My sincerest apologies for not finishing this yesterday. My work schedule's off kilter for the next two weeks with my coworkers traveling for business, and plus, these aren't easy chapters to write. Please enjoy, my dearies.
Soundtrack Song 1 - John Mayer, Only Heart
Soundtrack Song 2- Daughtry, Used To
"Charlotte Bickley? We need to talk to you. About the patient."
The nurse looks at us like he feels sorry for me, for her, for us. For whatever it is we're going through. I know why: we're red-faced and look like we're exhausted. Well, it's not from arguing.
She stiffens beside me. "What is it?"
"The doctor would prefer to talk to you in his room."
We turn into robots and try to ignore all the emotional implications of what's to come, whatever it may be, and effectively detach our brains from our hearts. We go through the motions, right back to where we were when we shouted at each other, no closer to a possible reconcilitation. She nods and pushes away from the ledge of the window. For whatever reason, I follow and exit room 413 with her, aiming for the lounge. That is, until I bump right into her outside the threshold of John's room. "I don't want to go back in there."
I let out a deep breath. It seems like there's a huge schism between what she wants and what she feels she needs to do. "It's okay." Still, she hesitates. That's when I say, "I'll go with you, if you want."
She looks up at me with a shocked expression. "Really? You'd... do that?"
I shrug. I don't know what else to say. Because foolish me wants to help her, even if that inadvertently means I end up helping him. We both step into his room, and I wrap my right arm around her front and rest my right hand on her left shoulder. My other hand is on her left hip. Charlotte leans back against me and she keeps her eyes trained on the ground.
I knew the accident was bad, but it doesn't hit me until now, when I see him. His head is swathed in white, and the only parts of his face which are visible are purple with bruises. He's attached to a respirator, a heart monitor, an IV. Charlotte never once looks up at the form in bed, and I can't blame her. I wish I could look away, but I can't. John is moving. It almost looks like he's vomiting into the air as he reposes on his back, although he's not awake. I don't even like the guy, and this is a hard thing to witness.
The doctor looks at us before she begins. She seems suspicious that I'm here and that Charlotte won't look up. No matter what her reservations may be, she tells us what she believes is going on.
"We think John's beginning the process of trying to gain consciousness. His body's regaining its autonomy, and it seems like he's trying to breathe on his own. We want your permission to take out his endotracheal breathing tube."
"He's waking up?" she asks, looking up but peering at the doctor instead of John. Her hands fold up to rest on my right arm, and her nails scratch lightly on my skin in a nervous motion.
"Well, it's not as simple as that. Recovering from a head injury is a long and arduous process. It's very rare for someone to just spontaneously and totally 'wake up' or become completely conscious in a matter of seconds or even minutes. It can take hours, but usually and more often it takes days or weeks. Sometimes, even years."
"So what does this mean?"
"Well, we think his body's trying to take over its natural functions, that the brain stem is kicking back in. Which is what we want to see. Basically, his lungs are trying to rebel and breath on their own, but the machine isn't letting that happen. If he were fully awake, he'd basically want to rip out the tube himself. Instead, his body is trying to regurgitate and bring it up, because it regards it as a foreign object."
"Then take it out," she says.
The doctor clears her throat and pauses, and that makes us both look at her and wait for what she's going to say now. "Extubation needs to occur at the earliest possible time to prevent complications of having the tube in place for an extended period of time, especially if it's unnecessary. Also, it may shock his body into trying to 'wake up' even more. There's no telling how his body is going to respond.
"However, it's not without its risks. He may not have adequate respiratory muscle strength. Even though he's giving the appearance of being ready to do this, he may or may not be ready to breath on his own, but there's no way to tell unless we try to let him. There is a risk that his body may not get enough oxygen. We'll immediately use a BiPAP face mask to deliver oxygen to his lungs, but there is a chance he'll need to be re-intubated. If his oxygen saturation falls, we'll have to reinsert the tube, which of course comes with its risks.
"So John will need to be closely monitored to make sure there aren't any complications, and then he'll need to be sedated and possibly restrained. Sedation has its risks, too—"
"I'm sorry. I don't understand. What do you want me to do here?"
"We would like your permission to remove his breathing tube, but I need you to understand all the implications of the procedure."
"Do whatever you feel is best," Charlotte says, looking back to the floor.
"I can't. I need your permission, but I need it to be a well-informed decision."
"How am I supposed to make a decision when I just don't care?" she asks to no one. "It sounds like either way, something detrimental could happen," she sighs and closes her eyes altogether. "Go ahead and take it out." Charlotte lets go of my arm and reaches out for the clipboard in the doctor's hand, signing and handing it back to her. She then moves my arms from around her so she can leave the room, leave us here, and head into the lounge again.
