Writer's Note: A huge thank-you to everyone who reviewed Anywhere, often more than once, and to everyone awaiting this sequel. Thank you also for congratulating me on my graduation, which was awesome. I apologize for any errors in this - I was up until 6 a.m. and my brain's still on strike to spite me for it. xD Grad night was worth it, though. I hope you enjoy the third story in this currently-unnamed series. :)
Jack declared his intention to stay the entire day. After a few hours, the pain in my shoulder peaked. He looked over and his mouth opened slightly in shock. "Renee, you're white as a sheet," he said. He pushed the call button. The nurse on duty needled another dose of painkillers into my I.V., and soon I was falling gently asleep.
When I awoke, Jack was still sitting there, with only one difference: he was holding my left hand, ever so gently, between the two of his. His hands are rough and callused from years of labor. They were hardened by sweat, blood and gunpowder but remain gentle on me. It almost makes me disbelieve that those hands could ever be harsh. When he palms a glock, does he do so gently? Does he snap back a rifle in preparation for its use as though caressing a child?
That evening, Dr. Shaw warned us of the approaching end to visiting hours. "Make sure you don't linger too long," she said. "Nurse Carol is a stickler. She'll call in security to have you forcibly removed, and while I personally doubt security is any match for you, Mr. Bauer, I would rather not have any bloodshed. My shift's almost over, you see, and if I have to patch people up, my kitty will be very displeased with you for making me late for dinner."
The good doctor smiled, amused by her own inside joke, and left us. Jack stayed a few moments longer, but then squeezed my hand. "I should go," he said. "I'll…I'll see you tomorrow."
I nod in confirmation, and he rubbed my hand one last time before he let it go. He stood, and was about to walk away when I grabbed his arm, with a, "Jack?"
He stopped immediately, and looked down at me.
It was going to be painful to say, and painful to hear, but I had to say it. I couldn't go into this new phase of our relationship without letting him know of my chief concern.
I whispered, "Please don't break my heart."
It's Saturday, around three o'clock. It's amazing how one's life can change in the smallest periods of time. Just last Saturday I was with Jack and his granddaughter at Magic Mountain, and now I'm in a hospital.
I know what to expect from my wound. Lots of pain, painkillers that make my head fuzzy, several weeks to a few months of healing, many months of physical therapy. But I don't know what to expect from Jack. It worries me and excites me all at once.
I look up. Jack's standing in the doorway, a small bag in hand. "Hi," I say.
"I, ah, brought you your books," Jack says, stepping inside.
"Thank you," I say, feeling surprised. I am feeling kind of bored here. Between visits from Jack, I don't really have anything else to do, except watch the perky nurse flit in and out of the room, sometimes accompanied by Dr. Shaw, sometimes not.
He hands me the bag. "I couldn't find The Jungle Books, though," he says awkwardly, in a sort of offhand apology. "I don't know where it is."
I vaguely remember bringing it with me to Kim's house, thinking I could read it to her. She'd wanted the Bernstein Bears book, though, and I couldn't deny her. "I think it's still at Kim's," I say.
"Yeah… When I picked up Teri, I brought it with me. You'd mentioned at one point that they have the animated movie of Rikki Tikki Tavi, so I thought that if she wanted me to, I'd read it to her."
Jack stares at me for a moment. "That was…that was very sweet."
I look down. I didn't do it for praise and I didn't do it to impress him. "It was something my mother did for me when I was sick," I say.
Thankfully, he doesn't latch onto the opportunity to question me about my family. Right now, I feel too raw to face those old memories.
"Can I…?" He holds his hand out, palm-side up. I look into his eyes and see a simple, worried hope there.
I lift my hand and hold it out. He takes it, lacing his fingers with mine. After a moment, he puts a gentle kiss to the back of it, lips lingering on my skin longer than usual.
He can't earn my trust if I don't give him the chance.
It's been a long seven days, but each was made a little more tolerable than the last because Jack, without fail, visited me every day. Some days he stayed until the nurses threatened to have him forcibly removed, and some days he stayed only a few minutes. It all seemed to depend on me – what I wanted, how I felt, whether I needed some space…
Jack appears in my doorway this morning. "Hey," he says. There's a soft smile on his face, but there's anxiety in his eyes. He holds up a canvas bag. "I brought you some clothes."
I smile. "Thanks." I'm not confined to the bed anymore, so I get up – gingerly, admittedly – and walk over to him. He meets me halfway, and hands over the bag. I accept them thankfully, but hesitate. He's had this look for the last few days, now – like he wants to say or do something but doesn't dare…
I brush his arm and lean in to put a small kiss at the corner of his mouth. I step back and say, "I'm just going to get changed now."
He nods. "All right. I'll close the door on my way out…"
He turns and goes. I put the bag on the bed. "Wait, Jack…" I don't look, but I can hear him stop.
"I…" I run my left hand over my hair. "I might need some help."
"…Do you want me to get a nurse?"
Yes. "No." I think about earlier this week, when he asked to take my hand. I'd given it to him, because "he can't earn my trust if I don't give him the chance." That's more true in this situation than in a simple case of holding hands, I think. "I…I want you."
My heart skips a beat nervously in the silence. Finally, Jack says, "Are you sure?"
Not at all. "Yes."
I hear footsteps shuffling, and it only takes a moment for me to realize that they're shuffling toward me, and not away. Soon, his breath is in my ear. "Where do you want to start?" he says softly.
I close my eyes and sigh quietly. "Let's start with the hard part, get it over with," I say. "My top."
I feel his knuckles brush against the skin of my back as he starts to untie the hospital gown. "If at any point you don't want me in here, say so," he says.
"What I want and what I need are two different things."