His Hands, Her Heart
"The heart has reasons that reason does not understand."-Bossuel.
I see her across the bar, holding her tonic and lime in one hand and drumming the beat on her thigh with the other. When she raises the tonic over her head and smiles at someone else, she looks like the fucking Statue of Liberty, calling every man in the place to freedom.
We all want her. I don't have to be psychic to know that. She is impossible she's so perfect. She has shiny brown hair and her lips don't quit smiling, even when she's not. Her dress is dark and fits her like a glove. O.J.'s glove even; two sizes too small and absolutely killer.
I watch a clean cut college kid approach her, a shot in each hand, and wait to see how she'll shut him down. She takes in his grin and trendy fedora, flicks one finger against the collar of his shirt, grins back at him. The same single finger curls between them and the kid leans down to hear whatever she says, still smiling. None of the phrases flitting through my mind seem to match the kid's shifting expressions..
Then he's staring right at me with a look that's trying to scream I'm intimidating! but falls short. I don't see much more because she's looking at me too, smiling, winking, walking away. The crowd has sucked her in and swirled around her, smoke and sweat and skin everywhere, none of it hers.
The next time I see her she's on her back, her eyes closed, shiny hair all over. Naked, laid out under my hands, my fingers inside her.
The next time I see her, she's dying.
I see him the moment he walks into the bar and spend an extra fifteen minutes cursing and waiting for a drink because of it. The bartender shouts at me but I don't hear. I watch Tall and Lanky move through the crowd to the bar across the room and wonder how a man's walk can be so evocative of sex. He rolls his wide shoulders slightly in and combined with his tucked-down chin, he's no longer walking but brooding through the crowd, and I'm imagining what he looks like under his tailored jacket and jeans.
When I do finally get my drink, I smirk at it, my prop for the night, thanks to a spilled glass of wine an hour before. I changed at Ali's, and I'm thin but she is tiny and there is no breathing going on in my borrowed dress. No breathing and absolutely no drinking because nothing else is fitting but me. Barely.
Ali waves at me from across the smoky space so I salute her with my prop tonic, our smiles wide and matching because best friend ESP is like that. She's perched on some kid's lap, probably making his year because she's so far out of his league, but that's Ali. Fun is all she does, all she is. It's one of the things I love about her. The kid grins at her, at his other friend, and me. I know what's happening. I sigh, because sometimes Alice's fun is so fucking lame.
The kid's friend is walking towards me and I already know how it's going to play out, but Ali isn't the only one who can have fun. Might as well enjoy the buzz oxygen deprivation has given me.
This guy is maybe twenty-two, almost certainly wearing something from Abercrombie, reeking of Cool Water and drug-store hair gel. In ten years he'll be a hottie, so long as he doesn't fall prey to the frat boy curse of too much beer and a cushy desk job after graduation. But right now he just looks like a punk kid with a scorecard I don't intend to be on.
When he holds out the shot glass and names himself I'm pleased I at least rate enough effort for a breath mint, though not enough for actual eye contact. Damn Alice's freakishly small self. He might start drooling in a second, and what cleavage has been squeezed out of me in this dress looks to be dangerously close to a second bath tonight. I flick his collar, turned up of course, to get his eyes up on mine.
Then the humor hits and I can't help smiling at this dope. Yeah, I'm about to turn him down and he'll be pissed and disappointed or whatever, but it's the why that gets me. He'll make up some reason (I'm a bitch/lesbian/pro/what-have-you) and I'll have to let him because there's no way I'm telling him the truth. Even if I wanted to I can't take that shot. I'm already spinning from the lack of actual breathing I'm doing in this dress and alcohol gives me that horrible little belly, which is fine normally. But if that happens tonight I'll split this thing like a cocoon and everyone will laugh because I'm wearing the old cotton undies I had on under my original blouse and jeans getup. And they look like someone's mom's undies. Maybe even his mom's.
I have to take a deep breath - almost a complete inhale - for the first time in hours, so I won't just laugh in his face. Kid is a classic college tool but he doesn't deserve that. A quick glance at the mirror over the head of the bar solves everything, and I'm thrilled by whatever karma or chance has done to give me this moment. It's too perfect, and pretend is basically required on a night like this.
Leaning into the kid to make sure he hears me almost has me laughing again. His shirt smells like fabric softener, a sure sign that mommy still does the laundry. I'm trying to be calm and sweet and earnest as I thank him for the offer but will have to decline because my boyfriend is the jealous type. I point out Tall and Smokin' Hot across the bar, still sitting where I'd seen him in the mirror's reflection, and let the kid draw his own conclusions.
He sees me looking at him, so I smile and wink a minxy little wink, because I feel minxy and silly and free tonight. Besides, he deserves a thanks for his role in my little charade. He smiles back and the muscles in my gut get tight and tense so I know it's time to look at something else. Bella's unwritten rule number one: any man who makes you want to fuck immediately with absolutely no effort is the devil and to be avoided at all costs. Or something like that, it's hard to remember when I'm actually thinking about the fucking part with him involved. I turn and let the crowd swallow me, making my way back to Ali and screaming in her ear that I'm going outside for a quick breath. Her eyebrow quirks at my phrasing and I'm laughing again, mostly forgetting Sexy Smile at the bar.
The cool night air hits the sweat on my skin and gives me goosebumps. It makes me think of Broody Dude for some reason and I feel fresh goosebumps rush down my arms and legs nipples. I need to stop; it feels delicious but I'm not going there tonight. All the stars are hidden behind the bright city lights but the moon is full and pretty in all that black. I look up at it, having my little pagan moment in the parking lot. I've always loved the moon. I feel connected to it; I guess all women do to some degree.
The breeze picks up and makes a strange growl-y noise behind me. Except it's not the breeze and even before I finish processing the thought everything is screaming agony and then black black black.
The sound of sirens outside the bar pulls me off the stool I've been sitting on. I hate that I respond automatically, unthinkingly, to their screeching call, but I also don't question it. Going against who I am is stupid and selfish so I don't. Too much is wasted that way.
A girl's scream cuts through the music as I wind through the crowd, searching for a way to the door. The DJ cuts the music and the lights go up and that scream is fucking endless and I feel the terrible calm welling up inside me. That scream says everything I need to know. There's a certain pitch, a specific timbre to the way people scream, and I read them all like books. This one is one of the worst, the physical personification of someone loved being ripped out of the soul, the sound of fatalities and so-close-it-may-as-well-be. The wail of utter pain and loss, and when it just keeps going like this one does, it's probably a sure thing.
People count the time between lightening and thunder to judge a storm's location; I count the seconds between a scream beginning and ending. This one ends finally and starts right back up again, one long vowel, the ubiquitous 'no'.
Now I can see the source and the tiny part of my brain that isn't drowning in that cool collected cloud I sometimes despise is amazed that such a small body can produce that kind of sound. People amaze frequently in situations of extreme stress, it's remarkable really. Adrenaline-fueled mothers lifting cars to save their child, friends of tragedy howling at volumes that seem impossible; it's all the same.
I get through the crowd finally, and that same tiny part of my brain still functioning like it's just another night explodes. The shiny brown hair is everywhere, but now it's all wrong because the tips of it are stuck under the wheel of a sedan parked at an awkward angle. That tiny part is shrieking impossibly, but then it's gone, sucked under the cloud, the haze, the whatever it is that lets me get though situations like this. No, I thrive in this fucking cloud, and I'll feel sick about that later like I always do when it's done, but right now I'm going to use the fuck out of it.
Excuse me I say to the medics on their knees, expecting and getting the look that says get the fuck out of here because we have a life to save. Excuse me, I say, and now they're lifting the stretcher up on it's braces and rolling towards the open back doors of the bus. I'm riding with her, I say, and they ask who I am to her.
Before I can answer a face in the crowd answers for me. He's her boyfriend, says the face, and I realize that under it's pallor of fear it's the kid she spoke to earlier, before she winked, before she smiled. Before she was broken, her life bleeding out onto the pavement around her.
