Home > Nightshifted (Edie Spence #1)(6)

Nightshifted (Edie Spence #1)(6)
Author: Cassie Alexander

He pulled into the emergency drop-off, and came around to open the door for me. “Glad you lived, kid.”

“Me too.” I staggered up, standing on the curb in the cold. I paid him, then he was gone.

Only the fact that I was already standing kept me up. There were other people outside this late, well-bundled smokers leaning on IV poles, security officers making a perimeter sweep. I was safe in the umbrella of the drop-off’s light—safe from everything but my own stupidity. I could feel cold in my hand now, and I didn’t know if it was from the outside or internal. The narcotic effects of vampire spit were definitely wearing off. I stared up at the oddly clear sky, watching the barely waning full moon sail overhead, when I heard a double honk.

“Sissy!” Jake hollered, from the window of a cab.

I walked over as he got out. His pupils were wide and as he gestured I noticed his hands were spastic. My flaky Jakey, coming to the rescue. I’d have gone off on him, only it seems we’d both made bad choices recently. And really, the fact that he’d had his phone on him and he’d answered my call while he was slightly high or trying to become so was impressively functional. Behind him, inside the car, the cabbie loudly demanded his fare.

“Ten thirty-five!”

“Sissy?” Jake asked. He was closer now; I hadn’t seen him leave the cab—I’d been staring at the cab’s fuzzy snake-eye dice instead—but now Jake was standing beside me. “Sissy, what happened?”

“Ten thirty-five!”

With my good hand, I turned over my keys and the cash I had left. Hopefully it was enough, I couldn’t do math right now. “Watch my cat. You can eat all my food. Whatever you do, do not let Minnie out.”

Jake nodded. After a second thought, or maybe a fourth, I handed him the small video camera. “Pawn this too.”

He nodded again, and walked back to the cab. Before he got in, he turned toward me, eyes wide and bright. “Sissy—what happened?”

“Don’t ask,” I said, and turned toward County. There was a pause, then I heard the cab door open and close solidly behind me.

I didn’t walk toward the emergency department’s doors, though they automatically slid open as I passed. I went for the County’s true doors, to the lobby that smelled like piss and diluted bleach in turns. I waved my badge at the guards and went into the depths of the hospital, up corridors and down stairwells, into an elevator that sank into the earth without seeming to move until it dinged and coughed me free. The final set of doors swung outward toward me, like welcoming arms, like one-way valves, like cilia moving mucus. Like mental impairment due to shock due to blood loss, I’d bet. I stumbled forward.

Meaty saw me first, as I held up my mutilated hand in response to his/her/its raised eyebrow.

“Room three. Now.”

CHAPTER SEVEN

When they were done with my hand and had weaned me off the IV pain meds, Meaty pushed a bariatric cardiac chair into my room. In a world where night shift time served = time to eat = girth = experience, Meaty knew all about everything.

“You want to tell me about it?”

It was the first time anyone had asked, except for Charles trying to get me to bring visitors down. I’d balked at the thought of bringing Jake in; he’d be like a kid in a candy store with other people’s meds, without supervision. Plus, how would we explain the howling?

But you didn’t last long as a nurse if you told your charge nurse no. So I shared from the beginning, until the part that was known, me, here, with a messed-up hand. The scars across the back of my left hand were already tightening—thanks, hack from plastics—and I rubbed them with a grimace.

“You were under a compulsion,” Meaty said.

“A what?”

Meaty settled down farther in the chair. “A compulsion. Vampires use them to order their servants around.”

I sank back farther in my bed. “It didn’t feel like that.” What it felt like, was like every other bad decision I’d ever made. I’d had a lot of practice.

But was it bad? I’d saved that girl, Anna, right?

Meaty ignored me. “Most daytimers can’t use compulsions, but maybe he was on the cusp.”

I looked down at my hand again, and thought about going home soon, the mountain of cat litter that surely needed changing, and how my house would now smell like black tar and pot. “I don’t think it was a compulsion. If I could go back in time, I’d probably do it again,” I said, more to myself than him. “The saving the girl part, not the killing him on accident part,” I amended.

Meaty rocked forward to leverage off the chair. My audience was over. “Compulsion, guilt, pick your poison.” Meaty shrugged. “You make a better nurse than a patient. You’re discharged, go home.”

