It had taken some pretty heavy insistence on Angela's and my part, two against one, and Edward was nearly stubborn enough to win. Only by force, pulling him out of the room and down the stairs, did he finally give in and agree to visit the hospital—never mind the loss of consciousness or possible attack by some strange woman. Rain was now coming down in cold, torrenting sheets, flooding the gravel lot. Along with the crackle and spark of lightning, the air had an ozonic scent of electricity and asphalt, and I hurried Edward into the car before, with our luck, we were fried by nature. As we settled in and buckled up, I felt guilty at the sight of him—exhausted, defeated, and, once again, soaking wet.
We were a strange-looking spectacle once we rushed into the emergency room lobby to take cover from the rain: him in his nightclothes and Angela and I dressed up in formal viewing attire—all drenched. Bizarrely, we were the only ones in the quiet waiting room, and after checking in, Angela led us to the triage area, where a sleepy-looking technician sat behind some large windows.
"Wait here, guys," Angela said, opening a door and slipping inside, where the surprised tech looked up at her.
As they exchanged some conversation out of our earshot, Edward sunk into a chair, and I quickly followed, reaching to hold his hand and check the tissues we'd pressed against his neck, which were now damp from getting rained on. The cuts weren't gushing, but bright red lines continued slowly appearing as though the pressure hadn't done much to create a seal to stop the bleeding.
"Think I need stitches?" he asked with a sniffle.
"Probably just some butterfly bandages," I said, ignoring the pit of fear in my stomach.
"I must have fallen against something, I guess."
He hadn't seen for himself, but those scratches were unexplainable; it was as if someone had dragged a box cutter in four long, pristine lines, going deep enough that he would have those scars for years to come. I wasn't sure what to say, but he suddenly winced at some unseen pain and rested his head on my shoulder for a few moments, and I kissed his wet hair, sympathy pulsing in my veins as fresh as the blood on his skin.
Angela came back a minute later and said that she would get his vitals, and I watched through the window as he was plunked down into another chair and hooked up to a blood pressure cuff while the tech appeared to be asking him questions. After they'd popped a thermometer in his mouth, I anxiously tapped my feet on the beige-tiled floor, glancing around mindlessly at the other rows of empty, worn, tan and maroon seats and a tattered rack of magazines on the wall. The sounds my feet were making echoed throughout the vacant room, and I eventually caught the administrator at the check-in desk eyeing me with an annoyed expression.
Turning my attention back to the window, I saw the technician preparing to stick Edward with either an IV or a blood test and quickly looked away from that, not wanting to pass out and be the next one to go through triage. I concentrated on a fishing show on a small, dusty TV mounted in the corner of the wall for another few minutes before Edward and Angela returned.
"Well, he doesn't have to wait since there are a grand total of three patients in the ER tonight," she said, motioning for me to come with them. "And you," she emphasized to Edward, "can absolutely stop insisting that you are fine and don't want to 'take up a bed.' A 104.2 fever isn't convincing us otherwise."
"Jesus," I said, taking hold of his arm—the one that wasn't sporting an IV dangling from his forearm, at which I tried not to stare. "104?"
Edward only sighed, holding up his other hand in defeat. "Okay, okay," he relented, his eyes half-lidded, leaning a little on me as we began following Angela through a set of double doors.
Once we were back in the hallway, passing a reception desk and a few curtained areas, I told him, "I can't believe this is the second time for each of us that we've been back here."
"Technically, this is my third time," he said. "Maybe I'll get a loyalty punch card."
"Trying to get your fifth visit free?" I quipped.
He cracked a smile, and I couldn't help but do the same, though it only lasted a second. Soon enough, he was back in a curtained room of his own, given a hospital gown to change into while Angela got herself and me a set of scrubs to wear so we weren't sitting around in wet clothes. Due to the lack of patients, he was almost immediately seen by a physician who introduced himself as Dr. Connors, and Edward relayed his story—how he'd been sick and woken up feeling terrible, then when he'd been on the phone with me, he had "seen things." When asked to elaborate, he rubbed his eyes and reluctantly recounted how he could have sworn a woman had been at the window and climbed through, pinning him against the wall until he'd blacked out in a haze of fever or panic, and she was gone when he'd woken up.
"It feels impossible that it actually happened," he added, sounding on the verge of losing his voice. "But it felt real at the time. High fevers can cause hallucinations, right?"
"They certainly can," said the doctor, moving his hands to Edward's neck, pressing and feeling under his jaw. "Do you remember hitting your head?"
"No, I don't think so," Edward answered, clearing his throat, and I interrupted, "But something happened to the back of his neck. He was cut."
Frowning, Dr. Connors leaned Edward forward and took a look for himself, peeling back some gauze that the technician or Angela had bandaged him with. He put on some gloves and studied the nape of Edward's neck for a few moments, suggesting that if he'd passed out, he might have backed into something on the wall or door that had slashed into him, seeing as the threadlike slits appeared flawless and very unlikely to have been done by a person or something other than a mechanism.
