There is nothing worse than the agony of waiting when someone you love is hurt. I'll remember that room for the rest of my life, and it will haunt me in my nightmares.
There was a slight astringent smell, like bleach or something similar, that burned in my nostrils. Underneath it was a sort of rotten smell that the astringent only barely covered.
The room was too cold. I could feel the air from the conditioner blowing across my exposed knees. I was still in my dress, and it was covered in his blood. There was no time to change. They wouldn't let me ride with him in the ambulance, but Theresa dragged my sobbing form over to the limo we'd ridden over in. Jasmine and Katie joined me before Theresa could drive away. I continued to sob in the back seat and they gathered me in a group hug.
When we got to the hospital we were shown into the waiting room: a couple of plastic seats in an alcove off to the side from the doors into the operation suites.
Theresa sat there with her arm around my shoulders. After the ride over I was cried out and simply sat there numb. I couldn't believe that he'd done this for me. I didn't want to allow it, but a slight glow formed in the pit of my stomach. It felt like a betrayal of everything he'd done for me to be happy, but I just couldn't help it.
"He loves me," I whispered.
"I know. He just didn't want to tell you."
"Why not?" I looked over at Theresa a little confused.
"Because he thinks you're too young for him."
"He's only eighteen!" I tried to keep my voice down, and I tried to keep from getting angry at him when he was fighting for his life. Screw that, I was going to get angry at him.
"More it has to do with how he's already lived life and you are still in high school."
"If he wasn't dying, I'd kill him. I'd wring his scrawny little neck."
"AJ…you're scary like that," Jasmine said. She was looking at me with wide eyes. Katie sat there holding her and doing the same.
"I think you're both seeing the Valkyrie for the first time," Theresa said.
"Sorry," I said, trying to smile.
"AJ, I know you've had a life. I know that. I even know some of the difficulties that you've been through."
Something occurred to me that I’d forgotten all about earlier, "I thought you were a therapist," I said to Theresa.
"Still trying to finish my degree. Being a bodyguard pays the bills."
I shuddered and held myself, "Why can't I focus?"
"You're just in a mild shock," Theresa said and held me again. Jasmine and Katie moved in on the other side, dragging the chairs across the floor to be next to me. We were all sitting there like that when Mr. and Mrs. Harris came in.
We sat there making small talk as I just absorbed my bleak surroundings. Would life be like this for me for the rest of my life? Would I ever get over Shawn?
I shuddered again with the thought of Shawn dying.
My thoughts rotated around and around like that. Love, hate, betrayal. I was slowly circling the drain, and I couldn't find my way out. Shawn centered me. How could I survive without him? How could I be? How could I exist?
The minutes turned into hours as we all sat there. Jasmine and Katie finally went home at three in the morning, but I had to stay. My parents took the two girls home and then came back to sit with us. I don't remember if they talked.
All I remember was the astringent smell covering the smell of decay. It is a smell I'll always associate with death.
Sunlight peeked in through the high small windows on the wall behind my head. It seemed to add a spot of lemon yellow to the wall opposite. I watched the nurse there as she typed something into her computer, and wondered what she did every day when the light started shining in her eyes.
I really considered the sun to be a harsh mistress that morning. She said that a new day was dawning, but without Shawn, there couldn't possibly be anything new.
We'd still had no news about how he was doing. Presumably he was still in surgery. All night ling we'd sat there, when my Dad and Mr. Harris weren't pacing that is. They'd tried going at their own paces to begin with, but eventually decided that walking side by side worked better. I would have been impressed with their ability to work things out wordlessly if I wasn't otherwise engaged at the time.
I was numb.
Finally, after everything that had happened, I was wrung out emotionally and I had nothing left to feel. At this point I didn't even feel the cold of the room.
Through the night, the doors in front of us had opened a number of times as people went in and out of them. For the first couple of hours I looked up every time they opened, but now it didn't even catch my attention until there was someone standing in front of us.
"Mr. and Mrs. Harris?"
