Fragile Dreams

Recently I wrote a short story loosely based on a 30 page script that I wrote titled “Folded Dreams.” Feel free to comment with your critiques and questions.

Fragile Dreams

Jacob walked briskly down the hospital hallway, clutching the flowers tightly to his chest. They were white roses. Her favorite. He was afraid if he squeezed them any tighter, the stems might break.

I shouldn’t be here.

The pungent smell of chemical odors wafted through the air like deadly gas. The sound of heart monitors faded as he turned the corner and came to a stop. A sign reading Intensive Care Unit hung above closed double-doors. He looked to the nurse at the nearby reception desk, and she nodded at him. Jacob had been here so many times the past eight days, he didn’t need to say a word to anyone.

A loud buzz sounded, and the doors clicked open. He stepped inside. There were hospital beds lined up along the walls, separated by only curtains. Taking a deep breath, he headed straight for her bed. Bed Eleven. He came to a stop right in front of it. Her heart monitor beeped rhythmically, slowly. She was asleep as she had been for most of the past week. With no parents or family around, Jacob had been her primary visitor.

He took the visitors seat next to her bed. Rachel didn’t move. A nurse walked by in light blue scrubs.

I shouldn’t be here.

Jacob removed the wilted Gerber Daisies from the vase on the corner table and tossed them in a nearby waste basket, carefully replacing them with the white roses. He took out a pitcher of water and poured some into the vase. He glanced at Rachel, but she remained motionless besides the occasional rising and falling of her chest.

She was so young. And yet so close to death. He had to tell her the truth about what happened. But not until she was strong enough. For now, he would do the only thing he could. It was the only thing he had ever wanted to do—be with her.

He could still remember the first day of college, and he’d caught a glimpse of her. Now, five years later, she was just as beautiful. Her tangled ash blonde hair cascaded on and around her pillow. A thick bandage was wrapped around the back of her head and attached to her chin. A large patch of hair had been shaved off for the surgery. Another smaller bandage patched her right cheek where shards of glass had lacerated her face. Her right leg was propped up above her. The translucency of her skin was exaggerated by the fluorescent lights. The color in her cheeks was gone. Her arms had lost most of their muscle for lack of proper nutrition. Hospital IV bags could only go so far.

The nurse had told him that she had lost about twenty pounds. But at least she was stable now. She looked pitiful and sickly, but no less beautiful. Her hands looked soft and fragile on top of the bedsheets. The nurses had removed her engagement ring and given it to him for safekeeping. He reached into his pocket just to make sure it was still there, sealed in a small envelope. He closed the curtain around her bed, leaving it open just a crack in case the nursing staff got curious.

His heart ached for her.

Rachel’s foot twitched at the end of the bed, uncovered. Jacob took the entangled piece of the blanket’s end and wrapped the foot. By accident, he brushed her toes. They were ice cold. Jacob placed both hands and rubbed softly to warm it faster. He immediately thought of a night in his apartment where they had dined in, worn each other out with the latest game system called the Wii, and cuddled on the couch while making fun of a bad movie with her legs propped up in his lap, as he massaged the soles of her feet.

But that was a long time ago.

“Jacob?”

Rachel’s voice was soft, like a child’s, but clear. Her eyes were half-open but no less striking. Jacob fumbled for the pitcher of water, poured it into the cup, and held the straw up to her lips. She sipped eagerly until nearly half the cup was gone. She inhaled deeply and leaned back against her pillow again. She held his gaze and smiled.

Jacob couldn’t help but smile too. Her eyes still shined like stars, in spite of everything. He didn’t want to tell her. He didn’t want to break this moment.

“How are you feeling?”

“Okay, I guess,” she looked at the cup in his hand, and he offered her another sip. She licked her bottom lip where some water had leaked out.

“You look so tired,” she said. He couldn’t help but be entranced by those eyes of hers, locked on his, like time had stopped just for them. Like nothing could stop them from being together now. That’s when he realized—Rachel was in love with him. It was that familiar look in her eye. He didn’t know how to feel or what he was going to do. She suddenly grimaced a little.

“Are you okay? Is there pain?” he asked.

“No, I’m fine.”

“I can get the nurse, she can give you more morphine.”

“No. I don’t—I need to know, Jake.”

He felt his heart sink.

“About what?”

“They aren’t telling me. What happened?”

Jacob felt his breath catch in his throat. She knew something was wrong. He was going to have to tell her. He cleared his throat.

“What do you remember?” he asked. Her eyes misted.

“I remember—you.”

Jacob almost broke down right there, but he bit his lip.

“I remember you,” she repeated. She glanced at the vase. “And I remember white roses are my favorite,” she smiled. Jacob grinned, and she giggled, shaking her head a little. Her smile faded, and they both grew somber again.

“Did I kill someone?”

“No, no,” he said, putting his hand in hers. She squeezed back.

“Then why won’t anyone tell me?”

Jacob shook his head once, running his thumb over her finger.

“They said when you finally woke up, you were asking for me,” he said. Rachel nodded. “You don’t remember the accident at all?” She shook her head, her face somber. Jacob took a deep breath. For her to understand, he had to tell the beginning.

“Do you remember the time when we went cliff jumping at Leopard Falls?”

