Jake sits up in his hospital bed and eats his lunch. Molly is asleep in the chair next to the bed, and the soft light coming in through the blinds makes her an angel again. Jake supposes she must love him—it’s all very new to him. At the very least she doesn’t want him to die. And she visits him every day, which is nice. It’s been five years since anything’s been nice.
But still he doesn’t know what to do with her, so he just looks at her while she sleeps. That’s really all he can do, anyway. He still hurts too much for anything else. It’s the kind of pain that radiates outward and never settles in one place, perhaps because there are too many options in his body. Every four hours they come and give him something and he feels a little better. They say he won’t be able to leave for weeks. His health insurance running out at the end of the month says otherwise. Jake now and then considers that quitting his job wasn’t the best thing to do before a car wreck.
She opens her eyes and smiles at him. “How’s your head?” Jake asks as his pounds away miserably. It isn’t so bad with her awake.
She sits up, still smiling. She’d been complaining of a headache right before he passed out again. The doctor said that the blackouts would happen for awhile but would pass in time, that it was just the nature of a traumatic head injury. Don’t take that for truth, though, because I made the doctor up and all his degrees are fake. Jake is used to it from drinking so much, anyway. Who knows how long ago that was, but now he has lunch.
She leans forward to put her hand on his leg, but the sheets collapse under her hand’s weight. Her smile fades and she apologizes for calling attention to it.
Jake tries to cheer her up. “Don’t worry, I’m somebody’s fetish now.”
“That’s not funny,” she grumbles, and then breaks into her half-smile. “You only lost one leg. They’re not going to want to look at you unless there’s some kind of symmetry in your loss.”
“They’ll change their minds after they see the stump, baby.”
This whole conversation is fake, but they smile through it anyway. Jake reaches forward and grabs her hand, squeezes it once mechanically, and then lets it go.
Molly looks up at him and smiles for real. “You’ve really got to learn to show affection if you want to keep me around.”
“Who says I do?”
“You know, it’s not too late to lose the middle leg.”
This is the first time they’ve talked that’s approached normalcy, as if there really is moving past loss outside of it being a nice concept. For now it’s fake, but maybe not forever. Jake looks her right in the eyes for the first time since he left her there in that hotel room. He has spent all his time since then either avoiding them or unconscious. They are wonderful, sparkling blue and very inviting. He clears his throat to say something, but she looks away before he speaks and he holds his tongue.
She might as well have left the room. Her eyes gloss over and she’s very far away and she pulls her knees up to her chin and she’s so tiny in that chair. Jake plays with the buttons on his bed, moving up and down until she looks back at him. Her face is showing a subtle sorrow that can just as easily be perceived as blankness or something caught in the teeth.
“I hope you don’t mind,” she says, “but I went through Scooter’s things. I guess… I was making sure there weren’t any more surprises. Anyway, I found this.” She digs into one of her front pockets and holds forward a crinkled photograph that Jake has never seen before.
Jake takes it and holds it up to the light. “Jesus Christ.”
“My thoughts exactly. Read the back.”
Molly leans forward and steals Jake’s dessert while he’s looking at the picture. It’s pudding, and she’s being playful so she won’t get in trouble and so maybe he won’t have to take it all in at once. She’s being playful because I need her to be. To draw out the inevitable. I gave Jake the photograph just now, which is bad storytelling because I’m not going to give it to you until later, but I gave it to him because he’s lucid and awake and it’s time to start processing things. “So, you never said how long you’d known him,” she says.
Jake puts the picture on the bedside table and looks down at his tray. He shoots Molly a dirty look when he sees his dessert gone and she just waves the spoon mischievously. “I’ll give you a bite if you answer me.”
“Three months, I guess. We hung out pretty much every day after work. If it was a weekday we’d go get drunk at the Wash Room. Sometimes I helped him mail out records. That was about it. Some nights he would go out and get beat all to hell, and then crash on my floor, but I never went with him then. Now that I think about it, he went with me everywhere, but I never went with him to anything that was his idea.”
He remembered watching bad zombie movies all night. He remembered drinking in all kinds of public places where they shouldn’t be. And he remembered waking up to blood in the toilet and Scooter sprawled on the dirty tile.
“Oh yeah,” Molly says, leaning over with the spoon to give Jake some, “you guys were really onto something revolutionary.”
Jake tries to take it, but she pulls it away at the last second.
“Oh, I see now,” he says.
“You’re a bitch.”
“Very funny.” She gives him some pudding for real, then says, “There’s a little record store down the road from the hotel. I thought you might want something from there.”
“You sure? It’s not my money anyway. I feel weird spending it all on me.”
“He’d want you to spend it.”
“He’d want you to spend it more.”
Jake sighs and looks out the window. “Me and him are square.”
She takes a spoon of pudding and taps his nose with it, leaving a shiny brown dab on his nose right where his eyes can make it out. “You’re being stubborn.”
He wipes it off and eats it, and she puts the pudding down on his tray and sits back in the chair. He goes back to eating. She draws up her legs again and looks out the window while Jake eats. It becomes very apparent that she is not looking at him on purpose, just like the last time. She’s going through motions, acting out how she thinks this should go, spoon-feeding it all like it was a damn pudding. She’s rehearsed this, she has an agenda. Jake wonders what he should do with her.
“What?” he asks between mouthfuls.
“You know, Jake,” she says, “I have to tell you something else.” She leans in too close again and takes his hand, “And you’re not going to like it.”
“What?” Jake asks, steeling himself for a display of emotion he won’t be able to handle. He doesn’t want to fuck up whatever she is supposed to be, even if he doesn’t know what that is.
“I… when….” She doesn’t know how to say it after all. “I knew.”
She looks down and starts crying. “I knew all of it. He asked me not to tell you, that it would work out. I wish I would have told. I don’t even know why he told me.”
Jake looks at her hands grasping his. They were so small, so fragile. He turns his hand face up and squeezes hers.
She looks up at him with a wet mask of a face.
There is a long pause before Jake answers.
“No,” he says, and he pauses again, “but it will be someday. It happened his way. It always happened his way. You couldn’t have stopped this anymore than I could have. And I don’t know that I would have wanted to.”
The truth is I needed it to happen his way. I needed it to happen more than you could possibly imagine. Otherwise I wouldn’t have a story, I wouldn’t have these friends. I wouldn’t have anything left anymore.