Slipping between his chair and the window, I knelt in front of him. “I need you to do something for me, Charlie.” Our eyes connected, and it was like a punch to the stomach, because even though he was looking at me, he didn’t see me. Emotion clogged my throat. “I need you to eat, okay? When they bring you dinner tonight, you need to eat.”
Not a single flicker of emotion crossed his blank expression.
“If you don’t, they’re going to use a feeding tube. Remember how you hated that before?” I tried again, reaching up and cupping his cheeks. He flinched, but nothing more. “So, please eat, Charlie.”
I kissed his forehead as I rose. “I’ll be back Friday, sweetheart.”
Nurse Venter waited for me outside. Her dark hair, liberally streaked with gray, was pulled back in a hasty bun. I figured she was waiting to see if there had been any change in Charlie’s behavior.
“He’s the same way he’s been for the last month,” I told her as I started down the wide corridor. “I couldn’t get him to eat the mashed potatoes. Totally don’t get it. He hasn’t been responding to me at all, but he sure as hell responds when a spoon gets near him.”
“He used to love those yogurt Popsicle things,” I suggested as we neared the double doors leading to the waiting room. “Maybe I can bring some by before work tomorrow? I have the time.”
“Honey,” she said, catching my arm in a gentle grasp. “I’m sure Charlie loved a lot of things, but he’s . . . well, he’s not that Charlie anymore.”
“Charlie’s . . .” I stared at her a moment and then pulled my arm free. “I know he’s not the same, but he’s . . . he’s still Charlie.”
Sympathy dug its way into the lines around her eyes and mouth. “Honey, I know, but that’s not the only thing we need to talk about. There’s—”
Whatever she wanted to talk about I really didn’t want to hear at that moment. Probably had to do with the feeding tube, and I just couldn’t think about it, because I knew how Charlie would react. I also knew that his parents wouldn’t be here to see it, and often wondered if they even cared.
Looking away, I pushed open the doors.
My whole world stopped.
Sitting on the same couch that I’d waited on a handful of hours ago was Henry Williams. The strap from my tote bag slipped out of my fingers and the tote hit the floor with a loud smack. I was frozen right where I stood.
“Roxy,” whispered Nurse Venter. “I was trying to tell you that he’s here.”
Henry unfolded his massive length. He’d grown since the last time I’d seen him. Before, he’d been average height, maybe five feet, nine inches. Now he was well over six feet.
Prison hadn’t been kind to him, not that I really cared.
His dark brown hair was buzzed close to the skull and his skin was paler than I remembered. Then again, you didn’t get to see the sun in prison a lot. There were bags under his eyes, making him appear older than he was, which had to only be twenty-three or twenty-four. And he was bigger. Sounded totally cliché, but he had to have been pumping iron behind the bars because his shoulders stretched the plain white shirt he wore in a way it never did when he was younger.
My muscles were completely locked up as I stared at Henry.
He smoothed his hands along the sides of his khaki shorts. “Roxanne,” he said, and my skin crawled like an army of cockroaches had swarmed me.
A huge part of me wanted to flee the waiting room, run straight for the doors and get as far away from Henry as I could, but I couldn’t. Henry wasn’t here for me. He wanted to see Charlie, and like a mama bear, I was so not going to let that happen.
My muscles unlocked and I moved so that I was standing in the center of the double doors. “You’re not welcome here.”
Henry didn’t look surprised. “I don’t imagine that I would be.”
“Then why are you here?” I demanded, my hands closing into fists. “This is the last place you should be.”
He glanced over to where Nurse Venter stood. Luckily no one else was in the lobby, but that would soon change. “I know. I’m not trying to start anything—”
“You shouldn’t even be out of prison. You were in there for how long? Five years tops and you’re out now, walking around and enjoying whatever, but Charlie has lost everything?” I shook my head, breathing heavy. So freaking unfair. “You’re not going to see him.”
“Roxy,” Nurse Venter said quietly. “I know you realize you—”
I whirled on her. “So, you’re okay with this? Siding with him?” Betrayal was a bitter acid in the back of my throat. I knew it was unreasonable. She was just doing her job, but frustration and helplessness were a second, irrational being inside me. I did not care about her job. All I cared about was how unfair this was to Charlie.
Her brows pinched with sympathy. “It’s not an issue of siding with anyone. Charlie’s parents—his guardians—gave permission. And unless Charlie says he doesn’t want to see him, and I know how that sounds, he’s allowed.”
My mouth dropped open. “Charlie hasn’t spoken more than a sentence in six years! And now he’s suddenly going to express his discontent with something?” I whipped around, facing Henry. “Did you know that? That Charlie hasn’t spoken in years?”