"They're so fine that I don't think stitches are needed," he said, pulling off his gloves and tossing them into a waste bin. "We'll have someone clean that and patch you up. Your labs are still pending, but with the fever and telltale signs you're showing, the flu is a likely culprit if not a similar virus. I would normally suggest Tamiflu for symptom control, but you reported you're already taking that?"
Edward nodded, and the doctor added, "In light of the syncope, it might be best to see if we can manage your symptoms in other ways in case you had a reaction. Who prescribed it to you?"
I saw the color drain from Angela's face, but before she could say anything, Edward remarked without hesitation, "My primary care doctor. I'm not from here, so their office sent a script to a local pharmacy when I called them. Their guess was the same—some strain of flu."
Dr, Connors nodded. "Well, you're young and otherwise healthy, so I don't anticipate any severe disease. Over-the-counter medication will still do a world of good. I'll have a nurse—don't look so alarmed, Miss Weber, one who is on duty, of course—come in to start fluids and something to get your fever down. Hang tight."
He breezed out of the makeshift room, leaving the three of us alone. As his footsteps faded, Angela turned to us with a guilt-ridden look.
"Edward, I am so sorry. I should never have given you anything without—"
"Ang, don't worry," Edward said, reaching to take her hand. "I've been on Tamiflu twice before. I didn't have a reaction."
Tears had come to her eyes, and I quickly squeezed her other hand. "You were only helping him out. And the doctor just said he would have prescribed it anyway."
"It was a sample pack meant for the free clinic, but what if there was something off about that batch, or there was something in your medical history that I should have checked—"
"There isn't," he insisted. "The only allergy I should have mentioned that might have had something to do with it is… Well, it's painful to talk about."
We both stared at him in shock, and he sighed.
"I'm allergic to Jessica Stanley. Do you know if she licked any of the blister packs?"
A beat went by before a laugh escaped my lips in a puff of breath. "Jesus Christ," I said, breaking into a half-hearted smile as Angela covered her face, half-crying, half-giggling, and Edward pulled her hand down until she was sitting next to him, and I followed suit.
The three of us sat for a few moments, leaning on each other, pouring silent support into our tiny circle, stitching together some of the recent cracks in our broken hearts.
"What could possibly come next?" I mused.
At that moment, as if it had been scripted, a wide-eyed nurse poked her head inside the curtain before pulling it open, and two police officers waltzed into view, one of them none other than Officer Sullivan. We all sat up straight at the sight of them while the nurse called out for Dr. Connors.
Apparently, the story Edward recited to the tech in triage had warranted some checking into, considering he'd been injured and possibly assaulted, no matter how minor. The officer accompanying Sullivan introduced himself as Davis, a seasoned deputy who was a little grumbly but polite enough. He recognized me even before I gave my name, pointing out he'd seen me in pictures from when Charlie was still at the station, and fortunately, he was the one who began a standard routine of questioning.
Edward retold his version of what happened again, laying it heavy on the probability that he'd been in the haze of fever delirium, which the doctor validated as a definite possibility. Still, I couldn't help interrupting to point out the deep, precise scratches on his neck, insisting that there was a possibility that someone had done it to him. Dr. Connors shared his view with Officer Davis that Edward could have injured himself against something when he'd fallen, pointing out the strange nature of the markings—not wide enough to have been from a weapon like a knife, too thin and straight to have been from fingernails—and that while it wasn't impossible to have been done by someone, it was highly improbable.
"Looks like a four-wheeled pizza cutter got you," Davis said, leaning back after he'd taken a look.
"Honestly, I don't know what to make of it," said Dr. Connors. "He couldn't have gotten a finer incision if we'd sent him up to surgery."
All the while, Sullivan was standing in the corner, looking like a pouty child who'd been left out from playing with the big kids, and I shouldn't have, but I kept awkwardly locking eyes with him, still miffed about his intrusion outside the funeral home earlier that night. It was almost like he was trying to have a silent pissing contest with me, seeing who would look away first.
"Something to add, Ms. Swan?" he finally asked, interrupting Edward in the middle of his response, and they all stared at me.
Naturally, I felt my face go pink and struggled not to glare at Sullivan.
"It's just—" I said, hesitating, turning my attention to Officer Davis instead. "I can't think of anything in Edward's room that could have done such a thing to him. Doesn't it seem a little weird to anyone else? Isn't there a way to check his room and see if there's any sign of—I don't know, forced entry from the window?"
Sullivan audibly sucked his bottom lip in scrutiny, eyeing me like he might suggest one of the nurses put me into my own curtained area for an evaluation.
"Well, it's not that far off, is it?" I said, defensive. "Not after what happened this week with Mr. Miller, and then me running into some psychopath on the beach a few nights ago. There are dangerous people out there. People who want to terrorize and murder others, obviously, from what's happening in the news lately."
Sullivan had a tiny, condescending smirk at the corners of his mouth, and there was nothing that pissed me off more than being made to feel stupid. Here came the glare, and I didn't hold back this time.
"And you implied earlier that it wasn't exactly an animal you were looking for, so I don't know what you're smiling about."
Just as I thought, that erased the smug look off his face.
