She had a painful past, one that made her put up barriers against everyone. When she is alone, she feels an odd connection to nature, as if there was something she is missing out in the wild. She brushes it off, but it never leaves. But when a mysterious man who knows more about her than he should wanders into her town and offers her a better life, she decides she has nothing to lose. As her life starts to look up however, she begins to have strange dreams. Suddenly, she is faced with questions about her life. What do the dreams mean? Who is this man? Could she really open up to someone, or would she get hurt again? As her past begins to haunt her, she must decide who she’s willing to trust. Will she shut out another person to protect herself? Or will she finally let her guard down and learn to love again? Only time will tell.


22. Sadness, Sacrifice, And Unbreakable Will

Highway Chapter 22


            Matt was smiling at me, despite my situation. He looked to my father, asking him to give me back. My father sneered, turning to me. He asked me if I hadn’t learned the first time someone tried to protect me. I replied snarkily, telling him Matt was better by far. I could see his muscles tense and shift as he moved, and I remembered him telling me about getting into fights. He may not have done it in a while, but he still remembered everything.

 Matt called to me, asking me if I could come over, unless I was having fun. I scoffed, finding it funny he still had a sense of humor. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my father move. I jumped out of the way, hopping to the other side of the desk. He told me he would deal with me in a minute, and turned to Matt. Now that he had his back facing away from me, I could attack him. He was engaging in a dance with Matt, both of them circling with predatory grace.

I spotted the comb glinting off to the side, and grabbed it. Matt tripped on a stool, and I cursed. He wasn’t getting up, and I began to worry. Just before my father struck at Matt, I leaped onto his back, tearing at his hair. There was no way I was going to let someone else die because of my father. He threw me to the ground, and turned towards me, furious.

Matt lashed out from behind, kicking his knee out and elbowing him. He went down, and Matt called for me to run. I leaped over his form, only to get caught as he shot out a hand to trip me. I landed face first, and shook away the dizziness from my head. Matt moved to help me, but I was already in action.

Screaming, I rammed the comb into my father’s leg as hard as I could, feeling it sink into his flesh. He screamed. Matt pried away his hands, lifting me up bridal style. He asked me if that had been my father as we raced out of the hallways, and I told him sarcastically he was great.

We came upon a room as the man inside woke up to angry radio calls. Matt punched him before he could react, and told me to hurry through the open window. With his help, I slid through. The heels hindered me greatly, but I didn’t know whether to chuck them or not. He grabbed my face in his hands, shouting instructions to get away over the wind.

Had he lost his mind? Like I was going to leave him here alone! He shook his head when I asked him if he was crazy. I heard voices inside, and I knew he was right. We could only go one at a time really, for they would be on to us now and the horse couldn’t ride as fast with two people.

I reluctantly agreed, but not before telling him I was going to free the girls that were still here. They had been put in the shed nearby, and I wouldn’t leave them to fend for themselves. He said okay, and told me to hurry up. As turned to leave, I thought better.

Spinning around, I pulled him into the tightest hug I could give, telling him he better not die on me now.

I ran off towards the shed, my dress sticking to me as the rain fell down. The storm had reached its climax, and was becoming intense. I found my way to the building, almost slamming into the wall. It was locked from the outside, but someone had left the keys on the door. What kind of idiots got away with such an operation? Thinking I shouldn’t question my good luck, I unlocked the door.

I flung it open, stepping inside as quickly as possible. It closed behind me with a click. I scanned for guards, but there were none. A group of about ten huddled girls lay on the floor, shivering. I was sure I wasn’t just because it was cold. They started at my appearance, but went back to normal when they saw I was only a girl with a bruise on her face. They thought I was just another prisoner.

“Hey.” I called, trying to get their attention. They were still huddling, and whispering among each other.

“Hey!” I tried again, this time attracting a few stares.

“Shut up!” one of them hissed, “They’ll hear you. We all get in trouble.”

I would have to show them they were being stupid. I stepped up on a box in the corner, so that I was above them. Putting my fingers in my mouth, I whistled to them.

