And I couldn’t quite grasp what Stone was telling me. Not completely, but I asked, “Jared?”
“Your stepbrother is with friends. He has a best friend, Apollo?”
That was good. That was the best place for him. Apollo was like family to Jared.
“I know you don’t have any relatives in the area.”
He was kneeling by me, talking so gently to me, this was so not Stone.
“I need to know what you want me to do to help. I want to help.”
“Why?” A flash of anger burst in me. White. Hot. Seething. “Why are you still here? You delivered the message. Now go.”
His face closed off, but he didn’t stand up. He didn’t back away. He didn’t leave.
He stood now. A hand went to his jaw. “Dust—”
“I’m not Dust to you. That died a long time ago. My mom died, Stone! Your father fired mine so he didn’t have to pay the medical insurance and my mother died so your dad could keep more money in his pockets.”
He was backing away now. Flinching as I kept going.
“Then he blacklisted him, hoping we’d move out of town. He tried to run us out of town! In my senior year. But we stayed. They stayed. Because of me. I wasn’t ‘Dust’ then. I haven’t been ‘Dust’ since you were in sixth grade. Remember the last time I was ‘Dust’ to you? We watched a movie at the drive-in, shared a blanket, popcorn, and a soda, and then the next day you walked past me on the bike trail with Gibbons, Mark, Tony, and right then I was nothing to you. Remember? I do. You were laughing about Megan Parturges. You looked. Saw me. And then said, ‘Yeah, I’d fuck Parturges,’ and you kept walking by as if I were a stranger. That’s when this,” I pointed between him and me, “died. It died. And you gave me the message, now fucking leave me alone.”
“Dust…y.” His entire face shuddered. “Let me help you. I can fly you back.”
“Get AWAY FROM ME!”
I hated him.
I loathed him.
His entire family.
The power of his fame, how it could get inside a person and bring out their rotten insides. I especially hated that part of him.
I wanted him gone.
I wanted everyone gone, but he wasn’t going. They weren’t going.
I could see them back there, still watching, but I wasn’t looking. They were nothing to me, too.
Okay. So fine. No one was leaving, I would.
I came out of that protected part of my brain, moving into the irrational side that was now merging with my rational side, and I just felt pain. Gut-wrenching pain, but then—a blessed relief—numbness. I couldn’t handle what was happening and I was going numb. It was traveling up from my feet, so quickly, until it rose, blanketing over my mind, and silence.
Inside of me, total stillness.
Finally, I could move again. Finally, I could breathe again. Finally, I could function again.
I knelt and finished grabbing everything that had fallen. Piece by piece, I put it back in my purse. My backpack. It was as if Stone wasn’t there. As if no one was there. As if he hadn’t just told me how my life as I knew it had ended that day. It was as if none of those events happened, and standing, I just turned and went to my car.
“Dusty.” Stone came after me.
I ignored him.
Walking out of the fence, going to my car, I glanced up at him as I unlocked my car.
A stranger. That’s what he was to me now. And he saw it, too, because he reared back on his feet, a curse falling swiftly from his lips.
Then I got in my car, started it, and backed up, all the while staring at a stranger.
I kept backing up, and then I heard a shout before I felt the impact, followed by metal crunching, glass shattering, screams, and then blessed, blessed darkness.
The beeping woke me up.
Then the pain really woke me up.
I jolted, immediately screamed from the pain, but it was muffled and I realized I had something gagging me.
Reaching up, breaking off whatever was holding my arm in place, I reached for whatever was in my throat and I started to pull it out.
Then—out, and I was gagging. My body pitched forward. I was going to puke, but no, I was going to pass out. And then, air. My lungs drew it in, and I couldn’t see past the tears in my eyes.
“What—oh my God!” I heard the squeak of shoes coming toward me, then a harsh exclamation. Panic in her voice. She rushed to me and I felt hands going to whatever I was still holding in my hand. “Oh no, no, no. You need this!”
