It was a couple of weeks before they allowed her to leave the hospital. Nicole had fought the desire to exaggerate her symptoms, partly due to her natural instinct to not be a problem, mainly due to her stubborn refusal to give into fear again.
Every day she was at the hospital, Stephen had been there, as long as was possible for him. He was attentive and gentle, not forcing anything, though subtly hinting that she should tell the truth about where her injuries had come from. Invariably, she had ignored these hints.
Matt had not shown for the entire time, except on the day she was released. When he appeared, his eyes were rimmed red, his face gaunt and he had clearly not taken care of himself. He barely said a word, unable to look Nicole in the face, where yellowing shadows still lay, a testament to her beating. When he made no move to greet her, the hurt wrote itself clearly across her face. Stephen unconciously filled the gap left by Matt, taking her bags, helping her into the car, ensuring she was comfortable. Her eyes never left Matt, in a manner reminiscient of a child watching a dangerous snake. She sat next to him in the back of the car, still watching her husband, who opted instead to watch the scenery flash by. The silence in the car was uncomfortable and tense.
Matt followed Stephen and Nicole silently, stifiling conversation between the friends. Stephen settled Nicole into Flat 8 on the third floor, making hot drinks and everything. Eventually, it became painfully clear that he had to leave. He took his time doing so.
"If you need anything Nicole, promise you'll come to me?" His eyes flicked to Matt, who still had not spoken, and back to her.
She nodded. "You know I will, Stephen." She replied in her lyrical, soft voice, even managing a small, tired smile. "Right now, I just want to sleep."
He nodded, clearly unhappy at leaving her. "See you tomorrow."
Eventually, she closed the door, turning to face Matt.
"Well.. I'm going to sleep..." She said, awkwardly.
He nodded mutely, still not looking at her. She pressed her lips together, clearly hurt and worried by his attitude and left him standing in the living room.