Porcelain Skin

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I Care

Have you ever watched a fire closely? Observed the flickering dance of flames as they dart up to lick the air? They’re aggressive, merciless, angry; yet they’re graceful, mesmerizing, and peaceful. Have you ever bypassed the blazing fight between flames to stare at the glowing blues and yellows that hide at the very base of a fire? The very heart of the beast. It’s calm, gentle, and soothing; yet this is where the most heat is birthed. It’s a death trap; an illusion. It can pull you in and devour you.

As I take in Dr. Richards’ words, I can feel the sparks popping. It’s that feeling of when you become so confused that you’re actually angry. This is what I feel as heat ignites the depths of my core and begins to pulse to life. In seconds, I’m a raging inferno of animalistic rage. I’m aggressive, merciless and angry as my emotions storm against each other, trying to grasp each piece of this confusing puzzle, but coming up lost. This is the internal turmoil that I’m experiencing. Inside I’m blazing and uncontrollable, while outside I’m calm, gentle, still... and very dangerous.

I’m not sure where my sudden rage came from, but I’m having a hard time keeping it down. I’m feeling vulnerable and clueless. No one believes what I’m saying, and the one person that I felt I could trust is behind all the lies. He’s trying to make everyone think he found me sleeping my life away when in fact his own hands were responsible for putting me in the hospital. But I guess my own mind is having trouble believing this to be true too.

I watch Dr. Richards with a careful eye, waiting for him to elaborate, but when he doesn’t the flames licking my insides finally burst forth. I must know. I need to know what he’s talking about.

“So, what you’re trying to say,” I exclaim, but it comes out in a desperate whisper as I battle to keep my confusion from transforming into rage, “is that I tried to kill myself?”

Dr. Richards lays my chart at the end of my bed and crosses his arms, giving me his full attention.

“Your friend says he found you passed out, and was worried about what your reasons were for staying out in the cold for that length of time,” he informs me. “He was suspicious of your intentions.”

“That’s unbelievable,” I argue, grabbing my head with my hands in aggravation. “I would never do that!”

“Ms. White,” the doctor says calmly as he bends slightly to gain my attention. “I am curious about your side of the story, though. You say you were pushed. Can you tell me more?” As he says this, he moves closer to the head of the bed.

“Okay,” I say as he takes my arm in his hands and begins applying light pressure along the bone from wrist to shoulder before switching to the other side. I watch each of his movements. “So, I was just playing my violin when Trevor showed up. He was angry at me for not telling him that I was going to visit his sister, and he started to get kind of up in my face about it, so I kept trying to avoid him by stepping back. Next thing I know I’m falling. The loft window was open, you know the window where they load and unload hay?” Dr. Richards nods silently. “I fell from there, and then that’s it. That’s all I remember.”

After applying the same kind of pressure to the bones along each leg, he crosses his arms again and faces me.

“The nurses already checked, but now that I’ve done my own examination, I can almost guarantee that you didn’t fall from that height. There are no obvious fractures, broken bones, or abrasions, and you haven’t once complained of any pain other than your fingers, correct?”

I pause for a moment to really focus on my pain and realize that he’s right. Other than achy muscles, I really have no body pain. I nod to confirm his suspicions.

“So, you think I’m lying then? You think it was all just a dream or something?” I ask, but I already know it wasn’t a dream. I’m not stupid. It’s easy to tell a dream from reality. Even when a dream feels eerily real, once awake it’s always evident. If all of this ends up to be just a dream, then it’s probably a clear sign that I should be locked up in the Looney Bin.

“No,” Dr. Richard says firmly, startling me when he doesn’t immediately accuse me of lying. I listen to his response with curious awe. “I don’t think you’re lying. I think Trevor actually pushed you off that barn,” he says, before offering a sympathetic grin, “in your mind.”

What? What is going on? It’s like every piece of the puzzle that I get just confuses the picture more.

“Excuse me?” I say, feeling like I’m losing my mind.

“Ms. White, do you know what hypothermia is?”

“Uh, yeah,” I tell him, but he ignores me as he goes on to explain anyway.

“Hypothermia is when your body temperature drops below ninety-five degrees Fahrenheit (35 C). When the medics checked your core temperature, it was eighty-nine degrees (31.6 C).” He pauses for a moment to make sure I’m understanding the significance of his words. When I just stare back in response he continues. “There are four stages of hypothermia,” another pause. “You were in stage three. This is extremely severe. If that boy hadn’t found you when he did, you could have died.”

The weight of his words come crashing down on me, but what really happened to me is still unclear.

“So, you think I’m crazy?” I whisper. I’m slowly giving up. I have no proof of what Trevor did to me, and now my own mind is beginning to question what I know to be truth.

“No,” Dr. Richards says. “Hypothermia has a way of messing with a person’s body. It can create confusion, nausea, drowsiness.” He folds his arms over his chest again. “Would you like to hear my theory?”