"Alright, let's not get all higgledy-piggledy here," Officer Davis said, eyeing Sullivan with a questioning gaze, and then turned to Edward. "Appreciate your statement, son. We're happy to check your room at the lodge, but it sounds more plausible like the doc here says—fever can make us see some wild things."
He rounded to me. "Let's talk in the hall, Isabella. Edward can rest for a while, and we can get information on this person you say you ran into— this psychopath."
I glanced apologetically at Edward, sorry for bringing up the insinuation of headline murders, though he seemed too glassy-eyed and ill to be more upset than he already had been. I reached to give his hand a quick squeeze and kissed his fevered cheek, promising that I would be back.
Leaving him alone with Angela, I followed the three men, closing the curtain behind me with a rushing swish of metal rings across the rod. Taking a few steps toward the nurses' station, I tried to ignore the stares of the few nurses and technicians—I probably looked like I was about to be arrested.
"Is there somewhere private we can talk to Isabella, Doc?" Davis asked.
The doctor nodded, pointing down the hall. "Breakroom's on the right. Not many of us are on call tonight, so it should be quiet for you."
Trailing the two officers, I walked past the rest of the beds and rounded to the right, coming to a small door that read 'Staff Only,' complete with a punny sign that had a cartoon piece of lettuce saying, "Take a break and ROMAINE calm!"
Unflattering LEDs lit the breakroom, and the whole thing suddenly felt too much like an interrogation room. I felt sweat begin to bead at my temples as they sat at an empty, white table, and Davis motioned for me to sit.
"Do you mind if I get some water first?" I asked, feeling like I hadn't had a drink in days, the way my mouth had suddenly gone dry.
"Of course," Davis replied while Sullivan raised his eyebrows. "Nervous, Ms. Swan?" the rookie added.
"Well, yes," I said as I pulled a cup from the water cooler and pushed the lever for cold water. "My close friend died, my boyfriend's sick, and then ends up unconscious and bleeding from a bout of delirium or some fourth-floor stalker nutcase that no one seems to want to check into, and you're looking at me like I'm the psychotic one… so, yeah. I'm nervous about a lot of things."
I downed the cup of water quickly before refilling another and slunk into the seat across from them.
Surprisingly, Officer Davis looked like he wanted to smile, while Office Davis looked like he might break out his handcuffs. "So," Davis began, folding his hands on the tabletop.
"Wait," I said suddenly, freezing in place, narrowing my eyes before reaching into my pocket. "Just one more thing."
Twenty minutes later, we were still seated in the hospital break room. The hum of the vending machines was like the buzzing of insects, each droning vibration reverberating off the walls, ceiling, and table, and feeling as though it was drilling into my ears. In exhaustion, I pressed my hands over my eyes to prevent myself from going off at Sullivan, who was sitting across from me. As much as I was beyond the point of wanting to chuck my paper cup of water at his pompous little face—
"Bells. Come on now."
—Charlie was on speakerphone, and dumb family pride was on the line, or whatever, and I had to behave myself. I finally had the sense to call him and give him a brief, five-minute rundown (only after he promised to go where Renee was out of earshot and if he promised not to get upset). He'd abided by that promise, and I left him on the line while I spoke to the other officers. And it was then, as I was rolling up my sleeves since I was sweating at the thought of having to talk to two policemen, I took a look at the forgotten bruise on my wrist—courtesy of the exact strange, frightening man, James I was about to speak of—and realized I had more proof than I'd initially remembered.
After I'd gotten Charlie on the phone and was ready to talk, I'd spilled everything: the argument with Edward nights ago, fleeing to the beach, and encountering James—and all he'd said and done. Only after I was questioned on how I got away that I froze a bit as I remembered that Jacob had asked me not to go to the police. They sensed my hesitation, and that quickly turned into an interrogation of what I wasn't telling them.
Officer Sullivan, who clearly hadn't iced down his ego from our earlier encounter or my comment in Edward's clinic room, seized his chance to passive-aggressively lecture me on the importance of obtaining complete and accurate statements in an investigation—to which Charlie had replied, "Rory… easy, man," and Davis gave him a hard stare until Sullivan's ears turned pink, and he went sheepishly silent.
But then, questions about what else I'd seen and how James eventually left me alone began flustering me, and I was unsure if I should tell the whole truth.
"Can you tell us what he looked like? Race, age? Physical traits, tattoos, moles, anything like that?" Officer Davis tried asking. "Any details are helpful."
I sighed. "He was white. Maybe twenty-five to thirty years old? I think his hair was blond, but it was dark. I didn't get a good look. Nothing stood out except the menacing way he came across."
And the strange mental and physical paralysis that occurred once he'd ensnared me in his freakishly strong grasp.
"Mm-hm," David said, rubbing his mustache, reminding me of Charlie. "And you're saying he talked about an ex-girlfriend—resentful about it ending, and then he grabbed you? Gave you that bruise?"
"Yeah," I said, running my hands over my wrist where James had left his mark and eyeing my phone as Charlie's audible grunt could be heard. "He said love makes us do crazy things and asked if I'd kill for someone I loved. Only he asked it like a threat—like he meant he might kill me. I don't know."
