It was the fall that had frightened her the most: the seconds suspended by nothing but air and the occasional tree branch pawing her body. She didn't realize until she hit the ground that she had screamed the entire way down. When she landed on her ankle and then her left knee, the pain was excruciating but bearable. At least this is it, Esme told herself, You can cope with this. It was the unknown she couldn't handle; the feeling of the freefall.
Her scream had brought everyone out of the house and they were by her side barely a beat later. Her father had gone for her collarbone and ribs first, feeling each one to make sure it was still in place. When she didn't make a sound he was reassured. Had she punctured a lung, it could have meant death. Mr. Platt scooped Esme into his arms and took her off to their carriage, calling for the help to ready the horses.
If it had been a normal day, Mr. Platt would have ridden off himself to fetch the local doctor. As it was, their family practitioner was away on holiday. This meant he and poor Esme had to make the long journey into Columbus and trust that the doctor at the local hospital would be good enough.
It was just before 10:00pm when they pulled up to the hospital. The pain was piercing and constant, but Esme found she could keep going if she just held still and focused her thoughts elsewhere.
"Darling," said Mr. Platt, "I'm going to pop inside and find the doctor. I'll hurry back."
Esme forced a nod as her father descended from the carriage. When he disappeared from sight she breathed a sigh of relief. On the ride down he had been over attentive. In silence she had only her thoughts, free from the worries of others.
Esme thought about her best friend Margaret, whom she was supposed to be having lunch with tomorrow and who would be shocked to find out what had happened. Margaret was much more proper than Esme and would never have climbed a tree in the first place, let alone fall out of one. Maybe that was why Margaret had a boyfriend and Esme didn't. Esme was quietly jealous, though incredibly happy for Margaret, who had recently started dating Tom. Tom was the star of the baseball team and the most handsome boy at the local high school. He was also kind and very funny, and Esme was glad to have gotten to know him better in recent months. Yet while Esme enjoyed spending time with Margaret and Tom, it always left her feeling empty.
"Over here, Dr. Cullen—she's in the carriage."
Esme glanced up at the door just as her father reappeared. His expression was torn, and Esme imagined he was trying to be strong for her while also being worried sick.
A moment later another man eased around the carriage door and Esme felt her body blink. He was stunning: the most beautiful creature she had ever seen. Could this really be a doctor? Her heart had trouble beating in his presence and with a quiet smile he seemed to acknowledge its struggle. Slowly, he climbed in to kneel beside her on the floor. Her eyes followed his every movement until he came to rest at her side.
"Esme," he smiled at her, "I'm Dr. Cullen."
She never thought someone so beautiful would have such kind eyes. Esme told herself that he must be an angel.
"Let have a look at your leg, shall we?"
She nodded. Slowly, Dr. Cullen pulled her skirt up and over her knee. Her legs stretched out in their white stockings were thin and well shaped, thanks to her love of the outdoors and exercising—tree climbing in particular.
"The left one?" Dr. Cullen looked up at her with that kind smile.
"Yes," she whispered.
His hands found her foot and slowly skated up her leg, probing for signs of discomfort or breakage. Esme was shocked by the coldness of his fingers which chilled her through her stocking. Yet, something about his touch was electrifying and calmed her being. His fingers were so gentle and elegant as they did their work. It was like watching an expert piano player find his notes on a keyboard.
Dr. Cullen suddenly glanced up at Esme and held her gaze for moment, then returned to his work with a small laugh. She felt her cheeks burn bright red—had she mumbled something out loud? She had been so caught up in her thoughts that she wasn't paying attention to her actions. Maybe she was just acting ridiculous, wonderstruck by this strange man.
"Alright," he said after another beat, "this is going to hurt. I apologize in advance."
He palmed the bottom of her small foot, cupping it in his hand and slowly pushing backwards towards her shin. Esme let out a whimper of pain.
"Ow," she felt tears prick the backs of her eyes.
"Can you show me where it hurts?"
Esme leaned forward and touched the spot just above her ankle. As she was leaning forward, she suddenly became hyperaware of how close his face was to hers. She felt his breath tickle her cheek and her eyelids drooped in response. He also smelled divine, and when he placed a hand on her back and gently asked her if she wanted to recline, Esme nearly found herself leaning into him.
