I feel the light threatening to seep into my closed eyelids, so I squeeze them tighter. I'm not quite ready to wake up yet. Fuck you, world. You can wait.
Stubbornly refusing to open my eyes, I reach for my vial, which should be next to me on the nightstand along with a pack of smokes, a lighter and razor blade.
My fingers grope awkwardly, but the bed stand isn't where it should be.
Muttering under my breath, I decide that if my fucking housekeeper keeps moving shit, I'm going to fire her.
But as my consciousness returns, bit by bit, I realize that I'm not where I should be, either. The bed beneath me is hard and small and it crinkles like plastic when I move.
What the fuck?
I open my eyes to find that I'm in what seems to be a hospital room. I have an IV needle taped to my hand and I'm wearing a thin hospital gown. There is a blanket folded over my feet and there are plastic guardrails on the bed.
I gaze around quickly and find that I'm alone. The walls are bare and white, but for a dry-erase board that has Your nurse today is Susan scrawled across it and a clock that is ticking away the time. Tick, tick, tick. The noise is annoying. Its black hands tell me that it is 3:07.
How long have I been here? I see a plastic sack with my name written on it in black marker propped in a nearby chair and my boots sitting on the floor below it.
I'm alone in a hospital room and I have no memory of how I got here.
I focus, trying to remain calm as I attempt to recall the last place I remember being.
A swirly, foggy memory emerges; a crashing sound, a moonlit night. Sand. Stars.
The beach. I was at the beach with that bar whore, Jill. She's always willing to do anything for a few snorts of coke. And since I was in the mood for a blow job, I called her up. I don't really remember much else, though.
I have a few hazy memories of Jill walking away. I think she was yelling.
And that's it.
And now I'm here.
I groan. As I do, a nurse bustles through the door in faded blue scrubs, wearing a tired expression and a stethoscope wrapped around her neck. She must be Susan. And Susan's eyes glimmer for a moment when she sees me conscious.
"Mr. Tate," she says with interest. "You're awake."
"And you're a genius," I sigh tiredly, resting back against the pillows. I should feel ashamed of being a dick to her but I don't. I only feel tired and sore. I tug on my IV. The tape pulls at the hair on my arm. "Can you take this thing out? It stings."
Susan's tired eyes house amusement now, a notion that pisses me off.
"Do you find something funny?" I snap.
She shakes her head now, rolling her eyes.
"Nope. There's nothing funny about a twenty-four year old kid who tries to off himself. I find it interesting that you would complain about the sting of an IV that is feeding you, but you didn't care much about the sting in your nose when you overdosed."
I stare at her as harshly as I can, although it's hard to make an impact when I'm wearing a see-through hospital gown tied in the back.
"I didn't try to off myself," I growl. "Fuck that. If I wanted to kill myself, I would have done it a long time ago. Only pussies kill themselves. And I'm not a fucking pussy. Who are you to judge me? You don't know me."
I'm pissed off now, at her judgmental face and her misconceptions. Some bitch in worn out cotton scrubs making fifteen bucks an hour seriously thinks she can tell me what's what?
"Please don't swear at me, Mr. Tate," the bitchy nurse says pleasantly as she pokes at the button on my IV machine. "I'm only here to help. I'm not judging you. I've actually seen far worse. I'll call your doctor and tell him that you're awake. And in the meantime, your father left something for you."
She walks to the little particle-board dresser that sits across from the bed and picks up a folded piece of paper, bringing it to me. When she hands it to me and her dry fingers brush mine, her eyes change from annoyance to sympathy. Neither sentiment is welcome.
I grab the paper, crunching it in my hand.
"How long have I been here?" I ask.
I'm calmer now, more polite. She's right. She's here to help, or at least, she's paid to take care of me. It's probably to my benefit not to piss her off. The fate of my painkillers rests in her hands.
The nurse glances at the whiteboard. "Looks like four days."
"Four days?" I'm astounded. "I've been out of it for four days? What the hell?"
She stares at me, a stern expression settling over her plain features.
"You were in really bad shape, Mr. Tate. Very bad. You should consider yourself lucky. Your heart stopped twice and CPR was performed. You've been heavily sedated to allow your system to return to normal after all of the stresses of the overdose. You might notice some tracheal tenderness and some soreness around your ribcage. You had a breathing tube and several of your ribs were cracked during CPR efforts."
I stare at her dumbly.
She nods. "Apparently. But you're not dead now. You've been given a gift, Mr. Tate. You should think on that. I'm going to go call your doctor."
She turns on her heel and leaves, her white tennis shoes squeaking on the floor.
I'm completely stunned.
I fucking died.
And now that she has brought it to my attention, my ribs do hurt. Fucking A. I groan as pain shoots through my midsection. And then I remember the crumpled up note in my hand. I look at it, at the bold, scrawling handwriting.
My father's handwriting.
I almost couldn't help you this time. I called in my last favor. The next time you mess up, you'll be serving time.
Pull yourself together. If you need help, ask for it.
I think you should move to Chicago, so you can be nearer to me. I'll help you in any way that I can. Just because you have money, doesn't mean that you don't need emotional support. You can't do everything alone.
Think on it.
And stay out of trouble.
