By: Aria Cage

Oh, silly me. I push and slide to the ground, looking at Nate. “You have to sit first. I sit on your lap.”

Nate looks at Daddy, then me and the chair. He doesn’t look happy, and I don’t like that. I want Nate to be happy, so I hug him and whisper, so I don’t upset Daddy. “Don’t be scared. It’s okay.”

EVERYTHING HURTS BUT WHERE it should. I lost consciousness not long after I saw Connor scream for 9-1-1 as he held my shoulder. Someone else had my head. I didn’t want to look, but I needed to see the damage. I’m a glutton that way. When the steel bars rolled off the scaffolding and danced across the hard ground, one had danced right across and impaled me to the earth. I knew right away they were going to have to saw it to get me loose. The last thing I recall thinking about is what I always do before I go to sleep―Charlie.

From about six or seven, she has been my last thought before the darkness takes me, and then one day it all changed―she became all I could think about. I had to teach myself years later how to stop because it damn near killed me. But it’s at night where I usually let the resolve go and allow her image to fill me, so it was no wonder that’s where my mind went when I slipped from the world of chaos, grinder sparks, and pain.

Now though, I feel the pain. My throat and mouth burn, my head pounds, but my shoulder doesn’t. It’s tight, but that’s all and that makes me afraid of what I’ll find as I struggle to open my eyes. They are so heavy; it’s taking a lot to open them. That’s when I feel a hand on mine, and a jolt runs through me, making me flinch against someone’s loud gasp.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. I just don’t want you to hurt yourself.” It can’t be her.

My eyes are open, but I feel groggy despite my heart pounding wildly against my chest. “Charlie?”


I push against the bed; I need to sit up. I need to fight against the drugs in my system pulling me under. I need to feel her before the dream subsides. She doesn’t come to my slumber anymore; it’s not safe for me or her when I talk in my sleep. The other inmates are like vultures to any weakness, and she has always been mine … wait, I don’t belong in here anymore. I did my time. I’m a free and successful man now. My mind is so damn jumbled, I can’t trust it. Though, how do I deny what is before my very eyes?

“What are you doing here?” I ask, grinding against the pressure building in my skull.

“I work here.”

“No. You work in Chicago.” Why would she come back here?

She scoffs against her frown; it’s the same frown from eleven years ago. “How would you know?”

I shake my head not wanting to admit that as soon as I got out I looked for her. I didn’t want to tell her that, for years, I made sure she was okay until I couldn’t bear to watch anymore, so I lie. “Nona told me.”

“Oh,” she says. “Yeah, I did work in Chicago, but moved here about a month ago with… a new start.”

I nod. I know all about new starts, hers and mine.

I wonder if her new start involves the same guy I saw her move in with. It damn near slaughtered me to see her with him, which so happened to be the last time I saw her. I owed it to myself to give her up since she was happy without me. She deserved someone like him, not the darkness of someone like me. I needed to be better for her, to be able to prove to her that I was worthy. But that day, when Doc-swoony patted her butt, and she was all smiles and giggles as she grabbed a box from her car, I knew I would never be good enough. I would never make her smile so innocently after everything. I drove away and tried to move on. I drove away before I did something really stupid or violent.

There’s a crackling silence between us, and I want to say so many things which I know I won’t. I can’t. There are so many things I want to do, but that’s something else altogether.

“Your surgery went perfectly. You were very lucky not to have damaged anything too badly that you won’t recover from with plenty of rest. The doctor will be in shortly to make sure everything is fine for you to come out of recovery.”

“Thank you,” I croak. It sounds strange, and I clear my throat.

She reaches for a cup and brings it to my lips. “For what?”

I lean forward and grip her hands and the cup in mine. I didn’t have to, but I needed to feel her skin one last time. It’s been so long since I got to touch her. I can smell her sweet scent through the antiseptic and I close my eyes. I’m such a fucking asshole.

I sip the small chip into my mouth and lay back before talking again, ignoring the drilling behind my eyes, boring into my brain. “For being here.”

“You would have done it for me.”

I would do anything for you. I have. I don’t say any of this because she knows, so I just nod.

She’s nervous, her eyes occasionally skipping to the door. Fuck, I hate that. She can’t wait to get away from me.

“Is there someone I should notify? Or has someone done that for you?”

“Shit. Nona.” I push from the bed and the pain searing through me makes me sick. Her hands plant against my chest, pushing me to the bed making my head spin, or maybe it’s the pain causing that.

“You can’t do that. You need to rest, Nate. I’ll call Nona.”

“Connor probably did already, but she’s old and worries. She’ll want to come in, but Davey won’t be able to handle seeing me like this.”

“I know. I’ll call her. I’ll tell her you’re fine. I’ll even go hang with Davey while she comes to see for herself, if it helps.”

I still, and her hands remain as I stare into her soft brown eyes which bear her broken soul. “You’d do that?”

“I’d do that. I owe you and Nona at least that,” she whispers.

“Nona hasn’t moved, Charlie. She still lives next door.”

I can see her chest shudder, and mine aches in response. “That’s okay. It’s just a house.”

It’s more than that, and we both know it. It’s a reminder of what killed everything good in me and everything innocent in her.

A nurse with a chart in her hand walks over to us, trying to hide her interest in what is going on between us. I can’t blame her. “Nice to see you awake,” she says as Charlie rushes to put space between us. I almost push myself up again in panic ’cause I don’t want her to go, but she shakes her head.

“I’ll go call Nona.” She turns away, and I can hear my heart monitor peak against the thud inside me.