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 5: Promise
A week passed. The days that I spent at the hospital seemed to fly by. The days I wasn't there seemed to drag on, like they would never end.
I think Father was becoming a little suspicious. He still really did not understand why I was staying on at the hospital now that Grandfather was home. He told me that I should enjoy the summer months while I could before school started. He wished I would go visit some of my friends from school (which were not many and more like acquaintances than friends).
I'm sure he wondered at my agitated manner whenever I was in the house. I probably looked like I was sleep walking, always busy about the house doing chores and yet with a distant look in my eyes, like I wasn't fully there.
But how could I help it? My two reasons for staying at the hospital both happened to be located in the worst section of the hospital.
Edward's condition remained the same- still no symptoms had come back. Dr. Cullen said that they would wait another day or two and then they might send him to the recovery ward. He instructed Edward to get lots of rest. I let myself hope.
Mrs. Masen was more unpredictable. Some days her skin was as cool as her son's, completely normal; the next day her fever and headaches were back. She only ever let the strain of it show when her son was asleep.
We never talked about Mrs. Masen's "plan" again. I don't know if her son ever did speak with her about it either, and I still got too crazily angry at her to bring it up again. It seemed that her health correlated with her son's, and, as it appeared he was getting better, I imagined she would too. I told myself that her plan had been hastily made in the midst of grief over her husband's death. With her son healthy and alive, how could any mother abandon him?
On the days that I could come, I spent all of my time with them. Sometimes they were both asleep when I came, but I didn't mind. Usually Mrs. Masen would wake up in time to talk a little before I left. Only a very few times was Edward awake while I was there. He didn't say much, just observed his mother and I as we talked.
Once again I wondered at his gaze. I didn't allow myself to think that he stared because he found me interesting. It was much more likely that his puzzled frowns while he watched were the result of thinking me very odd- surely this was what most people thought of me when they observed me. But there was something about it that made me feel like he was a scientist and I a strange new creature to be analyzed.
That whole week I felt like I was walking a tight wire or holding my breath. Things were looking positive, but until I could be sure, I couldn't set aside my worries.
Grandfather seemed to notice my strain.
"How are things at the hospital, my dear?" he asked lightly one morning as I made breakfast.
I turned from the stove to look at him. He sat at the table, his fingers interlaced under his chin, watching me expectantly. It was a casual enough question, but there was something in his tone which made me think he wanted to know something more.
I turned back to the stove to flip the eggs I was cooking. "Fine," I answered casually.
He waited a moment before continuing on. "I was just wondering the other day... whatever happened to that family- what was their name... Masen, wasn't it?"
I kept my eyes on the eggs as I pushed them back and forth around the pan. I tried to not talk a lot about the hospital with my father because I knew if I told him, he would probably demand that I leave. Neither did I want Grandfather to really know because he might react the same way. Men were much too protective of girls, thinking that they fainted over the most trivial things, whereas I only fainted over a very non-trivial thing like the sight of blood. They also were under the impression that Mrs. Masen was in the recovery ward, and thought that I would still be working there mainly.
But Grandfather was as adept as anyone at knowing when I was trying to keep the truth from someone. Maybe if I just generalized. "Mrs. Masen and her son are doing much better, it seems. Her son might even be put into the recovery ward in a few days." Never mind that Mrs. Masen would stay in the emergency ward, where she had been for a week now.
Grandfather watched me carefully as I scraped the eggs from the pan onto a plate.
"Oh, that's good to hear." He paused for a moment, then asked in a more serious voice, "And how about Mr. Masen?"
I spent a minute getting some silverware out of a drawer, keeping my head down, deliberating what to say. But there was no way I could hide the truth, and it seemed almost like an affront to Mr. Masen if I tried to lie about it.
"He died a week ago," I replied quietly.
"Ah..." Grandfather murmured in a sober tone.
It was silent for a few moments as I brought the rest of the breakfast things to set on the table.
