From the sound of it, it had become easier for Shane to breathe as the hours passed and Jenny had been able to relax at least a little. Now she lay on Jenny’s side of the bed with Jenny’s arm around her, her mouth half open as she took one shallow breath after another, but she seemed more peaceful now than she had before.
Jenny moved her hand from around Shane’s waist, as gently as possible to not wake her up, and couldn’t resist the temptation of letting her fingers play with a lock of hair on her neck. She loved how, when they showered before going to bed and she didn’t bother to do anything with it, Shane’s hair would get so soft, and curly like a doll’s. It seemed to fit her sweet and gentle personality better than anything else, and when she lay asleep like that she looked so vulnerable that all Jenny wanted was to protect her from the world around them. Like she hadn’t been able to in the fire.
It hurt her too much to even think about it now. Shane was always there to keep her safe, but when she was the one who needed help, where had she been? She made a silent promise to herself, that she would do everything she could to make sure Shane and her brother were okay, no matter what. That meant leaving her for a little while to make some coffee, without it there was no way she’d be able to keep her eyes open for much longer.
She leaned forward and dared to place a soft kiss on Shane’s cheek. She didn’t wake up; she just hummed contentedly and let out a deep sleepy sigh. A relieved smile formed on Jenny’s lips and she slipped out of bed, tiptoeing out of the room and closing the door quietly behind her. When she reached the dining room, Sounder jumped down from the couch where he’d been asleep and ran over to her, circled her a couple times and then continued over to the back door and waited for her to let him out.
“I guess you slept well,” Jenny yawned and padded across the kitchen to open the door. “I wish I had some of your energy right now.” She’d barely turned the doorknob before he managed to slip outside and she left it open so he could stay out there while she put some food in his bowl and made some coffee.
Just as she pressed the button on the coffee machine, her gaze fell on her pack of cigarettes that lay on the counter where she’d left it before she’d gone over to see Shane at WAX. Without thinking, she reached for it and the lighter next to it, and walked outside to sit down on the back porch. She lit one and took a long drag, she needed to smoke so badly after the night she’d had, and it didn’t really matter that…
She froze. She’d made a promise. She’d promised Shane that she was going to… That wasn’t even the worst part. In her mind she replayed the night that’d just passed, hearing each and every one of Shane’s coughs all over again, seeing and feeling how she struggled to breathe. Suddenly overcome with disgust, she flinched and put out the cigarette, staring at it as a trail of smoke slowly rose from it.
‘How could I…? When it’s what nearly killed her…’ She swallowed and shook her head, having no idea how she could ever betray Shane and break a promise like that. Would she ever forgive her? Of course. Of course she would, and it made the pain sting even worse.
Filled with shame and with her heart pounding in her chest, she got up and took the ashtray with her. They wouldn’t be using that anymore. Back in the kitchen, she placed it on the counter and took a deep breath, tossing the rest of her cigarettes in the trashcan. It felt good, final somehow. When she’d promised Shane she’d quit too, she’d done it because she didn’t want to keep doing something if Shane couldn’t do it anymore. But now it meant so much more than that.
With a resolute frown she began to clean the ashtray she’d taken from the porch, and did the same with the one on the kitchen table. It didn’t make that awful feeling disappear, but it was a start. After letting Sounder back inside, she headed over to the bathroom to clean herself up before she would go back to the bedroom and check on Shane again. It wasn’t about wanting to hide from her what she’d just done, but what good would it do Shane if she had to smell the smoke on her?
She was in the middle of brushing her teeth when she caught a glimpse of Shane’s hoodie lying on the floor and picked it up, staring at the red paint on the left sleeve. It suddenly hit her, and she couldn’t believe she hadn’t put two and two together before. She hadn’t paid much attention when the others were talking just after they got Shane back out of WAX and that was probably why she didn’t realize until now that the spots on the hoodie matched the bruise on Shane’s arm. ‘No wonder she fell,’ Jenny thought, and a chill ran down her spine.
