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."
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Chapter 3: Questions
My own dreams that night seemed to increase my worries.
I was in the recovery room and it was filled with people. Actually there were only three people lying in cots- the rest was the entire staff of the hospital with Nurse Thornton and Dr. Cullen at the forefront. They all watched me in silence, waiting. I was standing in front of the three cots- I recognized the occupants as the Masen family. I walked forward in slow-motion, as it always feels in dreams, and found the bowl I was holding in my hands was tipping. As the bowl tipped forward, dark red blood poured from it, spilling on to the crisp white sheets of the cots. I looked back for someone to help me, but no one was there.
I woke up with my heart pounding and sweat covering my face. I was not unused to having such vivid dreams, but they had never been so horrifying.
It was a little earlier than I usually awoke, but I knew I would never get back to sleep after a dream like that. I dressed quickly in a worn brown dress that I always wore for cleaning and cooking days. My mother had died shortly after my birth and my father had never remarried so for a long time I had been the woman of the house. Father had hired a maid until I grew old enough to take care of things myself. Probably another reason why I was an old soul.
Though my father was chief of police and a very sensible man, he'd needed to be taken care of in some of the basics of life. Along time ago, before I knew better, I had let him attempt some cooking in the kitchen. It didn't matter to me that I had been subjected to that disaster, but I had forced Grandfather to it, and that was inexcusable.
Being able to take care of the people I loved was the most important thing to me. I always wanted to protect them. This was an irrational desire since I was always so clumsy and weak, but I supposed that if I could just try my best, that had to count for something.
I put an apron on and started combining the ingredients for pancakes in a large bowl. Father always enjoyed my pancakes, but I only had time to make them when I was out of school in the summer months.
As the batter sizzled in the hot buttered pan, I made plans for the day. I really needed to wash the bed sheets. And as I looked down, the kitchen floor begged to be scrubbed. Then of course would be the daily trip to the bakery. If I had anymore time after that, I would read for a bit out of Sense and Sensibility. It was probably my fifth time reading it, yet I didn't get tired of it somehow. Finally, I would head over to the hospital. The thought of donning the itchy nurse's uniform in the sun lessened my excitement a little.
And I realized then that I was excited, or at least eager to go back to the hospital. Half-eager, half-frightened, I wanted to tell Mrs. Masen about her son, to lay aside her fears. But how could I do that? Because I knew I would have to lie. At least, I couldn't tell her the whole truth. Perhaps if she didn't ask too many questions I could get by with a generic, positive description of their conditions.
I bit my lip as I realized I very much wanted to ask my own questions about her family. Especially about her son. What kind of a boy at his age could have that angel's countenance about him?
The pancakes were finished so I started to set the table. I heard footsteps creaking above me, which meant that Father would be down in a moment.
Everything was ready by the time Father did walk down the stairs, dressed in his police officer uniform. He was not usually a morning person so, as I noted his smile, I assumed it was because I had made his favorite breakfast. It struck me then that I may have subconsciously made it to celebrate Grandfather's return in the next few days. And I realized that I still hadn't told him anything about that yet.
I smiled at him as he took his seat at the small table. "Good morning, Father. I forgot to tell you last night- I spoke with Dr. Cullen at the hospital and he said that Grandfather should be released soon."
"Really?" his eyebrows lifted a little. "That's wonderful. What a relief."
My father had always been a man of small words and he didn't express his emotions too well. His tone just now to a stranger might have sounded as if he was discussing the morning paper, but I knew that he truly was relieved at the news. We ate for a moment in companionable silence.
"So," he added another flapjack to his plate and started cutting into it. "I guess that means you won't be at the hospital anymore will you?"
My knife and fork paused on my plate and I looked at him, my mouth opened a little in surprise. "I hadn't really thought to leave the hospital after Granddad left. I think I'd like... to stay on."
"Oh," Father sounded more surprised by that than when he heard of Grandfather's return. "Are you sure, dear? I thought you were only enduring that because of Grandfather. Doesn't it make you sick still? How many times have you fainted there anyway?"
My face colored, thinking of yesterday. That was the sixth time since coming to the hospital that I'd gone into a fainting spell. Considering how adverse I was to hospitals before, I personally viewed that as a triumph.