"Bella," Grandfather spoke slowly. "What will you do if Mrs. Masen and her son... don't make it?"
I raised my eyes from the stack of plates I had set down to look at him. He was watching me closely, his expression gentle but serious. I looked down again as I continued to set out the plates.
"How can you say that, Grandfather?" I reproached him, aggravated. "I just told you they were improving."
"I know, I know, my dear. And I am very glad for it. But I think you might want to prepare yourself, for that possibility." He seemed to be choosing his words carefully. "I was one of the very few lucky ones. The majority have not had such mercy."
I continued to set out the silverware. "Dr. Cullen works with them constantly. If anyone can save them, he can." I said shortly.
"Dr. Cullen is a very fine doctor, Bella." He paused again and his face suddenly looked very old. "But even doctors can't work against fate."
I glared at him, unable to speak for a moment. He was bringing up all of my worst fears, just when I had allowed myself to be optimistic. "Stop saying that! Why are you even thinking about those things? You don't know that they're meant to die! You don't know anything about it!"
He took my hand in his, patting it reassuringly. "You're right, I know it, my dear. I don't know anything about their fate. I just see how... how attached you're getting to that family. It feels like you focus all of your attention on the hospital now. I hope they get better, that all turns out well, but... in the case that it doesn't, I'm worried about how much it might affect you. Already..." -he stopped and looked at me pointedly- "well, I've heard you scream at night, dear."
I stared at him, shocked. My dreams had become more desperate, more horrific lately. I often dreamed that I was in the emergency ward. I would be surprised to find Mrs. Masen's and Edward's cots empty. As I walked out of the room to see if anyone knew what room they had been changed to, I stepped into a puddle of blood. As I looked in horror, I saw that it elongated in a trail from the doorway of the emergency ward, going down the hallway of the hospital. I would follow it, and it always seemed to take many hours, as if the hallway stretched on endlessly. And with each step I took, I felt my heart would collapse from the fear that clutched it. Eventually it came to a door, and as I looked up at the sign over the doorway, I saw that the path of blood had led me to a morgue. That was when I started to scream.
But I didn't know that anyone else had heard it; I thought it had only been in my dreams.
"Has Father said anything about it?" I asked quickly.
"He's heard it often enough, and he's worried of course."
No wonder he'd been trying to persuade me to leave the hospital so much more.
But these were just dreams; I had told myself repeatedly that they did not mean anything. It was just a result of my own fear. And I wouldn't think about what I would do if they died. I couldn't let myself.
"I can't think about that, Grandfather. If..." I swallowed hard. "I'll deal with whatever happens," I said in a very final tone.
He studied me for a moment. "Alright, my dear. Alright."
We heard the cracking of the floor upstairs and soon Father came down. Grandfather said nothing about our conversation and nothing appeared amiss. The meal was eaten quietly.
Finally Father stood up to leave.
"I'm not sure when I'll be back tonight," he said as he walked to the door. "There have been some reports of suspicious activity around Mark's St. We think it might be that Reid gang. We'll be watching there for awhile tonight."
"Be careful, Father," I reminded him.
"I will," he replied gruffly, as if I was the last person who should be saying that. He bid us good day and walked out the door.
I kept myself busy with my chores for the rest of the day, as I usually did, but even more so today because I didn't want Grandfather to talk to me anymore about the Masens. I was irritated with him, but I probably shouldn't have been. I knew he had only been looking out for me. And in the back of my mind, I did realize the possibility of the Masen's making it was likely evenly divided now. Also, it reminded me of all of the times I had thought such things when I first met them- how pessimistic I had been then. But I was just now allowing myself to hope; why was he bringing down my optimism now that I finally had some?
I dressed quickly into my nurse's uniform.
"I'll see you tonight, Grandfather," I called from the door.
"Take care, dear," he said softly, watching me again.
I shot him a quick aggravated look before stepping out the doors.
