Luanne's eyes opened to a bright light flooding her room. She shifted in the stiff bed and tried to stretch her legs before they cramped. It was then that she realized she wasn't in her own room. Panic instantly set in and only became worse as she realized she was wearing a hospital gown and had a heart monitor attached to her finger. She heard the steady but fast beat of her pulse resonating from the machine above her head and quickly tore the devise from her hand, a flatline alarm echoing in the room.
How did she end up here? She had no recollection of coming to the hospital, no memory of how she had gotten hurt. But was she hurt? The only pain was in her head and it felt like a headache, not a wound or injury. Her stomach was nauseous yet she assumed that was brought on by the panic. Luckily, a nurse appeared quickly followed by a doctor.
"Look who's awake!" The doctor said with a smile which Luanne didn't appreciate.
"What happened? Why am I here?"
"Your friends brought you in last night."
"Why?" Luanne found it annoying she had to repeat herself.
But the doctor smiled and reached for some paperwork which was hanging off the end of her bed. "Ms. Clark, your blood work shows a small amount of alcohol was in your system last night but quite a large amount of Rufilin was present as well."
"Rufilin, commonly known as roofies, the date rape drug."
"I was drugged?" She shrieked.
"Yes, and with an incredibly heavy dose. You're quite lucky that your friends were with you instead of whoever slipped it in your drink."
Luanne was desperately trying to remember anything from the previous night but it was as if the entire evening had been wiped from her memory.
"Am I okay? Was I hurt? What was I doing? Oh my God! What did I say?"
The doctor shook his head and smiled. "You are fine. Your body defended itself rather well, actually. Most people still retain part or nearly all of their motor skills when using Rufilin. Most aren't taking the amount you consumed, however. But your body essentially just fell asleep, passed out cold is more like it. You couldn't walk on your own and the words you did say were rather incoherent…"
"That's enough," Luanne interrupted him and hung her head, embarrassed beyond words.
"The drugs are working their way out of your system so you'll probably feel a little nauseous and tired for a couple days," the doctor continued.
"When can I go home?"
"Whenever you are ready," the doctor answered. "There's nothing we can give you at this point and you're not dehydrated so I don't see a reason to keep you here any longer. A nurse will bring over some discharge papers and we'll have you on your way."
"Thank you," Luanne said, tears starting to swell her lids.
"Your friends are here, Miss. Would you like me to send them in?"
"I…um, yeah. I guess." Luanne smoothed her hair with her fingers and stared at the doctor as he left. The nurse stayed behind and finished updating Luanne's chart before turning to leave as well. Sitting alone in the hospital bed, Luanne started to cry. Wasn't she always the responsible one? The one who was always so careful? Waking up in a hospital had been horrible, but waking up in some stranger's bed would have been a thousand times worse.
But soon she felt two skinny arms wrap around her shoulders and she cried into her roommate's embrace. She could feel Laila's tiny body on the bed next to her and couldn't believe that someone so small could offer so much comfort. Luanne held on to her roommate until her tears stopped and then pulled away to look at her. Laila's violet eyes were bright and shining, a calm sense of relief rested on her smile.
"How are you feeling?"
"Physically, I feel fine. Just really tired," Luanne said.
"Well, we can leave whenever you want to. Piper will come pick us up whenever you're ready."
"Did you really stay here all night?"
Laila nodded and then glanced toward the door. "Sterling stayed with me. I didn't want you to wake up here all by yourself."
Fresh tears came to Luanne's eyes. "Thank you," she whispered, the guilt she felt now overpowering how terrified she had been only seconds before.
"Hey, you would have done the same for me," Laila said with a smile, trying eagerly to cheer her up.
Luanne nodded. She probably would have done the same for Laila, but nothing about her past actions could prove that.
"The police want to talk to you," Sterling said after a long moment. "They've taken Laila's statement but need to talk to you as well, just in case you remember anything."
"I don't," Luanne said quietly.
"That's okay," Laila assured her. "It's just procedure."
"What did you tell them?" Luanne asked, afraid that Laila would tell her something horrible.
Laila frowned slightly and looked at Sterling. "Could you give us a minute?"
Sterling nodded and closed the door behind him leaving the two girls alone in the hospital room.
"Do you remember me telling you that I saw Will last night?"
Luanne shook her head. "I barely remember getting dressed to go out."
