+ Chapter One
Megan woke up with a head-splitting headache. She opened her eyes and the room felt like it was spinning. She closed her eyes to make it stop but it only got worse. She had felt like she was getting sick the night before, after Liam and her left the event, but didn’t think anything of it. Now re-evaluating how she felt, she realized this was bad.
This was really bad.
She moaned in pain and looked at the clock. It was 11 in the morning. She sighed, trying to find the strength to get out of bed and walk to the bathroom to find some medication.
Megan pushed herself up and sat at the edge of the bed, waiting for her world to stop spinning. She was so weak, even sitting up was a chore. Sighing Megan got up and made her way to the bathroom. Feeling like a complete mess she looked at herself in the mirror. Her brown shoulder-length hair was knotted and messy. Her hazel eyes were watery. Her freckled cheeks were red and splotchy. Her lips looked chapped and three times bigger than they usually were. Like she had gotten a crazy amount of lip injections.
Megan ran her hand through her hair, forgetting about the knots and flinched when her fingers came across a snag. Her eyes started to tear up, the pain from the knot combined with her being too weak to hold her arm up very much longer and the throbbing headache made her emotions thin. She got her fingers out of her hair and took another look at herself in the mirror. She looked like she was half. Dead. Sighing she walked back over to the bed and picked up her cellphone off the nightstand and dialed Liam’s number. Moving to sit down on the bed, she listened to the phone ring.
Liam’s deep, soothing voice came over the line, “Hey love, what’s up?”
Megan sighed, relief running through her body upon hearing his voice. She was honestly afraid he wouldn’t pick up and she would have to wait until he got home. She mumbled, “I’m sick… really sick.” She coughed and hacked up some mucus into a tissue. “I need a ride to the woman’s hospital”
The hospitals were now divided by gender. The woman’s one having far less funding and the doctors were paid a lot less as well. Men going into the women’s hospital was also a felony. Men were supposed to be separated from ‘women’s things’ as much as possible in this new world. Like women were pets. The men got to go to a nice fancy hospital. While the women had to go to the vet clinic. They would drop the women off and drive away, even if it was a birth, the men were not allowed in.
The separation was more at the king’s disgust for women being anything but an accessory and toy. Anything that made them seem equal or worth more than something to look at and play with was discouraged. The rules with separate places made it more defined of the place women were supposed to be in, and how men should now treat them.
Women could also no longer drive. It was a felony punishable by death. Only the top fractions had access to vehicles unless they were military vehicles. But either way, women could not drive them. When assigned a fraction, Megan had to give up her license and sign a form that said she knew what the repercussions were if she were to break the rule. The woman’s hospital was a 15-minute drive away. There was no way Megan was going to make it there on foot.
Liam’s said “Yeah, I can be there in an hour. What’s wrong?” He sounded concerned. She could hear the difference in his voice.
Megan sighed, rubbing her temples. “I think I have a sinus infection… or the flu. I don’t know… I just need stronger meds to make it go away.”
“Understood, I’ll leave now.” He stated with a resolute tone.
She didn’t think he would leave so soon. She was hoping that he might just leave work a little early. Not rush to her side. But she was thankful for the surprise response.
“Thank you… I love you.” She mumbled through the phone, half asleep.
Liam muttered softly, “I love you too.” and then in a louder tone he said, “Get some rest.”
It was also seen as low to admit your feelings toward a woman now. People would look down on you if you admitted you loved someone that was not your child or your parents. Though Liam didn’t particularly care for that and made sure people that tried to call him out for it would think twice. He knew he could lose his job if someone heard him. Due to that, he made an effort to keep his rebellious views away from the job sites. So, he responded quietly when Megan forgot and said that she loved him out of habit.
The phone line went out. Megan looked down at the bed. She felt so heavy like everything was on her shoulders. She leaned over and laid down in bed and tried to figure out how this had hit her so fast.
She mused I feel like I have been hit by a truck. Yesterday I was fine.
She had a good amount of energy and was able to complete quite a few things before the party. She felt fine at the party. She had come home and felt fine. It was only right before bed that she got a headache and a runny nose.
This was ridiculous.
Thinking in circles now, things started to blur together as the weight of her eyes made them slowly shut and she started to drift off to sleep.
“Megan… Megan… wake up.”
Megan woke up to someone lightly shaking her by her shoulder. She looked up at Liam’s concerned brown eyes. He said, “Love, you don’t look good.” he said softly. She nodded and then grabbed her head regretting the decision. It was throbbing. In more pain than it had been earlier. Liam’s eyebrows creased in concern at the motions and continued, “Do you need a bit?”
Megan muttered, “No, the sooner I get in there the sooner I will get something to make this pain stop.”
