So many horrible scenarios run through my mind as we turn onto my street, the pain bringing actual tears to my eyes.
The way my mother had been screaming before the line went dead, oh my god, I had never heard someone scream like that before.
I can still hear her even though I know it’s only in my head.
Another shiver wracks through me and I rub my hands together furiously, the temperature now so low that I can see my own breath.
The first thing I notice is the blue and red lights that illuminate my cul-de-sac. The second thing I notice is the fact that my street has become littered with people, a few of a which I recognize as my neighbors. The third thing I notice is that not one of those people is my mother.
They all stand along the road, wide-eyed and solemn-faced, staring at the large lines of yellow tape surrounding my yard.
It doesn’t take much more for me to leap out of Axel’s still moving car and take off towards my house.
“I live here!” I scream as I slam into a brick wall of a police officer, his mountainous body blocking me from going any further. “This is my house, I live here.”
He eyes me suspiciously. “Name and identification?”
“Eveline Peak.” I search my sweater pocket when it dawns on me that, in my excitement earlier, I did not bring anything besides my phone with me. “I don’t have any identification on me but it’s in that. In the last room, in the red wallet on the bed. That’s my room and that’s my wallet. My ID, my ID is in that wallet. Please, go get it and you’ll see that I live here. What happened? Where is she? Where is my mother?”
“Miss, I am going to need you to calm down.”
His words set me off and I struggle to break past him. The voices in my head grow louder, demanding I break his arm to get where I need to get going.
“Eveline!” Axel’s voice terrorizes the other’s away as he rushes to my side, slipping on his black beanie. “Is everything okay?”
I point an accusatory finger at Officer Brickwall. “I don’t know because he won’t tell me. I told him that I live here and that my ID is inside and that I want to know where my mom is but he won’t tell me shit!”
The voices might have shut up for a moment, but the fury has decided to take their place. I can feel myself walking a thin line between angry and explosive. I can feel my insides rotting away, anger killing them slowly.
“Eveline.” Axel’s voice is low as he links his fingers with mine and gives my hand a squeeze. The thing rotting away my insides tells me I should hurt him and I focus on tuning it out. “I know it seems impossible at the moment, but you need to calm down. We don’t need you out of control right now. Please?”
I count down from ten inside of my head until my insides are not longer rotting, now piecing themselves back together. I focus on the soft feel of Axel’s thumb as it runs across the back of my hand. It reminds me of the way he did it the day he kissed me, right before he told me he thought I was beautiful.
Would he still think that if he knew what the voices had told me to do to him in the woods?
I release the breath I have been holding. “Officer, my name is Eveline Peak and I live here. Can you please tell me what is going on?”
“Good job,” Axe whispers in my ear, his lips grazing my cheek rewardingly.
“Umphrey!” another office, a tall man with ginger hair and muscles, shouts as he steps out my front door. “Is that the daughter?”
“Claims to be,” Office Brickwall, apparently better known as Officer Umphrey shouts back.
The second officer steps out of my house, crossing the yard to where we are standing. My grip on Axel’s hand tightens, my stomach sinking as I take in the other officer’s face. It is a look I have seen before many times and never once has it come with good news.
It is the same look the officer and the nurses gave me the night my father tried to drown me, one that screams of pity and regret.
The name tag on his suit reads ‘McDaniels’ and he looks me up and down before scowling. “Eveline Peak?”
I nod and swallow down the lump that is blocking my throat. “Yes. That, that’s me. Where’s my mother? Is she okay?”
“And you are?” He eyes the boy next to me.
“Axel Browning, sir.”
Pity turns to recognition and then to sadness, Officer McDaniels shaking his head slightly. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t recognize you. Wow, it has been years. How have you been?”
“Much better than the last time I saw you. I hate to sound rude but do you mind telling us what is going on here? Eveline’s mother called her while we were out and, well, the call ended on a disturbing note.”
“That is a conversation I would need to have with Miss Peak, alone.”
“He can stay.” My voice is barely a whisper. “Please let him stay. My mom, where is she?”