When she had rinsed her mouth and washed her face she went to put all the dirty clothes they’d left on the floor the night before in the laundry room, then she crossed the hall to make sure Shane was okay. She opened the door and glanced over at the bed where Shane was sleeping peacefully, having rolled over on her stomach and buried half of her face in her pillow like always. Jenny decided she would let her sleep for as long as she needed to. If she had coffee – oh, the coffee! – she could stay up for a while longer and watch over her.
She closed the door with a small smile on her lips and was about to go back to the kitchen when Shay emerged from his room. He looked exhausted, like he hadn’t slept a minute more than she had all night.
“Where’s Shane?” he asked worriedly, skipping all the small talk and jumping right to the reason he’d left his room.
“She’s still asleep,” Jenny replied, her voice low so she wouldn’t wake her, though she doubted there was any risk she would. Shane seemed to be as deeply asleep as any other morning. “How are you feeling?”
“Is she gonna be okay?” he continued as if he hadn’t even heard her question.
She tried to give him a reassuring smile when she saw him fidgeting with the hem of his t-shirt, but telling from the nervous look on his face, it didn’t do much to comfort him. “Yeah, I’m sure she’ll be…” was all she got to say before he cut her off.
“She was crying,” he said and shifted uneasily. “When you were in the bathroom last night. I heard her.”
Jenny opened her mouth to speak but closed it again without saying anything; she didn’t know how to respond to that. She had to admit to herself that Shay made her a little nervous sometimes. It wasn’t his fault, she just wasn’t used to being around kids and she didn’t know how she was supposed to talk or act around him. For Shane it was different; everything seemed to come so naturally to her, but then again, she was his sister after all.
She had no idea how she was supposed to explain to him everything that had happened after he’d gone to bed the night before, but she didn’t think trying to keep the truth from him was the right thing to do. Jenny didn’t know how much he had heard, but there was no point in lying. Shane would have been honest with him, she was sure.
“Oh, you know…” she started but paused to glance down the hallway at the door to Shane’s room. “Come, we can talk in the kitchen, and I can make us some breakfast. Do you want pancakes?”
Shay nodded and followed her to the kitchen where he sat down by the table while she started taking out everything she would need to prepare their meal. She needed something to do if she was going to talk to him about what Shane had gone through; she needed an excuse to turn away if she would have to. If the tears started to fall like they had then. She felt a sting when she thought about the things Shane had said to her in the shower and she saw the scene playing over and over again in her head, feeling her pain as if it had been her own.
“Did it hurt?” he said behind her and brought her out of her reverie. “Is that why she was crying?”
“Shay…” she replied, slowly turning around to look at him. He just sat there looking back at her, as if he was bracing himself, fearing the worst. In some way, he reminded her so much of Shane when he did that. “Yes, she’s in some pain,” she continued uncomfortably. “But she’s going to be okay. She’s gonna be fine, she just needs to rest and she’ll get through it. You don’t have to worry about her.” She grabbed a mug from the cupboard and poured herself some coffee. ‘I do that enough for the both of us.’
He didn’t say anything and the rest of her explanation had to wait until she could find the right words. ‘You’re a writer,’ she thought to herself, ‘it shouldn’t have to be this hard.’ With her coffee cup in her hand she walked over to the table and sat down in front of him, taking a sip of the hot liquid. “Shay,” she said again but felt more confident this time. “She was crying because… What happened was hard for all of us, but I think it was harder for her than anyone else. She was really scared, because she loves you so much, and she doesn’t want anything bad to happen to you. But she had to let those feelings out so she could feel better again afterwards. And that’s okay.” She smiled at him and was relieved to see him smiling back at her, if only a little. “We all need that sometimes, you know? And there’s nothing wrong about it. And if you need to talk about anything at all, you have Shane, and you have me too. You mean so much to both of us.”
“Okay,” he said, and she relaxed when he seemed to have calmed down a bit, even if when she thought about it, her words had come out sounding more like they were meant for a five year old. She would have to work on that.
Jenny got up and started making the pancakes she’d promised him. It took a bit longer than expected as she hadn’t done much cooking at all lately and strangely enough felt a little lost in her own kitchen. When they were done and Shay was eating his breakfast in front of the TV while watching cartoons, she left the kitchen without bothering to clean anything up. It had been more than half an hour since she last checked on Shane and she didn’t want to wait another second.
