A few days pass without Hunter and I speaking to one another. I do my best to stay away from him and he does the same for me. I can't pretend I'm not hurt over his obvious rejection towards me. But what am I supposed to do? Force myself on him?
My phone vibrates in my pocket and I don't have to check it to know its Elliot calling. I called him the day after Hunter and I's 'romantic tumble' and told him I would get consider getting back together with him when he got home. But until then, I wanted some time to just be on my own. I just didn't feel right dating Elliot when I had feelings for his brother.
"Girl, you are going to waste away to nothing if you don't EAT!" Brad scolds in my direction.
I look down at my measly chicken salad and sigh. I haven't had much of an appetite lately. Whenever I think about Hunter, my stomach tightens and it becomes virtually impossible to eat. Brad wipes his mouth free of the barbeque ribs he's just devoured.
"Did I mention how much I love this place?" he says and pats his stomach with satisfaction. "Plus, I'd take our waiter back home in a hot minute."
I shake my head and giggle. Brad props his elbows onto the table and cocks his head to the side to study me.
"What's goin' on with you, Jessie? I've known you since you were in diapers and that frown on your face tells me there's something on your mind."
I purse my lips. There's no use lying to Brad. He'd see right through it anyway.
"It's just….boys," I admit.
Brad waves a dismissive hand through the air. "Tell me about it, sugar. Some days I just don't think they're worth it."
Just as he's saying this, our waiter comes by and Brad gives him a flirtatious smack on the ass. The startled waiter turns our way and glares when Brad gives him a wink. I laugh behind my hand and Brad just shrugs.
"Don't care if he's straight or not," Brad says offhandedly. "With a hot ass like that, a spanking was bound to happen sooner or later."
Brad turns his attention back to me and gives me an expectant look.
"So what did Hunter do now?" he asks gently.
My mouth flounders open and closed. I haven't said a thing about Hunter this entire conversation. And as far as Brad is concerned, my interests lie with Elliot. But of course, he's my best friend. If anyone could see my true emotions, it'd be Brad.
"I guess I made a pass at him a few days back," I admit, refusing to make eye contact. "And at first it seemed like he was into me. But then he just like - stopped. And then told me to get back with Elliot because he 'wasn't the guy for me.'"
Brad's quiet for a moment and then his soft features mold into a frown.
"Well I'll be damned," he whispers under his breath.
"He really does like you."
"What? Did you not just hear what I said?!"
"Oh I heard you, Jessie. But all that means is -"
Brad's comment is cut short when his phone goes off blasting the song "Thriller" all across the restaurant. He looks to see who's calling and holds up a finger to me. I force myself to take a bit of salad.
"Jessie, we need to go," Brad says and the sense of urgency in his voice has my stomach rolling with worry.
"It's Kelly and Rex," he says and his face becomes ghostly white. "They were in an accident."
I've never liked hospitals. People tell me that every once in a while they can be a happy place where babies are born and new family connections are made. But I've never seen it. I've only ever been to the emergency room twice before. Once was when I broke my arm in sixth grade when I fell off Brad's trampoline. The other was when my 'Nanna had a heart attack.
I squirm in the waiting room while Brad makes the necessary phone calls to all of Kelly and Rex's friends and family. I called my mom and Elliot. That's all I can manage before the onslaught of tears begin pouring down my cheeks. Both asked if I needed them here. But I said no. Neither of them is close by and until I know more, I don't want to trouble them just because I need support.
Brad loops his thin arm around my shoulders and pulls me into a hug. I cry into his soft purple shirt for what feels like hours. And that's when Brad asks me if I've notified Hunter.
"No," I say quietly. "But when I called Elliot, I said if he talks to Hunter that he needed to pass along the message."
I know Brad doesn't think my course of action is very mature, but for once he lets it go. We sit together in the waiting room, our hands mashed together and our fingers intertwined. We stay like this until Kelly's mom bolts through the emergency room doors. She spots us immediately and the scared look on her face matches what I'm feeling inside. Brad and I take turns giving her hugs and when she asks us what else has happened, Brad kisses her forehead and says the doctors haven't been out to give us an update.
Kelly's mom clings to me for support, her tiny body a slightly older version of her daughter's. As the minutes drag by, more and more people come to see Rex and Kelly. Their worried expressions are all the same. Rex's parents, Kevin, Audrey, Taylor, Kelly's co-workers, and Rex's uncle all scatter the waiting room. I keep looking at the door, wondering if Hunter knows and feeling guilty that I didn't tell him.
