He had overheard her exit interview and stayed put to try and get an idea of what her next plans were. He overheard,
“How do you plan to pay?” “I can have the money wired over tomorrow.”
“Billing address?” “North Carolina.”
“I don’t have a regular physician.”
“Emergency contact… that’s a tough one. Let me think…”
He couldn’t hear her response to not being home alone for the next couple of days, but he knew what that strong willed woman had said anyways.
Boss had brought her suitcase over earlier that morning, and his team had recovered her wallet from the girls and purse containing her cell phone from their Durango.
The situation in the woods had become national news in the past few days, with reporters from each of the towns she had lived in previously calling, wanting an interview. He had declined on her behalf, initially because she was still in a coma and he wasn’t sure she would recover fully, but later because reliving horrific situations is unpleasant. She could make that decision for herself when she was ready, not at the reporters’ beck and call.
He played innocent when he reentered the hospital room, and she looked pale. When the nurse left the room, he cheerfully showed her the suitcase, wallet and purse. She seemed pleased to see them, and she headed to the bathroom to change. “You’ll come back this time, right?” he asked playfully, testing her mood, and that seemed to do it. She laughed as she entered the restroom in her hospital room but didn’t really answer.
She took a long time in there, and he wondered if she did in fact escape. He went to knock on the door, and he heard muffled cries. “Hey” he said sweetly, pushing the door open a crack. “Everything all right?”
“Yes. Just a little overwhelmed” she managed to say. The truth even when it hurts. He respected her so much for that bravery.
“Anything I can help with?” he said through the crack.
“You’ve already done so much” she said, a fresh round of sobs ensuing.
“I haven’t done anything I didn’t want to, Ann. You mean the world to me. In such a short amount of time you flipped my life upside down, but in a good way.”
When there were just covered sobs coming from the rest room he continued, “It would be a lot easier for me if I had something for my hands to do, rather than fret out here like a lunatic.”
She pulled the door open, and he slowly entered. She was sitting on the side of the tub, completely nude, with a pair of panties at her feet. Even vulnerable like this she had a certain grace and beauty to her. “I can’t bend over to put my own underwear on” she said, and the tears fell once again. He strode past her, and instead started the tub of water for her. He gently guided her in, and he took care in washing her hair, lathering her body, careful to avoid the tender areas. He rinsed her, toweled her off and released the water.
He reached for the panties and helped her into them, kissing her unblemished skin when he could, followed by a pair of sweats. She was the only person on this planet that could make sweats look so good. He inspected her cuts and most were nearly healed. When he inspected her top half, his stomach twisted. The area of the fractured ribs was nastily discolored, and her elbows and forearms were scratched and bruised. Again, most of it nearly healed. He was even impressed to see bruises on her knuckles, indicating she had landed at least one blow.
He kissed her unbruised knuckles and said, “I’m glad it wasn’t me you punched with no gloves on. That looks like it connected.” She sputtered out a laugh in confirmation.
“Just remember that,” she said with a soft laugh, “Remember what a badass I was, cuz I hope it never happens again.”
This time he was the one to let out a chuckle. “Message received.”
They skipped the bra, as her ribs were much to tender to even try and carefully slipped a t-shirt on.
She brushed her hair and her teeth, and donned some deodorant. Such domestic, normal things to be doing, to be witnessing, but in a hospital room. He hoped to see her do these menial activities many more times in the future, just not in this setting.
He cautiously started the conversation he feared. “I was hoping you would want to come back with me to my cabin, just the two of us this time.”
Silence, he continued, “Boss has got the gym covered, and I haven’t had a vacation in years. I’d love to just chill out with you for a while. Recuperate a bit”
More silence. This was torture. “The couch here was great and all, but I kind of missed my bed from the cabin.”
She seemed to be lost in her own thoughts. He realized she would never come to the cabin for herself, but she was selfless at heart, so in desperation he took advantage of that. “I am not ready to go back to work. I can’t take a punch to this face, not til it’s healed. And if you leave I won’t have an excuse to stay away.”
This caught her attention and she finally looked at him, so he continued, “please?”