What if Bella lived in 1918? Would the story of Bella and Edward change or remain the same? "It was naïve of me to have thought that, even with their bodies racked with a horrible disease that was killing millions across the world, they would still somehow make it. Even with all of the pessimistic doubts I'd had before, I wasn't prepared for it when it really happened."
1. New Arrival
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Chapter 1: New Arrival
The heat of the June sun beat down unrelentingly on me as I walked down the streets of Chicago. The city bustledaround me: carriages creaking; children playing; mothers scolding their children; near the corner of the street a few men looked ready to brawl. Life went on no matter what raged on around it. Not even a world war. Not even an epidemic of flu that killed just as many as a war, if not more. Yes, even the sun would continue to shine down despite the bleak, grey events that shrouded its subjects.
It wasn't that I didn't enjoy sunshine, but it was not so enjoyable when you were wearing a stiff, itchy nurses' uniform. I smiled a little to myself. It was still hard to think of myself as a nurse. Anyone who knew me- friends from school, certainly my family- could tell you that I had no stomach for anything to do with blood. Sometimes the mere thought of it made me lightheaded. Only a very strange twist of fate could ever make me step into a hospital willingly. But, that strange twist of fate had happened. Perhaps it was not so much strange as it was necessary. My grandfather had become sick a month ago, sick with the only sickness that seemed to be around these days: the Spanish Influenza.
The first time we visited him in the hospital, my father had to more or less drag me there. Of course I didn't want to see him there, weak and frail. Dying. That Granddad who had lived with us since my birth. His gray curly hair matted with sweat; his warm blue eyes crazy with fever. Why would I want that to be my last memory of him?
When we finally arrived there he looked exactly as I had imagined, but I found no fear in myself anymore. Only pain and guilt that my beloved grandfather had laid like this in his hospital bed and because of my selfishness and fear, he had been all alone. Though there were hundreds of other patients in the hospital with him, all dying from a common disease, I knew that he must have felt utterly alone.
I rejected any fear at that moment and resolved to return- as many times as I could. It had been bad for awhile, but the doctors and nurses saw an improvement in his health as I continued to visit him. Aside from the relief and joy I felt, this also increased my guilt- to think how much more quickly he could have recovered if I had not been so shamefully afraid!
The last rays of the sun had slipped behind clouds as I walked through the wooden doors of the Provident Hospital of Cook County. There I saw the real reason for my becoming a nurse. I would undoubtedly never have had an official position in the hospital were it not for Dr. Carlisle Cullen. Even now after having known him for weeks, I found it difficult to look him straight in the eye for too long. He was probably the most handsome person I had ever seen in my life. The dashing actors I had seen in plays and movie pictures seemed a weak comparison to him.
But it was more than that. Dr. Cullen was extremely compassionate- it was no wonder why he had chosen this particular line of work. He saved lives physically and emotionally. He was the first to note the correlation of my grandfather's improved health with my visits to him. That was when he encouraged me to visit him as often as I could.
Soon others on the staff were noticing. Most especially the head nurse, Mrs. Thornton. My mouth turned down a little as I thought of Nurse Thornton. I could not totally fault her for disliking me as she did for she had valid enough reasons. But neither did it warm me to her.
I remembered a conversation I had overheard as I sat with my grandfather one day. Dr. Cullen had been checking some of the patients near us when Nurse Thornton walked up beside him.
"Her color is much better," she observed in her thick Scottish brogue.
"Yes. Mrs. Stevens is much less restless as well. Her fever broke a few hours ago. I don't want to hope too much, but I dare say she's onto recovery."
"Your work ever since you arrived here has been astounding, Dr. Cullen. You came so shortly after the first outbreak. It must have been Providence." Nurse Thornton's face glowed with praise. She admired anyone with skill and intelligence, even when they outstretched her own.
Dr. Cullen's striking ocher eyes rose to meet mine across the space between us with a speculative look. I turned my head down at my sleeping grandfather, my cheeks flushing. I hadn't meant to eavesdrop or to be staring. I resolved to do neither from then on.
