Bri struggled to breathe as the wind hissed from her lungs with the awkward landing. Her vision was blurry and her head throbbed. She wanted to scream, but was silenced with something being strapped across her mouth – duct tape. Her attacker grabbed her by the hair and dragged her backward, behind the store. She screamed from behind the tape and kicked her legs, struggling to get free.
Tears streamed down her face as she immediately worried for the condition of her baby. She’d landed hard on her belly. She had no idea what it would take to end a pregnancy by blunt force. The attacker used her hair to pull her up to her feet before slamming her hard into a wall. As soon as her vision cleared, fear coursed through her, adrenaline threatening to make her pass out.
Before, she’d worried that her attacker may hurt her baby (even by accident, not knowing she was with child) in the process of robbing her. Now, she knew the object of this attack was solely for the purpose of harming her baby. She stared into Mike’s cold, hard eyes. She heard the chuckles of four of his friends surrounding him.
“Your mom called,” Mike said, gently running his fingertips down the side of her face. “She said that she was sorry her daughter was so confused. She begged me to take you back. Even told me where you’d be so I could come and talk to you. That was nice of her, wasn’t it?”
Bri sobbed as she tried to push him away, knowing that even if she managed to fight him off, there were four more to subdue her.
“I know we had our little chat just today, but I got to thinking about it and it’s been quite a long time since you and I fooled around. You know what that means? Docs around here won’t do an abortion without parental consent because of the increased risks.”
Bri felt disgusted that he stated that so casually. He was a stupid boy. He didn’t know a lot about anything that wasn’t sports related. She imagined that he’d learned it from other experiences like this, either his own or his friends.
“But you won’t talk to your parents, will you, Bri?” he asked, pushing himself closer. She was terrified, too terrified to move. She wished that she could get to her phone. She wished that she could call for Matt’s help. “I didn’t think so.”
She realized then that she’d been too scared to answer, too scared to lie her way out of it – even from behind tape. Bri was about to answer by way of nodding when the first blow to her face came. She was hit hard, several smaller bones in her face crushing under the blow. She landed hard on the ground, blackness seeping in as she felt the first painful kick to her abdomen. Please, God, was the last thing to enter her mind as she lost consciousness.
“Her pulse is weak,” she heard a man say from above her. She looked up to see an attractive young man hovering above her. “My name is Gerome and I’m the EMT that responded to the call. You were attacked, ma’am. We are about halfway to the hospital. Do you have any allergies?”
Bri shook her head, but remembered that she had one. “Ery… Ery…” As hard as she tried the name wouldn’t come.
“Erythromycin?” he asked.
She nodded. “That’s it.” Her eyes bolted open as she tried to sit up, but she was strapped down. “My baby!”
“Your baby? Are you pregnant, ma’am?”
“Yes! Almost four months. They were kicking me in the stomach! Is the baby still alive? Can you tell?” She was frantic as tears started rolling down her face. She could feel the scrapes on her face as the salty tears stung them on the way down her cheeks.
“Jo!” he called to the front of the ambulance. “Is the fetal Doppler working yet?”
It was a woman that called back. “Oh, God. She’s pregnant? They took it out. It was smashed after the rookie dropped it and stepped on it. They’re supposed to be replacing it tomorrow.”
“What’s a fetal Doppler?” Bri asked.
“It’s a wand that I could place against your lower abdomen and listen for the heartbeat. Unfortunately, we don’t have one.”
“That’s the only way that you can check on her?”
“I’m sorry. That’s the only way that I can tell in here. A stethoscope can’t really pick anything up through the uterine wall. Not in here for sure, though in a quiet room it’s probably possible. You’re having a little girl?” he asked, a sad smile breaking through as he worried for both of them.
“It’s just a hunch,” she said. Her entire body was shaking from shock and fear. Her eyes were growing heavy again, but she wanted to stay awake. She needed to know everything that was going on. “Do you think she will be okay?”
