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Chapter 28

I woke up to a slow beeping that was racing straight to my temples causing my head to throb. I registered a lot of pain very quickly and tried to open my eyes but all I could see was darkness. Was I alive? I was certainly in pain. This much pain couldn’t happen to dead people, could it?

“You should get some rest” I heard like a badly tuned radio. The voice was familiar but everything was moving in and out of focus as my entire body seemed to rock with waves of pain

“I’ll sleep when I’m ready” Aj. That was Aj’s voice. My heart leapt. I had made it out. He had received my call and saved me. My hero! But he didn’t sound victorious, he sounded so sad and tired that I was immediately overcome with the need to comfort him and show him how he’d saved my life. I tried to move words to my mouth but they wouldn’t come and I still couldn’t see anything. A wave of panic rushed over me.

“You can go rest. I’ll be here and I’ll come to get you if she wakes up” Mollee. Oh Mollee. I tried again to speak or move or anything but I couldn’t get my body to cooperate. Panic turned to terror as I realized I was trapped, unable to reach the people I loved.

“Touch me Carter and you’ll lose that hand” Aj growled from somewhere to my right. Wake up? Was I asleep? Stay calm. You made it through everything with Rich so you can easily do something as simple as waking up.

“Bone” Howie’s voice drifted in from farther away. I focused on his ever calm tone and turned the terror into something more useful. Suddenly I filled with determination.

“Don’t try to reason with me on this. I’m not fucking moving” Aj said with pure anguish in his voice. Aj needed me. The simplest thing to do would probably be opening my eyes. I focused everything I had into the simple process of lifting my eyelids and slowly, through a lot of struggle, white light began to fill the blackness.

“Look!” That was Brian’s voice for sure. I just wanted to be able to see him. The light was blinding and everything in me wanted to close my eyes and get away from it but the anguish around me compelled me to keep my eyelids open. Slowly, in what seemed like the passing of hours, the light dulled and I began to see shadows of figures

“Oh God” Aj crept into my view and my eyes began to focus on his features. A tear ran down his cheek and fell onto mine. I tried to wipe it away but I couldn’t move my arms. I wanted to say something, to let Aj know that I was ok but my throat was so dry and it hurt so much that all I could squeak out was a whimper “My love. I’m so sorry”

“Booger” Mollee crept into my vision next to Aj. She was a mess of crazy hair and runny makeup. I’d never see her look so disheveled. I whimpered again, slowly feeling the return of the frustration as my throat wouldn’t cooperate with my desire to speak. And of course Mollee sensed it right away “Don’t try to talk yet Kat. Your throat is swollen and pretty banged up”

“Here, ice chips” Nick’s voice came from next to Mollee. I tried to turn my head to see him but a shot of intense pain raced through me and a sob worked its way out of my throat

“Hush it is ok” Aj said softly pressing his lips to my forehead. He wiped a tear from my eyes and Mollee slipped an ice chip between my lips. It was cold and wonderful and dulled not only the pain in my throat but some of my internal struggle. If I could make myself open my eyes then I could make myself talk. I just needed to take my time. I wasn’t trapped. I closed my eyes for a moment and tried to envision wide open spaces to calm myself down. The biggest space I could come up with was the graveyard in New Hampshire where my parents were buried. I saw the autumn leaves on the sugar maples in their brightest reds and oranges and let the calm breeze play across my features in my mind.

“Guys, the doctor” I heard Howie from the corner. Mollee and Aj moved aside but I could feel that they were still pretty close and the doctor seemed more than a little annoyed

“Well well, welcome back. You had us all pretty worried there” The doctor said and I gave a small smile “Can you follow this light for me?” She asked passing a light across my eyes and temporarily blinding me again. I flinched and another wave of pain attacked me from my side “Take it easy honey, your body is trying to heal itself and it needs to rest”

“Is she ok?” Mollee asked with authority. I smiled a little more. I loved her mom mode.

