"Can we please go home?" I asked Alek, my voice hoarse.
"Of course. Of course, let's go." He nodded. He quickly dragged me away from the hospital room, but I dared a glance back.
I saw two men wheeling a bed away, a feminine body hidden under a white sheet.
And then my world started spinning, and a heavy darkness took over.
Chloe asked me to go home in the smallest voice I've ever heard her use. She looked up at her with her frighteningly large eyes and I could see tears brimming along her lower lash line. Something in my heart broke a little and I nodded quickly, taking her hand and leading her towards the elevator.
I walked quickly towards the hall, hoping we would get there before they took away her mother's body. But she looked back, and I quickly opened my mouth to tell her not to look. But she already saw, her body quivering, her already pale face going even paler under the fluorescent hospital lights. Sharp, quick gasps were sucked into her mouth and her knees buckled.
I called her name, but it didn't seem as if she could see or hear me. I caught her limp body right before it hit the ground, panic settling in my head.
"Chloe!" I tried again. Her eyes closed, her body still trembling violently. Nurses peered at us worriedly from over their desks, eyebrows scrunched together. A doctor came over to us and kneeled by me.
"Is she alright? What happened?"
I swallowed the momentary fear and panic that had clogged my throat and just shook my head.
"She-" my voice cracked, and I sighed and scooped her up, standing. "She looked back and saw her mom being wheeled away. She panicked. I'll just take her home and let her rest."
He looked at me and then back to Chloe in my arms, and then nodded. "Give her lots of water, son."
I turned on my heel and brought her down to the car. My head was spinning – it was too fast. Everything was moving too fast. One minute Meredith's perfectly fine, and the next Chloe is collapsing from the sight of her body. The sight of her body, hidden under that thin, white hospital sheet...
The image flashed before my eyes, and I clenched my jaw, setting Chloe in the back seat. I got into the front seat and gripped the steering wheel, my head down. Frustration gripped me like a vise, and I had the urge to punch something.
Why was this all happening to Chloe? First her dad leaves her, then he just violently comes back into her life like a tornado, and now her mother's dying on her. She's done nothing in her life to deserve this, any of this.
I looked back at her, her face troubled even in sleep. Her lower lip was pushed out slightly and her eyebrows were pulled together. Her wild mass of wayward blonde curls spilled all around her face, framing it like a soft pillow.
For a while I just sat there, staring at the tiny little wrinkles in the leather seat of the car, tracing them slowly with my eyes. They reminded me of veins. Tiny little fragile veins, so easily cut...
A major vein that's been cut can lead to death.
I took in a sharp breath and looked up. I harshly jabbed the key into the key slot and drove home, trying not to get distracted by the hoards of happy families eating ice cream on the sidewalk.
I got into my driveway and saw that Chloe's father had returned home. I looked from her house to mine, and decided she would be happier with me. Add that to the fact that I wanted to be there for her when she woke up, knowing that her father wouldn't be, probably too consumed by his own grief, I made up my mind and took her to my room.
I laid her down gently, tucking my grey blanket around her. I smoothed back that one stubborn curl that always hung in her face and bent down, leaving a lingering kiss on her forehead. Her scent enveloped me, and I wanted to roll on top of her and clutch her body to mine, protecting her from everything that could possibly hurt her in life, taking the blows for myself.
I felt her eyelashes flutter open against my cheek, and she whispered my name. I pulled back and cupped her cheek with my palm, smiling softly at her.
"Are you alright? Do you want water?"
She shook her head, burying her face into my hand, giving it tiny little kisses. I saw that silent tears were running down her face, and panic spread through my body again.
"Chloe," I bent down, laying my head in the crook of her neck. I gave it a kiss. "Tell me what you need. Please. Let me help you."
She was silent for a minute. Then she whimpered and wound her arms around my neck, pulling me down to lay beside her. "I just need you."
I got under the blanket with her and she squirmed over to me, her arms still around my neck. I tucked her head under my chin and repetitively smoothed her hair. I felt her hot tears slide down my neck, her arms trembling from holding me tightly to her.
Chloe lifted her tear-stained face to me, and I ducked down, moving my lips with hers. I could taste the salt of her tears and her wet eyelashes batting mine. I pulled back.
"Do you want to...go talk to your father?"
She pushed her eyebrows down. "No."
I sighed and rubbed her back. "You have to talk to him sometime, Chloe. And I mean actually talk, not argue while flinging kitchen utensils at each other."
Chloe's scowl deepened, but I saw her lips twitch. "We do not fling kitchen utensils at each other."
I chuckled. "Whatever you say, cutie. Whatever you say."
"Fine. Only every other night," Chloe joked.
I chuckled and shook my head.
The small smile that had slightly graced her lips immediately disappeared.
"I shouldn't be laughing and joking with you," she murmured, closing her eyes tight and shaking her head back and forth, her curls bouncing.
