Liam didn't stop running as he reached the edge of the pavement. Stumbling off the curb he raced on, headlong into the road.
Car horns blared. Headlights blazed around him. Holding up one hand to shield his eyes, Liam spun around, frantically searching for any way to escape the New Year's Eve chaos. He barely heard the angry shouts from the drivers as more and more cars squealed to a stop on the busy road.
Squeezing between two car bumpers, Liam scrambled toward the opposite pavement. A dense crowd of people immediately closed in around him. The New Year's celebrations had brought everyone onto the streets. It was impossible to run. All he could do was keep pushing forward, clawing his way a little closer to the hospital with each step he took.
Rain pelted down, soaking into Liam's jeans and plastering his thin white t-shirt to his skin. None of New Year's revelers seemed to care about the downpour as they swarmed toward the firework display due to start on the other side of town. A dozen men cheerfully forced their way through the crowd. They swarmed around Liam. He flinched away from raised fists and beer bottles as drunken hand gestures swung wildly toward him.
A terrified attempt to back away from one man sent him crashing into another. Twisting around, Liam held up his hands, desperate to pacify. "I'm sorry," he babbled, stumbling away from them all as quickly as he could. "I'm so sorry, I..."
He looked frantically over his shoulder. The crowd behind him thinned out just enough for him to make his escape. Spinning away from the gang of men, Liam took his chance, turned tail and ran.
The wind whipped at his face as he dodged between the laughing groups of men and women, all of them ready to celebrate and all of them heading in the opposite direction to him. Lifting a hand, Liam swiped at the raindrops running down his face and into his eyes, but he didn't dare stop.
He couldn't stop. He couldn't turn around and calmly follow the crowd toward the firework display.
The hospital and Marcus--those were the only two things he could think about now--the only things that offered him any chance of keeping his sanity through the New Year's Eve celebrations and on into January the first.
Finally, the huge gray building came into view on the opposite side of the road. Liam raced toward it, forcing his shaking legs to keep moving when they threatened to collapse.
Brakes squealed once more, another set of drivers cursed. Liam didn't even look over his shoulder. His trainers pounded against the tarmac as he threw himself toward the hospital entrance with every scrap of energy he had left.
A security guard stood just to the left of the door. He straightened up and reached for his radio when he caught sight of a mad man hurtling toward him, but Liam had too much momentum to come to a sudden stop. Arms flailing, shoes skidding through the puddles, he finally brought himself to a halt just a few feet from the guard.
The older man's eyes narrowed slightly, bushy gray eyebrows almost meeting beneath his water-proof cap. A moment passed, and a slight smile touched the older man's lips. He pressed the button on his radio once more. "Scratch that, Tony. False alarm."
Another man's voice crackled through the radio, too low for Liam to be able to make out the words.
"You're eager tonight, Liam," Mr. Clark said, slipping back into his usual jovial manner as easily as another man might flip a switch.
Liam tried to force a smile. The taste of blood flooded his mouth. He automatically lifted his fingers to his split lip, as he saw the guard's smile die and his frown return.
"Ran faster than my feet could keep up with, Mr. Clark," Liam mumbled.
The other man nodded, but he didn't put any noticeable effort into pretending he really believed that.
Liam dropped his gaze. Edging around the guard, he backed into the hospital. Hunching his shoulders and keeping his head down, he rushed along the deserted hospital corridors, following the path that had become second nature to him over the last few months.
Water pooled around his feet as an elevator carried him up to the third floor. Closing his eyes, Liam wrapped his arms around his torso. The cold was sinking into him now that he stood still. A shiver danced along his spine as he prayed for the lift to travel faster.
He was just about able to keep on forcing air into his lungs, but he couldn't make his breaths follow anything like a steady rhythm. Panic clawed through his insides, sending more and more adrenaline pumping through his veins until he trembled with it.
Finally, the elevator chimed its arrival at his destination. The doors slid slowly open. There was barely enough room for Liam to squeeze through the gap between them before he exited the lift and hurried along the corridor.
Sister Pritchard's head jerked up as Liam's sodden trainers squeaked against dull gray flooring. A frown flitted across her forehead as she glanced at the watch pinned to her uniform.
Reaching the nurses' station set halfway down the corridor, Liam looked from Sister Pritchard to the door leading into the private room at the end of the hall and back again.
"Please?" he whispered.
The matronly lady ran her gaze over Liam, taking in every detail as she silently debated the fate of a visitor who seemed completely incapable of abiding by proper visiting hours. Liam held his breath. His grip on his own arms turning white knuckled as his fingers dug into his biceps.
Finally, the sister nodded. Relief swept through Liam, damn near washing away the last tiny bit of strength he had left. Somehow he managed to take a few steps forward.
Reaching out, he wrapped numb fingers around the door handle. In that moment, it was almost impossible for him not to think back to the first time he'd visited that room.