“Why are you here?” I asked her.
“Because I made a promise.”
I turned to look at her, confused. “What do you mean?”
“I drove her to Atlanta a few weeks ago, and when I was getting ready to leave, she asked me to do only one thing.”
“And what was that?”
“To look after you.”
I grimaced and clasped my hands together. My feet tapped rapidly against the floor tiles. “I miss her,” I confessed.
“I know,” she replied. “And she misses you, too. Which makes it hard for me to understand why you aren’t on speaking terms.”
“No.” She shook her head. “It’s not. Falling for someone isn’t hard. It’s the easiest thing in the world. It’s all the other things that surround the fall that make it hard. But those feelings that you both feel for one another? That’s easy, and if you allow yourself to let it in, you’ll be happy that you did. But you both are allowed to figure things out on your own time. For now, I’d just like to sit here with you if that’s okay.”
“Yes.” I nodded. “That’s okay.”
We sat in silence, watching the lines dance around the machines as my father fought for his life.
“Can you not tell Grace about this?” I asked her. “Please. I don’t want her to worry.”
“If that’s what you want, then I’ll respect that. But it’s okay for you to need her. It’s okay to need people.”
I didn’t reply to her comment, but I simply thanked her for sitting beside me that afternoon. She gave me the warmest smile and lightly squeezed my knee. “Always and always.”
If only she knew how much that meant to me.
Days passed, and nothing changed. Judy stopped by each day and would sit beside me whenever Alex wasn’t around. We didn’t talk about anything at all; we merely sat in silence wishing and hoping for my father to open his eyes. When Friday evening came, I sat in the room, and when a voice was heard at the door, I looked up.
My chest burned.
“Gracelyn,” I muttered, standing up.
“What are you doing here?”
Grace stood in the doorway. “Can I come in?”
I nodded, and she walked into the room slowly. The look of fear in her eyes when she saw my father hurt me.
He looked awful, and it was apparent.
Then she looked at me. The look of sadness that found her eyes when she saw me hurt me.
I looked awful, and it was apparent.
She didn’t say another word, but she wrapped her arms around me and pulled me close.
God, I missed this.
I missed her. I missed us.
“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
“I’m so sorry,” I replied.
I held her for a while, afraid to let go because I feared if I did, she’d just fade away like a mirage.
When I finally let go, I walked over to the window and took a deep breath.
“He’s in a coma,” I told her, my voice cracking. “He’s been this way for days now, and if he doesn’t wake up…” My words faded off, and I jerked my hand through my hair. “I hate him,” I told her. “I’ve hated him for so long—for the person he became, for the person he turned me into—but if anything happens to him…if I lose him…” I shut my eyes. “He’s my dad, Grace. He’s all I have, and if I lose him, I lose my world.”
I wiped a stubborn tear that fell from my eye.
“Jackson, come here,” she said softly. I hated how her gentle voice brought a small dash of ease to my mind.
“No,” I said. “I’m fine. How did you even know I was here? I asked Judy not to tell you.”
“And she didn’t, but you live in Chester, Georgia—word spreads quickly, even to Atlanta. Now, come here.”
“I’m fine, really. You can go,” I told her, looking at my father.
“Jackson,” she said, this time placing her hand on my shoulder. She then held her other hand out toward me. “Please, come here.”
I sighed and placed my hand in hers. She pulled me into another tight hug.
She wasn’t a mirage.
She wasn’t a dream.
She was real…she was there.
“I’m okay,” I told her.
“You’re lying,” she replied.
“No.” She shook her head as she laid it against my chest. “You don’t get to argue your way out of this one, okay? You have to let me hold you for a while. So just be quiet and don’t let go, okay?”
I took a deep breath and pulled her closer to me.
I wasn’t used to comfort, but pain I knew a lot about. That afternoon, Grace gave me so much comfort, and even if I had wanted to let her go, my heart wouldn’t have allowed me to do it.
“Thank you,” I whispered, pulling her even closer and resting my forehead against hers. “Thank you for coming back.”
“Always,” she said softly, her exhalations falling against my lips. “And always.”