He lifted his fist to the door, hovering just inches above it as he hesitated to knock.
Axel took a deep breath and quickly tapped on the door. He swallowed nervously as he waited for an answer. Then, after a few silent moments, he raised his hand and knocked several times, a little harder this time.
But there was still no answer.
He wondered if he should leave. If she was out or at an appointment. He hadn’t called or let her know he was coming. So she had no reason to expect him.
Taking another breath, he knocked one last time. Finally, when enough time had passed, he sighed. Then, just as he was about to turn and walk away defeated, he got one last idea.
He reached out and touched the handle. Would she be angry at him for walking in? Would she feel like he wasn’t respecting her wish for space?
“If it’s locked, I’ll leave,” he whispered. “If it’s unlocked… I should go in just to make sure everything is safe inside.”
He nodded to himself as he grabbed hold of the handle and turned. It was unlocked.
Axel swallowed and then leaned in through the door.
“Alice?” he called out. “The door was unlocked… I knocked a few times, but I wanted to make sure everything was all right…”
He looked around the living room. It was decorated in only the basics. Peter had moved out, leaving this house open for whoever might need it next. Only simple furnishings were left behind.
“Alice?” Axel called out again, walking into the kitchen. “Are you here?”
The living room was empty.
The kitchen was empty.
The downstairs bedroom and bathroom were empty.
“I guess she’s out,” he sighed sadly.
Axel walked back to the front door; he reached down to open it when her scent hit his nose. She was everywhere in this place. But only a soft lingering hint of her. This was more than that. It was fresh and warm.
He looked back down the hall. He had seen her clothing in the bedroom and her toiletries in the bathroom. Going up and down the stairs every day was not something she should have been doing, so why did her scent lead up? There should have been no reason for her to go upstairs.
But that was where her scent led, so he would follow.
“Alice? Are you up here?” he called out as he climbed the stairs.
Still no response, but with each step he took, her scent grew stronger.
As he reached the bedroom, he closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against the door. Her scent danced around him. He breathed it in, letting his mind drift into the warmth it offered him. He saw her smile and heard her laugh. Felt her lips against his and her arms around him.
Axel swallowed and took a shaky breath as he pushed the happy memories away.
“Alice?” he called through the door before he knocked.
When again there was no answer, he opened the door and entered the room, but it too was empty.
The sound of running water drew his attention to the bathroom door. Sniffing the air, he found the most potent concentration of her scent came from that door. And he knew without a doubt that she was in there.
He thought about leaving. It was clear she was preparing a bath and would want her privacy. But before he could turn away, he remembered the stairs. Bell had been clear that Alice should not be going up and down stairs alone.
Leaving now would put her in danger, so he had to stay. It was for her safety. She would understand that, right? Still, he didn’t want to frighten her by simply being there when she expected an empty room.
Axel approached the door slowly. He swallowed and raised his hand hesitantly, feeling very nervous.
He gave a soft knock.
“Alice?” he said. “I just wanted to let you know I’m out here.”
“I came to talk. I know it’s not the best time, so I won’t push,” he said, pausing before continuing. “But you know Bell said you shouldn’t take the stairs alone. So, I will stay just long enough to help you get back down. Then I’ll go… if you want me to.”
Axel held his breath as he bit down on his bottom lip, waiting for her reply. But it never came.
After a minute, he lowered his head and let out his breath. His chest ached, and his body felt heavy as he understood she was still upset.
“I know you’re there, Alice,” he whispered, touching the door gingerly. “And I don’t blame you for not wanting to see or talk to me….”
He took a deep breath.
“I promise I won’t try to come in, and I won’t force you to talk to me,” he said. “I just want to make sure that you and our babies are safe.”
“No matter what happens, that matters most to me, Alice,” he said. “You and our family.”
He waited for a reply, but still, he was only met with silence and the running water on the other side of the door.
He sighed and pulled away from the door. He turned, planning to leave the room and wait in the hall. But then, something occurred to him.
Axel looked back at the door. The water had been running for a very long time, and even if she was angry, Alice would have at least acknowledged him.
His heart began to thump wildly.
“Alice?” he called out.
He closed his eyes and focused on his hearing, on the sound of the running water, and just past it to the heartbeat inside the bathroom. It was her, but it was beating hard and fast.
At the edge of his senses, he found the prickling of fear, but it didn’t belong to him.
His heart leaped into his throat.
“Alice, I need you to answer me so I know you are okay! Please,” he called out as he quickly returned to the door.
He knocked again, harder this time.
“Alice! If you don’t answer, I’ll have to come in!” he shouted.
Axel growled and took a step back.
“Last chance!” he shouted. “I’m going to kick in the door!”
He raised his leg, and with a powerful kick, the door flew open. Axel rushed into the foggy bathroom.
“Alice!” he shouted.
As he entered the room, he turned to see her standing in a robe with her hands on the counter and her head down toward the sink. He furrowed his brows, having expected to find her passed out or injured.
“Alice…” he whispered, taking a step toward her.
As he got closer, he noticed a few things. First, her jaw was clenched, and there was sweat on her brow. Second, her hands held to the counter’s edge so tight that her knuckles were white.
But the thing that concerned him the most, which made his stomach tighten into knots, was how her entire body shook.
He reached his hand to her.
“Alice…” he whispered as his fingers touched her shoulder.
Her head shot up with a gasp. She turned to him, her eyes wide.
“Axel…?” she whispered with surprise.
The strength she had been clinging to failed.
“Alice!” he shouted as her entire body went limp, falling into his arms as she lost consciousness.