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."
2. The Boy
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Chapter 2: The Boy
It comforted me that I knew I couldn't stay long. Father was very lenient with me about rules; I had never given him any reason to be suspicious. Still, I knew he would not want me to get back too late, even with the other group of girls I walked home with. I was trying to calculate how quick I could be and still make an adequate assessment of their condition so that I could report back to Mrs. Masen truthfully. Then again, if they were hours from death, would I really be able to tell her that?
Again with the pessimism. Clearly, nursing was not my venue if it made me like this.
I wasn't exactly sure where the ward was anyway since I had only been to the recovery room with few exceptions.
Perhaps this was all a mistake. Perhaps I should turn back.
Fate or luck or whatever it was intervened for me at that moment.
"Emma, do you know where Dr. Cullen is? We really need him to help with Mr. Prior." I heard the voice from the room I had just passed.
"Yes, he's in the emergency ward- the room next to us. I'll go get him. I doubt he'll want to leave Mr. Masen, though." The nurse said this last part slightly under her breath as she walked out the door. I continued to look straight ahead, as if I was walking somewhere else with a purpose. I slowed my stride though.
I heard a short muffled exchange from the room that the nurse walked into, and then she came out with Dr Cullen. He did look slightly aggravated at having to leave his patient. Neither seemed to notice me as they headed to the other room.
Cautiously, I walked through the doorway of the emergency ward. A quick peek around ensured that I was alone. I looked at the chart that hung next to the door. On it was the name of each patient and which bed they were in. Edward Masen Senior was two beds from my left and his son, also named Edward apparently, was just beside him one further.
I saw the father first. At first glance, he looked just as you would expect a man of his social position should look. Black, ink colored hair, a thick mustache; you could tell they would have been meticulously kept normally. As such, his hair was untidy, bits of it pressed to his wide forehead from sweat. He hadn't shaved in a few weeks it looked like. It would have made another man look scraggly, wild, but Mr. Masen somehow retained a gentlemanly countenance on his face.
At first I couldn't understand why everyone kept saying that Mr. Masen was so worse off. He had no blood- thankfully- gushing from anywhere, and at first glance I wouldn't have assumed that there was anything the matter except the need to visit a barbershop. But on closer examination you saw it immediately. His skin was pallid and sickly- hardly any color in it at all. His breath came very shallowly and with a rattle in it. Though there appeared to be nothing specifically wrong with him, everything about him screamed 'AT DEATH'S DOOR' as well. I was afraid to touch him, afraid he would break with the slightest pressure.
I turned my face away. How could I tell Mrs. Masen about that?
My gaze shifted to the bed next to him and I knew immediately that this was his son. Not because they looked alike, but because the boy looked so much like Mrs. Masen. They had the same exact color hair, that rare copper. I couldn't tell if he had green eyes like her because they were closed. There was also something similar in their features, in their straightness. Somehow what complimented her feminine face equally complimented his masculine one.
But the most important similarity was that they were both beautiful. And there was no doubt, as I gazed at this boy, that he was beautiful.
I had never been interested in boys much. In my defense, I was just fifteen (though soon to be sixteen in a few months). Even then, I knew I was a late bloomer. This was just the type of boy that my friends at school would sigh and swoon over. I had never in my life found a boy interesting enough to swoon over. I wasn't even sure I ever wanted to be married; going to college and having a career seemed much more exciting. From what my father told me, this was what my mother had always envisioned for me, and I rather liked it.
This boy seemed different.
I supposed I should stop thinking of him as a boy. He looked older than me by at least a year, probably two. Yet in his stillness, with his eyes closed and untroubled, he seemed younger than he must have been. Boyish. Innocent. Vulnerable. I could not tell which made him more beautiful- his physical features or the goodness in his expression. But for a moment, as I stared down at him, his beauty stopped my heart.
A strange feeling coursed through me then. Not strange because it was unfamiliar, but because it seemed out of place.
I felt angry.
Then it seemed obvious why I should feel anger. It was only natural to be angry at anything that put this boy into such a life-threatening situation.
