“Holy shitballs! You’re, oh my every loving Lordie, you’re Nick Carter!”
It wasn’t the reaction he expected though he was grateful nonetheless. In the end he shouldn’t have been surprised. She was about five foot seven with dark blonde hair and blue eyes framed by a pair of glasses. The woman looked to be in her mid-twenties which was the ripe age for someone having been a diehard fan of the group back in the 1990’s. Or even a non-fan would’ve likely at least found him familiar and then made the connection. She wore a set of scrubs decorated with some weird looking rainbows and the words Zombie Rainbow beneath them, frowning as she took in his appearance. Nick supposed he was a hot mess to her. He’d be a mess to anyone though he lacked a mirror to know for sure.
“Oh my God, what happened to you?” She ushered him inside and shut the door behind him.
Nick slipped off his jacket stiffly and hung it on a coat rack sticking out of the wall. “My bus crashed. My friend’s trapped in there; can I use your phone?”
“I’m a nurse.” She told him as she led him to a worn red leather couch that looked as if it’d seen better days. “First I need to get a good look at you. Then I’ll drive you to the nearest station.”
“Because there aren't any cell towers that give service out here.” She helped him take off his ripped shirt so that she could get a better look at his chest. “My dad built this cabin years ago and it’s out in the middle of nowhere. No landline even. I only come here when I need to get away.” She continued her examination. “My dirt bike can barely get back to the main highway.” She stood up. “Wait here, I’m gonna wrap up your ribs and your arm could use a sling.”
Nick sighed deeply as he looked around the living room. It figured the first place he found had no cell service but at least now he had help. They’d go get someone to see if Jordan was even breathing still. The cabin was somewhat plain. There were family photographs along the walls, five kids and two parents. Three of the kids were boys and two were girls, just like in his family. The photos mirrored the family life he didn’t have growing up but wished he did. Her footsteps got louder and he glanced up to see her returning with a rather large first aid kit and a few other items.
“Okay.” Raven set some of the items down on the coffee table in front of the couch before gently taking his arm and placing it in a sling. “That should help give the muscles I think you pulled a break. I saw how stiff you were when you took off your jacket. My name’s Raven, Raven Salome by the way.” Raven grinned up at him as she grabbed the gauze and shifted closer so she could tend to his ribs. “So you know who’s feeling you up.”
Nick chuckled weakly and let her do her work. “I’d introduce myself but I know you already know who I am. Thank you.”
“I did grow up in the nineties. I’d have to be a nun not to. But you’re welcome.” She continued to wrap his chest. “There’s not much I can do about your ribs. The swelling and bruising makes it pretty obvious you probably broke them but the wrap will help them heal slightly faster. Keep taking deep breaths too. I know they hurt but it’s the best thing for you.” She paused. “Was your bus the crash I heard about on the news a few days ago?”
It wasn’t much but he did feel a difference in his chest thanks to her. He wondered if the fellas requested his name stay out of the press till he was found. “Yeah, I’ve been wandering the woods ever since.”
Her quiet was almost inaudible with her next question. “How badly was your friend injured?”
Nick looked away and focused on his dirty hands covered with scrapes and cuts. Suddenly he had the urge to try and pick at the grime beneath his fingernails. “He was pinned and really pale. Impaled by glass from the window. I know he wouldn’t be able to get out of the bus on his own.” He sighed. “He’s dead, isn’t he?”
“The report said they found two bodies but wouldn’t say who.”
He stared at the floor.
“Nick, I’m sorry. I’m sure he knew you tried like hell to get him help.”
Jordan coughed violently, his body racked by them. “Nick…”
“I’m going to go get help okay?” He wondered just how aware the other man was. So far all he’d said is his name. Did he really know Nick was there? Was the pain too much for him to try and say anything more? He had so many questions.
He shook his head. “No…” More coughs followed. “Don’t leave me.”
Jordan, like him, hadn’t wanted to die alone. Nick didn’t. But his friend suffered the fate he so desperately feared. He prayed it’d been quick. He prayed in that moment that his body had been found quick enough so that it wasn’t torn apart by animals. He prayed for a lot of things. But deep down he wondered if his prayers truly reached anything, or anyone. “Yeah.”
“They wouldn’t release who was in the crash on the news.” Raven said softly. “Just that it took a day to find the bus and that they were protecting the privacy of the families. Now I get why. They wanted to find you before anyone realized it was yours and Jordan’s bus.”
He glanced up. “You knew it was Jordan?”
She shrugged. “I know you two were on tour together. I downloaded your album a few weeks before I took a vacation.” She grabbed some gauze. “Turn around so I can get a better look at the back of your head.” Raven frowned after he did was he was told. Her hands were gentle as they mapped out his head but the area around where he’d hit it was still rather tender. “It’s a mess.” She grabbed the antiseptic and went to work. “Do you know how hard you hit it?”
“Enough to knock me out for awhile.” He hissed when she hit a sore spot. “I got launched out the window before the bus stopped rolling.”
“I think that’s what saved your life.” Raven said matter of factly. “The final impact was likely the worst and you missed it.” After cleaning what she could of the wound she began to wrap his head. “Later I’ll check this out again.” Her hands rested on his cheeks and turned him towards her.
Suddenly a bright light flashed into his eyes. “Shit, what are you doing?”
“Your eyes aren’t too dilated or unfocused. Did you vomit after you woke up from your head injury?”
Nick stared at her as if she’d lost her mind. “No.”
