She's asking me what happened again. The last time I answered that question was two days ago. The concussion was still making her groggy, and she didn't remember what I'd told her after only a few minutes. This time, her eyes seem more focused than they've been in days. I think she's really here, with me, for the first time since the attack. What the hell am I going to say?
"Um... what's the last thing you remember?" I ask, trying to stall for time.
When she answers that she doesn't remember anything since the morning before the show, I start from there, telling her everything that happened in detail. The longer I can stretch out what she did on national television and what she told me afterwards, the longer I have to think of a way to... to tell her how I failed her.
What if letting her know everything brings back all her memories, and she's haunted for the rest of her life by what they did before I got there? What if I can protect her from the pain by keeping the worst of it from her? What if someone else tells her and she hates me, not just for leaving her unprotected, but also for keeping her in the dark when she asked me for the truth?
I don't know what to do.
"... We went home for the rest of the afternoon. You went up first..." I say, and then catch myself. Dammit, no more time to stall. I have to tell her something. She notices that I stopped talking, and her brows draw up in curiosity.
"When I got to the apartment," I start, but then stop again. My throat's closing up. I just... this is so hard. I have to tell her, but I can't. I can't stand to even think about it.
Oh hell. My hands are shaking, just like back in the apartment this morning. I can tell she's looking at them so I shove them into my pockets, trying to hide the evidence of my emotions.
Just tell her. Take a deep breath and say it.
I tell her that she was hurt when our apartment was robbed, but that the man who hurt her won't do it again. I can't explain that I killed him. I can't really go into detail about anything.
My right hand is up, rubbing my chin, covering my mouth. I didn't even notice I was doing that until I was done talking. It's like even when I was telling her what happened, I was trying to hold it back.
She looks even more confused now than when I started. I didn't tell her enough. I need to explain more. She's going to ask me about it again.
Please, not now. I can already feel the tears in my eyes, unshed and burning. I'm going to lose it, but I can't. She needs me now, needs me to be here and be strong for her. I won't let her down again.
She reaches her right hand out for mine and I grasp it gently, careful of the IV and sensors on her hand and arm. My hands are still shaking a little, so I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and concentrate on making them still. After a few moments, I get myself under control, and I open my eyes again.
Her eyes are so intent, so focused on me, that I almost want to look away again. It's like she can see right through me, see everything I didn't say in my eyes. The moment feels like it lasts forever, but then a female voice breaks in.
"Janie? Are you in here?"
The door to Jane's hospital room pushes open and a woman in a wheelchair is pushed through by a man. They look familiar, but I can't quite place their faces until Jane asks in a weak voice, "Alice?"
Alice, it's Jane's sister. I met her and her husband for a second in that health club. I'd just seen Becca again, and... Hey. That's the first time I've thought of Becca without really feeling anything. Before, my heart would clench up every time I remembered her, but now... Nothing.
"Oh, Janie, baby," Alice continues. "I came as soon as they discharged me. I had to see you and make sure you're ok."
"You were in... hospital. Why here?" Jane asks.
Now Alice looks just as confused as her sister, and I have to explain. "Jane. The show, everything I told you about before... It's been two days. You've been in the hospital two days."
"Two days?" she asks in wonder.
"They just released me from the hospital," Alice explains, and Stephen, her husband, adds, "They sent you home for bed rest."
"Alice?" Jane asks, concerned.
"I'm going to be fine. Stephen worries; you know that. I just wanted to stop by and see you first. What happened, Jane? Are you ok?"
Jane opens her mouth to answer, but I ask, "Didn't Liz explain everything to you?"
Alice turns to me and says, "She said Jane was almost killed in a burglary, that she needed surgery. I didn't get specifics, and I haven't talked to Jane. I want to know if my *sister*," she emphasizes, "is all right. Do you mind, Eddie?"
"She doesn't remember what happened," I counter.
"Janie, is that true?"
Jane nods, but her face is a mixture of shock, bewilderment, and dismay. "I almost died?"
"Yes," Alice confirms before I can stop her. "Liz told me Eddie found you barely alive. Speaking of which, where were you, Eddie? If you both left the show at the same time, why did Jane enter that apartment alone?"
"I was downstairs," I whisper so softly that I can barely hear it, but Alice still picks it up.
"Downstairs? Doing what?"
"B... buying... buying champagne," I answer, my voice shaking.
"Buying champagne? While my sister was upstairs in your apartment, desperately clinging to the last threads of her life?"
"I... I didn't know. As soon as I saw... I stopped him. I stopped him, ok?"
"No, it's not ok. I almost lost my only sister because of you. What makes you think you even deserve to be here. It's your fault she's like this. You should've stopped it sooner. It should be you in this bed, not her."
I start to protest, but I can't. She's not saying anything I haven't been telling myself these past few days. I failed Jane, and given a chance, who's to say I won't fail her again?
"Get out!" Alice demands, and I release Jane's hand and walk out the door. I can hear Jane trying to say something, but her voice is quiet and muffled behind the oxygen mask, so I can't make it out. Part of me is afraid she's saying the same things her sister just yelled at me. I couldn't stand to hear that from her, too, so I keep walking.
Halfway to the elevator, I run into Liz.
"Eddie? What's wrong? I just met my deadline and I came to see Jane."
"She's... ok," I answer, then I stride past her. My voice, my emotions are out of control. I have to get away.
I make it all the way through the main doors of the hospital to the outside before I stop. It's like something is physically holding me back. I can't leave Jane here. No matter what I did or didn't do, I have to be here and make sure she's ok. Still, I can't return to her room. Not with her sister there. I can't take the accusatory looks, the guilt.
I didn't do enough to prevent Jane's injuries and then I did too much to stop her attacker. I failed Jane, and I killed a man.
Before I realize what I'm doing, I have a lit cigarette between my lips. Ever since the first time they let me in Jane's room, I haven't left her side. I'm a heavy smoker, but I hadn't even noticed how long it'd been since I lit up. I've been so focused on Jane nothing else seemed to matter.
My whole body is shaking so hard now that I can barely control my movements. I'm so choked up and my chest is so tight, it almost hurts.
Why couldn't it have been me? If I could, I would've taken her place, her pain, in a second.
When I pull the cigarette out of my mouth, my hand comes away wet from the moisture on my cheeks. As soon as I realize that I'm crying, it's like a dam bursts, and I start sobbing and choking so hard I have to toss the cigarette away. There's no way I can smoke when I can barely breathe.
The tears are coming hard now, streaking down my cheeks, and my nose is starting to drip. I hate crying. I hate how out of control it makes me feel, so weak and helpless. I clench my fists to my eyes, trying to stop, but I can't. Everything that's happened these past few days is beating down on me, and I can't hold it back any longer.