What the…Where am I? When I fell asleep…The last I remember is Dr. Ball's lab. The serum rushing through my veins. Where did he go? Although, the slow, steady beeping was soothing. Beep…Beep…Beep…It sounded like an EKG machine. It probably was an EKG machine. I tried flexing my left hand. It wasn't easy, but I managed to do a little bit. It wasn't much, but it was something. So, since I had feeling in my hand, does this mean the numbing wore off? I took a quick look around the room. My eyes burned something fierce, but I should be ok. I think. But I only had one question. Who was the guy sleeping in the chair across from me?
"Miss Whitlock?" a doctor stuck his head in the door.
"Yeah?" I sat up a little better.
"I'm glad to see you're awake," he walked in, "I'm Russell. You're lucky to be alive, honey. If there were any more chemicals in your system, we would've had to quarantine you. How are you feeling?"
"Exhausted," I reported, "Where am I, Russell?"
"You're in the hospital," Russell explained, "You were being held against your will by a very bad man that's had warrants out for his arrest for the past decade in three or four different states. I didn't get much for the specs on it. When you're feeling better, I'm sure the police are going to have questions, but for now, you need to get all the rest you can. You have a physical therapist coming in soon. Are you up for having visitors?"
"I must," I gave a little nod toward the guy at the foot of my bed.
"Do you know who he is?" he asked.
"Not really," I shook my head, "He looks familiar, though."
"Your memories are going to be a little screwy for a few days," Russell told me, "You've had more Midazolam in your system than what one person has the right to and one of the side effects is that it can give you a little trouble with your cognitive processes. But that's Roland. He's probably very tired, too. If it weren't for him, I don't know if you'd be here right now. He saved your life, Cam. He got you here as fast as he could. Apparently, your eyes were starting to roll in the back of your head and you were overdosing on something. You owe him one. Also, my husband's been sitting outside the door with your best friend and her husband for the last hour waiting for you to wake up. Could I send any of them in?"
"One at a time," I allowed, "You may need to introduce us, though."
"I'll send in Iris first," he decided, "She's a wreck and needs to see you in one piece."
"Ok," I nodded, "Go ahead."
"Hey, Iris," Russell stuck his head out the door, "She's awake, but don't spazz on her. She's definitely not up for that yet."
"Soon enough, though," a rather striking woman that looked like she could kill a man with her heels walked in, "You're going to have to put up with my spazz again, Cami. You have to know who I am, sweetie."
She looked familiar, but I couldn't put a name to a face. I knew it was Iris, though. Russell said her name before she walked in. Thank God. I wouldn't want to put up with that kind of an embarrassing moment. Especially if she was supposed to be my best friend, "You're fuzzy, but I think I know you."
"We only lived together," Iris sat at the edge of my bed, "Hung out all the time, went drinking together a bajillion times before. You were the sole reason why I passed my English classes in college. Remember? I'm the best bad influence you've ever had."
"I have no doubt," I giggled a little. She dripped with bad influence and I loved her for it. I may not know her that well, but I have a feeling we'll be fast friends in no time.
"How you feeling, Cami?" she wrapped her arms around me, "You had me worried, you bitch. Don't do that."
"I've been better," I admitted, having a sudden flashback that I'd rather forget. Another needle going into my skin with Dr. Ball on the giving end. Immediately, I shuddered.
"Hey," Iris put her hand on my face, "What was that all about, hon? You want me get a doctor in here?"
"No," I put my foot down, "No doctor. Not right now. How do we know each other again?"
"We've been best friends since your senior year of high school," she laid next to me, "If it weren't for me, you would've been in some deep shit with your mom throughout your college years. All of your pageant training would've been the stick in your ass. By the sounds of it, you got right back in it. I told you he had a fetish. And that you'd end up as an episode of Criminal Minds."
Something about that clicked in my head. I had another sudden flashback. A loud, booming club and…something sweet, "Were we drinking daiquiris that night?"
"You're damn right, we were!" Iris squeaked, hugging me tight, "I knew you didn't completely forget me! Russell!"
"What?" Russell came back in.
"She remembered something!" If I didn't know any better, I'd think a tear just came to her eye.
"That's good!" he praised, "Keep talking. Let me know if anything else comes back."
"Hold on," Iris had a brilliant idea, "Can we try something?"
"I'm up for anything at this point," Russell allowed, "What is it?"
"Because I know how she feels about him," Iris got up from my bedside, "Hey, babe, can you come in here?"
"Iris," Russell stopped her, "I don't know if more people in here is a good idea."
"Trust me," she insisted, "If there's going to be anything that'll snap her memory back, it'll be him."
