A/N: If you’re reading this, know that I truly appreciate every minute of the time you spend reading my blog. You guys all rock more than you know. This chapter took me longer than the others to create because it involved a ton of posing. On that note, posing is both awesome and terrible! Argh!
The lyrics in the first third or so of this chapter are from the song “Dying” by Boys Night Out.
Happy reading ^_^
Picture yourself in a nightmarish scene of such grotesque complexity that you’d kill to be dreaming.
Your body’s been dying, while your mind has been trying
I crawled across the floor of my bathroom, shivering at the feeling of the frigid tiles against my palms. The room was coming in and out of focus and for a moment I didn’t understand how I had come to be in the state I was. What time was it, and why was I so cold? I shuddered, my entire body suddenly revolting against me as I threw up all over those freezing tiles. Groaning, I tried to scoot away from the vomit, but instead I collapsed, unsuccessful. Was there even a point in trying?
He’s not dead yet, but he’s close
I failed, this is my fault!
And somehow, he’s smiling at me, I think he’s whispering something
No, not just whispering, I think he’s singing.
I could hear someone singing, an upbeat, melodious tune that drifted to my ears like a saving grace. I tried to move, to speak, to do something that would capture the voice’s attention, but I couldn’t. I could feel my body shivering harder.
Now, place your ear to my lips.
Trace these notes with your fingertips.
They dance alone on my last breath.
“Daddy? Daddy, where are you?”
I took in a shuddering breath, curling up tighter in the fetal position before turning my head and throwing up again. I felt broken and damaged; it was difficult to breathe.
“Daddy, is that you? Are you in there?”
A sharp rap sounded at the door, but I couldn’t respond, my breaths coming in shallowly. I closed my eyes. Why was I so tired?
The doorknob jostled and someone kicked at the door repeatedly. “Dad!?”
Something awful has happened here.
“Candice?! I need help! It’s Daddy! I don’t know—I don’t know what’s wrong with him,” Jo cried, sounding hysterical. “I don’t know, I can’t open the door!”
I could hear muffled shouting over the phone. “Yes, I know how. I’m calling right now!” The phone beeped, following by three more beeping sounds, and a pause.
“Hello? My name is Joanne Winters. I’m 5 years old and I live at 644 Vista Boulevard,” I heard her recite, just as I had taught her before starting school. “It’s an emergency—I think my daddy is hurt!”
This is the end. This is death.
“JAMES IF YOU DON’T OPEN THIS MOTHER FUCKING DOOR RIGHT NOW I AM GOING TO BEAT IT IN, DO YOU HEAR ME?!” I suddenly heard shouted from outside the bathroom door, the scream jostling me awake briefly. I wished it would stop. Sleeping had been so peaceful.
The door seemed to rattle and then explode, a woman stumbling and falling forward through it. She tripped over my legs and then held her hands out, grabbing onto the ledge of the bathtub to brace her fall.
She turned around and then let out a startled gasp when she saw me, falling heavily to her knees. “JAMES! Oh my god, you’re blue. JO! TELL THEM HE’S BLUE! James! James, you idiot. Oh my god, you idiot!”
I could feel her moving me, turning me over so she could check my breathing and feel for my pulse at my wrist and neck. After checking this she cradled my head in her hands, her eyes filling up with tears.
“Don’t you dare die on me, James!” she yelled hysterically, giving me a little shake. “Please don’t die,” she said again, softer, and then broke down into sobs.
I wanted to comfort her. The sound of her crying was painful. Instead, I lay there, immobile, until my eyes slowly closed and my mind, mercifully, went blank.
Hello, James. I was wondering when you’d hear me. You’ve been here for quite a while.
I opened my eyes, but everything was blurry. I couldn’t put anything into focus.
“Where am I?” I asked groggily.
Where do you think you are?
