Authors: Allyson Young
“Do you need the bathroom?”
Lacey pushed the call button in response. Greg probably thought she was using silence to punish him, and that might be a small part of it, but she actually didn’t know if she could communicate verbally. She was scared at what might come out of her mouth. She was scared that she would undermine this weird self-protection thing she had going on. She was scared she would start thinking and feeling, and that wouldn’t do at all.
A different nurse came in, and Greg told her that Lacey wanted the bathroom. This time there was nothing but a weary acceptance in his tone. He watched as the nurse efficiently got Lacey upright and on her feet, and then observed the slow shuffle dance to the bathroom. Lacey’s inner host watched him watch.
“You aren’t at all fevered, Lacey,” the new nurse said, once Lacey was on the toilet. “And you’re not having anything too different than a heavy period. That’s a good sign. I’ll bet you’ll be out of here tomorrow morning.” Lacey’s lack of response didn’t seem to faze her. She helped her clean up and wash her hands, then took her back to the bed.
“Sit in the chair for a while,” she urged, and Lacey obligingly sat down and let the nurse raise the foot rest. “There. I’ll change your bed, and you can visit with Greg.”
Lacey watched an interesting array of emotions play across Greg’s face. Ms. Cheerful was clearly oblivious to the tension in the room. Whatever. Not her problem. She needed to keep her brain insulated and calm in order to get out of here. Lacey looked outside and counted the windows in the building next door. Some had blinds and some didn’t. She subtracted the former from the latter and was absurdly pleased at the result, an even number. The bed made, the nurse exited, taking the lunch tray with her, and left her and Greg alone. He came to stand beside her, but her body didn’t notice, didn’t respond. The host in Lacey made note of that interesting fact and tucked it away for another time.
“Lacey? We have to start talking sometime.” Lacey multiplied the windows with blinds by the ones without. Odd number. Greg took her face in his hands and turned it to face him. She admired his handsome features and noted the clearness of his dark-blue eyes. Those eyes narrowed, and his hands dropped to her shoulders, giving her a tiny shake. “Anybody home? Lacey?”
Well, that was interesting. Greg didn’t seem to know who she was anymore. She didn’t know either. She heard a lovely humming sound in her head and focused on it next. Two four beat. She closed her eyes and let it absorb her. She felt Greg’s arms around her as he scooped her up and laid her down on the bed, the plastic-covered mattress crinkling beneath her. The metal bedside railings clunked into place and then she was alone. No surprise.
“It’s like she’s gone away,” Greg complained to his therapist.
“I suspect it’s delayed shock.”
“Goddamn it, I did this. I just couldn’t back off and let it go!”
“I don’t think so, Greg,” said the doctor. “I’ve seen it before with women who lose a baby, particularly this far along, and I believe, from what you’ve shared, that she might have put all her eggs in one basket, so to speak.”
“She was alone, after being in an intense relationship with an alpha male, having relinquishing, however willingly, much of her independence in a fundamental way. Then the wheels came off, and she found out she was pregnant on top of it. She probably focused herself on the baby, and it has now sunk in that life as she predicted it has invariably changed forever. Again. That’s tough to assimilate for anyone, and she’s essentially alone and must be quite drained.”
Greg rubbed his hands up and down his face, as if to scrub away the words. “So, you’re saying that she would likely have crashed in any event. Not that she’s fucking alone!”
Dr. Martin shrugged. “I’m surmising, you understand. But I expect so. It’s better it took place in the hospital, maybe better if you helped precipitate it. She’s reacting to trauma much as how you did, Greg, and she’ll feel very much alone, just as you did. She won’t believe anyone can truly understand, and she’ll try to deal with it herself. And especially with the medications she’ll have been given, well, her mind is giving her a brief respite from reality. Not such a bad thing, actually.”
“Well, fuck that. She’s not going down that path by herself. I know her. She needs me.” Greg secretly thought that Lacey was probably one of the strongest women he knew, and it scared him, because he knew she would use everything she had to keep him away.
