Silent sobs wracked her slim frame as she struggled to compose herself. Tears trickled unheeded down her cheeks before she whispered in a small broken voice,
“Please, tell me it isn’t true.”
“Emilia…” came the deep, anguished voice on the other end of the receiver.
“Just SAY it! I need to know!!!” her voice almost a scream.
“I can’t… I don’t know how it could have… Emmy, I’m sorry.”
The last remaining shred of hope she had left dissipated into the reality she was facing with those words. Her heart felt like it had been hit by a sledgehammer. A fresh flood of tears almost blinded her before she said brokenly, “I’m sorry too.”
“Emilia, wait, please listen to me, don’t – ”
She switched off her mobile phone and threw herself onto her bed, curling up into a fetal position as she hugged her pillow. The tears wouldn’t stop coming. So this is what it feels like, she thought bitterly. This is what it feels like to have her heart, which she so trustingly offered to the one she loved, thrown back at her, crumpled and broken by the very one she entrusted it to.
As she sobbed, her eyes fell on the picture at her bedside, making her hurt all the more. The picture she had taken with Matthew when they had gone for their first holiday together. She had agreed to his eager suggestions to go for a hike up the nearby mountain range. Not wanting to disappoint him even though she had little faith in her hiking abilities, she had decided without much thought. His adorable slightly lopsided grin at her response had been reward enough.
She had fought hard to keep up with him, not wanting to let him detect how tired she was after half a day of constant uphill. Fatigue caught up with her eventually by evening, and she slipped backward over a rock, tumbling down a stretch of steep incline and breaking her ankle. In the end, she and Matthew had camped halfway up the mountain, her ankle bound up expertly by him, both of them talking and sharing secrets late into the night in each other’s arms.
The next day, he practically carried her on his back most of the way down the mountain until they had reached the nearest town. Emilia had never forgotten that unfortunate, but wonderful time.
Letting herself wander into memory land for the moment, she thought back to the time they had first met four years ago…
She had been a sassy new student at university. He was a senior, who was the lead singer and guitarist of his band, Red Hearts. She was a charmer; her bubbly personality captivated everyone she met. Her beautiful aquamarine eyes were complemented by her wavy honey blond hair. She loved people and naively expected them all to love her back. And they did. Her sweet and cheeky nature belied her stubborn streak, or what she preferred to call ‘a strong determination to persevere’. Matthew teasingly called it pigheadedness. She was seldom angered, but when truly riled up, she could frighten even the toughest.
Matthew had been attracted to the new girl almost instantly. His band had been playing at a university party, and he had noticed the pretty newcomer when she walked in with her friends. Sauntering over to her after the performance, he had casually asked to buy her a drink. She cheekily replied that she’d buy HIM a drink since his band had been ‘absolutely smashing’.
Surprised, but intrigued by the girl’s sass, he spent the whole evening talking to her, realizing there was more to Emilia than he thought. They were still talking when the party started winding down, and she had to leave because one of her friends got drunk, and they had to take her home. He asked nonchalantly for her phone number, and was secretly elated when she smiled her guileless smile and gave it to him. She was the only thing on his mind that night.
Emilia was in the same boat, only her thoughts were about Matthew. She had been charmed by his smooth, easy manner, and his soulful dark brown eyes which matched his dark hair. He seemed sweet and kind, with a rather dry sense of humor which she liked. She genuinely enjoyed talking to him; he seemed to share her views on so many things. She drifted off to sleep that night with a smile on her face.
After that first night they had met, Matthew was set on pursuing her. Emilia fell head over heels in love with him, and she didn’t care. The best thing was, he felt the same way about her too. Emilia was on top of the world. Until this happened…
“Emilia? Emilia, are you okay in there? You have a phone call,” the voice of her housemate jerked her out of her reverie. “Yes… yes I’m fine Lillian. Just give me a sec,” she replied, hurriedly dabbing her face with tissue paper. Glancing at the clock, she realized she must have lain like that on the bed for an hour. How time flies when you’re thinking of happy memories, she mused bitterly.
She opened the door and picked up the phone…
* * *
He cursed himself when he heard her slam down the phone. He tried calling her again several times, but knew it was futile because she had switched off her mobile. Matthew threw his phone down on the passenger seat in frustration. He put his head in his hands, and slumped into a defeated position in his parked car outside Evan’s house. He was consumed with regret, anger at himself and Sabrina, shock from the whole event, and most of all, heartache at the pain and hurt he had caused his dear Emilia.