"Your boyfriend said he saw a woman, not a man," Sullivan piped up. He crossed his arms in one of those monumental douchy ways where they rested too high on purpose to make his muscles seem larger.
Instead of replying with 'No shit,' I settled for, "I'm not saying he didn't see a woman. But something strange is happening here, and the man I saw could be linked to all of this. The past week—"
"Why didn't you come to us sooner after seeing this man?"
"I—I told you," I said, stammering over my words and thoughts. I would never say Jacob had suggested leaving the police out of it. "I wasn't thinking straight and was upset about fighting with Edward. Maybe it was shock. But I'm telling you now, aren't I? I mean, I know it was stupid to wait to say anything, but I thought he was some crazy asshole who I'd never see again. And then when Mr. Miller died…"
Unwanted tears came to my eyes, and I felt my chin tremble, quickly clearing my throat to keep from crying. Maybe I shouldn't have listened to Jacob. I held responsibility if what happened to Mr. Miller was linked to that man.
"Is there anyone else who can corroborate your story, Bella?" Davis asked somewhat gently, leaning forward. "Any other witnesses, maybe someone who could have seen him in passing?"
I took a shaky breath as the guilt and fear outweighed any semi-promise I made to Jake, and I confessed in an uneasy voice. "Yes. Jacob Black. He was the one who helped me get away from him."
"Jacob Black?" Charlie repeated, sounding surprised.
"Yeah, Dad," I answered quickly. "He'd been out looking for Paul. They said he was—" I suddenly felt like I was spreading gossip. "His girlfriend had been killed in an accident, and Paul was upset and had taken off. That's why Jacob was out so late, and when he came across James and me, he got him to back off and leave."
"Rachel Young is dead?" asked Charlie.
"I think so," I admitted, watching Sullivan and Davis share a look; I'd forgotten that Charlie knew everyone in First Beach as well as Forks. "Jacob said Leah was upset about Rachel, so… yeah, I guess that's who it was."
"To circle back here," Sullivan piped up as though the information about Rachel's death was old news. "You think this man has something to do with why your boyfriend—"
"His name is Edward," I said sternly, and I heard Charlie sigh.
"Isabella," he warned from my phone's speaker. "Check your tone."
With that boost of confidence from his previous superior, Sullivan had the nerve to look a bit smarmy, continuing with, "You're thinking this man, James, had something to do with Edward's injury then?"
"I don't know, but a lot of crazy, awful things keep happening," I said, twisting my fingers together, biting back a slew of emotion. "After what he said about someone coming into his room and threatening him—and I know, it was likely some fever-induced mirage—but it seemed deliberate. Like…"
"Like?" Sullivan echoed.
A few moments passed before I admitted with a pit in my stomach, "Like someone wanted to scare him. Scare us."
Sullivan narrowed his eyes, for the first time looking a bit softer, and Davis nodded.
"Well, Bella, I think we have enough to go on for now," Davis said, slightly scooting back his chair. "We appreciate it. You can go on back. If we have any further questions, we'll reach out, and please do the same with us if you need anything. Charlie, that goes for you, too. Happy to discuss this further at any time. We'll look out for her."
"I appreciate that, Joe," said Charlie in a heavy tone. "Bells, let me get Renee up to speed, and I'll call you back. No more than five minutes, I promise."
"How about I call you once we're back at the lodge?" I offered, watching Sullivan and Davis collect themselves to stand, and I did the same. "I hope they don't make Edward stay overnight, but I want to see what's happening. I'm not sure how long it will take, but I'll call. Even if it's early morning."
Not that it already wasn't getting close to that for him.
"I swear," I said truthfully. "Thanks, Dad."
I hung up, swallowing the pressing urge to go to pieces until these officers were out of sight. When I moved toward the door, Sullivan suddenly put his arm out to stop any of us from leaving.
"Just one more question, Ms. Swan," he said in a rehearsed tone, all traces of slight compassion in his eyes gone. "I'm just wondering, does Edward have a razor he uses to shave?"
I eyed him like he had asked me if I believed the world was flat. "Yes."
"Uh-huh. Have you seen it?"
Unsure where he was going with this, I answered, "As in lately? It's probably plugged in in his bathroom at the lodge. Why?"
"So he has an electric one, okay," he said nonchalantly, shrugging his shoulders in a near-theatrical manner. "How about you? Do you have an electric razor, too, or one with blades?"
My shoulders tensed. I could only stare at Sullivan, deeply knitting my brow. If he was asking me what I thought he was—
"Does he have access to it?" he asked further, not waiting for my response.
"What are you implying here?" Officer Davis said in a tired voice. "That the kid did it to himself?"
He responded with an animated shrug, "With his background and the pressure he'd feel to get sympathy and maybe get us thinking he couldn't be involved with Miller's death if he'd been attacked, too… I'm just saying, that's all."
I rocked on my heels, taking a slow breath because I wasn't stupid enough to raise my voice, and sadly couldn't push him through one of the vending machines and into a damn pile of pork rinds. "Have you ever seen any sort of razor for women, Officer Sullivan?"
