Blissful Aftermath [ROMANCE]

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Three

November 4th 2018

“What story should we read next?” She asked softly, closing the book that they had just finished. It was the story of Goldilocks and the 3 Bears, a favourite amongst the kids at the hospital.

Audrey laughed softly as they handed her their suggestions, and she settled on another group favourite; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This one was a little more advanced than the first, but the kids appreciated the plotline, mostly because it revolved around all sorts of sweets and chocolates. That and the fact that Augustus Gloop drowns in a huge vat of melted chocolate.

They all sat in a circle on the floor, in the small library that the hospital staff had kindly set up in one of the rooms.

Every Friday, Audrey spent an hour or so at the hospital with these kids, mostly reading stories to them. A lot of them weren’t old enough to have learnt to read fluently at school yet, while the older ones enjoyed the company. If they weren’t up for reading, they did some arts and crafts. Audrey often brought along with her some supplies such as colouring pencils, coloured paper and glitter as the hospital was under-funded enough as it was.

There wasn’t much that she could do with her limited salary but she made it work.

When she was in her early twenties, she did a lot of charity work, usually on a weekly basis but over the years and with her sham of a marriage taking up all of her time, she had stopped frequenting the soup kitchens and shelters she used to volunteer at before.

Now, with nothing holding her back and needing a distraction for herself, she was glad to be back.

It wasn’t like she had much of a social life so she reserved Friday evenings for the children at the hospital. All of them were in for different reasons and illnesses; some more severe than others, but all of them regulars. Often, she would wake up early to bake them some treats they could enjoy while she read to them, but not today.

With nothing to take up her time and not having to wake up early to head into the office, Audrey had been taking a lot of naps, nearly one after every meal. As sad as it was, her body really needed the rest.

It was almost as if she didn’t realise how much she needed a break until her boss basically forced one upon her, all but demanding that she didn’t return to the office until Monday at the very earliest.

When the nurse stopped by to take some of the children back their rooms, Audrey beamed at them. When she noted the disappointment on their faces and on the tip of their tongues directed at their nurses and guardians, her smile tipped higher.

“How about I bring a movie next week and we can all watch that?” She asked, her grin widening as they cheered happily before they filed out of the room. For most of them, it was time for their medicine.

A sense of satisfaction washed over as she remained seated on the floor, placing the books back into her bag. When she stood up, ready to leave, her eyes landed on a figure in the room.

Having been caught off guard with there still being someone that loitered behind, a surprised gasp sounded and she placed a hand over her heart. She laughed quietly, embarrassed with such a reaction.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.” The woman she now recognised as one of the senior nurses, apologised with a small smile. “I just wanted to thank you.”

“What are you thanking me for?” Audrey asked, surprised and confused.

“You’re so good with them.” She praised with a genuine smile.

Audrey shrugged and hitched her bag higher on her shoulder. “I like kids.” She stated simply, not wanting to delve too much into the topic or the reasoning behind her doting behaviour.

It was like opening a can of worms, one which she was not prepared to deal with tonight.

“A lot of these children, they’re really ill and they don’t have many things to make them happy anymore. Some of them have even lost all hope.” The nurse said, and Audrey felt her heart tightening painfully at her words. “But they look forward to Friday every week because of you.”

She was speechless, unable to think of what to say in response to that huge compliment.

What could someone possibly say? Thank you? Possibly, but that didn’t seem genuine or big enough for the compliment that she had just been paid.

“You really do make their week. They love you.”

“I love them all too.” She admitted with a small smile. “I wish I could do more to help them.”

“Trust me, you’re doing plenty already. Much more than you know.”

“I hope so.” She whispered softly and smiled as the nurse excused herself to get back to work, having a lot of sick kids to tend to.

Even after the woman left, the warm tingly feeling engulfed Audrey. She had really missed this. Other than meeting the deadlines at work, she felt like her life had no purpose. Reading and spending time with these sick children who relied on her every Fridays, gave her a purpose; gave her something to look forward to at the end of every week.

And most weeks, it was the only thing that kept her going.

What that nurse didn’t know, was that she needed these Friday evenings more than the children did.

It gave her otherwise meaningless life a purpose, something which she hadn’t had in a long, long time.

Her life had been stuck in a dull slump these past couple years, and she wasn’t sure how to break out of it. She had thought that after the divorce, she would be able to go back to the person she used to be before she met Calvin, but how wrong she had been.

It was almost as if she couldn’t even remember who she used to be before she had met her now ex-husband.

Not wanting to dwell much longer on her depressing thoughts, Audrey sighed and exited the room, moving quickly down the hallway to head out of the hospital. She didn’t have anything else planned for the rest of the day but since her fridge had looked quite empty, grocery shopping seemed like a great way to kill some time as well as give her something to do when she got home.

