A/N: This was my first entry for the Meet the Mate Contest.
I just wanted to take a moment to thank everyone who voted in the contest.
This story was actually voted 'Most Potential for a Full Story', which I must say is really incredible considering there were EIGHTY entries. I am so very humbled and grateful at even being mentioned in a contest that had such a fabulous wealth of writers and stories. There were so many entries that had great potential for a full length story and I am beyond excited that you all wanted to hear more about my crazy little Bella.
So, guess what peeps? You get your wish. I'm extending this one…a lot. There's a whole lot of story to tell; murder, mystery, crazy times, smexy times, it's all there. I'm only about six chapters in though and I want to be a whole lot further, so you guys won't have to wait for updates. Put me on alert and I'll start posting in a few weeks.
So, thank you again to everyone who read and voted.
As always, I don't own Twilight, Stephenie Meyer does.
I squeezed my eyes shut against the harsh glare of the overhead fluorescents and sagged against the counter, taking a quiet moment to shake off the exhaustion. Fuck, these overnights killed me.
"Dr. Cullen?" Sue called from behind the desk. My eyes snapped to hers as she gazed at me worriedly. "Are you alright?"
I nodded and rubbed the back of my neck, twisting my head from side to side to work the kinks out. "Yeah, just not used to these night shifts yet."
She smiled sympathetically and patted my hand in a motherly gesture. "You'll get used to it." Sue was the head nurse on the ward during the night shift. An extremely kind hearted woman, she was the most compassionate nurse I'd ever had the pleasure of knowing. Not to mention competent and meticulous to a fault. She tended to mother me a little more than anyone else, but that was mainly because of my age and the fact the she never had any children of her own.
At twenty six, I was officially the youngest licensed psychiatrist practicing in the area. I'd taken this job at Harborview Psychiatric Hospital after my residency because it was one of the top inpatient mental health facilities in Seattle. However, being the youngest doctor and the most recent addition to the staff meant that I got stuck with some of the less appealing tasks…like working the overnight shift.
Sue cleared her throat and shuffled through some files on the desk before passing me a chart. "Dr. Cheney called from Virginia Mason. Seems we've got a new patient headed this way."
"Yep," she responded briskly. "He sent over her paperwork about ten minutes ago."
I begrudgingly took the file and looked at my watch. Half past midnight. Fan-fucking-tastic. "Well, maybe Hunter can give her an evaluation in the morning."
"Nope. Cheney says she's awake and verbalizing, so it needs to be done right away." Sue smirked at me. She knew how much I loathed the new patient admission process. "But if you're good, I might be able to finagle you some pot roast."
My head snapped up and I grinned like a five year old on Christmas morning. Fuck, she had me salivating at the mere mention of a home cooked meal. "Harry bringing you dinner?"
"He'd better be if he knows what's good for him!" She smirked and let out a hearty laugh. "Old coot's got nothing better to do. He said he'd be here around three if that's good for you."
"God, I could kiss you!" I was your typical bachelor living off of barbeque hot pockets and pizza delivery. Getting a real home cooked meal was akin to winning the fucking lottery in my book.
She slapped at my arm and grinned, her eyes crinkling at the corners. "Oh you! Stop flirting with an old lady and get back to work!"
I smiled at her playfulness and winked suggestively, tucking the newly acquired patient file under my arm. "Can't help myself. You've got me riled up with all that food talk! Call me when the new patient gets here. I'll be in my office."
I turned and strode down the hallway toward the electronic double doors that led to the back offices, stopping abruptly in front of the keypad situated on the wall. My heart squeezed a little as I punched in my access code.
Eleven. Thirteen. Sixty-eight. My mother's birthday.
The double doors opened and I strolled down the corridor until I reached the heavy oak door of my office. As I stepped inside, I looked wistfully at the couch situated against the wall on the far side of the room and quietly swore under my breath. If not for this new patient, I might've been able to lie down and catch a little shuteye. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. I plopped down into the chair behind my desk, the leather creaking and groaning under my weight, and opened the file on my new patient. I was struck right away by the scanned photo. She looked to be around my age with creamy skin, hazel eyes, and pouty lips. Fuck me. To top it all off, she was a brunette.
