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Roses are red, violets are blue.

So are blood and bruises, too, Teddy thinks, as his entire body quakes from an internal force. Technically, the threat is gone, left behind on the sidewalk along with broken glass and the small amount of faith in humanity he had clung to for so long like a threadbare stuffed toy. But his mind doesn’t see it that way and keeps signaling his nervous system to continually dose his bloodstream with shots of adrenaline.

He pulls the blanket tighter, cloaking his body as if the pressure could wring the panic out. A medic draped it over his shoulders, bare except for the undershirt tank, while others loaded Grace into an ambulance, slamming the metal doors and setting the siren to shriek. The mylar blanket is thin and shiny, like he’s wrapped up in a balloon. If he stares at it long enough, he can still see the reflection of the lights of the ambulance as it pulled away.

The irony that the red and white lights are also Valentine’s colors is not lost on him.

How could he possibly not see the connection when he keeps seeing them, in the paper hearts and cupids hanging from the ceiling of the emergency room? He’s sure they’re meant to bring a smile to someone’s face, but right now, it’s just a reminder of how much the night changed, of the contrast between the happiness he had felt, and the fear in its place.

In front of him, a set of doors swings open and a woman in a white lab coat emerges, her gaze going over the room. Teddy is not the only one waiting for news. In pockets around him are a few families, young and old. A couple more already followed a doctor back behind the same doors, and each time, he wanted to be them.

“Who’s here for Grace Ramirez?” the woman calls, and Teddy flies up from his seat as fast Grace moved to shield him with herself. He should’ve been the one doing it for her.

“I am,” Teddy says, wobbling on the rubber soles of his dress shoes. At the end of the aisle of chairs, he meets the doctor who introduces herself as Dr. Bryson. “Is she going to be okay?”

The second Dr. Bryson nods, Teddy’s nervous system slows for the first time in three hours.

“Yes. The knife ripped some of her muscle, but it missed all her organs.” She continues on, explaining the surgery, but all Teddy can hold onto are the words, “should make a full recovery.”

When their walk to the car after their Valentine’s dinner was interrupted by a man jumping out from the shadows of a stairwell and demanding money, Teddy was sure the man was going to pull the knife on them, the streetlight glinting off his switchblade. He didn’t look scared; this wasn’t a desperate kid going to chicken out. Under the brim of his cap, his gaze was set, determined, unflinching. He knew what he wanted to do, and Teddy knew he was going to do it.

Teddy turned towards Grace, patting down his pants in search of his wallet, while she dug into her purse for hers, lost under the everyday detritus of wrappers, mail, cell phone cords. The man yelled at them to speed up, and when Teddy couldn’t grasp the wallet in his back pocket, his hands too slippery from sweat, too shaky from flight or fight, the man lunged towards him. He only made enough contact to shove Teddy’s shoulder towards the brick wall before Grace hit back, wielding the bottle of wine they were supposed to share on the couch.

As she swung at him, in a blink, he drove the knife in just below her neck.

Teddy bellowed. Grace stumbled. The bottle crashed to the ground. The would-be thief ran, throwing Teddy to his knees as when he tried to charge him.

Teddy crawled over to her, shards of the bottle catching on his skin through his pants, the wine burning the cuts. Grace’s normally caramel skin was ashen, the gray of her shirt, blooming red at the collar. He didn’t know how to help her, except to rip off his button down and try to hold it to the bleeding. And pray.

For once, his prayer was answered.

“We’ve moved her to the second floor for the night. She’ll have to stay here a few days. Would you like me to take you to her?” Dr. Bryson asks.

“Yes. Please.” He follows Dr. Bryson through the doors and to the elevators. Up a floor, the only noises Teddy can hear as they walk down the hallway of patient rooms is the beep of machines, and some snoring here and there. Near the end of the hall, Dr. Bryson stops and motions for Teddy to go in. He does, moving as quietly as he can in case she’s asleep. He may want to see her, but he can’t wake her up after what she’s just gone through.

Luckily, he doesn’t have to.

When he comes around the corner, she’s propped up against the pillows, less pallor to her skin, half of her clavicle covered in bandages. Her eyes transform from early morning unfocused, to midday caffeine alertness.

“Teddy,” she says, and he beelines it to the bed. While he wants to hold her tight to him and be her shield from whatever could come, he knows he needs to be gentle. Her arms come around him lightly, too, her injured half not quite reaching all the way.

“I love you so much. I’m so glad you’re going to be okay,” he tells her, his cheek against hers. When he cries, he’s sure she must feel it.

“I love you, too.”

The words mix with kisses, while his inner monologue relays gratitude on repeat.  As long as she is warm and her chest keeps rising and falling, he’ll never stop saying it.

Sarah Razner

Sarah Razner is a reporter of real-life Wisconsin by day, and a writer of fictional lives throughout the world by night.

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