The nurse led us down the hallway like there was a fire on our heels. She kept a fast clip, stress in the line of her shoulders as she walked. When she wordlessly opened the door to Cecelia’s room, she let us in ahead of her before following us inside and closing the door again behind us.
There were others in the room. Nina saw her Mom right away. She let go of my hand and went to her, wrapping her in a hug. John was sitting in a chair near Cecelia’s bed; he saw me and stood, his expression an unvoiced invitation to sit in his place. With nobody else to sit with, I obliged his offer and crossed the room before taking his seat. He squeezed my shoulder briefly, then crossed his arms over his chest, standing behind my right shoulder like a silent sentinel.
Collin’s parents—John and Teresa alike—had always been so kind to me. It was baffling, in a way; there was no reason they should have loved me so immediately, so easily upon meeting me. But they had then, and continued to love me now—and I loved them for their support and kindness.
John went to stand along Cecelia’s bedside when the nurse left the spot vacant after checking the I.V. bags, making notes on her chart and leaving the room. Across the narrow bed from him, Sam stood, holding Cecelia’s hand. Cecelia’s silver hair had been brushed and pinned back from her face. The blankets, tucked beneath her arms, had been folded neatly across her chest. She looked peaceful. Which was equal parts a comfort, and a sight that ripped into my heart.
The door opened and I knew Collin had arrived before I could even see him. Relief flooded my crawling skin as his warmth gently pressed against me. I stood up as soon as I saw him, tears turning the sight of him blurry. He came straight to me and took me in his arms.
Turning his face into my hair, he breathed, “are you holding up okay?”
I nodded against him before I pulled back so I could see him. He looked tired, with darkness beneath his deep green eyes. I’d never seen Collin’s hair be particularly tidy—he preferred it haphazardly messy—but it wasn’t messy-chic tonight. It was slept in, unwashed, the way I’d only seen it the one or two times we’d woken up together.
“Sit,” I said quietly, nodding toward the chair I’d been sitting in. “I can’t sit still anyway.”
He sat, but then took my hand in his and tugged. “We’ll share it.”
He sat me across his lap and wrapped his arms comfortably around me; I leaned into him, grateful for his strength and calm. We sat in silence for a time, nobody in the room talking except to exchange a few words here and there in low, hushed voices. Nina stood with her mom along the wall across from the end of Cecelia’s hospital bed; Val and another girl sat on the ground, their backs against the wall behind them; there were others there I didn’t know but recognized from class and the cafeteria.
When the door opened again, the sound of it startled me; Collin and I both looked up to see Leah’s dad, Darrin, come into the room. Harris, who had been standing with Samantha, went to Darrin when he saw him. He shook Darrin’s hand and gave his shoulder a squeeze. John stepped away from his place alongside the bed. He ticked his head at Darrin in a wordless invitation to take his place, then he went back to playing silent sentinel behind the chair Collin and I shared, his arms crossed comfortably over his chest. I watched, oddly numb, as Darrin took Cecelia’s hand in his.
“Hey, Cici,” he said, his voice very low. Then he chuckled once. “I knew you were popular, but wow. You should see all the people who are here for you.”
Collin pressed his forehead into my temple.
“Everybody always loved you,” Darrin went on. “And with good reason. You’re just a good person, Cici. I know you’d disagree with me if you could, but I also know you wouldn’t be able to come up with any evidence to the contrary.” His smile was sad. “So we’ll just cut to the chase and assume I won this one, huh?”
When Darrin looked up, his red-rimmed eyes met mine and the suggestion of a recognition-fueled smile dashed across his face. I tried to return his silent greeting, but, knowing I had fallen short, I turned my face into Collin’s neck instead. I didn’t know what else to do—nothing felt appropriate, or right, or like anything I was capable of doing or saying could possibly do justice to this horrible moment.
Collin pressed a kiss to my ear.
“It’s not fair that Leah doesn’t get to be here to say goodbye.” I whispered what had been whirring in my head for hours—days even.
“If she was here, that would mean she’d been arrested,” was Collin’s quiet, measured response. “But I know what you mean: I wish Drake were here—even though I’m glad he’s not.”