“You’ll heal together, perhaps,” the doctor continued. “But I would recommend that she see someone. Not me. I’d see it as a conflict of interest. I’ll give you a couple of names, and one of them is a woman, so Lacey might feel somewhat more understood, given the nature of her trauma. And I’ll see you once a week for now. You have quite enough on your plate, but certainly call me if you need to. And, Greg? Lacey will be very angry, very soon. You might want to remember that as you’ll be directly in the line of fire.”
Greg strode out of the therapist’s office after tucking a couple of business cards with Dr. Martin’s colleagues’ names in his shirt pocket. Dr. Massey sounded like a nice, older woman, and maybe she would be good for Lacey. Lacey would have had dinner by now, and he wanted to sit with her until she fell asleep. Dr. Atkinson had been fairly certain that she would be discharged in the morning, depending upon her state of mind and if she had someone to be discharged to. The doctor seemed a bit unsettled by her reaction to the medication he had stuck into her, so Greg assumed it was the reason behind her less-than-normal behavior that day. He hoped he was making the correct choice by taking her back to her place, but it felt right. He didn’t want to push her by having her face so many unhappy memories at the same time and thought their home might be the wrong place for her.
When he got to Lacey’s room, Gladys was there. The other woman looked perturbed and very concerned. She smiled at Lacey and then basically walked Greg backward out the door and into the hall just by using her sturdy frame to do so. Aside from manhandling her, Greg really had no choice. This being managed by women was really pissing him off, but he was careful not to show it.
“What has happened to her?”
“I just spoke to a therapist, Gladys, and he thinks Lacey has become depressed on top of being sedated. I thought I had caused it, but he thinks I just made it happen quicker which could be a good thing. Maybe better than a delayed reaction when there’s no one around to notice. I’m going to take care of her, Gladys, and fix things. I’m ultimately at fault for driving her away in the beginning, so I owe her this.”
“Cut the crap, Jackson.” Gladys looked pretty damn formidable and was clearly holding him totally responsible. He didn’t blame her and was glad that Lacey had another champion.
“I’m serious, Gladys. Her doctor has the same opinion.” Greg didn’t mention that Atkinson was clearly a paternalistic chauvinist who had been easily manipulated into encouraging Lacey to understand that Greg should be the one to take care of her upon discharge. Gladys might be tempted to hurt him if she knew, even if Greg was certain he should provide the care.
Gladys huffed a little and looked at him carefully. Greg hid nothing further from her, and she relaxed somewhat. “Do you love that little girl?”
“I do, Gladys. I always have, and I’m going to do whatever it takes. She might not want to trust me right now or even find it within her to care about me again, but I’ll fix this.”
“I’ll see to it that she gets compassionate leave at work and whatever sick time I can pry out of the firm,” Gladys announced, and Greg believed that she’d be successful. He took his phone out and programmed her numbers in, and she did the same with his, also providing him with Lacey’s address. Then Gladys went back in to sit with his woman for a while longer. Greg stoically took his chair in the hall. Someone had mopped the floors in his absence but hadn’t bothered to move it, so the faint residue of moisture clearly delineated it, like a penalty box. Greg resigned himself to another night of discomfort when Sheila came over, back on the early night shift.
“You can sleep on the cot in her room.”
Greg raised his eyebrows at the tone in Sheila’s voice. She looked back at him with a poker face, and shrugged. “You win. You and Dr. A. Hope you’re proud of yourself. Well, it won’t take much more to grind that girl into powder. She’s nearly there already.”
When Greg opened his mouth to remonstrate with her, Sheila waved him into silence. “Save it. I’ve seen it all. I hope you rot.”
Greg stared at Sheila’s retreating back in total shock and disbelief. Did she really believe that he’d “grind” his beloved Lacey? Well, maybe that’s what he had done before, and seeing her so vulnerable had certainly stirred Sheila up, doubly reminding Greg of his responsibility. Greg’s resolve hardened even more. He would prevail. He was the best man for this job.
