The bright lights burned her eyes when she tried blinking them open. There was a pounding in her head and she could feel her body heavy over something that wasn’t her bed. Nicole tried opening her eyes again and, slowly, she managed to keep them open long enough to focus them on a blank ceiling. The sight only confirmed her suspicions that she wasn’t in her own room.
Every muscle in her body complained when she tried moving her head to the right. She felt like she was just waking up from a yearlong sleep in which her body hadn’t moved at all. Even blinking her eyes seemed to hurt, but Nicole had to understand where she was.
There was a rhythmic, cyclic sound to her side that she could recognize. Even though it had been over a decade since she last heard it, there was no mistaking the beeps of a cardiac monitor. That was the first thing she heard when she woke up after the car accident that ended her athletic career. But then, Nicole knew what to expect. She had seen the headlights coming their way, she remembered feeling the impact. At that moment, on that hospital bed, she had no idea what could’ve happened to her to get her there. The last clear memory she had was of getting up from the table to leave the bar. After that, everything looked like a fuzzy movie playing too slow.
Could it be that she had drunk so much that her friends had to take her to the hospital? But, she didn’t remember drinking all that much. She was a little dizzy when she decided to go home, but not enough to completely black out, right?
All of the questions pilling up in her head were making her headache worsen. It felt like even her hair was in pain at that point. All Nicole wanted to do was go back to sleep and wake up from that nightmare in her own bed, but a small sound that didn’t come from any of the machines in her room forced her to stay awake. Ignoring the way her muscles protested, Nicole turned her head to the side and found Allison curled up into a little ball, sleeping on a chair.
At first, Nicole felt happy that she wasn’t there alone. Even though the position she was in didn’t look comfortable at all, Allison was there, at her bedside, with her. That’s when she remembered that she had no idea why she was there and she felt guilty. She didn’t know how late it was and she knew Allison must have gotten back home late from her concert.
“Allison.” Nicole wanted to let her fiancée get some sleep, but she didn’t want her to wake up in the morning with back pains because she spent the whole night sleeping on some generic hospital chair. “Allison.” She tried speaking louder, but her throat was dry and her voice was barely above a whisper.
The singer twitched a little when Nicole said her name for the third time, but it didn’t seem like she was awake at all. Nicole was about to give up when Allison’s eyes sprung open, wide and scared.
She hadn’t left Nicole’s side from the moment she found her. The police officers and the paramedics tried to get her to let go from the other woman long enough to examine her and put her in the ambulance, but with the way Allison clung to her body, it was nearly impossible to separate them. When they got to the hospital, Allison tried to stay in the room and hold on to any part of Nicole, but a male nurse carried her outside. She kicked and screamed until he threatened to sedate her. The idea of not being there when Nicole woke up was enough to get her to sit down quietly.
Allison let out a doctor suture her arm and the moment she was told she could go inside Nicole’s room, she took a seat on the chair and started her vigil.
Guilt was eating away at her. If only she hadn’t been so stubborn; if only she had agreed to increase their security; if only she had believed Nicole when she said that Jess was a threat, none of that would be happening. She wouldn’t have ten stiches on her arm and, most importantly, Nicole wouldn’t be lying on a hospital bed, pale and bruised and bleary eyed.
It felt like a giant hand was crushing Allison’s heart when her eyes focused on Nicole. Her eyes looked sunken in, with deep, dark circles beneath them. Her face was pained and she looked at Allison with a mixture of doubt and shame on her features, as tubes and wires connected her to the machines that beeped by her side. Allison couldn’t help but think back to the other time she had seen Nicole in a similar situation and she just prayed that the outcome wouldn’t be so painful to the both of them.
“Hey.” Allison smiled a sad, relieved smile and got up from the chair to take a seat on the hospital bed, by Nicole’s leg. “How are you feeling?”
“Like I’ve been run over by a truck?” She hadn’t meant to make it sound like a question, but she felt so uncertain at that moment, that it was inevitable. “My head hurts and it feels like my body is heavy.”
“Yeah, the doctor said you might feel that way when you woke up. I can call a nurse and see if they can give you something for the pain.”
“What happened, Al? Why am I at the hospital?”
“Don’t you remember anything?”
“The last thing I remember is leaving the bar to catch a cab.” Nicole frowned at her inability to remember more. “After that, it’s all fuzzy. I guess I drank a little too much, huh?”
The pained expression was too much for Allison’s guilty conscience to take. “I-I… I’ll go get a nurse.” Allison whispered and got up from the bed. “The doctor asked that I call someone as soon as you woke up.”
“Allison!” Nicole called out, but the singer was already outside the room.
Nicole had her eyes closed, but she heard the moment Allison walked back in the room. She had already been seen by doctors and nurses and she was just waiting for her fiancée to come back so she could finally give in to the exhaustion she could feel taking over her body.
Allison stood by the foot of the bed when Nicole opened her eyes. She had her head lowered down and was fiddling with a loose thread on the blanket over Nicole’s feet. The reporter observed her for a moment, trying to read her feelings and thoughts into her motions. She already knew she wasn’t in the hospital because she had drunk too much. What she couldn’t understand was why Allison had run away from her earlier.
