Rain is splashing against the windshield, running down the glass in big streams. My rubbish wipers barely manage to clear any of it away for me to see clearly. To make it all worse, my vision is already blurry from the tears that just will not stop, running over my cheeks like a mirror of the outside. I should park the car somewhere, I know. But I do not feel like stopping.
I wanted to surprise Marcus. I know that I have not been the best girlfriend during the last months, in fact, I have been horrible. Since I ditched him at the main station he has been more absent again in the evenings, claiming to be at work. Something told me that he might not be as clueless to what is going on as I hoped he was. From his friends I learned that they have not seen him at their poker rounds for some time, so I concluded that he must indeed be working. I decided I will pick him up directly from work and take him to dinner. Just the two of us. I reserved a table at a fancy restaurant, dressed up in a way I know Marcus likes, and drove by his workplace. I wanted to save our relationship.
The first raindrops had started to fall when I parked the car and saw them exiting the building. A rather attractive woman, her blond hair flying, long legs under a tight short skirt, was walking with her arm linked with Marcus'. He held a newspaper above her head to shield her from the ridiculously few drops that came from above and they hurried towards his car. When they had reached it and Marcus had gallantly opened the door for her, she had giggled shrill and grabbed his coat, pulling him in for a kiss. I have seen no resistance on his side. In contrast, he has seemed to be relaxed, like this has not been the first time.
I do not know the girl with which Marcus has admitted to have cheated me, that time when we nearly broke up. But I have a feeling that I have just seen her. I catch a red light in the last second and slam the breaks to bring the car to a stop. I stare straight ahead at the rivers running down the windshield. Has he ever stopped dating her? I should have known that he would not change, not really. I cannot even blame him, with what I have confessed to him and how I have treated him lately I probably deserve it. Hell, I do not know if I wanted to be my own girlfriend anymore after she has told me that she fancies a complete other type of body.
Only when I have to change gears because the road leads uphill do I realize where I have subconsciously directed the car. The metal gates of Jacob's home appear in front of me, the trees and the house dark behind it. On an impulse I draw down the side window and reach over to ring the bell, water running into the sleeve of my parka. I do not know why I did not go to Jenna, I am sure she would understand, but somehow I desperately need to see Jacob. Nothing steers inside and the gate stays closed. I am about to turn the car around and leave when I remember Jacob's spare keys which he gave to me to water the plants. I can as well wait inside for him to return from work, it will be warm and more comfortable.
I park the car somewhere down the road because I do not have the opener for the metal gate and let myself in through the pedestrian entrance. High heels are definitely not done for this weather and I am wet to the bones when I arrive at the entrance door at the side of the facade. Once inside the house, I disable the alarm system. I have always found it curious that Jacob guards his place like there was anything inside worth stealing. When I confronted him he told me that it still looks from the outside like it is worth breaking in and I guess I have to admit that he has a point. It remains strange for me, though.
I must have fallen asleep on the new couch because when I hear gravel grating under car tires, night has already fallen outside. The living room lies dark and silent, the only source of light the pale half-moon that has risen over the city beyond the garden. I try to flatten my hair and straighten my dress as I get up. I am afraid I have a blotchy red and puffy face from crying but it is so dark inside the house, Jacob will not even see it. Where are the light switches in here? I run my hands along the wall, trying to find one but I am unlucky. Am I supposed to clap my hands or something of that sort?
The corridor leading to the entrance is even darker than the living room and I squint as I pad towards the door, my hand running along the wall. Before I have reached it, the lock clicks and the door opens a little.
“Jacob?” I croak, my voice hoarse from crying and sleep.
The door is pushed open with sudden force, making me stumble backward and the dark figure of a man flings itself upon me, tearing us both down. My scream is trapped inside my lungs as all air is knocked out of me by the impact. Panic rises within me as I try to free myself of the attacker, kicking and scratching like a cat. But he uses his weight to pin me down. A hand is being pressed upon my mouth and nose and I cannot breathe. I feel my heart frantically beating against my chest, the small organ desperately trying to get oxygen circulating, and bright dots appear in front of my eyes.
My lungs fill with air and I direct a last kick that finally frees me of the weight on my chest and I scramble away over the floor to bring more distance between me and the attacker. I taste copper inside my mouth. Slowly my brain registers the groans coming from the person next to me.
“Jacob? Jacob, what the fuck-”
I hear someone moving, fabric rustling, the sound of something heavy dragging over the floor and without warning the lights are being turned on.
“Ugh...” I am blinded for a few seconds, shielding my eyes with my hands. Through my fingers I see Jacob sitting in a heap against the wall next to the door. I crawl towards him, my heart hammering.
