Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Chapter 8

Desperation, Isolation, and Desolation

A week passed by in the blink of an unaware eye for Edward, but for his family, friends, and Bella, it crept along at an insufferable pace. Nurses and visitors came and went with regular frequency, but little else changed around them. Bella, over the course of the passing days, had become despondent to the world around her, spending her days of being tethered to a wall staring out of the parted shades within her hospital room. The furthest she'd been able to make it from her bed had been to the bathroom, and even that had been a monumental task only capable of being achieved with assistance.

A tear rolled down the left side of her face as she watched the storm clouds roll in from the early morning horizon. The tap of the first raindrop against her window echoed the soft pat of her tear falling to the bedding below and were the only sounds she heard. She'd mastered the ability to tune out the sounds of her parents slumbering breaths, the hiss of oxygen constantly flowing against her face, and the incessant beeping of her telemetry monitor.

She wished she could be outside to feel the cleansing coolness of the summer rain on her face, smell the earthy humidity as the water fell to the heated earth—but she was a prisoner of room 612. The irritation the smoke had inflicted upon her lungs had led to an accumulation of fluid within them that made it difficult to breathe. Pulmonary edema the doctor had told them, and as if the term hadn't been intimidating enough, his ensuing broach of the topic of intubation to give her lungs a rest had most certainly intimidated her.

Intimidated and frightened her to the point where she ruefully resolved herself to stop exerting what little energy she had by being so stubborn. She'd follow his orders and heal, without the breathing tube, and as soon as she could manage it, she'd make her way to Edward's side.

The rain outside had begun pouring in sheeted torrents, streaming rivulets of water down the glass as the bright green leaves on the tree in the very corner of the window flipped violently back and forth, vibrant on one side and pastel on the other. As she lay motionlessly and watched the storm unleash its fury upon the outside world, her mind whispered the trailing bits of the dream that had awoken her so early.

"Stay with me, Bella...just stay with me..."

She couldn't remember anything from the dream but those few words and that unfamiliar masculine voice that seemed so far away. It was almost as if she'd been standing in a pitch black tunnel and the words had traveled to her from the other side, bouncing and echoing off the walls she couldn't see. Bella had awoken in a sweat, overheated and gasping for breath but simultaneously covered in gooseflesh.

That voice—the sound of it haunted her even with her eyes open and focused on the storm churning outside her imprisoning cell. It had been saturated with pure fear, but of what she couldn't be sure. Fear for her? Fear for himself? Fear of something only he could see but remained elusive to her in the blinding darkness? She had no idea, but the continuously resounding disembodied whispers of his terrified tone pulled at her heartstrings painfully.

Bella had tried falling back asleep, tried to reenter that dream realm to help him. Whatever it was that had made him so afraid, she was determined to stop it from frightening him—but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't fall back asleep. She was stuck in conscious awareness much like she was stuck in the bed that had become entirely too uncomfortable with the amount of time she'd spent within it.

The eggshell walls, constant noises, stiff blue blanket, and the inability to either fall asleep and save the owner of that voice or make it stop replaying in her mind, were quickly driving her to the brink of insanity. She wanted nothing more than to scream at the top of her lungs and shatter the ever unchanging atmosphere surrounding her. Maybe if she did that, she could wake up from the god forsaken nightmare she'd woken up to a week before.

Everyone had been trying their best to keep her distracted, knowing full well she had never been able to tolerate confinement for any extended length of time. As a child, just trying to keep her in the house for a day when she was too ill to be outside playing had been a monstrous battle.

Her friends and coworkers had stopped by intermittently over the course of the week and provided momentary breaks in the unbearable monotony, but it wasn't enough to keep her from feeling as though she'd burst from her skin at any moment. She simply wasn't built to live a sedentary lifestyle, and being forced to do so had severely waned her spirits. By Thursday, she'd become apathetic and despondent.

Even when her best friends, Tanya and Irina, her domestic partnered prankster neighbors, came to visit again Friday evening, Bella had barely acknowledged them. She'd tried to smile at them and follow along with all the juicy gossip they unleashed in an attempt to cheer her up, but she repeatedly found her gaze drifting off toward the colorful sky on the other side of the window pane as another night made its approach.

By Saturday, she'd lost any trace of an appetite and had to force herself to eat the bland food that had been placed in front of her.