How had it all started? Just hours ago he had been the happiest man alive, because he had finally decided on the right ring. He had bought it, the ring to propose to his sweet, beautiful Emmy. His parents had given him their blessing too. His mother had hugged him with tears in her eyes, and wished him the best of luck for the time he would ask her to be his.
He had planned it all out perfectly. He would ask her for a romantic dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town. It was at the top of a skyscraper smack in the middle of the big city. He would find a perfect quiet spot at the lookout area, and while Emilia was admiring the view from 96 floors above the ground, he would pop the question.
But now… everything he had hoped for just went up in smoke. A single tear slid down his cheek as he took the ring out of his pocket and gazed at the sparkling gem he had bought with the love of his life in mind. A wave of emotion overcame him as he twirled the diamond in his fingers, and replayed the events of the night before…
“Hey darling, what’s up?”
“Just thinking about you sweetheart… and wondering if you’d have time for your boyfriend tonight. He wants to take you for a nice dinner at Pemberley. Interested, Emmy?”
“Pemberley? That’s such a posh place Matt. Wow, I’d love to go. But honey, remember I told you I’d be working late at the hospital tonight? They don’t have enough nurses for the night shift, and even with me on the team, we’re short of hands. I’ve told them I want my Saturdays off though, so I can spend time with you. I’m sorry; can we move this dinner date to Saturday instead?”
“You really have to work dear? Okay, I guess we could postpone it. Now, what am I going to do tonight then now that my girlfriend is not interested in spending time with me…”
“Oh, you silly sweetheart. You know I love you, and would want nothing other than to spend time with you.”
“And I wouldn’t love you as much if you didn’t have that heart of gold of yours. You always did put your patients before yourself.”
“Thank you dear, you know me well. Hey, you know what; Evan has this party going on at his place. Some kind of reunion event I think. Did you receive his e-mail?”
“Yeah… wasn’t that interested in going though.”
“Matt, it’ll be fun! Then you can go meet up with your old buddies from uni, and hang out. And you won’t miss me so much, right?”
“I guess so…”
“Darling, just go enjoy yourself on my behalf cause I can’t make it, okay? Oh no, I have to go now, I’m not supposed to be on the phone at work. I’ll see you Saturday alright? I love you!”
“Love you too sweetheart. Bye.”
So that night, Matthew had gone to Evan’s party. Looking back, it must have been the worst decision of his life. “Matt! Man I haven’t seen you in awhile! Honestly I didn’t think you’d come. Where’s Emilia?” Evan had welcomed Matthew enthusiastically at the door. “She’s working tonight, unfortunately, but I just thought I’d come and hang out with old friends,” Matthew replied, trying to be upbeat. “How’s Adrienne?” he continued, referring to Evan’s long-time girlfriend and Emilia’s best friend. “Oh, Adrienne’s fine, she can’t make it tonight though. Well, no worries, I’m sure you’ll have fun. Come, have something to drink.” Evan ushered him into his house.
The place was full of people. The music wasn’t too loud; a smooth jazz melody filled the background. A long table full of finger food and pastries lined the side of the room. Matthew helped himself to some punch, and started talking to some of his old uni mates. Yes, it was good to catch up.
The atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant, until Matthew saw Sabrina walk in. Surprised, he stood up to greet her, while she gave him a tight hug, pressing a kiss on his cheek. She looked stunning as usual, her long dark hair trailing down her back, her skin tight dress revealing her lovely curves. “Matt, we haven’t spoken in so long,” she purred. “How are you? We really should do lunch or something. Where’s Emilia? Or have you finally come to your senses?”
Matthew stiffened slightly, and replied, “Emilia’s fine. She’s just working tonight. We’re both really happy, I’m glad you asked. And yourself?” She glanced at him with a sly smile on her lips, “Oh no need to get so worked up about that little blondie of yours. I’m fine. You know what, I’ll just go talk to those people over there. Remember, you have my number if you need anything.” With a coy look she sauntered off.
