Unspoken Vows, Book 1 of the Heartbeat Series

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Chapter 25. And They Are Off!

I slept soundly until the ringing telephone on my bed stand woke me. Before I could rub the sleep from my eyes, I reached for the phone and put it to my face, squinting to see the time, eight-thirty.

“Alex?” a hoarse voice asked me.

“Yeah, who’s this?”

“It’s me, Megan.”

I bolted upright in bed.

“They took off the wires this morning.”

“I was asleep, I’m sorry, it just registered that I wasn’t dreaming.”

Meg giggled. “My teeth, some of them are broken.”

“Yeah, we’ll take care of those. I don’t want you worrying about them right now.”

“My hair is awful.”

“We’ll get it fixed as soon as they’ll let me spring you from there.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too,” I replied. For some reason, I was shocked to hear her say that to me. We had signed it, we had seen it in one another’s eyes, but this was the first time I ever heard her say that she loved me. For some reason that I couldn’t place, I was speechless and couldn’t reply at first.

“Go back to sleep. I’ll see you later,” she replied. Megan must have realized that I was probably half-asleep and not coherent enough to talk.

“I can’t sleep now,” I replied with a laugh, hearing a giggle escape her.

“I’m sorry I woke you.”

“Don’t be, hearing your voice again, makes it worth it.”

There was silence on the phone. She sat there and said nothing to me.

“I need to call Ruby.”

“Do you want me to let you go so you can do that?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Meg, are you going to be all right?”

“Maybe. I’ll hold my bear until you get here.”

“You do that. I’ll get a shower and come over.”

“Eat your breakfast and take your pills.”

When I hung up the phone, I called Sean right away.

“Can you come to New York?” I asked, before he could say hello.

“Absolutely, we’re already packed.”

“You are?”

“Alex, I said we would last night. We’ll be there after Tea.”

“The wires are off.”

When I entered Megan’s room that morning, I wasn’t as excited to see her as she was to see me. I dreaded to hear the details of her mutilation, but I knew we could no longer avoid them. Quickly I hugged her, kissed her--just a peck on the lips--and parted from her to take off my coat.

“Alex, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” I lied, sitting down in the chair by her bed. Meg turned her face from me before she spoke.

“It was good to talk to Anna.”

“She was tickled to talk to you too.”

“Brandon cried when he heard my voice.”

“Yeah, that sounds like Bran’,” I said, noticing again how she turned her face from me. I reached for her hand and enveloped her small hand in mine.

“Is it cold out?” she asked, still not looking at me.

“About forty, it is more annoying than cold.”

I kicked my loafers off and climbed onto the bed so that I was facing her. She grinned at me with her mouth shut. While she sat cross-legged on her bed, I leaned over and kissed her. Meg indulged me with a peck, and again she turned her face from me.

“That’s it, let me see them.”

“They . . . they look awful—”

“We expected as much. We’ll get them fixed just as soon as the doc says you can. C’mon, Meg, let me see them.”

Her eyes fell into her lap.

“Can I close my eyes?”

“Why?”

“So I don’t have to see your reaction.”

My heart sank into my stomach. “Oh Megan,” I said, realizing her fear. I pulled her to me and held her in my arms. And then it began. Within minutes I was calling Ruby on my cell phone because I couldn’t reach the phone on the bed table for a bawling Megan spread across my lap. Ruby was in session. Damn. I left her a message with the service and stroked what was left of Meg’s hair as she soaked the thigh of my jeans with her wet face.

Her agonizing sobs could be heard down the hall and soon, a nurse entered the room. Not just any nurse either, the one that disliked me the most--the old pear shaped charge nurse. She peered over her bifocals with an eyebrow raised in my direction, focusing on me as the target of her blame.

“Mr. Corwynn, what’s the meaning of this?”

“With the wires out, she’s finally communicating what happened to her.”

“Megan, do you want another Valium?”

Meg refused to answer, but she just continued to sob.

“I’m awaiting a call from Dr. Amira now,” I replied. The nurse sighed.

“She can have two more if she wants them.”

“Let’s wait until Dr. Amira arrives or calls.” I reached for the compact box of hospital tissues. As I wiped Meg’s face, the tissues shredded.

“Could you please find me a decent box of tissues? These are crap.”

“Sure, I’ll be right back.”

When she returned a moment later, she opened a fresh box of the ultra soft kind and handed them to me. She rubbed Megan’s back for a moment as Meg sat up then stared into the old woman’s face.

“Thank you,” Meg said, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to be so upset.”

“Don’t you be sorry, dear, I know that you’ve been through a world of hurt. I will have a hard time explaining it to Mrs. Thompson. She’s awfully worried about you, and I think if you keep crying, she’s going to will herself up with that walker just to come comfort you.”

“Mrs. Thompson had a hip replacement,” Meg explained to me. “She doesn’t like to do her physical therapy.”

“Ah,” I replied, as Meg sighed and leaned against me. The charge nurse left us again, and I held Meg while we waited for Ruby. She didn’t need to be here any longer. What she needed was to be home and comfortable in her blue gingham nighty and fuzzy slippers. Sooner than later, Meg needed to be discharged and home to deal with these demons in private. These hospital gowns were awful and she was always cold in them, resorting to sometimes sleeping in her robe that I had brought her. Still, she wouldn’t show me the teeth. I’d have to sneak a peek at her sometime when she’s less conscious of it. I kissed her forehead and she took short staccato sighs as she leaned against me.

“What are you thinking about?” I asked as she wiped her face with the back of her hand.

