The bronze, amber and gold light seeped through the blinds and flooded across the hospital bed. The colours blurred together in a warm haze, as her eyes flitted open she experienced that familiar twinge of hurt when they adjusted. Dusk.
What time was it? What day was it? There was no way to know how long she’d been unconscious. It could have been hours, days or even weeks. The entire notion of losing time caused a chill through her veins. Shit. How did this even happen? She thought.
The one and only thing she could recall with total clarity was seeing the sun disappear into the horizon as she crossed the city bridge. She was on her way to see him, she wanted to tell him what happened. It was her favourite time of day, sometimes it was so beautiful that it caused her heart to break. Maybe that was the reason, she thought. Maybe she was so lost in her own head she hadn’t seen the car run the red light when it slammed into her.
She sat alone in the half-dark room and stared into the endless blank of the wall before her. The accident played in her mind in an horrific slow-motion loop, it made her stomach fill with lead and fall into oblivion. The images of the twisted metal, scorched asphalt and shattered glass etched themselves on her slightly broken brain.
Once the nurse came in she was very clearly surprised to find her once comatose patient wide awake. I must have been out for a while. She thought. The nurse hovered about the bed in her regulation whites and squeaky shoes. She fussed and fiddled around with switches and dials, flipped pages on her clipboard, and checked monitors and rechecked vital signs. In a flurry she mumbled something about so many visitors and then scuttled out the door without another word.
Visitors? What visitors? Where are they now? A sweet familiar vanilla-scented blur walked through the doorway. A bundle of warmth and love glided in, gushing and showering her with hugs and kisses. That smell, she knew it so well, it was her sister.
Dear sweet Kayleigh was so caring and selfless to a fault. Even though she worried far more than she ought to and drove everyone mad, they loved her for it.
“I’m so glad you’re back. Lana, I was so scared.” Her tearful smile radiated gratitude for nothing more than her sister being alive and well. “Don’t ever scare us like that again.”
Lana couldn’t speak, her throat was dry and every inch of her ached and burned. She just barely managed a smile. She wished she could hold her sister and tell her that everything would be alright, even if she didn’t know it to be true. Sometimes all people need is a little hope.
It wasn’t long before the rest of the family flooded into the tiny room surrounding her with gentle smiles and well wishes. She couldn’t show pain because they couldn’t handle seeing it, she knew that and so she sat there and smiled for them. Marina, her other sister had brought her famous brownies and her baby brother Davis had brought her iPod, the one thing she’d always said she couldn’t live without. She loved that they knew her so well.
Marina said that their parents had been at home resting and were on their way. Meanwhile Kayleigh’s son, Finn, sat on the foot of the bed playing hide n’ seek amongst the blankets despite the fact his poor aunt couldn’t even move. He was the sunlight in the room even as the stars had already started to show themselves outside. Even while everyone’s thoughts were filled with worry and despair, little Finn had the ability to change the mood of the entire room simply by entering it.
A different nurse came in to change her bandages and sent everyone off to the cafeteria for the meantime. Reluctant as they were she didn’t seem like the sort of woman you could say no to, she was stocky and well worn by time you could tell just by looking into her steely eyes. Lana gave her family that little extra push they needed. She whispered how she longed for sleep at least just for a little while. She was quietly grateful once her family was gone, the chatter and gushing was getting to be too much. She had begun to truly appreciate the light wistful silence. It wasn’t that she didn’t want her family around, merely that open signs of affection had always made her a touch uncomfortable. Often times this lead people to believe she was cold and heartless, though she didn‘t mind.
Her small measure of peace was short lived when a hesitant and familiar silhouette filled the doorway. As the light exposed his striking features Lana could have sworn for a moment that her heart had stopped. Of all the people in the world he was the last she’d ever expected to see there. Yet he was the only one she truly longed to see.
“I heard what happened and I had to see if you were okay.” His voice was edged with concern, sadness and regret. She could recognise the beginnings of tears in his eyes, though he bit them back. He was a lot like her in that sense, stoic and hidden away behind defensive walls. As much as she could wish for it he would never hold her. Like always, he maintained his distance careful never to touch her despite the fact he so longed to do just that. To hold her and know that she was still there, to know that she was okay.
That had always been the problem between them. Distance. An inescapable void that no bridge could cross, no matter how hard they tried. She couldn’t help thinking, what is he doing here? After everything they had agreed to let each other go so that they might be able to fully live their lives.
