Afterglow

By Chanelle Summer

The Epilogue – Tommy's Afterglow

A/N – Dedications are a little cheesy haha but none the less, this one goes out to my big sister for her constant stalking of this and every other story I have ever posted x

I am stirred by overwrought adrenalin as my feet mark some sort of permanent scars on the laminate floor that runs parallel to the birthing suite by my side. I've been awake for enough hours that I've become delusional and I look it, too; only one or two midwives pass me by but they must be so well accustomed to this cagey, incontinent march that they don't stop to ease me.

I have a few candy bars under my belt and half a coffee still fermenting off the tip of my tongue. I probably need to take a piss, but if I stop walking I might fall asleep. There are three empty chairs a stone's throw away, but I ignore them. I'm ignoring everything outside and within. If I somehow stop, I might just register how scared I am to go back inside that room and I can't do that. I can't do that now.

This endless cycle of mindless gibberish is just another way for me to evade the lights that drown me with unsought spotlight. Be gentle on me or else I might just start quoting Shakespeare. This is a hospital and this is The hospital. I still hate the whining floors and detest the dirty lighting, but somehow I'm at a demented peace because within these walls I met not only the end of one journey but what is about to become the beginning of another.

I hear a cry of life echo from down the hall and are reminded of the moment that Jason's became lost to us. It was only seven weeks prior to this very date, and yet I am balanced by the agony and beauty of those final minutes all the same. A fire that gave way to ash. Flames that destroyed and changed everything within reach and yet above the emptiness, remained a light that lingered despite.

The afterglow. The subtle sunset that settles on top of the darkness below.

"Tommy?"

I barely stop and yet somehow pause within disrupted motion. Caroline Hart considers me for only a brief moment and seems to neglect her intended lecture.

I give in. My breathing is incredibly labored and unstructured. "Is she okay?" I practically gasp out.

She rests a hand on my shoulder. "She's asking for you."

I had been on a mere fifteen minute intermission from Kimberly's frightfully hellish loss of self control and awareness. Right now, she rests on a stool at the foot of her hospital bed, her entire body shaking and swaying to the grueling air sucking in through her nose and flooding out of her lips.

Those same lips shatter my name into a hundred sharp and desperate pleas and I move in for her, reaching her just in time to accept her weight. Her arms latch onto the back of my shirt as the front of it becomes caught in the suction of her breathing.

"I don't want to do this anymore," she begs to anyone listening. To me.

I swallow, admittedly laden in all my awkwardness, as I nod knowingly to the midwife who offers another encouraging statement. You're so close Kimberly. You're doing great. I know it hurts, but only a few more pushes and all the pain will be gone. Good girl, Kim. Push a bit longer next time. That's it. I know it hurts Kim, but soon you'll be holding your beautiful little boy in your arms...

Kimberly went into labor almost forty-eight hours ago despite my ignorant insistence that it was just a false alarm because her waters hadn't broken. With herself in Angel Grove and myself in Reefside, I remained the ever confident support partner as I rattled off all the signs of early labor that I'd recited after reading several pregnancy books in the previous weeks. I was adamant. I told her to rest. Lie on the couch and relax. Call Carmel and have her come over.

Maybe I wasn't as courageous as I was terrified at the thought that once again, time had us at its ill mercy. I think I cursed so many times on the drive to reach her that I was literally spitting on the steering wheel. Cursing as I remembered that I left my cell at home and that I forgot to tell Hayley what was happening and that I bothered to leave Angel Grove in the first place. We'd been adequately warned that Kimberly was a likely candidate for pre-term labor and at exactly three weeks and three days away from her February due date, the doctor was not lying.

You would have sworn that I was the one going into labor.

That was good Kimberly! Good girl, Kim, give us another one like that!

It was like a scene from some extremely clichéd movie as I dramatically flung the doors of the maternity ward open and raced like a maniac down the hall in desperate search for her. Images of her huffing and puffing on a hospital bed were instantly replaced by my own embarrassment as I almost started shaking a nurse in my path in madness. Relax, Mr Oliver. She's only three centimeters dilated.

Little did she understand, however. This wasn't just any girl giving birth to her firstborn son. This was the woman who I'd loved, hated, needed, and tempted all in the space of a few months and decades and without an ounce of expectation, I was there to be loved, hated, needed and tempted all over again. Get rid of any images you might have of some sort of fairytale ending here. There's such a fine line between love and hate, and it was undeniable that Kimberly would need me through the biggest hurdle in her life. Tempted though? It felt achingly tempting to allow myself the momentary feeling that I was there to meet my own child.

The reality is as crushing as the experience of child birth itself.

Again, Kim! PUSH!

Jason's final days spanned unexpectedly into many months that saw each and every one of us push the boundaries of inevitability. It all feels out of order to me now, but the bittersweet knowing was every bit as kind to us as it was menacing. Jason suddenly didn't want to die so quickly and I accepted his fate even less. Kimberly loved him a little bit more and kept me away not as much. Jason witnessed the miracle and anticipation of impending life on sonograms and in the eyes of the creators of his own. It's undeniable; we were in denial.

