Her hands and feet were on fire, burning and then the air itself ignited and went incandescent. It was true,she realized,burns were the most painful injury of all. It was all that she could do not to scream in agony, but to do so would have been to inhale the scorching heat. She stumbled back and tried to port, but everything was going black. The cold of the “inbetween” pulled her for a fraction of a microsecond and then the earth pulled her back.
No, I’m not leaving you, she thought at the Earth. I’ll be back. But it wasn’t true. The sun was consuming her and she was dying. Helpless, she tried to fight to stay conscious but the heat was consuming her. . .
Cassie started awake with a name on her lips, but it caught in her throat as she realized he was with Reggie. The darkness was warm around her and she stared into it as she sat up in bed, wrapping her arms around her knees. Max meowed and rubbed against her and she stroked him as he purred. The clock said 4:10am.
She had been told that Paragon rescued her, lifting her through the air to get her from the danger and that Miriam had healed the worst of her injuries before the Hospitaler had come. With a sigh, she lay back down and tried to let the darkness gather her and hold her close.
In her dreams/nightmares, between re-living the memories of heat, agony, and fear, the darkness murmured her name and stroked her face, formless and yet formed, strong and comforting, as green stars and streaks took away the fire and the pain and then the white light made her whole. She had been gathered close and held gently, the warmth and contact both agonizing and reassuring as murmurs she couldn’t understand held her from leaving. She had woken up every hour with some version of that memory in play in her dream; no matter what, from fire and pain, she was gathered in dark arms strong and gentle, a wild heart beating a reassuring and familiar sound.
When her alarm went off at 6:00, she went to the cafeteria to get a cup of coffee and little bit of breakfast. She was ravenous, knew that she have to make her own food and beverage since everyone was away with their family, but she looked forward to the solitude. She wanted to be alone, needing time to heal her heart rather than her body.
Seeing Reggie had been a shock, but she had known that was a possibility. Reggie had all but flat out told her that she was interested. It had surprised her that they would move so quickly. She hadn’t known it would hurt quite so much and so deeply. A bitter but wry smile slid onto her lips. High school and college romance breakups had been overly emotional, traumatic. An adult breakup was pain, regrets and sorrow, deeper and less drama filled, less intense but so different. There was no moving lockers; she and he would continue to work together, be adult about it.
She had not anticipated how amazingly deep the pain would be.
Douglas had come to her thoughts, but she couldn’t do that to him. It would have been wonderful, but it would have complicated things. Things were already complicated enough. The smell of coffee brewed and ready hit her nose as she went into the room and her eyes found Miriam sitting contentedly at a table in the corner. She was sipping a cup and reading a paper book. Cassie smiled. Some still liked paper, wasteful as it was. She was one of them. Occasionally, you just needed to hold a book. She came over and gave the older woman a hug.
“Thank you. Again.”
Miriam smiled. “The next one will cost you. I’m tired of fixing you. But you will need to thank the Hospitaler. He did the clean up.” She gestured at a carafe and a plate of french toast. “Please, have some.”
Cassie started to say no, but the smell was too enticing and it was clear that Miriam had cooked enough. Fetching a plate and a new cup, she settled down for a better breakfast than she had planned for. Miriam was an amazing cook, but Cassie already knew that many of the desserts that the coffee shop had for sale had been made by Miriam. She dug into the toast and powered through a piece and half before saying, “I miss starting the morning with you. Geez, your coffee is amazing and this food is phenomenal.” She rolled her eyes with pleasure. “Your place was such a wonderful place to meet Mark and. . .” She drifted off with a sad smile. Old Mark was gone, maybe forever and Alamy Falls and the Earth would never be the same. “Maybe someday,” she finished softly. Miriam nodded with understanding.
“Change is inevitable dear,” Miriam answered and they sat in reflection for a moment.
Cassie poured some more syrup on the last bit of toast. “I appreciate breakfast Miriam,” she said to break the uncomfortable silence. “And I appreciate you giving up your holiday for me.”
“I could hardly say no. You’d do the same Cassie. And Jason sounded like he’d come through the phone to get me if he had to. You were clearly hurt badly dear.”
Her head quirked as her brows met over her eyes. “Jason? He told me that Alexander got me out. I assumed that he brought me to the medical team.”
Miriam shook her head. “No. Jason did dear. They almost had to fight him to get him to put you down from what they said. They were a little afraid of him.” She smiled wryly. “Your boyfriend can be a bit intense sometimes. But he is a man in love. And he thought you were dying.”
Miriam got to her feet, smiling, gathering her cup. “You look surprised. I wouldn’t be. A man in love is an irrational beast.” She picked up the carafe and gestured with it. “Another cup? I’m going to make a new pot.”
Blinking, Cassie nodded and stared at her plate as Miriam went to the kitchen, her heart racing wildly. This time, the word made it off her lips and she said it with a broken smile.