Author's Chapter Notes:
Hey all! Hope you all had a fabulous Christmas and a Happy New Year!
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Thank you to my beta, storypainter, too, cause she got this back to me super quick with migraines and everything! :)
CHAPTER 12 – How Do We Know?
The hours seemed endless as I sat staring at the wall, hoping and praying for any news on my fiancé's health. Since she'd arrived at the hospital, my mother had been busy with press statements and damage control in the media, setting up in one of the doctor's offices to do her work from there.
I probably should have been taking an interest in what she was doing, how she was doing it and what needed to be said, but my mind was too preoccupied to try and possibly fit in anything else. Rose sat quietly by my side, bless her she must have been so bored, and the only thing that made me look up from either the cheap plastic floor or the haphazardly painted wall was the entrance of a nurse, doctor, or Alice when she arrived in a flurry.
"Bella! I can't believe it took me so long to get here. I'm so sorry! I thought after the ball last night that a lie-in was expected of everyone! I didn't hear what happened until I ran into Sue in the kitchens! Jasper got me here as soon as he could."
As she sat beside me, I raised my eyebrows in curiosity, wondering just how close her and Jasper had become overnight.
"Did he ride you here on a horse?" Rosalie snorted from my other side.
Alice looked bashful as she smiled at my little sister, remembering too late the crush I'd informed her Rosalie had been harbouring for years.
"I got here as quickly as I could," Alice answered instead. "How is he? What's happening?"
I shook my head, tired and thankful for my friend's arrival as she looped her arm through mine and squeezed.
"They took him away when we arrived. I haven't seen him or Ben since."
"But that was hours ago!"
I held her back when I felt her pulling away from me.
"We've all tried Alice, there's no use. We might be royalty, but they aren't telling us anything. We're just another family when we're in here. They don't need to treat us differently."
"I suppose if they're too busy looking after Edward to come and tell us anything, it's a good thing. At least we know he's in the best hands." Rosalie's voice floated softly from where she'd moved to the other side of the waiting room.
I looked up and found her staring longingly at the door, as if wishing it to open.
"They won't let anything happen to him," she said next, conviction lacing her tone as she nodded to herself and looked back at me. In that moment I came to realise that, somehow, his coming back to us was as important to her as it was to me.
Alice was next to speak, her eyes boring into the side of my head as if willing me to believe their words. "This is Edward, Bella. He's a fighter."
"How would you know? How do any of us know? I'm marrying him for Christ's sake and I barely know a thing about him!" I shouted in response, shame colouring my face as I realised it was not them I should be taking my anger out on.
"We know, Bella. You know. He stood by your side in front of all those people last night just so he wouldn't let you down. He held your hand and danced with you and made you both look admirable in the eyes of all your peers despite feeling like he would collapse at any moment. That man would fight harder than anything to open his eyes and see your face again. You know that more than I do. You can't keep denying what you see. It's obvious to us all how much he cares about you. This arrangement may not have started the conventional way, but it sure as hell will end that way."
I stared at my best friend and my sister, who sat quietly, nodding her head, agreeing with Alice and realised that neither of them knew the truth. Probably the only two people in the palace who didn't know who Edward really was, and they believed more than anyone that he was right for me.
Tears pricked at my eyes as my stupidity once again washed over me.
With a deep breath, I answered her the only way I knew how. "He was telling the truth. He's always been telling the truth."
At Alice's puzzled gaze, I launched into the story of Edward and Bella, barely keeping myself together as I recounted the truth. How we'd met as young children, how the story we'd told the reporter was true, how Edward's tale wasn't falsified but based on a childhood relationship he'd kept faith in all these years.
Rosalie moved from her spot and came to sit down at my feet, resting her head on my knees as if she was a little girl again, and I was telling her a fairytale.
I told them of Edward's worsening condition during the night and his confessions to me. I wiped my tears away as I recounted my fear of why I had forgotten, let my emotions pour out of me as we sat there awaiting news that the man I was to marry would be okay.
