"Rose." Alex managed to mumble, finding the teenager sitting in the tree house. He wondered how she had known about this place, how she had found it, had someone told her ? What was she doing here instead of at the hospital?
She looked to him momentarily, then continued staring out the window. He was one of them. Those people she once thought she could trust. She had no time to waste on him.
"Rose I am so sorry, the accident, you'll never know how sorry I am." He began feeling this need to apologise, a need to have her look at him. She looked so much like her mother, her hair shining in the sunlight, the way she turned her head from him to shut him out, and those eyes, so deep, so sad.
She didn't answer, and he felt she wanted to be alone. But this was his place, his and Stevie's, and he needed to be here .
"I thought you'd be at the hospital" he managed to say.
"What's the point? She cant hear anything I say, its all too late." Rose answered.
"Rose I thought someone would have told you." He said.
"Told me what?" She asked
"Your mother." it sounded strange saying 'your mother' but to say her name right now would have killed him."She's awake, she's going to be ok." He said scarcely believing it himself.
She sat still for a moment, "what?? You better not be joking with me." She told him angrily.
"Rose I wouldn't joke about that. This afternoon, she woke up. Tess is there, and the others, I know she'd love to see you."
Rose smiled for a moment, then her face fell suddenly. "It's probably still too late." She declared.
"How so?" he asked sitting beside her, glad that she was finally speaking to him.
"The awful things I said, everything that's happened, so many years of lies, I guess its all too late to make something good of it now." She explained.
"No Rose" Alex said forcefully, fighting the urge to shake some sense into her. She was so stubborn like her mother. So determined to believe the worst was true, of herself, and of those around her. "You've been given a precious second chance, Don't throw that away!"
"She must hate me." Rose said quietly.
"No, Rose. Never." He answered, sensing that she somehow needed someone to say it.
"What if she doesn't want to see me?" Rose asked. And Alex realised she was still so young, just a scared little kid.
"Trust me she does. She talks about you a lot. She still has your photos all over the cottage, you must have seen them?" He told her
"Yeah." Rose nodded. She had noticed her photo all over that cottage, the bedroom still painted her favourite colour, drawings she had made as a little girl hanging on the fridge.
"What if I'm not good enough?" Rose asked him "Stevie doesn't really know me, except for a few visits, and a few phone calls here and there. What if I'm not what she wants her daughter to be?"
"You don't think she worries about that too? About what you think of her, about what you want from her as a mother?" Alex asked. "Give it some time, I know you can work it out, one thing I know for sure- she loves you to bits Rose."
Rose smiled slightly, feeling better after Alex assurances. "Are you sure she's going to be ok?" Rose asked
"Yeah" He nodded
"Why are you so sad then?" Rose asked him.
"I'm not." Alex protested weakly.
"Did she say anything about me?" Rose asked, forgetting Alex and his sorrow almost immediately
"No. I didn't really have the chance to speak to her." Alex explained.
"Why not?" Rose asked him.
That was a difficult question to answer to anyone. So he just simply didn't answer. But Rose paid no notice and kept talking.
"I don't wanna go with mum, I mean Michelle." She said "Will you take me to the hospital?" She asked Alex.
The hospital. That place, not the building itself, but the fact Stevie was in it, was the first and last place he ever wanted to be. How could he explain this to Rose? How could he say no when he looked into those eyes, a younger version of her mothers eyes
"Sure come on." He agreed as they left that tree behind and headed back to the hospital, hoping that Rose would make her smile, where he only caused her tears, that Rose would touch her on a level that he couldn't.
Alex walked alongside Rose, he felt the need to hold her hand, not that she was a child and needed it, but that somehow he needed it.
"Your mother has been asking about you." The nurse at the desk told Rose as they entered the hospital together.
"Really?" The girls face lit up. She was just so little. So vulnerable, like her mother. It made Alex forget his troubles and smile for a moment, just a brief moment, at the young girls delight.
"Come in with me? Please?" She said to Alex.
"Oh." He stammered, unable to say no, unable to say yes.
"Please." She whispered. "I'm scared."
"Me too" he uttered inaudibly.