The doctor again seems confused by her behavior. "Don't you want to wait and see what happens?"
"Nope," she replies, continuing through the doorway and out into the lounge. "I'm sure you'll let me know." The doctor looks at me, and I shrug and follow Charlotte.
She's pacing the floor, agitated. Confused. And I sit on the couch in the corner and watch. I'm out of things to say to her. Beating her with a two-by-four isn't going to help. Putting additional pressure on her will just make this worse. So I give her space. It's so bizarre to be with her and not touch her. We're always touching; when we're around each other, we're always physically near each other.
After a few minutes, the doctor approaches her. "So far, so good, Charlotte. He's breathing on his own, he is using the BiPAP, and his oh-two stats are steady. This is a very, very good sign. We're going to continue to monitor him for any other signs of change in his condition. I feel like the next few hours will show us how he will continue to progress, if it'll be slow or quick process. In the morning, we'll know a lot more. I hate that I have to keep telling you to wait and see, but...."
Charlotte nods and lets out a breath. She discretely pulls out her phone, turns it on, and types a quick message.
"What are you doing?" I ask.
"Letting Jordan know what's going on." I must have given her a funny look, because she adds, "He's really worried about him. I'm glad to hear this good news, just because that means it'll put his mind at rest."
I keep forgetting about Staalsy. I feel like I have my hands full, so I can't figure out how she can deal with this and still worry about him, too. Then again, I wasn't the one in the driver's seat, so I don't know what it's like to have hit someone and know that he's really hurt. What would it have been like if I were the one behind the wheel? I try to think about it in earnest. After all, I'm the one who said that I wished he would get hit by a bus. I kind of got my wish. But I never wanted this. I didn't think about these possible consequences or repercussions. I just wanted him gone, so Charlotte and I go could back the way things were before Tuesday, before we had that stupid fight and all this drama rained down upon us.
It's the memory of how we were that keeps me going in this situation. That's what makes me want to stick around and see this through and reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Because eventually, we're going to get through this and things are going to go back to how they were before, right?
I think I'm on the edge of two huge epiphanies....
First, our relationship, just a mere week ago, was incredible. It was amazing, and I was loving every minute of it, even when I was away from her. I was ready to give her my everything. Anything she wanted, I was going to make sure it was hers. I was planning on introducing her to my mother. And I'm so close with my family, that I wouldn't even contemplate a move like that if she didn't mean the world to me. If I didn't think she'd fit in or if they wouldn't love her. I wouldn't subject her or my family to such a big, symbolic gesture if I didn't want her to become a part of my family, if I didn't want to spend the rest of my life with her. Epiphany number one: I want to marry this woman. Maybe not tomorrow, or the day after, but someday I'm going to propose to her and I'm going to pray to God that her answer will be yes.
Second, our relationship is going through a downturn. Obviously. That's an understatement. But I want to spend forever with her, and our forever can't always be like this. It can't always be full of drama and heartache and fights and shouting matches. Sure, all relationships are going to have their sour moments, but Charlotte and I have had our sweet ones as well. And those are what I'm looking forward to: the day we're going to get married, the days our children are born, and the hopefully many times I'll get to share winning the Stanley Cup with her. And I can wait out and trudge through these shitty times and stand beside her until they pass, so we can share those happy days. Epiphany number two: I kind of, sorta, understand what she's going through right now.
Charlotte will always be a part of me, and she will always have a piece of me that I can never get back. Everything that Charlotte is to me now, John was once to her. She had their futures planned, so even when their relationship nosedived, she wanted to stick it out. That's exactly what I'm pledging to do now. Our circumstances certainly aren't identical, but I feel like I at least maybe see her point. Even though she told me that she was over him, that she didn't care about him anymore, and that she loved me, he needed someone to look over him right now. This wasn't about what I wanted or what she wanted; it's about a life that requires a little coddling and care, no matter how much I detest him. Now that I'm so sure I will have the rest of my life to love Charlotte, I suppose I can lend him my own personal angel until the morning.
Come morning, though, this twisted, three-way tango is done and over. I may be able to act noble right now, but I'm drawing the line. When Charlotte's responsibilities here dissolve with the arrival of John's sister, I will be her escort out of this hell. That is my one unconditional demand.
I hate having to be the bigger person here. I'm always going the distance, going the extra mile. But, I suppose, that's love. There will come a day when I will need her unquestioning, unwavering, devoted support. Things will even out in the end.
