It could’ve been seconds or hours that she sat there, simply staring at his hand. It seemed too thin to be real, barely there, really. The veins protruded from his skin and snaked all the way up his skinny arms. Slipping her hand into his, she took a seat in the chair next to his hospital bed. How long had it been since she’d seen him last? Months? Years? The time seemed to blur and transform into something that could not be measured. Everything was jumbled in her mind, leaving only room to concentrate on the boy that she loved so dearly.
He was sick, but not deathly sick. The disease he had wasn’t lethal, but it would take time for him to recover.
Tentatively, she reached out and laced her hands into his hair. It was so dark, standing out against his pale skin. How had he become like this? It seemed as if only minutes ago he was laughing, taking my hand, and showing her the world.
What had happened to them? Why had they become so stranded from one another? She couldn’t remember. Her breath hitched in her throat as his mouth twitched. She let her hand fall from his hair to his face, caressing it. She carefully traced his mouth with her thumb. His lips parted slightly; his hot breath burning her skin. His eye twitched, and then opened.
Unlike his outer appearance, his gaze hadn’t changed in the slightest. His eyes, two black holes, stared into her with such intensity that it left her breathless. He closed his eyes again and sighed.
“Estella,” he said, his voice still deep. “What are you doing here?”
Her voice shook. “I had to find you.”
He opened his eyes, narrowing them slightly. “You left.”
Tears blurred her vision. “I had to.”
“No you didn’t.”
“Theo, you knew what was happening to me.”
He pulled his hand out of hers and pushed a button that made his chair raise to a sitting position. He then looked at her. “Your parents,” he stated. “That’s why you left.”
She wiped the tears from her eyes. “You know it’s not that simple.”
“They never cared how you felt.”
“They just wanted what was best for me,” she said quietly.
“Miles?” he practically yelled. “Miles Wilson is what’s best for you?”
“Theo, please.” Her eyes pleaded with him.
He was torn. They had been so in love. Young, but still in love. They had only been seventeen when they met. Her parents were wealthy, important people. He was an orphan, barely getting by. It was the classic story. Her parents didn’t approve of him and set her up with Miles Wilson, the son of another important man: Richard Wilson. Theo had expected Estella to at least say something, give him some sort of warning, but she didn’t. He went to her house one day only to learn that she was engaged to Miles. He never heard from her again.
“No,” he said. “You come to me now? After five years?”
She pulled her hands into her lap and tucked her chin to her chest. “Theo,” she said, her voice cracking, “I have never stopped loving you.”
“You didn’t tell me anything. Didn’t leave me anything. Not even a note.”
“It happened too fast.”
“You never even tried!” he said. “All these years you never tried to contact me!”
“Theo, I couldn’t.”
“I’m sick, Estella. I don’t need this right now.”
“I’m not married to him anymore.”
“Is that supposed to make it all better?”
“Then why did you tell me—”
“He’s dead, Theo. Shot himself.”
“Suicide. Should’ve known that was the only way the bastard would die.”
“Theo,” she said, looking up with him in surprise.
“Did you expect me to be sad?”
“I don’t care that he’s dead, Estella.” He looked out the window. He had waited for her for a long time, thinking that she would come back to him. She never did. When the weeks became months and months became years, he accepted the fact that she was gone from his life. He started to heal. And now, she was back again. It unnerved him, seeing her here in front of him. She was still so beautiful. Although she had lost a lot of weight and there was undeniable sadness in her eyes that didn’t used to be there, she still shined. It took everything he had not to take her in his arms, but he couldn’t. Too much had happened.
“Theo. I came back. I did. You weren’t there.”
“When did you come back?”
“You don’t wait four years!”
“Theo! Stop it, please, stop.” She was crying now.
It killed him to see her like this, but his heart had grown cold over the years.
“I tried and I couldn’t escape. I have never stopped loving you. I no longer speak to my father or mother. I don’t have contact with them at all. I came back, Theo. For you. When I learned that you were sick I…” she broke off and covered her mouth with her hand, muffling a choked sob. “I can’t lose you, Theo. I can’t…” The look on her face was that of pure agony.
“I can’t lose you. Not again. Please forgive me…Please.”
It was killing him to see her in such obvious pain. He didn’t know what to do or what to say. Instead of saying anything at all, he scooted over to the very edge of his bed. Motioning to her to join him, he watched her. She got up out of her chair and collapsed against him. He wrapped his arms around her and felt her small body shaking. Although he stopped waiting, he could never stop loving her. It was impossible.
She gripped his shirt and tried to speak. The only sound that came out was a strangled noise that resembled that of an animal dying.
“Breathe,” he whispered into her ear. “Just breathe.”
She gradually began to control herself, and soon there were only tears running down her cheeks, no sobbing. She leaned back and released his shirt. She lifted her hand to wipe away her tears, but Theo took her hand in his and laid it back down on his chest. She looked up at him with her big hazel eyes. He put his hand to her cheek, and with his thumb, wiped away her tears. He gave her a small smile and let his hand slip down to the back of her neck.
“Theo,” she whispered. “How will we get past what happened? Can you ever forgive me?”
He sighed. “Oh, Estella. It’ll take time to get past it, but I’ve already forgiven you.”
“I’ve never stopped loving you, Estella.”
“I love you, Theo.” She slipped her hand up his chest and let it rest at his collarbone.
“Estella…” Leaning forward, he captured her lips in his. The passion with which she kissed him back was that of a woman who had been deprived of love for years. The kiss was sweet and slow, stretching out. They lay there, unmoving, lips touching.
Estella moved her lips under his, trying to memorize every aspect of kissing him. His distinct outdoorsy smell filled her nostrils. She smiled into his mouth, tasting peppermint on his lips.
She pulled back, still smiling.
“Estella,” Theo said, his voice slightly husky.
She brought her hand up and traced his mouth. Looking into his eyes, she said, “Theo, I’m so sorry for leaving you. I’m sorry for listening to my stupid parents. I’m sorry for not coming until now. I’m sorry I made you wait.” She paused. “But Theo, I never stopped loving you; I still do. Is it too late?”
“It’s never too late,” he whispered.