by Anj
(a.k.a. Azurenon)


All disclaimers in Chapter One


        I drifted back into the land of the living again to find a very bright light in my eyes. I lifted my right hand to shield them.
        "Thank god," breathed Miss Bennington.
        "Faith... Faith… can you hear me?" Dr. Rosemund asked.
        "Ye.. yes," I managed to say, although my throat felt like I'd just set it on fire again.
        The bright light went away abruptly and I opened my eyes a little wider. They were quite heavy, almost like the first day all over again.
        "You gave us quite a scare, young lady," he said, as he peered down at me. "How do you feel?"
        I looked up at him. Movement behind him caught my attention, as Uncle Brandon's face appeared over his shoulder. "My head... is throbbing," I replied, as I glared at my deceitful uncle. His face abruptly disappeared from view, as if it had been an illusion.
        "Well, we can fix that," Dr. Rosemund said. "Prepare that mild pain killer," he added, barely above a whisper.
        I glanced over in the direction he was looking and saw Miss Bennington smiling at me. I couldn't help but offer something in return for her kindness. So, even though I felt my head would burst at any minute, I conjured up a mirthless smile.
        "Let's have no more outbursts of this kind, shall we?" Dr. Rosemund admonished, his voice loud again.
        "I... can hear… just fine," I croaked, as I watched Miss Bennington preparing the shot she would soon give me. She seemed to have noticed my gaze; for, she looked down at me, smiled again and then glanced over at the doctor.
        "Yes, well…” Dr. Rosemund paused and cleared his throat. “I'll check on you in the morning then. Let's try to stay calm, shall we? I know you had quite a shock today, but please, try to avoid any further outbursts?"
        I shifted my gaze from him to Uncle Brandon, the latter of whom had reappeared at the foot of the bed. I glared at him; the anger I felt over him misleading me, bubbling up inside and threatening to burst forth.
        "Don't take all this out on your uncle," said Dr. Rosemund. "I told him it would be best not to upset you so soon. I was afraid you'd become overwrought and perhaps lapse back into a coma. He only did as I instructed. So, if you must blame or be angry at someone, let it be me."
        My angry stare shifted to him.
        "And me," Miss Bennington said, as she moved towards me with the needle in her hand.
        The conversation I'd overheard between her and my uncle did not fit with her statement. I knew she'd been against him not telling me. So, why was she taking up for him now? I'd thought she was someone I could trust; I was beginning to wonder if I'd been wrong.
        "I'll see you in the morning," said Dr. Rosemund, as he strolled towards the door. Uncle Brandon then fell in step behind him, glancing back over his shoulder, his face a sad visage, as he closed the door behind them.
        I felt the cold, wet cotton swab dabbing at my arm as Miss Bennington prepared it for the shot. I turned away; for, I didn't care to watch my skin being pricked again. I flinched slightly, as she inserted the needle. To my surprise she was far gentler than any of the other nurses I'd encountered that day.
        "Don't be too angry with him," she said, as she withdrew the needle and raised my forearm, leaving the cotton swab in the bend. "He was trying to protect you. We all were. We all knew it was wrong to let you believe... Well... it just seemed the right thing to do at the time. We were all so happy to see that you'd finally come around and... I guess we were afraid of losing you to that blissful darkness again."
So she really did know something about this, I thought, as she patted the back of my forearm with her gloved hand, then got up and put the syringe and gloves in a container on the wall marked, "Danger: Hazardous Waste". I had never seen one of these before. I could only assume it was something new, put into effect after AIDS came into being.
        "Seems that may have been made a costly mistake; however," she continued, "We may very well have lost your trust." She turned around and looked over at me, as if waiting for some response.
        I offered nothing and merely turned away. The things that other people did for you, thinking they were doing it for your own good, sometimes seemed worse than what they were protecting you from, because seldom did those things seem in your best interest. Not to you, at least.
        "He's hurting, too, you know." She walked over to the window. "He lost a brother, as well."
        At the mention of my father, tears welled up in my eyes.
        "Do you know he... he spent everyday at your mother's side?” she went on. “He did. When he wasn't checking on you, that is. He... he seemed to take it very hard when... she passed on. Or so I was told. And... that happened not long before you came to. I think... when he told you she was here… he truly wanted to believe that himself."
        "I saw… the way you... looked at him,” I admitted, sounding like “Froggy” from the old “Our Gang” kid's show. “I... should have known."
        She sighed heavily. "I never was much good at keeping secrets."
        "You aren't... very good at... lying, either."
