“I am not adorable!”
“Oh I think you are.”
“I am cool and self-possessed,” I argued. “Cool and self-possessed people do not break wind. You, in particular, are not supposed to know that I break wind!”
His lips twitched. “I hate to tell you this, babe, but I already knew that you broke wind. Part of the human condition and all that.”
I shook my head defiantly. “We should just end it now. All the mystery is gone.”
Braden was laughing hard again as he reached down to pull me up by the waist. I was in the middle of letting him help me when the crash and thud sounded from the kitchen. Our eyes flew to each other, our laughter dying.
“Ellie?” Braden shouted out in question.
When she didn’t call back, my eyes widened on his and I jumped to my feet because Braden had already let me go to run through the apartment.
“Ellie!” I heard him cry out, and the fear in his voice had me picking up speed.
The sight that greeted me in the kitchen floored me. I stood frozen, watching as Braden kneeled on the floor, his hands hovering over Ellie whose body twitched in convulsions, her eyes fluttering rapidly, her mouth slack. “Ellie?” Braden’s pale face snapped up to me. “Call 999. I think she’s having some kind of seizure.”
I rushed out of the room, adrenaline making my hands shake and my coordination clumsy as I grabbed for the phone on my bedside table and dropped it. Fumbling, I cursed, utter fear choking me as I hurried back into the hall as the operator picked up. “Emergency, what service do you require? Fire, police or ambulance?”
“She just passed out.” Braden sat next to her helpless as her body went limp. “I don’t know what do? Fuck, I don’t know what to do.”
“Ambulance.” I heard the line go on hold and then two seconds later the ambulance control room picked up. “My roommate,” I spoke breathlessly into the phone, panicking because Braden of all people was panicking. “We heard a crash and we rushed into the kitchen and she was convulsing and now she’s unconscious.”
“What telephone number are you calling from?”
I rhymed it off impatiently.
“What is your exact location?”
Trying not to get angry at the robo-speak of the woman on the end of the line, I rhymed the address off too.
“Is this your roommate’s first seizure?”
“Yes!” I snapped.
“What age is your roommate?”
“Is she breathing?”
“She’s breathing, Braden, right?”
He nodded, his jaw clenched as he watched me.
“Okay, can you move your roommate into the recovery position as a precaution?”
“Recovery position,” I repeated to Braden and watched as he immediately re-arranged her gently.
“The ambulance is on its way. Please keep any pets out of the way of the ambulance crew when they arrive.”
“We don’t have pets.”
“Okay. Please stay on the line until the ambulance arrives.”
“Braden,” I whispered, still shaking. “What’s going on?”
He shook his head as he brushed Ellie’s hair off her face. “I don’t know.”
A noise drew us up tense.
A noise from Ellie.
I rushed over to them, falling to my knees to bend over her. Another groan escaped Ellie’s mouth as her head turned slowly. “Wha…” her eyes flickered open, dazed. And then they widened as she saw us hovering over her. “What happened?”
Despite regaining consciousness, the paramedics took Ellie away in the ambulance and Braden and I jumped into a cab to follow them to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Braden called Elodie and Clark, and he called Adam. When we arrived there was a lot of waiting around and no one really telling us anything, and when Elodie, Clark and Adam arrived there was still no word.
“We left the kids with our neighbor,” Elodie whispered, her eyes wide with fear. “What happened?”
Braden explained as I stood silently by, my mind racing over all the worst outcomes. Being in the hospital was freaking me out, and I just wanted Ellie to come out and tell us everything was okay. I didn’t think I could handle anything else.
“Ellie Carmichael’s family?” a nurse called and we all stampeded her. She stared at us wide-eyed. “Are you all immediate family?”
“Yes,” Braden answered before Adam or I could respond.
“Come with me.”
Ellie was waiting for us, sitting up with her legs dangling off the side of a bed in the ER. She gave us a typical little girl Ellie wave and my heart lurched in my chest.
“What’s going on?” Elodie rushed to her side and Ellie grabbed at her mother’s hand reassuringly.
We turned to find a forty-something bookish-looking doctor hovering over us. “Yes,” we all said in unison and Ellie cracked an exhausted smile.
“I’m Dr. Ferguson. We’re sending Ellie up for an MRI as soon as it becomes available.”
“An MRI?” Braden’s features grew taut as he glanced back at his sister. “What’s going on, Els?”
Her eyes were wide as she took us all in, our worry blasting out at her. “I haven’t felt right for a while.”
“What do you mean felt right?” Adam asked impatiently, crowding her, his bristling, angry intimidation making Ellie flinch.
“Adam.” I pulled on his shoulder to get him to ease up but he just shrugged me off.
“I think the doctor was wrong about me needing glasses,” Ellie admitted quietly.
Dr. Ferguson cleared his throat, obviously feeling he should come to his patient’s rescue. “Ellie has told us she’s been dealing with headaches, numbness and tingling in her right arm, a lack of energy, some lack of coordination, and today she had her first seizure. We’re just sending her up for an MRI to check everything’s okay.”
