Hazy yellow lights flooded my vision and burned my eyes. Pressure on my right side. Below my breast. I was suddenly aware I was only in a bra. A hard and flat surface below me. A shiver ran up my spine and then the pain came. All these sensations ran through me at once. I took a gasping breath but no sound escaped my lips. I could hear several voices. Male and female. I blinked over and over trying to make the hazy yellow focus into something besides flashes of light and fog. Someone’s hands replaced the dry cloth on my side. The same hands put more pressure down on the source of my discomfort. Darkness overtook my vision again silencing my own screams.
“Miss Rossi, if you can hear me, squeeze my hand. Your right hand, can you squeeze it for me? Can you lift your head?” I could hear the warm voice asking me to perform these simple tasks but I couldn’t. I just couldn’t make my hands work. But my head, I could lift it. So I did. I choked. Something was down my throat. I could hear the snaps of rubber gloves and two men agreeing it needed to come out, I was aware enough. What needed to come out?
I gagged as a long tub was removed from my throat. My eyes watered at the sensation and the dry burn set in my chest. I rolled around my eyes inside my eyelids that were so heavy. The deep voice returned and demanded I open my eyes. I did. A silhouette of a man stood far away. Who was it?
“Loreina, can you look at me?” I turned to look at the source of the voice and a small light flashed in my eyes. I was praised for such a small, meaningless task. I wanted to speak but my throat was so dry all that came out was a hiss.
“Where…?” I made my lips form the word. My heart started to race. I didn’t know where I was. I was in pain. I couldn’t hear or see anyone I recognized. I finally found my hands. An IV in my left hand and a tape wrapped my pointer finger. The cord tickled my elbow. I wiped my mouth trying to make my voice return. A door hinge creaked open.
“Lo!” Several footsteps ran to my side and I heard the sweet melodies of Howie and Alexs’ voices rang in my ears. Ah, my vision cleared as a man in scrubs wiped my face. My eyes. The dryness easing off. The warm cloth felt so good. He laid it over my forehead as both my hands were taken into my brothers’.
“Oh God we were so worried!” I shook my head and made the cloth fall from my face. All these sensations were too much. I was overstimulated with the lights and the dryness in my chest. I had no sense of time.
“Alex…” my voice still hissed a dry question and he kissed my fingers.
“You’re at Halifax… do you remember what happened, Loreina?” I tried to. I remembered the snow storm. The ATV ride with Neil, oh God. Was he okay?
“Neil?” Panic rose from my lungs and I tried to sit up. Oh god. I remembered now. The gunfire. Him picking me up. The blackness that came next.
Howie rested a hand on my left shoulder and held me back. With reason. The pain, oh it was terrible. A nurse returned with a small paper cup.
“Loreina, hi, I’m Toni. I’ll be your nurse while you’re with us.” She smiled and Howie stepped to the side. “I have a few ice chips here, you can have one small spoonful at a time. Don’t swallow them, just let them melt on your tongue first?” I nodded and she handed the cup to Alex. Howie joined his side now as she fiddled with the IV bags. She reached into her pocket and pulled out a syringe.
“I also have some medicine for the pain. Where are you hurting right now?” I pointed to my right side with my left hand. She nodded. She took my hand and screwed in the tube, slowly pushing the liquid in. Once that one was empty she used a larger one to “flush” the medicine down the drain. I smiled inside, she was a little older. Had a southern accent. She was so kind to me. She offered me another blanket, she said my hands were like little ice cicles.
Once she was finished, she asked to talk to Alex and Howie in the hall. They stayed out there for some time. I leaned my head back and looked out the window to see the snow. I looked around my room at all the cabinets, the small hand sink. The holder for the different size purple gloves. A recliner in the corner, under the mounted TV on the wall. The Recliner- someone was in it. The room was still a bit dark so I couldn’t make out who it was. I stared for a moment trying to make my eyes focus on the darkness.
“Are you going to stare a hole through me because you got shot on my watch?” the Irish accent was undeniable. I sighed a long drawn out breath.
“Neil?” He stood and dropped his coat into the chair behind him. He approached the bed. He was in the dim light now and I could see the bags under his eyes. The disheveled hair. The two days growth that overtook his usual kept goatee.
“Hey, how ya feelin?” I lifted my hand and waved the situation away, still tied down by the pulse monitor.
“Oh, ya know. Just vacationing…” I grinned and yawned it away. Neil rested a hand on my bed rail and nodded.
“It’s getting late. Alex and Howie have both been taking turns between your room and Angelina’s. The Baby is fine.” I coughed and grabbed my side in pain.
“AHH!” I closed my eyes and willed the shock waves away. Neil brought the paper cup to my lips and helped me lift my head to take a small sip. I savored the water and let it cool my chest.
“You should stop talking so much. That tube did a number on your esophagus. That bullet nearly set up camp in your lung, you’re very lucky my dear.” I smiled as Alex and Howie came back in. They stood opposite my bed.
“Hey little chick. I’ve got to get back to Angelina. It’s feeding time for Danio.” I nodded and mouthed an ‘I love you’ and he kissed my forehead. He shook Neil’s hand and thanked him again.
