Life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it will.
It isn’t a fairytale, and there isn’t always a happy ending. Sometimes, there isn’t a happy beginning or middle, either.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter.
Because when you’re lying there, asphyxiated and lifeless, your life doesn’t flash before your eyes like a running movie reel of regrets. It’s not the big picture you see – all the things that went wrong, all the mistakes you made, all the experiences you missed out on.
What you see are moments.
Flashes of time, no matter how fleeting, when you were happy.
What you see are faces.
Glimpses of the people who gave a shit, who loved you in spite of all your crap.
What you see is yourself.
The things you did right. The times you were proud meet your own eyes in the mirror. The moments you knew exactly who you were, and where you belonged.
So, I guess when it came down to it, my story was really a love story. Not the one you’d expect – not the one about Finn and me.
It was a story about a girl falling in love with herself. It was about me learning to accept the woman I’d become, flaws and all. Because everybody’s a little bit fucked up – that’s life. And maybe there aren’t any happily ever afters, or white knights who ride in on valiant steeds to save the day. Maybe, in real life, Prince Charming isn’t always perfect –he’s just as flawed as everyone else in the tale.
And that princess, alone in her tower? She’s not perfect either. Birds don’t braid her hair every morning, she can’t serenade wild forest creatures into servitude, and she doesn’t even own a ball gown. But she’s also smart enough to know not to accept poisoned apples from strangers, or prick her finger on deadly spindles.
She doesn’t wait around for a prince to charge in and slay the dragon. Maybe she saves herself and in the end, rides off into her own goddamned sunset.
I don’t know, it’s just a theory.
And thankfully, I don’t have to have it all figured out yet; I’ve got my whole life ahead of me to do that.
When I woke up in the hospital, Finn was there. I’d been out for almost 24 hours, and for a while they’d thought I might never regain consciousness. Finn had saved my life, doing CPR until the paramedics arrived.
My heart stopped twice that day; I was lucky to be alive.
Ernie Skinner wasn’t so lucky.
The knife wound had sliced deeply, rupturing too many internal organs to fix. He’d nearly bled out by the time the paramedics arrived, and had been pronounced dead at the hospital.
Since I’d woken, I’d had a near-constant parade of visitors, starting with the police. Officers Carlson and O’Callahan took my statement, thanking me on behalf of the Charlottesville PD for my service to the community in removing not only a parole violator, but also a dangerous criminal from the area. On their way out the door, Officer Carlson had wished me a speedy recovery, adding, “Brooklyn, for your sake, I hope this is our last meeting.”
I laughed and waved goodbye, sharing his sentiments completely.
Lexi and Ty had returned early from their ski trip as soon as they’d heard about what happened. Lexi’s face was the first I’d seen when I woke up; I’d find out later that she and Finn had nearly come to blows over who would get the seat closest to my bed – apparently, she’d won. I couldn’t say I was surprised by that, though.
She asked me if I wanted to call my father, and I think she was surprised when I said yes. After bringing me her cellphone, Lexi, Tyler, and Finn moved toward the door. I told them to stay, though, knowing this would be a brief conversation.
His phone rang three times before he picked up.
“This is Daniel Turner,” he said, his stern voice unchanged.
Why can’t he just say ‘hello’ like a normal person?
It had been nearly two years since I’d spoken with my father; I didn’t know where to begin.
“Hello? Is anyone there?” His voice was impatient.
“Brooklyn?” he asked, surprise coloring his tone. “What’s happened? Have you been expelled?”
“Why is that always your first question?” I asked, annoyed and already preparing to hang up.
“Because the last time you called me, you’d been expelled from your third boarding school for sneaking boys into your dormitory.”
Okay, I guess that was a valid point.
“Well, I’m not in trouble.” I took a deep breath. “I’m in the hospital.”
“Do I need to send a check?” he asked, his tone accusatory. No questions about why his daughter was in the hospital. No parental concern for my wellbeing.
“That won’t be necessary,” I bit out, clenching my jaw to keep from screaming. “I just need you to answer one question, and then this can be over.”
“Yes?” His voice was weary, as if a two-minute conversation with me every two years was enough to tire him out completely.
“Did you know?” I asked, my voice breaking on the last word. “Did they call and tell you that he was released? I couldn’t figure out why I hadn’t been informed by his parole board, until I finally realized – I was a minor at the time. I was still living under your roof.”
I took a deep breath and squeezed my eyes shut so the tears couldn’t escape.