Matthew sat back down while his friends hooted at him, exclaiming how Sabrina had never really gotten over him after their short dating stint back in junior year at university. “She still has a thing for you man, I know because I’m dating her best mate!” Rick, one of his ex-classmates laughed. Matthew brushed his friends’ teasing off with a smile.
A few more drinks later, Matthew was laughing and joking with his friends. He realized with surprise he was tipsy and said so to Evan. Evan looked at him and laughed, “Matt, that little bit of alcohol in the punch? Come on, even YOU can’t get drunk on that.” “You know I don’t drink Evan…” Matthew replied. “Well, tonight’s the night you drink. Be a sport, have fun with the mates, okay?” Evan persuaded.
Matthew knew he was not quite himself, but he thought, oh, what the heck, just let loose and have fun like Evan said. So he agreed to a cocktail, then a beer… or was that two beers? Three? He felt light-headed and rather absurdly cheerful.
Just when he was losing at yet another drinking game the rest had concocted, Sabrina slid into the seat on the couch beside him. Smiling, she handed Matthew a glass of punch, teasingly saying, “You should slow down, tough guy. You’re getting really drunk. Take some punch instead.” A little mistrust sparked in his mind, but he rationalized it away in his inebriated state. He thanked her for it and drained the glass in one gulp. Turning away from her, he missed the knowingly satisfied smile which crossed her face.
A few minutes later he experienced the most peculiar feeling. He couldn’t really describe it. He couldn’t see properly, the voices all around him faded into fuzzy background noise. Why didn’t the drums to stop beating, he wondered. Where were they? They seemed to be in his head, pounding away at a tireless, steady tempo.
Vaguely, he heard snippets of conversation around him.
“Hey, he’s in bad shape…”
“Maybe… stay for the night,” a woman’s voice said.
“… spare room upstairs…”
“I’ll take… him. You guys continue…” the woman’s voice piped up again.
Matthew was now fading in and out of consciousness. He heard little more, but remembered leaning on someone’s shoulder and being taken upstairs. He felt himself being laid on a soft surface, and heard some more voices murmuring about him.
A moment later, fingers were unbuttoning his shirt. He felt a jolt of alarm rush through his system, and his only conceivable thought was: Emilia, where are you? He tried to move, but his limbs didn’t respond to his fleeting frantic urge to get away from those hands which he knew didn’t belong to Emilia. Moments later he drifted into complete oblivion.
The next thing he knew, he heard the door creak. Groggily, his eyelids fluttered open and quickly closed shut again at the glare of the morning sun. A split second later, the throbbing pain in his temple reached his consciousness and he groaned. Suddenly he realized he wasn’t in his own bed. A whole flurry of things then clamored to be taken notice of, and he sat up in bed quite suddenly in shock.
Several things registered all at once. He was completely naked. The only shred of decency he had was due to the duvet covering his lower body. He had a massive hangover, sitting up so quickly was making his head spin. The next thing he realized was a woman in bed next to him. She was also naked, her beautiful dark hair spread out on the pillow, her arm casually thrown over his abdomen. Any other guy might have appreciated the luscious sight, but Matthew was horrified. Sabrina! How could she… He didn’t remember… What happened last night?
He realized that they weren’t alone then. At the door which had creaked open just a moment ago, stood two very shocked people, Evan and his girlfriend Adrienne. Adrienne was holding a breakfast tray, possibly meant for him. Evan just looked stunned, and only ventured to say, “Matthew… I thought you were alone up here.”
Heat flushed Matthew’s face when he saw how Adrienne was glaring at him in anger, after her initial shock had passed. “It’s not what it looks like, I didn’t… I mean I don’t remember…” he said desperately. Adrienne just gave him another look which made him want to disappear into a hole in the ground, and pushed the tray to Evan before stalking off. Evan shrugged helplessly and said, “Even I can’t help you out on this one.” Then he walked off too.
Matthew stared miserably at the empty doorway for a moment, feeling like the world’s biggest jerk. Sabrina stirred next to him then, and he realized he had to get to Emilia. He moved away from Sabrina’s touch, and out of bed, quickly getting dressed in his rumpled clothes which lay on the ground.
Her eyes fluttered open as he walked to the door. He glanced back at her and a rush of anger, confusion and regret roiled within him. Their eyes met for a brief second before he left the room, closing the door.