Then, I simply held up the keys. They broke out into a murmur, all speaking in languages I couldn’t understand. I had taken Spanish in high school, but I never really learned much and graduated early. They pushed a girl to the front, and I recognized her as the one who spoke to me earlier. I was glad somebody understood English here.

“Where?” she asked, her English slightly halting. It was only something she had picked up, but at least she could understand.

“Outside.” I replied, “My friend came to recue me and I found the keys, so I decided to let you out."

I walked over to the door, unlocking it again and holding it open. They stood there strangely, as if they couldn’t figure out where to go. Suddenly, the girl shouted something in Spanish, and it travelled through the pack, being translated to the other languages. They all rushed forward at the same time, a wave of girls screeching as the rain hit them. They scattered, and I was glad the town was close enough they could all find it.

I ran out myself, scanning for Matt. I couldn’t find him, and so I just ran to where the horse was supposed to be. I spotted the girl who knew English up ahead, and I called to her. She turned, following me. We reached the horse at the same time, and he reared at our unfamiliar faces. But as soon as I swung around his other side to avoid his hooves, he quieted down just a little.

“Shh! It’s okay horsie. Matt sent me, the man you took here. Can’t you smell him on me?”

I was worried the scent had been washed out by the rain, but he sniffed me and settled down. I got on, pulling the girl up beside me. I wasn’t sure how to ride exactly, but he was a very tame and calm horse. I pulled on his reins to lead him out of the shed, and got ready to gallop.

Suddenly, there was a scream behind me. A girl's, it was surprising it rose from above the wind. What was I doing? I was leaving behind not only Matt, but also defenseless girls. I was doing exactly what I had done with my brother, and that had only led to him getting hurt.

No, I wouldn’t leave Matt behind, even if that meant I had to get a bit more beaten up. He was probably too busy stopping the others to save the girl, and that only left me. But still, someone needed to alert the town, and they had to know how to speak English.

“I’ve got to go,” I said to the girl behind me, sliding off the horse, “I’m needed here.”

She looked at me incredulously, looking as if I had taken leave of my senses.

“You crazy?” she asked, “is bad here. Come with me.”

I shook my head, telling her I had to help a friend. I told her to say what Matt had told me, and I sent her away. She looked reluctant, but nudged the horse on. I flung off the heels, wincing as the gravel dug into my feet. Still, I had better mobility now. But the dress was still too long. I saw a box opener in the corner of the shed, and cut off the layers on the dress until about my knee. That was better.

I raced back into the storm, heading for the direction of the scream. She was in the building somewhere, but I needed to be careful. Matt may not have taken out all of the men yet.

He’s going to be furious, I thought, but he’ll just have to deal with it. I reached the window I had come in quicker than I could have imagined, thinking about what could be happening to the girl. I slid through, pausing to make sure the man inside was still unconscious. To my surprise, there were two men passed out here. I swiftly made my way through the complex, searching for the girl. Nobody seemed to be inside, and I was grateful. Not finding her anywhere inside, I concluded she had run up to the roof.

I searched for a flight of stairs, and found them in the corner. I sprinted up them, coming to a door. I opened it very slowly, peeking through. If she was screaming, it meant there was one of the men. To my surprise, I saw Matt circling another figure. A bolt of lightning flashed, and I saw it was my father.

Matt told him he wasn’t a teenager, referring to my brother. My father arced his knife down, and Matt barely parried with his smaller one. The sound of metal grinding against metal filled the air.

Did I try to help him? Should I distract my father? But Matt didn’t seem to be doing too badly, despite a cut on his face. The last time I had interrupted a fight like this one, it ended badly. I decided I would wait until absolutely necessary. Matt head butted my father and tackled him to the ground. He grabbed Matt’s shoulder, making him cry out in pain. Matt shoved him back, putting pressure on the wounds I had inflicted.

Suddenly, Matt cried out, lying still on the concrete. He looked up as my father rose, and I wondered what was wrong. He didn’t look particularly hurt, so why was he just sitting there? My father leaned on his ribs, crushing them. Each one made a loud snap!