“Noah. W-water please.” Lana rasped. How could he not help her, and so momentarily forgetting their unspoken restraints and rules he was at her bedside in an instant. Gently, he raised the little plastic cup to her dried lips. His eyes intently watched her struggle to swallow. Each pained expression on her face made his brows furrow with worry.
“Thank you.” she said grimacing slightly at the scraping sensation in her throat.
As she looked in his eyes she wondered what it was she saw there. Was it pain? Concern? Or maybe it was just pity. She felt the brush of his fingertips on the back of her hand, his skin was cold but softer than she’d remembered. She’d missed him more than she cared to admit to anyone, including herself. They were never more than just friends. It was a painful kind of love, it was silent and hopeless but love nonetheless. Once she took her eyes away from his soulful gaze and looked down at their hands intertwined, a terrible stone lodged itself in her throat. There before her, shiny and menacing, was his glinting white-gold wedding ring. Lana took her hand away.
“I missed you.” Noah’s words were almost inaudible. While they meant so much, and she wished so many times to hear them, they caused her so much more pain. Painkillers. I need more painkillers, she thought. Marina and the others will be back soon, what would they say. He shouldn’t have been there and they both knew it. Their so-called friendship was over and it was best for both of them. He was married and a father. But there he was.
“Why are you here?” She whispered and found it very hard to meet his gaze.
“You know why.” There was clear meaning in his eyes and the silence that followed was the kind that the two of them knew all too well. “I was worried, I needed to see for myself that you were okay.”
“My family is downstairs, they’ll be back soon.” It was her way of saying what they were both thinking. They couldn’t be seen together. He shouldn’t have been there, he should have been at home with his loving wife and beautiful baby girl. Lana shouldn’t have wanted him to stay, but there they were. “You know me, I’m always okay.” She smiled weakly and avoided his unrelenting eyes. She couldn’t think straight with his eyes on her like that, it could have been the medication but she very much doubted it. He’d always had that effect on her and she tried her hardest never to show it. He smiled in the delicious way she loved, the way he did when they shared the same thought.
“Yes, you are.” He said. Her heart pounded in her chest and the damn heart monitor beep quickened along with it. She truly resented that damned machine. Noah’s dark eyes went empty and distant, he was disappearing right in front of her. He released his grip and started toward the door, she was safe and he couldn‘t be more grateful for the fact.
“I missed you too.” The words leapt out of her mouth in a low whisper. For a moment she thought he’d missed it, but it had stopped him just within the doorframe. He looked back and for second she wondered whether she would ever get to see him again.
“I’ll be seeing you.”
“Only if you’re lucky.” That was the only time that he hadn’t smiled when she’d said that. She hadn’t heard the approaching footsteps and it took just a second for her to realise that wasn’t the reason he hadn’t smiled. There was someone there. He had been caught out somewhere he shouldn’t have been and there was nothing they could do.
“What are you doing here?” The other voice asked curtly. As soon as she’d heard it, she understood why Noah hadn‘t just continued walking.
“Luca,” Speaking his name and the sight of his gentle face made her want to cry. She’d never seen him so ragged and run down, he looked as though he hadn’t slept in days, “it’s okay. I’m fine.” She smiled and tried to make everything seem okay, but she was so weak.
“I said. What are you doing here Noah?” The silence hung low and dark like a foreboding storm cloud. The young man stood tall in the doorway, tired and dishevelled, he was still so beautiful and seemed so innocent. He just wanted to protect her, his sweet young heart didn’t know how to do anything else.
Noah walked away looked back and said gently “Lana, I’ll be seeing you.” He walked passed Luca without so much as another word. As he did so poor Lana suddenly felt a horrible dread in her core that the two would come to blows as they had so many other times before. Thankfully, Luca saw the pained expression on her face and let it go. His clenched fists made it clear that he’d wanted retribution for all things past.
“You’re here.” He leaned in held her tightly and she kissed his forehead. His scent filled her nose and she was taken back to the night before the accident. It took her back to when he’d locked her in his arms and refused to let go. They had been fighting over Noah again, they had both said horrible things they didn’t mean. She wanted to take a break and get her head straight about where their life together was headed, he simply couldn’t accept it. He was four years her junior and at times he found her logic hard to understand. The complexities of life eluded him somewhat. More often than not his view of things were very black and white while most of her life was in the grey area.