He looked like he didn’t agree, but backed away, nodding and said, “Alright then, let’s go. I do still have to get back to the job site after this.”
She moved the sheet off her slowly, as if it weighed 1,000 pounds and muttered, “I understand. Thank you for coming.”
Liam’s mouth moved into a small smile.“No problem at all. Let’s get you better.”
He helped her up and waited while she slowly got dressed. He stood near her as she did. She was swaying back and forth and she could tell that he thought she was going to fall. She looked behind her as he stood close with his arms out as if getting ready fro her to do a trust fall. Liam muttered “what? we both know how clumsy you are when you are not sick.”
Megan rolled her eyes and muttered under her breath, “I’m not clumsy, I just don’t always think things through before I climb on of the loft shelf.”
Liam laughed to himself, probably remembering the time that he found her stuck on top of the loft shelf, with the chair she used to get there laying on the floor. She had only been stuck for an hour. Her biggest obstacle in the ordeal was leaving her phone on the couch instead of putting it in her pocket to give her some entertainment.
Liam said, “oh really? and how about the time you wore your house shoes with no grip on the wet kitchen floor and would have slid through the kitchen in a full split if I didn’t catch you?”
Megan grumbled as she pulled on her shirt, “It was a freak accident. Those shoes are not meant for doing things.”
Liam chuckled and said, “whatever you have to tell yourself to make you feel better.”
Megan grabbed her pants off the counter that she had laid out and started trying to put them on. She wobbled and started to fall with one foot on the ground and the other stuck in the pant leg. Liam wrapped his arms around her, pulling her into his strong chest securely. Megan sighed in defeat.
Liam smiled, “Not clumsy at all.”
She looked up at him. His 6′1 form looked down at her 5′5 self, smirking.
“My bad, I forgot you are miss strong independent woman, I can let you go if you want.” Liam joked.
Megan looked at him with her eyes wide, terrified he was going to drop her. She knew she didn’t have the strength to catch herself.
“I’m just kidding love. I got you.” Liam smiled down at her, “Do you need help?”
Megan shook her head, “I’ll manage... just don’t drop me.”
“I would never. Didn’t mean to scare you”
Megan scowled at him and then continued to get dressed.
When Megan was dressed and ready to go, they got into the car and arrived at the woman’s hospital 15 minutes later. As they drove into the parking lot Liam looked at Megan and sternly said, “I’m not leaving you. I’m going to try to find a lot to park nearby. If you need me, send me a message ok?”
Megan looked at him and said, “Thank you, you know how much I hate this place.”
He looked at her concerned and remorseful and said, “You know I share your feelings in this. It’s fucking stupid I can’t be with you.”
Megan knew what he said was true. He was not very quiet about how much the changes bothered him. As they got more targeted, he became more careful and protective of her. As if she was a glass child. He didn’t like leaving her alone in places that he didn’t know for sure we’re safe. The hospital was one that he loathed the most. He couldn’t help her in. He couldn’t make sure they weren’t doing something to her in her sleep. He couldn’t be there to help her through the pain if she was hurt.
And on top of that, he knew she didn’t like hospitals, period. They scared her to the bone. The general sterile feeling of the place. The hallways that seemed to go on forever. The smells. The sense of panic and unknown. The whole thing made her queasy. And that wasn’t even taking into account how she felt about medical things in general. She didn’t do well around blood, any talks of biology, or anything medically related. Giving blood was a whole event for Megan. If she didn’t completely faint, it was a miracle. So not only was Liam leaving her in a place that he didn’t know if she was safe or not. But he was letting her walk into her own personal nightmare without a hand to hold.
Liam pulled up to the front and stopped the car. Looking at Megan, he muttered, “It is going to be ok, I will be close.” Megan nodded.
A guard came up to the passenger side door and opened it. He grabbed Megan by the arm and aggressively pulled her out, holding her next to him. Liam scowled at the man at his excessive force. Megan could tell he wanted to say something about it but bit back the response to prevent any sort of attention or altercation. The guard handed Liam a ticket and said, “She’s number 87. The app will let you know when she is ready to be picked up.”
Liam nodded at the man, scowling at him, and then looked down at Megan, his expression changing to something more remorseful and said, “Remember what I said.”
Megan nodded and then the guard closed the door inches from her face. He started to drag her toward the door. He pushed her toward a line of chairs and forcefully pushed her down into the open one next to a woman who held her bleeding hand tightly to her chest. Megan looked at the woman in shock and started to feel a little dizzy. The guard grabbed her face, turning her to look at him and said “Pay attention!” He grabbed Megan’s hand and pushed a piece of paper with the number 87 on it and muttered “Don’t lose this.”