I looked around and suddenly the world came into sharp focus. Shoots of grass, flowers, and trees sprouted out of the ground as if the world had just been set to fast-forward. I jumped backward as the ground below me gave way to water, a pond rapidly expanding out from the tips of my toes. I had the vague awareness that none of this was real, but everything looked real; from the leaves shuddering in the breeze, to the ripples on the pond caused by minnows splashing and dragonflies skimming its surface.
“A forest?” I asked dumbly, watching as a butterfly flew past me.
I turned, a shout caught in my throat as a young woman with long, blonde hair and a white, cloth dress strode forward. She had brilliantly white wings that burst from her back in glittering, intricate designs. As she came into focus, I realized that I recognized her.
She tilted her head back and laughed—a joyous, musical sound that carried on the wind. “Who else would I be?”
“Dead?” she asked, looking up at me calmly. “Yes.”
I bit my lip, my heart beating faster. This woman was Maddie, and yet not Maddie. Every feature was hers, but seemed altered in some unnatural way. Her skin was clearer, her eyes were brighter, and then, of course, there were those wings. Even her voice sounded different—softer, more reserved, and so unlike the Maddie I remembered. I couldn’t explain any of it.
“So I’m…” I trailed off, breathing harder as the realization hit me in the gut. No! I hadn’t meant for that to happen. Please, no!
“You’re not dead,” Maddie assured me gently, responding to my unspoken fear. I looked at her, my heart still racing. If I wasn’t dead, what was I?
“Come, let’s sit,” she said, gesturing to a swing set that suddenly came into focus.
“Okay,” I whispered hoarsely.
A loud alarm suddenly sounded, followed by the sound of yelling voices and shoes thumping by on a linoleum floor, but as soon as I’d heard the chaos begin, it was gone.
“What was that?” I asked, fearful.
Maddie sat down on the swing calmly. “You’re having a seizure. Out there, I mean.”
“Out there? What?”
“Sit, James, please,” she said. I took a deep breath, finally taking a seat in the swing next to hers. She was silent for a long moment, admiring the clear sky and listening to the soft hum of the cicadas hidden in the grass. “It’s very beautiful here,” she remarked, looking around with mild interest.
“Yes,” I said, growing somewhat impatient. “Maddie, what do you mean that I’m having a seizure?”
“Were. You were seizing. You’re stable now, from what I can see.”
“Okay, but why was I—”
“Poison,” Maddie cut in, turning her body toward me. Her gaze had hardened. I looked at her for a long moment, and slowly, began to understand.
“Oh,” I said softly, staring down at my feet. I thought of empty bottles on a hard wood floor and the acrid scent of vomit. I thought of many empty bottles throughout the year, and the anxiety I’d feel if I didn’t reach for a glass. I took in a shuddering breath.
“Candice…” I said slowly, still forming my thought, “she…she found me? And Jo…Joanne!” I exclaimed, looking over at Maddie and suddenly terrified again.
“Joanne is fine,” Maddie assured gently. “Candice is taking care of her…but they’re both very scared.”
“I see,” I whispered, feeling guilty. I relaxed again in my swing. “It’s just—I thought…she’s leaving,” I remembered, my heart sinking low in my chest.
“Maybe,” Maddie said cryptically, “but that’s not all it. You still blame yourself, James. It’s very obvious. You numb yourself, but never heal,” she sighed. My breath caught in my throat and I glanced over at her again. Instead of her face being smooth, as it had been, it looked suddenly pained. Renewed guilt began to take root in my flesh.
“If I had just—” I started to say, but Maddie held her hand up, silencing me.
“It wasn’t you.”
“It wasn’t you,” she said in a hard voice.
Maddie stood up. She walked over to me and then stopped right in front of me, holding out her hands. Her jade eyes were sparkling. “Let me show you.”
I looked at her hands, and then up at her face hesitantly, my heart beating hard. What did she mean, show me? I opened my mouth to ask, but Maddie shook her head, showing me her hands once more.
“Let me show you,” she repeated patiently, taking a step back and leaving her hands outstretched toward me.