She reached the door and opened it quietly, peeking inside at her girlfriend who lay there asleep exactly the same way as when she’d left her earlier. Shane’s face was turned away from her so she crossed the room and went to lie down next to her on Shane’s side of the bed again.
Shane had her left arm under the pillow and her right, bandaged hand right in front of her face, almost making it look like she was about to stick her thumb in her mouth. Jenny fought hard to keep herself from giggling, she was just always so adorable in her sleep. The last couple of months since they started sleeping in the same bed, watching her like that in the mornings before she woke up had become one of her favourite things in life.
She felt so safe in Shane’s—no, their bedroom—it didn’t even feel anything at all like the room she’d shared with Tim so many years ago. Now that she thought about it, somehow, ever since Shane moved in with her all the traces of Tim had slowly and thoroughly been washed away and been replaced by feelings of security, being loved, and finally belonging somewhere. She had given her the fresh start she’d so desperately needed and while they kept changing, they changed together and she knew that no matter what happened, they’d always have each other.
Even if Shane wasn’t doing that great at the moment, she would get better. Jenny had to keep telling herself that because she couldn’t stand the thought of the opposite. She seemed a little better already though. The wounds on her cheek looked like they would heal pretty soon, and they probably wouldn’t leave any scars. It felt strange to look at them. They didn’t do anything to spoil her beauty; instead they seemed to enhance it. “You are so beautiful,” Jenny whispered, thinking that if anything, they acted like an open window to her soul and made all her kindness and the sacrifice she’d made for Shay shine through. “I love you so much.”
Shane hummed sleepily and slipped her arm around Jenny to pull her closer while she struggled to open her eyes. “Good morning,” she mumbled and peered at her with her right eye while the other remained closed, and she smiled into the kiss Jenny gave her seconds later. “Did you sleep well?”
“Not exactly,” Jenny started, but when she saw the concerned frown that formed on Shane’s forehead she quickly added, “but it’s okay. I’ll try to get some rest later. And I’m sorry if I woke you up.”
“You didn’t wake me up,” she replied hoarsely, letting go of Jenny so she could use both of her arms to push herself up and roll over on her back. “Don’t worry about it.”
Jenny smiled a little when Shane raised her hand again to brush a few strands of hair away from her face and let it linger there for a while. Shane’s hand was so warm on her cheek and she began to worry that she might have a fever. “How are you feeling?” she asked softly, placing her own hand on top of Shane’s.
“Uh…” Shane sighed and closed her eyes as she relaxed onto her pillow, and she remained silent for so long that Jenny started to wonder if she had fallen asleep again before she finally replied. “Like someone just beat the crap out of me,” she said with a dry chuckle. “Or maybe more like I’ve been run over by a steamroller.”
“Are you serious?”
“No, it’s not that bad.” She tried to smile a little when she saw the worried look on Jenny’s face and regretted having said those things in the first place. “I think it just seems worse than it is now because I couldn’t feel any of it when I was asleep.” She paused to clear her throat and tried to make the irritating feeling go away, but without much success. “Look, Jen, I’m just exhausted and it hurts a little, but it’s not gonna kill me. I’m more worried about you now, you need to get some rest.”
Ignoring Shane’s comment, Jenny moved her hand to gently place it on Shane’s forehead and shook her head worriedly when she removed it a while later. “You’re burning up. I’m getting the thermometer, we should probably get you back to the hospital if…”
“Nononono! Jenny!” Shane reached out for her as she moved to get out of the bed, and when she felt Shane’s hand touching her own, she turned around so Shane could see the look on her face and how much it all freaked her out.
“Shane, you didn’t…” she said quietly, shaking her head. “You didn’t see yourself last night. We’ve been over this already. You promised me that you would go back if it got worse. And it wasn’t you who stayed up all night just to make sure you didn’t stop breathing.” She hadn’t said the last part to lay a guilt trip on her but telling from the look on Shane’s face, that was obviously the effect it had had. “I’m sorry…”
“No, I’m sorry,” Shane replied and tugged gently at Jenny’s hand that she still held on to. “Come here. I’m sorry.” Jenny sat back down and let her wrap her arms around her and she buried her face in her shoulder. “I know I promised,” Shane went on, slowly stroking Jenny’s back with her uninjured hand. “And I meant it. But I’m all right. You trust me, don’t you?” She could feel Jenny’s head nodding against her shoulder and heard her sighing. “I’m not lying to you. I couldn’t have been in there for more than a few minutes, and if something was seriously wrong with me I would tell you. You know that.”