“Well it’s a good sign that she’s awake” The doctor said and I blinked back some more tears. I was trying to be strong but I couldn’t hide that I was terrified. What if I could never talk again? Aj’s face swam into my view and he slowly kissed the tears as they slipped out the sides of my eyes and down my cheek

“Relax my love. You’re ok. We’re all here. Deep breaths” He whispered and I gave a small nod followed by a whimper. He looked incredibly tortured and I moved my eyes to where I assumed Mollee was standing with the ice. He followed my gaze and gave a little smile “More ice?” I opened my mouth a little as an indication and he slipped another chunk between my lips. I swallowed and it hurt but at least my mouth didn’t feel so dry. The doctor spoke with Mollee for a bit but for my sanity I tuned it out and focused solely on Aj as he fed me ice chip by chip. My panic slowly subsided as I gazed into Aj’s pain filled eyes. He was stroking my head, brushing my hair away from my face and I followed his motions with all the senses I had under my control. That had almost completely calmed me until I registered some additional stress in Aj’s eyes and realized that I should be paying attention to the doctor and Mollee

“We found some indication of trauma in the vaginal walls but no signs of forced entry. It seems to just be the result of her procedure” The nurse read off

“What procedure?” Mollee asked and I matched Aj’s terrified stare

“Well there’s a pretty clear indication that a surgical abortion was performed, and fairly recently, is that not right?” The doctor floundered, flipping through her clip board of papers

“My sister has never had an abortion” Mollee said angrily

“Actually” Aj cleared his throat tentatively “She has”

“What?” Mollee asked and it was like the whole room was instantly on fire with her wrath

“I’ll be back in a bit to check in” The doctor said excusing herself from what was about to go down. That was wise. I wish I could have joined her

“Did you get my sister pregnant?” Mollee asked slowly with anger rolling off of her like waves

“Well, I mean, it took two of us” He stammered

“And you took her to get an abortion without telling me? When could this have happened, you two have been at each other’s throats and unless it was late term and she knew she was pregnant for a while…” Mollee trailed off

“It wasn’t late term” Aj mumbled

“But that timing doesn’t make sense” Mollee said stubbornly

“Um, Halloween would have been the time of, um, conception” Aj struggled and for the first time since I’d opened my eyes I was thankful that all I could do was stare up at the ceiling

“But she was with Josh then” Mollee argued

“Not technically?” Aj suggested

“I’m going to KILL you!” Mollee yelled and launched herself at Aj. He dodged and moved to the other side of the room as Mollee tried to get through all the other guys while screaming at Aj about how he’d potentially ruined my life. This had to stop. Too much had happened and it was not ok that the two people I loved most were fighting after finally getting along. I focused and used the serenity of my parent’s resting place to propel the words to my mouth, forcing my traumatized vocal chords to vibrate.

“Stop” I whispered my first words since the whole ordeal and of course no one could hear them over my loud and angry sister

“Mollee calm down” Nick cautioned trying to get his arms around her

“Stop!” Now that I had opened the door for speech pure relief became the strength I needed to force more volume from my mouth. Unfortunately all of this effort went unrewarded as my sister was going to be louder than I could ever get in this wounded state. I needed the people I loved most to stop fighting and there was only one thing I could think of that might make that happen. I forced my body to pay attention and began to ever so slowly inch my feet over the side of the bed. Acutely aware of the growing pain radiating from my muscles as I called on them to do the last thing in the world that they wanted to do I maneuvered myself into a leaning position and finally got some reward for all my work.

“Kat what are you doing?” Howie asked in alarm causing everyone to look at me

“Stop fighting. Stop it right now” I squeaked as tears poured out of my eyes from pain both physical and emotional

“Kat baby you have a few broken ribs, you really shouldn’t be moving” Aj cautioned coming back over to me

“I love you both. Please don’t fight” I whimpered before all but collapsing in Aj’s arms. He maneuvered me carefully back into a laying position and then everyone was around me, moving tubes and pillows and blankets to make me comfortable

“I’m sorry. I have just been so worried. I’m sorry” Mollee apologized taking my left hand in hers

“Apologize to him” I whispered and Mollee’s eyes narrowed a bit “Mollee. Please”

“I’m sorry Aj” Mollee said after a moment

“It’s ok, we’re all a little over emotional right now” Aj said tenderly before returning to his place above my head and feeding me another ice chip

“Are you ok?” Mollee asked quietly

“Tired” I said softly and Mollee nodded

“As long as you promise to wake up you can rest as long as you’d like” She said giving my hand a kiss. I gave a little smile and fell almost immediately to sleep.

