My uncle went back for his soda, so I headed inside to find Hunter. I guessed he had gone straight to the guest room and I was right. Hunter had already moved himself to the bed by the time I got there.
He sat with his legs hanging off the side, his shoulders slumped forward, his lips tight in a thin line. Whatever good cheer he had left the hospital with was now long gone and he made no effort to disguise it. Seeing the pain in his eyes made my heart ache and I took a deep breath so I wouldn’t cry.
It felt like it was so long ago that Hunter had told me that he would save us both. Now, he was the one who needed saving, but I didn’t know how to do it.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, regretting those words as soon as they came out of my mouth.
He laid down on the bed, and lifted his legs up with his hands. Then he rolled over and turned away from me. I bit my lip. I hated myself for asking such a dumb question but I didn’t know what else to say.
“Nothing. I’m gonna get some rest. I think the move from the hospital wore me out.”
“Okay,” I whispered.
I turned to leave but stopped at the door. Even though I wanted to add something else, all I could think about was the tortured expression on his face. I needed more time to figure out the best way to help him.
The next couple days passed by in a blur. My nightmares about Marco intensified and—on top of it all—he was starting to take up a lot of my conscious thoughts as well. I couldn’t help but think that if he wrote back, with a reason for why he killed my mother, the nightmares would finally stop. I needed to focus on being there for Hunter, but Marco’s intrusions into my thoughts were making it difficult.
I did my best to put a cheerful face on, but inside I was tied in knots. Seeing Hunter in a wheelchair was hard. Seeing how much he was struggling to adjust to it was even more painful. He tried to hide it, but when he thought I wasn’t watching I kept catching him staring off into space.
Every day we fought to find normal, but the life we’d hoped for seemed to be slipping further and further away.
Late Wednesday morning, I came up with an idea that I hoped would make Hunter feel better about his situation. He had said he wanted a job at Clint’s Gym, so maybe it would cheer him up if I took him there. Obviously he wouldn’t be able to do the same activities he had done the last time we went, but he could still at least be around the fighters and maybe offer some tips on technique. More than anything, it would get him out of the house. Plus, doing something tangible for him would make me feel better about whether I was being as supportive as I needed to be.
When I came downstairs I went to the living room, where I assumed he would be. The couch was empty.
That was strange. I quickly checked the downstairs bathroom but saw that was empty as well. Nervous, I walked toward Hunter’s room, hoping desperately there wasn’t something else wrong with him. Maybe he was getting worse.
As I made my way to his door I heard a sound in the dining room. Brows furrowed, I changed course to see what was going on.
I entered the room to see Hunter sitting in his chair and using the gripper tool my uncle had bought for him to try to get a paint tray down from the top of a ladder. Uncle Stewart had just come home with the gripper the previous day.
“Hunter, what are you doing?”
He looked over at me briefly before going back to his attempt to grip the paint tray. There was already a can of paint and a roller on the floor next to him. “I’m gonna get some paint on these walls.”
“Hunter, you don’t have to do this. I’m sure my aunt and uncle understand—”
He shook his head before I was finished. “I want to do it, Lorrie.”
I bit my lip, but said nothing. If he thought he could do this, I knew it wouldn’t help to argue with him.
“Okay,” I said, trying to make myself sound as cheerful as possible. “Let me get that tray for you.”
I took a couple steps toward the ladder.
“NO!” Hunter boomed. My heart pounded in my chest and my cheeks felt heated. Why was he being so difficult?
He looked at me briefly and shook his head. “I can do this. I need practice with this thing if I’m going to be stuck in a wheelchair for a while.”
I stood on my heels and watched him struggle to get the tray. The lip he was trying to grab the ladder by by was pretty small, and since he was at an angle to begin with he had to get it exactly right if it was going to grip properly.
As he struggled with the gripper, his wheelchair slipped forward. He lunged dramatically to maintain his balance. The gripper caught the top of the ladder, tipping it.
The ladder fell with a loud crash.
I took a few steps toward Hunter’s side, but stopped when I saw his expression.
He was okay, but I had never seen someone more frustrated in my life. His eyes were scrunched up and his jaw was set in a combination of anguish and rage. He shook for a moment, but didn’t even yell.
He stared at the ladder and I stared at him for several seconds, neither of us making a move. Then I stepped tentatively toward the ladder.
“Don’t touch it,” Hunter rasped. “I got this.”
“Let me help,” I offered, bending towards the ladder.
“I SAID DON’T TOUCH IT!”
I froze, then straightened up and turned to face him. My heart beat loudly in my ears. A tense silence hung in the air, and I didn’t want to be the one to break it.
Hunter saved me from having to. “Please leave,” he said through his teeth. “I can handle this. Sorry for the noise.”
I took a deep breath, trying to stop myself from screaming. “Hunter, what’s your problem? I’m trying to help.”
“I know,” he said through gritted teeth. “You’ve been trying to help ever since I got back from the hospital.”
“Then why won’t you let me help? I care about you.”
He threw his hands up. “If you care about me, then leave me the hell alone. I can do this stuff for myself.”
I bit my tongue as I watched him wheel over to the ladder and put it upright. It took him a while, but he was so strong he did end up getting it by himself.
After he was done he turned to me. “I’m gonna paint now,” he said. He picked up the can and a screwdriver to pry it open.
I pursed my lips, then decided to tell him what my plan had been. “If you want to do that, then fine, but I came down here to offer to take you to Clint’s. I thought you might want to get out of the house or something.”