Unconditionally (Sequel to Styling My Life)

"Is this what you want?" I asked, my eyes started to get wet.
He looked at the floor. "I want what's best for both of us. This looks like the only answer right now."
I nodded. "Fine," And so I left.
I didn't know when I'd be back.

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2. Prologue

 

Hallie's POV

The limo chauffeur couldn't move fast enough. When I woke up, I realized Harry had fallen asleep. His curly mess of hair was plastered to his face and his head rested against the tinted window. His tie was out of place and terribly wrinkled. Then a terrible thought struck me. The concert! Harry was supposed to be at the concert! At Madison Square Garden! My head fell backwards onto the headrest and I sulked down into the black leather seats. Why would he give that up? Maybe he had just acted on impulse and would regret it later. Surely no one could care about someone that much...

The limo lurched to a stop. "Here," The driver called back to us. I glanced out the window at the Hospital that towered high above us outside. I suddenly felt a pang in my gut. It was all too familiar.

Then I felt a hand on my shoulder. Groggily, Harry rubbed his eyes and cocked his head sideways to look at me. "Where are we?"

"At the hospital," I said to him before turning to the driver. "Thank you."

The driver nodded, his face sympathetic. "Praying for your friend."

I nodded, in thanks, and grabbed Harry's hand. Together we trudged down the concrete sidewalk and pushed open the doors. Immediately, my nostrils were filled with various smells of sterilizer and rubber gloves. I shook furiously and Harry squeezed my hand in an attempt to make me feel better. It did nothing.

"Janie Howards?" Harry asked the receptionist when we reached her small desk wedged in the back corner of the hospital. I suddenly felt bad for her, then remembering why we were here, nerves took over again.

The woman flipped through a few pages in the huge book she had sitting on her desk. Then she stopped, and slid her finger down the page she had paused on. Holding her place, she pulled out a yellow Post-It and scribbled down some numbers. Then she handed us two "VISITOR" stickers. She smiled warmly before flopping back down in her black rolling chair and facing her computer screen.

"Thanks," I muttered, knowing though she wasn't listening to me. We both walked to the elevator while Harry pulled the hood to his sweatshirt over his curls and muttering something about not being able to go anywhere anymore. I shook my head and looked at the Post-It. Room 547. I pressed the number 5 button just as the doors began to close. Then a woman's hand stuck in between the closing entrance. She quickly ushered her two children in before smiling politely at us and reaching over to press the 4th floor button. She scooped up one of the kids, while the other toddler ran loose around the elevator, stumbling as we moved upwards. Occasionally, he would bump into us, but then he would just giggle before continuing his movements.

Finally when we reached the fourth floor, the woman corralled the loose child into formation and began to walk out. But then, as if she had forgotten something, she rushed back in and whispered in Harry's ear, "Your disguise doesn't do much by the way." She laughed quietly to herself and I saw Harry's eyes widen as he pulled the hood of his sweatshirt to cover more of his face. Then the woman and her children were gone.

I glanced at Harry, waiting for some sort of reaction, but he just looked at his shoes, occasionally making scuff marks on the floor. The ride up to the fifth floor seemed to take longer than the ride up to the fourth. I was relieved when the metal doors slid open revealing the hospital rooms on the other side. Then the butterflies returned again and I clutched Harry's hand.

"It'll be fine," He soothed. I nodded and looked at the numbers on the doors we were passing. 524, 526...

I clutched the Post-It tight in my fist. 532, 534...

Almost there.

536, 538...

I stopped dead in my tracks. Harry stopped too and looked back at me. "Are you alright?"

I shook my head. "No. I'm not." Then he was in front of me, his hands on my waist, searching my eyes for an explanation. "I'm scared. I don't know how to go into this." I broke eye contact with him.

He moved his head so his eyes were opposite mine again. "I do. Together." He tried to manage an encouraging smile, and I attempted to return it, but both of us failed miserably.

"Let's go." He grabbed my hand and we continued walking down the hallway until we were directly in front of room 547. I took a deep breath and exchanged a glance with Harry. "Ready?" He asked.

I nodded.

Then he turned the door knob.

Inside was a small white bed, resembling the one I had slept on when I had spent my time here. A nurse sat by the computer in the corner, some forms lay on the desk. She wrote vigorously, not noticing our entrance.

"Ahem," Harry coughed into his sleeve, trying to grab her attention.

She turned toward us in shock. "Oh! Here to visit?"

We nodded.

"Okay, well, I'm gonna go and check with the patient to see if she is available for visitors right now. You can sit here for now." She gestured to some beige colored waiting chairs next to each other near the door. Then she turned and walked behind the curtain dividing this part of the room from the other.

I sat down in the chair closest to the door and fiddled with my fingers. I glanced at my strappy black heels I hadn't had a chance to change. Harry's fingers suddenly laced themselves into mine.

"Hal, it'll all work out."

I nodded, but didn't look up.

"Alright," The nurse said coming back into view. "Come on out, Janie."