“Hey.” Nicole finally spoke up when it became clear that Allison would not be the first one to speak.
“Hi. How are you feeling?”
Their voices were hushed. Allison knew it was the only way to keep her emotions from bleeding into her words and betraying how she was feeling to the woman lying on the bed. Nicole should be the focus of their worry, not Allison, she thought.
“A little better. My head still feels like it’s hollow or something, but it doesn’t hurt anymore.”
“Good. I hate seeing you in pain.” The statement put a small smile on Nicole’s lips despite everything.
“What happened, Al?” She asked because she needed to know. Nicole wasn’t someone that liked guessing. She needed facts.
“The doctors didn’t tell you?” Allison took a deep breath to line up the words in her head before she spoke them. She couldn’t believe she was about to say them out loud. “Y-you were drugged, Nic.”
“I know. It was all I could understand from what the doctor told me. What I don’t understand is how. And why you ran away from here.”
“It was Jess.”
Guilt can be a funny thing. Even though Allison wanted to run away, even though she wanted to forget that day had ever happened, even though she wanted to protect Nicole from all the evil that lurked in the dark, Allison also didn’t. She needed Nicole to know everything so she could understand just how guilty she felt in that moment. She needed Nicole to see her guilt and her fault and her shame too. She needed her to validate it.
Confessions aren’t always about atonement.
“I don’t know. All I know is that when I got home she was in our fucking shower and I had no idea where you were.”
Allison crossed her arms protectively around her chest and that’s when Nicole noticed she wasn’t wearing any of her shirts. She had on a hospital-issued scrub. It was too big on her and it made her look even smaller.
“Why are you wearing that?” It was out of her mouth before she could stop it.
“Oh, this?” She looked down, seemingly only then remembering what she was wearing. Allison picked at the hem of the top and wondered how she could explain to Nicole why she was wearing that. “M-my shirt was too tight and I asked a nurse if she could get me anything else. At least, it’s comfortable.”
“And you’re still a terrible liar.” Nicole had a small smile on her face. She knew Allison always needed a little more time processing things. “What’s that on your arm?”
“It’s nothing, Nic. You don’t have to worry about me. You should get some rest, now.”
“Please don’t treat me like a child, Al. Please.” The sound of Nicole’s voice catching in her throat stung Allison’s eyes. “What happened to your arm? Please, tell me.”
“She had a knife.” Allison’s whole body deflated when she said those words. Suddenly, she was much too heavy to stand on her own legs and she sat on the bed. “She threatened you and I just lost it. I couldn’t let her hurt you, Nic.”
“We rolled down some steps.” She continued as if Nicole hadn’t said a thing, the words pouring out of her like a broken dam. “I must have hit my head. Everything was fuzzy, but I could see her on top of me. I didn’t even recognize her. She had the knife aimed at my chest and I thought ‘that’s it, I’m going to die and I won’t ever see Nicole again.’” Big tear drops leaked from Allison’s eyes and she let it, too drained to keep herself together. “I think the police coming in startled her, because instead of my chest, she cut my arm. Ten stitches.”
“Oh, Allison. I’m so sorry, sweety.”
With the arm that wasn’t hooked to the IV, Nicole pulled Allison to her chest and let the woman cry as many tears as she needed. She couldn’t even fathom what the other woman must have felt, being held at the point of a knife, fearing for her own life. Nicole held her as tight as her tired body allowed and kissed her forehead and her head over and over again.
“I should be the one comforting you, not the other way around.” The bitterness in Allison’s voice wasn’t lost to Nicole.
“We should be comforting each other, Al.” Nicole tried pulling Allison back into her, but the singer sat up straight and out of her reach. “She hurt us both.”
“And it’s my fault!”
Allison’s voice rang and echoed in the room. They had been talking in hushed words and her outburst startled them both. She hadn’t meant to elevate her voice, but the guilt she had been feeling since she found Nicole unconscious in the guest bedroom, with her hands tied behind her back and her feet tied together, would have to find an outlet at some point.
“Allison, you didn’t drug me. You didn’t hold a knife to your own chest. That was Jess. She did that.”
“Yeah, and if I had increased the security like you asked, none of that would have happened.”
It was finally out in the open. Her thoughts and her guilt had finally been voiced and Allison closed her eyes, waiting for the moment Nicole would realize how everything had been her fault and would ask to be left alone. When she didn’t speak, Allison opened her eyes and found Nicole watching her with those eyes that were able to see into the singer’s soul.
“Is that why you left earlier? Because you think this is your fault?”
“It is my fault, Nic. I should have protected you.”
“Allison, you did protect me. Can’t you see that?” Allison frowned and opened her mouth to protest, but Nicole kept speaking before she had the chance. “You put yourself in harm’s way to protect me, love.”
“But I was the one to put you in danger. I should have listened to you. I should have… I should have done something.”
