I didn't know where I was, but I was definitely not in my tower. Rain was spattering onto my face, and I was sure it must have been cold, but I was too numb to notice.
What was this? A final act of kindness? He wanted me to be discovered, rather than leaving me up in my tower to rot, and not be noticed.
Hey, thanks, Jericho.
On the other hand, my chances of survival were very low right now. If someone didn't come along soon-
Someone slammed on their car's brakes. 'Holy crow! It's a person!'
A door opened. 'It's a girl, Moe. We have to take her to the hospital.'
'Aw, jeez, Andy, do we have to stop and pick up every tramp you come across? Just 'cause you're a doctor-'
'We can't leave her here to die.'
'Well I can. So long.'
A few moments, and a black car drove past. I guessed it was Moe's.
A man's face appeared over me, upside down. 'My god,' he cried, 'You're half dead!'
I feel more than half dead right now, I wanted to say, but my mouth didn't seem to want to move.
Andy looked around, looked back at me, and then bent down to pick me up. 'Don't worry,' he said, more to himself than to me, 'We'll get you to my hospital and you'll be fine. You'll be fine,' he repeated, to convince us.
It didn't work.
'She must've been very beautiful at one time, doctor.'
'Very. Who would've had the heart to dump her at the side of the road?'
'Not someone good, I'll wager.'
They were talking about me. I floundered around in my head, trying to make sense out of the words. I seemed to be drowning. I tried to open my eyelids but something was weighing them down.
'I'd bet it was Jericho again.'
The weights lifted and my eyes snapped open.
'Jericho,' I said. Then I looked at my surroundings. It was clearly a hospital; I'd done my fair share of reading back in my tower. And beside my bed stood a kind-looking copper-skinned nurse - and my rescuer. 'You!' I said.
He smiled, and I had to catch my breath; my heart had stumbled at the beauty of it. 'That's me,' he said. 'And I know who you are, too.'
'Yes; you're Arabella. Or would you prefer Bella?'
I gaped. 'How did you know?'
The nurse, whose name tag said 'Nurse L. Jameson', chuckled. 'You're famous, Bella. You're the one who escaped the tower.'
'And your name's sewn into your rucksack,' smiled Andy.
Damn and blast. I'd completely forgotten.
'Where's Jericho? Did he just leave me there?'
'We've searched everywhere, but we can't find him. We were going to alert the police - did he kidnap you?'
I couldn't hide a hint of pride as I said, 'I escaped from my tower on purpose. Jericho came across me, and since I had nowhere else to go, I went with him. He didn't do anything to me, but I got ill and he said he was taking me home.'
'You escaped? Why did you do that?'
I didn't want Nurse Jameson in the room while I talked about this, but I couldn't say so blatantly in front of her. Instead I darted a couple of glances at her, and hesitated. Andy caught on.
'Why don't you go see if Mr Griffiths is recovering, nurse? I'm sure he was calling for you earlier.'
Nurse Jameson nodded, and went to the other end of the ward. Andy reached across for the curtain by the bed and pulled it round, so I was screened from everyone else, aware that none of them knew I was the princess. Then he sat in a chair close to my head, and waited.
'My prince never came,' I whispered.
Andy hung his head, and sighed. 'I was hoping you wouldn't say that.'
Puzzled, I leant up on one elbow to see him better. 'What?'
'Bella… It was me. I was your prince. I was supposed to come for you, take you off on a horse… but I hate horses, and palaces, and how was I supposed to get up there to you?' He eyed my blonde mess. 'Forgive me, but you're not exactly Rapunzel, are you? So I neglected what my father called my "duties", and did what I'd wanted to do all my life - trained to be a doctor. I didn't think what that might've meant for you. I was selfish. I'm sorry.'
'Oh, I'm so glad you were selfish! If you'd been some pompous prat on a pony, I never would have been happy. I hate princes, too… now I've been through that rubbish with Jericho, I'll think before I make a decision next time, so that I can make a sensible one.'
He still looked a bit apprehensive.
'I guess… I should be angry with you? For not coming?'
He shrugged. 'That's what I was expecting.'
'But I'm not.'
'I know. Why?'
'I'm not sure… I'm finding it hard to be mad at you. Probably because you're my rescuer - even if I wasn't in a tower at the time. Thank you, by the way.'
He smiled at me. 'My pleasure. What are you going to do now?'
'I really, really don't want to go home - I've been ignored all my life. They won't even know that I've gone.'
'You'll have to sometime. But until then…' He avoided my eyes and hurriedly garbled, 'Would-you-like-to-come-home-with-me?'
'Would you… like to… to come home with me? I know it's not a palace, but…'
'I'd love to. Of course I would.'
We smiled shyly at each other.
I had a feeling this was only the beginning of my new life.
He looked after me personally until I was well, then he provided me with rainbow-colourful t-shirts and jeans and packed my bags…
and we caught a bus into the sunset to his chalet in the suburbs.