A Study in Charlotte

Page 77

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“I can’t talk about your martyr complex right now,” I said, swallowing against the sand in my throat. “I can’t.” I reached blindly for the glass of water by the bed and drank it down.

She drew back to look at me. “You’re flushed,” she said, scrambling to her feet, “I think your fever’s returning—I’ll fetch Dr. Warner—”

“Wait,” I said.

She was rumpled, undone, her hair coming out of its elastic to curl in tendrils around her face. There was something I had to say to her, I thought, something necessary, something right at the tip of my tongue.

I guess she knew it before I did.

Leaning over, she smoothed my hair back from my forehead. I closed my eyes at her touch. And so it was a surprise when she kissed me on the lips.

She smelled, unexpectedly, like roses.

“That’s all I can do,” she whispered, resting her forehead to mine.

“That’s a lot,” I said, and she laughed.

“No. I mean, that’s all—it’s nearly too much for me to touch anyone, after Dobson, and I—for you, I’m trying.”

I could feel her breath on my lips. “I don’t know how long I’ll be like this,” she said, slowly, “or if I’ve maybe been this way all along. I don’t know if it’ll ever be enough.”

It was confusing, what she said, but I thought I understood it.

“You don’t have to try,” I said to her. “Whatever this is, already—it’s already enough.”

“I know,” she said, straightening. “It has to be.”

We looked at each other for a minute.

“If you get yourself thrown in jail over this,” I told her, “I will never, never forgive you. You need to find another way, or I swear to God I will die on you just out of spite.”

Her flickering smile. “Okay.”

“Okay? It’s that simple?”

“Okay,” she said again. I had no choice but to believe her. “Your pulse is racing, and you’re far too warm. I’m going for Dr. Warner.” She smirked. “Don’t want you to die before you can use it as a bargaining chip.”

“Thanks,” I said, pleased, at least, that she chalked my hammering heart up to my fever.

eleven

I WAS MUCH, MUCH WORSE IN THE MORNING.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Logic dictates that a deteriorating illness deteriorates. But then, logic is hard to come by when you’re dying.

Whatever brief reprieve Dr. Warner’s drugs had granted me ended around midnight, when I maxed out on the highest morphine dosage he’d allow me. The hours after that were . . . well, I’ve been assured it’s best that I can’t remember them.

As morning broke, I moved in and out of fitful dreams, dark, sodden landscapes that were at once cruelly hot and cut through by the bitterest winds. At the same time, I was conscious of something happening in the room around me. A hand on my forehead. A pair of voices, shouting. It all added to my unrest, since, for the life of me, I couldn’t make myself understand what was happening. Burma, I thought, I was in Burma. I was in Afghanistan. No, my mother was baking cinnamon rolls in the kitchen, and if I was very good, if I made my bed and put all my toys away, she’d bring them in to me. Holmes was there too, dressed in all black. Someone had died. We were headed to the funeral.

I woke to the barest hint of sunlight through the curtains.

My room was silent. I could tell that much without opening my eyes. The effort I had to put into even that simple task left me dizzy and sweating. When I managed it, I realized that I was alone. Was this another hallucination? It didn’t feel like one. There was the bedside table, there the tufted chair.

And I wasn’t in any pain.

I turned my head to look at the morphine drip (that took another eternity), but I didn’t understand how to read the dosage on the bag. Whatever I was being given, it was working. In place of the pain, there was a sort of bodily rebellion. I asked my legs to swing off the bed. They didn’t. I asked my arm to reach out for my water glass. It wouldn’t. I panted with the effort, and the panting took effort. I was about as weak as a newborn child.

“No,” a woman insisted in the other room. It was a voice I recognized, but from where?

“No,” she said again, angrier this time, and then fell silent.

It was Bryony Downs.

The meeting was taking place in the next room.

It was brazen of her to do it here, to walk into the enemy’s stronghold and cut a deal in the place where they had every advantage. She really did think herself invincible.

The antidote could be out there, nestled in her pocket.

No. She wouldn’t have brought it with her, not where it could be taken from her by force. She’d have hidden it somewhere nearby, only giving its location over when she’d gotten what she wanted. If Holmes gave her what she wanted.

Which meant, of course, that I would die, and in the next two hours.

I struggled, again, to get my legs to obey me. Move, I told them, as laughter pealed in the next room. Move. The shirt and soft pants I’d been dressed in were already drenched through with sweat. Sweat. Was that a good thing, sweating? Did that mean the nerves and veins inside me—I imagined them now, crackled black and breaking—were still healthy? Was I somehow beating this?

If I was beating this, I’d probably have working legs, I reminded myself. Grinding my teeth, I focused on my knees. Move.

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