When I got back to the waiting room, Haven was nowhere in sight. Nor was Alex. I waited for a few minutes before deciding to head to the bus stop. If they left me behind, I didn’t have much time until the next bus and if they hadn’t… Well, I wasn’t sure I should stay in Haven’s company with my thoughts in a jumble.
We’d been high school sweethearts. We’d been in love. Hell, we’d been engaged. Then things exploded and I left him with no explanation, no closure. Sure it’s been a decade since then, but I didn’t expect this. I’d been sure Haven would’ve settled down by now, had a couple kids and a white picket fence, the whole shebang. I’d been prepared to be happy for him. Okay, no, I’d been prepared to avoid him during what should’ve been visit of one or two days tops.
Then we’d had sex. In a cave. Triggered by my heat. I know I shouldn’t have taken drugs some rando-omega gave me, but they’d worked. I’m not pregnant. I’d taken the test this morning. I wasn’t sure wether I was happy about that or not. Maybe both. If I had been, I’d have a reason to stay, try again. Maybe there was a chance to be happy again. But not having one means that I won’t screw up another person’s life.
I saw a bus at the bus stop and jogged over. It wasn’t my bus. I still had a few minutes. The sooner I got back to the house the better. With the kids sick, I wanted to make lunch and prep for dinner before I packed my things. It was more difficult than I thought to make food that a sick kid’s tender stomach might keep down. It was better if it stayed down. For everyone.
During the last couple days I got to learn about child vomit, which is reminiscent of a drunk’s. Neither seem to have functional depth perception. Your average adult or high schooler who are mearly sick would try to find an appropraite receptical for their stomach’s rejects. Still, a drunk’s puke is different from a child’s in one significant way: unless it’s your job, you don’t have to clean up after a drunk.
I about posted an eviction notice on the contents my own stomach when I had to collect, dump and sanitize after Ryan and Liam were done spray painting with stomach acid. Once Samson got in on the action, I was restricted to food preparation. Namely soup. Chicken noodle, tomato, plain broth. That was about all the kids could keep down. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could continue staying in that house and not just because of the vomit. With my aunt turning her house into a make-shift quarantine zone, I didn’t think I’d have a place to sleep.
I felt bad about looking for another place to stay, but it wasn’t like I was much help with the kids. It felt awkward asking Kate if I could stay at her house when there would be no one home. The only other cousin I was close to was George. I mean I suppose I could ask Haven, but… yeah, probably a bad idea, which would most likely be succeeded by more bad ideas. Which sounded better and better now that I’d be safe for a few months before my next heat. Even then, I wouldn’t leave my meds behind again.
I popped my bluetooth earbud in and dialed George. Just in case Haven and Alex had been waiting somewhere out of immediate line of sight of the waiting room, I decided to send a text explaining. I pulled open a message box and sent a quick ‘Didn’t see you in waiting room. Heading to bus’.
“Hey, Keelan, what’s going on?” His voice startled me out of wording my text message.
“Hey, George.” It took me a second to remember why I’d called him. “Is there any way I could bunk at your place for a while?”
“Mom running a hospital again?”
I paused and looked at my phone, wondering if there was an app for prescience before answering. “She’s working on it. How did you-”
“If there’s an opportunity, mom will mother every person she can get her paws on. She may complain, but I swear it’s what she lives for.”
“I can see that.” I winced a little. She’ll probably see it as cowardly but I didn’t want to prove my incompetence by getting even further underfoot. “I know, I should probably stay and help out, but -”
“Say no more. If you don’t mind it, I’ll make up the couch. I don’t really have extra rooms or anthing, but you’re welcome.” Checking the sign at the bus stop, the bus was due at any minute.
“Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you. You won’t regret it, promise.” Maybe I was really just being selfish after all, as the more time I took off of work the longer it would take for me to leave. A little guiltily, I asked, “Is there anything you want me to pick up before I come over?”
“No, I think… Well, actually, could you pick up some spaggheti noodles and-” I pulled open a memo pad in my phone to keep track as he went through a list. It wasn’t a long list but he seemed to be naming things off the top of his head so it took him a few seconds between items. He also seemed to talk to himself, commenting on when he’d last got a certain item and how low it was. A woman murmured in the background. “Hold on a sec, Keelan.”
“Hello, again.” The words were whispered close behind me with a waft of stale beer. If it hadn’t been for something that felt remarkably like the barrel of a gun pressed to my lower spine coupled with the passersby, I would’ve considered the words more of a suggestion. I was confident I could take an unsteady drunk on my own. As it was, if I used any move to get out of the way, there was the danger that I wouldn’t be fast enough or the bullet would hit one of the other people nearby. Not an option. Nobody seemed to notice what was happening. I’d just have to wait for an opening. But it was the faint scent hidden under the alcohol that kept me from acting. Smoked sage. It was the scent of charred flesh, of hopelessness, of nightmares.