“You remember what happened and you’re able to retain new information.” She smiled at him and turned off her keychain flashlight. Raven tucked it back in the first aid kit along with the rest of her gauze. “That’s good news cause you didn’t get a concussion. You were lucky.”
It was as if she could sense his morbid thoughts. Raven stood and brushed her scrubs off. “Have you eaten? I want to give you something for the pain but I can’t till I know you have some food in your stomach. Then we can head into the little town up the road. Is that okay?”
Slowly, Nick nodded. Part of him felt guilty because he knew he needed to get to the others as soon as he could. Knowing for sure now that Jordan was dead he could only assume they thought the same about him. They needed to know that he was okay. They needed to know he was alive. He could imagine just how sick with worry his wife was and that was the last thing she needed. But at the same time Nick knew he wasn’t going to hold up much longer. He’d become accustomed to ever-present aches and pains of his damaged body but soon he wouldn’t be able to take much more. Not to mention his stomach felt like it was slowly eating itself.
Raven flashed him a pretty smile. “Okay. Let me get you some new clothes too. My father passed away a couple years ago but I’m a packrat so I never threw out his stuff. I’m sure some of it will fit you.”
Nick didn’t anything. He simply watched her walk away. His eyes traveled the walls again. Off in a corner was her diploma from some nursing school. He didn’t bother to read which one. As much as he wanted to leave, part of him was afraid. Afraid of what, exactly? He wasn’t sure. His nerves were on edge. All his hairs seemed to stand on end and he couldn’t figure out why. Perhaps his mind hadn’t caught up to the fact that he was safe, finally. Or perhaps it was the fact Jordan died because he got lost in the woods and took too long to find his way. Maybe he should’ve stayed with Jordan instead of leave. Would he have been found already? Would Jordan still be alive?
I’m sorry I fucked up Jordan. I’m sorry. I hope it was quick for you.
“Nick?” Her jerked back and glanced up. She was standing there with a folded flannel and a pair of jeans. Her smile was understanding though it didn’t quite meet her eyes. “These look pretty close to your size. I’ll go start on some lunch while you get changed.”
It took a few minutes before he finally responded. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing.” She replied. “You helped me many times when I was a teen with your music. It’d be wrong if I didn’t try to help you. Don’t worry about it.”
She walked into the tiny kitchen just off to the right of the living room and Nick slowly stood from the couch. It took some effort, getting his jeans off. He knew he couldn’t just go commando right then like he sometimes did, so he left his boxer briefs on. Getting jeans on one handed was awkward and he almost tripped, bumping into the nearby handmade coffee table. A paperweight slid off and made a resounding thump when it hit the ground. Thankfully it didn’t break.
“I’m alright!” He yelled back. Raven was kind but still a fan. He didn’t want to try changing right in front of her. Besides, I have one pant leg on, just need one more.
Bending over, he used the arm in his sling to hold on to the pants while trying not to jerk too much and cause himself even more pain. Slowly and with careful movements he managed to get his other leg within the pants and use his good arm to pull them upwards till he could button them. It took a lot of jumping but no one was watching. Nick smiled in triumph. Then it faded. It felt wrong to smile. He was alive, but two were dead. How was that fair? But at the same time he was so relieved that he’d found this place. He was grateful for the fact that he had gotten this far. He could go home. Nick would be able to see Lauren and the fellas again. It felt like a miracle.
“Lunch is ready!”
Nick sat himself at the tiny and round wooden table just outside at the tiny kitchen. Like everything else, it looked handmade. He smiled to himself at the grilled cheese sandwiches and chicken noodle soup set before him. Raven sat across from him a few moments later with a plate of her own. He didn’t care about appearances though. He dived right in and ate like he hadn’t for weeks. Which while exaggerated, he hadn’t eaten for days. It felt like enough justification for him.
“Why come out here?” Nick said between bites. Now that he found another person he wanted his brain to shut off at all costs. If he wasn’t thinking, he wasn’t feeling guilty.
She smiled at him serenely. “It helps me think. Work got too stressful so I took a vacation. My dad might be gone but I feel closer to him here. He was crafty, built this place himself. I have enough backup generators that I could last here for years if I knew how to hunt.” Raven laughed. “Not that I want to. I like being plugged into the world. But breaks are nice.”
“That sounds nice.”
“Oh yeah, and sometimes you can find the most interesting things. Like how I found you.”
Suddenly the world seemed to spin around him. He couldn’t focus. He could see her mouth move, her lips forming the words but it all sounded like he was hearing everything from underwater. He wished impulsively he really was in the ocean he loved so much.
“Nick, are you alright?” It was like she was screaming through the void around him. Raven smiled more. A smile that was so out of place in her face now. Her eyes blazed brightly and eagerly. “You don’t look like you’re up to going anywhere anymore.”
He tried to speak but found he couldn’t. He couldn’t even sit up. Nick fell off to the side of the chair. His vision was blurry though he could see her moving calmly up to his now paralyzed body. She ran a hand through his hair, brushing it off his forehead. She kissed his temple before whispering in his ear.
“Oh Nick, I’m so happy you walked through my door. Finally, my prayers have been answered.”
What…the…fuck? Even his thoughts were becoming slowed and nonsensical. He could barely comprehend what was going on around him. The feel of cold hard metal formed upon his wrists. His eyelids felt heavier and heavier. Weights had been put upon them to force him into a dark abyss he didn’t want to enter.
“The love of my life has finally come home, where he belongs.” He didn’t know if those words had been real, or if his muddled mind created them.
As darkness fell upon him, it didn’t seem to matter.