I'm just thinking I should get over myself and text him when the ER doors open loudly and an older male doctor comes to greet us in the waiting room. He asks for Kelly and Rex's parents. Kelly's mom, Maria, clutches at my hand and tells the doctor I'll be coming back with them. The doctor's bloodshot eyes look too tired to argue. Brad lets my hand go and he gives me a nod of reassurance before I'm taken away.
Maria's grip on me tightens when we enter the doctor's office. Rex's parents sit down next to us and I notice how much the mother looks like Rex with her dark brown hair and brown eyes. My mouth goes dry when the doctor sits down across from us. His eyes look pained as he looks between the two families.
"Mr. and Mrs. Miller?" he asks, turning his attention to Rex's parents. "Rex is in critical condition, but as long as things don't take a turn for the worse, he should recover from this. That being said, however, he experienced severe trauma to the spine. Because he's not conscious, I can't run further tests…but there's a chance he won't ever be able to walk again."
Rex's mother gasps in horror and her head bows with grief. Tears well up in my eyes when the doctor then turns his eyes to Maria and I. He's silent for a moment and I don't know if it's my blurry vision, but it looks like he's trying to hold back tears of his own.
"Mrs. Martinson," he says to Maria. "The way the oncoming car hit your daughter's vehicle…"
He stops and takes a breath.
"The moment of impact was just too great and, and she wasn't wearing her seat belt," he says and his voice starts to break.
Maria's body becomes tense next to me.
"I'm - I'm so sorry," the doctor finally says wiping at the corners of his eyes. "But….we were unable to save your daughter. She was killed instantly at the scene of the accident."
The words echo in the room as if we're waiting for him to take it back.
"No…" Maria whispers. "No!"
Her body lunges forward but I grab her by the waist until she falls into me. Her body shakes with grief and her sobs hit my chest.
"No! My baby," she wails with sorrow. "My Kelly…."
Rex's parents move toward us, their arms encircling us into a massive hug. My wails of protest echo Maria's and I feel like time is standing still as I try to grasp the reality that Kelly is no longer on this earth with us.
I don't know how long the four of us stay in that room and cry after the doctor leaves. It feels like only minutes, but when I look at the clock, I see that an hour has come and gone. Eventually Rex's parents get up and give us each a final hug before leaving the room.
Maria's sobs begin to taper off and her bold green eyes stare up at me. Just seeing her reinforces the pain of Kelly's absence all over again, and I choke back a fresh batch of tears.
"I need you to do something for me," Maria says in a shaky whisper.
"I will need your help planning Kelly's funeral. No one knew her better than you. So do me a favor. Go home tonight and sleep. Because I need you to be as mentally and physically strong as possible these next few days. I need you, Jessie."
New tears begin to stream down Maria's face and I nod my head, immediately agreeing to her request. I pull her in for a hug and after a minute, the two of us make our way back to the waiting room. Upon Maria's request, the doctor did not go back to the waiting room to tell anyone what happened to Kelly.
Maria turns to me and gives me a reassuring squeeze. "I'll wait until you leave before I tell all of them."
"Are you sure?" I manage to whimper.
She tries to give me a smile but the attempt is hopeless.
"Go home my darling," she says softly. "Get rest and pray for us. Tomorrow I will need your strength."
I numbly nod my head and push the doors open to the waiting room. All conversations taper off and so many sets of eyes become trained on Maria and I. But there's only one pair of eyes I want to see.
And that's when I find them.
Hunter's powerful eyes meet mine and I don't know what comes over me. Everyone else becomes invisible and I find myself running across the room and flinging into his open arms. More tears cascade down my face and my body shakes as Hunter lifts me into his arms.
"She's gone," I whisper into his ear.
Hunter's grip on me tightens and without saying a word to anyone else, he begins to carry me out of the hospital. I can hear his heart beating through his navy blue shirt as I cry into his chest. As we make our way outside, the harder I cry, the closer he pulls me into his body.
When he finally sets me down, I wind my arms around his neck and just sob. Hunter's warm hands engulf my lower back as he pulls me into him once again.
"I'm here for you, Jessie," he whispers to me. "I promise you. I'm not going anywhere."