Though his face seemed fairly peaceful, it was marked by the stress of the illness. His skin was flushed and dewed with perspiration from the fever. His body shook slightly as if he was cold though I imagined how strongly the fever was burning his body.
I understood now why everyone said that the father looked so much worse off. Though his son displayed all of the symptoms of the disease, he still looked alive. His father looked well on his way to becoming a corpse- past all of the symptoms.
I had no medical training and I did not know how to save them. But what little I could do, I would. I searched around for another blanket, finding one in a nearby cabinet. I unfolded it over the boy, trying to cover everything from his shoulders down. My hand found the bowl of cold water on his bed stand and wrung out the rag in it.
I stopped suddenly before placing it on his forehead, hesitating. It was ridiculous to feel this way but, as I felt my cheeks flush with color, I realized that I was embarrassed, shy. It felt... too intimate.
But maybe it was simply guilt because I was all alone in an area of the hospital that I wasn't supposed to be in. That must be it.
I exhaled sharply, a little frustrated with myself. This was nothing more than trying, however ineptly, to ease someone's pain. It was not my fault that my patient just happened to look like an angel.
I placed the cold wet towel on his forehead gingerly, careful not to touch him.
He groaned a little in response.
Immediately, without any thought of what I was doing at all, my hand moved to his cheek.
Just as immediately, my hand shot back to myself, as if burned. In the instant that I had touched him, his skin had felt burning hot, but that was not why my hand had recoiled. As my hand touched the smooth skin of his cheek, a burst of electricity seemed to light each nerve ending in my hand. Even now as I held my hand, it tingled in my fingertips.
He groaned again, and again, as if my hand had a mind of its own, I found my hand lightly cupping his cheek once more. Like before, my hand tingled, but it was not so shocking. My brow furrowed at my insane hand. Well, perhaps this was simply long-repressed medical training kicking in. When he groaned in pain like that, the real Nurse Swan came out and took over, involuntarily, needing to check his temperature with her hand. This comforted me slightly. This was purely a medical procedure. It was a completely unintended and yet unavoidable benefit that I got to touch the very soft skin of his cheek.
"I love you," he whispered.
I froze. It literally felt as though I had become a statue. The sheer astonishment ran cold through my veins throughout my entire body, locking every muscle in place.
"I love you, mother," he murmured, pressing his face slightly more into my hand.
I was still unable to move for one second as the realization of what had happened made sense to me. My breath came out in short, shaky bursts. It sounded slightly hysterical.
I mostly felt an acute sense of relief. There was just a tinge of some other emotion I would not let myself define further because it would be absolutely absurd.
His eyes opened then and I withheld a gasp. Once again I saw the resemblance to his mother. They were a beautiful copy of her own green eyes.
He stared at me, straight into my eyes. I felt an almost magnetic pull to them. I noticed that, strangely, there was no question of who I was in his eyes.
"I won't let you be hurt. I will save you."
His voice was gravelly and I could hear the exhaustion in it. But I also heard the burning sincerity in it; the intensity of his earnestness. No one could doubt that voice.
"I'm sure you will," I whispered, almost inaudible.
His brilliant eyes closed again and for a second his head rested deeper into the pillow.
Then a thick, dark red blood started to run in streams out of his nostrils.
It was one of the many ailments of Spanish Influenza, hemorrhaging from the nose. I had overheard many of the nurses talking about it when it happened to certain patients, but had never seen it for myself. I was never in a place where I ever would see it. Except now.
I knew what I had to do. The patients went unconscious as the blood pooled in their nasal cavities. The head had to be pushed forward and downward or else the blood could flow down to their lungs and they would suffocate.
But I couldn't do that. I wouldn't be able to save his life.
Because I was too weak.
Already, the panic and nausea were seizing me. I could smell it already- the rusty smell of his blood. My limbs turned to jelly and my stomach churned. Black spots dotted my vision, blurring everything around me.
When he died, it would be my fault.
I couldn't very well faint while he lay here bleeding to death! I had to hold on, had to help him.
It was a tender mercy indeed that the wet rag was still clutched in my hand. Shaking, and not really able to see, my hand felt around till it reached his face. I placed the rag under his nose, careful to not press too hard. My other hand felt to the back of his head and lifted it forward. He was unconscious still.