With thoughts of what to cook for dinner on her mind, she hadn’t realised until it was too late that she had basically bulldozed into someone, causing both of them to teeter unsteadily on their feet.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Audrey was quick to apologise, her cheeks warming with mortification. His hands held her hips to steady both of them, preventing them from ending up a pile of limbs on the floor which would be an unlucky coincidence right in front of a hospital.

When she no longer feared making a further embarrassment of herself, she pushed against the well-defined chest in front of her to move back and out of the stranger’s arms.

Except, he wasn’t a stranger.

“Joe?” She asked, her eyebrows knitting together in confusion when her eyes trailed over the sullen mood on his face. “What are you doing here?” She asked, though regretted the question as soon as it passed her lips.

“I could ask you the same thing.” He said harshly, his eyes trained above her head, avoiding making any eye contact with her.

Not that she blamed him for his less than friendly response.

Audrey knew that she had upset him a few days ago when he had dropped by her apartment. He had every right to be angry with her and frankly, she hadn’t expected to run into him again so soon, especially since she had been so rude to him and all but kicked him out of her apartment.

But looking at him now, she couldn’t help but swallow painfully, taking in the beautiful sight that was Joseph Darcy.

When she had met him in her previous life, she had been aware that he was an attractive man, but never dwelled too long on the thought as she had been a married woman. What made him even more attractive to her, was the fact that he respected her words and settled on being just friends, though things did get messy between them in the end.

Despite all of that, she was still quite fond of him.

She found herself wishing that she could say something to take it all the hurt away, to take back her words. She had been speaking the truth then, but it was easier to lie than admit the truth to him.

Audrey’s mouth opened and closed as she struggled to think of what to say. When nothing sprang to mind, she watched him closely and was surprised to find that he was watching her too. Just as closely to her, if not more.

When her eyes met his, he rolled his eyes and coughed before looking away again.

“This was fun.” He scoffed; his voice laced with sarcasm. “But if you don’t mind, I’ve got somewhere to be.”

Audrey watched as he turned around and walked away from her, not once glancing back which was a good thing. If Joe were to look back now, he would find her glued to the spot where he had left her, her mouth agape with shock, with a hint of hurt swirling in her eyes however, she knew she deserved it.

This must have been how he had felt the other night.

She deserved it. This was just a small piece of karma pie for all the mistakes she had made, especially with him.

Audrey sighed and turned around too, finally heading out of the hospital. Her legs led her to the parking lot where her car was. She reached for her keys in her bag but before she could unlock her car, she felt a hand on her shoulder.

She was quickly twirled around and before she could fight off her assailant, her body stilled as she looked into a pair of familiar grey eyes.

“I’m here to visit my nephew.” He was quick to explain, panting slightly from having changed his mind last minute, leaving him no choice but to run after her.

“What?” She asked, confused.

“My nephew fell down the stairs and sprained his wrist. I’m here to visit him.” He elaborated, standing up straight, having now caught his breath.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” She hummed awkwardly, unsure of what to say in such a situation. “I hope he gets better soon.”

“He’ll be fine.” His lips turned up slightly as he spoke of his nephew. “He’s quite a troublemaker and this isn’t the first time he’s hurt himself doing something like this.”

“Sounds like someone I know.” His lips twisted up into a teasing smile.

“Are you making fun of me?” His smile grew larger in size.

“Maybe.” She teased, but her mood quickly dropped as she remembered her earlier thoughts. “I’m really glad I ran into you today.”

“Oh, really now?” He cocked an eyebrow as he crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for her to continue.

Audrey sighed and nodded. “I wanted to apologise for the other night.”

“I’m listening.” He crossed his arms over his chest as he watched her, expectancy twirling around in her eyes.

“Oh, hush! I’m trying to say sorry to you.” She rolled her eyes and fought to keep the smile that threatened to take over her face. “I shouldn’t have been rude to you the other night, and I shouldn’t have pushed you away like that. I know you were being nice and only trying to help, but I reacted really badly and I’m sorry for that. You didn’t deserve to be treated that way.”

“And?”

“And what?” She frowned with confusion.

“What about when I said that you deserve better?” He asked, staring straight into her eyes to make sure she paid attention to and understood every word he was saying. “Because you do. You really do.” His voice grew quieter and his gaze softer.

Audrey sighed and looked away, suddenly feeling very exposed under his gaze.

“I’m still working on that.” She finally admitted, her words nothing short of honest.

“How about we work on that together?” Joe reached out and placed his hand on her shoulder, giving it a soft squeeze.

“What do you mean?”

A brief silence passed between them where Joe just stood and studied her, almost as if looking trying to piece together a difficult puzzle.

“I have to get going now but I feel like we have a lot to talk about.” He paused when she nodded in agreeance. “How about I stop by your place tonight and we can talk then?”

Her lips turned up into a wide grin.

“Only if you bring Chinese.”

“It’s a date.”

-

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Layla Knight

02.07.2020

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