Why were the beautiful ones always crazy?
I sighed wearily as I flipped past the photo to the first page of Cheney's report. There really wasn't a lot here to work with. No identification, which wasn't unusual in these types of cases, accompanied by a short list of non-life-threatening injuries. She was non-combative during the examination in the ER, but the notes indicated that she was completely nonsensical and her toxicology report came back negative for any type of drugs in her system.
My thoughts were interrupted by the shrill ring of the phone. I fumbled with the receiver before pressing it to my ear. "Yeah, Sue?"
"Your new patient has arrived."
I quickly hung up the phone and rushed from my office. The file said this girl wasn't hostile, but I couldn't take any chances with Sue. I impatiently punched my code into the keypad, getting it wrong the first two times, and sent up a quiet thanks when the double doors finally swung open. Yet all of my anxiety was for nothing.
There, spinning in the center of the brightly lit hallway, was the most beautiful vision I'd ever seen. Her long, wavy hair whipped around her as her tinkling giggle reverberated off the walls.
Sue laughed right along with the mystery girl, clapping softly in time, as if she too could hear some phantom melody. "Alright, dear, that's enough now. Come meet your new doctor," Sue grinned, placing her hands on the girls' shoulders to halt her twirling.
She whipped around to look at me and a bright smile lit up her face. "You're not dead either! This is fantastic! Not dead! Not dead!" She danced in a circle around me chanting those words over and over, like a gypsy in celebration.
"Hey, hey," I chucked, her exuberance positively infectious. "I need you to calm down please. You're going to wake the other patients."
"Sorry, sorry, sorry," she whispered, pinching her lips together remorsefully. Her sunny disposition was overcome by one of fear and anxiety, like storm clouds moving across a bright blue sky. She held out her hand toward me and curled her fingers in a 'come hither' motion.
I moved toward her slowly as she bounced on her toes nervously. As soon as I was within reach, she grabbed the lapel of my coat and pulled me down to where she could whisper in my ear.
"Am I going to be locked up again? I can't breathe in a box!" Glassy eyes filled with unshed tears bored into me as she began to tremble. "Please don't put me in the box!"
Sue gazed at me worriedly while I took in the girl's appearance for the first time. She had a four inch gash on her forehead right at her hairline and her jaw was mottled with bruises, the most prominent being a thick red and purple mark straight across her neck . Dr. Cheney had put almost thirty stitches in to close that head wound and, while the hospital had cleaned her up as best they could, I could still see streaks of dirt on her face and hands. They'd changed her into a pair of light blue scrubs, but I was willing to bet the clothes that I'd find in the plastic drawstring bag on Sue's desk were in just as bad a shape.
I needed to sit down with this girl and assess her so I could begin treatment. "I'm not going to put you in a box…I swear it." She seemed to relax a bit at my words as she gazed up at me.
"Pretty, pretty green," she sighed. "Won't put me in a box."
I smiled at her easy acceptance and held out my hand. "Will you come with me to my office and we can talk?"
She looked to Sue for reassurance before nodding, slipping her small hand in mine. I led her down to my office and situated her on the couch while I took the wingback chair. Looking at her face, I could tell her emotions were all over the place. Fear, elation, remorse…she ran the gamut.
I sat my recorder on the small coffee table in front of her and pulled out my notepad and pen. "How about we start with who you are? Can you tell me your name?"
"I'm the voice of the lost, the truth teller, the naysayer-"
"That's not a name," I sighed. "Let's try again. What's your name?"
"Itsy Bitsy," she replied before breaking out into a haunting rendition of The Itsy Bitsy Spider. She jumped off the couch and twirled around, adding the appropriate hand gestures to her song. I fought to keep a straight face, but my grin broke through. She was too fucking cute. As soon as her song concluded, she calmly took her seat back on the couch.
"While that was quite entertaining…I still need your name," I pressed.
"Itsy Bitsy!" She insisted, beginning her song anew.
I held my hands up in as a sign of surrender, chuckling quietly. "Okay, okay! I'll call you Itsy for now. My name's Dr. Cullen."
"Yep. Edward, Edward, Edward. I know, she told me."