She sat there in the row of chairs and women waiting while he went and notified someone at the desk of her arrival. She was glad he was gone and hoped he wouldn’t come back. She could already feel the bruises forming on her arms from him grabbing her out of Liam’s car and another forming on her chin from when he turned her head.
The Hospitals now had new systems as well. Along with the separation and drop off procedures, they didn’t care about what you were in there for. You could be an emergency case and they would still make you wait until your number was called. When women had volunteered to let someone go ahead of them, they were either beaten nearly to death or never seen ever again. That’s why seeing the woman next to Megan, bleeding out, was normal and Megan didn’t voice any concern.
Megan sat there in silence with the other women in the chairs, waiting for her number to be called. They stayed silent because it was safer that way. If someone spoke out, they were more likely to get in trouble for it. No matter what they said. As a woman in this new society, it was better overall to stay quiet for this same reason.
As the women were called they were told to move chairs down the line. When Megan was called, she was escorted back to a large room that was separated into smaller spaces by curtains, instead of walls. She could hear all the coughing, moaning, and other noises from the women in the other areas. Megan was told to sit on one of the chairs in the curtained off area and wait for a doctor. She waited for another 5 minutes before a doctor arrived. The doctor looked like she was panicking and overwhelmed. Megan brushed it off, assuming she must have a lot of patients today. The doctor reached out her hand to Megan to shake. Megan put her hand in hers and shook it. The doctor said, “Dr. Horton, what seems to be bothering you today?”
Dr. Horton, let go of Megan’s hand. Moving her clipboard from under her armpit and adjusted herself. Then she started to fumble with a clipboard as if she was juggling it. Megan was watching her struggle but was too weak to actually help. Megan leaned back against the chair and said “I think I have a sinus infection.”
The doctor said, “Oh boy, can you tell me your symptoms?” Megan started to list off the symptoms as she scribbled on the board… but it did not look like she was actually writing anything… just pretending to.
Megan said, “Sorry, do you need a minute? You seem flustered.”
The doctor responded “No, no problems here. Just want to make sure you have what I think you do. That way I can treat you correctly”
Megan looked at her distrustingly. She was quickly growing suspicious that something was not right, and it was not just stress. “Yes, but you are pretending to write down what I am saying”
She gasped and said, “Goodness, my pen must be broken again.” She clicked the top and put it back in her jacket pocket and said “Look, I think you had a good guess. But you are not a doctor. I am, and I don’t think you have a sinus infection. I think you have a mild case of the newest flu. Luckily for you, we have these new flu vaccines that work almost immediately. Just a quick little poke. But before we do that, let me just check a few things.”
Megan nodded, confused, and growing more and more concerned. This woman was obviously distressed. About what, she didn’t know. But she was making Megan more nervous than a cat in a room full of rockers. She felt unsafe. The doctor suddenly grabbed onto Megan’s arm and wrapped a cloth around it. Megan said, “What are you doing?”
“Just a quick test.”
Megan protested, pulling her arm away from the woman. “I don’t need a blood test. I don’t… I don’t need one… maybe a throat swab… not…” as Megan spoke she saw the doctor’s eyes grow panicked. and as Megan looked at her, Megan also grew more and more panicked as well.
What was happening?
Megan said, “I’m sorry I need to leave.”
Megan moved to stand up. The doctor grabbed her arm with a surprising amount of strength for such a small woman, and pushed her back down into the chair, and forced a needle near the part of her arm she had just wrapped off. Megan protested, “I need to go. Let me go.”
She stood up again and this time the doctor didn’t push her back down. Megan pushed past the curtain, stumbling because of her weakness and headache. The room started to spin from her quick actions. She blinked a couple of times trying to clear her vision. She reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone.
Urgently, she texted Liam, something isn’t right. I need you to come get me.
Within seconds he responded, I am on my way.
Megan wrote back, Hurry, I don’t feel safe.
Megan’s phone started to ring, vibrating in her hand. The room started to look foggy as if there was smoke everywhere. The sound the phone was making sounded like it was echoing through a tunnel. Megan looked down at her phone, seeing Liam’s name and photo on the screen. It was blurring like it was turning to liquid in her hands. He was calling her.
She moved her thumb over the slide bar to answer but it was like she didn’t have the strength to do it. Megan started hyperventilating, feeling trapped. Panicked. Scared.
What was happening to her?
She kept frantically trying to answer her phone and then finally was able to slide the slide bar across the screen to answer it. Megan heard Liam’s voice through the phone. He sounded panicked. She wanted to scream out to him but her lips were too heavy to open to make a sound. She started to shake and then the floor beneath her seemed to get closer. And then everything went black.