“Him.”

“Don’t think about him. He’s in prison and can’t touch you now.”

“I hate him.”

“I know,” I replied as she sat up again.

“I shouldn’t hate anyone.”

As I reached for her good hand, I brought it to my face and kissed it. “Meg, I think that even God would understand, after all Davenport did to you.”

“I don’t know where to begin. I know that you have questions and that you want to know what happened to me.”

“Let’s wait for Ruby, then you won’t have to tell it twice.”

“I need to get it out and soon.”

When Ruby arrived an hour later, Meg was immediately quiet. Until Ruby reached for her and held her, I could hear her deep sighs, the shuddering of her body when all of a sudden, Meg began to cry again. Her sobbing stabbed my heart, and at moments, I wished for deafness since her agonizing sounds of pain were unlike any I had ever heard. The charge nurse returned and she took up Megan’s expression of emotional pain with Ruby, who agreed on the extra Valium. The nurse disappeared and reappeared within seconds as if she had already had it dispensed and waiting at the nurses’ station.

“Megan, you’re upsetting the other patients,” she said.

Once Megan took the pill, she shifted from Ruby to me, hiding her face in the crook of my neck, her hot breath heaving at my shoulder as she tried to calm herself, like she was trying her very best to stop a stampede single-handedly. Gently I rocked her, trying to stroke the good part of her back, finding very little of it to do even that with, making me resent Davenport all the more for what he did to her.

“Then give them the extra Valium. For the last two months, this woman has been forced to silence her pain. Now that she can express it, you want to shut her up. That’s not going to fly as long as I’m here.”

“Mr. Corwynn, I understand, but I have a duty to the other patients here.”

“Please shut the door on your way out,” I said, focusing my attention on Megan and not the nurse.

“The wires are off and the floodgate is open,” said Ruby, trying to console Megan as she became unglued before our eyes. It was as if those wires held more than just her mouth together for the last seven weeks.

When I thought Meg was calming down, I left her with Ruby while I went to get her a cup of tea. I was returning to the room from the nurse’s station when I heard glass shatter. Leaving the mug of tea on the counter of the nurse’s station, I ran into the room, to find Megan hunched over her knees on the bed sobbing like she was in pain and the crystal vase with the flowers I had brought her earlier in the week shattered across the room from her. Beneath the television that was mounted on the wall was a water trail that streamed down from the initial place of impact. Damn, she had a good arm. Not bad for someone who just got it out of a cast, either. The physical therapy must be working.

Water pooled about the ruined mums and Gerber daisies, as the petals had fallen off onto the tile and Megan came apart just like the smashed flowers that had detached from their stems.

“Alex, out,” ordered Ruby. I just stood there.

“Is she hurt?”

“She’s angry. Out, now.”

I turned to leave and collided with the charge nurse.

“What is the meaning of this?”

“Do you have a problem, nurse?” asked Ruby.

“Yes, the noise is—”

“Then shut the door on your way out.”

“You should have her transferred to Bellevue where she won’t hurt anyone or herself.”

“She doesn’t need Bellevue, and she’s not going to harm anyone or herself, right Megan?”

Meg still sobbed.

“So smashing the vase against the wall was what?”

“None of your damn business. Now leave.”

Meg sobbed so loudly that Ruby had to shout over her. I couldn’t take hearing her agonizing sobs anymore. When I pushed the nurse and orderly aside, I grabbed her up into my arms, and Meg shoved herself away and flung herself on the bed to sob. Ruby grabbed my arm.

“Alex, please, leave the room.”

“She hit me!”

“I asked you to leave the room twice now. You invaded her personal space. Leave, Alex, now.”

As I watched Meg beat up the mattress with her fist and the cast, I took a deep breath and stroked her hair with my hand, hoping to soothe her to silence. Although Ruby wanted me to leave, I could tell that she was agitating Meg more than helping her at that point.

My mind considered Ryan’s words months ago, that she gets hysterical before she disassociates. I had to keep her from that closet to keep her here. What she needed was peace and reassurance that she was safe. Her arms stopped flailing about and she softened her sob to almost a whimper. As she lessened the noise to heavy breathing, I bent down near her, continuing the “Sshh Hush, everything’s fine, you’re safe, Megan,” mantra until she relaxed herself to a zoned state.

She was quiet but unaware of the rest of the world. She had hidden in that closet again. I moved the wet hair from her eyes and then I kissed her cheek, knowing that Meg was teetering on an edge of fear and anxiety, so I stayed there at her side for almost ten minutes before I realized that she was out for a while.

“I’ll get a broom,” I said, getting up and letting Meg rest across the bed. The coverlet was wet with her tears. Ruby nodded and sat in a chair near the bed, then held her purple turbaned head in her hands.

On my way out of the room, I collided with another doctor and the charge nurse. Ruby stood up and motioned silence to those entering the room.

“Alex, stay with her. Send someone for me if she gets out of hand again.” Ruby left the room with the doctor and nurse.

“What in the hell is going on in there?” asked the graying doctor.

“Either we speak in private or nowhere. I refuse to discuss my patient in a public place.”

“Fine, this way,” he said, leading her behind the nurses’ station to the lounge.

Ruby explained that Megan was angry with the man who did this to her, and now that the wires were removed Meg was reacting to the events now that she was able.

Dr. Aaronson replied that he couldn’t have her wigging out like that in this ward, that the older people there couldn’t handle it. If Megan couldn’t keep it together, then she should be transferred elsewhere. Although Ruby tried to explain, this doctor felt that there was no other way for her to remain at the rehab center without sedating Megan for the duration of her stay, which would be until the infection was gone.

