Title: The Curtain's Edge
Rating: eh, PG
A/N: this is a story following 'Isabella Wore a Toque'. I hope it won't be let-down after the burst of excellent reviews all you wonderful people gave me. To Ronda The Immortal Waitress: what an excellent name, where did you come up with that? And guys, don't think I've forgotten about God Put A Smile…, I will finish it, I swear. Also, Teejay, a fellow fanfiction author, has written an alternate sequel to Cathy and Heathcliffe, which may be posted soon. Be sure to read it! Okay, R&R to let me know what you think of this. I know Wuthering Heights doesn't seem to play a huge part, but people who've read it might recognize some less-obvious references.
M.J.'s bike had shitty brakes.
They were by the handlebars: you were just supposed to squeeze and then the stupid bike was supposed to brake. Instead, it slowed down, squeaking before coming to a reluctant halt.
Joan had come to a streetlight, no more than two blocks from Adam's house—her mind screamed for her to ignore the red light but cars were zooming past at lightning speed, even this early in the day. This was the intersection where the most road accidents in Arcadia happened; she remembered dimly, Kevin had written a story on it.
She was breathing heavily, more from fear than exertion and she was nearly in tears. Panic was swallowing her up: Joan couldn't stand standing still while Adam could be lying, passed out on the floor of his shed—
That did it.
Throwing caution to the wind, she biked across, ignoring the cars that skidded to sudden stops and honked, yelling obscenities at her. She had worse things to worry about.
But just before she was all the way across, one driver didn't quite brake in time: his bumper hit her leg and she cried out, sobbing a name that was as familiar to her as her own, but didn't stop pedaling with her other leg.
The driver exited her car, calling after her: "Joan! Is that you?"
But she paid no attention, she didn't hear or see. Somewhere, behind the blood pounding in her ears and the sweat on her palms, she was aware of the warm liquid seeping through her jeans. But it, like the pain, was drowned out.
And I'm not Jane anymore.
"He won't be," she chanted insistently, going as fast as her injured leg would allow, "He won't be, he won't be," and even in her mind, she wouldn't acknowledge what she feared. If she thought of him dead, of a world without Adam, she would lose her shit completely and she couldn't—she couldn't, for Adam.
He won't, he won't, he won't—
So she just flew down the deserted streets, past the dilapidated houses and graffiti-covered fences, past the flashes of people she thought she glimpsed, skipping or walking or just watching her: a little girl, a Goth, an old lady—
Finally, finally, she reached Adam's house and she didn't rely on brakes—simply throwing the bike down, she jumped off the saddle, coming down hard on the bad leg. Her face contorted and she gasped, winded as hot-wire pain shot through her. But still she called out, "Adam! Are you here?"
She swallowed hard, forcing herself forward and she felt the blood from her leg sliding down over her ankle, dripping through the toes of her bare foot, red as her nail polish and sickeningly warm. Joan soon couldn't walk for the pain, so she got down on her knees, crawling to Adam's front steps desperately.
"Adam!" She yelled but nothing answered but silence and God did not appear.
A beautiful, twisted tree stood, gnarled and beautiful and only about fifteen inches tall, in a bucket of dirt by the front steps. Its dark, grasping branches were decorated with tiny bits of glass—stained red glass, and little patches of red light fell like puddles of red blood around her.
There was something etched into the tiny tree's base but Joan couldn't make it out and didn't much care.
"Adam!" she cried and the scene skewed and tilted, as her mind flooded with his beautiful face—those eyes that knew exactly where to look, that saw through her every time and his long, arch nose she'd gazed at in profile, his mouth—oh, his mouth, the lips that kissed her palm in the library, even as she broke his heart.
Despite her vision going funny, she still tried to scramble onto those steps, onto the porch and in doing so, her elbow made sharp contact with the tree. It fell over, crashing down and she felt the dirt hit her face, heard the red-stained glass shatter and the distant sound of a door slamming open.
But the world was going mercifully black and the pain receded into nothingness as she passed out—she didn't hear the person coming up behind her or feel his arms wrapping around her waist. Collapsing into unconsciousness, she embraced the dark that hid the truth:
Adam was gone and Jane had gone with him.
She woke, not lying on Adam's driveway, nor in heaven or even in hell—but in an ambulance. The sound of the siren frightened her as she opened her eyes—she thought of Kevin, of Kevin's legs, of Adam's bloody forehead.
"Oh, God," she mumbled, not taking the name in vain but actually calling on the deity Himself, "what's happening to us?"
"You're doing fine, honey, hold on," said a calm African-American paramedic with a soothing voice and he looked into her eyes as he added, "You'll both be better soon, Joan," and she took the hand he gave her and he whispered as she closed her eyes: "Adam is on his way."
With those words, she rolled back into the dark, smiling strangely through the pain.
