Meredith stumbled out of the Squeeze offices and onto the sidewalk. She slumped against the building, willing herself strength to stand up, to do anything really. She pulled the chain around her neck, freeing it from underneath her blouse. She fingered the ring that hung from it, spinning it around in her fingers, feeling the weight of it, the prongs holding the diamond in place. She squared her shoulders and started walking uptown.
Twenty minutes later, she entered Ravenwood Rehabilitation Center, a nondescript four story building tucked in between two much taller buildings on a city block bustling with boutiques and offices. She signed in with the receptionist, affixed the visitor badge to her jacket, and took the elevator to the third floor.
“Hey you,” a man’s voice called out from one of the rooms.
Meredith took two steps backward and peered into the doorway. Xander Carmichael sat on the edge of the bed. He was shirtless; scars crisscrossed his abdomen. He tossed the video game controller onto the bedside tray table and got up, limping toward Meredith with his arms open.
“Hi Xander,” Meredith sobbed as she clutched him.
“Meredith,” Xander whispered into her ear as he rubbed her back. “What’s wrong?”
Meredith reached up to kiss his cheek. She sniffled. Xander reached over to the tissue box on the bedside table and grabbed a tissue.
“They feel like sandpaper, but it’s the best I can do.”
“There’s that smile! How are you, really?”
Meredith sat down in one of the chairs, “The usual, shitty job, problems with the family, surrounded by people who don’t understand,” she said morosely. “But I don’t want to talk about me. It seems to be the most talked about topic lately. How are you doing?”
“Oh you know,” Xander climbed up onto the bed, “Living the dream.” He smiled, “Seriously though, it’s not so bad here. It sure beats the suit and tie, nine to five lifestyle.”
“Is that so?” Meredith rummaged through her handbag and pulled out two mini bottles of liquor from underneath a worn notebook and her wallet. She tossed one to Xander.
“My dad would frown upon me sitting around without my shirt on in the middle of the day, drinking Jack straight from a bottle with a beautiful woman.”
“Mine too, minus the beautiful woman part,” Meredith replied.
They sipped in silence.
“You know, Meredith,” Xander interrupted the silence, “I was with Connor when he picked out your engagement ring.”
“Really?” Meredith stopped fingering the ring from the chain around her neck.
“I think he was hoping it would make me to propose to Cecelia,” He paused for a moment. “I’m glad I had the good sense to ignore him about putting a ring on Cecelia. She broke up with me the day after the accident, did you know that? I had just regained consciousness and my mother told me that Connor died. Diamonds would have probably given me another week or so, but she’d have left either way.”
“I didn’t know that,” Meredith said quietly.
Xander clambered off the bed and grimaced as he knelt down on the floor beside her, “But you, Meredith, you are the real deal. Connor knew how lucky he was to have you, but he knew that things probably wouldn’t be easy for you if something happened to him.”
“That’s an understatement, don’t you think? Connor’s parents never thought I was good enough or rich enough to marry their son.”
“That’s why he asked me to look in on you if something ever happened to him. You know, just in case.” Xander said as he gingerly stood up from the kneeling position, unable to sustain the position any longer, and climbed back up on the bed.
“Why are you telling me this? Why now?”
“You need to hear it,” he said, patting the space on the bed next to him.
Meredith sat next to him, “I don’t understand it, though.”
“Look Meredith, you have no idea how amazing and talented you are. Connor would want you to move on and live your life,” He paused, “When you’re ready, of course. Don’t feel guilty about it, either. Connor would want you to be happy.”
“How do I do that?”
“Honestly? I have no idea,” Xander laughed and put his arm around Meredith, “Connor was my best friend. He was like a brother. I have no idea how to live life without him. But we can figure it out together.”