Doing It All Over
10-20-2012, 11:26 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
I nodded. "Yes. At first everything looked rosy. Nina came out of her shell, she started to socialize with people, and she lost a lot of her shyness. I figured that there was no way she could turn into a bitch after all of that. But I was wrong. She finally caught me with a girl and that opened her eyes to what I was like. The next school day, the very next one, she was back in the cafeteria, eating alone, being uncommunicative, being the Nina she'd been before I came along. I have no doubt in my mind that if things continue the way they are going, she's going to end up a bitchy doctor married to a prick neurosurgeon, making life miserable for everyone around her but especially for herself. Though the catalyst for this was of my making I was frightened to the core by the absurd ease with which she slipped right back into the pattern."
"But, Bill," Tracy protested, "it's only natural that she would react that way after catching you with another girl. As a fellow girl I can understand exactly how she would feel when the guy she loves turns out to be a..."
"An asshole?" I suggested.
"Well, yeah," she said. "But anyway, just because of that, you can't decide that fate is trying to realign itself."
"You're right, Tracy," I said. "But that's not the only thing."
I told her about Beirut and the bombing and, most importantly, of the 240 casualties in both timelines. I told her about Mike and about his fate in the previous timeline and what had happened to him in this one; how he kept trying to slip back into his pattern.
"He was smoking pot at the fire station?" she asked, seeing instantly the ramifications of that.
"Yes." I nodded. "Marijuana. The same thing that destroyed his career in my first life tried to destroy it in this one. The coincidence of that struck me as a little bit more than coincidental."
"Jesus," she said, shaking her head. "This is scary, Bill."
"I know," I told her. "But there's hope I think. Quite a bit of it."
"What do you mean?"
"First of all, when Mike got busted with the pot and the counselor signed him up for independent study once more, I went and saw the counselor."
"I intervened on Mike's part by talking plainly to the counselor, talking as one adult to another, something I don't like to do too much these days since it makes me feel kind of exposed. But anyway, she listened to me. She got Mike his position back at ROP and at this moment he's back in the running. I was able to pull him back out of his pattern again after he drifted back into it. Now it remains to be seen whether or not he'll go back into his old ways. I certainly can not discount that possibility, but it looks to me like he might have learned his lesson, that he might be all right."
"That was nice of you, Bill," Tracy said. "Do you really think he'll turn out okay?"
"I hope so," I said. "I've done all I can do for him and I can only hope that fate or his own personality doesn't fuck him again. It's pretty much up to him." I took a deep breath. "But there's another reason why I think fate can be thwarted."
"What's that?" she asked.
I looked up at the ceiling for a second and sighed. So far Tracy had taken all I'd said remarkably well and had been reasonably non-judgmental. But I didn't know how she was going to react to this one.
"Anita," I said softly.
Tracy looked at me puzzled. "Anita? What does she have to do with anything?"
I swallowed nervously. "In my previous life Anita met a man shortly before your graduation. By the time I left for college she had married him and moved away. She hasn't done that in this reality, or at least she hasn't begun that relationship."
"I don't understand," Tracy said. "Why hasn't she?"
"Because of me," I said.
"You?" Tracy asked. "What do you..." She stopped suddenly, staring at me in horror. "Oh my God," she whispered. "You haven't been... sleeping with Anita have you?"
I nodded shamefully.
"Anita?" Tracy repeated in disbelief. "You've been fucking Anita? Our neighbor?"
"Jesus, Bill," she said, shaking her head. "You are depraved. Anita? I can't believe this. I simply cannot believe it. The high school chicks are bad enough, but Anita?"
I shrugged. "It seemed like a harmless thing at the time."
"No wonder you used to spend so much time over there. Christ! How long were you doing her?"
"Do you remember the night that I offered to talk her into letting me babysit her kids instead of you?" I asked.
Her eyes widened. "Yeah."
"That was the first time. I went over to her house later that night and I seduced her. Well actually I led her to believe that she was seducing me. She had a little thing for teenaged boys you see, something I didn't realize my first trip through but that I'd realized as an adult. I took advantage of the situation."
"God," Tracy muttered.
"After that it became an ongoing thing. I never realized I was doing any harm. I just thought I was having fun."
"Fun?" Tracy asked. "With Anita? That's fuckin' gross!"
"Not really," I said. "She's quite good in bed. In fact, of all the sex I had in both of my lives, I have to say that she is physically the best at it."
