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 4: Changes
Over the next three days I had one single purpose: to find out more about the Masens. As much as I could, actually.
The time I spent outside of the hospital now became tediously boring. I found it best when I kept myself busily occupied, so the house was nearly being renovated with the cleaning I was doing. It helped keep my mind off of things though. Whenever I tried to do more restful activities, I couldn't concentrate. Everything reminded me of them. Not to mention the time when I tried rereading Sense and Sensibility and threw the book on the floor when the character Edward Ferrers was introduced...
My dreams still revolved around the Masens as well. I kept having the dream I'd had that first night, but it was interspersed with other images as well now. Sometimes I saw Edward dressed in a soldiers outfit, looking very dashing of course, and I would wave him goodbye as he boarded a train, off to join the warfare. As the train pulled out I would start sobbing in my dream, then I would wake to find the tears were real.
My subtlety at asking questions did not improve so I found myself asking Mrs. Masen any question that popped into my head. I was very grateful that she did not seem to see any hidden agenda behind this. In fact, it seemed nothing pleased her more than to talk about her family, and I was more than eager to comply. If anyone asked, I could always call my interrogations as therapeutic.
I asked a fair amount of questions about her family in general, but most were directed towards her son. I learned possibly as much as I could about him without having asked him directly.
His family had always lived in Chicago; he had been born there. He was their only child and so, not having many others to play with, he became rather independent. Most often he'd had tutors instead of attending school, and this too, most likely, taught him to rely upon himself and his own judgment; freeing him from the desire of his peer's influence.
This combination of factors lent him a curious ability to read people's characters. It seemed he could guess easily at the thoughts and intents behind every action of a person. Perhaps because he was not concerned with social aspirations and such- having grown up only desiring the approval of his family- he could see people for what they really were. This tended to make him selective with his friends. Many of the boys of his age and social position were mainly concerned with playing with their family's money: spending it on cards, girls, drink, and cigars. Mrs. Masen was very proud that her son had never been inclined to these things, eschewing them from the first. A gentleman from birth, she'd called him.
Not that he had never given her cause to worry at times. His self-reliance sometimes made him reckless when it came to certain things. He loved anything with speed: horseback riding, sailing, even simply running. This was one of the few times when he let his responsible nature slip. He had been greatly anticipating the motor car they had ordered a few weeks before. Mrs. Masen had been trying to find a way to prevent him from driving it; she thought they were sent from the devil. It nearly gave her a heart attack when she thought of him driving it.
Other than this love of speed, he had been a very sensible boy. He measured out carefully each decision he made, always considering the consequences of such an action, especially how it affected the family. He had a great love of his family. They were of the most importance to him in his life.
His mother had high hopes for him. He was very intelligent, showing a curiosity for the world at an early age. And he had many talented abilities in different areas of knowledge, but a special affinity to music. She had encouraged him in his musical abilities from the start. Their financial state ensured that he could pursue any interest he desired without worrying about money. Before the war had started, this seemed to be what he was most interested in: playing and composing music.
After the war broke out, his goals changed. He wanted nothing but to be a soldier. He'd said that it was mainly for the excitement- his love of speed would certainly draw him to the fighter airplanes they used, but Mrs. Masen didn't totally believe him. She suspected that he really had wanted to join because it had terrified her so- and he could never stand it when she was unhappy.
I learned a few things about each member of the family through these conversations- most of all, that they were a good family. I had always viewed upper crust society as snobbish and rude to others not in their social standing, which most anyone could tell you was true. It had surprised me from the first how kind she had been, polite- even to someone she thought was just a lowly nurse. I wasn't completely destitute as the daughter of a police chief, but I knew it would be nothing in comparison to her. Sometimes being middle class was viewed as worse than being poor because we gave ourselves airs for having money but not the connections or bloodlines to go with it. I could tell this was a different family. She never seemed to even consider it- the difference in our social positions. She trusted me and I felt an affection grow between us.
Before I left each day, I would always check in on her husband and son, as per her request. It seemed a bit strange, after hearing so many things about the boy and his exuberance for life, to see him lying in a bed so still. It was also very strange how familiar he seemed to me now, as if he had been a friend of the family for a long time. Though I was beginning to know more about him, I was still a complete stranger to him. He probably was not even aware of my existence.
This was the only dark spot during those days. Other than that, I found it exhilarating each time I came to the hospital. It was like putting a puzzle together and with each piece, I saw more clearly the beautiful picture.
