She didn’t want to do it. Actually, she wanted nothing more than to escape the demon that she had let possess her body and now there was no escaping it, just suppressing it. The angry and hateful energy consumed her by the second. Darkness grew to black allowing the thing that lurked in it watching her to get closer and closer. She tried so hard to see it and she could surely feel its coldness stiffening her lungs. She tried to breathe but the cold black energy occupied her lungs and now it was working on her heart. It was everywhere in her body, eating her. She needed a fix and she needed it now before the dark energy consumed her.
Just another block now and she would be at her dealer’s hangout. She hoped so much that he would be there to fix her up and if he wasn’t, then he’d just have to find her passed out by the door of his hotel room because it would take all the energy she had left in her just to get there.
Off in the distance Natalie could hear the soft crashing of waves against the shore. It was a peaceful sound that reminded her of how she used to spend hours upon hours searching for mermaids along the shore when she was a child. A part of her never stopped believing in them and if they did exist, they called to her now. They called to her to dream and be happy again and to not be afraid of her ability to feel emotional energy. Natalie wanted to go back to those days of searching for mermaids and to start over with where she’d gone wrong. She wanted another chance at being Ethan’s mother but she was too far gone now. The dark depressing energy that had taken over her wouldn’t let any light in and the only escape she had from it was getting high over and over again. She knew that one day it would kill her but knowing Ethan, her son was here kept her hoping that she would be able to save herself one day. Just not today.
Her heart pounded in her chest and beads of sweat rolled down her forehead. The pain had started early this morning and knowing how bad things would get she had checked herself out against medical advice. But the pain wasn’t just from the drug. It always started the same. She saw her mother’s pale body sick, lifeless and dying in her bed, her father passed out at the table exhausted from working too many hours just to scratch the surface of the accumulating medical bills; her son’s crying face because she couldn’t afford to feed him and the goodbye letter from her son’s father who would never return. The energy surrounding these memories would grow darker and darker and she would physically fight to stay in the light but the darkness was too strong. The only relief came from getting high.
“Manny! It’s Natalie. I need to see you.” She banged on the door of the cheap hotel room. Images of her son flashed angrily in front of her and she pounded harder in retaliation.
“Open up!” Panic set in now as the blackness swallowed her vision. If she didn’t get fixed soon she would hear the voices of her dead mother, angry father and her abandoned son. The door opened and she was saved. For now.
Tiffany parked her white Mercedes out front of Lost Island General hospital. The sun was bright and warm and the air smelled of the ocean and Tiffany smiled as she thought about Natalie who was inside waiting for her and of her new beginning that would start with a simple painting lesson.
She grabbed her purse and hurried inside to the elevator that would take her to the fifth floor where Natalie’s room was. An attractive man wearing a white doctor’s coat got on at the fourth floor. He was tall with dark brown hair and sharp brown eyes and she couldn’t help but notice the hint of muscles that peeked out of the V shape of his green scrub top.
“Good morning” He was looking directly into her eyes and smiling. The dimples that curved at the corners of his lips made her heart race.
Tiffany smiled shyly and met his eyes. “Good morning”.
“Do you need help finding anything? It’s quite a big hospital and folks get pretty lost here” Dr. Mason was the name that his badge displayed and thank God in heaven, this man had the sexiest twinge of a southern drawl. Southern accents and iced tea were two of the things that Tiffany loved the most about the south. Both were comforting and pleasing to her. They reminded her that people down here take their time and enjoy life. Not like the fast paced hustle and bustle of New York City that she was used to.
“Oh, ummm…no thank you. I know where I’m going. I’m here to pick up my friend on the fifth floor.” Just then the doors opened on five and Tiffany made her way out. Dr. Mason followed right behind her and she could feel him watching her. She wanted to hide her smile but it was impossible. As they came to the beginning of the three hallways that branched off in opposite directions, Tiffany turned to politely wish Dr. Mason a good day but he was already walking down the hall that led to rooms 500 to 510. She watched for a few lingering seconds enjoying the view before turning to the nurse’s station. It had been a while since her mind was free enough to appreciate an attractive man and this one had obviously noticed her as well. It was in the way he smiled at her and held such dominant eye contact with her. His smile was flirty and telling and sparked an innate feminine awareness in her. Not like anything Jake had ever made her feel. From the moment Jake had first noticed her, she felt like a caged bird. Every instinct to fly and be free but she had been boxed in by her owners. Well no one owned her now and being noticed by an attractive man felt great.
