Filmy white shadows warped and twisted against a wall of black, then danced before her eyes as she returned to consciousness. She shifted her head and winced when a sharp pain radiated from the back of her neck to the base of her spine. She closed her eyes, swallowed the bile crawling up her throat, and fought panic as it swelled in her chest.
Smell of blood. Burning rubber. Shriek of twisted metal.
Someone touched her shoulder. She shifted her eyes to her right--easy movements this time--then flinched away from the man, dressed in a rumpled paramedic's uniform, who stared back her with bloodshot eyes and at least two days worth of dark beard stubble.
"It's okay, Cassie," he said.
"You're in a hospital." He brushed a strand of hair from her cheek with such tenderness it caused her eyes to burn with unshed tears. He rose and kissed her forehead. "I'll get the doctor. Let him know you're awake." As he brushed her lips with another kiss, his beard stubble scratched her cheek and chin.
After he left, she eased to a sitting position and almost cried out when a sharp pain sliced through her waist--busted or bruised ribs most likely. Instead, she groaned and breathed through the pain. She bit her bottom lip and sucked up tears of weakness. Confusion pounded in her head like the excruciating headache consuming her focus. She didn't know who or where she was, and terror fought for space on the battleground of her mind.
What's the last thing you remember? Fuzzy images of a man behind her in front of a mirror swam to the surface, skittered away.
She glanced around the hospital room, her eyes shifting from the hanging ceiling to the walls and finally to the heavy-duty door.
I have to get out of here.
Glancing into the empty hall, she decided not to let this opportunity pass by. Another chance to escape might not come around again, if at all.
She swung her legs around and eased to the edge of the bed. A wave of nausea threatened to double her over. Her brain thumped around in her head as if her skull provided the speaker system for a low-rider with the base bumped up to maximum.
She eased one foot to the floor and pushed upward. Dizziness threatened to land her on the floor face first. With a trembling hand, she grabbed the edge of the bed and steadied herself.
"Whoa! Where do you think you're going?" A petite African American nurse with close-cropped hair bustled in, took her arm, and urged her to lie back against stark white pillows that'd seen too many wash-cycles heavy on the bleach. "I don't think you're quite ready for walking around just yet." She adjusted the pillows behind her head, then wrapped a blood pressure cuff around her upper arm.
"What happened to me?" Her voice croaked, dry and weak.
"Car wreck. Lucky for you, your husband's an EMT." She laughed. "Not that that really matters, or makes sense, because he wasn't in the car with you. But he arrived on the scene terrified out of his mind that you were...well...dead." The nurse paused and read the results. "That was one mangled-up car, let me tell you. It's a miracle you're even alive."
Cassie licked her lips as tears threatened to control her again.
"He hasn't left your side since it happened, except when we forced him to go home and get a shower along with a few hours of sleep, but that was two days ago. Otherwise, he stayed right here, scared to death you'd awaken if he left the room." The nurse stripped the cuff from her arm and wrote the results on her chart. "Wish I had me a man like that." She started to leave, but turned back when a sniffle erupted from the bed. "Hey, it's going to be okay. You're a bit banged up, but no broken bones."
"That man," she whispered. "The EMT."
The nurse frowned, but inclined her head for Cassie to go on.
"I don't know who he is."