What was happening? Did Matt need help? Why on earth was he just sitting still? I moved to attack my father, but Matt’s behavior made me think. He had done something similar inside, and I had been too late to notice it. Perhaps he was drawing him in? I waited to see, wincing each time I heard a crack. When he leaned in, I stepped away from the door to be ready to strike. But as I suspected, Matt grabbed his hair, slashing his face with the small knife still in his hand. He fell to the ground screaming, tearing at his face.

Matt gestured to the girl I had heard screaming, now huddled in the corner of the rooftop. Suddenly, my father lunged towards Matt, just missing his side. He looked down, surprised.

My father swayed dangerously, attempting to attack Matt again. He tripped on the girl’s foot, landing on the rail. Matt tried to reach for him, but it was too late. He fell off, and I could hear the crash as he landed.

I got ready to call to Matt, but he suddenly fell to the ground.

I rushed to his side, seeing the blood pool around him. I had thought the knife had missed, but it had hit him after all.

“Hi,” he said, as if this were an everyday situation.

He asked me why I was here, confused. I told him I came back to help the girl, sending the one from the shed to town. He was bleeding too fast, and I needed to get him medical attention.

“Come on,” I said, slinging his arm around my shoulder.

He tried to stand, walking a few steps before having to lean heavily on me. He was so big, and I could barely keep him on his feet. We dragged against the wall until we made it to the ground floor. The girl from the roof had long since sprung away, nowhere to be found. He would be fine if I could get him some help, or even if I bandaged his wound.

He collapsed just outside of the door, and I kneeled next to him. Bits of glass and rocks dug into my knees, but I didn’t care.

“Matt!” I called, “Matt, it’s going to be okay. You’ll be fine.”

He gave me a knowing smile, and placed a bloody hand on my cheek. It smeared across my skin, and he apologized.

“Look,” I said, “its okay. You’re fine. You’re fine.”

I repeated the phrase, a mantra of sorts.

“No, baby girl. No.” he said weakly.

“Listen,” he choked out, his back spasming in pain. He panted, wincing.

“I love you,” he said when he recovered, “I love you so much more than you could ever know. I didn’t tell you at the hotel, but I should have. I love you more than I’ve ever loved anyone my whole life. I just wanted you to know.”

My heart exploded with joy, warmth spreading through my body. But it was wrong, for he was losing it. He was dying, I knew, for nobody could bleed like that and live. But I wouldn’t acknowledge it, not until he stopped breathing.

“I love you too, Matt. You’re the first person I’ve loved in a long time.”

He gave me an achingly beautiful smile.

“Why is your hair up?” he asked, reaching around my head, “You look so beautiful, but you should have your hair down. You don’t like it up.”

He frowned, and I let him take it out, causing my hair to tumble down. I expected it to be sopping wet, but the rain was tapering off, and so it was mostly dry. How did he know about my hair? Once again, he knew so much about me that I didn’t even realize. He brushed a strand out of my face, and I caught his hand.

“Don’t you die too, Matt. Please. You’re all I have left.”

I was crying now, the saline filling my mouth. The tears splashed onto his cheek, mixing with the blood from the cut. It swirled into the drops, tingeing them with red. He was in pain, but so was I. What little was left of my heart was being cracked, bit by bit, until it shattered.

“You’ve meant so much to me, baby girl,” he said, taking in pained breaths, “And I can’t thank you enough. I was always so lonely on the path, but you changed that. You filled the only part of me left open by my awakening. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Stop. Stop it! Don’t say it like you’re dying!

The agony was prominent, filling up my lungs like water. I couldn’t breathe.

“Don’t cry,” he said, frowning, “You’re okay. Everything will be fine.”

I shook my head. What was he saying?

“I won’t be fine without you, Matt! How could I be fine? You’re the only one I love. Don’t you leave me. Please.”

My voice broke, and I felt my heart finally collapse. He struggled to say something, so I propped him up on my legs, cradling his head.

