Number Two by Chelsi

Author’s Notes: This story was written rather quickly, and it deals with serious issues.  No Hansons were harmed in the making of this short fiction.

Challenges: 

“It’s like that time we got stuck in the alley…” and/or “Like a flock of seagulls coming in for a kill…”

Easter basket and/or crash-test dummies

The thing about telling a story is that you can never really start at the beginning, the middle is constantly in motion, and you never know you’re coming up into the end until it’s over. Then, even the end is just a beginning that is not the exact start of a story. This makes it difficult to tell a story in complete accuracy, but for the sake of everything that happened, I’ll try — starting at the beginning which is really just part of the middle in motion.
I loved him since the day he ran over my cat. Or at least, that’s the first time I can recall really knowing. The sad vulnerability in his eyes, as he handed Toby to me, had me hook, line, and sinker. Toby turned out fine — nothing more than a broken leg — but my heart never fully recovered. I’m not sure it ever really will.

If Zac had gone to public school, he would have been Mr. Popularity — the guy all of the girls wanted. All of the girls wanted him, anyway. And really, who could blame them? He was gorgeous, with his mysterious grin hidden behind thick locks of perfectly fallen hair. He was gorgeous, and the fact that he never really saw it made him even more unbelievable. Girls from all around tried to shimmy their way into his life — charm, humor, seduction — but there was only one he would give his whole heart to.

Music is the only thing Zac lived for. Even as all the girls fell all over him, his guitar is what he woke up for every single day — the first thing he thought of in the morning and the last thing he thought of each night. Maybe I should have been jealous after he’d let me – out of everyone — into his life, but I wasn’t. Even after he’d made me his wife it was something I never fully understood, but I knew him, and I knew how important it was to him to continue playing. I stood in the shadows each night he played for the growing crowds. And even when the crowd, like a flock of seagulls coming in for a kill, swarmed him like they’d never seen a man so perfect, I never let it bother me. He would, after all, fall into bed with me each night and not with those girls, or even with his first love.

I didn’t let it get to me, but I had to be firm sometimes. It was the only way I could ever tear him away from work. The rain was coming down at a steady pace one evening in May. Dusk was settling in on my birthday, and I hadn’t seen my husband since he woke me up with a whispered happy birthday followed by a goodbye. He was headed down to a friend’s studio and he promised he wouldn’t be there long, but I knew he would be there at least half of the day.

I spent the day alone, straightening the house, running errands for groceries and such, and flipping through his large music collection, trying to find something I was in the mood to listen to. It was nothing on these CDs however, that I wanted. Outside, rain drenched everything, and I knew that Zac had gotten wrapped up in a song or something of the sort. I put in a quick call to his cell, just to confirm my suspicions.

“It’s just — this song is so close Mel,” he tried to explain to me.

“Zac, please,” I begged, wishing he didn’t always have to put up a fight. “It’s my birthday, and I want to be with you for the last few hours of it.”

“You could–” he started to compromise, but I already knew I wouldn’t like his solution.

“I don’t want to go down there.”

“Okay,” he sighed, conceding. “Let me wrap this up and I’ll head home in a few minutes.”

“Thank you.” That’s all I got a chance to say before the call ended. That’s all I had the chance to say before a twist turned up in the middle of our constantly changing story.

It was raining when he came home to me, his number two. He was probably thinking about his number one — chords, lyrics, verses. Or maybe he was thinking about me. He never talked much about it after that night. He never talked much about anything, really.

It was a decent sized puddle that he hit, hydroplaning his vehicle. He lost control, and the car rolled. I always imagine this scene playing out with him being tossed around inside like one of those crash test dummies. Only, it wasn’t a test, and he was no dummy. I spent the rest of the night of my birthday and the better part of the next week in the hospital by his side. Guilt ate me alive from the inside out. Paralyzed from his waist down, and his left arm — his playing arm — amputated, they told me out in the hallway. He would never walk again. He would probably never play again. People walked past me through the hallway laughing, chatting happily. Their loved ones were doing fine. But mine had just lost the love of his life, his number one, and from the dead look in his eyes, I feared I was about to lose mine, as well. And it was my fault. I should’ve let him stay, or sucked it up and went to him. I should’ve been more understanding, more compromising. I shouldn’t have pushed.

I was going to have to care for him 24/7, they told me. He was almost entirely dependent on me for the time being. It didn’t bother me, at first. It was my fault he was in this situation to begin with, and I loved him so of course I would care for him. It wasn’t until the end of the second week that I realized how taxing it was. It was more than just bathing, and feeding, and moving. He didn’t speak a word for the entire first week, and when he did start speaking, it was simple one or two word answers to the questions or requests I made. He didn’t sleep, either. Ever. So I had to take him to see a specialist and get him on some sleeping pills that he swore he didn’t need and refused to take. The bottle sat, at all times, on the table beside the bed, capped and unused for whenever he decided he wanted to try and get some sleep.

On top of what I was going through with Zac, I started getting sick, myself. When I wasn’t caring for him or trying to keep the house in working order, I was having to ease my own nauseous stomach, or I found myself hugging the cool porcelain toilet. It was more than I could handle, so finally I snuck out early one morning to go to hospital while Zac was sleeping, for however long he would be out. I just wanted something to make the nausea go away. That’s when I found out. On top of everything else, I was pregnant. No amount of medication was going to stop the feeling in my stomach, after that. Before the accident, I might have been overjoyed. I might’ve even gone out and bought all the books, signed up for Lamaze class, and started shopping around for the necessities. But the exhaustion of having to take care of Zac day in and day out — I wasn’t sure it would be the best situation to bring a child into. I wasn’t sure I could manage to juggle that on top of everything else. But then, it was possibly the last chance I’d have of having the baby I’d always wanted with my husband.