“Numbness?” I muttered, glancing at her arm, images of her squeezing it, shaking it, flooding over me. The amount of times she’d told me she had a headache. Fuck.
“I’m sorry, Joss. I just didn’t want to admit I was feeling so rubbish.”
“I can’t believe this,” Elodie sagged against Clark. “You should have told us.”
Ellie’s lip trembled. “I know.”
“When will the MRI be ready?” Braden asked, his voice low and demanding.
Dr. Ferguson didn’t seem to be intimidated. “I’ll take Ellie up as soon as it’s free, but there are a few patients booked in before her.”
And so the waiting began.
After hours and hours of waiting, Ellie was sent home after the MRI. We were told because of the screw up her doctor had made not sending her for an MRI earlier that they’d request that the results be given as soon as possible. This still meant up to a two week wait. In the end we waited ten days, and those ten days were awful. A kind of blank numbness fell over us all as all the worst outcomes raced through our heads. I went to see Dr. Pritchard but I couldn’t even bring myself to talk about what was going on with me. It was a quiet session.
The whole ten days were a quiet session—the three of us sitting in the apartment, taking calls from Adam and Elodie, but not really saying anything. There was lots of tea and coffee-making, takeout, and television. But no discussion. It was like the fear had put a lock down on any meaningful conversations. And for the first time since we’d started seeing each other, Braden and I shared a bed without hav**g s*x. I didn’t know what to do for him, so I let him take the lead—when we did have sex it was slow and gentle. When we didn’t, Braden would roll me onto my side and wrap an arm around me, pulling me back into him, his head resting next to mine. I wrapped my own arm over his, hooked my foot around his leg and let him fall asleep against me like this.
Dr. Ferguson called and asked Ellie to come in to speak with him.
That was bad. That sounded bad. I stared at Ellie after she got off the phone and everything I’d been holding under, controlling, just burst apart at the seams. I saw the fear in Ellie’s eyes and I was so consumed by my own I couldn’t say anything to her that would help, so I didn’t say anything at all. Braden accompanied her to her appointment and I waited in the apartment—the big, cold, silent apartment—staring at the Christmas tree, disbelieving that Christmas was only ten days away.
The two hours they were gone I had to sit my ass on that steel trap door of mine to keep it closed. Or I wouldn’t be able to breathe.
When I heard the apartment door open everything felt lethargic, like we were moving underwater, struggling slowly against the weight. The sitting room door opened and Braden walked in, his face so pale and eyes so glazed, that I knew before I even looked at a tear-streaked Ellie. I knew what fear felt like when it was pulsing from a person, I knew how grief could thicken the air, how it could slam into your chest and cause pain through your whole body. Your eyes, your head, your arms, your legs, even your gums.
“They found something. A tumor. ”
My eyes flew to Ellie and she shrugged at me, her mouth trembling. “They’ve referred me to a neurologist, Dr. Dunham at The Western General. I’ve to go in and speak with him tomorrow about everything. About the next step. Whether it’s surgery. Whether it’s malignant or not,” Ellie finished.
This was not happening.
How had I let this happen?
I took a step back, confused, angry, disbelieving that this was happening again.
It was all my fault.
I’d let them in, I’d broken my rules, and I was back at square f**king one!
But the terrified screams only echoed in my head. To Ellie I gave her a stoic nod. “You’ll be fine. We don’t know anything yet.”
But I knew. I knew. I was a curse. I knew I couldn’t be this happy. I knew that something bad would happen. What had I done to Ellie?
Ellie? I hurt for her. I wanted to take away her fear. I wanted her to be okay.
But I didn’t do any of that.
Instead I shoved her under my steel trap door. “I’ve got my shift at the bar tonight. I’m going to get in some gym time before then.” I nodded at them robotically and made to move past them.
“Jocelyn?” Braden grabbed my arm, his eyes full of apprehension and fear. And disbelief at my attitude. He needed me.
I didn’t want to need him.
I tugged my arm back gently and gave him a brittle smile. “I’ll see you both later.”
And then I walked out, leaving them alone with their fears.
I didn’t go to the gym. I went to Edinburgh Castle before it closed. The walk up the Royal Mile to Castlehill was brisk and frosty, the cold biting into my cheeks, my lungs seeming to work extra hard against the winter air. Once I crossed the drawbridge, I paid for my ticket, and then strolled under the stone arch and took the pebbled walkway that swept upwards on the right. I headed on up the main thoroughfare, and sketched right to the castle walls. There I stopped, standing by Mons Meg, one of the world’s oldest cannons, and together we stared out over the city. Even in the slightly misty frost, the city was breathtaking from here. I paid the not so inexpensive entry fee to the castle just for this view. And I guess for the majesty of it all. It was where I believed I could find a little peace, and I did this whenever I panicked about never, ever finding the long-lasting peace I sought. Today I needed this.