Gerome sighed and placed his hand over hers. “Bad things happen to good people every day. I know. I see a lot of it around here. But one thing I know for sure is that as bad as some of those things are, I have seen some of the most miraculous recoveries. People that never should have lived that were able to go home to their families and live their lives. People think that babies are fragile, and they are, but not nearly as fragile as we assume. That baby wasn’t outside exposed to the attack. She was cradled inside your body. You’re alive. So it’s okay to hold out hope that she is too. But…”
“But it’s best to know that I’m young and this is still really early in the pregnancy,” she said, interrupting him.
He nodded. “That’s right. Listen, you’re not looking too good yourself. Worrying and stressing puts you both in danger. Your vitals are slow, so you need to relax and let me worry about both of you. We will be at the hospital in about five minutes. Focus on staying alive. If you go, so does she. She’s too young to survive outside the womb.”
His words hit her hard. She forced a nod and relaxed. Her ribs ached with every breath, but she forced herself to steady her breathing and try to will the pain away. When she was twelve, she’d fallen during a gymnastics practice and broke her ankle. She’d begged her mother for a week to take her to the hospital, but she wouldn’t, saying that Bri had only twisted her ankle and to stop worrying over nothing. It was finally her father that took her, learning that she’d broken it quite badly and would require surgery.
For that incredibly painful week before seeking treatment, Bri had to learn how to will the pain away. She practiced breathing techniques and focused on something in whatever room she was in as she imagined “pushing” the pain away from herself. She later learned that was a legitimate meditation technique and even taught to some pregnant women to use during labor.
Bri now called on her past experience to help her through the excruciating pain. Being unable to take deep breaths made her work difficult, but she was able to relax as she closed her eyes and focused on what it would be like to be a mother. She imagined herself holding her baby for the first time and being surrounded by the people that she loved. Soon, her mind completely overtook her as she disappeared into unconsciousness once again with only dreams of her baby to sooth her.
Bri’s eyes slowly fluttered open, well – one of Bri’s eyes fluttered open. The other was completely swollen shut. As she realized she now only had use of one of her eyes, she began to panic. She tried to move, but her hands were bound, as were her feet. She tried to scream for help, but her throat was too sore to make such a loud noise.
The sound of frantic beeping entered her ears just before she heard multiple footsteps stampeding into the room. She began to come around as she realized that she was in a hospital. A doctor came into view, a face that was familiar to her. He was her childhood doctor. Another familiar face stepped into view; she was Matt’s mother’s OB/GYN, Maree Metcalf. She’d met her once when she accompanied them to a well-mother prenatal appointment.
“Briana,” Doctor Conway, her pediatrician spoke. “Try to calm down. You’re safe and in the hospital. You were brutally attacked. You can speak, but try to keep quiet. It appears that you were choked. There was some damage done to the trachea, but nothing permanent or needing surgery. It should heal on its own as long as you’re gentle with it.”
She nodded. “Bri.” Another familiar voice. She looked off to the right to see her parents sitting there, holding her hand.
They weren’t there a moment ago, she thought. They must have come in with the doctors.
“How are you feeling?” her father asked.
Bri began to speak a couple of times, only managing a cough as she tried to clear her throat. “Like I was just beaten half to death by Michael Rhodes and his minions.”
Her mother sighed, her eyes closing as she rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Briana Grace. He would never do such a thing. It was he that called us and called 911! Why would he do that if he was the one that hurt you? You owe him an apology.”
Bri laughed again, painfully, just as she had before. That was the final straw. She realized then that her parents didn’t love her. If they did, they did a terrible job showing it. They only loved the idea of having the perfect offspring, the daughter that excelled at everything, and she refused to be that anymore. She was a woman now, a woman that had just been attacked for the purpose of killing her unborn child.
She turned to Doctor Metcalf, now understanding why she’d been there with her. “How am I?” she asked, hoping the doctor would get her meaning.
