I spent the next three days never leaving my room. I slept almost all of Friday, watched the television unseeingly after that, and didn’t order my first meal until Saturday afternoon because I’d lost my appetite. Even at that, I had to force myself to finish half of my toasted cheese sandwich. In between channel surfing and sleeping, I took showers. I preferred them to baths because I could pretend I wasn’t crying when I was in the shower. I even tried to find a ballet studio I could dance at just to get some of the pain sweltering inside of me out. Of course, not a single studio would be opened this holiday weekend.
I’d turned off my phone when I woke up on Friday because Jude had been calling it every half hour since earlier that morning. My guess was that he’d made it back to my dorm by then, only to discover I wasn’t there, and was going nuts trying to figure out where I was or worried what had become of me on those roads.
Turning my phone off, I reminded myself that a man who slept with another woman didn’t have the right to worry about me or be assured I was safe anymore.
I slept late into Sunday, wanting to delay the inevitable. The hotel had been like this warm safety blanket, keeping me out of line of the storm coming for me, but it couldn’t hide me forever. I had reality to get back to and I sure as hell wasn’t going to ruin my life over one guy who I shouldn’t have let into mine in the first place.
The ice and snow had melted by Friday afternoon, so the roads and my Mazda got along much better this trip, although the roads were a hundred times busier this trip thanks to all the holiday vacationers making their way back home.
It was late when I made it back to Juilliard. I told myself it wasn’t because I’d been stalling, but because I’d wanted to take in the sights of the city from behind the windshield of my car. Of course I’d been living in a state of denial all weekend, so why should I stop now?
The parking lot was almost full again, almost every light in the rooms turned on and streaming with people back from a long weekend. Pulling into my assigned space, I turned off the car and gave myself a few long breaths before getting out. I couldn’t put this off any longer.
Jude and his truck weren’t anywhere in view, so maybe I’d been right and I hadn’t been worth more than a few minutes’ chase and a gazillion phone calls. The thought was one of the most depressing ones I’d had to date.
I still had on the same outfit I’d left the dorm in on Thursday, but it was crumbled, dirty, and in need of a trashcan now.
I could smell the signs and faintly hear the sounds, even from the stairwell, that India was back. That was just what I needed. To curl up next to her while she made me some kind of hippy tea that contained I didn’t want to know what, while I spilled my guts and she gave me some sage advice that was along the lines of sicing a voodoo witch on him.
Shoving open the stairwell door, which felt twice as heavy as it used to, I stiffened as soon as I turned down the hall. The same figure, in almost the same position I’d peered at in my rearview mirror four nights ago, was crouched down the hall, staring at my door like he was begging it to let him in.
I’d just taken my first step back towards the stairwell when Jude’s shoulders stiffened, right before his head snapped my way.
“Luce,” he breathed, saying it like it was a prayer.
I shook my head, my eyes filling with more damn tears as I kept backing away. I couldn’t do this anymore. I couldn’t do Jude Ryder anymore because it was going to wind up being the reason for my death or institutionalization.
“Luce. Please,” he begged, working his way into a stand. He wobbled, like he had run out of strength or was shit-face drunk.
I kept backing away. It was the only way I knew to keep me protected from him. I’d just keep retreating to the end of the earth if I had to.
“Luce,” he repeated, his entire face twisting. Balancing against the wall, Jude took a couple steps my direction. But he didn’t make it any farther than one before his legs gave out, his whole frame collapsing onto his knees.
It was instinctual, not rational, how I responded. Rushing towards him, I had this flash of panic that he was dying. I’d never seen Jude weak; I didn’t think it was in him. Vulnerable, sure, but never weak. And here he was, not able to support his own weight more than a step at a time.
Sliding to the ground next to him, I could tell right away his lack of balance and coordination wasn’t alcohol induced. His strained breath only smelt of Jude, and his eyes were clear.
Except when they lifted to meet mine, they clouded with some emotion that ran so deep I was sure I could never decipher it.
“God, Luce,” he breathed, his breath coming in haggard spurts, “don’t do that to me again.”
His arms folded around me, pulling me against him with all the strength he had left. It wasn’t his normal embrace, the one that felt like those arms could shield me from the whole world; this one was hollow and even a bit awkward.
Pushing away from him, assured he wasn’t going to die any time soon, my sorrow morphed into anger. Partly to do with him being here when he didn’t have a right to be here anymore, and partly because I had to look on what I’d lost again. His face lined with pain when I pushed him away.
“Don’t ever do that to you again?” I spit the words back at him. I didn’t care how weak he was; he didn’t deserve even the thinnest filter of mercy. “Don’t ever do that to you again?” I couldn’t seem to get anything else out.
