“I know. But now you know. Now everyone knows.”

When Padraig collapsed at the funeral, everyone was in a panic. I did what I could with him, held his head in my lap. He woke up a few minutes later, groggy and disoriented. Everyone was trying to help him, everyone was wondering what was wrong with him. I didn’t want to tell them but the truth has a way of pushing itself to the surface, no matter how hard you bury it.

“He has MS,” I admitted to the medics when they arrived and naturally everyone heard me. The news of his affliction spread throughout the crowd like wildfire.

Padraig has multiple sclerosis. Did you know Padraig was sick?

One look at Hemi’s face told me that he knew the implications of that.

Padraig would never play rugby professionally again.

“The poor boy,” Agnes says, wringing her hands together. “First he loses his father and then this happens to him.” She looks up at me. “Please tell me he’s going to live a long and happy life.”

I give her a soft smile. “He’s going to live a long and happy life,” I tell her but I’m not sure I believe it. I know he’s going to pull through this and I know he’s got as much strength inside as he does in his muscles but I also know his psyche is fragile. Lately, he’s been moody and sometimes mean. I know he’s going through a lot, the medications are messing with his brain and his brain is messing with him.

But I’m worried. I’m worried that this event is going to do something to him. I’ve seen how he gets when he gets scared and feels threatened and I’m not sure how he’s going to handle this episode, collapsing in public like that, having everyone know of his disease and to actual see it, all on the heels of his father’s death.

I won’t feel better until I see him myself.

“Valerie!”

I turn to see Dr. Byrne hurrying down the hall toward me. “I came here as quick as I could. How is he? Where is he?”

“I’ll go get the doctor,” I tell him and then gesture to Agnes. “Dr. Byrne, this is Padraig’s grandmother, Agnes.”

I leave them to get acquainted and so she can throw a million questions his way and I run down the halls to fetch the doctor.

About an hour later, after more cups of weak tea and stale coffee, Dr. Byrne emerges from Padraig’s room.

“Valerie,” he says, waving me over. “If you want to come in first.”

The way he says it makes a thread of unease run through me. I glance back at Agnes, the Major and Hemi, and then walk over.

“He’s a bit groggy from the meds,” the doctor whispers to me as we stand outside the door. “This has traumatized him, understandably. You’ll need to be patient with him.”

“He’s been really moody lately,” I tell him. “I’m worried what this might do to him.”

He nods grimly. “That’s what I’m getting at. He’s angry and rightfully so. The stress of losing his father and then being at the funeral, it got too much for him. Stress is always a big trigger when it comes to symptoms or to patients who have relapses. In this case, the inflammation in his eyes became too much and cut off his vision. He still can’t see very well but once the swelling goes down with time, he’ll be fine.” He pauses. “The problem is, he doesn’t think he’ll be fine. And that’s what we’re dealing with.”

I nod, taking in a deep breath, and step inside the room.

It’s dimly lit and I have a flashback to last week, but instead of Colin dying on the bed, it’s Padraig, sitting up and looking to be in anguish. He’s in a hospital gown, electrodes and IVs all over him, his fingers clenched around the edge of his blanket, like he’s holding on for his dear life.

I think in his head he is.

“Padraig,” I say softly as I walk over to him. “It’s me. It’s Valerie.”

I stand beside him and stare down at him.

His eyes are pinched shut, his mouth curled in gritted snarl. He seems several shades paler than normal and the veins in his arms and neck are sticking out.

I gently place my hand over his and he flinches.

“It’s me,” I say again.

“Go away,” he says, his voice rough. He licks his dry lips.

“Padraig,” I try again, squeezing his hand. “You’re okay. You’re going to be fine. The doctors—”

“Fuck the bloody doctors. What the fuck do they know?”

He opens his eyes and looks at me. They’re bloodshot and tired and from the way they can’t seem to focus on my face, I know he can’t see me clearly.

“It’s me,” I say again.

“You keep saying that,” he says. “What do ye want?”

Remember what the doctor said, I remind myself.

“I just wanted to see you,” I tell him, my voice trembling a little. “I wanted to make sure you were okay. Padraig, I was so scared. So scared.”

