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When I'm Gone; Chapter 5
Chapter 5-July 31, 2001 (Claire)
I could feel my body convulsing violently. I opened my mouth to let out a scream but nothing came out. Suddenly, there were strong, tan arms constricting my own. I looked up into the handsome face of a man’s and drew in a breath. He smiled and I wanted to scream again. Frantically, I gazed into the man’s hazel eyes and watched as they shone with excitement.
“Shh,” he whispered, putting a finger to my lips. My eyes widened and I thrashed, trying to get free. His arms were iron fetters, making it impossible for me to move. His head bent down and he pressed his lips to my throat. I let out a cry and he looked up. His face was covered in soot.
“Agh!” I shouted as I sat up in bed. Sweat poured down my body and I took in deep breaths. A rapid beeping caught my attention and I looked to my left. Machines were lined up against the wall and lines showed my heartbeat and my breathing. I let out another breath and tried to slow my frantic heart.
It was just a dream, Claire. Just a dream, I told myself. A slight movement made me turn my head towards the chair in the corner of the room. A lanky body was curled up in what looked to be an uncomfortable position, sleeping. As my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could see Alex’s black hair, newly cut, at the top of the chair.
Smiling, I laid back down and closed my eyes. The man’s face came back and branded itself in my mind.
I flicked my eyes open and saw that it was now light outside. I could hear the sounds of the city outside of the window. Panicked, I looked back to the chair, but nobody occupied it anymore. I cleared my throat and winced at the pain it brought me.
To my right, the door opened and a doctor walked in. She saw my eyes and smiled warmly. I shrunk back, wondering where I was.
“Well, look who’s awake this morning,” she greeted me. “Good morning, Claire.”
“Who are you?” I asked, my voice direct and demanding. The doctor laughed and walked to my side.
“I’m Dr. King,” she said. “Claire, you are in the hospital. Do you know why?”
“There was a fire in my apartment and I passed out,” I stated as if it was obvious. Dr. King smiled and nodded.
“Good job. Now, you inhaled a lot of smoke, so we took you in to treat your lungs. How is your throat?” she asked, changing the subject.
“It hurts,” I croaked, rubbing my neck.
“How much hurt?”
“It feels like I can’t swallow and it hurts to talk,” I answered. She nodded again and scribbled something on her clipboard she had brought with her. “Why is that?”
“Well, the smoke had dangerous chemicals in it and so your lungs reacted to it. Your throat will feel like this for a few days, but your lungs are all clean and ready to be used again.”
I stared at her, wondering if she was telling the truth, when Alex came in with a food tray. When he saw me, his eyes widened and his lips broke into a grin. He set the tray down, and ran over to me.
“Claire,” he murmured and hugged me. I laughed and hugged him back.
“I will leave you two alone,” Dr. King said and left quietly. I smiled at Alex and ran a hand through his hair.
“You got your hair cut,” I commented and he nodded.
“I went straight to the house after that. That’s when I saw you in the fire fighter’s arms. You scared me half to death, Claire,” he reprimanded me.
“I’m sorry,” I choked out. He smiled sadly and placed a hand on my shoulder.
“Don’t scare me like that ever again,” he told me.
“I promise,” I said and sat up a little more. I wanted to change the subject. “So, tell me about Emily. Did she like you?”
“Well,” he started. Instantly, I saw the hurt in his eyes and my heart dropped. “I couldn’t be with her. I told her to leave me alone.”
“What?” I asked, surprised. Usually, the girl was the one dumping him. “Why?”
“She was way too clingy,” he grimaced, “and she whined a lot. I had to push her away when she followed me all the way home.”
“Aw,” I said. “Well, if it makes you feel better, I won’t ask to borrow that fedora from her.”
Alex laughed and shook his head. He grabbed the food tray and set it in front of me. He opened it up and I could smell fried chicken, my favorite.
“God, you must be so hungry. You need to eat, sis,” he complained. I glanced at him.
“Why?” I was utterly confused. “I ate yesterday morning. I had cereal and a banana.”
“Claire, you have been out for three days now,” he said softly. I’m pretty sure my eyes widened as he said that.
“Are you serious?”
