Worth fighting for (Dylan)
So, next thing I knew the four of us were crammed into the backseat of a taxi, on our way to the VA hospital all the way down on the Lower East Side. I was all the way over the left side of the seat, with Alex somehow just wrapped around me, my right hand resting palm up in her lap, wrapped in her silk wrap, which wasn’t going to be much good for wearing after tonight. She leaned against me, and as much pain as my hand was in — which was a lot — my bigger focus was on her.
Neither of us spoke, I think because this moment was just too big to get words around it.
Kelly and Joel pretty much took care of that for us. Kelly was sitting in the middle of the back seat, and she muttered to Joel, “You never mangled your hand for me. What kind of boyfriend were you, anyway?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Joel answered.
“I’m just saying. I don’t think you’re really serious. If you were, you’d find a way to show it. Like completely fucking up your hand or something.”
Alex shook with laughter against me. I turned my head, looked down at her, resting her head on my shoulder.
“It’s not that I don’t take you seriously, Kelly. Or that I’m not serious. I’m just not fucking crazy like this guy obviously is.” He looked across the car at me. “No personal offense meant, Dylan.”
I grimaced. Oh, Christ, that hurt like a mother-fucker. “None taken,” I croaked.
“Look, Kelly,” he said. “I need you to hear me on this.”
Kelly was sitting as far from Joel as she could get, which meant that she was jammed hip to hip against Alex. Her back was straight and she was staring straight forward, her arms crossed over her chest.
“I think I just got scared, okay? What are we, nineteen? It’s a big fucking commitment! Neither of us dated anyone else since we started college, and … I was afraid.”
“That’s not true,” Kelly said. “You’ve been busy playing the field since school started this year. If I do ever let you near me again, you’re getting tested for STDs first.”
“Oh, for God’s sake.”
“Seriously, what the hell does playing the field mean anyway? Am I like some sports metaphor for you? You made it to home base, so now it’s time to go to the Superbowl or whatever?”
He shook his head. “Superbowl is football hun, home base is baseball.”
“Oh. My. GOD!”
“Aww, shit. Look, I screwed up, Kels. I love you! I don’t want anyone but you!”
“Well, now you’re back in little league, buster, and they don’t have bases. Or field goals. Or … whatever. You’re so going to have to convince me.”
“I got you those weird flowers you like.”
Alex started to shake, hard, suppressing laughter. I looked back down at her, and our eyes met. She smiled, and I wanted to lean over and kiss her more than anything else in the world, except that would have moved my god damned hand. She stretched up, putting her lips next to my ear, and whispered, “She’s a goalie now, isn’t she?”
I couldn’t help it. I burst into laughter.
“Weird flowers? You are so far from convincing me, you have no idea.”
“What do I have to do to convince you, babe?” he said.
“Send me more weird things that I like.”
“You’re going to have to grovel. Maybe forever.”
“Jesus Christ, lady,” the taxi driver said. “Give the guy a break!”
I couldn’t hold it in any longer. I guffawed, shaking with laughter, and Alex broke into laughter with me.
Kelly looked over at us, and said, “Well, you two are no help at all!”
Oh, God! I laughed even harder, tears running down my cheeks. I wiped them away with my good hand, and said, “Kelly, I’m so glad I finally met you.”
She gave a loud hmmmph, then said, “Only because it looks like you and hormone girl are back together.”
I was lightheaded, and gave her a big smile. Were we? Back together? I don’t know. But whatever we were, it was better than being heartbroken.
Kelly and Joel bickered the entire way to the hospital. At one point I leaned down and whispered to Alex, “I thought she wanted to get back together with him.”
She whispered back, “Don’t worry, this is normal for them.”
Jesus Christ. If this was normal, I didn’t want to see what they were like when she was upset.
Then again, it seemed a lot less painful than what Alex and I had been doing all these months.
And that was when the weight of it hit me again. She might be all curled up against me now, when I was injured, but could she really forgive me? I got it, finally. Because it was nothing more than a misunderstanding. It hadn’t been some guy in her room. It was just her roommates boyfriend, being friendly. I’d so totally screwed this up that I was afraid there was no going back. The significance of the photo on her nightstand, the dried roses framed on her wall, didn’t escape me. We’d loved each other, and I’d hurt her. Hurt her badly. Did I even have a right to be forgiven?