"Who told you?" I asked, shocked that she knew my first name. Sue always made a point never to use doctors' first names in the presence of patients as we weren't exactly dealing with people of sound mind here.
Itsy pointed toward my desk. "She did."
I whipped around, half expecting to see someone sitting in the chair behind my desk, but of course no one was there. Laughing at my own absurdity, I turned back toward Itsy and leaned forward in my chair, placing my elbows on my knees. "Do you know why you're here, Itsy?"
She immediately settled back into the couch, suddenly timid. "I didn't want to be there, but they asked me. He put me in a box. All I did was tell the truth and he put me in a box. The spiders came and chased away what I had left and I couldn't find Casper! Casper has what I need…"
I scribbled furiously across my notepad, trying to take down key words and gestures. I'd have Sue transcribe the recording later, but I wanted to makes notes on the more critical points. Her mood swings were exaggerated and she seemed to be speaking in a code that only she could understand. Given those tells, I was fairly certain she had a mild form of Schizophrenia. My mother had been the same way when she was off her meds.
"Itsy, who is Casper?" I asked, trying to ascertain the identity of someone else in her life. "Did Casper put you in the box?"
She threw her hands up in frustration and huffed. "Of course not! Casper is you! He's you, silly man."
I was completely bewildered. "I don't understand, Itsy. How can Casper be me? I'm Edward. You said so yourself."
"Casper, Edward…all the same. All the same." She ran her hand through her long hair, pulling it over one shoulder.
My eyes were immediately drawn to what appeared to be part of a tattoo peeking out from under the neckline of her top. I flipped through her file again, finding no mention of a tattoo. Someone missed it. "Itsy, would you mind if I looked at the back of your neck?"
She looked confused for a moment, but then shrugged nonchalantly. Without batting an eye, she snatched the pen out of my hand and proceeded to pull all of her hair up and away from her neck and face, twisting the silky strands into a bun and securing it with my pen. Turning her back to me, she sat perfectly still, leaving me to my inspection.
I swallowed thickly at the creamy expanse of skin laid before me. I wanted to run my fingers down the column of her neck and watch as goosebumps rose in their wake. My eyes drank her in as I fought the urge to press my lips to her shoulder. There was something about this girl that tugged at me. Taking a few deep breaths to clear my head, I pulled the collar of her shirt down just a smidge to take a look.
What the fuck? She had a tattoo of the caduceus – the universal symbol for doctor. There was something else further down, but I couldn't see it clearly with her shirt on.
As if she'd read my mind, Itsy reached down and whipped her shirt over her head, tossing it halfway across the room. "Is that better?" she asked, turning her head slightly in my direction.
I quickly averted my eyes and jumped out of my chair, racing across the room to retrieve her top. "Itsy, I need you to put this back on-"
The moment I turned back toward her, I was struck dumb by the sight walking toward me. Itsy…topless…perfect breasts tipped with rosy nipples. I wanted nothing more than to put my mouth on her. I shut my eyes to block out that perfect image. "Itsy, I need you to turn around. Tell me when you've turned around, okay?"
"Okay, Edward." Her voice sounded slightly dejected. I chanced a quick peek and found her standing with her bare back to me.
There in plain script under the caduceus was a ten digit number, almost like some kind of stamp or identification number. I grabbed my cellphone from my pocket and snapped a quick picture to analyze later. "There's a tattoo on your shoulder, Itsy. Do you know what it means?"
She nodded and grinned. "For when I fall!" she replied, grabbing the shirt from my fingers and pulling it back over her head. "He'd fly through the air with the greatest of ease. That daring young man on the flying trapeze," she sang slightly off key while twirling in circles.
I squeezed my eyes shut and pinched the bridge of my nose. "Okay, Itsy. I think it's time for some medicine and then time for bed. What do you think?"
Her spinning abruptly stopped and she looked at me with wide eyes and trembling lips. "Sleep?" she asked, hesitantly. "In the box?"
"No, Itsy, definitely not," I reassured her. "You'll sleep in a bed, okay?" I led her out of my office and back to the ward where Sue greeted us warmly.