But Father was right. Seeing my grandfather and taking care of him had been my main objective in the beginning- the only way I could stand to be in the hospital. But it was different now. I thought of Dr. Cullen and his ridiculous assumption that I had some kind of magic. I didn't believe him of course, but I felt like he counted on me to be there. And I realized that I did want to be there.
"It's gotten better," I said casually. "I was in one of the worst sections of the hospital last night and I... survived." He didn't need to know by how little I had survived- or my patient had. I shrugged my shoulders. "There's nothing else to do and some of the doctors think I'm doing good there. I don't mind staying."
He sighed, sounding a little aggravated. "You never were like the other girls your age, Bell. You should be thinking only of dresses and boys right now, instead you want to spend all of your time in a hospital filled with death." He shook his head.
I knew he was glad that I was different from other girls- that I had a sensible head on my shoulders and still had no propensity for getting into trouble by staying out late with boys. Really, in that department I knew I was every father's dream come true. I could only assume then that he thought like Nurse Thornton that a hospital was an inappropriate place for a girl like me who had no stomach for and no interest in medical issues. But I had my mind made up and there would be no turning back after that.
Which he knew very well himself. I shrugged casually in response to his complaint.
"Well, I suppose it's alright for now. But I don't think you'll have time for it once school starts." He finished off his last bite and stood. "Thank you for breakfast, dear. Try to keep away from any accidents today, alright?"
My answer was a vicious scowl.
He chuckled and walked to the entryway, sliding his arms through his top coat. He wished me a good day as he placed his policemen's hat on his head and strode out the door.
I sighed as I took our plates over to the sink. Pumping the water, I wondered myself why I was going to stay on at the hospital. I would have every reason to go once my grandfather left, one in particular being that I was sure Nurse Thornton would give me a harder time of it afterward. Perversely, that only increased my desire to stay- to prove her wrong.
I mostly felt that I couldn't leave now. I was too curious about the Masen family- I had to know what would happen to them. Maybe it wouldn't be too long, I thought with sudden dread.
Why did I keep doing that? Dooming them to a black fate while there was still a chance? From now on I would work on my optimism. If there wasn't anything else I could do, I could at least will them to health.
I started to scrub the kitchen floor with a little more fervor than it necessitated. I was angry at myself but I couldn't understand why at first. Most likely it was because my thoughts continued to revolve around the Masen family. Especially their son. I recalled his beautiful green eyes, boring into mine so intently, promising me that he would save me. That he would keep me safe.
Of course he hadn't been saying that to me at all. I was supposed to be his mother when he'd said that. Still, the memory alone made my heartbeat quicken. I began to scrub the floor almost violently.
It turned out to be a very long day. As I continued to check off the chores on my mental checklist, I grew more impatient with the time and myself. When I finally donned my itchy nurse's outfit, I was relieved and eager to step out once more into the baking heat.
I was a little apprehensive when I saw Nurse Thornton in the front hallway as I walked through the doors of the hospital. She looked more displeased with me than usual, which I thought would have been hard to accomplish before.
I sighed a little as I signed myself in. I had no clue what this would be about, but I could tell it would not be pleasant.
"Miss Swan," Nurse Thornton's accent came out more thickly when she was mad. "I've been informed that you were attending to Mrs. Masen yesterday, am I correct?"
The pencil I held in my hand froze on the paper. Oh no! She knows about my going into the emergency ward, about my near-fainting. She was going to tell me to not come back to the hospital. Maybe I could beg her for just a few more days- just to know what happened to the Masens. I turned back to face her and nodded slowly.
Her lips were stretched taut in a grimace. "We've been having some trouble with her lately. Last night, while the nurse went into the hall for some medicine, she snuck out and found where her husband and son are. The nurse found her there trying to take care of them- nursing them!" She exhaled shortly in exasperation. "Of all the foolish things! Trying to heal them when sick herself... fat lot of good that'll do." She shook her head, as if to dispel her ranting tirade. "Anyway, Dr. Cullen seems to want... you... to pay special mind to her." Her expression as she said this implied heavily that she could not comprehend why he would want that.
I was still a little shocked that I was not going to be fired or even horribly berated for my breaking of rules. Did she really not know?
"Is... that all?" I asked hesitantly.
"Yes." Her eyebrow cocked sharply. "Why? Did you expect more duties? I've seen your face at the mere mention of a needle, girl. I won't be trusting you to actually stick one in."
