Falling into You Read online

Page 22


“She’s alive, yes. Unconscious, but alive. ”

  “So much blood…” I stumble backward, fall to my ass on a couch, hit the edge and tumble to the floor as if drunk.

  “She’s hemorrhaging pretty bad, but the doctors will be able to stop it, I’m sure. ”

  I don’t hear anything else. I’m back in time, back in a hospital in Harlem and a doctor is explaining something to me, but I don’t hear him either, since I tuned out after the words lost the baby. I’m back on the cold tile of the hospital waiting room, sobbing. India…dead. She never told me. Or she didn’t know she was pregnant. Either way, she’s gone, and so is the baby I never even knew about.

  Hands move me, push me, pull me. Peel my sopping shirt off, wipe my torso with a hot, damp towel. I let them. I’m in so many places. Torn, mixed, shredded, broken.

  Another baby I never got to know or hold, gone. I would have been there. But I never go the chance. No one asks me what I want. Just assumes because I’m a thug who can’t read that I wouldn’t want a baby.

  Not fair, though. India didn’t get a chance either. Maybe she would have told me. Let me be a father. We talked about kids, India and I. She wanted them. I kept quiet and let her talk, didn’t tell her what I thought. Didn’t tell her I would have loved the child and let him be whoever he wanted to be, even if he couldn’t read. It’s all I wanted, all my life, and never got.

  And now it’s been taken from me again.

  Sudden rage burns through me, white hot, blasting and beyond powerful.

  It’s not f**king fair.

  I’m not me, suddenly. I’m an observer watching as someone who looks like me heaves to his feet, picks up the nearest object—a heavy, thickly-padded leather armchair—and heaves it through the sliding door. Glass shatters, scatters, the frame cracks.

  Familiar yet foreign hands touch my shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, Colton. ” My father’s voice, murmuring low in my ear. “Just calm down. ”

  But he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know me. He doesn’t know jack-shit about my life or anything I went through. I shove him away and stalk out the front door. My rental has been moved, and I climb behind the wheel. Jim Hawthorne slides in next to me.

  “Sure you should be driving, son?” His voice is carefully neutral.

  “I’m fine. And I’m not your f**king son. ” I’m not fine, but it doesn’t matter.

  I force myself to drive halfway normally to the hospital. Before I can get out of the car, though, Jim puts his hand on my forearm.

  “Wait a sec, Colt. ”

  I know what this is about. “Not the time, Jim. ”

  Page 62

 

  “It is the time. ” His fingers tighten on my arm, and I’m close to ripping his hand off, but don’t. He’s not afraid of me, but he should be. “She’s my daughter. My only child. ”

  I hang my head, drawing deep on my tapped-out reserves of calm. “I love her, Jim. I swear to you on my f**king soul, I didn’t know. I wouldn’t have let her go anywhere alone if I’d known. She…she ran. She was scared. ”

  “How could you put her in that position after what she went through?” He’s hurt too, scared and angry.

  I get it.

  “We were getting through it. Together. Things between us just happened, and I’m not gonna f**king explain shit to you right now, or ever. She’s an adult, she made her choice. We’re good for each other. ” I force my eyes to his, and damn it if his eyes don’t look so much like hers it hurts. “I’ll take care of her. Now and always. ”

  He doesn’t answer, just sits and stares at me, eyes boring into me. I see the father in him, but I also see the shrewd businessman, the piercing, searching eyes of a man used to judging character quickly and accurately.

  “She may be an adult, but she’s still my baby. My little girl. ” His voice goes deep and low and threatening. “You better take care of her. She’s been through enough. Now this? You goddamn better take care of her. Or I swear to god I’ll kill you. ”

  It’s a threat he didn’t need, but I understand him. I meet him stare for stare, let him see a bit of the darker side of me. The thug who learned early on never to back down, ever, for anyone. He nods, after a long time. I get out and enter the hospital, ask the desk nurse for her room number.

  One-four-one. The ICU.

  My boots squeak on the tile. Antiseptic tang stings my nostrils. A vaguely female-sounding voice squawks indistinctly on the PA. A young brunette in maroon scrubs hustles past me, tablet computer in her hands.

  Then I’m counting rooms, one-three-seven, one-three-nine…one-four-one. The curtain is drawn. A monitor beeps steadily. I pause at the split in the curtain, my hand on the fabric, shaking.

  An older, stick-thin woman with pale blond hair pulled up in a severe bun appears next to me. “She’s asleep right now. They ran a few tests, and they’re going to do more later. ”

  “She still bleeding?”

  “She’s not hemorrhaging anymore, but yes, she’s still bleeding. ” She looks up at me, tapping the chart against her palm. “You’re the father?”

  I nearly choke at the term. “I’m her boyfriend, yes. ” My voice is low, nearly a whisper.

  She realizes her gaffe. “I—I’m sorry. That was insensitive of me. ” She pushes past me. “You can go in with her, but let her sleep. ”

  God, she’s white as snow. So frail looking, like this. Tubes in her nose, needles in her wrist.

  I sit. And sit. And sit. I don’t talk to her because I don’t know what to say.

  They come and wheel her bed away while she’s still asleep. Unconscious, not asleep. Don’t need any euphemisms. Will she wake up? They won’t say, which tells me maybe not.

  I end up in the chapel, not to pray, but to feel the silence, to be away from the smell of the hospital, the stench of sickness and death, the sounds of the sneakers on tile and echoing voices and beeping monitors. Away from the faces like mine, serious, sad, concerned, afraid.

  The stained glass gleams purple and red and blue and yellow, depicting something I don’t care to know about. The cross is huge and empty and mud-brown wood, machine-tooled.

  My dad finds me in the chapel, and he has my first guitar in his hand. Battered, scratched case, no-name brand, tan wood and steel strings, left behind along with all my other shit. I don’t know why he brought the guitar, but I’m grateful.

  We’re alone in the chapel. He doesn’t look at me when he speaks. “I owe you a lifetime of apologies, Colt. You’re a good man. ”

  “You don’t know me, Dad. You never have. You don’t know the shit I done. ”

  “I know. But you’re here, and you clearly love her. You’ve made it on your own, without any help from us. We should’ve been there for you, but we weren’t. So…I’m sorry. ”

  I know how much it took for him to say that, but it’s nowhere near enough. It’s a start, though. “Thanks, Dad. I wish you’d said that to me a long time ago, but thanks. ”

  “I know it doesn’t make up for how we treated you growing up, for letting you go off on your own like we did. You were too young, but I just—I was—”

  “Focused on your career, and your golden child. ” I scrub my hair with my palm. “I get it. I don’t want to talk about this shit. It’s over and done and old news. I’m here for Nell, not to mend fences broken decades ago. ”

  I click open the case and lift the guitar out. It’s hideously out of tune. I flip open the little cubby in the case where the neck sits, pull out a packet of strings. I busy myself restringing the guitar, tuning it. Dad just watches, lost in thoughts, or memories, or regrets.

  I honestly don’t give a f**k which.

  He leaves, eventually, without a word.

  Then I start playing. The music just comes out unbidden, like a river. I’m hunched over my guitar, siting on a hard pew in the middle of the chapel, staring at my scuffed, oil-stained Timberland boots. I’m sing