The lights burned. Even with her eyes shut the red glare felt like needles were being driven into her skull.
Headache wasn’t sufficient to describe how much it hurt.
She tried to speak, but her mouth was filled with a foreign mass. She tried to swallow, but her throat wouldn’t contact, stuffed with hard plastic.
* * *
No one could stop talking about Alexis at school. Being on national news as a wanted fugitive trumped a nasty fight, however many broken arms there were. Emma had spoken to Beth’s father the night before. He seemed distrustful, but ultimately accepted that a friend from school would want to visit.
But he insisted that she wasn’t well, that she wasn’t able to talk. What that meant… well, she could always write things down. Emma made a note to bring a pen and paper.
She’d been considering going to see Beth for a long time. But she didn’t know her very well. She didn’t know anyone very well. Beth hadn’t called her, though they only exchanged numbers a week before the car accident, and they had only really talked a handful of times. Emma thought it best to leave her to get well without anyone bugging her. Also, she couldn’t think of anything to say. She’d tried to write a card, but got stuck after “Hope you get well soon,” which seemed far too generic to not to be insulting.
But Haley insisted on seeing her, saying that she could help Alex. What harm would it do? Beth would make it obvious she didn’t want Haley there if she chose. At least Emma would be able to see her, to know she was doing okay.
She arranged to meet Haley after school around the back, out of sight, just like usual. Haley had been unusually quiet, probably as a reaction to people’s attention. She was still linked with Alexis in everyone’s minds. Best for no one to notice you until it all blows over.
Emma waited, and only began to worry when no one had turned up for ten minutes.
Then it reached fifteen.
Was she coming at-
Cold hands brushed her shoulders. Emma’s heart leaped. She literally jumped, managing to bite hard on her tongue. Hard enough to almost bring tears to her eyes.
“Sorry I was late. I was getting changed.” Haley had come the other way, she must have left the school through the gym.
“You made me start, sorry.” She must have made an effort not to make any noise. There didn’t seem any malice in it though… She didn’t comment on it. It’s probably just me being too touchy anyway. Emma’s brain finally processed what Haley had actually said, and she glanced down at her clothes, “Why did you get changed?”
“Oh, I spilled something on my t-shirt.” Haley waved a hand, as if to shoo the question away.
Emma didn’t press. She didn’t ask why Haley had another full set of clothes with her, or why they were… Well, her old clothes were jeans, t-shirt. About as unobtrusive as you could get without standing out as being too bland.
This was more like what Haley wore before. A dress. Nice. Fashionable. Emma couldn’t get the impression that she had dressed up for the meeting, it just didn’t make much sense.
Probably just wanted to look presentable for Beth’s father, it was down to him whether they could see Beth after all.
“Okay, let’s go.”
* * *
The hospital was much like any other public building. Large, crowded, and filled with receptions containing long desks and busy looking men and women typing away at screens.
The main difference was the smell. It went beyond the dry refreshing odour of freshly polished floors of the library, or the city hall. It smelled of disinfectant. It smelled Medical. Everything medical had that strange chemical air that tickled your nose and plucked at the hairs on your arms. Maybe that was just the memories of having those stitches when you fell on your knee, or that time you had a filling done.
Everyone looked too busy to bother with enquiries for where Beth might be. Emma hung back, hesitant to disturb the seemingly balanced ticking of the machine with any outside input.
Haley had no such qualms, she approached the first desk they came to. “Hello!” sickly sweet, higher than her usual voice. “We’re looking for a friend of ours, a Bethany Spencer. Could you tell us where we could find her?”
“Is she a recent patient?” The clerk looked up at Haley, but his fingers were slower – their dance continued as he finished typing his sentence, then hung, suspended in the air, desperate for the signal to continue.
“No, she was admitted a few weeks ago I think.”
“Fourth floor reception, they’ll tell you where you need to be.” His eyes were back, work resumed, Haley and Emma forgotten.
They took the elevator with a hand full of other, worried looking people and a young looking doctor eating a sandwich so fast Emma worried he might choke. Probably the best place for it to happen, but she doubted anyone in the lift would be able to help.
But he survived his meal, and there was a hum of speakers as the doors slid open. They stepped out into an identical looking lobby. Identical in appearance, but this time they got the information they needed.
They only took a few wrong turns on their way to Beth’s private room. Emma began to get more and more nervous as they approached. Then they were there.
This time Emma didn’t hesitate in taking the lead. She still didn’t trust Haley, and she wasn’t going to let her go in first. She’d never met Beth’s dad, and wanted to make a good first impression. She just hoped she hadn’t already ruined it by not even writing a card…
She knocked gently. After a moment there was a muffled man’s voice in reply that she assumed was permission to enter. The handle clicked as she turned it, but the door swung open silently. Emma stepped into the cramped room dominated by a bed, behind which were a wall of quietly humming machines. The odd light flashed at a regular interval.
Beth lay within it all, wires and tubes leading to her face and wrist, filled with liquid and air. Her pale cheeks looked hollowed out. Her smooth black hair shaved to a close-cut bristle. She looked horrible. She looked… dead.
“You must be Emma?” She tore her eyes away from Beth and focused on the man in front of her. Beth’s father. There wasn’t much similarity, not in looks at least. He had brown hair to her black, a wide, angular jaw to her feminine, heart shaped face.
“Mr Spencer?” Emma replied, and offered her hand to be clasped, and consumed by his.
“Call me Boyd, please.” She nodded, but didn’t dare reply. “Beth’s doing well. Seems her brain activity is up, but it’s hard to tell whether she’s just dreaming apparently. Dreaming’s a good sign though. You need a brain to dream.” He cleared his throat.
“I had no idea…” How stupid she’d been. They wouldn’t have kept her in hospital for weeks if she’d been well would they? She should have known.
The pad and paper seemed so idiotic now.
“And you are?” Mr Spencer had spotted Haley. Emma stood aside to introduce her, not knowing what her reaction would be to Beth’s condition. She saw Mr Spencer frown upon seeing the other girl. “Haley?”
“Sir.” Haley had dropped her sweet act, opting for a quiet, calm tone.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Did they not get on? Had Beth mentioned what Haley was like before? But he must have met her or he wouldn’t recognise her.
“I just wanted to speak with Beth.”
“Why? Why now? It’s been what, a year?” His frown remained, and his volume level, but his tone was so firm Emma wished she could answer his questions rather than leave them hanging in the air, threatening.
“I made a mistake. I came to apologise.” Haley’s eyes glinted with moisture. Was she… was she crying? Nearly crying. Emma had never seen her cry before, ever.
“Apologise all you want, she can’t hear you.”
There was a loud beep, followed by a quiet, strangled cough. Everyone turned to the source of the noise, and in the space of a second Mr Spencer had pushed past Emma and was at Beth’s side.