“You will be just fine. You have a few broken bones in your face, a broken finger, two broken ribs, swollen but otherwise healthy ankle, damage to your trachea, and lots of bumps, bruises, and cuts. But you’ll be just fine.” She smiled softly, reaching out and placing her hand on Bri’s leg. “And the baby is just fine as well. We were fully prepared not to find a heartbeat. Most of the attack was directed at your abdomen. But we did. Your baby is just fine, for now. We will need to keep you for a few days to monitor you both.”
“Wait a minute,” Bri’s father said. “Baby?”
For a moment, Bri thought she saw something that momentarily looked like a very faint, almost too-terrified-to-come-out-of-hiding smile cross her father’s face, but that was over and gone as soon as her mother opened her mouth. She briefly wondered, before her mother started in, how he could have been so disgusted with a co-worker’s daughter being with child, but be momentarily happy with his own. Or had she only imagined the smile?
“You’re pregnant? That’s why you’ve been acting so strangely?” She stood and began pacing back and forth from the head of the bed to the foot and back again. “This is terrible. How could you do such a stupid thing? Is it Mike’s? He just didn’t seem like that kind of boy!”
Bri focused her rage, trying not to have an outburst, knowing that it will hurt her far more than it would her parents. “This stupid thing was because I had an abusive boyfriend that I was petrified of. No one believed me when I said that I was scared of him. Not even you! Everyone said that I was being foolish. That he was a great guy. That I was reading things wrong. Then one night he pressured me into having sex with him. Mom, the way he grabbed me, I knew that if I didn’t, he’d hurt me. One time – that’s all I’ve done it, and I didn’t even want to then. This is not my fault. I was trying to find a way out of the relationship, away from him to prevent being pressured into anything or being physically injured.”
“Well it seems to me that you moved a little slow. This is just awful. What will everyone say? Oh dear, is that why you quit the team? This is awful. Just awful.”
Her mother was a mess, just pacing and rambling.
“Mom, it’s going to be fine. Why should we care what anyone else thinks? I’m finishing school. I’m excited to show this baby exactly what you can do – no matter how hard the circumstances are – and still succeed. I’m going to go to college. I’m still going to do everything that I wanted to before, minus trying for a sports scholarship. That was more your dream than mine. I just love the game.”
Tears ran down her mother’s cheeks as their eyes locked. “Briana, you can’t have this baby. Please, you’re too young. You’ll regret it the rest of your life.”
Bri shook her head and smiled. “No, Mom. If I give up this baby – by any means – I’ll regret that for the rest of my life. Even if I hated and had no desire to take part in the circumstances that led up to this baby, he or she is still all of the best parts of me. How can I abandon that? Don’t make me do this. I’ll never forgive you and I’ll never forgive myself. I’ll always wonder what could have been and it will destroy me.”
“I just don’t think you understand just how hard your life is about to become if you keep that baby,” her mother said, voice quivering a little as she spoke. Something about the way Ellen chose her words sent chills down Bri’s spine. She wasn’t exactly sure what to make of them.
Shaking it off, Bri smiled again. “Yes I do, and that’s okay. I don’t care if the world hates me. It’s not their life. It’s mine. Everything will be just fine.”
Her mother squeezed her hand once. “You should rest. You’ve been through a lot today. We are going to go get some coffee and think about everything.”
Bri nodded, the motion immediately regrettable. Her throat was beginning to feel a little better, though she was incredibly thirsty. Talking so much had both helped and hurt. “Can I get these off now?” Bri asked, referring to her restraints.
“Yes. Sorry about that,” Doctor Conway said. “You pulled out three IVs and punched two of the nurses. We had no choice. Sedation wasn’t a great option because of the baby’s slowed heart rate and you were already unconscious anyway.”
“I am – so – sorry,” Bri said. She felt terrible for having hurt the people that had only tried to help her.
