The silence was almost welcome, an invitation to slip back down into the void of thoughts and memories and grief. Especially in this room. It felt like she was stranded, with no way back and a firm shove in the back to keep plodding onwards through darkened woods filled with dark and mysterious things. A voice broke whatever trance she was in, stuck in the past. Her eyes lifted when she saw Gary cross the room, sad eyes switched to concerned for him. He shouldn’t have been wandering around, maybe she had been gone longer than she thought?
A gentle hand caught his by her cheek and she didn’t know what to say. She must have looked white the sight, drowning in his sweats, sitting in an armchair in a memorial room with tears splattering her features. For a moment she let the quiet linger, clasping Gary’s warm hand in hers. Then she realised something. This was the first time they’d been together in this room in a long time.
“I-“ she cut off for a moment, what was there to say?
“Sorry.” She said softly. What else was there to say? She was sorry. Sorry for how things turned out, sorry she couldn’t carry their first child to term. But she couldn’t bring those exact words to the surface for fear of shattering herself in the chaos. She finally managed to meet Gary’s steel eyes, faltering under them as she had so many times before, not always when they fought. She cleared her throat of what emotion she could.
“I’m sorry.” She repeated again, as if to emphasise it somehow. She looked around the room, fit for a ghost now.
“What if it happens again?” She knew he didn’t have the answers, and neither did she as she wrapped a protective arm around her midriff as if to shield the unborn from things far out of her control. She knew she wouldn’t be able to take it if it happened again, neither would Gary. Amidst all this, he had been strong for her. Perhaps he had succumbed in his weak moments to drink but overall he had sat by her bedside, even delivered the news of the death of their child himself when she awoke, confused and disoriented. She remembered his face then, the pain and sorrow buried beneath a will to remain strong.
“What if we can’t stop it from happening again?” Her voice could have easily been lost, even in the silence as she clutched Gary’s hand with her own, as if for some sort of anchoring to reality. It was selfish of her to ask him for all of the answers, she knew if it was to happen again then neither of them could prevent it. But they had gotten past so many dangers already, hadn’t they? Dinner was starting smell which brought around another topic. She looked to Gary, pushing herself up to face him more evenly.
“I don’t blame you.” Words she should have said a long time ago but now held more clarity in the moment. Perhaps in moments of anger she had blamed him somehow, ridiculously for had happened when her grief snapped out as anger. She had never said she had blamed him but sometimes she had acted like it.
“Just- please don’t leave.” Like a child pleading for the mercy of a parent she watched him, scared almost. There was a lot to be fearful of. What if it happened again? And if it did would it be the final straw for them both?
Rather than fight, Ariana chose to flee. Without much further comments, she retreated to the only sanctuary she knew; the comfort of the shower, her home. And now he'd invaded it. Gary shifted and sighed out, deflated. He knew somewhere that he'd failed to supply Ri with the words she'd wanted to hear the most. It'd be nice if he could be excuse from life for a few days and wake up healed and rested, with a clear mind that wasn't addled by pain, discomfort and the drugs meant to fight those two.
"Fuck," Gary growled and out of sheer frustration threw the first things that came to hand at the television. The pillow hardly made a dent and flopped back onto the table Ariana had already cleared of breakables. There was no satisfying shattering of something fragile and or pretty, no sign that he'd ever vented his anger on anything. Arms covered his face, hiding the filthy emotions from the rest of the world.
Pipes groaned and ticked as Ri turned on the shower. A faint rush of water invaded his ears. For a while, it was the only distraction and Gary felt his anger simmer down. At any other time, it would simmer and toil, eager to get out and hard to get rid of. Now, he simply didn't have the energy to keep such rage aflame.
Gary sat up on the couch when the water cut off. He wasn't falling asleep on the couch and it wasn't particularly comfortable for his back. Perhaps he could read a little, if his concussed brain would allow it. Surely a book's pages would be gentler than the brightly lit up screen of the borrowed phone. Or maybe Gary hoped to tire himself to such extent he would simply fall asleep instead.
Even wielding the crutches was a greater challenge, simply because his stamina was at an all-time low, it felt. Moving around forced the breath from his lungs at an alarming pace, but it felt good to push his body forward at the same time. Gary knew he had to be patient and take his time recovering, but it was hard when every little thing proved such a challenge. When he did finally reach the top of their stairs, Gary rested against the wall to try and catch his breath before continuing.
There was no hamper.
Curiosity forced the physical weariness to the background and Gary slowly hobbled towards the open door of the baby-room. He carefully pushed the door, fearing to find a cold and empty room, and instead finding Ariana there. Like a voyeur, he watched her run her fingers by the clothes that had been meant for their first child. When she pushed the drawer shut with certain finality, Gary paused. A decision lay before him; let the door go and retreat or enter and face whatever emotions were obviously flowing in the room. It felt as if the room had become the embodiment of grief for both of them somehow. A place where their feelings regarding the death of their child were buried.