After Grandfather came home, he threw a bit of a fuss each time I went off to work, but I think this was mostly for sport. He knew exactly why I needed to go there, and he seemed to approve. Whenever he complained, I threatened him with giving Father reign over the kitchen and he was silenced.
I told myself every day to go see them at the last few minutes of my shift because I knew if I gave myself more time, I would just spend it gawking at Edward. But I never listened to myself. I could ask endless questions to Mrs. Masen about her family, but as of late, she had actually been following the advice everyone gave her to get more rest, so she usually gave me thirty minutes of what always ended up as gawking time.
He was always asleep when I was there, but I would hear from Dr. Cullen that he was sometimes awake and alert. I occasionally heard him talk in his sleep, though he never spoke with the intensity he had that first night. These were just soft murmurings that I never understood completely. Sometimes, when I would lean over him to check his temperature, he would sigh and mumble something about being in the gardens. This made no sense to me, for after the night I had placed it on his pillow, I never saw the sachet of dried flowers again- most likely one of the nurses had taken it away mistakenly.
His condition had not changed much. It was almost comforting when I saw him to see his face free from sweat, to touch his face and not feel his skin burning with heat. But I was always reminded in the back of my head how this could be simply the calm before the storm.
His father's condition finally changed- for the worse. It was strange to see this role reversal; just a few days ago their conditions had been totally opposite. Now the father was often red with the heat of his fever, his face dripping with moisture, and around his mouth constantly were specks of dried blood, doubtless from his never-ceasing cough. Dr. Cullen was almost always at his side.
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.
When I walked through the hospital front doors, it seemed a normal day. Everyone walked about in their usual orderly manner; there were no tears, no shrieks. I signed myself in and headed to the recovery ward where I knew Mrs. Masen would be waiting for me. I still stopped short a little every time I walked into the room to see Grandfather's bed empty. But then I remembered the happy reason why it was empty and I continued on.
Today, when I noticed Mrs. Masen's cot empty besides Grandfather's old one, I kept standing still. She had never been moved before; all of the doctors saw that she was doing well, beyond the occasional headache. Most likely, she had gotten out of bed to see her husband and son, but she had never done that since that first night and I could think of no reason for her to do that now.
That left one last option- the worst one- the one I always jumped to immediately. Mrs. Masen had died. It happened often enough- the disease was so unpredictable. Some people died within hours of contracting it, others were drawn out for weeks. They could look well on their way to recovery and then suddenly they would go to sleep one night and never again wake. My heart was clutched with dread. How could I have let this happen? Surely if a more experienced nurse had been caring for her, they would have noticed the warning signals. They would have been able to save her.
I stood there in shock for several moments, uncomprehending.
I felt a hand touch the back of my arm and looked behind me. The freckled face of Betsy Midgeons swam into view, drawn into a look of concerned surprise.
"Bella?" she asked. "What's wrong?"
I tried to swallow. "Mrs. Masen- do you know where she is?"
"Of course." She paused and her voice lowered. "Did no one tell you?"
"Tell me what?" This was not helping resolve my fears.
Betsy's eyes widened with seriousness and she spoke slowly. "Mr. Masen died last night. Dr. Cullen was working on him, trying to clear his lungs, but nothing was working. He wouldn't stop coughing." She shook her head. "Dr. Cullen was the one to tell Mrs. Masen when she awoke. Threw such a terrible fit, that one. They said you could hear it all through out the hospital. That was earlier this morning and, since then, her body's taken such a turn, they've put her in the emergency ward with her son!"
So my worst fears hadn't been totally off. I just had the victim wrong.
Mr. Masen- dead! This should have made sense to me; I should have been expecting this. From the moment I'd first seen him I would have expected him to pass away at any moment. Yet I was still shocked. I couldn't make sense of it. And Mrs. Masen- finally with her son but at the cost of her husband's life and her own health! I felt a crushing sorrow for her.
This was something I had never experienced before, something I could definitely not empathize with her about. The only death that had happened in our family during my lifetime had been my mother's and that had been 15 years ago when I was still a baby. Nor had I ever worked so closely with a patient that had died, being as I had always been kept from the worst parts of the hospital. This was my first ever. I would have no words of comfort for her, if ever I got out of this strange daze I now felt surround me.
As if to refute my thought, Betsy spoke immediately. "You should go to her now."