“You two need to get some control” Brian said after a quiet moment

“Excuse me?” Aj asked with attitude

“What Kat needs most now is all of her friends and family on her side. She could have hurt herself trying to get you two to calm down. So you guys kept a secret. Who cares? With everything that has gone on with Kat do you think you could give her a break and relax?” Brian said hotly causing a raised eyebrow from everyone

“You ok dude?” Howie asked cautiously

“I’m fine. I just want to make sure everyone has everything in perspective” Brian said before sitting angrily in the corner of the room farthest from everyone. It was quiet after that with only a visit from the doctor to check in and the sounds of the machinery beeping and hissing. Everyone settled down a little and Aj had almost drifted to sleep when he heard a groan

“Kat?” Aj asked instantly awake and at attention

“What’s going on?” Howie asked through a yawn

“She’s moving” Aj said cautiously

“She’s dreaming” Mollee said sadly as I tossed and turned

“Stop. Stop. Stop it!” I moaned

“Kat” Aj said sweetly trying to wake me

“Aj careful, these things can be pretty vivid” Mollee warned but too late as I lashed out and landed a pretty good punch from my good hand on Aj’s cheek. He was so shocked that he actually called out which woke me up

“What?” I asked quickly with my heart beating out of my chest

“You’re ok. Everything is ok” Aj said rubbing his cheek

“What happened?” I asked trying to sit up but being thrown back by the stabbing pain in my ribs

“Hey now, relax. You were dreaming love. It’s ok. You just caught me off guard” Aj assured me as I put it all together

“I’m sorry. I didn’t know you were you. I was dreaming about… well you know” I apologized hoarsely. At least I could talk a bit now

“Stop, you’re fine” Aj said sitting beside me and brushing my hair back from my face “You seem to be feeling a little better”

“I can talk more at least. Can you move my bed so I can sit up?” I asked as Aj nodded and hurried to get the controller for the bed. He began to tilt the headboard up and it moved my ribs so that I yelled out in pain

“Sorry, sorry, are you ok?” Aj asked frantically as I nodded

“I’m fine. Now I can see everyone. It’s worth it” I said with a small smile and then indicated my rib cage “So I assume those are broken, huh?”

“The doctor says that you broke the three middle ribs on your left side. We had a rough night with you because they were worried a bone fragment might puncture your lungs, especially with all your thrashing in your dreams, and then they were debating using a compression wrap to stabilize them even though that can enhance the risk of pneumonia” Mollee started at a race until I put my hand up and interrupted her

“Slow down. How long was I out?” I asked meekly. I really didn’t want to have Mollee read me the laundry list of my injuries but I figured if I could get all the information in one fell swoop then maybe we could forget about it and move on more quickly.

“The police got to you-” Mollee started but I cringed and interrupted her again

“No. Wait. Stop. I don’t want to know about all of that. Just tell me how long I’ve been at the hospital” I said quickly before images could fully form in my mind of the events that had caused my injuries. I saw a worried look pass around the room at my reaction but I couldn’t care. I was not ready to talk about all of that yet

“You got here around noon. You were out all night. It’s about four in the afternoon right now” Mollee said slowly and with a kinder tone

“And I have three broken ribs? What do you do about broken ribs?” I asked her while focusing as much as I could on Aj’s repeated strokes of my hair. I needed to stay calm and I knew I wasn’t going to get much help with that from any of the words coming out of Mollee’s mouth.

“Not much. Lying on your injured side and taking deep breaths to make sure your lung tissue isn’t damaged helps. Basically you just need to take it easy and they will heal on their own over six weeks or so” Mollee said and braced herself for the blow

“I have to be in bed for six weeks?!” I said as loudly as I could “That’s almost the whole break!”