I flinched, reconfirming her already low opinion of me.
She seemed to find that satisfactory. "Just stick with the basics, girl, like I showed you."
I walked slowly to the recovery room. Mrs. Masen had actually walked the distance to the emergency ward by herself? Even after she had been sedated? I felt the guilt crush me then. Why had I stayed so long staring at the boy?! I should have just taken a quick peek and gone back to report. It could only have been a terrifying fear that would cause her to leave her bedside when sick herself. A fear I could have- should have- set at ease within minutes.
I saw Mrs. Masen's sleeping form immediately when I walked into the room. I was relieved slightly. I still needed a moment to collect my thoughts more. Grandfather was awake, of course, beside her. As always, his face crinkled up in pleasure when he saw me.
"Good evening, Grandfather. How are you today?" I laid a hand on his wrinkled one and sat in the chair beside him.
"Splendid, my dear. Just splendid. Do you have any idea as to why I might feel that way? I mean, besides your immediate presence?"
"Is it because you'll soon be freed from this unbearable prison? Just how large was your bribe for the jailer?"
"Large enough, I dare say. Of course, I shall be on parole for a while and I have very specific rules. I am under strict command to never allow myself to help you with the dishes, or laundry- and certainly no cooking. It seems I shall be forced to sit in my chair, reading my newspapers." He sighed deprecatingly. "Such a horrid life."
"Maybe I'll speak to Nurse Thornton. You're really not ready to go home if you're having such wild delusions."
He laughed outright. "Alright, alright my dear. I just like to test to see if you still have that charming wit of yours. I didn't want this time in the hospital to have dampened it."
I knew from his expression that he felt guilty for making me stay here when I had had such an aversion to hospitals. I squeezed his hand lightly and gave him a rueful smile. "Grandfather, even if I had lost my wit and even my mind by staying here, it would never make up for the time that I hadn't been here and you were all by yourself."
He started to interrupt. "Child" -he sounded exasperated.
I silenced him with a finger. "Which is why my own sentence here will be extended. I'm staying on after you go."
Now he really looked exasperated. "Why the devil would you do that, girl?"
I sighed and looked at him pointedly. "Because Grandfather, other people need me to be here." My eyes slid to the still form in the cot next to us.
"Ah yes. That lady has been causing quite a bit of trouble around here," his voice was lowered to a whisper. "Always begging everyone to let her see her family. You were the only one to give in to her, you know."
Why did that not surprise me?
"How did yesterday go, by the way?"
My grimace was answer enough.
"She's been waiting for you. Kept asking me when you were going to come by again."
I did feel bad that she was asleep now. If I was going to have to do this I might as well get it over with now.
He must have seen my indecision on my face and so nudged me softly with his hands. "Go on. I'd swear on my life that woman is wide awake right now. I think she pretends so the nurses won't sedate her anymore." There was a note of pity in his voice as he said this last part.
Mrs. Masen's inert form was turned away from us. The only time her body showed any sign of life was when it raised slightly with her ordered breathing. I walked slowly to her other side. Grandfather had been right- she looked absolutely asleep from behind, but her eyes were only half-closed, staring at the cot next to her. I hesitated for a second before speaking.
"Mrs. Masen?" It came out as a nervous squeak.
Her green eyes flashed to mine, almost in a frightened way.
"You," her voice creaked softly.
I was suddenly reminded of my reluctance to talk with her. Of course she would be furious at me for not having come yesterday. Clearly, the poor woman was still desperate with worry. Would her anger at me send her into another fit?
She grabbed at my hand, clutching it tightly in her own. "Thank you. I cannot tell you how grateful I am to you. You don't know what a comfort it is to have you here."
My mouth fell open a little. That was completely the opposite of what I was expecting. Her expression was now one of fervent gratitude.
"I'm so sorry," I stuttered out. "For not coming here sooner to tell you."
She shook her head and waved her hand in the air, as if this was inconsequential. "It is no matter. Dr. Cullen told me last night, after I saw them" -I knew exactly whom she meant by them- "that you had checked on them before. He promised me that you would see to them for me from now on."
Gah! Did he really have to promise her that? I felt a little more daunted now that I had the official sanction of the head doctor. Now that it was something they would expect from me. But her face now was filled with so much hope and utter thankfulness; I knew I would never refuse.