All three of us were in tears by the time my mother arrived back in the waiting room, so quietly that I got a fright when she placed her arm around my shoulder. I sank into her warmth and let her comfort me the way only a mother can, with my hand on Rosalie's hair, and my other clasped in Alice's.
A little while later, my mother broke the silence in the room by speaking up.
"I've released a statement with your name on it, Isabella. I have simply said that the doctors aren't sure what is wrong with Edward, but they are keeping an eye on him to be safe. I also hinted that he was fine, and that we were all calm about his wellbeing. I hope that by the time we leave this hospital and have to face them, that Edward is awake and perfectly fine."
We all knew it was a slight reach in hope, but I let it go unnoticed, wishing the same thing in my heart.
"How's Dad?" I asked, remembering after a few moments of silence that he too had to leave the ball early. My heart rate spiked as worry set in, and I snatched my head back to look at my mother.
"He's okay, baby. Just the flu, don't worry about him. I spoke to him on the phone a little while ago, he'd eaten and taken a bath and was back in bed to regain his strength. You can call him if you want. He'd love to hear from you."
I nodded. "Maybe a little later, when I know what's going on with Edward," I answered quietly, relief that my father wasn't suffering the same fate washing over me.
She nodded and smiled faintly at me, exhaustion and sadness etched into the fine lines around her eyes and mouth.
"I'm sorry I was so horrid to you," I blurted, causing her to laugh shortly.
"Baby, it's okay. If your father and I had just sat down and told you all this years ago, none of this would have happened." She sighed again.
"Why didn't you? Why was he never mentioned? Or spoken about? Why were the Masens never invited back to the palace?"
"At first, you were so quiet, so unlike the happy little girl you were. We didn't want to make it harder by making you talk about it. Then as the months went by and you started all your different lessons, you seemed to come around again. After a year, then two, you didn't mention him. We were foolish, Isabella, we thought it was what you wanted. We'd never had a teenage girl before…I know that's no excuse, but we thought you were happy without him around, finally. We had no idea you'd forgotten he ever existed. If we'd known that we would have sat you down, made you talk about him, made you talk about your separation.
"We have no excuses, but when you went off to school, the years just seemed to fly by. Suddenly Edward had graduated university, had himself a respectable degree, was integrated into his new family and new life, and it was time for him to come back.
"We always thought he'd be the best match for you. We never imagined that when the day came you wouldn't want him anymore…"
"It wasn't that I didn't want him, mother, I had no idea who he was! Can't you imagine what it was like? Being told, out of the blue that you had to be married, and that your parents had chosen your husband years before without ever telling you?!"
She nodded again, squeezing my hand tightly in hers.
"I see that now. I'm so sorry you're going through this. I'm sorry that you're so young, but we wouldn't be asking this of you if we didn't think you were capable. It's time for you to shadow your father's footsteps, Isabella; we want you to be as ready as you can be when the time comes…"
I hugged her to me tightly, a weight off my chest at having talked things over with her.
"I'm sorry I behaved the way I did. I shouldn't have acted out. You taught me better than that."
"Let all be forgiven, baby, there are much more important things to be concerned about right now."
I nodded into her shoulder, my tears getting the better of me as my thoughts returned to Edward's current condition.
"What's happening to him, Mum?" It wasn't very often I called her anything other than "mother," but sometimes the term slipped out, and when it did, the fact that we were royalty, or that she was Queen ceased to matter.
"I don't know, baby, but he'll be okay. He's a fighter that one…"
Alice chuckled from my other side, and I pulled back with a small smile. My mother's eyebrows lifted, wondering where the sudden amusement had come from before Alice spoke up.
"I told you, Bella. He'll be okay, for you."
The door swung open just as I smiled at Alice, and at the sight of Ben, his blue scrubs adorning his body instead of his suit, it dropped from my face, my heart doing the same in my chest.
