She slowed down a little, waiting for him to catch up.
“Yes, Dr. Branson?”
He caught up to her, and smiled. “Please, call me Jack.”
She returned his smile, and said, “Jack then. Is it something about the medical reports? I’ve actually passed everything to Amy, if you need any – ”
He cut her off with a laugh. “No, no, Emilia, nothing of the sort. I was actually wondering if you’re free for a cup of coffee. There’s a lovely little restaurant on the corner of Broonwick Lane, and I’d really like you to join me… If that’s okay with you.”
Emilia smiled at him, but shook her head firmly. “Unfortunately Jack, I have to visit someone at the Armada Hospital. I’m sure the coffee there is excellent though.”
He looked slightly crestfallen, but kept his smile in place. “How about another time then, Emilia?”
“We’ll see, Jack. I’ve got to run now, I’ll talk to you tomorrow!” she replied with a quick grin, walking off toward the car park, leaving Jack standing in the middle of the busy hospital lobby staring after her.
She got into her car, and started the engine. Her eyes fell on the little toy dog Matthew had bought for her when she’d first got her new car. It was fluffy, wore a doggie smile and bobbed its head when the car moved. She’d loved it. He used to joke about how he bought it because it resembled Emilia. Always nodding and bouncing and smiling. A small pang of regret filled her heart, but she pushed it away from her mind, and backed out of the parking lot.
Fifteen minutes later she was at the Intensive Care Unit at Armada hospital. “Hey Lucy,” Emilia greeted the nurse at the counter warmly. “How are you? Any news?” The nurse beamed at Emilia, and babbled about a new trainee nurse, June, and mentioned also that they were going to have a new wing dedicated to cancer research very soon due to some generous donors.
Emilia listened as she prepared to enter the patient’s room which was visible from the main desk. She smiled again at Lucy before entering and took her place by the sleeping form in the bed.
Outside, Lucy sighed as she looked at Emilia sitting beside Matthew’s bed. She shook her head and turned around to find June, the new nurse, staring at her curiously. The middle aged woman ushered June back to her station behind the main desk of the floor.
The fresh faced young brunette wanted to know about Emilia, and asked why Lucy seemed to be so familiar with the pretty lady. Lucy answered, “That lady is Emilia Birlock, and she’s the head nurse of the emergency department at the Niles Montford Hospital. She’s the youngest person to have been made head nurse in that hospital.
“She has come here every fortnight without fail for the last five years. She stays for an hour each time she visits. That person lying there is her boyfriend. He’s been in a coma for that long.” She paused for effect, delighted that June was giving her undivided attention to her story.
She continued, “He was involved in an accident all those years ago, and he was on his way to propose to her! They were very in love. I heard that something caused him to drive recklessly that day and she felt partly responsible for it. Something about another woman, though I’m not quite sure. And here she has been faithfully visiting him although doctors have given little hope to his full recovery. He might be a vegetable forever!” Lucy proclaimed dramatically.
June’s eyes were soft as she gazed at the beautiful woman in the room through the glass window of the room. “Well, is she going to wait for him then?” she asked, turning back to Lucy.
The older woman sighed in a motherly fashion. “Well, it seems like she still is holding out hope that he’ll wake up one day and return to her. Why, a pretty lady like that, she’d surely have loads of men after her. She’s got a big heart and a kind nature to boot. She always has enough time to ask about my day. Sometimes brings homemade pastries for the staff too.
“I heard from Amy who works at Niles Montford that Emilia has enamored quite a few of the hospital staff. Recently, even Dr. Bronson, the extraordinarily gifted surgeon - not to mention handsome and rich – has been showing interest in her. However, she has politely rejected all of their advances. Apparently she confided in Amy that she still loves Matthew. That’s him right there of course,” Lucy gestured at the man in the bed.