“You look beat man, why don’t you go home and rest some? You haven’t left her for three days.” What? I’ve been here for three days? He does look rough. He stayed the whole time? My heart did a little flip. He truly cared about me.
“I guess I should. Call me if you need anything. How are the roads?” I felt the tired creeping back up behind my eyes and nestled my head into the terrible pillow behind me. I drifted back off as Howie gave him directions of cleared roads and they exchanged the handshake that Alex gave.
It must have been three am or so, a nurse woke me by checking my vitals and giving me an antibiotic.
“Big brother?” she pointed to Howie asleep in the chair. I nodded and she grinned. “I have four, I know one when I see one.” I snickered and held up two fingers and then pointed to myself. She giggled and patted my wrist understandingly. “If you need anything just call.” I nodded once more and flipped through the channels with the remote. Nothing good. I looked around for my phone on the side table. I spotted it and tried using the remote to pull it closer to me but i missed and the plastic brick went flying. Smacked the bathroom door and made Howie jump out of his skin. He rubbed the tired from his eyes as he sat up. I felt so bad for waking him.
“You okay? You could have just called me, didn’t need to throw this at me.” He picked up the remote and laid it on the bed. I shook my head.
“I wanted my cell phone, I can’t sleep.” he passed me the phone with a long sigh.
I scrolled through my missed calls, texts and emails. One text from Neil read; If you need me call, day or night. Sleep well. Xo. I couldn’t hold back the grin and I could feel a blush. I typed back a quick response and laid the phone at my side on the bed. A reply came in almost instantly and it was him again. We sent a few texts to and from. Howie cleared his throat. I looked away from the screen. I was caught.
“How long have you two been a thing?” Oh no. No. No.
“Uh, well were just testing the waters. We’ve only kissed once. Twice. So, don’t even go there.” I pointed an accusing finger at him before he could mock me. He held out his hands in defeat. “And please PLEASE-”
“I know. I know. Don’t tell Alex. Got it.” I nodded a thanks as another memory hit me. My heart rushed and threatened to pound out of my chest.
“Howie, how is Gray? Was he hurt? Why isn’t he here?” Gray was always with me. It felt odd not to have his presence surrounding me. Howie stood and walked to my bedside. He took my hand in his and I could smell the sadness covering me like a wave taking me under the ocean.
“He took a round to the back of the head. He survived. He is actually a few doors down from you.” Tears filled my eyes as the same crushing pain washed them down to my chin.
“I want to see him, please…” he shook his head, but I already knew I couldn’t. He rubbed my hand and arm as I wiped the tears away.
“He is in a coma at the moment. They don’t know when he will wake up.” I slowly shook my head in disbelief. He was such a strong and smart man. He had a son and two daughters; he had to fight.
Apparently I had dozed back off and I woke up to the smell of coffee and a nurse fidgeting with the machines I was hooked up to. Howie sat on the edge of my bed and grinned, talking with a second nurse.
“Hey there she is!” He smiled and introduced me to Stephanie. I smiled at her as she pulled her blonde hair into a high ponytail.
“You rest up ma’am. I have to get down to the ER. I’m on desk duty this morning.” She kissed Howie’s cheek and left.
“So when am I blowing this popsicle stand?” My nurse grinned and informed me that I had another night at least.
“Sorry, sis. Hey, Neil called. He said he’d be by around lunchtime.” I smiled and flipped on the tv. Trying to find some sort of weather channel.
“Why do you answer my phone calls?” The dumbest question to date to leave my lips. I know.
“I wouldn’t want lover boy to think something was wrong.” He shrugged casually and opened my breakfast tray that had arrived before I was awake.
“Oh God, this coffee smells so great,” I dumped in a packet of sugar and sipped it. I could feel it bringing life back to my bones. I sat up a little straighter and the pain caught me short. He rolled his eyes and came over to help me scoot up.
“Stop being so Damn stubborn. Let a man help you sometimes. Neil will want to do that for you. He cares for you.” I looked up to expect a smirk of sarcasm but, he held a genuine smile on his face.
“Hey, so I know this will be good news. Gray woke up this morning. He is doing well. He asked about you.” My eyes held in a few happy tears.
“Oh thank God. I miss him already.” He nodded and finished off his donut.
“I have new security lined up for today since I have to leave for awhile. Matthew will be here.” I hadn’t met him more than just in passing at the house, but he was one of Alex’s men. “Well, I’ll head off.” He leaned down and kissed my forehead. I squeezed his hand and he vanished behind the closed door.
I finally found a weather channel and watched the reports about the storm finally easing up. My phone went off with a text.
What would you like for lunch? Don’t blow me off, we both know how awful that food is.
I shook my head and responded with a simple request for soup and a half turkey sandwich from anywhere. I muddled over the kiss we shared before I got shot. I was still confused. Like the feeling I had just had been put on hold. I just couldn’t- shouldn’t be in a relationship right now. Perhaps we were both confused. I vowed to get an answer today before he left.
A knock on my door pulled me out of my trance of not actually watching the tv. Matthew stood at the door and asked if Neil could enter. I smiled at him and nodded.
“Hey there, you look better than yesterday!” he sat down a large paper bag on my meal table. He pulled out the boxed and distributed the food and slid the small chair next to my bed and lowered the table so we both could reach it easily.