"That's okay," Laila smiled and took her hand. "Well, I saw Will while I was coming out of the bathroom. I had forgotten my water bottle on the sink and he called me back to give it to me. And then," Laila paused and looked down at their hands. "And then I came back to you and Piper and Nikki and you made some comment about me and Sterling getting back together and I could tell you were already drunk so I made you drink the water thinking it would help your hangover the next morning. And then a little while later you really started to slur your words and then you just collapsed."
Luanne swallowed the lump in her throat and tried to hold back more tears.
"I'm so sorry, Luanne! You have no idea how sorry I am."
"You didn't know," Luanne whispered. "It was clearly not meant for me."
"I knew Will was creepy but I never would have guessed he would do something this desperate and sick."
"I never would have guessed either," Luanne said slowly. At that moment, all of her issues were forgotten as she replayed in her mind how things could have happened. Laila could be the one lying in the hospital bed. Or worse, she could be the one waking up in Will's bed after he did God knows what to her. Luanne shivered at the thought and then looked at her roommate whose eyes now betrayed the guilt she was feeling. But Laila shouldn't be feeling any of that. All of this could have been avoided had Luanne's ambition not gotten in the way of her better judgment.
"Laila, I need to tell you something."
"Okay," Laila smiled at her.
"I've done something - something horrible," Luanne paused and took a deep breath. "I knew from almost the second week of school that Will liked you. He told me that if I helped him win you over, he would let me write for the paper."
Laila's eyes went wide and then looked away from Luanne, pain and confusion spreading across her entire face.
"I didn't mean for it to go this far. I didn't expect us to ever be friends but once that happened, I knew I couldn't tell you because you would hate me."
Laila dropped Luanne's hand and stood up from the bed.
"I was the one who called him and told him we were at Nikki's play that night. I pretended to be sick so Piper would take me home and he could be alone with you."
"Is there anything else?" Laila asked, her hands on her hips.
Luanne started to cry again, heavy sobs which nearly shook her bed. "When Will didn't publish my article like he promised, I offered him a letter Sterling had written to you as a bribe."
Laila released a small cry of disbelief. "I can't believe you would do that."
"Neither can I."
"I mean, look at us, Luanne!" Laila's anger was finally starting to show. "You're in the hospital, Sterling and I have been broken up for over a month for reasons which were absolutely avoidable, and Will is running around somewhere with roofies! When was it going to be enough for you?"
"I thought that if I started writing for the paper, everything would just fall into place. I've never had any friends before you and Piper," she confessed and Laila's heart broke for her. "I didn't know how much you two would actually mean to me."
"You are really stupid, you know that?" Laila said walking back to the bed. "I mean, I'm ridiculously naïve for not seeing what was happening, but you are really stupid. And mean and selfish and…I don't know what else!"
"I know," Luanne choked back a sob. "I'm so sorry."
Laila looked like she wanted to sit back down but she stayed standing as she glared at her roommate. Luanne looked up at her expectantly as she started to speak. "It's hard to believe that you didn't know any better. I think you knew what you were doing was wrong. But I can't blame you for being selfish. I've been guilty of that too."
Luanne blinked and looked at Laila through her blurry tears. "I don't blame you for hating me right now."
"I am so incredibly angry at you right now," Laila agreed. "But I don't hate you, even though I should."
Laila sighed. "I'm too tired to hate you right now. So much has happened and I just can't process anymore information much less deal with any more emotions."
Luanne managed a small smile, knowing she still had a lot of work to do before she gained back Laila's trust.
"What are you doing to do now?" She heard Laila ask.
Luanne shrugged. "I think I'm going to go home for a few days."
"Back to Alabama? Finals start next week."
"I know. My first one isn't until Wednesday so I can spend a few nights there, just to get away from everything."
"I'll call Piper and have her pack you a bag. She can drop you at the airport."
"Thank you," Luanne said softly. "You really shouldn't be this nice to me right now."
Laila laughed. "I know. But you took my roofies. We'll call it even."
Luanne smiled and Laila started to walk to the door. "Are you going to be okay if Sterling and I get out of here?"
"I'll be fine."
"Okay. We'll see you when you get back."
"Bye. And thanks for everything."
Laila smiled from the doorway and then vanished into the hall. Luanne could hear her whispering something to Sterling and then their footsteps faded into the background. She wiped the tears from her cheeks with the tips of her fingers and stared at the ceiling. She knew she didn't deserve anyone's sympathy or anyone friendship at the moment. Laila's kindness, though not entirely unexpected knowing the girl's nature, shed light on just how poorly Luanne had behaved. She didn't care what happened with the newspaper from this point on. She had her friends and had finally accepted that the value of friendship, not matter how intangible, was better than anything that could be written on paper.