He sighs and closes his eyes. “And how do ye think I felt? How do ye think I feel?” He starts to grind his teeth together. “What’s the fucking point of all this?”

I pause. “Of what?”

“Life,” he practically growls. “This isn’t a life. This is punishment. But ye know, it’s probably punishment I deserve.”

“This isn’t punishment for anything,” I tell him. I hate seeing him like this, so fucking broken. It chills me to the core. “And I know it’s hard but we’re going to get through this.”

“We,” he repeats sarcastically.

My heart begins to thud. Bang bang bang, in my chest, like a drum.

“Yes,” I tell him. “We. We are going to get through this together.”

“No,” he says, opening his eyes and staring straight ahead. “I’m not going to get through this. And you won’t either.” He gives me a pained look. “Just go home, Valerie. Go back to America.”

I shake my head. “I’m not going there and it’s not home.”

“But what if I want ye to leave?”

That throws me off balance. My grip on his hand loosens. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, you should go home. To your real home.”

“Why?” I ask, panic starting to claw up my chest. This isn’t supposed to be happening, not this. Doesn’t he know he is my real home?

“Because I need ye to.”

“I don’t understand. Padraig, you just had a relapse. You just lost your father. I’m not going to leave you. You’re ridiculous if you think I’m going anywhere.”

“You’re ridiculous if you stay.” He swallows and looks at me with coldness in his eyes. Maybe a shield to protect himself, I don’t know, but I know whatever else he’s about to say is going to hurt. “It’s only going to happen inevitably. You’re with me now but what happens in a year when I need a cane to walk around? And what happens in a few years after that, when I rely on a scooter? What happens when I can’t get it fucking up and can’t fuck ye anymore? What happens when I start to shit myself and piss my pants and you’re stuck with me wishing that I had given you an out at some point.” He pauses, licking his lips. “Well, I’m giving you your out now.”

I keep shaking my head, hating that he’s saying this, that he actually believes it.

“No. I’m not taking your out.”

“Even if I ask you to leave me? Even if I tell ye to leave me now and get it over with? You won’t go?”

“No,” I say, trying to swallow. “I won’t. I love you.”

“You don’t know what ye love,” he snarls at me and I’m scared at the viciousness in his voice. “You think ye love me but ye don’t. How can ye? How can ye love a big disappointment like myself, a sick and heavy burden for your shoulders, to weigh you down for the rest of your life.”

“I do—”

“No!” he yells and his heart rate monitor goes faster and faster. “You don’t know shite! You don’t even know me. We met over a month ago and suddenly you think you love me. I roped you into this whole mess and then you find out I have an incurable disease and that’s trapped you. I don’t blame you. You feel like you have to stick around and that you can’t leave because then you’ll look bad. That’s what it is and you know it.”

I sniff back a tear, my hand over my heart, which is clenching in pain. “We need to talk about this later. When you’re better.”

“I’m. Never. Getting. Better,” he says, grinding out the words. “Don’t you know that by now?”

I exhale, trying to keep it together. “I meant from this. Soon your vision will be back and—”

“And when my vision comes back, I don’t want to see you.”

Oh, god.

My heart jerks like the cables holding it up are snapping one by one, with only one cable left.

Tears fill my eyes. “I love you. I will be here when you can see.”

“And I just said that I hope you’re not. Okay? Do you understand now what I’m saying? I want you to go. You always tell me to tell ye what I want and now I’m telling ye. Go. Go back to America and keep living your life there. Go find that ex-fiancé of yours and live a happy life with someone that isn’t a burden, who isn’t going to die early on ye and shoulder ye with a life of responsibility and pain.”

I can’t even talk. The tears are blurring my vision so much that I know what it’s like to see out of his eyes right now.

And I feel all the hate. The hate for himself that he has festering inside him, the hate that’s coming out and wanting to consume him. He’s letting it win. He’s letting it win by pushing me away.

“Do you love me?” I ask as a sob shakes through me. “Just tell me you love me and I’ll tell you I love you more. Please, Padraig.”

He stares at me for a moment with dead eyes. “I love you enough to not let you stay here. And if you loved me at all, then you would let me go.” His gaze sharpens. “Please, Valerie. Just fucking go. It’s over.”

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