“Sorry about that.” That’s right, I was still on the phone with George. “Lunch period’s over and I have a patient waiting. Can I call you back in an hour?”
“Robert Murrell,” I wispered so quietly anyone more than a foot away couldn’t hear.
The barrel momentarily pressed harder into my spine. “I wouldn’t do that again if I were you.” He slipped the phone from my hand before I can tuck it in my pocket.
In my ear George said, “What? What do you mean? Do you see him? Is he there? If Murrell is nearby, you need to get somewhere safe pronto.”
Instead of answering him directly, I aimed my comments at Murrell. “Careful. The hospital’s just up the street from here.”
“So, he’s with you and you can’t talk.” George’s tone was instantly crisp. I knew I could count on him to understand. “Where are you in relation to the hospital? Are there any details you can give me? I hear cars but that could be anywhere.”
“There’s lots of emergency personnel there. In fact, I just came from there and saw a couple detectives wandering the halls.”
“Lose a body did they?” I could almost hear the smirk.
I couldn’t think of an answer to that. What body? I hadn’t asked why Haven and Alex had been there. Maybe there was something in the news? I didn’t know as I hadn’t followed local news channels since I got here. Hell, I hadn’t checked any news networks since I got here. If I had maybe I would’ve known Murrell had escaped custody and I could’ve kept moving, become a ghost. You can’t hurt a ghost.
“I haven’t told anyone,” I stalled. The sound of squeeling brakes brought me back into the present and I looked up to see a bus had pulled to a stop. As the doors opened, I remembered George. “Well, this is my bus. Are we getting on or-”
“You can stop trying to give clues to George.” My breath froze in my lungs as if willing Murrell’s next words to be a lie. It wasn’t the words that froze my blood. It wasn’t physical threat at my back. It was the tone of his voice, as if this were just another Tuesday. Just sweeping another floor. “Sorry, but we need to talk. Privately.” Just another conversation.
I slipped my hands casually in my pockets. I cursed the need to go to the hospital for my lack of weapons now. I did however, have the double ringed brass knuckles and surreptitiosly slipped them on. The bus had loaded and it’s breaks sighed in annoyance as the vehicle trudged down the road. Two women stopped to talk while a yound man paused at the benches to search through his backpack. The kid apparently had been in a hurry, because as soon as he found his phone he dashed toward us. Heads turned as a car backfired up the street, including the kid who smacked right into Murrell. Murrell hissed, stumling back, and dropped his gun.
And it shattered.
I spun coming face to face with a man I hoped I’d never see again. I’d built him into the stuff of nightmares. He’d been a giant, an ogre, a flaming demon from hell. But he wasn’t much taller than me and his muscles denoted speed rather than strength. And he had no gun.
The remains of an empty glass beer bottle lay shattered on the ground between us, but, by the clarity of his eyes, he hadn’t drunk any of it. He seemed just as surprised as me and was that distress lining his eyes? If it was, it was short lived as his face settled into the blank stare of a puppet.
I’d seen that look before. The night my parents died. Cold. Calculating. Callous.
I immediately brought my left hand up defensively while throwing a directed punch at his jaw. Anywhere on the jaw would cause the brain to bounce with a high probability of knocking him out. Unfortunately, he didn’t seem inclined to let that happen. He made a rounded motion knocking my arm wide while ramming his open hand at my throat. I brought my own left hand up knocking his high. He aimed a kick at my chest. I fell backward into a reverse somersault to avoid getting hit in the solar plexus.
In the middle of that I ran into a problem. If you’ve ever dropped anything glass you’ll know that when it shatters not all of it stays at the impact point. I felt something go through my clothes and into my back causing a blinding pain and halting my escape, making the attempt seem irrelevant. It took what seemed like forever for me to get past the pain and take in the visual, auditory and olfactory information my brain had continued to collect.I wasn’t sure, however, if my senses were working since it smelled like a sewer, sounded like a war zone and all I could see was undulating white smoke that just made me want to hurl. I tried to roll over to get to my feet. I’d barely twisted when the pain threatened again. I couldn’t move. But I had to move. If I didn’t my nightmare would find me. I didn’t want to burn, but white fire threatened to engulf me whenever I moved. By the time I managed to get on my stomach, I didn’t have any energy left to crawl much less stand. My limbs wouldn’t recognize orders, flopping like dead fish. Then, blessedly, everything went dark.