“Okay,” I whispered. I stood up, and then placed my hands in hers.
As soon as our hands touched I let out a yell, a sharp stab of pain coursing through my body before a series of images began to race through my mind. I suddenly felt so empty, so hopeless, so pained that I gasped, shutting my eyes tightly.
I could see a little girl crying and a man drinking. I could see Mitch, reassuring me that it was really my mom’s loss that she had left. I could see Candice, and Chris, and me, like a bright flash of warmth. I felt heavy. I hurt, constantly. Pleasure, if you could even call it that, felt dull, as if I were experiencing it through someone else. I cried for hours. I screamed, but no one heard me. I wanted to feel joy, but I couldn’t. I felt worthless.
I saw me again, bright and glowing, but distant. I wanted to make me happy, but I couldn’t, because I wasn’t sure how to feel happiness. I wanted to stop the pain. I lay on the floor for hours, so deeply within myself that it wasn’t so much the lack of desire that kept me there, but rather, a lack of ability. I saw Jo, but I couldn’t love her. I felt like I was drowning, but no one seemed to notice. Everything was just so dark.
“STOP!” I finally yelled out, falling to my knees and trembling. “Please, stop,” I whispered, startled to find my cheeks wet with tears.
Maddie looked down at me as I cried. Her face was blank once more. “It wasn’t you,” she said again, softly.
“That’s how….that’s how you felt? That’s-”
“It was,” she affirmed, “but I’m at peace now,” she added with a gentle smile.
A sharp sob suddenly sounded through the clearing, but it belonged to neither of us.
“What was that?” I asked uneasily, slowly getting to my feet. What had happened now?
Maddie looked up, still calm. “Out there,” she said simply.
“Am I…am I okay?” I asked worriedly, expecting the worst.
“You tell me,” Maddie responded before looking up at me once more. “Are you okay?”
I closed my eyes and suddenly got a vision of a hospital room. Jo was lying on a couch at the foot of my bed, cradling one of her favorite toys, while Candice had her arms on my bed, her head hidden within them and her body shaking softly.
I opened my eyes, suddenly hurting and fearful. I looked at Maddie. “Can I get back?” I asked, feeling strangely cold as I waited for the answer.
“I’m glad that you’re with her,” Maddie said softly, not answering my question at all. “She loves you more than I was ever able to. In fact, she loves you more than I think you even realize.”
I let out a breath I hadn’t even known I’d been holding. Thoughts of Candice’s face whenever she looked at me appeared in my mind, her shining eyes and bright smile filling me with sudden warmth.
My heart skipped a beat and I lifted up my hand as if in a daze, suddenly wanting to feel Candice’s soft cheek against my palm once again. The forest was beginning to fade, but I paid it no mind, my thoughts only on Candice.
“I do realize,” I said distractedly, my eyes unfocused. “I love her too.”
Maddie smiled softly, and then everything was dark once more.
“James? Was that you? What—what did you just say?” I suddenly heard from right above me. I felt a hand running gently down the side of my face. “What did you say, babe?”
I blinked, my vision clearing slowly to reveal my hand lifted just barely above the covers as I lay back on a bed. My head was carefully propped up with pillows. I stared down at my hand, confused, before glancing to the side and seeing Candice’s face.
Her eyes were red and swollen. Her hair was tousled, as if she hadn’t been attending to it in quite some time. Dark shadows marred the areas right beneath her eyes and her makeup was faded, if she was wearing any at all. She was the most beautiful woman that I had ever known.
Understanding began to creep up on me, and I lifted my hand to her face, cupping the side of it with my palm. She closed her eyes, leaning into my touch.
“I said, ‘I love you’,” I repeated in a hoarse whisper.
Candice let out a sob, her tears running across my hand as she held it to her face.
“I love you too,” she whispered back, and then sleep reclaimed me once more.
When I woke up the second time, Candice was sitting on the couch at the foot of my bed, looking tense. There was no one else in the room.