"I'd rather not hear about that," Tracy said, making a sour face. "Are you still doing her?"
"No," I said. "I came to some hard realizations over the past month. One of them was that Anita had deviated off her path and thought she was in love with me. She did not go out with the man she was supposed to marry when he asked her the first time because she thought she was in a long-term relationship with me."
"Christ," Tracy commented. "You really do know how to fuck up people's lives, don't you?"
"I offer no excuses except selfishness and stupidity," I said. "It seems I figured that since I was a teenager there were no consequences to sexual relationships like there are when you're an adult. I was wrong. Very wrong. As soon as I realized all of this I broke off the relationship with Anita, hoping that would put her back on the path she was supposed to be on. After all, Mike, Beirut, Nina, and now you, all of you tried hard to resume your previous pattern. Why not Anita?"
"But she hasn't?"
I shook my head. "No," I said. "She hasn't. In fact she's getting out of control now. She keeps calling the house and asking Mom if I can come over to do some chore for her. And I keep making excuses why I can't. It's already plain that Mom has some suspicions. I don't know how much longer she's going to be able to keep ignoring them. In truth, I don't know what to do about Anita but I've got to do something.
"But the point of this whole Anita discussion was to make you feel better. You see, Anita is living proof that you can deviate from your path. If Anita can do it, then so can you."
Tracy finished off the last of her current beer. She immediately reached in and pulled out two more. She opened them up and handed one to me. I took it even though I still had a quarter of a bottle in my hand.
"I must say," Tracy told me, "that what you said today does make me feel better."
She nodded. "Fate," she said, "is trying to get me. That's true and that's something I'm going to have to accept. But if I'm to believe you then I'm already supposed to be dead, twice now. I'm living on borrowed time anyway. I'm inclined to believe that, like you said on the phone to me, certain pre-conditions need to be met for that fate to come true. It seems that if I avoid putting myself into the situation of a drunk driver and a car, than maybe, just maybe, I'll be safe. Did you ever take a philosophy class when you were in college, you know, before?"
"Yes I did," I told her. "Philosophy 1A. A general education elective."
"I'm taking it now," she told me. "I like it. They go into a lot of the stuff that I think about when I get stoned. One of those things is the nature of fate and the consequences of meddling with it."
"Really?" I said, interested. If they'd explained that in my philosophy class nearly fifteen years in my past, I certainly didn't remember it now.
"One of the things they talk about is the ramifications of changing fate. As you've pointed out, fate will try to re-align itself if you do that. The question is whether the re-alignment effort will be nodal or cascading."
"Nodal or cascading?"
"Yes," she said. "I'm hoping we're not dealing with cascading here. In cascading you would have started to stress the system starting on the night that I did not get into that car. That would be graduation night. If that is the case then my continued existence will begin to build up that stress until it is almost inevitable that a corrective action will occur. In other words, my continuing to live will be unacceptable to fate and it will not stop until it gets me, one way or the other. If that is what we're dealing with, than I might as well make out my will. I could lock myself in my room forever and still I would die."
"That's pretty depressing," I said softly.
"I know," she said. "But from all you've told me today, I'm inclined to believe that we're dealing with nodal here."
"Nodal," I replied, waiting for her to explain.
"In nodal, the stress on the system would have started on the night you told me about the accident, at the point you first took action to assist in my thwarting of fate. The stress would have begun to build that night and would have reached its peak on graduation night, the night I was supposed to have died. I think I might have chosen wisely when I simply stayed home that night instead of going out anywhere. When I think about it now, there was no real reason for me to do that. I wasn't with the people you'd named and logically, I should have been safe as long as I didn't actually engage in the circumstances you described. But instinctively I knew not to go out anywhere. I think that fate was on the prowl for me that night and might have bagged me no matter what I did, as long as I got into a car with someone. Do you follow me?"
"Yes," I said, "I do."
"So what you have here is the stress peak on that day. As more and more days go by, the stress on the system caused by my survival decreases as humanity accepts my presence here. There will of course be further attempts to right the wrong in the system. When I nearly got into that car with Darren, that was an attempt to do that. But thanks to your warning, it didn't happen. Fate was thwarted again. The fact that all of those factors needed to come together leads me to believe that the strength of these attempts will weaken over time, eventually allowing me to live a normal life; do you understand?"
"You're saying," I paraphrased, "that the longer you survive, the more likely you are to continue to survive."
