CHAPTER ELEVEN

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"Why do you have to go?"

"Max, I'll only be gone for like 10 minutes," I say endearingly, knowing full well why she was scared of me leaving. She trembles, probably lost in her own memories.

I had to do something to soothe her. I ran through ideas in my mind, finally coming to one conclusion. "Hold your hand out," I prompt. At this, Max willingly puts her hand out, palm up. I grab her hand, turning it so that her palm faced the wall. Then, I slide my palm with hers, our thumbs colliding as I do. When I slide back, I curl her fingers with mine. Then I let go, squeeze her hand into a fist and bump it with my own. She looks up at me, confusion evident on her expression. "That's what we're going to do every time we part from now on. It means that no matter how far we are torn apart, we'll always rely on each other to come back."

Tears swell up Max's eyes. I reach down, hugging my sister solemnly.

I wake to hoarse coughing, my eyes popping open, taking note of the manicured hand encased in both of my own. When I look up, Clara has her eyes open, a first after her extensive surgery. "Water," she orders dryly as she continues coughing and I respond immediately, pouring a cup of water for the pitcher on the hospital table. I bring the cup over, pushing it up to her lips. She weakly take the cup in her hands but I don't let go of it as she tilts it, sipping it slowly.

I put the cup down on the table and go back to where I was sitting previously beside her bed. She looks around, taking in her surroundings before trying to sit up. She winces and it's my automatic reaction the stand up, putting a hand on her back to help support her. I gently push her back down. "You shouldn't sit up yet. You've still got a lot of healing to do."

When I say this, her hand flickers to her abdomen where she had been shot. This time it's my turn to wince. I hated that she was in this position because of me. I couldn't stand causing anyone pain, even if it was indirectly. Her eyes flashed with admiration as she looked over at me.

"I didn't expect you to be here," she says all to honestly.

"Being honest with you, I didn't either. But the doctor called me since I was your only emergency contact."

She looks down at her lap sadly. When she looks back up, her eyes on me but I know she's not looking at me. Her mind is somewhere far away, somewhere I can't reach.

"Ian-"

"No, Clara, just because I'm here doesn't mean I want to reignite whatever flame we had. That flame is long gone, as much as I hate to admit it. We had fun while it lasted but we have to be honest with ourselves. We're too different. You're better off with someone who doesn't lie and keep things from you. I'll never be the man that you deserve. And for that, I'm truly sorry." She's silent for a few moment as she looks back down at her lap. Tears fill her eyes. I wince again.

"Ian, don't you get it?" Her eyes, filled with sadness, come up to meet mine. "I don't care how different we are. I don't care that you lied and kept things from me. In case you hadn't remembered, I literally took a bullet from you. That's how much I love you."

"I know," I answer. "The problem isn't how much you love me. It's how much I'll be able to reciprocate back to you." It's my turn to look down at my hands sadly. I speak again without looking up. "After today, we shouldn't see each other. I will forever be in your debt for taking that bullet for me and I'll always love you. Just not in the way you need me to."

"You love that other girl, don't you?" I look up at her, stunned. She didn't even know Amanda until the shooting and she was assuming that I can't love her because I love Amanda? She continues, elaborating on her question. Her gaze is distant, hurt. "She tried to stop him from pulling the trigger, too but I got there first. I could see the fear in her eyes when the first shot rang off. I don't know if you realized it but the shot landed right beside you. It was the second shot that got me." She takes a deep breath before continuing. "I'm okay with us being apart if that's what makes you happy, if she makes you happy. I couldn't live with myself if I kept you from the future you deserved. But please don't make me cut ties. I need you in my life, Ian. You're my rock. I don't know where I'd be without you."

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