I shut my own eyes and grit my teeth. My knees still shook and I could feel myself sink further down a little. Once the image of blood oozing out and the smell had imbedded into my head, it was hard to get it out. I felt barely coherent. I didn't know how much longer I would last.
"Help," I tried to scream it out, but my voice only permitted a weak whisper.
Yet again, I was unusually lucky lately.
"Miss Swan?" I heard the anxious voice of Dr. Cullen from behind me. I could have collapsed in relief and very nearly did.
His hands immediately replaced mine on the rag and behind the boy's head. I wavered, unsure of my surroundings. Suddenly there was a chair beside me, though I thought for sure that the closest one was clear across the room. But then I was half-conscious so my judgment could hardly be trusted.
"What happened?" he asked as I sank unsteadily into the chair. My vision was still blurry so I couldn't read his expression as his head turned toward me.
"I'm sorry. It can wait until you are well again." His tone sounded apologetic.
"No," I breathed. "I just need a moment." Just wait for the room to stop spinning. And for my stomach to drop from my throat.
"It helps if you put your head down," he offered.
My head latched onto any idea that would make the queasiness stop. I dropped my head into my hands and they both fell into my lap.
I knew Dr. Cullen would be polite and wait for me to fully recover, but I figured answering his question was more important. And I hated anyone thinking of me as weak.
"He was fine... just a moment ago, and then... it all started... gushing... out."
"It's becoming more frequent now," he observed quietly. He exhaled very slowly.
It was silent for a moment, for which I was grateful. I took several very deep breaths, concentrating all of my attention on inhaling and exhaling. After a few minutes, my ears were no longer buzzing and I could see the fibers in my white dress through my splayed fingers more clearly. Slowly, I lifted my head and leaned against the back of the chair. I felt exhausted.
I could finally see Dr. Cullen's face. It was drawn in a slight frown.
"I'm very grateful you were here to aid Edward, but I admit... I am at a loss as to why you were here."
I bit my lip and looked down at my lap again. That was of course my first mistake whenever I tried to lie. I always tried to stall for time because I had never had that ability to instantly come up with something off the top of my head. This made it all the easier to see my lie coming and why I hardly ever convinced anyone.
If it was anyone else but Dr. Cullen that I was speaking with, I still would have tried to lie in any case- for the sake of Mrs. Cullen. I didn't want her to get into trouble. But something told me that the handsome, kind doctor would not reprove either of us. Even now I could see the warm concern for me in his golden eyes.
I took a deep breath and exhaled. "Mrs. Cullen was very concerned for her family when I spoke with her. She... begged me to see how they were in her stead."
He sighed deeply. "And did you know they were in the emergency ward?" His tone piqued me a little. It sounded like he was talking to a two year old who got her hand stuck in the cookie jar.
Always stubborn, my chin raised a little higher as I met his gaze. "Yes."
His golden eyebrows raised a little. "And you still went?"
I nodded, a tad curt.
To my surprise, he gave a low chuckle. "I see now how I've underestimated you. I never expected to get you in here and not find you passed out on the floor. Well," he amended, "I suppose we came close to that tonight."
I waited, unsure what to say.
"I expect Mrs. Masen will send you on more trips here, won't she? Because she can't come down here, as I'm sure you informed her."
I nodded slowly, so surprised by this reaction.
He nodded to himself quickly as if making a decision. Then he laughed. "Who knows? Maybe this will improve your uh, what did Nurse Thornton call it? Weak constitution? We may see you assisting her in the operation room just yet."
My head was in my hands again, leaning forward. My disgusted groan was muffled slightly by my hands.
Dr. Cullen chuckled once more. I looked up from my hands to see that the boy- Edward- was laid once again on his cot. There was no sign of the blood that had been pouring down on his face just a few minutes ago. His angel face was back in place. The relief washed over me again.
"I have faith in you, Miss Swan," Dr. Cullen's voice broke my reverie. His eyes had a strange look in them as he watched me turn from Edward. I couldn't understand it.