I'm too shocked by him to tell them who I really am. The medics look at him then me, and shrug, telling me to get in, they gotta book. I climb in the back and automatically start the routine. Pull the lids back from the eyes and don't notice how they're brown like well-worn leather, notice how they're glazed and non-responsive. Grip the wrist between two fingers and thumb, feeling only a bare and thready pulse and not bird bones and pale blue veins. I reach into the compartment above my head for a hypo before I remember this isn't my bus. The driver recognizes me, asks how I am, and did I know what happened? I don't exactly, but it isn't hard to figure out. The story is written out before me in her blood and broken bones.
We finally get to the hospital, my hospital, and I run in before them, shrugging out of my blazer and yelling for someone to get me some scrubs. I know they'll send her to Trauma 1 so I go straight there and starting scrubbing in. I don't think about how her legs looked in her dress as she walked. I think about what it's going to take to fix the multiple fractures the left one suffered. I am thinking about internal bleeding, brain hemorrhaging, punctured organs, crushed lungs and shattered bones. I am not thinking about this girl dying on my table.
I don't think at all, just let it become the familiar game. Fix this, save that. I'm a fucking hero.
Dr. Cullen is firmly in place as I push through the swinging doors to the trauma room, but he flinches as I see her again. She isn't something broken needing fixed, she is a beautiful girl who'd winked at me. She's too pale and bruised and cut and I cannot handle seeing this stranger die. A nurse is bagging her as I watch, breathing for her with steady hands, and another is cutting through what's left of that tiny dress while yet another is scanning monitors, preparing needles and drugs.
The sight of that dress being cut in two to fall on the floor and settle in a pool of blood, her blood, does it. Dr. Cullen is back, and the vic on the table has maybe minutes to be saved, as much as I can save her.
"Jane, page Carlisle now, I'll need him for the c-spine work. Marcus, bring that tray closer, what's her BP now?"
Firmly wrapped in the hero haze, I go to work. An hour passes somehow, the minutes measured in bolus and catheter and chest film and cyanotic, each screaming it's own scream of mortality.
Then it's Defib and nothing and Clear and nothing and starting chest compressions and nothing, Carlisle's voice saying Call it son, it's over, and someone yelling and God the sweat is pouring off me now. It's not over. I won't let it be.
It's my fault, my fault, my fault. If I hadn't made her promise to come out with me tonight, if I hadn't spilled wine on her, if I hadn't made her wear that stupid dress... If I hadn't, she wouldn't be here. It's all my fault, and I'll never forget seeing her broken and bloody and so so white on the pavement. I don't deserve to forget it, because it's my fault. If I'd done a single thing differently, things wouldn't have worked out this way, it would have been the split second that changed everything. She wouldn't have needed air, and even if she did, she would have been there a minute sooner or a minute later instead of here in this sanitized prison of death.
Fuck I hate hospitals. They're so white and mint green and rubbing alcohol and dying people. No, I'm not thinking about dying people, I'm thinking about Bella being strong. I'm thinking about positive and she can and she will.
Fuck fuck fuck, she's dying and I'm stuck out here in this room with all the other people waiting for someone to die. That's enough to make me sick, and I run into the bathroom, slamming the stall door open and emptying my stomach. I don't hear the door open, but someone is rubbing my neck with something damp and cool and soothing noises are filling this abhorrently clean stall. Not a single line of graffiti anywhere, not even a scratched heart and initials. It's another dark mark against hospitals in my book. All bathrooms deserve graffiti and love notes and phone numbers and gross sex jokes. That's why there's so much blank space. Fucking hospitals.
Who the fuck is touching me?
Sweetie, a voice says, and I hate sweetie and honey and dear from strangers, but it insists I'm sweetie so I look over my shoulder. I hope I don't have puke on my shirt, but I don't deserve such a selfish thought while Bella's dying.
The voice is a nurse, short and round and looking perfectly nurse-y. I hate her automatically, but she's handing me another damp paper towel for my face and it's so good, so good. She asks what I need and I want to smack her because I don't need anything, Bella needs! She should be saving her life right now, and I say it out loud because social graces are the last thing I care about now.
Sweetie, she says again, can't she see I loathe that word? Sweetie, your friend is in the best hands in Chicago, and probably the entire country, and the two Doctors' Cullen will do their best to help her.
She has two doctors with the same name, that's ridiculous. I laugh rudely in her face, I know my breath is rank and pukey, but whatever. I want to see her, I want to see Bella now. RIGHT NOW.
Sweetie, again, but this time her quiet tone makes me realize I've been screaming. More tears come and I want to punch myself in the face. Hard. Please, I say, please take me to her. She's my best friend, she's my sister, she's all I care about, please please please. I'm not screaming, but I'm hardly talking either, mostly sobbing and choking and wiping snot all over my face.
She starts shaking her head but I must look either really scary disgusting or really desperate because she sighs and says wash your hands, dear, then we'll see what we can do.
I wash my hands, because I'm a dear and she's a sweetie now, she's my guiding light and I'll do whatever she asks. I go ahead and splash cold water all over my face and it's a good thing because I feel almost like a human again, not a shapeless mass of screaming emotion. I'm Alice again, Bella's Ali, and she needs me to be that for her now. I understand now, and Nurse Sweetie sees me square my shoulders as she hands me those disgusting brown paper towels I hate and she nods at me.
Now I'm ready. Now I can handle this.
Oh no no no, I cannot handle this. Nurse Sweetie has left me outside a big picture window, and I see her in the room, talking to a man in a white coat with surfer hair that doesn't match the age on his face and hands. No way this is her doctor. No fucking Dr. Dude, I'm a Surfer is saving my B's life, fuck no.
I'm going in there to say so when the machines all start bleeping and blaring and suddenly Dr. California is all serious. I can see he is a miracle worker now, it's in his steady eyes and steady hands as he turns to the younger doctor next to him. The young one has hair like a firecracker, everywhere and shiny, and he's shaking his head at Dr. Serious, emphatic no's, over and over.
Nurse Sweetie sees me and heads back out, telling me I need to go back to the waiting room, she'll come for me when she can. Something in her eyes is scary, really fucking terrifying. She's afraid. This woman who deals with death and mayhem and puking crazy girls on a daily basis is afraid of what's happening in the room my Bells is in. A pack of wild rabid horses couldn't pull me away.
I look back through the glass in time to see Bella's ribs open outward and I feel my stomach churning again. She's opened up like a... something, my mind will not connect any image I've ever seen to the one before me. My best friend, the girl who knows every secret, the person who was my actual first kiss when we practiced in second grade, the woman I admire and love and cannot live without is lying in a room with half her body split in half, her upper part wide open, her ribs spread with some torture tool. It's not even the worst part.
Dr. Firecracker Hair is reaching into her. He's putting his hands inside until only his wrists and up are visible, his hands deep in her chest, and I realize what he's doing. He has her heart in his hands. He's squeezing and pressing and making it work, forcing her blood to move.
I will never... There is no way to... Words are nothing. He has her heart in his two hands. It's too enormous to grasp, too impossible to actually sink in, so it circles my mind like a piranha, viciously taking bites at unexpected times. I can't look away from that space where his wrists and her chest meet, but I have to see him, the man who is holding her life between his fingertips.
As soon as I reach his face, I realize something else. She's not going to make it. He has a look of desperate concentration, like nothing I've ever seen. Like he's moving a mountain with his mind. Like he's going to make Bella's heart start again with pure willpower. It's comforting in a small way to know she's in such good hands (her heart, his hands, her heart in his hands) but it gives away too much. No one looks at someone who will live with that kind of fierce, burning, impossible focus. No, Bella is going to die, but there is the tiniest spark of future comfort in knowing that this man has done everything he can to save her. He has breathed for her, he has become her most important muscle, he will not let go (her heart is in his hands), he will not let go.