I sprung from my chair and wrapped my arms around my middle as if to keep me together.
"Isabella." He nodded at me. "Your Highness," he greeted my mother with a slight bow.
"Ben…h-how is he?"
"It took us a while to get test results back, I'm sorry for your wait. We needed to know exactly what was wrong with him before giving him the right course of antibiotics and medication."
"He'll be okay then?"
"I'm afraid, although he is being treated now; he is still in bad shape. I originally thought it could be meningitis, which itself can be incredibly dangerous if untreated, but we believe now that he is actually suffering from an acute strain of Tuberculosis."
Ben stared at me, as if willing me to believe why he looked so grave, but my muddled brain couldn't comprehend what I was hearing.
"TB? You're trying to tell me my fiancé has the black plague? In the twenty-first century?" I couldn't hide the tone of disbelief and mocking in my voice. He had to be joking.
"Isabella," my mother's voice rang out as she stepped up beside me.
"I know you're worried, Princess, but TB isn't nearly as serious as the black plague. While they both still exist, your fiancé will not succumb to black plague in my care. Although documented similarly in history, they are in fact different diseases," Ben explained before continuing in a softer tone.
"I'm afraid, even now; Tuberculosis is still one of the world's deadliest diseases. Fortunately, Edward is where he needs to be and being treated accordingly. The infection, caused by a bacteria called Mycobacterium, is affecting his lungs and also his kidneys, which is what was causing the exhaustion, loss of breath and the fever. We've managed to bring his fever down considerably since he was admitted, which is a good sign."
"But…how can he have TB? He's been in the palace for weeks…he's been fine for weeks!" My voice was rising in pitch as the confusion continued to wreak havoc on my already exhausted brain.
"This particular strain of the infection can lay dormant for years; it could be that he picked it up on his travels during school or university. We typically say that for a case like Edward's he now has 'Active TB,' as the bacteria has changed its state from dormant to active. There really is nothing that could have been done before now. He is in safe hands, Princess."
"I…can I see him?"
"I'm afraid not." Ben shook his head and my heart clenched painfully in my chest as tears pricked at my eyes.
"Until we know for sure that the infection is under control, we can't let anyone come in contact with him. He is being kept in isolation for the next twenty-four hours, at least."
When I didn't answer him, my mother thanked him for doing his best and for letting us know how Edward was. Whenever Ben left the room, letting us know that we could find him for anything, I collapsed back onto my chair, tears pouring from my eyes.
"What's all this, Bella? You heard him, and he's getting better already…he'll be okay…" Alice sat beside me, talking to me in a soothing voice, but it didn't seem to help.
"We don't know that! I need to see him…he's in there on his own! There's no one with him, I need to be in there with him!"
I wasn't sure why I was suddenly so hysterical, nor did the rest of my company. Maybe it was a culmination of all the day's events, the lack of sleep, the emotional night, and the heaping of information I had to come to terms with all at the same time.
I suddenly felt far older than I was, like I had witnessed a hundred years instead of just my sheltered eighteen. The world wasn't being fair, throwing it all at me at the same time, but then I remembered one of my father's favourite phrases when he was teaching me the ways of our country.
"It's a test of one's true character if they can face everything at once and still come out on top. There will be times, sweetie, when you can't see the top, but if you keep your head about you, everything will work out in the end."
With a shuddering breath I pulled myself together. I thanked Alice as I took her proffered tissue and mopped at the mess underneath my eyes, sure that the previous night's makeup was streaked down my face.
I was proven right when Alice dug around in her bag before producing a pack of moist wipes and helping me rid myself of the panda eyes and black streaks that adorned my cheeks.
With one last squeeze of my mother's hand and a faint smile at my sister's questioning gaze, I left the waiting room with my head held high. The sterile quietness that surrounded me, had me wrapping my arms around my middle once again as I followed sounds to the nurses' station at the bottom of the corridor.