He was about to retreat when he recognized the emotion on Ariana's face.
"Ari," Gary started softly.
With a thick sigh, Gary pushed the door open and laboriously crossed the distance. The significance of that act was lost on him then. Part of him argued that yes, of course she'd be more emotional now that hormones were going haywire inside of her with all the changes her body went through to accommodate a baby. And yes, that was only going to get worse. Gary freed a hand from one of his crutches and brushed his hand by Ariana's cheek, wiping at the tears she'd failed to wipe away completely.
Things weren't going to be easy.
There was a hard swallow at his words because maybe Ariana had been expecting bitterness, a bite back at her own remarks towards him but Gary seemed tired, not giving the fight she expected. Perhaps all she wanted was to know that whatever happened, Gary would be there. He had been last time, but she had closed off. She sorted the washed cups away and glanced over. Jeans were a killer.
“I’m gonna shower. I won’t be long.” She murmured to him quietly, retreating to their room. Her mind was miles away and Ariana figured maybe it was hormones causing her to be so snappy, or maybe it was just pent up frustration and anger, not necessarily at Gary but at the world for stealing their first chance.
Ariana bumbled around, gathering some more comfortable clothing, sweatpants that she was sure she had claimed as her own a while ago and a loose T-shirt that would perhaps hideaway her insecurities. The hot water filled the bathroom with steam as she stripped down, running a brush through her hair for good measure. Maybe this was betrayal, to be pregnant again. Maybe it was even selfish given Gary had a long road to recovery. The hot water did nothing did her mind of the stress but it did soothe her aching muscles more than expected. The shower proved a good enough distraction for the moment at least and she sighed as she pulled herself to the here and now, making expert work of rinsing and drying. Some moisturiser was applied to her skin before redressed in the more comfortable clothes, looking a little drowned in the sweats but it wasn’t so terrible anymore. She wasn’t stick thin, she had gained a couple of pounds in the past few weeks. She stepped out the bedroom and glanced to the hamper lying dejected.
Now this was a battle of emotions. She knew perfectly well that her father had the best intentions at heart so leaving his gift just seemed ungrateful and wrong, on the other hand, it meant going in that room. She hasn’t been in there since she had cleared everything away in a flurry of emotions. She decided to bite the bullet. She couldn’t avoid that room forever, like Gary had so often told her but when was the last time he had stepped foot in there? The room looked empty as she opened it, it felt colder somehow and it was difficult to remember what it had been like before. What a treasure it might have held now if things had worked out differently. She still remembered painting it with Gary, more paint getting on themselves than the walls, sorting the drawers and cupboards. The cot had never truly made it to fruition but maybe that was for the best.
Ariana set the hamper down on one of the surfaces. It brought a little life to the place, complete with soft, smiling bunny plush gaping out at the room from behind the cellophane. What clothes they had bought or been gifted still lay folded in the drawers and it was like walking through a dream, slightly. It worked more off instinct than Ariana’s own will as she opened one of the drawers, running her fingertips over the soft materials of the top layer. Gary was right, their new child wouldn’t be a replacement for what they had lost but maybe it would be a new beginning. A mother never forgot any of her children, after all. Sharp emeralds glistened as she pushed the drawer closed, hoping Gary had fallen asleep as she sank into the small armchair by the window that looked out on the gardens rather than the street. She wiped at her eyes feebly and took a moment, if only to breathe. Reality was fast coming back to her, emotions arising that she thought were long buried. She had been such a fool.
Tea materialized before Ariana did and she took a seat a distance away from the couch, almost as if to physically cast a barrier between the two of them. In the silence that clung after Ariana's initial statement, refuting his earlier words, Gary merely observed her and reached for the drink she'd put out, if only to leech its warmth. A rerun? Ri was worried 'this' would all happen again? Poor phrasing aside, she cast as much blame as she had to their current situation, but Gary felt that all those words had already been spoken before. Rehashing them would add no value to their sluggishly recovering relationship. Ri ventured further into what 'this' might be, excluding her own stakes in the claim.
Theirs eyes didn't meet in the appending silence. Ariana merely averted her eyes. Gary did too, guilty of the accusations.
"I can't stop you from worrying about that," Gary said. Even if the future would turn out differently, he couldn't promise with hundred percent certainty that it would end up favourable. Perhaps they would lose the child currently growing in Ariana's womb, perhaps he would go back out and stay gone for nights on end.
"I can't promise you it won't end that way," he chased down. "Nor can you," Gary said, leaving the accusations behind. They'd been said before. Ri knew exactly what he was talking about. Rather than create a situation, they'd both fallen victim to one, reacting and responding as each saw fit, without regard for one another in the end. Sure, he'd tried. With the worst timing and best intentions, Gary had tried in the beginning to coax the Ariana he knew from her shell and failed on account of the harsh reality of a lost child and the depression that had all but swallowed Ariana whole.
