Speaking made me feel so tired. I closed my eyes and let the darkness take me again.
Shh, darling. I know it hurts, but your body knows how to heal. And so does your heart.
Lemon Fair, the Queen of Meringue
The hospital waiting room was dim and quiet, empty except for me. I sat on an uncomfortable vinyl-covered chair, leaned back against the wall, my gaze directed at the ceiling. The TV mounted to the wall had a cartoon on, the sound turned so low it was barely background noise.
I heard a door open somewhere down the hall and brought my head straight, looking toward the entrance of the waiting room. I heard the clack of heels on the floor, and a few seconds later, the woman I recognized from the Platinum Pearl, the woman who I now knew was named Kayla, burst into the room. Her wide eyes fixed on me. “Sorry it took me so long to get here. Any news?”
I shook my head. “No, not yet. I think they’re still checking her injuries.” My heart contracted again, and I rubbed at my chest as if that might help. I couldn’t get the picture of her beaten face out of my mind as they’d rolled her down the hall to X-ray, the small smile that had curved her bloodied, swollen lips when she saw me. She’d touched my face and I had barely noticed, so sick with grief to see what had been done to her. She called me her angel. The horror of seeing her that way was still coursing through my blood—making me feel sick and filled with fury. When Kayla had called me, she said the men who’d attacked Crystal had run off when Anthony came outside, and he’d tried to follow them, but turned back to help Crystal instead. It must have felt like an impossible choice for him. But I was glad he’d done what he did, because what if leaving her there to go after them was the difference between life and death? I blew out a pent-up breath.
“Thank you so much for calling me, Kayla.”
She nodded, biting at her lip and getting red lipstick on her teeth. “I wasn’t sure it was the right thing to do, but I sat with her while we all waited for the ambulance, and even though Crystal was unconscious, she still had your number balled in her fist.” She shook her head sadly. “All through what those men did to her, she never let go. She held on to it. It must mean something, you know? And I thought … well, Crystal doesn’t have many friends. If she doesn’t want you here, though, she’ll tell you. Crystal can be real blunt.”
I managed a small chuckle. “Yeah, I’ve noticed that.”
Kayla sunk down into a chair. I’d driven straight to the hospital after receiving Kayla’s call and arrived half an hour after they’d brought Crystal in. I didn’t have any details of the attack—just what Kayla had told me on the phone. Kayla shook her head, and tears welled in her eyes. “This is awful, just awful,” she choked. “Poor Crystal. Oh, poor Crystal.”
I glanced at her, wondering if even she, this woman who seemed to be a friend to Crystal, knew her real name. I didn’t ask. “Did anyone inside the club know the men who did this?”
She shook her head. “Not their names, but a few girls were able to give enough information for the police to follow up on. And Anthony gave a description of their truck, though he didn’t see the license plate.” I nodded. Thank God Anthony had come outside when he did.
The doctor who had been with Crystal’s gurney when I’d first arrived entered the room, and I stood quickly, my heart stuttering. Kayla stood, too, as the doctor walked toward us. “I’m Dr. Beckstrom.”
“Doctor. Gabriel Dalton.” His eyes lingered on me for a moment as if he might recognize me, or perhaps just my name, before he simply nodded, turning to Kayla, who introduced herself as well.
“Are either of you family?”
I shook my head. “We’re both friends.” I wasn’t even really that.
“I see. Does she have family on the way?”
I looked over at Kayla and she shook her head. “Crystal doesn’t have any family—at least not that she’s ever talked about.”
The doctor’s lips thinned in what appeared to be sympathy. “Crystal …”
“That’s what she goes by.”
He nodded. “Okay, well, I can give you information about her condition. If you are able to contact a family member, you can pass it along to them.”
Fear was moving up my throat. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what he was about to tell us. “Is she okay?” I blurted out.