I shot up from the chair, waiting for Janie to come strolling around the corner, happy with her goofy smile plastered onto her face, her hair done up in a messy bun because she had been too lazy that morning to properly style it. I waited for her to run to me and engulf me in a hug, saying how much she had missed me, and me responding with she didn't know the half of it. I waited for her asking for my credit card, so she could buy me things that would sit in the back of my closet and collect dust, but at the time, it was just fun to be spending time with my best friend. I waited for my old Janie, freshly polished and new to walk out from behind that corner. But she didn't.

Instead, I was greeted by wheels. Big round rubber wheels scuffing the laminate floors. My eyes scanned the contraption, not fully understanding what I was seeing.

"Hal, Harry," Janie sighed, coming around the corner in a wheelchair. She was in a wheelchair.

Tears fell from my eyes and I saw Harry biting his lip. He placed his hand on his temple and just observed Janie rolling towards us.

"Janie," I said, walking slowly towards her. "I'm so--" I started to say.

She quickly cut me off. "Don't be. It's worth it. You're safe and that's all that matters." She smiled widely at me.

Then throwing all composure I had out the window, I ran to her and threw my arms around her, even though she was sitting in the wheelchair. "Oh, Janie, I just don't believe it. Does it hurt? How did it happen?"

Janie opened her mouth to respond, but the nurse beat her to it. "At the angle the bullet was lodged into Janie, it caused severe damage to her spinal cord, resulting in paralysis from the waist down." The nurses eyes reflected her sympathy. "She had some major brain damage, but the doctor was able to remove the dead cells and construct new ones. I imagine Janie will find herself being able to retain more information and her knowledge has improved significantly due to the surgery." Then the nurse turned away. "I'll leave you guys."

Harry now sat on the bed, his head rested in his hands. "This past week has been so much to take in," he muttered to himself.

I grabbed Janie's hand. "I'm sorry. Anything you need, I'm here. Don't ever forget that."

Janie frowned at me in response. "No, none of that. I don't want to be babied, just because I'm in a wheelchair does not mean I'm any less functional I was before. I'm determined to overcome this small hurdle in my life. Besides, if I dwell on this, I won't be able to enjoy the roller coaster of life." Janie smiled at Harry. He smiled half-hardheartedly back, before frowning again. I wondered what he was thinking.

"Guys, I'm serious. Treat me like the old Janie, cause I am. Still the same." She exchanged serious glances at both of us. Then she sighed. "You guys look like you're at a funeral. Smile a little! I'm alive, at least!"

I sat on the cold hospital tile next to Janie's wheelchair. "Can you..." My worlds trailed off.

"Walk?" Janie finished for me. She looked down at her feet resting on the foot stools jutting out of her chair. "No, I can't. I don't have control of my legs anymore, my brain can't send them messages telling them to move. It kinda sucks really. Wanting to get up and grab myself a glass of water, then realizing I have to wheel over, and then I have to call the nurse for help because I can't reach the faucet." Her words were choked.

"Oh, Janie. I'm so sorry! Truly! I never would've imagined that this..." I cut myself off and looked at Harry. He still had his head resting in his hands, still as a statue. The only thing that reminded me he was breathing was the steady rise of his chest under his dress shirt. "Harry?" I asked, now moving to him. I laid a hand on his back.

"Hal, I could've done something. I could've blocked her. I could've ushered her back to the visitors center for safety." He whispered softly to me. I heard him sniffle faintly. "Anything. I could've done anything to prevent this."

I kissed his cheek. "Harry, I love you for what you did do. I love that fact you came after me. Your actions were all that you could've done for both of us. She knows that," I pointed at Janie with my thumb and she nodded, "I know that, and you know that. Janie's sacrifice was more than I could ever ask for." He nodded and brushed his curls out of his face. I kissed his forehead. "Don't blame yourself for anything."

Janie, clearing her throat, commented. "I don't regret it either. If anything, I'm happy I did it. I mean, who knows what would've happened to Hallie if we hadn't shown up, Harry?" She wheeled over to us. "Besides, I'm getting pretty good at this manuvering thing." She added, smiling.

"I've missed you, Janie." I said. Harry wrapped an arm around my waist, pulling me closer to him. He planted a kiss, soft, on the top of my head. Then I grabbed Janie's hand and squeezed it. She smiled widely back at me. "So, maybe we could spend the night with you?" I asked Janie, watching her smile grow wider as she thought about this.

"Mary?" She called behind her.

The nurse scurried back in and with a worried expression, addressed Janie. "What is it, sweetie? Are you okay? Do you need to rest?" She gave us a meaningful look.

Janie noticed it. "Yes, yes, I'm fine. No, I do not need to sleep. I wanted to ask if it was okay if Harry and Hallie spent the night here."

Mary's face relaxed. She nodded. "Yeah, it's fine." She pointed to the extra bed near the window. "Since you don't share a room with anyone, the extra bed is availible." She paused, "You two don't mind sharing, right?"

I couldn't see myself then, but I'm sure I was as red as a tomato. "Perfect." Harry answered for me, chuckling slightly at my reaction. I elbowed him.

"Great," Mary said, exiting through the front door this time. "Call me if you need me, Janie."

Janie nodded. "So guys," she paused dramatically, looking around the room, "Hospital party?" She whispered, excitedly.

I laughed so hard my stomach began to hurt. Then I just smiled hugely.

I had missed Janie so much.
 


 

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