I could tell someone was carrying me but I didn't know who it was. They were talking to me. I opened my eyes but everything was blurry. I was set down on a tile floor and now someone else was talking. They took my clothes off and I struggled, afraid it was someone trying to rape and rob me.
"It's okay, Deidre," the person said. It was a female voice. "It's Mommy. You're safe. This is going to sting, sweetie."
"Mom," I said in a weak voice.
"Don't talk, honey. Take a deep breath."
I didn't know why but did as she said. She carried me and slowly put me in a bath of hot water. It burned my skin and I screamed.
"I know," my mom said. I could feel her shaking as she poured water on my head and scrubbed me with soap. "I know it burns but we need to get your body temperature up. You'll get incredibly sick."
She washed my hair while I cried. The water burned worse than anything I had ever experienced. Finally, she pulled the plug out of the bathtub. My body was numb now. I blinked my eyes to try and clear them.
"I can't see," I said. "Everything's blurry."
"Artemis said you were crying," she said and I could tell she was. I heard a ripping noise and realized she was putting a pad in some underwear. "They must have frozen over your eyes. Evelyn is getting some eye drops now."
She helped me get dressed. I couldn't stand on my own; I was too weak. She got me into bed and tucked me in tightly. Feeling was starting to come back and I winced at the pain that show through me.
"I'll be right back with some hot tea," she said and closed the door behind her.
I tried to look out the window but everything was still blurry. I could hear ice pelting on the window and I was relieved I wasn't out in it anymore. Artemis.... Mom said he found me. Was he who I heard yelling in the park the other night? I shut my eyes until my door opened again.
It was Evelyn with the eye drops. She had me tilt my head back. I blinked a few times and, thankfully, my vision cleared. I rubbed my eyes.
"I'm sorry," I mumbled to her but she shook her head.
"I'm just glad you're safe," she said. Her nose was stuffy and I was sure she had cried, too. "Your mom's on her way now with your tea." She hesitated. "Artemis is across the hall in his room."
She left and I thought it over. Did he want to see me? Probably not. He probably just came to get me so that he could get the damn business. When my mom got back, she helped me sit up and pressed the hot cup into my hands. I cried out as they burned.
Oh! I forgot! I'm sorry!" She rushed out and came back with a straw. "Here you go. I want you to drink it all. It's decaf and I put some... I put something in it to help you sleep."
I tried to smile at her. "You spiked my drink?"
She laughed, her face glistening with tears. "I was so scared, baby."
I put the empty mug on the nightstand and shuffled over to her. I put my head on her shoulder and she hugged me tightly.
"I'm sorry," I cried.
I woke the next day around one in the afternoon. Someone had opened the door and I rubbed my eyes. I froze when I saw who it was.
"Brought you some soup," Artemis muttered, holding up a thick wooden bowl and closing the door. "Mom said your hands are probably still sensitive to heat.... I put it in a thick bowl so it wouldn't burn."
"Thanks," I whispered and struggled to sit up. I coughed, covering my mouth. The cough ripped through my throat and, at the same time, I sneezed. "Ow," I groaned.
"Let me help," he said, sitting beside me when I struggled to lift the bowl with my weak arms.
We didn't speak as he fed me the soup. His eyes were sad and tired and I did my best to avoid them.
"I'm really sorry, Deidre," he sighed, putting the empty bowl next to the coffee mug from last night. He took my hands and seemed relieved when I didn't pull them away. "Jesus. They're so cold." He rubbed them gently. "I just.... I fucked up. I didn't mean to. Julia... she's the one that was... well, she was my first." He shook his head. "She always knew how to wind me up."
"You still have feelings for her," I mumbled but he shook his head again.
"No, no I don't."
"Then why did you hold her hand?"
I was crying and he stopped rubbing my hands for a second to wipe them away.
"Because I have a hard time resisting her," he sighed. "Like I said, she knows how to manipulate me."
"You were looking for me, weren't you?" I asked and he stopped rubbing my hands, looking at the blanket. "I-I was in the park the first night it was icing. I heard someone yelling my name but I was delirious; I thought it was my imagination."
"Yeah, that was me. God, I was so worried about you." He frowned at me. "Why did you run, Deidre?"
I bit my lower lip. "It was the only thing I could think of to do," I said finally. "I went to the only thing that was familiar. I ran when I was a kid, when I was a teenager, and now as an adult."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"That's a conversation for another day," I whispered. "The point is, being homeless and fighting are all I know, Artemis." I coughed again and he rubbed his hand on my back until it subsided. "When I saw you touch her... it was like this image just shattered. I felt like I had been dreaming and suddenly woke up. So, I did the only thing I knew to do."
He sighed and kissed my hands. He was about to say something when I went into another coughing fit. Evelyn hurried in carrying a tray with medicine on it.
"Okay," she said firmly, "listen up, missy. This cough medicine: take it now." She poured a purple syrup into a cap and I obeyed, wincing at the taste. "Here's some DayQuil. Take it now." It was syrup, too, and I did so reluctantly. She held up the last bottle. "NyQuil. Take it before you go to bed. I'll know if you don't. The last thing we need is you getting worse."
I smiled a little. "Yes, Mother."
"Get some sleep," Artemis whispered, getting ready to stand.
I stopped him. "Stay with me until I do?" I whispered shyly. "When I was out there, I was alone and-"
"Of course I'll stay," he said and sat back down.
I got comfortable under the blankets and my eyes closed slowly. He was rubbing the back of my hand with his thumb and started to mutter what sounded like a lullaby. The last thing I was aware of was the sound of his voice singing me to sleep.