‘I didn’t kill our daughter!’ he punches her again, the sound of his fist colliding with her joyful face sending shockwaves through me.
‘You did. The moment she got in that car you sent her to her death.’
‘It wasn’t my fault!’ He’s straddling her, trying to control her flailing hands.
‘Carmichael should never have taken our daughter. You should’ve been watching her! I spent five years in a padded cell. I’ve spent twenty years wishing I’d never let you see her. You left me without you, then you killed the only piece of you that I had left! I’ll never let you replace her! No one else gets a piece of you!’
Jesse roars and with a last reinforced swing of his fist, he knocks her out cold. I’m scrambling into a sitting position, watching his whole body convulsing with exhaustion and anger. I heard and fully comprehended every single word that they just shouted at each other, and I’m shocked, but I’m more sad than anything else. Every tiny little piece of pure craziness I have endured since meeting this man has just been justified. All of his overprotectiveness, unreasonable worry, and neurotic behaviour have just been explained. He doesn’t think he deserves happiness, and he has been protecting me. But he’s been protecting me from himself and the darkness of his history. It wasn’t him in that car with Carmichael. It was his daughter. All of the people he has truly loved throughout his life have died tragically, and he thinks he is responsible for each and every one of them. My heart bleeds for this man.
‘Nothing will break us.’ I sob, trying to stand, but not making it past my knees. He thought this would but it won’t. I’m relieved. In fact, every little thing is making perfect sense to me now.
He heaves his tall body up from the floor and turns foggy green, tormented eyes on me. ‘I’m so so sorry.’ His chin is trembling as he starts to walk towards me.
‘It doesn’t matter.’ I assure him. ‘Nothing matters,’ I hold my arms out to him, desperate for him to know that I accept him and his history, no matter how shocking and dark it might be. A sense of serenity travels between our bodies, like a silent, mutual understanding as I wait for him to get to me.
My impatience is growing. He’s taking too long, seeming to get slower and slower with each step he takes until he collapses to his knee on a strangled gasp and clenches his stomach on a hiss. My confused eyes search his face for some clue of what is wrong, but then he pulls his jacket back, revealing a blood soaked shirt and the knife submerged in his side.
‘NO!’ I scream, finding my feet and rushing to his side. My hand hovers over the handle of the knife, not knowing what to do. ‘Oh God! Jesse!’ He falls back, choking, his palm patting at his wound around the blade. ‘Oh God, no no no no no. please no!’
I collapse to my knees, all searing pain in my stomach and across my face being shifted straight to my chest. I’m struggling to breathe. I pull his head up onto my lap and madly stroke his face. His greens are getting heavy. ‘Don’t close your eyes, Jesse.’ I shout, frenzied. ‘Baby, keep your eyes open. Look at me.’
He drags them open, the effort clear. He’s panting, trying to get words out, but I shush him, resting my lips on his forehead, crying hysterically. ‘Ava…’
‘Shhh,’ I gain a second of rationality and start riffling through the inside pocket of his jacket, quickly locating his phone. It takes three scrambled attempts to key in the same number three times, and then I’m screaming down the phone, shouting instructions and begging the woman on the other end to hurry. She tries to calm me down, she tries to give me instructions, but I can’t hear her. I hang up, too distracted by Jesse’s paling face. He looks grey, his body is completely limp and his dry lips are parted, wheezing in shallow breaths. His laboured breathing doesn’t blank out the eerie silence surrounding us, though.
‘Jesse, open your eyes!’ I yell. ‘Don’t you dare leave me! I’ll be crazy mad if you leave me!’
‘I can’t…’ His body jerks as his eyes close.
He opens again and his arm tries in vain to lift, but he gives up, letting it flop back down to the floor. I can’t stand the sound of him struggling to breathe, so I grab his phone and dial my mobile, hearing Angel start from a few feet away. I rock him, unable to control my sobbing. Every time my phone stops, I dial again, repeating over and over and over, the sound of his track dulling down the sound of his raspy wheezes. He’s staring blankly up at me. There’s nothing in his eyes. I search for anything, but there’s nothing.
‘Unbreakable.’ he murmurs, his eyes getting heavy until he loses the battle to keep them open.
‘Jesse, please. Open your eyes,’ I desperately try to part them. ‘OPEN!’ I scream the word at him, but I’m pleading to nothing.
I’m losing him.
And I know this because my own heart in slowing, too.
I haven’t looked into those eyes for two weeks. It’s been the longest two weeks of my life. Any notions of desolation or misery that have come before this point in my life have been trampled all over by the feelings crippling me right now. I’m lost. I’m helpless. I’m missing the most important part of me. My only comfort has come from seeing his peaceful face and feeling his warm skin.
Four days ago, the doctor removed his breathing apparatus. I can see him better now, all bearded and pasty, but he refuses to wake up, even though he surprised them by breathing on his own, albeit shallow and strained. The blade sliced clean through his side, puncturing his stomach, and his lung collapsed during surgery, complicating matters. He has two perfect mars on his perfect torso now, the new one a neat slice, rather than the jagged mess that she made of him the last time. I’ve watched it be re-dressed daily and watched them drain the build-up of blood and nastiness from behind the wound. I’m used to it already, the imperfection a horrid reminder of the worse day of my life, but now another part of him to love.
