AN: Wow, final chapter. I won't put too much chatter up here, just want to thank everyone again for their support. Hopefully I'll get the chance to delve into some more ArTina angst with some of my fics that are in the workshops right now. More fluff is always on the way. Title of this chapter comes from the closing lines of "It's A Wonderful Life." If you still haven't seen the movie, go watch it - like now. It's amazing. Uh... oh yeah and
Happy Christmas Eve!
Chapter 8 – Every Time a Bell Rings…
My head is killing me. Oh God, I've really got to stop hitting my head. This is only like what, the sixth time in four days? My whole upper body is still aching from being pummeled by Jack, my black eye from the hockey player is stinging, and my right hand is still throbbing from hitting him back. This sucks.
Not to mention it's freezing cold. What am I doing, laying in a puddle? Oh no, that's right, it's snowing. I can feel my whole body quivering with the cold and even though I want to wrap my arms around myself for warmth, I can't get them to move. Oh right, because they vanished. Why can't I stop existing faster and be done with it? This really, really sucks.
Who the – That can't be. I hear hurried footsteps and then someone grabs my shoulder, rolling me over onto my back. The motion makes my head spin and I groan. There's a faint gasp from above my head, not that I can open my eyes to find out what it is. They feel too heavy. Maybe they're vanishing too.
There's a pressure against my forehead and I wince, reflexively trying to pull away. "Hold still." The hand gripping my shoulder tightens, and unfortunately so does the pressure on the tender spot of my head. What the hell is going on? Who is this person that can see me? I'm vanishing, I couldn't even see myself. Patches? No, definitely not Patches. Although I can smell scotch somewhere nearby, I think.
"Artie, are you okay?"
Wait a minute, I know that voice. But what is she doing here? She doesn't remember me. She hates me. Why is she here trying to help me then? Did she remember? Did telling her everything actually work?
"Artie, answer me, please."
She sounds scared. Why? Oh, right, I'm like a ninety-nine percent invisible person who's just made her remember everything about a life she's lost out on, and who's also apparently just bashed his brains in on the sidewalk again, going by the way my head feels. Ow, I really wish she'd stop pushing on that.
"Artie?" The hand on my shoulder lets go. I hear a rustling of fabric and then a plasticy click, and then the almost musical tone of phone buttons being pushed.
"Oh thank God." The buttons stop and I feel the hand touching my cheek now. "Artie, are you okay?"
"What're you doin' here?" I ask blearily, a little annoyed by how unresponsive my vocal cords are being.
"When I saw you weren't heading for home I followed you," Tina says in a rush and she sounds less worried than before. "I was worried about you. A good thing too after I saw you biff it."
"He threw a snowball at me," I grumble in annoyance. I swear to God, if I ever find that stupid barking homeless nutter, I'm going to punch him.
"What? No one threw a snowball at you. Your chair slipped on the ice and you fell."
"My chair?" I haven't used my chair in three days. I'm not paralyzed anymore. Why would I… Why don't my legs hurt anymore? They were burning earlier, from all that running, and then those bruises from hitting the dumpster. Why can't I feel that? Am I…?
Groaning, I force my eyes open and instantly shut them again as the light burns into my eyes. More slowly this time, I pry them open to a squint and find myself staring up at a swirl of gray. A really blurry, indistinct swirl of gray.
"Oh, here." A hand appears in my line of vision and I feel my glasses being pushed onto my face. There's a white line scratched into one of the lens and little droplets of water across them, but suddenly I can see again. And when I follow the line of the arm, I can see a curtain of black and blue hiding the face of the person bending over me.
"Tina!" I exclaim and I throw my arms around her. The abruptness of the hug catches her off guard and she falls onto me with an umph, but I don't care. Because this is my Tina, the Tina from my world where people are alive and happy. Where I'm alive.
"Artie, are you okay?" Tina asks hesitantly and slowly pries herself out of my hug. She's looking worried when she examines my face. Probably because I have a ridiculous grin on my face.