"I will try my best." I smiled weakly. I tried to make my voice a little sterner. "But will you promise me to never leave your bed to check on them yourself? It doesn't help them at all if you are worrying yourself sick this way."
She pursed her lips for a moment and her brow furrowed as she considered. It seemed this was a large request to ask of her. "I will try my best." Her reluctant tone copied mine.
That would have to do for now, I supposed. I sat down in a chair next to the bed. Mrs. Masen still held my hand, probably worried that I would leave too quickly. Her fears were not totally unfounded. I still had no idea what to say to her.
"Please, tell me about them," she pleaded.
My eyebrow cocked. "You saw them for yourself, apparently."
"I know. I was hoping... that they might have been different when you had seen them. They looked... terrible... when I was there." A look of horror came into her eyes as she remembered.
So they probably weren't too different from when I had been there, as they had definitely looked terrible to me when I had checked on them. I deliberated for a moment, trying to find a balance between the truth and a slightly more optimistic view. I couldn't lie to her, but I didn't want to crush her hopes either. That wouldn't do anyone any good.
"Your husband was asleep when I came in." I ducked my head down for a moment. "I didn't get a good look at him, so I'm not sure about his condition." It was true for the most part. I wasn't a doctor, so I really couldn't know if he was as close to death as it had looked. All I had were assumptions. And intuition.
Her face took on a blank look and she looked down at her lap, chin quivering a little. I doubted that she had not seen him exactly as I had before.
"Your son" -her eyes snapped back to mine- "was... more lively." I winced at my word use, but couldn't think of any other that would fit. "He even spoke for a bit."
This shocked her, but a gleam of hope entered her eyes. "What did he say?"
I felt my cheeks flood with heat. I stared at the blanket covering her bed as I spoke. "He said... that he loved you." I felt very embarrassed to be the one to be telling her this, as if I was imposing on their privacy. But more than that, the memory of his voice when he'd said that made me blush. "He also said that... he would do everything to save you," I added softly.
I glanced up quickly at her intake of breath. Her eyes were spilling over with tears. For a few moments she could not speak from the sobs that overtook her; I averted my eyes, looking down at my lap. I felt so out of place, truly not knowing how to comfort this woman that I had only known since yesterday. She would not let go of my hand though, keeping it well-grasped in hers. I started to pat it awkwardly with my other hand.
When her broken sobs turned to short bursts of exasperated laughter, my head jerked up. Had I made her go insane?
"Oh! That boy- that is so like him! Even with the horrid war, he was always trying to save me." She shook her head, brow furrowed in bemusement.
I hadn't meant to, but the conversation was now heading to where I wanted it most to be- learning more about her son. I didn't want to pry- or at least I didn't want her to think I was prying- so I deliberated for a second before asking.
"Was... your son a soldier in the war?" I realized a second too late that I should have used ‘is'.
She didn't look like she'd noticed. "No! Thank heavens for that! But he certainly wanted to be." Her face once again took on a very aggravated look; I wondered if they had argued over this often. "He just turned seventeen a few months ago so I knew I needn't worry about it for a while. But he was so persistent, declaring that the day of his eighteenth birthday he would sign himself up straight away. I despaired the very thought of it, of course. He knew how much I hated the war and somehow that made him want to join it all the more. ‘I will help end it, Mother,' he insisted. How could he not see the reason I hated it was because of the danger it put him in? I wasn't sure what I would do when he turned of age, but I was willing for anything that would keep him from joining the war." Her eyes were sad again, the anger gone. Perhaps because she had gotten her wish- something had definitely happened that would keep her son from entering any warfare. But this something had only entrenched him in another kind of war- in a battle with himself to save his own life.
I wanted to know more. "Had he always wanted to be a soldier?" I tried to make my tone light, to bring her back from her sad thoughts.
"No, and that is why it surprised me so! He had always been such a calm, sweet-tempered little boy. He wasn't easily provoked by other boys his age. They were always looking for danger, getting into trouble, causing their mothers grief. My Edward was never that way, not even as a child."
She paused for a second and her lips gave a rueful twist. "Well, I should say he never got into trouble by following their lead anyway. He certainly found ways to be mischievous all by himself."
