Jeremy heard the whispers as he passed the nurses’ station. They averted their eyes and lowered their voices, but he knew what they were saying. They thought him a naïve fool, an ignorant optimist, a pathetic martyr. Their assessments varied slightly from day to day. They probably assumed he didn’t know all the details. They were waiting for him to be repulsed or to give up. It never occurred to them that he was simply in love.
Thoughts of the nurses faded as he neared the door. He could already hear the soft whirring and occasional beeps of the equipment. The door was ajar and Jeremy entered eagerly, somewhat accustomed to the sight that would greet him. The doctor was leaning over Chandra’s bed, replacing the bandages on her head. Jeremy winced as he glimpsed the gashes and bruises where Chandra’s long, thick hair used to be. Her eyes were closed, and he used the opportunity to take a careful look at her before she realized he was there. Some of the bandages had been removed from her face, but she was barely recognizable. Her eyes were bruised and swollen. An oxygen tube ran across her cheeks to her broken nose. A jagged cut stretched from her bottom lip down her chin, the swollen flesh straining against the stitches.
Jeremy waited until the doctor left before he took Chandra’s pale hand and gently kissed each finger. She opened her eyes and he watched her emotions flash one after the other: surprise, shame, anger, fear.
“You’re here…again.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper.
Jeremy squeezed her hand. “You’re beautiful.”
Chandra turned her gaze to the window. He reached for her face, but there was nowhere safe to touch her. He rested his hand on her shoulder instead. “I love you,” he said. That got her attention.
“You can’t,” she croaked. “I left. I got pregnant.”
Jeremy leaned over and gingerly kissed the tears as they slowly escaped her eyes. There was so much to say, so much they needed to work through. The pain of her betrayal was almost unbearable, but it was nothing compared to the weight of guilt that Chandra carried.
“I forgive you, Beloved,” he whispered into her ear. “I love you.”
“You can’t…” she said again. “I left with Sam. We wanted to get away…have our baby...”
“I still love you.”
Chandra turned away again. “It’s too late.”
“No. I’ll love you forever.” Jeremy leaned closer until she looked at him again. “No matter what.”
Anger blazed through her wet eyes. “You can’t fix this. Sam’s dead. My baby’s dead. And look at me. I wish…I should’ve…”
“Don’t say it. You lived and you’re going to make it through this.”
“I don’t want to make it through this, Jeremy,” she spat out. “I killed them. It was my fault. I was drunk. Too far gone to even know how fast I was driving.” She continued in a whisper. “Maybe if I’d had a couple more drinks, I would’ve died, too. I wouldn’t be haunted by the pictures in my head…wouldn’t know what it felt like to crush my own baby inside my body. I can’t live with that.”
Jeremy couldn’t answer her. He understood the depth of her grief. He felt it, too. How he longed to pull her into his arms. But her emotional barricade was as much of a barrier as all the tubes and wires that were keeping her alive. He stroked his thumb across the back of her hand, willing her to receive his love in that small gesture.
A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts. Jeremy recognized the gentleman and waved him in. The man approached Chandra on the other side of the bed.
“I’m Henry Stewart,” he introduced himself. “Your fiancé hired me to settle your legal affairs. He says you’re aware of the charges pending against you, as well as the lawsuit filed by the family of Samuel DeVoe.” When Chandra nodded, the lawyer removed a folder from his briefcase. “I have here authorized documents stating that the full payment of these charges will be assumed by Jeremy Connors, at his request. I just need your signature.”
Chandra’s gaze returned to Jeremy. “I left you. Betrayed you,” she sobbed. “Look at me. You should hate me.”
“I love you. No matter what.” Jeremy clutched her hand to his heart. “You agreed once before to marry me, and I hope your answer remains the same. Will you be my bride?”
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