Authors: Missy Johnson
Tags: #Romance, #Contemporary, #New Adult & College, #Literature & Fiction, #Contemporary Fiction
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No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
First Printing: June 2015
Three years earlier.
At 8:28 I was the girl who had everything.
At 8:29 my whole world fell apart.
I’ll never forget the way I felt when I opened the door and saw two police officers standing there, even though my heart insisted everything was fine. It had been less than half an hour since I saw him. How could something have happened to him? He was just here. He’d
told me he loved me. He’d
kissed Tilly goodbye. What could possibly have happened?
When they told me he was alive, I was relieved. I mean, if he was alive, how bad could it really be, right? The whole drive to the hospital, cuddling Tilly in the back of the patrol car, I convinced myself things would be fine. He would be back at home in a few days, and we’d be laughing about this moment.
Seeing him lying there, tubes everywhere, scared the fuck out of me. But I still clung to the hope that everything would be okay. I remember sitting there, Tilly in my arms, clutching his hand, begging him to wake up. Mom and Dad came in and took Tilly so I could focus on Aiden. For hours I sat there, searching for any sign that he was still there.
When the doctors began tossing around words like “coma” and “vegative state,” I could feel the hope beginning to slip away from me. This might be as good as he gets. That was when the anger began to set in. We were supposed to be getting married and expanding our family. How could he leave me to handle this on my own? How could he leave Tilly?
It’s funny how quickly life can change. You hear about tragedies on the news and you think to yourself it will never happen to you. Until it does. Until that tragedy becomes your life.
“You are fucking beautiful,” Aiden murmurs, taking my hand.
I smile, loving the way he makes me feel. Even after four years together, he still makes my heart race. I run my fingertips over my growing bump as his arms curl around my waist.
He pulls me up against him, his lips finding mine. “Maybe I should call in sick today,” he mutters, his voice husky.
Laughing, I push him away. “Or maybe you should go and earn some money so I can spend it all online on pretty little baby girl things,” I tease.
“I didn’t think it was possible for your shopping addiction to worsen, but I was wrong.” He reaches out and touches my bump. “Here’s hoping she doesn’t take after her momma.”
“Hey.” I laugh, slapping him across the arm.
“You know I’m kidding. If she’s half as amazing as you, then we’ve done our job right.” He presses his mouth against mine. “See you tonight, baby. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I whisper.
I love you too.
I. Love. You. Too.
Gasping, I sit up, my eyes adjusting to the darkness of the room. My heart pounds as I try to calm myself, sucking in long, deep breaths. My face is damp with a mixture of sweat and tears. I wipe my eyes, an unbearable feeling of hurt overcoming me. The dreams are so real that for a second I convince myself he’s still here. And then I wake up.
As I reach for a tissue off the night table, I glance at the clock.
Tilly will wake soon.
The emptiness in my heart is overwhelming, but I push aside my feelings and force myself to get up. I throw my legs over the edge of the mattress and reach for my robe. After a splash of cold water on my face, I feel slightly better. On my way down the hallway to the kitchen, I pass Tilly’s room. Peeking in, I smile at what I see: my baby tangled in her blankets, snoring softly, her long blond hair strewn all over her pillow. She’s a restless sleeper, just like her father was.
. . .
Tilly wanders into the kitchen at just past seven. She’s still half asleep as she sits at the table, her head resting in her hands. I smile as I place a glass of juice in front of her. Mumbling a
, she takes it and gulps it down, her green eyes crossing as she tries to keep focus. I chuckle at how cute she is.
“Can I skip school today, Mommy?” she asks, her voice hopeful. “Maybe we can go get our nails painted again. That was so much fun.”
I let out a laugh and ruffle her mop of blonde hair. Sometimes I wonder if she’s five or fifteen. I dread to imagine what I’m in for come her teenage years.
Ellie, my sister, had decided I needed to get out of the house and indulge in some pampering, so the three of us had spent the day getting spa treatments. Tilly had loved being the center of attention, and though I’d never admit it to El, it had been the most fun I’d had in ages.
“How about you go to school and we go shopping on Saturday for a new dress?” I suggest.
Tilly shrugs, happy with my compromise for the moment.
“Besides, I thought you liked school.”
“I do,” she says, her voice quiet.
I can tell something is wrong. I raise my eyebrows at her and wait for her to elaborate.
