I could hear noises, like voices muffled together as if I were swimming under water and people were talking above in the air. I had dreams that were bold and vividly colored. Some were frightening, some were not. I could hear myself try to speak out and I felt like I was screaming out loud. My body ached and my head was being squeezed tight. It felt like people were grabbing me, pulling me, and pinching me. Lines of fire ran through my skin like streams of hot electricity.
Fatigue came to me often and no matter how hard I tried, my eyes would not open.
And then it just happened one day. They opened. The light was excruciating, as if standing in the darkness and having fireworks explode like the sun in your face. I remember blinking to protect my eyes and slowly, the world began to materialize around me again. I felt stunned and unsure of where I was at. What had just happened?
“She’s coming around, Jack!” someone called out.
“Do you think she will be okay?” Jack’s accent bit into my ears.
The blood pressure rose and the memories of the night in The Narrows came flooding back in. What in the world was he doing here?
“She is healing well. Thank the Lord there were no broken bones or internal bleeding,” an unknown voice piped in.
I tried to speak and sounded gravelly and dry.
A cup was pressed to my lips and I sipped eagerly to wet my parched throat.
“What happened?” I managed in a whisper.
Closing my eyes against the pain of the light, I could hear his voice speaking to me. “Well, Davis here hit you with the car. I’m terribly sorry about that. I swear it was all an accident.”
The panic in his voice was evident. Perhaps he was afraid I would sue him or perhaps he was more afraid I would embarrass him.
“But you’re going to be just fine!” he added quickly.
“Oh,” was my soft reply.
I allowed my eyes to open a crack and the white light all around contrasted sharply with Jack’s dark hair and eyes, the black shirt on his body. It turned his skin pale and showed stubble where there hadn’t been any the last time I saw him. He looked like an angel sent to help me and since I was helpless it only made sense that I let him.
As I was drifting to the brink of sleep again, a thought popped into my mind. Where were the kids? And just as I thought it, a panic of my own thundered in my ears and I tried to get up, which resulted in the room spinning and the light splintering my brain. What about my kids?
I must have muttered something in my struggle because Jack put his arms over my shoulders and gently pushed me back onto the pillow, hushing me.
“I was able to let your kids know what happened,” he said with a slight grin holding up my cell phone.
I let out a groan and relaxed. I was sure they would think the stalker had killed me. And in all realities, that was what happened!
“How long have I been here?” I asked.
There was a pause and I thought I heard Jack suck in a deep breath before he answered. “Just about three days, in and out. The concussion knocked you out and a doctor here was available to keep you medicated so your head could heal.”
“I’ve missed three days of working?” I tried to sound angry and ended up sounding lazy and pathetic. So I shut my mouth and let out a long sigh.
“Look, Miss Kramer…” he began.
“Just call me Ruby. I’m sure formality is out the window by now,” I cringed at the thought of seeing me anywhere near naked.
“Ruby, don’t worry about anything. I have everything under control. You just need to focus on getting better,” he said and placed his hand on the crown of my head. The pressure of it felt safe and I drifted off to sleep again.
It wasn’t until the next evening that I felt more awake and less sore. Without the sunlight, I could open my eyes without my head killing me. Jack helped me walk to the bathroom to do my business even. He tried to come inside, but I refused. So he agreed to wait outside the bathroom door in case I fell. I thought about locking it anyway, but I suppose I didn’t want to tempt fate.
What was the strangest of all was that I wasn’t in the hospital. I was in a hotel room. I could tell because of the smell. There was no kitchen, but it was more of a suite. Jack had mentioned a doctor tending me, so perhaps I was moved here after they knew I would be alright.
I was never one for using a toilet where anyone could hear me. It was mortifying to say the least. And knowing he was right outside the door just made me blush with embarrassment. But the bladder wasn’t going to hold on any longer, so I sat and let go, my head falling into my hands in defeat.
Jack acted as though nothing had even happened. I slowly emerged from the bathroom and he smiled, helping me to the couch. I’d had enough lying around.
“Can I get you some tea?” he asked.
I shrugged. “Sure, that would be nice. Thank you.”
Minutes later, he sat beside me with a steaming cup of a sweet smelling tea for me.
“Where’s yours?” I asked taking the cup between my palms.
“Still steeping,” he replied and went to get it.
I sipped gently and the warm liquid flowed down my throat and warmed my belly like a blanket thrown over my shoulders.
He sat again and we both sipped quietly, an awkward silence building.
I cleared my throat. “So why here?”
He looked at me intently then, almost suspiciously. But he licked his lips and answered, “I wanted to escape my life.”
I reeled back as though he had slapped me just then. “You? Escape?” I asked incredulously.
He laughed and set his tea on the short table before us and sighed. “Sometimes life just gets to you and you need to get away from it all. Cameras, autographs, rehearsals…” his voice trailed off like he meant to finish the sentence and other thoughts grew to be in the way.
“I would never have thought someone like yourself would ever know about a tiny little place like this. It is paradise though.”
Jack has a wistful look to his face and he nodded.
“This is my paradise,” I whispered.
“I can see why,” he smiled and clapped his hand on my knee.
“Where are your kids?” I pressed.