"I know of the magic you worked in the recovery ward of course. But I'm glad to note it is not central to a particular area."
My confusion did not lift and it must have been written plainly on my face.
"Oh I guess you would not have noticed the difference, having never seen him before. Edward looks a little better- certainly more peaceful than I've ever seen him before. And he had been rather bad just as I left to attend to Mr. Prior." He shook his head slowly and a bemused frown tugged at his lips. His eyes focused on me, piercing in their gold. "I know there's something special about you, Miss Swan. I just don't know what it is."
I laughed outright at that. There could be nothing and no one more ordinary than me. My very appearance exemplified this. Straight brown hair, (how could the Swan curls grace the balding heads of my Father's and Grandfather's head, but not my own?) and flat brown eyes. The only thing anyone ever complimented me on was my alabaster skin, but most girls had white skin anyway. Once again, I was simply ordinary. Not rich enough to hope for a good marriage; not poor enough to deserve some fairytale romance. No, my life was mundane through and through. There was actually no escaping it, I thought grimly.
I thought about what Dr. Cullen had said after he had left the room, pausing at the doorway to remind me that the other nurses I walked home with would be leaving soon.
Of course I had not done anything to help save Edward Masen's life- if anything my usual bad luck was finally resurfacing. He'd started bleeding soon after I touched him! Yet Dr. Cullen said he had been rather bad just before he'd left the room. I tried to recall any sounds of distress when I'd first entered the room, but I could remember none. Since the first time I'd seen his face, it had been so peaceful. I couldn't account for the first time I'd seen it that way- his angel's face- but I knew the exact reason why he'd been so happy and peaceful after. It certainly wasn't anything to do with me. He'd mistaken me for his mother.
I smiled despite myself. Only a person deeply entrenched in a delirium-inducing fever would ever mistake my face with the exquisite one of Elizabeth Masens.
"Bella?" The timid squeak of Betsy Midgeons called from the doorway.
I suddenly realized that I had been staring at the boy- Edward's- face again. I didn't even know how long I'd been sitting there. I stood, keeping my face down so that Betsy wouldn't see my blush of embarrassment.
Betsy giggled, her hand covering her mouth shyly. "He is very good-looking isn't he? Better than, well, even the Barrymores!"
This was quite the compliment as Betsy worshipped the Barrymores.
I rolled my eyes a little. "Yes, the poor boy lying there on the point of death is very good-looking. Now let's go."
Betsy frowned, the creeping red in her cheeks momentarily drowning the freckles that dotted her face. "Nursing isn't for you, Bella. It makes you very disagreeable."
I was about to tell her she was not the only one who had suggested that to me, when I realized I could not go home. I had promised Mrs. Masen that I would tell her how her family was doing. I could not make her wait all the hours until I came back before she could be set at ease. At least a little. I still wasn't entirely sure what I would tell her.
But it was already much later than I usually stayed. Father was lenient, but he had limits. He would be starting to worry about me now. And a worried father who happens to be the chief of police was not a good thing.
"Betsy, did you work at all with that new patient- Mrs. Masen? She's right next to my grandfather."
Betsy's eyes unfocused slightly as she tried to put a face with the name. "Oh yes! The one that just sits there staring, not saying a word? Well, not until a few minutes ago anyway. Sounded like she was screaming her head off."
"What do you mean? I mean, yes, that's who I was talking about. Did something happen?"
"Aye, the lady was dead silent anytime I was around her; I swear I never saw her so much as blink. Just as I was packing things up in the hall, I heard this sort of commotion from the room. Then I heard her shrieking- "You must take me down there! I must see them!" Dr. Cullen and Nurse Thornton had to sedate her, poor thing."
Poor Mrs. Masen indeed. I felt immediately guilty for not trying to see her sooner. She had doubtlessly been worried about her son and husband. She probably thought I had lied to her earlier, only promising to see them to placate her. I felt terrible.
But there wasn't much I could do now was there? She was fast asleep; I would not be able to tell her anything until tomorrow. With a resigned sigh, I walked out of the hospital with Betsy and our group. I hoped sleep would keep Mrs. Masen from her worries tonight.