Opening Itsy's chart, I made a few notes while the two ladies chatted. "Sue, this is Itsy Bitsy. It's rather late and I think she'd benefit from a nice warm bed. Can I get 50mg of Haldol, please?"
"Sure, Dr. Cullen." Sue stepped around the corner to the medicine locker and returned a moment later with a syringe and a swab. She swiped the alcohol pad over Itsy's arm and quickly administered the injection. "There now, dear. Let's get you to your room."
I was clinging to a pole, perched high on a platform, while insect sized numbers with dragonfly wings buzzed around me. I swatted them away, but almost lost my balance, teetering precariously above the black expanse of empty space below me. Itsy called out to me from her own pedestal across the way. I could barely make out her beaming smile as she stood with a trapeze in her hand, preparing to jump. I shouted for her not to do it, but she dove anyway, her lean body sailing through the air in a gentle arc toward me.
She was so close. I reached out to grab her, but at the last moment she let go. Her face held no fear as she fell away into darkness.
"It's okay, Edward. It's there to catch me when I fall…"
I shot straight up in bed, shaking and drenched in sweat. Rubbing my hand briskly over my face, I thought back over my dream and what it all meant, the pieces finally coming together.
The tattoo…the numbers. They were her safety net. But what did the numbers mean? I reached for my phone to pull up the picture I had taken. My finger hovered over the camera icon when I was suddenly struck with the answer.
Ten digits. Ten.
It was a phone number.
I quickly pulled up the image and jotted down the numbers, then dialed them on my phone. It rang twice followed by a long beep.
"Hello. My name is Isabella Swan. If you've reached this recording, then things have gotten out of hand…again. I'm not crazy, but you've probably made contact with my more…irrational…self. If this is the case, please contact Dr. Jasper Whitlock in Phoenix, Arizona. His number is (206) 555-3336. He's my psychiatrist and can verify the validity of this recording. If you are a physician treating me, please administer 50mg of Haldol. I have a standing prescription of antipsychotic drugs, but the Haldol will work the quickest in my case. Thank you for your help."
The recording ended with an audible click and the call disconnected. I dialed the number again and jotted down the information. It was already almost two in the afternoon, so I quickly placed the call to Dr. Whitlock, disappointed when I reached his voicemail. I left my name and number in hopes that the good doctor would return my call and shed some light on this odd situation. At the same time, I was a bit leery of anyone surrounding this girl. I still wasn't certain that this Dr. Whitlock wasn't the one that locked her in the box to begin with.
Of course, maybe the box wasn't really a box. Maybe she meant it as a euphemism. Regardless, her statements from last night were making a lot more sense.
Itsy Bitsy…Isabella. Close enough. And I was pretty sure that Casper was Jasper. She said that Casper had what she needed and that Casper and I were the same person. This Jasper Whitlock was her doctor…a psychiatrist, just like me. And as her doctor, he would have her meds.
All of that aside, something horrible had happened to this girl. She'd been assaulted and it was my job to get her lucid enough to be able to report the crime. Pulling out my phone again, I did a quick search on Isabella Swan, looking for anything suspicious or any missing persons' reports, but came back empty-handed.
Fuck. I was just going to have to wait for Isabella to tell me herself.
"Good evening, Dr. Cullen." Sue smirked from behind the nurses' station. "You're a little early for your shift." The teasing tone of her voice was not lost on me. She knew I was here to see Itsy…Isabella.
"Yes, Sue, I'm early. Is my new patient awake?"
A look of irritation flashed across her face, but was quickly replaced by sympathy. "Yeah, she's awake. Dr. Hunter tried to talk with her about an hour ago, but she wouldn't speak. He was…less than kind."
"Dammit," I mumbled under my breath, grabbing Itsy's file from the stack that Dr. Hunter left for me. "Did you check on her?"
Sue sighed wearily. "Yeah. She asked for you, so I told her you'd be here in about an hour. She just shrugged me off. I have to say, I almost regret giving her the Haldol. She seems so…withdrawn. I miss the little dancer from last night."
I nodded and tucked her file under my arm. "Will you bring her to my office in fifteen minutes?" I picked up the remaining stack of files and balanced my steaming cup of coffee on top. "Oh, and I'm waiting on a call from a Dr. Whitlock. If he calls here, page me right away."