And then he'd given up entirely.
For the latter, Gary would claim responsibility.
They drank their tea in silence and Gary sagged a little on the couch. Unlike before, resting didn't really offer the steady recovery it had before his infection, which was a small clue to notify him that the danger hadn't entirely abated yet. All they'd done was give him medicine to help fight the infection. Having to go back for more treatment was a sign that he wasn't well yet and Gary loathed to admit he felt it too.
Maybe giving in to Robert was symptom of that weakness, that brittle and easily broken recovery, rather than stubbornness and pride. Ri took his mug and Gary ran his hair back, defeated. More than ever, he didn't know what Ariana needed or wanted to hear from him. Reassurances? Promises? Encouragement?
It used to be so uncomplicated to coax a smile from Ariana's lips, to goad her into doing something fun or going out somewhere. It was a new year filled with promises, but Gary found them clouded by negativity. Habit and instincts made his hands and feet itch to leave it all behind and escape, but he didn't really have the energy or will to push through on that desire. So he remained, an easy and unsuspecting target, it felt like.
Ariana set a cup of tea down by Gary on the table with a ‘tunk’. He seemed disinterested and really, was she that surprised? She sighed out and sat on the opposite side, huddled in the marching armchair with her slender fingers wrapped around a hot mug, the steam tickling her nose.
“M’not worried about you dying.” She retorted but it was softer, more informative than she perhaps realised. She took a drink from the hot liquid and watched Gary’s form. He still looked vulnerable, easily led perhaps. She realised her sentence had been something of a cliffhanger, disguising her actual worries. Well, Gary was disinterested already and the chances of anything sticking were slim to none. Ariana figures she had nothing to lose, maybe it was hormones starting to niggle away at her somehow. The words came before she could think them through properly.
“I’m worried that this will all happen again.” She eyed him, feeling some safety in the gap between them, separated by a flimsy coffee table.
“You’ll go back to work, you’ll heal and you’ll disappear for nights at a time, drinking.” There was no fight in her voice now, just a sort of tender understanding and acceptance. Maybe Gary was worried she’d go back to the hollow shell she had been before too, withdrawn and snarky, digging her claws in at any opportunity. She averted her emerald eyes, focusing more on the television but her mind was elsewhere, lingering on the ‘what ifs’ of the future. Scenarios in her head were like a slow venom, burning and scalding here and there, leaking into whatever happiness she could grasp onto. Everything would turn to ash if she kept this up and she wasn’t sure how to fix it herself, it was easier to blame everything on her husband, on her grief rather than accept her part sometimes but deep down, she did know she was partly to blame for this entire mess.
There was no handbook on dealing with the death of a child that couldn’t even be buried, that they hadn’t even met, instead left with whimsical wishes of what might have been. For a journalist, Gary sure did seem to run out of words a lot but she kept that scathing remark to herself. She fiddled aimlessly with the cup in her hands, feeling stupid for saying her thoughts out loud, uncomfortable even. She was fine with Gary having fun, she’s never denied him that but it had become an every night thing near enough since the loss of their child. She knew she had been horrific and withdrawn, biting at him at every opportunity. She didn’t know how to grieve for a tiny soul who had never even drawn a breath. She swallowed, awkward and uncomfortable now as she got up, checking if Gary had finished his tea but either way it would be cold now, picking up the mug and dropping them in the water if the sink. She was glad dinner was going alright and cooking slowly, her appetite was as fleeting as her emotions right then.
Harsh words. Gary didn't even bother replying to Ariana's challenges; didn't think he'd be able to physically keep up with it all the way he felt. Of course he wasn't going to die pushing his limits a little. Having an infection was just misfortune, most likely something he'd picked up during the accident or immediately after surgery, not because he'd celebrated New Years or tried to read a few texts on a bloody phone. Neither was his health going to decline from setting up his replacement work laptop or writing a few paragraphs on an article or two. None of that was realistic, but Ariana's fear was very real.
Back to square one, huh?
Gary rested there, mulling over the thought as much as his distracted brains would allow. What was square one? Wasn't square one a time where they hadn't both been grieved by their first child's loss? All the bitterness and gall from a time that came after wasn't something either of them felt comfortable retreating to, but neither felt in a position to find a way to do things differently. Gary didn't really feel up to anything challenging at the moment, let alone tackling their long-standing relationship problems and Ri seemed to be swept off her feet by worries about their unborn baby.
He sighed out and brushed his hair back, shifting his head to look at the black screen of the television, which offered no more of a distraction than their white ceiling did.
"It's not realistic," Gary started after a second's stare.