I’ve not once left his bedside. I’ve showered in seconds when my mum physically put me in there, but each time I’ve made her swear to scream if he stirs. He hasn’t. I’ve been told each day by the same doctor and surgeon that it’s a waiting game. He’s strong and he’s healthy, so he has the best chance, but I can’t see an improvement since they left him to breathe on his own.
Not one hour passes without me begging him to wake up. Not a minute passes without me kissing him somewhere, hoping the feel of my lips on his skin will spark something. It hasn’t. Each day, my heart slows more, my eyes become sorer and my tummy is growing larger. Each time I take a split second to look down at myself, I’m reminded that my babies may never meet their father, and that is an injustice far too cruel to accept.
‘Wake up.’ I demand quietly, my tears beginning to roll again. ‘You stubborn man!’ I hear the door open and turn to see my mum through my hazy vision. ‘Why won’t he wake up, Mum?’
She’s at my side in a second, working around my refusal to move so she can hug me. ‘He’s healing, darling. He needs to heal.’
‘It’s been too long. I need him to wake up. I miss him.’ My shoulders start to shake and my head collapses onto the bed in hopelessness.
‘Oh, Ava.’ My mum is despairing, feeling helpless and useless, but I can’t make anyone else feel better when I’m in desolation myself. ‘Ava, darling, you need to eat.’ she says softly, encouraging me to lift from the bed. ‘Come on now.’
‘I’m not hungry.’ I insist defiantly.
‘I’m making a list of your disobediences, and I’ll be telling Jesse about each and every one of them when he comes round.’ she threatens, her own voice quivering as she presents me with a light boxed salad.
I know I’ll get nowhere refusing this, but the silly notion that eating will please him is the only reason I open the box with one hand and start picking at the cherry tomatoes.
‘Beatrice and Henry have just arrived, darling.’ Mum’s voice is wary, but I’m past the contempt I feel for Jesse’s parents. I have no room for any feelings, except grief. ‘Can they come in?’
I selfishly want to refuse. I want him all to myself, but I couldn’t prevent the papers from splashing the news of a stabbing all over London. News travels fast, even across Europe. They arrived two days after Jesse was admitted, his mum and sister emotional wrecks and his dad just silently looking on. I could detect the regret in his blank face, which is scarily similar to Jesse’s. I heard all of the explanations, but they didn’t really sink in. In the endless, quiet time I’ve had, just sitting here with nothing to do but cry and think, I’ve drawn my own conclusion. My conclusion is simple: Jesse’s own guilt for many tragic things that have happened in his life has pushed his parents away. They may have been a contributing factor, with their pushy ways and demands for his cooperation, but with common sense and knowing my challenging man and now everything else, too, I know his own stubbornness was what essentially caused this rift. By distancing himself from everyone who reminded him of his loses, he thought it would ease the guilt—the guilt he should never have felt in the first place. He didn’t give himself the chance to be surrounded by the people who love him and who could have helped him. He waited for me to do that. And that may have been too late because now he’s lying lifeless and nonresponsive and even though it kills me to think of my life without him in it—a life I might be facing now—I would prefer for him to be alive and well and not know him.
‘Ava?’ my mum’s voice and shoulder rub drags me back into the room which is too familiar to me.
‘Just for a few minutes.’ I agree, giving up on my salad and pushing it away. Mum doesn’t argue with me, nor does she try to negotiate more time for them. I’ve allowed them five minutes here and there, but I’ve not allowed it privately.
‘Okay, darling.’ She disappears from the room and a few moments later, Jesse’s mum, dad and sister quietly enter. I don’t acknowledge them. I keep my eyes on Jesse and my mouth firmly shut as they crowd the bed. His mum starts to weep, and I see Amalie in my peripheral vision comforting her. His dad definitely brushes at his face. Three sets of eyes, all green, all glazed, and all grief stricken, are staring at my lifeless husband.
‘How has he been?’ Henry asks, moving around the bed.
‘The same.’ I answer, reaching up to brush a stray blonde hair from his forehead, just in case it’s tickling him in his sleep.
‘And what about you, Ava? You need to be taking care of yourself.’ He’s speaking softly, but sternly.
‘Will you let us take you for something eat?’ he asks. ‘Not far, just down to the hospital restaurant.’
‘I’m not leaving him.’ I affirm, for the millionth time. Everyone has attempted and everyone has failed. ‘He might wake up, and I won’t be here.’
‘I understand.’ he soothes me. ‘Perhaps we can bring you something, then?’
He must have spotted the salad, but he’s trying anything, his concern genuine, but not wanted. ‘No, thank you.’
‘Ava, please.’ Amalie presses, but I ignore her plea and shake my head, digging my stubborn heels in. Jesse would force feed me, and I wish he could.
I hear a collective sigh, then the door opens and the night shift nurse enters, pulling the familiar trolley, loaded with a blood pressure machine, thermometer and endless other equipment to check his stats.
‘Good evening,’ she smiles warmly. ‘How is this fine specimen of a man today?’ She says the exact same thing every time she starts her shift.
‘He’s still asleep.’ I tell her, shifting only a little to give her access to Jesse’s arm.