“No joke,” he said and placed his hand on his heart. “I promise you.”
“That’s crazy,” I admitted and took a bite of the roll. I grimaced as I tried to swallow it. “And you stayed here every day?”
“Well, I had to go and get us clothes from the apartment. They are in the closet,” he added glancing at my hospital gown. I scowled and he looked away.
“The apartment? How is it?” I asked nervously. Alex looked back at me, his eyes saddened.
“We have to move again, Claire.”
“No!” I interjected. “But, you brought us clothes. So it must be fine.”
“Oh, all of our possessions are fine. Great, even. It’s just that the bottom floors of the building are in ruins. Everything is burnt and they are going to have to remodel. I talked to the owner on the phone, yesterday. He was the one who suggested we move,” he explained. My heart started to sink lower and lower, until I thought it couldn’t drop anymore.
“Where are we going to go?” I cried, wiping a hand across my cheeks, streaking the tears. Alex sat down in the chair and put his head in his hands. Once again, I wondered if he was going to cry. Of course, he didn’t.
“I honestly don’t know, Claire,” he whispered in agony. “It took us over a month to just find that apartment for our budget. We start school in a week and a half. We need to find a place before that.”
“I know,” I said and held back a sob.
We sat in silence for an hour; me, eating my food, and him, staring at the floor. Finally, Alex looked over at me with anguish in his eyes.
“I guess we should start looking,” he stated and walked out of the door. I struggled, listening to his footsteps until I couldn’t hear them anymore. I collapsed back onto my pillow and saw a button to page a nurse. I pressed it, hoping that it worked.
A few minutes later, a sweet looking nurse came in and smiled at me. I took in her blonde hair pulled up in a pony tail and her light make-up that looked as if it was just applied, before looking back into her blue eyes.
“Do you need something Claire?” she asked in a light voice. I smiled.
“Could you help me get my bag? I want to change into some actual clothes,” I asked, pulling at the collar of my hospital gown. The nurse laughed and walked over to me.
“Sure,” she said and pulled one of the machines around the bed, towards me. I noticed the tubes hooked up to my wrist, where a large bruise was starting to form.
“The bag should be in the closet,” I told her, hoping I was right. She opened the door and I saw my blood red canvas tote on a shelf. “The red one.”
She gave it to me and I grabbed a pair of sweats and a black tank top. I stood up with the nurse’s arms around me, helping me balance. After a few steps, I was able to walk by myself and the nurse showed me the bathroom. She snapped a part of the tube off, so I could put my shirt on and I thanked her.
When I returned, the nurse was still there and she snapped the tub back on. She saw my grimace and shrugged.
“It sucks, but you need it,” she apologized and I smiled to let her know I was fine. I climbed back in my bed.
“Thanks,” I said and she smiled at me. After she left, Alex reentered and smiled when he noticed my new clothes.
“I knew you wouldn’t be able to stay in that gown for too long,” he said. I laughed and he handed me two of the five books he had brought in. They were realty magazines. When I looked up, he smiled sadly. “I thought we needed to get a head start.”
He went to sit back down in the chair and opened a magazine. I did the same and for the next few hours, we marked pages for possible apartments and even houses. When I was done, I leaned my head back on the pillows. I rang the button for the nurse and the same one reappeared, a smile softly gracing her lips.
“Could you get my brother a pillow and blanket please?” I questioned and ignored my brother who was shaking his head in denial.
“He said he doesn’t want one,” she said quietly. I laughed and shot a look at my brother. He glared at me.
“I’m the patient right?” I asked the nurse. She nodded carefully and I continued. “Than, I want him to have a pillow and blanket.”
“Okay,” she said and I smiled in victory. When she left, I turned to Alex.
“I hate you,” he said under his breath.
“You will love me when that pillow stops you from hurting your neck,” I giggled and smiled as the nurse brought in a pillow and blanket. She handed them to Alex, who took them politely and unfolded them.
“I love you,” he spat out sarcastically. Still giggling, I laid back down.
“I’m going to take a nap and I think you should too,” I stated pointedly. He glared at me from underneath his blanket, but within minutes, I heard him snoring softly. I settled into my own blankets and soon enough, I was drifting into a deep sleep.