"I'm not going to die," he pointed out calmly. Even if he was still suffering an infection, he was young and had been healthy before the accident. Either way he was perfectly fine dealing with a minor setback. He wasn't old, sickly or emaciated. Leaving the hospital after a night's stay was proof that he was doing better and would very likely continue to do so under the strict supervision of a set of nurses and his physician.
"I can hear your worrying from here," Gary dead-panned, closing his eyes again when the stare turned his vision blurry. He wiped a sleeve by his eyes and sighed out. They were properly cooped up together now, weren't they? Gary didn't feel like he had the energy to get angry and it gave him some time to realize most of Ri's words had been spoken out of fear. Why hadn't he ever noticed that before?
Probably because he'd been avoiding Ri. He'd been so trained to believe she was always trying to rain on any parade that he'd stopped easing her worries and fears. She hadn't been accepting of his words anyway, so what had been the point? Gary wondered whether they could change that around too. Ri seemed to want change. He did too.
“You haven’t known your limits for a long time.” Ariana replied, tersely at his comment and she wasn’t wrong, at least not in her mind. Gary hadn’t known his limits, whether it be alcohol or health but she watched him lumber off and her digits went back to peeling potatoes. She wasn’t going to deny that Gary would need stimulation, but maybe work wasn’t the answer here. But hey, who was she to tell him? He wouldn’t listen to her on this anyways as she dropped the peeled potatoes into the basin and in all honesty, she wasn’t exactly trying to keep the noise down so he could sleep. She sighed out and took a moment to breathe through the frustrations coursing through her system like rampant, energy stealing goblins. She just rolled her eyes as she shifted.
“You’ll end up killing yourself at this rate, all I’m saying is you should ask the doctor. You had a concussion, you’re battling an infection.” She pointed out and glanced over at him as she let the potatoes simmer away in the pot. She didn’t dare approach the weary lion on the couch, however. He could snap all he wanted at her but Ariana felt she was at least somewhat right on this, even if it was for all the wrong reasons. Her stubbornness and what little pride she had left in herself wasn’t about to watch Gary bury himself in work once again and she would be spared what little time he could salvage from his damaged mind. Asking for a doctors advice wasn’t a huge ask, was it?
The steam filtering from the kitchen caught her attention, serving as a distraction and active deflator of her argument.
“Alright, just- do what you want, you will anyway. We’ll go back to square one.” She shrugged and turned back to the cooker, turning the heat down as she forgot despondently about the watermelon in the plastic box on the counter. She checked the chicken in the oven and figured they had some time before it was ready. She glanced to the clock and made a note of the time so nothing would burn because that would just be the cherry on top of this day. She let her gaze flash over to the hamper her father had gifted them for a moment before looking away, as if it offended her somehow. Ariana shifted and sat at the kitchen table, running a hand through her hair. Perhaps her concerns were birthed more from frustration that she couldn’t help, and her own stubbornness wouldn’t let her admit that she felt helpless and afraid.
She checked her phone, not feeling at ease enough to disturb Gary and Hell, if he could sleep all his problems of then so be it. Arguing with him was like yelling at a brick wall sometimes, and usually he’d stomp out or she would, or one would claim sanctuary in a separate room. How exactly were they going to -if whatever twist of fate allowed it- bring a child into all of this? Between Ariana’s scrambled, tense mind and Gary with his stubbornness to work hard and okay harder, where did a child fit into this? Maybe it didn’t seem real yet and maybe it wouldn’t until they welcomed new life in a pristine white hospital room, but it seemed so far away whilst the reality of things going back to how they used to be seemed to precariously close.
"Yeah, Eddy will be by," Gary said when Ri asked him whether everything was alright. Of course, he suspected that wasn't the answer Ri was after, but Gary wasn't about to amend that assumption.
He snorted, "what's the doctor going to tell me, huh? Take it easy, do what feels right? I'd think I know my limits," Gary snapped. In fact, he was now once again keenly aware of them. Sure, he thought to have known his body, but the infection still managed to surprise them. Him less than Ariana, but still. He hadn't expected feeling under the weather was excuse to stay a night in the hospital again.
"Yeah," and what of it? Gary's eyes said the words without them ever leaving his lips. If he wanted to work, then he damned well could.
"Rob said there was no deadline," he tried to pre-emptively ease some of Ariana's concerns. It was probably just a research piece or a filler for one of their weekend issues. They always had a ton of those lying around for easy use just in case something else didn't quite pan out.
"They're giving me another laptop and stuff, I'll have to set that up no matter what I do," Gary ventured and played with the phone, replying to some of the messages he'd gotten over the last few days.
Concerned people sent messages of well-wishing, there were some that were a bit more pressing, others were just plain desperate or angry at this point due to neglect. Gary sent some of them a short explanation to ease their tempers. After the fourth message though, he pinched the bridge of his nose, trying to push back the threatening headache and pressing drowsiness. It wasn't like before, with the concussion, but Gary would admit the headache was birthed sheerly from the drag of being ill.