When the nurse brought up the issue with the vase, the doctor then decided that Meg ought to be restrained also, so not to injure herself or others. Ruby fought him on this. Meg had been restrained for two months with her broken jaw, not to mention that she had been restrained since that monster Davenport mutilated her body, which caused the infection. When a janitor had come to mop up the mess, Megan returned to me. She sat up on the bed and her eyes searched the room.

“Are you all right?”

She shook her head then moved back down on the mattress again.

I no sooner had her calm and relaxed when another nurse entered the room with a bag of antibiotic to hook up to Megan’s IV. Meg saw it and went ballistic on the poor nurse.

“You don’t care how much you hurt me. I just want to go home!” I had to grab her to prevent Meg from pulling out the existing IV in her arm.

“Go get Dr. Amira,” I said, tackling Megan on the mattress and holding her down. Damn, she was strong. There was no reasoning with Megan at that point. She was fit to be tied, and I didn’t know what else to do for her. Already today she had hit me once and now she was fighting my grip. By the time the doctors rushed into the room, she was running low on energy. The senior doctor told the nurse to get the restraints, and I balked at it.

“Look at you, Mr. Corwynn, you were restraining her yourself. Don’t tell me that you’re going to remain here and protect her from herself for the rest of her stay here. I have no choice right now, I have her and the other patients to consider.”

Meg sobbed, again belting her agonizing sobs and the doctor got to hear it up close and personal. He ordered the sedative and another nurse went to get it.

“Ms. Beal, I’m sorry for what you’ve endured. No one should have suffered that way, but you’re dealing with more than just the emotional right now. We have to consider your physical condition, especially that we’re near the end of this infection and your arm is almost healed enough to be without the cast. Soon we can send you home with Mr. Corwynn and Dr. Amira. I think, that it’s for the best if we sedate you as much as possible right now. For the sake of your physical recovery, we have to put the emotional on hold until you are strong enough to deal with it. Do you agree?”

“I just want to tell it. I want to get it out of me.”

“Can you do that without breaking any more vases or ripping out any more IV’s?”

“The IV hurts.”

“Let me see the site.” The doctor examined it. “I wanted you to have a central line put in from the get go, Ms. Beal, but that was not received by the attending staff. You are suffering from undue pain from the sites, and I’m sorry, but we must get the antibiotics in to defeat the infection.”

“But they burn,” she whined.

“We can give her a local before the antibiotic is administered. That will lessen the pain,” replied the doctor to me, not to Megan. This clearly irritated her that he’d talk about her like she was a child or not there.

“Can’t I go home?”

“No, not yet. Maybe by the end of the week, but not while we are so close to isolating and medicating the infection.” Meg sobbed and threw herself down on the bed. Again, agonizing sobs arose with a shrill from her throat that grated on my nerves. When the nurse returned with the dose, the doctor asked me to leave the room.

“No, Alex, no, please,” she sobbed and reached out to me. I bent down, hugged and kissed her.

“Meg, I’ll be here when you wake, I promise.”

Meg wouldn’t release me. She had a death grip around me and was breaking my heart. Not knowing what to do, I looked to Ruby, whose eyes said nothing to me, to the doctor who wanted me out of the way so they could administer the sedative and be done with this crisis for a little while. I tried my best to calm Meg, I stroked her hair, and whispered that she needed the rest, and I would tuck her in with her bear before she went to sleep.

“No, they’re going to restrain me, I just know it.”

“Ms. Beal, for the safety of yourself and the other patients, I have no choice.”

“But I can’t distinguish reality from a flashback yet. The trauma is too new.”

“What do you know about trauma?” asked the doctor, wondering if he was being played.

“You don’t know the half of this woman’s life in order to make such a presumption,” I argued, ready to sign her out of the rehabilitation center at that moment.

“Mr. Corwynn is right, she has indeed known real trauma, and has suffered and overcome many a flashback,” explained Ruby.

“Mr. Corwynn, Dr. Amira, Ms. Beal, I meant no offense.”

“Regardless, offense taken, more so by me than her. I think before you even judge her mental ability and understanding of what a flashback truly is, you ought to realize why she is resilient enough to withstand what she did,” I replied, about to call Don Jamison and force him to devise Plan B, because Plan A was not good enough at this moment.

“Alex is right, Dr. Aaronson. Megan has overcome much in her lifetime. She knows when she’s having a flashback or disassociating, and I’d hate to see the progress made destroyed because of restraints.”

“And if she hurts herself or another?”

“You’re going to have her sedated around the clock, isn’t that the plan?” asked Ruby, trying to keep her cool.

“Yes, it is.”

“Then why are the restraints even necessary? She can’t hurt anyone else or herself while she’s asleep. The least you could do is not impinge upon her resting with restraints,” I explained, hoping they’d see it my way.

“Alex is right,” replied Ruby, “your nursing staff has told me of her night terrors.”

The doctor didn’t agree with us, since he was more concerned about liability than her emotional well-being. Meg kept crying while latching onto me.

“Take me home, please, take me home. Please, take me home, Alex,” she sobbed, begging me to get her out of here. We couldn’t just leave with the infection still in her back, since I knew that I couldn’t manage an IV regardless of how much I watched the nurses over the last two months.

“Hush, Meggy, it’s all right,” I said, rocking her side to side with her grip tight on me. “Let me breathe, baby, let go a little. I won’t leave you. That’s it,” I said, as she relaxed some so I could talk some more.