He’d thought she was leaving to be with Noah. He could never quite grasp that no matter what Noah would always be a part of her. And so they would scream and shout and on the odd occasion Lana even threw things at him out of frustration. But in the back of their minds they knew that it would be ok, that they would be ok. They simply needed to fight about it and work the tension out. That was their way, a small side effect of the years between them. They drove one another insane, but there was a kind of beauty in that. She was jaded and cold at times, while he was always optimistic and had an infallible good nature. They were two sides of the same coin.
“I spoke to the police. They said when they pulled you out of the wreck there were suitcases in the backseat.” His boyish face was etched with sadness. For days and days he’d stressed and racked his brain trying to overcome the thought of her trying to run away.
“Yes… and?” She could see it all in his face, the way his chin wrinkled ever so slightly when he was trying to hide a frown. Despite the pain she knew she’d cause she couldn’t and wouldn’t lie to him. She would never lie to anyone, they would get the unmitigated truth no matter what. It was for that reason that the word bitch was sometimes used to describe her. It was only those who truly understood like her family, Noah and Luca that loved her anyway albeit ambivalently.
“Where were you going?”
“The Laundromat. Apparently its fiscally irresponsible to keep buying new clothes rather than wash the old ones.” She hated that she had to hurt him that way. At times she loathed him for being the child that he was in comparison to her. The years between them were sometimes too many. There were moments when she’d resent the fact she had to explain to him how the world worked. Other days she couldn’t just explain, she had to push and pull him in the right directions. “What Luca? What would you have me say?”
“Why are you being like this?” His voice dripped with worry and dread. The question saturated the air and made it thick as black oil. She could feel the floor falling out from beneath his feet and she was the one who threw the switch. The truth, there was always the truth. She wouldn’t hold back and he knew it. He had to know and she saw the cogs in his mind spin away getting him ready for what came next. Luca was bracing himself.
“I was leaving.” She looked right into his heart and didn’t flinch. Tell him only what he needs to know. Nothing more, nothing less.
“For me. I had to get away.” In the back of her mind she knew there was no avoiding the issue. He would pursue it endlessly no matter how much it hurt. “It was nothing to do with you or him, just me.”
“Is that why no one else has come to see you? Not Delilah, Chris or the others.”
“They haven’t come here, because they don’t know.” The core of the matter was that Lana hadn’t told anyone at all she was leaving. Not a soul. She had no choice but to leave, it was best for everyone that way. They could go about their lives peacefully without her.
“Goddamnit Lana, why?”
“They needn’t worry, I’m fine. Everything is fine, I won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.” She held her ground and never let him once gain any footing on the unceasing wall he so often fought to climb over. “Stop pushing Luca.”
He stood by the bed his hands stuffed into his pockets while his eyes focused keenly on hers. He was searching for something. And she knew he would never truly find it.
ONE YEAR EARLIER
He walked through his days in a kind of wakeful sleep. Every one was just like the one before and very quickly he grew painfully tired of it all. Running the restaurant from early morning on into the night took him to the point where it started to plague all other aspects of his life. Everything revolved around it. Then finally came the day when he’d realised work and the restaurant had become his life, the sole reason he‘d get out of bed in the morning. He would awaken resentful and sometimes saddened about everything he‘d missed out on, everything he‘d given up. He would sit on the edge of his king-sized bed with fancy sheets and feel like shit. There were times he would look at his wife as sweet and beautiful as the day they met and he’d feel nothing.
One June afternoon he’d been scattered about the restaurant as usual. He ran about directing staff and filling stock orders. He was trying to be in ten different places simultaneously. At the time when it should have been the peak hour lunch rush, the dining room was astonishingly empty. Noah did two walk-throughs and found himself at a loss. He didn’t know what to do with himself. And for the first time he sat down at one of the tables and had lunch at lunchtime. He found that he enjoyed the peaceful stillness as he looked around at the few patrons they did have. He watched them while away the afternoon drinking their soy lattes and swallowing down their gourmet Panini.
There were three tables, a bunch of suits sat and worked out the finer points of a business venture, two teen lovebirds hid far off in one of the corner booths and two young ladies sat at the bay window catching up for coffee. Amidst the warm sun and quiet there would be random sporadic explosions of laughter, he‘d wished for more days like that.