"Esme," the way he said her name chilled and soothed her like the feeling of cold silk on her bare skin, "are you feeling okay?"
His voice smiled and snapped her out of whatever trance she had been in.
"Yes—yes, I'm well," she stammered and felt her cheeks turn bright red again. She quickly leaned back, embarrassed and wanting to be as far from the doctor's face as possible. But in her haste she smacked her head on the other side of the carriage, causing the whole coach to shudder. She wanted to die right there, mortified by her awkwardness. But Dr. Cullen's laughed and moved to catch her head, once again bringing his face close to hers.
"My dear, please be careful," he whispered, gazing into her eyes. Then he spoke more loudly for her father to hear outside, "we don't want you hurting yourself further."
"We sure don't!" her father chuckled.
"In fact, let's get you into the hospital—I fear there's no easy way to do this without causing you pain, so if you want to wrap your arms around my neck I can carry you in."
How could she resist? As if in a trance her hands moved to lock around his neck. She felt how cold he was under her warmth; it was almost inhuman. Quickly, but with great care, he slid an arm under her legs and behind her back.
"Mhmm," she couldn't look at him because she knew if she did she would enjoy this trip too much.
And then she was in his arms and it seemed like carrying her took him no effort. He stepped down from the carriage, and spoke briefly with her father.
"She will have to stay here for a few days. We'll need to bandage her up and let her heal some before she can go home."
"Yes, Sir—but she will be okay?"
"She will get through this."
But Esme wasn't sure she would, the way her face felt against his cool and muscular chest; his strong arms cradling her. That delicious smell—she couldn't place it, but oh it was glorious. He was glorious, and in his arms Esme felt so safe. She felt at peace, like the whole world was spinning by but the two of them were frozen.
"What are you thinking about?" his voice startled her, and she glanced around to see that they were entering the hospital and her father had already climbed back in the carriage to return home. In 1911, it was not customary for parents to stay at the hospital with their children.
"Oh," she blushed. He was smiling down at her and his eyes looked as if they were laughing. He knows, she thought, He knows exactly what I was thinking!
"Well," she stammered. It was incredibly hard to put together thoughts—let alone make up a story—while in his presence, "I was just thinking that you're a very good doctor."
He laughed—his laugh was so smooth and warm.
"I've hardly taken care of you!"
"Yes, well you haven't hurt me."
He face suddenly grew serious.
"And I'm sorry you're stuck carrying me—I'm pretty heavy I'm sure and—"
"You're not heavy at all and it's my pleasure."
He smiled, flashing his teeth and Esme was stunned by how white and perfect they were. Come on, Esme, get a grip!
"So how long have you been a doctor?"
"A while," he smiled.
He bumped open a door to a dark room, and carried her over to an empty bed.
"How long is awhile? You look quite young, really."
Gently he laid her down, bracing her head as he set it on the pillow. He leaned over her, his face close to hers and as she looked up at him she noticed his eyes—they were a beautiful honey color. She had never seen eyes like that before.
He kept his hand under her head for longer than necessary, his face inches from hers. All words escaped her and she stared helplessly up at him. He gazed down at her with an unreadable expression, and she noticed he was taking deep breaths. Kiss me, the works popped into her head as easily as if she had read them from a page of a book. She closed her eyes to fight the emotions that were rising within her. She wanted to feel his cool, perfect lips on hers. She wanted to feel his strength; to feel the weight of his body on hers.
When she opened her eyes again a moment later, his face was impossibly close to hers, but his eyes were looking down, towards her throat. His lips were slightly parted and she noticed hers were the same way.
"Dr. Cullen," his name escaped her lips in a whisper, and in a flash he looked up at her and removed his hands, standing up straight.
"I'm sorry," he said in a formal tone, "I fear I've been at the hospital too long and exhaustion is winning out. I'll get the nurse to help you change and then be back to bandage your leg."
Without another look, he left the room, flipping on the light switch as he went. With the light came a coldness in Esme's stomach. What had she thought? That the most handsome man she had ever met, a doctor no less, would be interested in her? This was the danger of daydreams: that one would confuse them with reality. Suddenly Esme felt like crying, and smacked her hands down on either side of her body. Get a grip, she told herself.