Fall Back Skyward (Fall Back #1)(7)
Written By: Autumn Grey
I just want to hold him and make sure he’s real.
His eyes widen right before I fling my body into his and wrap my arms around his waist, tucking my head into his chest.
He is real.
My heart soars as I inhale his scent deeply, shamelessly and desperately. Greedily.
Keep your head up and keep moving, bro.
I jolt awake as those words fade into my waking consciousness. Pain shoots from my neck, spreading along my arm and shoulders, caused by the angle I’ve been sleeping in. It takes a few seconds for my mind to gain awareness and realize where I am.
White room. Drawn curtains. An EKG monitor sits on the other side of the bed, some numbers displayed on the screen. Several wires are attached to the machine, disappearing on the sleeping patient on the bed.
His chest rises and falls, his inhale longer than his exhale. His fingers, which are intertwined with mine, twitch every few seconds. The awkwardness I felt on my drive home, wondering how I’d feel when I finally faced him had disappeared. My hand had found his and held on to it fast. The fear of losing him overrode whatever I’d felt for him since the last time I saw him when he was standing in the front of the church, waiting for Nor to join him. All I see now is fragility. The sickness has sucked him dry, leaving protruding bones and jaundiced skin.
The words, Keep your head up and keep moving, bro are stuck in my head on repeat. They were my brother’s mantra while growing up. He’d ruffle my hair and then say that every time we parted. Those words coupled with Nor’s sweet face had been my lifeline when I was in prison.
I have been angry at him for so long, that the rage I’ve been carrying around all this time has overshadowed his heroic actions on the day he became my hero, my savior.
The day my world turned silent.
I was five years old when I was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. Josh and I were playing out on the porch that summer. I kept complaining that my head hurt. Everything seemed to be magnified tenfold. The daylight hurt my eyes. I felt drowsy, even though I’d slept over ten hours the night before. One moment I was crawling around, trying to race his toy car and the next I was on the ground, my body held prisoner by seizures. For that one second before my world turned into a series of unending spasms, I heard Josh call my name. I saw his face when he appeared in my line of vision, panicked. Later on, my mother told me that if it weren’t for Josh, I would probably have died.
And now, he’s lying on the bed. His life is ending even before he’s had a chance to enjoy it to its fullest.
He is only thirty-two. He hasn’t lived his dreams yet.
I can’t save him like he saved me.
I can’t do shit other than sit here and watch him fucking die.
The hair on the nape of my neck rises in awareness. The force that had always been present between Nor and I surrounds me. I couldn’t shake it off if I tried.
I take deep breaths, trying to control my racing heart. The thought of seeing Nor after all these years of separation had only fleetingly occurred to me. Honestly? I haven’t had enough time to think about it. I’ve been too preoccupied dealing with memories of my past and trying to keep my shit together after seeing Josh.
I’m not a coward and I’ve never been one, but the thought of facing Nor terrifies me because;
1) I haven’t see her in nine years. I’ve spent that time in a never-ending Hell, reliving every single moment of our life together. I never thought I’d ever see her again until my delusions were shattered the second I opened those seven letters about Josh dying. That, and my two little girls, solidified the decision to go home. But then, I would have returned home to Willow Hill even if it wasn’t for the girls. This is Josh. My brother.
2) I have no idea how things will go as soon as I turn around. My head is completely messed up right now. The fear of losing Josh is a palpable driving force. I need something to anchor me. The woman standing behind me had been my anchor up until I saw her walking down the aisle toward my brother. I lost my footing, and since then I’ve been sinking into despair, searching for her in every face I meet.
I gently pull my fingers from Josh’s then reach up and tug the beanie from my head. I stand up and turn around and my defenses crack at the corners. Her eyes widen and her lips part in surprise. My body jolts, reacting to the hope, hunger and love in her face.
Holy fuck. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? I never thought I’d see her look at me that way again.
Her face is a mirror of all the feelings I’ve locked away inside that special place in me.
Jesus. What happened to her?
The knee-length, floral red and white sleeveless dress hangs loosely on her tiny frame. Her arms seem long and gangly, but that may be because of all the weight she has lost. The scars on her arms are stark white against her skin. Dark circles mar the perfection that is her green eyes. I’ve always admired how her eyes seemed to look right through me. Right now, all I see is emptiness. Beyond that, she’s still stunning, more beautiful than the last time I saw her. Her hair is bunched up in a messy bun at the nape of her neck with a few locks framing her heart-shaped face.
Tears fall freely down her cheeks and she doesn’t bother to wipe them away. Then she rushes forward and slams her body into mine, wrapping her arms tightly around my waist.
My body is coiled tight, my senses overloaded by her scent. Her face is in the crook of my neck and her mouth is feathering warm air on my skin. The feel of her body violently shaking against mine, the tears seeping through my T-shirt—after years of being away from her, my body doesn’t know how to respond to any of it. But my hands are still hanging at my sides.