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The coming days were not easy. It was hard enough being the new girl in a school, but even harder when all that was spoken about happened to be Austin Moon and his recovery. Not much had changed since she last visited him: he remained in an coma and his injuries had not improved. He still breathed by the help of a machine. People were losing hope, and except for Jace, no one even knew she'd known him for a short period of time. Even Jace had no idea she'd run into him that night.
Still, she listened around for any updates. She didn't want to change trying to get into the ICU again, but she thought about him constantly. She had to drive past the accident site to get to and from school and while the mangled truck had long since been removed, the thrashed tree and torn up dirt and grass still remained. Beside that, people had been swarming the area, checking out the "sick" accident their resident jock had been.
It bothered her: he wasn't some sort of act people needed to look at. While she was looking from a similar outside perspective, most of these people didn't even know him. Teenage girls were sobbing by his locker, acting like he wasn't still fighting for his life a few miles away. It irked her, and it shouldn't have because she didn't know him either. Oddly, she felt connected to the comatose boy and wished she had some sort of explanation to why.
Jace often ate with her during lunch. Dez joined them from time to time. His fellow jocks had shunned him when they found out he did not stop Austin from getting into the car. According to the hypocrite teenagers who egged on Dallas that night, while they wanted him to recover from the injuries, they blamed the other teenager for the accident. Still, he was one of the few who seemed to really care for the missing teen. Ally enjoyed his company and worked to keep him from not looking up. It was hard when your group of friends shunned you for something you couldn't control.
Then one day, it happened. Jace got a text from Austin's mom that he'd begun to wake up, but was still not out of the woods. Having still an issue with his ribs and lungs, the breathing machine remained in and he was kept often sedated. That didn't stop Jace from begging Ally to join him at the hospital that afternoon, swearing he couldn't see his friend that way, even sedated without someone there with him.
"He doesn't even really know me."
"Yeah, but I do. And you're awesome, so come."
Ally smiled slightly at this. "I like compliments. Fine."
He laughed, taking her arm. "Lets go."
The smiles had long faded by the time Austin's mother let them into the ICU with her. They snuck past the nurses though she was sure they actually knew and just understood that someone being with the injured boy was important. Austin's mom went outside when they entered, leaving the two teens with the out of it injured one. His eyes were open, but you'd never know he was actually conscious because he didn't react to their presence.
"This was dumb. He won't even remember we're here…"
"Don't say that," she scolded. "He can hear everything you're saying. Though, right now, he can't reply. This would be the time to take advantage of anything you want to say to him that he can't hurt you over."
Jace laughed, which was what she wanted. But that was not the only thing that changed: Austin's heart monitor jumped, as if he were reacting to her lame joke. Ally beamed, regardless. It was probably just his body reacting to the pain, but she took the win. "See? He's either wanting to punch me, or laughing with us. Relax, Jace. You're one of the few who actually give a damn. He wants you here. Me? I'm just the creepy stalker girl he saw a few days before the party."
Ally watched Austin's monitor. It didn't move much. Maybe she was mistaken; maybe he was too drugged up to know what she was saying. The little stalker comment had been a joke between them the night of the accident, but that didn't mean he remembered it now even if he did remember her. The trauma he endured probably made him forget the entire conversation.
"Nothing," she muttered. "Forget it."
That's when she left it. His hand touching hers. His fingers twitched beside her, not quite grabbing her hand, or even making a fist, but he was definitely trying to get her attention. Ally gasped and looked at her dark haired friend, a huge grin spreading across her face. "Wow, Ally."
"Hey, Austin," she said quietly. "Good to know you're in there."
"Hey man," Jace added. "The whole school is pulling for you, so keep getting stronger. I'll come back every day if you want me to. Do you want me to? Do something if you do. Blink or something."
He waited a moment, but nothing happened.
Then his hand twitched again.
"I think that's a yes."
Jace excused himself a second when he got a text from one of his friends, and Ally enjoyed their solace for the moment. She touched Austin's head gently, smoothing his sticky hair out of his face. His eyes, still unfocused and exhausted did not move to her, but she knew in the body that he was fighting for, he could see her.
"Hang in there, alright? Remember what you said to me that night. Keep fighting. You still have a lot of good to do in the world."
Another week passed; they decreased the sedation on Austin's body. The breathing tube remained, but he was more alert. Not only was his able to move his arms, and his eyes, but he was nodding his head, agreeing to things from the doctors, according to Jace. She had not had a chance to see him herself, as she'd been busy with school and life in general. While she wished to be there, she couldn't.
"He fist bumped me today," Jace grinned as they walked to class. "It was awesome. I told him I'd be back after school. You should come."
"I think I will." She grinned back at him as she grabbed her books, ready to head home. "Pick me up in like an hour, alright? I just want to shower and grab something to eat."
