5.4K 155 36

"Her face is never going to look the same," the doctor said, more for my sake than for Rachel's parents, who had already heard the news.

Rachel's mother broke down into sobs, right here in the waiting room, while her husband held his frail bride upright, tears shimmering in his own eyes. My feet felt rooted to the blank white tiles under my shoes. Something in the doctor's voice was chilling. I was suddenly overcome by the urge to go to my best friend.

"I need to see her," I told the doctor. "Can you take me to her?"

"She's in a compromising state right now—"

"I was there when it happened," I insist. "She needs me. Please."

His face crumpled in resignation, and I nearly forgot my own grief in the empathy I felt for him for having to deliver news like this. "Okay. You can't touch her, though. Her body is healing and doesn't need the threat of new germs."

"Of course."

I took a step forward to follow him before something tugged me back. Looking over my shoulder, I was reminded of Boston's presence. His hand was wrapped around my right wrist.

"I'll be here waiting for you when you're done," he told me.

My eyes burned. "Thank you," I whispered.

Then he let me go and I was hustling to catch up with the doctor. Rachel's parents were ahead of me, too. Their paces were slow and hesitant. We were all afraid to see the damage for ourselves.

After turning down several halls, we ended our journey in the ICU. The doctor paused outside her door, hand resting on the door hatch. His blue eyes were light in apprehension. A bead of sweat joined the tears gathering on my cheeks.

"She may or may not be awake," he informed us. "Be mindful of her condition and don't wake her up if she's still asleep."

We all nodded, so he opened the door. He led the way inside first with us on his heels. The moment we stepped into view of the bed, a breathless gasp seemed to be drawn from the three of us. There Rachel lay, her face wrapped in fresh, white gauze. Her lips were mangled and stitched, much like what little parts of her cheeks could be seen.

My heart sunk impossibly further into its slump. How did this happen? Why did it happen to her and not me? What had we ever done to challenge the bear in the first place? I felt the tears rolling down my face again. They may never stop. And to think Rachel hadn't even woken up yet, that she was still oblivious to the state of her body.

I wanted to scream and fall to me knees right there. This was all so unfair. Rachel's life would never be the same again. Her heart and soul would always be beautiful and passionate, but I didn't know if she would be able to face herself in the mirror. Thinking these thoughts shamed me. It seemed mean almost, though I knew I would struggle to cope if I woke up with most of my face missing.

Hopefully, Rachel was stronger than me.

"I think it's time you all go home for the night," the doctor whispered, hardly penetrating my mind. "It's been a long afternoon for everyone."

I didn't want to leave, but there was nothing we could do. Rachel would wake on her own terms, and God bless her when she did. I wanted to be here to hold her hand when it did happen, yet I couldn't be strong for her if my own body and mind were obliterated by fatigue. And at the moment, they were.

So Rachel's parents and I followed the doctor out of her room and back to the waiting room. I was so distracted that I had forgotten about Boston until we emerged from the ward and saw him sitting in one of the chairs. The thing was, he wasn't alone. A young woman was sitting beside him while they talked.

I thought she might have been a friendly stranger until I approached. They both turned to look at me. Boston sprung to his feet, his gaze poring over my face. My eyes, however, were locked with hers. She was so familiar. Very pretty with circular glasses and long, dark hair.

Then I remembered. She was the girl in the picture I saw on Boston's Facebook. I tensed as my gaze slowly lifted to him.

"How was it, Hazel?" he asked worriedly.

"Um." I swallowed and shook my head to clear it. "Not good. It's not...she's not..."

There were no decent words to describe such a tragedy.

"It's okay," he promised, pulling me in for a hug. I remained stiff in his arms, uncomfortable and too tired to care. "She'll be alright."

Though I didn't have the same confidence, I hoped he was right. When he released me, my attention flickered back to the stranger. She smiled at me again.

"Hazel," said Boston, "this is Bailey. She's an old friend."

"Hi," I greeted shyly. I still didn't understand why she was here.

"She came into town this morning and I left her at my house when I came here," he explained, somehow sensing my questions. "I wasn't sure how long you were going to be, and she wanted to offer any support, so she came."

"That's nice of you." My lips nearly complied to a wobbly smile, but I didn't have the ambition nor energy to be amicable at the moment. Turning back to him, I said, "Well, I need to go home. I need some sleep. Thank you for coming, Mr. Whitaker."

Oops. I forgot to address him informally. His brows knitted together in confusion and skepticism. At first, I nearly corrected myself before realizing it didn't matter. Not really. If it bothered him for his friend to know the complexities of our messed up relationship, then that was something he needed to sort out.

"I'll drive you home," he volunteered. "You seem really tired."

"No, it's okay. Thanks, though. You've done a lot just by being here."

"Yeah...okay." His doubtful tone indicated anything but agreement.

Rachel's parents were already gone, so Boston and Bailey followed me down to the parking lot. Boston grabbed my shoulder before I could make a getaway.

"You need anything, let me know," he said. "Okay?"

"Okay," I replied with another slightly forced smile.

"Good. Please, be safe. You know you can call me if this all gets to you."

I nodded. The gesture wasn't authentic, unfortunately. If I lost it, I wouldn't be calling him. I wasn't sure who I would call, but it wouldn't be him. We couldn't keep doing this to ourselves, playing these silly games. Yes, he was genuinely a kind person. Yes, he cared about me. That didn't change our situation, though. He was still my old teacher, and I was still his former student. Time would never change that.

As I wandered around the hospital parking lot, searching for my car, I wondered what time would be like once this all was over. It could speed by or drag. There was no telling with the way Rachel's recovery was looking. I hoped, for all our sakes, this period of our lives would flash by.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now