"What is it, Iris?" a man walked in with a sense of undeserved arrogance. A tall, well dressed man. A beady-eyed man that made my blood boil.
"Come on, Iris," I groaned, "I'm in the hospital. I'm exhausted. You had to bring Ben with you?"
"CAMI!" Iris screeched, nearly snapping me in half, "I knew you were still in there!"
"What the hell…?" Roland woke up, coming to quicker than I thought he would, and rushed to my bedside, "Hi, Cam. How are you feeling?"
"Well, everyone else is here," Russell threw his arms up, waving out my door, "Hey, honey? You want to come in?"
"Can I?" Another body in here? My god. I might as well have a mini party in here. I mean, I'm still kind of out of it and struggling to regain my bearings, but why not?
"Hey," Roland regained my attention, "Stay with me here, Cam. How are you feeling?"
"I'm tired," I cuddled into Roland's shoulder, "Thank you…"
"I'm so sorry I did that to you," he hugged me tight, "I knew he was nuts, but I didn't think he was that nuts."
"By the way, Cam," Russell wondered, "Could I ask you why there were three lithium in your bra?"
"Insurance I never got to use," I remembered that much, "What happened to Dr. Ball?"
"He's in jail," Roland filled me in, holding me against his chest, "He's not going to hurt you or anyone else anymore. You're safe again."
"Hey, Iris," the other guy, the one Russell called his…I knew who he was, too. Brent weaseled his way past my best friend and sat with me, "I'm sorry, but she's my baby, too. She's been my baby longer."
"Hi, Brent," I knew that face anywhere. Even though my memories were still not a hundred percent of the way there, I had a few that were too permanently engrained in my brain. Like Brent. Granted, I'm sure that Iris and I have gotten into some shenanigans (I feel like breaking and entering might have been one…Not sure. I'd have to ask her that one.), but Brent and I had history. A deep seeded history that led to the day he came out to me. I was the first one. I knew that much.
"Hi, honey," Brent kissed the top of my head, giving me that warm feeling of home, "I'm so glad you're ok. I knew something about him felt sketchy, but I didn't want to say anything. But as long as you came out of it alright, that's all that matters."
"Alright-ish," I shrugged, wiggling out of his embrace to rest on Roland again, "I'm sure I'll be ok. Eventually."
"Hey, Cami," Iris chimed back in, "Russell and I were talking earlier while you were still asleep and we agreed that when you get out of the hospital, it'd be best for you to stay with Ben and me for a while."
"No," I shook my head, "I'm sorry, Iris, but if I can just get back to my apartment, that'd be good enough for me. I've already put you through enough."
"It's nothing compared to some of the shit you've been through," she assured, "They're releasing you to us, so you do what we say."
"Thanks, Mom," I joked, but then, I could see my mother's face plain as day in my head. My father, too, "Wait, where are they? Are they alright?"
"They're fine as far as I know," Iris gave me a look, "Why?"
"He used them against you, didn't he?" Roland guessed, "I should've known that sadistic son of a…"
"Roland," I stopped him before he could spiral, "Can we not deal with him anymore?"
"How's the rest of your life sound?" he smiled so sweetly. It's the first time I've ever seen it so genuine. In fact, it feels like Roland has completely unclenched.
"Pretty damn good," I approved, "But you're sure my parents are ok?"
"They have no idea you're in the hospital," Iris admitted, "No one wanted to give that phone call."
"And no one's going to," I demanded, "It'd be best if they didn't find this out. I don't want to deal with that fallout."
"Good call," she approved, "Hey, Russell, when did you say she can get out?"
"Probably by tomorrow," Russell thought, "We'll see what kind of recovery she makes today, but going by the way her memories are coming back, I have no doubt she'll be back by tomorrow. Being in familiar surroundings will definitely help once she's out of here, though, so I might have to side with Cam on this one. Going back to her normal, day to day life with some additional rest here and there may be the best."
"I feel like all I've done is sleep," I whined, "Do I really need to rest more?"
"You probably couldn't walk a straight line right now, Cam," he pointed out, "In fact, everybody may need to get out soon."
"Not Roland," I stipulated, "He can stay."
"Are you sure?" Roland asked, "I mean, wouldn't I be a constant reminder of what you just went through?"
"You got me out of what I just went through," I reminded him, "You don't have to leave. Not yet."
"I'm the one that got the manpower there," Ben grumbled, trying to take credit for years and years of Roland's work like the raging douchebag he is, "But no sense in thanking me."
"Really?" I growled, "You're really going to be like this? Now? You got some real shitty timing, dude."
"There's my girl," Iris grinned, "It's good to have you back, Cami. We'll be back in a little while to check on you, ok? Is there anything you want while we're gone?"
