Book: Outside The Ropes

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Next: 30: Still Standing

MY THOUGHTS TRIPPED OVER EACH OTHER, TRYING to catch up with the present moment. Gage had me pinned to the wall, fingers digging into my arm with anger.

He jerked me once and his grip tightened. “Tell me, now.” His whispered fury turned me cold.

“Nothing that you need to worry about.” I could do angry too. I tried to jerk out of his hold, but he didn’t budge.

I met his icy glare. “Let me go or I’ll yell. I’ll scream. And then see what happens.” We may be alone now, in a side alcove outside the SICU, but a scream would surely gain attention in a hospital.

He slid one hand over my shoulder, firmly. His fingers curled around the back of my neck and his thumb pressed to my lips, but not with care. He tilted my head back to look at him. “Don’t threaten me. Not after all I’ve done for you.” His other hand moved up, cupping the other side of my head in the same way. “And don’t fucking lie to me. What did you tell him?”

His hold wasn’t painful, but the warning was there. He was larger than me and had me in a vulnerable position. I had to choose my next move wisely. And I hated him for the fear he caused.

“I only talked to him about Nan. Nothing Else.” I steadied my voice, “Now let me go.”

He shook his head, never taking his eyes from me, assessing my honesty. “Why? Why did you go to him?”

“Because you weren’t around.” I threw at him as I tried to push him away from me again, my anger rising. “And I needed his advice. I trust him.” And that was the truth. Anthony had always been honest with me.

My words caused Gage to flinch, more than any of my ineffective attempts to push away had.

He sneered. “You think I wanted to leave you alone? I’m trying my best to keep you safe. And you turn to him.” He dropped his arms and took a step back, freeing me. “Un-fucking-believable. You’re supposed to still be in New York, you shouldn’t be here. Why won’t you listen to me?”

“I didn’t ask you to do anything, especially if it means keeping me in the dark. I don’t just blindly follow people who think they know best. I make my own decisions. And I’m here for Nan.” I walked past him, going for the doors.

He grabbed my hand and pulled me back. “We need to leave. We can’t stay here. I have my fight tomorrow and need to be in New York.”

I ripped my hand away. “Then go. I’m staying.”

He grabbed the fabric of my coat, pulling me to him again. “Listen to me. This isn’t—”

“No! You listen to me. I’m not leaving her. And I’m not following you anywhere. You go do what you need to do. And I’ll do my own thing. Now get your hands off of me.” I was all anger, my body rigid and venom in my words.

He let go of me, his hands curled by his side. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

I walked backwards, towards the double doors leading to Nan. “Maybe I don’t, but that’s only because you won’t tell me anything. And I’m not going with you just to get left again. Fuck you and your version of caring.” I spun on my toes and pushed through the doors, letting them close between us.

James’ was still in the chair by Nan, his head resting on the edge of the bed as he held her hand. He sat back in his seat as I came in.

“Some guy was just here asking for you,” he said emotionless.

I nodded, guessing Gage must’ve come to this room.

“I can’t believe no one else showed up for Nan. All the people that stay at our place, and yet it’s only me and you.”

I sat in the same chair as earlier, taking up my spot on the other side of the bed. I put her hand in mine and willed her to fight.

James laid his head back down on his sister and fell asleep, or at least appeared to be asleep. I just sat, desolate, only moving for the nurses that came in shifting Nan, changing her dressings, and whatever other things they had to do. 

A while later, Nan’s Grandmother and mother showed up together.

Nan’s mother walked in silently, standing next to James who didn’t even acknowledge her, besides sitting up in his chair. She was thin, like James and Nan, except her face was sunken, more skeleton like. She had the same thin brown hair as her kids, pulled back in a ponytail.

“Oh no. Oh no.” The grandmother came in moaning. She was tall like James, but round. “Please lord, save our baby.” She walked to the head of the bed and pressed her forehead to Nan’s and murmured too low for me to hear.

A doctor materialized in the room, as if summoned by the family presence, or Gram’s prayers. 

I looked out the window at the early night sky, just a touch of dark sunlight left, as the doctor answered their questions and caught them up with the information I already knew. But I kept my ears open, tuned in for any new bits.

“I will give you a few more minutes with her and then we are going to try to take her off the respirator, see how her lungs respond.”

I stood to leave, wanting to give them a moment alone with Nan. I had said everything I needed to her today. I only hoped they would use this time with her to say what they never said when she was growing up.

Squeezing her hand, I kissed her cheek and whispered, “I love you.” I held back the tears just behind my eyes. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Where are you going?” James asked, sitting up.

“I’ll be in the waiting room. I wanted to give you guy’s time together.”

Gram’s nodded with a small smile, hands smoothing Nan’s hair.

“No. You should stay. You’re more family than these people.” He gestured to the two around Nan, causing everyone to freeze.

I continued walking to the door. “James, it’s okay. I’ll see her in a bit, once the doctors are done.” I exited before he could say more.

I walked into the waiting room and took the first seat, pressing my fingers to my eyes forcing the emotions to stay in.

I felt the air shift as a presence filled the seat next to me, at the same time an arm slipped around my shoulders, pulling me closer.

I didn’t have to look up to know it was Gage.

 He circled his other arm around me as he pulled me in closer, his comforting warmth and scent filling my senses and weakening my hold on my emotions.

I sucked in air, but couldn’t find the strength to push away. “What are you still doing here?”

He rubbed soft circles on my back. “I’m here for you. Everything else can wait. I’m sorry.”

I looked up at him, confused, with anger pricking at me. “No it can’t wait. You have a fight tomorrow. An important one.”

He nodded and sighed, meeting my gaze with a soft look. “It can wait for tonight. I’ll have to leave tomorrow. But don’t worry about it for now. What’s going on with your friend?” He pulled me back into him and tucked my head under his.

I was drained from everything. I couldn’t find it in me to fight with him or to pull myself away, as much as I knew I should. “They are going to try to get her to breathe on her own in a little while. Her mom just showed up though so I came out here to wait. Have you been here the whole time?”  It had been hours since our fight earlier.

His hand stroked my hair. “Yeah. Have you eaten? Can I get you food?”

I held on to him tighter. “Not right now.” I had been so worried about him this week, and our meeting earlier hadn’t left any room for relief. I wanted a break from the misery, and his arms offered that, eased it slightly, just enough to breathe.

James, his mom, and Gram’s came into the waiting room moments later. I sat up and pulled away from Gage, but kept my hand clasped with his. We all waited in silence for the doctors. But at least I wasn’t alone.

Previous: 28: Trapped
Next: 30: Still Standing