It's calm now, if only in my head, because it's happening. She's leaving, or already gone, and there's nothing else so it's calm. The eerie peace of survivors has filled me up and now I simply watch without seeing as he stares at his hands, her heart. I'm looking at his face and I want to tell him it's okay to stop because he looks so raggedly exhausted, when suddenly he doesn't. He looks like a ray of sunlight, like a child at Christmas, like every single happy cliche I've ever heard.
He smiles at Dr. California and his neck relaxes slightly, his shoulders curve in just a little bit under the weight of everything. He lets himself relax for just a hair of a second, then calls out for someone to do something and everyone is busy bees again.
That's when I know she's going live.
I float like a flower down a river in the dark and the water is silk beneath my fingertips...
I am the most beautiful girl at the dance, and everyone is smiling at me...
I rode the rollercoaster too many times, and now they won't let me off even though I'm screaming screaming screaming and please isn't working they just smile and I go up again, I fall down again, and the pain is too much, too much...
Somewhere in this dark sky is a star with a voice I want to taste, like a caramel melted in the sun. I want to swim in it, lap it up, make love to it. It doesn't say anything I hear, but I feel it on my skin, next to my ear...
I don't want to get up Dad, five more minutes...
My eyes are full of sand and I keep trying to open them to blink it away but they're also covered in cement and not moving like I tell them to. I get tired of trying so I focus on the rest. I hear hospital sounds, quiet whirring and chirps and squeaks, so I know where I am, because I've been here before. Why is something I don't remember or care about right now, because pain is sinking in everywhere. My chest feels like an elephant is sitting on it, being crushed and exploding at the same time, sending shrapnel like glass shards through my arms and legs, pain like I've never dreamed of. Even my skin is screaming. There are voices now, familiar almost but far away under the blanket of agony lying on me. I want to focus on them, so I try really hard, but this pain! Fuck.
"She'll be waking up soon, and she's going to be in a lot of pain..."
Whoever this is talking is a fucking genius. I'm awake! I'm in pain! Fix it!
"There was serious damage to her spleen which we've..."
Okay, that explains about six inches of the pain blanket. Why is there more? Why won't my eyes open? The pain is overwhelming me, blocking out the voices and I try so hard to pay attention.
"Honestly, I've never seen anything like it. This girl has got an incredible strength in her, you should be proud..."
Incredible strength? I can feel the tears seeping out the corners of my closed eyes because I am so not incredibly strong, I'm so incredibly hurt please please please help me help me
Dad. What are you doing here? You're on the other side of the country. I love you so much Dad, please make it stop make it stop please help!
"Doctor, what's wrong with her? I heard her say help me, what's wrong?"
"She's just coming out of a medically induced coma Mr. Swan, and she's going to have a lot of pain. Once we can assess her, we'll give her more pain medication, but we have to wait to be certain."
Whoever this diabolically cruel doctor talking to my father is deserves to die a slow fiery death. I'm in pain, I want drugs.
"Assess... me... now."
Dad is laughing, what a great sound. I always knew I'd marry the first man who laughed like you dad.
"Does she know she's awake? I mean, she keeps saying stuff I don't understand..."
"She's aware, and doing as well as can be expected. Once the drugs wear off she'll be more coherent."
This is ridiculous. I'm right fucking here, I'm in pain, give me drugs now. Dad please, pull your gun and make him drug me. Now.
"Ah, Bells, I left my gun at home and I love you so much. You're gonna be fine baby girl, just rest right now."
"I know, Dr. Cullen is going to fix that right now."
I know that tone. I can hear the look he's giving this stupid Dr. Cullen in is voice. I hope the good doctor is withering under it right now.
"Yes, I am. Bella, you're going to go to sleep now, and when you wake up you'll feel, well... a little better."
Sleep? I've been asleep, I want to wake up, I want to...
I can smell the blanket around me before I open my eyes, and immediately am aware. I fell asleep on the couch in the doctor's lounge again, and someone, most likely Jess or Angela, threw one of the hospital blankets on me.
The coffee I smell next is heaven, enough to have my eyes opening. Dad is sitting on the table next to me, a cup of coffee in one hand and a clipboard in the other. I sit up quickly, asking with my eyes if it's her chart, if she's okay, if I'm needed and he shakes his head slightly and forces the cup in my hands. It's still hot, a rarity in my normal drinking-coffee-at-work- routine, so I know he made a fresh pot for me. I love my father. He's the absolute greatest human being in existence.
He's smiling at me like I'm five again, and I feel around the top of my head. I should have cut my hair a month ago, but I didn't, now it's everywhere and I know I look ridiculous but right now...
"How is she?"
I don't bother trying to hide anything on my face, in my actions. He's watched me watch her for the past three weeks, there's nothing left to hide. He brought me a gurney when I refused to leave the first two days, exhaustion making me crazy but still refusing to sleep. He called me after each of his rotations to tell me every unimportant thing about her progress without once telling me to get some sleep, to just go home, to take a day off. He looked me in the eye the day she came off artificial respiration and told me she was mostly out of the woods and how long had I known her. He nodded and understood, really understood, when I told him everything, which was really nothing because I didn't know her, I'd only saved her life. I was a stranger from a bar who spent every moment of spare time watching her sleep. It was creepy, but I was completely unable to stop myself. He asked me one question, and when I answered, he just nodded again and told me he was proud and he loved me.
I tell him tell me, and he does, and I'm so fucking high because it's good. It's all good. She's doing as remarkably as she has throughout the whole thing. She's waking up on her own from the coma I'd put her in to let her poor broken body start healing. She's as cognizant as can be expected. She recognizes her father's voice, and has even shown some humor which has my Dad laughing now as he remembers. She's in pain, that much is clear, but from our perspective it's a good thing; we know that if she is capable of feeling the pain of re-knitting bones and growing skin it's going well. She'll be alright.
Suddenly it's all too much, everything comes down and I have to rest my forehead on Dad's shoulder for a minute and he lets me, knowing, understanding.
"It's time Edward. Go home, take a shower and a nap and eat dinner. I'll see you tonight."
And it's okay for him to say that now, because I can do all those things finally. Because she will be here. She is alive.
I give him a hug, a real one with both arms and squeeze hard, and tell him thank you that he knows is really thank you/I love you/it means everything. I walk out of the lounge and into the general mayhem of the afternoon E.R. crowd feeling like I imagine religious types feel after a baptism or seeing a statue of a saint cry real tears. Jess is at the desk and she smiles and nods when I walk past and I have to smile back at her hugely. I know the nurses think we're some Romeo and Juliet fairytale; I'm no white knight though. I feel sick each time I realize how far from the truth that is. We aren't anything, strangers who held each other's eyes for a handful of seconds in a bar. I'm just the guy who who held her heart for a minute then wouldn't leave her alone. It even freaks me out, so I focus on Jess again, and getting out of here. She pats one hand to her hair and gives me a stern now-go-take-care-of-yourself look my mom would be proud of, and I run both hands through my crazy hair even though all it ever does is make it worse.
My coat, car keys, and coffee arming me to face a world I haven't taken part in for weeks, I step in the elevator and go up two floors, smiling the whole time. I look like a goon but who gives a fuck, this is a great fucking day for it. There's just one more stop I have to make before I go.
This time I think I'm actually going to wake up for real, not the fuzzy halfway dream I've been having but the actual awake and aware and alive (I'm alive I'm alive I'm alive) waking up that normal people do. That I'd done myself until I spent almost a month not waking up at all.
I open my eyes easily, and the pain is there, sharp and deep, but I know what it means now so I embrace it, cheering it on and reveling in it. This pain is my bitch now, and I'll sing her to sleep every night before I'll let her take me under again.
There's a ball of tacky knitted blankets in the chair next to me, and the poof of black on top gives Ali away. I know she's been here a lot, not because I remember but because she told me the last time I woke up, feeling irate and fuzzy until she started sobbing and apologizing about some nonsense. I told her to shut up and hug me (gently!) and to bring me three fucking double cheeseburgers because every time I thought about food going in my mouth instead of through a tube I just about orgasmed. Then we laughed and cried all at once and things were going to be alright. I was alive, I was miraculous, I was going to be okay.