"Right," she said. "Now with Mike and Nina, the stress is not related to any one particular event as it was with me. It is simply a lifestyle. If you asked Mike in his previous life, where he was thrown out of the Air Force for smoking pot, you would have found that he'd smoked pot throughout his entire career there and he'd simply had his number come up when they drug tested him. This is a broad event, not a specific one. And with Nina, she simply was responding to a lifestyle also. There would be no specific event to lock her into it. With both of them, the stress would have started the instant you changed things for them. With Mike it would have been when you talked him into firefighting as a career, with Nina it would have been the first day you talked to her in the cafeteria. For both of them the peak probably came early because of the lack of a specific event. Both of them gave into the peak and drifted back into their previous lifestyle.
"You managed to pull Mike out of it because there were no lethal consequences to his actions. Fate will continue to be stressed by this for a while and will continue to pull at him. But as time goes by and he establishes himself in this reality, it will be weaker and weaker with each passing day. If you can get him through this year, he might be all right. But I would keep an eye on him. The pull will still be strong."
"So you think he might get caught smoking pot again?" I asked.
"It's possible," Tracy said. "And the possibility is the strongest at this point in time. He is in the greatest danger of relapse right now."
"And Nina?" I asked.
"Nina," Tracy said. "She has also been pulled back in line by the short peak in the system. She has also been left alive due to no lethal event. Things are as they should be with her right now, at least in your previous reality. Here we have the curious effect that the longer she stays in the pattern the harder it will be to pull her from it. If you do manage to pull her from it somehow, than she will be like Mike and myself. She will initially be easily repulsed by your affections. One small slip up on your part in the early days and she will be right back where she started. If you do manage to win her back, you'll need to be careful." She glared at me. "Damn careful. Do you understand?"
"And then there's Anita," Tracy said next.
"The exception to the rule."
"Actually, she's not an exception," Tracy told me. "She fits right in with the rest of it."
"How so?" I wanted to know.
"With Anita, the stress began on the day you first had sex with her. It came to a peak on the day that her intended boyfriend asked her out. If you asked her, I bet she would tell you that when this gentleman asked her out she felt a curious impulse to say yes, that she felt a strange attraction for him even though she felt she was in love with and committed to you. He probably even asked her out a few times after that, each time with her feeling the same compulsion to say yes, but each time that compulsion getting weaker. With Anita, the stress was just as great as with everyone else. The difference here is that her feelings for you were able to override the natural compulsion." She shook her head. "You must really be something special, little brother. You've managed to fuck over fate itself."
"And so," I summarized, "the longer that Anita does not go out with this guy..."
"The less likely it is she ever will," Tracy finished.
I took another long swallow of beer. "So you're saying," I said, "that in the case of both Nina and Anita, I need to act quickly."
"Very quickly," she affirmed.
She smiled. "Now that I know what I'm dealing with here, I think I'll be able to take care of myself."
"I hope so, Tracy," I told her. "Because you are still the most important thing. The day I came back I vowed to myself that if I accomplished nothing else, that I would not let you die. I've done that so far. And now, I want you to be able to piss on my grave, do you understand?"
She laughed. "Little brother, I plan to squat and let loose a fuckin' torrent on your grave."
10-20-2012, 11:26 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
Monday afternoon I crunched through the fresh layer of snow on Anita's walkway, leaving virgin footprints behind me. My mind was set as I looked at her door, at the solid surface I was about to pound upon, alerting her to my presence at her domicile for the first time since our horrid discussion.
Mom had told me quite shortly that Anita had called again, asking that I come over and change the oil in her car. This time I agreed, knowing it was time to fully extricate myself from this situation. I was not looking forward to what I had to do but I intended to do it. I'd been faced with similar situations as a paramedic, having to do distasteful tasks, though never had they had the emotional quality this encounter promised.
Resolved to my task, I raised my fist and knocked on her door firmly.
It was less than ten seconds before it swung open and Anita herself, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt appeared to me on the other side.
"Billy!" she said, her face beaming. "Come in! I knew you'd come back."
"I'll stay out on the porch, Anita," I told her firmly. "What I have to say won't take but a minute."
Her face clouded, trying to retain some of the hope it showed when she first saw me. "What do you mean?"
"Anita," I said, "I'll make this short and to the point. Our relationship is over. Over and done. I'm sorry I ended it so abruptly and I'm sorry I hurt you, but it is over. You need to stop calling my house and asking for me to come over and do chores for you."
