Nearly a week had passed, Christmas was spent in the hospital, although I made certain the children were able to open their presents even though they were hooked up to machines, that were monitoring them, they seemed genuinely excited. Belle had watched from her wheelchair, with her hands folded in her lap, a forced smile on her lips. We hadn’t told them about their Aunt Anna yet, it was far too much for them to deal with especially after such a traumatic ordeal. I could see that they were still hopeful even after all that they had been through. Anya, and Gabe had cried for one another until the doctors had placed their beds in the same room, through their trauma they had only grown closer, whilst little Hope had struggled the worst. Being smaller than the two of them she had been the most affected by the poison, the closest to death when she arrived.
The doctors now believed that she would make a full recovery, but she would be weaker on her left side from now on. Her kidney’s weren’t damaged, which was a miracle in, and of itself. But Christmas happened to be the time for miracles.
The hardest thing to cope with for me was the thought of Anna, never waking up again. The reality of my children growing inside of her, whilst her body was kept alive, for the remainder of her term was difficult.
I loved all of my children, which of course, included Anna’s as well, but I was coming to realize that I had missed out on so much of the children I had with Belle’s lives. I did want to be there from the beginning, to watch them take their first steps, to hear their first words—all things I had missed out on when I was forced into that wretched place for those agonizing years. Still if I focused I could feel the pricking of needles settling underneath my skin. Feel the invasive fingers probing for my weak places on my body. Whispering crude things into my ear about the love of my life.
Every single time that I imagined a better life for myself, I came up short, because they had taken all of my self-confidence from me. They had taken my life, and twisted it all up, taking everything that I had in the process. Anna’s children could be a way of bringing everything full circle, returning back to me something that I missed.
I figured that Anna’s parents would take them to raise them within the home Anna had grown up in, but I was still as determined as ever to help. I would be the father that they needed, Belle would be their godmother.
In the week having elapsed since the tragedy that put Anna in this hospital bed, a lifeless tomb with our babies inside of her; I came into her room, every single day, to hold her hand, in order to kiss the back, before whispering soft words of apology to her. Even if she couldn’t hear me, even though she wasn’t here any longer, I needed to say them. Today was no different.
Belle would come with me, but today, I had asked to come alone, while she sat with our children whom had finally been released from the hospital, the day before.
“Anna—I am sorry.” I whispered for what felt like the hundredth time. Seeing her like this, with a thin hospital gown to sheath her, tubes protruding from her mouth, breathing for her. Her stomach curved to reveal the children that laid within, her arms limp, dead weight. It was so painful, even though I didn’t talk to her as much as I should have, and that one night that we spent together had been a night that I used her.
She had lost her virginity to someone that didn’t love her the way that she should have been loved, and for that I couldn’t apologize enough. I cared for her, but she was my sister’s best friend, I had fond thoughts of Anna, but never thoughts of love. Not even when we were children, and Anna had mentioned her fondness for me, had I took her seriously. Even then I had only had eyes for Belle, which was still the case. It was Belle’s neglect, her mourning that drove me to Anna, which would forever make me regretful of my actions.
“I shouldn’t have been with you that night…” I whispered into her ear, feeling the sting of truth that rang out in my words, “But you said all the right things, and you made me feel when I thought that I never would again. I know that I can never make amends to you, for being so reckless, and being intimate with you…but I can promise that I will be a good father to the babies you leave behind.” Tears were welling in my eyes by this point. My fingers trembling heavily in her hand, as I closed my eyes, letting the droplets fall.
“How I wish I could take it all back…you might be alive if I could have.” I slid my free hand to graze the bump, stroking the smoothness of her belly through the gown, locking my jaw heavily after I released a breath of air.
I remained in the chair alongside of her for nearly an hour, speaking to her in short bursts, wanting her to know that she wasn’t alone, even if she couldn’t hear me. I still wanted her to know, I needed her to know. That I was there, and I would do my best to take care of our children.
I could feel the emptiness when I stepped back into our home. Even though our mother had paid to have the carpets cleaned so that we wouldn’t have to relive that day, I could imagine the terror that had occurred within these walls, and nothing could possibly be as it was before. As I hoisted Anya into my arms I felt her cling to my neck, her face pushed into my shoulder.
“Daddy, don’t make me go in there…please.” The children had slept in Belle’s bed last night. With both of us on either side, and them in-between us.
They had cried until we both settled on either side of them. I had been leery about sleeping in the same bed as Belle, considering the unraveling she had done prior to the incident, but I realized our conversation in the hospital must have patched things up, because she didn’t even flinch when I touched her now. She merely settled into any graze of my fingers. She no longer stared at me like a wounded animal I had stomped on.
