My eyes felt glued shut as I started to gag. Something slick was running up my throat, and I thought I was going to be sick. An awful smell hit me as whatever was in my throat ran through my nose. I started coughing and gasping for breath in between coughs.
My eyelids were peeled open and I could see Oliver leaning over my body. He was blurrier than normal. He flashed a light into each of my eyes. I groaned. I tried to push him away, but my hands were stuck. I couldn’t feel any restraints around my wrists, but my hands were impossibly heavy. I must have passed out after getting onto the bed.
“You’ll have to keep an eye on her tonight, Ben,” Oliver said. My eyelids crashed back down. “This shouldn’t cause respiratory depression, but you never know.”
“Yes, sir.” Ben’s voice came from somewhere in the room.
“You told me she was doing good,” Bethany said.
I tried to open my eyes, even just a sliver, to see where they were standing. I couldn’t do it.
“She was,” Ben said. “She just had a bit of a moment.”
“She was like that this morning,” Oliver said.
“She better not do that during the dinner,” Bethany said.
“She won’t,” Ben said. “I’ll make sure of it.”
“Thank you, Benjamin,” she said. “I’m glad we can trust you.”
I listened as footsteps walked around the room, and a door clicked shut. The bed dipped, and warm fingers ran through my hair. I managed to let my eyes flutter open for a few seconds to see Ben beside me. His lips were pressed into a line. He shook his head as he curled a piece of my hair around his finger.
“I’m not the bad guy, Diana,” he said. “I’m really not. I’m trying to keep you safe from them.”
He tucked the strand of hair behind my ear. His fingers brushed along my cheek to my chin.
“I don’t want you getting sedated, and I don’t want them putting a feeding tube down your throat,” he said. “But that’s what happened because you’re not listening to me.”
Ben cupped my face in his hands. I wanted to raise my hands and push him away, but I could only twitch my fingers.
“The only time I’ve been around people like me is at the dinners,” he said. “For the past few years, I’ve only been surrounded by Bethany and Oliver. I was kind of hopeful once Oliver started his experiments, but his patients kept dying. And then there was you, and you survived. Bethany and I were both surprised.”
I opened my eyes to see Ben leaning in closer to me. His lips spread into a wide smile. I blinked a few times to try and clear my vision. The lamp next to the bed was the only light. It provided a faint glow and cast shadows across Ben’s face.
“I need you to stay alive for my own selfish reasons, Diana,” he said. “All I’ve had for the past three years is the two of them. You need me, but I also need you. You’re going to keep me sane. Please just listen to me so that you’ll be okay.”
My fingers tingled, but I managed to lift them off of the mattress. My hands shook as I brought them up to Ben’s hands on my face. He misunderstood my intentions and intertwined his fingers with mine. I squeezed my eyes shut, and rolled my head to the side.
“Ben,” my dry voice cracked.
He leaned down and pressed his lips against my cheek. He let go of my hands. He turned off the lamp. He lifted the corner of the blankets and slid into the bed. He grabbed my hips and rolled me onto my side. He pressed himself against my back. His arm slipped around my waist as he laid down.
“Please don’t hate me in the morning,” he said. “We have to practice again, and it needs to go better this time.”
Ben’s breath tickled the nape of my neck. His hand left my waist and traveled up to my arm. His fingers dragged down the bare skin of my arm causing a shiver to run up my spine. The dress I had on earlier had covered my arms. They must have changed me while I was unconscious.
“You know, you’re right,” Ben said. “It’s disgusting that I sleep with Bethany.”
His hand went back around my waist. His nose was resting against the crook of my neck.
“I was complying with what she was saying, and it snowballed faster than I anticipated. I guess she thought she broke me,” he said. “Once it started happening, it was hard to stop it. I was using it to gain privileges. It was an awful thing to do.”
Ben let out a deep breath. My eyelids crashed down. His fingers ran across my stomach. I was falling back asleep as we lied in silence for a few minutes. His voice brought me back, but I couldn’t open my eyes.
“This is nice,” he said softly. “I never thought I’d be able to do this again.”
I groaned as someone was shaking my shoulder. My eyes flew open, and Oliver was leaning over me. He held my eyelids open and flashed the light into my eyes. When he let go, I pushed myself up so that I was sitting. I rubbed my eyes with the heel of my palm.
Ben was sitting in the corner of the room. He had taken the bench from the vanity and was leaning against the wall. He had changed into jeans, and a plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His mop of dark hair was slicked back. He glanced up from the novel in his hands to look at me.
“Here are your pills,” Oliver said.
He held out a small plastic cup with three pills and a glass of water. I swallowed the pills without arguing. I looked over at Ben to see him raise an eyebrow.
“Thank you,” I said.
Oliver’s lips twitched into a smile.
“Open your mouth,” he said.
I opened my mouth as he looked to make sure I swallowed my pills.
“Good,” he said. “How are you feeling today? I’m hoping there won’t be any more tantrums.”
“There won’t be. I’m sorry.”
Ben was looking down at his book, but I could see him smirking. I was doing what he wanted. He was right. I needed to gain Oliver’s trust, and fighting back wouldn’t do that.
“I like to hear that,” Oliver said. “I have brought breakfast for you and Benjamin. Eat and get ready. I’m going to check your vision in an hour.”
“Thank you,” I said.