“I know.” Jenny nodded and sat back so she could look into her eyes. “They look less irritated today,” she said and Shane looked puzzled back at her. “Oh, your eyes, I mean.”
“Do you know if Shay’s up yet? What time is it anyway?”
Jenny glanced over her shoulder at the alarm clock. “It’s only about 9:30. And yeah, he’s up, he’s having breakfast and watching TV. He’s worried about you too.”
“I have to talk to him, I never really got a chance to yesterday,” Shane sighed and tried to rub the sleep out of her eyes but Jenny just shook her head at her.
“No, Shane, he’s fine for now. What you have to do, is make sure you take care of yourself first, then you can worry about everything and everyone else. Okay? Shay wasn’t injured last night, you were. Please just get that into your head. He’s not on his own, he has me too.”
Shane looked apologetically back at her and stroked her hand down Jenny’s arm before she replied. “I didn’t mean it that way.”
“I know. Hey, do you want some coffee? And pancakes? I made some for Shay but I didn’t have breakfast myself yet, I can bring some in here if you want and we can have breakfast in bed.”
“I think I…” She turned away when she started coughing and when she looked back at Jenny she gave her a look that silently begged her not to start lecturing her again. “I think right now I just wanna try to sleep some more if that’s okay.” Jenny nodded in agreement and Shane smiled a little when she continued. “But first I wanna check on Shay. Don’t argue with me.”
“It’s okay, I won’t,” Jenny giggled and left to clean up in the kitchen while Shane went to the bathroom.
She hadn’t been lying to Jenny, she really didn’t feel all that bad. Sure, she was sore all over, all she wanted to do was sleep and no matter how hard she tried, she didn’t seem to be able to catch her breath. Plus, she couldn’t even smoke, though for some odd reason, she didn’t really feel like doing it. But at least she was alive.
‘Stop feeling sorry for yourself,’ she thought as she peered at her reflection in the bathroom mirror. She looked horrible. It wasn’t just the wounds on the right side of her face, she now had a big bruise there to match. They’d heal though, it really wasn’t that big of a deal. ‘It could have been a hell of a lot worse.’
Shane turned the faucet on and splashed some water on her face, then left the room with her toothbrush in her mouth. After picking something up in her room, she headed towards the living room, assuming Shay was still there.
A few hours later, Jenny had just come through the hallway and into the living room after checking on Shane again when the doorbell rang. She crossed the room to open the door and found Alice there with a sheepish look on her face.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to just come barging in after what happened, but I just wanted to check on you guys and see if you’re okay. I told Shane last night that I would, so… I didn’t wake you up, did I?”
“No…” Jenny replied puzzled. “It’s almost noon, why would…?” She followed Alice’s gaze and realized what she meant. She was still wearing her pajamas. “Oh.” She covered her face with her hands and stared horrified at her friend. “Oh my god, I took Sounder out for a walk wearing this!”
“It’s okay,” Alice giggled, “I’ve done worse.”
Alice was invited to come inside and she entered the house finding Shay sitting curled up on the couch while looking intently at something he held in his hands. “Hey, Shay. What’s that you got there?” she asked and tried to take a look at it.
When he didn’t say anything since he was obviously too focused on the game he was playing, Jenny replied in his stead. “You know, it’s like… one of those Game Boy things?”
“Nintendo DS,” he finally announced, without taking his eyes off of it.
“Oh, yeah. Well, Shane got it a while back but she doesn’t use it much,” Jenny told Alice when she followed her into the kitchen. “She thought he could use the distraction, especially since she can’t hang out with him much now.”
“Speaking of Shane, how is she?”
“She’s sleeping,” Jenny replied, rubbing her eye as she sat down in front of Alice by the table.
“You look like you could use some of that yourself.”
