Chapter Twenty-Eight

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Dead If You Do

The first thing I notice is the smell of citrus bleach, how the walls are the same Magnolia white as the walls in Grandma's bedroom. Each surface is pristine, dustless even on the shelves, and the seats are purple and plush. Vases of flowers sit on every main desk and the walls are adorned with pictures of what I can only assume are the local mountains, pointy peeks coated in white snow.

The perfection of it almost makes me as sick as being here does, but I swallow the nausea down and try to keep my gaze focused on the task ahead: seeing Eden and making sure she's okay.

But no matter how hard I try, the space is so similar to the hospital back home that, for a second, I startle, dread dripping into me like water from a broken pipeline.

My fingertips tingle and my stomach stirs like ash as Elliot and I walk along the hallway, passing unhurried nurses with a serene focus etched into each of their expressions. I avoid their eyes as their lashes lift to meet us, the weight in my chest growing heavier as we walk further into the building.

The last time I was in a hospital, I was half-dead. The memory is etched into my soul and if I close my eyes, I can still hear the beeping of machines, the clicking of my Mum's heels as she paced and the murmured conversations as she spoke desperately to the doctors.

She tried her best to make sure I didn't overhear their worried whispers, but I heard every word. If she hadn't been found at that precise time, the doctor said, I don't think she would've made it.

My stomach rolls at the memory and I grip onto Elliot's hand, anchoring myself to reality.

Least to say, I try to avoid hospitals.

Aspen Valley Medical Centre is a thirty-minute drive from Woodcreek. The road down the mountain is covered by thick trees, and speckles of rain tapped Elliot's windshield as we descended to equal ground.

We just barely missed the downpour, running to the main entrance as the heavens opened and soaked everything in our wake. Even now, as I look through the window, the rain falls in diagonal sheets, carried by the howling wind.

Hell, the only positive thing about coming to level ground is that the fog has almost disappeared, its remnants swirling around the building like cigarette smoke. Of course, if I allow myself to look up, I can still see it loitering on the mountain top, sitting where all my troubles wait, anticipating my return like a wolf awaiting its prey.

I take a deep breath, shaking these thoughts from my mind as I follow Elliot who follows the signs leading us to the emergency room. No, I can't let myself worry about that now.

When I see Eden, the only thing that should be on my mind is her and her wellbeing. It's the least I can do because, in my heart, I know she'd do so much more – more than what I could ever hope to do for her.

'Are you sure you're happy to do this?' Elliot asks once we reach the white doors of the emergency room. The bitter smell of antiseptic wipes seeps through the hallway and I bite my lips.

Through the doors, I see beds lining the walls. Blue curtains offer privacy to some, but the majority of patients lie in plain sight.

I let myself wonder how often visitors saw me when I was admitted. What did they think when they saw my bandaged wrists? Did their brows furrow in pity or judgement? To be honest, I'm not sure which one I'd prefer.

'Haley?' Elliot says when I don't reply, voice dripping with caution. He shuffles nervously, lips tightening as he folds his arms across his chest. 'Did you hear me? I can ask the doctors if she's okay to be seen if you want. Her family are probably on their way soon, so we don't have to be here for long.'

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