She sighs, her mouth twitching into a frown. “What’s a bastard, Mommy?”
“Where did you hear that?” I ask her, my eyes widening. I sit down next to her and pull her onto my knee, wrapping my arms around her little waist. Her sad little face stares back up at me as I kiss her forehead.
“Tommy Rawlings called me a bastard during lunchtime yesterday. He says it’s ’cause I don’t have a daddy,” she mumbles. She looks down and my heart drops. Why are kids so damn cruel?
have a daddy,” I correct her, kissing her nose. I tickle her until she giggles and pushes me away. “Just because he can’t stay with us like other daddies doesn’t mean he loves you any less, okay? You just ignore Tommy Rawlings. If he says anything else to you, you tell your teacher, okay?”
She nods, wiping strands of golden hair away from her face.
“Now,” I say, my voice serious, “down to the important things: pancakes or scrambled eggs for breakfast?”
She thinks hard for a moment before answering. “Pancakes.”
I slide her back onto her own seat and give her another kiss before retreating behind the kitchen counter to prepare her pancakes. Every now and then I glance back over at her. I hate that things are so complicated for her. I try to keep Aiden in her life as much as possible by talking about him all the time, but how do you explain to a five-year-old that her daddy can’t hug her like other daddies because he’s in a coma? She doesn’t remember his voice, or what his kiss feels like. Hell, there are things
can barely remember, and it kills me.
“You want to go see Aunt Ellie after school?” I ask her, knowing that will cheer her up.
She grins and nods at me.
I’m so thankful for my sister being so involved in Tilly’s life. Married with a little girl of her own, Ellie has almost become a second parent to her. She looks after her when I work and takes the girls on shopping trips and to the park. She makes things fun in an otherwise confused world, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Walking over to the table, I place two pancakes loaded with chocolate chips and berries in front of her. Her eyes light up as she digs in. I take my coffee and my own pancakes and sit down next to her.
After breakfast, it’s a rush to get her ready and leave in time to get her to school. Brushing her hair is particularly difficult this morning because I can’t find her pink brush.
She yells when I try to use mine. “No, Mommy! It has to be pink,” she squeals, trying to duck away from me.
“Please, Tilly, just use Mommy’s brush this once. I’ll buy a brand new pink one for you today, I promise.” Anything to get this child to comply.
Her shoulders relax for a moment as she eyes me suspiciously. “With butterflies on it?” she asks.
Her pink brush had three little butterflies. I mentally calculate the odds of me finding a bright pink brush complete with butterflies today so we can avoid repeating this whole scenario tomorrow.
“Yes,” I say. What the hell. I’ll find that damn brush if I have to spend all day looking for it.
She relaxes in my arms, a satisfied smile on her little face. I let out a laugh. How can she go from flat-out tantrum mode to happy little girl in less than a minute?
Oh, right: she’s five.
I quickly finish her hair and bundle her into the car, ready for the quick ride to school. I pull up in the drop-off zone and walk her inside, kneeling down to hug her when we’re outside her classroom.
“I’ll see you later, okay, sweetie?”
She nods, and leans over to kiss me goodbye.
“Remember what I said. If Tommy says anything to you, tell your teacher.”
“I will, Mommy.”
“Is it wrong that I want to pound this Tommy Rawlings’s face into the ground?” I ask, sliding the key into the front door lock.
I’ve just arrived home from dropping Tilly off at school and I’m still annoyed that this bully had the balls to pick on my little girl.
Ellie laughs through the phone. “Uh, it kinda is.” She giggles. “You’re supposed to be the adult, Kiara, so I’d probably advise against beating the crap out of a child. If it worries you so much, have a word with the teacher. It’s just kids being kids, though.”
“I know that, but you should’ve seen her face.” I frown. “God, kids will pick on anything these days. We weren’t that bad when we were young, were we?”
Ellie laughs. “Are you serious? Your memory can’t be that bad. You punched Alan Marshall in the nose because he called me piglet.”
“He deserved it. Nobody picks on my sister,” I retort, tossing my bag on the sofa. I walk through to the laundry and throw some clothes in the washing machine, not bothering to separate the lights from the darks. My new red sweater catches my eye and I think about the white sheets I’ve thrown in there. I shrug.
Tilly loves pink, anyway.
Adding some detergent, I turn it on. “It stopped him from bothering you again, didn’t it?”
