Her using that word stings, but I hold it down.
“I don’t know.” I look out at the trees on the lawn, but I don’t really see them. All I see is Andrew’s face.
“He’s going to be OK.” Natalie cups my face in her hands and stares into my eyes. “He’ll get through this, you just have to tell death to piss off, that you got this one, y’know?”
She surprises me sometimes. Right now is one of those times.
I smile gently and she wipes the tears from my cheeks.
“Let’s go find a Starbucks.”
Natalie stands up with her giant black leather purse dangling from one arm and reaches out her hand to me.
“I…Natalie, I really want to stay here.”
“No, you need to get away from this bad energy for a while—hospitals suck the hope out of everything—come back when he’s back in his room and then you can introduce me to that sexy piece of Kellan that I’m oh-so-f**king jealous of you for.” She smiles a huge, toothy smile.
She always gets me to smile, too.
I take her hand.
“Alright,” I give in.
We take the Chevelle to the nearest Starbucks. Natalie drooled all over the car all the way here.
“Jesus, Cam, you really hit the jackpot with this one.” She sits across from me sipping her iced latte. “Guys that perfect are rare.”
“Well, he’s not perfect,” I say, sloshing my straw around in my cup. “He’s got a dirty mouth, he’s stubborn, he forces me to do shit I don’t want to do and he always gets his way.”
Natalie grins and sucks on her straw.
Then she points at me briefly. “See, like I said: perfect.” She laughs and then she rolls her brown eyes. “And pu-lease—makes you do shit you don’t wanna do, my ass. Something tells me you love it when he tells you what to do.” She slaps her hand upon the table and her eyes bug out. “Ooooh, he’s rough in bed, isn’t he? Isn’t he?!” She can hardly contain herself.
I did tell her that we had sex, but I didn’t exactly give her the juicy details.
My eyes stray downward at the table.
She slaps the table again and a guy sitting behind her looks over at us.
“Oh my God, he is!”
“Yes, he is!” I hiss, trying not to laugh. “Now will you be quiet?!”
“Come on, you have to give me an itsy-bitsy detail.” She presses her thumb and index finger together to show just how itsy-bitsy and she squints one eye.
Ah, what the hell? I shrug and lean across the table and look to both sides of me to see if anyone seems to be listening.
“The first time,” I start to say and her head looks frozen in time, eyes bugged out, mouth parted, “he practically forced himself on me…you know what I mean…of course I wanted him to, you know.”
She nods like a bobblehead, but doesn’t speak because she wants me to continue.
“I can tell he is naturally dominant and wasn’t just doing it because I told him it’s what I like. I can also tell that he was still being careful, not to go too far because he wanted to be sure if it was OK.”
“Did he ever take it any further?”
“No, but I know he will.”
“You’re a freaky little sexual deviant,” she says and I blush so hard I can’t look up for a moment. “Sounds like he’s exactly what you needed in every aspect. He brought shit out of you that Ian and Christian couldn’t.” She looks upward as if at the heavens and says quickly, “You know I love you, Ian,” and kisses two fingers and pushes them toward the sky. She looks back at me quickly.
“Well, that’s not why I love him.”
Natalie’s mouth snaps shut. So does mine. I think all of the air was just sucked right out of the room. I didn’t even realize what I was saying.
Why did I have to say that out loud?
“You’re in love with him?” she asks, though she doesn’t seem so surprised.
I don’t say anything. I just swallow down any other words I had been prepared to say.
“If you weren’t in love with him after everything you’ve been through with him, I’d think you were the one with the brain tumor.”
Even though I hate that she used those two cruel and horrific words, I know she didn’t mean anything by it.
But regardless of her lighthearted banter and her way with so easily making me forget that things aren’t so great right now, I’ve already exhausted my ability to play along with her anymore. I’m grateful for her helping me to lift my mind of the depression and fear for Andrew, even if only for a few minutes with her talking about sex and being like we used to be.
I can’t anymore.
I just want to get back to the hospital and be with him.
Natalie and I head back after sundown and we walk together through the front doors and hitch a ride on the elevator.
“I hope he’s already done,” I say nervously, staring at that blurred reflection on the elevator door again.
I feel Natalie’s hand slip around mine. I look over at her to see her smiling gently at me.
The elevator opens up and we head down the hallway.
Asher and Marna are walking towards us in the opposite direction.
The look on their faces causes my heart to fall into the pit of my stomach. I squeeze Natalie’s hand so tight I’m probably crushing it.
When Asher and Marna stand face to face with us, tears slip relentlessly down her cheeks. She grabs me into a hug and shudders out the words:
“Andrew fell into a coma…they don’t think he’s going to make it.”
I step back away from her.
