Angela and I sat in the hallway—she in her scrubs, me in my pajamas—with our backs pressed to the wall. We looked like twins with our slouched posture and weary eyes.
"So… seven-thirty, tonight," Angela said tiredly. "Do you want to go together?"
She'd gotten word from one of her co-workers that a memorial service was being held for Mr. Miller later that evening. I sipped the coffee she had brought me, the taste bitter on my tongue, and thought. It seemed very fast, and the idea of having to go anywhere, especially to something as emotional as a memorial service, was exhausting. At the moment, even the small weight of coffee in my hands seemed too heavy.
"Yeah, okay." Because it really didn't matter how tired or overwhelmed I was; I owed it to Mr. Miller to pay my respect. "Just wait," I said as I narrowed my eyes to Edward's room. "He's going to want to go."
"He shouldn't," she added, her inner-nurse coming out. After seeing how sick Edward was, she deemed he most likely had the flu—she had been seeing more and more cases pop up at work—and had given him instructions to stay in bed and do absolutely nothing.
"Oh, I'm not going to let him," I said, feeling a bone crack as I twisted my back. "The challenge is how to convince him he can't. I'll have to tie him to the bed."
"Kinky stuff, Swan," she said with a weak smile. "You can just put him on the phone with Ben while we're gone and they can whine to each other about whose muscles hurt more. Men could complain all night over just a stuffy nose."
I managed to grin back. "You know… I have nothing to wear but jeans. I'm going to have to go buy a skirt or something. I'm missing my coat, too."
"How did you lose your coat? Except for yesterday, it's been freezing."
"I'm irresponsible, I guess," I said, inhaling the roasted scent of coffee, wishing it would perk me up. "I could have sworn I left it in my room, but it's not there. And it's not in Edward's room or his car, and it can't be in my truck because I haven't been in it for almost a week, plus it's at some car repair place right now—"
"Shh," Angela said, pushing my cup to my chin. "Drink. And breathe. I have clothes you can borrow. We're about the same size."
I gave her a grateful look. "What would I do without you?"
"Well," she said, "you would be naked. Thank God for me."
After she left, I took a quick shower and then went downstairs to get myself and Edward some breakfast. The sun was barely up, but the lobby was crowded; usually it was in the mornings, people keen on getting coffee and croissants and whatever other pastry was available, but the crowd was bulkier this morning. People were eating with suitcases and other baggage propped around their tables, so much so that I had to travel the café as if in a maze. Puzzled, I entered the kitchen, expecting to see Tom, only to find Doris instead.
"Oh, Isabella," she breathed, setting down a large pan of scones. "Good morning, dear." As she spoke, a quiver of sadness vibrated in her voice.
"Hi, Doris," I said in the same tone before I could help it. "How are you doing?"
"Oh, I'm trucking along," she said, giving me a smile, though it wasn't as bright as her usual ones. "I gave Tom the morning off, so I'm trying not to let the folks outside go hungry. They're in a hurry this morning." Her grin faltered a bit as she reached for a platter. "Can't say I blame them."
Slipping back in to my normal 'kitchen helper' routine, I grabbed a spatula and took over plating the scones for her. "They're all leaving, aren't they? Because of what happened to…"
Doris patted her brow with a napkin and my heart fell a little as I saw her bottom lip tremble. "Yes, dear, they are. People are scared. Near the forest is the last place they want to be."
"I'm sorry, Doris." I took a breath and dropped my eyes, concentrating on the food in front of me. I honestly didn't know what else to say.
"It's just the way things are, honey," she said quietly, and I saw her quickly wipe her eyes. "How and you and Mr. Masen doing? Are you both okay? I didn't see either of you last night, not after the officers left."
"We're doing all right, I guess. Well, I suppose I am," I corrected, though I wasn't quite sure how to describe what I was. "Edward's not so good. He came down with the flu last night."
Doris frowned, managing to add another worried crease to her forehead. "Oh, that poor boy. What a time for illness to strike," she muttered, shaking her head.
"Yeah," I said, leaning against the counter. "I'm glad I could tell you, though, that way you won't come upstairs and be exposed to germs or anything. And since I know where everything is, if we need towels or anything, could I just get them myself?"
"Of course," she said sympathetically, and went on to tell me to take whatever I needed—sheets, towels, water, food, whenever I needed it. "My house is your house, dear. It has been since the day you got here." As she said it, her eyes welled with tears and I ended up in one of her massive hugs—the bone-crushing, swaying kind. I couldn't say it wasn't comforting, either.
I offered to help her with the rest of breakfast, but she shooed me back upstairs with fresh scones and fruit, but not before I made another cup of coffee for myself and some tea for Edward. He barely ate anything, and even though I devoured my scone and berries and drained my cup, my energy was still depleted. When he got up to take a shower, I drifted off immediately, only to wake when he emerged from the bathroom, glassy-eyed and heavily flushed. Even his bare chest was pink.
"God, are you okay?" I asked, sitting up quickly, a little shocked at his appearance.
"I thought hot showers help break fevers," he answered. "Either that's false or mine's stubborn."
