Falling into you, p.22
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       Falling into You, p.22

         Part #1 of Falling series by Jasinda Wilder
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“She’s alive, yes. Unconscious, but alive. ”

  “So much blood…” I stumble backward, fall to my ass on a couch, hit the edge and tumble to the floor as if drunk.

  “She’s hemorrhaging pretty bad, but the doctors will be able to stop it, I’m sure. ”

  I don’t hear anything else. I’m back in time, back in a hospital in Harlem and a doctor is explaining something to me, but I don’t hear him either, since I tuned out after the words lost the baby. I’m back on the cold tile of the hospital waiting room, sobbing. India…dead. She never told me. Or she didn’t know she was pregnant. Either way, she’s gone, and so is the baby I never even knew about.

  Hands move me, push me, pull me. Peel my sopping shirt off, wipe my torso with a hot, damp towel. I let them. I’m in so many places. Torn, mixed, shredded, broken.

  Another baby I never got to know or hold, gone. I would have been there. But I never go the chance. No one asks me what I want. Just assumes because I’m a thug who can’t read that I wouldn’t want a baby.

  Not fair, though. India didn’t get a chance either. Maybe she would have told me. Let me be a father. We talked about kids, India and I. She wanted them. I kept quiet and let her talk, didn’t tell her what I thought. Didn’t tell her I would have loved the child and let him be whoever he wanted to be, even if he couldn’t read. It’s all I wanted, all my life, and never got.

  And now it’s been taken from me again.

  Sudden rage burns through me, white hot, blasting and beyond powerful.

  It’s not f**king fair.

  I’m not me, suddenly. I’m an observer watching as someone who looks like me heaves to his feet, picks up the nearest object—a heavy, thickly-padded leather armchair—and heaves it through the sliding door. Glass shatters, scatters, the frame cracks.

  Familiar yet foreign hands touch my shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, Colton. ” My father’s voice, murmuring low in my ear. “Just calm down. ”

  But he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know jack-shit about my life or anything I went through. I shove him away and stalk out the front door. My rental has been moved, and I climb behind the wheel. Jim Hawthorne slides in next to me.

  “Sure you should be driving, son?” His voice is carefully neutral.

  “I’m fine. And I’m not your f**king son. ” I’m not fine, but it doesn’t matter.

  I force myself to drive halfway normally to the hospital. Before I can get out of the car, though, Jim puts his hand on my forearm.

  “Wait a sec, Colt. ”

  I know what this is about. “Not the time, Jim. ”

  Page 62

 

  “It is the time. ” His fingers tighten on my arm, and I’m close to ripping his hand off, but don’t. He’s not afraid of me, but he should be. “She’s my daughter. My only child. ”

  I hang my head, drawing deep on my tapped-out reserves of calm. “I love her, Jim. I swear to you on my f**king soul, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have let her go anywhere alone if I’d known. She…she ran. She was scared. ”

  “How could you put her in that position after what she went through?” He’s hurt too, scared and angry.

  I get it.

  “We were getting through it. Together. Things between us just happened, and I’m not gonna f**king explain shit to you right now, or ever. She’s an adult, she made her choice. We’re good for each other. ” I force my eyes to his, and damn it if his eyes don’t look so much like hers it hurts. “I’ll take care of her. Now and always. ”

  He doesn’t answer, just sits and stares at me, eyes boring into me. I see the father in him, but I also see the shrewd businessman, the piercing, searching eyes of a man used to judging character quickly and accurately.

  “She may be an adult, but she’s still my baby. My little girl. ” His voice goes deep and low and threatening. “You better take care of her. She’s been through enough. Now this? You goddamn better take care of her. Or I swear to god I’ll kill you. ”

  It’s a threat he didn’t need, but I understand him. I meet him stare for stare, let him see a bit of the darker side of me. The thug who learned early on never to back down, ever, for anyone. He nods, after a long time. I get out and enter the hospital, ask the desk nurse for her room number.

  One-four-one. The ICU.

  My boots squeak on the tile. Antiseptic tang stings my nostrils. A vaguely female-sounding voice squawks indistinctly on the PA. A young brunette in maroon scrubs hustles past me, tablet computer in her hands.

  Then I’m counting rooms, one-three-seven, one-three-nine…one-four-one. The curtain is drawn. A monitor beeps steadily. I pause at the split in the curtain, my hand on the fabric, shaking.

