641. - Lucien
Cake becomes breakfast. There's everything we need for our regular breakfast, but making it requires energy and brain capacity we both don't have after the night we've had. The cake is right there, all we have to do is get a knife and cut it before sinking down on the couch. We put on re-runs of Friends, for background noise and distraction. Only now that we're back home and I've got Emma back at my side do I realise how many emotions the night pulled up. The memory of holding Felix now brings up a floodgate of hurt, because rather than with the child of someone I know, I should have been standing there with my own child. I should have been in Tom's position, inviting in our friends one at a time to meet baby Claire - who, against expectations, ended up being the spitting image of Emmeline Middleton.
Between the flashes of actual memories and should-have-beens, there's also flashbacks to Aleran's death, triggered by being in a hospital for hours on end. I wonder how long the nightmares are going to last this time. The knowledge that they'll be back is the only thing keeping me from suggesting we go to bed. We've both been up for nearly twenty-four hours, God knows we could use it. Emma doesn't offer the idea either. With three quarters of the cake now on the coffee table - neither of us very hungry - she's pulled her legs up on the couch and put her head against my shoulder. One arm has snaked around mine and her fingers intertwined with mine, resting atop my thigh. It's quite a difference from our last traumatic event, when she wouldn't even look at me.
Frank has nestled himself in the little hollow that's created by Emma's body being propped up against mine, peacefully purring through the morning. Had it not been for the images of my sister breaking down again and again in my brain, I might have slept.
Emma does. I don't think she planned to, or expected to. Maybe it's her brain's way of protecting itself. Maybe it's sheer exhaustion. Either way there comes a point where I feel her body slumps against mine a little more and her breathing evens out. It's a very calming sight, and a reassuring thought that she feels safe enough to do so, tangled up with me. That instead of doing this separate from one another, we are facing this one together. Maybe we won't share as much as Dr Dubois wants us to, maybe we let our walls build up a little higher than we should, but at the very least we are inside those walls together, instead of shutting the other out.
Emma is still asleep three episodes later when my phone buzzes with Matthew's name and picture displayed. For a brief second I consider ignoring it, but truth be told… I actually want to talk to him. Huh. Maybe those therapy sessions aren't as useless as I thought them to be.
"Hey," I pick up in a hushed voice, squeezing my phone between my ear and shoulder. "Give me a second."
"No, just in a compromised position." I try to untangle myself from Emma without waking her, which proves itself quite the task. Eventually I manage - mostly: when I move off the couch, her eyes flutter open and she looks at me confused. I mouth Matthew's name to her, pointing at the phone, and she nods, but I suspect she's that kind of awake you can't recall happening when you actually wake up. I head towards the kitchen, where she can still find me should she wake up, but I won't wake her if I just keep my voice down a little.
"Right, I'm here."
He chuckles lightly. "You okay?"
"Yeah, just needed to escape my occupation as a body pillow."
"Emma or Frank?"
"Both, but mostly Emma. I didn't want to wake her up, so I had to be careful. Frank I would've tossed off."
"Not to be that friend, but shouldn't you be asleep as well?" He sounds lighthearted, but I know that's just a farce. Matthew, having been with me in the darkest period of my life, has perfected the art of getting things out of me without making me feel like he's pitying me. He's just genuinely worried about me, about everything that's been going on. He's not wrong either: I'm tired to the bone, every move of my body a labour, but if I didn't sleep with Friends on the background and Emma asleep on my shoulder, it's not happening.
"I tried. No doubt I'll crash sometime during the day."
"Hopefully not thanks to a migraine." A pause. "How are you holding up?"
Another genuine question. An invitation to talk, to rant, without an immediate attempt to help. I let out a sigh, sifting on the barstool that has me looking out of the living room. "I don't know, man. I'm not quite sure if it's even hit me yet. The entire night was just me trying to hold it together for Emma, while simultaneously not trying to spiral from being in a hospital."
"If something ever happens to me, you're hereby exempt from visiting me. We'll make it a video call." I snort, and he chuckles. "I'm sorry, mate. That can't have been easy."
As he says it, I'm looking at Emma. She's still asleep, having slid sideways a little more now that I'm no longer there as support. Frank has escaped before getting crushed, instead nestled in the crook between her legs and her stomach. She looks peaceful. "But you see, that's the funny thing. It kind of… was. It's been a nightmare, - it still is -, and I'd much rather have avoided the whole thing somehow, but at least we were living through it together. When I freaked out on the doorstep of the hospital, she immediately offered for me to stay out, to do it alone. And I immediately said no, because I didn't want her to do it alone. It was either together, or not at all. For both of us."
While I can't see his face, I know that he's smiling his famous 'I'm so proud of you but I'm trying not to show you' smile. "Sounds like your plans haven't changed."
I touch the necklace hanging in the hollow of my throat, and can only smile with him. "No, I'm just more sure of them."
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