Jenny’s fingers found her cell phone that lay on the table and she absentmindedly began to play with it. “Yeah, I didn’t get much last night. I kept checking to make sure she was breathing.”
“Are you sure it’s not too much for you?” Alice began, frowning slightly. “Maybe it was too soon for her to come home.”
Shaking her head determinedly, Jenny let go of her phone and leaned back in her chair with her lips pursed. “I don’t think I can make her go back. It’s too hard for her, she can’t handle it. Shane hasn’t been able to stand hospitals ever since…” She suddenly paused when she realized who she was talking to.
“…Dana died,” Alice finished her sentence and they both sat in silence for a moment until she went on. “Well, I mean, I understand how she feels. But that doesn’t change the fact that she might actually need to be there.”
“I know.” Jenny relaxed a little when it didn’t seem like she’d upset her. She hadn’t meant to, she just wanted to be honest. Dana’s death had left scars on all of them, but probably the most on Shane and Alice. “But she promised she’d go if she got worse, I just can’t stop worrying.” She shifted uncomfortably, not wanting to ask for any favours, but knowing she didn’t have much of a choice at this point. “Alice, are you busy today?”
“I would have been,” Alice shrugged, “but since the gym thing got cancelled and WAX burned right down to the ground, I guess I’m not doing anything special after all. Why, do you need anything?”
“I just thought, maybe you could look after Shane and Shay for a couple of hours so I can sleep for a while? You wouldn’t have to do much, Shay keeps himself occupied with that game and Shane’s mostly asleep but…”
Alice interrupted her with a chuckle and smiled reassuringly at her. “It’s fine, I can do that. I mean, how hard can it be?”
“Thank you so much, you have no idea!” Jenny let out a sigh of relief, got up, grabbed something from the table and told Shay Alice would be hanging out with him for a while, then brought the blonde with her to the room she – unbeknownst to Alice – shared with Shane. “Check this out!” she exclaimed when she opened the door and saw that Shane was awake. “I got you a babysitter so I can sleep for a while.”
Propped up on her elbows, Shane cocked an eyebrow as Jenny entered the room with an annoyingly cheerful Alice in tow.
“You look like shit, you know that, Shane?” Alice announced as soon as she spotted her and then went to sit down in the chair by the window, picking up a magazine off the floor beside it.
“Gee, thanks, that’s so sweet of you,” Shane muttered. “Nice to see you too.” She froze when she noticed that Jenny was holding a thermometer right in front of her face, and she held up her hand, gently pushing her arm away. “Jenny, you’re not putting that thing in my mouth!”
“You can just forget…”
“Why the hell not?”
“Because I don’t wanna choke on it if I start coughing again, that’s why.”
“You should just stick it up her ass and get it over with,” Alice quipped from the other end of the room, looking amused at them from behind her magazine.
“That’s really funny, Alice,” Shane said dryly, but her voice softened as she turned to Jenny again. She would have thought they’d had that discussion enough for one morning, but apparently Jenny didn’t think so. “Please, just relax a little,” she pleaded. “You’re being way too overprotective, even if I do have a fever, that’s normal. It happens.”
Jenny sat back on her knees next to Shane and pouted. “I’m not overprotective, I’m just protective. I don’t want you to be sick.”
“But I’m not sick!” she sighed, twining a lock of Jenny’s hair around her fingers without even noticing she was doing it. “You worry too much, it’s gonna make your hair go grey. And while I think you’d look adorable, you’re too young for that.”
Alice had been following their exchange with an impish grin for a while until she finally found the right moment to interrupt them. “You should totally get Jenny one of those nurse uniforms,” she suggested. “What do you think about that, Shane?”
Shane needed a moment to get the image out of her head before she could even begin to think of a reply. “I think someone in this room definitely needs to get laid, and for once it’s not me.” She smirked and Jenny giggled where she sat next to her, while Alice just glared.
“Listen, Alice,” Jenny began, “can you promise that if anything happens to either one of them, anything at all, you’ll wake me up right away?” Alice nodded and she gave her grateful smile, not seeing how Shane rolled her eyes. “Thank you. An hour or two should be enough.”