Once again, Atlas had become her savior. The more they moved towards ending the conversation, the more she clung to me. Her good arm was wrapped around my neck, and I was having some difficulty breathing. I tried to calm her, but the more I tried, the more they upset her. It was a never-ending battle. Finally, while I was holding her, two nurses and an orderly moved in and sedated her with the syringe. Meg became limp in my arms only moments after the drug was injected.

“Please, leave,” I said as I cradled a sleeping Megan in my arms and wiped her wet face with a tissue.

“I’m sorry, Meggy, I’m so sorry,” I said and leaned against the head of the bed and held her while reinforcing my back. I’d stay all day if it would keep them from restraining her. My mind feared her reaction of being restrained again. She had fought Davenport; we know that from how she ripped up her wrists from the struggle, how each arm was likewise broken as she attempted to free herself from him and the scissors he impaled her with. Ruby re-entered the room as I kissed Megan’s forehead.

“They’re going to kick you out of here soon,” she warned, sitting in the chair near me.

“I’m not leaving her.”

“We have no choice right now, Alex. All we can do for her is abide by their wishes and be here for her whenever possible.”

The nurses let me sit with her until noon when I finally released her to them, and they were going to cath her. When they exited the room ten minutes later, I had finished a cup of tea and waited in the hall as they both gave me peeved expressions as I returned to tuck her in before I left for the afternoon.

At first I couldn’t approach the bed. While I didn’t know what got into her that day, what caused her to hit me, to fight the nurses and me, to throw a vase of flowers, what I did know is that she didn’t belong here. Maybe she did belong in a rubber room somewhere until she worked this out, hell if I knew, but she didn’t belong here.

As I stood there, I dialed Ruby’s cell phone. Ruby was on her way back to the office, and I told her I’d meet her there within the hour. She needed to call Don Jamison to work something out, because as far as I was concerned, Megan wasn’t spending another night in the rehab center. As I listened to Ruby’s reasoning that it really was for the best to get the infection inoculated, I undid the restraint’s buckle and wrapped her arm about her bear so that her hand was in his soft fur. I sat down in my chair next to her, confident that Ruby had her marching orders and mumbled a prayer for a little bit of heavenly assistance in all of this when a nurse came into the room and knelt by me.

“Megan will be fine. Alex, we’ll take good care of her. Go home and take a break.”

I nodded, but my eyes were more focused on Meg sleeping soundly in her bed, oblivious to my presence there, instead of the nurse who required my attention.

“Please, don’t restrain her. I’m afraid that she’ll break her wrist again, trying to free herself.”

“The charge nurse has left for the day. I’ll keep an eye on her and leave it off. Don’t be alarmed when you come in this evening and find it on her. Doctor’s orders are still doctor’s orders even if we don’t agree with them.”

I kissed Megan once more, and then left her for the afternoon. She was due to wake around six, so I drove directly to Ruby’s in Jamaica Plains to discuss what we needed to do now. We called Dr. Jamison, who had been consulting with the doctors of Columbia and the Rehab center on her progress, and he agreed that we could bring her home and he would monitor her care and IV therapy with the help of a visiting nurse.

Dr. Aaronson wasn’t in favor of a visiting nurse administering her IV therapy, but he finally agreed to release her to us if we had all our ducks in a row.

“You’re moving in until Thanksgiving,” I told Ruby. “I can’t do this alone.”

“I agree, Alex. Let’s get our tasks done and meet at five-thirty. I’ll have them prepare the paperwork, and we’ll get her discharged before they can sedate her again.”

We did just that. Meg was still asleep when I entered her room with an empty suitcase. I packed her clothes, her toiletries and belongings then set out the fresh set of clothes that I brought to dress her for the trip home. When I heard her stir, I released her hand from the restraint and kissed her, holding her cold fingers between my warm hands as she woke up.

“You’re going home.”

“When?”

“Soon, within the hour. We’re waiting on paperwork.”

“How did you--”

“Jamison is going to monitor you and Ruby’s moving in for a few days. Sean and Ryan are on their way in as well. Everyone who loves you will be there to help you through this.”

Tears welled up in her eyes. “I’m really going home?” she asked, trying to sit up and grabbed the rail to steady herself as the dizziness subsided.

“Really, Meg.” I held her close to me as a nurse entered carrying a kit in her hand.

“Mr. Corwynn, you need to wait in the hall while I get her unattached.”

“Gladly,” I replied, kissing Megan on the cheek.

I made myself a cup of tea in the nurses’ lounge while Meg got dressed. Ruby was there as well, talking with the doctor on duty. He was signing out medical records to her and explaining what was in the chart and the dosages of the IV drugs he was sending home with us for the nurse.

The nurse put Megan’s IV in a purse-like sac with a strap that she slung over her shoulder. I wrapped her in my jacket, realizing that my haste to get her out of the rehab center, I forgot her coat and it wasn’t even thirty degrees outside.

“How are you feeling?”

“Confused.”

“I expected to hear excited or relieved, but confused?”

“How did you...how much is this going to cost...am I still sick?”

“You are confused, aren’t you? Ruby and I knew you needed to be home, so we put the wheels in motion with Dr. Jamison and he’s going to be out to see you in the morning. You’ll have a visiting nurse come in a few times a day to do your IV therapy, and we’ll take care of the rest of you.”

“Cost?”

“Insurance. Quit worrying about money.”

“My car—”

“Taken care of. I think you’re getting a settlement and a new vehicle out of it.”

“How?”

