Chapter 16

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Riley

"Good morning Riley. How are we doing this morning?" The doctor asked. "Tired. I feel like I was hit with a brick." "Yes, well, you took a pretty bad hit and were knocked unconscious. That would hurt." Understatement of the year. "So, Doctor, will there be any permanent damage? How long should she stay in the hospital?" Grayson asked. "She seems pretty good. The swelling in her head has gone down a bit. I don't want her to be alone for another night or two, just in case. Will you be caring for her?" "Yes, I will." "Then, she can probably be released this afternoon after a few more tests. I will be back in a couple hours to check on her." "Thank you, Doctor." I told him.

"So, we have a little more time while I'm still on this pain medication. Let's do it again." I suggested. Grayson was going to say no. I could see it. I just needed to be a little more persuasive. "Amber, I don't want you having any more bad memories right now. You need to recover." "But Grayson, if I'm going to have any kind of bad reaction, the best place for me to be is safe in this hospital bed. The nurses can see from the monitor if anything is really wrong." I reasoned with him. He was considering it. "And, I really want to hold your hand again. Those tingles actually felt kind of good." "Okay, one more time, but if you feel pain or remember something frightening, you let go." "I will, I promise. I did last night, right?" "Yeah, you did."

I opened my hand. He took it gently. He also clasped his bracelet. I did the same with my necklace. There was a sudden spark. Smaller than the last one. I could feel the tingles. They felt warm, like getting into a hot shower. They ran all through my body. I closed my eyes and tried to enjoy it. I was nervous about what I would remember, but I was more excited to get my memories back. The first thing I noticed was the smell of burnt rubber. That was very strange. Then I started seeing flashes of us in the car. Going too fast. I could see my mothers shocked face as another car was coming right at us. I remembered her ear-piercing scream, and then flying through the windshield. I held tight to Grayson's hand. He squeezed mine. The amber was getting warmer in my other hand. I was starting to feel a little light headed. But there was no pain. Just a dull ache. Thank goodness for the pain meds. Then I felt a huge rush of warmth. I was hot and starting to sweat. My breath was coming out in pants. Grayson tried to pull away. I didn't let him. I had to finish this. I heard a buzzing in my ears. Then a loud pop. I finally let go.

I opened my eyes and Grayson looked scared. "Amber, you're burning up." I looked down at myself and saw the hospital gown was wet and clinging to me. I felt sweat on my face. I wiped my forehead with my arm. "What happened?" he asked tentatively. "I saw myself in the car with my parents. I could see them! I felt the terror when we were heading straight into that other car. Dad was trying to swerve out of the way and it kept coming closer. Dad slammed on the breaks and we started to skid. I could smell the burning rubber." I explained. "I could feel your fear Amber. It was terrifying." "I'm sorry" I told him. "No Amber, I want to be with you through all of this. I want to know what you went through when I wasn't there for you. I should have been there."

"You couldn't have known what would happen. I don't blame you for not being there. You're here now, and that's what matters to me. You came to find me. You saved me Grayson."  I wanted to reach for his hand again but didn't. He looked pained by my experience. "I want to take a shower. Could you help me find my clothes?" Grayson looked around the room and then handed me a plastic bag that held my things. "You sure you can handle it?" He asked. "There are bars in there. I would rather shower here than back at home. This is safer."

I made my way to the bathroom. I was surprised at how tired I felt and how slowly I was walking. It felt so good to get clean. I was all sweaty and gross. I washed my hair. I came back out to find Grayson asleep in the chair. Poor guy was probably up all night worrying about me. I quietly laid back down on the bed and took a little nap myself. I was wiped out.

I woke to a buzzing in my head. It was a slight annoyance at first. I didn't know exactly what to make of it. Was it from the concussion or from our attempts at reconnecting? Grayson woke up when the doctor came in to check on me. He looked in my eyes with a bright light and checked my heartrate. He said my tests had looked good and that I could be released. Grayson said he would be looking after me. That was a relief. They insisted that I couldn't leave unless someone was responsible for me. I knew Gwen wouldn't do it. Before I could even get out of the bed, a female officer entered the room. She took my statement about the incident. She told me Hank was in jail and that I would probably be called to testify at a trial. She suggested I file a restraining order so that I could be placed with a different family in case he was released.

At the nurse's station, I asked about my Foster Sisters. She looked in the computer and saw that they had both been seen last night. She told me they were released to the care of Child Protective Services. That was such a relief. I didn't want them to be back at Gwen's. But I needed to see them and reassure them that I was okay and would be looking out for them.

We got in the Jeep and headed back to my apartment. Gwen was nowhere to be seen. Grayson came inside. I guess he was serious about taking care of me. "Amber, pack up all the stuff that is yours and we are going to my place." "What? I can't just leave." I told him. "Of course, you can. Your Foster Mom clearly doesn't know or care where you are. I am going to be taking care of you now." "So that's it? I just pack up and leave?" "Yes, you just pack up and leave." He emphasized. Okay, I hadn't really considered that. Thankfully it was Saturday and I didn't need to worry about school.  "I have to go to work at 3:00." "No, you need to rest. You have a concussion and you just got out of the hospital. Call them and let them know what's going on." I thought about that for a moment. I guess they would understand. "Amber, you don't need that job anymore." "What? Of course, I do. I have to buy things for myself. I'm going to be 18 in a few days. I have to start paying rent here."

Grayson looked at me for a moment before he started to speak. "Amber, I don't know what you think is going to happen but let me explain this situation to you. I am going to take care of you. You are my only responsibility. You are the only thing that matters in my life. We have millions of dollars in the bank. You don't need that job anymore. You don't need to pay rent here. You are coming home with me." "But I have to take care of my sisters. I can't just leave them." I insisted. "You can bring them with us if you need to. I don't know what my parents will say, but I think they will understand under these circumstances. Everyone will be so happy to see you. And, our real birth date is tomorrow. I have been meaning to tell you. With everything else going on, it slipped my mind."

I processed that for a moment. Then something else weird struck me. "Wait, you said you are a millionaire?" I asked, astounded. "No Amber, we are millionaires. The apps I make, they are really doing well. And you helped me make a few of them before you went missing. You and I were business partners. You have a bank account waiting for you with at least two million dollars in it.  I didn't touch it because I knew you were coming back to me one day." I had to sit down. This was too much.

The buzzing in my head increased. I felt a little dizzy. "Are you alright?" He asked. "I don't know, I feel strange. It's probably the concussion." "You should rest. I can pack your stuff for you." "No, I need to do that myself. There isn't much. But I have notebooks hidden away that I want to bring." I continued to stay seated. I wasn't sure if I could stand right now. Was I in shock or something? Grayson sat down next to me. He carefully put his arm around my shoulders and made sure our skin wasn't touching. It felt so right. I immediately started to calm down. His presence soothed me. He kissed the top of my head. I rested it against his wide chest. "It's okay. Everything is going to be fine. Things are going to get better soon." He whispered as he stroked my hair. This was my new happy place. I started to drift off for a moment. Then I remembered I needed to get moving.

I got up and went to my room with a big garbage bag. I didn't own a suite case or even a duffle bag. I put my clothes in there. Then I lifted my mattress and gathered my notebooks and drawings. I had just a few toiletries that I put in a purse. I was ready to go. Everything I owned fit in one garbage bag. That should have been depressing, but actually I felt free. I could leave this terrible place and not look back. I wrote a note to Gwen telling her that I was getting a new family and not to look for me. Not that she ever would.

I got right into the Jeep and didn't spare a second glance at the Pink Palace. I was so glad to be leaving, and starting my new life.


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