It was so easy to forget that just two days ago he'd been admitted to the hospital with a fierce infection and the fever to match it. Gary put the phone down and zoned out watching Ri peel potatos. After a while of that, he got up, gathered his crutches and sluggishly retreated to the couch. He didn't want to admit that Ri's concerns about him working might be founded, but as he'd said, there hadn't been a deadline. Without Ri to take up space on the couch, Gary stretched out and toyed absentmindedly with the folded blanket. Within seconds the living room got blurred around the edges and his eyelids surrendered the poor sight to darkness instead.
Sleep didn't come immediately, as it had in the hospital. Rather, Gary just dozed, only skimming the surface of a restful retreat. His leg was still uncomfortable, though the pain wasn't as vocal as it had before. They'd given him something to help him sleep the other night and Gary was sure he'd be glad once that all left his system. At long last he gave up on trying to fall asleep and just laid there, unable to focus on much and bored to tears.
Ariana certainly didn’t have any complaints about the views she’d been gifted in their own private bliss that week. She watched Gary as his face flittered different emotions, mostly frustration from what she could read. She almost felt guilty for bringing up past events so she went quiet, perhaps now was the time to focus on the future, and not the past. Ariana watched him go to hunt down his phone, and likely distraction. Soft but concerned eyes watched him settle at the kitchen table as she burrowed under some of the blanket. She couldn’t make him better, she couldn’t wish his leg into a healed state but she would do whatever small mercies she could. However, her curiosity was piqued when he glanced her way and she raised an eyebrow, questioningly.
Ariana folded the blanket as she stood and wandered over to the kitchen, pausing to give her husband a kiss on the cheek as she looked through the fridge, digging out some cubes watermelon to satisfy whatever craving was bordering on the outskirts.
“Everything alright?” She asked him, looking a little wary. Gary’s moods had been changeable and sometimes it felt like she couldn’t do right for wrong so she was hesitant about saying the wrong thing. Robert usually meant work related stuff and it didn’t take long for her to start connecting the dots, but she wouldn’t dare assume or put words to it until she knew for sure. But sometimes, she just couldn’t help herself. She turned and rummaged through some cupboards to find something she could cook up later for dinner.
“Maybe you should check with the doctors, you know, when you can go back to work?” Rushing headlong into work whilst still fighting an infection didn’t seem the best idea and they would need some medical advice. If Ariana has to look after herself and force herself to eat, then Gary has to understand that he needed rest too. But it wasn’t that, it was the niggling fear at the back of her mind that he would bury himself in work and by the time he was walking and healed, he’d be back out at bars shutting out home life and drinking away whatever might come to be.
“You’re going to get some work huh?” She asked him, a spared glance over her shoulder and Ariana was the sort of unfortunate woman who’s displeasure at things showed brightly on her face. She tutted quietly and went back to looking through cupboards. Fair enough, she had her own work to do, taking calls and replying to emails on the managers behalf from home but she wasn’t getting over a concussion and dealing with an infection amongst previously shattered bones.
Eventually she settled on peeling potatoes into the basin, nimble fingers working adequately. She knew it was awful for Gary to be cooped up like this, with nothing but a pregnant wife, a mind full of worries and a television to keep him occupied but she was scared, and maybe it was selfish but right that second, it didn’t much matter to her. There was no chance of making up the way they usually did after arguments this time around, falling into bed with Ariana blinded by grief and Gary, drowned in alcohol. Ariana was consciously aware of that and she knew Gary couldn’t walk out and she wouldn’t leave him in this state alone to hobble around whilst fighting off whatever festered beneath his skin. They would have to face whatever angered dragons arose with them head on, and Ariana didn’t have a sword and shield right then.
"That's because we barely did any. Well. I still saw some sights," Gary eluded he'd caught many a pleasurably visions of Ariana in the throws of their sweltering honeymoon nights.None of Venice indeed. Gary grinned and put a hand out to Ariana's leg. "Yes we did and we had the finest champagne to celebrate as well," he pointed out, which was perhaps why Ri didn't quite recall as many details of their first night as newly weds. The white sheets had been a sharp contrast to Ariana's sun-kissed skin, her eyes sharp in contrast, both of them rested and without anywhere to go.
Such a contrast with how they'd been now. A sour reminder told Gary he still had to ring Robert to say he'd come back home, not that the man would take long finding out on his own surely.
"Bacaro Quebrado," Gary supplied with ease. "The restaurant," he added for context. Gary looked as Ariana stole some of the blankets, but wasn't keen to hoard them all to himself.