June sighed, her romantic heart going out to the woman who was so faithful to a man who might never awake again. It must be true love she thought, gazing at the couple in the room. Emilia was holding Matthew’s hand, and was softly speaking to his prone form.
She snapped her out of her thoughts when Lucy thrust an arm’s load of files at June. “Come now June, enough gossiping. It’s time to do some paperwork!”
Oblivious to the conversation going on outside the room, Emilia was softly sharing with Matthew how things had been going in her life. Her hand clasped his, willing it to squeeze hers too, but knowing that her wish would be a miracle.
“You know, Dr. Branson asked me out today. I know you’d act all jealous if you were here. But, he’s not you Matthew.” She heaved a sigh. “Life’s been so busy. Yet, it still seems empty without you. I still feel a void.”
Her hand moved up to caress his cheek. For a second, she could almost swear she saw his eye twitch, but it was gone before she could be sure. Stop your wishful thinking Emilia, she berated herself inwardly.
All her friends had encouraged her to move on. “Why are you waiting for him, Emmy? The chances of him waking up are so slim, you heard the doctors. And even if he does wake up one day, you’ll be mentally much older than him, even though you’re both the same age.”
Adrienne had persuaded her to go on several double dates with her and Evan, and she’d even gone on a blind date to appease her mother once. However, Emilia never felt the same connection she had felt with Matthew, still felt with him even though he wasn’t there with her.
When questioned about her undying devotion, she merely answered, “Somehow I know that he’s still in there. One day he will come back to me, and I promised him I’d be there waiting for him.”
And every two weeks, she’d come to his bedside and pour her heart out to him. Each time she walked into the room, she’d feel the flash of hope that he’d awaken that day. But she was always disappointed. Today seemed no different.
She gazed at his handsome visage as he slumbered, and smiled sadly. Five years had changed her. She’d morphed from a carefree happy girl to a focused, driven woman. Her goal was to help people, and she was a workaholic. Her dedication and determination to excel at her job elevated her from trainee nurse to head nurse within record time. She’d poured her heart into her career, to escape the loneliness she suffered without Matthew.
And yet, the void was still there.
She sighed, glanced at her clock and realized it had been an hour since she entered the room. She pulled out a small paper flower from her pocket and placed it in his hand.
“This is a gift from the little Japanese girl who had cancer, Matt. She made a full recovery from chemotherapy, by the way. She made you a piece of origami. It’s a peony, sweetheart. It symbolizes healing and life. Keep it safe for me.” She leaned and kissed him on his cheek then.
She stood up and left the room, closing the door quietly behind her. She did not see the little twitch in his fingers as they closed around the flower slightly.
* * *
Lucy walked into the ICU room like she did every day on her normal rounds. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, and she was looking forward to lunch time. She only had a half day at work.
Humming, she checked the fluid levels, and made sure everything was in order. Her eyes then fell on the little flower in the patient’s hand. Of course. Emilia had left it for Matthew yesterday evening. She bent to remove it to put on his bedside table.
Just before she touched it, his fingers twitched. She blinked and drew back. Had she imagined that? She looked at his face. He was still slumbering peacefully. She frowned a bit, and reached forward again.
His fingers twitched again, and then his hand closed around the flower. She straightened hurriedly, her heart beating fast. He had moved!
As she watched transfixed, his lips parted, and a small sound came forth. Barely a whisper. She couldn’t catch it. She leaned closer.
His whisper was just audible. “Em… Emmy. Where’s Emmy. Emilia.”
She shook her head in disbelief. He had spoke! And he had asked for Emilia. She had to call her. She said very softly, “I’ll get Emilia for you. Hold on.”
Lucy left the room quickly, walking over to the main desk. She gave brief instructions to June to watch him, and dialed Emilia’s mobile.
* * *
Emilia stared at Adrienne in admiration. “You look so beautiful. I think this is the dress.”
“Really, Emmy? I mean, doesn’t this train make my butt look bigger? And what about the bustier? Do my boobs look alright?” Adrienne asked anxiously, turning around in front of the mirror.
