I hadn't been inside of a hospital since losing Jimmy.
Everything looked the same and for a brief moment I could pretend I wasn't coming in to assess the damage I had done to the son of one of the wealthiest families in the country. For a brief moment, I could pretend Jimmy was still here, and I was coming to visit him.
I needed to find out where Professor Lewis was, assess the damage, and then get home. I needed to breathe. Maybe his family was going to sue me for more money than my family could afford to pay off over fifty years. Maybe I would spend the rest of my life indebted to the Lewis clan.
But I would also spend the rest of my life without Jimmy.
The rest was just details.
I knew I was crying by the way the secretary looked at me when I requested patient information for Charles Lewis.
"He's-" she began cautiously, but suddenly it was too much for me to bear, and for the second time that day I found myself running away.
Call it muscle memory, but my feet carried me to the first floor. It was the emergency room of which Jimmy had never actually been brought into, but all my time spent in this hospital for him had taught me that this was the vending machine always stocked with the newest goods.
I was shaking as I pushed quarters into the machine.
"Ma'am, are you all right?" I turned around abruptly to tell the elderly woman who had inquired that I was fine thank you, but the words died on my tongue as I caught sight of a certain college professor sitting on a stretcher in the room behind her.
Moments later, his blue eyes caught mine. I felt my heart leap right into my throat.
"I'm fine," I distractedly told the woman, and, frantically wiping my tears in hopes it might erase that he had seen them; I retreated to the hospital exit, like a coward.
I didn't tell my parents.
When I unlocked the door to our apartment and walked in, I did so with the full intention of coming clean. Coming clean about the fact that I had committed a hit and run on my professor. Sure, he didn't seem too banged up in the fourteen seconds I had seen him at the hospital, but he also had access to some of the highest paid lawyers in the country…
Mom was sitting on the couch, Dad next to her with his arm around her. The television was on, playing the news.
I might almost expect to see Jimmy sitting on the empty lazy boy, curled up with a book. He always had his nose in a book, and was miraculously able to read comfortably while my half deaf parents blared whatever show they were watching.
Most days when I came home, it wasn't to a scene like this. Most days when I came home, it was to paperwork spread out all over the coffee table, with Mom and Dad still dressed from work, poring over unpaid bills.
I was the first in my family to go to college, and only because my grades in high school were enough to get me a scholarship. Despite this, I worked weekends at the Laundromat around the corner to lighten the burden on my parents and to be able to afford the piece of junk car I had just hit my professor with. My parents could barely afford the two children they had; when one got sick, it had only exaggerated their financial issues.
"Hey honey," my mom called over from where she sat. It was such a rare moment of peace.
And I knew that no matter how bad I had just screwed up, I couldn't take that peace away from them yet.
Certainly the phone would inevitably ring. When it did, then I would face the music.
This is what I told myself as I retreated into the small room I used to share with Jimmy and curled up into a ball in bed.
Only, morning came, and the phone never rang.
I went to work first thing Saturday; half expecting the entire incident had been a dream.
When I came home that night, my parents were again sitting in front of the television.
"Hey honey," my mom called over as I walked in.
Was I dreaming? Nobody had called?
I shuffled over to the answering machine. No new messages.
Maybe professors didn't have access to student phone numbers. Maybe he only had access to my email.
And I didn't own a computer.
I wouldn't be checking that email until Monday morning.
Realizing then that I had a little over a day left of freedom before I had to deal with what I had done, I left home.
"You're lucky you're hot, or else my boss would not let me keep letting you in," Jared sighed as I flashed an ID I had found under a washer in the Laundromat that claimed I was Stacy Lloyd, 22.
It had taken Jared a couple of months to figure out that I was not 22. He was the bouncer at the grungy bar down the road from our apartment complex. I had started going there after Jimmy died. As it turned out, engaging in unhealthy habits like binge drinking had helped me to drown my sorrows.
One night I drank too much and slipped up when he called me Stacy. Jared let me keep coming back on the condition that I wouldn't drink.
I held up my end of that bargain. Until tonight.
I knew with certainty that the last two days had not been a dream once I felt the very real sting of alcohol burning down my throat.
I sat still, listening to the musician on stage crooning into the microphone whilst strumming his guitar. I ignored the voice of reason; a voice that sounded a lot like Logan's, that told me underage drinking didn't solve my problems.
I had a good buzz going when I heard a voice from behind me.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
It was unmistakably the same voice that I heard three mornings a week. At school.
I turned around, heart pounding. Charles Lewis stood before me, casted arm in a sling. He wasn't wearing a button down shirt with a tie or a blazer; instead he looked absolutely alien to me in a pair of worn looking jeans and a snug black t-shirt, clinging to toned muscles I hadn't realized he had.
I had half expected he had mistaken my identity for that of a stranger's from behind, but when my eyes met his, it was undeniable that he knew exactly whom he had been speaking to.
It was the first moment I realized that I knew nothing about him, except for the products of my own assumptions.
I didn't speak, for once at a loss for words. He sat down on the stool beside me. Besides the sling around his arm, there was no way to know that a little over a day ago a car had hit him.
"Old fashioned," he remarked, correctly guessing the contents of my near empty glass. He turned to the bar tender. "Another," he said, nodding to my glass.
"For you, sir?" The bartender inquired.