But suddenly Dr. Cullen and Nurse Thornton were talking about me and how could I not listen?
"Nurse Thornton, you flatter me too much. I am actually quite convinced that it had nothing to do with my skills as a physician and everything to do with the kindness of Miss Isabella Swan."
I did not turn my head back to look at her reaction, but I could imagine the puzzled frown that must have drawn down her features. Nurse Thornton valued only competence and ability, which was why she would find this conclusion to be incomprehensible. Especially since it was about me.
"Oh yes, that girl," her disapproving tone confirmed the puzzlement I had imagined. "I've been meaning to speak with you about her, Dr. Cullen. It is entirely inappropriate for a girl so young to be exposed to a hospital so much. She comes nearly every day and spends several hours here! Surely it can't be right."
Dr. Cullen's tone sounded surprised. "That is precisely what I wanted to talk with you about. Have you not noticed the increase in health in this particular area? And only since the girl started coming to visit her grandfather? I have been doing nothing different in their care and hence, can only attribute it to her influence."
Nurse Thornton's voice sounded choked with doubt. "What on earth could she be doing? She has no medical training, nor does her family. I've hardly heard her speak. She seems a quiet, shy girl."
"Perhaps, that is what makes the difference." Dr. Cullen mused. "I've often seen her help some of the other patients around her grandfather. When they need a glass of water or yell in pain- she goes to help them and they seem to respond well to her warmth and kindness. Though she may have no medical skills, she obviously makes up for that in other skills, which seem to be just as effective, if not more so, than real medicine."
I was sure Nurse Thornton did not believe this anymore than I did. It was true that when a patient started to scream from a nightmare or thirst, and there was no nurse around to care for them, there seemed nothing else I could do but try to help them. But I could never consider my stumbling, trembling words to them as a skill. It was just confusion and fright. And if they started talking to me, telling me of their life stories, their loved ones, the things that mattered most to them, how could I interrupt?
"Even so, it's not appropriate for her to be here so long." Nurse Thornton clucked her tongue and sighed in aggravation. "For being such a shy thing, she's also rather stubborn! I once suggested the impropriety of her being here, but the girl paid me no mind! I dare say she came more often after that."
I smiled a little as I continued to stare at my grandfather's sleeping face. I remembered how my lip had jutted out and jaw locked when Nurse Thornton tried to persuade me to stay out of the hospital. It seemed ridiculous to me that there should be a limit to the time I spent with an ill member of my family. And I hardly ever reacted well to being restricted.
"I was just about to suggest to you, Nurse Thornton, that if the girl needs a more appropriate reason, we can offer her one. I think the patients would benefit greatly from having her here as one of our nurses."
There was a short pause as Nurse Thornton considered that. "Do you know how old the girl is?"
"I believe I heard her talking with her grandfather about her sixteenth birthday coming in a few months."
"Well, I've seen younger nurses, of course, but they always showed some kind of medical competence." Her tone turned accusing. "This girl seems to have a weak constitution. I was just changing the bandages on Mr. Phelps the other day and she ran straight out of the room. I walked into the hallway ten minutes later and she was still sitting in a chair, looking about to faint. I don't see what we'll do with her."
Dr. Cullen chuckled a little. "She seems to do well enough here in the recovery ward. We'll try to keep her out of the bad areas. Truly, can't you see the improvement of the patients around her? She nurses in her own way."
When Dr. Cullen offered me an official job at the hospital, I accepted immediately. I spent most of my time here anyway and would have continued to do so regardless. I knew Father wouldn't mind, and hopefully it would help the family finances. And it took away Nurse Thornton's excuse to vocally reprove my presence whenever she was around me. Now she just sighed her disapproval.
The hospital seemed busy as ever as I stepped into the front hall. If I had thought outside was hot with the sun beating down, it was nothing compared to inside. It was sweltering with heat; I felt beads of perspiration form almost immediately on my forehead. Everyone else appeared to be affected in a similar way.