“You have to know what to say to them,” I said, handing her the bear. Meg held my hand and smiled at me. I saw her toothless grin for the first time. No wonder she was so embarrassed by it. The nurse brought in paperwork for Meg to sign with her left arm. Her right arm was still in the cast, so she signed as best as possible. Before she handed her the fourth form, I signed and initialed it. Meg leaned on my shoulder, and I kissed her forehead after returning the clipboard to the nurse.

Ruby passed the nurse on her way out as she wheeled a wheelchair with a cardboard box on the seat into the room.

“Alex, this box needs to go down to the car with her suitcase. I thought the wheelchair would be a more convenient means of transporting it to the car. When you get back, she’s officially sprung from the rehab center.”

Ruby followed us to my estate. I looked across the seat to Megan at a stoplight and saw how different she appeared from before this happened. No longer the flirt, Meg sat sallow and defeated with her beautiful mane gone and her muscles lax from lack of movement or exercise. At a stoplight, I reached over and kissed her cheek. She grinned at me then leaned over and kissed me back.

“Thank you,” she said, very softly, “Thank you for getting me out of there.”

“Can we keep the wigging out to a minimum?”

“I’ll try. If I can just spew it out of me, I’ll be better.”

“Soon, Meg, very soon, you can spew it out.”

“It might keep you up at night.”

“Wondering what he did to you has kept me up at night. Knowing might not.”

Meg sighed and stared out the window. She was silent for a few minutes then she began to talk.

“He hit me from behind and rammed me into an intersection. A truck was coming, so I gunned it but swerved to miss another car and careened into a telephone pole.”

“You had quite a concussion. They had you hooked up to this thing that had like all these electrodes on your head. It scared the death out of me when I first saw you. Between that and the respirator, I thought I had lost you for sure.”

“I’m too evil to die.”

I laughed at her, remembering when I told her likewise.

“More scars to hide,” she said, “I’m full of them now.”

“Consider it character building.”

“Randy ripped me out of the car and forced me into his SUV. He crossed the bridge into Jersey and before I realized what was happening to me, he stopped somewhere remote. I don’t know where it was but he forced me out of the SUV and lowered the hatch in the back. Randy threw me over it and pulled my jeans down then raped and sodomized me before he threw me in the back of the truck, where he tackled me and handcuffed my hands to my ankles. I think he drove for two hours or more. I kept blacking out, and I was cold and couldn’t tell how late it was because of those smoked windows.”

“It was dark when he took me out, and I smelled the bay. Randy undid my ankles from my wrists then forced me into a chair. When he showed me the curling iron and the scissors, he said that since I was going to have a new man that I needed a new look, so he was going to give me a makeover.”

I clenched onto the steering wheel as I heard her story. After I parked the driveway of my estate, I shut off the truck and listened to her continue.

“While the curling iron was heating, he put it between my legs and forced me to hold it while it burned the inside of my thighs. When I dropped it out of pain, he started hitting me.”

Tears dripped down Megan’s face as I saw Sean at the front door, so I motioned him to come to us, while Megan kept spewing. There was no stopping her at that moment. Ruby walked up to my window, which I lowered so she could listen as well and soon, Sean was there beside her.

“When he finished beating me in my chest, he picked up the curling iron. He ripped off my shirt and cut my bra off with the scissors. Randy burned my nipples and the underside of my breasts with the curling iron. I screamed and he put duct tape over my mouth. He grabbed a length of my hair in the clasp of the iron and tugged on it before cutting it with the scissors,” she said, stroking what was left of her hair. Ruby walked around to the other side of the SUV while I unlocked Megan’s door, then Ruby opened it. Meg leaned on her but kept spewing.

“I bucked as he did this, I kicked him. When he got up, he was angry. He hit me over and again in the face, then he resumed beating me in the gut and chest.”

Then she began to sob. Loud sobs. I rushed around to her side of the truck and helped her stand up, noticing how the cold air stung her wet face, for she quickly wiped it with her hand as she stepped out into it. While Meg leaned onto me, I led her into the house.

Anna held the door for us as we entered and there stood Ryan. When Meg saw Ryan, she rushed into his arms and clung to him. Tall Ryan bent over to hold her then led her to the divan there in the foyer.

“Ryan, Ryan, Ryan,” she sobbed. As he hushed her, she calmed down.

“I’m here, Sean’s here, we’re all here for you, Baby. We’re just glad that you’re all right.” Sweet sensitive Ryan held and calmed her while Ruby and I brought in her bags and the medication that was sent home with us. Sean walked out into the cold and helped me bring in the boxes of medical supplies.

“She’s in a real bad way. That sobbing—”

“You haven’t heard anything yet. It rips your heart out when you first hear it. I can almost imagine the scissors—” I had to stop myself, and I leaned forward on the box sitting there in my SUV. Sean reached around me and patted my back.

“She’s home, she’s alive. We’re going to make it through this.”

“I haven’t done a damn thing in the foundation office for the last two months.”

“We’re here, we’ll help get it under control. Trying to keep Meg out, now that will be the ultimate challenge,” he said. Together we lifted the box that was more bulky than heavy out of the back and began to walk it up to the house.

“We’ll have our marching orders by sunrise, guaranteed,” I said to him over the top of the box.

“You think?”

“Oh yeah, I’ll wager that she’ll have that clipboard in her hand and a To-Do list for each of us before breakfast.”

“That soon, eh?”

“Have you seen it?”

“Ryan’s been working on it. The fax memory light was beeping. It was out of paper and it printed about a hundred pages of faxes that are collated and on her desk.”

