“You’re going to get better.”
Phaedra wanted so badly to keep that promise. Tully’s smile, however grim and skeptical, it was still an encouraging sight. She smiled so rarely since she got sick, and it broke Phae’s heart. Her friend, the beautiful, vibrant blond who had turned a dismal bakery into a smashing success in just a few weeks, and now—now Phaedra saw her fading.
Phaedra suggested a trip to the hospital in the city—Ylios insisted they take the trip. The bakery wouldn’t suffer any more than it had, he said, it could stand to be closed a little while. Besides, Phaedra could use some time away from The Willow, he decided.
Not that she would disagree. She loved the bakery, but it wasn’t her old life. Ylios was a good man, and didn’t have many years left. He deserved the help that Phaedra could offer. And he loved Tully. Everyone loved Tully.
“There’s a hospital in the city, Tully, and there’s a doctor there who specializes in studying lungs,” Phae state, unfurling a page she’d pulled off of a wall by the market, spreading it out on the table with her palms, flattening it down. “He could help you.”
Tully leaned forward, tired eyes scanning the page, and she plopped backward, closing them again. “I can’t afford that, Phae.” Her voice rasped, the hitching sounded painful.
“Ylios and I are going to pay for it. Between the two of us, we can manage, so don’t worry alright?” Phae murmured and rose, going to get a fresh rag for her forehead. Wringing it thoroughly, she settled back beside Tully, mopping lightly at her forehead.
“I can’t let you–”
“It’s a good thing I wasn’t asking permission, then.” Phae noted and set the rag aside with a sigh. “Please, Tully. You don’t want to die in the attic of a bakery, do you?”
Tully winced, her eyes darting aside, stiffening against the topic.
“I shouldn’t have said that,” whispered Phae after a long moment, one of her hands curling around the other’s.
Finally, Tully glanced up at her, her eyes glassy and glistening. “I don’t want to die at all, Phae….” Her voice broke, hands lifting to cover her eyes as she let out a sob. Despite the coughing fit that followed, Phaedra drew Tully close, and cradled the girl against herself. It was the hardest thing she ever had to do, waiting for Tully’s response.
“You could let me take you. What could it hurt at this stage, Tully?”
The blond lifted her head, her face pink and blotchy, sniffling and coughing a bit more delicately than she had a moment before. Her eyes lifted, locking with Phae’s. “Alright.”
Phae’s shoulders sank as the relief hit her like a wave. “Thank the gods.”
The carriage ride was grueling, long, and bumpy. The rain made dismal any hope for decent timing, and Tully—Tully only slid deeper into her illness. By the time they arrived, her breaths were shallow, wheezing, and her fever refused to recede long enough to bring the blond into any sort of clarity, even for a moment. Phaeda had a pit in her stomach; she knew it was her fault. If she had left Tully at home, maybe she would have recovered….
No, she wouldn’t have, she thought to herself. She would have died in that bed, and there would have been no hope for her at all. This may be a long shot, but at least it’s a shot.
The carriage lurched to a halt, and the door was opened by the driver, the roar of the rain intensifying now that they were open to the elements. Phaedra helped Tully sit up, and stepped backward out of the carriage, under the umbrella the driver was kind enough to hold out for them.
“It’s just a short walk to the hotel, Tully. Lean on me, alright?” She said softly, the backs of her fingers drawn gently over the other’s searing hot skin.
Tully, weak and wobbly, slid slowly across the seat, reaching for Phae a bit feebly. “When… will the doctor come?” she rasped, letting out a bark of a cough while quickly turning her face into her shoulder.
“As soon as he can. I’ll tell the inn master to send for him right away,” she assured, an arm sliding around Tully’s back, supporting her as she all but toppled off the carriage step. “Careful. I’ve got you.”
Tully turned fevered eyes up to Phae once they were safely under the umbrella, and forced a small smile. “You always do.”
“Ladies, if we may?” the driver requested, getting drenched by the downpour, the glower almost making Phae smile.
“Come on, let’s get inside.” Phae led Tully slowly, much to the irritation of the coach driver.
Once inside, the driver tilted his hat to them, and left them at the threshold, all too happy to be jogging back to his canopied driver’s seat. With a crack of the reins, the carriage rumbled out of sight, curtained by the black sheet of rain.
It was an agonizing few steps to the registration counter, and when they got there, Tully’s forearms leaned heavily on the surface, grateful for something stationary to keep her propped up. Phaedra was wonderful for all she was doing, but Tully didn’t feel right about making the woman bear all her weight.
The burly man behind the guest book gave his mustache a little twitch of distaste as he looked between the women, no man in sight.
“One room er two?” he grumbled, beady eyes darting between the taller, dark haired woman, and the sickly blond clung to her arm.
“One,” Tully answered quickly around a weak cough, dropping her forehead onto her arms as she continued coughing at the floor.
Phae could feel the innkeeper’s beady, judgmental eyes boring into Tully, and her back went rigid. “One room.” She threw a square of folded bills onto the counter. “Two beds. My friend is sick, so if you could waddle a bit more quickly to that key board there,” she motioned to the rack of hanging keys, “we’d be very much obliged.”
“Where’re yer husbands?” he asked in a mock-conversational tone, wandering to the rack and pulling down a set of keys.
“Dead.” Phae snatched the keys from his hand and tipped an imaginary hat as she led her companion from the counter, and slowly up the stairs.
“Dead?” Tully asked as they crested the stairs. “You didn’t have to lie. It would have worked out.”
Phae glanced down to her and opened the door to their room.
“I wasn’t lying.”