He gave me a grateful smile, and said, “Please don’t let this bother you.”

Why would I not? I was losing the only person I cared about. He was my favorite person, my love, my joy. I loved him as equally as I did my brother, and now I was losing him too.

I held his hand against my face, warming it up. He was so cold, just like my brother was that night.

“You will be the most beautiful drifter there is. I can already tell you’ll help so many people. You are the sweetest, most loving girl I have ever met, and I want you to spread that love to others.” He said, and I felt my heart swell in adoration again.

Why was he telling me this?

He told me to remember how much he loved me, and to hold it in my heart. If I ever got lonely, I should just think of him.

“I don’t want to think of you, Matt! I want you to be there so I don’t have to be lonely!  You can’t do this to me. Don’t leave me alone again! I can’t lose anyone else. Please. Please.”

All I could feel was the pain, and I leaned over Matt, hunched over. The sound of my sorrowful keening echoed across the space. No. Please, not again.

“It’s never really goodbye,” he said, squeezing my hand.

He told me it was time for him to go, and I shook my head frantically.

“No, Matt, no. Don’t even say it, you’ll be fine, you’ll make it. No!”

He hushed me gently.

“Veronica, my beautiful baby girl, I am the luckiest man in the world,” he said, “Thank you for loving me as I love you. Be a good girl and don’t get into trouble. Take care of yourself. You are always going to be the most special person in my heart. It’s time for me to leave you, but I’ll meet you again someday. I love you.”

This couldn’t be happening again. Could life really be so cruel?

“What are you saying? Come on! Get up! Please! We’re just outside of town! Don’t you dare leave me, you stubborn idiot. Get over your melodrama and stand up!”

I was screaming at him now, hoping I could use my voice to give him life.

“You can’t die. I told you, I won’t let you rest in peace! Don’t break that promise to me! Matt! Matt!”

He went limp in my arms, no longer responding. God, please no.

“Why? What the hell do you have against me?” I shouted to the sky, asking any god there was. “Haven’t you done enough already?”

I screamed in fury, leaning my head on Matt’s chest. I looked up again.

“Please don’t let him die. He’s the only thing I have left in this world. I’m sorry I squandered your gift to me, but don’t punish me like this.” I pleaded. “I’ll do anything, just don’t let him die! Please. I know I’m not your favorite, and I’ve done some pretty questionable things, but I’m asking you for help. I need you now. Please help me. Tell me what I should do!”

I got no answer from the clearing sky, only silence. I couldn’t tell if Matt was breathing, but his face was deathly pale. I wept for him, for he was gone. But then my sorrow was replaced with anger.

I was suddenly filled with a vicious fury, and a whirlwind of rage swept through my body. I had lost everyone I cared about in my life, and I had cried long enough.

Why wasn’t I even trying to change what was happening around me? Maybe life was trying to screw me, but maybe it was presenting me opportunities to help myself. I looked down at my Matt, my beautiful beloved boy. I was his baby girl, and I was just sitting here. I tried to get him down the stairs, but that was as far as I had gotten. But was I just going to sit here now? No. No way. I would not let life win this one.

I stood up, screeching across the land.

“You aren’t going to take him away from me! My life has been screwed up enough as it is, and I’m not letting you ruin the only good thing about it. So I’m warning anyone who’s listening, I won’t let him go. No!”

I peeled off Matt’s jacket, and lifted up his shirt.

The stab wound looked horrible, deep and bleeding. You wouldn’t think he had much blood left, but it was still seeping. With a clearer view of his chest, I could now see it move. I place my hand on his heart, and felt a pulse. It was very faint, but still there.

“You aren’t going to die, Matt,” I said intensely, “At least not today. You are not going to die because you tried to save me. You might die for some stupid reason, but it won’t be about me.”

I looked around, hoping to find anything to bind the wound. But there wasn’t much except my dress, and that wouldn’t save him. I didn’t have anything to stitch up his wound. What do I do? Please tell me.