        "And you shouldn't be talking," she admonished, as she started towards me. "I only wanted you to consider his reasons for what he did. He does seem to care for you, quite a lot. And... from what I understand... he's your only family now."
        I bit my lip and turned away, wishing none of this had ever happened; we'd never boarded that plane; my father had never even received that offer to make a movie out of his book. The tears flowed like water, streaming over my cheeks. I felt the bed give when she sat down. Then she touched my arm. "Why?" I murmured.
        "What, sweetheart?" she asked.
        "Why?" I repeated, as I turned to face her. "Why did they have to die?"
        "Oh sweetie," she said, as she reached over and touched my cheek, wiping the tears away with her thumb.
        I grabbed her hand, holding onto it for dear life, as sobs racked my body. "Please... hold me?" I pleaded.
        "Oh, of course," she replied, and gently eased her arms around me, slowly raising me up, supporting my head with her hand on the back of my neck.
        It hurt like holy hell, but I managed to get my left arm around her neck and I held onto her, for all I was worth.
        "Just let it all out," she whispered softly.
        I did indeed release all the pent up emotions. And it was such sweet relief to let them go!!
        When the residual spasms from all my crying claimed control of my body, I laid my head down on her shoulder. I was completely exhausted. But, I felt better, in a sense. I felt calm and peaceful inside. I could almost let myself imagine that she was my mother and that none of this had happened. That we were back in our little house in Tennessee and my mother was holding me while I cried over some petty little thing that had happened to me at school. I closed my eyes and tried to will myself back in time.
        That's when I heard a noise over by the door. And I felt Uncle Brandon's presence in the room. I raised up in time to see the door slowly closing behind him. A small part of me wanted to call him back and apologize, but I was just too exhausted to go through another scene. Instead, I laid my head back down on her shoulder, enjoying the comfort of her arms around me. It was the last thing I remembered until the next morning.

        "How is she?" a voice whispered.
        "Fine, I believe," Miss Bennington answered.
        "I... I just wanted to… check on her," the voice continued, a bit louder now. I now recognized it as Uncle Brandon's. "I'll come by later, perhaps. I... I suppose it was wrong of me to lie, but..."
        "Give her time," said Miss Bennington softly. "All of this is quite overwhelming for her right now. I... I know a little about what she's going through and... Just give her time."
        I wondered if she had also lost a member of her family in the car accident and was anxious to ask. Yet, I was not anxious to face Uncle Brandon at the moment. I still harbored ill feelings towards him. He could have told me the truth. I knew I should be mad at Dr. Rosemund and Miss Bennington, but I wasn't. Neither one had actually lied to me. They had merely sidestepped my questions. And after all, I'd overheard Uncle Brandon saying it was his decision to make. Perhaps they'd agreed to go along with him, but he'd made the decision of what not to tell me.
        I heard the door slowly close and Miss Bennington's rubber soled shoes squeak on the floor, as she walked towards the window. "He truly cares for you, Faith," she said, aloud. "He's probably doing the best he knows how."
        I opened my eyes and looked in her direction, wondering how she knew I was awake. I found her standing by the window with her arms crossed, staring at me.
        "How'd you know...?”
        "I've watched over you for almost two weeks now," she answered. "I could tell by the change in your breathing."
        I turned away and stared at the door. "He... lied," I said, simply, sounding much worse than “Froggy” today.
        She sighed heavily. "Sometimes people lie for a good reason. Or at least… what they think is a good reason."
        "L-like y-you...." I paused and cleared my throat. I sounded awful, like a speaker with a loose connection. "I... I heard you... ar-arguing w-with him, out there."
        "You need to rest your throat," she admonished, as she turned back towards the window.
        I watched her for several moments, as she stared out the window. I had assumed she'd make excuses for her own lie about saying she had thought it was best not to tell me the truth, but she made no effort to do so, as if there was no valid excuse. I respected her for her silence. It was much easier to deal with than a lot of excuses.
Besides, I was having a hard enough time just dealing with myself. Why hadn't I forced the issue? I could've demanded to know. Why didn't I? Could it be that somewhere deep inside I knew and didn't press the issue because… I didn't really wanna hear it said aloud? To hear it from someone else would make it real, wouldn't it? And I didn't want it to be real! Didn't want it to be true. It's not true… it can't be! I don't wanna even think about it anymore!
        "I… I'm hun-gry," I announced.
        She quickly turned around and looked over at me. Her eyes darted back and forth, as if she were searching mine for the answer to some question she had yet to pose.
        The corners of my lips quivered. I wanted to say all was forgiven, but couldn't bring myself to broach the subject again. She must have understood, for she smiled and started for the door, saying, "Well, I'll just see if I can't do something about that."