She sighed fondly. "Mostly, he was rather serious-minded; he took to learning and education from the start. Especially with music" -she spoke with a note of motherly pride now. I could see her love for her son in every line of her face; hear it in the very tenor of her voice. "Oh, I wish you could hear him play ‘Claire de Lune'- it was always his favorite. I sometimes fancied seeing him play for a big concert hall."
She smiled mistily for a second and then her expression became once again troubled. "No, he had never been like the boys his age- had never cared for their interests- so when he first began talking about joining the war, I didn't take him seriously at all. Of course, maybe if I hadn't been so frightened over it all, he wouldn't have felt like he had to..." she trailed off, lost in thought.
I could somehow see that in the boy, though I didn't know him at all. From what little I had seen last night, I reckoned that her son would do anything to keep his mother from pain.
"It sounds like your son is very protective of you." I smiled.
"Yes," her smile was hard and bitter. "And look how I've protected him."
I struggled at first to know how to set her at ease. This was something I could find a lot of empathy with- I always blamed myself for what happened to those I love. But this was a very different situation to anything I had ever been in. "You can't blame yourself for this- how could you? Your family got sick- that is no one's fault. And you all are still under the care of one of the best doctors in the country, perhaps the world. I can see already how Dr. Cullen cares for your family. He's almost inhuman in his devotion to his patients." I said this last part a little jokingly.
She stared at me, her expression intent. "Will he really do all that he can?"
"Of course. I swear if the hospital would allow it he would live here, he's so dedicated." I shook my head exasperatedly. Dr. Cullen had always insisted on taking night shifts from the start, since there were so few doctors that did want to stay during the night. I was never here to see it for myself, but I had heard the other nurses talk of how the staff had to beg him to leave when the morning shift began. He tried to tell them how he had never needed more than a few hours of sleep, but anyone who saw the dark circles under his eyes could tell he was lying. This, coupled with the care and sensitivity I had seen him display to any person that met his acquaintance, told me how little his own health mattered compared to others. I didn't doubt that Dr. Cullen would go so far as to risk his own life to save the life of any of his patients.
I sighed. "Yes, he really will do all that he can," I added quietly.
Her head rested deeper into her pillow and she closed her eyes in relief. I could see how tired she was then, how much she needed several hours of untroubled slumber. I was still selfish enough to want to ask more questions about her family, but I beat down my selfish desires for her sake.
I stood up, smoothing down the front of my dress. "I want you to sleep now. And I mean really sleep. Remember, they won't be able to get better if they hear how sick their mother is with worrying."
Her eyes opened halfway, a little bleary. There was a sudden tension in them. "Will you go see them?"
I turned to look at the clock on the opposite wall from us. How had it gone so quickly? "If I do, I don't think I'll have enough time to come back and tell you about them," I said reluctantly. Well, I might if I just took a quick peek at them, but I knew I was not capable of that. If I went in there I would need at least several minutes to stare at the boy.
She shook her head. "I don't mind. I just... want someone to be there watching over them. Someone that cares for them," she whispered.
I felt my eyes widen at her words. How could she see that so easily? Even more so, I was surprised by how much I did care, how important the survival of this family who had been strangers to me just two days ago was to me now. I probably would have gone to see them anyway, without her request. The irrationality of it made me irritated with myself though.
"If you wish," I muttered.
She nodded. Her eyes widened once more as if another thought struck her. "One more thing. I'm so sorry... to be such a burden to you, but I think it will help him." She lifted herself up slightly and turned her torso to the stand next to her bedside. She opened the drawer and her hand rummaged inside for a moment until she found whatever she was looking for. She brought it out and placed it inside my own hand. I looked down to see that it was a sachet of some assortment of dried flowers. I met her gaze questioningly.
"It is a very small thing, I know." She smiled weakly. "But my son has always been fond of lavender and freesia. We always had it growing in our gardens and he often went there to do his studies. He said the scent always comforted him, relieved him of any stress. I wondered if you could put that in his room. He must... surely need it now." The desperate worry returned to her eyes.
I saw that this was a sacrifice for her. What she really wanted more than anything was to be there with her son and husband, but that could not be allowed. Still, she would try anything in her power to care for them, even while sick in a bed located hundreds of feet away.
"Yes, I will." I placed it in the front pocket of my dress.
"Thank you." Then she touched her fingers to her forehead gingerly, her brow furrowed.
"Are you alright?"
"It's nothing. Just a bit of a headache."