“Where’s Jo?” I asked, sitting up and feeling a dart of fear rise up in my chest. The feeling was much sharper than usual. I winced. In general, it felt like all of my emotions had been turned up a notch, and I wasn’t sure if I liked it.
Candice looked up at me, a sigh of relief crossing her features. “She’s staying at her friend’s house. I-I felt that it wasn’t good for her to be practically living in the hospital.”
“Like you are?” I asked before I could stop myself. I couldn’t have known really whether she had been, but it seemed that way, and Candice did not deny it. Her gaze, however, had suddenly turned hard and angry.
“James…what were you thinking?” she asked in a low hiss.
I slowly let out my breath, closing my eyes and trying to think of how to phrase my response. I only opened them when I felt Candice’s weight beside me as she took a seat on my bed.
I held out my hand, wanting to take hers, but instead she crawled up into my lap, holding me tightly. “What were you thinking?” she asked again, her voice shaky from renewed tears. “We almost lost you!” I swallowed the sudden lump I had in my throat, putting my arms around Candice and holding her close.
“I overheard your phone call,” I said quietly, running my hand gently down her back.
“What phone call?” she asked, pulling away slightly, her eyebrows squeezing inward in confusion. I almost reached up to smooth the crease between her eyes, but instead I cleared my throat and tucked a lock of her hair behind her ear.
“You said you were going back to Neverglade.”
Candice looked confused for another moment, but then understanding dawned on her face. Just as it did though, it was hastily replaced once more with anger. “Not forever, James! I just needed to sort some shit out with my boss. I asked for a transfer to Starlight Shores ages ago and he’s being a total ass about it and making me go down there to finish up stories first. Jeez though, not forever!”
I stopped rubbing her back as I looked at Candice in surprise, my body suddenly stone-still. “You’re not…leaving?” I asked, the feeling of intense stupidity beginning to drown out anything else that I felt.
“No! I couldn’t. I…I can’t. James, don’t you get it?” she asked. I opened my mouth to respond, but I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to be ‘getting’.
When I didn’t answer, Candice sighed and then placed her hand gently on my face, ensuring that I didn’t look away. “James, now that I have you…now that we have this… I don’t ever want to let you go.”
Candice leaned forward to kiss me then, one hand on my back to pull me closer and the other on my face. I could feel my heartbeat quicken as I kissed her back, the familiar lightning bolts shooting through my system.
After a time, I pulled away slightly, touching my nose to hers. “I don’t ever want to let you go either,” I whispered. “I’m sorry that I almost did.”
Candice closed her eyes tightly, as if trying to shut out the memory. When she opened them again, her gaze was anxious and she crawled off of my bed, standing beside me instead. “The doctors say you’ll still need to be watched when you get out of here. They said it’s because…well, you’ll still be dealing with the effects of the…of the withdrawal. If you stop, I mean. You are going to stop, aren’t you?” she asked, wringing her hands.
“Yes, of course,” I said distractedly, trying to push myself up off the bed as well.
“Don’t, you’re all hooked up,” she reminded me, holding out a hand to stop me.
I sighed, reluctantly sitting back and looking up at her instead. “What kinds of effects?” I settled on asking.
“You’ve already passed the 48 hour period, so most of the worst is out of the way,” she said, skirting around the question and clearly set on encouraging me.
“What kinds of effects?” I asked again, a little more firmly.
Candice sighed, looking up at the ceiling. “I don’t know. Shakiness, anxiety, feeling tired…” she trailed off. I frowned slightly, feeling like she was keeping the worst of it from me. I didn’t push it—I figured the doctors would bring me up to date.
“We’ll deal with it when…if…it comes,” Candice continued. “Anyway, they said someone needs to be checking on you all the time. I can do it…but they can have other people check in on you and all, if you prefer that,” she added in a rush, looking somewhat embarrassed.