"Billy, I was just trying to stay friends with you," she told me, fresh hurt marring her features. "Don't you want to still be friends?"
"You know that being friends after a sexual relationship is not possible," I said. "That is not why you're calling. You're hoping I'll come over and resume where we left off. I will not do that. You need to stop it. You're making my mother very suspicious and if you push much harder the consequences are going to be unpleasant."
She became indignant. "Well maybe your mother should know about what happened between us. Maybe I should just tell her."
I shook my head, disgusted with both her and with myself for bringing her to this point, this desperation. "Think about that for a second, Anita," I told her. "Do you think that if you tell my mother about our relationship she's going to order me to come over here and marry you? Is that what you really think? Well I'm here to tell you that if you tell my mother anything it will be the worst mistake you'll ever make in your life. Mom will be very offended by it and she will not be directing her offense at me. You are the adult in this situation and in case you forgot, I am a minor. I imagine Mom would probably call the cops about this and you would end up with a criminal charge of some sort. You may not be convicted of anything but you would almost certainly have your children taken away from you. Is that what you want?"
Though the shock that overcame her expression was painful to watch, it was also a relief. I had managed to break through to her, to get a point across.
"Your mother wouldn't do that," she protested, but weakly.
"To tell you the truth, Anita, I don't really want to find out. I didn't come over here to torment you and, despite what you probably think, I don't hate you. I just need you to acknowledge that our relationship is at an end. That it's over. I don't want you to get into trouble, Anita, I just want you to leave me alone."
She gulped, tears running down her face. "I'll leave you alone," she whispered, barely audibly.
"What was that?" I asked.
"I said I'll leave you alone," she nearly shouted. "Are you happy?"
"No," I answered. "I'm not. But I'm glad you agreed with me."
This time I was able to get away before the sound of her sobs reached my ears.
10-20-2012, 11:26 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
Before she left Tracy was royally chewed out by my mother for not calling or writing more often. She left us with a promise to phone at least once a week. It had been three weeks since she'd left and so far she'd kept up with her promise well. As to how long that would last was anyone's guess.
I was home alone when she called on Wednesday evening, a week prior to Christmas vacation.
"Hey, Bill," she said cheerfully. As before I could hear girlish revelry going on in the background. "Just making my obligatory weekly call so that Mom doesn't cut off my funding."
"Well, you wasted a call," I told her. "They're out at Dad's school's Christmas party. They probably won't be home until midnight or so."
Tracy giggled. "And when they do get home, Dad will be drunk and Mom will be ragging on him about having too much to drink and swearing that she's not going to take him to next year's party."
"Gee," I mocked, knowing that Tracy was correct, "you sound like you've lived through this before."
"Oh, I might've witnessed something like that a time or two," she agreed. "So how's things with you?"
"Well," I said, "I think I have the Anita problem stabilized. She's not calling here anymore, hasn't since I had that little talk with her."
"It was the right thing to do," Tracy assured me. "It worked didn't it?"
"But it wasn't terribly fun."
"Well," Tracy opined, "maybe you'll learn to consider the consequences of your actions a little better."
"Maybe," I agreed.
"How about Nina? Any developments there?"
"Unfortunately, no. She still won't talk to me or have anything to do with me. It's kind of hard to declare your love for someone who is repulsed by your very presence."
"I told you, Bill," she said, "she's not repulsed by you. She probably still loves you. She just doesn't want to subject herself to pain again. If she can get away from you when you try to talk to her, she will. You need to put yourself in a situation where she can't get away from you, where she's forced to listen to you. Then you can say your piece to her. And it had better be a good piece."
"How about kidnapping her at gunpoint?" I asked sourly.
"That might not serve your interests very well," Tracy commented. "Don't worry, you're a smart guy, you'll think of something. You'd just better do it quick. Remember the more time that goes by..."
"The harder it will be," I finished for her. "I know that very well, thank you. So how about you? How are things on your end?"
"I'm hanging in here," she answered. "I don't get into cars at all anymore. I bought a bicycle and I use that to ride everywhere that I need to go. It's not terribly fun, especially when it rains, which it does a lot here, but at least it's keeping me in shape."
"That's good thinking, Trace," I told her. "Very good thinking."
"I do what I can."
"Are you still coming home for Christmas?"
"As soon as Mom and Dad buy me the ticket," she said. "Try to have some good news to share with me when I get there, okay?"
"I'll try, Trace. I'll try."