Panic swirled around me for a moment. How could she say that? The fact still remained that I had barely known this family for less than one week! If chance had not thrown us together in this way, we would have never known each other, never even thought to form any kind of connection between each other- unless I suddenly wanted to be their servant! Still, I knew how wrong I was to fill my head with all of these flimsy excuses. I knew just how much Mrs. Masen depended on me and how I had formed an attachment with her. I was still stubborn enough to look at Betsy like she was crazy- as she was.
In response, she cocked an eyebrow. "Bella, you've been with her ever since she came to the hospital. She needs you right now more than anyone else. Go!"
I had always thought of Betsy as a bit of a silly girl. All she ever talked about were actors and actresses, dresses and hats, and all of the other shallow things of the world. So where was this coolheaded determination coming from? I suppose I had underestimated her. And overestimated my bravery.
I felt sick. I was secretly hoping that a giant hole would magically appear in the ground and swallow me up. Then I would have a valid enough excuse not to go, because I saw then that none of my real ones would hold up. I was being a complete coward and extremely selfish. Mrs. Masen would hate me and I would loathe myself if I did not go.
I sighed deeply, closing my eyes for a second.
"You're right Betsy. I will go."
She smiled. "I thought you would."
She walked away to tend to some other patients. That was supposed to be my cue to leave, I supposed, but my feet still felt glued to the floor.
"Bella," Betsy called in a stern voice.
"Right." I forced my rigid stance to move.
I felt butterflies in my stomach, but these were not the happy, excited kind. These were sick, violent butterflies, battering against my insides. I just had no idea what I would say, what I should do. I was so disadvantaged as one of the few girls who had been brought up only by two men. As if that would not be bad enough, one of those men had happened to be my father, who could write an instructional book on how to get out of emotional situations. The strategies would mostly include looking frightened as you slowly back away to the next room. Grandfather wasn't much better; he just tried to tease his way out. I had no experience with this. I would probably only say or do something to make it worse.
It seemed to take much too short a time for my feet to reach the doorway of the emergency ward- I thought I had tried to walk as slowly as possible.
I walked through the doors with trepidation. What I saw there immediately erased all of my worries for a second.
A woman in a patient's gown stood over the bedside of Edward Masen, her whole frame shaking. I saw the bronze shade of her hair, exactly matching that of the boy in the bed, and knew that it was Mrs. Masen. I must have made some kind of sound, for she turned her head sharply to look at me. I could see immediately how much her condition had worsened: her eyes were bloodshot, their expression slightly crazed. Her face was flushed and she seemed about to collapse.
"Mrs. Masen! What are you doing?!" I strode over to her side. Still shaking, her hand was clutched around one of the wet rags and pressed to the face of her sleeping son.
"I thought he might need this. It is so terribly hot in here." Her voice sounded very weak.
I observed her trembling form; she must feel hot from her own fever.
"You must get back into your own bed, Mrs. Masen. Please," I pleaded.
"I can't- he needs me to..."
"I'll take care of that." My fingers closed over the cloth and my other hand gently broke her grip on it. I gestured to her cot silently until she moved toward it and placed the rag in the cold water, squeezing it out lightly. I placed it back on her son's cheek. I could feel his temperature as I pressed my hand to the other side of his face. Abstractly, I realized this was becoming my official position whenever I was in the room: both hands always connected to his handsome face. At least this time I had his mother's approval. His smooth skin did not feel hot in the least so he did not need the coolness of the rag, but I assumed that Mrs. Masen would object if I stopped. And I would never object to any chance at touching him.
I turned to look at her, keeping my hands on his face. She had- thankfully- followed my directions and was lying in bed. Her eyes were closed and she looked exhausted. She looked like she had aged so much in just one day: lines I had never noticed before seemed carved into her face, her complexion was decidedly sallow, and her hair was dull and limp as it lay across her face. She was breathing hard, as if standing had been exhausting. She was completely different to the last time I had seen her. How had this all happened in just twenty-four hours?
"You are such a comfort to me, Miss Swan." Her eyes were opened halfway and though she smiled, it was a tiny, heartbreaking smile because it was bathed in devastation. "What would I do without you?"
I felt ready to burst into tears. I couldn't meet her gaze; I looked down at the bed. "I'm sure you would do much better without me." My voice came out as a strangled whisper; I hope she heard it. "In fact, I think- your husband- well... it's probably all my fault!" I couldn't control my voice; I was too busy trying to hold back my tears- they got to the rim of my eyes, but no further. I still couldn't look up.
