She hadn’t thought losing her virginity would almost kill her boyfriend. She sat in the chilly waiting room of the Carilion Stonewall Jackson Hospital; clutching the coat she couldn’t remember putting on a little tighter around her willowy frame. Every few minutes her eyes would dart to the clock on the wall to check the time. What was taking so long?
“Miss Ashford?” The sight of the nurse’s trim figure filling the door was met with both dread and relief, “Could you come this way please?”
Instantly she was on her feet and following the older woman. “How is he?” she asked before they’d even made it a few steps into the hall.
The nurse hesitated for a moment but, seeing the worry on her face, relented a bit. “They’ve got him stable and his heartbeat’s steady. The doctor will tell you more when we get there.” She glanced down at the clipboard in her hand, “Do you know any family members we could contact for him?”
She shook her head even as a sick feeling of trepidation made itself known. She knew getting in touch with a patient’s family was just normal hospital procedure, but given the condition Michael had been in when they’d loaded him into the ambulance…
“The only family he has are his parents, and they’re out of the country for at least the next month.” It seemed Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge were always away on business to some far flung place or another, ever since their son was a little boy. The first memory she had of Michael in fact was the image of his small, forlorn shape standing in front of their large house; being drenched by rain and watching mutely as their car pulled away and left him behind yet again. He’d spent more time growing up with her father than he had with his own.
The thought brought with it a fresh welling of pain that didn’t have anything directly to do with their current trauma, and yet in a very real way had been the root cause of it all.
Their current trauma…
No, there’d been no clichéd scenario of a young man pressuring his girlfriend into sex before she was ready…the encounter had been her idea. He’d even stopped several times before things had gotten too heated and asked her if she was sure she wanted to go on…and she had.
It had been wonderful. Overheard snippets of gossip from other girls her age, first in high school and then later on in college had led her to believe that the first time ranged from ‘hurts like hell’ to ‘it wasn’t horrible’, nothing better. But Michael, as always, had been so caring, so considerate; never doing anything before he was sure she was ready for it. It had been such a tender, moving experience that she’d felt so foolish for all the years she’d taken pains to avoid the act; feeling an inexplicable, deep-rooted instinct that if she ever did give in to her desires something terrible would happen.
Well, now she knew why, but not how.
The man standing at the end of the hall in front of the sterile double doors that led into the ICU was a familiar sight; he’d been one of the doctors who’d helped treat her father through his long months of illness.
“Amara.” He spoke her name with a gentle concern that was both soothing and supportive, “What happened?”
She shook her head, for a moment flustered about what she could say and still make it sound believable. She certainly couldn’t tell the truth, or at least, not the full version of it. Dr. Harris would have her admitted to the psychiatric ward if she tried…convinced that the stress of recent events had made her snap.
“I don’t know.” She said after a few moments of silent debate, “We were at my place, we were…together, and he just collapsed.” That much was true, and it made her feel a bit better about having to omit the critical points of what had gone on little more than an hour earlier. She winced inwardly at the sharp look he gave her. Dr. Harris was an old-fashioned southern gentleman and past conversations had made it clear what he thought of the notion of young people having ‘relations’ with each other outside the confines of holy matrimony.
He paused himself for a few seconds before finally settling on a choice of term he was satisfied with, “Together as in…intimately?”
“Yes.” She voiced the admission with no such hesitation; regarding the man with a cool, level expression. That hadn’t been the aspect of the evening that had distressed her, and she’d been raised to view sex as something natural and beautiful whether it happened between partners bound together with society’s legal or formal blessing or not. “How’s Michael?”
“They’re getting ready to put him in a room now.” He gave her a searching glance, his eyes pensive for a moment, “It’s just so strange. He’s always been healthy as a horse with no history of cardiac problems, and his heart just…stopped. It’s like something drained all the life out of him.”
It was only thanks to years of having to guard her emotions that she was able to keep a flinch from showing itself on her face, but she managed it nonetheless. She took a breath before she responded, but she didn’t have to fake the guilt in her voice when she did so. “I don’t know what happened. He was fine before and even during it. Better than fine. But after…” she closed her eyes; the stain of those memories causing her expression to momentarily darken. “He wasn’t moving, and when I saw he wasn’t breathing I started doing CPR while I got 911 on the phone.”
The doctor’s gaze gentled, and he reached out to place a reassuring hand on her shoulder, “You probably saved his life then, so don’t beat yourself up about it. It wasn’t your fault.”
She bit her lower lip even as he continued, “Still, until we’ve run enough tests and figure out what the problem was, I’d advise against activities that are overly…strenuous.” The look he directed at her was blatant in its meaning, and she did flush at that, “You dodged a bullet this time, but you might not be so lucky the next one.”
His words were still ringing through her thoughts twenty minutes later when she stepped softly into the room they’d moved him into. The constant background beeping of the electronic heart monitor was oddly soothing as she stopped next to his bedside. Brown hair with a slight curl at the ends rested against his wan, sweat-dampened face. He was still unconscious, and so she was denied the sight of his pale green eyes…the same color as new summer grass.
She’d been drawn to his coloring from the very beginning. The brown of oak bark and the green of young leaves…that combined with his kind, generous nature had always reminded her of the warmth of nature and of growing things.
She sighed after a moment and reached down to touch her fingers gently to his cheek. She hadn’t even been able to tell Dr. Harris the whole truth about even that. She had performed CPR on him when she realized her usual method of dealing with sickness and injury wasn’t going to work, but that was only after she’d gotten rid of the wounds that couldn’t be easily explained away as a previously unknown condition to medical professionals.
And even then…
She narrowed her eyes a bit and focused more intently on the sleeping man next to her; no visible sign of what she was doing before she lifted her hand away from his face with a second, softer sigh. Though she and Michael had been dating since they were fifteen and had been friends for seven years before that, there was still so much about her he didn’t know.
And for his own sake it needed to stay that way.
Her gaze traveled to the phone, hesitating for the span of only a few seconds before picking it up, “Hi, Sylvia? She asked once she’d received a response, “This is Amara. I’m at the hospital with Michael. No, he’s fine, now he is. But listen, I’ve made sure he’s going to stay asleep for a while, but I need your help. Before he passed out he might’ve seen something he shouldn’t have.” The woman on the other end of the phone had known her since she’d been a little girl, and Amara knew she’d owe her a full explanation before the night was through. For now though, she allowed herself a small sigh of relief at the other lady’s answer; her fingers tightening reflexively on the phone, “Thanks Sylvia we’re in room 321.”
She hung up and then turned to rest her back against the wall; grateful for the feel of something solid to steady a world that seemed like it had been turned upside down.
Sylvia would know what to do, she always did. But then, she was a witch, and witches tended to be capable people.
Of course, she was a witch herself, and look at the mess she’d made of things.
A flicker of cold spread through her then; tinged with darkness and dread. Yes, she was a witch, but she was also, somehow, a demon too.