I couldn't reach the hospital quick enough now. I felt agitated once again and I hated that because it was only from my conversation with Grandfather. Edward could be going to the recovery ward in a few days and Mrs. Masen would surely follow. I had nothing to worry about.
I opened the doors of the hospital with a sigh of relief.
That relief quickly dissipated when I saw Nurse Thornton waiting at the front desk. Somehow I had avoided any confrontations with her this past week. Neither had I done anything to provoke her disapproval of me- no more than usual anyway.
So I really had no idea why she would be standing there at the front desk, obviously waiting for me. I walked over to sign myself in. I might as well get it over with.
"Good day, Miss Swan," Nurse Thornton said formally.
"Good day," I replied, just as politely.
She waited for me to pick up the pen and start thumbing through the pages of the list. "You are still attending to Mrs. Masen, aren't you?" she asked.
I glanced at her quickly before returning my gaze to the paper. Her face was expressionless, but that made her question all the more confusing. She already knew that I was still visiting Mrs. Masen, of course, so I had no idea why she was asking me this.
"Yes," I answered as I wrote my name on the paper.
"How are Mrs. Masen and her son doing?"
Again, questions that she already knew the answer to, most likely. Nurse Thornton did not attend Mrs. Masen or Edward very much, but she seen them before and of course she must have talked with Dr. Cullen before.
"They are well- at least that's what Dr. Cullen's prognosis is. He expects Edward to be in the recovery room in a few days." I finished with the sign in sheet and set it back in place on the front desk. I raised my eyes to her face finally.
"And how have you been doing in the emergency ward?" she asked pointedly, her polite tone slipping a little.
Ah, this must be why she was talking to me at all. She was most likely looking for a reason for me to be kicked out of the emergency ward. She must have expected something to have happened sooner, and because I had lasted for more than a week there, she assumed that I was keeping it hidden.
"I've had no accidents so far," I answered tartly.
"Really?" The shock in her voice was insulting. Her eyes narrowed at me. "No fainting spells, no dizziness, nothing at all like that?"
She didn't look like she knew what to make of that. "Well, I don't have to tell you how- surprised I am by this, Miss Swan. But I am glad for it." She glanced at me more closely. "Perhaps I underestimated you."
"Thank you," I replied in a more generous tone.
"Perhaps we can use you now with some more of the emergency ward patients or with some of the operations. Mr. Arbor's leg has been bleeding badly lately and we could use some extra hands with the amputation."
Her quick eyes took in the nauseated look that speedily came over my face. It was as if she had known the magic word to make me queasy. I looked down and adjusted the folds of my skirt, taking a deep breath.
When I looked up again, my voice came out clear and hard. "I think Dr. Cullen would like for me to stay with the Masens until they recover. We'll see what happens after that. Thank you, ma'am."
She looked at me with a bit of a patronizing look. "Yes. When the Masens recover..." she echoed and walked away.
I was very stunned by this whole conversation. I supposed Mrs. Masen was merely testing to see if I had gotten any stronger of a stomach with hospital matters. I somehow had the idea that even if I had grown immune to the sight and smell of blood, she still would not like me. Nurse Thornton seemed like the kind of person who put a lot of importance on first impressions- and from the very beginning I had given her the poorest impression.
I didn't mind so much. I was used to being ignored, but in the case of Nurse Thornton, I would much rather be ignored than be disliked.
And once again, there was something in her tone when she talked of the Masens which reminded me of what my Grandfather had said. Did everyone know something that I didn't? Why was everyone else doubtful now that I was finally hopeful?
I shook my head at myself. Who cared what everyone else was worrying about? I had been there the most with them. I knew that they were recovering. And Dr. Cullen thought so too.
I walked to the emergency ward, hoping to see Mrs. Masen awake. I saw immediately her form lying inert on the cot, her head resting deeply into her pillow. I walked over to lightly touch her forehead. It was warmer than I wanted.
I was about to get a wet rag, when a voice broke the silence.
