Thankfully when I’d booked the ticket last month, I guessed I’d be at Jude’s game the Saturday before I flew out and planned on staying at his place that night before driving to the airport. My plans certainly hadn’t factored in a hospital bed, or clenched fingers running down cool metal bed rails, but if I left now, at least I could still make my flight.
I couldn’t wake him. I couldn’t let him know I was leaving because he wouldn’t let me go. Or he’d buy a ticket and come along with me.
And one part of me very much wanted that to happen. But the confused part of me, the one that was scratching her head in wonder, contemplating what to do next, needed some time and space to work out this new complication in what was becoming the never ending tale of Jude’s and my story.
More time and space.
I sighed, shifting in bed, trying to weave myself from beneath him. This past month’s “time and space” had done nothing but further confuse me and complicate things between the two of us. So I vowed I would force myself to make a decision by the time that airplane headed back to New York after the New Year. Before I came back here, I would be able to give him a firm and final answer to the question that was Jude and Lucy.
Tucking the sheet around him, I herded up my clothes, jamming my neck and limbs into all the appropriate openings. Grabbing my bag from the table, I paused at the foot of the bed and just stared at him. It seemed like I wouldn’t be able to stop. He was mine. I knew this with all my heart.
But could I have him?
This was the question I wouldn’t rest until I could answer.
Not even daring to run my fingers over the tips of his toes for fear of him waking up and convincing me back into bed, I rushed out the door, careful to close the door without a noise.
I took the stairs, dodging the elevators by the nurses’s station because I didn’t want to explain myself. I couldn’t explain anything right now. Other than I was confused as all hell.
Once I was outside the hospital, I had a line of cabs to choose from. Sliding inside the closest one, I glanced back at the hospital, my eyes shifting to the fifth floor.
“The airport, please,” I said, narrowing my eyes to better focus on the window I was looking into. A shadow moved suddenly away from it. “And please hurry,” I added, the ball reforming in my throat.
The cabdriver followed my request to the speed-defying T. In fact, he put NYC cabdrivers to shame. Less than a half hour after we’d left the hospital, we were pulling up to the airport’s curb. Having no luggage other than my purse, I handed the driver his money plus a nice tip for a job well done.
I hurried my way to the ticket counter, wanting to get off the ground here so I could think. My thoughts were stifled here in New York. I couldn’t think clearly.
Ticket in hand, I got in line at the security checks. Being Christmas Eve, I expected there to be more grumpy faced people and screaming children than there were, and before I’d had time to dig my phone out of my purse to call my parents to let them know I was on my way, a TSA agent was ushering me through the metal detectors.
Throwing my purse, phone, and boots onto the conveyor belt, I whisked through the metal detector. I breathed a sigh of relief when it didn’t beep. Last time I’d flown, I’d forgotten to take off my chunky sterling silver necklace and I’d had to endure an intense “pat down” from one very eager, very young male agent. I’d been the high point to his day as he’d been the low point to mine.
Snatching my belongings at the end of the conveyor belt, I heard it.
Well, I heard him.
My head snapped up. I couldn’t see him yet, but I could hear him like he was standing in front of me. The agents and others around me stopped what they were doing to look too.
“Lucy!” This time closer as Jude emerged from around the corner, in a full sprint, bare foot and a hospital gown streaming around him. His eyes latched onto me like they were trained to find nothing else.
“Lucy!” he repeated, charging the security gates. TSA agents were popping up in their seats, looking between one another.
He didn’t stop sprinting, taking out one, then two rows of nylon people-herders. He didn’t stop until a couple of large agents tackled into him.
My hands covered my mouth as the guards stopped him, each one grabbing an arm of Jude’s and throwing it behind his back. Jude didn’t fight back, or maybe he couldn’t; he just stared at me with those dark eyes, pleading with me to stay.
“You can’t leave, Luce!” he hollered, resisting the guards as they tried to remove him from the security area.
“I’m just going away for a little while,” I said, sure he couldn’t hear me since I couldn’t manage more than a whisper. “I’ll be back. I promise.” With an answer that would decide the fate of our relationship.
“You can’t leave me,” he said, his voice breaking, his face following as the guards pulled him away. Successfully this time. “You can’t leave me,” he said one last time, defeated.
I don’t know what was worse: watching Jude give up and be drug away or turning away and heading for my gate.
Both ate at me until, by the time my plane landed in Arizona, I wasn’t sure if anything was left of the old Lucy Larson.
