"She's the type of flower that can still grow after a forest fire."
Somewhere in between all that, I heard Mia screaming, James shouting for help, Mark praying, and Everly crying. The Stewarts, Wallaces, and Griffiths voices periodically floated around me. I swear I even heard Will a few times. But I could never see them, and I couldn't seem to wake up from this bizarre fever dream.
As the dream progressed, I started seeing blurred shapes of bodies moving around me, but I could never discern who it was. A faint light always remained to my left and a black square in the upper right. Part of me wondered if I was in a hospital, but why would I be? Why would I-
The image of a glinting gun and a hooded figure flashed before me, and my eyes flew open.
I lay there, paralyzed, terrified whatever I'd just seen was still here, waiting for me. Slowly, I moved my eyes around, scanning my surroundings, careful not to move.
A lamp emitted a comforting glow to my left, a TV was mounted on the wall across from me, a heart monitor beeped steadily on my right, and beside it sat-
"James?" I croaked. My voice sounded alien to me, and I frowned. Swallowing, I mustered up as much strength as I could and said more firmly, "James."
My voice still sounded strange, but it was better than before, and it got my friend's attention. His head lifted up from his hand, and he looked around in bewilderment. It took a few moments before James locked eyes with me. It took another few moments for it to register with him that I was awake.
"Anna!" James exclaimed. "Hey!"
"Where's Mia? Where am I?" I asked, my voice once again weak.
"Mia's here. She fell asleep," James replied, appearing sheepish.
"I can't see her."
"She fell asleep on my lap…"
"What?" Still not able to comprehend what he was saying, I tried propping myself up.
I screamed in agony, clutching my stomach, followed by a startled cry when a stabbing sensation ripped through my shoulder. I squeezed my eyes shut as I tried to reign in my pain, to stop myself from either blacking out or throwing up. One or the other would happen if this pain didn't fade soon.
"Anna!" Mia exclaimed. "Anna, look at me."
I forced my eyes open and found my sister standing over me, eyes wide with worry. She smiled in relief and said, "I'm so glad to see you awake."
"What do you mean?"
Mia hesitated, biting her lip. "What do you remember?"
"About what?" I countered. She and James shared a concerned look, silently discussing something. Disliking not being included, I demanded, "What's going on?"
"I've got it," James said, seeing the forlorn expression on my sister's face. Mia nodded, sitting back down. "Someone broke into your apartment and shot you."
The image of a glinting gun and a hooded figure flashed in front of me again, and slowly, the puzzle pieces began connecting together.
"Anna?" Mia prodded. "You okay?"
"I-I was getting my purse ready," I said, thinking back to the night. "I heard the door open, and I- and I called out to see what you'd forgotten. When you didn't respond, I got a bad feeling and grabbed my pepper spray. It surprised him, and I tried getting the gun out of his hands, but I couldn't- he was-"
The memory of my attacker washed over me, and I started shaking uncontrollably. The terror, the pain, the uncertainty- it all overwhelmed me to the point where I no longer had control of my emotions. Tears cascaded rapidly down my face as I relived that moment over and over again, hearing the shots being fired, feeling the bullets tearing through me. Mia and James were by my side in an instant, getting as close as possible to me without aggravating my wounds.
"Shh, it's okay," Mia whispered soothingly. "It's okay, I've got you. We both do."
"You're safe here, Annalise," James added gently. "We're not letting anything happen to you."
"I'm sorry," I sobbed.
"What are you sorry for?"
"I ruined your night! We were supposed to have a good time, and- and I let myself get shot!"
Truthfully, I wasn't sure why I was apologizing for something that wasn't my fault, but I still felt terrible that I'd ruined their New Years' Eve.
"You have nothing to be sorry for. The only person at fault is your attacker," James said firmly. "You didn't ruin anything. Besides, I didn't even have a date to kiss at midnight. I mean, I had you and Mia, but I think Will would've punched me if I kissed you, and you definitely would've punched me if I kissed Mia."
A burst of laughter escaped my lips. "Technically, you would've had a room full of eligible girls to kiss."
"Let me make you feel better," he replied indignantly. "I can't do that if you use technicalities to take the hilarity out of my statements."
"Okay, okay." I wiped the tears off my face, regaining my composure. "How did I end up in the hospital? I don't remember calling 911."
"Mia forgot her ID, and we turned back not long after we left…" James shuddered at the memory. "It was bad, Annalise. He shot you four times- thrice in the stomach and once in the shoulder. It was horrible, Annalise... You lost a shit ton of blood. You went into cardiac arrest, fell into a coma, and had multiple blood transfusions. We… we weren't sure you were going to make it. It was really touch and go for a while."
"Why'd the guy attack me, though? Was he trying to rob us?" Mia and James shared another look, and this time, I pointed it out. "Why do you two keep doing that?"
Mia answered this time. "He wasn't robbing us. Nothing was taken. This person, judging on some security footage, was waiting for you to be alone. He'd been waiting outside our building and entered mere seconds after James and I left, making a beeline for our apartment. Based on that information, police assumed this wasn't a random act of violence; this was an intended hit."
Terror threatened to overwhelm me again, but I swallowed it down, forcing myself to remain calm. Getting worked up would do nothing right now. "Have they caught the guy?"
"No," James replied, "but every law enforcement agency is on the lookout. Will's damn near shut down the country searching for this man. He's on a warpath."
Mia nodded. "He's stationed guards outside every entrance to the hospital, inside and out. Will's concerned the attack has something to do with him since it came so close to Lorraine's murder."
"Could it be her dad?" I suggested, remembering Lorraine's explanation of why she did what she did. Another memory tugged on my brain, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember it. "They were hunting for him back then, but they haven't found him yet."
"Honestly, Will's thinking the same. When you're up to it, the police need to take a statement, but only when you're ready."
"I don't know if I'll be able to sleep knowing a guy is out there who wants me dead," I admitted, clenching the blanket in my fist.
"You're never alone. James, Everly, Mark, the Stewarts, the Wallaces, the Griffiths, and Will- one of us is always here, usually two."
I blinked in surprise. "Will comes?"
"He's here as often as he can. Whenever he's not in a meeting or discussing the manhunt with the law enforcement agencies, he's here. Any work he can get done here, he does. The Queen even visited once."
That explains why I thought I heard him…
"Speaking of which, I should go call him. He wanted to know when you were awake and talking." James stood up and squeezed my hand affectionately. "It's good to see you up, Anna."
I waited for James to exit the room and shut the door before I faced Mia, who was barely holding herself together. Giving her a sympathetic smile, I stretched out my right arm and said, "Come here."
Mia broke down before she even reached me, and she wept silently into my shoulder, barely managing to say, "I thought I was going to lose you too."
I stroked the back of her head, soothingly. "It's going to take a lot more than getting shot to take me down."