The Forever Series - 2
For all the couples who declared their love to each other in the final pages of this book
I could hear the beep of a heart monitor, and my first thought was — Finn is still alive.
I forced my eyes open, thinking maybe, somehow, I had moved backward into my past. Even if it might be a dream, I’d take it, anything to have another moment where my baby was still with me, still in this world.
But when my surroundings came into focus, I realized we were not in an NICU, nor was I waking in my own bed. The hospital room was gray-walled and sterile, and the rails by my shoulder could only mean that I was the patient.
Something creaked, and I turned my head. A thousand painful shards shot through my neck and up into my skull. Gavin slept slumped over in a chair, the footrest kicked out. He looked bedraggled, his black hair spiking up every direction, the scruff on his jaw even longer than usual. He was perfect. My eyes sparked with tears, pinpricks that magnified the pain in my temple. He was here. Finn was still gone, but Gavin was back.
I closed my eyes again, and the ache eased enough that I could sort through my last memories. The beach. Walking with my friend Jenny. Her crazy green coat that made her look like a frog.
And Gavin. He’d told me about getting a vasectomy after the baby’s funeral. How much he’d hurt.
We both hurt so much. That’s why I’d walked into the frigid sea, not caring anymore.
But he’d saved me. Pulled me from the water like I was meant to be reborn.
Footsteps approached. “Did she wake up?” a woman asked.
The chair creaked again. “I don’t know,” Gavin said.
I opened my eyes once more, trying to accept the pain. A nurse in blue scrubs leaned over my bed, her merry weathered face topped with a riot of gray curls. “Well, lookie there, Miss Corabelle has brown eyes.”
Gavin jumped from the chair, his face lining up beside hers. “You’re awake, baby. We’ve been so worried.”
I wanted to talk, but my throat was raspy and dry. The painful need to cough seared my chest, which felt heavy and stiff.
“Let me get you some water,” the nurse said and turned away.
Gavin grasped my hand and pulled it to his chest. “You got pneumonia. You had fluid in your lungs from—”
He fell silent when the nurse returned, and I washed over with relief. If he wouldn’t talk about it, then no one knew I had gone into the waves intentionally. I wouldn’t have to suffer through the attention, the concern, not until I was ready to admit I might have a problem. Maybe no one would ever have to know but Gavin.
The nurse pressed a button, and a motor hummed as my shoulders rose a few degrees. The blood drained from my head, and a lightness came over me, sending my vision to black and white. The feeling was comfortable, a dark place I went often when I needed escape and going unconscious was my way out. But today I didn’t want it and squeezed Gavin’s hand as though I could pull his strength into me.
“Stay with us, Corabelle,” the nurse said. “Don’t make me break out the smelling salts.” She lifted a straw to my mouth. “Crazy thing, going swimming when it’s forty degrees out. Young kids in love.” She smiled over at Gavin as I tried to suck and swallow. The water was cool and soothing and I wanted more of it, an endless amount, but she pulled the cup away. “Take it slow, honey. You’ve been getting it through your veins for two days.”
I felt something strange against my thigh and realized I had a tube taped to my leg. A catheter! One hand was heavy and I lifted it to examine the IV running up to a bag on a silver stand. I turned to Gavin for confirmation, and he nodded, his lips tight. “We knew you’d pull through.”
I opened my mouth, but as soon as I tried to use my voice, a cough came over me, weak and pitiful but sending another shower of pain through my head. I sucked in air, trying to breathe normally. The nurse held my arm. When it all calmed again, I managed to squeak out, “Do my parents know?”
Gavin squeezed my hand. “They took a flight this morning. They’ll be here very soon.”
“Did you call them?” My voice sounded foreign, like it was passing over sandpaper. Each breath was painful, as though I had to wrench my chest wide to let in air.
Gavin nodded, his face heavy with concern. “That first night, when we realized you were staying. They couldn’t get out yesterday. No flights.”
The nurse pulled a thermometer from her pocket and sheathed it in plastic. “I actually get to take this the old-fashioned way now.” She stuck it between my lips.
My parents’ arrival worried me more than anything that had happened to me. How would my parents feel seeing Gavin again? He left the day of our baby’s funeral, and I had not told them that we were seeing each other again after a four-year separation. I didn’t know if they’d be supportive or cautious. They were not invasive parents, and we only talked a couple times a month. But they were protective. Gavin’s sudden departure had been hard on all of us.
“Excuse me a second, sweetheart.” The nurse stepped between us, and Gavin had to let go of my hand.
The thermometer beeped, and the nurse took it, squinted at the number, and jotted it on her iPad. “Still a little high, but nothing like what we had yesterday. We could have fried eggs on your belly button.”
I wanted to shake my head, but even the subtle shift of lowering my chin after she took my temperature sent pain spiking behind my eyes. “Am I taking pain meds?” I asked.
“Got some aches, do you?” she asked. “That would be expected.”
“I’ll get you something for that.” She inflated the blood pressure cuff, and I watched Gavin pace in a tight circle between the door and his chair.
The nurse tugged the cuff off. “I’ll be back in a minute with something for you.”
The minute she left, Gavin rushed to the bed and bent over me, holding my face with both hands. “Oh my God, Corabelle, you scared the shit out of me.”
“Do you remember going into the water?”
“And I got you out.”
“Yes, in the sand.”