“So, Dad, I’m asking. Did you know that Ernie Skinner, the monster who killed my mother in front of my eyes, had been released early from his sentence, and actually choose not to tell me about it?”
There was a charged silence over the phone. I thought he wasn’t going to answer but he finally did respond, and his voice was more strained than I’d ever heard it. “Yes. I knew,” he admitted. “They called three years ago to inform me.”
“How could you not tell me!?” I exploded.
“I made a judgment call. You were struggling with your studies, already. It—it wasn’t something you needed to be concerned with.”
“Not something I needed to be concerned with,” I echoed bitterly. “That’s perfect.”
“Brooklyn, I– If I made a mistake, I’m sorry,” he said, rather haltingly. My father was not a man who apologized – not ever – and he didn’t suffer it well.
“He almost killed me. That’s why I’m in the hospital,” I told him, my voice impassive. “So I killed him, instead – drove a knife right into his gut and watched him die.”
“My God, Brooklyn…what can—”
“Save it,” I said, cutting him off. “I don’t need anything from you. I certainly don’t want anything from you. I just had to know. And as far as I’m concerned, you and me? We’re done.”
I hung up the phone.
When I opened my eyes, Finn, Lexi, and Tyler were looking at me with identical expressions – a unique mixture of sympathy and apprehension.
“I’m fine,” I lied. “Can we go home now?”
As it turned out, I wouldn’t be allowed to go home for another 48 hours. They were keeping me under strict observation. Nurses came in to check on me at regular intervals, and occasionally the doctor would return to give a report.
When Dr. Angelini walked through the doors holding a bouquet of flowers, I smiled.
“Did they move me to the psych wing during my nap?” I asked.
A brief grin crossed her face, but quickly faded as she got a better look at me. I knew the colorful bruises on each cheekbone were clearly visible, despite Lexi’s masterful attempts with the concealer this morning.
Sitting down in the chair next to my bed, Dr. Angelini deposited the flowers on the bedside table, took my hand in her own, and squeezed tightly.
“Whoa, doc, aren’t you violating some kind of doctor-patient, no-touching-allowed boundaries right now?” I joked, trying to make her laugh.
“Oh, just shut up, Brooklyn, will you?” She said, tears filling her eyes. “And call me Joan, for god’s sake.” I laughed and returned her hand squeeze.
And for once, we didn’t talk. She just held my hand in silence, looking at me the way I’d imagine a mother looks at a daughter who’s been injured.
When she left, she dropped a kiss on my forehead and wrapped her arms around me. Thankfully, it was less awkward than our first attempt at hugging, several weeks ago.
I had a feeling we’d get better at it as time passed.
Finn, who’d gracefully stepped out when Dr. Angelini – Joan – had arrived, came back into the room. It was the first time we’d really been alone together since everything had happened; Tyler had finally dragged Lexi out this afternoon, insisting that she eat and sleep, at least for a little while.
I knew she’d be back before long.
Even though visiting hours were ending, Finn had somehow charmed the nurses into allowing him to stay the night. Closing the door to my hospital room, he kicked off his shoes and climbed into bed with me. Moving gently, so as not to disturb any of my IVs or wires, he settled me against his chest and wrapped both arms around me.
“Are you okay?” he asked, his mouth against my hair.
“Now I am,” I said, leaning back into him.
“I love you, you know.” His mouth ducked down to kiss my exposed shoulder where the hospital gown had slipped. “When I thought I’d lost you—” He broke off. “You died… you died in my arms. I don’t think I’ll ever be the same after that.”
I nodded, knowing exactly what he meant. I’d never be the same either.
“Don’t ever do it again,” he growled against my ear.
I laughed. “I’ll do my best,” I promised. “And Finn?”
“I love you too.”
I relaxed against his chest, listening to the beat of his heart beneath my ear. I could feel my body approaching sleep, still exhausted after everything that I’d been through in the past few days.
It had been a hell of a ride, since I’d met Finn Chambers. And I didn’t regret a minute of it.
“Finn?” I asked, my voice slurred with sleep.
“What is it, princess?”
“Tell me a story?”
I felt his lips curl into a smile against my hair.
“Once upon a time, there were two little kids, who fell in love…”
As I drifted off into sleep, Finn’s voice a lullaby, I dreamed of the young girl who’d thought she’d lost everything, until she met a boy who showed her that love is the one thing that can never be taken away.