I let out a shaky breath as sadness swelled. Holy crap, I was the female version of Dean right now, texting someone who was so not interested. Had he stressed over that text as much as I had? He’d probably gone through three different versions before settling on the innocuous greeting. Seeing that truly was a kick to the chest. My heart ached.
Slipping the phone into the back pocket of my jeans, I swallowed the cluster of tears that were threatening to turn me into a fat, angry baby. I needed to pull it together. I made this mess. Reece made his decision. Contrary to what Katie believed, I wasn’t in love with him.
I hadn’t fallen that far for him.
I hadn’t fallen for anyone that hard and I never would.
Friday afternoon, I wasn’t thinking about Reece at all. A different kind of problem had surfaced, a far more serious one than my relationship or lack thereof.
Nurse Venter stood beside me, at the foot of Charlie’s bed, her face contorted in a sympathetic expression that really did reach her tired eyes. “If you need anything, you know where to find me.”
Afraid to speak, all I could do was nod. She left the room, quietly closing the door behind her, and I was stuck standing. It was like someone had pressed the pause button on life.
Charlie was back on the feeding tube.
I wanted to close my eyes, but what was the point? It didn’t change what I was seeing. It wouldn’t undo anything. When I opened them up, Charlie would still be in the same position. His life would not somehow rewind.
The pale lilac comforter was tucked up to Charlie’s slender chest, hiding everything from the shoulders down, but I knew that his hands were restrained under the blanket, secured to the bed.
I hated that, absolutely loathed that he was tied up. It seemed too inhumane and cruel even though I knew there was a valid reason for it. The moment the feeding tube was hooked up, he’d started pulling at it. They did this for his own good, but it still hurt to see it.
I forced myself to the chair next to his bed and sat stiffly, placing the tote beside me. Reaching out, I found his hand under the blanket and folded both of mine over his. “Charlie,” I whispered. “What are we going to do?”
Charlie’s eyes were open, and I wished they were closed, because there was something wrong with them. They were dull, absolutely lifeless. I would’ve thought he was a mannequin if it wasn’t for the occasional blink or tremor that coursed down his arm.
Fear clawed at me as I stared at him. Oh God, he didn’t look good. I couldn’t remember him ever looking this frail and sallow before.
Minutes ticked by and the only sound was the chirping of birds outside the window and the low hum of conversation from other rooms. There was a ball of cold dread sitting in the center of my chest as I sat there. This . . . this reminded me of my grandfather who’d been sick and in hospice care before passing away. I was a little girl then, but I remembered my mom sitting at a bed just like this, holding my grandfather’s hand and whispering to him while he slept so deeply I couldn’t remember seeing his chest move.
This felt like that, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were not alone in this room. That there was a third entity, and it was death.
Scooting as close as I could get to the bed, I closed my eyes and rested my head on the pillow next to his. “I miss you so much,” I whispered thickly. “I know you know that.”
Tears leaked out of the corners of my eyes as I tightened my hold on the blanket and his hand. Who knew I could still cry so easily after the week I had? Maybe I was turning into an emotional mess. At this moment, I didn’t care. The turmoil I felt over Reece was nothing in comparison to how I felt now. I wanted to crawl in bed with him, but I was afraid of disturbing his feeding tube.
I knew that I needed to act like nothing was wrong. I needed to pull out one of the paintings I brought in for him—one that I had done weeks ago, and I needed to read to him. That was the normalcy of our visits. I liked to think both of us needed that.
But as I lay there, all I could think was about the span of minutes that had changed everything for Charlie, for me. No matter how many years had passed, it still felt like yesterday.
It was Friday night, a few weeks after school had started and the only reason why I was at the football game was because Colton was playing, which meant Reece was there, in the stands, watching his older brother play.
Charlie and I made our fifth or sixth pass in front of the section of bleachers Reece was sitting at with his friends. “Man, I think you qualify as a stalker now, just so you know.”
I bumped him with my hip. “It’s the okay kind of stalking.”
He sent me a sideways look. “When is stalking okay?”
“When it involves Reece Anders,” I quipped, giggling when Charlie rolled his eyes. “Oh whatever, you think he’s hot, too.”
“Can’t deny that.” He glanced over his shoulder, back toward where Reece sat, and then quickly faced forward. “He’s looking down here.”
“What?” I shrieked as I stumbled over my own feet. I sent him a wide-eyed look. “You’re lying.”
Charlie grinned at me. “No, I’m not. Look for yourself, but try not to be so freaking obvious.”
“How do you not be obvious?” I muttered, but as I took another step, I made a causal attempt at looking over my shoulder. My gaze found Reece immediately, like I was some kind of hot-boy-seeking missile.
Reece was staring down at us—at me. And he was smiling. He had the best smile. Wide. Friendly. Uninhibited. My heart kicked around in my chest as I started to smile back.
“Oh,” Charlie said. “My bad.”
At first I didn’t get what Charlie was talking about, but then a high-pitched shout whipped my head around.
One of the cheerleaders had shouted Reece’s name. Rising up on the tips of her white sneakers, she blew him a kiss. My stomach dropped all the way to the tips of my toes. I looked at Charlie.
Reece wasn’t staring at me. He wasn’t smiling at me. How embarrassing. Sighing, I picked up my pace. “Are you ready to go?”
“I’ve been ready to leave since we got here,” he retorted. “But you had to get your stalking out of your system. And look what happened? No good comes from stalking, Roxy.”
“I hate you.”
He laughed as he draped his arm over my shoulders, tugging me against his side. “Come on. Let’s head back to my place. Parents are still at the lake house and I found the key to the liquor cabinet again.”