10-20-2012, 11:26 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
They say that fortune favors the bold. That may be so. But sometimes it favors the clumsy and the inattentive. This is especially true if the clumsy and the inattentive are blessed with quick thinking.
It was Monday afternoon, the last week of school before Christmas break. I was at my ROP worksite in the basement of the trauma center. My work partner, Brett Jackson, and I were about to begin putting together some sterile chest tube kits for the emergency department. In a few years Jeff Foxworthy would put out a list of indicators that you might be a redneck. Brett would fit nicely into many of them. He was a large, jovial kid that continually fidgeted and whined during the work period because, in the sterile environment of central supply, he was not allowed to suck on the large plug of chewing tobacco he habitually stored in his bottom lip at all other times. As we finished up laying out the sterile packaging on the sterile table with our sterile hands that were encased in sterile gloves, Brett was regaling me with his favorite, indeed his only subject of conversation.
"So I got the Hearst shifter put in with my last paycheck," he told me, "and with my next one I'll be able to put a down payment down on a set of glass packs."
I had only the vaguest idea of what he was talking about. Cars were not and still are not my forte'. I had picked up that glass packs were mufflers but as far as a Hearst shifter went I was pretty much clueless. I figured it probably had something to do with the transmission although why a Hearst shifter was superior to the one that had come with the car was a mystery to me.
"That's cool, Brett," I said absently, putting down the last piece of packaging.
"Yep," he said, nodding, "and if I get hired here at semester break I can double my salary and quit workin' at the fuckin' fast food joint. More money and more time to work on my car. That would be sweet." He said this last the way other males talked about having two women at once, in the tones of mystical fantasy, of the ultimate pleasure.
I walked over to the autoclave, where the instruments we would need had just finished the sterilization process. "How much money have you spent on this car?" I asked, picking up another set of sterile gloves that I put on over the ones I already had so I could open the autoclave.
"About two grand," he told me as I opened the autoclave and stripped off the second pair of gloves. "We need six keagle hemostats and six number eight scalpels to start with."
"Got it," I answered, dropping the gloves into the nearest garbage can. I reached into the autoclave, which was stuffed full of a variety of surgical instruments lined up in trays. Brett had loaded the machine earlier and I was not surprised to see that it wasn't the neat, precise way that I did it. To each their own I figured, dismissing this.
"So you got two grand worth of car parts on that thing?" I asked him, grabbing the hemostats. "Does it run any better now?"
"Well," he answered, "actually my gas mileage has gone down the shitter. But it looks cool, and it sounds fuckin bitchin."
"And that's really what it's all about, right?" I said, smiling to myself as I handed him the first set of instruments to put in his sterile tray.
"Right," Brett agreed enthusiastically, pleased that I was on his wavelength.
I had another bright and witty thought that I was going to share with him, one of those patented Billy-remarks I'm so famous for, so I turned my head to speak just as I reached into the autoclave for the next load. My hand, unguided by my eyes, contacted one of the steel instruments in the tray and I felt a sharp, burning sensation stitch across the webbing of my right thumb.
"Ow," I muttered, thinking I'd poked myself with something. That would be a royal pain in the ass if the integrity of my glove had been compromised. If that had happened we would have to re-sterilize everything in the autoclave. I pulled the hand out to take a look.
"Oh shit," I said, staring. My glove had a neat line about two inches long stretching from the base of the thumb to nearly the wrist. Blood was welling from a corresponding line on the flesh beneath. Some of the blood was dripping from the incision in the glove and pattering to the floor at my feet but most of it was being trapped beneath the latex, creating a rapidly swelling, water balloon effect.
Brett turned to see what was wrong and his face paled. "Dude!" he yelled in horror. "You're bleeding!"
"No shit," I told him testily, starting to feel pain now, a burning, throbbing pain that radiated up my forearm. I looked in the autoclave to see what had done this and saw the culprit immediately. It was a scalpel that had been placed in the tray with its blade sticking upward. That was a no-no for this very reason. Thank you, Brett.
"Goddamn, dude!" Brett said, backing away from me as if my injury might be contagious. "Are you gonna be all right?"
"Yeah," I said absently, looking around for something to use as a bandage. On a cart next to me was a box of surgical swabs that were supposed to go into the packs we were assembling. Though I would be violating the sterility field by putting my hands on the tray, I figured that under the circumstances I would be forgiven. I picked up a handful of them with my uninjured hand.
"Hold these for a second," I told Brett, holding out the swabs to him.