The two of us carried the box inside and Ryan was still there with Megan. She was sobbing louder again and it echoed up the staircase and throughout the house. After putting the box in the foyer, I reached for her and I hushed her to a low roar as Sean shut the door, trapping the cold air outside.

“I’m here, I’m here,” I said, as she clung to me. I was careful where I touched her back, it was still so tender and the only piece still with dressing was the infection between the shoulder blades. Ruby and Anna returned from the upstairs, and when Ruby saw me with Megan, she asked Anna to take over so we could put the bags of IV antibiotics and fluid in the fridge.

“She’s not the same woman who came to me for help, Alex. Most patients, they progress, but Meg, even through this, has regressed tremendously. She’s officially traded places with you. You’re now in charge of her care,” said Ruby, putting the last bag on a shelf in the fridge.

“Not by her own volition.”

“This will be a new experience for her, being taken care of.”

“I understand that, but I also know that she’s really bad off emotionally. Where do we go from here?”

“We’ve got to get her to finish spewing.”

“What happened at the hospital that she became so angry with you that she threw the vase?”

“God if I know. I asked her a question and before I knew it, she was throwing a vase of flowers at me.”

“What did you ask her?”

“I can’t even remember. It was about Randy and the rape. You know what, ask her.”

“What?”

“I’m serious, when she’s calm, ask her what set her off. We don’t want to trigger her like that again.”

I carried Ruby’s bag upstairs to one of the guest bedrooms and stopped at my room for the sweatshirt that Meg wore more than me. She loved this gray sweatshirt from the yacht club that hung almost halfway down her thighs when she wore it. My mind couldn’t help but think of her last spring in it with only a pair of bicycle shorts beneath it, wishing she were naked beneath and that I could remove it from her. Reminding myself that she wasn’t the same woman who used to wear this sweatshirt and tease me, I took it down to her and found her leaning against Anna on the divan.

Anna had slipped her rosary into Meg’s hand, who rubbed the beads between her fingers while she mumbled with Anna the prayers that calmed her. I could tell by the way she huddled her shoulders inward that Meg was cold. When I approached her, she stopped mumbling and I held up the sweatshirt to her. She grinned at me as I slipped it over her head. Carefully, I helped her put the IV arm through it. Meg reached for me and kissed my cheek.

“You okay?” I asked. Meg nodded, then leaned on Anna some more. I took my hanky out of my pocket and wiped her face with it then put it in her other hand.

“I’m going to put the kettle on,” I said to Meg. “Do you want a cup of tea?”

“Could I have cocoa instead?” I nodded and knew that she needed more comfort than a cup of tea could provide.

“Sure. We got some of those packets up there, don’t we Anna?”

“Yes, right next to the tea canister.”

“Right, I thought so.”

“You don’t know where anything is in your own kitchen. You’d starve if you were left alone,” teased Megan.

“No, he’d make a mess searching for something,” corrected Anna. “That I know from experience.”

She kissed Meg’s forehead then stood up, motioning to me to trade places with her. “I’ll put on the kettle and prepare a tray for your guests. Should I make some Darjeeling?” she asked Ryan, which she knew was his favorite.

“That sounds lovely,” replied Ryan, as I helped Megan up from the divan.

I led her to the great room and we sat on the love seat closest to the fireplace, where Mike had built a fire before our arrival. Ruby, Ryan and Sean sat on the couch across from us on the other side of the hearth.

Meg’s lip trembled, and I knew that it was almost time for her to continue her story.

“You need to tell us, don’t you?” asked Ruby. Meg nodded. A tear fell down her cheek and was caught by the hanky in her hand.

“Okay, you were at the warehouse, and he burned you with the curling iron and began to cut your hair. You fought back and he beat the stuffing out of you. Then what happened?” asked Ruby.

While Ryan’s one hand went to his mouth, his other grasped Sean’s hand. Just hearing that was enough for him, and he didn’t look as if he was ready to hear the rest of the story.

“He hung me up by the handcuffs he left on my wrists—”

“He what?” I asked her, not understanding.

“There were hooks there, and he hung me by the free cuffs so that I was hanging and my weight was on my wrists. Then he whipped me with an extension cord and pulled the chair over to stand upon and cut the rest of my hair. When he got near my ear, I reached around and bit him. He stabbed me in the back with the scissors then and asked me repeatedly whom I belonged to.”

“Not you!” I screamed at him and he then ripped open my back with the scissors, telling me that he was putting his initials in it so that every man who was with me would see whom I belonged to.”

My face was darkening to a hue of resentful red when Ruby’s eyes met mine and reminded me to calm myself.

Ryan reached for a tissue. Ruby sat there staring at Megan shaking her head. I didn’t know what to say or do. None of us knew what to say or do at that moment.

“Megan,” said Ruby, the first one able to recover and respond, “When did you disassociate, dear?”

“When he was cutting me. I kept blacking out after I was raped and tossed into the back of the SUV, my head pounded, and I figured the car accident caused that. Honest, Ruby, I really stayed with it until he began carving up my back.”

I kissed her head, “You were there all the time?”

“You said if I zoned, he’d kill me. As long as I held it together, he couldn’t kill me. I kept hearing your voice tell me that, Alex.”

“You did good, Meg,” I replied, hugging her.

Anna brought in the tray and sat it before us, then handed Megan her cocoa. Meg sipped it while we drank our tea, staring into the fire almost blankly. I looked to Ruby. She shook her head. Meg sat there, staring into the fire, holding tightly to that cup of cocoa, but the rest of us were not in the same room with her it seemed.