“Jacob... what- shit!” There is a streak of blood on the wall leading away from the panel that he obviously used to switch on the lights. Jacob has pressed his right hand against his stomach, his head tilted down so I cannot see his face. His shoulders are heaving with heavy breaths.
“Jacob, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry! Oh fuck...” I should call an ambulance. There is so much blood! How can there be so much blood?
“It's not that bad.”
I flinch as I hear his deep voice, forced out between clenched teeth, and nearly let my phone drop after I have finally managed to pry it out of my purse with clammy fingers.
“You need to go to the hospital!” I rob closer, reaching for his arm. Blood is soaking through and spreading behind his hand on his white button-down.
His head snaps up, blue flaring. “No! I have... I have stuff for that in the bathroom. Get me some... some gauze and a pad.”
I shoot up and nearly fall as I run towards the bathroom, my naked feet skidding on the sleek floor. The door to the bathroom springs open with a bang and I wrench open the doors to the cabinets carelessly, hands flying, searching for first aid material. Towels. Toiletry. Cleaning agent. Come on! One of the last cabinets offers a shocking variety of medicine bottles and in the far corner I find what I am searching for. I hurry back with an arm full of bandaging material and kneel down in front of Jacob. His body is still curled around his arm.
“I got to... got to see your hand now.”
Jacob is not looking up and for a second I fear I have to force him to surrender his arm, his only useful arm I realize with sickening dread, but then he slowly lowers it, exhaling a shaky breath. I take his hand in mine, carefully turn the palm up and examine the wound that is still oozing blood. I have to suppress a gasp. If I had known that my teeth could cause this... Well, I would have probably still done it. How should I have known that the attacker was Jacob? My fingers shake as I try to stop the blood flowing by pressing two pads on it and tightly wrapping gauze around Jacob's hand, the feeling of those fingers locked over my mouth still present in my mind, panic creeping on me as I remember how I could not breathe.
Why did he attack me?
“I think that should do it,” I whisper and Jacob pulls his hand back immediately. Worry is starting to knot in my stomach because he still has not moved much, his right leg drawn up against his body and his left sticking out in an odd angle. He cradles his right hand against his chest, face turned away from me once more.
“Jacob... I think it still needs stitches. You should really go to the hospital.”
“No...” He throws it out between quick huffs of breath. I notice his breathing is not slowing down, it might even be accelerating. He has started shaking like his body is just catching up with what has happened.
“Jacob...” I reach for him.
“Don't...” he barks.
My hand jerks back.
Jacob makes a distressed noise, his forehead lowering onto his knee. His teeth are rattling as his body does not stop quivering. “Get... meds... Xanax,” he squeezes out, gasping in between words as if there is not enough air around him.
The plastic bottles clatter on the floor as I throw them out of the cabinet in search for the right one. How many of those exist even? What happens if I do not find the one I am searching for in time? My fingers finally close around one with the desired name in small black letters written on the side. Thank god! I run back to Jacob who is still sitting with his head down, breath coming short and painful. I unscrew the lid and place a white pill into the shaking hand he is offering me, blood already visible on the fresh gauze. He swallows the pill dry and it is like his breathing eases somewhat the instant he does. I slide down on the floor next to him, leaning my head against the cool wall behind me, all strength leaving my body.
I have to wait for more than ten minutes until Jacob moves again. I only know the time because I looked it up every minute. To me it felt like eternity and several times I had to fight the urge to simply call an ambulance. He is going to be fine, I told myself, listening to his labored breathing. He has taken whatever it was to help with whatever this is. Everything is going to be okay. Only I do not feel like believing myself a tiny bit.
“Cait?” His blue eyes are small and dim.
“Jacob...” I crawl towards him. “How are you?”
He looks at his palm and groans. “I guess...” his voice is low and the words are slow. “I guess I should better go to the hospital.”
We take Jacob's car because it is parked directly in front of the house. Jacob grabs the cane when I offer it to him but pain flickers over his face even before he has put weight on his injured hand. In the end he walks to the car with his arm slung over my shoulders and me carrying the useless cane. The rain has stopped and the night is cold but I barely feel anything. Jacob leans against the side of the car, with his eyes closed and silent, while I wrench open the passenger's door and lower the seat for him. I guide him to shuffle over and with some help he manages to climb on the seat.
Jacob does not speak during the drive to the hospital. I gaze sideways at him a few times while I gun the Jeep through the busy early night streets with bare feet on the pedals; I forgot my high-heels at his home. Jacob is leaning to the side, with his head against the window and his eyes open and staring into nothing. His right hand in his lap is very clearly still oozing blood. I really make a great nurse.