Kimberly loved Jason through every night that saw him through and in August of last year I took up her offer and temporarily moved into her neglected apartment. Not a single pot plant survived her absence. I never played as many games of chess in my life as I did with Jason during the passing Fall. He made me promise to never take it easy on him and I kept my word, even as the last leaf abandoned the tree outside his window and unquenchable fatigue increasingly stole away his focus. Never his cocky smile and never his determination to kick my sorry ass.

Jason found rest during the lightest hours of the day in a rocking chair as Kimberly, his parents and I built a nursery around him, adorned in powder blues and cotton white. Kimberly would steal private tears as his rhythmic breath wheezed from nearby, and I never intervened, even when she would catch my line of sight and find me crying just as hard inside. I never saw her again with the same eyes. Her precious strength shone brightest of all on the night of Adam's highly anticipated charity auction where local businesses raised over thirty-five thousand dollars for the memorial hospital and Kimberly graced centre stage.

Jason was with her, even though we had buried him only ten days earlier. Just four weeks and one day before Christmas Day.

Push, push, pus-s-h-h-h-h!

Within the walls of my mind, my memory continues to divide the thorns from the roses as I glance down and clasp Kimberly's hand within my own. Sweat melts the frazzled tips of my hair. Her body heaves with tears. And all I am capable of doing is once again, holding her hand and refusing to let it go.

Just one more, Kim!

I tremble, squeezing my eyes shut as I feel myself almost absorb the agony from her being. Her voice sounds at a level so forceful that it roars into nothing. Silent agony. Jubilation. So many tears and unanswered pleas for mercy.

God's name is mentioned too many times for me to count. No doubt he's with us now, or at least I'd like to think so. I know she's incapable of acknowledging that I'm here, but as her face flicks up one last time it's all I can do just to hold her up as her legs sink down in all her effort.

"Oh my God-d!" she sobs in her delirium.

"Oh my God," I whisper, air panting from my lips as I find myself unknowingly mirroring her actions. Hands surround us from all directions, but I refuse to let go of her finger tips as they blanket my view unintentionally.

A cry. Kimberly's cry. A baby's cry.

The room is overrun by so much life that it quickly eclipses everything else and blinds me away from her side. I am swept to the sideline without an anchor, as nursing staff swiftly help Kimberly to the horizon of her bed. She is sobbing uncontrollably, blood and sweat smearing up her side as her arms cling onto the tiny baby, holding him desperately against her chest.

Her face sickens with the paleness of exhaustion as her tiny frame rocks without purpose. Blankets arrive aplenty. A tiny puff of matted black hair is all that remains on show between the heartbeat of his mother's chest and the many hands that intrude at his sides.

I thank God instead of praying to him, unable to distinguish between the sweat and tears that glisten off her cheek as I move in to meet it with the back of my hand.

"Shhh," I soothe, sweeping moistened bangs away from her eyes. "You did it, Kim."

"He's okay," is all she manages to whisper out, as her mother enters in to console her from her other side.

"He's perfect, sweetheart," Caroline beams with unconditional pride, as her hands accidentally tangle with my own in our frenzied attempts to mask the sheer height of our current gravity.

My smile has never been the same since the last day I saw him, and yet it's bursting through as I watch Kimberly's eyes' unfold with steady grace upon the little life searching her breast innately.

I was frightened for this moment if you want to know. Spent entire days distant at best as I tried to prepare myself for the fallout of this one precious hello. I wanted to believe that for all the times we'd cried for Jason's loss that somehow they would be enough to starve away that same devastation at the birth of his son, affectionately called Jasper. It's why I close my eyes now. Why they're so far closed that tiny flares of floating darts speckle my vision.

Jason's entire life doesn't flash before me as I expected and instead, as I venture back out of my hiding place I find myself somewhat at peace I realize he never left us.

There's no fear. No regrets. More than anything else, I simply wish he could be here.

"Don't go, please," Kimberly's face reaches up to me and I curl down to her height, hugging her face against my own.

"Never," I whisper in promise, knowing that she has finally found her purpose, I have finally found my place and Jason has finally found his peace.

The End

Final A/N – A huge thank you to everyone who took the time out to read this story and who had the patience to stick with it! It sounds silly, but when I started this story I was literally a girl – and my vision for it was at such a different place to where I took it over all these years of growing up. It was challenging and even more surprisingly, a lot of fun to write!

Where to from here? Only God knows! I still have a few very challenging months ahead of me before life hopefully levels out and I can join that wonderful notion known as "normality" again. Even when I'm not actively posting work, I am forever writing and that's something that has never changed no matter what life has chucked my way. I literally have six stories that I play around with whenever I get the time and out of those, I'm looking and hoping to post "The Perfect Replacements", a suspense thriller, and "The Scarlet Carousel", an adventure fic in the very near future. :) Stay safe and happy reading and writing to all!