“I’d rather have it be you,” I said quietly. She looked back at me and I took a breath before saying the next words. “Move in with me, Candice. It’s gotta be cheaper than that hotel you’re staying in, and I know Joanne would love to have you around. I think—I think she kind of thinks of you as her mom anyway,” I said. I flushed, this time me being the one to feel embarrassed.
“I know,” Candice said, biting her lip. “She called me ‘mom’ the other day,” she admitted nervously.
“What did you say?” I asked in surprise.
“Nothing,” she whispered, looking down at her shoes. “She was half-asleep when she did it. I don’t think she even realized.” She took a deep breath and then directed her attention in the vague direction of the door. “I can talk to her, if you want. I don’t…I don’t want her getting confused.”
“I don’t think she’s confused,” I said softly. I stood up, ignoring Candice’s second protests as I ripped off my IV and took her hands in mine. “You—you basically are her mom. In fact,” I hesitated, biting my lip before I blurted out, “I’d like you to be her mom!”
As soon as I said the words I knew them to be true. There was no inner turmoil within me anymore. There was no fear and no guilt. All there existed was the overwhelming love that I had for the woman before me, and the strongest desire to keep her in my life forever.
“James…” Candice started slowly, slight confusion on her face again. “Are you—”
“Marry me,” I said in a rush, grabbing a hold of Candice’s hand again. I met her gaze, watching as her soft brown eyes began to fill with tears. “Please, marry me,” I said again, softer. “I love you…I doubted that I could have ever truly moved on, but I love you more than I ever thought it was possible to love someone and I know that some part of me has actually loved you for long time. Even back when you scared the shit out of me.…” Candice laughed tearfully, so I continued. “I also know that I can’t bear the thought of not having you in my life. So please…Candice Price, will you marry me?”
I watched as she wiped her eyes of her tears. I could tell that she was happy, but there was something else that I was slowly picking up on, something that was slowly dissipating the huge grin on my face.
“Candice….?” I asked uncertainly as she began to take deep breaths in an effort to calm down.
“James…I want to say yes, but–…” she paused, seeming to think for a moment about what she was doing, and then opened her mouth to speak again. “Ask me again when you’re all better,” she finally whispered, never once taking her eyes off mine.
“What?” I asked, feeling bereft and betrayed.
“I’ll move in with you, if you still want me to. I do love you, and I want to be with you, but this isn’t right—you asking me to marry you right after you nearly…nearly died,” she forced out, fresh tears appearing in eyes. “I-I don’t want you asking me that just because you almost lost me. I want you to ask me when you want to.”
“I do want to!” I blurted out in protest, but Candice held up her hand, silencing me.
“Please, James. I love you so much just…ask me another time. Please?” she asked, holding my hand tightly to her chest.
I stared at Candice for a long time, feeling confused and hurt now, but trying not to show it. I didn’t think I was asking Candice this because I had nearly died, or because I’d thought she was leaving, or any of that. I really and truly just…wanted to be with her. I wanted her in my life. I wanted her in Jo’s life. Hell, I needed her!
….but that was why, I supposed, I needed to just accept what Candice was saying.
“Okay,” I agreed quietly, my eyes still on her tear-streaked face. “Okay.”
Candice took my hands then and led me back to my bed, urging me to lie down. I took hold of her hands, guiding her onto the bed with me until her head was resting on my chest.
“Thank you for understanding,” she said quietly.
I nodded some and then wrapped my arms around her, rubbing her back absentmindedly as my mind raced. I still felt hurt, but if waiting was the only way to keep this woman with me, then I would wait.
As I felt Candice’s breathing become slow and even I kissed the top of her head, my mind too active to allow me to sleep. Instead of my mind dwelling on having to wait or even the long road I had ahead of me in order to get “better” though, it kept going back to another thought.
The thought that maybe such a radiant light as Candice could belong to someone like me, and maybe I did deserve such light, and could hold onto it, but it would be much, much harder than I’d originally thought….
I really hoped that I could do it.