“Yeah,” he said, staring at the ground, “don’t do that to me again. Do you know how god damned worried I’ve been about you?” His chest was heaving with his words, like oxygen wouldn’t take up residence in his lungs. “Do you know how many times I’ve searched this city over making sure you weren’t dead in some back alley? Do you know how many hospitals, police stations, and news stations I called every hour to make sure they hadn’t found you at the bottom of some ditch?” His eyes lifted back to mine, and they flashed onyx. “So, yeah, don’t you ever do that to me again.”
“Fine,” I said, giving his chest another shove. For the first time, I could actually move him. “I’ll stop doing that to you when you stop screwing skanks behind my back. Oh wait, I’m done with you and your cheating ass ways, so you can screw whoever the hell you want.” Shoving him again, I bolted up, lunging towards my door. I needed a buffer between us right now, preferably a state or two, but I’d have to settle for a dorm room door.
“You are not done with me,” he said, his teeth gritted as he walked on his knees towards me.
“Oh, yes, I am. I’m so done with you, Jude Ryder!” I shouted, spinning on him once I’d thrown open the door. “I’M DONE IN!” Slamming the door shut, it bounced right back. Jude had wedged himself inside the doorway and I’d managed to slam that door hard into the side of his face.
He grimaced, but it looked like it was more due to the kind of pain that wasn’t physical.
“Hell and Hades, you two!” India shouted, springing up from her chair in the corner and lunging across the room at us. “Stop making a scene. You’re not the first couple to have a lover’s quarrel, so stop acting like it.”
Pushing me to the side, she leaned over Jude, glancing down the hall. “Sorry,” she called out, “we’re working out some issues down here. We won’t keep y’all up all night.”
Waving down the hall, she glanced down at Jude, who was leaning into the doorway, breathing like he still couldn’t catch his breath and staring into the floor like he was waiting for it to swallow him up. Winding her arms beneath Jude’s, she pulled him inside the room. “Get in here, you crazy son of a bitch.”
Once Jude was inside, she shut the door and slammed her back against it. Exhaling, she looked over at me where I stood at the foot of my bed, arms crossed and looking everywhere but at Jude.
“Hear the man out,” she said like it was an order. “He’s earned it and you deserve it.”
“Wait,” my eyes flashed to India’s, “you’ve already talked with him? You actually believe the pile of lies he gave you?”
India wasn’t gullible and believed, as a species, humans weren’t to be trusted, so whatever Jude had said to her had to have been impressive.
One big, fat, impressive lie.
“That’s right,” she said, looking at me like I was behaving like a child. “You got a problem with that?”
“Only a few million,” I smarted back. “Friend,” I tacked on to drill the guilt in deeper.
It didn’t work. India was a pillar that wouldn’t be penetrated by any devices of guilt.
“Listen, friend,” she added, arching a brow. “He’s here. You’re here. Talk this shit out and then you can go back to hating his sorry ass when it’s all out there on the table.”
Walking towards me, she wrapped her arms around me and gave me one long, tight squeeze. Her long, gold earrings chimed against my shoulder. “Talk. Listen. I know it seems hard, but it really isn’t,” she said, moving towards the door. “I’ll be in the commons if you need me.”
Leaning over Jude, she patted his cheek. He didn’t respond. “Here’s your chance. Don’t waste it.”
Opening the door, India glanced back down at Jude’s crumpled form, frowning. “See if you can get this man to eat or drink something, Lucy. He’s going to be knocking on death’s door if he doesn’t get some fluids in him. And you better drink, you crazy bastard,” she said, toeing at Jude’s leg. “Because a person can only go seven days without fluids before their system shuts down. I’m guessing you’re on day four.”
Before closing the door behind her, India gave me a small smile of encouragement, and then it was just Jude and me.
As pissed as I was at him, a nagging twist poked at me when I really took him in. Weak, weary, barely able to catch his breath, staring at the floor without seeing it.
“Have you really not had anything to eat or drink in four days?” I asked, moving over to the mini fridge.
“I can’t remember,” he answered, his voice as weak as the rest of him.
“Damn fool,” I muttered, collecting a couple bottles of water into my arms and a bar of chocolate India and I kept stashed in the back for emergency purposes. A man about to pass out from not eating in days qualified as emergency purposes.
Falling to my knees in front of him, I unscrewed the lid from one of the bottles. “Here,” I said, lifting it to his lips, “drink.”
It wasn’t a request.
He didn’t move; his head just hung there, his fists clenching and unclenching over his thighs.
“Jude,” I said, lifting his chin until we were at eye level. “Drink this. Please.”
His eyes were almost as hollow as his embrace had felt in the hall. Something twisted in my gut, something that ran deeper than anything else had.
He parted his lips and I lifted the bottle to his mouth and tilted it so a steady stream would fall in.