* * * *
The cot was devilishly uncomfortable, and too short for his tall frame, but Greg was at least sleeping in the same room as his woman. She had made her way to the bathroom under her own steam before she fell asleep, ignoring Greg’s outstretched hand. He pushed away the urge to spank her little ass for being so stubborn and admired her tenacity instead, even if she still wasn’t saying anything, anything at all. He had waited to see if she needed his help to get back to bed, but she managed that task as well. Clearly her body was beginning to heal. She didn’t respond when he passed his mouth across hers in a “good night” gesture, but neither did she resist. She didn’t appear to hear his murmured “I love you,” or at least didn’t display any acknowledgement.
Greg thought she might awake in the night, from a bad dream, or maybe in tears, but she didn’t. Instead, he had awakened at his usual early hour to find her already stirring, staring at him across the room as if she had never seen him before. He successfully pushed his mounting anxiety down and got up to use the bathroom first, as had been their practice, usually after some urgent, passionate sex. Lacey pattered in as soon as he exited but again said nothing to him. He wondered where she had gone and thought it was probably to the same place he had, when he was trying to exist after that dreadful evening. These few hours of total lack of communication were bothering the shit out of him, and he couldn’t imagine what it had been like for Lacey when he had shut her out of his life, for months. She was far more social than he, and it must have been a nightmare. She emerged, looking more like herself, her face still damp from washing, the hair around her temples curling from the moisture. Greg desperately wanted to kiss her, to taste her, and reached out to pull her to him. It was like touching a little waxen doll. She came willingly, but she wasn’t Lacey. Greg contented himself instead with a tender hug and guided her to the chair. The lab tech arrived without any warning, and he was glad they hadn’t been caught in a clinch. The rebuilding of the relationship felt too fragile, too private, and, if he was honest, one-sided at present.
It seemed like a very long time since Lacey had been bound, naked, stretched, and exposed on the St. Andrew’s cross in front of an audience while Greg had used the single tail on her. Her skin had pinkened so beautifully, and she had slipped into subspace with all the released endorphins, rousing only when Greg had fucked her from behind to a screaming orgasm, his alpha side a perfect match for her beta. Her kink was exhibitionism, and while he wanted to keep her all for himself, he did what was right by her when she needed it. He hoped that time would return some day, but would be content with whatever she wanted, if she wanted anything from him at all. He had a thought. Lacey slipped into subspace easily, which might explain her present dissociation. It was something to bring up with the therapist.
He grimaced at the hospital fare, but Lacey ate the oatmeal and toast, and part of the fruit cup. She eschewed the coffee, and he could hardly blame her, making a mental note to stop for her favorite extra-large with double cream on the drive to her home. He contented himself with fetching her a glass of water and was rewarded with a nod of thanks. He felt blessed and marveled at the significance of such a tiny response. When Dr. Atkinson came in midmorning, Greg was thoroughly tired of watching Lacey stare out the window, despite the fact that he had tried repeatedly to engage her in conversation, frustrated by her serene muteness, but determined nonetheless. Atkinson discharged her, and Sheila came in to assist Lacey into the clothes Alex had sent, producing her purse from a locked cabinet behind the nursing station. Greg found her keys inside and was relieved that he wouldn’t have to bother the landlord. Gladys had told him about the setup of the old Victorian Lacey now lived in, and Greg sensed yet another older female who would have Lacey’s back and his balls if he put a foot wrong. Better he get Lacey settled and comfortable before he met this Mrs. Withers, Edith. And then there was this David. Greg’s alpha twitched and stretched a little. He could deal. He had to.
Once the paperwork was taken care of, Sheila pushed Lacey through the building in a wheelchair to the outer doors. She then accompanied him out of the health center at a sedate pace, and he handed her up into his truck and ensured she was buckled in. She was talking again, albeit in short syllables and short sentences and only when spoken to, just not to him. She let Sheila hug her and said thank you to the nurse in a polite, quiet, but equally sincere tone. She also acknowledged her grasp of the release information when she signed herself out. Certainly Sheila was satisfied with her mental acuity. The brief stop at the adjoining pharmacy to pick up her medications obviously taxed her, but she made no complaint. Greg accepted that Lacey had been protecting herself from both her immediate grief and from him and was just thankful that the robot-like behavior was at an end, at least in public. He put his turn signal on and pulled out of traffic, driving up to a Dunkin’ Donuts.
“Do you want a coffee, Lacey?”