Oliver placed his hand on top of my head.
“I can already tell it’s going to be a better morning,” he said as he dragged his hand down my hair. He turned and walked out of the room.
Ben closed his book and stood. I clutched the sheets to my chest as he walked toward me. I looked down to see I was wearing a thin nightgown.
“Are you hungry?” Ben asked, but he didn’t wait for a response. “Oliver left breakfast on his desk. I’ll let you get changed. Just come out when you’re ready.”
“Okay,” I said.
Ben closed the door when he left the room. I looked to see that the plastic bags full of clothes were no longer on the floor. I opened up the closet to see a row of dresses on hangers. A shelf had a few small bins. I pulled one out to see that it was full of stockings. I pulled out a pair and grabbed a dress off the hanger. I searched through the dresser for underwear and a bra. I got changed into a new set of clothes and ran a brush through my hair. I avoided looking in the mirror.
I walked to the main room. The pleated skirt of my dress stuck to my tights. I pulled at it and muttered a curse. I was used to wearing yoga pants and tank tops, so I am not used to static being a problem.
When I got to the end of the hall, I saw a blurry Ben sitting on the edge of the hospital bed. When I got closer I could see he was peeling an orange. I sat down on Oliver’s office chair. I looked at the tray to see a stack of toast and a bowl of strawberries. I grabbed the bowl and popped one into my mouth.
“You did a good job talking to Oliver,” Ben said.
“Thanks,” I said before I put another strawberry into my mouth. “You’re right. I need to be nice so that I can stay alive.”
“I guess we need to add ‘good table manners’ to our list of things to practice.”
I rolled my eyes as I took another strawberry. A few minutes went by as we ate in silence.
“Are you mad at me about last night?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “At the time I was, but I understand now why you did it. I know I need you, and that you need me.”
He looked up from his orange with wide eyes.
“You remember last night?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “You didn’t think I would?”
“No. I thought the sedative would stop you from remembering.”
“Did you mean it?”
Ben slid off of the edge of the bed and dumped the orange peels onto the tray. He wiped his hands on his jeans and turned to face me.
“Yeah,” he said. “You have to be nice to Oliver to gain privileges.”
I bit down on my lip. I wanted to ask him more, but I didn’t know how to ask. Did he mean more than his words? What was with the kiss on the cheek and lying on my bed? What was with him holding me close as I slipped back into unconsciousness because of the medication? Did he stay there all night long? He was up and ready before Oliver came into the room.
The door at the top of the stairs opened, and Ben looked over his shoulder. Oliver came down the steps.
“Are you finished with breakfast?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”
“Come with me,” he said, waving me over to him.
I walked over to Oliver, and he put his hand on the small of my back. I wanted to step away from his hold, but I looked at Ben. He nodded his head telling me to go with it. Oliver avoided me to the hallway on the other side of the staircase. He took the ring of keys out from his lab coat pocket. He unlocked one of the doors, and I stepped in.
I squinted to see a large chair and a few large machines. It reminded me of the eye doctor’s office my Mom used to take me to for appointments when I was younger.
“Have a seat, Diana,” Oliver said.
I sat down. Oliver rolled a stool over toward me. I twisted my fingers in the hem of my dress.
“I didn’t know all doctors did eye examinations,” I said.
“They don’t,” Oliver said. “I’m an ophthalmologist.”
“An eye surgeon. That’s how I was able to accomplish your surgery.”
Oliver turned on his stool and picked up one of the devices for looking in my eyes.
“What about Mr. Carlisle?” I asked. Oliver furrowed his brows, and I could tell he was confused. “My first night here I overheard you talking on the phone to a Mr. Carlisle. You asked about his new kidney.”
He let out a chuckle and smiled.
“That’s a remarkable memory you have,” he said. “That may come in very handy. Do you know anything about nursing?”
“My sister is a nurse,” I said.
“Good to know,” he said. “Anyways, Mr. Carlisle is a regular patient of mine. Really bad cataracts. He was also in renal failure and finally found a compatible match.”
Oliver started the eye exam. He had me reading lines of letters, and picking between different sets of lenses. He flashed a few more lights into my eyes and had me look from side to side. When he was done he jotted a few notes down.
“Have you ever worn glasses before?” he asked.
“No,” I said.
“Well your vision has improved,” he said. “Your peripheral vision is much wider and you can see a lot better in the dark, but it has left you nearsighted. I will order your lenses and have them rushed over. Hopefully, I’ll have them by the morning.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“You can wear them here, but not at the dinner. Do you understand?”
I nodded my head. Oliver stood and shoved his pen in his pocket.
“You can go now, Diana,” he said.
I got off of the chair and forced a smile.
“Thank you, Dr. Sweeney,” I said.
I left the room before he had the chance to say anything. I hurried down the hall. Ben was no longer in the main room. I went down the other hall. I was unsure of what room Ben was staying in, so I went down to the room with the television. I peered in to see Ben sitting on the couch. His feet were up on the coffee table, and the book spread out across his lap.
“I’m all done,” I said.
He slammed his book shut.
“How was it?” he asked.
“Alright. It was just an eye exam,” I said. “I’m getting glasses.”
“We should get back to practice.”
Ben walked around to the back of the couch. The small stool was sitting on top of the rug. I let out a deep breath and stepped onto it.