"Hmm," Gary sighed out and sank down a little on the couch. The heat from the tea they were having settled in and he felt drowsy. At Ri's suggestive face, Gary just sighed and smirked. None of that was happening with his leg the way it was, now was it? Especially considering they'd forgotten to take out some of their equipment and the needle was already feeling a bit sore inside his skin.
A month of that stuff just to get rid of the infection seemed like a lot. Enough for his concussion to dwindle down as fast as his patience. He leaned forward to put away the cup and looked around for his phone.
"Please no more surprise admissions, they're tiring," Gary complained and when he couldn't find the phone readily, worked his way from underneath the blankets to fetch his crutches and go look for them. Reminiscing was one thing, but right now it only made him feel even more impaired and frustrated.
Gary got the crutch underneath himself and hobbled about the living to finally locate his phone on the dining table. He squinted at the screen, still somewhat sensitive to the light, and managed to find Robert's number in there.
"I'll just give Robert a call," Gary excused himself, sat down at the kitchen table and dialled.
"Gary," the man started after a couple of rings had gone by.
"You come home safely? Feeling better?" Robert started. In the background, several other conversations interrupted the man, but after a few seconds of that it sounded like Robert was walking away.
"Yeah, just got home. I have to go back every week for a while," Gary explained.
"Have you thought about when you want to pick back up some work?"
Gary looked at Ri and sighed.
"I -I haven't... I haven't really been...."
"I get it, I get it, look. I have an easy job. Just some light work to get you back into the game, no deadline, think you're up for it?" Robert started.
"I..." Gary thought about the boredom. "Yeah. I just. I don't know where I've..."
"Look, Eddy will be by with a laptop and he'll break it down for you, sound good? Good. Drop by when you're walking again, yeah?"
"Yeah, sure Robert," Gary said and after a second hung up. Work. Of course. But part of him was grateful for the distraction. Sitting still and doing nothing really wasn't him.
Gary was a soothing presence in the house once more and Ariana felt content. She looked down at his hand over her belly and she nodded. He was right, it wasn’t a replacement but a new chapter if they could make it that far. So why was it so difficult to turn the page?
“I know. It’s just… difficult.” She said to him quietly and eyed him when he spoke about their wedding day. Rain had been a worry but the skies had stayed clear for them, a miracle in itself and a great relief for everyone.
“I think our wedding day was the only time I saw you in a suit. Well, a formal suit.” She said to him over the top of her mug, he’d looked so handsome and the sun filtering down had only emphasised it.
“You looked so handsome, nervous though.” She said with a grin.
“So was I. Although, I don’t think anyone could blame me, getting married to such a man is a nervous ordeal.” She added. She had been so nervous of messing up something or something going wrong. And Gary has always been a strong man, a pillar of light in the stormiest of oceans for Ariana. She supposed that had never truly changed.
Ariana perked up at the mention of the honeymoon, because that had been an experience she would never forget.
“Venice, city of romance. You surprised me.” She said with a giggle laced in her voice.
“I don’t remember much sightseeing, well, at least not of Venice.” She said like a giddy schoolgirl.
“We watched the sunset from the balcony once, our first night I think.” Their first night as husband and wife, Ariana took a drink and smiled to herself. She could still remember the tingles she had gotten that first night, being husband and wife.
“I remember thinking I was the luckiest girl in the world, with Venice at my fingertips and you as my husband.” She could have conquered the world back then with Gary at her side, Venice set on fire by the light of the steadily dying sun. And it had been just the two of them, not a care in the world as they explored each other as newly weds, daring to sightsee once or twice, always ending up entangled in the bed by the end of the day.
“And we got stuck with the scariest cab driver in the whole of Italy, I think. We went to that restaurant, I forget the name.” She laughed a little, like it was a eureka moment.
“Had a gorgeous meal, you wore that nice shirt. And the cab driver didn’t speak any English and I swear he thought he was in the formula one driving tournament.” She giggled a little. Ariana dared to steal a little of the blanket, tucking under with him, setting her empty mug aside and smiled to herself. Amidst everything she had forgotten just how many amazing memories they had together, they had been more fortunate than most.
“Made it back in one piece, barely, stayed up late that night.” She wiggles her eyebrows mischievously. This felt more like them, somehow. She was content and comfortable even though she could tell there was a storm brewing somewhere in the distance that would come in the form of arguments, nerves and frustration.
See you soon, was it now? Gary smiled meekly, "thank you." Ariana opened the door for him and Gary folded himself inside, glad to be seated once more. The infection that'd raged through his body or still might be, had clearly taken it out of him. He felt nowhere near as tired as he had yesterday however, so Gary listened to Ri making gentle conversation during the ride.
Silence and cold greeted them inside the house. Gary was grateful Ri touched up the heating and quietly unwrapped from his own coat. While Ariana made them something to drink, Gary moved to the couch and sank down, spent already, but glad to be home. He pushed off the one shoe he wore and stretched out his bum leg on the table. After a moment of catching his breath, Gary pulled up the blankets covering the back of the couch and covered himself. Compared to the hospital, winter ruled with a heavy hand in their house.
