‘Let’s see what’s going on.’ She takes his arm and loads his bicep with the material band before pressing a few buttons and triggering the automatic inflation of the device. Leaving it to do its job, she takes his temperature then checks the printout from his heart monitor and notes down all of her findings. ‘Just the same. You have a strong, determined man, sweetheart.’
‘I know.’ I agree, praying for his continued endurance. He’s no better, but he’s no worse either, and I have to hang on to that. It’s all I have. The nurse injects some medication into the driver on his arm before changing his catheter bag and drip, then collecting her things and leaving the room quietly.
‘We’ll leave you in peace,’ Henry pipes up. ‘You have my number.’
I nod my acknowledgment and let them all attempt to rub some comfort into me, then watch as they take turns kissing Jesse, his mum going last and spilling tears on his face. ‘I love you, son.’ she murmurs, almost like she doesn’t want me to hear, like she thinks I’ll condemn her for having the cheek. I would never. Their anguish is enough of a reason to accept them. My mission is to restore Jesse’s life to what it should be. I’ll do anything, but I don’t know if he’ll be around to accept it and appreciate it.
More tears fall.
I look up and watch them filter out, passing Kate, Sam, Drew and John at the door. Civil hellos and goodbyes are exchanged, and I can’t help the tired sigh that slips from my mouth at the arrival of more people. I know they are all just worried about Jesse and me, but the effort to answer questions when I’m asked is energy I just don’t have.
‘You good, girl?’ John rumbles, and I nod, even though I’m clearly not, but it’s easier to let my head fall up and down rather than from side to side.
I look up and offer a small smile, noticing the bandage from his head has been removed. He beat himself up for days, but what could he do when Ruth Quinn’s lover, Casey, called him down under false pretences and caught him off guard, clouting him around the head with an iron bar as he exited the elevator?
‘I’m not staying.’ John continues. ‘I just wanted you to know that they both appeared in court today and both have been remanded.’
I should be pleased, but I can’t even find the strength to be that. I’ve answered endless questions that have been thrown at me by the police, and Steve has been a regular, keeping me up-to-date on their findings. It’s pretty simple. Ruth, or Lauren, is the psychotic, ex-wife of Jesse, and Casey is her pussy whipped lover, who did exactly what she asked in an attempt to please her. ‘Okay,’ I look up, registering four more sets of eyes, all sympathetic. I’m sick of seeing it. ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but I don’t have the ener…’ My voice trails off, my spare hand reaching up to dab at my sore eyes again.
‘Ava, go home, have a shower and get some sleep.’ Kate pulls a chair up next to mine and drapes her arm around my shaking shoulders. ‘We’ll stay. If he wakes, then I’ll call you immediately. I promise.’
I shake my head. I wish they would all give up. I’m going nowhere unless Jesse is with me.
‘Come on, Ava. I’ll take you.’ Drew volunteers, stepping forward.
‘There, see.’ Sam joins the persuasion party. ‘We’ll stay and Drew can take you home for a while.’
‘No!’ I shrug Kate off. ‘I’m not fucking leaving, so just stop it!’ I look straight to Jesse, waiting for my scorn, but nothing. ‘Wake up!’
‘Okay,’ Kate treads gently. ‘We’ll stop, but please eat, Ava.’
‘Kate,’ I sigh tiredly, trying my hardest not to lose my temper. ‘I’ve eaten some salad.’
‘Fine,’ She stands, clearly frustrated, and returns to the others. ‘I don’t know what else to do.’ She steps into Sam’s arms when he opens them. Drew looks at me sorrowfully, and I’m reminded that he must be having a tough time himself at the moment, dealing with a woman who used him to try and trap my husband. I’ve heard the odd word from Kate when she’s tried to distract me with conversation, but I don’t know the full story. I do know that Drew has committed himself to the situation, though. Not to Coral, just the baby, a commendable thing to do, given how she’s deceived him.
‘We’ll go,’ John prompts, turning to the others and virtually pushing them from the room. I’m grateful, just managing to be courteous enough to croak a goodbye before returning all of my attention to Jesse.
My head rests back down on the bed, and I fight the heaviness of my eyes for the longest time until my defiance fails me and they slowly close, sending me to a land where I’m refusing to do anything he asks me, just so he resorts to his touching tactics. And he’s touching me now, his big palm circling my messy, naturally dried hair, but in my dream I look perfect, not tired, pale and scruffy in my lounge pants and one of his worn t-shirts, the one that I told my mum to retrieve from the laundry basket and which I’ve not replaced in all the time I’ve been here.
I’m in a happy place, reliving every moment with this man, all of the laughter, passion and frustrations. Every word exchanged and every touch between us is on replay through my mind. Each second, each step we’ve taken together and each time our lips have met. I don’t miss a moment. His tall, lean body rising from his desk the first time I met him, his beauty growing with every pace he took towards me until his scent saturated me when he leaned in to kiss me. And his potent touch which sparked the most incredible feelings within me. It’s vivid, it’s clear and it’s blissful. From the moment I stepped into that office, I was destined to be with this man.
‘My beautiful girl is dreaming.’