As I prayed for help, I suddenly became very aware of the sounds around me. The birds chirping, the wind blowing, and a fire crackling. Wait, a fire? Fire’s meant supplies, and supplies meant tinder. Perhaps there was some cloth? Maybe there was something to help me stitch up Matt’s wound.

I rushed inside, skidding around the corner. I saw the fire, but cursed as I couldn’t find supplies. The only thing that was there was a metal fire sticker, glowing hot.

Could I cauterize the wound? I had no idea how, but it would close it. We had learned about it in med class junior year, but we hadn’t demonstrated it. His wound was so big too, and I didn’t have anything to clean the gash first. Wait! There was some alcohol in the corner. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing.

Thinking I had no other choice, I carefully removed the metal rod. I rushed outside with the liquor, and splashed some of it on Matt’s side, cleaning it as best I could. I waited until it dried, for I didn’t want it to catch on fire. How hot did the rod have to be? If it was too hot, it would just burn his flesh, making it even worse. It was red hot, which didn’t seem right. I would wait until it just barely glowed. I hoped Matt would make it that long.

Realistically, he could die at anytime from the blood loss, especially since I had no way to get him back to town besides walking. Even then, he could die afterwards or because of an infection. Still, I was going to focus on the moment right here, right now.

I used the small knife in his pocket to tear off more of my dress, almost making it indecent. I looked around frantically, and spotted some rope just inside. It was probably used to tie up girls, but I was more than happy to have it. I sawed through a section of the rope large enough to wrap around Matt’s side. I would have to hope the cloth didn’t slide around too much.

The metal was cooler now, and I prepared myself for the worst. I was glad that Matt was unconscious, for this was going to be painful. I pressed the metal into a portion of the wound, searing the flesh. The smell almost made me vomit as it reached my nose, but I kept going. I took breathes through my mouth, hoping to block out the sickening scent. Matt twitched slightly, and I prayed he wouldn’t wake up.

The wound was horrible, an angry red with a bit of black skin. I couldn’t tell if I was doing it right, and it worried me. Still, the part I had burned didn’t seem to be bleeding much, so I continued. After I did the other sections, I hastily got together the dress scrap and the rope.

Pulling on Matt’s torso, I stuck the rope under him, and laid the dress down on his wound, tying the rope as tight as I could. I didn’t want him to be unable to breathe, but I needed to stop the blood from flowing to there.

Now how was I supposed to bring him to town? Matt had taken about an hour to get here, and he had a horse. I had sent the girl away to town with it, but there was no way they could get all the way over here and all the way back without Matt dying. I cursed myself for not knowing how to hotwire a car, and I wondered if Matt did.

“Matt!” I called, hoping that maybe he would resurface just enough time to tell me how to hijack the car.

I patted his face gently, trying to wake him. When he didn’t move, I began to panic. I stuck my head against his chest, listening and feeling for movement. I breathed a sigh of relief as I felt his chest still rising faintly. But he was running out of time, even with the bleeding mostly stopped. He had passed out from Hypovolemic shock, and could have a cardiac arrest any minute now. I would have to drag him. Even if I didn’t make it in time, I still had to try.

He was too heavy to carry with an arm over my shoulder the whole time, and so I would have to switch. I hooked my hands under his arms, getting a good grip on his upper torso. I pulled him along, talking to him to keep calm.

“You are not going to die on me. You’re such a self-absorbed, rude, annoying person. You have a huge ego. Your hair sucks, you’re too tall, and you wake up too early. You’re obnoxious, stupid, and have the weirdest sense of humor ever.”

Perhaps if I insulted him enough, he would wake up to defend himself.

“Still,” I continued, “I love you exactly how you are. You’re also a sweet, caring, wonderful person. You always care for others, even if you don’t know them. You have eyes that are like seas, muscles so strong, yet a touch so gentle. You’re witty, loving, and are always willing to do whatever it takes to cheer me up.”

My arms were straining, and I could feel them start to shake. I shifted positions, slinging his arm over my shoulder. I mixed it up, almost carrying him on my back but not quite. He was so much heavier and taller than I was, and getting my back thrown out wouldn’t do him any good. I switched positions in several minutes, creating a cycle.