“How did they find me?” she asked after another minute of silence permeated the room.

Not answering her at first, I was shocked, thinking she had zoned on us again. I was truly surprised when she spoke to me.

“Your cell phone, and I told them where my properties were in that area. I know you don’t like to hear this, but I do feel as if I’m responsible for this happening to you.”

“Please, no,” she sighed, setting her half empty mug on the tray, “I knew what he was capable of. I’m the one responsible, but not as much as Randy is.”

We sat up long after the others went to bed. I watched the fire burn low while Meg rested in my arms, half sleeping, half awake. We hardly talked. She just needed to be near me. I dozed off on her a couple of times.

“We should get to bed,” she finally said as the fireplace no longer crackled and only had bits of warm embers behind the brass and glass fireplace doors.

“That we should.”

I set the alarms as she put out the lights. We walked upstairs then I helped her undress with the IV bag.

“The bra is the trickiest.”

“I could wake Ruby, if you like.”

“No, it’s all right. As long as you hold the bag for me, I can do it on my own.”

When Megan wasn’t looking, I caught sight of one of those globes, still marred with red blotches. I wondered then if they would ever be as they were that day in the pool when they fell out of her suit.

“They look as bad as my back,” she said, looking up at her reflection in the dresser’s mirror.

“No, they don’t,” I said, looking at the pink scars and the white block dressing between her shoulder blades where the infection still battled with her.

“They feel as bad.”

“Does the bra hurt?”

“Yeah, but a sore back feels worse from not wearing it.”

“Let me put some lotion on them,” I said, reaching for the bottle they sent home from the hospital. I poured some into my palm and warmed it up between my hands before I began to smooth it into the scars, careful about the dressing but taking my time to rub the medicated lotion into the new skin. When I was done, I wrapped my arms around her as she covered her breasts with her forearms. My Megan would have showed them off to me before. She had once enjoyed teasing me with her body, and now she felt as though she wasn’t attractive. I reached for each arm and held her tighter.

“He could never destroy how beautiful you are.”

“He tried.”

“He failed,” I said, gently and slowly moving her arms down away from her breasts so I could see them. “Those burns will be gone soon. Put the lotion on them, Megan, let them heal and be beautiful again.”

“They’re ruined,” she said, biting her lower lip. I took the lotion, poured some into my hands and began to rub each breast with it as she leaned against me with tears dripping down her cheeks.

“No, they’re not, a little damaged right now is all. They’ll be fine soon, this will just help in the healing.”

“Everything you do helps in my healing. You’re a much better nurse than I ever was.”

“Nah, I’m a rookie at this. You’re a pro at being nice.”

I fondled her breasts probably longer than I should have until Meg turned to me and I held her.

“Thank you,” she said, “you always know how to make me feel beautiful again.”

With a kiss I released her and helped her into a short-sleeved nightgown. While I turned down her bed, she brushed her teeth.

“Will you be able to sleep?” she asked, as I hung the IV on the pole by her bed.

“Yeah, I think so. You?”

“I’m really tired.”

“You’re not used to so much excitement.”

“I missed being here. Tuck me in?”

“Always,” I replied, as she put her legs beneath the covers. After I put out the ceiling light, I left the bed table light on before I pulled the rest of the covers up to her chest then handed her the bear.

“Will you stay with me until I fall off to sleep?”

“Sure. Let me go change for bed first. I’m so beat that I might fall asleep right here.”

“Okay, take your eyes out too.”

“Then you’ll see me in my specs.”

“As if I’ve never seen you in your specs before?”

“They make me feel old.”

“You’re not old.”

“If you say so,” I replied, feeling as if I aged at least twenty years that day.

When I returned a few minutes later with my down pillow, Meg was curled on her side holding her bear and stroking one of his paws.

“It’s been a long day, hasn’t it?” I whispered, remembering our guests.

“It has, but this bed feels so good. It’s nice to be home again.”

I climbed under the covers and molded myself around her as Meg leaned against me. Within minutes, she was asleep in my arms. Around four that morning, Meg sat up and turned on the light. She was breathing hard. I sat up a bit disoriented and tried to get her to lie down again.

“No, I can’t,” she said, getting up out of bed.

“Meg, calm down, come back to bed. Your IV,” I said.

“I know, I’m used to my leash.”

“Shh, come on, come back to bed and tell me what startled you.”

Her brow was sweaty, and her chest rose and fell with exaggerated breaths. When I reached for her hand, she sat down on the bed again.

Ruby, clad in a Kente cloth caftan with a silk scarf wrapped around her head, was in the room a moment later. She saw me in Megan’s bed, and I knew I was in for a lecture in the morning if not sooner.

“What happened?” asked Ruby.

“He had me . . . he was watching me again and he got me.”

I hushed Megan and pulled her to my chest. “He’s in prison and can’t hurt you.”

“I know, but I can’t tell my sub-conscience that. It’s convinced that he’s still after me.”

“I’m going to raise your meds in the morning. I don’t want an argument from you, do you understand?” she asked Megan, who nodded reluctantly.

“You’re too distressed, Megan. We have to get this under control so you can live again.”

“I don’t want to spend the rest of my life on anti-depressants.”

“Whether you do or not, is up to you, no one else. How badly do you want your life back? Do you want to spend the rest of your days having flashbacks? Waking up in the middle of the night from a nightmare or unable to make love to the man who loves you because his hovering over you reminds you of being raped? It’s your choice, Megan. You may not like to take the drugs, but how much more do you like having your anxiety control your life?”