I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant.
We sat in silence for another set of minutes. I listened to the steady beep of the machines in the room, there to help take care of Cecelia though I had no idea what any of them actually did. Between the beeps—in between and on top of them—the quiet murmur of other bodies was a constant hum. Breathing and sighing, shifting position and murmuring prayers. Every few minutes, a new wave of skin-crawling, muscle-flexing sensation would wash over me and the gentle sound of movement would renew, a domino effect around the room. I wondered how long they were going to let us all stay here, camped out in Cecelia’s hospital room—waiting.
When a stronger pulse of muscle-flexing, skin crawling sensation came over me, it pulled a gasp from my throat; Collin’s arms tensed and his breath hung in his chest, before rushing out on a sigh as the sensation began to ebb.
“She’s making us feel this, isn’t she?” I breathed. I didn’t want anybody to overhear me—it was probably a stupid question.
Collin nodded then put his forehead against my temple again. “It will get worse as it gets closer to the end,” he breathed. “If you relax, it will help.”
I turned in his arms, wrapping my own around his shoulders and tucking my face back into his neck. “You say that like you know from experience.”
“My grandpa died in a car accident right after I turned 17.”
Shit. I blinked slowly. “Sorry.”
He only shook his head and held me more firmly.
I closed my eyes and concentrated on letting all the tension run out of my muscles. It was hard to do, and when I could manage to do it in one part of my body, I would realize another part was as tense as before. But Collin was right, the more I relaxed, the easier the buzzing under my skin was to endure, the less I wanted to crawl up the walls, the easier it was to breathe through the shuttering in my chest.
“I want us to keep the baby.”
Collin’s voice had been quiet, barely above a whisper. My reaction, however, was anything but subtle. All attempts at relaxation abandoned, I sat up and my head whipped around to find him looking at me with clear, guileless eyes.
“I know I said I would—“ he glanced around the room and dropped his voice further, “support you no matter what—and I will. I do—whatever you want. But I’ve been thinking about it for a while. And now I’m sitting here, and I…” his breath caught. “I want to make something good. We can do that, Fey. We’ve made something good.”
I didn’t know what to say. I just stared at him for a moment, watching his brows furrow as uncertainty settled onto his expression when I didn’t respond right away. My Collin, who was never uncertain about anything. But it wasn’t uncertainty in his decision that furrowed his brows—it was fear of my reaction.
I tucked my face back into his neck. “I want to keep it,” I said simply on a whisper. “I’ve known for a couple of days. I want us to keep it.”
He exhaled in a great whoosh, a relief washing over him that was so complete the sensation traveled through the warmth and managed to cut through the incessant fidgeting energy buzzing beneath my skin. He drew me closer to him and buried his face into my shoulder. I squeezed him tighter in return.
I knew I should be terrified, or at least worried about what the future held, but I wasn’t. There wasn’t room for worry in me now: I was too full of relief, and love, and sorrow, and pain. It didn’t matter anyway—if Collin and I could get through everything we’d lived through together in our short relationship so far, we could get through anything.
A few minutes later, back aching, I sat up a bit and let my head rest against Collin’s; he rested his against mine in return. We held each other up. The room around us turned to silence. Collin’s hand found my stomach, low between my hipbones; I put my hand over his and laced my fingers between his fingers. He took a deep, slow breath. Then we both took a breath together.
And we breathed, until my breath was his breath, until everything within us was in sync, until I knew, if I’d cared to listen, our heartbeats were lined up and beating together. Until my skin was buzzing at a lower volume than before.
Then a whisper: “Leah, please. Felix. I’m so sorry…” A gasp. “Emsosorry.”
Collin lurched, fighting the latest wave of sensation, his breath hanging in his chest. At first, when his arms tightened around me, I thought he was holding me together, but no—he was holding himself in place, holding himself from shattering apart. I squeezed his hand in my fingers as tightly as I squeezed my eyes shut.
The sensation when Cecelia passed was horrible, but it was beautiful: being pulled down fast through space, her warmth was a thousand pinpricks on my skin. As she ran out of my awareness, she took her warmth with her, but it was with the knowledge that she took her warmth into peace.