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What the **** was that?!” Ryan roared as the car pulled away.
“My hand really hurts.” I flexed my hand. I winced at the excruciating pain.
“That’s what happens when you punch people in the face.”
“You do not know what happened.”
“Please enlighten me.”
“Iz knew him. He called her a ****. I lost it.” I rubbed the bone in my hand that was causing me trouble.
His expression softened. “Do you think you broke it?”
“Maybe. Call Elle. Ask her how Iz is doing.”
“We should go to the hospital.”
“Verna would notice if I showed up to breakfast with a cast.”
“The alternative is long term effects.”
“You sound like Elle.”
“She’s right most of the time, but I’ll never say that to her face.” He pressed his phone to his ear after selecting her number.
I checked my phone to ensure Verna had not called. My screen was free of notifications. I was happy to have something going my way.
“She hasn’t said anything. She’s just looking out the window.” He relayed.
“May I speak to her?”
“Yeah.” He transferred the phone.
“Hey, Miles –“
“Do you think she will talk to me?”
“I don’t know. She hasn’t responded to anything we have said.”
“I fear she is frightened of me. I was angry. I didn’t mean to act violently.”
“I don’t think she’s scared of you. If I’m being honest, it was freaking hot –“
“Elle-!” Morgan shushed the background.
“What? It totally was. I-”
“Milo, -?” Izzie sniffled, stealing Elle’s phone.
“Yes, it’s me.”
“You should not have done that.”
“I know. I wasn’t thinking. I apologize for any embarrassment that I may have caused.” I looked at my hand.
“No, I – I’m-you shouldn’t have seen that –me like that. No one –.” Her voice broke.
I listened to her cry, every second breaking my heart.
“I love you, Beautiful. I will see you at the hotel. Verna has not tried to contact me. I take that as a sign we are in the clear. Please put Elle back on the phone.” I waited as it was shuffled back to her.
“I’m sorry I made her cry.” I stated before she could fuss at me for it.
“That was better than her staring out the window like a zombie. She’s willing to let someone in; we know that now. It should have been me.”
I cracked a smile. “Just — um, –”
I gave Ryan his phone back.
We reached the hotel before the girls’ taxi. We went upstairs. I collected ice from the machine down the hall from my room. The chilled bag numbed my bruised and aching extremity.
“Did you have fun watching films with your friends?” Verna was seated on the couch, typing on her laptop.
“Yes. Is it alright if I sleep in Ryan’s room?”
“May I ask why? What happened to your hand?” She pushed her glasses further up on her face.
“He has a video game I don’t have. We were going to stay up late playing it. I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“And your hand?”
“I bumped it on a table.”
“Right. I see no reason why you should not. If your hand is still bothering you later, we can seek medical attention.”
I turned to retreat to my room.
“Were you ever going to mention that you left the premises?”
“How did you find out?” I sat down in the nearest chair.
“The front desk called. I have been tracking your phone all night.”
I adjusted the bag of ice on my hand, remaining silent.
“Did you drink?”
“Prove it.” She handed me an electronic breathalyzer.
I blew into it using my good hand.
I passed with ease. She was unimpressed by its zero reading.
“You are familiar with how to prove it.” She transferred a drug test to me.
I excused myself to the restroom. It was difficult to maneuver submitting a sample with only one hand, but I managed. The color did not shift to green, instantly proving my sobriety.
I showed her. She took notes as I disposed of it.
“If you are clean, why did you lie?”
“I sneaked out without permission.”
“What really happened to your hand?”
“You will be cross with me. I made a bit of a mess.”
“What did you do, where were you, and who was involved?”
I walked her through what transpired at the club. Her cool demeanor was fully intact until the end. She looked up from her computer and gazed into my eyes with a look of sincere sympathy.
“If you promise not to leave the building without my permission again, I will not submit this report to the palace.”
“Really?” My eyebrows raised.
“You are undeniably reckless, but you are gallant for attempting to defend her honor, albeit in an indignant manner. You have evolved into an empathetic and minimally responsible young man.”
“I am not sure if that is a compliment, but I will take it as one. Are you going to tell them of my hand?”
“Do you feel as though I need to?”
“It’s swelling and bruising.” I showed her.
“We will get it x-rayed first thing tomorrow. Do you think you can hold off until then?”
“Yes, the ice helps.”
“Were you truly going to sleep in Ryan’s room?”
“No, I was going to stay with Iz.”
“Both of you can sleep in your room. Leave the door open.”
I changed into my nightclothes and went across the hall to fetch her. Elle answered the door.
“She just got out of the shower. She mentioned that she wanted to turn in. I don’t think she’s up for talking.”
“That’s fine. I was about to go to bed too. I wanted to know if she wanted to cuddle.” I raised my voice in hopes that she would overhear.
She strode to the door in oversized sweats, her damp hair clinging to her head, and her arms wrapped around herself.
“Verna said you could sleep in my room.”
“Did you tell her?”
“I had to. She –“
“YOU PROMISED!” She screeched as tears streamed down her cheeks.
“Izzie, please. I had to –”
“YOU’RE A LAIR!” She walked away.
I tried to follow her; Elle placed her hand on my chest, keeping me outside. “Give her space.”
“IZZIE!” I yelled over her shoulder.
Elle pushed me outside and shut the door behind us. “Go back to your room.”
“I didn’t tell her everything, just enough to make her understand. I was just trying to help. I need to explain. Please let me see her.”
“She’s not in the mindset to talk. It’ll just make everything worse. Let her sort out the clutter and get back to you.”
“So I’m just supposed to stay away from her?”
“For the time being, yes.”