“Girl, you look absolutely stunning. Wait till Evan sees you in this! Honestly, this is the best dress you’ve tried on so far.” This was a big claim, considering the amount of dresses Adrienne had gone through looking for the perfect wedding gown.
A happy smile spread across Adrienne’s face. “You know what, Emmy, you’re right. I love this gown! I’ll take it.”
Emilia smiled at her friend’s joy. She felt a tug at her heart, for when would she have her dream wedding with the one she loved? If what everyone said was true, probably never. She pushed the fleeting moment of self-pity away quickly. She wasn’t one to dwell on the negative side of things. Besides, it was her best friend’s moment, and she was determined to be happy for her.
Her phone rang just then. Emilia frowned at the number displayed on her caller ID. It was from Armada Hospital.
“Hello, Emilia speaking.”
“Emilia, this is Lucy. You’ve got to come quick. Matthew… He woke up just a moment ago. He asked for you, Emilia!”
She almost couldn’t believe what she was hearing. It was too good to be true.
“I’m on my way.”
She ended the call and rushed over to Adrienne. “I’ve got to go. It’s Matthew, the nurse said he woke up! I’ll see you, I’ve got to go.” The words tumbled out in a rush.
Adrienne’s eyes were wide with shock at the news. Before she could answer, Emilia was already out the door.
The whole time while she was driving there, her heart was doing somersaults in her chest. One moment she just felt it couldn’t be. Maybe the nurse was mistaken. The next moment she was so gleefully happy that she laughed aloud. Her Matt was awake! Whatever it was she had to get there now.
In record time she had woven through the familiar streets to the hospital. Rushing in, she nearly ran to the ICU. Lucy saw her coming and jumped up excitedly, leading the way into his room. Emilia opened the door, breathless. And the most beautiful sigh met her eyes.
Matthew was sitting up. His eyes were closed though. June was next to him, monitoring his condition. Lucy was babbling away about how the doctor had come and checked Matthew, and had found that Matthew was in good health, and he was showing extremely positive signs of fully recovering from his coma.
Emilia barely heard her, she was just trying to convince herself that her wish had really come true. She walked to him, as June and Lucy respectfully moved to the far end of the room. She sat by his bedside just as she always did.
He turned his head to her then, hearing her sit beside him. He couldn’t see her, yet his voice came, soft, but clear. “Emmy? Is that you?”
The dam in her heart broke. All the love, pain, hurt and regret she had kept locked up within her burst forth then at the sound of his voice. Her tears welled up involuntarily, as she reached for his hand.
Her voice was unsteady as she whispered, “Matt, I’m here. Your Emmy’s here.” A small smile twitched his features then, and he closed his hand slightly around hers. “I knew… I knew you’d be here waiting for me.” He said softly.
It was too much. She couldn’t contain her tears anymore. She started sobbing uncontrollably, bending down so her forehead touched his hand. Matthew said, “Sssshh, Emmy. Don’t cry love.”
When her sobs had quieted somewhat, Lucy came up to her, gently touching her back. “Emilia, the doctor said that he needs to rest.” Emilia sat up. Of course, she knew that. This was already taxing for him. He would be disoriented, and his body would need time to adapt back to its former functions. Some patients took days or weeks even to be totally normal again.
June piped up suddenly, “He’s really strong. He’s already stayed awake for an hour. The doctor said it’s rare for patients to do that upon waking from such a long coma. He was waiting for you to come.”
Emilia raised her head then. “Thank you,” she whispered. She looked up at Matthew. He was awake, but his hand had relaxed in hers. Emilia knew he must be exhausted. She leaned up and kissed his cheek. “Sleep, dear. I’ll be here.” He smiled then, and slipped back into dreamland.
June and Lucy hurried to place him in a lying down position on the bed again. Just then, Matthew’s parents arrived at the room. Both his parents had that hopeful yet fearful expression.
