“Tick?” she whispered, her eyes fading closed.
“Please don’t leave us again.”
I brushed the palm of my hand against my eyes and blinked a few times. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Promise?” she yawned, already asleep before I could reply.
But I did reply, softly whispering into her dreams. “Promise.”
“Tristan.” I turned to see Hannah staring my way.
“She just woke up,” I said, standing up. “She’s pretty exhausted, but she’s doing okay.”
Relief filled her eyes and her hands landed over her heart. “Thank God. Liz is awake in the other room and asked me to come check on her.”
“She’s awake?” I asked. I started for the door to go see Elizabeth, but I paused, looking back at Emma.
“I’ll stay with her. She won’t be alone.”
“You’re up,” I said, staring at Elizabeth, who was looking out the window. She turned toward me, and a small smile appeared on her lips.
“Is Emma okay?”
“Yeah.” I walked over to her bed and sat beside her. “She’s doing good. Your mom is with her right now. How are you doing?” I took her hand and her stare fell to our fingers.
“I guess I got shot.”
“You scared the crap out of me, Lizzie.”
She pulled her hand away from mine. A tiny breath fell from her lips and she closed her eyes. “I don’t know how to deal with all of this. I just want to go home with my little girl.”
My hand ran against the back of my neck, and I studied every inch of her. The bandage around her side. Her bloodstained body. Her frown. I wanted to make her feel better, I wanted to make her feel less alone, but I wasn’t sure how.
“Can you find out when we can leave?” she asked.
I nodded. “Of course.” As I stood up, I paused in the doorway. “I love you, Lizzie.”
Her shoulders rose and fell before she turned her head away from me. “You can’t just love me because I got shot, Tristan. You should’ve loved me before that.”
Emma was able to go home before Elizabeth, and she stayed at the house with Hannah. I didn’t leave Elizabeth’s side until she was able to go home. When it was time to leave, she didn’t pass up the offer of me driving her to her house, but she didn’t speak a word to me.
“Here, let me help you,” I said, hopping out of the driver’s seat and rushing over to help her out of the car.
“I’m good,” she whispered to me, not wanting my help. “I’m good.”
I followed her into the house, and she told me I could leave, but I didn’t. Hannah and Emma were both sleeping in Emma’s tiny bed.
“Tristan, you really can go. I’m good, I’m good.”
I wondered how many times she could say those words before she realized they were a lie.
“I’m just going to go take a shower and then head to bed.” She walked toward the bathroom and took a deep inhale, gripping the doorframe. Her body went a bit limp, and I rushed over to help hold her up. She pulled away from me. “I don’t need you, Tristan. I’m fine without you,” she said coldly. But in the back of her tone I heard more fear than anything. “I don’t need anyone except myself and my baby girl. We’re good, I’m good. I’m good.” She spoke softly, holding on to my T-shirt to keep herself from falling. “I’m…I’m…” She started crying, and I pulled her closer to my body. She cried into my shirt. “You left me.”
“I’m so sorry, baby.” I sighed. I didn’t know what to say, because I had left her and Emma. I ran away when things got real. I didn’t know how to deal with the fact that I loved her, because loving her meant that someday I could lose her, and losing people was the worst feeling in the world. “I got scared. I got mad. And I handled it all completely wrong. But I need you to hear me now: I’m not going anywhere. I’m here. I’m here and I’m here to stay.”
She pulled back, wiped her hand beneath her nose, and laughed lightly, trying to stop her tears. “Sorry. I just need a shower.”
“I’ll be here when you’re done.”
Her beautiful brown eyes locked with mine, and a tiny smile grew on her lips. “Okay.”
She closed the bathroom door. I heard the sound of the shower coming on and I leaned against the bathroom door, waiting for her to finish.
“I’m good, I’m good,” she told herself over and over again. Her voice started to shake as she said it, and I could hear her crying again. My hand wrapped around the doorknob, and I pushed it open to see her sitting in the bottom of the tub, her hands covering her face as she cried, dried blood washing out of her hair. Without thought, I climbed into the tub with her and wrapped myself around her. “Tanner’s gone?” she asked, shaking against me.
“I’m good?” she wondered out loud.
“Yeah, Lizzie. You’re good.”
I stayed with her that whole night. I didn’t lie beside her in her bed, but I sat in the chair at her desk, giving her the distance she needed, but also letting her know that she wasn’t ever going to be alone again.
I awakened to the sound of a lawnmower coming from the backyard. The sun was just waking, and there was no need for anyone to be cutting the grass at such a time. Walking toward my back porch, I looked at Tristan, who was cutting the grass around where the accident with Tanner had happened. My hand lay over my heart, and I moved down the steps, feeling the wet morning grass against my toes.