"I'm fantastic," I say, and push myself up into a sitting position. The sleeves of her hoodie are a little too short on me and I can feel the cold on my wrists between the end of the sleeves and the tops of my gloves. My legs are twisted awkwardly below me, and just beyond my sock-clad feet is my chair, parked at an angle over a patch of ice.
And not a single part of me is invisible.
Tina is still looking at me suspiciously but she goes to retrieve my chair. When she's got it next to me, she helps me pull myself up into it and then goes back to checking my face anxiously. "Alright, your forehead's stopped bleeding, but we should probably get you home," she says, pushing against the lump on my forehead again. "You're acting weird, I think you might have given yourself a concussion when you fell."
"I don't have a concussion," I argue, still beaming. Tina just nods and goes around behind my chair, pushing me in the direction of home. "And I didn't fall. I was pushed."
"No, I was watching and no one pushed you," Tina says firmly and I can hear the concern in her voice but I'm too excited to care. Because warmth is rushing back into me as I realize what's going on. I'm home.
"It was Patches," I explain in a rush, tilting my head back to look up at Tina while I'm talking.
"The homeless guy that barks at people?" she asks in confusion and I see her glance back over her shoulder anxiously.
"Yeah, I was wishing I'd never been born, and then he said he could do it and he pushed me and I fell. And then when I woke up, I really was in this different world where I didn't exist."
"Okay, Artie," Tina says indulgently but she starts walking faster.
"It was an awful place there, Tee, oh my God," I continue, ignoring her expression. This is Tina, and she always understands me. "My brother had been in the accident instead of me, and he got brain damaged and my dad was all bitter and angry about it, and Mom was dead because she felt too guilty about it. And then you, you were so sad and you never joined glee and you –" I falter, looking down at my gloved hand, checking for some remnant of the blood that was there but it's gone.
"You were so miserable and I couldn't take it anymore and I knew I had to find a way to come back. I ran all over the place – I wasn't paralyzed there, because I didn't exist, see – trying to find Patches but I couldn't find him anywhere. And I was vanishing, because my spirit was dying out and stopping existing. But I just kept begging to come home, and then he threw a snowball at me, and I fell and hit my head again and woke up with you here. And I'm back."
Tina looks really concerned now as we turn onto my street. "Artie, I think you've been out in the cold too long," she says, touching a hand to my cheek. Her hand feels really warm against my skin and it sends a thrill through my body.
"I know you think I'm crazy, Tee, but I'm not," I insist, reaching up to put my hand over the one she has on my face. "I've spent the last three days in that completely hellish place because I thought that everyone would be better off without me, but they weren't."
"Of course not," Tina says and even though she still looks nervous, there's something more meaningful in her gaze when she glances down at me. "How could you think we'd be better off without you, Artie? You're my best friend, I would be miserable without you."
"You were, it was so terrible," I say, and I can feel my chest tightening thinking about it. "There was no glee club, and you were still shy and scared and you stuttered," I see something like guilt on Tina's face at this but ignore it – the stutter argument is long over, "but you were so alone and you were so angry and hurt and you wouldn't let anyone get near you. It was a thousand times worse than how withdrawn you were when we met."
Tina smirks a little. "Well I don't think I'd be quite that bad, but you definitely have made my life much better."
"And you make mine better too, Tee," I say. I reach down for my wheels and roll myself forward a bit before turning back to face her. Tina looks surprised by this and barely stops in time to avoid falling on me. "I don't know what I'd do without you, Tee, and I don't want to keep putting this off any longer just because I'm scared." I swallow hard and summon on all the excitement I can feel in my chest to give me strength. "I want a second date, Tina. Will you go with me to the Winter Ball?"