Right then and there, I promised myself we’d talk the moment we were alone. We would hash this out. We’d break every rule either one of us had, until we really understood each other, and what happened, and whether or not we could move forward.
Because, for the first time since that hideous week when Kowalski and Roberts died, for the first time since I landed in the hospital, I began to feel some hope. Hope, because of the woman curled up against my side. And that was something worth fighting for.
The cab pulled up to the emergency room, and I started to stretch around, trying to get at my wallet with the wrong hand.
“Don’t be an idiot,” Alex said, fishing in her purse. She passed a twenty to the cab driver, and we got out of the cab. I staggered a little, and she wrapped her arms around my side.
“Sorry I ruined your night,” I said to Kelly and Joel.
“Don’t worry about it, man,” Joel said. “Watching you guys fight was way more entertaining than sitting at 1020 anyway. Besides, I’m glad we sorted it out. If we’d met alone somewhere, you might have been hitting me instead of a wall. And that would have been kind of upsetting.”
Kelly rolled her eyes and slapped Joel on the shoulder. It was a possessive slap, and I was pretty sure she was giving in.
“Yeah,” I said, my voice cracking a little. “Misunderstanding, okay?”
“Yeah, we kinda heard the whole thing,” he said. “Don’t stress it.”
At the desk in the emergency room, we did paperwork. And I bled a little on the desk, then apologized. A few minutes later a physicians assistant came over and did triage, decided that as bad as it looked, my hand wasn’t life threatening, then said someone would be with us eventually.
“This might take a while,” I said.
“We’ve got all the time in the world,” Alex murmured. She still hadn’t let go of me.
So we waited. After a little while, Joel and Kelly stopped bickering, and started making out. They were getting a lot of interested looks from the other people in the waiting room, until finally an elderly lady sitting two seats down from them tapped Joel on the shoulder with her cane.
“You two are indecent,” she said. “Why don’t you take it somewhere else.”
“Oh God,” Kelly said. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah, sorry,” Joel mumbled.
“Maybe you two should get going,” Alex said. “We’ll be fine here.”
“You’re sure?” Kelly asked.
By this time Joel was standing, tugging on her hand.
“Yes,” Alex said, nodding. “Go!”
Kelly leaned in close to Alex and whispered, “I probably won’t be home tonight.”
Alex grinned. “See you tomorrow then.”
Joel looked over at me, said, “Later, Dylan. Nice to meet you.”
I nodded to him. The two of them hurried out of the emergency room, hand in hand.
“They’re funny,” I said.
She grinned. “Yeah. But they love each other.”
She leaned in a little closer to me as she set it.
I took a deep breath, trying to ignore the pain in my hand, and said, “What about us? What are we exactly, now?”
She looked at me, her eyes stealing away my breath, and said, “Do we have to figure that out right now?”
I said, “Not right this second. But soon. Before… before we get our hearts broken all over again.”
She winced. “Good point, I guess.” He looked away, and I could see her lower lip quivering.
“Alex,” I said. “Listen to me.”
She turned back toward me.
“I want to talk about what happened. Between us.”
She nodded, then said, “Why?”
“I think we need to clear the air. Alex… we’ve been dancing around this for weeks. Sometimes flirting, sometimes not. Remembering, but not. Playing by rules that seemed to make sense, but maybe they don’t really. I think it’s time to be honest about what’s going on with us.”
She blinked, and took a deep breath. Her expression radiated anxiety.
“Talk to me, Alex. Why are you afraid of this?”
Her mouth twitched at the edges into a smile. She whispered, “Because I’m happier right now than I’ve been in a long time. I don’t want to screw it up.”
I took a deep, shuddering breath. It was clear she really meant it. She was happier right now than she’d been in a long time, because she was with me.
All the more reason to be honest, about everything.
“Neither do I,” I said. “And I’m afraid if we don’t talk, I’ll have assumptions, or you’ll have assumptions, that the other doesn’t share. And we’ll screw up again. And that… I don’t think I could take it.”
“Just answer me one thing,” she said.
“Do you love me? Really? Still?”
I pulled her closer, and said, quietly, “More than life itself.”
She wrapped her arms around me and leaned against my chest. “Okay. Then I’ll talk about whatever you want to talk about.”
This is first draft material from a new story I’m working on. You can find the beginning and contents of the story, here.