I blinked again, taking in the unfamiliar surroundings, and becoming painfully aware of the fact that I appeared to be in the hospital.

 

Again.

 

What was it the nurses called me the last time?

Oh, yeah…the ‘frequent flyer.’

 

As if I were accumulating miles with each visit. If that were the case, I wondered if I had enough to get me the hell out of this town yet.

Clumsy Ari…fell down the stairs and broke her arm.

Silly girl…cut her head on a cabinet and required seventeen stitches.

I’d paste a smile on my face, while cracking a joke at my own expense. I did it all knowing that it would be worse for me if I ever spoke the truth.

Sure, there were savvy nurses over the years that questioned the bruises and broken bones, but I made sure to keep my stories consistent…believable. And given who he was, well, let’s just say that he would be the last person anyone would ever suspect.

Once he calmed down, he’d go out and buy me a present. I had more trinkets and thing-a-ma-bobs than you could shake a stick at. Still, I stuck around, wanting something I couldn’t put into words.

I wanted to be around people who saw me as a person; not as some sin in need of punishment. I wanted to make friends with people my own age. People outside the church walls.

“It’s best to stay out of his way when he’s like this, Ari. Don’t poke the bear.” My father’s wife, Morgan, had pointed out on multiple occasions.

As usual, it didn’t seem to matter. He’d find me wherever I was in the house and I’d suffer through a long and confusing tirade, before he doled out his punishment. My five older sisters had been gone for a few years now, leaving me as the sole target of his wrath. You’d think that one of them might’ve spoken up and tried to get me out of there, but their fear of Tristan James ran deep.

This was the first time I’d woken up in a room alone though. Normally he’d have those beady eyes fixed on mine, silently urging me to stick to the story. I wasn’t going to complain about the reprieve, however brief it might be.

I tried to shift in the hospital bed, but only my upper half moved. I gripped the side rails and tried again.

Nothing.

The lower half of my body refused to cooperate with me. I pushed down the rising panic and tried again, with similar results.

No.

My hand moved down to grab my right leg and manually move it when I noticed the cuts and scratches running down my arm. I tried to grip my thigh and was rewarded by searing pain that travelled from hip to ankle. At least I wasn’t paralyzed—at least I didn’t think so. The fact that I felt pain was good, right?

 

The door to my room slid open. It wasn’t like a normal door though. This looked like something that belonged on a patio.

“Good Morning, Ms. James. I’m here to check your vitals and get some more pain medication in you.” The woman had a sad smile on her face, as if she already knew the damage that’d been done to me. Another woman followed closely behind.

I opened my mouth to ask them what happened, but nothing came out. My esophagus burned like it was on fire, but the words were stuck somewhere deep within. I couldn’t make a single sound.

I gripped my throat and began shaking my head back and forth, even as tears began to leak from eyes.

The second woman calmly came over and cupped my cheek in her hand. I couldn’t look her in the eye without wanting to cry harder, so I focused on the name badge clipped to her chest.

Dr. Belinda McEvans.

 

“Ari, I don’t know how much you remember, but you were in a pretty bad car accident. You plunged down a thirty-foot embankment—you’re very lucky to be alive,” She paused before continuing, “You broke your right femur and shattered your left pelvic bone. The x-rays also revealed small fractures in your lower spine.”

I touched my throat again in confusion and gave her a questioning look.

Why couldn’t I talk?

Would I ever be able to walk again?

Dr. McEvans looked down at my arms and replied, “You haven’t spoken a word since they brought you in. You must’ve been in severe pain, but you didn’t make a sound. We’ve run a multitude of tests, but can’t determine what’s happened to your voice.” She swallowed hard. “We’re hopeful that the plates and screws we placed are enough to piece you back together, but the damage to your spine is what is most concerning right now. We performed a vertebroplasty, which should alleviate the pressure, but you should be made aware that there is a chance you might never walk again.”

I rested my head against my chest, my tear ducts opening wide to release a flood of tears down my face.

 

I couldn’t lose my legs.

Dr. McEvans continued. “As soon as we’re able, we’ll get you working with a physical therapist—possibly even a speech therapist—”

I tried to tune out the rest of her spiel, but I caught enough to make my pulse race—

‘Broken bilaterally.’

‘Thoracolumbar sacral orthosis.’

‘Non-weight bearing.’

 

None of those words filled me with anything other than sheer terror.

There’d been a plan—I’d saved up enough money to get me away from him. If there was a possibility that I might not walk again, then it might’ve all been in vain.

There would be no hiding from him in a wheelchair.