“Fine, whatever,” Megan replied, although she knew better than to say that to Ruby. I rolled my eyes knowing what was coming next out of Ruby’s mouth and most certain that even in the middle of the night that Ruby wouldn’t disappoint me.

“No fine, whatever, Megan. Fine, whatever landed you in this mess, remember that. Fine, whatever put you in the hands of sociopath when the man who loved you more than life itself was under the same roof. No, no more of this fine whatever. Get it together, Megan. You can’t sit around crying all day. If you’re going to do that, then I’ll send you to Bellevue for the week. But, and I do mean, but, if you are willing to change this, all of it, then by all means flush fine, whatever down the toilet and start changing that which opens the closet door. That closet and fine, whatever has put you into the hands of socio-paths because you don’t feel worthy of happiness. What do they say in Al-anon, Megan? That you’re going to know a new freedom, a new life? Why can’t you give that a chance, girl? Why?”

Meg just shook her head.

“Alex’s not going to be here to hold your hand all the time or wipe away your tears. He’s not your daddy, even if you would like him to be. Don’t throw him away. Good men like Alex are hard to find. Good night, Alex,” Ruby said, dismissing me.

I got up from Meg’s bed and took my pillow. When I shut the door to my suite, I saw Ryan standing at the door of his, leaning on the door frame. Our eyes met. We both sighed and went to bed, shutting the doors. Five minutes later, I could still hear Ruby talking to her. I went to my door and cracked it open, listening for their voices down the hall as if I was in the room, so I leaned on the wall and listened.

“But I do love him.”

“He loves the woman who does for herself, the woman who made his foundation one of the best in the world when it comes to AIDS prevention education programs, Megan. You’ve leaned enough, girl. It’s time, Megan. It’s time to stand on your own two feet again. Right now, you got that leash so tight around his neck you’re strangling him. I see it. The guilt that he feels over what happened to you, he has to deal with.”

“It wasn’t his fault.”

“He can’t and won’t see it that way. He loves you more than life itself. For a weekend, Alex sat at your bedside, watching your heart monitor, hoping that you would pull through this, because he didn’t know if he could live without you. I couldn’t pull him out of your room. Neither could the nurses. They finally gave up. He’s tired, Megan. Alex needs to know that you’re improving, that you’re going to make it and that you’re going to change.”

“For him?”

“For yourself. I think if you asked Alex, he’d like to be part of your life through this metamorphosis. I’ve known Alex a long time. He cares about the people who work for him. You know, Mrs. Simms, his assistant in L.A.?”

“Yeah, Marjorie Simms, I know her.”

“Did she tell you how Alex was at her side throughout her chemo treatments for breast cancer?”

“No.”

“He was there. Alex brought her some files. He sat with her and worked with her so she felt as if she was still a vital part of his life and the label’s existence. He wouldn’t let her quit on herself. Marjorie’s cancer was really aggressive. Did you know that?”

“No.”

“She had both breasts removed. Her son was stationed in Saudi Arabia at the time and he couldn’t come home. She lost her husband eighteen months before to pancreatic cancer. Alex made sure she had the best care, and that someone from the label or her life was there when he couldn’t be. The same way he’s done with you.”

“But I wasn’t romantically involved with Marjorie,” I said, entering the room.

Meg looked up at me, shocked to see that I had returned after all.

“You’re right,” said Ruby, patting the other side of the bed. I sat down at the opposite side near the foot of the bed.

“Marjorie may have had cancer, but she wasn’t traumatized by it like you were by Randy twice over. Meg, listen to Ruby. I do love you, and I’d like a future with you, but I can’t if you insist on this self-destructive behavior. I don’t want a time bomb for a wife. I dated one for eight years and was glad every time she took off to do something else with someone else. I know you hurt, Meg. I know what he did to you was terrible, but Meg, I have to say this, when you cry, you rip my heart out of my chest. Come away from the closet and start living, baby. Live a safe life and find peace with yourself. You can rip yourself apart by analyzing what he did to you and how you, in your mind, deserved it, but that only will do one thing—destroy you. I can’t love you if you’re in pieces. Do you hear me, Meg?”

“Yes,” she replied. Tears had fallen down her face into channeled streams. All of our eyes drooped.

“Today’s been a long day, a real long day for all of us, but mostly for you, Megan. For the first time since your abduction, you were able to voice what he did to you,” replied Ruby, handing Meg a box of tissues.

Meg nodded. Her lip trembled and her knees drew up to her face as she buried her head in it. I caught a glimpse of her panties before pulling her ankles back down to the mattress. Her eyes looked into mine.

“You’re tired,” I said. She nodded.

Ruby stood up from the bed then hugged Megan. “Go to sleep, Megan. You need your rest.”

Meg nodded, and lay down in her bed. After I tucked her in, I went into her bathroom and ran the tap until it was warm then I filled a fresh washcloth with it, squeezing it out then took it to her. I washed her tear-stained face and our eyes stared into each other’s until I pulled the cloth away to hang it over the rack in the bathroom. When I kissed her good night, she had her arm wrapped around the bear I’d given her and her eyes were closed. As I lay down in my own bed, my eyes were open. I couldn’t shut them. My mind went over our conversation. I loved her, truly I did. My eyes stayed on the clock for fifteen minutes before I took my pillow and returned to her side where I lifted the blankets and molded myself around her.

“Thank you,” she whispered, “I’ll try not to disappoint you.”

I kissed her cheek and we slept together until morning.

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