And now, the ending you’ve all been waiting for…
Alternate Ending #2
FLAWED | © 2012 | Kate Avelynn
The sliding glass doors of Granite Falls General Hospital slide open with a familiar whoosh of artificially chilled air. None of the volunteers manning the information booth pay me any attention when I step into the lobby. I’m That Girl. The one who had to be restrained in the ER three weeks ago when medics tried to cart her dead brother away.
At least they’ve stopped whispering.
With Sam’s cell phone clutched in my hand and bits of dried moss and white baby’s breath still clinging to my apron from Liz’s shop, I hurry past the always-empty gift shop with its wilted flowers and sagging balloons to the elevator on the other side of the main lobby. The heavy silver doors slide into place, enveloping me in metallic silence.
When I step out of the elevator on the third floor Liz squeezes my arm as she steps in, our timing perfect as usual. “Try not to stay too late, okay? I’m making enchiladas tonight.”
I smile the only kind of smile I have left—the jittery one that doesn’t quite make it to my heart. We both know I won’t leave until the nurses shove me out the door, but I still say what she wants to hear. “I won’t.”
Our lives have been on repeat since the swelling in Sam’s spine went down enough for them to transfer him from intensive care into his own room fifteen days ago. Every day, I close Enchanted Garden at 11:30 “for lunch” and rush to the hospital so Liz can go back and finish up at the shop. Every day, I ride the elevator to the third floor and wonder what miraculous improvement Sam has made while I mindlessly answered phones and filled flower orders.
Every day, I blame myself for Sam being here and James…not being here.
At first, I hoped for simple things. Maybe today he’ll be able to feel me tickling his toes. Then I started worrying about his sketches. Maybe today he’ll be able to grip a pencil.
A few days later, after he mastered writing our initials in a heart, I dared hope for more.
Maybe today he’ll be able to sit up.
He pulled all of it off, but today is more important to me than any of his previous accomplishments. Without today, I’ll never forgive myself for going back to my brother.
Maybe today he’ll be able to stand.
“I confirmed tomorrow’s bridal consultation before I left,” I say before the elevator door can close and take Liz away from me. I’m not ready for her to go. “Ten o’clock, don’t forget.”
She rolls her eyes. “As if Sam will let me. He’s been harassing me to give you a morning off all week. I assume he’d rather wake up to you instead of his mother.”
I give her another shaky smile. Who he wakes up to isn’t what he’s worried about, and she knows it. Sam doesn’t get why I insist on working—or why his mother even lets me. It’s only been fifteen days, he said last night. It’s okay to stop and breathe. Let it all sink in.
That’s not going to happen.
No matter how loud I scream or how desperately I fight, my life stubbornly marches on without James in it. And I can’t handle it. Not at all. If I stop to breath, to let it all sink in like Sam wants, there’s a very real chance the half of my heart James left behind will die right along with him.
So I have to go on.
For my brother.
And Liz gets that.
Instead of pushing the button that will take her down to the lobby, she pulls me into a tight hug. “I know you’re hurting, sweetie.”
I nod against her neck, breathing in the sweet lilac and rose scent that follows her everywhere, and pull away, fiddling with the hem of my apron.
As the elevator slides shut, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever get to where Sam needs me to be. To where I need to be.
I round the nurse’s desk and hesitate a few feet from Sam’s room. My hands shake and my heart trembles, but I have to be strong. Lifting my chin, I stride into his room with a smile plastered to my face.
And nearly fall over.
Sam is waiting for me, one hip perched on the edge of his bed, arms folded across his chest. He’s not quite standing on his own, but he’s so close.
I shift my weight involuntarily, leaning the direction I need him to go. The direction that will put him solidly on both feet without anyone’s help.
“I thought you’d never get here,” he says, giving me a lopsided grin. “The nurses were pretty sure I’d walk out of here and drag you out of the shop myself if you didn’t show soon.”
I glance at the wall clock and frown. 11:48. “I’m right on time.”
Concentration and pain taint his stormy eyes. When I realize what he’s about to do, I dart forward, but he holds up a hand to stop me.
A wayward lock of hair falls across his forehead, but he keeps his gaze riveted to mine as he gingerly pushes his body from the bed. The worn white and blue hospital gown falls to his knees. I can’t look away. If I break eye contact, the magic that’s keeping him upright might dissolve and he’ll crumple.
I reach a hand out to him.
He takes one clunky step, his eyes wide.
Our fingers brush.
Another step. This one a little more coordinated.
He grabs my hand and I can’t help it—a choked sob rattles free. He’s not just standing, he’s walking. It’s more than I ever hoped for when the doctors told us the bullet grazed his spine. When he shuffles close enough to wrap his arms around me, I sag against him.
“It’s going to be okay,” he murmurs while stroking my hair. “You’ve gotta let it go.”
It. The guilt. As if I’ll ever be able to let that go. I dry my tears on his hospital gown and try to pull away, but he hangs on tight.
“I’m going to knock you over,” I protest.
He chuckles, a sound I haven’t heard near enough of lately. “Actually, you’re the only reason I’m still upright. The nurses will kill me themselves if they catch me walking around like this. A little help?”
Though I desperately want him to walk out of here with me instead, I guide him back to the bed. Before I’ve finished covering his bare legs and fluffing his pillows, Sam hooks a finger around the apron ties and drags me in for a kiss. It’s tentative, but some of the heat I know he’s been holding back for my benefit these last couple of weeks creeps in by the end. When I pull away, he lets me.
“Sorry,” he mumbles.
I shake my head. “That’s okay. It felt… nice.”
“Nice?” He frowns. “That’s all?”
God. Nice is the best I could come up with? If I could dig a hole in the floor and disappear into it, I would. Anything to escape the disappointment flickering in his eyes.
“So the doctor stopped by earlier,” he says, lacing our fingers together. “He thinks I’ll be pretty close to 100% by the end of the month if I start physical therapy soon. We could probably still make it to UCLA in time for Fall term.”
I gape at him. “What?”
“Hear me out. Maybe leaving Granite Falls is exactly what we need. Get away from all the memories, you know? You don’t have to decide right now, but I think this is what James would have wanted.” He hesitates and looks away. “Even if he didn’t realize it at the time.”
Sam hasn’t said my brother’s name since that night, which has made visiting him equal parts salvation and hell. Hearing it now is a blow I’m not prepared to take. Maybe he knows, because he tugs me onto the bed and into his arms.
“We’ll get through this, Sarah,” he says. “I promise we will.”
He’s right. I know he is, even if I’m not ready to accept it. I love my brother, but James is gone. I don’t know if I’ll ever be whole again or if I even want to be, but I can’t stay here, slowly suffocating in the aftermath of what’s happened. I need to get out, get away, escape. Maybe then I’ll find peace.
Or maybe peace is right in front of me.
He lifts his head. “Okay, what?”
“I’ll go to UCLA. With you.”
The bed stills. I don’t think Sam’s even breathing.
“You’re serious?” he finally whispers.
“Very.” And the honesty in that revelation makes me feel lighter than I have in months. Maybe even years. “But this means you need to start tutoring me for the GED right now. I refuse to go back to Logan for another year while you’re in California.”
The hope sparkling in his eyes cracks the ice surrounding my heart. “Oh, you’ll pass.”
When he kisses me, even though his body trembles and my heart hammers against my chest, there’s no doubt where we stand. I can’t help but smile.
This time it reaches my heart.