His mother embraced Emilia, and she verified that he had spoke to her and held her hand. He was just resting now. His parents went to his bedside and touched Matthew’s face and hands tenderly, hardly believing that their son was back.
“We were about an hour and a half away when the hospital called. We came immediately. Thank you for being here Emilia,” Rob said gratefully. His mother was crying, as the couple embraced, happy beyond words.
Emilia discreetly left the room, allowing the family time alone together. Soon enough, the doctor arrived and began explaining all the technical details about his recovery to his happy parents. Emilia knew all this already. She slipped back into the room while his parents were outside so that they did not disturb Matthew with their conversation.
Sitting by his bed, she gazed at him, her heart full of hope and joy. She reached forward to turn his palm upwards. Slowly, she traced a single finger over his palm. First in the shape of an ‘I’. Followed by the shape of a heart. And finally, a ‘U’.
“Did you feel it, Emmy?”
“What? No, I didn’t get it. Write it again.”
“Alright, pay attention.”
Matthew traced his finger over the skin of her bare arm, forming letters with his touch.
“I… Heart… U. I love you. I got it, right?” she giggled.
“Yes you did. I love you, Em.”
“I love you too.”
The long ago memory was one she had always cherished. “I love you Matthew,” she whispered.
* * *
Everything was just perfect. The flowers were gorgeous, the people had arrived on time, the dress rehearsal had gone without a hitch. Emilia walked down the aisle, her eyes on Matthew as she walked toward him. He was smiling broadly at her.
She reached the front, and took her place. The song changed then to the bridal march. Everyone stood for the entrance of the bride, as Adrienne walked in on her father’s arm, looking resplendent in her wedding gown. Emilia felt so proud of her friend. She glanced over to Evan who seemed to be captivated by his bride’s beauty.
Switching her gaze to Matthew, she smiled happily at him as he mouthed, “You’re beautiful.” It had been barely a month since Matthew had been discharged from the hospital after making a full recovery. And here he was, looking thinner than he used to be, but fit and well. He was Evan’s best man.
She snuck glances at him surreptitiously. He looked so handsome. His beautiful eyes she especially loved. When he had first opened them, she had been overjoyed. That day, she had been visiting him after work as she had done every day since the first time he woke up. He was sleeping, but as if he sensed her presence as she took her place by his bed, he had stirred.
Instead of asking aloud for her hand, as he had done for the past three days, he had slowly opened his eyes. She had been ecstatic at his progress, leaning over him excitedly. She wanted to be the first person he saw.
However, his eyes were unfocused at first, and he had only registered vague and blurry shapes. Nevertheless, Emilia knew his vision would clear up soon enough, and it did. When he finally saw her face clearly a few days later he had breathed, “Emilia, you’re so beautiful. I’ve been waiting to see your face for so long.”
And now she was the one who couldn’t take her eyes off him.
The wedding proceeded smoothly. Adrienne’s father gave her arm to Evan, and they had listened to the pastor’s brief speech on love. Finally, he pronounced them man and wife. The chaste kiss they shared was beautiful; their faces were positively glowing with happiness as they faced the cameras.
When Adrienne threw her bouquet into the air for hopeful ladies to catch, the flowers fell into Emilia’s hands even though she had not been expecting to catch it. She stared at the flowers in surprise and pleasure, and then looked up in time to catch her friend wink mischievously her way.
The wedding lunch after that was held in the style of a fancy garden wedding. White tables were set up all over the beautiful Queen Elizabeth Park near the church. Magnificent bouquets of roses and lilies were complemented beautifully by the lush greens of the trees and the grass in the area.
While everyone was eating and drinking and having a good time, Matthew took Emilia by the hand and led her away from the crowd.
“Where are we going, dear?” she laughed.
“You’ll see,” he said mysteriously.