The one exception was Dr. Cullen, standing in the hallway, staring down at the clipboard in his hand, always exactly on time to start his shift. He looked impeccable and unruffled as ever, even in the madhouse of a hospital. I never saw him break a sweat or even with a hair out of place at any time. The only time I ever noticed the strain of his job affect him was when the bruise-like shadows under his eyes deepened against his snow white skin, showing how tired he was. This made sense since Dr. Cullen always worked the longest hours, seeming very reluctant when the staff insisted he go home and get some sleep.
"Good evening, Dr. Cullen."
"Good evening, Miss Swan. How are you today?"
"I'm well, thank you. How is my grandfather?"
"Continuing on his speedy recovery, thanks to your influence." He smiled at me and my feet refused to move for a second. It seemed I would never get used to his unnatural good looks. "I doubt we'll keep him here for much longer. He is almost completely out of danger. Very lucky indeed."
I sighed in relief. He had seemed so much better in so quick a time, it made me wonder why they were still keeping him there. But then they probably weren't used to recoveries at all, I thought grimly.
"May I go see him now? Or is there anything you'd like for me to do first?"
"Actually what I need your help with happens to be just next to your grandfather, so there's no problem in you visiting with them both. We just admitted some new patients today. A family, actually- Edward and Elizabeth Masen and their son."
The name was familiar to me. I had probably seen it before in the papers that Grandfather always loved to read. Not that our social circles would ever have crossed paths. The Masens were rather up in society while I was much lower. They came from an old family, old money- that was all I knew. It wasn't logical, of course, but it seemed strange to me that this family too could be touched by the disease raging through the country. In the end, not even wealth could protect you from death.
I shuddered a little at my thoughts. What kind of a nurse was I if I was already thinking of their impending demise?
"Anyway, the mother is not very bad. I think she may have gotten over the worst of it. She's next to your grandfather and I was wondering if you could just attend to her. She doesn't like hospitals, I think."
"What about the father and son? Where are they?" I asked.
His face turned grim. "That may be why she is stressed as well. They're with some of the more serious patients. The father especially doesn't look well at all. The son could be turning that way soon." He shook his head, his eyes pained.
"Oh." I said lamely. "Of course, I'll make sure to see to her as well. Thank you for telling me." I started to walk down the hall.
Again, I could not understand the confidence that Dr. Cullen seemed to place in me. Truly, I was not a gregarious person by nature. I especially felt awkward at school with my peers. It was true that I felt a little more relaxed with the older patients here- my father had always called me an old soul. Maybe it was the utter pity I felt for each person that came through the hospital that forced me to overcome my shyness and try to comfort them a little.
I didn't feel like I really did that much. Mostly I just sat and listened. Nurse Thornton had given me charge over the very most basics of nursing, so there wasn't much that I could really do medically for them. Still, I found a little gratification that others thought I was doing something well.
I walked into the recovery ward and was pleased to see my grandfather sitting up in bed. He had a cup of water in his hand and a newspaper in the other. He looked a little worn, but alert. As he saw me walk in, his gray moustache curled upward in a smile and his eyes crinkled tenderly.
"How are you, my dear? I shall never grow accustomed to seeing you in this nurse's uniform. It simply does not look right. I know you and I know what nurses do, and the two are very incongruous." His smile deepened a little and I knew that he was teasing.
"Well apparently what this nurse can do helped you to recover, so be grateful." I shook a finger at him before I leaned down to kiss his wrinkled cheek. "Anything interesting in the news today?"
"Nothing but the usual, really." He sighed and his eyes furrowed as he glanced at the newspaper. "The war seems endless as always."
"But it seems there is something new going on in the hospital. I hear you have a new neighbor." I glanced to my side to view her for myself.
Elizabeth Masen sat upright in her cot. She was not looking at us; it seemed she did not hear our conversation though I knew she would have been able to. Her eyes stared unseeingly straight ahead, her fingers nervously pulling at a necklace around her throat. If I had never heard of the Masens before I still would have been able to tell that they were high class. Even with that bewildered look on her face and in the midst of a sweltering hospital, she looked elegant and refined. She was quite beautiful as well; her hair an uncommon shade of bronze and her eyes a vivid green.