He probably hadn't seen much of a woman's anything considering the attitude he was sporting. We had a staring contest for a few seconds before I continued.
"Because if you're asking me if I think, in the haze of a 104-degree fever, Edward managed to pluck an eighth of a centimeter-wide blade out of my disposable razor head and drag it behind his neck in perfect precision, depth, and dimension to get some pity… my answer is no."
For once, I wasn't embarrassed for being known as the former Police Chief's daughter because of the way Sullivan's face began to blush a shade of fuschia; I figured that man would have had it out for me with every traffic ticket possible if he ever saw me on the road. I hated myself for it but couldn't fight it anymore; hot, angry tears spilled down my cheeks at the accusation that Edward had fabricated his story and hurt himself. It was so disrespectful and ignorant, and I wished I could have kneed Sullivan until he no longer sported a nightstick in more ways than one.
At that moment, a technician in scrubs came walking through the door and froze at the sight of us: me crying, a fuming Sullivan as pink as a pastel princess, and Officer Davis, who appeared like the tired parent driving two arguing siblings in the backseat of a car during a long road trip.
"My bad," the tech said quickly, closing the door.
Sighing and swiping my hand across my face, I said demandingly, "Can I go?"
"Well, Ms. Swan, I think your emotions are getting the better—" Sullivan began.
"Yes, you're free to go," interjected Davis, giving the rookie a slight side-eye. I could have hugged the man. He handed over a card with his number, adding, "I meant what I said. Call me if you think of anything else that's helpful, especially if you need any help yourself."
"Thank you," I said, trying not to sniffle audibly. "I appreciate it. Oh, and as for what your partner is accusing, please talk to Alice Cullen. She already tried telling him about our alibi when John Miller was killed, but I'm assuming he kept those details from you just as he did when he came to question me earlier at the funeral home."
Without another look at Sullivan, I walked out into the hallway and around the corner, my footsteps picking up pace as I urgently searched for a bathroom. Once I spotted one, I ducked inside, locked myself in, and broke down. It was an ugly, desperate sobbing that stemmed from all the past twenty-four hours in a tizzy of fear, concern, confusion, and grief. I kept it quiet, afraid someone would hear me and page a psychiatrist, but it was over nearly as quickly as it came.
I made sure to splash my face and tried to wash away the traces of tears, waiting a few minutes while my skin turned back to a somewhat average pallor, and at last returned to Edward's curtain.
Someone had turned off the overhead lights for him, and he was alone, curled on his side, eyes closed, with his blanket twisted around his legs. Unsure if he had been hot or kicked it off unconsciously, I adjusted it gently, covering him up to his waist, and sat by the head of the bed. His arm under the pillow was splayed straight, hanging a bit off the edge, and I lightly took his hand between mine and brought it to my lips for a quick kiss, then rested my cheek against his knuckles.
As the moments ticked by, I watched his body's slow rise and fall as his lips parted with soft breath, feeling the thrum of his pulse in his fingers against my skin.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
I felt terrible that he'd been on a constant metaphoric rollercoaster with sharp dips and whiplashing turns, jerking him back and forth, probably making him feel as though he would be ejected any moment if he couldn't hold on tight enough. This brief moment of peace behind a hospital curtain felt inadequate; I wanted to take him home—home for real, to Jacksonville, and let him heal in all of the ways he needed.
Before thinking about how I could change our plans, Angela poked her head in the curtain.
"You guys doing okay?" she asked quietly, mindful of Edward's sleeping form.
I nodded bleakly, my eyes feeling heavy as though invisible weights were tied to my eyelashes. "I think so. He feels a little less warm."
"Tylenol 3—it has codeine mixed in, so less pain, hopefully, too," she said, letting the curtain fall closed and coming to sit in the opposite chair on the other side of Edward. "What did they say?"
I shifted my weight, perturbed. "Well, that twit Sullivan was insinuating Edward did this to himself. The cuts on his neck."
"Seriously?" she said, curling her lip. "Why on earth would he think that?"
When I told her, her eyes popped, and she scoffed quietly. "Rory Sullivan once handcuffed the Peninsula College Pirates mascot on suspicion of public use of recreational drugs, but he did it when the guy was still in this gigantic parrot costume. He slid his hands right out of the cuffed wings and ran out of the stadium parking lot, yelling, 'Caw-caw, caw-caw!' Kids at the college still yell that when they see Rory's squad car."
Either my snorting laugh or Angela's birdcall woke Edward, and he sleepily blinked as he looked at the two of us suppressing giggles. "Having fun without me?" he rasped.
"Oof, geez, Edward, you sound like a smoker," Angela said quickly, hopping up. "I'll get you some water."
As she disappeared through the curtain, I sighed and leaned closer to his bed, releasing his hand. "How do you feel?"
"A little better. I'm ready to leave."
"I bet," I said, reaching to play with his hair. "Me, too."
"Think they'll let me?" he said wearily. "Or arrest me for slicing open my own neck?" I gave him a concerned stare, and he continued, "Is that what you were saying to Angela? That they think I did this?"
