Sunday, January 17, 2010

Amnesia, Chapter 3 - Recovery


“Dad, I can’t eat green Jell-o.”

I poked at the quivering lump on my divided plate with a fork, making a face. The banana slices congealed in the top of the gelatin seemed to blink balefully at me in response like round, yellowed eyes. I gave Charlie a pleading look, already knowing what his reply would be.

“Come on, Bells, you heard what Dr. Cullen said. They aren’t going to let you out of here until you’ve proven you can eat solid food again,” he said. “Just close your eyes and pretend it’s cherry. You can do that, can’t you, honey?” he asked with cautious optimism.

“All right,” I conceded, picking out the banana slices with my fork. I made quick work of the gelatin, swallowing as quickly as I could, and at least it went down easily. The bananas were a little trickier, since I had to actually chew them and taste the lime Jell-o still stuck to them before I could choke them down. My throat felt a lot better today, at least. It didn’t hurt so much to chew and swallow anymore. Of course, the hospital cafeteria had been delivering me a steady diet of soup, applesauce, pudding and other bland stuff resembling baby food since trying to wean me off of my IV yesterday. It wasn’t like I’d been asked to handle steak and corn on the cob.

As if he’d heard his name spoken, Dr. Carlisle Cullen swept confidently through the door of my room, flashing me his movie-star smile. “Good afternoon, Bella. How’s my brave patient today?”

I shrugged and gave a small smile in return. “Better, I think. My throat doesn’t feel so sore today.” Technically, that was true. My throat wasn’t really the problem. It was the numerous stitches and bandages covering my aching neck that were keeping me hospitalized.

“Good, good,” the doctor replied, checking the chart and monitors next to my bed. He proceeded to take my blood pressure again even though the nurse had done it less than an hour before.

“How’s she doing, doc?” Charlie asked anxiously. Like me, my father tended to hide his emotions behind a controlled exterior, but the concern in his eyes the past few days had been easy to see.

“Her vitals look excellent, and her blood and lipid panel is improving. I think that as long as she can take food and do without the intravenous drip today, we may be able to release her tomorrow,” he beamed at Charlie. Though I was happy at the news, I couldn’t help but scowl slightly at the fact that Dr. Cullen was talking to my dad as if I weren’t in the room.

“That’s good news, Dr. Cullen,” Charlie said, clearly relieved. “Did you hear that, Bells? You’re about to be sprung from the big house,” he grinned. I groaned a little at that particular analogy coming from the Forks Chief of Police. “Your mom is going to be thrilled. You know she’s dying to take care of you herself 24-7 instead of watching everybody else do it.”

I gave a short laugh. Mom had flown in from Florida immediately after hearing about my attack, and she had only left my bedside when banned by the county hospital staff so they could do their jobs. Dad had come to relieve her during his lunch hour every day, but other than that, she had stayed with me every minute, only leaving to get a few hours‘ sleep at Dad‘s house each night. I could hear their hushed, worried discussions about me in between pain med-induced bouts of unconsciousness. I gathered that I had lost a very large amount of blood and had undergone two transfusions before the doctors could stabilize me. They managed to successfully repair my carotid artery, and had even brought in a plastic surgeon to complete the stitches on my neck. The surgeon assured me I would have a minimal amount of scarring, though she might need to perform a second procedure to give me the best results. Apparently I’d been very lucky that my larynx and trachea had been left intact and my speech and breathing weren’t affected.

The police found few clues at the scene to let them know what kind of creature had attacked me 4 nights ago. The rain had washed away any animal tracks, and the human footprints they discovered near the area had also lost any details revealing the type of shoes the person had worn. Besides, a human couldn’t, or wouldn’t, have bitten my neck and left such sharp, jagged wounds. Dr. Cullen guessed that a wolf had been the culprit.

I had tried in vain to recall just one helpful detail about that night, but all I remembered was getting out of broken-down Big Red to try to get my phone to work, and then waking up in the hospital with a throbbing, burning pain all the way from my ear to my collarbone. Dr. Cullen told me it was normal to forget intense trauma like that, especially after losing oxygen to the brain. He said it was probably a blessing that I couldn’t remember what happened. Charlie and Renee agreed. They hoped I wouldn’t be haunted by nightmares, and it seemed they got their wish. The only thing I felt when I awoke each morning was a strange calm, almost happiness, though I could never remember the dreams that had evoked that feeling. I figured that whatever painkillers were running through my IV had worked their magic.