“You’re not dying on my watch. You know why?” I asked to him, keeping my mind off of the exhaustion I was feeling. “It’s because you aren’t the same as anyone else. You aren’t my brother. You haven’t been stabbed in the stomach, being left to die as you bled out slowly. You aren’t your teacher. You haven’t been shot, and you won’t die in my arms. I refuse to let you turn into them. They died, but they did it for a purpose. You don’t have any use in dying besides leaving me. If you want, you can leave after you get better, but not like this. You are NOT my brother or your teacher, and you won’t share the same fate. Even if it kills me, I will make sure you get out alive.”

I pulled until I couldn’t anymore, and my legs buckled.

"Get up!" I told myself.

Matt didn’t look worse, but he definitely wasn’t better, and I was constantly checking for a heartbeat.

My limbs were so drained, and I guessed I must have dragged him a mile and a half. It took so long when I had to pull him, but I was still too far away from the town. I stood up shakily and tried again, whimpering when my arms screamed at me.

Could it really end here? After I had done so much? Was I really about to pass out and let Matt die? I couldn’t pull him anymore. I tried, tugging with all my might, but I just kept falling. He was going to die in the middle of the road, and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Where was the help from the town? They had probably just heard, and were preparing to leave. Would they be too late? I assumed so. I crawled over to Matt’s still form, his chest only rising half an inch at a time. He looked paler now, and I knew he was close to death.

Why? Why can’t I just have this one thing? I tried so hard. Even so, I had taken the gift for granted, and now it was being taken away. I lay across his chest again, feeling the tears come back. They were hopeless tears, ones that accepted his passing. I was going to lose him now, despite everything we had been through. But as I lay against him, I heard a peculiar noise.

As I looked up to see what it was, I recognized the sound to be a horse running along the ground. Thinking it a bandit, I took the knife from the Matt's pocket. If Matt was going to die, it sure as hell wouldn’t be because a lowlife killed him. But as it came closer, I recognized the face.

The sky was bright and shining now, the sun coming up over the horizon. Riding the same beautiful black stallion as before, shouting my name, was Julian.

He pounded thunderously across the plain, rearing to a halt right next to us. He hopped off adroitly, trying survey the situation.

“What the hell happened? Last I heard, Matt was fighting some guys in the complex. But I was just there, and everyone is knocked out.”

He bent down to examine Matt, seeing my makeshift dressing. He surveyed us both, taking in my ragged appearance.

“My father was there, and he got in a fight with Matt. Matt won, but not before my father gave him a terrible gash. Don’t touch it. It was bleeding too much, and so I tried to cauterize it the best that I could. Julian, he’s dying. I tried so hard, but he’s dying.”

My voice was raising in hysteria, and I knew I was going into shock.

“Your father?” He asked, then continued, “It doesn’t matter. What does he have to do with this?” I had forgotten he didn’t know, but I didn’t have time to explain.

“It’s a long story,” I said, “But I don’t have time. I can’t lose him, Julian!”

He gripped my face in between his hands, soothing me.

“Shh! You did the right thing. It seems you’ve stopped the bleeding, but he needs medical attention fast. You don’t look too good yourself.”

He checked over his wound one last time, and then stood up.

“Get on the horse,” he said.

I sat, uncomprehending.

“Get on the horse!” he said again, “Unless you want him to die!”

I scrambled up, trying to follow orders. He lifted my shaky body into the saddle, making sure I was stable. Then he lifted Matt on in front of me, slinging his body across the horse.

“Ride to the south for another mile. Don’t take any turns, and don’t stop. Ride as fast as you can, but if the horse starts rearing, slow down.”

I was astonished, wondering how he got here.

“How did you know?” I asked, “And where did you get the horse?”

He smiled. He showed me how to keep Matt on the horse, and told me how to steer.

“I had taken shelter at the town during the storm. This girl came flying down the street on the horse, shouting to everyone. She told us about you and the kid and this place, although it was a bit hard to understand. I was worried they would take too long, so I set off myself. After I reached the building, I only had to follow the drag marks.”

