“If he doesn’t wake up any minute now, I’ll have to call for help,” a feminine voice said.
“Can’t we give him more time?” a man said.
“This might be more serious than it looks,” she replied.
Who are they talking about? Fred thought distantly. More importantly, why are they in my room? His head felt like it would burst with the racket they were causing. He wanted to sleep but instinct told him to stay awake. As Fred became more alert, sensations came back to him. The room felt foreign. It didn’t have the clinical smell of hospitals or his office or the scent of trees that invaded his hotel room. His head throbbed painfully that he lifted a hand over his head. Fred touched a cloth that was cold and bumpy before he made contact with warm skin.
The people who had been discussing him fell silent. A presence moved closer and sat beside him. He opened his eyes. Four people hovered over him. No. Two. Everything was double. Fred squinted as his vision adjusted. His brows furrowed when he saw the two faces peering at him. They look like brother and sister. Their searching gazes added to the fuzziness in his brain.
“Fred, how are you feeling?” Louis asked.
Fred flinched at the sound and groaned as shooting pain went up his head.
“Awful.” A hangover? I haven’t touched alcohol in ages. His mind resisted any attempt to recall earlier events. “Where am I?”
Louis looked to the woman in sunglasses.
Cheska? Why is she here? Why is Louis…?
“You’re in my house,” she said softly. “Do you remember what happened before this?”
“I was in my room,” Fred remembered, his memories still disjointed. “Tony called – you had an intruder.”
“Nothing. Did I…pass out?”
“Her bodyguard assaulted you with a frying pan,” Louis said. His furious gaze directed at the figure near the foot of the bed.
“I’m not her bodyguard,” Tony said with gritted teeth. “I wouldn’t have attacked him if he wasn’t hurting Cheska.”
“I – what?” Fred glanced at each of them. He would never hurt anyone, not deliberately. The last time had been in Libya. A spy. He didn’t mean to – he wanted to protect Zafeera. He killed the man. No. It was an accident. Wasn’t it? Abruptly, the world spun.
“Fred?” Cheska sounded alarmed to see his face turn green.
He tried to swallow the bile rising in his throat.
“He’s going to be sick.”
Fred rolled to the edge of the bed at the same time Cheska pushed a trashcan in front of him. He heaved what remained of his breakfast into the container. The same hand that he had touched earlier rubbed his back in circles. Fred lied on his back again and breathed through his nose.
“I think we better send you to a hospital,” Cheska said.
He studied her face. Odd. They said he had hurt her yet she didn’t show fear or anger towards him.
“I can’t,” Fred said.
“I know it would inconvenience you to have people know you’re here, but—”
“My body doesn’t respond well to traditional medicines.”
“I know what I’m doing!” he said sharply. His annoyance had gotten the better of him. Worse, he was angry. The concussion. I’m in bad shape. Mom. If she finds out… Relax. Don’t get excited. Take deep breaths. In his periphery, Tony had moved nearer to Cheska’s side. Louis casually inched closer to Fred. He’s here to keep her safe from me.
“I’m sorry,” Fred said. Absently, he placed his hand over hers.
Cheska jerked at the contact. Electricity seemed to pass from him to rise up her arm and spread throughout her body.
“Sorry.” His hand slid away and left her feeling cold and bereft. “Did I…” Fred hesitated. “Did I hurt you?”
“No,” Cheska said.
The slight pause before her answer confirmed his doubts. Fred shifted uneasily on the bed then propped himself up with elbow. He held himself in that position while he waited for the dizziness to subside.
“What are you doing?”
“Leaving,” he said. Fred sat up and felt for the bump on his head. It was the size of an egg. Tony had struck hard. No wonder he felt like this.
“You’re in no condition to do that.” Cheska pushed him gently back.
“I’ve intruded in your privacy as it is. Worse, I harmed you,” he added silently. If you knew what I can do – what may happen, you’ll stay far away from me. Anyone would. Even mom is scared of me.
Swaying, he moved his leg to the edge where Louis sat. Nausea hit him again and he fell sideways. Cheska and Louis caught him. She rearranged the pillows and gently laid him down.
“For a doctor, you’re acting very stupid,” she chided.
Fred’s strained and pale face troubled her. He shouldn’t be here. He needs medical attention. Cheska pulled out her phone from her pocket when his hand moved towards her.
“Please,” he implored. She watched him at the corner of her eye. “I’ll stay.”
“You are a stubborn idiot,” she said, pausing between each word. Cheska crossed her arms. Fred stared blankly at her. He looked so out of it that she couldn’t be cross with him for long. “What do you need?” she relented.
“How long was I out?” he asked. I’m so tired. Just a bit more then I can nap. Fred fought to stay conscious. He focused on a spot, Cheska’s hand. Still no ring.
“Thirty minutes,” Louis said. His voice reminded Cheska and Fred that they were not alone in the room.
They waited too long. Fred took stock of his options and issued instructions. Tony volunteered to pick Fred’s things from the hotel. Louis chose to purchase homeopathic medicines from the chemist. Cheska stayed behind to check for changes in Fred’s condition.
They shared a tray for lunch. The atmosphere felt thick with unasked questions. Cheska wasn’t sure if she should bring it up. Would he be upset if I ask?
“You don’t have to stay in the same room with me,” Fred said quietly.
“It’s fine,” she said, polishing off the last of the sandwiches. “You thought I was his sister,” Cheska added as lightly as possible.