She played along, and followed him obediently until they arrived at a small clearing amongst the trees, just near the edge of the park. Beyond it, there were more trees, the beginning of a small wood.
It was a picturesque sight. A little white swing was there, reflecting the bright sunlight filtering through the treetops. Wildflowers flourished in the little cove, lending vibrant colors to the darker browns and greens of the trees.
Matthew guided Emilia to the swing and sat beside her. She smiled in delight as the swing rocked to and fro gently. Matthew grinned at her obvious enjoyment and planted a kiss on her cheek. She laid her head on his shoulder and they both sat there like that for awhile, just enjoying the moment.
Finally Matthew said softly, “Emmy, why did you wait for me?”
She looked up at him from her comfortable position nestled against his neck. “I knew you were the one for me Matthew. Ever since you braved the wet and cold for me when I’d left my jacket at your house. You were drenched by the time you arrived at my place. Remember?” she said teasingly.
He smiled at the memory, but gazed at her intently until she grew serious again. “I knew what we had together was special. We still have it. And I knew I would never find that same love and happiness with anyone else but you. There were times I doubted my decision to wait for you. But I always realized in the end that I didn’t want to give up hope on us. I love you Matthew. So very much.”
Matthew smiled, dropping a kiss on her forehead. “It’s God’s reward to you that I woke up. Honestly, I felt a voice calling me out from my sleep. It was as if I didn’t want to heed it at first. But then, I recognized your voice. And I felt drawn to it. I had to get to you. And I remember struggling to break through to consciousness. And finally I succeeded. Thank God for you Emmy. You’re my angel. My beautiful angel.”
Emilia squeezed his hand. Matthew turned her to face him then. “Emilia. I love you. I never want to let you go again.”
Before Emilia could reply that she loved him too, he had moved off the swing. She couldn’t believe her eyes when he knelt down in front of her, pulling out a small black box from his pocket in one swift move. Her heart caught in her throat as he opened the box to reveal a beautiful diamond ring. A very familiar diamond ring.
Her heart thumping fast, she could only stutter, “How… how did you get the ring? It was on my dresser this morning, I don’t understand…”
He merely smiled at her bafflement, and answered, “You thought I’d forgotten about this little thing now did you? I visited your parents two days ago when you had left for work. They gave me their blessing… again I might add. Actually, I asked Adrienne if she knew where the ring was, and she did. This morning, after you left so early to make preparations for her wedding, I went to your house and picked it up.”
She only shook her head, too overwhelmed by emotions to respond.
He took advantage of her speechlessness and continued on, “I know I don’t have much now Emilia, but if you’ll have me I’ll do my best to provide you with everything you could ever want. My old company has offered to take me back, although I will have a great deal to catch up on in terms of technology. Everything we talked about before, planned together… I want to make it a reality. I want to be your happiness Emilia. Just as you are mine.”
At this, her eyes filled with tears. Anxiously, he clasped her hand, until he saw her smile of joy. Encouraged by the smile he took a deep breath before saying, “Emilia J. Birlock. Will you marry me?”
The tears spilled over at that, as she whispered tenderly, “Yes, Matthew. Yes.”
His face lit up with an elated smile as he picked her up off the seat and swung her around as she clung to him. When he put her down, their lips sought each others’ for a loving, blissful kiss.
When they parted, she looked up at him and smiled. “Darling? One question.”
“Ask me anything sweet,” he declared.
“At the hospital, how did you know it was me when you first woke up? You couldn’t see me.”
He looked amused at her question, and then said, “It was the perfume you were wearing. It’s the same one I gave you on your 21st birthday. It was called Forever wasn’t it?”
She smiled in understanding then. “Yep. I have never used any other scent since that day. It was special because you gave it to me.”
“Exactly. I smelt it when you walked into the room, and I knew it had to be you.”
She rested her head on his chest and said, “It’s a good name, Forever.”
He stroked her hair, and murmured, “Yes. It is.”