The smile fell from my lips, too.
"Chloe," I sighed out.
"No." Her eyes were still closed, and she was gnawing on her lip. I slowly reached over and brushed my thumb across her chin, pulling her bottom lip out from her teeth's trap.
"What do you mean no?" I crooned. "Why aren't you allowed to laugh anymore?" I brushed my lips across her forehead, inhaling her scent. Her hands twisted in my shirt, and she continued shaking her head. Her hands were shaking, and I heard her swallow thickly.
"No, no, no..." she mumbled. "She's not happy anymore. She isn't...she isn't laughing. Why do I get to laugh when she can't? When she's eight feet under with-" Her throat closed and she let out a sob. "When she's eight feet under with earth worms crawling all around? She hates bugs, you know, she would hate it down there..."
I clenched my jaw and pulled away. She looked at me, surprised. "Chloe. I – God, how do I say this. Let's just think for a moment, okay? Just open your mind for a second. What if – what if you were in her position? What if you were the one that died, and...somehow, you could see us. Me, Jasmine, your mom, everybody you cared about."
Chloe looked at me, her eyebrows furrowing. She sniffled and didn't say anything.
"Would you want us to stop living, to stop being happy just because you passed away? Would you want us to wallow away in our bloody rooms crying until we had no more tears left because of you? Do you think your mum would want you to stop laughing, to stop being happy, just because of an accident?"
Chloe's green eyes were wide now, and her lips parted slightly. She looked down at her hands, which were tucked in-between us, thinking. She took a shuddering breath, and I pulled her in again, feeling the goosebumps on her skin that had awakened due to the lack of my always-there body heat.
"Mmm," she grumbled. "I wouldn't want that."
"I know you wouldn't, Chlo. I know. Because you are purely good at heart. And so is your mother. She wouldn't want you to ever stop smiling, no matter any reason."
She slowly nodded, her eyes flickering back and forth. I pressed a lingering kiss on her forehead and sat up from the bed.
"I need to use the bathroom. I'll be right out, okay?"
Chloe nodded and sat up too, walking across my room to grab a bottle of water from my mini fridge. The constant hum that it created soothed me at night, something in my life that was always there. I went to the bathroom and shut the door with a click behind me.
Two minutes in there and I suddenly heard an ear-splitting shriek and some jarbled up words, mixed together in a high-pitched wail.
My heart instantly started beating faster and my throat closed up.
I shut the water off and quickly slapped my hands dry on my jeans. "Chloe?" My voice was high was panic.
More shrieking, and a loud thud emanated from the room. I fumbled with the door's lock and practically kicked the door open.
My eyes searched the room, and for a horrible moment, I thought she was gone. But then I saw small curls peeking out from under my blankets, which were wrapped tightly around her small, curled-up body.
"Chloe? What the hell happened?"
I walked over to her and tried to pry the sheet from her face, but she stubbornly held tight.
"There's a spider next to your fridge!" she wailed.
I stared at her, dumbfounded. I closed my eyes and imagined myself banging my head against a wall.
"Jesus, cutie! I thought you were getting murdered!"
"You know I'm afraid of spiders!"
I just rolled my eyes and planted a kiss on one of her showing fingertips, and got up to smash the bloody thing. Just as I was about to squash it wish a paper, Chloe sat up.
I turned around, an eyebrow cocked. "No? Chloe, this thing sent you into a conniption. You want it to stay in here all night?"
"No," Chloe repeated again. She bit her lip. "Will you just let it outside? I don't want him to die."
"So it's a him now," I muttered.
I scooped the blasted spider up on the paper and opened a window. I stuck my hand out and let the spider crawl to the wall.
I turned back around, placing the paper on the desk.
Chloe peeped out from under the blanket and giggled at me. She got up, dragging the blanket around her and trotted over to me.
"Have I ever told you you're the best boyfriend ever?"
She opened her arms, blanket with it, and wrapped me in it too. I laughed and wound my arms around her waist, the sheet falling around us like a curtain, and ducked down to plant chaste kisses on her neck.
"Nope, but I like the sound of it," I murmured.
"As long as you keep taking care of spiders for me, you'll keep hearing it," Chloe sighed.
"Okay, I think we've spent enough time cooped up in here. Let's go."
Chloe pulled back, her eyes startled. "What? Go where?"
"To your house, silly. As much as we both might resent your father, he just lost the only wife he's ever had. I think...I think we should be there."
She pouted and wrapped her arms and legs around my torso like a little kid. She mumbled something into my chest.
"Come on, cutie. You have to go home sometime."
Chloe got off me and sighed. Her eyes glazed over again and she put the blanket back on my bed. I gently took one of her hands in mine, and we walked down the stairs in what I knew was a sad silence, towards her alarmingly empty house.
Yes, there were always two people living in it. Her father is there.
But it isn't empty of inhabitants.
It's empty in soul, and Chloe and I both knew that.