Christmas came and went without me so much as noticing. Well, I noticed. You couldn’t help but notice when your entire extended family showed up to Christmas Eve decked out in some variety of red and green plaid, stripe, check, or polka dot Christmas sweater, flashing with lights and tinkling with bells. The ugly Christmas sweater was a new tradition, and one that I hoped died off with the department store sales that sold those monstrosities. Two hours into the Larson family shin-dig, everyone save for me was on an express train to Drunkville. Me, the only teenager there, was as sober as a nun about to take her vows.
Life didn’t make sense any more. I was about to stop trying to make sense of it in the first place.
I curled up in Grandpa’s old recliner, staring out at the cacti twinkling with Christmas lights, trying to imagine what Jude was doing at that exact minute. Experiencing a moment of weakness, I slipped my phone out of my pocket and typed, “Merry Christmas. XXX&O” and pressed send before I could rethink it. I waited up most of the night, checking my screen to make sure he hadn’t replied.
He never did.
Finding myself unable to sleep yet again New Year’s Day morning, I zombie walked into the kitchen, beelining for the coffee pot.
“And I thought I was the insomniac in the family.”
I didn’t even startle, I was that sleep deprived. Mom rose from her chair at the table and walked over to the cupboard where Grandma kept her coffee cups. Pouring one for me, she added the sugar and cream without asking.
“Thanks,” I yawned as she set the cup in front of my chair.
“You’re welcome,” she said, sitting back down and watching me, like she was waiting for something.
Too early to know what exactly, and with my mom, nothing was ever as it seemed. She might be waiting for me to share my every goal and dream with her just as much as she might be about to tell me that swept off the face hair style I’d been favoring lately wasn’t a good look for my heart-shaped face.
I’d burned through half a cup of coffee before she cleared her throat.
“So I’m officially done waiting for you to open up about whatever has got you so down you can’t possibly get any lower,” she said, setting her cup down on the table. “What’s going on with you, Lucille? I know it has something to do with you and Jude, I just can’t figure out what it is.”
I cringed first over her use of my given name and winced when she said Jude’s name. Even his name hurt me to hear.
I sighed, taking a deep chug of coffee before setting it down.
“I’m not sure if we’re supposed to be together,” I said, offering nothing else. This was, at the crux of all my concerns, the cornerstone.
My mom nodded her head, taking a few moments to think before replying. “You’re not sure if you’re supposed to be together, or if you shouldn’t be together?”
My brain wasn’t working well enough to have these kinds of conversations. “Is there a difference?”
“Of course,” she said, cinching the rope of her new bathrobe tighter. “To suppose is to assume. Should is an entirely different beast. Should implies duty and obligation. It’s a period where suppose is a question mark,” she said, watching me across the table. “So yeah, there’s a difference.”
Yep, I should have stayed in bed and continued to toss and turn. That would be better than having this conversation with my mom before the crack of dawn.
“I guess I don’t know?” I said.
“You want to know what I think?” Mom asked, her voice and face concerned.
“Sure,” I said, needing some solid mom advice. In the months that followed my senior year, we’d managed to rebuild a good portion of the relationship we’d lost after John’s death. She even snuck a few napkin notes into the care packages she and dad had sent me at school.
“From an outsider’s perspective, you and Jude probably aren’t supposed to be together,” she began slowly, watching my face for my reaction. “But at the same time, you two should be together.”
I shook my head, trying to clear it. I couldn’t keep up. This whole conversation seemed like one giant oxymoron.
“Okay, mom. That was clear as mud,” I said, narrowing my eyes as the start of a headache emerged. “Are you saying we should or shouldn’t be together?”
“You should,” she answered immediately.
Glad that was cleared up and, even though I wanted further clarification on the whole should/suppose mind maze, I couldn’t do that to myself without bringing on a migraine.
“How can you be so sure of that when I’m not?”
“Oh, honey,” she said, patting my hand. “It’s because you’re letting the fairy tales you grew up hearing in storybooks and the baseless ideals of love cloud your mind. Love isn’t easy. Especially the really good kind. It’s difficult, and you’ll want to rip your hair out just as many days as you’ll feel the wind at your back.” She paused, smiling to herself. “But it’s worth it. It’s worth fighting for. Don’t let what isn’t real blind you from what is. Life isn’t perfect, we sure as shit aren’t perfect, so why should we expect love to be?”
“I get that, I do. But come on, mom,” I said, trailing my finger along the lip of my cup. “Love just isn’t enough sometimes.”
“Baby,” she said, looking at me like I’d just said something very immature, “I’d sign my name in blood that it isn’t.”
I groaned, sinking into my chair. This little mother/daughter convo was getting me nowhere.
“I’m so damn confused right now, Mom. I’m so confused I don’t think anything you could say or explain would clear it all up for me.”
She stayed silent for a minute, her forehead lining along with the corners of her eyes as she worked something over in her mind.
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