I don’t recognise the voice, but they are his words, so I know it’s him. I want to answer him, take my opportunity to tell him so many things, yet my desperation still doesn’t help me find my voice. So I settle for the lingering echo of his words and his continued touch, which is now gently caressing my cheek.
A loud bleeping sound stuns me from my happy slumber and my head flies up hopefully, but I find his eyes are still closed and his hands are where I’ve held them—one in mine and the other draped lifelessly by his side. I’m disorientated and wincing at the screaming noise, which I soon realise is his drip, shouting that he’s out of fluids. Pulling myself up, I reach up to call the nurse, but jump when I hear a muffled moan. I don’t know why I jump, it’s low and quiet, not at all fright worthy, but my heart is racing, anyway. I watch his face closely, thinking that perhaps I’ve imagined it.
But then his eyes move under his lids and my heart rate increases further. I want to pinch myself to ensure that I’m not still asleep, and I think I actually do because I definitely feel a harsh little stab of pain, even through the numbness of my grief.
‘Jesse?’ I whisper, dropping his hand in favour of his shoulder so I can shake him a little, which I know I shouldn’t be doing. He moans again and his legs shift under the thin cotton sheet. He’s waking up. ‘Jesse?’ I should be calling the nurse, but I don’t. I should be shutting that machine up, but I don’t. I should be talking quietly, but I’m not. ‘Jesse!’ I shake a little more.
‘Too loud.’ he complains, his voice broken and dry, his eyes going from relaxed closed to clenched closed.
I reach over him and punch the button on the machine to shut it up. ‘Jesse?’
‘What?’ he grumbles irritably, lifting his hand to clench his head. Every fear and grief stricken emotion flows freely from my body and light engulfs me. Bright light. Hopeful light.
‘Open your eyes,’ I demand.
‘No, it fucking hurts.’
‘Oh God.’ My relief is incredible, almost painful, as it courses like lightening through my depleted body, bringing me back to life. ‘Try.’ I beg. I need to see his eyes.
He groans some more, and I can see him struggling to follow through on my unreasonable order. I don’t relent, doing the kind thing of telling him to stop. I need to see his eyes.
And there they are.
Not as green or addictive, but they have life in them and they are squinting, adjusting to the subtle glow of light in the room. ‘Fucking hell,’
I’ve never been so pleased to hear two words. It’s Jesse and it’s familiar. I stupidly dive on him, kissing his bearded face and only stop when he hisses in pain. ‘Sorry!’ I blurt, pushing myself away and causing him more discomfort.
‘Fucking hell, Ava.’ His face screws up, his eyes closing again.
‘Open your eyes!’
He does, and I’m beyond thrilled to see him scowling at me. ‘Then stop fucking inflicting pain on me, woman!’
I don’t think I’ve ever felt so happy. He looks terrible, but I’ll take him whichever way he comes. I don’t care. He can keep the overgrown facial hair. He can swear at me every second of every day. ‘I thought I’d lost you.’ I’m sobbing again as overpowering relief takes hold and my cheeks fall into palms to conceal my wrecked face.
‘Baby, please don’t cry when there’s fuck all I can do about it.’ I hear his shifting body, followed by a string of bad language. ‘Fuck!’
‘Stop moving!’ I scorn him, wiping my sniffling face before pushing lightly on his shoulders.
He doesn’t argue with me. He relaxes back into his pillow on an exhausted sigh, then lifts his arm and focuses on the needle hanging out, before taking a confused glance around at all of the machinery surrounding him. I see understanding settle across his face and his head whips up, his eyes wide and frightened. ‘She hurt you.’ he blurts, struggling to sit up, hissing and wincing as he does. ‘The babies!’
‘We’re okay,’ I assure him, forcing him back down to the bed. It’s hard. His sudden realisation had injected some strength into him. ‘Jesse, we’re all okay. Lay down.’
‘You’re okay?’ His hand lifts and feels its way through thin air until he finds my face. ‘Please tell me you’re okay.’
‘And the babies?’
‘I’ve had two scans.’ I rest my hand over his and help him feel me. It relaxes him completely, my words assisting, too. His eyes close, making me want to prod him to open, but I let him rest them. ‘I should call the nurse.’
‘No, please. Let me wake up before they start poking me about.’ His hand slides from my cheek to the nape of my neck and he applies a light pressure, silently telling me to come closer.
‘I don’t want to hurt you.’ I protest, pulling against him, but his face strains and his strength increases. ‘Jesse.’
‘Contact. Do what you’re told.’ he snaps drowsily. Even now, when he’s clearly in tremendous pain, he’s impossible.
‘Are you in much pain?’ I ask, lowering myself gently to his side.
‘I need to get the nurse.’
‘Soon. I’m comfy.’
‘No you’re not.’ I almost laugh, working around his wound to gently rest against him. I’ll give him five minutes, then I’m getting the nurse, and there is nothing he can do to stop me—literally, for once.
‘I’m glad you’re still here,’ he murmurs, using more valuable energy to turn his face into mine and kiss me. ‘I’d have given up if I didn’t constantly hear your defiant voice.’
‘You could hear me?’
‘Yes, it was strange and fucking annoying when I couldn’t tell you off. Will you ever do what you’re told?’ There is no humour in his tone. It makes me smile.
‘Thought not,’ he sighs. ‘I have some explaining to do.’