She stirs under all the afghans and her head pops straight up like an ostrich coming out of the sand. When she sees me staring at her she smiles and we stay like that for a moment, just appreciating everything, all of it, and loving it. The upside of almost dying is that if you live through it, you feel pretty fucking fantastic about damn near everything. It's a little cheesy but it feels so fucking good I can't deny it so I'm mostly a ball of extreme happiness with tears around every corner. Happy to be alive tears, but still. I never used to be so emotional. Of course, I never barely survived being rundown by a drunk driver in the kind of ginormous cars old people drive on Sundays. Charlie tells me I curse more now, and I guess I do. I just feel like each statement I make needs to have that extra affirmation. I died. I'm alive. Now everything is different. It was a really trippy feeling, but Ali mostly got it, so when we just looked at each other, it was cool. We understood.
She tells me about Charlie after awhile; he's at a hotel sleeping, he'll be back tonight, he's fine. She tells me about one of the physical therapists she saw playing basketball on his break whose number she'd gotten. He has the improbable name of Jasper, which either makes me want to laugh or sigh romantically, I'm not sure which, but she was all gooey about him so I enjoyed it with her. She helps me take a bath, which means swiping at the cast/stitch/bandage-free parts of me with a damp sponge. She'd convinced the nurses to let her set up this hilarious contraption to wash my hair a week ago when she got tired of me whining about how gross it was. One big plastic container with warm soapy water and another with clean to rinse it. Her little bird arms are comforting and sure as she helps me slide up far enough to hang my head mostly off the bed. She even shampoos the part they shaved to drill a hole in my skull, and I giggle. I'm so glad my funny silly Ali is back.
When she's finished I feel like a million bucks. I have to stay in my scratchy hospital gown still so the nurses can have easy access to my chest, but Ali brought me one of my long sweater socks for the leg not in a cast and my favorite blanket from my apartment.
I'm tired, which is ridiculous considering I've only been awake for an hour and barely moved, but it's the kind of tired you have when you feel clean and rested and perfectly primed for a good snuggle in a thick blanket. I don't fight it, and Alice rubs little circles on my scalp with her fingers as I fall like a stone.
When I wake up again, she's reading some celebrity trash rag, and when I say hey she starts telling me about Angelina and Brad's twentieth child or something, like we've been having a conversation the whole time. She's going on about jeans or genes, I'm not sure which, but it doesn't seem to matter much; I figure they were both pretty good considering the sources. I stretch what little I can and settle in to hear the story of some misbegotten starlet driving into another starlets home with her limo because they had the same purse, or boyfriend, or something. I'm not really awake all the way yet, but it's a nice dozy feeling. I look out the window as she talks, letting her voice fade while I watch the clouds. The sky is pure blue and the clouds are pure white and I feel like I have to memorize these details now because I can. Because I am alive.
Ali's silence catches my attention, and I look at her face three times, blinking and looking again, before I shift to see what she's staring at. Her expression is weird, like adoration and pride and joy and everything wonderful wrapped up in one. In a blind test I'd say it was puppies and kittens cuddling she's seeing. She's looking through the glass window at someone I can't see because the glare hides everything but the blue scrubs I'm so sick of seeing around here. I figure it's her basketball playing therapist friend Jasper, but her expression isn't quite what I'd expect from the x-rated lusty feelings she's talked about.
She looks at me after a second and I can tell she's waiting for something. I don't know what it is so I just look back and wait. Ali hates waiting, she'll explode into information if I just give her a minute to stew.
"Did you recognize that guy B?"
Alice sounding guarded is even weirder, and I'm starting to get a little freaked out so I tell her to quit fucking with me and fill me in.
And then things get a little... crazy.
I feel like a human being again after my marathon shower and dinner, and I slept for five hours without moving an inch. My inner alarm clock woke me ten minutes before the real thing went off, years of sleep deprivation and hospital scheduling hard at work. My rotation starts in an hour, so I get up and spend thirty on the treadmill, just waking everything up, shaking off and preparing. This is it.
The hospital is slow this time of night occasionally the calm before the storm. No one went to the E.R. during dinner or Idol. Then apparently they all ate bad chicken or attacked people who didn't vote for the right kid and ended up here all at once. It was funny, in a way.
Tonight I'm glad I'll have a little while to myself. It's going to take a few minutes, or hours, to do this right. I get on the elevator again, hitting the button to the second floor ICU for the millionth time. After today, I'll either be going to the third floor or not at all.
The doors open and I walk towards Bella's room, trepidation making me jumpy and strange. Thinking her name in my head like I know her is a guilty pleasure This is the first time we'll meet. Actually meet, introductions and maybe a handshake. Fuck, if she shakes my hand I'm going to fucking scream or run or hate everything forever. It isn't the first time I've seen her since she woke up, but it's the first real time. I'd seen her before I left, through the window, and watched her watch clouds while her tiny friend Ali chattered on. I smiled at her when she glanced up, but I knew she couldn't see me. Unless you were lined up in front of the window like Ali, it was all a white glare. That was alright with me, I wasn't quite ready yet.
I'm still not ready, but this is it. Deep breath. And there she is, lying in the bed she's lived in for a month, still purple and green and yellow from almost head to toe, and beautiful. So beautiful. I know it's an overused word, but it's meant for girls like this one, if there are any others. She isn't gorgeous, she isn't pretty, she isn't anything but beautiful. No one had ever been more perfectly named than this pale, thin girl with shiny brown hair and eyes that are coffee beans and soft sparrow wings and the eyes of a deer looking out from the trees.
I put my hand on the door and my heart is racing like I've been running for my life instead of walking towards it.
"Bella Swan? My name is Edward Cullen."
Alice tells me about sitting in the waiting room when they first brought me in, and how she threw up in the bathroom and about Nurse Sweetie (who is really Nurse Stanley but we call her Nurse Sweetie because she is, and she likes it) and watching as they cracked open my ribs when I died. I listen around the phantom pain in my chest, the scar still a deep and ugly red, but better than the alternative. Then she gets that strange look again, and as I listen, I start to understand. She tells me about the Dr's Cullen, previously Dr. Firecracker and Dr. California, one of whom she still calls by his nickname because he likes it too. The other one has become, in Alice vernacular, simply The Doctor. Her voice gets quiet and she's almost whispering to me about Dr. California stepping back and watching as The Doctor put his hands inside my chest to make my heart beat. She does whisper how she couldn't move past that moment for a while, and how it kept swirling through her thoughts (his hands, her heart, his hands hold her heart) and I tell her I understand, even as my own moment swirls through my mind (I'm alive, I'm okay, I'm alive).
"Bella, it was like... like nothing I can even explain. He just stood there, and his face... God Bella, it was incredible. He had your fucking heart in his fingers, forcing it to work, and you could just see every single piece of him willing it to start. It was like, I don't even know. Bella, he just refused to quit, it wasn't even in the room with him, and when your heart started again... He looked like it was only right, like he'd just been waiting for it to catch up with the game and it was beautiful Bella, just fucking stunning and powerful and look, now I'm going to start crying again..."
I pat her hand on the bed next to mine, but I'm not here, not really. I'm in my mind, trying to force myself to see it the way she had. A man cut me open and held the most important piece of myself in his hands. It doesn't seem possible, like no mere mortal should be capable of such a thing, but it saved my life so I guess I shouldn't knock it. And I want to meet this human man who went to such inhuman lengths to keep me here on earth.
A quick rap on the door has Alice squeezing my fingers before she lets go. I don't bother to answer; I've learned people in hospitals only knock out of habit and won't actually wait for you to say it's okay, come in, because they don't actually care about things like modesty or privacy or...
"Bella Swan? My name is Edward Cullen."
His face almost looks familiar, but his voice is right there, right in the front of my mind, and before I think about it I say It was you, and his eyes light up and he's smiling and he is without a doubt the most gorgeous man I've ever seen. I have a rule about gorgeous men though, and definitely ones who are also my doctor...
"You're The Doctor."