“I have more good news for you today, Bella,” Dr. Cullen smiled encouragingly. “Your friends have been asking when they can come see you, and I think you’re well enough today to have some company, if you’re feeling up to it.” I tried to match his level of enthusiasm, but I’m pretty sure the expression on my face was one of trepidation. I’d made a few new friends at Forks High School, but no one to whom I felt particularly close, at least not yet. Mike Newton was trying his hardest to change that, of course, and he and his posse of friends had adopted me at their lunch table almost immediately upon my arrival on campus. I was grateful for that; at least I didn’t have to eat alone.

“My daughter Alice is particularly anxious to see you,” Dr. Cullen added, evidently hoping to sweeten the deal. I managed a genuine smile then, because the quirky, spiky-haired Alice was hard not to like, even if my other friends thought the youngest Cullen was an oddball. I think that’s why I was drawn to her, in fact. She seemed perfectly happy to dress however she wanted, say whatever she wanted, and date the ridiculously uptight Jasper Hale without giving a rat’s behind what anyone else thought.

“That’s cool,” I told Dr. Cullen. “It’ll be nice to see her.”

My surgeon smiled his impossibly perfect smile and said they’d all be dropping by after school, so I might want to take a nap before then. I had to agree. Sometimes holding up my head seemed like too much of an effort and I had to rest.

Dr. Cullen went off to do his rounds, and Charlie returned to the police station after Mom came back from running some errands and eating lunch. She watched soaps and talk shows while I dozed off, and I occasionally heard her talking on the phone to Phil, who was just finishing up the minor league season now that the playoffs were approaching. I could tell she was missing him, and anxious to get back to the life they were building in Florida. Though it made no sense, I somehow felt guilty for nearly getting myself killed less than four weeks after I came here to try living with Charlie. Mom had put my happiness first my whole life, and I couldn’t seem to return the favor for even a month.

She was kind enough to wake me up around 3 p.m. so I could attempt to look at least a little human. I washed my face, being careful not to disturb the bandages, and brushed my teeth and hair. I was dying to take a really good shower and scrub myself from head to toe, but I knew it would be awhile before I could go about my normal daily routines. For now, this was as good as it would get. Mom went to get some coffee while I waited nervously, and at around 3:30, I heard the familiar chatter of young voices, right before a giant mylar balloon bouquet with legs appeared at the door of my room.

“Hi, Bella!” Bubbly Jessica Stanley was the first to greet me, waving the balloons above her head after she finagled them through the doorway. Angela Weber followed, grinning and carrying a heavy backpack. “I brought your lit books, in case you want to get caught up on the reading while you’re out of school,” she informed me before I had the chance to ask. I’d already read most of the books on the required English list, but it was thoughtful of Angela to bring them.

“Thanks, I think,” I replied with a laugh. “The balloons are looking better to me right now though.”

The boys all barreled in right after Angela: Eric Yorkie, Tyler Crowley and their ringleader, Mike. They all began talking at once, asking me how I was, and what had happened, and was I really scared when that whatever-it-was jumped me?

I shook my head, slightly bewildered, and replied, “I’m okay, I guess. I don’t really remember much of what happened. I was walking along hoping to come across another car, or at least get my cell phone working; and then…nothing,” I shrugged. “I woke up here.”

The boys looked slightly disappointed that I didn’t have any gory details for them. “Wow,” Mike finally remarked lamely. “That sucks. You should have let me drive you home---I told you that rust bucket was never gonna make it in one piece.”

My lip curled slightly in irritation, but before I could retort, Angela cut in. “You really shouldn’t take that short-cut, Bella. There are a lot of wild animals in that woods and it’s really thick. It’s safer to go around, and it’s only a few minutes more.”

