Matt ambled into the sunny hospital room as he did almost everyday. It was a private room at a long term care facility, and he'd done his best over the last three years to make it her room.
He kissed her forehead, and whispered against her ear that he loved her, as he had every time he'd come to see her. He switched out a few of the CDs in the stereo, and went back to sit beside her. He unfolded the newspaper he'd brought with him, and scanned for articles that he knew she'd want to read. There were a couple on the front page, and he started with a long one on the city's new mayor. His voice carried rich and clear through the room.
This was what Matt did everyday after work the last three years. All the nurses and several of the doctors knew him by now, and always smiled in the hallway. Matt had nothing to go home to anymore, so he didn't bother rushing to get there. Instead he'd drive toward the edge of the city to the small, private hospital where the love of his life had spent the last three years sleeping. Her eyes hadn't fluttered, her hands didn't twitch, but she breathed on her on steadily and strongly.
Three years ago they'd be at a hostage scene, Emily acting as primary, talking to a schizophrenic woman with a gun pointed at a family. The woman was older, near sixty, and had returned to the home she'd lived in with her husband ten years before, to find a new family living there. She had the family in the basement, and the negotiators were set up in a newly built house across the street. It wasn't completely finished yet, but done enough for them to work in.
Emily was pacing as she spoke to the woman, who'd been suffering auditory hallucinations, and they'd found out the hard way that the floorboards weren't right. The poorly constructed floor bent as she paced, though she was so focused on negotiating Emily didn't feel it until the floor gave out. She went crashing to the basement, the broken wood scraping her skin, shock preventing her from trying to break her fall. She slammed into the concrete floor, head bouncing with a sickening thud as Matt watched terrified from above.
Head wounds are difficult to predict and treat, they'd said. It was a waiting game. So, Matt was waiting, hope and a broken heart giving him the patience to keep going.
He heard what the people at work said about him, about how he should give it up. They all thought that Emily would never wake up, that he was better off just moving on with his life. His friends tried to encourage him to date, to spend a night with a woman whose eyes were open and mouth moved in conversation. He couldn't. He'd contemplate the thought, imagine how the date would go, but her face would always float to the front of his mind. It would remind him that a night spent holding her hand, reading to her, telling the latest office gossip, was more enjoyable to him, than trying to forget her as he ate dinner with another woman.
Matt finished with the newspaper, folded it back up, and rested it on the night table. He took her right hand in his, massaging the back absently with his thumb. Now was the time he usually dealt out office gossip, and he was full of it today. Their friends were all moving on with their lives, but then none of them had lost the love of their life.
"So, Lia's finally pregnant. Duff's already like a nervous squirrel, paranoid that the slightest exertion on her part is going to hurt the baby. They're both so happy though Em. I wish you could see them. I wish you could get giggly and girly with Lia, and coo over every tiny little baby thing she and Duff pick up over the next couple months.
I know we both agreed we didn't want kids, but looking at them now, Em…maybe it's the whole thing. Maybe it just feels like we missed out on so much because we never got the chance to even move in together. We should get that chance, Em. WE can still get that chance, I'd give anything to have that chance." Matt swallowed the tennis ball-sized lump in his throat and whipped the tears from his eyes.
After three years, it wasn't often that he got so emotional, that he cried. Today had been a ringer though, a reminder of everything they didn't have. Lia and Duff talking about babies, Cheryl finally found a wedding dress (they'd all been convinced she'd go in pants), and Frank wild over his two step kids. Yes, eternal bachelor extraordinaire met a woman two years ago, and married her after dating a year. With her came a five-year-old boy, and eight year old girl, and Frank already loved them as if they were his own.
Matt was happy for his friends, over the moon really, but everything he felt to the surface. He'd be married to Emily by now. Truthfully, he couldn't say it as a certainty, but he knew that, unless she'd ended it, they'd have been married. Of course, they'd have given Cheryl a hard time about being split up and assigned new partners, but they would have done it. At least, he would have, and Matt was pretty sure Emily would have too.
"Hey, how's she doing?" Cheryl's voice startled him, and Matt jumped ten feet as she came into view.
"Crap you startled me. She's…she's the same as she has been for three years." It was the truth, grim though it may be.
Cheryl nodded, ignoring the tears still trying on his face, and moved toward the vase on the beside table. She dumped the dying flowers in the garbage, and disappeared in the bathroom to rinse and refill the vase. Moments later, she returned and set fresh flowers in the clean water. That was Cheryl's thing. She changed the flowers. For three years, she been coming weekly to biweekly to see her friend, and give her fresh flowers. Cheryl wasn't very good at hospitals or emotional scenes, but flowers—that she could do.
She stayed for a short time, joining Matt in spilling all the office gossip. She described her wedding dress in much more detail that Matt could have even imagined was there, and told her sleeping friend she still felt like she was missing a bridesmaid. She had three, but there would always be one missing. Lia had felt similarly at her wedding. Emily should have been there, squeezing her hands, and handing her Champaign to guzzle when she felt too nervous. It couldn't be helped.
Like every other time she'd come, Cheryl squeezed Emily's hand and assured her she'd be back. On her way to the door, she stopped by Matt and kissed his forehead. Obviously an inappropriate gesture between a boss and her subordinate, but not between two best friends. During the first few months after the accident, it was Cheryl who held him together. Once you're partners with someone, you never really stop being that to them. It was Cheryl who'd seen him at his worst, and held him while he broke down realizing Emily might never wake up.
Now she slipped out, leaving him to continue in the delusion of a relationship he shared with the woman in the bed. It was all she could do. Matt wasn't ready to give her up, and maybe he never would be.
Matt switched on the music, letting the bluesy-rock of the Rolling Stones carry over them. Emily couldn't stand pop, country, or rap, classical tended to bore her, folk music didn't do it for her, and the trippy Beatles-Punk Floyd-Doors genre only got her in shrink-mode. Before the accident he got her a little into Jazz and blues, and was working hard to expand her music tastes. Emily had admitted she had a friend in high school was in love with the Rolling Stones, as if it were still the sixties, and she had grown to enjoy the music. In a rather big surprise, he'd found out she like Bob Marley, and Regge in general. He'd gaped at her, but Emily just shrugged.
He always figured she'd go on surprising him until they were both in the grave. He was pretty content with that.
He sat in silence, thumb absently rubbing her hand again, staring out the window. It was seven-thirty, in half an hour the nurses would come and kick him out for the night. His breathing shuttered as memories of the two years they'd had together flooded over him. It was such a short time, but more than long enough for Matt to fall in love. And, it was one hell of a fall. It was as if he risen up to the roof of a 40 story building, made it his home—made her his home—and suddenly someone came from behind and pushed him off. All the morphine in the world couldn't take away the ache from that fall.
Matt caught movement out of the corner of his eye, and abruptly turned toward Emily. Nothing. She was as still has ever, her chest rising and falling, heart beating, but body generally still.
Then he did see movement—her eye lashes fluttered as her eyelids tried to lift up. Then her eyes went still again, and her mouth took over, lips opening so slowly, skin pulling apart gently. Her mouth was open the tiniest bit, and Matt sat staring, too stunned to move or even breath. Too scared to hope, too terrified to believe what was happening.
Her eyelids moved again, pulling up from her eyes as slowly and delicately as her lips had pulled apart. Matt held her right hand in both of his shaking ones, breathing coming faster and more desperate as he watched those small fragile movements. Her lids finally peeled away completely, and she blinked them several times, before they settled open. Finally, there were her blue-grey eyes staring up at him, filled with life--filled with her.