He could not deny Rose any more than he could have denied her mother were she standing here asking the world of him. Sensing his hesitation, the girl did take his hand and they walked together down the corridor. The corridor seemed shorter than her remembered. To short to compose something that his life depended on. Altogether too short it was senseless to try and think, but his mind whirled with excitement and fear. He felt the burden of finding some suitable words for the occasion. Words that might affect his lifetime. None came to him. There was so much he wanted, needed to say. So many months of silence. Silence from her, dead cold silence. But not from him. He had spoken. Whispered, shouted, sang. It was easier when he thought she not listening. Now she was listening, now his words counted, now his words were gone.
He needn't say much, he decided quickly, just to bring Rose. It was her moment with her mother, she was the one scared, the one with things to talk about, the one running words through her mind, and her anguish somehow dulled his own. He need only remember 5 word. He would not say her name. Just that word alone felt like it would kill him. He would smile, he would try hard to smile, and he would say "Look. I brought your girl."He repeated it in his mind, not wanting to forget. But somehow it all got confused. "Look here is Rose, here is your girl, I brought her here, now I go, as you wish, but I cant go, not without saying I love you, I'm sorry, and I love you. Still, and always, and more than my very life, I love you. Thank you, for being ok, for being you, for just being. For being everything to me, everything and more,. That if I lost you I am less than nothing, and I would do anything to prevent that, anything, ask it and its yours, tell me what to say cowgirl and I say it, tell me what you wish, I grant it…tell me ..that everything can go back to being just the way it was…before. Tell me that and I can walk away, and I will be ok. Tell me all is not lost, tell me just tell me you love me. Stevie tell me you love me. I love you Stevie. Stevie Stevie Stevie Stevie Stevie."Her name echoed with his every heart beat.
He shook his head. Rose stopped outside the room fixing her hair. She turned to him "I should have got changed, done my hair up." She said quickly.
"You look fine, it will be fine" He assured her with the bravest smile he could manage.
He was so tempted in that moment to shove the girl in the door and run as far and fast as his feet would take him. But it was not possible. Rose stood, scared and nervous, and clearly not about to be the first one to step into the room. So he decided he must take that step. Grabbing her hand one again as if Rose would somehow save him from something, he took a deep breath to prepare himself, for what he was still unsure, and he ventured into the room.
It seemed that time stood still for a moment. He stood tall, the girl hiding behind him. Stevie was lying in that bed. Like she had been for months. But this time she turned her head to him as he walked in the door. Just that simple act nearly caused him to fall over. How many times he stood at that doorway longing for her to move, just one little bit, and she lay unresponsive, almost dead.
Her eyes locked with his, and had Rose not been standing behind him he would have fallen. How long he waited to see those beautiful eyes, to see them look right at him, just like now. In his confusion over his own state, he could barely make sense of the things he saw in her eyes. How was it possible to convey so many thing, so much stolen time, in just one glance? Rose tugged at his hand and he found it in himself to step aside.
"Look, I brought your girl." He managed to stammer, silently congratulating himself that he got his line right. This took her gaze away from him, and to Rose, and gave Alex the chance to catch his breath. In his shock he was unable to move, and observed silently as Rose cautiously walked to her mothers bedside and soon was enfolded into her embrace. He nodded slightly, thing would be fine for Rose, he had known that all along. He wondered if it would be that simple for him?
Then Stevie looked to him, without even a word to Rose. She looked lost for words too, and it made him realise he wasn't the only one who didn't know what to say, what to do. It was not only hard on him, and that thought gave him strength somehow not to turn and run as he wanted. He wondered how much did she remember? How much did he want her to remember?
"Alex." She said. Just one word. Just his name. But it shook him like nothing else could have.
"I…" He began, then remembered Rose "You two have a lot to catch up on. I'll see you later." he said slowly backing his way towards the door, but unable to take his eyes away.
"Will you?" Stevie asked him quietly, almost fearfully.
"Uh?" He responded, confused, already he had lost track of the conversation, and all else, lost it all in her eyes.
"You'll be back later?" She asked softly, her eyes pleading with him. And he could not refuse.
"Yes." He told her. One small word. But spoken to her it was a promise set in stone. He would be back, that was the only thing he knew for certain.