Scooting my chair as close as I could to his bed, I half-lay beside him and rested my head near his. "That asshole rookie cop implied it. He doesn't know shit."
"Maybe I should better my chances and put on a parrot costume," he said with a slight grin, and I sputtered a laugh. He rolled onto his back and exhaled softly. "Everyone thinks I'm crazy anyway."
I let my hand travel to the center of his chest, pausing to tap his chin with my finger. "I don't."
He turned his head toward me, melancholy present in his eyes, even though he tried to smile. "Don't you?"
Slightly creasing my eyebrows, I cupped his cheek and ran my thumb across his soft skin. "Of course not." We lay silently for a moment before I asked, "What's your gut feeling? Do you think you really saw someone?"
He grew more solemn and leaned into my touch, closing his eyes momentarily. "I don't know. I felt so awful when you called. I was dizzy, and my head was pounding, and I… If I spiked a fever at that moment, even if I was talking to you, I could see how, biologically and psychologically, I could have been seeing things. Imagining unknown fears, maybe. I see people with red eyes in my dreams, sometimes."
I watched him thoughtfully, gently stroking his cheek. Honestly, I'd forgotten that detail after we'd left for the hospital; it made me rethink the whole argument I'd given to the police.
"And I don't know, how could that woman have gotten up to my window from outside—and wearing your jacket? The more I say it out loud, the more I think…" He gave a halfhearted shrug, swallowing thickly. "I guess I could have had your voice in my head and thought she was talking to me, and that's why I thought she knew my name. The whole thing sounds insane, and maybe it is—it's not the first time I've been mentally disturbed, huh?"
"Stop," I said, resting my thumb on his bottom lip. "Always with the self-deprecation." He made his lip pop out in a pout, and I gave him a tiny smile. "You're cute, though."
Edward chuckled lightly until it transformed into a cough, and as he ducked his head to bury his face in his arm, I could see that someone had secured the cuts on his neck with Steri-Strips, safeguarded with a transparent dressing.
"I guess we still can't explain this, though," I said, lightly touching the little covering.
He lifted his head so only his eyes were visible. "Guess not," he mumbled, roughly clearing his throat before laying his head on his arm to look back at me. "I guess we can look for the culprit when we get back. Whatever I fell against, not Frederica Kreuger."
I shook my head, giving him an amused look. "I can't wait to have just one normal, boring day together."
"I'd never be bored with you," he replied, the corner of his mouth giving a small curl.
He protested as I leaned in to kiss him, putting up his hand and warning me about germs, but I clasped his hand in mine and whispered, "I don't care," before pressing my lips to his.
We waited another hour before getting the all-clear that he could prepare for discharge. His flu test had resulted positive, confirming Influenza A, but being pumped full of fluids, plus pain and fever meds, had done him some good; his fever dropped to 100, and though he was tired, he'd been eager to leave.
He signed off on his insurance forms, was given discharge instructions, and warned against taking any more cold showers. He'd learned his lesson; in the end, all it had done was send his body into a sort of semi-shock, and his constant shivering had likely spiked his temperature back to the high state it had been previously. As he was finally told he could go, the discharging nurse reminded him to keep up with over-the-counter remedies and discontinue the Tamiflu to prevent other possible adverse reactions.
Unless his 'adverse reaction' had been valid. I was trying not to think about it any longer, but my thoughts were stubborn. The rational part of my mind wouldn't accept it, whereas my nerves told me there were external forces we needed to be afraid of.
It was nearly midnight when Angela drove us back to the lodge, promising she'd call the next day, and we both waved an exhausted but grateful goodbye as we got out of the car. I made sure to grab my purse and bag I'd gotten from the drugstore from my truck before we went inside the lobby, and I felt Edward's eyes on me as I paused and glanced over my shoulder before the door closed with its familiar chime.
I'd never really thought about it before, in this tiny town, and I knew Doris kept the front door unlocked because people came and went at all hours (Edward and I were plenty guilty of that), but this was the first time I felt nervous that it was unlocked, knowing anyone could walk in.
Although, supposedly, people could now get in through windows. I would have laughed if everything hadn't felt so ominous.
Edward went slow on the stairs, and by the time we reached our floor, he was winded. He paused momentarily with his hand on the banister, and I wasn't sure if it was more to catch his breath or a careful consideration as he glanced uncertainly toward his door.
I took his arm, giving him a gentle tug. "Come on. Let's sleep in my room."
He nodded, allowing me to lead him next door without protest. Inside my room, I set down my bags and flipped on the lights, and we both shed our coats and took off our shoes, but before he could move to sit or lie down, I took his arms and turned him toward the bathroom.
"Making me sleep in the tub?" he asked, glancing at me as I steered him through the door.
"Well," I said, "even if it is big enough to fit your long legs, don't worry. I'm just drying your hair."
He gave me a funny look as I pushed his shoulders down to plonk him on the closed lid of the toilet. "Why?" he said, slightly amused. "Afraid I'll get sick?"
"You're shivering, you smartass," I said, giving a mini grin, picking up my hair dryer and plugging it in. "Now, hold still."