I don't meant it as a question, but Alice is nodding and he's looking puzzled but still smiling like I've just given him a new Porshe, or whatever doctors drive these days.
"I am a doctor, yes. Do you remember me Bel... Miss Swan?"
"I heard you while I was in a coma. Is that even possible? It must be, because I remember your voice. I thought I was sinking in a sea of those melted caramels my dad always has in his winter coat pockets..."
I'm rambling, and embarrassed, so I look at Ali but she's just nodding at me with that face that's getting really irritating. Oh. He's The Doctor. He of the hands that held my heart, with the inhuman will. I guess once you've held a girl's heart, knocking really is just a habit. It can't get much more intimate than that.
He's still smiling at me, but the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes are tight, and I wonder what's happened that I missed. Something about him seems close, right there but out of reach. It's maddening and I can't help but ask.
"I'm sorry, but do I know you? I mean, outside of here?"
He looks at me, into me, making me feel like I'm been searched internally somehow. He's probably good at that by now.
"Why don't you tell me? Do you remember anything from before the accident? The night it happened?"
I lay here and look at him, because pacing isn't an option right now, and he has the most incredible eyes, dark green around light green and tiny golden suns shining out from his pupils. They're stunning, but not ringing any bells, memory ones at least. I'm not counting the other ones ringing. I scan the rest of his face, cataloging the scar at the end of his left eyebrow, the tiny indention next to his ear that was probably left over from childhood chicken pocks, just like mine. The space where his nose meets his cheek doesn't say anything, and his lips are trying to but I can't quite get it, so I pull back and take it in as a whole; the shock of hair, the chiseled face, the tall, lanky body beneath the plain blue scrubs. It's close, it's tickling my nose it's so damn close, so I squint my eyes a little, and as his outline blurs at the edges, his features become slightly less distinct. And there he is. It's Smokin' Hot from the bar. The Doctor, Dr. Firecracker, Tall and Sexy.
"I told that kid you were my boyfriend... you were sitting across the bar... I winked at you and I walked outside and looked at the moon..."
He's smiling again, and he steps up until he's right by my head and when he leans down I can smell toothpaste and coffee.
"Bella, can I ask you something?"
Alice is slipping out the door behind him and I want to ask her where she's going, but his voice, and those eyes, so I just nod at him like an idiot.
"Can I just sit here with you for a little while?" He sounds uncertain, and I think it's strange then wonder what I'm basing my judgment off because I don't know anything about this man. I think I want to, and I know that's strange.
I nod again, wondering how long these drugs will take to get out of my system because everything happening right now is too surreal for me to believe it's really happening. The hot guy from the bar I'd pretended was my boyfriend is actually a doctor, The Doctor, who pulled my heart out and brought me back to life with his own two hands, and he just wants to sit with me for a little while? Sure. Nurse Sweetie, when is my next round of meds because I'd like to skip the good stuff if I can thanks.
"Bella, I know you've talked to Ali and the Chief about the time you've missed, but I was wondering if you'd let me tell you too?"
So I'm out of it for a month and they're Ali and the Chief? Small potatoes at this point I suppose.
"Dr. Cullen, thank you..."
"No, please don't say that Bella. And I'm Edward, if that's okay with you."
It is, and he sits next to me and all his words come out drenched in caramel, even the horrible ones I wasn't sure I could stand listening to. He tells me about Ali screaming in the parking lot, and how he asked the paramedics to let him ride with me to the hospital and how the college kid said he was my boyfriend, and I can't help laughing a little at that. He tells me about getting to the hospital and spending hours just trying to get back up to zero, not even fixing things just trying to stop them from breaking worse. At some point I notice his hand on mine, the wide warm palm covering my whole hand, and I flip it over and wrap my fingers around his. Hand holding seems acceptable at this point, somehow much less personal than heart-holding, although it still sends fluttery things through my middle. He seems to enjoy it, and squeezes hard when he tells me that my heart stopped and wouldn't start again.
I see what Alice means then, watching his face turn into something else in front of me, something fierce and elemental. He is reliving it with me, and it's obviously so much harder for him, because I at least had been literally dead to the world at that point. He closes his eyes when he tells me about his dad telling him to call it, and I can't stop the chill I feel then, being told about the moment I wasn't left for dead. My own eyes close as he says he knew, he just knew that I was there, that I wasn't supposed to die, it wasn't right that way. We are both quiet for a minute and when I open my eyes again his are on me, something shining there like a fairytale, a pot of gold hidden deep in a forest. I don't think it's the drugs this time, because it stays there as he tells me that he knew I just needed some help, so he used his hands because that's what he does. He's a doctor so he fixes things with his hands. He says it like its just a thing, but I see it's not, that somehow my life means just as much to him as his own and I'm completely struck by what that might mean.
He made my heart beat, put me back together, and spent the next few weeks checking in on me. At least that's how he puts it, but I see something else there, something I'll save for later. Right now I need to go back to sleep.
"Edward?" His name sounds funny and old-fashioned when I say it out loud, but he pulls it off well. My mind shuns Eddie before I form the thought, and I almost laugh. He's so not an Eddie.
"Will you stay for a little while?"
I close my eyes and his fingers close on mine and sleep has never felt better.
I cannot count the hours I've spent watching her sleep already, but these are so much sweeter because she asked me to stay.
She sleeps through the night and I check whenever I get the chance. My dad stopped by while I was still sitting with her, holding her hand and counting every inhale and exhale. He didn't speak, he didn't have to. His hand on my shoulder was enough, and I took his strength into myself. It took all of mine and more to leave her side but I whispered a promise in her ear before I left, and I hoped she would hear me in her sleep again.
She knows me, she'd heard my voice, and she remembers me. The fact is so much better than any of the fantasies I've dreamed while I waited for her to wake up all those long weeks.
If I don't get out of this hospital soon, someone is going to die. Well, people are probably going to die here whether I leave or stay, but if I have to see my physical therapist again, she'll be the first to go.
She's physically perfect, if you're into that whole Amazon blonde with perfect bone structure thing. Which I'm not. She's also a Nazi. A master of torture and pain, inflicting it with her cover-girl smile, and my biggest motivation to make my leg work again is kicking her perfect teeth in.
We're in a room full of exercise balls and crippled people, and I can smell sweat and helplessness everywhere. It's so gross, but Rosalie the Punisher is grinning like we're in Maui. Bitch is probably looking forward to making me cry again.
"Sleeping Beauty! Bring your skinny ass over here girl, and let's see if we can't get it moving again."
I despise her. But I have to admit, she gets me pissed off enough to move through the excruciating pain I feel.
I did cry. I'm still crying, because that sadistic freak made me walk three steps completely on my own. Then she gave me ice cream and a hug, like we're best friends or something. I told her how much I hated her and she laughed. She got me mint chocolate chip ice cream. It's my favorite, and it must have affected my brain chemistry because I told her I'd be back tomorrow for more. Maybe I'm the sadistic one.
I wheel my chair through the halls and don't bother wiping tears off my face. People cry in hospitals all the time, and it's kind of nice being able to let loose and not feel like a sissy. Right now I do feel like a sissy, and wallowing seems in order when I get to my room.
Except he's standing at the foot of my bed, his ass resting against it and his ankles crossed as he flips through a chart. He's got a pen between his teeth and I watch him worry at it with his teeth. I hate him for a moment for looking so relaxed and easy in a room where I've felt anything but. He's not doing anything remotely sexy and still my exhausted body responds being near him. I want to hate him a little for that too.
He sees me and smiles and I remember how blotchy I get when I cry.
"How'd it go today Bella?"
I'm really searching his tone for anything resembling patronizing and come up empty. He asks me ever day and still sounds sincere and genuinely interested in hearing about my time with Stalin's lost blonde sister.
"I took three whole steps." Can I get a fucking cookie now, or should I ask for a sticker and lollipop from the first nurse I see?
He's about to start congratulating me on my progress like everyone does but the look on my face must convince him it's not a good idea. Or it could be splotchy redness that does it. Either way, I'm so glad he doesn't say it. I'm a grown woman, I don't want to be congratulated on taking three steps by myself like a toddler.
