The first couple of days were a blur as I faded in and out of consciousness. When I was finally able to open my eyes on the third day, I felt like my head was going to explode. I tried groaning but my throat was still swollen. My mother appeared above me. She had been crying but still tried to comfort me in my excruciating pain. She smothered me with soft forehead kisses as I continued to rest to the beeps of machinery around me.
A whole week had passed before I began to feel less pressure around my neck. I still could not speak which really freaked me out. My nurses noticed my discomfort and told me that there was no pressure for me to speak. My vision was still blurry but I used my hands to feel around me. I could feel the IV pricked into my hand, the tubing around my bed, and a hand on my bed. I tugged at the hand and heard my mom’s voice for the first time in days. My eyes filled with tears and blurred my vision even more. As I finally got to sit up for the first time all week with the help of my mother, the doctor came in to talk to me. He explained that I had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury along with blunt injury to the larynx, also known as the voice box. I continued to nod when I could to assure him that I was comprehending even though it was difficult to focus.
When the doctor left, my mother began speaking. She told me that we were evacuated to a hospital in the Portland area because apparently I was in critical condition and could not be treated in my small town. She told me we were in good hands because Phoenix had flown in some of the best private doctors. I was thankful that he had done that and even more that he had found me when he did, but my thoughts remained on one other person, Nick Collins.
He had been in every single nightmare I’ve had since being in the hospital. It was like my brain was stuck on repeat about that tragic night. I wondered where he was now. Was he in jail? Was he back in school like nothing had happened? Was I safe?
My mom must have sensed that something was wrong and she convinced the other nurses that a bath would help, which they gave the ok too. My mother and another hospital nurse helped me get undressed in the bathroom. I got a glimpse of myself in the bathroom mirror for the first time in days. My neck was completely full of green and purple bruising. I reached up and tried touching it. I automatically winced, it was still tender. The nurse began unraveling the white cloth that wrapped around my head that highlighted my bloodshot eyes. The nurse explained that I had received some stitches on the back of my head and had to be careful when washing my hair. They helped lower me into the bath. They took turns bathing me with a washcloth as I laid there like a newborn baby. I didn’t know how to feel because physically I was still in pain and mentally I was numb. I was only sure that both parts of me needed healing.
Over the following two weeks, I began to heal. The bruising began to fade, my vision was back to normal, and I had more access to my body’s movement. I still could not speak perfectly but I could walk to see my Speech therapist daily. She gave me tips to get adequate breathing and it felt like I was learning to speak for the first time again. My speech therapist said it was like we were retraining the muscles and it was going to be frustrating, which it often was. At first, I had only relied on communicating through writing in a notebook, but as time went on I could manage to get a few sentences out.
My mom respected my choice to avoid the outside world while I was in the hospital. I needed time for myself, to heal, and I didn’t think I was ready to face anyone just yet. I had a strict no guest policy for the three weeks that I was in the hospital except when the police officers came to talk to me. They sat me down and told me that Nick had been arrested that night of the incident. I was asked questions about what had happened that night and I explained the best to my memory. I asked what would happen to Nick and they explained that Nick was still a minor. If he was tried as a minor, then he would most likely get 60 days in Juvie along with fines, community service, and possible probation. I had wished for more than 60 days. He had put me through so much trauma and it felt like he was going to get off with a slap on the wrist.
I was released after spending exactly three weeks and 2 days in the hospital. I hugged all my nurses, specialists, and doctors before I got into my mom’s car. They had saved my life and I would never forget how special these individuals were.
We got home after driving for 2 hours. It was getting dark outside but the houses on the block were illuminating as they had decorated for Halloween. Our house was the only one that was lacking decorations at the end of the road. My mom helped me get into the house and I noticed the piled up packaged foods in the kitchen along with different floral arrangements in the living room.
“What’s this?” I asked her.
“People have been bringing food and flowers around,” My mom responded.
“I hate it. It reminds me of a...”
“Funeral.” We both finished in unison. I gave my mom a small smile. I appreciated that people were concerned about me, but it did not make me feel better. It made me feel weird and more anxious to go back to my normal. As soon as I began to get better, my mom and I talked about going back to school. I didn’t want to fall behind and have to redo my senior year. My mom contacted Mr. Mendoza and they allowed me to catch up on my work online, but I knew we had to get back into a routine especially since my mom had used up all her vacation days. I decided that tomorrow would be my first day back since I wasn’t sure if I ever would be truly ready.