By Sunday, she couldn't even bring herself to look at the tray; much less touch it.

A light rap at the door sounded as another teardrop fell to the bedding and Bella swiped it away quickly as she turned her head. The knock at the door could only mean one thing - it was sometime around seven am and it was time for her ritualistic morning chest x-ray. As she heard the woman announce herself and begin pushing the bulky machine into the room, Bella resituated herself in her bed to make it easier for the tech.

"Good morning, Miss Swan," Sarah, the tech that had come to her room every morning the previous week, smiled. Bella waved a hand in greeting as her parents began to stir in their uncomfortable padded chairs.

She listened as Sarah kindly asked them to step out for just a minute and apologized sincerely for waking them. Bella liked her, much more, in fact, than the brusque man who apparently worked on the evening shift. Sarah was much more mild mannered and had a terrific bedside manner.

"How are you feeling this morning?" she asked with a warm and casually friendly tone as Bella leaned forward to allow her to place the imaging cassette behind her. "Lean back, hun."

"A little better," Bella answered, her voice slightly rough from disuse.

"Good, I'm glad," Sarah nodded, sounding sincere as she placed a protective lead shield across Bella's lower abdomen.

"Alright, Bella...big breath in for me and hold it," Sarah instructed as she stepped away with her corded switch. Bella took one in and held it until she heard the beep and then let it out without needing to be told to do so anymore.

"You okay this morning, sweetie? You seem...a little off," Sarah asked, concerned. It touched Bella's heart that with all the patients she saw daily, she paid enough attention to each of them that she could detect changes in their moods.

"Just tired...didn't sleep well," she responded, not wanting to cause her to worry unnecessarily. Bella felt she was the type to do so, caring and compassionate, and she wouldn't want to be a cause of worry to such a nice person.

"You sure?" she asked again and Bella nodded, smiling softly behind her oxygen mask. "Okay. Do you want me to draw the blinds on my way out? It's not sunny or anything today, but at least it'll give you an unobstructed view."

"Please...thank you, Sarah," Bella smiled wider as she nodded. She waved once more as Sarah departed and waited for her parents to come back in.

And as soon as they did, she finally cracked.

Streams of tears flowed down her face as bursts of warm air from her lungs fogged the plastic mask covering her face.

"Bella baby...what is it?" Renee panicked at the sight of her daughter sobbing, rushing to the side of her bed.

"I can't...stand this anymore," she cried. "Please...I have to get out of this damn room!"

The next sob that escaped her lips brought with it a stream of dry coughs, reminiscent of a goose's honking and the sound of it dwindled Bella's spirits even further. It wouldn't go away no matter how stringently she followed her doctor's orders. She feared it never would abate either, that it would become a permanent affliction she'd suffer for the rest of her life.

Renee and Charlie shared a pained look with each other, neither knowing what to do or how to help their daughter. She still couldn't walk much further than the bathroom and back without struggling to breathe and there was nothing they could do about it; nothing they could do to fix that instantly for her.

Another knock resounded at the door and it nearly sent Bella into an emotional tantrum. She was ready to burst at the seams, or lash out at someone, or start throwing her bedding all over the room just to release her pent up aggravation. Instead, she wiped her face with her hands and tried to act like the mature young woman she was as the person entered the room.

"A little birdie stopped by the nurse's station to tell me we might be having a little case of "need-to-fly-the-coop-itis" this morning," the burly man smiled.

"Morning, Ben," Charlie sighed, greeting the nurse Bella had had twice over the last week.

"It's a crappy one, ain't it?" he chuckled as he pointed out the window before focusing in on Bella. "I'll make a deal with ya, sweetie. I'll dig ya up a wheelchair and an oxygen tank and your parents can take you for a wheel around the hospital for a bit, okay? I need my lunch hour poker partner in high spirits today because I've got some packets of SweeTarts to win back."

"Really?" Bella asked, slightly skeptical but unable to keep the burst of excitement from coursing through her veins. Anything, even the hospital's cafeteria would be a better sight than the two walls and a window she'd been staring at for a solid week.

"Really," he smiled with a nod. "Just give me about an hour to finish up checking in on my other patients and we'll get you fixed up with a set of wheels."