He turned his eyes to me. “She’s not now, but she will be.” I blew out a breath, running my hand through my hair as he continued. “She has several broken ribs, and her leg is fractured. We just finished casting it. Those are the most serious injuries. The good news is, there isn’t any internal bleeding, and her facial wounds won’t cause permanent damage. She’ll experience pain for some time, and her walking will be impeded for even longer. She took quite a beating.”
Kayla made a squeaky sound. “Doctor, was she … I mean, her shorts were removed and …” I winced at that information, sick dread sliding slowly down my spine to pool heavily in the pit of my stomach. Oh God.
“It doesn’t appear that she was sexually assaulted, no. But her pants being removed indicates they may have simply been interrupted before they got to that.” His eyes were full of weary compassion, the expression of a man used to delivering news that was hard to hear. I exhaled a sharp breath of relief at the knowledge that she hadn’t been violated, at least not in that way. “If you want to come back and see her, you may. She’s sleeping, though, and that’s what she needs to be doing now, so please be very quiet.”
“Yes, we’d like to see her, Doctor, thank you,” Kayla said, glancing at me. I took another deep breath. I couldn’t seem to take in enough oxygen, ever since Kayla’s call.
We walked through the quiet halls. I remembered being in a hospital similar to this one another time, remembered the stares of the nurses, the whispers, the wide-eyed doctors who examined me, the questions, so many questions when all I wanted was to see my parents. I turned my mind away from that immediately. I didn’t need to be thinking about myself right now.
The doctor let us into a dim room, the sound of a heart monitor beeping steadily. As we moved closer, my heart lurched. She looked better than she had when I saw her being wheeled through the hall, but still so horribly beaten, so terribly broken.
Kayla sniffled softly and ran a finger over the top of Crystal’s hand, the only part of her that looked to be mostly untouched by trauma. We stood for a few minutes looking down at her and then I turned, needing to collect myself, wanting to let Crystal sleep, to heal. How could anyone do this to her? Three men on one woman? Jesus Christ.
I exited the room quietly, and a moment later, Kayla followed behind me. “I have to get home and sleep a little bit. I’ll come by in the morning. Will you be back?” she asked.
“Yeah. I’ll be back.” Kayla nodded, giving me a sad smile and turning toward the elevators. I watched her walk away and then turned, sitting on the plastic chair outside Crystal’s room. She might tell me to leave tomorrow, but on the off chance Crystal woke up before morning came, or before Kayla got back, I didn’t want her to be by herself. I knew what it was like to wake up scared, injured, and alone, and I couldn’t stomach it happening to someone else—not if I could prevent it.
A shiver of regret ran down my spine when I thought how close I’d come to getting in my truck and driving to the Platinum Pearl. That dream … I couldn’t get the dream out of my head. I’d gone to bed early, no intention of going back to Havenfield anytime in the foreseeable future. I’d given it my best shot and I’d failed with Crystal. I’d fallen asleep and dreamed of my parents, the same dream I’d had so long ago, the same dream that had been so vivid and prompted me to follow through with my plan to get out of that basement.
Only this time, instead of just looking at me with encouragement, my mother had handed me a geode, the crystals inside sparkling in the light that shone down, rainbows glittering in the air around her. I’d woken with a start, the only thought in my head to get to Crystal. But I’d lain there unmoving, and the more my mind had cleared, the more ridiculous I felt. What the hell did I think I would do when I arrived? Tell her I had to try just one last time despite her clear rejection? One last desperate attempt to change her mind? Because of a dream? For the love of Christ. She was going to think I should be committed. And so instead, I’d forced myself to go back to sleep. But God, if I’d just listened to my own intuition instead of my ego …
My mind drifted back to the moment I’d been woken again, this time by the ringing of my phone.
The distant sound of a siren wailed in the background. I blinked the sleep from my eyes and propped myself on my elbow, a frisson of fear moving through me despite my drowsy confusion. “Hello?” When there was only silence, I repeated myself, pressing the phone to my ear.
There was a rustling on the other end and then a tear-drenched voice said, “My name’s Kayla. I know you don’t know me, but Crystal’s been hurt real bad and … I think she needs you.”