I looked up to see Edward awake. I had only casually glanced in his direction when I entered the room; he had appeared to be asleep as well. When had he awakened?
He had raised himself on one elbow. "How is she?" he asked, looking at his mother.
I turned to the bowl and squeezed the water out of the rag floating in it. I felt calmer when I wasn't looking at his face.
"Just a little warmer than I would like," I replied, placing the cool towel on her forehead. She sighed and seemed to breathe more deeply.
I deliberated for a second on what to do next. It was silly, but I did not feel entirely comfortable being here with him awake. I wanted to learn more about him, but anytime I looked at him, I seemed to want to blush- whether from my embarrassing memories of our first encounter or just because I got a little lightheaded when I looked at him for too long. It was much easier to ask questions to his mother, who only thought I was a timid nurse with a lot of patience.
I took the cowardly route. "She should be fine now, though. I'd better go look after some of the other patients." I didn't know exactly whom I would see as it seemed these two were my only patients now.
I started to walk away.
"Actually," he called, halting my steps. "I wondered if I could talk with you for a moment. I have something to ask of you."
I turned around slowly. The surprise must have been clear on my face.
He looked at me with a guarded expression. "I'm sorry, if you have other duties- it will only take a moment."
He seemed to be waiting for me to come closer. I walked over to a few feet away from his bed, hesitantly.
He leaned over to pull something out of the drawer besides the cot; it looked like it took him some effort. Enclosing the object in his hand, he reached over to take one of my wrists- my breath stopped- and slowly released whatever it was into my palm. He let go of my wrist, and laid his hands at his side, clenched into fists.
"It was one of her favorites," he muttered through his teeth, "but- it will do her better if..." he trailed off, sounding too pained to speak.
I opened my hand, completely baffled by this turn of events to do anything else. Lying delicately on my palm was a bracelet, with a gold chain of very fine make and several large crystals hanging from it. I touched one with my finger, watching it sparkle in the sunlight. It was cut with many facets into the shape of a heart.
I lifted my eyes to his again, my eyebrows raised. I had no idea what his meaning was in giving me this.
"They're real," he informed me sedately, gesturing to the bracelet with his chin, "all of them. They should fetch you a good price."
I gasped and looked down at the magnificent crystals on the bracelet. Wait- not crystals. Diamonds? I couldn't even comprehend how much it cost. But what did he want me to do with them?
"What do you mean?" I asked, my voice shaky.
He studied me shrewdly for a second. "My mother informed me that your father is a chief of police. Is that right?"
"Yes," I answered hesitantly.
He nodded quickly to himself. "And he would know the best places for trade..." It sounded like he was talking more to himself than to me.
I was still completely lost.
"I'm sorry, but... what is it exactly that you want me to do?" I tried to keep my voice polite, instead of exasperated.
He looked into my eyes steadily. My heart started to beat a little faster. "I need your help, Miss Swan. I despise asking for this assistance from anyone, but" -his face turned mockingly bitter- "as I am, at the moment, incapacitated- I am left to rely on others."
He turned his face to gaze at his mother for a moment. "I can't let her..." his eyes blazed in agony. "She won't die- not while I can help it!"
He slid his eyes to mine again. "I need someone to sell that." He glanced down at the bracelet, a trace of pain in his features. "Sell it anyway you can for what its worth. Your father has connections; he must surely know the appropriate places."
I had too many questions; it was hard to pick one to begin with. I decided on one. A fairly important one. "Why do you want to sell it?"
"I need medicine, some kind of cure for her. There must be something!" His face looked slightly fanatical as he said this. "With the proper amount of money- maybe..." Once again, he sounded like he was trying to convince himself more than me.
I felt my mouth hanging open. Embarrassed, I closed it with a snap. I tried to swallow; it didn't work.
I was still completely bewildered over this whole turn of events. But, now that I understood what he actually wanted me to do, I could not comprehend why he could not ask this of someone else.
"Wouldn't Dr. Cullen..." I began.