"Not that I can think of," I let her go, "But thank you."
"No problem, sweetie," she kissed my head and dragged her dick husband out. I guess I can't be too hard on Ben anymore. I heard what he said. Roland did a lot of the work, but he lacked the physical strength and the numbers. And he was going to let me stay in his house while I recovered, but that was more Iris than Ben. And if Ben wanted to keep getting some like he's probably been, then he'll keep his wife as happy as she can be.
"I should probably be going, too," Brent got up, giving his husband a well-deserved kiss, "Keep me posted."
"Of course," Russell promised, "I'll see you at home."
"Love you, too," he sent him out and another woman walked in.
"Dr. Osborne," she sang, "Am I interrupting?"
"No," Russell shook his head, "Just clearing the room. Cam, this is Clara. She's going to be your PT for the next couple weeks. Even when you get out of here, I want you seeing her three times a week for your left side. Got it?"
"Yes," I groaned, sick of all the medical talk. I just wanted to go home.
"It's nice to meet you, Cam," Clara smiled sweetly, "I'm assuming this is your…boyfriend?"
"Roland's just a friend," I introduced Roland to her, "But a damn good one."
"It's nice to meet you, Roland," she extended him the same courtesy, "Shall we get started?"
A few months later, I decided that I couldn't be in my apartment anymore. Iris (being my sugar mama for the time being. I have all intentions of paying her back one day, so I'm not technically her sugar baby. Clearing that up for the folks at home.) helped me out with getting a little one-bedroom house in Oakhaven. It sucks that we're going to be so far away from each other, but the hour drive isn't going to kill either one of us. Although, moving in the winter was a dumb idea on my part. On the bright side, I had a new sweater I could put in my closet to keep me warm. I had to make use of my downtime somehow and I finally finished my damn sweater. I couldn't be happier.
As I brought the last box in, I noticed an envelope that slipped out from one of the boxes. I didn't really pay much attention to what went in which box. When I decided to move, it was more or less a snap decision. I had a minor episode that put me in a strange mental place. It led me to impulse buying moving boxes and packing all my shit up. It's not like I didn't have anything waiting for me in Oakhaven. A cute little town that had some nice, warm, family memories embedded into it (along with where the whole family was spending this Christmas) along with a very nicely paying job doing something I knew I was good at. I brought the box into the kitchen and grabbed the envelope off my new living room floor. Hey! A card from my grandma…I never opened this. I got this before…The before times. We still tiptoed around my time with Seventh Sanctum.
To my loving granddaughter,
Take good care of yourself, honey.
She always was a fortune cookie, my grandma. But she also slipped a ten in the card, so I couldn't be too angry. Thanks, Grandma. I put the card on my mantle and went to unpack a few boxes. It's a good thing I got this house when I did. It'd suck to have to drive all the way back to Veritas Grove on Christmas Eve. Especially when I know I got people coming to me instead. Even better yet, my new pain in the ass next door neighbor was kind enough to help me unpack before everyone started showing up.
"You know, you could've just gone to Iris and Ben's for Christmas," he suggested, "But no. You're going to cram everyone in here."
"Hey!" I gave him a swat with a crumpled-up newspaper, "Sue me for wanting to entertain. It's a new house and everything's relatively clean yet."
"You call this relatively clean? This place is destroyed and you got people coming tonight."
"You really are pushing my buttons today, aren't you?"
I stood up on my tiptoes and kissed his cheek. If he wasn't so damn tall, we wouldn't have this problem, "What am I going to do with you, Roland?"
"I'm not sure," he thought it over, "But I'd really appreciate it if you didn't hit me with the newspaper again."
"Hey," I checked the clock. Almost six. I thought it was getting dark outside, "Shit! I'm going to be late for work. I should be back in a few hours. The boss is closing up early tonight."
"Bless him," Roland teased, "Have a good shift. If you need me, you know where I'll be."
"Just next door," I smiled, getting a little kiss, "I love you."
"Love you, too," he hugged me tight, "Make me proud."
"When don't I?" I started running out the door and jumped into my new car. When Iris and Ben got me my house, a cute, little, mint green Fiat sat in the driveway. Better than my Toyota that was falling apart at the seams. Besides, they said it was too much of an identifier for me (and Iris said I deserved better anyway. She wouldn't put up with me saying no to her helping me anymore. I will pay her back whether she likes it or not.). And just like that, I left my pain in the ass next door neighbor in my living room and headed to work. There was always something special about Oakhaven in the winter, but around the holidays? There's a magic in the air. Especially at a particular French restaurant that I was fortunate enough to call home away from home.
"Bonsoir, mon ami," a beautiful French man greeted me, kissing my knuckles.