“Thanks, but Chief Swan has already lectured me about that,” I sighed. “I’ve been forbidden to take that county road ever again. And my dad has had my truck completely overhauled since then, thank you very much.” I shot a look at Mike’s grinning mug. I liked my ancient vehicle. It had character, and it was stronger than a German-engineered tank. I felt safe in its old-fashioned, bulbous iron cab.

“So when are you going to be back in school, Bella?” Jessica asked impatiently. “You’ll be better in a few weeks, right? ‘Cause I kind of signed you up with all of us to be on the Winter Dance committee. We need to come up with a theme and decorate the gym and stuff. It’s not until next month, so you’ll be up for it by then, won’t you? It‘ll be fun!” She stopped to take a breath so I took advantage of the opening.

“Uh, me and dancing…not such a good idea. You’ve seen me in gym class, Jess. Physical coordination is not my forte.”

“Come on, you’re not that bad,” Mike protested. “I’ll bet you can dance just fine.” He looked a bit too hopeful for my liking.

“You can help me with the song list,” Eric offered helpfully.

“And you can stop these two,” Tyler gestured at Jessica and Angela, “from covering the entire gym in pink streamers or some other totally girly shit.” He shuddered dramatically and everyone laughed.

“Okay, I guess I’ll put my two cents in, to save the gym from complete defilement if nothing else,” I joked, rolling my eyes.

Suddenly a voice rang from the doorway. “Is there room for one more?”

Alice Cullen smiled in at me expectantly, holding a gorgeous bouquet of white roses.

“Of course, come on in,” I told her. “Those flowers are beautiful, thanks.” Her smile broadened as she danced into the room with the grace of a ballerina, reminding me further of my own klutziness when it came to staying upright on my own two feet. She set the vase of flowers on the counter across from the bed and said hello to everyone. They returned a few mumbled greetings back, and an awkward silence ensued. For some reason, everyone felt uncomfortable around Alice, though I wasn’t sure why. Perhaps it was because she was so ethereally pretty, with her porcelain complexion and hazel doe eyes. I could see why she might intimidate some, but she had been nothing but friendly toward me.

“Hey Alice, where were you during 5th period biology?” Mike asked, as if he had just remembered her absence. “Bella, you totally missed it!” he continued excitedly. “Mr. Banner decided we would all type our blood today, so we had to prick our fingers with these needles, right? Yorkie here totally bit it---turned white as a ghost and had to run to the nurse’s office before he ralphed!” He punched his friend playfully in the arm and chuckled gleefully, the others joining him.

Eric shook his head in denial. “Sooo not true. I had food poisoning, dude! Did you see that disgusting mystery meat they tried to pass off as fish today?”

“Get real, my friend,” Tyler laughed. “You were two seconds from passing out cold at the sight of your own blood…all three drops of it!” The group burst into another peel of giggles while Eric continued to protest.

A small voice interrupted the revelry. “Don’t you think it’s pretty insensitive to be talking about fainting over blood after what just happened to Bella?” Alice asked sweetly yet pointedly.

I bit my lip to hide the grin that threatened to creep over my face. Mike’s face fell and he sheepishly mumbled, “Sorry, Bella,” the others adding their apologies as well.

“It’s fine, Mike. It was funny,” I said, a bit unconvincingly. The truth is, I would have been the one running to the nurse’s office if I’d been there. It was a good thing I had no recollection of my aorta being eviscerated, because the acrid smell of blood turned my stomach.

“Hey guys, maybe we should leave and let Bella get some rest,” Angela suggested softly, giving me a sympathetic smile. “We’ll come visit you at home when you’re a little stronger, if that’s okay.”

I told them that would be great, and they gave me quick half-hugs before filing out of the tiny hospital room. Alice stayed behind, giving me a conspiratorial look. “Nice timing, telling you about the blood-letting in bio today,” she said with slight roll of her eyes. “Why do you think I ditched?”

I chuckled and said I didn’t blame her. I added, “Thanks for the flowers, really. Those are so nice. You didn’t have to do that. How did you know cream roses were my favorites?”

“Oh, I just had a vision of them in your room and they seemed to fit,” she shrugged. “They match your ivory complexion.”

“That’s true enough,” I conceded. “I might actually be paler.”