"I asked him already" he replied a little shortly. "He said there was no exact cure yet." He swallowed hard. "But there must be something that can help!"
"What do you want me to do with the money?" I asked, still perplexed about this plan.
"I'll give it to Dr. Cullen- or that Nurse Thornton- I'll bribe them. Anything to get some medicine sent. I don't care if it's new or untried. Whatever. Whatever works." He sounded like he was on the point of babbling.
There was one thing I couldn't understand at all. "Why me?" I asked quietly.
A small V formed between his eyebrows and he looked down at his lap. "I knew from what my mother told me that she trusts you. Anyone else and I'm sure I'd never see that bracelet again." His eyes turned speculatively to me again. "But... I'm assuming you won't do that?"
I felt a blush creep onto my cheeks, but I raised my chin a little higher. If he was asking me to do this, why would he even question? "What do you think?" I asked a little curtly.
The V deepened. "I can't decide. I can't understand you." He spoke begrudgingly, as if he didn't want to admit it. "You said yourself how you don't like being here- that you would never choose this profession for yourself." His eyes narrowed at me slightly. "So why are you here then?"
My blush increased. As if I would tell him my reason. For you? For your family? Now I wondered at why I was staying myself.
I looked away. "I don't know," I answered lamely.
It was silent for a moment. I decided to consider more on what he was asking me to do.
I couldn't understand this plan. If Dr. Cullen had already told him there was no medicine, what would be the point of bribing him? It was true he had not known Dr. Cullen for a long time; he might not know yet his honest and upright character. But from what his mother had said of him reading people so clearly, he would have been able to see that immediately.
It could only be then that he was so intent on finding a cure for his mother- it made him not really able to think clearly. Made him desperate for any chance.
I wondered if he had seen through me yet, what he determined of my character. I still so often felt him scrutinize me with that distant curiosity.
But I suppose I had an answer to that now. He had been trying to find someone to carry out this job for him, and he had been trying to decipher if I was actually as trustworthy as his mother had told him. Apparently he'd found my integrity to be sufficient.
I felt slightly dejected by this. I became conscious of the fact that I had been hoping for something more in his stare. I wanted to shake my head at myself.
I glanced at him again and realized for the first time since entering into the room how flushed his skin was. I must have thought it was from the agitation, but I could see now that he also had beads of sweat dotted on his face. His form was shaking slightly. His eyes stared back at me, blood-shot red.
The fever was back.
He misread the horror on my face. "I'm so sorry, to ask you to do this." I only now heard the weakness in his voice; it croaked with exhaustion. "And I know I've been terribly rude, please forgive me. I know it may not work, but just promise me-" He stopped and tried to lean forward, starting to cough hoarsely. It took me a few seconds to notice the blood spewing onto his hand as he held it in a fist in front of his mouth.
I stood rooted to the ground for half a second and then rushed to his side, placing my hand on his back to help support him. I pulled a handkerchief from my pocket and placed it in front of his mouth to catch the blood.
I knew I could not do this alone.
"Help! Someone please help me!" I cried out.
A nurse ducked her head into the room and, upon seeing the situation, quickly turned her face to the hallway.
"Someone! Get Dr. Cullen- quickly!" she shrieked. Then she came over to the other side of the cot to help.
Edward's body was still heaving with his coughing. He dragged in each breath raggedly, chokingly. I closed my eyes so that I wouldn't see his blood drenching my handkerchief, but I felt the sticky warmth through the cloth. The room swam before me, but I held on. There was too much danger for fainting, even for myself. For the moment at least.
Dr. Cullen rushed into the room. He replaced our positions at Edward's side. I stepped away unsteadily. The blood was everywhere. I turned away from the sight. It was too hideous.
But then I almost wished I hadn't. Because my gaze locked with Mrs. Masen's terrorized one. Tears streamed down her face and she looked like she was choking as well. When had she awakened?
I couldn't even try to formulate the question. The room darkened and I felt myself fall.