"Dude, I don't like blood," he said shakily, refusing to take them.
I swallowed, my eyes boring into him. "Brett," I said calmly, firmly, "hold the fucking swabs."
Gingerly he stepped forward and took them from my hand. "What are you gonna do?" he asked, his voice broken and near panic.
"I'm going to put those swabs on the cut," I told him. "But first, I'm going to have to take off the glove. Can you hang with that?"
"I don't know, man," he answered, looking a little green now.
"It's just a cut," I told him gently, wondering why I was the one doing the comforting here. "It's nothing lethal, okay? All you have to do is hand me the swabs when I take the glove off. Are you with me?"
He nodded rapidly, seeming to gather his courage. He looked like a GI hyping himself up to storm out of a landing craft onto Omaha Beach. "I'm with you."
"Okay," I said, looking at my glove again. It was getting very swollen. "I'm going to do it now."
Wincing in pain, I stripped off the glove, releasing about a cup of blood, which splashed to the floor. I dropped the glove down there with it. Blood continued to pour from the cut, dripping into the puddle the glove had left. Housekeeping was certainly going to be displeased with me.
"Give me half of them," I told Brett.
With a shaking hand, he did as I said. I took them and swabbed all the blood away from the injury. When it was clear I took a quick look at it before fresh blood could obscure it from my view. It was a neat incision, two inches long, with fatty tissue clearly visible. I didn't see any tendons protruding so probably just some stitches were in order. I flexed my thumb and my index finger to make sure they still worked. They did, but considerable pain and the expellation of a large glut of blood accompanied the action.
"Give me the rest of the swabs," I told Brett.
He did as I asked but made the mistake of taking too good of a look at the wound. He hiccupped once and vomit sprayed from his mouth, splashing the front of his scrubs. He charged off for the nearest bathroom, trailing puke in his wake.
"Fuckin' pussy," I muttered, pressing the clean swabs to the cut and applying as much pressure as I could. Like emergency services workers the world over, a routine part of my job had been handling emergencies and remaining calm during them. As such, I held in contempt anyone who did not possess this same ability. Human nature I suppose.
Our supervisor was Mindy Watson, a 42-year-old woman who had worked in central supply since she'd been in high school herself. I went off in search of her, wondering if this was going to affect my chances of getting hired. The gauze I was pushing to the wound slowly turned from white to red but I was no longer dripping on the floor. I had never seen anyone die from this sort of injury, not even a hemophiliac, so my mind was untroubled in that regard.
I found Mindy at the back of the large room. She was sitting at her desk and compiling some lists from the orders that had been sent down.
"Mindy?" I said. "I've had a little accident."
She looked up at me, saw the blood on the gauze, and sighed. "What happened?" she asked, resigned.
"A scalpel got left blade-up in the autoclave," I said. "And my hand found it."
She gave a sour look. "Let me guess," she said. "Brett loaded the autoclave?"
"Well..." I shrugged.
"I see," she said with a sigh. "How bad is it?"
I lifted the gauze for a second to show her, wondering if she was going to get sick like Brett. She didn't. She gave it a quick glance and said, "Well, Bill, like I said in your evaluation; when you do something, you always do it well."
I smiled despite the pain. "Thanks," I told her, covering the laceration back up.
"You got the bleeding under control?"
"It's getting there," I told her. "You might want to send someone to check on Brett though. He, uh, wasn't feeling too well."
"He'll live," Mindy told me, digging through her desk and pulling out a notebook. She called out for another one of the students. When she came over Mindy ordered her to go find some fresh gauze and some roller bandages. When the student returned Mindy wrapped up my wound as efficiently as I could have done. She then took out a pen. "Start from the beginning and tell me what happened."
It took less than five minutes. She took notes on the conversation and then stashed her notebook away.
"You're covered under the hospital's work comp," she told me. "They'll cover the hospital bill but, unfortunately, since you don't make any salary, there's nothing to compensate you for time off work. You should've dragged yourself to your paid job and pretended you did it there."
"I'll do that next time," I said.
"Anyway," she continued, "why don't you head up to the ER so they can stitch you up? I'll call your parents for permission to treat and send up the authorization. Then I'll start the reams of paperwork you've just dumped on me."