We all looked up at the doctor standing there. He had grey hair and a kindly face. His expression was neutral, and I just knew that it was bad news. My eyes stung, but I had no more tears to shed.
"Yes?" Mr. Harris said.
"Shawn made it through surgery and is in recovery. The bullet lodged next to his heart and was abrading against the muscle. We were able to remove the bullet without causing any more problems. He lost a lot of blood. Right now we just have to wait and see if he recovers."
I didn't hear anything else that anyone said in my relief. Shawn was alive.
"Can I see him?" I said quietly. I didn't know if anyone heard me, but the Doctor looked over with kindly eyes and a slight smile.
"After we move him to his own room, we'll let in some visitors. Let him rest until he wakes up, but you can see him."
Time seemed to start again, and before too long we were in a private room watching while he slept. I stayed with him all that day and the next, not once did he wake up in that time.
Mom excused me from school on Monday and I stayed there with Shawn. Around noon he slowly opened his eyes and looked around. I smiled when he finally saw me there.
"Hi." I said with a small smile.
"Hi. I didn't say anything stupid before I got shot did I?"
"Nope. You just said you loved me."
"Oh," he said with a frown.
"You don't get to take it back, Shawn. You know I love you, and you admitted you love me. Sure, things might change later. We're not talking about later. Just let it be for now, ok? Let's just be happy."
Shawn smiled at me weakly and I gave him a light kiss on the lips.
"I love you, Shawn."
"I love you too."
Life slowly returned to normal after that, or as normal as it exists for me. I visited Rita a couple of times at the shelter before she decided to move out with a couple of the other women into an apartment. I tried to continue visiting her there, but beyond class and her ex-husband's actions, we really had nothing in common.
She still comes to class, and started bringing some of the other women from the shelter. By the time that the original teacher returned we had enough women for two classes two days a week, a total of four classes each week.
Mom's planning on releasing her clothing line soon. Some people think that I design the clothes, so I have to explain that they're my Mom's design. I always love doing that. I never wear anything she hasn't designed anymore. I tried a couple of times, but wearing clothing that was made just for you by an expert in the field spoils you for 'off the rack' clothing.
Anyway, it's great advertising for Mom's brand, and there are actually people at school who wear it now too, including Katie and Jasmine.
They still don't have boyfriends, though. They do date a lot more now that everyone knows that I have a boyfriend. Apparently being friends with the most (in)famous girl in school is worth something.
As for Julian, he had two more charges of attempted murder added to his already bloated rap-sheet. Everyone assumes that he's going to be convicted and sent away for a long time.
Shawn and I are both doing physical therapy together, and no, I don't mean we're getting physical. I take each day as it comes with him, and am more sure as time goes by that I will marry the man, even if I have to propose to him myself.
With everything I have been through recently, I'm finally at a point where everything seems to be calm and collected. It won't always stay that way, but those are worries for another day.
And the Valkyrie? I've finally come to the realization that while I understand the origin of the term, and who they were in Norse mythology, most people just see them as warrior women. That is likely the intent that was behind the nickname, so I can accept it, for now. It still gets me some notoriety, which I can live with. If I'm not going to be loved, then being feared will keep me safe.
Life isn't perfect. If I'd really thought about it at the beginning, I would never have believed that I could be in this place at this time. I expected to be dead. If not now, then when I completed all of my plans for suicide. When I think about it, I shudder at everything I would have missed out on. I think of Shawn, Jasmine, Katie, Theresa, Caroline, Rita, and everyone else I met during this little adventure.
None of them would be a part of my life if I hadn't accepted the judge's punishment. Like I had many times in the past, I wonder if even the judge knew what would happen when he proposed it.
I'm glad he did. Every once in a while, I wonder what happened to Aaron Joel. In all of this it seems that I lost a piece of myself when I chose to be AJ, Anne-Jeanette. When I think that, though, I think about what I gained, and what stayed the same.
When I really think about it, about whatever happened to Aaron Joel Smith, I realize that nothing happened to her, because she is me, and we're not going anywhere.
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