"Sure thing." She smiled, shooing me down the hall.
I barely made it to my office unscathed, but somehow managed to get the files to my desk without dumping scalding coffee all over myself. I plopped down into my old leather chair and opened Isabella's file, reviewing the notes from our conversation last night. I was so immersed in the words and my own inner musings that I jumped when Sue knocked on my door, spilling coffee down the front of my shirt.
"Shit," I mumbled, blotting at the spreading stain with a flimsy tissue. A soft giggle interrupted my spastic fumbling and my head shot up at the sound. Isabella stood half-hidden behind Sue, trying to conceal her grin with her hands. "Ah, sorry. Come on in and have a seat." I gestured to the couch across the room.
Sue ushered Bella to her seat and then left quietly, leaving my door partially open.
"So, Isabella," I began, amused when her head snapped up and she eyed me speculatively. "Your name is Isabella Swan, correct?"
She cleared her throat and nervously twisted her fingers together in her lap. "Yes, my name is Isabella Swan, but I prefer Bella."
I sighed with relief. "Good, you're lucid. That's a very good start." She seemed uncomfortable and consistently rubbed at the plum colored bruise across her neck. "Do you remember our talk last night?"
"Yes, in blinding detail," she replied hesitantly as her cheeks flamed. "I'm so very sorry for…ah…taking off my shirt like that. I seem to lose my inhibitions during an episode." She chanced a glance up at me, but quickly averted her eyes as soon as she saw me staring intently at her. I couldn't fucking help it. She was still beautiful.
"Something happened to you, Bella-"
"I'm well aware, Dr. Cullen. It's an unfortunate consequence of my line of work." Gazing down at her lap, she opened her mouth as if to continue, but then snapped it closed again. I didn't quite understand her statement, but I was determined to get to the bottom of this.
"What line of work might that be?" I pressed, but she remained tightlipped. "You should know that I called Dr. Whitlock as per the instructions on your recording. If he had anything to do with your injuries-"
"No!" she snapped, her eyes finally meeting mine. "He didn't do this. Jasper's a good man." She shifted on the couch, turning so that she could tuck her feet up under her. "He begged me not to take this assignment, but the mother was so desperate…I couldn't say no."
I flipped to a fresh page on my notepad and fished my pen out of my coat pocket. "Assignment? I don't follow. Are you a journalist or police officer of some kind?"
With a heavy sigh, Bella shook her head, her long hair bouncing around her face. "I guess you could say I'm a detective…of sorts. Freelance."
"Like a private investigator?" I asked, completely intrigued by the beguiling woman.
"Mostly, but I'm also…a psychic."
My pen clattered to the floor as I gaped at her. "Excuse me?"
"I said, I'm a psychic-"
"That's what I thought you said." Okay, so maybe I should have given her another dose of Haldol before having this discussion. I retrieved my pen from the floor and made a note in her file of my observations.
"You don't believe me, Edward?"
I had to admit that my name falling from her lips excited me to no end. It also unnerved me a bit. "How do you know my first name, Bella?" I asked, tapping my pen against my lips. "I'm fairly new to this hospital and I know Sue didn't tell you. So how is it that you came across that little piece of information?"
Her eyes narrowed a little and her head cocked to the side as if she were contemplating on whether or not to tell me the truth. After a long moment, she finally acquiesced. "Your mother told me."
For the briefest of moments, I thought I might pass out or vomit. I wasn't sure which. "What did you say?"
"I said your mother told me-"
"It was a rhetorical fucking question!" I barked. I tossed my notepad on the coffee table and ran my hand through my hair, trying desperately to calm down. "Do you know my mother, Bella?"
"No, Edward. I've never met your mother-"
I jumped up from the chair and paced around my office, running her words over and over in my head. My mother was a damn sore subject for me. "Who the fuck do you think you are? Why would you say something like that?" I spat, charging toward the couch.
Bella shrank back in fear, causing me to take pause. What the fuck was I doing? I backed away slowly, sitting heavily as the back of my knees hit the chair. I gazed at the poor frightened girl and chastised myself for ruining any trust we had built up so far. "I'm sorry, Bella. I…I didn't mean to scare you."
