You can hear the doctor’s footsteps. I know because I can hear them as well. They have a confidence in them mine didn’t when I arrived earlier. I stand at the door and watch you listen. When I don’t come in you tilt your head a little.
“Billy?” you ask.
I clear my throat. “Yes. It’s me.”
“What are you doing?”
“Why?” You smile, knowing what I’m going to say.
“I’ve never seen anyone so beautiful.” I say it because it’s true.
Your face softens. “I can smell lilacs,” your nose twitches a little.
“Yes,” I put them into your hands. You bury your face in the blooms and breathe in deeply. “I wanted them to be the first thing you see when…” I can’t go on. You touch the edges of the bandages around your head.
“I want to see you. I want the first thing I see to be you.” You lean forward eagerly, your hand searching for me. Mine curls into a fist and then, almost desperately, I clutch your fingers.
“Your pulse is racing.” You turn my hand over, running your fingers down the inside of my wrist. Even I can see the blood pumping beneath the skin.
“Guess I’m nervous.”
You give a soft laugh. “I’m the one who should be nervous.”
I nod, even though I know you can’t see it. Your fingers touch my face, gently exploring the line of my jaw and across my lips. They pause as I kiss them. Your lips curve in a smile that sets my heart racing erratically. I kiss each of your fingers, then lay a soft one in your palm. You sigh with happiness.
“I like this,” I say quietly. At least I’m being honest.
“I like this too. But I’m going to like it even more later.” You lean in. You want me to kiss you. Your lips are soft beneath mine. Eager and full of promise. I pull back.
“Nothing,” but I say it badly.
I have to say something, but I leave it too late.
“If I didn’t know better, I’d say you don’t want me to see again, William Black,” you laugh. The silence stretches out between us. “Billy?” I feel the cold sweat between my shoulder blades. I pull my hands away. I hate the question, the hurt that lies in your voice. “You don’t want me to see again?” You sit back a little. I rub my face. “Won’t you tell me why?” you ask. I notice for the first time how cold the room is. “Oh, Billy.” You lean forward, searching for my hand. I let it lie between yours. I can feel the fragile, delicate bones of your fingers. You think I’m a good man. I’m not. I could so easily break you. I’ve already done it once.
I’ve had plenty of women. The kind that like bad men. Men like me. I used them, didn’t love any of them. But you, you’re ‘the one’. I fell in love with you the first moment I saw your face.
The moon was full that night, flooding the room. You stood in the doorway and looked right at me.
“Ruthie.” It was a gargle. His throat was full of blood. He lay in a thick, sticky pool of it. Your eyes widened when you saw him. I pulled the knife out of your father’s chest. Then Donny hit you from behind, hard. The light died in your eyes as you fell. I checked your pulse. It was weak.
“Come on!” Donny hissed.
“I’m calling an ambulance.”
“What? She saw you!”
“We don’t know that.”
“You’re on your own, pal.” Donny took off. I haven’t seen him since.
I stand up. The bed gives a slight sigh. I walk to the window. The trees in the parking lot are choking with dying leaves. It won’t be long before they start to fall. Eventually I say, “I’m afraid of you seeing me.”
You laugh. “I’ve felt your face. I know your heart. You’re a beautiful man, Billy. I love you.”
Turning around I see the doctor is at the nurses’ station. He’s talking to a cop. The cop frowns and then writes something in his little book. He glances up, at me. My stomach churns. The cop flips through his book, looking for something. They talk some more. The doc nods and heads towards your room.
“Good morning,” he says as he walks in. He takes your hand and gives it a slight squeeze, patting it gently. “Are you ready, Ruthie?”
Your face below the bandages has a kind of glow. Your breathing is tight, nervous and excited.
“I can’t wait!” you say eagerly.
He begins to unwind the bandages. “I know we’ve talked about this. The optical nerve was badly damaged. We won’t know till we have the bandages off if you have your sight back. You know that, right, Ruthie?”
“Billy?” You stretch out your hand towards me. I glance back at the cop. He’s on his cell phone. He keeps looking towards your room. I need to get out of sight. He looks at his wristwatch. I step towards your bed and take your hand.
“Wait,” you say quickly.
“Ruthie? Are you scared?” The doctor is one of those gentle types. The kind of man you should be with. Not the kind with tattoos. Or a rap sheet. Probably never even had a parking ticket.
“Oh, no,” you say, smiling. “But I want Billy to take them off. Can he?”
The doctor smiles and steps away from your bed. “Of course.”
My hands are shaking as I slowly loosen the last of the wrappings around your eyes.
“Sorry, doc.” It’s the cop. He’s in the room. My eyes are locked on you. You’re smiling. You open your eyes slowly. They’re greener than I remember. The cop carries on talking. “Just one more thing–” he stops. “Is everything alright?”