able to handle it. I had no idea whether what I had just been told was something I could handle now. Losing Anna—that was bad enough. But losing the love of my life? That was impossible.