Gary gratefully took the hot drink Ariana provided and followed her gaze. A hamper? Oh, right. Her father had been by, Gary remembered Ri telling him about. Rather than repeat himself by saying the man was trying, Gary watched Ri and the emotions flickering across her face. There were a great many to decipher and Gary knew not all of them were positive. Some were familiar however and unwelcome guests.
He reached out to Ariana's growing belly and put a hand out to it.
"They won't replace..." Gary started, but the words proved difficult to spit out.
"It's just a new chapter." He sighed out and gave Ri a wan smile. He felt a lot better, but he was still nowhere near as energetic as he used to be. He certainly wasn't up for another argument, so Gary was happy Ri changed the subject without prompting.
"Of course I remember our wedding. You were without a doubt, and you still are, the most beautiful creature to walk the Earth," Gary said with a proud smile. Ri had looked stunning in her white dress, the sun only emphasising how unearthly beautiful she could be if she really pushed herself. Regardless, Gary thought Ri was a beautiful woman, no matter the situation. Lately, that'd become hidden underneath a murky layer of regret and grief. He'd hoped not to see that return on account of gestures like her father's. There would be more confronting ordeals awaiting them, some innocent and small, others bigger, that would bring back the memories of what had passed.
Gary could only hope Ariana was strong enough to face them. It wouldn't be fair on their current child to see it differently.
"My mother was so worried it would rain," Gary prompted, taking a long drink from the hot brew in his hand.
"She'd started a whole plan B just in case," he said with a shake of his head. Frankly, he'd only just been on time, details Ariana didn't need to know. His mates had all but abducted him and Gary wouldn't admit to Ri, but he didn't quite recall much of that night. Maybe that gap made the events that followed even more precious.
"Do you remember the honeymoon?" Gary started instead, diverting the subject. They'd gone to Venice, stayed in an elaborate hotel, and Gary was sure they hadn't seen an actual thing of the city itself for they'd had eyes only for one another that week.
Gary was right, this was all a touch of deja-vu. It wasn’t long ago he was in worse shape and coming home directly after the accident, with a concussion and shattered leg. Ariana eyed the card and put it in her purse for safe keeping. She watched him with careful eyes as he was aided into the wheelchair, still concerned because they weren’t out of the woods yet.
“Hm? Uhhh next Thursday I think. I have a card too somewhere.” She remarked with a small smile. Ariana made sure nothing was being left behind because she doubted Gary wanted to have to come back for a lost item.
“I didn’t park too far away.” She assured him as she took over operation of the wheelchair, leaning down to press a kiss to Gary’s head, amongst those stubborn curls of his.
Ariana was careful about pushing the wheelchair, under a watchful set of eyes from a nurse who escorted them but was kind enough to let the man’s wife do what little she could to help.
“We will see you soon, Mr Jenkins.” The woman said as she helped him up on the crutches by the car and took the wheelchair back to the hospital, disappearing behind automatic doors. Ariana watched her go before looking to Gary and getting the door to the car for him, helping where needed.
“I did some shopping this morning. I was up early.” She said as she got behind the wheel and nestled down in the warmth for a second. She made a careful effort to drive slow and careful, not wanting to risk jostling Gary. Ariana parked up neatly,
“At least the ice has thawed out.” She said, small blessings after all. She held the door and then closed out the cold when Gary was safe inside. She untangled herself from her coat and eyed the heating, turning it up a touch.
Devoid of layers there was a slight bump to be seen that possibly would have gone unnoticed if it hadn’t been for her lack of weight. She fixed some hot drinks and set them down on the table, glancing to the abandoned hamper outside that room.
“My dad dropped it off.” She gestured and sat down. She faltered for a moment, that room had been the start of most of their arguments and she glanced to Gary, guiltily as if worried he would snap at her.
“Couldn’t go inside. Didn’t feel right.” She murmured as if it was completely normal. Ariana tucked some hair behind her ear and swallowed a little, busying herself with some tea. Ariana was distracted for a moment, her wedding ring catching a glint and she cuddled with it around her finger.
“Do you remember our wedding day?” That was a silly question but she glanced to Gary, tucked into his side, if he would have her anyways.
“My mother had such a sour face, Lisa was pregnant.” She tutted with a smile playing absently on her lips. Her mother hadn’t been outright rude or nasty, at least respecting their wedding day but she hadn’t exactly been happy either, causing atmospheres. But for the most part it had gone unnoticed, the two of them too wrapped up in each other to pay any attention. A summer wedding, bright and colourful with a summer nights celebration outside well into the darkness of the night. It had been beautiful, but felt like such a long time ago.
