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 6: Departure
When I woke up, I found that I had been placed on a cot in another room. Nurse Thornton had come into the emergency room and, upon seeing me fainted away on the floor, ordered some doctors to take me into another room nearby until I reawakened. Betsy was kind enough to stay with me, and when Nurse Thornton ordered me to go home after I'd regained consciousness, she offered to come with me. I gratefully took it, as I still felt unstable.
We walked slowly, with my hand on her arm. I hated it, but I really did need her support, whether from the physical stress of fainting or the emotional turmoil I now felt. I was trying to calm myself, to somehow beat down the terror that seized me now. Suddenly, I remembered what I had been holding in my hand in the emergency ward. My hands were obviously empty now.
Before I could begin to hyperventilate, I noticed the heavy weight in my pocket. My fingers dipped into it, feeling the cool, hard stones of the bracelet. I breathed a sigh of relief. But how ever did it get in there?
Betsy looked down to see what I was clutching and took in the confused look on my face. "Oh, you were holding that when you fainted. I took it before anyone else noticed and slipped it into your pocket once they'd put you down on the bed. I didn't want you to get into trouble, but you know the hospital rules about wearing jewelry, Bella," she chided, but then her voice grew astonished. "And, my goodness, wherever did you get something like that? You can't have that much money!"
"Oh," I mumbled, trying to think of something that might make sense. "It was my mother's... really old..."
She still eyed me dubiously, but did not ask anymore questions about the bracelet. I wasn't so much a fool to think that anyone, Betsy included, should know that I had been obligated by a patient to pawn this incredible bracelet in order to bribe the doctors at the hospital for new medicine. No, that likely was not something to be heralded about.
My head was still swimming in fear. Edward had reached the final stage. How much time did he have? Days? Hours? It was so unpredictable, there was no way to tell.
Perhaps that should give me hope, instead of dread. Because the disease was so unpredictable, who was to say that he would absolutely die now? What if this wasn't the end, his death sentence? What if there was a chance that he could still survive it?
"Betsy," I asked slowly, "have you ever known anyone that survived after... the final stage?"
She looked at me quickly, apparently surprised at this turn of conversation. Her eyes took in my expression, and then she shook her head, pityingly.
I swallowed hard, feeling faint again. Perhaps now my problem was feeling too much optimism, and not enough pessimism.
Betsy looked straight ahead as we walked. "That's the sad part about working in a hospital, Bella. There's not much we can do about it."
Her words were spoken gently, meant to comfort me, or at least ease the guilt that she must have sensed in me. But they had the opposite effect. My jaw tightened and I probably hurt Betsy as my fingers dug into her arm. Oh yes, there was something to be done. Even if there was just the slightest chance of it working, I was going to do it.
We reached my house by that time and I thanked Betsy for helping me home. She looked slightly wary, leaving me at my home. I wondered what it was in my expression that made her cautious. But I ignored it and thanked her again as I stepped through the doorway.
Grandfather was sitting in the drawing room, reading newspapers when I walked into the house. He looked at me and the clock in surprise. I realized that I had come home much earlier than I usually did.
"I felt a little sick, at the hospital," I said quickly before he could ask. "I asked to come home a little early."
He frowned in concern. "Is everything alright, dear?"
"Yes, it's nothing. I just... felt a little off." This was very much true. The world did not seem on center right now.
I noticed that the house was very quiet now. "Has Father returned yet?"
Grandfather shook his head, rustling his papers as he turned his attention back to them. "No, not yet. Remember, he said they were going to watch out for the Reid gang again. He wasn't sure when he'd come back."
I clutched at the bracelet in my pocket inadvertently. But there was nothing that I could do at the moment, was there? I had no idea where to go or what to do about it really. I would have to wait until Father came home and request his help.
I went to the kitchen to start dinner. I usually made dinner at the same time that I made lunch, so that Grandfather and Father could eat while I was at the hospital. But I desperately needed something to do right now, so I made a whole new dinner.
Father was not there by the time Grandfather and I sat down to eat it. We ate in silence. I couldn't tell if Grandfather sensed my agitation, I tried to cover it, but at the same time, I was too worried to care if he saw it. He asked me nothing and I was content with that.