Tiffany stopped at the nurse’s station and a young girl dressed in light pink scrubs and a bouncy blonde ponytail enthusiastically asked “Can I help you?”
“Yes, I’m here to pick up Natalie in room 533.” Tiffany glanced down the hall where Natalie’s room was half expecting her to be walking towards her.
Bouncy girl double clicked her mouse a few times and then stared with a sorry look on her face as she explained to Tiffany that Natalie had checked herself out this morning.
“What? Did someone else pick her up?” Tiffany’s good mood quickly changed to one of worry. Natalie seemed happy about their deal so why would she have left? Had Tiffany misjudged their interaction from the day before? Natalie had seemed so genuine yesterday but maybe she had pushed her too much and the girl was just being nice to get her out of her room.
“Actually ma’am it looks like she checked herself out AMA” The girl in the pink scrubs watched Tiffany for a second assessing her reaction. “That stands for Against Medical Advice. The doctor didn’t want her to leave but she insisted.”
“Excuse me; you’re here to pick up Natalie?” A familiar southern accent sounded behind her and Tiffany turned to see Dr. Mason standing there causing her nerves to buzz with even more electricity.
“Yes, I was supposed to be here at 9 a.m. this morning to pick her up.” Tiffany glanced down at her watch. 9:05 a.m.
Dr. Mason was no longer smiling but his face was still kind and his sharp insightful eyes drew her in even more now. “I was in charge of Tiffany’s care during her stay. Why don’t you walk with me.” He held his hand out to gesture in the direction of the elevator. Tiffany smiled slightly and followed him toward the elevator.
The elevator doors shut and once again she was enclosed in a small space with this gorgeous stranger. “My name is Brian. Or if you prefer, Dr. Mason.” He held his hand out to formally introduce himself and Tiffany laid her hand in his.
“I’m Tiffany” His hand was strong to the grip and soft to the touch. There was a calm confidence offered in his grasp and it eased her anxiety about Natalie disappearing on her.
The doors opened on the first floor and her handsome new friend held his arm out between the elevator doors ensuring a safe exit for Tiffany. She stepped out and waited for him to join her side again.
Brian led her to a small picnic table in the courtyard outside where he gestured for her to sit. She did and he sat across from her resting his elbows and hands on the table.
“How do you know Natalie?” He was looking at her with genuine concern now.
“My kids found her on the beach and I called 911. That’s how she ended up here. Once the medics took her away, I found a painting she had left behind and I wanted to return it.” She was eager to hear what he had to say but she could sense that he wasn’t going to give it up without prodding her little. “I brought it back to her yesterday and after talking to her…I want to help her Dr. Mason. She’s a good girl. I can tell.”
Brian smiled pleased with her explanation. “Natalie is a good girl but a very very lost girl. She has a long way to go and the hardest part is still ahead of her.”
She knew what the hardest part was before he could even explain. It was the same for every struggle, wanting help. She had denied her own need for help for years.
“No one can help her unless she wants help. She knows she has a problem but she doesn’t believe she’s worth helping.”
Tiffany’s curiosity about the girl peaked again. “What happened to her?”
His eyes grew darker and there was a sense of human sympathy and sadness. “Her mother had cancer and her father worked day and night just to afford some kind of healthcare for her but she ended up dying anyway. Natalie became pregnant and her boyfriend left her. She struggled to take care of her son and her father tried to help her but was struggling with depression. Natalie turned to drugs and lost custody of her son to her father. It’s just been one failure after another for her. Some people can only take so much before they crack.”
“Some people?” What did he mean by some people?
