Soundtrack Song - Kina Grannis, The Goldfish Song
I wake up in the morning, feeling a severe crick in my neck. I straighten myself and rub my nape, trying to ease the tension caused by sleeping with my head resting on Max's shoulder. He's breathing deeply and snoring softly, his head tilted back against the top of the couch. Poor Max hasn't moved since we fell asleep like that last night.
It makes me so happy to see him here with me. I don't know if he just didn't want to leave me, or if he fell asleep and stayed involuntarily. Either way, I don't think I care. I just like that he's here. I'll take it.
I push away from the couch and grab my things and head back into the restroom to wash my face and put my contacts in. I try to brush my hair, but it's hopeless and flat and frizzy all at once, so I pull it back again. I desperately need a shower. It's been over twenty hours since I've been in this damn hospital, and I can't wait to get out of here and get my life back. I brush my teeth, too, and then walk back into the lounge to my sleeping, beautiful boyfriend.
Sitting beside him again, I run my fingers through his hair, lightly scratching his scalp with my fingers. For now, I'm just enjoying watching him sleep. I could do this forever, nothing but this. My touch begins to rouse him, and his eyes flutter open before his head turns to face me. I continue to massage his scalp. "Good morning, Max-A-Million."
"Bon matin," he says, his voice raspy. I love how he sounds in the morning. "What time is it?"
I look up at the clock in the waiting room. "It's stopped at two. I don't think that's right," I say, grabbing his wrist to check his watch. "Hmm. Quarter after nine."
"Thank goodness," Max replies, switching our positions by grabbing my wrist and pulling me toward him. With his lips inches from mine, he adds, "I can't wait for this morning to be over, and then you and I are going home."
"Sounds goo—" I can't finish my comment because he kisses me, and I'm glad I brushed my teeth.
Our moment is disturbed by the call of a voice, of Libby's soft, feminine voice that I haven't heard a long time. There's a twinge of hurt in the way she says my name that makes me feel like I've been caught with my hand in the cookie jar. I break the kiss and slide away from Max a little.
"Hi, Libby," I greet with a blush. I didn't think she'd make it here this soon. I knew it was a Sunday morning, but I didn't think she'd make it here in under an hour.
She's heartbroken enough, knowing that her little brother, her only brother, is a broken and beaten mess somewhere in the hospital, but she's looking at me with sad eyes, making me feel like I caused at least a portion of that emotion. Libby wants to say something to me, but it seems like she's not sure how to begin.
"I can't believe you're.... I mean, John's hurt.... And you're kissing... him? What's going on, Charlotte?"
I divert my gaze to Max and then look back at Libby. Okay, so making out with him in the middle of a hospital may not exactly be appropriate. But I desperately want to just be happy right now, and if kissing Max is going to make me that, I'm sure as hell gonna do it. Still, I shouldn't rub my happiness in her face since she has cause to be upset. I stand. "Sorry. He's in room 417. I'll get the doctor to update you on his condition."
"Don't you know his condition? Why are you out here with him instead of with John? And why are you guys even in Pittsburgh?" There are tears in her eyes, and I feel so bad for her. Libby was never anything but nice to me, but she's looking at me like I'm the scum of the earth right now.
"Lib, I live in Pittsburgh now. And Max is my boyfriend," I explain. I'm not even sure why I'm telling her this.
"What?" Now she's looking at me like I'm crazy. I've been getting a lot of that lately, and quite honestly I'm sick of it.
"I'm sorry, Libby, but I don't know what you don't understand."
"You and John aren't... together... anymore?"
"No," I say, shocked that she didn't know. "We broke up in May. Like, seven months ago. Didn't he tell you?"
"No," she replies, looking devastated. "Every time I asked about you, he'd always just say you were fine. He told me about his promotion, and I thought he was finally going to pop the question. I even asked him when he was going to, and he said that he would once the time was right." She looks at me inquisitively. "Is that why he came here? To propose to you?"
"No," I blurt out immediately, more to try to convince myself of that, because I can't be so sure of that. "He was on a business trip." I ignore the fact that the trip wasn't supposed to start until Monday, and he showed up early to see me.
"Oh," she says, pausing a moment before tearing up and adding, "I feel like I'm losing a sister and a brother."
Libby bursts into sobs, and I embrace her without even thinking. I feel so bad. "He's going to be okay, Lib. You're not going to lose him."
"What happened? I don't even know the details."
"Sounds like his bad ankle gave out on him in a crosswalk, and the driver of the car didn't even see him. And he feels so bad, Libby—"
"You talked to the driver?"
I clear my throat and stop myself from looking at Max, deciding to leave out the tiny little fact that I know the driver. The fact that he's one of my boyfriend's teammates. This situation could only be made worse if it had been Max who had hit John. "He was here after the accident, and he wanted to know if John was going to be okay. He's really distraught and worried."
"Good," Libby says. "Well, no, not good. I just mean, I'm glad he's worried. No, it keeps coming out wrong. It's just that it's easier to forgive the penitent. You say John's going to be okay?"
Now I wish I hadn't've said that, because I don't know. "Well, he's already off the respirator. The doctor said it's a very good sign. Why don't you go see him?"
"Will you come with me?"
"He's only allowed one visitor at a time. And, um, well, I'm going to leave...."
"Why are you leaving?"