"The fortuneteller stared into her eyes. 'You will soon take a journey,” Miss Bennington read aloud, using an exaggerated German accent for the fortuneteller. “'And you will find love, along the way. But… you will also find danger, as well.' Marianne pulled her hand away quickly. She did not like the ominous tone of the woman's voice. And she did not care for all this hocus-pocus nonsense. 'Wait,' the fortuneteller called, as she started for the door. 'There is more I must tell you.' 'I think I've heard enough,' Marianne replied, as she opened the door. 'You should beware of the handsome one, who will lead you astray' called the fortuneteller. Marianne bolted out the door, leaving it ajar. She did not care to hear anymore of..." Miss Bennington glanced up and paused, as the door to the room slowly opened.
        We both waited in silence for someone to appear, but the door slowly closed again. She looked over at me. I sighed heavily. I had a feeling it was Uncle Brandon.
        "Tell him... I'll see him," I said.
        Miss Bennington got up abruptly and headed off to find him.
        A few minutes later, the door opened again and he slowly walked into the room, his shoulders slumped over and his face a sad visage. He turned and gently closed the door behind him, as he ran his fingers through his thinning hair, just like my father used to do.
        "I'm... sorry," I finally managed to say, pushing the lump out of my throat.
        "So am I, Faith. Oh, so am I," he said, as he rushed over to the side of the bed and took my small hand in his larger one. "I only meant to... to do what's best for you. That's all I ever want to do… is what's best for you." He brought my hand up to meet his lips and placed a kiss on the back of it.
        Softly, he continued, "I'll take care of you, Princess... always. All you need to do is ask and... if it's within my power, I'll move heaven and earth if need be to get it for you." He sounded so much like my father that I couldn't resist reaching up and touching his cheek. He caught my hand in his, as if desperate for my touch to linger. He pressed my hand to his cheek then kissed the palm. "I'm so sorry, Princess," he said, as he stared down at me, his eyes clouding over.
        How could I not feel for this man, who did indeed seem to care for me deeply, even though he didn't know me? Perhaps if my father had been in a similar circumstance he might have done the same thing. Perhaps I had been too quick to judge. Too quick to lash out at someone on whom I could vent my frustration and anger over a situation that I had no control of. It wasn't his fault the duty of wielding the pin that burst the bubble of my illusion fell to him. He was merely the closest one within range, when the fallout came raining down. Of course, that didn't negate his lie. But, as Miss Bennington had pointed out, he was doing the best he could. I could not say for sure what I would have done in similar circumstances.
        "So, am I," I finally replied, as tears welled up in my eyes.
        "Oh Princess, I'll take care of you, I promise," he said, as he reached up and wiped a tear from my cheek. Then he slowly leaned over and placed a lingering kiss where the tear had been moments before. "It will be alright... you'll see. I'd give you the world if I could."
        I grabbed hold of him, as the tears began to flow. The one thing I wanted most in all the world was something his money couldn't buy. For I knew money could not persuade the angels to give back the two souls who were now in their midst.
        He kissed me on the cheek again and nuzzled against my neck. I felt the scratchiness of the soft stubble on his face and was surrounded by his male scent and expensive cologne, which permeated his clothes. I could not say why, but it was a most disturbing combination that made me want to pull away from him. And I did just that.
        He then placed a kiss on the bridge of my nose. "I'm so glad you forgive me," he said. "I was so afraid you would hate me for the rest of my life."
        "I don't hate you," I said, although I still distrusted him for some reason. And I desperately wanted him to back off. Somewhere deep inside I felt a niggling sense fear, as if the arms on either side of me were some sort of trap.
        He must have sensed my discomfort, because he backed away. "I… I guess I should let you rest now," he said, as he caressed the side of my cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow."
        I nodded ever so slightly and offered a smile, but my heart wasn't in it.
        "Everything will be fine, I promise," he said, as he patted my arm. "I'll make sure of it." And with that, he turned and left.
        Afterwards, I lay there and cried in silence. I cried for all the happy times my parents and I had shared. Times there would be no more of. This reminded me of a line from a very short song my mother had loved: “Preserve your memories… they're all that's left you.”
        This turned the tear faucet on high again. And when Miss Bennington returned, there was no hiding it. I assumed she might admonish me for getting myself all worked up, but instead she merely walked over and put her book down on the stand by the bed.
        "I... I realize this is easier said than done, but... you will get through this," she said, softly, as she gazed down at me. "That is… if I have anything to do with it, you will." She then reached over and touched my cheek. "I won't lie to you and tell you I know how you feel, because I can't fathom a hurt so grave. I can only offer to comfort you."