I nod my head slowly.

“I believe it was a hallucination. It didn’t actually happen, but it felt real.”

I gasp, bringing the back of my hand to my mouth. Everything clicks immediately and guilt washes over my entire body. I accused Trevor of attempted murder.

“You were in that barn for nearly eight hours. You’re lucky you’re not in worse condition. I believe the temperature was in the mid-forties when you arrived at the barn, but as the sun went down the temperature dropped, and so did yours.” He rubs his chin. “The good news is, your heart and kidneys are fine.”

I can sense a ‘but’ before he even speaks. I wrap my arms around my waist in preparation, but I think I already know what he’s going to say. I attempt to flex my fingers inside their wrappings.

“But,” he goes on to say, “you did acquire frostbite.” He uses his finger to point out the places on his own face where I have developed it. “You’ve got frostbite on your nose and right cheek. Both places are very mild and should heal up without any issues. What I’m more concerned about is your left hand.”

My heart sinks into my stomach cavity, as emptiness settles over me.

“When you were found you were missing your left glove,” he explains. “Before passing out you must have shoved your hand into your armpit to protect it from the cold, but unfortunately, it did receive the most damage.”

“Will—” I choke. “Will I be able to play my violin again?”

Dr. Richards’ compassionate eyes slide up to meet my own desperate ones. “We don’t know yet,” he tells me, placing a hand on my calf and giving a gentle squeeze. “It can take several months to determine the extent of your frostbite. We’ll just have to wait and see how it heals.”

I had forgotten that Lindsey was even in the room until she’s suddenly next to me, wrapping her arms around my trembling frame. She holds me tight, but I refuse to cry. I have nothing left.

“I’m very sorry, Ms. White,” the doctor murmurs, before picking the chart off the end of the bed. “I’ll do my best to take care of you.” He sends me a warm smile before leaving the room.

As I remember the blistering darkened skin on the tips of the figures on my left hand, I realize it’s very possible that I may never play my cherished violin again.

“Trevor,” I suddenly say, causing Lindsey to pull away from me. “I need Trevor.”

She nods without responding and pulls her phone from her back pocket. I listen carefully as she searches for his number and hits ‘Send’. I wait in agonizing silence until his deep tenor breaks the quiet.

“Trevor,” Lindsey says. “You need to get back to the hospital asap.”

“What? Why?” He sounds worried and I pull in a deep breath of relief. “Is Emma okay?”

“She needs you,” Lindsey tells him. “She’s doing okay, but she needs you.”

I can’t make out his response, but I assume that he’s on his way when Lindsey pockets her phone and shoots me an encouraging smile.

“I’ll stay until he gets here,” she offers.

I send her a small smile and nod my appreciation. We don’t speak as we wait, but it’s okay. I don’t really want to speak. Everything that’s happened in the last few minutes has completely changed my life. I’m not sure what I would do if my fingers never worked again. I need music. It’s what got me through the hardest moments of my life. It was the tempo that kept my heart beating... and now I might have to let that go too.

It only takes ten minutes for Trevor to arrive, and Lindsey dismisses herself the moment he steps through the door. We stare at each other for several seconds. His eyes are cautious and hard, while mine are weary and regretful. He doesn’t step towards me but waits for me to speak.

“I’m sorry,” I finally mutter.

“Okay,” is his simple, one-worded response.

“That’s it?... ‘Okay’?” I’m holding on as tightly as I can to hope. He needs to understand what happened. He’s the most understanding person I know. He’s got to forgive me. He has to. I can’t lose my fingers, my music, and him all in one day.

“Well, what did you expect me to say?” he responds a bit harshly as he pushes his hands into the pockets of his jeans. “You accused me of murder, Emma. Think about that. Think about how that makes me feel.”

“I know,” I shoot back quickly—desperately. “I know, and I was wrong. You didn’t do that. I knew that you didn’t, but I also was so sure you did, and I just... I was just... so confused.”

The emotions swirl out from their frozen state as I begin to feel dread, regret, shame, fear, and hope igniting all at one. The flames are back, and they’re swarming and dancing with madness as they fight for survival.

“What happened?” he asks after a moment of silence. He moves to grab a chair and pulls it up to the side of my bed where he takes a seat.

“The doctor says I got hypothermia, pretty severe hypothermia. I must have hallucinated before passing out,” I explain. “In my hallucination, you came to the barn and you were livid. You kept yelling at me, telling me you were worried about me when I left to see Trinity without telling you. You were so furious. I’ve never seen you like that, which makes sense now. You would never actually respond that way. You were an entirely different person.” I shake my head as I remember the fury in his eyes as he pushed me from over the edge of the barn. “I told you how I felt, but you just scoffed at me and then, just before you pushed me out of the barn window, you told me that you would never want to be with me.”

I glance up to see Trevor studying his hands. He doesn’t say anything, but I can tell he’s heard every word because his brows are furrowed in concentration.

