My eyes shot open, but my mother was no longer in my view. I could see white walls and medical equipment everywhere. I couldn’t breathe again.
“Emma?” I heard my name from the most precious voice in the world. “Oh my God, Emma.” I coughed and tried to breathe, but a tube in my throat was blocking me from doing so. I reached up to pull it out when the voice stopped me. His hands grabbed mine and held them still. “No, no, don’t take that out.” I coughed again, there was a smell in the room that make me want to gag.
“Hold on, Emma.” A new voice spoke to me. She slowly pulled the tube from my throat and I sat up to cough some more.
“Here.” Nick handed me a glass of water, but I pushed it away. That smell, it was me. I looked down at myself and I was covered in the black sludge that I was vomiting. Where was I? Was this the dream? Or was that the dream? I looked around the room, there were probably six or seven nurses staring at me with a shocked expression. Dr. Morris was to my left and Nick was to my right. I was in the hospital, I had to be, but how did I get here? Dr. Morris pulled something out of her pocket and put it in front of my face. She turned the little flashlight on, and I pulled away. Nick pushed her hand away from me.
“What the hell are you doing?” He asked her.
“I’m checking to make sure she’s okay, Nick, she was dead a minute ago!” I could feel the tension in the room. Who was dead? Was I dead? I looked down at myself again, I had an IV in both of my hands, but none of the machines were on. I began picking at the tape on my hand to remove them, but Nick’s hand quickly covered mine.
“Hold on, Emma, you’re going to hurt yourself.” I looked up at him, he didn’t look the same as I remembered him. He looked tired and worn down, sick almost.
“Just let me get a blood sample, I can check on some things and make sure she doesn’t have anything in her system.” What would I have in my system?
“Fine.” Nick agreed to the terms, yet no one asked me if I was okay with a blood sample. My throat throbbed from whatever tube they used, I doubted I could speak right now anyway. I let Dr. Morris take the blood from me, just so she would go away. I wanted to be alone with Nick. I had so many questions. She took my sample unhooked all of my IVs from my hand and took the nurses with her when she left. Nick sat on the edge of the bed and took my hand again. “Emma?” I turned to him. “Are you okay?” The question was so simple, yet so hard. Was I? I cleared my throat, but it stung. “Here.” Nick offered me a plastic cup of water again, but this time I took it. I was able to get a small sip down, but it felt like firewater. I handed it back to him and tried to sit up. “Let me help you.” He wrapped his arm around my back, and I adjusted as much as I could in the bed. I reached up and touched my throat, it was so sore, and I was sticky, and I smelled like death. “Do you want to get cleaned up?” I nodded. “I’ll be right back.” I watched Nick rush to the bathroom and heard the water to the shower hit the tile. He was back, just like he promised. “Can you walk?” What another excellent question I had no idea the answer to. He didn’t wait for me to decide, he was already helping me out of the bed, but much to both of our surprise I was feeling quite steady on my feet. He kept a hand on my lower back as he led me to the bathroom. It was easy for me to undress; I only had a hospital gown over my shoulders. The moment I stepped in the shower, the water around the drain turned black. Nick closed the shower door behind me, and I watched him pace back and forth around the bathroom like a caged animal. I stepped under the water and let it rinse the blackness from my body. I tilted my head back and let the water wet my hair. I rubbed my face until I couldn’t feel the stickiness of whatever blackness was on my body. I turned my head back to Nick; he was still pacing. My mother said he needed me, but I needed him too. My hand touched the glass as I searched for his eyes. He stopped pacing and walked to me, placing his hand over mine. He was so much bigger than I was, so powerful, and strong. His hand dropped and I began losing him in the fog. A few seconds later the door opened, and his naked frame stepped into the shower with me. He pulled me to his chest and wrapped his arms around me, his lips pressing gently to my head. “I thought I lost you, little wolf.” I didn’t understand what was happening, but in the moment, I didn’t care. I only wanted him.
Nick washed the stickiness out of my hair and off my body. He wrapped me tightly in a towel and led me back to my bed, which had new sheets on it. I saw no sign of the black ooze that tarnished me. “Let’s put this on until Doc okays us to go home.” He put a fresh hospital gown over my shoulders and pulled it closed in the front like a robe. I sat on the edge of the bed and picked up the hospital phone on the nightstand, ordering me food.
“Nick?” My voice was harsh, and it was still sore to speak. “What happened?” I asked.
“What do you remember?” I stared off into space, trying hard to remember the last thing that seemed clear to me.
“Christmas?” I questioned. “Mashed potatoes and ham.” I could clearly see the plate of food in front of me. “My mom wouldn’t pass me the potatoes.” I could tell he was worried by my answer.
“Emma, what year is it?”
“2020.” He looked relieved by my answer.
“Christmas of 2020 hasn’t come yet, Emma. It’s only April.”
“April?” The Mating Ritual was in early March, how was it April already?
“You’ve been here for six weeks, Emma.” He took my hands in his.
“Did we get married?” I asked him, a clear picture of my mother standing in a mirror with me in a wedding dress was in my mind.
“We’re mated, but no, we didn’t have a traditional wedding.”
“My mom’s dead.” I stated bluntly. Nick nodded with sad eyes. “What I saw wasn’t real. She wasn’t real. You weren’t real. Derek wasn’t real.” I was muttering.
“You saw Derek?” He questioned. I nodded and bit my lip. My hand went to my chest when I remembered him punching me. “What did he do?” Nick asked.
“He said he was trying to help.” I turned to Nick, my eyes finally meeting his. “Did he help?”
“Yeah, Emma, I think he did.”