At her house, she almost missed that both of her parents' cars were in the driveway. It was an odd sight, especially because it was Friday and the weekend was a big adventure thing for them. So, she should have known something was wrong and expected them waiting for her when she entered. But she didn't, and it hit her hard.
They were seated at the couch, long expressions on their faces. They made her sit, acting like something terrible had happened.
And then they smiled.
"We're moving to Texas!"
"What?" she couldn't hide her contempt to this.
"Yes! There is so much to do there. You're going to love it."
"What do you mean no? Ally, you don't usually mind this."
"I mind this time," she snapped, angry with herself for getting comfortable in Miami. Comfortable with her friends, comfortable with the life. Comfortable with… Austin. "I like it here."
"Oh, Ally. You're so young. There is so much to see in the world."
"Yeah, exactly. I'm young. Could you at least try and give me a normal childhood?"
"You'll see in time dear. Well, best get to packing. We leave in a week."
She nearly fainted. "You can't do this to me."
By the time Jace rolled up in front of her house, she'd composed herself enough to not cry in front of him. In fact, she pretended she was fine. She sang along to the radio, listened to his dumb jokes, even spoke about what they were doing to do when Austin was strong enough to leave the hospital bed and see the outside world again. She didn't have the guts to tell him that she'd never be there for it.
So much for making friends.
When they got upstairs, Jace told her that Austin was excited to see her.
"I told him you were coming possibly back with me. I know that you hadn't agreed to it yet, but I figured you might since it's the weekend. Don't be mad. He seemed excited. His eyes lit up and everything."
She couldn't hide the blush. His eyes narrowed on her.
"I swear, something had to of happened between you two when I wasn't around."
In the room, Jace hung back at first and she walked slowly over to his bed. Seeing him propped higher up, his eyes alert and body moving was a relief and emotional to her. And seeing the recognition when they fell on her was a whole other round of emotions that she was not ready for. He waved weakly from where he sat, motioning for her to come closer.
He made a motion for a hug, but she was too afraid she'd hurt the huge machine helping him breathe.
He seemed to assure her that it'd be fine.
So, she did her best to hug his weak frame.
And then motioned to a notebook beside his bed, making her hold it up.
In terrible handwriting he'd written "thanks" to her. She smiled softly. "Welcome."
Jace spoke for a while, keeping the chatter up and the awkwardness down. She didn't know what to say to the blond jock in the bed, though she was glad that he could not say anything to her yet. She thought she might get away without ever having to actually speak to him before she moved, but then it all fell apart. A doctor walked in, telling them they were going to remove the breathing tube, and were allowed to watch as long as they stood back and out of the professional's way.
So, they did. Ally thought it would be interesting to see.
"Austin, we usually tell the person with this inside of them to cough after we count to three, but because your chest is so weak, we feel that might hurt more than we'd like, so this is going to be a bit painful for you, unfortunately. It will hurt less than the other way around. If at any time, it gets unbearable, I want you to grab my arm. Is that understood?"
He blinked, signaling yes. And then the doctor began to procedure with the nurse. Ally watched intrigued, but then felt sick when she saw the redness staring to heat up on Austin's face. He clutched the bed with one hand, closing his eyes as the doctor began to pull. The doctor continued to say soothing words to him, telling him also that he might feel the need to cough himself, and try to suppress it. Never one did he instruct him to stop, and when he was done, his body slackened.
"I know that was rough on you, Austin, and I assure you the worst of it is over. Please try not to talk just yet; your body has been through a great ordeal. You may feel nauseous for the next couple of hours, please let us know if you feel you will be sick. It is going to be rough on your body if you do. I'm going to get you some ice to sooth your throat. Be right back."
And again, Jace somehow had to leave the room. She thought it might be this time because he could not handle seeing his best friend in pain, so she didn't question where he was going. Once the doctor was satisfied that he would not have any harsh affects, he left the room too, leaving Ally alone with him. With hesitance, she crossed back over to the bed, taking his hand. Much like that night, he squeezed it hard.
"You're still in a lot of pain, aren't you?"
He nodded weakly. Between the pain he was already feeling, and the added roughness of having a machine pulled out of your throat, she figured it was unbearable.
He squeezed harder suddenly.
He shifted slightly in bed.
His eyes shot open, "Gonna… be… sick," he spat out, his voice raw and hard to understand. She panicked, not sure what to do. She knew he couldn't move all that well and if she tried to sit him up he might further injure his body. Luckily, in that moment, Jace had walked in. She quickly glanced toward the hallway, seeing the majority of the nurses all the way down by the end. By the time they got there, he'd be sick all over himself, or worse, choke. So, she looked at her friend. "Help me move him to his side, hurry."