  An older, stick-thin woman with pale blond hair pulled up in a severe bun appears next to me. “She’s asleep right now. They ran a few tests, and they’re going to do more later. ”

  “She still bleeding?”

  “She’s not hemorrhaging anymore, but yes, she’s still bleeding. ” She looks up at me, tapping the chart against her palm. “You’re the father?”

  I nearly choke at the term. “I’m her boyfriend, yes. ” My voice is low, nearly a whisper.

  She realizes her gaffe. “I—I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me. ” She pushes past me. “You can go in with her, but let her sleep. ”

  God, she’s white as snow. So frail looking, like this. Tubes in her nose, needles in her wrist.

  I sit. And sit. And sit. I don’t talk to her because I don’t know what to say.

  They come and wheel her bed away while she’s still asleep. Unconscious, not asleep. Don’t need any euphemisms. Will she wake up? They won’t say, which tells me maybe not.

  I end up in the chapel, not to pray, but to feel the silence, to be away from the smell of the hospital, the stench of sickness and death, the sounds of the sneakers on tile and echoing voices and beeping monitors. Away from the faces like mine, serious, sad, concerned, afraid.

  The stained glass gleams purple and red and blue and yellow, depicting something I don’t care to know about. The cross is huge and empty and mud-brown wood, machine-tooled.

  My dad finds me in the chapel, and he has my first guitar in his hand. Battered, scratched case, no-name brand, tan wood and steel strings, left behind along with all my other shit. I don’t know why he brought the guitar, but I’m grateful.

  We’re alone in the chapel. He doesn’t look at me when he speaks. “I owe you a lifetime of apologies, Colt. You’re a good man. ”

  “You don’t know me, Dad. You never have. You don’t know the shit I done. ”

  “I know. But you’re here, and you clearly love her. You’ve made it on your own, without any help from us. We should’ve been there for you, but we weren’t. So…I’m sorry. ”

  I know how much it took for him to say that, but it’s nowhere near enough. It’s a start, though. “Thanks, Dad. I wish you’d said that to me a long time ago, but thanks. ”

  “I know it doesn’t make up for how we treated you growing up, for letting you go off on your own like we did. You were too young, but I just—I was—”

  “Focused on your career, and your golden child. ” I scrub my hair with my palm. “I get it. I don’t want to talk about this shit. It’s over and done and old news. I’m here for Nell, not to mend fences broken decades ago. ”

  I click open the case and lift the guitar out. It’s hideously out of tune. I flip open the little cubby in the case where the neck sits, pull out a packet of strings. I busy myself restringing the guitar, tuning it. Dad just watches, lost in thoughts, or memories, or regrets.

  I honestly don’t give a f**k which.

  He leaves, eventually, without a word.

  Then I start playing. The music just comes out unbidden, like a river. I’m hunched over my guitar, siting on a hard pew in the middle of the chapel, staring at my scuffed, oil-stained Timberland boots. I’m sing
ing under my breath, and I’m lost in the songwriting haze, where the music is a flood taking me over, searing the words and the melody into me.

  “Mr. Calloway?” A timid female voice comes from the door of the chapel. I turn my head slightly to acknowledge her. “Ms. Hawthorne is awake. She’s asking for you. ”

  I nod, pack up my guitar and carry it as I follow the nurse back to the room.

  She’s biting her lip when I walk in, scratching at her cut-scars with a forefinger. I pull the hard plastic visitor’s chair next to the bed and take her fingers in my huge paw. Kiss her palm, each knuckle. Try not to cry like a f**king girl again.

  She looks at me and her eyes are red-rimmed, gray-green, so beautiful and so broken. “Colt—Colton. I—”

  I touch her lips. “Sshh. I love you. Always. ”

  She still sees through me. “You’re not okay either, are you?”

  I shake my head. “No, not really. ” I see the question in her eyes, so I sigh and tell her the story. “I told you about India, how she died. ”

  “Yeah?” She’s hesitant, as if she can guess where this is going.