Another symptom of the influenza. From what I had learned, it was not just a bit of a headache. It would feel like someone had driven a nail through her skull. She was most likely trying to hide the pain.
I poured her a glass of water and made her drink it. It would probably only ease it slightly. "Shall I call for another nurse for some medication?"
Her expression told me she did not want that at all. But her face also told me of how much pain she was in, not to mention the exhaustion. She was silent and looked away from me, which I took as answer enough.
I walked out of the room, glancing at Grandfather's sleeping form before I left. I told the nurse outside what Mrs. Masen needed and she stared at me with shock. They had never gotten Mrs. Masen to take medicine willingly before, neither had the woman spoken to anyone besides Dr. Cullen and Nurse Thornton. I was not so surprised to hear this and so shrugged casually in response. Thankfully, she left it at that and went into the room to administer the medicine.
I walked to the emergency ward and found Dr. Cullen there. He was standing by Mr. Masen's bedside, checking his pulse. When he noticed me walk in, his expression turned from chagrined to pleased.
"Miss Swan, it is very good to see you here again. How is Mrs. Masen?" He smiled at me knowingly.
That's right- he had promised Mrs. Masen that I would be her son's and husband's personal watchdog from now on. Goodness knows I would probably have been doing that anyway, but I didn't exactly like feeling expected to do it. Once again I was irritated at the handsome doctor's illogical faith in me. This made my tone a little brusque.
"She had just developed a headache when I left her, but she took some medicine for it. She seems better now, after I told her how the world's best doctor was caring for her family. She'll be expecting you to use some of your mythical powers to save them now." I was teasing him of course, but he didn't respond the way I expected. He kept his head down, his expression blank, staring at Mr. Masen's face. If I hadn't been watching closely I probably would not have noticed the slight tightening of his jaw.
I almost thought he hadn't heard me or that I had somehow offended him, when he asked quietly, "And what was her reply to that?"
"Oh, she was immensely relieved." As was I, now that he was talking again. I did not want to get on Dr. Cullen's bad side. He was one of the few advocates I had here.
"So she trusts you, I see." He smiled lightly once again as I walked to the edge of Mr. Masen's bedside.
"Much more than she should," I replied.
"That's exactly how I feel," he spoke so quietly I almost couldn't hear him. "With all of my patients, but especially this family now. For, as hard as I may try, I don't know how to help Mr. Masen here."
I looked at Mr. Masen's face for the first time since entering the room- unwillingly because I remembered what I had seen yesterday. He looked much the same- skin sallow white, body as still as the grave.
"He's started coughing."
I gasped softly and glanced quickly at Dr. Cullen and then back at the poor man lying in the cot. It was what victims usually experienced in the final stages of the sickness, a horrible rasping cough that brought up blood each time. The blood came out because it had pooled into the victim's lungs, and eventually it would grow so heavy that it would suffocate them. Now that he was exhibiting this particular symptom, it was the same as if Mr. Masen's death sentence was hanging over his head.
"He's still never regained consciousness since he arrived." He glanced behind him. "Edward, on the other hand, was alert just an hour ago."
I turned to stare at the boy next to us. I felt an immediate sense of relief upon looking at his beautiful face. In the back of my head, this puzzled me, but I would have to examine that later. He was sleeping, and again, his expression looked so peaceful, it was hard to imagine that his body was currently being ravaged by a terrible disease. I tried to ignore the twinges of deep regret that I had not been here earlier while he was awake.
"Is he any better?" I asked.
He waited a few moments before speaking, holding a hand to Mr. Masen's forehead. "Nothing has changed in his condition since yesterday. That could mean he's better. It could also mean something worse."
I think I understood what he meant. There was not a lot that anyone knew about this new and terrifying sickness- the first outbreak had only been a few months ago. Doctors were trying to study it, to recognize any patterns in it, but there had been hardly any time for that with millions dying so rapidly. What they had observed was minimal and there were many exceptions to whatever trends they found. But, in general, during the first stages of the disease, victims exhibited symptoms such as headaches, nosebleeds, and fevers. If they did not die by then, they would usually go into a sort of interim period where all symptoms went away. They could go either way at that point. Either they would fully recover or all of the symptoms would return in full force, adding to it an intense, blood-choked cough. Soon after they reached this stage, they died. It was very easy to know which stage Mr. Masen had reached. His son might be entering the interim period- either he would be just fine or it would worsen so much more.