"Bonsoir," I blushed a little. That never got old, "I swear, Adrien, HR must love you."
"They do," he admitted, "Look at this face and try not to fall in love."
"You do make it difficult," I had a sudden flashback to a dirty dream I had once while I was staying with Roland one night. A dirty dream that broke a lot of health code violations. But I stopped my casual hookups when we got together. I didn't want to do that to Roland. He's sweet and doesn't understand how casuals work.
"Get to work, Cam," Adrien ordered.
"Got it, boss," I shot him a quick wink and jumped behind the bar to do what I did best. I made drinks and I made them well. That's why my tip jar was always full by the end of my shift. Even now when I'm only working until ten, it's still going to be at the top. Good for me. Give yourself a pat on the back, Cam. You've come a long way from damn near whoring yourself out to all of Veritas Grove to make rent. And when creepy guys try to hit on me while I'm working, Adrien doesn't put up with that. People think he and I have something going on. I've heard the rumors. But I can promise that I only have one man in my life. And I needed to be getting back to him as soon as I could.
When it came to be quitting time, I begged Adrien to come to my place, but he said he had other plans for tonight. Understandable. I'm sure he's got other friends or family in the area to play with. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if he had a flight to catch. But it's probably already Christmas Day in France. If he wanted to be there by then, he should've left a few days ago. But alas. He still had a restaurant to run. I mean, he could've left it in the hands of another one of the managers, but this place was his baby. His heart and soul. But begging him to come over probably wasn't helping the rumors. Regardless, I still needed to get home. I knew two people that would already be there waiting for me. The reason I have that house in the first place.
I hadn't seen Iris since we closed on the house and I missed the hell out of her. But she's been busy. I've been busy. We got other things going on. But at least I'd be able to spend the last couple hours of Christmas Eve and the beginning hours of Christmas Day with her. When I pulled in the driveway, her Range Rover sat out front. I'm surprised I didn't end up with one of them, but I've told Iris on multiple occasions how much of a pain in the ass her Range Rover was for me to drive. I couldn't handle all the metal around me. So, my little Fiat would do just fine.
"Honey," I pushed my front door open, "I'm home. And frozen."
"Hi, sweetie," Iris hugged me tight, warming me up a little, "I'm so glad you're here."
"Me, too," I agreed, chilled to the bone, "But why?"
"I…" she looked over at her husband with the biggest grin on her face, "We have some news to tell you. Really big news."
"Do tell," I sat down and kicked my shoes off. A few minutes of silence filled the room. What the hell, Iris? You never go this long without talking. She's got to be sick or something…But then, as her smile only got bigger and a tear came to her eye, it could only mean one thing, "No…"
"Yeah," her voice broke.
"Should I start looking for Korean baby names now?" I threw my arms around her, "Congratulations, Iris."
"Thanks, Cami," Iris bawled in my shoulder, "I don't think they came along in Korea. I think they may have come along after Auntie Cami was ok again."
"Probably after Auntie Cami was ok again," Ben assumed, "We had just gotten back from Korea when Roland called us, Iris."
"And I don't think they're going to have a Korean name," Iris sniveled, "Neither one of us is Asian. It'd be weird."
"But still," I awed, "Iris, you're pregnant?"
"I got it confirmed last week," she wiped her eyes, "It's official."
"Well, I'm happy for you, honey," I got up and hugged Ben, too. I'm pretty sure he helped in the process, "Both of you."
"That is my early Christmas present to you," Iris pulled herself together, "Enough about us. How are you?"
That was once a very loaded question to ask me. But if I had to be honest, I still had a way to go before I'd be back to the way I was. But in all seriousness, I don't think I ever wanted to go back to the way I was. Now, for the first time in a long time, I felt like I was exactly where I needed to be. My best friend was expecting. My boyfriend was the boy next door. I had a job that I didn't have to wake up brutally early in the morning for and I got genuinely excited to go to every day. For the first time in a long time, I felt good. This is where I needed to be. I was free to be whatever I damn well please. And no one would tell me otherwise ever again.
A/N: And there we have it, friends. The proverbial 'the end' on things. Seems we get the happily ever after. Cam and Roland are living next door to each other (because the relationship's too new for them to move in together). Iris and Ben are expecting their baby. Dr. Ball's likely going to end up with the chair. Everything's all tied up with a bow. I've been having ideas for a sequel. Whether or not it happens is still up in the air, but we'll see when I'm scrambling for ideas for NaNoWriMo this year. To all of the people that told me nice things, thank you. To those of you reading this in the future, you're more than welcome to drop a line and say hi. So…This is it, isn't it? I'll miss you. And I'll see you later…xx