Grandfather turned in for bed early, while I was still cleaning the kitchen. That was good because I did not want to have to pretend to go upstairs to my room to sleep as I had no intention of sleeping. Not until Father came home that is.
When I was done cleaning anything that could possibly be cleaned, I sat down on the sofa in the drawing room. I crossed my arms over my chest and my foot tapped up and down on the floor involuntarily. I had kept one small candle on so as not to alert Grandfather to my awakened state. I could see through the windows that the sky was dark now, I could see only a few other lights from neighboring homes. How much longer would it be?
The hours dragged on and still Father had not returned. This did nothing to resolve my anxiety as I then had three people to worry if they would not make it through the night.
Sometime past two in the morning, I could stand it no longer. I held the bracelet tightly in one pocket of my dress as if this would somehow strengthen my resolve. I made it to the doorknob twice, then paused to talk myself out of it, before finally walking out the door into the dark night.
We did not live in a very bad part of town, but then I did not imagine any place to feel very safe in the middle of the night. And I did happen to have particularly bad luck.
But all of this didn't matter. Because if I didn't get money for new medicine as soon as possible... then there would be no point for any of this.
I still knew how crazy this plan was, but I felt as Edward must feel as well, that doing anything was better than nothing.
I wouldn't give up now.
I walked to the end of the block, my only light from the moon. The streetlights must have been snuffed out hours ago. I didn't know in the slightest where to go or what to do. The air was thick with heat, yet I shivered as I looked down the empty roads. Even when I did get to the city, I had no idea what to look for. And I wondered what might find me as I continued to search.
I took a deep breath. This was not about me, this was about the Masens.
I walked down the street and gave a slight shriek when a cat shot out of the shadows to cross the road. That would be just the thing to happen to me, wouldn't it? Get robbed on the way to selling an enormously expensive bracelet for a family on their deathbeds. Wouldn't that be wonderful to explain to Edward tomorrow? Wouldn't that increase his estimation of my character?
Maybe I wouldn't have the chance to anyway.
I exhaled shortly in exasperation of myself. I was back to dooming them again. Of course, after what Betsy said, my pessimism might be finally right on target.
The hyperventilation started again. I had never had this feeling before- like my lungs couldn't get enough air, like there was something huge blocking my airways. I wished it was actually physical so I could somehow wash it down.
I stopped short in my tracks and looked around me. I roughly realized that I was now headed down a street I did not recognize. It seemed suddenly very dark around me. I was on the verge of panic now, every creak of a tree or rustle of wind sounding like the approach of an imaginary attacker. I walked quickly to the end of the street and gladly found that this connecting road was familiar. I was about a half mile from my house now. And still no exact idea what I was doing.
This was probably ludicrous. What could I have even done had I somehow found a store to trade it? Likely, it was not open at this hour, of course, unless it was located in a section of town where I definitely should not go. As if anyone would give a fair price to a fifteen year old girl, anyway? As if I had any idea what the right price should be?
I hadn't been thinking at all when I stepped out, only feeling that I couldn't wait anymore. Finally, sense was returning to me and I saw at once that this was entirely impossible right now.
I walked home, quicker than I had been walking around earlier. Now I knew exactly where I wanted to go and how to get there. The earlier confusion had numbed me to the frightening atmosphere as well, and I now was absolutely terrified at being all by myself in the middle of the night.
I reached home at long last and felt such relief when I slipped my key through the door. I looked at the clock and was shocked to see that I had been walking around for a little less than two hours. It had felt like just thirty minutes to me.
But now I was back in the silent house and while I would certainly not venture outside again, it was a place that could be equally as terrifying. Not because of the atmosphere, but because I had nothing to distract me from my worries now.
I still couldn't imagine it. Somehow I had assumed that with all of my pessimism, it would help me prepare for the worst, but that hadn't happened at all. They had almost comforted me because I knew they were just my own imaginings. Now as I stared at the reality of their death, it didn't make sense to me. How was it possible that I might never see Mrs. Masen again? Or Edward...
I was slightly surprised at how much pain that thought caused me. I probably shouldn't have been surprised, being as all my life seemed to revolve around the boy and his family now. But it wasn't as if I was in love with him...