"Maybe just a lukewarm one would have been a better idea." I eyed him as he sat on the edge of the bed and cradled his head. He looked worse than before. "Still have a headache?" I asked, and he hummed a yes. "You took one of the antiviral pills Angela brought?"
He nodded. I tapped his leg, scooting back to the headboard. "Come here."
I crisscrossed my legs and pulled a pillow onto my lap so he could rest his head, and he sighed, closing his eyes as I softly massaged his temples. After a few silent minutes, I said, "There's a memorial service for Mr. Miller tonight."
His eyes cracked open. "There is?"
"Mm-hmm. I don't think you should go, though." He protested instantly, but I put my hand over his lips. "Just listen first," I said. "I know how much he meant to you. But you're not up for it. You can barely sit up."
"That doesn't matter."
"And you should rest before—"
"Shh," I hushed him. "And because Mr. Miller was old. His friends and probably some family members are going to be elderly, too. Plus, he has grandchildren. I don't think it would be the best idea for you to be around anyone, especially older and younger people, if you have the flu."
I felt horrible putting it so bluntly, but it was true. Plus, I was more concerned with him getting the rest he needed.
Half-expecting more of an argument, I started to say more, but he slowly slid his hand over his eyes, exhaling. "Well, shit," he muttered, sniffling a bit. "Why did you have to go and put it like that?"
Because that's the only reason that might get you to stay behind, I thought as I continued to caress his head. I knew him too well; he'd push himself to the brink any day—he'd proven it before—but if he thought he would be a burden to someone else, then he would back off.
"I'm sorry," I almost whispered.
"I hate that you're right."
I leaned back against the pillows. "Me too."
"Whenever the funeral is, I'm going."
I understood that. Plus, hearing the finality in his voice, there really was no argument there. "I won't stop you then."
He took a few more minutes to let it sink in and, even though his eyes were closed, I could tell he was devastated. "You're kind of breaking my heart," I told him as I trailed my fingers through his hair. "You look miserable."
Edward tilted his head, the movement slow and heavy, as though it took all the effort he had to face me. "Really?" The corners of his mouth twitched slightly. "This is my happy face."
"How about a nap?" I asked, raising my eyebrows. "Illness 101 and all. Naps make you feel better, right?"
"I feel okay."
The fever that was radiating from his skin proved otherwise as did the knolls of creases in his forehead and an ill-timed cough, making him wince and bury his face in the crook of his elbow until it subsided. "Ow," he breathed, placing his hand on his chest.
"Yeah, you sound terrific."
He ignored my point. "If anything needs healing, it's my pride. How many times have you seen me in pathetic states like these?"
"Right, because you haven't seen me in any," I said dryly, cracking a smile.
"You've seen me puke. I win."
"Hey, remember my concussion? As in head trauma? I win. Besides, you would have seen me puke if Angela hadn't shoved you out of my hospital room."
He frowned. "Well, that doesn't count then, does it?"
I felt guilty for grinning, but I couldn't help it. "See, now you're getting crabby. You know what would fix that? A na-"
"Naked girlfriend?" he proposed. I rolled my eyes, but he laughed, setting himself off into another coughing fit. I offered him water, but he waved his hand and rolled onto his stomach, away from my lap so I couldn't see his face.
I let out my breath and played with my fingernails. "Are you going to sleep?"
"Are you taking off your shirt?"
"Come here," I said, curling against him, and he tensed as my hand touched his back. "Sorry. Am I cold?"
"Yeah, but it feels good," he said, taking my hand and pressing my fingers to his cheek. For a while I just held him, kissing the back of his neck and breathing in the fresh scent of his soap. To me, he still smelled good even if he was sweaty.
"Bella, are you scared?"
The question surprised me enough to almost pull away. "Huh?" I asked, but in only a few seconds the words interrupted my calm and whipped my thoughts into action like rogue wind. Fear. It was so fresh, it took no time at all to remember what I was afraid of: how fast death had snatched Mr. Miller away, and how I was desperate not to lose anyone or anything else. Afraid that Edward's past would reach out with invisible, cruel fingers and steal the strength he'd built for himself, and all I wanted to do was take him home, away from everything that had ever happened to him and protect him. Worse, I was afraid that, somehow, something would be able to stop me from doing just that.
I took a breath. "No," I lied. "I'm not."
"Oh. I am."
Why?" I asked. Instinctively, I hugged him closer, crushing him a bit, but he didn't flinch. "Of what?"
He exhaled loudly, giving my hand a squeeze. "Probably everything that just ran through your mind."
When my can of hairspray clattered to the floor, I almost kicked it on purpose.
I kept dropping things: my hairbrush, my toothbrush, my eye shadow brush, all due to my non-stop shaking hands. Considering I only had a few hours of sleep at the max and a cloudy feeling in my head that wouldn't go away, I thought the few cups of coffee I'd consumed throughout the day would have been beneficial.
I was wrong. I was a twitchy mess.
Bending down to pick up the hairspray, I knocked my head on the side of the bathroom sink. "Goddamn it," I hissed, rubbing my forehead. Unfortunately, my inelegance was winning today.