A shadow seemed to fall over his features. “They are just- uh- in the next couple of rooms,” he replied with a shake of his head toward the rooms. “They are at an age where they want their privacy and nothing here had larger suites, just adjoining rooms.”
“Oh, I see. You should go take them out to do something tonight. I will be just fine and I think you are due.”
He shook his head to the negative. “We played hard a few days and they have been enjoying the beach out there. They recognized you, you know. From the rocks where they were jumping.”
“Why didn’t you jump too?” I asked him cocking my head to the side.
He laughed loudly and he sounded so free. “Well, someone had to stay with the boat to keep it from floating away.”
I figured there was more to it than that. Perhaps it unnerved him as much as it did me.
“I didn’t think anything could bother someone like you,” I laughed back with him.
“I’m just a person as you are, Ruby. There are things I like and things I don’t. If I cut myself, I bleed just as you do. Sometimes I wish I were still just a face in the crowd,” he replied sobering and I felt a cad.
“I’m sorry, of course you do. I just meant…” but I wasn’t sure what else to say. How did I really mean it?
“I see you and what a free spirit you are, unowned by contracts and money…free to look as you wish and dress in what you like. You have no pressures to fit in a certain stereotype and I love that about you. What I admire is your ability to step out and be who you are in your red lipstick and flowers in your hair, rocking the camera when you sit poised and ready to strike.”
His smile of sincerity made me take pause and my cup lowered to my lap.
“I just see art in everything. The camera helps me notice the magic that is always around. Most people just don’t see it that way. The camera helps me bring little things like drops of water to the forefront, I suppose. Sunsets are such a cliché thing to photograph, but the right one at the right time could take someone’s breath away,” I said still staring at him, barely breathing. I wanted to tell him that he took my breath away, but I wasn’t sure if it was his looks that attracted me or his public figure.
“That is a magnificent talent to have,” he said softly. “I think I have forgotten to notice little things like drops of water.”
I got up and found my backpack. I prayed the camera escaped without injury as I pulled it out. “I’ll show you,” I smiled. “What do you see?”
I pointed at a vase with dried sticks and branches in it. There was a heavy round rock that had been polished to shine and be a focus of the room.
“I see décor.”
“Okay…” I got down on my belly, a hard thing to do since I hurt so badly, but I did it nonetheless. Carefully, I aimed the lens at the rock, zoomed in to where I wanted it and snapped. Then I turned the camera on its side and rocked it backward toward me a bit. Focused, zoomed out, focused again, and snapped.
Gingerly, I picked myself up and made it back to the couch. I hit the review button and the photos showed up on the little screen.
“You see décor, but I see a planet sitting in your hotel room. See the stripes and striations of the rock under the polish? The shadow just right on the other side? And this one is just a testament of Mother Nature, with the clay vase of the earth and salvaged limbs from a tree that give a sense of peace just having them in the room. It is all magic. Life is art.”
He smiled then as the wheels of his mind started turning. He let out a small chuckle. “That is amazing,” he breathed.
I stood and walked a few paces from him and he looked at me in wonder. Suddenly, I spun as fast as my body would allow, pointed the lens at him and snapped. He looked relaxed and calm, with a lamp shining on one side of his face, leaving the other in shadow to be a mystery.
Showing him the photo, I pointed at the screen. “This is the art of you. No poses, no pretend. This is just you.”
The look on his face was pure shock. I had shown him a side of himself that he hadn’t seen before. In the fast paced life of fame, he had forgotten who he was.
Gently, he took the camera from my hands and pointed it at me. Immediately I shielded my face from his view. “Oh, no you don’t,” I laughed. “I take the pictures. They don’t take me.”
“Now Ruby, I let you take a photo of me…well, actually several of them. It’s my turn,” he said sternly.
“I have no makeup and I look awful!” I declared.
“Come on, hands down.”
Slowly I lowered my hands, a grin of unbelief on my lips. Here I was, in Jack Harrington’s hotel room where he wanted to take a photo of silly old me. I thought of the look on his face when I exposed him on camera and introduced him to the guy he was. My body softened and I was so happy to be there at that moment.
I heard the shutter snap closed and I dreaded to look at myself. He hit the button and my face, forties wrinkles and all, stared back at me. But the light was fully on my face from where I was sitting and washed me out a lot, erasing some of the age in my face. It took me back to a time where I had taken photos of myself for my husband. Photos that I was proud of in that they captured the beauty that came from me, inside out.
I glanced back up at Jack, tears glossing my eyes over. “I’m tired again. I think I will go back to bed. Thank you for the tea.”
I stood to go and he grabbed my wrist. My head snapped back to look at him.
“What did I do?” he begged an answer.
I pulled my arm back. “You did nothing, I promise. I just struggle sometimes.”
He followed me to the bed. “Tell me…”
I just wanted to get into bed, bury my face and cry a little bit. “I don’t want to.”
“You will feel better, that’s my promise,” he kept on.
I slid into bed. “I lost my husband some time ago. There are things that remind me of him sometimes and I can’t help but feel his loss. It is like an instant feeling of loneliness no matter how many people are around.”
“My picture showed you that?”
“The grief never stops, Jack.”