It was early morning when he was woken up. Gary struggled to come to grips with the waking world for a few minutes, just laying there, watching with a dazed eye as they detached the plastic tube from snaking into his leg via a needle. He couldn't even recall what he'd done that evening, but it couldn't be impressively exciting if he hadn't remembered. They took his temperature and noted some things down before leaving him to gather himself a little more properly on his own. Down the ward, the others were woken too. Pills were handed out, but not to him, just before breakfast was served.
Gary ate the meal, though he wasn't entirely hungry. At least his stomach wasn't as dismissive as it had been previously. He was just tired. Drained. Whatever they'd run into his veins was definitely packing a punch, because it felt very similar to what he'd been like yesterday. After breakfast was tea. The doctor visited too; everything looked good. He received a card upon which a scribble described a follow-up appointment.
It'd be a day's admission. Arrive in the morning, leave in the evening.
No trouble at all.
Nurses came next. Again. Gary was sick and tired of it already, but by the time Ariana dropped by to whisk him away, he was dressed in the clothes she'd dropped off earlier and somewhat presentable. And cleaner smelling at the least.
Gary gave Ri a half-hearted smile.
"More than ready," he admitted. Gary pushed himself up a little and sat on the edge of the bed. His leg felt heavy, but then most of his limbs felt that way. It was looking to be a lovely new year, that much was for sure.
Ri looked good.
"A nurse should be around soon. Something about wheelchairs?" he waved away with an exasperated sigh. The humility of having to be showered in presence of two young female nurses was haunting him. Nothing untoward had happened, because he was still too out of sorts, but he'd rather not have worried at all.
"How are you?" Gary asked, reaching out with a hand to hold hers. He was keen to get out and relax in the safety of his own home -and call work, apparently. The flowers at the bedside table were a reminder of Robert's threat and Gary knew better than to ignore the summons. At least his concussion seemed to have receded to a tolerable level, where he could actually focus and remember some trivial things.
"Deja vu, huh?" he noted.
The nurse came in then and wheeled the chair next to the bed. With only a little bit of her aid, Gary let himself sink into it without further protest. Frankly, using the crutches to hobble around everywhere sounded like an exhausting chore right then.
"Oh, I got this," Gary started, holding the card up.
"When is the next echo?" he asked, looking up at Ariana. So far so good, huh? They'd made it another week. From his lower vantage point, Gary tried to see whether Ri's belly was already showing, but it was hard to tell with the clothes she wore obscuring her figure from sight.
Gary’s kiss depicted his strength, a subtle reminder that his leg fought off infection but the antibiotics were doing their job. He was going to be alright, and she had to believe that. He would be home tomorrow. She wished she could stay too but she was almost sure that the nurses would notice her trying to hide away with him behind the flimsy curtains. Ariana almost looked offended at his notion of getting his parents to pick him up.
“No, no. I’ll pick you up, I’ll be here.” She admonished softly and watched him, brushing her fingers over his cheek and glancing up when the nurse as she entered and reminded them of the time. She flashed an apologetic look before looking to Gary, giving the kiss freely.
“Tomorrow.” She murmured softly. It wouldn’t be long.
Ariana scurried down the halls and it was with a renewed energy, glad her husband was getting out of hospital. She really did feel like they were slowly falling in love again, reconnecting whatever connections had been lost between them. Then again, the balance was still teetering precariously and the littlest thing would threaten to overturn the progress they made. One argument, one silly fight or the health issues that hung over them both could be the means for conflict once more. A shower would be terrific right then and Ariana did just that, changing into some loose cotton bottoms and a loose T-shirt.
Ariana checked the fridge and figured she would get up early and do some shopping in the morning, replenish the stocks and making sure things were done and set for Gary getting home. It wasn’t until the afternoon so that was something at least. She glanced to the little newborn hamper her father had gifted them on the counter and realised she had left that part out of the conversation with Gary. She was still wary about overloading him with information. Ariana lifted the hamper and crept up to the door of the unspoken room. She drew a deep breath, it was only a room. She couldn’t bring herself to open it as she set down the basket by the door. It didn’t feel right to go in there, at least not alone.
The day had been long and Ariana was soon asleep on the bed, clinging to Gary’s empty pillow, the lingering scent of him. Morning came around all too soon and Ariana freshened up and managed to get down to the local supermarket, picking up a few necessities and sorting them away into the cupboards. In all honesty she was killing time until she could head in to the hospital. Her eyes darted now and then to the corridor and the hamper that sat outside, abandoned in the corridor. She tutted at herself and sorted away the last of the shopping before grabbing her keys and her jacket, buttoning up. She wasn’t hiding under layers again, enough to keep warm as she smoothed down her apparel and headed down to the hospital. She kept out of the way of nurses as they chartered their way down the halls, murmuring in conversation. She stepped into Gary’s ward with a gentle smile on her lips.
“Ready to come home?”
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