“Allison, come here.” Nicole opened her arms, but Allison didn’t budge. “Honey, I can’t exactly move all the way over there, so you’re gonna have to come here.” A shy smile graced Allison’s lips as she hauled her tired body to Nicole’s arms. They sighed together when they were touching, again. “This isn’t your fault. When I talked to you about increasing security, I meant yours. So, this would still have happened.”
“Jess made her choices and she’s the one responsible for them. Not you.” She kissed Allison’s temple and breathe her in. “I don’t blame you for what happened. Please, don’t blame yourself.”
It was futile to try and hold back her tears. All of the day’s emotions caught up to Allison at once and she found herself sobbing into Nicole’s shoulder again. But, this time, the tears that painted a track down her cheeks were filled with relief; that they were both okay, that Nicole didn’t blame her, that the nightmare was finally over.
“I should let you get some more rest.” Allison’s voice was hoarse and thick from her tears.
“Stay.” Before the singer could completely get up from the bed, Nicole tugged on her wrist. “You know I always sleep better with you holding me.”
“I don’t think the hospital would like that very much.”
“Are you telling me that Ally Strong can’t make it happen?” The small chuckle that erupted from Allison’s throat was the most beautiful sound Nicole had ever heard. “At least until I fall asleep?”
Allison nodded and sat back on the bed. This time, it was Nicole who snuggled into her embrace, allowing the other woman to hold and comfort her. The last thing she heard before sleep took over was an ‘I love you’ mumbled into her hair.
Morning didn’t come one moment too soon. Allison had been pacing the floor for a half hour when the doctor entered the room to check on Nicole one last time before sending her home. She had used that time to talk to Mike. The news of their attack had been leaked to the press and there were already many reporters camping out in front of their apartment and the hospital. They had just come up with a plan to get the two of them safely out from the hospital and back home when the doctor said Nicole could get changed and that a nurse would be in shortly with her discharge papers.
Allison helped Nicole change into the clothes Mike had brought for her the night before and was checking the room, to make sure she had gotten everything. She wanted to be ready for the moment the nurse said they could finally leave. Nicole’s eyes followed every one of Allison’s movements, falling even more in love with the way her fiancée mumbled a list to herself of the things Mike had taken them and the things she had placed in the bag.
The cry, choked and frantic, pulled the attention of both women to the open door. Erica Black didn’t even wait for the door to open completely before she was crossing the room in hurried steps and taking her daughter in her arms. After hugging her for a few seconds, Erica took a step back and held Nicole’s face between her hands, looking her body up and down, as if her motherly eyes could find something the medical staff had missed.
“Mom, I’m fine. I swear.”
“Don’t mind your mom, sweetie.” Anthony had come into the room a few steps behind his wife. “Your mother has been restless since Allison called us to let us know what happened.”
“And don’t I have reasons for that? Some crazy woman drugs my only child, threatens her life and what do you want me to do? Laugh about it?”
Nicole was definitely not laughing at her mother’s behavior. After years of living away from them, she had almost forgotten how intense her mother could be and all she wanted was some peace and quiet.
With the commotion her mother created, Nicole didn’t even notice the nurse stepping into her room. Allison handled the last of her discharge and, when the woman exited, she stepped to Nicole and placed a hand on the small of her back. The small contact relaxed Nicole’s body and she melted into Allison’s arms.
“It’s all set, Nic. We can go whenever you’re ready.” Allison spoke in a hushed voice, meant only for Nicole’s ears. She kept her eyes trained on her fiancée’s face, searching for any sign of discomfort. “Mr. and Mrs. Black, how are you doing?”
“Go where, Nicole?” Erica had clearly heard what Allison had said to Nicole, but she kept ignoring the singer’s presence beside her daughter.
“My place, mom. Where else?”
“I just thought you might want to come back home with us. I could take care of you.”
“Mom, my home is here, now.” She took the hand that Allison had on her back and laced their fingers. “And that’s where I wanna go.”
“I can understand that, sweetie. But you shouldn’t be alone these first few days and with Allison’s schedule…”
“Actually, I’ve already had my manager cancel everything in my schedule for the next couple of weeks, Erica. My priority is and has always been my family. And that means Nicole.”
The reporter could feel tears burning the backs of her eyes. She had witnessed her mother intimidate many of her girlfriends in the past and it felt good to have someone on her side that stood her ground, even if meant Erica would still hold a grudge against her for a while longer.
Allison kissed the back of Nicole’s hand and smiled sweetly at the woman she loved more than she had considered herself capable. It still amazed her the way her heart would skip a beat every time the journalist looked at her with those love-filled eyes or the way her breath caught in her throat when she smiled that smile that she saved just for Allison. And after almost having all of that ripped away from her, Allison had a new appreciation for everything Nicole.
Their moment was interrupted by someone clearing their throat. Allison and Nicole turned their faces to find Erica staring them with a frown and Anthony shaking his head at his wife. Nicole knew that expression all too well and was quick to try and diffuse it.
“You know what, mom? Why don’t you and dad stay with us for a few days, since you’re already here?”
“Of course, Nic. Me and your mother would love that.”