He was the most beautiful sight right now, and I leaned down to give him a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you, Julian. I mean it.”

He smiled.

“Don’t thank me yet. Now go!” he said, and I nudged the horse to make him move.

The poor animal was probably exhausted, but he still performed with amazing speed. We galloped through the valley.

What about Julian? What was he going to do? I shook off the thought, focusing on keeping Matt in the saddle.

He was sliding a little bit, but I kept my arms around him. I couldn’t feel his breathing over the movement of the horse, so I just had to assume he was still alive. We made it to town in record time, the horse’s hooves clicking against the asphalt. We rushed past shocked civilians, and went straight to the hospital. I skidded to a halt, almost falling off.

“Help!” I shouted to the gathering crowd, “Somebody help me! My friend’s been hurt really bad and he’s dying. Where is a doctor?”

People rushed inside to get the emergency workers, and they dashed out of the door. They took him to an operating room, shouting to each other medical terms.

I didn’t have anything to do but wait, and so I took up pacing around the lobby. The nurses tried to get me to see one of the doctors for treatment of my injuries. I snarled at them wildly, telling them I was fine. I wouldn’t treat my injuries until I knew Matt was safe. They left me alone, mostly because they were scared, but also because I wasn’t in too bad a shape.

News reporters crowded around outside, but I refused every interview. Julian arrived after an hour, and proceeded to sit down next to me. He said nothing. Once a police officer came in and tried to get information about the case, but I didn’t tell him anything except the address. When he pressed for more, Julian firmly told him no and essentially kicked him out.

When one hour turned into two with no word on Matt, I nearly had a breakdown. I marched up to the receptionist’s desk, screaming at her.

“Why haven’t we heard anything yet? Are you guys even trying?”

I screeched more obscenities at her, leaning over the desk threateningly. Julian had to practically drag me away before they called security, picking me up from behind before setting me down a safe distance away.

 “Let go!” I shouted.

He made me face him before saying, “Stop it! If you keep yelling they’re going to kick you out! What good will you do him if you’re gone?”

I must have looked sad, for he came closer. He wrapped his arms around me, and I cried. Julian was the only one here who could understand my worry.

Waiting. Waiting was all we did. Seconds turned to minutes, minutes turned to hours. Julian eventually got me to visit a room to be examined, with the promise to rush in if he heard any news. I sat impatiently as they looked over me, but I was relatively fine. They cleaned the wound I had gotten from the nail on my hand, and bandaged it. She also gave me some ice for my cheek and checked out my wrists.

After a bit, I returned to Julian’s side. We waited again. He had his arm around me now, a mix of comfort and restraint.

After three hours had passed, a doctor came in and walked to us.

“Are you the family of the man who came in with the stab wound?” he asked, and we nodded.

There wouldn’t be any record of him, or at least very little of one, and so he couldn’t use an actual name. He paused, and I was sure Matt was dead. But then, he spoke.

“The wound was very deep and jagged. He lost quite a lot of blood. But whoever cauterized that wound saved his life. It was messy to fix, and he’ll have a large scar, but he is still alive today because of it.”

Matt was okay? My heart exploded in happiness, my soul full of joy. When he saw me rejoice, he smiled.

“He’s not out of the woods yet,” he said, more serious, “He could still go into shock, or the wound could get infected. Still, his future seems pretty bright. If he makes it through the day, he will be home free.”

Julian thanked the man.

“Wait,” I called, “Could we see him?”

The doctor turned, smiling at my eagerness.

“In a few hours, yes. But he just got out of surgery, so you’ll have to wait just a little bit.”

I bit back an irritated reply, leaning into Julian’s shoulder again. We sat and waited some more. Julian got something to eat, but I didn’t feel very hungry. He made me take a roll, and I chewed on it absentmindedly.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were told we could go see him. Resisting the urge to sprint down the hallway, I followed the guide to his room.