It was late afternoon and all but the two young women were left there. Noah had already shut most of the place down for the off-hours and turned the closed sign around. One of the girls was pale with a slender frame, had a short pixie-cut that made her big hazel eyes standout. From what Noah could gather her name was Ellie. She was soft spoken and reserved in comparison to her friend. The other had jet black hair and deep brown eyes, she was wholly unremarkable unless one was really looking. Had the circumstances been different Noah would probably have never noticed her. Her smile was just a little crooked but there was an inviting warmth behind it that couldn’t be ignored. Just by looking at her Noah knew that she wasn’t all that she seemed. She said her name was Lana.
“I’m sorry ladies but we’ve got to shut up the restaurant now to prep for the dinner shift.” He’d never liked asking patrons to leave, it made him feel rude and uncomfortable. Ellie gave him a scolding glare one that burned with the words ‘how dare you’.
“No. That’s fine we understand.” Lana waved off the concern on his face. He figured she must work in the same industry. She collected her belongings and followed him to the counter to settle the bill. Meanwhile Ellie grumbled some sardonic remark about the appalling service. No matter how many times he experienced disgruntled customers it always stung him when they reacted that way.
“Thanks very much.” He said in his sincerest voice.
“No, no thank you.” She smiled and he noticed something in her gaze that seemed familiar despite the fact they had never met before. He thought it strange and somewhat unsettling. He couldn’t help but keep his eyes on her as she and Ellie made their way out. Shortly after he locked the door he’d found himself thinking of that smile again and again. He thought of it as he cleared the tables and prepped the bar. The thought distracted him even more so when he was assigning rosters in the back office. He’d always hated being surrounded by that lofty overhanging silence. What was that? He found himself wondering more often than not. When Davis walked into the room he wasn’t entirely sure what he’d interrupted, but he had a feeling that it wasn’t anything good. The tension in the room was palpable, he could even taste it‘s battery-acid tinge. His sister wouldn’t meet anyone’s eyes and Luca was angry, that was somewhat indicated by his jaw which was very tightly clenched. Just like his sister, Davis was astute at reading people, which at times was a curse rather than a gift. Lana didn’t want to talk. She was never really one for understanding what ‘normal’ people did, despite how ever hard she tried.
“Lana, what was he doing here?” Luca asked her, ignoring her brother right beside her. That was when the coin dropped, the moment Davis figured everything out. He’d heard these arguments before, time and again they would fight like animals about the past his sister once had a long time ago. The past, it seemed had caught up with all of them.
“Just leave it alone.” Davis cautioned gently. His sister looked at him and with a quiet meaningful glance. He understood immediately. He kissed her gently on the forehead and left. “Luca, you better not upset her. Understood?” Luca nodded, knew better than to cross Lana’s brother. The inside joke all over town was that her family was much worse than any mafia. They were on a first name basis with most of the local police, and not for good reason.
“Why was he here?” The tension in his voice was unmistakeable, she could hear his heartache, sadness and doubt. He asked because he couldn’t read her the same way that Davis and Noah could. He needed to know what was going on.
“He was here because…” her voice trailed off, she knew the words would hurt him. She wanted to swallow them and make them disappear into the depths, but she couldn’t so she continued, “because he loves me. He wanted to make sure I was okay.”
All the air had left the room and what little that was left in Luca’s lungs simply vanished. She knew what it felt like to have such a bomb dropped in a single terrifying moment. Unfortunately for Luca, lying to spare someone’s feelings just wasn’t her style. He’d known that from the very beginning but somehow he thought that one day things would change and Lana would be able to truly open up to him. She had her own ways of letting him know how she felt but it was always in between the lines. And so for as long as they had been together he was never completely sure if she’d loved him the same way. Just by looking into his stormy blue eyes Lana could tell what he’d say next and there was no preparing for it.
“Do you love him?” It was the one question that was never asked out loud. She’d wondered at times why Luca had always skipped around the issue as though he were avoiding the plague. In the back of her mind she knew just as he did that they were too scared to know. But the question had finally been asked, and in that moment they both knew that everything was about to change.
“Yes,” The question that loomed overhead for as long as they were together had finally been answered, but that wouldn’t be the end of it. That single word had simultaneously opened the flood gates to a thousand more question marks, “as much as I love you.” Her response caused more frustration than understanding for them both.
SIX MONTHS EARLIER
The resonance in the bar changed the moment she walked through the door, the atmosphere lifted and everyone took notice. He definitely noticed he couldn’t help himself.