Every little sound, from the air filtering through the vents in the ceiling to the people shuffling past us in the hallway, it’s all shut out in an instant. I feel Natalie’s hand go for mine, but I absently push it away and stumble back further, my hands pressed over my heart. I can’t breathe…I can’t breathe. I see Asher’s eyes, glistening with tears as he looks at me, but I look away. I look away because he has Andrew’s eyes and I can’t bear it.
Marna reaches into her purse and pulls out an envelope. She steps up to me carefully and takes both of my hands, putting the envelope into them.
“Andrew wanted me to give this to you if anything happened to him.” She folds my fingers over the envelope with her own fingers. I don’t look down at it; I just look at her, tears drenching my face.
I can’t breathe….
“I’m sorry,” Marna says, her voice trembling, “I have to go.” She pats my hands motherly. “You’re always welcome in my home and in my family. Please know that.”
She nearly falls and Asher wraps his arm around her waist and walks her away down the hall.
I just stand here in the center. A few nurses walk by, but go around me. I feel the wind brush my face lightly when they walk past. It takes me an eternity to gather the courage to look down at the envelope in my hands. I’m shaking. My fingers fumble the flap on the envelope.
“Let me help you,” I hear Natalie say and I’m too outside of myself to protest.
She slips the envelope from my fingers carefully and opens it for me, slowly unfolding the letter inside.
“Would you like me to read it for you?”
I look at her, my lips quivering uncontrollably and I shake my head as I finally understand her question. “No…let me….”
She hands me the letter and I unfold it the rest of the way, my tears falling onto the paper as I read:
I never wanted it to be this way. I wanted to tell you these things myself, but I was afraid. I was afraid that if I told you out loud that I loved you, that what we had together would die with me. The truth is that I knew in Kansas that you were the one. I’ve loved you since that day when I first looked up into your eyes as you glared down at me from over the top of that bus seat. Maybe I didn’t know it then, but I knew something had happened to me in that moment and I could never let you go.
I have never lived the way I lived during my short time with you. For the first time in my life, I’ve felt whole, alive, free. You were the missing piece of my soul, the breath in my lungs, the blood in my veins. I think that if past lives are real then we have been lovers in every single one of them. I’ve known you for a short time, but I feel like I’ve known you forever.
I want you to know that even in death I’ll always remember you. I’ll always love you. I wish that things could’ve turned out differently. I thought of you many nights on the road. I stared up at the ceiling in the motels and pictured what our life might be like together if I had lived. I even got all mushy and thought of you in a wedding dress and even with a mini me in your belly. You know, I always heard that sex is great when you’re pregnant. ;-)
But I’m sorry that I had to leave you, Camryn. I’m so sorry…I wish the story of Orpheus and Eurydice was real because then you could come to the Underworld and sing me back into your life. I wouldn’t look back. I wouldn’t f**k it up like Orpheus did.
I’m so sorry, baby…
I want you to promise me that you’ll stay strong and beautiful and sweet and caring. I want you to be happy and find someone who will love you as much as I did. I want you to get married and have babies and live your life. Just remember to always be yourself and don’t be afraid to speak your mind or to dream out loud.
I hope you’ll never forget me.
One more thing: don’t feel bad for not telling me that you loved me. You didn’t need to say it. I knew all along that you did.
I fall to my knees in the center of the hall, Andrew’s letter clutched in my fingertips.
And that’s the last thing I remember about that day.
Two months later…
THE SUN IS SHINING and there’s not a cloud in the sky. I even hear birds chirping. I guess it’s kind of perfect for a day like this. The heel of my shoe presses against a soft patch of grass. I’m dressed in a cute white and yellow sundress that falls just above my knees. My hair is braided around to one side, how Andrew always insisted I wear it. My hands are folded together down in front of me as I stare down at the gravestone that reads: PARRISH in big chiseled letters across the back. It was hard to come here, but it has been a long time coming.
I keep my eyes down, staring absently at the mound of clay-like dirt that still seems fresh after two months since the burial. Not even the rain pounding on it over and over again seems to help flatten it any. I glance out at all of the other graves, most of them already covered by grass and I can’t feel sad, only comforted as though these people here, although long gone to all of us, have each other’s company.
A pair of hands slip around my waist from behind.
“Thank you for coming here with me, babe,” Andrew says into my ear and then kisses my cheek.
I take his hand and pull him around to my side and we look down one last time at his father’s grave together.
We leave Wyoming later that night, but we go by plane. Our plans to travel around the world have only been put on hold. After Andrew’s coma and surgery, he began to recover within three weeks. The doctors were as surprised as the rest of us, but he still has needed time to recover fully and so I’ve been with him ever since, living in Galveston. He goes to physical therapy once a week, but already it seems as if he doesn’t need it.