The next hour flew by as Bella and her mother worked together to complete one of the puzzles in the crossword book Renee had purchased from the gift shop the previous Tuesday morning, and before she knew it, Ben was back with the wheelchair and oxygen tank in tow.

"Okay, here are the rules. You have to stay connected to the monitor at all times so I can keep tabs on your sats from the nurse's station," he began as he helped her get situated into the chair and hooked up to the oxygen tank. "No going outside, not that you'd want to today anyway, but even if it was sunny, the pollen count is high right now and we don't need anything else irritating your lungs, got it?"

"Got it...anything else?" Bella asked as she gave him a thumbs up that made him chuckle as he stepped back.

" more thing. Get some decent breakfast in ya while you're out. Was told during shift change report that you barely ate a thing yesterday. That's not the way to get your strength back up, so promise me you'll put something nutritious in that belly of yours and then top it off with a sinful treat."

"Done deal," Bella smiled genuinely for the first time in days.

"Alright, Muldowney...go burn some rubber for a bit," he laughed, stepping out of the way as Charlie took control of the handles and Renee handled the rolling monitor. "The battery should last ya about two hours give or take...if it starts dingin' at ya, head back."

"Thanks, Ben," Bella waved cheerily.

"Anytime, kid. Behave yourself and I'll tell the evening nurse to let ya go for another spin tonight," he waved back, shutting her room door behind him.

The happiness and freedom that had invaded her system lasted a grand total of a minute and a half. A minute and a half was all it took to get to the elevator directly across from the ICU waiting room where Bella saw at least a dozen people sitting and standing, some in a familiar uniform of their city's fire department, and some in casual street clothes. Her eyes connected with the icy blue pair of a blonde pregnant woman within the room and the instant hardening in them had Bella's eyes drifting quickly down to her lap.

"Rose..." she heard a masculine voice emanate from the room in an admonishing tone. She waited for him to say something else, but he didn't and she couldn't stop her eyes from moving back to the room. When she did, she saw the blonde's lips pursed and eyes narrowed at the tall uniformed man across from her that was shaking his head minutely at her with a warning expression.

The entire single worded interaction had gone completely unnoticed by her parents who were having an in-depth conversation with one another. About what, Bella didn't have a clue as she was unable to focus on anything other than the pained eyes of the members within the room. She was overwhelmed with guilt for being the reason that look was in all of their eyes—and the reason "Rose's" eyes had hardened upon the sight of her. She couldn't be certain, but she formed a fairly solid assumption that they knew who she was based on her escorts, for all intents and purposes.

Her parents had been making at least a trip a day down to the other end of the floor to visit with Edward and his parents and returning with whatever information they could give her on his condition. His father, likewise, had come to visit them a few times as well over the past week, but she had yet to meet his mother or anyone else from his family for that matter—and now she knew why.

They blamed her for what happened to him—not that she didn't.

It was something she'd been battling since the very first moment she became aware of how badly Edward had been hurt. More than once she found herself wishing he would have just gotten himself out of danger and left her behind, because she wouldn't have known any different in the condition she'd been in. She acknowledged that she probably would have died, completely unaware of what was happening, before the fire had a chance to make her suffer the way he was now. He could have walked away from Orchard Street and continued on, laughing with his family and friends and enjoying his life if he'd have just left her.

But he hadn't—and now she couldn't.

No number of cold, hard eyes or disdain and blame would deter her from doing for him what he'd done for her. As that thought steeled her nerves, she met her eyes once again with those icy blue ones and leveled a steady unfaltering gaze at her icy glare.

"Hey hold that elevator!" a booming voice broke across the quiet corridor. Renee's hand shot out to stop the elevator doors from closing on the tall man quickly making his way out of the waiting room.

He stepped in and smiled gently at Bella's parents, thanking them wordlessly before settling his greenish brown gaze on Bella as he lowered himself down to her level by squatting.

"I'm sorry about that...she didn't mean anything by it. It's Rosie's having a hard time right now...we all are," he said softly.

"It's okay...I understand," Bella nodded, waving it off. Her eyes darted around nervously as he regarded her closely. His eyes trailed over her features, stopping at the scraped up yellowing bruise across her temple and flashing with some kind of emotion she couldn't begin fathom. To her it looked possibly like guilt, but for what she hadn't a clue. He was a stranger to her, and for all she knew, the emotion could have been anything but.