One of the two noticed me on my approach, and as I got nearer, her eyes widened as she realised just who was about to speak to her. The other girl had her back to me, cackling over some joke, but quickly stopped when her companion whacked her arm with the back of her hand.
"Your Highness, what can I do for you?" the first girl asked me sweetly, her face showing just how young she was. I admired her in that moment, doing the job she did on a, no-doubt, daily basis; the last hours had shown me just how much I wouldn't have been able to be in her shoes.
"I'm looking for Dr. Reynolds," I answered politely, hiding the shake in my voice.
"I think he's in his office, would you like me to get him for you?"
"No, could you show me the way? Or let me know how to get there if you're busy," I answered with a smile.
Her cheeks flamed – for what reason I couldn't imagine – before she nodded and led me in the opposite direction in which I had come.
The staff we passed on our way all reacted much the same way, with widening realisation on their faces and respectful head-bows as I passed them. A policeman stationed outside one private room even removed his hat as I walked by, and I couldn't help but smile warmly at him.
We soon arrived at Ben's office, and through the window I could see him sitting at his desk, his head in his hands and his fingers massaging his temples.
The girl knocked for me, and I let myself in as she disappeared down the corridor we had come.
"Your Highness, what can I do for you?"
He stood as I made my way over to him, but I waved him off with my hand as I sat in the chair opposite his desk.
"None of that, Ben, it's just Bella," I answered him. He smiled at me almost bashfully as he sat back down, pulling himself closer to his desk so he could rest his elbows on the edge.
"I need to see him," I started. He made to interrupt me, but I held up my hand again. "I know what you said, and I respect your concern and opinion, but I can't leave him on his own, not when we don't know how long it will take for the infection to clear. Isn't there anything you can do?"
Ben stared at me, appraising me almost, and his eyes searched mine for something I hoped he would find. I didn't realise I was holding my breath until he moved his hand towards his phone and nodded his head almost imperceptibly.
"Julia, how many nurses are on rotation for Lord Masen?"
It took me a moment to realise he was talking about Edward. Although he was always introduced as such, and that was, in fact, his proper title, it didn't feel right to me. He was Edward. He was my Edward as I had learned, but he wasn't high and mighty or stuck up like his title suggested. He was just sweet, caring, loyal and down-to-earth Edward.
My train of thought surprised me as I sat in Ben's comfortable office. Edward was just Edward. There was nothing to be afraid of, or to measure or guess at.
"Can you take Lucy off for me? No, she hasn't done anything wrong. I'd just like to spend more time with him myself, and there's no point in wasting her talent. Yes, thank you. Also, could you store her suit with mine? I'll be needing it…thank you."
I was beyond confused by the time he hung up, having only heard his side of the conversation.
"Seeing as it's you, I won't bother telling you when visiting times are, as I'm sure you'll only fight me on that too…"
I giggled slightly, knowing he was right.
"Only you can see him. You won't be able to have anyone in there with you, and you cannot leave that room without supervision. If and when you want to leave, you'll need to press the call button, and either one of the nurses or I will come and escort you out.
"He's in an isolation ward, Bella, I cannot stress how important it is that you follow the rules to a tee. They are there for his safety…and yours."
I nodded, slightly disbelieving that I was being allowed in at all. In some small way, that was my first test at negotiating what was right for me and for my fiancé. It was nothing like running a country, but it gave me a slight sense of accomplishment.
"When can I go in?"
"I'll take you to him now," Ben answered me with a smile. One that made me slightly uncomfortable because it spoke of way more than I was ready to acknowledge, things he saw when he looked at me that I wasn't sure I was ready to admit to myself.
Instead I composed myself, fixed my hair back into the grips at the back of my head, and followed him out of his office. My heart rate was flying at the thought of seeing my fiancé again, but what felt like a lead ball in the bottom of my stomach reminded me that he was incredibly ill, and that the next couple of days were going to be some of the most important in our lives.
Author's Chapter End Notes:
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