My cheeks flushed in embarrassment at myself for the thought. As if you could fall in love with someone that you had one single conversation with. And really, I had only learned about him through his mother, and how many mothers tended to stretch the truth about their sons? Perhaps he wasn't the angel he appeared to be. No, I could not be in love with him.
I wasn't, however, deluding myself into thinking that I did not care for him at all. I liked him much too much. Or perhaps, a better way of describing it was that I was much too interested in him. I very much wanted to see if his mother's claims of him were real.
Even still, even if all of those things were true, it was utterly ridiculous to hope that he could somehow reciprocate those feelings. Mrs. Masen might like me now, but her feelings would probably change if she thought I had designs on her son.
And most importantly, though it was easy for me and probably any girl to see him as interesting, there was absolutely nothing that he could find interesting about me. A daughter of a policeman. Spends most of her time reading books when not having chores to do. Did not own a fancy piece of clothing beyond a dress for church when we went at Christmas. Absolutely no talent in music or art, as I'd had hardly any time to devote to such endeavors. Oh yes, and completely average-looking.
Yes, I must be quite the temptation to him.
As I had learned today, all of those curious stares on his part had merely been to see that I could be trusted for this job. And he'd only admitted that he wasn't entirely sure of my character. He'd stared because he found me strange, incomprehensible. Well, he probably wasn't the first. He had found me interesting in a way, but of course, this was not the way one wished to be found interesting. Interestingly bizarre, he would probably say.
Then again, it may not matter what he thought of me, by the end of this wretched night. He might not think anything at all ever again.
I laid my head in my hands. I was finally feeling the effects of staying up all night. They sky had lightened through the windows; the sun would be rising soon. And Father had still not returned.
I was on the couch in the drawing room. I would be here when he finally returned home. I could hear the creaking of Grandfather waking up in his bedroom. He would not be pleased if he knew I had stayed up all night long.
I scrambled to the kitchen to start breakfast. Grandfather came out after a few minutes, greeting me, then sat down at the table to wait. I kept my head down so that he wouldn't see the red in my eyes or the tiredness in my face.
"How did you sleep, dear?" he asked casually as I set down a plate of bacon and porridge for him.
Well, I probably wouldn't be able to hide it from him completely, but he didn't have to know everything. "Not very well. I was worried about Father, of course." Ah, see? I did not really have to lie. Father's absence had definitely been part of my worries last night.
"Yes, he's still not home yet, is he?"
I shook my head at him as I sat down to eat as well.
We had another quiet meal together. I felt that Grandfather knew there was something wrong, but had sense enough to not ask me about it.
After breakfast, Grandfather invited me to take a morning walk with him, but I declined. When he was gone, I cleaned up quickly and went back to sit on the couch. My head was starting to feel disconnected to my body, and I was not thinking quite coherently. I decided to lie down on the couch as I waited, just to rest my head a bit.
It had felt like only five minutes later when someone was shaking my shoulder. "Bella. Bella, dear. Are you going to go to work?" Grandfather's voice came gently.
I opened my eyes to see him leaning over me. I noticed immediately the low sunlight coming from the west of the windows. His words registered in my mind slowly. It was already time for work? Oh, how had I let myself fall asleep for so long?
I shot up in my seat. "Where's Father? Has he returned finally?"
"Yes, he came home around noon. He's fine; they caught some of the gang members in the early morning. He's sleeping now."
I nodded and ran for my room. I dressed in my nurses uniform quickly. Then I wrote a note for Father explaining just the bare minimum for him to understand what I needed. I wrapped the bracelet in a small pouch and handed both to Grandfather, asking him to give it to Father once he'd awakened. He looked puzzled, but nodded his assent and I fled through the doors.
I can't believe I had allowed myself to sleep through all of this. But then, if I had been awake when Father had come home, likely I wouldn't have made him go out with me to find some pawn shop. He must have been exhausted.
I was desperate to get to the hospital now. I tried to block any pessimistic thoughts that tried to tell me that Edward had not made it through the night. I couldn't live through not knowing anymore. It felt worse than anything.
I walked through the front door with a sigh of relief and quickly signed myself in at the desk. My cheeks flushed red as I remembered the state I had left the hospital in yesterday. As far as I could tell, no one else remembered it, at least. I headed straight for the emergency ward.