I fight the urge to laugh because I know it would hurt my banged-up ribs. What the fuck ever. The idea that my dad thinks he can offer me emotional support is too hilarious to take seriously. I don't even think he has any emotions, not anymore. Not since mom died. She took the human side of Paul Tate with her.
I toss the note in the trashcan, but it bounces off the rim and lands on the floor. Shit.
I consider the notion of trying to get up and get it, but decide against it. I'm too sore and it's just not that important. Housekeeping can pick it up later.
However, before I can think any more on it, the tip of a shoe appears next to it. My gaze flickers upward and finds a girl standing there. She's staring at me with clear, green eyes and she's holding a vase of flowers.
And she's fucking beautiful.
My gut immediately tightens in response. Holy shit.
She's small, with long dark hair draped over one shoulder and clear green eyes framed in thick black lashes. Her skin is bright and glowing. And why am I noticing her skin when she's got such a great rack? I fight to keep my eyes away from her full, perky tits and focused on her face.
She smiles a wide, white smile. A gorgeous kind of smile.
"Hi," she says softly. "I didn't know you'd be awake."
There is gentle familiarity in her voice, as if she knows me.
I'm confused. How fucked up had I been? Do I know this girl? My instincts say no. She's not the kind of girl I tend to hang around. I usually keep the needy ones around, the ones who are willing to do whatever I want, just because I can give them what they need.
This girl is not one of them. That much is blatantly apparent. She reeks of sunshine and wholesomeness. It's foreign to me. And fascinating.
I cock my head.
"I'm sorry. Do I know you?"
The beautiful girl blushes now, a faint pink tint along the delicate curve of her cheek. I immediately have the urge to run my fingers along the color, although I don't know why.
"No," she answers and she seems embarrassed. "I know that this is probably weird. But I'm the one who found you on the beach. I came the other day to make sure that you were okay. And then I wanted to bring you some flowers because your room seemed a little bare. I'm an artist, so I love color. And now I seem like a stalker, don't I?"
She's rambling. And it's cute as hell. I smile. And as I do, I feel like the Big Bad Wolf and she's little Red Riding Hood. My, what big teeth I have.
I smile wider, especially when I realize that she's even wearing a dark red shirt. And it's stretched tightly across her perfect rack.
"It's okay," I assure her. "I like stalkers."
Her head snaps up and her eyes meet mine, her gaze startled. I have to laugh again. Something about her seems so innocent. She'd truly be startled if she could hear my thoughts about her smoking hot body.
"Thank you for the flowers," I tell her, chuckling. "They're nice. You're right. The room can definitely use some color. You can set them over there if you'd like."
I motion toward my empty dresser. She moves in that direction, stopping to pick up the crumpled note from my father.
"Is this trash?" she asks innocently. I nod and she drops it in the wastebasket.
"Thanks," I tell her. "That's just where it belongs."
She looks puzzled, but she doesn't question my words. Instead, she places the flowers on the dresser, then sits in the chair next to me. And stares at me.
I stare back.
"What?" I ask her. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
She smiles. "I'm just happy to see your eyes open. I know this is going to sound stupid, but you were in a bad way on Goose Beach. And I haven't been able to get those images out of my head. So it's nice to see you wide awake and perfectly fine. I'll have something to replace those bad images with now."
Well, the idea that I'm perfectly fine is debatable. But I'm a little puzzled. She seems genuinely concerned, truly troubled. And she doesn't even know me, so why should she care?
So I ask her that.
And she's the one who's puzzled now.
"Why wouldn't I be?" she asks, and then she pulls on her full lip with her teeth. My gut clenches again as I catch a glimpse of her pink tongue. "Anyone would be concerned. And it was the first time that I'd ever tried CPR. I don't even know if I did it right. And it was the first time I'd ever seen someone overdose. I wasn't sure exactly what was wrong when I first found you. But you didn't seem like you were just drunk. I'm glad I called the ambulance."
I stare at her now.
"You called the ambulance?" Interesting. I wonder what the hell happened to Jill? She probably left me to die, the fucking whore. You get what you pay for, I guess. A few snorts of coke apparently don't buy much.
Beautiful Girl nods. "Yes, I did. The girl who you were with wasn't too happy about that. But I thought you needed it. And it turns out that you did."
Ah, so Jill was there.
"There was a girl with me?" I raise an eyebrow, probing to find out what happened with Jill.
Beautiful Girl shakes her head. "Not at first. She came while I was trying to decide what to do. She was mad at you for something- until she saw the condition you were in. And then she got hysterical. She left when the paramedics arrived."
That sounds about right.
"Well, thank you for calling help," I tell her slowly, eyeing her, taking her all in. "I'm Pax, by the way."
She smiles. "I know. Stalker, remember?"
I smile back. "Well, you have me at a disadvantage. Because I don't know you."
And that's a damn shame.
She holds out her hand and I take it. Hers is small and soft, almost fragile.
"My name is Mila Hill. It's very nice to meet you."
And it is.
I know I should tell her to run far, far from me, but of course I don't. She's like a ray of sunshine in this bleak hospital room and I soak her up. She's got good, healthy energy and I like the way it feels to talk with her.
She's like a breath of fresh air.
I may be the Big Bad Wolf, but even wolves need to breathe.