Matthew went downstairs, already flipping his mobile phone open and pressing Emilia’s speed dial. With the phone against his ear, he listened impatiently for the voice of his beloved. Hearing the busy tone, he cursed and tried a few more times as he stalked out of the house. Finally, by the time he reached his car, the 6th time he tried to get through, he succeeded.
“Emilia?” he asked tentatively, his voice filled with trepidation, unsure what to expect. Did she know? He had little doubt of that because Adrienne was her best friend; it was probably her on the phone with Emilia when he was trying to call. His worst fears were confirmed when he heard, barely, the sounds of soft weeping.
“Emilia… honey, did Adrienne call? I can explain…”
“Is it true Matthew? Did you and Sabrina… Adrienne said she SAW you two… Oh my god, I can’t believe this.”
“Emmy, it’s not what you think. Honestly, I don’t remember anything at all…”
“Stop it. Just stop it.”
He heard her take a deep breath, struggling to control her emotions.
“Please, tell me it isn’t true.”
“Just SAY it! I need to know!” her voice broke then, the hurt in her voice obvious. It felt like she’d slapped him in the face.
Just remembering the utter pain in her voice jolted him out of his reverie. He stared down at the ring which was still in his hands. He knew he had to get her back. She would forgive him. She knew how much he loved her. Even if she didn’t take him back immediately, he would keep trying. He had to. He couldn’t live without her.
His fingers closed protectively around the ring as he wiped his eyes dry and sat up. Slipping the ring into his breast pocket, he started the car. He was going to Emilia’s house, and he was going to explain everything. He had a whole half an hour to think through what he was going to say until he got there.
Impatient now, he sped through the streets. His mind only focused on one thing, getting to Emilia. He kept increasing the speed of his car, barely realizing he was perilously close to danger. He didn’t see it coming until the very last moment.
* * *
Emilia picked up the phone, ignoring for the moment her housemate’s anxious appraisal of her swollen eyes and red nose.
“Emilia. It’s Rob. Something terrible has happened.”
Emilia’s heart grew cold. Rob was Matthew’s father.
Rob continued, “Matthew has met with an accident. He has been taken to the Armada Hospital in Hornburne Town. His mother and I have just been notified and we’re on our way there right now.”
“I’ll come at once.”
“Yes, please do. The doctor says his condition is critical. He’s in the ER.” The deep voice was tense and fraught with anxiety.
Emilia slammed down the phone and grabbed her purse. Lillian stared at her with worry. “What’s wrong Emilia?” Fresh tears had started streaming down Emilia’s cheeks as she put on her shoes and grabbed her mobile phone. “It’s Matt. He’s in the hospital. I have to go now,” she managed to choke out before running out the door to her car.
In twenty minutes, Emilia was rushing toward the ER section in the hospital. The first sight that greeted her eyes was Matt’s mother, silently weeping in front of a surgery room, her husband’s arm around her. She stood up to greet Emilia, and hugged her, as she breathlessly inquired of Matthew’s condition.
His father answered quietly, “Matt was hit by a car coming from the right at a junction. The policeman who notified us was told by onlookers that he did not slow down to check for oncoming cars, and a car smashed into the driver’s seat. He was knocked unconscious. Fortunately paramedics were on the scene almost immediately, and he was rushed here.”
He paused to console his wife who had started weeping even harder at his words. Emilia’s heart was breaking, but she couldn’t cry. Now, the tears wouldn’t come. Matthew had been coming for her, she knew that. She whispered tentatively, “And… he’s going to be okay right?”
Matthew’s father had a look of despair on his face when he said, “The doctor said Matthew suffered a concussion and possible injury to his brain when he knocked his head. He has two broken ribs, which penetrated his lungs, and they aren’t sure what else might be damaged in the impact. They told us that it doesn’t look good, but they are doing everything possible now to save him.”
Emilia felt her knees grow weak. She stumbled, and sat on the chair beside the surgery room. Matthew’s father sat his wife down, and then pulled something from his pocket, handing it to Emilia. She stared down at the glittering gem in shock.
“Matthew wanted to give that ring to you. He was planning to propose, he has even asked your parents’ permission. We gave him our blessing, Emilia. The ring was in his pocket when the accident happened, together with his wallet and so on.”
