Home > By Your Side(27)

By Your Side(27)
Author: Kasie West

A voice sounded by my ear. “You need to breathe. Deep breaths.”

I gasped in a breath. My heart was racing and blood rushed through my ears.

“If you have any information regarding this ongoing search,” the woman on screen continued, “please call the police department.”

My parents thought I was dead. Pressure built up in my chest, pain taking over. My eyes hadn’t left the television screen even though they had moved onto another story. I was frozen to the couch, incapable of knowing what to do next. I wasn’t even sure I remembered how to move. That’s when a loud buzzer began to sound, causing my ears to ring. The noise ripped through the room and beyond, over and over, like my alarm clock in the morning. And just like my alarm clock, I wanted it to stop. I threw my hands over my ears, wondering where the noise was coming from. Was it in my head?

“Are you having a panic attack?” I heard a distant voice ask from beside me. “What do you normally do when you have one?” He was rubbing my back.

My brain was too muddled to think straight. This was worse than anything I’d ever felt before. I needed fresh air. I needed to see my parents. My brother. The people who right now thought I was dead. This wasn’t happening.

“I have to get out of here,” I said over and over and over. I couldn’t stop myself from saying it.

“Autumn. You need to breathe. Put your head in between your knees or something.”

“Why?” The world around me was going black.

“Autumn, look at me.”

I met his eyes. They were intense and focused and more serious than I’d seen them before.

“You are going to pass out if you don’t slow down your breathing.”

“I. Don’t. Pass. Out,” I said between breaths.

“Maybe you haven’t before, but I’m guessing you’ve never had a panic attack on an empty stomach.”

I couldn’t get enough air into my lungs. “I have to get out of here.”

“I know. They’re coming. Someone is on their way. Hang on.”

Before I could analyze what that meant, everything went black.


“Can you hear me? Open your eyes.”

It felt like I was crawling out of a black hole and I really didn’t want to put in the effort. It would be easier to stay at the bottom and sleep. But something was itching the bridge of my nose and around my mouth, and I wanted it to stop. I tried to touch my face but my arm was pushed back down.

“Can you tell me your name? What day it is?”

I opened my eyes and immediately shut them against the brightness, then attempted to blink until the sting was gone. I was in the back of an ambulance. A black woman stood over me, her hair pulled back, a smile on. “Hey. Welcome back.”

“Autumn. It’s Autumn.”

“Actually, it’s winter.”

I pushed at the oxygen mask and tried to sit up.

She gently forced me back down by my shoulder. “Just lie there until we get to the hospital and the doctor can check you out.”

My memory was coming back to me. Of what I saw on the news. My stomach hurt. I searched for Dax in the space around me but only saw tubes hanging off the walls and plastic boxes presumably full of first-aid supplies. On my other side sat a red-headed guy with a clipboard. Dax must’ve been able to escape when the ambulance showed up. That thought helped me relax. I didn’t want him to get in trouble, like he was sure he would if any officials were involved.

I stayed lying down but was able to pull the mask off my mouth. “No. My name is Autumn. It’s January something. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I don’t remember the exact date. I was trapped in the library. Do you have a phone I can use to call my parents?”

“What’s the phone number? We’ll have them meet us at the hospital.”

“Thank you.”

My mom didn’t normally cry, so it surprised me to see the tears in her eyes. It made me cry too. We were crying for different reasons. She cried because her daughter was not dead. I did because I felt terrible that she’d thought I was. She held me so tight for so long that finally the doctor had to tell her that he needed to put in an IV for the dehydration.

“Mom, I’m fine.”

She took a deep breath, and I watched her bring herself under control, dab her eyes, and straighten up. “I know, you’ll be fine.” She turned to the doctor as the nurse readied the needle beside me. “When can she come home?”

“As soon as she drains that liter of saline and we check her vitals again.”

My mom nodded.

The nurse pointed at my sweatshirt. “Can you take that off, please, so I can put your IV in?”

I’d forgotten I was wearing Dax’s sweatshirt. The thought had me looking at my feet where I still wore his socks, up over my jeans. While my mom’s back was turned, I pulled my jeans out and over the top of them. And instead of taking off the sweatshirt, like the nurse had asked, I pushed up the sleeve. I was still cold. “Does that work?”

She nodded as she studied my left arm, searching for the perfect vein. I looked away as she brought the needle up and distracted myself by talking to my mom.

“Where is Dad?”

“On his way.”

I sucked air between my teeth when the needle went in. The nurse taped it in place.

“Does anyone have my shoes?” I asked.

The nurse and doctor exchanged a look that ended with both of them shaking their heads no. “We’ll check out front,” the nurse said. Then both she and the doctor left us alone.

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