  Page 63

 

  “I was at the hospital, because some of my boys were hurt in the whole mess and I had to see to them. Make sure everyone was okay. Somehow one of the nurses knew me, knew I was with India. I think she lived in the same building as India or something. ” I have to breathe deeply to keep my voice steady, even after all these years. “She told me…god—shit. She—she told me India was pregnant when she died. I didn’t even know. I don’t know if India knew. She wasn’t far, just like six weeks or something. But…yeah. Pregnant. I never even got to…she never got the chance to tell me. ”

  “Oh god, Colton. I’m so sorry. I’m—oh my god, Colton. ”

  “Yeah. ” I can’t look at her, can only stare intently at my grease-stained fingernails. “I understand why you ran, Nell. I do. Just—just promise you won’t run from me ever again. You have to f**king promise me. Especially for shit like that. I know I’m—I know I’m just an illiterate greasemonkey, but I can take care of you. I can love you and if you—if we—if…I’d take care of you, no matter what. ”

  She sobs. “Oh god, Colton. That’s not why I ran. You’re so much more than an illiterate greasemonkey, Colton. You’re not a thug. You’re not any of the things you think you are. You’re so much more. I was scared. I panicked. ” She tries to breathe through the tears. “I shouldn’t have. I’m so sorry. It’s my fault, Colton. I shouldn’t have left, I shouldn’t have been running, I should have—”

  I squeeze her hand hard. “No, Nell. No. Don’t you f**king dare. This isn’t your fault. ”

  A doctor comes in at that moment. “I couldn’t help overhearing,” he says. He’s middle aged, Indian, exuding practiced compassion and efficiency. “It is not your fault in any kind of way, Nell. Such things sometimes happen and we have no way of knowing the why, no way of preventing it. ” His gaze and his voice go intensely serious. “You must not fall victim to blaming yourself. The fact that you were running at the time did not cause the miscarriage. Nothing you did do or did not do caused it. It simply happened and it is no one’s fault. ”

  She nods at him, but I can tell she’s going to blame herself anyway. The doctor tells her to rest and that they’re holding her overnight for observation. When he’s gone I stand up and lean over her and kiss her as gently as I can.

  “Please don’t take this on yourself, Nelly-baby. You heard the doctor. It just happened. ”

  “I know. I know. I’m trying. ” She glances at my guitar case. “Play something for me, please. ”

  “What do you want to hear? Something happy?” I take the guitar out and settle it on my knee.

  She shakes her head. “No, just…something. Whatever you want. Play a song that means something to you. ”

  I start with “Rocketship” by Guster, because that song has always struck a chord with me. I listened to that song all the time, on repeat. I’d play it over and over and over again, almost as much as my lullaby to myself. The idea of a rocketship taking me away, bound for something new…yeah. I could identify.

  I feel people behind us, but I don’t care. Let them listen.

  “Play something else,” Nell says. “Anything. ”

  I sigh. “I wrote a song while you were sleeping. It’s…a goodbye, I guess you could say. ”

  “Play it. Please. ”

  “We’re both gonna cry like f**king babies,” I say.

  “Yeah, I know. Play it anyway. ”

  I nod, strum the opening chords. It’s a simple song, almost a lullaby. I sigh, close my eyes and let it all come out.

  “You’ve never had a name.

  You’ve never had a face.

  A thousand breaths you’ll never take

  Echo in my mind,

  My child, child, child.

  The questions blink like stars,

  Numberless in the night sky.

  Did you dream?

  Did you have a soul?

  Who could you have been?

  You’ve never known my arms,

  You’ve never known your mother’s arms,

  My child, child, child.

  I’ll dream for you,

  I’ll breathe for you,

  I’ll question God for you,

  I’ll shake my fists and scream and cry for you.

  This song is for you,

  It’s all I’ve got.

  It doesn’t give you a name.

  It doesn’t give you a face.

  But it’s all I’ve got to give.

  All my love is in these words I sing,

  In each haunted note from my guitar,

  My child, child, child.

  You’re not gone,

  Because you never were.

  But that doesn’t mean

  You passed unloved.

  It doesn’t mean you’re forgotten,

  Unborn child, child, child.

  I bury you

  With this song.

  I mourn you

  With this song. ”

  The last note hangs in the air. Nell is sobbing into her hands. I hear a choked cough from behind me, turn to see a crowd around the door, nurses, doctors, orderlies, patients and visitors, all of them clearly affected. My cheeks are wet and my eyes sting. For once, I let it out, let myself be weak.

  Nell scrambles off the bed, wires and tubes tripping her, and crawls onto my lap. I cradle her into me, hold her against me, and we cry together. I comfort her the only way I know: with my silence, my arms, my lips on her skin. There aren’t words for this, and the ones I did have, I sang.