Dr. Cullen said that she didn't like to be in hospitals. Well, I could certainly empathize with that, despite my sudden career choice.
"That woman does seem quite out of sorts being here." Grandfather whispered at my side. "I'm not entirely sure why she is here, she seems healthy enough. But she threw quite a fit when they took her here. I imagine it's because she's been separated from her husband and son."
Well of course she would feel that way. How could anyone stand being away from their family if they thought they were on the point of death?
"Perhaps you can set her at ease a little." Grandfather jerked his chin forward slightly, indicating in the direction of the woman. I felt a little reluctant as I always did- it was never easy for me to strike up a conversation with a stranger. But I could see that the woman was genuinely frightened and that bolstered my resolve. I walked over to her bedside.
"Hello," I began quietly. "I'm Miss Isabella Swan."
I waited for her to introduce herself, though I already knew her. Her face did not move an inch in my direction.
"And you are Mrs. Elizabeth Masen, I hear?"
Again I waited and again there was nothing in response.
"Well... I am your nurse now, and... I will be here if ever you need my help." I offered awkwardly, beginning to turn back to my grandfather. See? What on earth was Dr. Cullen going on about?
Suddenly a hand grabbed mine around my wrist. I looked back to see Mrs. Masen staring at me finally, her mouth slightly open and breathing in short gasps. Her hand gripping my wrist felt slightly warmer than it should be.
"Please," her very feminine voice was slightly roughened with emotion. "Please help me. I need to see them. I need to take care of them. They won't" -a sob broke out then. I could tell she was nearing hysterics.
Instinctively I placed a hand on the one that gripped mine. "Your husband and your son?" I asked softly.
She nodded. "They said I couldn't be with them. I don't know why. How can they get better if I'm not there to take care of them?" Her voice broke frequently as she spoke.
I knew why they couldn't be together. Because her husband and son were in a much worse condition than she was in herself. But I couldn't tell her that. What could I tell her?
"I know for a fact that your husband and son are being well cared for. Dr. Cullen is probably the best doctor in the world and he treats each patient as if he had to care for them alone. He will do everything in his power to help your family."
She seemed slightly more placated, but I did not think it would last for long.
I was right. "I need to be there!" she pleaded, her lovely green eyes boring into mine. "I need to be with them!"
I bit my lip softly. I knew they would never allow that. Not while she was so much healthier than they were. But, I wondered how her health would stand up if she continued to stay away from them, the worry eating away at her. Clearly that did not seem right either.
"That isn't possible right now, but I'm sure if you concentrate on recovering yourself, you'll be able to see them."
She seemed to understand what I was saying. While their conditions were so different, they would have to be separated. She nodded her head, still shaking slightly.
She looked at me again; her eyes seemed to burn into mine. "Then you! Please- you must go see them for me. I can't stand not knowing how they-" a sob bubbled up once again and she couldn't finish.
I didn't know what to say. I had never been in that section of the hospital before. It was basically a red zone, for me in particular. That was where all of the worst patients went and the worst patients often had a lot of blood oozing from them. The thought alone made me shiver a little. Not to mention the fact that I didn't want to see all of those people, so close to death. I didn't know the exact number of the survival rate for those interred into that section but it couldn't be very high. Nurse Thornton would surely balk at my attempt when she found me fainted away on the floor. Perhaps she would insist that I be removed from the hospital staff. I didn't think anyone, including Dr. Cullen, had ever intended for me to go into that part of the hospital.
But as I looked into Elizabeth Masen's beautiful face, so wild with worry and pain for her family, the words for refusal could not come. I knew what it felt like to be refused from seeing a loved one when they were deathly ill. Knew how it felt to be sick with guilt at not being at their side to help them. I couldn't let someone else feel that way. Not when I could ease it.
"I will." I promised solemnly.
"Now. Go now. Please."
I nodded, turning away.
"Thank you." She whispered, easing back onto the pillows- for the first time seeming more relaxed.
I glanced at Grandfather's bed for one second. He appeared to be reading his newspaper studiously, but as I continued to stare, his left eye winked, never leaving the page. I felt relief that at least someone believed in me. I certainly didn't.