He flips through the pages of his small notepad, his fingers sliding across his own scribbled handwriting. “We received a call at the station a little over thirty minutes ago about a possible domestic abuse situation. The person who made the call stated that they heard loud noises and screaming coming from within the house. We arrived on the scene fifteen minutes later to find that the backdoor had been kicked in. It appears that your mother used some kind of weapon to fight the intruder off, however, both the attacker and the weapon were gone when we arrived.”
“Is she....” I can’t do it. I can’t say the word.
“Is Miss Peak okay?” Axel asks for me.
“She is alive and currently being treated at Gordian General,” McDaniel replies and a shred of hope blossoms in me. “She sustained multiple injuries but, when I last spoke to the nurse, she informed me that your mother was in stable condition.”
A tear rolls down my cheek. “She’s alive.”
He nods, flipping to a blank page. “Yes, she is. Eveline, was your mother involved with anyone romantically or end a relationship lately? Can you think of anyone or a reason why someone would want to hurt her?”
“No, she wasn’t seeing anyone. She hadn’t been seeing anyone.” Everything feels so unreal right now. “Or at least she didn’t tell me if she was. She would have told me. She works so much she wouldn’t have had time for a boyfriend. She’s a journalist, so there is a probably a mile long list of people that have it out for her, but you’d have to ask her boss. She’s never mentioned being threatened. I don’t know if she would. Look, do I have to do this now? I really need to go see my mom.”
“Of course not, but we do need you to drop by the station within the next few days so that we can take your statement and ask a few more questions. The sooner we have more information, the sooner we can figure out who did this to her.”
Something strange stirs in my chest, a tingle of sorts, as Axel guides me away from the house and back to his car. I lean my head against the window and stare at the flashing lights, feeling like I’ve been put under some kind of trance.
A few hours ago I was bickering with my mother about the millions of reason why I had to stay home tonight and now she is fighting for her life.
For the first time in weeks, I feel nothing.
“Eveline?” Axel shakes my shoulders lightly. “We’re here.”
I stare up at the faded brown building, at the hospital and the lights that decorate it.
I despise this place. I have despised this place for as long as I can remember. This is the place where they brought me after my father tried to kill me. This is the place they took him every time his episode got violent and he tried to hurt himself. This is the place where I watched him struggle against the bed restraints they had used on him, screaming loudly at the nurses for one of them to kill me and ‘get it over with already’.
This is the place where my mother might die.
Axel’s phone vibrates loudly in the cupholder where it has been and he grabs it, removing it from its spot. “Hello? No, we’re both fine. It was her house but we were in woods that border Sun Valley. I was bringing her tea and then I decided to take a drive. You also said it was my choice. Well, I thought about it and I changed my mind. Now is not the time to talk about this. It was Cassandra, she’s hurt pretty bad. The cops said someone broke into the house and attacked her but they have no leads. She’s with me and we just got to Gordian. Okay, I will call you later.”
He shoves his phone into his pocket. “Always. She was picking Alyssa up from the movie and she saw the police headed towards your neighborhood. She’s been calling me since she got home and realized I wasn’t there. I must have left my phone in the car and I guess she was worried.”
That is code for his mother was worried I had snapped and killed him.
“Do you want me to come in there with you?”
I mull his question over. Do I want him to come in there with me? Is there someone else I should call? Would it be easier if I called Katrena or would I only be risking exposure? Can I handle this on my own?
“Will you, please?”
Hand in hand we walk through the doors of the Intensive Care Unit, the stench of bleach and sickness lingering around us. I cringe at the smell and my stomach churns violently. I can no longer tell if the queasy feeling I am experiencing is from the smell or the way that my body involuntarily leeches off the sickened patients around us.
If I focus hard enough, I can feel the difference in the energies of those here and the ones at school. Things here are dark, unsettling. A strange feeling tugs at the back of my mind but I can’t decipher exactly what it means. All I know is that something isn’t right, but that is probably because I am worried sick right now.
“We are here to see Cassandra Peak,” I inform the white-haired nurse working the ICU check-in counter.
“Room 391,” she answers without ever looking up from the Sodoku puzzle she is working on. “Police called and said you were on the way. Visiting hours are technically over for the night so it is a family only thing, meaning the boy has to stay here.”
I nod even though she can’t see me. “Um, can he come, please? I don’t think I can do this by myself.”