For a moment Tina just gapes at me. Doubt is creeping into me – the guy in a wheelchair just asked a girl to a dance, what the hell? – but I try to keep myself positive. If there's one thing the last three days taught me is that the littlest things can make a drastic difference, and if one brave attempt at being like a normal teenager is what will tell me if Tina and I can really have a relationship, then I'm going to throw all cautions to the wind.
A smile breaks out on Tina's face and she bends over to hug me. I cling to her, breathing in the smell of her and memorizing the touch of her hair on my cheek and her hands against my back. This isn't something I will ever give up again. When she pulls back, she kisses me on the cheek before straightening up. "Let's make a deal, if you can actually remember asking me this when you recover from this head injury, I'll go," she says, still smiling.
"Promise?" I ask, holding out my hand.
Tina laughs. "Promise," she agrees, shaking my offered hand. "Now let's get you home before I have to take you to the hospital. You're still covered in slushie and if we don't get you cleaned up soon you'll get hypothermic."
We make it the rest of the way to my house in quiet, me still brimming with happiness over today's victories. I'm home, where everything is right and everyone is alive and happy, and I've finally been able to ask Tina out again. I'm pretty sure this is the best day ever.
My parents aren't home when we get there, thankfully or they'd both be freaking out, and Tina pushes me into the bathroom to get cleaned up. She originally told me to take a shower to warm up, but then decided that my "brain injury" meant it probably wasn't safe to leave me alone. Instead she helps me wash off all the slushie that had frozen to my skin and bandages the nasty scrape on my forehead from hitting the sidewalk twice (she's still firmly insisting it was only once).
After this is finished, she goes into the kitchen to make us both a warm drink (after stealing a sweater out of my closet because the hoodie of hers I was wearing is now cold and wet) and sends me in to get changed into something warm. I'm just finishing changing my clothes, pulling on a pair of warm socks because when I touch my feet they feel pretty unnaturally cold, when I notice something sticking out of the pocket of the jeans I'd just taken off. Curious, I roll over and pull it out.
It's a pair of fingerless gloves, like the kind I'm wearing, except they're white. A scrap of paper flutters out when I tug them out of the pocket, slightly yellow and wrinkled. I quickly read the handwritten note.
I frown in confusion. Thinking there's got to be more, I flip the paper over, catching a distinct whiff of alcohol. When I see the single sentence on the other side, I grin.
Told ya so, kid
"Thanks, Patches," I say, laughing. I set the note back on the bed and then my hand hesitates for a moment. My eyes linger on the white gloves. They are completely impractical and illogical, since white only stays white for so long when it's constantly coming in contact with dirty chair wheels, but maybe just this one time…
Smiling, I tug off my yellow gloves and toss them onto the bed. I pick up the white gloves to put them on and as I do something small and gold falls out into my lap. Lying gently between my thighs is a small Christmas bell. As I pick it up I hear the bright, musical jingle and something in my heart jumps.
Because that sound makes me pretty sure that something good just happened.
"Artie, are you okay in there?" Tina asks from outside the door.
"Yeah, I'm coming," I say and I stow the bell in my pocket before pulling the gloves the rest of the way on and rolling to the door. Tina breaths an audible sigh of relief when I come out and she pushes me into the living room, where she already has two mugs of hot chocolate waiting on the coffee table. I drag myself out of my chair and onto the couch, and then Tina sits down beside me, draping a blanket over both of us.
"We need to keep you awake, because I'm still not sure you don't have a concussion," Tina informs me, to which I just roll my eyes. "So here," she hands me my cocoa, which feels pleasantly warm on my cold hands, and then she reaches for the remote.
"What're we watching?" I ask when she turns on the television and the DVD player.
Tina smiles and settles herself more comfortably on the couch, picking up her own cocoa. "Your hypothermic ramblings reminded me of my favorite Christmas movie," she admits and then points at the screen. I just laugh when I see the title that pops up on the screen.
"It's a Wonderful Life," I read and laugh. "Yeah," I agree, looking over at her curled up next to me, "it most definitely is."