* * *

I barely had my legs out of the bed when Gina arrived with a patient belongings bag. She wandered around the room, gathering my things.

I pulled my jeans and boots on, but instead of wearing my sweatshirt, I wrapped another gown around my back, and put my bloodstained coat on top. I knew I was a sight, but Gina had the kindness not to say anything. Between my week’s worth of bedhead, and the bloodstained sweatshirt in my bag, I knew I looked like every other patient released from emergency psych that A.M. But I left my room and tried to walk toward the hallway door with a little dignity regardless.

“Hey, new kid!” Charles called out, as my hand touched the button for the automatic door.

I turned around. “My name is Edie,” I enunciated slowly.

He grinned. “I know. Welcome to Y4.”

CHAPTER EIGHT

I tried calling Jake twice from the pay phone by the Charlie Brown Christmas tree that’d been erected in the lobby during my stay. It wasn’t real, but someone had hung a pine-scented car deodorizer on it, in addition to the Christmas ornaments from 1973. I ran out of quarters, and my phone was out of juice, but a transit pass came free with discharge. So I bussed home, very conscious of the other bus patrons’ stares. I walked from the bus stop up to my door, glad I hadn’t had to make a transfer, and knocked on my own door before unlocking it.

“Jake?”

I looked around my short entryway. It smelled like smoke—not cigarette, but something more vinegary and foul.

“Minnie?”

Her plaintive meow came from underneath the couch. Which I realized I could see quite clearly, because for some reason, my dining room set was gone. I stared at the dimples the table legs had left in the thin carpeting.

“Jake? Jake!”

“Hang on!” There was stomping in the bedroom, behind the closed door. Jake’s head peeked out furtively, like he thought it might be someone else to whom I’d given a key. Seeing me, he smiled. “Edie!”

“Who else would it be?”

“You’re all right! I was worried!”

Worried didn’t equal calling, apparently—my phone hadn’t had a single message before its batteries ran out. Or picking up his phone when I’d called him earlier, that either.

My brother engulfed me in his arms. He smelled like flop sweat and his week-old bristles were rough against my cheek, but his hug was a throwback to an earlier Jake, one I hadn’t seen in quite a while.

When he pulled back I caught his chin with my left hand. “How are you?” I asked, looking deep into his eyes for pupillary response.

“I’m— Stop that, Edie.”

“I’m just wondering—”

“I’m not high. Promise. And it’s not for lack of trying.”

“Um, yay?” I dropped my bag and went over to my couch. “Where’d my table go?”

“I was performing an experiment.”

“Which was?”

Jake began walking back and forth in my narrow living room. “For the past couple of weeks I’ve been having problems getting high.”

“And this is bad why?”

“Edie—just listen, okay?”

Pacing, he looked like the older brother I remembered, the one who was nervous before a calculus test or wanted advice on asking a girl out to the prom.

“I’ve tried everything. And I mean everything. Lots of it. And I just can’t get high. Not like I used to. I feel it for a bit, sure. But not for long enough to count.”

“How’s this tie into my table? And chairs?” I pointed at the place where they’d been.

“I needed to sell them to afford my final test.”

“What?” I stood up. “You sold them?”

“I pawned them. With the camera. You can get them back still.” He stopped at the outer parabola of his pacing arc and snorted. “They weren’t worth much.”

“Jake—you stole from me!”

“Pawned. Pawned. It’s different.”

“No it’s not!”

Jake grabbed my arms. On his whip-thin frame, I could see the exit and insertion sites for all of his muscles, the keloids beginning on his antecubital spaces from too many needlesticks. “Edie, I did two grams of he**in. I’m still alive. That much he**in would have killed a horse.”

And that’s why I worked at Y4. I wasn’t sure how the Shadows kept him clean, but when Jake treated his liver like a chemistry lab, I had no choice. If he’d really done as much he**in as he said he had—I shook myself free. “Or you bought shit drugs from a shit supplier and you’ve done too much long-term brain damage to know the difference.”

“Oh, I’d know. I’d know,” Jake said, mostly to himself.

“Jake, you stole from me.” I crossed my arms.

“But I’m like Superman!”

“Superman doesn’t shoot smack, Jake.”

“Edie, you just don’t get it—”

I sliced through the air with my newly scarred hand to cut off his protests. “What I get is that you stole from me.”

“Pawned. You can get them back next paycheck. Nurses make a ton.”

   
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