I ran my hands over the unfamiliar skirt I was wearing, one that Angela had graciously lent me, and smoothed a wrinkle in the black blouse. Angela's clothes fit me pretty well, though my feet were a little scrunched in her size eight heels, a half-size smaller than mine, but I couldn't really complain; she was saving me from showing up in sneakers or knee-high boots.
Now, if I could only stop my trembling and swallow the lump in my throat.
I held back a sigh as I left my room and walked to Edward's, entering to find Angela seated on the side of his bed, legs crossed and chuckling. Whatever they were talking about was making Edward smile, too, so that was a good sign.
"Well, look at you," Angela said playfully. "Bella Swan in a skirt. I never thought I'd see the day."
"I wear skirts, I just didn't pack any," I said with a small smile, setting my purse by the door.
"I tried to get her to buy a dress when we went shopping a few weeks back," Angela told Edward. "She looked at me like I'd suggested a corset."
"Well, that's because we were going to the carnival," I protested. "And it was windy. No one needed to see any of my frisky business just because of a chance blast of air."
"Think of the ferris wheel and all that wind," Angela continued humorously. "That would have been a whole different kind of ride."
I had to laugh. "Yeah, I'll bet you would have loved that," I said to Edward.
"It's not like I had to wait much longer," he said, grinning despite his lethargy. "Two hours later, I saw all I wanted."
"Whoa," Angela giggled as my mouth dropped.
"Don't pay attention to him, he's delirious." He only laughed and got himself coughing, and I added, "See what happens when you air my business?"
Angela gave a wry smile and asked Edward, "How many times in a row did you air her business that night?"
He nearly choked on another laugh and she rubbed his back, giving me the same kind of teasing smile she always used to back when I first met him. "Don't be embarrassed, Bella. Though, now I get to tell Ben that I won the bet on that one."
Face flush overload. "All right, you know what? Both of you," I said loudly, failing to keep a straight face as they giggled like cheerleaders, "suck."
Angela stood up, gave me a playful smack on the arm, and turned to Edward. "Now, what did I tell you?"
He breathed deeply as he rolled onto his side. "If I don't have to pee every hour, I'm not drinking enough."
"Thatta' boy." She pointed to a white bag sitting on his night table (which I'd lined with water bottles). "And I expect that soup to be eaten by the time Bella gets back. No more of this 'I'm not hungry' crap."
"For real," I added as I put in my earrings, giving him a look. I'd been pushing him to eat all day since he only had maybe five crumbs for breakfast, but nooo.
"Capiche?" she concluded.
He nodded, giving a slight eye roll of his own. "What happened to your Nurse Weber bedside manner?"
"I'm off the clock. I get to street-talk you," she said, leaning over to ruffle his hair. "Now get well, okay? Watch some boy movies and call Ben if you get bored. You guys can cry to each other."
"Boy movies?" I asked.
"Die Hard, Speed, Harold and Kumar, etcetera," she said, motioning to a small portable DVD player beside Edward. "I stole them from Ben. But I did sneak The Notebook in there if you guys feel like watching a chick flick together."
I laughed. "That's really nice of you."
"Yeah, thank you, Ang," he added.
"It's no problem. I don't know how you two have been surviving up here without television. Though, I guess I do have an idea, now." I turned to see her smirk, her eyebrows starting to raise.
"Oh, get out of here," I said, swatting at her as she headed for the door.
"We've got a few minutes, so I'll be downstairs."
"I'll be there soon."
When she closed the door behind her, I turned to Edward, who had a small grin on his face. He gave me a once over. "You look pretty," he said.
I slipped into the jacket Angela had lent me and sat on the bed, reaching for his hand. "Thanks. I wish I was going somewhere else."
"I should be going with you," he said, a hollow defeat slipping into his expression. I traced his thumbnail with my fingertip, ready to give him another 'health comes first' speech, but he added, "You'll be there and you're probably already carrying germs."
I sighed. He was most likely right, considering how close we'd been. Even though I had a flu shot back in October, there were so many strains nowadays. Either I'd get lucky and bypass it, or it would eventually come and knock me on my ass, too.
"I don't have any symptoms, though," I said. "And I have hand sanitizer and won't be kissing anyone."
"Promise?" he joked.
I smiled. "There is one thing Angela forgot to mention for you to do. Sleep. You haven't gotten any since this morning and now it's almost seven. You're due."
I felt a little mommyish, pushing him to shut his eyes and let unconsciousness dull his pain, but he needed to rest and I couldn't understand why he was being such a stubborn ass about it.
"I'll try." Then, coughing, he managed to say, "If this lets me sleep."
"Maybe Angela can break into the hospital pharmacy and get you something for that, too," I said, feeling sorry for him. "Cough meds with codeine can knock you out for a few hours, and then I won't have to."
"Oh, so nice of you," he said, "threatening to punch me while I'm incapacitated. St. Isabella, black belt."
"Hearing that, I think you'll be just fine." I leaned over and kissed his cheek, taking a few extra moments to rest my head against his. "I'll be back in a couple of hours."
I felt him nod, and I quickly whispered goodbye before I decided to stay. Suddenly, I really didn't want to leave him.