It was quiet, and he was lying on his bed. Several machines were hooked up to him, and the constant beat of his heart sounded in the background. He was still frighteningly pale, but he had regained some color in his face. He had bandages across his side, and one on his face.

“Can I touch him?” I asked the nurse, worried I would accidently set off a reaction of some sort.

She told me I could, as long as I was gentle. I reached to the uninjured side of his face, placing my hand on his cheek. He wasn’t nearly as cold, and I ran my thumb over his smooth skin. He had made it.

“You’re too stubborn to leave, aren’t you?” I asked.

Julian chuckled, seconding the statement. After asking permission, we settled down into Matt’s room. I didn’t want to look away from him, but my eyes began to droop. I hadn’t slept since the kidnapping, and I was thoroughly exhausted. As my eyes fluttered and I fought the yawns, Julian informed me he would watch over Matt. I snuggled into the hospital chair, and fell asleep.

Julian woke me late afternoon, telling me that Matt was stirring. I rushed to his side, gently holding his hand.

“Veronica?” He asked as he saw me, and I nodded.

“I’m here, Matt. And I won’t ever leave you again”.

He looked around to see Julian there. Seeing the confused look on his face, he explained everything to Matt. After he finished talking, Matt looked tired. The nurse thought it would be a good idea for us to shoo, but Matt sleepily requested we stay. She warned us she would kick us out if we interfered in his recovery process, and we promised to behave.

I told Matt to sleep, giving him a kiss on the forehead. He slept for most of the night, and so did Julian and I. I didn’t realize I had missed so much sleep until now.

The next morning, the hospital deemed Matt as fit enough to be transferred out of the E.R. and put on a general hospital floor. Julian got our stuff from the hotel while I stayed with Matt, fussing over him. He complained, but I knew he appreciated the concern.

We spent the next few days in the hospital, and then they cleared him to go home. No hard physical activity for another few weeks, they said. I laughed, thinking how devastated Matt would be. Would we be able to go out on the road?

“If you try to travel despite the warnings, I will personally beat you up. Being in the hospital would be the least of your worries.”

He smiled at me, saying, “You wouldn’t hurt a cripple, would you?”

After he was discharged, we stayed at the hotel with Julian. Matt wanted to set out on the road again, but I threatened him into staying for at least a week.

The news reporters interviewed us several times, but we only told them that there had been a trade going on. Matt and I were reported as heroes, but we just shrugged it off. We told Julian about it, leaving out a few more personal details. But we told him most of the story, including the part about my brother. I had allowed Matt to tell him because I knew that I could trust Julian, especially after all he had done for me.

Matt and I discussed what we had wanted to say the night of the kidnapping in depth, often over corny westerns. He had come to like them after watching a few, and we always saw them together.

One day when we were watching one and Julian had gone out to run late night errands, Matt pulled me over to his side. I protested, worried about his wound. He scoffed and told me I was worrying too much. After several moments of struggle, I gave up. I snuggled into his neck, enjoying the feeling of his chest rising up and down.

I had thought I had lost him, but something, or someone, had given him back to me. He buried his face in my hair, and I breathed in his minty scent. We were at peace now, both basking in the glow of the sibling like love we shared. It was as if he was a brother, almost a father. He was still my friend. We didn’t question the nature of it too much, only enjoyed it.

After Julian came back and called us strange, we got ready for bed. Matt still had to be careful, but he was so much better.

I stuck Ozzie’s fluffy head through a crack in the door, and Matt chuckled quietly. I gave him a gentle hug before I left, and he gave me a kiss on the forehead.

“Goodnight, Veronica,” he said with a smile.

“Goodnight, Matt.” I replied.

As I snuggled into my bed, I reflected back on how my life had changed. I could hear Matt humming to himself as he got into his own bed. I realized with a smile that he was singing my lullaby, probably not even realizing it. Listening to the familiar and comforting melody, I felt my eyes close.

I dreamed of heroes and stars and nights. I dreamed of daytime parties, of dances and songs along the road. I dreamed my reality, but I didn’t mind.

For my reality was a dream come true.

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