Just as I was about to walk into the doorway, Mrs. Masen's voice brought me up short.
I shrank back into the shadows of the hallway. I was used to the gentle, feminine voice she usually spoke with. This was different; it was a fierce command of desperation.
"I'll do everything in my power." I was surprised to hear Dr. Cullen's voice come from the room. What on earth was going on?
"You must," she continued in that authoritative voice. "You must do everything in your power. What others cannot do, that is what you must do for my Edward."
What was Mrs. Masen thinking? What did she mean- what others cannot do? Hadn't I promised her all along that Dr. Cullen would do everything he could for her family? I racked my brain, trying to think of what could have prompted this response in her. Slowly, I remembered some things I had said, which were completely meant to be light-hearted jokes, meant to assuage her fears, about Dr. Cullen having some kind of special ability beyond normal capacities. Is that what had triggered this reaction? How could anyone have taken me seriously?
I stood there in shock for a few more moments when Dr. Cullen stepped in front of the door, blindingly fast. I must have been dazed, everything looked strange to me. But the expression on Dr. Cullen's face brought me to reality.
He looked absolutely bewildered, terrified even. I would have thought that he would consider Mrs. Masen's request as part of her symptoms. Why did he look so horrified?
"Dr. Cullen?" I asked hesitantly, keeping my voice quiet so that Mrs. Masen wouldn't be able to hear.
His eyes registered my presence, as if he had not immediately recognized my being here before. "Did you hear...?"
I nodded solemnly. There was no point in hiding it. "What will you do?"
He turned away, his eyes wide and unseeing it appeared. "I don't know yet."
He took a step forward, but I couldn't let him leave just yet. I had one more question to ask. "Dr. Cullen- how is she? I mean-" I had to swallow before continuing. "will she... make it?"
He looked into my eyes intently, and shook his head slowly. "I don't know that either..."
I felt my face draw into horror. How could this have happened in so short a time? And, worst of all- "Edward," I gasped, speaking mostly to myself. "He'll have no one. He'll be left all alone."
From the corner of my eye, I saw Dr. Cullen's eyes snap at me fixedly. I couldn't tell what I had said that made him look at me that way, so intently, for he turned quickly and walked down the hallway before I could think or ask anything.
I stepped into the room. It was very quiet. Their eyes were closed, but I checked immediately to see that their chests still rose slightly with their breathing. Mrs. Masen's face in particular, I noticed, did not look peaceful.
I stood for a minute in between their cots and simply watched them. Was there anything I could do for them now? The one task that I had been asked to accomplish, the one hope there was left for them, I had already failed. I hoped Father would be able to get the money, but really, how much time would there be left for it all to work out anyway?
I continued to watch them, switching between faces. I was slightly afraid of touching them, as if even a gentle stroke of my hand would tip the scales and their breath would never come again. I became accustomed to the extreme quiet in the room, and therefore gasped in fright when I heard Edward's sudden intake of breath. I looked sharply at his face.
His eyes opened slowly, immediately seeking his mother's cot beside him. When he spoke, his voice was just a hoarse whisper, as if he barely had strength to speak. "Is she alive?"
"Yes," I answered quickly.
His head raised a little, his eyes straining to see her more closely, to examine her. "How is she?"
I bit my lip. This was harder to answer. "I don't know," I whispered.
His brow furrowed and his eyes tightened, but his head sunk down once more against the pillow. It seemed he did not have strength enough to hold it up anymore. His eyes closed once again.
I would have been afraid, except that I watched his breath come in and out, with a rattle and with effort. And though I knew it would make things so much worse, I had to tell him the truth.
"I'm so sorry..." My voice came out nearly inaudibly with the shame I felt. "I didn't get the money..."
His eyes opened for one small second to look at my expression, than closed again. There was no anger in their expression, or surprise for that matter. Only exhaustion.
He took a long, deep breath, then exhaled slowly. "Doesn't matter anymore," he finally muttered.
His mouth opened slightly again, as if he were going to say something more, but it slowly closed again.
He looked to have fallen asleep. His breath came still- shallowly- but still it came.
What was wrong with this family? Why were they so ready to die for each other? So intent on giving up?