With that said, Jenny flipped over on the bed and curled up between the sheets, leaving the startled Alice staring at her over the magazine she’d pretended to read. She lowered it down on her lap and her jaw dropped while she tried to process what she’d just seen.
“She’s…” Alice started and glanced at Shane with a puzzled expression.
“She’s gonna sleep in your bed?” she hissed, pointing at Jenny who already seemed to be asleep. “Shane?”
Shane rolled her eyes and then raised her left hand to rub them. Why this had to be such a big deal to Alice at this point was beyond her. “Yes, she is,” she sighed.
“So, what, you guys share a bed now? And that’s just…?”
“Look, Al, she gave Shay her room. Where else is she supposed to go? I’m fine with her sleeping here so I don’t see why you should have any problems with it.”
“I don’t!” Alice replied, having a hard time keeping her voice down. “I just don’t get how it makes any kind of sense, if either one of you brings someone home, are you just gonna have a three-way or…”
“Please. Alice.” Shane began to cough, covering her mouth with one hand and holding the other up in her friend’s direction to keep her from saying anything else. “It’s not your problem. Just leave it alone. Can you?”
She pursed her lips, sitting quietly and seeming to contemplate what Shane had just said. “Fine,” she finally agreed. “It’s none of my business.” She soon forgot their almost-argument and picked up her magazine again, declaring she was going to read Shane her horoscope. “What’s your sign?”
“I’m a Gemini, you know that.” Shane peered at the magazine cover and let out a deep sigh. “Alice, that thing is like six months old.”
Not caring, Alice cleared her throat and began to read aloud. “You did something completely irresponsible but heroic last night and now you feel like crap so you’ve started sleeping with your best friend…”
“You’re so full of shit.”
Alice squinted at the page in front of her, biting her bottom lip. “I should read mine. Cancer, Cancer, Cancer…”
“It’s right next to mine,” Shane chuckled quietly after deciding it was best to just humour her.
“Take good care of your friends, and you will definitely get laid tonight. If you’re dating a hot former soldier, text her ASAP.” Alice immediately took the phone out of her pocket and Shane struggled to not laugh out loud at the sight.
“Listen, I have to get some sleep,” she said softly, glancing over at Jenny who lay still next to her, breathing slowly, apparently not disturbed by their conversation. A small smile formed on Shane’s lips and she couldn’t seem to take her eyes off of her, in fact, she was so focused on her girlfriend that she didn’t even notice Alice was talking to her.
“Earth to Shane. You’ll have to lie down if you’re gonna do that. Jesus.”
Alice watched as Shane finally managed to get settled in her bed and she turned the sound off on her phone and began to type a text message for Tasha. Her horoscopes had been jokes of course to try to cheer Shane up a bit, but she still thought she should go for it. She’d talked to her briefly when she came home the night before just to let her know what had happened, but if she was going to stay at Shane and Jenny’s house for the next few hours, it might be nice to have some other company than just Shay and his Game Boy thingy. As she typed she suddenly heard a strange sound coming from the bed and soon realized it was Jenny snoring. Feeling sorry for Shane if that was what she’d have to listen to every single night from now on until they figured out what to do with their living situation, she finally pressed the ‘send’ button and looked up at them. Whatever she’d expected to see, it was not this.
Everything Shane had been trying to tell her the last couple of days about how she was not sleeping with Jenny and how there was nothing going on between them seemed to just evaporate from Alice’s mind. How could they even think they would be able to keep this from her? It was right… there.
Shane had, in spite of her injuries, somehow managed to roll over to Jenny’s side of the bed, and now they both lay there with their arms around each other, sound asleep. As hard as it was for her to understand, Shane didn’t seem to hear Jenny’s snores at all. It was almost as if she had gotten used to them. But Shay had only been staying at the house for two days and it made her question how long they’d really been sharing Shane’s bedroom. She had to be right. They’d been lying this whole time. ‘I knew it!’
With the phone still in her hand and a cunning smile on her lips, she was struck by a thought. She quickly opened the camera function and pressed the button to start filming. With this on video, Shane’s explanation would definitely be interesting to hear, and she bit her lip to keep herself from laughing at her own brilliant idea. They weren’t really doing anything, but it was still going to be hard for Shane to talk herself out of this one.