I went over every possible scenario in my head over the next few weeks. What would happen if I kept the baby, what would happen if I didn’t? When I was farther along, I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to move Zac any longer, from his wheelchair to the bed, or the tub, or the car. In a perfect world, the situation would be easy. In a perfect world, my husband would love me over all else, and the choice would be clear. We didn’t live in a perfect world, though, so I had to do what I thought was best.

“You’re pregnant.” It wasn’t a question. I hadn’t even mentioned it yet. I, in fact, hadn’t spoken a word. I’d come into the living room one night to get him ready for bed, and he surprised me with that bold statement.

“Yes.” I stood behind the chair and started wheeling it towards our bedroom. He didn’t say anything.

The house was thick with silent tension. I’d made up my mind already. There was no way I could take care of a child on top of everything. With the stress, I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to carry to full term, and I was certain I wouldn’t be able to mentally handle a miscarriage. I knew my husband would understand.

“Is it mine?”

“Of course it is!” I cried out in surprise as we made it to the bedroom and I wheeled the chair next to the bed. I stood in front of him with a look of complete shock. I didn’t even know what to say after a question like that.

Finally, he spoke gravely. “My child can’t have an incapacitated father.” It was the most he’d spoken since I brought him home from the hospital, and I only wished it wasn’t thisconversation that we were having.

“No,” I agreed with a shake of my head. Zac stared at me, but I couldn’t look back into his eyes. They were dead. The husband I knew was gone. The boy who’d brought my injured cat to me on the verge of tears had disappeared. “I can’t keep it, Zac,” I told him.

“Why not?” He demanded to know, looking at me fiercely. It was a reaction I had not prepared myself for, an emotion I hadn’t seen come from him in a long time.

“I just don’t think this is the right time in our lives,” I tried to explain, without my words turning timid. I tried to be firm. I had no choice.

“The time is never going to be right, Melanie,” he shot back at me, the vein in his neck looking like it was about to burst with pent up anger. “Look at me!”

“I just can’t right now,” I said, my voice pleading with him to let it drop.

“Because of me, right?” His voice had gotten warmer, less cold than it had been, anyway. But still, I couldn’t shake the tugging of my heart. I’d made my decision, but he was causing me to second guess myself.

Instead of answering his question, I set to work, getting him ready for bed. In silence, I pulled clothes out of his dresser and pulled the blankets down on the bed. He hardly helped me undress and then redress him for bed. The look on his face had become blank, his eyes no more alive than they had been in the past couple of months.

After he was settled, I shut off the light, and was about to head into the kitchen to finish cleaning up after dinner, but stopped when I heard his voice. “Are you coming to bed tonight?”

I swallowed, thickly, grateful that the only light source was behind me, hiding my face in darkness and shadows. Sometimes I did and sometimes I didn’t, but I never thought he realized or cared. “Yeah,” I finally answered. “I just need to finish cleaning up the kitchen and straighten the living room, then I’ll be in.”

I watched him lick his dry lips and nod. I turned, once again, toward the kitchen, but his thick voice stopped me in my tracks. “I love you,” he said.

“I love you too, Zac,” I responded, not turning around for fear that he’d hear the wavering in my voice. I had to be strong then, for both of us.

Instead of finishing the dishes that night, or straightening up the living room, or going to bed to lay with my husband, I curled myself into a ball on the couch and cried. For the first time since the accident, I bawled for hours. I cried for Zac, I cried for our baby, I cried for myself. And every time I thought I was finished, a fresh wave of sadness came over me, and another flood of tears poured out of my eyes. I sobbed into the throw pillow, hoping that Zac wouldn’t be able to hear me. I couldn’t stand the thought of him knowing how hard all of this was on me. I wanted to go crawl in bed next to him, wrap my arms around him, take in his smell, but until I could control the tears, I couldn’t make myself go.

I eventually cried myself to sleep in my sitting position on the couch. When I woke up, there was crust around my eyes and a sink full of dishes. So I quickly washed my face and then the dishes, before going in to get Zac for breakfast. What I found changed my life forever.

My first instinct was to try to wake him up, despite the fact I already knew he was gone. The orange cylinder of sleeping pills that I kept next to his bed for when he decided he wanted to try to actually sleep, was lying on the floor empty. He was gone, even as I called 9-1-1 and tried CPR. He was gone even after they got there and tried working on him. It was the end for him, still just a moving middle for me, and the beginning for the life I was carrying inside of me.

I don’t know if it had been the plan all along, for him to take those pills when I left the room. I don’t know if he heard me crying half the night, curled up on the couch in the living room. I don’t know if he just waited for me to come to bed, and when I never did, he decided to end it all. What I do know is that every time I look at Toby, I see his father in his eyes. I see that mysterious grin hidden by perfectly fallen locks of hair. Every time I look at him, I know that this is what Zac wanted. And while I miss Zac every single day, I know that he’s always with us, Toby and I.

I can’t say that there are always clear beginnings, middles, and ends. Generally, in the ways of life and time, it just keeps going regardless of who’s doing what. Time doesn’t care if your story has just begun, or if your world just stopped. Only one thing is certain about life: where one story ends, another begins.

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