I saw it then, how much this was my fault. Dr. Cullen had been so wrong, so totally wrong about me, but I would never blame him. He'd thought somehow that I had been healing people here, and it had seemed like that for awhile. Who knows why it had gone away temporarily, but now, my usual bad luck was finally resurfacing. At least Grandfather had been spared. From now on I would be a curse to all patients. Mr. Cullen had been the tragic first victim. He hadn't magically improved as Dr. Cullen had said he would- actually he had gotten worse since I started coming. It was my bad luck that had tipped the scales. Now, Edward and Mrs. Masen were headed that way. I should resign now, so the death toll might stop at just one.
"What ever do you mean, my dear?" Mrs. Masen's voice was so gentle; it forced me to finally look up at her.
Her face was etched in sadness, but her eyes had a slight warmth to them which I assumed was for my benefit. It did not comfort me, it only increased my guilt.
"I should have never been around your family," I cried out desperately. "You don't understand- I have the worst luck in the world: accidents and danger follow me everywhere. I must have brought it on your family- I'm so sorry."
I bit my lip and paused. I was probably sounding crazy to her. I would have to give her the more valid reasons now. "As if that wasn't enough- I'm a terrible nurse! I don't know anything about medicine and half of the time I'm fainting all over the place... if a real nurse had taken care of them, Mr. Masen might still..." I couldn't finish, there was too big of a lump in my throat.
Mrs. Masen studied me for a moment. The warmth still had not left her eyes. "Miss Swan, you can't really believe that. I knew the kind of person you are the first day I met you- how trustworthy you are, the love and care you show for others. I knew my son and husband needed that more than anything. We have plenty of skilled doctors and nurses here, but I wanted your particular kind of nursing. You did everything for them that you could- I will always be in gratitude to you for that." She looked down, studying her fingers. "And you helped me so much, of course. I surely would have been driven mad during that time if you had not been there with me."
She raised her head to the doorway, staring forward, her face ancient. "I see now that it was not meant for me and Mr. Masen to recover." Her mouth turned up slightly. "But I am so happy now to be with my son, before... To help him will be my only focus from now on." She looked at me again and her heartbroken smile widened. "Of course, I still expect you to visit us- as much as you can."
Her face had been so peaceful as she spoke. Mine was just the opposite. I could feel the horror pulling down on me as if it were an anchor on my face.
"Mrs. Masen!" I choked out the words. "You cannot mean that! What are you thinking? You must get better- at least for your son's sake!"
She smiled sadly again. "He'll be all right. He's a man already. For much too long now, he's been able to take care of himself. Mr. Masen though," her voice broke. "I could never leave him alone." She inhaled deeply. "No, Edward will be just fine. But we must get him well first."
I think I was shaking a little, but I wasn't really able to concentrate on stopping that. I couldn't believe what she was saying.
"Mrs. Masen..." I began, but stopped when I realized I didn't know what to say. How could I get through to her? I was shocked and saddened, but most of all angry. I felt a crazy urge to shake her. "How... how dare you!" My voice was just below shouting. "Do you really think your son will get better if you die right after he recovers? Will you leave him without either of his parents? You'd just be giving him one more reason to join the war. Your sacrifice would mean nothing!"
She looked less serene now; her brow furrowed and her lips pursed. She considered my words for a moment. "No, I don't want..." she turned her head to look at her son and gasped. "Edward!"
I looked down sharply at the boy's face. A pair of green eyes, the exact copy of the ones I had just been glaring into, gazed steadily into my own. They stared curiously, as if they were studying me. His expression was not angry, but neither was it exactly friendly. I was caught up in his gaze for a moment, only registering my quickened heartbeat in the back of my head. Then I realized that my hands were still gently cradling his face.
"Oh!" I stuttered, dropping the cloth and ripping my hands away like I'd burned them on a stove. I stepped back a foot away from the cot. I felt myself blush furiously- it must have covered my entire body. Once again, a large, never-ending hole would be so useful.
"Edward," Mrs. Masen's voice sounded disapproving. "How long had you been listening?"
He stared at me for one second longer, and then turned to look at his mother. "Just now, Mother. All I heard was that you... didn't want something? What is it?"
His voice was completely innocent as he said this, matching perfectly with his angel's countenance. Yet... it was a little too innocent to me. As much as I hoped he hadn't been awake for awhile, undoubtedly puzzled as to why a silly girl's hands were glued to his face, I suspected he had heard more than he let on. But I had no desire to bring up that subject again- I would most likely actually start shaking Mrs. Masen in my fury and then she would never want me to come back, not to mention the lawsuit they could press. But I had no doubt, from what I had learned of him, that her son was angry with her as well. Hopefully, they would talk it over after I left, and he could knock some sense into her- but not so literally.