This time, Emilia felt a sharp stabbing pain in her heart, and her tears finally welled up and spilled onto her cheeks. She murmured “thank you” and just sat there dumbly staring at the ring in her hands, her brain processing everything again.
At that moment, three people arrived at the emergency room. Evan, Adrienne, and… Sabrina? What was she doing here? Emilia mentally recoiled from her as they asked about Matthew. Lillian must have told them. Worry was written all over their faces as Rob patiently recounted everything a second time.
Adrienne moved over to Emilia and hugged her. Sabrina had the decency to look guilty and embarrassed when she saw Emilia. She sat down next to them even though Adrienne shot her a dirty look.
“Emilia, I’m sorry about Matthew. Really, I am. I never meant for any of this to happen… I would never want to hurt him.” The pain in her eyes was genuine. No one could act that well.
Emilia turned her face away slightly. She didn’t want to hear any of it.
“Please listen to me. Matt didn’t have anything to do with last night. It was me.” Sabrina’s voice was full of remorse.
When Emilia didn’t respond, she rushed on, “I… I put something into his drink, a sleeping drug. I knew he would be out cold until dawn. And I made it look like we’d slept together. So that Evan or Adrienne would find us in the morning. I… wanted him back. I hated that he was so happy with you. And I knew you would be horribly hurt by his supposed betrayal. And maybe… maybe you’d not take him back. And leave him for me. Emilia, I’m sorry.” A tear slid down her cheek.
Emilia closed her eyes briefly, digesting what she heard. What she had somehow known, deep down. Matthew loved her. She trusted him with everything she had, even her heart. He would never have betrayed their love for a night of passion with an old fling. She knew that. She had always known that.
Emilia turned to her then, her stare icy, even though tears lingered in her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was steely, belying the hurt in her heart. “I don’t understand how someone could purposefully set out to destroy another’s happiness. Whatever you intended to do, I suppose you’ve achieved some part of your goal. But now, Matt’s hurt. And he might never…” her voice broke. She composed herself before continuing, “He will be okay. He will be okay.”
As if to reassure herself of the truth, she turned away from Sabrina to stare at the closed doors of the surgery room and wiped the tears away from her eyes. Sabrina silently got up and went to stand at the opposite section of the room next to Evan.
Two hours passed. Everyone was silent, the tension in the room palpable. Matthew had been under surgery for two and a half hours. Emilia’s face was tightly drawn, her hands clutching the ring. Adrienne knew her friend didn’t want to talk, and just sat by her, silently offering her presence as support.
Finally, the door to the surgery room opened, and medical staff walked out, followed last by the doctor, who closed the door behind him. Everyone stood up, anxious for the outcome of the long surgery.
The doctor wasted no time. “Matthew is in stable condition.” His mother heaved a sigh of relief at that, leaning against her husband. The doctor continued, “However, there is bad news too. Although everything else in his body seems to be able to make a full recovery, the knock he suffered to his head caused a certain amount of trauma to the brain. Although there is no sign of brain damage, there are consequences.”
He drew a breath. “Matthew is in a coma, and we do not know when he will wake up. Some wake up in a few weeks or months, or even years. The only thing we know is that he’ll not require life support as his body is functioning fine, but he will need to be fed through a tube. Hopefully, his strong body will jolt his mind back to consciousness soon.”
Matthew’s mother burst into tears, from relief or shock at the news, Emilia didn’t know. All she knew was that Matthew was alive, even though he was in a coma. Voice thick with emotion, she asked, “Can he have visitors?” The doctor looked at her with compassion, and said, “Only one for today. Tomorrow he may have more.”
She felt a hand on her shoulder. Turning around, she saw Matthew’s dad. His eyes were rimmed with tears, but he spoke without wavering. “Go in Emilia. We know you are the first one he’d like to visit him.” Her eyes were grateful, as she thanked him and put on the necessary clothing to enter the room where Matthew was resting.
Entering the room, she saw Matthew on the bed, several tubes connected to his arms. His head was bandaged, but his face only had a few scratches on it. He looked peaceful, like he was sleeping.
She sat by his bed, and gently slipped her hand into his, yearning for him to return her touch like he used to. She prayed for him, her beloved Matthew, to wake up soon. “Come back to me Matthew,” she whispered. “I’ll be here waiting for you no matter what. I love you. Come back to me.”