“Jenny called an ambulance.”
“I remember that.” My head was exploding with pain, so I relaxed back against the pillow.
He settled on the edge of the bed. “You seemed fine at first, but they wanted to keep you overnight.”
I thought back. Yes, I could recall now being put in a room.
“You got very sick during the night and they had to suction one of your lungs.”
I had no recollection of that, thankfully. I closed my eyes, reveling in the relief from fighting against the pain of the light. I focused on taking several calming breaths. “Have they asked why I was in the water?”
“I wouldn’t tell them anything. I didn’t know what you wanted to say.”
“Does it matter?”
“A social worker was here. Tall woman with weird glasses.”
I swallowed, my throat a little more soothed after the drink, but achy and hot. Still, we had so much terrain to cover. His vasectomy. My guilt. I wasn’t sure how we could go back to that place where we’d drawn a line in the sand and stepped away from our tragic past. Or if we should.
“I don’t want them to admit me to psych,” I said.
“You think they’ll do that?”
I shrugged my shoulders, sending another shower of pain up my neck. I really needed to sleep again, but I fought it. I didn’t want to be here. I wanted to go home, to my own apartment with the butterflies fluttering outside my window and the hula-girl lamp undulating with light.
Gavin’s phone beeped, so I opened my eyes. “Where’s my phone?” I asked.
He reached beside the bed to open a drawer, pulling out a plastic bag filled with rice. “We’re trying to salvage it.”
“Has Jenny called?” My best friend had been with us on the beach just before I walked into the waves. I could still picture her worried look as I was carried to the ambulance.
“Yes, she’s asked me for updates. She had my number first, remember?” He grinned, and the expression was so spontaneous and charming that I had to smile. We were going to be okay. Despite everything, we were going to get it all back.
Except Finn. I listened to the subtle beep of the monitor that seemed so loud upon waking. I concentrated on the sound, aligning it with my memory, and could see Finn’s Isolette, a clear bubble, his little face against the pillow inside. Sometimes his fingers would twitch, or his arm jerk, and that was the only way I could tell that he was real, and not a doll inside a case.
“Well, hell,” Gavin muttered. His happy smile was gone, lost to dismay and then a flash of anger.
“What is it?”
He sighed. “Your parents. They just landed and they don’t want me to pick them up.”
“Why not?” I tried to sit up a little straighter, but my body wouldn’t obey, and I sagged back into a slump.
“I can think of a lot of reasons.”
I held out my arm, the movement sending a shock wave though me. “Give me that.”
“You calling them?”
“I’ll try a text first. They might not answer a call from you.”
“Then let me type it.”
I sighed. “Okay. Say, ‘This is Corabelle. Remember when I told you I was pregnant, and I said to trust me, that I would be okay? Well, I’m saying it again. It will be okay. Gavin will meet you outside baggage claim.’” I no more got the sentence out when the coughs erupted. I couldn’t calm them down, turning to my side to manage the pain and the frightening wetness of each breath.
Gavin clutched me, fear all over his face. “Should I get the nurse?”
“It’s…stopping…” I managed to get out, gasping, forcing my body to relax.
“Your parents are going to kick me out.” He leaned in to rub my back. “I guess they’ll be sleeping here instead of me.”
I curled up tight, relieved the coughs had subsided. “I’m surprised they let you, but I’m glad.”
“I don’t take no for an answer. Not when it concerns you.” His face warmed over with that beautiful grin again, and even though I was exhausted and in pain, my heart sped up, and I felt that need for him that had ruled my youth.
“I never stopped loving you,” I said.
He lifted my hand to his lips. “I think I love you more now than I did before.”
His phone beeped again. He glanced at it and frowned.
“What is it?” I asked.
“I think your dad just told me to go to hell.”
Corabelle was out again. One minute she was upset at her father, the next, asleep.
The nurse set the cup of water on the side table and said, “Buzz me when she wakes up.”
“I will,” I said. “Hey, is she supposed to cough like her guts are coming out? She hadn’t been doing that before.”
“It’s part of the process. At least she’s strong enough to cough now.” She hurried out of the room.
I leaned back in the chair. I was torn between blowing off her parents, who didn’t want to see me anyway, and doing what Corabelle asked. But, my motorcycle was here. I couldn’t pick them up on that. By the time I could get to her place, pick up her car, then jet to the airport, they’d be in a taxi.
I hadn’t planned this well. Corabelle had always been the organized one.
I turned over the phone and texted them the name of the hospital and the room number. They’d be here soon enough. I would smooth things over. We would get back to where we used to be.
I needed to call Bud, tell him I’d be taking off yet another day from the garage. And e-mail the professors, mine and Corabelle’s, to let them know how she was. God, this was a mess. They might not excuse me, but I didn’t care. I had no direction anyway. Not true. Corabelle was my destination. I’d do whatever I needed to do to make things right with her.
Her black hair was a harsh contrast to her pale fragile face. I could still see hints of the girl she once was, the one who sheltered me when I dashed across the alley from my house to hers as a child escaping a difficult father. The last four years without her had been such hell. I hadn’t seen it until I had her back. Nothing made sense without her. I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
My stomach rumbled, so I shoved myself out of the chair. The cafeteria food was passable, and one of the staffers always had pity on me and gave me the staff discount. This was my new life, for a while. Eventually I had to get back to work, pay the bills, figure out our next step.