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The door to her room opened, and Jennifer Hall strode in, waking Lanie with a start.
“Lanie! You’re okay. Oh, my God, I was so worried.”
Lanie was used to waking up with a cotton mouth by now, so she reached for her water before trying to speak. “What are you doing here? I thought you needed my permission. Which you most certainly don’t have.”
“Please,” Jennifer scoffed. “I grew up in this hospital. I go where I want. Now, what’s this I hear about you refusing to eat or drink? Do you really want to stay hooked up to all this?”
“Actually, you’re right. Here, go ahead and take it all out.” Weakly, she raised her arms. “Promise I won’t sue.”
“I didn’t mean unhooking you so you can slip away and die. Do you want your kids to be orphans?”
“I’m sure Ruth and Lloyd and the Andersons will do a great job of raising them.”
“Well, maybe I should bring Dre in here, then. Maybe you’ll listen when he tells you how scared he’s been of losing a mom for the third time. He thinks he’s cursed. And Sam thinks that you’re trying to avoid your bedtime.”
Jennifer paused. “Well, Summer’s just kind of…there. But we can tell she misses you.”
“I doubt it. They miss their father more than me.” Her chest tightened.
“Trust me, Lanie. Kids need their mothers in times like these. So, let’s get going on that. The funeral’s on Friday, and we have to get you up and at ’em.” The railing creaked as Jennifer pulled it down.
“Why do you even care? We hate each other. And the doctor told me you were here for Jake, not me. I imagine he’s dead?”
A trigger pulled, just before one could be pulled on her. A geyser of blood out the back of his head. Eyes bulging, then going blank. A single, gargling exhalation as his lungs relaxed. The thump of his body collapsing over Ben’s.
“I was here for Jake,” Jennifer’s eyes welled. “I had to identify his body. I tried to stop this, Lanie. I tried. But I got his note too late. And then the storm hit, and they couldn’t see your boat, and…And I was too late to get you.”
“It was you?”
“I’m so sorry.” Despite Lanie’s resistance, Jennifer gripped Lanie’s hand and pressed it to her own forehead, and cried.
“Why did he leave you a note?” Lanie asked awkwardly.
“He didn’t want me to think he was abandoning us, I guess. I’m not sure. I should have seen this coming. He’s been off since Ben got out of rehab.”
“No judgment here. Except for the fact that you picked a traumatized, homicidal maniac.”
Jennifer snorted tearily. “So did you. Twice.”
Lanie supposed that was true. “Well, I wasn’t in a good head space when I met Sean. As for Jake…It was only supposed to be a one-night stand. I had a pretty strict rule about that. But I don’t think you can sleep with him just once. Hey, did you guys ever do that thing where you’d lay on top of him, and he’d…”
They traded sex stories about Jake for the next fifteen minutes. Lanie sipped her water, then realized how hungry she was. “Make yourself useful and get me something to eat.”
“Here. This was from my lunch.” Jennifer handed over an apple. “Oh, did he ever make you stand upside down while he….”
By the time she was finished her apple, Lanie was laughing hysterically. “Here’s to Jake.”
“He was a good lay.” And she burst into tears again. Lanie sighed. “I – I’m sorry for what he did to you and Ben. B-b-but I loved him. Even when he started getting obsessed with you guys. I’m sorry for my big mouth, and for telling him about the garage thing. I was just saying how Ben – ”
“No. No talking about him.”
“Okay. It’s just, I never would have guessed that the reason he was so obsessed was because they were brothers.”
“When did he tell you?”
“He didn’t. It was all in his suicide note. He told me that he was going to be with his brothers, and that I needed to go to you, because our baby needs…a family.” She wailed and threw her head into her arms.
You’re pregnant? “You’re here because Jake told you to be?”
“Yea. I would be as far from you as possible, otherwise. We don’t like each other, remember? But that’s family, for you.”
The assessment was oddly comforting. This was something she could trust. Grudging yet immutable blood ties with one’s mortal enemies.
“What a mess.”
“Yeah. But we’re both moms, so we’ve got to buck up. Have you started PT yet?”
“I literally just woke up.”
“It’s never too early. You’ve got a long road ahead of you.”
“Jennifer. I don’t think you’re hearing me. I just woke up. Just for a little bit. But I’m not staying here. I’ve got nothing left. How can I be a mother when I can’t even walk? How can I do anything? This is not the life I want. I’ll never run again, or fight again, or be able to lead the Shanghai development.” And Ben is gone. The sun has disappeared. “I have nothing.”
“That may be so. But your children still need you. That’s what mothers do. You take that nothing, and you keep going, because they need you.”
“That’s rich coming from someone who can actually run around with her daughters. If you were in this bed, you wouldn’t be spouting platitudes.”
Jennifer waved a hand. “Keep going, Lanie. If fighting with me lights that spark, go ahead.”
“You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” Lanie warned. “Don’t test me.”
She widened her eyes dramatically. “Oh, I’m so scared. Is that what you told Lilah?”
“Ah, do you guys still talk?”
“I mean, I get why you ran her out of town. What she did was pretty nasty. But you’re looking at someone who spent five years taking abuse from a belligerent, dying old man.”
“Don’t talk to me about belligerent old men. I’ve had my fair share.”
“I’m not a church-raised Lilah.”
“You can think that. But I’m not going to listen to you. Thanks for the apple. It will really help the sleeping pills to sit better.”
Lanie didn’t even see it coming when Jennifer slapped her face. Hard. Pain ripped through her concussed head. Holding her cheek, eyes stinging, she gaped at Jennifer.
“What the – ”
“Did you love Ben?” Jennifer demanded, all traces of banter replaced with rage.
“I told you, I don’t want to talk about – ”
She slapped Lanie again.
Lanie scrambled for the call button, but Jennifer jerked it down to Lanie’s useless legs. Lanie strained for it, then went for the one on the railing down the side of the bed, but Jennifer snatched Lanie’s wrists and pinned them.
“Fight me! Go ahead. But answer me. Did you love Ben? Did you care about him at all?”
Struggling free, Lanie managed to get a hand up to pull on Jennifer’s hair. But she was weak, and Jennifer climbed on top of her, eliminating her leverage, pinning her again.
“You can’t even begin to understand how much!” Lanie shouted. “You have no idea how I felt about him!”
“If you loved him, then don’t do this to him. Don’t throw away the four people he loved more than anything in the world. He died trying to save you, you ungrateful whore. He was my friend, and I’m not going to let you take away what little meaning this tragedy might possibly have. He gave up everything so that you could live, and so that his children could have their mother. Are you really going to throw that back in his face?”
Lanie glanced at the door.
“No one’s coming, Lanie. You’re not the only one who’s got connections at this hospital.”
“Please…” her throat was closing, and she could feel herself going back to the boat.
Jennifer shook her head, over and over. “You’re not thinking clearly. We’re both a little crazy right now. How do you think I feel? The love of my life turned out to be a homicidal maniac.” She laughed in a very unstable way. “Now they’re both gone. And we’re left with the children. Isn’t that just what men do? They’re so unreliable.”
Hysterically, Jennifer buried her face in Lanie’s neck. Slipping out of the other woman’s loosened grip, Lanie brought her arms up and around.
They sobbed wordlessly together, until their grief dragged them into sleep.
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~ Romans 15:13