There are no free handicap parking spots, no surprise for a hospital. I park as close as possible to the entrance to the ER and hurry around the car to help Jacob get out. He has not moved an inch and I carefully open the door.
Jacob blinks, his head leaning against the frame. “I’m so sorry,” he says in barely a whisper. “I’m really sorry.”
I place my hand on his knee, feeling him flinch feebly at my touch but I do not take it away. “Shh… everything’s going to be alright, okay?”
Jacob nods slowly and tired.
The emergency room is crowded and I let Jacob sit down in a less busy corner. “If you give me your insurance card I will register you,” I say lowly.
Jacob shifts, lifts his right hand, grimaces and nods towards his pants’ pocket. “There.”
I reach inside his pocket and take the wallet, search for the card and give the wallet back to him before I walk over to the counter where a few stressed out nurses are talking to a bunch of upset visitors. I notice I am not even standing out in my still slightly damp cocktail dress, without shoes and practically all make-up washed down my cheeks. There is a guy with a blanket wrapped around himself in the queue in front of me and the longer I stand behind him the more I suspect that the filthy brown blanket is all he is wearing.
When it is finally my turn I briefly explain the situation. I leave out the details about who attacked who, the nurse is not interested in that anyway.
“Any medication?” she asks in a bored tone, watching her computer screen.
I turn to look at Jacob sitting in the corner of the crowded room, leaning forward with his right elbow on his knee and his head hanging down again. “Um... he took a pill like maybe thirty minutes ago. Xanax?”
“Huh,” the nurse says, looking up. “Did he have a panic attack?”
“I...” The lights of revelation. God, I am so stupid. “Yes… yes, probably,” I hurry to say.
The nurse nods, scrutinizing me. “Anything else?”
“I don't know.”
The nurse gives a noncommittal sound and types a few words into her keyboard. “What's with his leg?” she asks.
“With his leg...?”
The nurse rolls her eyes, sighing heavily. “Darling, no one comes into my waiting room without me noticing. The limping?”
“Uh...,” I actually did not think about that in the last hour. It has been omnipresent in the back of my mind since I met him and all of a sudden I just simply forgot. With all that has happened and Jacob in pain, I had other things on my mind, I guess. “He... he had a stroke about a year ago? His left side is weak.”
“Hemiparesis,” the nurse murmurs and types away.
We have to wait for nearly an hour until Jacob's name is called. Jacob seems barely present due to the pill he took and I am grateful for that. The waiting room is a buzzing bee hive with a lot of yelling and groaning, sick and bloodied people sharing a much too small space. Every minute is wearing my nerves further down.
A nurse meets us at the door that leads out of the waiting room. “I'll take it from here, Miss,” she says and ducks under Jacob's arm. He does not even look at me as they walk away.
When Jacob reappears his hand is properly bandaged with pristine white gauze and he seems even more off than before. They must have given him some pain medication. Judging from the apothecary he has at home, I can only guess at the amount of medicine zooming through his body now.“Hey,” I whisper as I take over as his walking assistance from the nurse.
Jacob's smile is a grimace and it hurts even looking at it. “Hey,” he rasps hoarsely.
I somehow manage to get Jacob into the car seat and buckle us in before I exit the parking lot.
“I'm so sorry, Jacob,” I say as we wait at a red light. “I did not want this to happen.”
“It's not your fault,” he mumbles, his head leaning against the window again, eyes closed.
I watch him, feeling sick. Whose fault is it then? It has been me showing up inside his dark house when he expected no one to be there. But the way he tackled me, a split second after he must have realized he was not alone, not checking even who was there but directly trying to put me out, is not a reaction I could have anticipated. As my eyes wander over Jacob’s closed ones, the eyelids fluttering slightly, and over the steep crease in his forehead, I realize that after all these weeks spending time with him I still barely know him.
There is a long stretch of silence, only the purr of the Jeep audible.
“Why did you wait at my house?”
I startle. I thought he had fallen asleep. “Um...” I swallow. “I'll tell you another time, it's not so important...”
He frowns and shakes his head slowly, eyes blinking sadly at me. “You had been crying.”
I realize he noticed that small detail although he must have been in the beginning of the panic attack already. “It's nothing, believe me. Don't worry about that now, okay?”
Back at his house, I help Jacob walk inside and lie down on the couch. He seems to be gone any second.
“Are you sure you will be okay alone?” I ask, barely keeping the doubt out of my voice.
Jacob nods, his eyes tiny slits. “I got this. I'll call you.” When I continue hovering at the couch he adds a strained “Please…”
I carefully spread the blanket over him and stubbornly sit at his side until his breath evens out. It takes less than a minute.
--> Chapter 15
--> Chapter 15