        "Please," I whispered.
        With that she sat down on the side of the bed, then gently reached around me, as she had the night before. This time there was no need to pull me to her; for, the bed had already been raised. She rested her head beside mine, as Uncle Brandon had, but this was different and so much better. I didn't feel the least bit fearful. The tears continued to flow; however, as she started humming a tune, which my mother had often sang to comfort me. I knew it was silly, but I felt as if my mother and father were close by, watching and perhaps even participating by using this stranger's body. I pulled her to me, as if she were indeed my mother and father all rolled into one. I sensed in that moment, that my parents would never be very far away.
        We were soon aroused by a knock at the door and she gently removed her arms from around me. "I believe that's dinner," she said, as she looked down at me. "Feel up to it?"
        I made a face and rolled my eyes skyward.
        She giggled. "You mean you don't want your first real meal?"
        My eyebrows shot up. I now remembered the doctor saying I could have real food for dinner. "Yes, I... want it," I replied, my voice still very deep and raspy.
        "Come in," she called, putting her finger to my lips, as she raised up. "Rest that throat, hmm? Remember our deal?"
        I made a fist once then eyed the short, elderly African American woman, who placed the tray on the serving table. "I didn't know you was here, Miss Sara," the woman said, as she flashed a broad smile. "If I'd known that I'd already been in to sees you."
        "How've you been Delilah?" Miss Bennington asked, as the woman wheeled the table over to the bed.
        "Oh, can't complain," she replied, as she flashed me a broad grin. "How's 'bout you?"
        "Pretty good."
        Delilah then removed the top from the tray. "First meal, huh?" she asked, watching me look things over. The meal consisted of red jello, mashed potatoes and something hidden by another aluminum cover. "Hospital food can be pret-ty good, when you ain't e't in a while," Delilah added.
        Miss Bennington snickered and Delilah chuckled, as her eyes surveyed all my bandages. "Well, this he'ya hospital's food may not be the bes' in town, but… you's sho'got 'bout the bes' nurse I knows of," Delilah continued. "Yes'um, you's in good hands wit' Miss Sara here."
        I merely grinned and looked over at Miss Bennington, wanting to hear more.
        "Um-hmm... this he'ya woman got Mrs. Simmons back on her feet after she done gone and broke her hip, last year. Mrs. Simmons, she's old... must be over eighty and orn-ne-ry as the day is long. Mean old woman," she explained, as she removed the aluminum cover, revealing a bowl of chicken soup. "That old woman, she wouldn't let nobodys touch her, nor do nothing for her, either. But her son, he hired Miss Sara he'ya and... in two weeks she had that ol' lady scootin' 'round 'cher on that there walker. Um-hmm, you got yo'self a fine nurse. You just do what she says now and... you'll get better. I guarantees that. Um-hmm."
        I looked over at Miss Bennington and found her blushing.
        "Well, you's enjoys yo meal and I'll be back to get da tray da'rectly," Delilah added, as she headed for the door. "Good to sees you again, Miss Sara."
        "Good to see you, Delilah."
        With Miss Bennington's help, I nearly cleared the tray. It felt good to have solid food again. And even though it hurt to swallow, I ate everything except the biscuit, which could have broken a window it was so hard.
        After she cleared away the table and the tray, she sat down in her chair again and picked up where she left off on the book. I lay there listening to her comforting voice, my eyes growing heavier and heavier with each moment that passed. I fought to hold off the inevitable, until the need for sleep finally overtook me.

        Bright and early the next morning, Miss Bennington woke me for breakfast. This time, she raised me up even straighter in the bed and I suffered no ill effects. I fed myself this time, while listening to her and Delilah converse for a few moments about a patient she had once cared for.
        Uncle Brandon walked in, just as she removed the table and for the first time, I took a good look at him. He reminded me of my father and yet, he seemed much more sure of himself. His appearance was proof of that. His three-piece navy blue suit fit him perfectly, as if tailored for his body. The collar of his white shirt was stiff and smooth, as if he had just taken it out of the bag. His navy, gray and white striped tie was knotted just so and held in place by a gold tie clip with a dark blue "N" on it, for Neilson. His hair was combed back from his face, his dark sideburns neatly trimmed and his face smoothly shaved. He reeked of that expensive smelling cologne that they sold in the finer stores. Cologne my father could never have afforded.