"Right," I said morosely, thinking about the emergency room. This was the busiest hospital in the Spokane metropolitan area. It's ER alone dealt with over eighty thousand patients every year. Great. When I'd come here with the stab wound to the abdomen they'd treated me right away of course. But this was not a life-threatening problem. I would not be high on their list of priorities. If I was lucky, they might get around to stitching me up before the ten-hour deadline for suturing a wound expired. The last thing I wanted to do was spend all day and part of the night sitting in the waiting room among the scrotes that this hospital attracted. It was too bad I couldn't go somewhere else to get my stitches. Any of the other hospitals could...
I stopped suddenly at that thought.
"Uh, Mindy?" I said.
"Yeah?" she asked, rummaging through her desk drawer now.
"Do I have to get my stitches here?"
She gave me a puzzled look. "Why would you go somewhere else?"
I explained about the eighty thousand patients, and the wait, and the deadline. "I think if I went to another hospital, say Holy Family, I would get treated a lot quicker."
"Holy Family?" she asked. "That's clear out in North Spokane. How were you planning to get there?"
"My car," I said. "I can drive myself there."
"Is it a stick-shift?"
"Oh no," I lied. "Automatic, all the way."
She thought for a minute. "Comp will still cover it," she said. "But I don't know if your parents are gonna go for that. Since you're a minor we have to do whatever your parents say."
"Let me talk to them," I said.
She shrugged and spun her phone around, offering it to me. "Dial nine before the number," she said. "And let me talk to them when you're done."
I called Mom since she was the easiest to get hold of during the workday. I assured her I was all right but that I'd had a little accident at work that was going to require some stitches. After the obligatory mother interrogation as to my health and well being, I told her that, although I was located downtown in the trauma center, I wished to drive to North Spokane to get my stitches.
"Why, Billy?" she asked. "What's wrong with getting them where you're at? After all, they treated you pretty good when you had, well, your little fight that time."
"Yeah, Mom," I said. "But they're pretty busy here. I could end up waiting for hours."
"Okay," she said. "But why Holy Family? There are other hospitals that aren't so far away."
"Well, Mom, I thought maybe it would be nice to go to, uh, well, the hospital where Nina works."
There was a long pause, almost long enough for me to think I'd been disconnected. Finally Mom said, "I think that's a fine idea, Billy. Sometimes Fate works in mysterious ways."
"You ain't kidding," I told her.
"What was that?"
"Nothing," I said. "My supervisor wants to talk to you. I'll head over to Holy Family and hopefully I'll be home before dark."
10-20-2012, 11:27 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
I quickly realized why Mindy had been concerned about the layout of my transmission. I hadn't even made it to the freeway before the gauze on my hand began spouting flowers of red from the action of operating the gearshift. By the time I pulled into the parking lot of the suburban hospital my hand was throbbing and the gauze was stained with my blood.
I locked up my car and, authorization form in good hand, walked up to the emergency room entrance. The automatic doors led me into the emergency waiting area, which, I was gratified to see, was not even a quarter full of people. I signed in somewhat clumsily since my right hand was my good hand and was shortly called up to a little room to be triaged. The nurse listened to my story impassively, took my blood pressure, pulse, temperature, and respiratory rate. She examined my wound and then re-wrapped it in fresh bandages. I was then sent me to the waiting room.
I sat down in one of the chairs and took a look at the magazines lying around. They were outdated even for this when. I ignored them and began to wait.
It was less than five minutes before the door that led from the emergency room to the waiting room creaked open. My heart quivered in my chest as I saw who poked their head out. It was Nina. She was dressed in a pair of surgical scrubs that hid all the curves of her body. Her hair was pulled into a tight ponytail and she looked very pretty, very Nina as I looked at her. I knew then I'd made the right decision by coming here. I only hoped Nina would too.
She had a chart in her hand. She glanced at it for a moment and then said to the room at large, "Matthew Miller?"
Across the waiting room from me a large blonde woman holding a crying baby with a runny nose stood up. The baby, who I figured was the Matthew Miller of whom she spoke, was tugging on his right ear obsessively. Matthew's mom carried him to where Nina stood and they all three disappeared, closing the door behind them. Nina had not seen me sitting there.
Twenty minutes passed. I sat there with my hand throbbing and my brain working on overdrive, trying to figure out what I should say to her, how I should say it, and how I could keep from saying the wrong thing. I passed a thousand scenarios through my mind, laying out a thousand scripts and rejecting them all. Finally I concluded that I would just have to take things as they came. That was one of my shining abilities.