"No, I didn't mean to!" a voice snapped heatedly nearby as Joan woke for the second time, now in a hospital cot. Machines beeped and buzzed around her and the smell of antiseptic reminded her of who she was looking for, what she was afraid of. She tried to sit up straight, gasping in panic, only to find that a strong arm held her down.
She looked up at Adam, whose head was bandaged and whose sad eyes lit up with relief. "Hey…" he looked down at her, breathing in quietly and hastily rubbing the tears away from his eyes before she saw them too clearly. "Hey," he repeated, took her hand in his and she started at the contact: he released it. "You're okay," he murmured, a half-question.
Joan nodded, letting her head sink into her pillow as she admired him: alive! Without really being conscious of it, she was beaming, taking him in with all her joy. She didn't think to ask him who had called the ambulance or where her parents were, she was too caught up in sweet relief. Emotions raged inside her and she couldn't bring herself to touch his cheek or touch him anywhere at all: she was afraid he might vanish like a sweet dream.
He did have a dreamlike quality, the way he sat there, looking calm and happy, for the first time in weeks and weeks. Outside the curtains that hid Joan's cot from the rest of the emergency room, she could hear people yelling, talking, walking and carts rolling by—but to the two of them, they were alone.
"I missed you," Joan whispered, finding her voice hoarse.
He nodded, tears shining in his eyes again because he understood—she'd missed him for a long time, she'd missed him when they were still together, and his voice cracked as he murmured: "I know." Adam reached to cup her face, feel its lovely shape but remembering, he carefully pulled his hand back.
Too late: she caught him by the wrist, over his sleeve but it still sent a jolt through them both. Her eyes met his. "You can touch me. I won't break."
His lips parted, as if to speak, but no words came out: instead, he laughed softly and for no reason at all.
Joan laughed with him, because she felt his callused, beautiful hand by the curve of her cheek and oh, how she loved his hands. Absently, she covered his hand with hers, dragging her index finger along its surface, closing her eyes. Adam watched, enchanted.
Outside, the same harshly defiant voice that woke Joan up in the first place, spoke again and broke the spell: "She just kept biking, how was I supposed to know she needed help?"
"Um, I don't know," replied a voice Joan recognized as Kevin's sarcastically, "maybe the fact that you rammed your car into her leg?"
Adam tensed, his thumb caressing her cheek and he frowned, glancing behind him. She tried to speak, but he beat her to it, saying softly: "Just rest. Don't think about—us, anything. Just rest."
She nodded, feeling a great sense of loss when he gently removed his hand from her face and moved the curtain aside to go into the ER, but not before looking back at her, his eyes deepening in their intensity: it was an unexpectedly heated look, a look that enflamed her, spreading heat through her body and told her that Jane wasn't gone at all. She was just waiting.
The curtain fell back and he was gone.
Sighing deeply, Joan lifted herself up on her elbows, looking down at her leg's shape beneath the thin blue blanket. Before she could lift it aside and see how badly she'd been hurt, the curtain opened again and a young doctor came in, looking unshaven and tired but smiling at her in that I-still-consider-you-a-kid-even-though-I'm-about-five-years-older way.
"Hi, I'm Doctor Samuels, how are we doing?" he breezily wondered aloud, glancing down at his clipboard as he spoke, instantly earning Joan's dislike. He was another 'we' person.
"Fine, just drowsy. Mostly relieved." About Adam, not herself, but he didn't need to know that. She wiggled her toes nervously, wondering: "How bad is my leg?"
"Just fine—you needed some stitches but there's nothing broken and it should look a lot less scary in a couple of weeks." He patted her shoulder awkwardly, his eyes on the clipboard, not her face. "From what I know, you rode your bike right into traffic. You're lucky, extremely lucky. You could have easily been killed…" he glanced down at the clipboard again, "…Joan."
Joan was about to reply that she felt pretty lucky: after all, Adam was okay and so was she, and she had a feeling that Jane was coming around too. But before she could, she recognized that voice outside—"Adam, this is first time you've even looked at me in weeks"—it was Bonnie.
"Adam," she heard Kevin say, "You know this girl?"
And Adam's reply: "Yeah. I got to go. Bonnie…come on, we need to talk."
The young ER doctor caught her sudden look of dismay, the way her face lost color. "Joan? Are you all right?"
"Yeah, I'm fine," Joan lied softly and lay her head on the pillow behind her. She laughed at herself, remembering her simple joy, just at feeling his hand on her cheek. Stupid girl. He'd betrayed her and she'd made excuses, gone after him, come to his rescue and God—when, when would she learn her lesson?
"Joan!" The curtain parted again, revealing her parents, looking frantic and loving. "How are you, honey?" As Helen spoke, her eyes were on Joan's face but Will's were drawn inevitably to her legs, still covered by the blanket. It was a sore spot in their family.
"I'm fine," Joan repeated, but from her parents' faces she could tell she didn't look it, not after hearing Bonnie's voice.
