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something from the archives: another sunset - part 5

midnight heart-to-hearts in the icu...





Part 5


Have you ever watched anyone sleep? If you have you’d know it’s the most intimate feeling. There is such a sense of trust, of belief. That someone would let you watch over their dreams is a gift. Sometimes, however, you just can’t figure out what to do with gifts like those.

Michael watched Liz as she slept. They’d talked for a while before she’d succumbed to the exhaustion she had to be feeling. Even pale with shadows lying heavy beneath her eyes, she looked beautiful. Michael thought about leaving. Even stood up to do so, but when he paused at the threshold her felt her move restlessly.

He turned and met her eyes. And turned back to the chair he had occupied all night.

"I’m sorry."

She whispered, her voice deepened and scratched by sleep.

"Why?"

"I know you must be tired. You should really just go."

"Do you want me to?" He knew she didn't want him to leave. But he wanted to test this connection he felt. How could he be so in tune with someone he'd only just met? How could he feel like way about someone who doesn't even know who they are?

Liz shook her head, "No."

"Then I won’t be going anywhere. Why’d you wake up?" Michael says firmly.

Liz's voice is small and hesitant as she responds, "I felt alone. I think I was dreaming. I was safe, and then suddenly I was alone and knew that if I wakened I wouldn’t be." She shrugs. She can't explain why she's so drawn to Michael either.

"Then that’s why I’m staying."

"Don’t sit so far away." Liz pleads.

Michael furrowed his brow. The hospital room wasn't rife with seating options. Honestly, he was pretty sure the only reason he hadn't been kicked out was that he had an employee badge, even though he wasn't on the clock, "Where do you want me to sit?"

Liz shifted on the bed, "Here. I’ll move over, there’s enough room for you."

"You’ll be uncomfortable." He protests.

"No I won’t. Besides, I can’t sleep. Tell me something, a story about yourself."

Michael settled his weight on Liz’s bed and stretched himself out next to her. He was careful not to touch or disturb her, but she surprised him by pillowing her head on his shoulder. Disconcerted he blurted out the first thing that came to mind.

"Why?"

"Because I want to know you."

"But why me, Liz?"

"Elizabeth." Liz corrected him sharply.

Surprised Michael couldn't help himself and asked, "Why Elizabeth?

"Because no one knows Elizabeth. Liz is someone else. She had parents. She lost them. She had a brother and friends and a life. I have none of that."

"I thought you liked Alex."

"I do. But it’s not the same. I can’t be his sister the way he needs me to be. I can be someone else. He’s my brother but he’s not."

"I understand. Though I really think this won't last forever, Elizabeth."

"Why do you understand?"

Michael sighed. It figured that he'd have to open up to her a little bit. And he truth was that he didn't mind telling Liz about himself. He liked that she wanted to know. "I have a brother like that too."

"Why?"

'Sean’s my half-brother. We live together at the edge of town."

"No parents?"

"Nope. Dad died when I was twelve, drove himself off a cliff. Mom, well she’s special. She’s in Tibet."

"What’s she doing there?"

"Backpacking. I don’t know." Michael shrugged, "She loves us, but she doesn’t know what to do. She doesn’t know how to be a Mom. She’s a hippie. Free love and all that."

"Oh. Was it hard?"

"Growing up without her? With Sean? Nah, not hard. Just different. Sean’s cool. He’s like a dad. He can be a real pain in the ass. Which is why I get the whole brother who’s not a brother thing. We had to grow up fast with such lousy parents. But we get along."

"I’m getting along with Alex. It’s just hard to be around him. It’s easier with you."

"Why do you say that?" Michael liked that she wanted to be with him, but he didn't want Alex to feel hurt. The guy had already lost so much, he'd feel like a giant tool if he stole his sister.

"Because I can learn who I am with you. You don’t expect me to react certain ways. It's like I can be my truest self."

"Alex seems willing to get to know you."

"I know. But it’s not the same. It’s different with you. I can’t explain what I don’t know. And I just want to know you better."

Michael quieted. He couldn’t believe everything he’d shared with her so far. It wasn’t as if the information was hard to discover. He was pretty sure everyone in town knew about the Guerin family, they’d been providing fodder for gossip for years, but he never talked about it. He had always pretended that none of it existed. That it wasn’t a part of him. Even though it really was. He had been staring off into space when he felt Liz take his hand.

He looked into her eyes. And was surprised not to see pity or compassion, there was no judgment in her gaze, no bias in her touch. She just held his hand because she knew he needed to feel someone else.

"Why are you questioning me, Michael? Why are you afraid to trust me?"

Michael couldn't stop the words that poured out of him. "What happens if you remember?"

What happened if Liz remembered everything and wanted nothing more to do with him? They'd barely started to get to know each other but Michael knew he'd be devastated if something like that came to pass. He should be protecting his heart, not opening himself up to hurt. But there was something about Liz that he found irresistible. He was so screwed.

Looking into his eyes, Liz admitted, "I don’t know. But I don’t think I’ll ever be the same anyway."

Changing the subject, Michael said, "You should sleep."

"Why are you pushing me away? Are you leaving?"

"I’m not. I’ll be here. I promise."

Liz looked up at him; she looked straight into his eyes. And what she saw there convinced her that he wouldn’t leave, because she settled her head on his shoulder and fell into a deep and blissful sleep.

Michael watched as Liz’s eyes closed. He watched as her breathing evened out. And slowly as he was lulled to sleep, he wondered if he would ever be the same after knowing Liz.

Have you ever had someone fall asleep in your arms? Have you ever fallen asleep in someone else’s? Being held all night, is the sweetest of sensations. Knowing that as you breathe, someone breathes right next to you. Knowing that someone else is as comforted by the sound of your heart beating as you are by theirs.

*****

"So she’s awake?"

"Well, I expect that she’s sleeping now." Alex's smile quirked at his reply to Maria's intense line of questions.

"You’re so literal, Alex. So she’s not in a coma anymore?"

"Right."

"And she doesn’t remember anything?"

"Right."

"What are you going to do?"

"‘Ria what can I do? She’s so frightened and overwhelmed, the only person she’s comfortable with is Kyle’s friend, Michael. I’m bringing her home tomorrow."

"Michael Guerin? She’s comfortable with Michael Guerin? And coming home so soon? Is she that okay?"

"He doesn’t have any expectations of her. Yeah. It’s just her memory that's broken, not her ability to function."

"And we do?" It took Alex a second to realize Maria had fixated on the first part of his response.

"Yeah. We expect her to remember."

"Oh. I guess so. Did you talk to the school?"

"Yeah. They’ll extend her deadlines for the school year. She’ll be graduating."

"Good. Do you think she’ll change her mind about what she was going to do?"

"I don’t know. I can’t predict anything Elizabeth might do."

"Why do you keep calling Liz that?"

"She wants us to."

Maria looked into Alex’s sorrow filled eyes. He’d been so strong throughout the entire ordeal. They had all thought that once Liz woke up from her coma things would be all right. Life had dealt them another serious kick in the ass. There was nothing okay about the situation. But there was nothing that could be done. Maria hated that her best friend didn’t even remember who the hell she was. And she hated that her boyfriend had lost his entire family.

She held him. Closely, tightly. She pressed kisses on his lips, first soft and short, then longer, more tender, more open. She showed him her love. And she wiped away the tears that wet his cheeks. She could taste the salt on her tongue. But by then she couldn’t tell if those were his tears or hers.

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