The realization that she could have died was not lost—on either of us. I had resolved to cherish her until the day I died, and she in turn appeared to be doing the same.
“Shhh, You don’t have to. Not yet.” I sympathized, hearing the pattering of Gabe alongside of me. He reached up for Anya’s hand, and she reached down, squeezing it tightly.
I stroked up, and down the length of her back, hearing Belle’s footsteps as she came up behind me. Her breathing was deep in her chest as she saw our children clinging to me like their lives depended on it. Gabe had moved to wrap his free arm around my leg. Hope was cradled in Belle’s arms.
“How about we all watch a movie? Hm?” Belle asked them, and their heads perked back up. A distraction was what our family desperately needed. Everything felt surreal, ever since that fateful day where everything in our lives split down the middle, Uncle Ned was inconsolable.
He had lost his child, after all. I never would have thought that Taylor was capable of hurting anyone. I still vaguely remembered the time I had spent with him when my Mother had sent me to their home. I had shared a bedroom with him, and he had always been so kind to me. I thought that we were friends, deeper than that we were blood. I could never have done the same if the tables were turned. Uncle Ned spent long periods away from the house, finding comfort in the bottom of a bottle. Our Mother spent most of her time, either at work, or in her bedroom, away from us.
Uncle Ned had blamed her for falling pregnant again, as though she might have done it on purpose. He even blamed her for helping to convince him that he should give up his family life to live with her, by constantly showing back up on his doorstep through the years. I know she claimed that she was disgusted with her own love for her brother, but I saw the way she looked at him when she was happy. It was a way that she never looked at me, or even her grandchildren. He lit up her entire face, her entire world, even if she insisted that loving him was the worst possible option, I know she did.
Anya wrapped herself up in my lap as we settled down to watch a random movie on Netflix. Some cheesy kid’s movie, which I was only half paying attention to. Gabe held her hand the entire time, and when the children finally fell asleep that night, it was in front of the television, curled up on the couch.
Belle lifted her index finger to cover her lips, shushing me, silently, before motioning for me to stand up. I very cautiously lowered Anya’s legs onto the couch, and she sighed nuzzling closer to Gabe, and I stood up, following her soundlessly upstairs.
It was the first time we had been truly alone since we came home from the hospital, and I wanted to make certain that she was doing okay, mentally; if not physically. She was slow to make it up the stairs, but once up, we settled on her bed.
“I wanted to say—I am sorry, Eli.” She was the first to speak, and I fiddled with my fingers, nervously.
I didn’t want to think about hurting her, nor the simplicity of how I could do so again with another misstep. She was furious with me when she found out about Anna’s pregnancy, as she had every right to be. But even before Anna was found to be completely brain dead I knew that I couldn’t give up on the child she was carrying. It would be the only legacy she left behind in this world. And even if I had cheated on Belle to do it, I could never regret the children, only the actions that led to the children.
“You don’t need to apologize—“
“No, I do, I really do. I almost died, and I could have left you believing that I actually hated you, and I never would have forgiven myself if that had happened.”
I was silent for a few seconds. “But you didn’t—die that is.”
She shrugged, “No, but Eli I haven’t been all that nice to you lately. And I feel awful about it.”
“I can’t really say I didn’t deserve your wrath, because I did.” I responded lamely.
“You didn’t. I was just upset.”
Shifting she kissed me, her eyes peaking from behind her lashes, and her fingers dragging over the front of my shirt. I felt heat rising, but I was forcibly pushing it back. I couldn’t go through the pain of having Belle reject my advances again, even if she didn’t retract from my soft touches.
Lifting my hand I stilled hers, pulling it back from my chest, “I know you don’t always mean to, but you make me want you—even when I know you don’t want things to go any further.” I explained timidly.
“I was wrong before, Eli. For pushing you away, for blaming our children’s’ deaths on our affections for one another.” She whispered, and I drew my eyebrows together.
She linked our fingers as my grip loosened on her hand, and she pulled me close to kiss her lips. Closing my eyes I released a breath of air.
“Belle—Tell me you are sure this time…” I couldn’t do it again, I couldn’t let myself give in just to have the rug pulled out from under me again. It hurt too much.
I didn’t hear her answer, so I opened my eyes. She had unlinked our fingers, and was discarding her clothes, one layer at a time. And I watched mesmerized by her beauty, although not for the first time. She didn’t have to speak, she didn’t have to say a word, she beckoned for me as she shifted onto her back, and I obliged, climbing astride her as I kissed her.
I hardly remember stripping my clothes off, but once I did, she guided me back inside of her as though we never fought in the first place. And once more I was steered back home.