Any words I tried to produce died on my tongue. If the last few days had felt like a dream state, they in no way compared to now.
"I know you were at the hospital Friday," he spoke again, only once the drinks appeared.
I tried to ignore the curiosity that had me wondering why my professor would buy his underage student an old fashioned, but himself drink water, but I couldn't.
"Water?" I finally spoke.
"I'd ask if I can call you Jessica, but I have a feeling the appropriate conduct between professor and student here has already been lost," he said, ignoring my question. I wasn't sure if he was referring to the part where I had hit him with my car, or the part where he had bought me a drink in a bar I wasn't legally permitted to be in.
"Jessie," I said, sipping on the drink. The sting was again all too real. I wasn't dreaming.
"And if you call me anything else besides Charlie here," he spoke, his voice so different from his usual lecturing hum, "I'm not sure I'll be able to deal with the fact that I just bought you a drink."
"Charlie," I repeated, certain my incredulity had leaked into my words.
"You're a curve ball, Jessie," he spoke, a tone in his voice so unlike the one I was used to hearing in the classroom. Emotion. "I thought my biggest problem with teaching would be disconnecting my abilities as an educator from the reputation my surname has given me. Then, not five minutes into my first day teaching..."
He didn't finish, but we both knew what the end of that sentence was. I thought about how far I had fallen in the year since then. Jimmy wouldn't be proud of me now, drinking at Marley's on a Saturday night.
"I'm sorry I broke your arm." My words were solemn. "I'm not really in control anymore."
It was the first time I had admitted it aloud. Logan had been trying to Dr. Phil me into admitting it for months, and here I was, spilling the truth to my college professor in a bar. Maybe it was because I was drunk. Or maybe it was because I felt like I had nothing left to lose.
Charlie looked over at me with soft eyes. I felt like I was seeing his real face for the first time, and not the teacher mask he put on at school. All class long I would listen to the girls behind me giggle at his jokes and whisper about how attractive he was, but only in that moment did I truly see that Charlie was good looking. He seemed to notice my scrutiny, and ran a hand uncomfortably through his sandy hair, further humanizing him to me.
"I know you're not in control," he disclosed, reaching with his free hand into his pocket. The coin that he lay down on the bar revealed why he was drinking water.
I suddenly felt like a fool. My professor was playing me. He thought I was an alcoholic.
I gathered up my things hurriedly to leave, flustered. I was no alcoholic. It was the first drop of alcohol I had touched in months.
"Jess-" He called after me, but I didn't turn back.
I stepped out the back exit and leaned against the concrete wall in the alleyway, closing my eyes and exhaling. The night air was crisp and soothing on my burning cheeks. It helped to cool the embarrassment overwhelming me.
I heard the door swing open and the sound of footsteps near me. I didn't have to open my eyes, I knew it was him.
"I haven't stepped foot in a bar in five years," he said. His voice was leaking with sincerity I knew wasn't faked. I opened my eyes but did not meet his, in fear of what I might feel if I looked at him.
In my periphery, I saw him sit down on a milk crate. "I won't pretend I know what you've been through," he continued, "but I saw you sitting at the bar from outside as I walked by, and I couldn't ignore it. Any other student, I would have thought whatever, no eighteen year old follows the drinking age. But not you. I couldn't ignore you."
He didn't say it because I was memorable in the way one might hope. He said it because I was memorable in that no one could forget the girl with the dead brother.
"So if you came to get me to go to AA, why buy me a drink?" I all but spat the words in his direction. I felt myself slipping back into the sarcastic, rude version of myself I was now coming to realize I used as a defense.
I felt his burning gaze and couldn't ignore it. I finally met his blue eyes and tried to ignore how wrong it was that I felt my heart squeeze in response to the intensity of that look.
"I'm not here for that," he said, still holding my gaze, "I wanted you to understand that I know how it feels to lose control." And what he said next surprised me. "You're the girl who's suffered a tragedy and lost a brother. People walk on eggshells around you. Nobody pushes you to try in school anymore; it's like they forget you still have a life you need to live. And if they forget, so will you. That can't happen."
I tried to ignore how frightening it was that my professor was psycho analyzing my situation with such startling accuracy.
"My family has made it so that I could never work a day in my life and still have wealth beyond the average person's wildest dreams," he continued, never breaking his eyes from mine. "So when I inevitably let the lifestyle take control of me and I developed a serious problem, everyone was quick to say I could just go to rehab and it would be like it never happened. So everyone that says I teach to prove my identity apart from my parents is right. That life is toxic."
We seemed to have deviated so far from his broken arm, that I wasn't sure what was happening anymore. It was however clear to me now why Charlie had been drinking water, and why he had an AA token.
"You need to cope with what has happened, and start moving forward," he said, "and you can't count on everyone else to give you that push, because for the very consistent future you will have to fight to give yourself an identity that isn't the girl who lost her brother. And I understand that more than you might think, because I spend almost everyday trying to dissociate myself from my last name."
He stopped there, finally breaking his eyes from mine. How on earth my Saturday night had turned into disclosing deep personal truths with my professor was beyond me.
But one thing was clear, and it was something I would have never expected.
I had something in common with Charlie Lewis.
Author's Note: Hey everyone! Really excited to be writing a new story. It has been a while to say the least - so any feedback, good or bad, is immensely appreciated. I'll try to keep updates frequent.