"Because I can't stay," I sigh. "Listen, it's not that I don't hope he gets better, because I do. I hope he makes a full recovery and lives a happy life. I just want that happy life to not involve me. John obviously wasn't open with you about what was going on, and I hate to have to say this when he's in this condition. But things weren't good between us anymore, and I don't care about reconciling. I just want to be done with him."
"How can you say that? You were so good together. And you were so good for him."
"But he wasn't any good for me. On the contrary, Lib, he was like a poison. Every time I get him out of my system, he comes back." I feel so bad having to say these things about her injured brother while she's so upset. I hate that John put me in this position of having to clean up his own mess. I can't believe he didn't tell her that we were at least broken up! Even if he didn't want to implicate himself in the break-up, even if he wanted to blame it on all on me and how I wanted to leave, that would have been better than having to do this. I hate him even more for making me look like such a bad person for wanting to leave while he's in this state. I can't believe I ever loved him. "I just can't sit out here anymore. Please understand, Libby."
"I wish Ron could have been able to come down with me, but he couldn't get the time off work and then we would have had to bring little Ronny with us, too."
"My mom's coming down," I say, trying to sound happy for her that she won't be alone. "You know how much she cares about him."
"Oh yeah, I know."
"She's like a third mother to him, after your mother and you, of course."
Libby wipes the corner of her eyes with the back of her hand. "That's not what I meant. I mean, I know your mother's coming down to see John. She was on my flight."
All the blood drains from my face, and even though I've lost all peripheral sight, I feel as Max stands beside me and puts his hand on my back. I think he's worried I'll pass out. "She wasn't supposed to arrive until noon."
"We both had layovers in Detroit. She was able to catch an earlier flight, my flight into Pittsburgh. I left her outside, because she wanted to call you and let you know. But I guess if you're here in the hospital, she wouldn't be able to reach you with your phone turned off."
No. This can't happen. I look like a mess, and my mother will chide me for not looking presentable out in public. Forget that I've been in the hospital, which I didn't even want to be, and couldn't shower. She's also going to be mad that she has tried to call but has been unable to get a hold of me, even though it's because I'm in the hospital so I'm not allowed to have my phone on. Both of these situations could have been avoided if I didn't have to be in the hospital, but then she'd just reprimand me for not being here for John like she feels I should. It's a Catch-22, and I can't win.
Toss in the fact that Max is unshaven and still in that bright, loud shirt, and that the introduction of my boyfriend to my mother is inevitable, and this is going to be downright disastrous. It's a good thing we're in a hospital, because I'm about to have a heart attack or a panic attack. My first instinct is to look for a place to hide—whether that be to hide myself, Max, or us both.
I wonder if I can hide behind one of these horrible couches, or if room 413 is still empty. "No. You're joshing me, right, Libby? You're pulling my chain. Please tell me it's not true."
"She sat in the row behind me on the plane, Charlotte. She's definitely here."
The elevators doors open and reveal my greatest fear: my mother, dressed to the nines, scanning the room as she steps off. I close my eyes and will myself to become invisible or spontaneously combust or implode or something, anything, to avoid this. Unfortunately, it doesn't work as I hear her call my name. "Charlotte!" She's seen me. And I'm fucked.
I look up at Max quickly, and he looks down at me with that broad grin of his plastered on his face. He's turning on the charm and trying to be reassuring, but I realize instantly that he has absolutely no idea what he's just gotten himself into.
"Hi, Mom," I say weakly, trying to smile, but I feel like I'm grimacing. "How was your flight?"
"Awful, of course. You've lost weight, have you been sick? You look like hell."
"No," I sigh, still trying to look like I care about having this conversation but not offering any clarification on how I've been working out and watching what I'm eating, how I'm proud of my achievements, and how I'd look better if I could just go home and clean up.
"Oh. Well, have you gotten any of my messages?"
"No," I repeat. "I've been here since yesterday, so I can't use my cell."
"That's stupid," she blurts out loudly.
"The signals of the phones will mess with the life support machines," I try feebly to explain.
"But what if I needed to reach you? I did need to reach you. With technology today, you'd think they'd find a way to make cell phones work in hospitals. What good are cell phones if you can't use them anywhere?"
"You're right," I say sarcastically. "Cell phones are completely useless."
My mother doesn't pick up on my bitterness. Instead, she focuses on the man beside me, whose hand is still on my back, because honestly no one can miss him in that shirt. "Charlotte, who's this?"
"Oh. Mom, this is—"
"Max Talbot," he interjects, taking her hand his both of his, bringing it to his lips, and kissing the back of it. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mrs. Bickley."
Strike number one: she remarried and changed her name. If Max had let me introduce her properly, he wouldn't have called her that. She pulls her hand out of his grasp and wipes it on her pants. "It's Mrs. Livingston," she replies, looking down her nose at him, inspecting him. "Why are you dressed like that?"
"Mom, that's rude," I say, trying to inject myself back into this situation and gain some kind of control or act as some sort of buffer between them.
Max looks unaffected and quickly tries to think of something. "I lost a bet and had to wear it as a joke," he lies.
"So, you're a gambler?" my mother returns, raising an eyebrow. That's strike two. Now she thinks he's been ensnared in vice and evil.
"I don't make a habit of it, no," he responds, his smile partially fading.
"Are you a friend of John's?" she asks, still wary of him.
"No, Mom," I say, hating the consequences that my next statement will effect. "Max is my boyfriend."
Her lips purse into a thin line as she reinspects him with fresh scrutiny. Strike three.