The house was quiet, everyone else was asleep by now. Maya was resting quietly in my room, snuggled up with her stuffed animal in her bed. My sister and her fiancé were in their room, you could faintly hear the noises from their TV travelling to the living room. I briefly wondered how things had gotten to this point - we'd only met a week prior and now here he was, standing in front of me. Getting ready to leave for work.
He pushed his shaggy blonde hair out of his face. "I need to tell you something," he'd said solemnly, causing panic to rise in me and my heart to race.
The last week we had spent every moment that we were able to together, talking about everything and anything. My mind raced trying to think of what he would need to talk about that would cause him to look so serious all of the sudden.
He held his hand out to me in the middle of the dimly lit living room, drawing my attention back to him and away from my thoughts. "Give me your hand?" he asked quietly, a slight look of panic in his eyes.
I hesitated for a moment but slowly raised my hand and let it rest in his, unsure of his intentions. He looked down at our hands together for a moment and then placed my hand on his chest. I could feel his heart thumping rapidly in his chest beneath his hoodie.
"You make my heart do crazy things," he started with a slight smile tugging at the side of his lips. "It's beating out of my chest, right now. Ever since that first day that I met you, I knew that you were different. I knew that you deserved so much more than what you were getting. You are an amazing person, and so beautiful, Emberly. You deserve the world. I love you," he whispered, staring into my eyes with his piercing blue eyes, and he leaned in to kiss me.
Maya danced around me in circles giggling, her tight curls bouncing with each step. She was barely a year and a half old, and ever the wild child already. Her vibrant blue eyes taking everything in as she danced around the living room.
We were getting ready to take my mom to the hospital for a procedure - she'd already undergone several on her right foot to try to correct a bad infection that was deep in her bones, resulting in her being in a wheelchair.
I'd just turned 19, and was staying with my sister and her fiancé while I got back on my feet after being diagnosed with pseudotumor cerebri - basically a fake brain tumor that liked to cause a lot of headaches and vision changes. My mom and younger brother Robbie, who was 15, were also temporarily staying here as well until my mom was finished getting her weekly procedures done on her foot. Because the house only had 2 bedrooms, they were staying in the living room. I tried convincing my mom to take over my room while she was here, but she refused every time. Robbie refused also when I'd offered. Stubbornness runs deep in the family.
I was packing Maya's diaper bag for the day, and I overheard my sister, Cora, talking to her fiancé Ben. "Does he need a place to stay? He can come hang out here and stay. I want Em to meet Jack."
Hearing my nickname grabbed my attention. "Em to meet who?" I asked.
Cora jumped at my question. "Oh, a friend of ours is coming out today. You'll like him!" she'd said excitedly.
I shook my head. "No, Cor. I'm not meeting one of Ben's friends. For one, I'm dating someone already. And for two, I don't need to meet anyone."
I'd been dating Matt for 5 months now, and we'd been best friends since we were little. Sure, he was all the way in Georgia and I was in Pennsylvania - but I knew what I had signed up for when I said yes to dating him. He was active duty in the army, currently stationed down there. Our relationship was going… okay, I guess. That's what I kept trying to tell myself anyways. Maybe I was just in denial.
Cora rolled her eyes at me. "You and Matt have been fighting for the last couple of weeks. Didn't he tell you that he thought you guys needed a break? Like a week ago now?" She asked me as she finished getting her daughter Alice ready.
Alice was only a couple of months old now. Cora had her in her infant car seat, dressed in pants and a t-shirt with a blanket - perfect for the April weather. Her hair was short and blonde, and her eyes a bright blue color. She was cooing away
I cringed when she said that, remembering the conversation she was referring to all too clearly. He'd told me over FaceTime that there was a new girl on the base and that they'd gotten "close", whatever that meant. We were arguing about little things frequently and our conversations weren't the same as they used to be anymore before he'd finally said that to me. I let out a sigh. It's just gone downhill since then.
"Just because Matt wants a break, doesn't mean that I want to meet anyone new," I grumbled to my sister, not wanting to admit defeat. Afterall, there was still hope… right?
Ben shook his bald head. "Well, Jack is gonna be here any minute now," he'd said. "You never know. You two might just hit it off. He's a good guy."
