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Bailey came to find me in the tub. Instead of trying to pull me out, she sat down beside me and wrapped her arms around me. I sank into her embrace, needing her to hold me just as much as I needed her to leave. We stayed like that for several minutes before someone else entered the bathroom. My eyes felt glued shut my the weight of my eyelids. Not that I wanted to see anything anyway.

"She needs time," Bailey said, not to me.

"And I need her," replied the intruder.

Her grip tightened around me. "Not right now, Boston. Go get cleaned up. Please."

"I need to talk with—"

"Does she look like she's in the position to be talking?"

Silence reigned for a moment before I heard a sigh and retreating footsteps. My body slightly relaxed. We remained in the tub for another length of time until a man's voice called for Bailey, only this time it wasn't Boston. She squeezed me once more before pulling away.

"Why don't you take a hot bath, Hazel?" she asked. "I'm going to step out for a few minutes. I'll be back when you're ready. Okay?"

I felt stronger now, less weepy. Her presence soothed me, as odd as it was. We weren't even friends. She must have a gift. The moment I heard the bathroom door softly close, I decided a hot bath sounded good. Scrubbing Mateo's fingerprints from my skin would hopefully make me feel better. I just wanted to feel like me again.

After discarding the shredded remainder of my shirt and slipping my skirt down my legs, I sat down in the tub, screwed the plug into the drain, and cranked up the hot water. It burned my feet and ankles as the tub filled. Within minutes, the water was brimming at the base of my neck. I used my foot to shut the water off.

Voices sounded from the other side of the wall, but they were too muffled for words to be decipherable. I pinched my nose and sank under the water. At first, the water was painful against my tender cheeks but my skin quickly adjusted. Now all I heard was silence. It was peaceful. When I came up for air, I instantly felt colder again.

What was I going to do? Now that my tears were dry and I was alone, I needed to think. Were the police here? Is that who Bailey was talking to? Did they want to talk to me? What would I even say?

My rising panic was silence by the sound of a knock on the door. Bailey announced herself before I told her to come in. I needed to get this over with, whatever this was. I had to be strong. Mateo was gone. I was safe, but I still had a mission, still had someone to protect.

"Officer Dudley wants to talk to you when you're ready," she told me, looking out of the window to give me privacy. "He'll wait in the kitchen until you're dressed."

"Okay," I replied quietly. My fingers groped the floor of the tub until they found purchase on the plug, which I then pulled up. The water began to gurgle as it dove down the drain.

As Bailey turned towards the door again, eyes on her feet, she asked, "Are you feeling better?"

"I think so." I cleared my throat and then said more confidently, "Yes. I'll be out in a second."

Within five minutes, I had changed into sweatpants and a baggy flannel I had bought on a whim a long time ago. I took a few more minutes to finish cleaning up my smeared makeup and blow drying my hair. If I stared at my eyes in the mirror too long, I would start to see how fragile I looked. So I focused on drying the strands of my dark blonde hair until I would no longer be at risk for pneumonia. Once I was ready, I forced myself to leave my bedroom, avoiding the bed, and go down to the kitchen.

A lanky older man was sitting at the table with a steamy mug of coffee. He set his phone down when he noticed my presence. I managed a small smile. Rubbing his gotee, he rose slowly from the chair as if not to startle me.

Meeting Mr. WhitakerWhere stories live. Discover now