"It's all right," she mumbled as she unfurled herself from the ball she had tucked herself into. "Like I said, it's an unfortunate consequence of the job. I…I didn't mean to make you angry. Will you just hear me out?"
I swallowed around the painful lump in my throat and nodded stiffly.
She took a deep breath and settled back against the couch. "My name is Isabella Swan and I'm a psychic. When I was eighteen, I began to see and hear things that others couldn't."
"What kind of things?" I asked skeptically.
"Voices. More specifically, voices from photographs. The people in photos…they speak to me." She closed her eyes and bowed her head, twisting her fingers again. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth."
"Bella, I deal in crazy all day. So, you converse with dead people through photos?"
"I deal in missing persons. My objective is to find them before they get to the dead part." She twirled a lock of hair around her finger, temporarily rendering me stupid. "While I can usually tell when a person is dead or alive, I've been known to make a few mistakes."
"The living…they're fairly straightforward. They tell me about their surroundings. Addresses, jobs, neighbors…that sort of thing. But the dead," she sighed, "the dead speak in riddles. They don't know where they are or what's happened to them."
"So you've solved murders?" My voice must've held a distinct note of incredulity as Bella cut a harsh glare in my direction.
"Yes, I have. I've also found a lot of missing loved ones-"
"How many?" I asked. In my profession, you hear a lot of weird shit, but this was one of the most elaborate hallucinations I'd ever witnessed.
"Forty-two," she retorted with a huff.
I pinched the bridge of my nose. "Okay, Bella. I realize that this all seems very real to you, but I have to tell you how improbable this all is. I'm sorry. I thought the Haldol was helping, but obviously not enough to stop the delusions. We'll try something different this time around." Scribbling a few notes in her file, my heart sank as she sniffled quietly.
"You don't believe me?" she whimpered.
"Well…no. I'm sorry, but no-"
"You should," a voice sounded from my doorway. "She's telling the truth, doc. Bella Swan is the real deal."
I whirled around as Bella gasped in surprised, her morose disposition instantly replaced with a bright smile. "Jasper! What are you doing here?"
My eyes narrowed as I took in our visitor. I was having a damn hard time believing that the man crowding my doorway was Bella's psychiatrist. He was overly tan with shaggy blond hair and blue eyes. The dark circles under his eyes and rumpled clothes led me to believe that he'd been travelling all day to get here. While his southern drawl and easy smile made him personable enough, I still didn't trust him.
"I'm here to spring you, sweetcheeks," he drawled with a sly wink. Stepping into the room, he headed straight for me first with his hand out stretched, giving mine a firm shake as he introduced himself. "Name's Jasper Whitlock. Thanks for calling me. I've been searching for this little tart for damn near two weeks."
I cleared my throat and waited patiently while he waltzed over to Bella and pulled her into a tight hug, lifting her clear off her feet. "Dammit, girl, you gave me a fright."
She giggled and hugged him back. "Jasper, put me down!"
He acquiesced to her demand and set her gingerly back on her feet, his eyes darkening as he inspected the gash on her forehead and the bruises on her neck. "I told you this one was trouble, sugar."
"Fuck…I know, I know." She sighed and sat back down on the couch with her head in her hands. "Did you at least get the file I e-mailed before I went completely batshit crazy?"
"Sure did, darlin', and you'll be happy to know that Meghan's been returned to her mother and that piece of shit is behind bars." I watched, perplexed, as he sat down next to her on the couch and took her hand in his. "You know you're going to have to testify in this one, right? Whatever he did to you, Bella-"
"Won't be able to be proven or disproven given my mental state, Jasper!" she finished heatedly as her eyes flashed with anger. "We've been through this."
As I watched both of them argue back and forth, I finally reached my limit. "Excuse me! Would somebody mind filling me in here? Just who the fuck are you people and what the hell is going on?"
Jasper chuckled at my outburst and squeezed Bella's hand. "Ah, hells bells, doc. Keep your pants on…we're getting to it. It's a long fucking story and you won't believe half of it."