Taylor’s throat burned and she coughed again, shifting under the thick, stark-white bedding. Pain bit into her side and she gasped, her hands fumbling over the tight knot.
‘It’s okay. Shh, it’s alright. Will just gave you some morphine. You’ll start to feel it in a moment.’
Taylor breathed slowly, her gaze holding Ricky’s. A numb wave flowed through her limbs and down her body. She sighed, sinking back into the somewhat sponge-of-a-mattress.
‘Where … what?’ Her brain felt fuzzy, like cottonwool in a blender. What had happened?
‘Do you remember what happened?’
Taylor searched Ricky’s face. Dark circles bordered his bloodshot eyes. His hair matted in old angles and spiky-fur engulfed his jaw. He looked far too alert for his appearance and that meant coffee, and lots of it.
‘I can’t … did we get fuel?’
‘Yeah, kiddo. We fuelled up and then you had a slight disagreement with someone.’
Taylor could feel her brow scrunch together as she tried to remember. ‘Disagreement? Did I win?’
Ricky shook his head. A flicker of anger flashed across his face and then disappeared as if it was never there. Apprehension swirled uneasy in Taylor’s stomach. She knew that look. She’d seen it once before.
‘You didn’t, did you?’
Ricky pursed his lips and watched her, his hand brushing through her hair. She could feel a grittiness to it. How long had she been out? ‘Ricky?’
He sighed. ‘No. I haven’t done anything. The bastard ran off before I got to you.’
Taylor blinked. Everything slowed a fraction. Okay. So, someone had what? Bumped into her? Had she bumped into him, her? Taylor tugged at her memories like she was pulling wet sheets from a washing machine, all heavy and twisted. They tumbled over each other, disjointed and out of sync.
Ricky stared down at her, his face drained of all colour.
He called out to her, desperate and pleading.
A hooded boy rushed at her.
Feet stepped side to side.
Red blood dropped over white fingers.
‘What happened, T?’
Taylor focused back on Ricky. His lips were pressed in a tight line. His jaw twitched.
‘I don’t know. He, he came out of nowhere.’ Her hand skimmed over the white sheets to hover at her side where she’d felt the pain. He’d stabbed her, the little prick. And he’d been on something if she recalled properly. There was something else …
Taylor almost grimaced. That damned bag she’d bought. Nope. She wasn’t going to say a thing. Ricky would haunt her about it for a decade.
Ricky was searching her face. He looked worried under all that caffeine-induced sobriety. ‘Will is going to look after you.’ He smiled. It wasn’t genuine and hid something far sinister. ‘I’m going to go home, take a shower and go see Charles. I’ll be back a little bit later, okay?’
Taylor glanced at Will. He had his stoic, poker-face mask down. Ricky’s eyes said something entirely different. ‘Ricky?’
He stood up and squeezed her hand. ‘You’re in good hands.’
‘What are you going to do?’
Ricky stared at her. His jaw had clenched and the corner of his eyes held a tightness that spread all the way into his irises. He didn’t say a word as he stepped back from the bed.
‘Ricky. What are you going to do?’
‘Don’t worry yourself. You need to focus on getting better. I’ll be back just as soon as I’ve taken care of something.’
Taylor groaned, fighting the urge to roll her eyes. ‘Don’t. It was a stupid, nobody of a kid. He’s not worth it, Ricky.’ Grabbing the railings of the bed, she struggled to pull herself up. Her head was starting to fog up again like cotton-candy. ‘Don’t go and do something stupid.’
Ricky’s eyebrows rose and anger hardened his face. ‘Are you telling me he doesn’t deserve whatever’s coming to him?’
What would he do? Taylor had no idea. When he’d first found her and told her he was her long, lost brother, her creepy, ex-boyfriend had never bothered her again. Just before Ricky had taken her away from the dingy, rundown town she had been living in, she’d seen the creep crossing the road. He’d taken one look at her and fled in the other direction. She had no idea what Ricky had said to him or done, but it had been effective enough against a psychotic, stalker, ex-boyfriend who hadn’t physically hurt her.
‘Ricky. It was some dumbass, stupid kid on crack. He’ll probably die of an overdose or something. Just leave it be.’
He just stared at her.
‘You’ll make sure she doesn’t hurt herself?’ He nodded to Will.
‘You know how she is. I can’t guarantee anything, but I’ll let you know if she becomes a problem.’
‘Thanks, man. I owe you one.’
‘I think you owe me a few, but I know you’re good for it.’
Ricky took a step back to the door and looked at her, his eyebrows raised with disdain. She didn’t care. It was the only thing her fog-flooded brain could think of to get his attention and stop this madness, but then his shoulders dropped and his face softened.
He smiled. ’I’m glad you’re okay. You’re going to be doing a lot more drills in the gym when you get back into fighting-form. And no more silly purchases.’ He winked, his lips curling upwards to crinkle his eyes. ‘I love you, lil’ sis.’
Taylor’s chest tightened regardless of the weightlessness cascading through her limbs. ‘Ricky. You don’t have to do this. I’m okay. Please, stay with me.’
‘I know you’re okay, but I need to do this. Just let me, alright?’
His eyes almost pleaded his demand as she was starting to lose focus. The room swayed to the left.
‘Let me do this.’
Taylor felt herself shaking her head as fell back against the pillows. ‘But you don’t have to. I’m fine.’
‘Yes, I do ...’