It only took a minute, seeing as we'd hurried inside and the downpour hadn't completely soaked him, but I ran my hands through his hair with the warm heat, smiling at the sight of it blowing wildly as it dried and even more so when I finished. Edward always let his hair dry naturally, but with a blowdry, he now had twice the volume. I continued combing my fingers through his dark wavy hair, and he sighed contentedly.
"That was nice, actually," he said with his eyes closed.
I slid my hand to cradle his cheek, feeling the subtle prickle of his facial hair from a skipped shave. "Would you like a face mask treatment, too?"
Edward cracked open one eye, scrunching his bottom lip, and I couldn't help laughing. I leaned down to kiss his forehead and lingered for a few moments, pressing my head to his, and he reached up to stroke my cheek in return.
"What a night," he murmured.
"I'll say," I said, straightening. "Does your neck hurt?"
"Not really," he said, moving his hand to the bandage for a moment, then with a weak smile, he added, "My pride does a little."
"On a scale of one to naked in front of the pizza girl, what do you rank this?" He covered his eyes, groaning, and I gave him one more kiss. "Stay put. I'll get you another shirt."
The one he was wearing had gotten a bit of blood on the back collar, after all. I sought out one of his shirts that I'd poached and also grabbed some night clothes for myself. We changed, and I hung up the scrubs from the hospital on the handles of the shower doors before we took turns washing up and brushing our teeth at the sink.
As we walked back into the bedroom, I turned off the overhead chandelier, and the lamp on the dresser was left to give the room an amber glow. I wasn't ready to be in the dark yet, and I doubted Edward was either. As he sat on the edge of the bed, I dug inside the bag of drugstore items.
"Can I interest you in regular water, Vitamin water, or cough syrup?" I asked, pulling them out one by one. "A shaken martini of all three, perhaps?"
He raised his eyebrows. "Trying to get me drunk?"
I laughed, taking the cough syrup bottle out from its box and handing it to him, and set the two drinks on his night table. We were keeping things light on purpose; underneath, he and I were probably unable to fully shake the same anxieties, where phantom fears and deep sadness were festering just under the surface.
Once he was moderately hydrated and drugged up on more meds, I asked, "Do you want me to run downstairs and make you some tea?"
"Nah, I've had enough tea," he said, pulling back the covers on my side of the bed and lightly patting the sheets.
That was true. Angela had gotten him a couple of cups from the staff's 'good tea stash,' as she called it, rather than the cheap generic kind reserved for patients.
"Anything else you can think of that would help?" I asked him.
His eyes were heavy with fatigue as he reached out for my hand. "I just need you."
Well, how could I argue with that? I squeezed his hand before going back to lock my door, and then told him, "Well, there's just one more thing. It can't wait til morning, either."
He eyed me questioningly as I knelt to grab the last, but not least, essential thing I'd gotten for him. When I stood up with Bruce in my hands, Edward grinned so adorably—the kind of smile that caused a bunch of endearing crinkles around his eyes—and I couldn't help but think of his family photo that he carried in his wallet. We'd made each other smile hundreds of times in the past few weeks, but I was always especially touched when I got him to look as happy as he did in that picture.
"Who's this?" he asked as I climbed into bed.
"Bruce." I handed the little moose over, giggling. "I couldn't help myself."
Edward held him with one hand and tugged the antler with Bruce's nametag, and to our amusement, the antler stayed askew. "He's perfect," he said, manipulating the antlers so one stood up straight while the other flopped over. "And a little wonky, just like me."
I smiled, scooting closer and laying my head on his shoulder. Edward combed my hair away from my face with his fingers, looking down at me.
"Thank you," he said in a mellow voice, kissing my forehead. "That was very sweet of you."
"Well, you know… I figured he could keep you company if I were downstairs or out. Though I don't think I'll want to leave your side again anytime soon."
He made a sound that could have been a start of a laugh, and we eventually stretched out and nestled ourselves under the covers, holding each other and lying quietly for a few moments.
"I think we should leave tomorrow," Edward admitted in a low voice. "I don't know if we're safe here anymore."
Hearing him say so made me hold him a bit tighter, but I couldn't blame him. "Earlier tonight, I was thinking the same. But now I'm not so sure."
"We can drive," he suggested. "I'll pay your parents back for the plane tickets."
"I'm not worried about that," I said, stroking his hair. "But now that you mention it, I don't know about my truck traveling across the country."
Although it was probably in the best shape it had ever been after Rosalie Cullen had gotten her hands on it.
"We could take my car," he said quickly. "Would you be okay to drive?"
"Well, yeah, but—"
"I can call for a pick-up service to get your truck."
"Edward, I'm worried about you, not my truck," I protested. "You'll be miserable. It'll probably be a three-day drive with holiday traffic."
"I don't care."
He moved close to me, snuggling his face into my chest, and I leaned my head on his. I lay quietly for a long time, wide awake, before it struck me that I was supposed to have called Charlie back; for all he knew, we were still at the hospital, but my phone was out of reach, and with Edward finally comfortable, I couldn't justify getting up and disturbing him. And honestly, the night had been so emotionally draining I wasn't sure I'd make rational sense.