“Well, right now maybe,” she grinned. “But I have no doubt you’ll get some color back in your cheeks soon. Speaking of which…I have a strange request. You know how I’m thinking about going to med school? Well, that or fashion design, I can’t decide which.”

I laughed out loud at that. “There’s a pretty big difference between your career choices, don’t you think?”

“Au contraire, ma cherie!” She protested. “They both celebrate the glory of the human form, whether it’s preserving the inside or decorating the outside,” she said blithely. “Anyway, in the interest of my future career in medicine, can I please, pretty please, take a look at your neck?”

I gaped at her in surprise. “Um, well, yeah, I suppose. Although if you skipped school over a blood test, I’m thinking you really don’t want to see this.” I pointed at the large gauze bandage under my jaw.

“Silly, I didn’t skip because of that. Jasper had a free period and we made out in his car for awhile,” she grinned wickedly as she approached the head of the bed. “You should come hang out with us sometime. I think you’d like Jasper. He’s a lot more laid-back than he looks on the surface.”

Alice leaned in and peered at the bandage, then gently pulled at one corner with a dainty red-painted fingernail. “Dad wouldn’t tell me any details---patient confidentiality and all that,” she sniffed. “But I have to see this myself to believe it.”

She peeled the tape slowly back, and I watched her face curiously as she examined the wound. Her expression didn’t change, but she bit her lip.

“So…what do you think?” I asked anxiously. “Your dad seemed to think it was a wolf, and Charlie agreed. A bear would have clawed me to pieces, and anything smaller wouldn’t have done so much damage, right?”

She gave me a long look. “That sounds logical,” she finally agreed. “I’m just sorry it happened at all. I hope they find the thing that did this to you so we can get rid of it before it hurts anyone else.”

“What, do you think it had rabies or something? They already gave me the shots just in case. Thank God I was pretty out of it so I don’t remember it.”

“Yeah, you shouldn’t have to remember any of this,” she said somberly, echoing my parents’ sentiments. As if on cue, Renee pushed through the door of my room at that moment, carrying a tray with an espresso for her and tea with lemon for me. It had become our afternoon ritual over the past few days.

“Here you go, honey,” she said, setting the tray next to me. She introduced herself to Alice, and when she found out Alice was Dr. Cullen’s daughter, she threw her arms around her in exuberant Renee fashion and began thanking her for the great care her dad had given me.

Alice looked pleasantly surprised as she hugged Renee back. “Oh, my dad lives for saving lives. He was happy to do it, believe me. And we’re all glad he was successful. Bella has to get better in time for my Halloween party at the end of the month,” she said with a wink at me. “She doesn’t know it yet, but Cullen parties are legendary around here. You’re not an official resident of Forks until you’ve been to one. And I need someone to help me decorate, so you have to be in fighting form by then, you hear me, Bella?”

Sheesh, loud and clear. Apparently I’d unknowingly had “party planner” tattooed on my forehead as I lay unconscious in this bed. I hadn’t been much of a social butterfly in Phoenix, but my new Forks friends were doing their best to remedy that situation here in the northwest.

Mom told Alice how glad she was to see me making such good friends here, and practically promised I’d be as good as new in time for the Halloween festivities. Before I could protest, Alice announced that she had to leave, but she would come visit again tomorrow, or call me at home if I was released from the hospital. She gave me a light hug and kiss on the cheek and waltzed breezily out the door.

“She seemed nice, Bella! And I ran into your other friends down the hallway on their way out. That cute blond boy, Mike Newton is it?, couldn’t say enough nice things about you, Bella; but I get the feeling that Jessica girl has a thing for him, so you’d better watch your step with those two. You don’t need to get in the middle of some high school drama when you’ve barely lived here a month.”

I nodded absently, half-listening to Mom prattle on. My attention was riveted on Alice, who had stopped outside my door and was speaking in low whispers with Dr. Cullen. They exchanged dark looks, and I felt a knot of anxiety form in my stomach. Were they talking about me? I strained to listen. The knot tightened as I picked up Alice’s final words to her father before they parted.

“I saw the wounds. We were right, Carlisle. That was no animal attack.”

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