“Open the **** door, Iz!” banged on their closed door with my unharmed hand.
“Stop it! You’ll hurt her!”
“I am the last person looking to do that if this is any indication.” I showed her my hand.
“Yikes. Does it feel as bad as it looks?” She handled it gently.
“Yes, his skull was rather dense.”
“Hopefully it’s not broken.”
I rolled my eyes. “I want her.”
“Milo, please listen to me. She never wanted you to see who she used to be. You did tonight. –“
She forced me to recall the photograph I saw.
She was so sickly and fragile. My mind tried to fathom how small she was when she had her eating disorder, but literally seeing her on the brink of death was too much for me.
I closed my eyes to collect myself. “How could someone do that?” My eyes stung.
“She was not –”
“Him. Who could do that to another human being and be proud enough of themselves to send around a picture? He could have killed her with ease; she was so small. She –” A few tears escaped and I looked down.
She stepped forward and hugged me. “He is perverse and deranged. She is still here and she loves you.”
“I love her too. Will you tell her that?”
“I will. Try to get some sleep, okay?” She rubbed my back.
“Please look after her for me.” I stepped out of our embrace, drying my eyes.
“I was going to do it for myself, but I guess I can count you in. She’ll be okay. You can trust me.”
“I can’t — I can’t leave her like this. I need to hold her.” I couldn’t bring myself to leave.
“Please. I don’t want her to go to bed upset with me.”
She sighed. “I’m going to open this door. If she tells you to leave again, you better do it.” She keyed into their room. I followed her inside.
Izzie was curled up in a ball on her bed, sobbing to the point of trembling and gagging. I sat down and pulled her into my arms. “Do you want me to leave?”
She clutched my shirt with a tightly clenched fist and buried her face in the crook of my neck in response. I kissed the top of her head and rubbed her back. “You’re safe. I’m right here.” I breathed into her ear as she shook. The constriction of my arms created enough pressure to lower her anxiety. The repeated attacks created enough exhaustion to knock her out as soon as the final one ended.
“Tell Verna I’m not leaving her.” I climbed beneath the covers with Iz still in my arms.
“What if she –?”
“She’s not waking up without me here. I don’t care about anything else.” I arranged her in a more comfortable position.
“I’ll be right back.” Elle leave us alone.
I looked down at her sleeping face. She was still clutching my shirt with white knuckles. I kissed the top of her head. “I’m sorry.”
She snuggled closer to me.
“He will never touch you again, none of them will be allowed to speak to you. I will see to it. I’ll protect you.”I tucked her damp hair behind her ear.
“She’s a little ******, but she knows you’re not going to budge.” Elle relayed upon returning.
“Thanks for speaking to her.”
Elle stood at the front of the room with her arms crossed. “Do you know what happened?”
“Yes.” I watched Izzie sleep.
“Yes. She has been through so much. God, it kills me.”
“I felt so helpless when we came in here and found her like that.” She covered her mouth with her hand to muffle her cries.
I finally removed my eyes from her and directed them at Elle. “Is this the first time you’ve seen one of her panic attacks?”
“This is the worst they’ve ever been, but she’s okay now. We’ve got her.”
“You handled her when my impulsiveness got the best of me and you got her back here safely.”
“What if this pushes her to — to hurt herself again?”
“She’s too strong for that. This is one bad night. Besides, we’d never let that happen.” I returned my eyes to Iz.
“I need to shower.” Elle excused herself from the situation to regroup.
I was hardly able to sleep that night. I woke up constantly to make sure Iz was still resting. The last time I did it, however, she was awake and she was turned away from me, her head on a pillow instead of on my chest. I shifted on my side and spooned her from behind.
“Please go.” She uttered with a stiff, raspy voice.
“Please.” She whimpered, her voice cracking.
I reluctantly left, not wanting to push her any farther than I had while she was still fragile. I passed Elle brushing her teeth in the bathroom on my way out the door. I stepped inside.
“Can you take over? She’s kicking me out.”
She spit the toothpaste out of her mouth. “What if she starts doing the thing again?”
“Hold her tight. It grounds her.”
She nodded, though her face still read as unsure.
“All of what I did last night was reckless. I might have really hurt her by staying –“
“She wanted you. Her defenses are up now that she’s able to think again.”
“Chip away what you can.”
“I know I can do that.” She wiped off her face. “I’ve got her.” She patted me on the shoulder and walked past me.
I left their room. I was taken to the hospital as soon as I returned to my suite, my hand had worsened overnight. I was too wrapped up in caring for Iz to notice. My X-ray revealed a hairline fracture along my thumb. It was splinted. The estimated recovery time was 3-4 weeks. I knew it meant I would be unable to do lifts for the time being, but I was unable to find the motivation to be saddened by it. I feared she was preparing to box me out for good.
“Sometimes when I am upset with my husband, he buys me flowers to remind me that he cares.” Verna attempted to cheer me up as we rode back to the hotel in the limousine.
“They are impermanent.”
“They are not a metaphor, simply a kind gesture.”
“I rather not risk it.” I glanced out the window. “Driver, stop the car!” An idea appeared in my mind as we passed storefronts.
He obliged as soon as he found a place where he could do so legally.
“This was not meant to turn into a shopping excursion. Flowers can be delivered. We have a tight schedule to maintain.“ She squabbled as he trailed after me.
“This will take an hour or two maximum.” I walked down the sidewalk in pursuit of the store that sparked my interest.
“That is time we do not have. We have several museums to visit and a Broadway production to attend tonight.”
“It will work out. Relax.”
“It was easier to keep you in line when we were at odds.”
“You will soon learn that being on the same team as me is a suspenseful, but livening experience.”
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