"Sorry," he said softer, lifting a hand hesitantly to gesture toward her bruise as that emotion flashed again in his eyes. "We should have been further in the building...we should have been there to stop both of you from hitting the floor the way you did."

Her brow furrowed as she looked deeply into his eyes that were shining with deep rooted sorrow, and heart wrenching pain. It wasn't until she'd looked deep within them that she saw the anguish and exhaustion within them. Bella's hand reached up and pulled down the plastic mask covering her nose and mouth so her voice wouldn't be muffled again.

"You're a firefighter? With Edward?" she asked curiously.

"Uh...yeah. I'm his brother, too. Emmett Cullen," he said as he held out his hand to her. She took it, feeling somewhat skeptic that he was being so genuinely nice to her considering his brother's condition.

"I'm so sorry...for what happened to your brother," Bella apologized sincerely, fresh tears springing to her eyes. She was sorry, and if she could trade places with him, she'd do so in a heartbeat.

Emmett looked down briefly as he shook his head. He didn't wish for an apology, not from her; not from anyone. Had any of them on scene had half the courage his brother did, they all could have been out of that building safely before it began to fall apart. Unlike some other members of his family, he could hold her no more accountable than he could hold any of themselves or the broken gas line that had started the fire to begin with.

"I'm just glad I was able to get to you before you fell through as well," he said as the elevator dinged, announcing their arrival on the first floor. He stood and held the doors open as he looked down at the woman his brother had fought so hard to save, unable to feel anything but relief that his efforts hadn't been made in vain. His footing shifted slightly as he cleared his suddenly thick throat. "So, uh, Dad mentioned you'd been wanting to see him...see Edward...and I just wanted to say, don't let Rosie stop you...if that's what you want. Her bark really is worse than her bite."

"Kay...thanks," Bella answered, slightly stunned and unsure of what to say.

He smiled softly once more and nodded as Charlie began pushing her chair out of the elevator, clapping Emmett once on the shoulder as he passed. Bella's mind was racing a mile a minute as they inched away from the elevator, unsure of what to make of his kindness toward her when his wife, she assumed, had been so glacial without a word having even been spoken between them.

"Hey, Emmett," she called out as best she could, turning and leaning into the side of her wheelchair. He stopped the doors from closing and looked at her intently, waiting. "It was nice meeting you."

"You too, Isabella," his lips curled up slightly as his head bobbed just once.

After gorging herself on a breakfast consisting of an omelet, bacon, hash browns, fresh fruit and topping it all off with a slice of strawberry shortcake, as per Ben's orders, Bella, Charlie, and Renee set about purchasing some refreshments for the residents of 6 ICU's waiting room. She and Charlie filled a box with numerous donuts and another with bagels as Renee set about packing a couple containers of fresh fruit. With the help of the staff, they even managed to sequester two full thermal carafes of coffee that either Renee or Charlie would return to the cafeteria once they'd been emptied.

On their way back up to the elevator, Bella's lap held their precious cargo, one thermos on either side of her legs and hands keeping it all from falling off as they rolled along. When the doors opened again to the sixth floor, Bella noticed instantly that Rose was no longer within the waiting room. Emmett was, however, and he sent her a little wave as Charlie and Renee maneuvered her and all of her attachments off the elevator.

"Hey...we brought back...breakfast...for all of you," she said, slightly breathless and realizing belatedly she hadn't replaced her oxygen mask after eating.

Carlisle's head shot over at the sound of her strained voice and he stood instantly to make his way over to them. It truly delighted him seeing her outside of her room, having gotten to know her a little over the past week and having seen how hard she'd been struggling through some of those days.

"You all didn't have to do that, but thank you," he smiled kindly. "I'll get these, sweetie. You get that mask back on. You sound a little winded."

"There should be enough for everyone. Just let us know when the coffee runs out so we can bring the canisters back downstairs," Charlie chimed in, lifting the large thermoses from Bella's sides as she went about affixing her oxygen mask.

"We can get them back down there, really...there are enough of us here," Carlisle chuckled softly. "Did you want to visit for a few? While you're out and about?"

His eyes had focused in on Bella, unsure if she was feeling up to it though she was looking much better than she had in days.

"Please? If it's not...too much trouble," she answered appreciatively.

