Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1) (7 page)

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
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Soon enough Anna had managed to make herself feel nauseated. She was remembering everything she’d put James through in the past twenty-four hours. And despite that he was here, spending a night in what had to be the most uncomfortable chair in the hospital, holding her hand. Anna tried to move but her legs were stiff and heavy. She couldn’t remember being put into a plaster cast, but there it was, wrapped around her leg. She wanted to sit up, but she couldn’t. Anna thought about waking James but decided against it. He looked so peaceful and beautiful that she didn’t have the heart to wake her sleeping prince.

 

***

 

James

 

After a while he began to stir. James sat up and winced. It only took him a few seconds to realise that what had happened wasn’t a nightmare. It was real. He still had Anna’s hand in his own, she hadn’t moved. He looked up at her, she looked so pale and weak, but she managed to conjure enough energy from somewhere to smile at him and say, “I’m sorry.” Those very simple words had used up what was left of her energy. She flopped her head back against the pillows and squeezed her eyes shut. She had never felt so defeated in all of her life, but now Anna was weak, vulnerable and useless.

James began to cry. It wasn’t a cry of sadness. It wasn’t a cry of grief. It was the cry of relief. The cry of knowing that no matter what happened next, everything would be okay. The cry that proved that he loved her. James shot up and smiled as he squeezed her hand gently. His tears were flowing freely over his cheeks and off his face. He didn’t seem to care who was watching or what they would say. Anna was safe and sound and that was all that mattered.

Nancy appeared a short time later. After checking all the machines that Anna was hooked up to, she looked over at James. He looked worse than Anna. He’d had only a few hours of restless sleep in the chair next to the bed and it was obvious that he was exhausted. “There’s a coffee machine just down the hall. You look like you need one,” Nancy suggested, pointing the way. Although he was reluctant to leave Anna’s side, he knew he needed the caffeine if he was going to be any use to Anna at all. With a quick kiss on the forehead, he disappeared down the corridor.

 

***

 

Anna

 

Nancy turned to Anna, whose eyes were closed. “You really are a lucky girl. That boy is head over heels. Did he tell you how he found you?” Nancy saw a spark in Anna's eyes as they snapped open with her words.

“How did he…find me?” Anna asked, gasping for air through her painful sobs. She wanted to know. She needed to know. She felt so guilty for leaving him the way she did, but she hoped and prayed that he hadn’t done anything stupid.

“That incredible young man of yours went on national television and asked everyone for their help. He asked if anyone had seen you, if anyone had heard from you. When we saw his pleas I phoned the hotline. Within a few minutes in he ran, through the doors to your bedside. He hasn’t moved all night. You should see the reporters that have flocked to the hospital. They’re blocking every exit downstairs. They’re dying to know how the fairy tale ends. It’s crazy. Anyone would think that it was James who ended up in hospital.” Nancy sat on the side of Anna’s bed. “That young man loves you very much. I can tell,” Nancy pronounced with a wink before she disappeared.

James wandered back, his face filled with anxious energy. He looked as though he’d spent the night sleeping in the gutter. Anna was beginning to regain some of her strength. The pain killers must have been wearing off as Anna’s movements triggered more and more pain. Her leg provided a constant dull ache. Her ribs gave her the feeling that a truck had hit her. “Hey.” She smiled at the sight of him.

“How are you doing?” James asked, sipping at his coffee.

“I’m doing okay. How ’bout you? How are you holding up?” Anna winced as she tried to pull herself upright.

“I’m good. Tired but good.” James was grinning as he put down his cup and helped her to sit up, adjusting her pillows.

“Baby, go home and get some sleep. I’m fine. Please. Go home and sleep. There’s nothing you can do here. I just need to get some rest,” Anna begged. As much as she wanted him to sleep and take care of himself, the truth was she didn’t want him to go. She needed him beside her. Not just now, but always.

“All right, all right I’ll go. But promise me, if you need anything, anything at all, you call me. I’ll be back in a few hours. Get some rest,” he surrendered, bumbling to his feet. He was just too exhausted to argue.

“Promise,” Anna called after him, as he walked out the door and towards the exit.

 

***

 

James

 

As he stepped out of the main doors, he barely managed two steps before being hounded by the press who had spent the night camping out on the hospital lawns to ensure that they were the first to get the details of the fairy tale’s ending. “Was it Anna? Is she okay?” Questions came firing at James from everywhere all at once. He had broken world records, been accused of being a drug cheat, but for the first time, his private life had become the focus of their curiosity. He was exposed and their story was the biggest in the country.

“Anna is going to be fine. She’ll remain in hospital for a few days but she’s doing extremely well. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone, not only for their help in finding Anna, but also for all the flowers and cards she has already received. From the bottom of my heart, thank you,” James stated before breaking into a jog and jumping into the front seat of Justin’s car before he could be bombarded with any more questions.

 

***

 

Anna

 

Anna lay motionless in her small bed. She was in too much pain to move. Or maybe it was that she was just too scared. Whatever the reason she just laid there, feeling her guilt snowballing on her. It was too late to change anything now, but Anna couldn’t help but think ‘what if’?

The old man across the room began to stir. Anna could hear him coughing and spluttering, struggling to breathe. He had nothing to do except lay there and wait to die. Wait to live. Wait for whatever came next. Whatever it was, he was doing it alone. A short time later, his wheezing stopped, but sadly so did his breathing. His old decrepit body had finally given in. The nurses quickly appeared and whisked him out the door. Anna lay there staring at the empty bed when Nancy came to check on her.

“It was his time, dear. It was just his time,” Nancy reassured her.

“Where were his family? His friends? Surely someone must care?” Anna was beside herself with disbelief.