"Oh, I simply don't want Miss Swan here to trouble herself over taking care of you anymore. Now that I'm here, I'm more than capable of doing it myself," Mrs. Masen replied calmly.
Ah hah, so he had acquired his lying skills from his mother. Maybe they could teach me some of their tricks. I needed them desperately.
"Mother," he sounded as frustrated as I had been with her before. "You have nothing to concern yourself over. I am fine. Do you remember what Dr. Cullen said earlier? I am improving. I feel hardly ill at all right now."
"All the more reason to be more careful than ever." She looked down, quietly adjusting the sheets covering her lap. She looked up at me, and smiled. "And all the more reason to keep Miss Swan around. We'll need the extra care."
I still felt completely mortified by the compromising position I had found myself in just minutes earlier; now I also felt completely out of place since they were both awake. They would probably want as much time with each other as possible, and I was intruding on that. But I was immensely curious about the boy, now that he was awake. What all could I glean of him now that I had the main source to draw from?
Still, I felt like I should be doing something. I stepped to the side of Mrs. Masen's bed, reaching to the table beside it to retrieve the pitcher of water and some glasses. I poured two and gave one to each patient. I could only allow myself a quick glance at Edward's face when I gave him his, being very careful not to touch him. From what I could see, he was still observing me with that detached curiosity he'd had before.
"Miss Swan here has been such a help to me, you know, Edward," Mrs. Masen said as she sipped her water. "To all of us really. She's been watching over you and..." her voice faltered for the slightest second, "your father... ever since we first arrived."
My cheeks flushed red. How much more evidence did he need that I was stalking him?
She continued on. "It was only after I begged her to do so, of course. She was the only one that listened to me." She smiled gently at me. "She's the only one I feel really cares for us- that I trust."
I was touched that she felt such emotion for me, but I cringed at her assessment of me. She was still completely deluded over my abilities.
"Mrs. Masen, I tried to explain it before." I shook my head slowly. "I'm a very unskilled nurse. I actually hate hospitals as much as you do; I would never choose to be a nurse myself. There is very little that I can actually do."
From the corner of my eye, I saw Edward's eyes seem to narrow in concentration as he looked at me. Had I said something wrong? Would he think me unfit to take care of his mother from now on?
"You saved my boy's life." Mrs. Masen said softly, her eyes staring into mine intently. Edward's head turned sharply to look at his mother as well. "That alone would be enough to make me eternally indebted to you. But you also have been so kind- to each of us. Most especially to me." One side of her mouth tugged up into a smile. "We do have a bit of money, of course, but- I don't know how we'll ever repay you."
The woman simply wouldn't understand how very little I had done for her and her family, and really, what a detrimental effect I had placed upon them. I patted her hand. "Just get better. That will be enough."
I started to walk away, careful to not look in her son's direction. Was I still blushing? Did he think I was a permanently red faced girl? A red faced girl who preyed upon unconscious young men in hospital beds?
I turned back to her, remembering my duties as a nurse. "I had better leave now, but is there anything I can get you? How are you feeling?" I walked back to her side, frowning slightly. I checked her temperature with the back of my hand. It was warmer than I expected. I took the wet rag from the bowl on the table and pressed it to her face.
"There. Is that better?"
She closed her eyes. Clearly the woman was not telling me enough about her ailments. At least, not with her son around.
She grasped my hand suddenly as I dabbed at her face. "You will see us tomorrow, won't you, dear?"
I sighed quietly, but smiled. "Don't I always?" I pressed a hand to her face again. It felt a little cooler. She had her eyes half-closed and lay deeply into her cot. She looked ready to fall asleep.
"I'll leave you now. Please, please get some sleep- and stay in bed." I dropped my voice to a whisper. "If your son needs some help, there are more than enough nurses to assist. I will see you tomorrow."
"The both of us," she amended.
I nodded, and turned to walk out. As I reached the door, her son called out.
I turned slowly, sure that my blush was returning. My heartbeat quickened.
During all of the conversation between his mother and I, I had felt his gaze upon me. But I had never thought it was the kind of stare you wanted from a boy. He was merely studying me- trying to figure out my character, I supposed. It should have been easy enough; I had two main traits: clumsy and embarrassed.
This time he stared at me differently, with a kind of fervor. Like when I'd seen him the first time.
"Thank you." His voice was rough with the intensity of his gratitude.I nodded, and, barely able to tear my gaze from his, quietly closed the door