I stormed to the other end of the living room to finish packing Maya's diaper bag, over the conversation because I knew that no matter what I said, they'd never stop. Great, just great. I put some diapers in her bag and internally groaned at the fact that I was wearing men's basketball shorts and a spaghetti strap tank top. I wasn't one to care about what I wore, but I wasn't exactly thrilled about meeting new people dressed like this.
"Are you guys ready?" mom had called from where she sat near the front door in her wheelchair. She had her jacket on, ready to go.
Maya ran up to her and hugged onto her legs, smiling big. "Yes!" she exclaimed. Maya loved her so much, and was always glued to her side whenever she could be.
Everyone started out the door and worked their way towards my sister's red van. As we were opening the doors, a blue car pulled up and a thin, tall man stepped out of the car. He had shaggy blonde hair and wore sunglasses, jeans, and a baggy hoodie.
Definitely not what I'd been expecting. I guess I'd been expecting someone more along the lines of Ben's age - Ben who is a good 12 years older than myself. This guy who got out of the car… he was definitely closer to mine. He'd walked up to my mom first, took off his sunglasses, and introduced himself as Jack.
My mom, being the woman she is, looked him up and down with a smile and said "You'll do." then turned to me with a wink.
The day had gone by quickly. Jack followed us into town in his car, and my little brother Robbie had drawn the short end of the stick and ended up riding along with him.
"Why do I get stuck riding with the stranger?" he'd asked, glaring at everyone as we all loaded up.
Ben had laughed and told him that Jack was a really good guy, that there was nothing to worry about. Ben had known him for several years, they'd lived in the same town and worked at a fast food restaurant together four years ago. They had kept in touch and were once again working with each other. Ben was short for being a man, he stood at about 5'5", and that was being generous. He had a beer belly and was balding on the top of his head. I was never sure what my sister had seen in him, but she was happy with him and they had recently had a baby girl, Alice, together.
My sister, Cora, was two years older than me and definitely taller than Ben was. She was 5'8" with pixie cut brown hair. "It's much easier to maintain," she'd explained when she got her beautiful long hair chopped off before having Alice. She was heavier set, with a full chest, and had piercing hazel eyes.
While my mom was having her surgery, we'd gone out to a local pizza place for some lunch to kill some time. We all sat at a booth, waiting for our pizza. Jack sat across from me, watching me with his piercing blue eyes.
"So, Em. What kind of things do you like doing?" he'd asked, breaking the somewhat awkward silence that had developed at the booth.
At that moment, Maya threw her sippy cup across the table and erupted in giggles.
I shook my head and laughed. "Outside of this," I said, motioning towards my toddler, "I write, read, and I enjoy spending time with my family." I wasn't sure how to answer his question. Outside of my toddler and family, I wasn't sure who I was or what I truly enjoyed doing. I definitely didn't do what most 19 year old girls did.
He nodded his head. "I spend my time working, and try to do as much outside of the house as possible," he'd said with a smile.
I kept trying to think of things to not like about him. Before I'd seen him, I'd convinced myself that he was going to be the same age as Ben and be just like him - and I was wrong about that. I'd seen a picture of him on social media, and thought he looked goofy with a big nose. Turns out, that was an older picture. He was more charming in person with his shaggy hair and smile, and I was always a sucker for blue eyes. And boy was he tall. My head barely came up to his shoulders - which didn't mean much with me being a whole 5'2" on a good day.
My mind went back to the conversation I'd had with Matt earlier that day. He'd told me he wanted to take a break in our relationship. We'd known each other since we were both in diapers and five months ago I'd finally said yes to dating him. A month ago he'd asked me to marry him, move to Georgia and be with him as he was active duty in the Army. When my family caught wind of it, all hell broke loose. After that is when the arguing started, and the lack of communication. Then I'd found out about the girl that he'd met and gotten close with.
Deep down, I knew that things with Matt weren't going to work. The distance was too much, and I just didn't feel as if I could trust him. I also couldn't shake what had happened while he was up on leave back in December.
We were in my sister's kitchen around Christmas time, getting ready to go out for dinner with Maya. I had startled him, I can't remember how exactly. He had grabbed me by the wrists, hard, and gave me a quick shake. The look on his pale white face was wild, his blue eyes fierce and almost looked like they'd belonged to a stranger. For a split second I didn't even recognize him. For the next week and a half, I had to wear long sleeved shirts to cover the hand shaped bruises that had appeared on both of my wrists. What if Maya had been the one to startle him?
I shook my head and focused on what was going on around me. They called our name for food and Ben got up to grab our order.