Eventually, I felt Edward's breathing even out and his body relax as he drifted to sleep. I kept a hold of him, listening to the white noise of rain and feeling his heartbeat under my hand, and worrying about so many things before they began to blur together.
The room eventually dimmed and stretched wide, then narrow, undulating like a heartbeat. I was cocooned in a hazy glow of blue—a light off in the distance somewhere—and the walls became water, a streaming, tranquil current. I inspected the flow with my fingertips, feeling the tickling swill on my skin as it trickled down my hands and arms, and instead of dripping astray, it began to cover me from head to toe.
I walked toward the azure luminance in my liquid armor, wondering what secrets it held in its center, feeling a shallow river begin to flood over my feet, erasing the path and blurring my view ahead. Behind me, the cascading falls provided a steady sound, so I slowed my pace when I heard it transform from a rush to a patter, then to a sprinkle. Then splats.
Echoing, soft drops, almost like bubbles, and then the sound of rippling water.
I glanced over my shoulder, but the darkness had taken over; there was no going back. I looked again to the light to see if there was an easier passage, but it was growing dimmer. The soothing, tranquil blue was fading to black, and a vehement splash suddenly came from behind.
A wave of water knocked against my knees as if whatever had invaded brought a flood. Hearing ragged breathing that wasn't my own and wet, slapping slashes, I knew.
Something was coming for me.
Trying to run, I pitched myself forward, desperately reaching out for anything to help pull me forward faster, but what I had thought was protection—the refreshing palliation from the walls—was hardening, weighing me down. Panicked, I sank further, and whatever was behind me was getting closer.
I heard a snarl and felt swipes on my back, and there was a cacophony of shrieking and swashing, and when it reached me, it pulled me under into blackness and suffocation and blinding terror.
I couldn't even scream.
And then, I jerked awake with a start, gasping. I squinted at the light, panting as I blinked away remnants of sleep and its illusions, and the paralyzing fear melted into cool relief, like a balm to a burn.
Just a dream.
Edward was still fast asleep, which I was thankful for, and when I'd caught my breath, I gingerly reached over to let my fingers graze his cheek, consoled by the feel of him, safe and still beside me. Though I frowned at his temperature—he was hot, and that's when I realized how sweaty I was. Probably not the best idea to huddle close to someone with a fever; I was undoubtedly only helping him retain a higher body heat.
I was about to slide out of bed when a sudden thump came from the window, short and sharp.
Frozen in place, I stared at the window with narrowed eyes, afraid to breathe. When no additional noise came, I allowed myself to take a slow, shaky inhale. Maybe it had been a bat—it wouldn't be the first time. Once, Edward and I had been up late talking, and one had bonked into the window, scaring the hell out of us. However, that sound had been much louder.
I breathed a quiet sigh just as another noise came.
A creak was coming from the same window.
It was strange the way panic swirled so quickly in my chest, like bad-tempered blood. I slid my fingers over my throat and tried to quell the invisible tightness, swallowing against the slithering anxiety. I almost woke Edward, but seeing him peacefully asleep stopped me. So I kept my eyes on the window as if a stare-down might make everything return to normal. The creak eventually came again, but more shrill. Like a—
Scratch. Someone was scratching the glass.
"Impossible," I whispered aloud.
It went against everything in my body to move, but I was suddenly seized by defiance, anger, and plain stupidity as I quickly slipped out of bed. Above caring that I was the clichéd idiot in every horror movie by investigating a strange noise, I went to the window, unlocked it, and pulled it open.
I stretched myself over the sill and looked back and forth, up and down, silently demanding something to be there, but it was only air and space and spritzes of rain.
Because it was insane that someone could be outside, four stories up on slippery wooden siding, in the middle of the goddamned night. It could have been the wood creaking, sounding like scratching, or even the wind singing through a rogue crack.
It was what I kept thinking to myself as I closed the window, locking it again and pulling the curtains shut.
Without warning, a roaring clap of thunder blazoned from outside, and I nearly jumped out of my skin. Edward stirred with a low moan but miraculously didn't wake, though now, I selfishly wished he had. I sat on the edge of the bed, hearing the rain pick up outside, staring at the window as though the locks might unclick and it would slide open on its own.
I couldn't imagine falling back asleep, though the longer I sat there, the heaviness of exhaustion and the weight of emotions of the past two days began to get to me again, and I ended up in fatigued-induced tears for the umpteenth time. It might have been my crumbling shield I was trying to keep up, but it was enough for me to get the urge to do what I'd been putting off—I stood up, got my phone, unlocked the door, and went into the hallway. I left the door halfway open as I walked to the railing, pulling up my recent outgoing calls.
Seconds away from pressing Charlie's number, I turned to lean against the banister and promptly froze. I blinked, staring, slowly lowering my hand and nearly dropping my phone. I took a few steps back toward my room, fixed on the door; the object my eyes were drawn to sparkled in the dim hall lighting, and as I got closer, I realized it was covered in droplets—wet with rainwater.
There, hanging on my doorknob, was my missing jacket.