“It’s quite normal in victims of violent crimes.” Doctor Conway released her of the restraints. “I’d like for you to get some more rest. I’m going to give you a pain medication that will help prevent breakthrough pain as well as allow you to sleep. Until the baby’s heart rate comes back up, we will have to be pickier than normal with your pain meds.”
Bri nodded. She didn’t like the idea of being loaded up on drugs, especially while pregnant, but she didn’t want to feel the pain of all of her broken bones and she trusted the doctors to care for both of them. The words of the paramedic came back to her. That fighting and straining could hurt her and hurt the baby. Rest seemed best for now. “Thank you, Doctor.”
Hours passed before Bri woke again. Her sleep was dreamless, and for that she was grateful. Her ribs screamed at her when she tried to sit. She needed to go to the bathroom, but knew it was impossible to go alone. Within moments, the nurse was in her room, responding to her call. By the time the nurse helped her out, Matt was sitting in a bedside chair, smiling at her.
“Aren’t you just so cute in your ball gown,” he said, giving her a wink. He stood and came to her unoccupied side to help the nurse get her back into bed. Bri slowly sat on the edge of the bed, taking a moment to adjust to the pain. Matt placed his hands on her shoulders to stabilize and support her. “I’ve got her from here,” he said softly to the nurse.
“Okay,” the nurse responded, smiling. “If you need anything else, call me. I’m going to change your trash while I’m in here.” She walked across the room and began the task of switching bags.
“You don’t have help me, ya know,” Bri told Matt, still sitting upright. “I really hoped you wouldn’t find out. I didn’t want you to see me like this.”
Matt moved his hands from her shoulders to gently hold her face. He tilted her head upward and he looked into the eye that was open. “I don’t care how bruised, how broken, or how immobile you are now or will ever be in the future. You’re beautiful. Don’t let that asshole tear you down from the pedestal you belong on.” He placed a soft kiss on her forehead.
Out of her periphery, Bri saw the nurse stop at his words, placing a hand over her chest as a smile crossed her face. She was clearly moved by his words, as was Bri. No one had ever spoken to her like that, though he was always sweet and gentle with her.
“Well, that was awfully sweet for a barbarian like yourself,” Bri joked.
Matt shrugged. “I have my moments. Actually I wanted to get you in a headlock and screw up your hair – though I don’t think it’s possible to get it more amazing than it is right now. But – I figured there’d be some rule against abusing the patients.” He winked and helped her lie down before taking the seat next to her bed that he’d previously been occupying. Bri raised the head of her bed so she could sit at a wide angle, allowing her to sit and speak comfortably, but not so tightly as to squeeze her broken ribs.
“Can I get anything else for you?” the nurse asked, still smiling.
“Some ice chips maybe?” Bri said. “My throat is still a little sore.”
The nurse nodded. “Not a problem.”
Matt stood as the nurse made her way out the door. “I’ll go grab them from her so she doesn’t have to come back in.”
“Thank you,” Bri said. “I hate asking them for anything. I know they’ve got other patients who need more than I do.”
Matt laughed. “Wow. Woman, do you realize you’re more than likely one of the more serious patients on the floor? Most of these people probably have shortness of breath or respiratory infections of some kind.”
Bri shrugged, immediately regretting the action. “Still, I feel bad.” Matt shook his head at his friend and smiled before turning to leave the room. “Oh! Sorry, but could you see how my parents are doing? They were out there getting coffee somewhere.”
“Sure, no problem.”
Bri slowly reached for the call light/TV remote control and turned on the flat screen hanging from her wall. She began flipping through channels until she found something that made her happy. It was a rerun of The Vampire Diaries. She nestled in as comfortably as she could before placing the remote at her side and watching.
Twenty minutes or so passed before Matt came back. “Did you have to wait for the ice to freeze?” Bri asked, forcing a pained half-smile. Her face felt more swollen all the time, though she imagined if it actually was, the nurses would have noticed. She imagined it was just her pain tolerance lowering, possibly the pain medication wearing off.
