He didn’t have an answer.
It was an easy enough question, but he didn’t have an answer.
“Why do you love me?” Her defiant chin went up as she repeated herself.
Did she think she had him? Would his silence be her cause to walk out and leave him for good this time?
His hands dropped from her shoulders, and he stepped back. A thousand possible replies rattled through his head, but her eyes said she wanted him to say the wrong thing. That’s all it would take. The cords binding them had frayed to the point of disrepair. The only thing holding them together was the quiet between them. Once he spoke, it would be over. No answer would be enough. Nothing he could say would change their course. Too many other times of not saying anything had already torn such a gash between them that it was only a matter of time now.
An argument rose in him. One that would rip her noble glint away. Who was she to bring him to the mat after the things she had done? Perhaps he should turn the question on her. But no, what would her answer be. “I don’t love you.” He could picture her face as she said it. Sure and settled. How deep would those words go?
Perhaps reminding her of better times, what they’d been through, how beautiful he thought she was. Maybe that would mean something.
He’d done this. He’d missed her. While he was working and expecting everything to go the way it ought to, he’d missed her crying in the dark and how she always deflected his compliments. Life had been so much about him and his hopes and dreams that he had forgotten about hers. In his sureness that the world would love and adore him, he hadn’t noticed just how hard it was for her to believe it could do the same for her. He had failed, and here she stood, the same question that had always been there. The one answer she had never been able to grasp. This fight wouldn’t be over for her if she left. She would always carry it—the feeling of not being enough—of being unlovable.
It broke him to know her pain would continue and that he’d played such a thorough part in reinforcing the lies.
“I’m sorry.” His voice cracked, and his gaze left her fiery eyes. “I’m sorry.” Still, no answer for her question. No perfect words to mend their brokenness. A long overdue apology. That was all. Tears rolled down his cheeks. Three times in his life he had cried. When his dog died, when his father died, and now. He knew there would be no right answer to her question—not one she would believe. In their brokenness they had danced together perfectly. Him receiving what there was to give and her giving, but never able to receive. Both broken. Both lost.
“I haven’t loved you,” he blurted out. His polished-self long gone now. “—not the way I should have. I didn’t see you when you needed me. I didn’t answer when you called. I left you alone. I didn’t watch out for you.”
Silence. Confusion and uncertainty drained the flush from her face.
He seized the moment. “I haven’t loved you, but I will. I will love you until the words feel like sunshine on your soul, until you know beyond a doubt that it’s true, until you are able to fully love yourself.”
She wept, and for the first time since he’d known her, he saw her. He saw her, and he saw the brilliance of love. How it brings beauty out of brokenness. How it keeps two damaged people together in the confidence of commitment to become completely who they can be.
It would take time. For now, he would give her space. Though his arms ached to hold her and wipe away the tears, he respected her heart and did not presume upon it. Besides, he had things of his own to examine—things he’d excused for far too long.
Kelly rested her hand on the clean pillow of the gurney.
Two nurses walked by, glanced Kelly’s direction, then beeped their way out of the ER. Kelly stayed put. A young man in purple scrubs pushed a cart down the busy corridor and into a room. The odor of Clorox and hospital food followed in his wake.
Three patients on stretchers dotted the hallway. None seemed to have serious issues. Two looked like minor sports injuries, and the closest was a meemaw who didn’t need to see a doctor. Her daughter argued about the importance of being careful while the grandson played with a plastic airplane and avoided his mother’s attempts to keep him close.
Kelly swallowed her tears and waited for the boy to mind his mother and stop staring. Some good byes needed to be said alone, not in crowded hallways, not with little eyes watching. She didn’t have that luxury though. This was it.
She took a deep breath and came around to the side of the gurney. It wasn’t the picture she expected. The face sagged slightly with a sneer. How could she have ever thought this girl was beautiful? Her cheap red lips probably still had hints of the lies she’d told, even to herself.
Tucking her straight hair behind her ears and wiping her tears away, Kelly closed her eyes and saw the ugly truth. The girl was calloused—broken and scarred. She didn’t want to be happy or whole. All she wanted was to keep Kelly in her world.
“This is it, I guess.” The tears stopped. The worst part wasn’t the loss, but the wasted life. So much lost time. Years of it. Gone. A pang of grief surprised her and pulled at her, as if the girl herself had mustered her strength and grabbed Kelly’s arm.
“No.” Kelly stepped back. This would be it. No grieving would cloud her days ahead, only joy and the realization that the girl’s world was no longer hers. “I won’t grieve for you. It’s not sad to see you go. It’s sad that I held on to you for far too long.”
Kelly took one last look into those cold eyes. “Good bye.”
“Ma’am, may I help you?” One of the chattering nurses must have circled back.
“No. I’m fine.”
“Do I know you?” The nurse twisted her mouth to the side and did something funky with her eyebrows, then lightened up. “Kelly?”
“Um, yeah.” Kelly bumped the gurney putting space between them. The past would always be there, but it didn’t have to control her. She stepped to the side toward the exit, but the nurse caught her arm.
“You look different.” Recognition and surprise registered in the nurse’s eyes. “It’s good to see you getting your life together. Recovery program?”
Kelly nodded. It was so much more than that.
“That’s great. We don’t see a lot of stories like yours.” She glanced at the empty bed. “Why are you here? Visiting someone?”
“More like saying good-bye.”
“To who?” She looked down the hallway.
Kelly weighed her answer options. Mind your own business seemed too harsh, and the truth seemed just plain weird, and there would be no more lying.
“Um, nurse…” Kelly searched for a name tag.
“Lynn.” She moved her sweater to reveal the tag. “I sat with you that time they had to pump your stomach, and then the other time.”
Kelly winced and nodded, grateful Lynn didn’t bring up the last time she had been here.
“Yeah, well. I was messed up and broken, and I guess I still am, but that part of me is dead. I came back here to say good-bye … to me. I died with Christ and have been raised to new life. I just figured I’d say one last good-bye before I put it all behind me.”
“Oh.” Lynn gave a weak smile.
Maybe the mind-your-own-business option would have been better. Kelly teetered back and forth looking for a good exit plan besides just turning and walking away, but then remembered what her new self would do.
The nurse checked her watch. “Yes?”
“Thanks.” Kelly touched her arm. “Thanks for taking care of me. I appreciate it.”
Tears glistened in the nurse’s eyes.
“And don’t worry.” Kelly patted the gurney. “You won’t be seeing that girl ever again. She’s dead and gone.”
With a smile bursting from deep inside, Kelly spun and headed for the exit, returning the kid’s high-five as she breezed by.
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