She hit the call button regardless, and with two swift motions and glad that Jace did not question nit, she had him bent over in time for him to expel acid from his stomach. Having not had real food in a while, there was nothing for him to rid his body of. The nurses rushed in, followed by his doctor. They urged him to try and control his breathing, but she saw the absolute agony that forcing his ribs to move did to him. Ally hung back, tears pricking her eyes. A few minutes passed with the same motions repeating themselves, until he was weak and whimpering, the nurses easing him onto his back. Jace ran out of the room, and Ally closed her eyes. She never thought she'd be the strong one here.
The nurse gave him the ice and told him to chew it, touching his shoulder.
The others left the room once he deemed himself okay.
"You sure like to put on a big show," she teased, coming closer another time.
He rolled his eyes at her, putting a few pieces into his mouth.
"The pain any better?"
"Not really," he rasped.
She smiled weakly at him. "Glad to see you're among the awake again," she added after a moment. "There are about five dozen girls who will be looking less like raccoons now that you're awake and speaking again."
"Great," he muttered.
She giggled, "Sorry."
"Thanks for coming."
"Not a problem. I think Jace needed the moral support."
"He… looks scared."
Ally gave him a teasing smile, "Well, have you looked in the mirror? Your face is pretty mangled."
For the moment, he looked terrified and then he noticed her light tone, giving her a dirty look. "You're an asshole."
"Yeah, so I've heard. I'm a stalker and an asshole. Not sure if that's an improvement or not."
She sat down next to him, taking his hand a third time in the last month. She allowed him to squeeze it when the pain got too much, and spent the rest of the time catching him up on what was going on in the town. By the time Jace got back, all was good or at least the best it could be. So, when they went to leave, she lied, telling him she'd be back soon. Except, what he didn't know, is that she wouldn't be.
Two weeks later, and she was in a new house in a new state, far away from Austin Moon and all of her friends in Miami. She didn't tell anyone about the move, just got up and left one day. It hurt like hell at first, especially when her friends began to text her and ask where she'd gone, but eventually, she let it go. She didn't like her new school but she figured it wouldn't matter. It wouldn't take long for her parents urges to move again to come back. So, she went along with it for another two weeks.
And that's when she got a text from an unfamiliar number.
You could have said goodbye. No one even told me you left until Jace admitted you were gone.
She knew exactly who it was and a part of her wanted to answer, but she resisted, at first.
Then, he sent another text,
I leave the hospital today. I'm still in a lot of pain, and probably won't be walking for a while (they discovered I hurt my spine pretty bad, gonna need a lot of physical therapy to fix it), but it would have been nice for you to check in. I thought you cared.
That's the problem. I do care, and that's what sucks about my life. I get attached to people, and then my parents make me move on. It's easier to make a clean break; it's easier not to make friends, or go to parties. That's why I don't do them.
You came that night.
Yeah, and look what happened. Had to steal the show.
You're cruel sometimes, you know that, right? She shrugged. Yeah, she knew it. Look, I don't know where you are, but I know how you made me feel. I remember you coming in that night… the first few nights. I thought I dreamt it at first, but now I think I remember it being true. And what you said to me as we waited for the ambulance. I remember it. You put up a façade for your own benefit, but in reality, you do care; you want to make friends. Don't let me fade away. You helped me.
She sighed. It wasn't that easy. I'm sorry, Austin.
The first part of the irony in that happened to be that he didn't answer her. The second part and the biggest by far was that her parents did something she had never expected, or that they'd done before: they moved back to a location they'd been to previously. And because the moving gods really hated her, that place had to be Miami. Where she'd dropped everyone and everything. Where she was going to have to make due with what she left behind and hope that everyone didn't hate her.
Trish was the easiest. She ran into her arms the day she started back at school, as if she'd never left and hadn't been gone almost two months. Second, Dez came around. He said that he enjoyed her company and understood what she did what she did. He did say if she ever pulled it again, he wouldn't be the same way. Even Jace allowed for her to hang out with him again. She swore to herself when her parents decided to get up and move, that this time, she wouldn't leave these people behind. They cared for her more than she realized.
But there was one person missing. Because his injuries had been so severe, Austin had decided to finish up the year at home, being home schooled until he was able to walk better again. She hadn't expected this, but it was one way to deal with the swarms of people bound to want to talk to him, to help him, to treat him like some sort of show. And besides that, it was hard for him to get around still, and not many would understand that.
Jace had filled in being there for him, and even said he was headed over there that afternoon for an evening of video games. Ally wasn't sure she could handle that.
Jace also said that he'd have some lasting effects from the accident. He'd limp more than likely for the rest of his life, his ribs would heal but they'd be more prone to damage if he hurt them again and he had a few scars on his arms and legs from the glass that broke in his truck windshield. Otherwise, he would make a full recovery in time.
She didn't know what to do. A part of her wanted to see him, see how much better he was doing. A second part of her knew he was probably pissed. She claimed to care for him, was there for him in some dark times whether he was awake or not, and then she just left him.