"Not at all," he shook his head as he started to lead them into the unit.

Bella's heart began to accelerate with every step her parents and Carlisle took, unsure how she'd handle seeing him, but knowing there wasn't a chance she'd change her mind to do so. When they turned the corner, her eyes landed upon a man leaning against the glass doors, his face turned toward her approaching entourage. She knew instantly he had to be the third Cullen brother as he slightly resembled a thinner, more lanky version of Emmett.

"I'm afraid this is about as far as we'll be able to get you with the chair," Carlisle said apologetically.

"I can walk," Bella nodded, lifting her hand to remove her oxygen mask.

"Bella..." Charlie and Renee sighed at the same time, causing the two women in the room to turn and look in their direction.

"Please? It's only...a couple steps, and I'll sit...promise," Bella looked up at them as the older of the two women came toward her.

"Oh Isabella, I'm so happy to see you up and about," she smiled warmly, holding out her hand. "I'm Esme, Edward's mother."

Bella smiled back at her as she took her hand, "It's nice to meet you."

"Honey...I don't think it's a good idea for you to be off your oxygen for long," Renee said worriedly.

"It's okay," the young brunette in the room smiled. "Jasper, help her over and I'll get her hooked up."

Bella's legs were weak as Jasper and Charlie helped her up from the chair. Having not been on them much over the past week, they were a bit shaky but with Jasper's sturdy arm, she made it slowly to Edward's bedside with Charlie pushing her monitor behind them. Once she was settled in her chair, feeling accomplished and panting like she'd just run a marathon even though she'd only walked approximately six feet, the young woman quickly hooked her oxygen tubing up to a valve on the wall before turning her monitor around so she could see her vitals.

"Take some slow deep breaths for me, hon. We want that number right there," she said as she pointed to the large yellow number, "to stay in the high nineties, okay?"

Bella nodded as the woman smiled softly down at her. She couldn't help but notice how puffy and red her eyes were with dark circles resting beneath them. She looked as though she hadn't slept a wink over the last week and it pained Bella to see someone suffering with such heartache. She wondered if she was possibly Edward's wife, as she was sure that had something this tragic happened to her own husband - had she had one - she wouldn't have slept a wink either.

"I'm Alice, by the way. If you need anything, just give a wave. I'll be standing right outside with everyone."

"Thank you, Alice," Bella smiled behind her mask and watched as she retreated from the room.

Bella's eyes traveled up the length of the bed, over the protruding tubes and wires before settling on Edward's face. Her heart shattered as she took in the destruction from his fall, as there was no other word to describe it. Edward was battered and bruised and looked just horrific. Tears welled in her eyes as she brought her arm over the side rail, her hand coming to rest over his fist.

Days on end of sitting in her confined room she'd thought of a million things to say in that moment, but finally sitting there at his side, nothing seemed adequate. She wished he could hear her apologize for putting him in that danger and truly thank him for saving her life. She wished he could hear her tell him how she knew he had to be a wonderful person simply because of how so many people had been deeply affected by nearly losing him and that she believed he'd pull through.

Bella said all of it aloud, not caring who heard her because it wasn't the one person she wished could.

Outside the room, six sets of eyes and ears bore witness to a young woman pour her soul into words and her sorrow into tears that spilled down her cheeks and to the floor below. But, out of those six sets of eyes, only one pair saw the beauty of the tragic scene before them.

Alice loved the man in that bed fiercely. He was strong and honorable. Humble and kindhearted. Selfless and brave.

He was everything she could ever want—in a best friend.

She'd been warring back and forth for months on end, just trying to make sense of her life and the turmoil of her emotions. She'd thought she'd been in love with him, and it had seemed so obvious in the midst of the heartache stemming from her failing marriage. But, while it had hurt like hell to be rejected, he'd made her see that it wasn't him she was in love with, but merely the idea of him.

Yes, she loved him fiercely, but just as he could never be to her what she had thought she both needed and wanted, she could never be those things for him either.

The person he deserved to have should be strong and selfless and humble and kindhearted—brave even. She should be everything that he was because he deserved nothing less, and Alice had realized the very night she'd nearly lost him that she wasn't that woman.

But looking in that room and witnessing what she was, coming from a person that should only be concerned over her own health and wellbeing at the moment...

Alice wondered if Bella could be.

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