  Chapter 15: A Song of Single Breaths

  Two and a half weeks later

  Water chucks and laps against the dock pilings. The moon is missing a sliver from the side, and gleams silver on the black ripples of the lake. We’re back where we started, on the dock, a bottle of Jameson and my guitar.

  She’s sitting on the edge, pants rolled up to her knees, feet kicking in the blood-warm water. I’m playing “Don’t Drink the Water” by Dave Matthews Band, and she’s just sitting, listening. I’m leaning back against the corner post, one foot in the water, the other across her thighs. She’s rubbing my calf with her fingers, staring at the water. We haven’t said much since we came down here at midnight, two hours ago. We’re both kind of sloppy, and the loose numbness is welcome.

  There’s been a lot of hospital visits to make sure she’s fine, long-term, physically, plus a whole lot more therapy appointments and grief counseling and all sorts of other long-past due shit. I’ve been staying with my parents, talking to my dad. I haven’t told him much, but enough for him to understand a little of what I went through. He hasn’t apologized again, which is probably good since apologies don’t mean shit, but I can tell he’s trying, with me. Whatever. One day at a time, and don’t hold grudges.
That last part is hard.

  Page 64

 

  Nell is…not okay, but getting there. I’m not okay, but I’m getting there.

  And now we’re drunk and alone on the dock.

  “Don’t Drink the Water” turns into “Blackbird” and I’m not sure if I’m doing Sarah McLachlan’s version or Paul McCartney’s, but it doesn’t matter. I’m singing it, and the words have never meant so much. It’s not really an epiphany, just a knowledge that we’ll be okay, somehow, someday.

  She hears what I’m saying behind the song. She turns and looks at me and her eyes are bright in the moon-silver darkness.

  “You were only waiting for this moment to arise…” She sings the last line with me. “God I love that song. How’d you know?”

  I shrug and set the guitar aside. “I didn’t, really. I just knew, because it’s always meant a lot to me, and now more than ever. ”

  “Are we?”

  “Are we what?”

  She slides closer to me until her back is to my front. “Waiting for this moment?”

  I give a kind-of laugh. “I’m not sure what you’re asking, but I’m gonna go with yes. There’s been a lot of heavy shit in our lives. And this…this latest business has been hell. ” I still can’t even say the word for what happened; it’s too hard. “But we have to learn to be free. We have to, Nell. Doesn’t mean happy all the time, or okay all the time. It’s okay not to be okay. I told you that, but I’m relearning it myself. But not being okay doesn’t mean you stop living. ”

  She leans back, tilts her head to press her lips to mine. She tastes of Jameson, and the lemon-lime tang from the Sprite she’s chasing it with. Whiskey and Sprite? Blech. But she likes it, so whatever. She tastes like Nell, and that’s all that matters.

  Her tongue sweeps my mouth, and I realize where she’s going with this. Her hand lifts to brush the back of my head, cup my nape and pull me against her. My fingers trail across her belly, find the gap between her shirt and pants, touch the silky heat of her skin. I tug the shirt up, and she pushes away from me so I can pull it free. We came down to the dock late at night, after she’d taken a shower, so she’s not wearing a bra. I like it. I can smooth my palms across her belly, up her ribs, slide my fingers around her taut nipple and cup the heavy weight of her breast. She moans into my mouth, and I know she needs this.

  I do too.

  I kiss her, explore her mouth, relearn the curve of her hips and the swell of her br**sts and the shower-damp curls of her hair. She kisses me, lets me touch her. Each caress brings her healing, I think. Shows her she’s more than the sum of her grief.

  It does the same for me.

  Finally, she twists in place and we slide so the dock is beneath my back and she’s pillowed on top of me, body pressed flush to body, softness merging with hardness. She lets all her weight rest on me, cradles my face in her hands and kisses me into oblivion, and sweet Jesus, her mouth is my heaven.

  Nell

  I didn’t realize how badly I craved this until his hands came up over my thighs to knead the muscle of my ass. Up until that point, kissing him was just…sweet and perfect and all the things I needed to forget. But then, something in the way his fingers dug hungrily into my backside unleashed a need inside me.

  I need him. I mean, yeah, emotionally, mentally, I need him too. He’s my rock. He’s there, just…always there, exactly how I need him. Calming, comforting, protecting, and distracting me. But this…I have to have his arms around me, his hands on me, his fingers blazing a trail of heat on my skin and his mouth wreaking wonderful havoc on my senses. I absolutely cannot live without that another minute. It’s a madness in me.

 
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