Well I wouldn't give up.
It had been maybe forty minutes since I'd come into the room, when a shadow blocked the light coming through the door.
"What are you doing in here, you foolish girl!" Nurse Thornton's voice came furiously from the doorway. Her bulky figure stalked forward towards me and a meaty hand grabbed my elbow, pulling me from the Masens' bedsides.
I resisted her pull, dragging my feet on the ground. "What do you think I'm doing? I'm attending to the Masens as always."
Her eyes narrowed at me. "Not anymore you don't. Not after your little accident yesterday. Do you think we need our nurses fainting away for our most urgent patients? Just feel lucky that you have a job at all. You can thank Dr. Cullen for that."
She yanked my arm again, more forcefully. And like her personality, Nurse Thornton's strength was no shrinking violet. I tried to jerk my arm free and cement my feet into the floor. She continued to haul me to the doorway.
"No- I won't go! I have to stay with them!" I cried desperately. "You can't make me go!"
She halted in her steps and cocked an eyebrow. "Oh, can't I? Girl, if you rather, I can terminate your presence here right now, and you'll never step into this hospital again. Would you prefer that?"
I looked at her with hard eyes, knowing that Nurse Thornton was not the type for exaggeration. Whatever she said was meant with absolute seriousness. I wanted to do anything to stay with the Masens now, but what good would it do for them if I were to be fired? I had no choice left.
With my jaw set and furious eyes, I let her walk me forward begrudgingly.
She took me back to my old recovery room. The patients had changed and I hardly knew any of them. I did not know if this was because my old patients had recovered and returned home or, the opposite had happened, and they had died. At this moment, there seemed to be no surety in life.
I stood there for a few moments, too angry to speak. Nurse Thornton turned from one of the patients to glare at me. "Is this what you do all day, girl? I can fire you for that as well."
I gave her a withering look and stalked forward to one of the patient's bedsides.
I talked with the patients, asking them what they needed and attending to their requests. But my mind was racing as I worried over the Masens. I couldn't forget their faces, both so pale and weak. Mrs. Masen's in particular disturbed me greatly; it had looked so distressed, even in sleep. And Edward's frightened me even more, because his expression had been one of defeat. I felt on edge and watched the agonizingly slow progress of the clock, each second seeming to take a minute, each minute seeming to take an hour. And with each small passage of time, the thoughts screamed at me, ‘Is this minute their last?'
Nurse Thornton watched me with near cat-like glee. She seemed to enjoy that I was finally back in the place I belonged, if there was any place for me in a hospital. Thankfully, I barely noticed her with the chaos of my thoughts.
Finally, finally, the time came for my shift to end. I rushed out the door without a glance in Nurse Thornton's direction, though I distantly heard her call out. I nearly ran to the emergency ward, though it felt like I couldn't get there fast enough.
When I stepped through the door, it felt like I had been transformed into the nightmare I had been having recently. The cots were empty. I stared at them for a few seconds, not wanting to comprehend the meaning behind this. Only the sound of footsteps behind me brought me around.
I spun around to stop whoever it was in the hall. I had seen her before, but did not know her name. "Excuse me, do you know where the patients in this room have been moved to?"
She stared at me, surprised that I had stopped her. She glanced at the room behind us to see what might help her understand what I was talking about.
"Oh, the Masens." Comprehension dawned on her and I started to breathe again. She looked in shock at me now. "You don't know?"
I could only look at her, too afraid of what she would say.
She stepped closer to me and looked around her for a second, checking to make sure there was no one around us. When she spoke, it was in a hushed whisper. "I don't know how you don't know this. I didn't think there was anyone that wasn't talking about it, but..." -she paused to look at me seriously- "Mrs. Masen died an hour ago. Her body was taken to the morgue, and when they'd returned, her son, Edward, had disappeared! Most of the doctors think that someone had taken his body to the morgue as well; they said he didn't have more than a few hours left. But they haven't been able to find it!"
I did not feel anything. I was completely numb, like I had been turned into a machine. I could only think of one thing. "Where is Dr. Cullen?" My voice was dead, completely devoid of any emotion.
I dimly registered the look of shock on her face again. She looked at me almost pityingly. "He's disappeared as well. No one can find him anywhere."