Fred sipped water from his glass and answered in the same tone, “I did. What did I do afterwards?”
“Then, you got very angry. Who is she?”
Cheska waited for a minute. He didn’t reply. His eyes strayed to the window. She stood with the tray of empty plates. “I’ll be right back.”
She returned with her nose stuck in a book. Cheska flipped a page as she made herself comfortable in a chair. Though it appeared that she didn’t plan to pursue the previous subject, Fred asked, “Why do you want to know?”
“I was curious,” she said, without lifting her head from the novel she was reading.
Since Louis had already gotten Cheska into the mess they were in, Fred decided to say, “Electra is Louis’s sister and she was my friend. She died eleven years ago.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” Cheska met his gaze. His eyes held pain, the physical and the emotional kind.
“They said it was a hit-and-run accident that killed her.”
“Did they find out who did it?”
“No.” He looked away. James did. I only knew because of one story. Whoever wrote it knew more than I thought. “Does it still matter when —?”
“I’m right here,” she finished for him.
It’s not that. Fred refrained from telling her Louis’s vision; instead, he said: “Louis recently found out that his sister is probably alive.”
“And you believe him.”
“And you think I’m his sister.”
“I don’t know. Are you Electra or just another person that looks like her?” His wry smile slipped into a frown. Is that why I got angry? In vain, he tried to remember. It was like swimming in murky waters which only exhausted him.
Unknown to Fred, Cheska worried at his troubled expression.
“I’m probably just her doppelganger,” she struggled for a light tone. “My parents died in a car crash. I’m the only one who survived. Afterwards, my uncle took me in. Sometimes, I wish I could remember their faces,” Cheska added wistfully.
“You can’t remember them?”
“Doctors said that the collision must have traumatized me or I had a pretty bad childhood that I subconsciously blocked out my memories after the accident.”
“Don’t you have pictures of them?”
“No. While I was in hospital, the state tried to identify who I was since the I.D.’s they found in the car were fakes. I was put in foster care until Uncle Gerry came. He said he was an acquaintance of my father but he would talk about my folks. I think my uncle felt sorry for me though. That’s why he pulled me out of the system.”
“I see,” Fred said. Cheska’s story was convincing that he fell silent. If it were true, Louis would be disappointed.
He had dozed when a cool hand on his forehead woke him.
“You have a fever,” she said.
“It’ll be gone by tomorrow. Electra—” his heavy-lidded eyes and lazy smile made Cheska realize that Fred might be dreaming “—can you keep a secret?”
“Sure. What is it, Fred?” she played along. He had expected the worst case scenario and warned Louis, Tony and her earlier. Cheska felt for the prescription in her pocket that Fred had made her write down earlier.
“I heal fast.” He sighed. The pause that followed made Cheska think Fred had fallen asleep. She was about to return to her book when he continued, “After the accident – my body –it heals faster than anyone. But,” He chuckled, his eyes fluttered sleepily.
“Go on,” she urged him.
“It gets worse before – better. I had a cold once,” he rambled. “It was itchy.” Fred lifted a hand to his throat. “I coughed a lot – lost my voice – couldn’t leave house. She couldn’t leave,” he added.
“You.” He smiled sadly at her. Fred’s fingers trailed on her cheek in a soft caress. “So noble and brave for Louis. Electra, I—” The door creaked open as Tony entered with Louis in tow. “— I like Tony. He’s smart. Why isn’t he in school?”
“Did you give him something?” Tony asked Cheska. His gaze flickered between her and Fred, who grinned at him. The doctor sounded like he was drunk.
“He’s dreaming, I think,” Cheska said. She rummaged through the bag Tony had brought and took out glass vials labelled Arnica and Belladonna. Louis handed her a bottle of Natrum sulph.
Cheska double checked the prescription and administered the medicines. Then, she assigned each of them to take turns in watching over their patient.
At past midnight, Cheska stared at the ceiling of her studio. Tony and Louis were fast asleep in the living room. Although they were still wary of each other, Fed’s condition had forced them to enter into a sort of truce. She got up and crept to her bedroom. She padded towards the occupied bed. Cheska switched on the bedside lamp. She couldn’t help admiring Fred’s features. His thick and long eyelashes were wasted on him. His face was free of freckles and smooth, except for the stubble in his chin. Asleep, he looked innocent. She occasionally heard about him in the news but that person was distant and unreachable. The man in her room was flawed – more human, so much more… Cheska shook her head.
What are you doing? she scolded herself. It’s late. Do what you came for and go. She checked his temperature. The fever had gone down. Cheska straightened and was about to turn when a hand grabbed her arm.
Her gaze dropped to the hand which held her and travelled to Fred’s face. Her eyes met his.
She had replaced her sunglasses with new contact lenses. Tony had brought it from the eye center after retrieving the doctor’s belongings. Knowing the effect her face had with Louis and Fred, Cheska withheld wearing it until everyone was asleep.
“Stay with me,” Fred said.
Cheska couldn’t read the emotion on his face. He still thinks I’m Electra, she thought.
“I’ll be right here,” she said and sat beside him.
“Thank you,” Fred said. His hand lowered to clasp hers.
His eyelids fluttered once, twice. Soon, his breathing deepened. Cheska quietly slipped from the room.
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: More on Fred and Cheska in the next chapter. Stay tuned! 🙂
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