My mom heated up a lasagna that our next-door neighbor had brought over while I went to take a shower. When I got out, I wrapped a towel around my body and walked back into my room to get dressed. My phone laid perfectly on top of my dresser and I reached for it. My phone was filled with text message alerts, emails, and phone calls. I scrolled all the way down. The first were text messages from my mother right before the incident asking if I was having a good time. The following all came after the incident. There were messages from Ava asking if she could come to visit and if I was okay. There were emails from Journalists asking if they could interview me about the incident and about certain pictures that had leaked that included Prince Phoenix. However, the latest was all from Phoenix. There was one text for every day that I spent in the hospital. Some were long, some short, but they included the same message; I miss you.
“I’m back home. Going to school tomorrow. See you then.” I texted him.
I got dressed and decided to call Ava. She picked up on the second ring. She was so surprised to hear from me and was happy to know that I was doing much better. I explained to her about needing time and what I had been through the last three weeks. She wasn’t mad at me for ignoring her. She understood that I need time and never pressure me to talk about that night which I was grateful for. Instead, she told me about what I had missed. She told me that Tommy, Theo, and Cassandra had left but called her daily for updates. I made a mental reminder to call them and tell them that I was ok. She also told me to check out our website. When I logged in, I noticed that there was a link set up to donate money for my hospital bills. It had raised over 100,000 dollars in three weeks.
“Cool, huh? Jimmy set it up and people started to donate,” Ava said through the phone.
My eyes began to tear up, “Thank you, Ava. Tell Jimmy I said thanks too.” I told her. I knew deep down that all the hospital bills would soon start piling up. We were already living paycheck to paycheck, so I began to panic thinking about the added pressure on my mom. I felt like my mind was finally put at ease.
I told Ava that I would be going back to school tomorrow and she told me that she would be right by my side the whole day. I had missed her comfort. There was never any judgment and we just understood each other’s needs. Part of me wished that I had reached out while in the hospital, but I could not go back in time.
I jumped off the phone call when my mom called letting me know that the lasagna was ready. Even though the food made me feel like I was walking into my funeral, it tasted so delicious. I have not had a home meal in almost a month. I devoured the first plate and the second before heading to sleep. I brushed my teeth and through my hair before putting on my most comfortable pair of pajama shorts and a thrifted tee. My mom gave me a big hug before I closed my door and turned off the lights. I had closed my eyes when I heard the soft tapping on the window. I turned around and saw Phoenix standing at the window.
I walked over and opened the window, “What are you doing here?” I whispered.
“I needed to see you. I knocked earlier but your mom would not let me in,” He shrugged his shoulders, “So I thought I would try an alternate route. Can I come in?”
I moved to the side as he jumped into my room through the window, “You have to be quiet,” I told him once he made it through.
He nodded. I walked back and sat at my bed. He chose the chair at my desk. The streetlight coming from outside my window was the only source of light. Even with the low light, I could see highlights of Phoenix’s hair.
“How are you feeling?” He asked.
“Better. Not the same though.” I responded truthfully.
He nodded, unsure on what to say next. I moved my legs closer to my chest and patted on the empty seat on my bed. Phoenix got up and sat next to me. My body ached for his touch, it was not enough to be sitting next to him. Yet, I refrained from doing so.
“Look. I don’t think I can do this, or whatever this is, anymore. In a couple of months, you’ll be back in Calida and I will be a distant memory, but I don’t think I can say the same for me. I now understand what true pain feels like and yet I still feel like getting my heart broken is a pain I cannot bear. I need to save myself from that hurt. I need us to only be friends.” I told him. It was the most I have ever spoken in weeks but it needed to be said. My voice was broken not only from the injury but the sob that was caught between my throat. I was on the verge of tears.
He stayed silent for a moment, “I do not think I am capable of solely being your friend, Mila. A lot has changed these last weeks. Seeing you like that tore me up and it pained me knowing that you might never hear me say ‘I love you’ because I do Mila, so much that I called the Princess of Taran myself to cancel our engagement. She was happy, to say the least.” He looked at me. Those ocean eyes glistened in the low light cast into my room.
It was too much information to process at once. Phoenix told me he loved me. He broke off his engagement. He wanted more. I wanted more.
“Do your parents know?” Was the first thing that came out of my mouth.
“Not yet. Princess Elle gave me permission to let you break the story. That is if you are up for it?”
I lunged at him and gave him a hug, “Of course I do!” He chuckled underneath my weight and shushed me so we could avoid waking up my mom. I got off him and laid beside him. We faced each other and stayed there for what felt like an eternity. I felt like I was in a complete state of euphoria just looking at him. He tangled his arms around me, intoxicating me with his touch. My face got flushed. He smiled at that reaction and he slowly closed his eyes. A smile appeared on my face when I heard his soft snore fill my bedroom.
“I love you too,” I quietly whispered before falling into sleep’s arms.