“He had no family or friends that he would tell us of, or that we could track down. He was alone when he came in and he was alone when he left.” Pity was written all over Nancy’s face. While she had James, who had gone to extremes to be by her side the entire night, there was something in Anna’s eyes that revealed that she too felt lost and alone.

“Can you do something for me, please?”

Nancy nodded. “What is it, dear?”

“Can you take a bunch of flowers and put them near him, or with his things or something? He deserves that at least.” Anna’s eyes welled with tears as she spoke.

“Sure, sweetie. Now get some rest. That man of yours will be back soon and I’m guessing that he won’t be very happy if you haven’t been taking it easy.” Nancy smiled and vanished out the door, taking with her the enormous bouquet of white roses.

 

***

 

James

 

James tossed and turned in the huge hotel bed. He knew he was beyond tired and that he was useless to Anna unless he got some sleep but he still couldn’t force himself to close his eyes. What if she needed him and he wasn’t there? What if something happened? All the questions that were bouncing around inside his head were beginning to drive him crazy. He’d had enough. Wearily he climbed out of bed and rushed to the shower. After quickly dressing in his favourite faded blue jeans and cream coloured jumper, he headed for the door.

Twenty minutes later he was strolling back through the sea of reporters and the heavy glass doors, and straight to her bedside. Anna was wide awake when he breezed through the door. The smile that appeared on her face when she saw him made him feel instantly at ease. Sleep was no longer needed. It was almost as if Anna’s smile, no matter how weak it was, recharged him completely.

“Hey, you! You look good.” Anna grinned as her eyes scanned him from head to toe.

“So do you. Well, sort of, but you’re smiling, so nothing else matters.” James bent down and gave her a kiss on her cheek before he sat on the side of the bed. “How are you feeling, really?”

Anna wiggled up as much as she could. She reached out and took James’s hand. Ever since the moment he had left all she had wanted to grab hold of his hand and never let go. She couldn’t help it. She saw James’s hand as her safety blanket, her lifeline. “I’m doing much better now you’re here,” she admitted honestly. “James, I’m so sorry about—”

“It’s okay, Anna. You don’t have to do this. Justin told me what you said. You know it wasn’t true, don’t you?” James felt a sharp pain race through his body. What was he going to do if she really didn’t want him? He was praying it wouldn’t come to that. He looked down at their intertwined fingers and was shocked to see her engagement ring was missing. “Where’s your ring?” James asked shakily, lifting her hand up and pointing out to her empty finger.

Nancy walked in and caught the last part of the conversation. “You might want this again now. There is a no jewellery policy in theatre so they had to remove it when you came in. Here you go.” She smiled, dropping the small but elegant ring into James’s outstretched hand.

“Thanks,” Anna mumbled, looking at Nancy. Nancy took the hint and quickly scurried out of the room.

“So…Do you want to put this back on, or am I returning it to the jewellers?” The jittery look on James’s face reduced Anna to tears.

“If it’s o-okay w-with you,” she stammered, “I’d like to put it back on.” Now it was Anna’s face that was covered in panic.

James looked over at her. He could see the pain in her eyes because it was the same heartbreaking, gut-wrenching pain he was feeling deep in the pit of his stomach. Slowly he slid the ring onto her long skinny finger. “Back where it belongs!” James smiled sweetly, dropping a light kiss on her fingers. “Marry me, Anna?” he asked, looking up into her wide blue eyes. James bit the inside of his cheek as he waited for her answer.

Anna couldn’t speak, but she didn’t need to. In that instant, they both knew this was how it was supposed to be.

Once it was settled and her engagement ring was back where it belonged, exhaustion enveloped her. Wiggling over as much as she could, she summoned James to her side. Within minutes they were both sleeping soundly, unaware of the world still turning around them. A few days later Anna was allowed to leave the hospital. James pushed her wheelchair through the ward and towards the lift.

“Good luck,” Nancy called after them. She had been so good to them both while Anna had been there. Not only had she taken fantastic care of Anna while she recovered and she had helped James to find her, but perhaps the thing that they appreciated most was the fact that she had been discreet. The media quickly found out that Nancy was the one caring for Anna and every day as she tried to leave the hospital grounds she was hounded. To her credit, she had remained steadfast and unwavering despite their questioning. All she ever offered was a small smile and a simple statement, “Anna is doing well.”

“Thank you. For everything.” Anna beamed and blew a kiss to Nancy as she continued with her rounds.

They made their way to the front doors, receiving more than a few strange looks on their way. Although the number of reporters outside the doors had thinned over the past couple of days they’d somehow found out when Anna was being released and were back with a vengeance. They were all poised in position, ready to pounce. James squatted down in front of her, reaching a trembling hand out to touch the ring on her left hand before he asked, “Ready?”

“Let’s do this. I want to get out of here and I really don’t care what they have to say. Just take me home, James,” Anna forced out as bravely as she could.

James swiftly pushed her wheelchair through the heavy glass doors. Justin had driven the car right up to the end of the path as close as he could so they could get in and leave as quickly as possible. They made it five metres before the overwhelming camera flashes temporarily blinded them.

“How are you feeling, Miss White?” one small snotty nose reporter asked as she shoved her microphone into Anna’s face.

“Anna is doing much better,” James started, quickly taking control of the situation. “We’re heading home so she can make a full recovery. The next time Anna appears on the front cover of your newspapers and magazines, I can only hope that she’ll be looking absolutely beautiful in her wedding dress.”

“So the wedding is still on? Have you set a date?” So many questions from so many different directions were being fired at them as James manoeuvred the wheelchair towards the waiting car. James wouldn’t even satisfy them with a reply. He just flashed them a disappointed scowl.

BOOK: Perfection Is Just an Illusion (Swimming Upstream #1)
9.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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