        The overall effect said that he was rich and important. And I assumed few who met him would have disputed that claim. He had an air of distinction about him, which did the talking for him. I could see why my father didn't want to run the company. Like me, he would have gone stark raving mad in all those fancy duds. He was a sweatshirt and jeans man, when he was around the house and most other times, as well. Like me, he preferred comfort to style.
        "Good morning," Uncle Brandon said, in a very cheerful voice. "Ah… so we're eating this morning, are we? Feeling better I assume?" he queried, as he neared the right side of the bed. He didn't wait for a reply before continuing. "Who knows you might be out of here before that week is up, hmm?" I smiled and he reached over and took my hand in his. "You've got your mother's eyes for certain. But, you've definitely inherited your father's tenacity." He patted my hand and winked. "Oh yes, I wanted to discuss something with you. Your future."
        Future? I thought. What did he mean?
        "After you leave the hospital, you'll come to live at Shady Grove, of course. I'm having a bed like this once placed in your room, so you can be comfortable. But, at your rate of recovery, I'm sure you won't need it long, if at all. And I've had a chair... a lift chair installed for the staircase."
        A lift chair? I hadn't given any thought to the fact that I'd be in a wheelchair for a while. Matter of fact, I hadn't given much thought to anything besides my parents and my immediate circumstances.
        "And we'll get you anything else you might need for a full and speedy recovery," he added.
        I flashed a quick smile, so as not to hurt his feelings, since he seemed so happy about all the plans he'd made for me. Yet, I felt like crying. Up until then, I had mainly been concerned about my parents. I had wanted to get better in order to see them. But that illusion was now gone. What if walking again was another illusion they were humoring me with? Why should I need an expensive lift chair if I'd be walking in a few months? Were they lying to me again? Dangling a carrot in front of my face? To what end?
        I stared straight ahead as I envisioned myself in a wheelchair, finally receiving the news that I'd never walk again. For the first time, I felt the full weight of my situation. Reality came crashing in around me like a tidal wave. My emotions seemed to be tossed to and fro. I tried to hold back the tears, but it was no use. Emotionally, I was like an old rotten hosepipe; it didn't take much stress for me to spring a leak.
        "Oh, Princess… what did I say?" he asked, concern and guilt mingled in his tone. "I didn't mean to upset you. I'm sorry, Princess, I'm so... so sorry." He brought my hand up to his face and placed a kiss on my fingers.
        "It's... it's not your fault," I finally managed to say.
        "No, then... what...?"
        "Mr. Neilson," Miss Bennington spoke up, in a soft calm voice, from her place by the window. "After a shock like... like the one Faith's had… many times a patient is highly emotional. Their emotions are like a raw nerve. Even the slightest thing... or perhaps even nothing at all, will cause an emotional response. Sometimes it's anger... sometimes it's tears."
        "I'm… truly sorry, Princess. I'd rather walk through fire, than hurt you again, in anyway." The tears welling up in his eyes convinced me that he was sincere. He kissed my hand again and then placed it against his cheek.
There was a long silence, as a tear trickled down his cheek and onto my hand. “Perhaps we should leave this for another day," he said, as he placed my hand back on the bed. "I'll... let you get some rest now." He then walked over towards the door; his shoulders slumped as if he were in pain himself. "I'll be back this afternoon," he added, as he opened the door. He glanced back at me then closed the door behind him.
        I felt guilty for crying and making him feel bad, but there was nothing I could do about it. The tears continued to flow even after he left. One after another they traced a path down my cheeks.
        Miss Bennington finally came over and sat down in her chair beside the bed. "Did you ever notice that crying and laughing are similar emotions?"
        I made a fist twice.
        "Think about it," she continued, as she retrieved the book, "When you laugh real hard, you usually get tears in your eyes, don'chu?" I made a fist once. "They both make your stomach hurt, too, don't they? They're very similar in the way your body reacts and yet they're at opposing ends of the emotional spectrum. But each has its own cleansing affect on the body and the mind. Strange, isn't it?"
        "Um… yes," I replied, as my analytical mind latched onto the stimulus she was providing. "Fear and... anger are… alike, too," I offered, after thinking about it for a moment.
        “Fear and anger?” she questioned, one eyebrow arched skyward.
“Fight or… flight,” I answered simply.
“Uh, yeah… I suppose so," she agreed, with a sly smile, looking quite satisfied, like someone who'd succeeded in what they'd set out to do.
        I quickly realized the tear faucet had somehow been turned off. I wiped at the remaining wetness on my face. "Thank you," I said, letting her know I understood what she'd done and that I appreciated it.
        "Remember this moment," she said, as she winked at me, then opened the book. "I think it might come in handy. Especially for the next few weeks."

Part 4

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