"If you have a sister and she dies, do you stop saying you have one? Or are you always a sister, even when the other half of the equation is gone?"
James and I were halfway to the taxi ramp when I decided to double-check my purse to make sure I had everything. With my excitement over tonight, I was bound to forget something and didn't want to risk finding out what it was at Windsor Palace.
Digging through my purse, my hunch turned out to be correct.
I groaned. "Don't hate me, but we have to turn back."
"Why?" James asked, stopping.
"I left my ID…"
James grinned. "How dare you forget your ID? I'm never speaking to you again, Mia Stark."
"Guess I'll never get to share your senior photo at your wedding. Damn."
"You want me to run back and get it?" James offered, looking down at my shoes. "Those heels do not look comfy to walk in, and we've already gone three blocks."
"I'm fine. I haven't been able to wear heels for years. I want to wear them as much as possible now, even if they do hurt, which thankfully, these don't. Not yet."
"Why do girls wear heels if they hurt?" James queried as we headed back to the apartment.
"Because they're cute and make our legs look fabulous," I replied matter-of-factly. James shuffled closer to me, taking my hand in his. While my heart fluttered at the contact, I raised my eyebrows at him in question.
"Sorry, some guys were leering at you," he said, glancing over his shoulder and glowering at some older men. "I don't trust them."
"Oh. Thank you," I said. Smiling to myself at the sensation of James holding my hand, we headed back to my apartment. It didn't take long to arrive, but a man nearly knocked me over as he stumbled out of the building, something neither James nor I took kindly to.
"Watch where you're going!" I snapped. The man ignored me and kept going.
"What an asshole," James growled, starting to follow the stranger.
"Come on. He's not worth it," I said, grabbing James' elbow. Reluctantly, he let it go, and we walked to the elevator. I pressed the 'up' button repeatedly until it appeared, and we got on, standing on opposite sides. It gave me a full view of how incredibly handsome he looked. James typically wore jeans, a t-shirt, and a leather jacket when he wasn't in his work uniform. While he could wear anything and look good in it, there was something about him in a suit that did things for me.
"Why are you staring?" James asked. "Do I have something on my face?"
"No, it's not that." I fiddled with my clutch, praying my makeup hid my furious blushing. "You look really handsome tonight. I forgot to tell you that earlier."
"You were too busy teasing me about my senior photo," James replied, smirking. "But thank you."
"Any time," I said, bowing my head to look at my shoes, anything to avoid staring at James again and getting caught. God, how embarrassing…
The elevator reached our floor, and we disembarked. James' cell rang loudly, and he cringed, hastily answering it. "Hey Will… no, but we're about to go back to the apartment. Mia forgot her ID… that's weird… Anna didn't have her phone on her that I noticed when she was getting ready, though, so she's probably checking it right now… I wouldn't worry. I'll tell her to call you. See you soon."
James hung up and said, "Anna won't respond to Will. I'd be worried if that was out of the ordinary for her, but those two can't seem to get on the same page right now."
"Tell me about it. She confronted him earlier today about how he keeps avoiding her. Anna probably is avoiding him now. I'll-" I paused outside our door, a faint, familiar metallic smell hitting my nose. I couldn't tell where it originated from, however. "Do you smell that?"
James sniffed the air. "Yeah. It's like-" he sniffed again- "iron? Copper?"
"Weird. Hope nothing's wrong." Inserting my key into the lock, I opened the door, instantly assaulted by an even more pungent metallic stench. Frowning, I stepped inside, and my eyes landed on a red, dragging stain leading to the kitchen. Following the trail, I found Annalise slumped against the kitchen cabinets, eyes barely open.
A blood-curdling scream erupted from my throat at the sight of my half-dead sister. "ANNALISE!"
"Oh my god!" James breathed. He fumbled with his phone as the two of us rushed to her side. Shock wanted to take over, and I wanted to let it, but my logic kept me sane: I needed to help my sister. I needed to stop the incessant bleeding. Grabbing any kitchen towel I could, I used them to plug her wounds and apply pressure.
"We need an ambulance at Apartment 1313 in the Caledonia Apartment building on George Street for a 24-year-old female," James said, his voice shaking. "My friend's been shot or stabbed, I can't tell. There's a lot of blood, and her breathing is labored. Her sister is pre-med, so she's trying to stabilize her, but there's so much blood… there's so much blood. Oh my god..."
"James, put this on the wound on her shoulder," I ordered, handing him a towel. Trapping the phone between his ear and shoulder, he took it from me and did as I instructed. His hands shook violently, but he kept it together as he continued speaking to emergency services. Meanwhile, I tried to talk to my sister, praying she'd respond at some point.
"Anna? It's Mia," I said softly. "We're going to get you help. We're going to get you to a hospital, okay? Can you hear me? Can you respond?"
Annalise's eyes fluttered, but she gave no other answer or sign that she understood me.
An agonizing amount of time seemed to pass before EMTs and police arrived. James pulled me away so the paramedics could do their job. He enveloped me in a tight embrace as I watched them attempt to stabilize my sister, helpless to do anything for her. Tears blurred my vision, and if it weren't for James, I would've collapsed to the floor in a sobbing mess.
"What happened here?" A policeman asked, not unkindly.
"I don't know!" I choked out. "We came back because I forgot my ID, and we found her like this! I don't- she doesn't-"
No more words would form as fear over losing my sister, my last remaining family member, paralyzed me. I'd lost my mom and my dad. I couldn't bear the idea of losing my sister too. Annalise had been by my side through everything, good and bad, and she'd made sure I had the best life possible while sacrificing having one herself. She didn't deserve to have this happen to her when she could finally start the life she wanted.
The paramedics loaded her onto a gurney and rushed her out of the building. My legs moved on their own accord, following them. My voice still wouldn't work, the knot in my throat preventing any sound from coming out. James spoke for me, though, asking, "What hospital are you taking her to?"
"St. Charles Memorial," an EMT replied.
"We'll meet you there," James said. I clung to him as they loaded Annalise into the ambulance, blaring the sirens, and driving away. James nearly carried me to the parking garage across the street, where he'd parked his motorcycle. He strapped on my helmet for me because my hands failed to stop violently trembling, and I couldn't get the clasp together.
"Mia, it's going to be okay," James whispered, holding my arms and bracing his helmet against mine. "Annalise is going to be okay."
"There-there was so much… there was so much blood, though," I croaked out. "She could go into cardiac arrest or a coma or both, and I'll die if I lose my sister too and-"
"Mia, look at me," James said. I met his gaze. "She's going to have the best doctors in Verona taking care of her. They're going to make sure she pulls through, okay? Let's get going, so we can be at the hospital when she wakes up."
I nodded shakily, straddling the motorcycle and wrapping my arms tightly around James's waist. He revved the engine and tore out of the parking garage. His bike raced through the streets almost as fast as my mind repeated everything that happened.
Hold on, Annalise. I thought desperately. We're coming…