After a moment, Rachel nodded.

“I remember that.”

“Do you remember what I told you?”

Rachel said nothing, though her brow furrowed. Jacob took a deep breath.

“I told you, that day, that I was taking a job in Philadelphia. And then, you said you wouldn’t be coming.”

He could see in her eyes that she was remembering.

“How long ago was that?” he asked.

She held his gaze a long moment before answering in a hoarse whisper, with great effort.

“A month?” She looked lost. She shook her head back and forth.

“Two years.” He said it, searching her face, wishing he wouldn’t have to spell it out. She looked down at her hand in his and released her grip. Jacob pulled his own hand away.

“There was someone else.” Her eyes darted from Jacob’s face to the bed to her own hand, and all over again. She stroked the fingers of her left hand absentmindedly.

“You were—” Jacob paused, searching for the words.

“I was engaged. Wasn’t I?”

Jacob nodded, a lump forming in his throat.

“It’s been two years, Rachel,” he said, fighting to control his emotion. He willed himself not to say anything more.

Jacob reached into his right front pocket and removed the plain white envelope, opening it with a tremor in his hands. The engagement ring fell into the palm of his hand. This was a moment he had known was coming, but he had hoped it never would. Jacob placed the ring in her hands, then returned his gaze to the tile floor.

“I should have told you sooner,” he said. His stomach turned, and he clenched his jaw. Rachel sniffed, and he summoned to courage to meet her stare. Her brow was furrowed and her eyes damp. Jacob felt his own eyes well up.

It had been over two years since she had loved him, but he had never gotten over her. He didn’t think a coma from a car crash would be the thing to bring her back. He wanted to hold her. Wanted to tell her so many things. He stood up, and she immediately reached for the “emergency call” button and pressed it.

“I need to be alone right now.”

Her eyes were closed, tears leaking through the edges. She didn’t want him there. Jacob couldn’t move. He mouthed his sorrow, and the tears began to stream down his face. Two nurses elbowed their way past him.

“Please, sir, we need some privacy right now.”

Jacob left.

He shouldn’t have come. He had caused her enough pain two years ago. And every living moment since then, he regretted. He had thought Rachel the selfish one after refusing to go with him. The only option had been to follow his dreams.

It felt like he was losing her. Again. Jacob had gotten on with his life as much as possible over the past twenty-six months. Now, everything was coming back. All the memories, good and bad. All the reasons he fell in love with her the first time. They made sense again.

*                    *                  *

“My parents are over there,” she said, pointing to a plot about twenty yards to their right. Jacob pushed Rachel’s wheelchair along the gravel path that wove its way through the old graveyard behind Saint Paul’s cathedral. Thick gray clouds hung over them like a sign of foreboding.

A month had passed, and Rachel’s leg was still severely broken, but she had regained most of her normal body weight and the color was back in her cheeks. They had removed the bandage from her face, revealing some awful scarring. She looked directly ahead, very somber, finding little to draw the attention of her gaze. Finally, he stopped the wheelchair next to a newly-carved gravestone.

The name was Marcus Becker, age twenty-six.

“Do you want to be by yourself?” he said, barely above a whisper.

“No,” she said in monotone. Jacob couldn’t see her face, so he stared at the back of her head and at her hair, which she had pulled up into a bun.

He didn’t know where they went from here. Every day for the past month had felt like agony, though it was the only thing he knew to do. Without parents and without someone close, Jacob thought himself responsible and willing to care for her. His love for her was now resurrected from the tomb inside his heart. He feared he would never learn to accept the way things had gone.

Rachel opened her mouth to speak.

“You know, I hated you that day,” she said, gripping the wheels of the wheelchair tightly. “When I realized you weren’t him.”

“You should have,” he said. “I just didn’t want—”

“You didn’t want to lose me again?”

Jacob swallowed. Rachel spun her wheelchair around to face him. Tears were streaming down her face, and her lips were trembling.

“Yes,” he said, dropping his gaze to the ground. “I’m sorry.”

“The truth is, when I woke up and saw your face, I had never been so happy to be alive. You made me feel loved.”

Jacob stood awkwardly in silence.

“When I look at that tombstone,” she said, “I don’t feel a thing.” The tears really started to flow, and she buried her face in her hands, sobbing violently.

Jacob kneeled beside her, and she placed her head against his neck.

“We—” she gasped through a sob, then sniffed. Jacob removed a handkerchief from his back pocket and dabbed at her eyes, brushing back the lock of hair that had fallen in front of her face.

Jacob searched her face and swallowed. Could he become the man of her dreams? Perhaps that man died in a car crash, never to return. Would Rachel ever let go of the one she had loved, though she couldn’t even remember that person?

Rachel turned back toward to the tombstone and reached into her pocket. She removed a ring, the engagement ring she had been wearing during the accident. She looked at the tombstone a long time. Then, with great effort, she reached out and placed the ring on top of the tombstone.

She sat back in her wheelchair and stared at the tombstone for several more minutes. Then, she reached for Jacob’s hand and squeezed it.

“Let’s go,” Rachel whispered. Jacob nodded, and turned the wheelchair back down the path the way they had come. The future was uncertain, but his mind was made up.

All rights belong to the author.

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