Matt didn’t smile as he walked over to the bed, handing her a small Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon. He looked behind him to the large closet in the room with double doors meant for patients to store their personal items. He opened it and his eyes momentarily closed before he reached inside.
“What? What’s wrong?” Bri asked. She watched as he pulled an envelope from the closet. He brought it over and sat it next to her on the bed. “What’s wrong? It’s just an envelope.”
He sighed. “It’s not just an envelope. It’s your envelope.”
“Why was it in the closet?”
Matt lightly shook his head as he tore it open, studying the contents. Bri’s heart began to speed up as she saw a flash of color of what was inside. Money.
“That’s for ordering food while I’m stuck in here. They work all the time and know hospital food sucks,” she said, trying to stop the tears from escaping her eyes. Even saying it, she didn’t believe it. “Where’s my phone?” she asked, wanting to call her parents.
Matt sighed again as he pulled her phone from his pocket. “The nurses had it in a bag of your belongings that you came in with. It survived the attack, thanks to the case. But you’re wasting your time, Bri. I tried to make a call from it. It’s been disconnected.”
Her jaw dropped open as a harsh breath escaped her. “What? What’s going on?”
Matt quickly put the money back in the envelope, having counted one hundred dollars, and sat it on the bedside table. He took a seat at Bri’s side and gently held her injured hand. “When I asked the nurses where I could possibly find your parents, the charge nurse stepped forward. I knew right then when they turned to her to answer my questions that it wasn’t good. She said that she overheard them discussing what to do. That your mom was insistent that she wouldn’t raise another baby and that you needed to learn your lesson. She told me your parents slipped the money into the cabinet and told the charge nurse to inform me if I came in. They knew I would.”
Bri shook her head, ignoring the physical pain for her emotional pain and confusion. “What are you saying, Matt?”
His eyes momentarily closed again as he searched for the words. “They gave you that money to give you a start on your own. They’ve kicked you out of the house, Bri. They shut off your phone, too. I called my sister and she drove by and saw a couple of boxes sat out on the curb. She recognized a few of your things piled on top. I’m so sorry. I’m honestly shocked. I knew they were cold, but this…”
“That’s what she meant by saying that I had no idea how hard that my life was about to become if I decided to have this baby. Oh my God, Matt. What am I going to do?” she asked, staring off at nothing in particular. She began rubbing her sore abdomen, not caring about the pain, just wanting to feel close to her baby. She was in shock. She thought her parents would hate her, punish her, ban her from anything remotely pleasurable, but she never imagined this.
“You’re going to focus on getting better. When you get out, you can come stay a few days with me, longer if you need.”
“Matt – I can’t stay with you. If your mother finds out that I’m pregnant she will think it’s yours. She’ll kill you.”
He shrugged. “Maybe not. My mom loves you. She loves me, too. The real kind, not that fake crap your parents tried to push off to their friends to look like great parents.”
Bri was silent for a few minutes as so many thoughts flooded her mind that she found herself not thinking about anything at all. Her pain was back tenfold and she knew it was partly because she’d lost concentration on it with the news and partly because she’d been sitting a long while and now her body was tense with stress. Not to mention the meds had more than likely worn off.
“I need to sleep. I can’t handle this right now. My body is starting to hurt again and my head feels like it’s going to explode.”
Matt reached for the call light and pushed it. “She’s in a lot of pain. Is it time for her to have meds yet?” he asked when they answered.
“Of course, we will be right in,” she answered.
“I’ll leave so you can get some rest,” Matt said, gently stroking the back of her hand.
“No – please. I hate to ask, but I just can’t bear being alone right now.”
He gave a soft smile and nodded, pulling the padded chair next to her bed closer. Matt sat down next to her and held her hand. He leaned over to kiss the sensitive back, just along her knuckles. “I’m not going anywhere, babe.”