He smiled his sexy dimple lined smile again sending butterflies fluttering in her belly. “Others see struggles as a chance to expand and rise to the occasion Miss Tiffany.” Oh that southern accent that was even more pronounced when he called her Miss Tiffany. He had to have women falling at his feet. She almost felt guilty for thinking about how attracted she was to this man while they were discussing the tragedy of another but it was impossible not to notice his appeal.
Just then the dreadful ringtone indicating Jake was calling chimed from her purse. She silenced it but not a minute later it rang again…silence…again…silence…again. She quietly exclaimed jerk under her breath and turned her phone off. Brian looked amused as he watched her annoyingly toss her phone back in her purse. No, she wasn’t going to explain this to him but she knew Jake was going to keep calling until she responded.
“I should probably go.” Tiffany stood to leave but she was still thinking about Natalie. She really did want to help the girl. Whether it was empathy or sympathy that she felt for her, she wanted to help her all the same. “If she ends up here again, could you give me a call?”
“I will…under one condition Miss Tiffany. You let me take you out to dinner.” Tiffany felt the butterflies take to flight in her belly again. Was he asking her on a date?! She smiled looking away as if to hide her unexpected excitement at his offer. The curious part of her wanted to say yes but how could she go on a date? She was still married! Still another man’s possession according to her family and although he wasn’t here, she couldn’t. She just couldn’t.
“Thank you but I can’t Dr. Mason.” A kind and simple no should do it.
The sexy doctor crossed his arms in kind rebellion. “A friendly dinner then. I may even let you pay for yourself.” A friendly dinner date with a man she had just met. Jake blowing up her phone. Yes? No? She wanted to but…
“I guess dinner with a new friend can’t hurt. You can tell me more about Natalie.” She felt her face flush with excitement and she quickly started fumbling in her purse again in search for a pen and paper.
Tiffany wrote down her number for her new friend. “It was a pleasure meeting you Tiffany. I’ll call you soon.” He nodded and turned to walk away. She stood there for another minute watching him completely oblivious to how obvious she was.
The sun was hidden now behind dark clouds that had rolled in and Tiffany could hear the thunder closing in behind her as she drove home. Another storm was building inside her and her mind raced with thoughts flashing and pulling her emotions in all directions. How would she tell Jake she wasn’t coming back? That she intended to break up their golden cookie cutter family? He wouldn’t take it well and she cringed at the thoughts of what he would do in retaliation. Her family would surely disown her for being such a disgrace to them. Divorce was unheard of. Especially when there was money involved. Women of the rich husbands, if they were smart just grinned and bared it according to her mother. How would she tell her children that they were divorcing? Tiffany could never agree that it was better to stay together for the kids’ sake. Why did she want to help Natalie so much? Was she out of her mind for wanting to help a drug addict? What if the girl hurt her kids? She had jumped into this new life with little direction but it wasn’t too late. She could forget all of this and go back to Jake and have security again. She could go back to her miserable cage and never have to worry about making another decision. No, it was too late for that. She had already made the biggest decision of her life. To have a life she could call her own and there was no turning back now any matter the consequences. She was scared, yes but the wise little voice that resided inside her was telling her to let go of fear and to keep going. That little voice had grown and felt solid as a rock too big to budge. That voice would never leave her and she had to listen. She inhaled deeply, thunder struck and Brian’s face flashed through her mind. There was something so calming about him. She couldn’t help but smile.
Natalie pulled into her driveway leading up to the side door. It was open. She never left doors open bells immediately rang inside her. She tried to reason that perhaps Serena, the young girl babysitting had taken the kids out to the beach and accidentally left it open but the motherly instincts inside of her once again had her imagining the worse.
She approached the door quietly and on edge. Looking inside before entering, nothing seemed out of place. She heard laughter coming from the back. It was Izzy’s high pitch squealing laughter coming from the back room. Good. She walked into the door and as she walked through the living room, she stopped when she saw what rested on the dining room table. A crumpled dollar bill lay next to a seashell frame encasing a familiar painting…Natalie’s painting.