Jack was charming, I couldn't deny it. Any time Maya threw a toy or her cup while we were out, he was scrambling to pick it up. He would make faces at her and get her laughing. I would frequently catch Cora and Ben watching from the corner of my eye, smiles on their faces. I would roll my eyes at them.
I readjusted my pony tail and got Maya out of her car seat. We were all back home now, mom was done with her surgery and much to my dismay… Jack had come back with us.
"Would you like to stay?" Ben had asked him. I
Please say no, please say no, I begged silently to myself.
"I work nights, so I'll be back sometime in the morning if that's okay," Jack said as everyone went inside.
Ben smiled. "That's fine with Cora and I. I'm sure mom won't mind either." I wished he would get that damn smug look off of his face.
Robbie was pushing mom's wheelchair inside the house when she held up a hand for him to slow down. "I've got a bad headache," she said, and then held her head in both hands.
"Let's get you inside to rest. Do you want some Tylenol?" I asked her as I put a sleepy Maya on my hip. It was later in the evening, close to dinner time, and Maya hadn't napped yet.
Mom shook her head no. "They already gave me pain medicine in the hospital, I can't take anything yet."
"Are you sure?" I asked as everyone filed inside and got settled in. She nodded in response.
I set Maya down and Robbie and I helped mom onto the couch, she was weak and tired from her procedure that she had done and we wanted to make sure that she didn't fall. She was only in her early 50s, but she'd had so many health issues already.
Mom didn't want anything for dinner, so once Cora got Alice down for a nap she'd made a quick dinner for everyone else. About halfway through dinner, mom started feeling worse.
She got our attention, but the words that she was saying were jumbled and made absolutely no sense. The feeling of panic rose from the pit of my stomach to my throat.
"Mom, I love you. Can you repeat these words for me? Cat, dog, car," I'd said to her, trying not to go into full panic mode as I kneeled on the floor next to the couch.
The look of panic was evident in her brown eyes and she was starting to cry. Words came out, but again, nobody could understand them. I gave her a hug and reassured her that we were going to get her some help. The only thing that was coming to my mind were stroke symptoms.
My sister dialled 911 and I called our dad to let him know what was happening. Before we knew it, the paramedic and EMT were rolling up with the ambulance. The paramedic gathered information from us and then suddenly there was talk of them shipping her directly to a larger hospital a few hours away. In a helicopter.
The first words we could actually understand that mom had said since getting worse, were "No, no, no, no, don't," as she shook her head with tears streaming down her face. She was afraid of flying in a helicopter. She associated being mercy lifted in a helicopter with death, and thought that if she were to ride in one, that it was the end of the line for her.
I started to cry, feeling helpless and not knowing how to comfort her. "Mom, it'll be okay. They need to get you to that hospital so they can see what's going on. I'm sorry," I said as I hugged her tightly. She hugged me back but I could see the fear and also the slight anger in her face. Anger at us for making her go in the helicopter.
Everything that happened next was a blur. They took her blood pressure and said that it was high, there were more murmurs about concerns of a stroke, especially with her having been under anaesthesia earlier in the day. The feeling of panic was tangible throughout the living room, everyone was tense while they transferred mom to a stretcher and loaded her into the ambulance.
My siblings and I followed the EMTs and paramedic out to the ambulance while Ben and Jack remained inside with the babies. We stood together and told mom how much we loved her and reassured her that it would be okay. I fought the feeling of guilt and worry that mom wouldn't forgive us for making her go in a helicopter. We watched as they closed the doors and turned the flashing lights and sirens on and slowly made their way out of the driveway and out of sight.
We quietly made our way back inside, dispersing to different parts of the house. I didn't see where Robbie had disappeared to, but I figured he went to Cora's room with her and Ben to watch some TV before going to sleep. Jack was still sitting in the recliner and Maya was curled up on the couch with a soft blanket, half asleep. I let out a sigh and sat next to her so she could curl up next to me.
"I have to get going to work. Are you okay?" Jack had asked, a look of what could have been concern on his face.
I nodded my head. "Yeah, I'm okay."
A small smile crossed his face. "Good," he said as he stood up to leave. "I'll see you in the morning."
And just like that, Jack was out the door and walking across the driveway to his car. I could see his headlights turn on and pull away from the house. I let out a breath that I didn't think I was holding and looked down at Maya who was peacefully sound asleep leaning against me.
What a day.