She looks up and I can tell that she is shocked at how young the two of us are. Her hardened face softens and she gives me a weak smile. “Fine, but just this one time. If anyone asks you, lie and say you snuck him in.”
My legs seem to grow heavier with each step they take and, if it wasn’t for Axel’s hand on my lower back, I might have turned and run by now. It’s not that I really have anywhere to go, especially since my house has been invaded by policemen, but anywhere is better than here.
She is unconscious when I enter the room but her injuries are quite obvious. Both of her eyes are bruised and swollen shut, dried blood crusted the puffy corners. Her face looks like someone took a box cutter to it, thick stitches holding many of the gashes closed. Her arms and legs are just as bad, one leg in a cast while the other and both of her arms are covered in some form of bruise, stitch, bandage, cut, or medical device.
Whoever attacked her didn’t want her to survive. Whoever did this to her wanted her to suffer and then die.
I move to the edge of her bed and listen to the steady rhythm of her heart monitor. Tube and IVs stick out of the battered woman, a ventilator running between her chapped lips.
“Who did this to you?” I whisper, knowing that she will not respond. “I shouldn’t have left the house. I should have been there to help you.”
Axel’s hand lands on my shoulder and gives it what I know is supposed to be a comforting squeeze. “There is nothing you could have done.”
I shrug him off, gripping the edge of the bed so tightly that I can feel the metal begin to give way. “I would have been able to them away from her. I would have been able to fight. The tea lessens my urges but it doesn’t take away my speed or strength and I could have used that. I could have stopped them from getting into the house. I could have kept her safe but I didn’t. Where was I? In the woods with you, complaining about my life and grasping at whatever shreds of compatibility that we have left. I wasn’t there to protect her because I was too busy trying to make myself feel human. What is the point of being this way if I can’t even protect her?”
“This isn’t your fault. None of it is your fault. Your leaving the house isn’t the reason some psycho chose to break into it and, besides, who said you could have fought them off? You could have ended up in your own bed here.”
“At least I would have been doing something.”
A short, round man in a white coat enters the room, glaring over the edge of his clipboard at the two of us. From the deepness of his glower, I can only assume he is the doctor and not at all pleased that I have someone else in here with me.
He moves farther into the room, inspecting the machines my mother is attached to. “Eveline, I assume? Officer McDaniels informed me that you were on your way. My name is Dr. Driggers, I am the doctor that has been assigned to your mother’s case.”
“Is she going to be okay?” Worry tugs at me.
He thumbs through the pages of her chart and the wrinkles on his forehead deepen, his salt and pepper hair shaking as he nods his head and reads. “You mother arrived here with some pretty severe injuries. She had deep lacerations to her skin in multiple places, a broken leg, sprained wrist, punctured lung, and massive internal hemorrhaging. Miss Peak, how long has your mother been feeling ill?”
“Huh? How long has she been what? She hasn’t been sick? She was attacked.”
“Your mother had a few non-assault related health issues when she arrived, such as severe dehydration and malnutrition. She was also beginning to show signs of exhaustion, leading me to believe that she has been suffering from a cold or virus of some kind for quite some time now.”
I shake my head in what has to be an erratic manner. “No, no you’re wrong. My mother wasn’t sick. I saw her this morning and she was bouncing around like she’d had too much coffee, going on and on about this drug everyone has their panties in a twist about. She works a lot, yes, but I would have noticed if she wasn’t feeling well. She, she wouldn’t have gone out if she was sick.”
Dr. Driggers scribbles something onto my mother’s chart before sliding it under his arm. “Interesting. I will rerun the tests in the morning and see if anything has changed now that she has been stabilized. Now, I hate to do this to you, but it is late and there are no overnight guests allowed under the age of eighteen. I allowed this little visit at the behest of Office McDaniels, but I must insist you allow your mother to get the rest she needs. The sedative we gave her should wear off by morning, meaning she should be awake by the start of visiting hours tomorrow. I was informed that being that you are seventeen there is no reason to call the Department of Children Services, but I would like to do right by your mother and make sure you have somewhere safe to return to for the time being.”
“She does. Thank you for all your help, Doctor. Eveline, we need to go right now,” Axel urges, practically dragging me out of the room.