When I look around, Charlotte's no where to be seen. She disappeared while I was lost in thought, but she enters the waiting room shortly after I notice she left. Her hair's pulled back in a messy bun, her glasses are on, and her face is pink from scrubbing. She sets the bag I had brought with me down on the floor. "Thanks again for bringing my things," she says, breaking the silence that had fallen between us.
"You're welcome." I smile at her and add, "I had to risk my life to get those for you. Gina's determined to put me into a bed in this ICU."
"What?" she asks sincerely, completely clueless.
"Well, let's see. First, she tried to bust my knee with a hockey stick. Then," I laugh, "she threatened to run me over with a Zamboni. I didn't have the heart to tell her I could outrun it."
Charlotte bursts into a fit of giggles for several moments before she finally composes herself. "I'm sorry. Gina's a riot. Did she hurt you?"
"Not a scratch," I inform her, and she nods and smiles but doesn't otherwise move. I gesture to the uncomfortable cushion to my left. "Come here."
She bites the inside of her cheek before hesitatingly sitting next to me. I pull her toward me until the lengths of our thighs are touching. She lets out a deep-sounding sigh, rests her head on my shoulder, and places the palm of her right hand over the back of my right hand; my left arm is around her shoulders. "Why did you come back?" she asks, watching her fingers intertwine awkwardly between mine, refusing to look at me. She hates talking about stuff like this, but it will bother her until she gets the answer.
"I don't know. First, Kris lectured me, and then Gina.... And I hated that everyone was painting me as the bad guy. Because I'm not. I'm just mad."
I think about it. Am I mad at her? Or at the situation? "I'm mad at everything. That this happened, that you have to be put through this, that I have to be put through this. I know it's no one's fault, but I'm still angry."
"I'm not gonna lie, Max-A-Million," she whispers, rubbing my hand, "I kinda liked the angry sex. A lot."
I laugh heartily and nuzzle her as I reflect on it. "Me too, baby." My dick immediately starts to get hard and I try to think of something else.
"But I don't want to fight anymore."
"Then it's settled. No more fighting."
Charlotte laughs quietly and disguises her eye roll. "I hope so." She turns her head and looks up at my, examining my face. "You don't have to stay."
"You want me to leave you here?"
"Well, not really. But I don't think it's fair to ask you to stay and sleep on these uncomfortable couches when you don't need to be here."
"What about the morning?"
"Libby's flight arrives at 8:30, so she'll be here by 9:30 as long as there are no delays."
"And your mother?"
Charlotte groans and buries her face back into me. I can't hear what she says, so I ask her to repeat it. "I forgot all about Mommie Dearest. She's scheduled to come in around noon."
"Should we all three go out to lunch?"
"You still want to meet her?" she asks.
"Um, yeah. Don't you want me to?"
"I don't think our relationship can take any more strain right now, and she is a lot of strain. She's going to make things infinitely worse."
"She can't be that bad. You call her Mommie Dearest."
"After the movie. Haven't you ever seen Mommie Dearest?" I shake my head. "It's a bad movie. Not that it's bad, but it's freaky. Not scary, like, it's... just not right." She shivers. "Joan Crawford is the worst mother ever. 'No wire hangers!' My mom's not like that, but she's no June Cleaver either."
"Who are these people? And what do they have to do with hangers? I'm confused. Do I get to meet her or not?"
"If you're sure about this."
"Okay, but you're digging your own grave. This will be a disaster. She's going to hate you. If you want to impress her, I suggest you speak only when spoken to, be on your best behavior, and turn on that charm to the Nth degree. Don't tell her you're a hockey player, and please, dress smart. Not like this," she adds, pulling on my plaid shirt.
"What's wrong with this?"
"It's... flamboyant? Boisterous? It screams for attention. Nothing too bright. Dark, muted colors, perhaps a sweater, and no bummy-looking jeans either. Sophisticated. Wear your glasses—they make you look smart."
"Maybe I should write all this down?" I jokingly ask, smiling at her. This is a lot to take in at once, but she's surely exaggerating because she's nervous and wants me to make a good impression.
"This is going to be bad. I can't believe you're talking me into this. I haven't even told her about you, Max."
"So you dumped your old boyfriend. You were bound to get another one."
"She doesn't even know I'm dating anyone. She's convinced this is some sort of phase, and one day I was going to wake up and run back home to Chicago."
"Well, then, I guess I'm going to convince her it isn't."
She smiles and nestles back down against me. "Good luck with that. Aren't you leaving?" Charlotte doesn't move, so I couldn't even get up if I wanted to.
"I'll wait 'til you fall asleep," I explain, resting my head against the back of the couch as I wait for her breathing to slow and even out. Tomorrow can't be any worse than today; even if it could, that's a risk I'm willing to take.