I felt... so helpless. It was completely out of my control- this boy's life- and yet I felt so responsible. I might as well admit it- he and his family were the only reason I was staying in the hospital now. I couldn't leave even if I wanted to. Their survival was much more important to me than I had realized. I tried to not think of how much grief I would feel if they didn't survive.
I watched Dr. Cullen as he continued to check Mr. Masen's vitals. I saw that this family had become important to him as well. He cared for each patient that was interred into the hospital, but from the beginning he had shown a special fondness for this family.
It suddenly hit me then that I had no idea about Dr. Cullen's family- if he even had one. Perhaps this was why he devoted himself so ruthlessly to his patients: he had no one else. I was desperate with curiosity for a moment, and since the doctor did not seem inclined to leave, I overcame my embarrassment and tried to think of some way to begin the subject that would not sound so pertinent. And I didn't want to give him the wrong impression about my asking whether he had a wife or not...
I walked over to the bedside of the boy and stared down at his face- an easy thing to do. Maybe distance would make it seem more careless. "Dr. Cullen, where did you live before you came here?" My tone was striving for casualness.
I watched him from the corner of my eyes. His back was turned from me, so all I saw was his shoulders stiffen infinitesimally. He paused only a moment before speaking.
"I was living up north- I usually prefer a colder climate than Chicago affords. I had just gotten my medical degree a few months before the outbreak struck. The reports said it was worst in the major cities, so I decided to come here."
He'd only had his medical degree for less than half a year? Yet everyone knew what incredible skill he had. He often diagnosed a patient the minute he saw them, without the usual physical assessment. That kind of skill would be typical of someone with decades of experience, not mere months. And he looked so young! I think I remembered some of the nurses saying he was around 29, but he looked much younger than that. Maybe it was simply because he was handsome beyond belief.
The curiosity was in full rage now; it debilitated my attempts at subtlety. "Did your family approve of your decision?"
Again he paused for the slightest second. His voice, during the whole exchange had been only one of detached politeness. "My parents died long ago in England. I was born there, but soon came here to America. I have no wife or children. I've been all by myself for... quite some time now." Only at the end could you hear the note of pain.
I felt terrible for bringing it up. I struggled for someway to comfort him, but I could only think of generic replies.
"I'm sure someday-"
He laughed softly though I could hear no real humor in it. "I doubt it. No, no... I'm becoming more and more thoroughly convinced that there is no one else like me in this world. The only way I suppose would be to follow the footsteps of Pygmalion- create someone and mold them into what I want." His voice was hard and bitter.
I was so glad we were having this conversation without looking at each other. The awkwardness of it all was tangible enough without my having to look into his eyes and actually see the pain I could hear in his voice. Once again I wished desperately that I knew how to comfort people, but my mind was blank.
After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, he sighed. "Forgive me, Miss Swan. Do not waste one thought of pity on me. I'm quite content on my own. And taking care of these patients is more than enough for me."
I heard his footsteps as he walked out of the door. I chided myself for having had no restraint on my curiosity on a subject that was entirely inappropriate for me to ask about. I hoped I had not angered him; if I no longer had the approval of Dr. Cullen, I would no longer be allowed to come to the hospital. And I wanted to be here more than ever.
I stared down at the boy, remembering my purpose in coming. My hand slid to the pocket on the front of my dress and found the sachet. I placed it next to his face on the pillow.
My job was done; I was free to leave, yet my wicked hands once again did not seem to listen. Without thinking, the back of my fingers brushed across his smooth forehead lightly in one sweep. It seemed only slightly warmer than it should be and his skin was only faintly damp. But more than anything, I felt once more the current of electricity that I was coming to expect each time I touched him. The corners of his lips turned up a little and he breathed more deeply.
Now that I knew more about him, now that I could attach more of a character to the body lying in the cot here, it was easier to stop thinking of him as just ‘the boy'. He had a real name and there was a real person behind that name. A beautiful person. Though I was learning more about the individual behind the face, it did not lessen his angel's countenance one bit. In fact, it only increased it.
"Sleep well, Edward," I whispered. I felt a jolt of surprise at how much pleasure it gave just to say his name aloud. Unwillingly, I slowly walked out of the room, my eyes always on his face.