And I know he's probably asking to be polite or because he's going down some bedside manner checklist, but my words are tumbling out and there's no stopping them now. I lose it, every ounce of fear and pain and worry just pouring from my mouth. I tell him I hate getting pats on the back for stupid accomplishments and that I want to personally send Rosalie to a hell where no one ever gets off the couch and lives off chips and soda. I tell him that's what I should be doing and when I take a breath for my next rant I think about that statement. I probably won't be good for much else when I get out of here at the rate things are going I say, and the truth of it makes my dwindling tears start up full steam again. It's not fair comes out in a pathetic tone I don't recognize in myself and immediately despise, along with the phrase itself. But I've said it now, and it really isn't fair because I'm young and full of possibility except now I'm not. There go my dreams of tightrope walking in the circus.
He's going to laugh at me, which I kind of want because things have gotten really heavy in here and I'm not usually one for wallowing to this extreme. But I'm a little pissed that he's about to laugh when I'm obviously in the throes of a life crisis so I keep going, and get a little mean about it.
"You've got it so easy. You're a doctor, you probably always knew you would be, and you'll probably continue being one long after I settle on a career as a cashier at whatever gas station will let me sit down behind the counter because my stupid fucking leg is lame and my stupid fucking body will never be the same."
He's laughing now, big rumbles of it rolling out, and I'm surprised enough to stop my pity party. He really is something to look at, even the way his neck stretches when he tips his head back and would you look at that, even his back teeth are perfect. This hospital must have a great dental plan. He stops laughing, winding down into small chuckles, and he looks open and happy. And gorgeous.
"Bella, can I tell you something?"
The pissy part of me wants to say No! and stick my tongue out and pout awhile, but mostly I'm curious so I nod at him. His mouth opens and closes without making a sound, and I wonder if he does that because he's thinking about what he's going to say. I try to do that, but mostly I blurt. I'm impressed he's got that kind of control.
He's looking at me now in a way that makes me want to squirm but I settle on shaking the one foot that's mobile.
"Sometimes I hate being a doctor."
Unexpected is putting it mildly. He looks a little bemused by his admission, but I'm all ears and wiping forgotten tears off my chin. He tells me about how he hates playing God, because no matter how you look at it, that's what he's doing. He says he hates having to choose which person to save and which one to leave and the pain in his eyes is staggering. He can't deny that he's good, great even, at what he does, but that there's so much pressure he can't stand it some days.
"If I quit, if I just walked away, no one would look down on me for it; not the people who matter anyways. But what if I did, and the next day a school bus wrecks and the hospital is overwhelmed and kids die because I was selfish and wanted to be able to just breathe again?"
I'm such a selfish brat for my little shit-fit earlier and I tell him so. I feel miserable for him, because even his really great shoulders shouldn't have to carry all that weight around. He smiles again but now it's a little sad, not bright like before, and I know I've changed the course of his whole day. He could have just walked out of my room as happy as he walked in if I hadn't been all whiny and pathetic. I want to bring that back to him but I have no idea how.
"I'm pretty sure you're not a selfish brat Bella."
I want to squirm again, in embarrassment this time, but he's clearly not a dweller. Thank God.
"So, how did PT really go?"
I tell him about how everyone says I'm way ahead of schedule, and I can feel a little pride sinking in now. I say I'm not sure how she hasn't been caught yet, but Rosalie is definitely a Nazi, or possibly a descendant of H. H. Holmes, and he's laughing the good laugh again. My little pride is getting bigger and I can tell my tears are done for the day. Since he's the one who pulled me out of my self pity funk, I tell him about almost busting my ass on an exercise ball and saving myself by taking Rosalie down with me. It's embarrassing, but I can appreciate the humor now and I hope he will too.
"All grace today, huh?"
"Yeah, talk about a misnomer. A swan I ain't."
"Maybe not, but you are beautiful."
I'm still tear-blotchy and I've probably got dried snot under my nose. My hair is dirty and greasy and the sweat I worked up with Hitler Barbie suddenly smells really strong to me. I'm still rainbow-colored with injuries, and I know my exhaustion is showing. But when he says that, I believe him.
I've figured out exactly which doors have alarms and which ones the staff leaves open for smoke-breaks. I think the third floor exit to the stairwell is my favorite. It's the same bland beige as the rest of the doors, metal and heavy on it's hinges. But it's the only one Jasper's held me against while he kissed me senseless, so I feel a certain fondness for it.
I'm waiting for him to take a break, and as soon as I sit down on the stairs to count the seconds I hear the door behind me open slowly. His smell touches me a moment before he does, and it's like getting a pony on your fifth birthday only to find out just after that your daddy's bought a whole damn ranch. This man does things to me. And even better, he does things to me.
I pretend I don't know he's there and he slides his fingers across my shoulders, the back of my neck, and into my hair. God bless this man's hands.
"Hello little fox."
I love it when he calls me his little fox. I've spent a lifetime being a fairy, a pixie, a childlike doll. He knows I am not a doll, or a sweet tiny winged creature; he knows I'm sly and tricksie and quick. He told me yesterday that my pointy chin was foxy, and my sharp face was foxy, and my perfect legs were definitely foxy. I jumped his bones in the stairwell, and his heavenly hands held my foxy self up against the wall and I am so far in love with this beautiful man. His outsides are beautiful, but his insides are even better.
"Have you been to see her already?"
He's sitting down next to me, his arm around my shoulders, and it's like we're connecting pieces of a puzzle, the way I fit in the space against his side.
"I went up there, but she already had a visitor, so I'm going back in a bit."
He looks down at me, with his eyes only, and we share a secret smirk. I don't have to tell him who Bella's visitor was, or why I didn't interrupt them. He's seen for himself the way The Doctor looks at her. He tells me It's a good thing, for both of them, and I know he's right. There can't be anything bad about something that beautiful. I can't help running tiny kisses down his jawline because it's right there and begging me to do it, and he's making that low noise in his throat and sliding his hand down my back and under my shirt. I know where this is headed, and that we don't have a lot of time before he has to get back, but it's nice sitting side by side and nuzzling.
"Does she know?"
I shake my head and play with the tips of his hair, it's a little bit too long and so sexy the way it falls across his collar.
"Do you think either of them will... I dunno, say something? Do something?"
I don't know, and I'm a little bit worried but not too worried. There's no way any god or sister of fate or leader of destiny will let those two get away from each other. Look at what they did to get them near each other in the first place.
"The way he watches her sleep... Jasper, it should be supremely creepy how he just sits there and has that little smile and stares, but it's so fucking right I want to cry every time I see it."
And I do, because it's precious. Not precious like little fat babies and young girls in summer dresses precious. Precious like the toy a child hides in a secret place, or they way a new bride looks at her wedding ring Precious and dear and special.
"What if they don't..."
Jasper trails off but I know what he means and I think for a moment before I answer.
I smile at him, and he smiles back, and then we're forgetting about them and remembering us.
Patients and doctors always share a strange sense of intimacy. At least, I assume they do. Doctors ask all those super personal questions and poke and prod all those super personal places; it would be hard not feel some level of comfort with someone who knows you, medically speaking, inside and out.
But I wonder if that's what it is I feel with Edward. We do have that strange closeness, he knows exactly what color my insides are for God's sake, and he's seen me naked on the outside and in, something I should feel uncomfortable about but can't. Spending any length of time in a hospital will kill any sense of modesty pretty quick. I've had people look over every inch of me more times than I can count, and I'm pretty much immune to it now. Ali says I disassociate and that once I've been home for a while my normal sense of modesty will return and I'll once again close the bathroom door to pee. I hope she's right, I don't feel quite right being so blase about my nudity and bodily functions. But I don't think I could make it through this blushing at every brisk touch.
I do blush with Edward, at the most random times. He came in earlier and when the nurse came to check on my chest incision, he watched her for a moment, then got wide-eyed and turned around, pretending to do something on the other side of my room. I blushed bright red and my heart monitor, which I've learned to fucking despise, started beeping faster and faster until the nurse looked at me closely and asked if I was in pain.