Somehow, Jace convinced her to go there. She really should have known enough when he said that she should drive her own car… because he didn't show up at Austin's house, but she didn't know this until his mom answered the door. And apparently, neither did Austin. When his mom yelled that he had a visitor, he came rolling up in a wheelchair, and then promptly dropped two shades of color from his face.
That was not what she expected him to say, though she was glad he said anything to her. His mother left them alone without second thought and she hung out in the doorway for a few minutes before he came forward and shut it for her. He moved gingerly still, as if his ribs were still bothering him. It'd been about four months since the accident, and while they were healed at this point, she figured it took a while to regain motion.
"I can't say I'm surprised you showed up at my house."
"I must say, it does look very stalker of me."
Score one for a smile, she thought. "Yeah."
"I'm sorry," she blurted, before she could stop herself. "I'm not exactly good at this whole friendship thing—I'm not really good at anything of the sort. I never told you—I never got a chance to tell you but—"
"Your parents make you move all the time. Trish told me. I get it."
"Then you know I was only trying to protect myself."
Austin sighed, running his hands through his hair. He motioned for him to follow her. He made it to a room that she realized was his, transferring from the wheelchair to his bed. She watched him slip on shoes and then slowly raise himself to a standing position. Sensing her alarm, he explained, "I need to move a little. Grab that walker for me, would you?"
She handed him the object she generally associated with the elderly and then followed him to the front of his house. He made it to the stairs, then looked at her. "Would you mind taking my arm and helping me down them? My range isn't that far yet."
She wasn't sure what she was doing, but with a bit of practice, they got down the stairs to the sidewalk, where slowly he began to walk. It seemed painful, but she figured any kind of progress in his case would be. She walked beside him.
"My accident made me rethink a lot of things. I was angry with you at first, especially when you stopped returning my texts. I thought I was special at first because you were only answering me, I thought maybe we had some sort of connection that you didn't have with the others. Then you stopped answering me too."
"Whatever," he said quietly. "And then I figured it wasn't my place. I had survived a horrible accident, and while I'm struggling, I'm going to be okay in time. I thought that maybe it was telling me that I needed to get my life in gear. I decided at that time to rethink what I wanted, and how I wanted to live my life. I decided to forgive my ex girlfriend, forgive Dallas and realize their choices didn't need to constantly be a reason why I went for the bottle that night. It was my own fault to get into that car and no one could have stopped me. Then, I thought back to you and what you told me. I wanted to change my life around."
"I was halfway dead—halfway gone, halfway to heaven. I felt it a couple times, the pull to leave, but then you came into the hospital room that night. Asked me to hold on. So, I did. And then I woke up and I could hear you in the room with Jace. He was negative, but you were positive. Even in your own twisted way, so I held on. You were my rock without even realizing it. You were there when they took the breathing tube out, you didn't freak out when everyone else did. I kept thinking about that into the coming weeks. I assumed you were busy at first when you stopped coming, I didn't realize you had even moved until I asked Jace to make sure you were there when I left. I was so pissed at first—pissed you could leave without saying goodbye. Hence the text."
"Sorry about that again."
"Don't apologize. It's over now… I just wanted to explain my side of the things."
"I don't know how long I'm here again, but I want to make it up to you, if I can."
He stopped, leaning against the fence, his breathing becoming labored. She ushered him over to an old tree stump, rubbing his back when his hand found hers: squeezing it just like old times. She didn't like to see Austin in pain, and Ally found not only had she caused him physical pain by this walk, but despite his attempts to explain he'd been trying to better himself, she had also caused him emotional pain, too.
"I liked you from the first time I saw you in the hall," she explained after he settled down. "I thought you had something about you—something that was deeper than the dumb jock stereotype. I told you the night of the accident that I was glad I was right—not sure how much you remember, but I did. And what you said. People go through bad times and all that. I'm sorry that I wasn't the person to be there to remind you that they don't last and that there is hope on the other side of the pain."
Austin smiled at her from his spot, shaking his head. "That's where you're wrong," he murmured.
"Because as much as I tried to better myself without you here, you stayed on my mind. It was like some weird connection that I needed in order to get better. I know that sounds crazy, but I'm allowed to sound crazy; I went through hell. You returning to Miami was enough that you prove what I said true. I went through hell; I'm still going through hell. But you're here. You could have left today when you got to that door. From the look on your face, you were expecting something else. But you stayed. And that matters to me."
"I'm glad you have such high expectations for me," she muttered. "And I hope I can live up to them."
He touched her hand, squeezing it not from pain this time, but for comfort. "I'm not looking for expectations; I'm looking for someone to just hang out with me, remind me why I held on. You're that person for me." He paused, looking at her nervously.
And with what could start something neither of them would know how to control, or what to expect from it, he kissed her.