The young doctor quickly explained the accident and her wound, again saying how very lucky Joan was, how common accidents were at that intersection: her parents frowned, looking bemused, worried but somehow not surprised. She'd done crazier things than bike into traffic.
The doctor's droning voice washed, unheard, over her. She ignored her mother's questions, her father's stern looks (like she planned it or something) and Kevin's voice outside, still bitching Bonnie out: to him, just another irresponsible teenage driver recklessly getting into accidents.
Her mind seemed to fog over. Bonnie had hit her. And Adam—Adam had gone off with her somewhere. Screw Wuthering Heights, screw forgiveness and excuses: she was in a hospital bed and he was choosing Bonnie over her, again.
She looked up from her pillow, seeing Kevin, looking worried. "Yeah?"
"You holding up okay in here?" He didn't look at her leg, but she could feel his attention focusing on it, by the very way he didn't. His eyes looked wet. Her big brother looked like he might break down now that he couldn't yell at anyone for hurting her anymore.
"I'm lucky," Joan replied. She smiled at her big brother, despite the heaviness in her heart and he laughed at that, glancing behind him at their parents, who were now filling out forms.
"If this is what passes for 'lucky' in our family…" he'd been grinning as he said but as he trailed off, he suddenly frowned, saying: "It's not always about me, you know. It's okay for you not to be okay about this, even if you're not… paralyzed."
He rolled his eyes, trying to make a joke of it again but it didn't quite reach his eyes.
Joan felt a deep swell of pain inside her and reached for her brother's hand—he grasped it between both of his, smiling encouragingly at her. She swallowed. I'm not okay. She couldn't close her eyes without seeing flashes of Adam, of the mock trail, of the car coming towards, slowing but hitting her anyway—I'm not okay about this…but she couldn't keep her eyes open without crying.
"Joan?" Kevin looked at her, watching her chest heave as she tried to rein her emotions in. Behind him, Will watched, pained by the sight of his son in a wheelchair beside his daughter in a hospital cot. Joan didn't miss her father's expression.
"I just want to go home," Joan said softly, summoning a smile from nowhere for her Dad's benefit, "I'm really tired." A tear rolled down her cheek and as she turned her face away to hide it, she caught sight of a book on the bedside table.
Seeing her look at it, Kevin picked it up and looked at the cover. "Is this yours? Wuthering Heights?"
And in that strange twisted, fated way that Adam seemed to have, he appeared behind the curtain, unseen by both Joan and Kevin, as she replied: "I think it's Adam's." She reached up and cupped the sides of her face, remembering the feel of his hand and going weak inside, "He must've left it here."
"Yeah," Kevin said, putting the book on Joan's lap, where she picked it up and began absently paging through it, "He left with the girl that hit you. What's up with that?"
Joan closed her eyes, gripping the book a little too tightly. "I don't know. He's always doing that, you know, and I—" her words were jumbled, coming out too fast now, "He just disappoints me, again and again, and I keep letting him."
She dropped the book, shuddering with suppressed tears.
"So stop letting him," Kevin said, a protective growl in his voice, "Don't let him get away with it this time."
Adam listened, surreptitiously watching Joan's expression as it became suddenly cold, angry. Determined. It was the face she'd worn in his shed, that day she came demanding to speak to him, about his mother and the note, and she said now, with as much conviction: "I won't. I can't even—" she shook herself, gathering her nerves around these words: "It hurts to look at him. It just hurts."
As if her words had hit him square in the chest, Adam stumbled backward, still unseen. He collided with a passing cart, and quickly stood aside, shoulders shaking.
He breathed out, his head still pounding from the blows to his head from the day before. It just hurts.
Feeling Helen's gaze on him, he wiped away the sudden tears rolling down his cheeks, and turning to her, he said, softly: "Tell her I'll—uh, tell her I'm sorry."
He turned on his heel, starting away.
"Wait!" Helen followed, frowning at him. "Can't you stay, Adam? I'm sure she'd—" she paused, smiled gently and said: "I'm sure she needs a friend right now. She was on her way to see you when it happened."
"I can't see her." Adam gave the shut curtain one last, long look and said: "I'll see you around, Mrs. G."
Helen stared after him, wondering what was the matter with him.
Meanwhile, behind the curtain, Joan added: "But I love him so much." She covered her face, beginning to cry. "I love him so much I can't stand not to look at him." Slowly, she lifted her trembling hands from her face, opening Adam's Wuthering Heights at a random page.
"It's a rough journey and a sad heart to travel it…We've braved its ghosts often together, and dared each other to stand among the graves and ask them to come. But Heathcliffe, if I ask you now, will you venture? If you do, I'll keep you. I'll not lie there by myself: they may bury me twelve feet deep, and throw the church down over me, but I won't rest till you are with me. I never will!"
"Joan, it's time to go home."