How is it that I feel perfectly comfortable when he's in doctor mode, but embarrassed when he acts like just a man? The moment he looked away to give me privacy he went from Dr. Cullen to Edward, and I don't know what to do, what to say, to the man. To the doctor, yes, but to the man, no. Not really. I know they're one in the same, but the thought of Edward as a normal guy outside of the hospital makes me feel spinny and excited and nauseous all at once. I told Ali that a few days ago, and she gave me one of those sideways looks she does, like she knows something I don't and isn't sharing. I love her, so fucking much, but sometimes I want to slap her. Just once, but a really good one, right across her face. She's so sneaky. And sweet, and generous. I must be more tired than I realize if I'm thinking violence at her. It only happens when I'm PMS-ing or really tired.
I lost a child today. Her name was Bridgette. She was six years old and she'll never be older. She was unconscious when they brought her in, and she didn't wake up before she died, so I don't know what her little girl voice sounded like. I don't know if she was afraid or feeling the pain of her injuries beneath her deep sleep. I don't know what she wanted to be when she grew up, if she liked dolls or cats or pretty ribbons. I do know that she was too fucking young to die, and I couldn't save her.
It happens. It happens all the time, every day. We are not gods, just imitators, and sometimes lives slip away from us. We prepare for it, understand it, deal with it. But it never gets any easier, and when it's a kid... fuck. I can't handle this right now. I'm heartbroken and I'd cry til I fucking puked if I had the energy left.
Dad was there, and I think he knew the moment she came through our trauma doors that she wasn't coming back. But he let me take the lead, and followed my orders, and squeezed my shoulder when I called out time of death. I don't know how he stays afloat with such surety when shit like this happens. He doesn't get jaded, or bored, or broken. He says a prayer in his head and moves on to the next one. I hope one day I can do what he does. I hope one day I can be like my dad.
My shift ended an hour ago, but I don't want to get off the couch in the doctor's lounge. There's no reason to, I have to be back in six hours anyways. But Jess comes in and makes a fresh pot of coffee and bustles around in that way she does that always reminds me of mom. She knows I'm watching her, she knows I lost a kid, and she knows I don't want to talk. But she brings me a cup of coffee and holds my hand for just a second. It's almost enough to make my tears come, but I swear she can tell when the breaking point is right there because she lets go and says in her professionally brisk I'm-a-nurse voice She's having trouble sleeping tonight, maybe she could use some company.
I know who she's talking about and for a second my broken pieces get up and soar at the thought of Bella. That's all it takes, just thinking about being near her, and I'm okay again. But I'm not really, and reality is back in another second. I can't take this to her. I can't sit in her room, feeling that calmness she gives me, not tonight. I'm disgusted, with myself, with the world, with all the needless deaths, and I don't want to take any of that to Bella. So I lay back down and sigh and thank Jess for the cuppa.
"Dr. Cullen, I know you've had a rough day, but that doesn't mean you get to sit down here and wallow in it while there's people who need your help."
Jess is such a good nurse. Hell, she's a good person, but I want to hate her right now. With those few words she's put me in my place and I feel stupid and embarrassed for hiding away to lick my wounds. And she knows it, she's almost smiling at me as she holds out her hand to help me up. I take it in my hands and look at it; wide, chubby palms, short stubby fingers with the dry skin we all deal with from constant hand washing, a plain gold wedding band the only decoration, practical short nails. Her hands are capable, strong, life-savers. She's an incredible woman.
"Jess, when you get tired of that amazing man you married, let's run away to the islands and live in sin together."
It's an old game between us, she looks at me like a son mostly, but her round cheeks get a little flushed as she smiles and shakes her head. It makes me feel really good.
"Dr. Cullen, you're incorrigible. And you know I'll only run away with you once you've become a millionaire. Money is all I care about, not that pretty face of yours."
I love her, and I tell her so, then drag myself off the couch. I can't wallow any more, and I need to get out of here, off this floor of people dying, looking at me to save them. The E.R. is sometimes my haven, my home. Other times it is my hell and my jail. Right now I can't be in it.
"Make sure she's not in pain, and let me know if she needs something to help her sleep. I swear she wouldn't say anything if she was about to keel over. Stubborn as a mule, that one."
The look she's giving me says she thinks we're two of a kind, and I smile at her again and promise I'll take care of her.
"I know you will, sweetie. I know you will."
When I get to her room, I stand out in the hallway for a minute and just try to... I don't know, gather myself, get centered. I'm frayed at the edges and I feel like I'm balanced precariously on some edge, tilting and swaying, needing only the slightest breath of air to send me spiraling down. I don't want to go in her room like this, because I need to be controlled and calm for her.
I look through her window and there she is, a safe port in a wild sea, centering me just by being there. She's sitting up in her bed with pillows behind her, and the flicker of light from the TV she's watching lights her face at odd intervals, showing dips and hollows and planes in exotic ways. It's nearly three in the morning, and she should be sleeping, but I know how it is sometimes here in the hospital. Sleep is a reprieve, but it's also a monotonous and irritating way to pass the time. She's been here for weeks, and she probably misses her own bed, her own home.
I wait another moment before going in, just watching and not thinking, letting her peace fill me up. God she's so pretty. I go in before I turn into a creepy guy standing outside a girl's room staring at her in secret. I do that enough when she's asleep.
The sound of her voice starts unraveling the knots I've been in all day and I can't help smiling a little. It's incredible what she does to me. She looks rested, so she probably napped after her PT today, and I'm glad. I don't want to be the doctor right now and tell her she needs her sleep.
I check her chart, out of habit more than curiosity; I've long since memorized everything on it.
She points to the chair next to and I sit down, sliding it close enough that I can lean my shoulder and head against her bed. She's watching It's A Wonderful Life, probably the only non-infomercial on at this early hour.
"I love this movie."
I sit next to her until it's finished, in silence but not uncomfortable, and when the credits are rolling down the screen I look at her and realize she's fallen asleep. She doesn't move when I stand up, and I take a chance and lean down, barely brushing her forehead with my lips. I could probably get fired for it, but I don't care. She's serene and achingly beautiful in sleep, and I've wanted to touch her with something more than a doctor's impartiality for so long.
I need to get some sleep of my own, but now that I've felt her smooth skin beneath my lips I don't want to go. I brush her dark hair back from her face, then trace the side of her face with my fingers. She stirs and I get ready to leave, quickly, but she only presses into my hand, nestling her cheek into my palm.
I leave then, because I'm so tempted to wake her up with kisses and tell her everything that's in my heart.
When I visited B today she told me she's leaving in one week as long as things keep going like they are. I'm so excited for her, but I can tell there's something on her mind. She told me with a smile, a real Bella smile, but it was like she was realizing something else, something not as wonderful, and her eyes got sad for just a second.
I'm waiting for her to say it, but she won't. I told Jasper it's kind of breaking my heart for her, and making me mad at The Doctor, but he told me not to let it. Look at it from his side, Ali-fox. I love it when he calls me that so I listened to him explain. He's a doctor, and there are more rules about doctor/patient relationships than you'd believe. He's just looking out for both of them, Lambchop, and you gotta see the good in that. I love it when he calls me that too. And that he's so quietly smart. And that he's all mine.
I get what he's saying, I do. And I would never want The Doc to get into trouble because of something he can't control, something that's as far away from 'wrong' and 'inappropriate' as it can get.
Life is short, and I know that's such a cliched saying but it's so fucking true. I almost lost the other half of me, my sweet Bumble B, and I think it flipped a switch in me. Life has got to be lived, not watched from the sidelines, and if the two of them can't see that...
If I see my chance, I'm taking it. I'll apologize to Jasper for stepping in, and he'll forgive me because he is without a doubt the most sincerely sweet man on earth, but I'll have to do it. Because my B deserves more, she deserves everything, and he's the one to give it to her.