“Yes,” she admits with a giggle. I can almost hear her shaking her head through the phone. “And it also stopped everyone else from wanting to be friends with me because they were afraid of my crazy sister.”
“Pfft,” I reply, walking back into the kitchen. “You didn’t need friends. You had me.”
Ellie and I are total opposites, and the best of friends. Where I’m petite, with long, dark hair and light blue eyes, she’s tall, heavyset and blonde. She’s loud, spontaneous, and adventurous, whereas I’m more grounded—or boring, as Ellie would put it.
Growing up, we were always close, probably because there was only a ten-month age gap between the two of us. We did everything together as kids, and we still do today. She’s been my rock since Aiden’s accident. Without her, I would’ve fallen apart years ago.
“So how’s everything else going?” she asks. “Work still giving you hassles?”
“Yep,” I groan, leaning over the kitchen counter. “They don’t seem to understand that Tilly needs to come first. Not that I blame them, but for me, she has to.”
I’d been with my current employer since one month after the accident. I work part-time as a curator in an art gallery. I’m damn good at my job, but I’ve been having issues since a new director stepped in a few months ago and decided my flexible roster was impeding the success of the business. Things were much easier with the old director, mainly because she knew my story. She was a good friend of Aiden’s mother, Heather.
“Maybe it’s time you look for something else,” Ellie suggests.
I know she’s right, but I’ve had enough changes in the last few years to last me a lifetime. Three years in the one job is enough to give me a sense of security. As much as I’d love to use some of my other skills, such as my teaching degree, the fear of the unknown is constricting.
“Yeah, well, at the moment they’re okay with me doing my three days a week. If they kick up a stink again, I’ll think about looking for something else.”
“You know what you need to do—”
“Oh, God, El, don’t start,” I groan, interrupting her.
“No, I’m serious,” she protests. “Your artwork is amazing. People would pay serious money for that shit.”
“People are stupid.” I laugh, my cheeks heating up.
My art is a hobby, and that’s it. It’s an escape from the world I sometimes feel suffocated in. It’s something private, for me. Sharing it takes away that sense of comfort I’ve come to associate with my painting.
“Anyway, I gotta go.” I omit that I have a date with the sofa and my remote.
I’m a creature of habit, and every morning I don’t work I plant my ass in front of the TV and catch up on crappy soap operas. Ellie would kill me if she knew that’s how I spend my spare time. She’s already on me to get out more and meet people. I know she means guys, which pisses me off because I’m still engaged.
“’Kay. Call me later.”
After spending the rest of the morning watching TV, I do a quick cleaning of the house, and then decide to go and visit Aiden. I try to see him a few times a week, but it’s hard. Every time I go there, I leave feeling hopeless. Not just because it reminds me of how much I’ve lost, but because I know he wouldn’t want this. Being locked in a body, unable to communicate would be the worst kind of torture, and it’s a torture I can’t end for him.
The strong smell of disinfectant hits me as I walk into his room. He lies in his bed, his face gaunt and gray. Swallowing the lump in my throat, I walk over and sit in the chair beside his bed. I take his hand and force a smile onto my face. He can’t see me, but I always feel the need to pretend happiness when I’m here, even though I’m dying inside.
“Hey baby,” I say, stroking his hand.
The steady beat of his breathing machine is the only response I get.
“You’ve had your hair washed.” I reach up to stroke his dirty blond locks. “You’ll need it cut soon.”
A nurse walks in and smiles sympathetically at me.
“Lovely day outside,” she says, walking around Aiden’s other side to check his feeding tube.
“It is,” I say. Only I don’t feel it. Why would I care about the weather when what was once my whole world is lying unresponsive in this bed? “How has he been?” It’s a question I ask every time and the answer is always the same. Do I expect them to one day tell me things were different?
“Stable,” she replies, picking up his folder. “He had a fever yesterday, but that seems to be under control now. He’s lucky to have you.”
Is he? I fail to see how. I’m so selfish. Every thought and feeling about Aiden comes back to how it affects me and my life. Every morning I wake up to a part of me wishing I’d receive that phone call to say he slipped away in the middle of the night. I tell myself it’s because I want his suffering to end when deep down it’s that I want my pain to go away. I’m so sick of living in limbo, not knowing where my life is going. I resent him for being this way, and that makes me a monster.