“You told me you loved me,” he says without looking up, and my chest freezes.

My lungs don’t work, my heart doesn’t work. I’m still, remembering that I did, in fact, confess my love for him. Once, while I was hallucinating and then again, in real life, just a few hours ago.

My entire body begins working over time as my heart erupts into wild pounding, and my lungs pump air in and out swiftly.

“I, uh—”

“Did you mean that?” he asks, as his green eyes finally meet the hazel of mine.

I sit watching him for a moment before responding. I can’t hurt him anymore. I just can’t. So I don’t.

“Yes,” I mutter, dropping my gaze into my lap, where I attempt to play with my fingers, but can’t. I just stare at the white bandages that hide the truth from my vision. As long as my blistered, frozen fingers are hidden from view, I can pretend like they’re fine.

I hear Trevor take in a deep breath, and glance up to see him relaxing back against his seat, a tight smile pulling at his lips. I try to return the gesture.

“What else did the doctor say?” he asks.

I watch him for a moment, my mouth slightly ajar. I just confirmed that I love him, and he changed the subject. He doesn’t have anything to say. He doesn’t look happy or disappointed. He looks... indifferent.

“He said—” My voice cracks, and I clear away as much emotion as I possibly can. I’m fighting against the truth of Dr. Richards’ words, and the rejecting lack of Trevor’s. “They won’t know for sure for a few months, but... I might never play violin again.” I can barely get out the last sentence as the dam behind my chest finally breaks, and with it, my heart.

“The frostbite was that bad?” he says, and I can see the distress on his tired face.

“Yeah, well, I took my glove off so I could play better, and must have passed out that way,” I explain while wiping tears from my cheeks. “The doctor didn’t really say anything about my right hand, so I assume it’s okay, but my left one doesn’t look good.” I focus on the bags under his eyes. “When did you find me?”

“Friday morning,” he says, before pausing to remember. “It was two in the morning. I had arrived on campus just before dinner, and Lindsey and your roommate said they hadn’t seen you. I waited until after midnight before looking for you. If I had just listened to my gut,” he groans, angry with himself.

I start to reach for his hand but quickly pull it back into my lap when I realize how pointless it would be to hold his hand when mine are completely wrapped.

“I found you asleep on those bales of hay in the corner,” he says quietly, and I’m curious about the emotions flickering across his face. “You looked so peaceful, but when I touched you your skin was like ice. I nearly flipped out, Emma. I’ve never been so scared in my life. You were barely breathing.” He pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers.

“I didn’t know how bad your condition was,” he continues, “or the protocol for hypothermia victims. I didn’t want to move you, so I just called an ambulance, and did everything I could to keep you warm until they got there. There was no way I could have moved you anyway. I didn’t want to risk carrying you down the ladder.”

“You saved my life, and I... I thought you tried to end it.” I put my face in my hands in shame.

“It’s okay.” I feel movement next to me, and then his warm hand guiding my face up. “I’m just glad you’re alive.” His voice grows deep and gravelly, and I go still when I notice him turn slightly, rubbing his eyes.

“Thank you,” I finally say, and he glances over at me, his lashes appear slightly clumped together and wet. He looks incredible and vulnerable. I want to pull him to me and take in the amount of depth radiating from his sad eyes.

“I thought—” he stops to clear away the thick emotion from his throat. “I thought you had given up on yourself, that you were trying to end things the way your father did. I couldn’t figure out what had pushed you to do something like that.”

He had asked me earlier what had pushed me over the edge, and now it all made sense. He was speaking figuratively, not literally. How did things get so confused?

“No,” I say with passion. “I would never do that. Never. I survived the worst pain of my life and was finally happy. I went to that barn to let go of everything. I was finally free from all my guilt.” And then I add quietly, “I forgave myself last night.”

Trevor looks at me with glistening eyes and gives me a weak smile. I watch in amazement when the rim of his eyelids finally can’t take any more weight, and the liquid drains freely.

“Ah, what is happening?” he groans as he wipes a single tear from his cheek. “Don’t ever tell anyone about this,” he warns playfully.

“Okay,” I laugh before turning serious again. “Thank you, though, for finding me. For caring.”

He looks at me seriously for several long seconds before sliding his fingers around my arm. “I care more than you think,” he says as he rubs his thumb along my forearm. “A lot more.”

I watch him for a moment, trying to decipher what he could mean, but my thoughts return to my condition when I decide that he’s not willing to share any more than that. I want so badly to feel angry and bitter. It would be so easy to just let those emotions consume me again, but I’ve decided not to be weakened by the weight of disappointment again. I need to focus on the good things in life, the blessing of survival. Let the good things determine my response to life so that I don’t dwell on the fact that my passion for playing music might have died along with my fingers.

“You’re gonna be fine,” Trevor murmurs quietly after several minutes of silence.

But as I look at him, I wonder if he even believes his own words.

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