“I know Kat but it’s the only way. And you don’t have to be in bed the whole time. We’ll start in bed and then take it easy until we find out what you can do. You also have a morphine drip here for the pain” Mollee said and I shook my head

“No more pills, drugs or alcohol for me. I’ll just suffer” I said stubbornly causing Mollee to roll her eyes. I looked to Aj for strength and he sighed

“I wish I had good news to tell you precious. I wish I could say that she is exaggerating. They said you were lucky not to have had your whole chest cavity cave in since you broke the three ribs all in a row” Aj said quietly and I pouted

“Get it all done now. What else is wrong with me?” I asked anticipating the worst

“Well you don’t have a fractured larynx” Mollee said in what I bet she thought was a comforting tone “They thought you might at first which would have been bad since it’s really rare and only a few specialists really know how to deal with it but right now it just looks like swelling and bruising on your throat that will go away with time”

“You have his handprint on your neck” Brian said harshly from the corner he was in

“Brian!” Aj scolded with his own special kind of wrath and my eyes got big

“I do? Aj, is it bad?” I asked and my voice, already so fragile, cracked

“It’s not so bad. I mean, if you know what you are looking for then it kind of looks like a hand but mainly it’s just black and blue” Aj said softly to me before sending a death glare to Brian

“She should know” Brian said unapologetically. He got up abruptly and began pacing on his side of the room.

“Well there’s just some cosmetic bruising on your face but that’s not life threatening. And then there’s your arm” Mollee said to distract from Brian’s outburst. I moved my head slowly to look at my left arm and then carefully lifted it up a little and saw a pretty elaborate cast system keeping my fingers, wrist and elbow in a locked position. I wanted to get upset. I could feel the emotion welling inside of me. My arm was completely unusable in the state it was in and would probably be for a while. But then I saw Brian pacing and Mollee and Aj both with worry lines and deep circles under their eyes. This could have been worse.

“This will give me something to decorate” I said with a small smile, hoping to bring a little comfort to everyone. I glanced around the room and the mood remained unchanged

“There are a lot of broken bones and they had to re-set a lot of things. I believe it’s almost half metal now too” Mollee said sadly

“This’ll be fun to get through airport security” I tried to joke again but I got nothing, tough crowd.

“Kat what if it’s never the same?” Mollee asked seriously “What if you can’t dance?”

“I can dance right now. Watch” I said doing a pathetic vogue pose with my one hand. I looked around at all the serious faces and sighed “Guys, I’m ok”

“No you’re not” came from the corner of the room. I looked over and saw Brian in pure anguish

“Bri” I started but he stopped abruptly and his voice took on a sharp tone that made it almost unrecognizable

“I can’t believe this happened. What is the world coming to that something like this can happen to good people?” He asked angrily

“Brian” Howie said trying to get to Brian and break his rage “Relax buddy”

“Don’t tell me to relax!” Brian yelled and before anyone could do anything he had punched the door so hard that a crack splintered from the point of impact all the way to the floor. We all looked at it and then at Brian who seemed completely shocked

“Brian get over here” I said seriously and Brian, still a little confused, walked directly over to me. I grabbed his hand and looked it over. No real harm done. Then I put my good hand on his cheek and brought his eyes to my level “I love you Bri but I need you to keep it together, ok?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me” Brian said as a tear trickled from the corner of his eye and down his cheek

“It’s ok. Just stay strong. We can do it. I need you to be strong for me” I said wiping his tear away

“It’s almost like someone said something similar to us not too long ago” Aj mumbled quietly

“We almost lost you” Brian whispered to me

“But you didn’t. I’m here” I said with strength “Look at me. I’m here”

“You’re broken” He whimpered and my heart just about broke

“But I’ll heal” I said sternly and after some hesitation Brian nodded

“I’m ok” Brian said and then straightened up and squeezed my hand “I’m ok”

“Is there anything else I need to know?” I asked once Brian was seated in a chair close to me so I could keep my good hand in his

“I don’t think so” Mollee said slowly. Almost as if on cue the doctor came in

“Look at you sitting up and awake. How’s the pain?” She asked pressing lightly on my side. I managed just a quick intake of breath when she approached the middle ribs and she made a sad noise

“Fine” I lied poorly

“She refuses to use the morphine” Mollee said and I narrowed my eyes at her

“It will help” The doctor said trying to appeal to me

“I can take it” I said with determination

“Well I know that you’re strong. Going through what you went through and coming out of the other side with nothing but a few cracked bones and some bruising? I wish I was half as strong as you” She said without compassion. It was kind of nice. It wasn’t that she felt bad for me but she seemed to actually believe what she was saying. Like it was medical fact that I was built of tough stuff

“I do the best I can” I said modestly. She looked in my throat, felt around my ribs and checked that all was stable on my arm before dropping her clipboard on the table and wheeling a stool over to the side of the bed. She had to squeeze between Brian and Aj and since neither would move it made for a funny scene.