I didn’t. She didn’t know that, though. I was shaking my head, trying to tell her I didn’t want that, but then I heard someone come running and a, “Holy—get off her. Get off her.”
That someone shoved between me and the nurse.
It was a him.
He was helping me. “She’s good. She’s good. Look at her.”
It was Stone.
I froze, but I think I knew it had been him. I’d never be able to not recognize his voice, no matter how much pain I was in.
“Oh no.” From the nurse.
“What?!” A savage growl from Stone.
“She didn’t get—oh no.” She rushed away.
Stone went after her. “She didn’t what?”
The nurse came back, a doctor behind her, and I still couldn’t see. I could see shapes, but everything was blurred and it was the damn tears. I hated crying. I had to stop. Suck it up. Move forward. And feeling the impending doom that was about to crash over me, I did just that.
I went still.
I pushed past the pain, icing it all down, welcoming that same numbness from before again.
And then, as it all moved up, rising, covering me, I stopped crying.
I stopped feeling.
I grabbed whatever I was wearing and used it to wipe my tears clear, and then, I saw Stone’s back. He was turned toward me, his hips half angled to me, but he was twisted around, paying attention to the doctor and nurse, who I saw were looking over my chart.
The nurse pointed.
The doctor nodded. “Change it out now, especially if she’s awake.” With that, his eyes jerked to mine, went back to the chart. Then. He stopped. He backtracked and his eyes widened in horror. I saw it for a split second before he masked it. The professional coming forth, and he cleared his throat, standing upright, his hands folded over his chest. “Miss Phillips. You’re awake.”
Stone whipped back around to me.
I didn’t look at him. I didn’t want to see what was there because my memory was coming back, and I knew what news I’d still have to deal with, but not yet. Not yet. Not until I could walk out of here.
“I know you’re probably in a lot of pain, but we’ll get you handled and taken care of real quick.”
He looked at the nurse who was stringing something up, and she reached for a tube going into my arm, switching it out.
No, no, no. I knew what that was, and I started shaking my head, but my God. It hurt so bad. Everything hurt.
Stone looked at me, his hand grasping the nurse’s in the next flash.
She froze from his quickness.
I did, too, but then I said with my lips hurting and my mouth feeling just weird. “No morphine.”
The nurse’s eyes enlarged. “But you must be in so much pain.”
“No.” It hurt to talk. “Morphine.”
Stone let out a roar. “She said no fucking morphine. No fucking morphine.” Then, casting me an apologetic look, he quieted his voice, “She doesn’t usually drink or do drugs. She hates not feeling clearheaded.”
I gave him a questioning look because I didn’t think anyone knew that about me. I never drank or partied in school, or got high, and living where we did, so many went that route out of boredom. It was either that or trying to half kill yourself doing stupid stunts like Peter Mills who climbed the top of a crane to hide a flag for flag football and fell.
He didn’t survive.
People did stupid things where we grew up, and I had, too, with Stone when we were kids, but that all stopped.
“Sandy.” From the doctor. He seemed resigned. “If that’s Miss Phillips’ wish, then we need to adhere to it.”
She let go of the tubing and took the new morphine bag with its stand and wheeled it out of the room as the doctor came forward. A grave look in his eyes, and I knew what that was about. I was trying not to flinch, trying not to feel, but the pain was slipping in through the numb shell I pulled over me. Still. I’d deal.
I’d have to.
“Miss Phillips, do you remember what happened to you?”
I couldn’t speak, but my eyes went to Stone, and with a heaviness in his, he answered for me. “She remembers.” He told me, “You backed up and a moving truck hit you. Your car was totaled. The truck just had scrapes. I’ve taken care of that, though.”
“Your head hit your dashboard pretty hard, and we had to put you in a medically induced coma. We needed to gauge your injuries and determine if there’d be swelling on your brain. When the results came back with positive findings this morning, we decided to bring you out of the coma. And now that you’re awake, I need to conduct a few more exams. Are you up for that?”