Because no ocean was as deep as Reece’s eyes.
I needed help.
Charlie didn’t acknowledge the painting, so I got up and tacked it to the wall, next to the one of Devil’s Den. Then I turned, scrubbing my hands down my face. Without my glasses, I felt weird. Naked even. Mmm. Naked. That made me think of Reece.
I seriously needed help.
Dropping my hands, I resisted the urge to bang my head against the wall. Several moments passed as I stared at Charlie, wishing that he’d turn and look at me, if only for a few seconds. But he didn’t.
“Reece wants to move past that night,” I announced to the silent room. Of course, Charlie knew everything that had and had not gone down that night. “He cleared up the whole regret thing, which”—I laughed—“would’ve solved a lot of problems if he’d just, you know, said that back then. Clarified it a little. And he doesn’t want to be just friends with me. He pretty much stated that clearly. He said . . . he said he was worth my time.”
I imagined Charlie agreeing with that.
Shuffling back over to the chair, I plopped down. “He didn’t say he wanted to be my boyfriend or that he wanted to date me. Our conversation really didn’t get that far, but he came into Mona’s Wednesday night and we talked like we used to. He flirted with me.” I pulled my knees up to my chest and propped my chin on them. Closing my eyes, I let out another sigh. “I haven’t told him what really happened. You know how he hates lies of any kind, and really, when was I supposed to tell him that? Hey, I know you thought you got some, but you didn’t. So long has passed that it’s hard to even go there.”
Charlie said nothing, but I knew if he could talk, he would’ve understood where I was coming from. Eleven months of miscommunication wasn’t as easy as anyone would think to fix, but even understanding that, he would—if he could—tell me that I needed to fess up.
The one-sided conversation went on for a while and then I picked up New Moon, spending the rest of the time reading to him. When it was time for me to leave, I tucked the worn book back inside my tote and stood.
Charlie was the only person outside of my family that I truly loved and going through what I’ve gone through with him . . . well, the idea of loving someone as much as I loved Charlie and experiencing this kind of pain again terrified me.
If I was being honest with myself, it was probably why I had such shit taste in guys I dated. None of them were long-term material. None of them were dangerous to my heart, none except Reece, and he’s always been obtainable. Even if he wanted to knock boots with me, once he found out that I lied, that would be the end of that. So, in a way, he was a safe choice. Someone I could lust and dream over, but always knew would slip out of my grasp before I fell hard.
I couldn’t pull my eyes from Charlie as I stood silently by his side. Shadows were deeper under his eyes and cheekbones. In a week, he seemed frailer and gaunt. The hair along his temples appeared thinner.
Guilt churned my stomach, and I couldn’t help but think he wouldn’t be in this position if I had . . . if I had kept my mouth shut that night. Simply just walked away from Henry Williams and his friends. If I hadn’t been goaded by his crude remarks. I hadn’t picked up that rock and I hadn’t been the one who’d thrown it, but in a way, I had played my part.
And Charlie had paid the price.
A terrible, horrific thought bloomed. I didn’t want to even finish it, but it had already whipped through me. I smacked a hand over my mouth, muffling a choked sound.
Would it have been better for him to have not survived?
Oh God, I couldn’t believe I even thought that. It was so wrong. I was a terrible person. But a voice whispered in the back of my head in spite of me telling it to shut up.
Was this really living at all?
That was the question of the century, and as I stood there, I thought about what Reece had said to me about living my life for Charlie. If I wanted to get really deep and reflective, really honest with myself, I knew that some of the decisions I made were because Charlie couldn’t.
And maybe . . . maybe because I . . .
I couldn’t finish that thought either.
Helplessness unfurled in the pit of my stomach. Nurse Venter had explained when I had checked in that they were still having difficulty getting Charlie to eat enough during the day. She’d given me a bowl of mashed potatoes, something he’d normally eat, but I had spent the better part of our visit trying to get him to eat it to no avail. If it continued, they’d bring in a feeding tube, probably before the end of the weekend, and he hadn’t been a fan of that. Last time, he’d managed to pull it out and ended up having to be restrained. There was nothing I could do to really help him, but I had to try.
I picked up the bowl and plastic spoon, scooping up some of the lumpy white stuff. As soon as the spoon neared his face, he twisted away. I didn’t get it. He wouldn’t acknowledge me, but he’d turned his face from food. Ten minutes of this went on before I placed the bowl on the small table by his chair.
Slipping between his chair and the window, I knelt in front of him. “I need you to do something for me, Charlie.” Our eyes connected, and it was like a punch to the stomach, because even though he was looking at me, he didn’t see me. Emotion clogged my throat. “I need you to eat, okay? When they bring you dinner tonight, you need to eat.”
Not a single flicker of emotion crossed his blank expression.
“If you don’t, they’re going to use a feeding tube. Remember how you hated that before?” I tried again, reaching up and cupping his cheeks. He flinched, but nothing more. “So, please eat, Charlie.”
I kissed his forehead as I rose. “I’ll be back Friday, sweetheart.”
Nurse Venter waited for me outside. Her dark hair, liberally streaked with gray, was pulled back in a hasty bun. I figured she was waiting to see if there had been any change in Charlie’s behavior.
“He’s the same way he’s been for the last month,” I told her as I started down the wide corridor. “I couldn’t get him to eat the mashed potatoes. Totally don’t get it. He hasn’t been responding to me at all, but he sure as hell responds when a spoon gets near him.”
“He used to love those yogurt Popsicle things,” I suggested as we neared the double doors leading to the waiting room. “Maybe I can bring some by before work tomorrow? I have the time.”