“So if you’re up for it the police are here and waiting for your testimony” She said seriously and my heart rate picked up. The worst part about that was that my heartbeat was audible through the beeping monitor in the room so everyone was very aware of how much the idea of talking to the police bothered me

“Can’t they do it another time?” I asked with a slight blush

“The sooner they get it the sooner this can all be out of your hands. This was assault and the police will prosecute but because of the nature of the crime we all want to keep him locked up and away from you. The only way to do that is to talk to them now so they can get to their paperwork” She explained and I looked away. After all that talk of strength I didn’t want to seem weak to her but I couldn’t even begin to imagine talking to someone I didn’t know about what had happened. Aj quickly picked up on my anguish

“Can we all have just a few minutes to talk this through? Surely a few minutes won’t hold up the police too much?” He pleaded for me

“I can give you five minutes but you need to do this Katrina. You really need to do this for you. Get him out of your life and out of everyone else’s” She said with finality before grabbing her clipboard and heading out the door. I let out a huge sigh and felt my ribs groan in protest. I moaned a little in response and saw everyone around me tense up. There was a moment of silence before I could come up with words

“Someone tell me what I am supposed to do. I don’t have the brain space for this” I confessed

“You have been through hell. The police can wait. I don’t care what anyone says, you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to after what you’ve been through” Mollee said quickly with venom

“Well we have the over protective sister’s point of view. Who has a more rational approach to things?” I asked using a bit of humor to distract me from the doom building in the pit of my stomach

“If you get this over with now then you won’t have to think about it ever again. It will be completely done. No one will be able to haul you into court or try to change the facts. We’ll all be here as witnesses and you can put it away forever” Howie offered after some careful consideration. The doom feeling in my stomach grew as my brain reluctantly found the truth in Howie’s words

“I have to stick with Mollee on this one” Aj said with a small squeeze to my good hand “You have been exceptional. You don’t need to distract yourself with anything other than healing”

“Brian?” I asked with a glance towards the foot of my bed. He looked up at me with a pained expression that, had I been standing, would have brought me to my knees

“I have never felt such hate for anyone in my life” Brian said slowly shaking his head as if to try to clear it “And the only thing that seems to make sense to me is to try for some justice. He needs to answer for what he’s done. And if the law can’t do it, so help me, I feel like I just might”

“Brian” Howie warned but I lifted my hand to stop him

“He’s right. What if something happens and he hurts someone else? I’d never be able to live with myself. Howie, please, can you tell the police to send someone in? Let’s get this over with” I said and Howie nodded and left the room. I reached for the button for my bed and carefully inched it up so I was sitting almost completely upright. Suddenly Nick was in front of me

“You’re an Amazon, remember?” He whispered in my ear and I couldn’t stop the small smile that came to my lips. He noticed and I watched the corners of his mouth twitch upwards as well

“Stay close, everyone. Please” I said and watched as my family moved in close to me. It was like preparing for battle and I was overcome with gratitude for my wonderful friends

“Do you still want to do this?” Howie asked sticking his head in through the door. I nodded slowly and watched Howie escort a large man in a blue uniform into the room. I took in his hair color first and everyone heard my heart begin to race as I noted its similarity to Rich’s.

“Settle down precious, settle down” Aj said quietly and I took a deep breath

“Thank you so much for doing this Katrina” The police officer began as he sat on the vacant stool left by the doctor and placed his hand comfortingly on my arm. What happened next was a complete blur as much as it happened in pain staking detail. One minute I was in a hospital room surrounded by my loved ones and the next I was back in the hotel with Rich advancing on me. His touch burned on my arm as he grabbed me and threw me across the floor. I screamed and thrashed, trying to get away from him, but some force was acting against me and I couldn’t move. I screamed louder, using my last weapon, my voice, to keep Rich away from me