I'm out of here in two days. No more needles, no more drugs, no more scratchy sheets and lumpy pillows. No nurses coming in and out of my room at all hours, no beeping machines and invasive body checks. No more disgusting cafeteria food and bad reception on crappy televisions that are screwed into the wall.
No more Edward.
She's leaving tomorrow, going back to her life and her home. She's thrilled about it, although she gets that line between her eyebrows sometimes when she talks about it that I guess is worry about taking care of herself or maybe the mail that'll be piled up waiting for her. I want to ask her, but it's not my place.
She's leaving, and the moment she walks out of those doors, she'll belong to the whole world again, instead of just me.
I'll no longer know that she's just down the hall. I won't be able to find her in the PT room, screaming at Rosalie and making miraculous progress. There won't be an extra jello on her tray when I walk into her room, because it'll be someone else's room, someone I don't love. I won't sit next to her bed and talk, or not talk, and just enjoy her closeness. I won't see her hair sticking up on one side of her head when she wakes up, or hear her laughing with Ali when I pass by.
I can not let her go.
"Here's your wheelchair Miss Swan."
"Nurse Stanley, how many times have I told you, it's just Bella. At least today, the last time you'll see me, can't I be Bella?"
"Oh honey, you are Bella and more, and I sincerely hope I never see you here again. Now do I need to wheel you out or can you do it by yourself?"
"I think I'll be okay, but maybe... just in case... you could walk with me?"
I don't want to tell her I'm suddenly terrified of entering the world again, that maybe I can't make myself push the wheels that will take me from this place.
"Of course dear, I'll be right... oh! Oh dear, I've completely forgotten, well never mind, but I do have to run... ah, Dr. Cullen. Could you please make sure Bellamakes it out to her car safely?"
"Alright Miss Swan, Bella, I'm serious about what I said. I don't want to see you here again."
"Thank you so much, for everything. You really are a sweetie Nurse Stanley."
"Bella! The car's outside and ready to go, I've got the seat all the way back and, oh hey there Dr. Cullen. Thanks for helping her. I'm just going to take these bags out and put them in the trunk, can you get her in the car?"
"Ali, I'm not incapable, I'm just a little..."
"Of course I can, is it the black one right there?"
"Yes, thanks so much Doc."
Everything is happening too fast. Nurse Sweetie is already walking away, and Ali is bounding out to the car with my bags like she's got springs in her skinny little legs, and Edward is standing so close to me I can't hardly breath without brushing against him.
I'm a little slow getting started but he's right there, one hand out and ready, not helping yet but prepared to if I need it. I do need it, because I'm not paying enough attention to what I'm doing and almost run into the sliding door as it opens.. Edward doesn't jolt or jerk, he's all calmness as he rests one hand on my shoulder, stopping me just in time.
He hasn't said much today, and the pressure in my chest from all my own unsaid things is getting painful. We're through the doors and into the air and I just have to stop and close my eyes for a second because it's so amazing to be alive and well enough to stand here and breath it in. He doesn't question me or push, just stands there and lets me have my moment. I want to thank him for it, but it's a ridiculous thing to thank him for after all he's done.
We're at the car and he opens the door then turns to look at me. It's only a second but I can see each thought he's having on his face. He's going to have to pick me up and put me in the seat. Okay, he doesn't have to, but I'll be damned if I'm passing up an opportunity to be held close against him. He almost look terrified at the prospect, and I'm thrilled by his fear. It means he's thinking about it to, and he wants to but he's worried I'll be able to feel his heart racing. I'm projecting again, but somehow I feel like it's true.
He gets his determined look, the one I have major respect for, and leans down to slide one arm under my knees and the other behind my shoulders. He doesn't grunt or groan with the effort of lifting me, and I know I'm not big by any means but it still makes the girliest parts of me swoon.
He straightens his back and I'm pressed flush against his chest. His broad, hard, strong chest. I think I might hyperventilate but hopefully I can hold off until we're out of the parking lot. My heart is flying, but I'm almost used to that around him. What's better, what's best of all, is his own flying heart. I can feel it against my left side, reverberating through my skin, and it is racing. I'm smiling now, but there's no way I can stop it so I use it as an excuse to tuck my head tighter against his neck.
Ali is still cramming my stuff in the trunk, and I feel like it's taking her longer than it should, but then Edward is squatting down next to the car, setting me in my seat like I'm a piece of Grandma Swan's good china. He tucks my legs in, making sure I'm settled right, and checks my seat belt twice after it's buckled.
That single action breaks whatever was holding it all inside of me and I wrap my arms around his neck and squeeze really tight. I don't know what to say because it all seems so trite and shallow and I don't ever want to be those things with him, so I don't say anything. I kiss his cheek, and I know the feeling of his stubble and the smell of his aftershave are going to be remembered pristine and flawless for ever and ever in my mind.
He's looking at me now, and I know it's not just me and what I feel reflected in his eyes. It's practically shining out of him, and I don't think I've ever felt so excited and scared at the same time.
I'm really sad I'm never going to hear my name said in his caramel voice again, but I can already hear the goodbye in his voice.
He's looking at me, that way he does where he's really looking into me, and his eyes widen just a little before he smiles. As Edward-smiles go, they're all pretty great but this one... This is the one. It's pure joy, bliss, elation. It's rapture.
And this time I don't hear goodbye, I hear everything I can't say. I hear possibilities and second chances and I'm smiling back at him. Not hospital patient Bella smiling at Dr. Cullen, but free woman Bella smiling at Edward, the way I did that night from across the bar, so long ago.
"Would you like to get some coffee sometime?"
Awwww! I love happy endings :)
A/N:(It's gonna be long, because you guys know I ramble.)
You guys wouldn't believe how much fun I had writing this. I started it as a drabble and after the first 100 words, I couldn't put it down. I added a sheee-ton of caffeine to the mix and ran with it.
I had some amazing ladies pre-read this for me, and their advice and encouragement was invaluable. Izzzyysprinkles is opinionated, fearless, and generous, three things I adore in a person. Fngrcufs gives great ego-boost ( I mean, have you read her stuff? She read mine. I fangirl, I squee) and sees the little details in the big picture. Both of them made sure the summary I had didn't get posted. If you still think it sucks, it's because summary writing is not my thing, not because of them.
Lastly, and oh so much-ly, bookjunkie1975, Twi-fandom's greatest librarian. She is always there for me, a warm ray of sunshine on my face no matter what the weather is. I could literally spend pages raving about my love for her, but like I told her, I'd sound pretentious, so I'll keep it (kinda) short. If I have progressed as a writer from my ambitious but clueless beginnings, it's largely due to your support, generosity, and patience. I'm dedicating this one to you bb, with more love than I can say.
If you're still reading this, I suggest you go check out the blog I am so insanely thrilled to see online, run by some amazing ladies (like fngrcufs and bookjunkie1975, to name two). L'amour de Femmes is beautiful, in content and looks. Femmeslash is taking on a whole new realm thanks to them. Look it up at lamourdefemmesblogspot(dot)com!
For Big Sky readers (who probably want to hunt me down and hurt me), I promise it's coming. Writing that is not like writing this for me. This is my kind of writing; free-form, open ended, and inspired. Big Sky is my attempt at actual "real"-style writing, with the dialogue in quotes and everything! It takes me a while to get what's in my head (and believe me, it's all still there) onto paper in the format I chose to write Big Sky in. Looking back, I really can't believe how ambitious I was to start it and post without writing further into it, but that's me. Headfirst off the deep end for something I love. And I really love Big Sky, and all of you who ask for updates. I'd shun me, but you haven't, and that's awesome. I'll give you something good in return for your patience, if you'll just give me a little more of it. I know, I'm terrible asking for favors after two months.
On a wholly personal note, homeschooling my autistic son has turned into something amazing. He's gone from non-verbal to speaking words, tons of them, new ones everyday and excited to learn more. For all you parents of kids with ASD, and I know there's a shocking number of you out there because you've shared so many of your stories with me, I say DONUT GIVE UP! You can do it, one step at a time.