When the door opened again Nina had a fresh chart in her hand. Her mouth opened to shout out a name as her eyes locked onto the paperwork before her, her lips beginning to form together to say the first name; William. Then she stopped. Recognition filled her face. Slowly her eyes left the chart and began to examine the waiting room. It was less than a second before they locked onto me sitting there.
I offered her a smile as she studied me, as she fought to compose herself. Finally, keeping her face neutral, her voice toneless, she said, "William, if you would follow me please?"
I stood up and walked over to her. She turned her back to me and led me into the emergency room.
The ER was almost exactly as I remembered it being on my many trips here as a paramedic. There were a few additions and coats of paint they had yet to do, but otherwise I knew its layout fairly well. I even recognized a much younger version of one of the old biddy nurses who worked in there. Despite the relative emptiness of the waiting room, the treatment area, which only contained ten beds, was full. Several elderly people were being treated for breathing or cardiac type problems. Two children were waiting to be stitched up like I was, and of course there was Matthew Miller, who seemed to have an ear infection. Nina led me to an empty room, which was actually a hospital gurney surrounded by a yellow curtain.
"If you'll have a seat here," she said, waving me to the gurney, "the nurse will be in to see you shortly."
"Thank you, Nina," I told her.
She looked at me for a moment. "Why did you come here?" she asked.
"Because you work here," I told her. "I wanted to see you, to talk to you."
"I don't have anything to say to you," she informed me. "And we won't be speaking any further. Sorry you wasted your time."
As she turned to go I said, "I'm not giving up that easily."
She gave me one more glance and then marched out of the room. She made a point of staying out of my line of sight. But, as I told her, I wasn't giving up that easily. This might be my only chance. Though it had been more than eighteen years, I had once been an ROP ER tech too and I knew well what their duties were.
A nurse came in a few minutes later, gave my wound a cursory examination, and then told me what I already knew, that I was going to need some stitches. She told me the doctor would be in as soon as he could to do that. "Anything we can get you?" she then asked. "Some water or a blanket or something."
"I'm fine for now," I told her.
She left the room, slipping between the flaps of the yellow curtain. I knew that she would be telling Nina, the ER tech, to set up a suture kit in my room. It was part of Nina's job and she certainly would not be able to refuse to do it.
Sure enough, Nina pushed back through the curtain less than five minutes later, carrying in her hands one of the sterile suture kits, the sort of kits I assembled all the time in central supply at the trauma center. She kept her eyes off me as she walked over to the stainless steel wheeled stand next to my bed and set the kit down.
"Nina," I told her as she opened the non-sterile outer seal and folded it back, "I'm miserable without you. I miss you terribly. More than I ever imagined I would. I was an asshole before but I'm trying to change, I really am."
She looked at me impassively. "Don't touch any of this stuff," she told me. "It's sterile and if you put your hands on it you might get an infection." She smiled. "We wouldn't want that to happen now, would we?"
"Nina," I started again, "do you remember when you told me..."
"I have work to do, sir," she said shortly. "You won't be seeing me again." She turned and headed out the door.
I sighed. How much time did I have before the doctor came in to stitch me up? Not much I figured. I sat quietly at my bed until I saw a nurse pass by outside.
"Nurse?" I asked, making her stop in her tracks and peer questioningly in at me.
"Could I possibly have some water? I'm awfully thirsty."
"Sure," the nurse said. "Just a second." She disappeared again.
Sure enough, a minute or so passed and then Nina reappeared in my cubicle, this time carrying a plastic cup of water in her hands. She walked quickly over and held it out to me.
"Your water," she said.
I didn't take it. "Nina," I said. "You told me once you had feelings for me. Do you remember?"
"Do you want the water or not?" she said testily. "I have lots of work to do."
"Tracy tried to tell me that once," I said. "Remember the time she and Cindy got you high? She tried to tell me that night but I didn't listen. I should have listened. I should have told you the things I'm trying to tell you right now at that moment. But I didn't. I was an asshole, I was stupid, and I regret that with all of my heart now."
She stared at me for a moment as I recited this to her. She then set the water down on another tray and left the room again.
Was this doing any good? It seemed it wasn't. But I was committed. All I could do was keep trying.
"Nurse?" I asked the next time one passed by.
"I'm kind of cold in here. Do you suppose I could have a blanket?"
"Why sure," she said, disappearing.
A minute later Nina entered the room yet again. This time she carried a blanket in her hands. Her eyes bored into me. "Your blanket, sir."
"Nina, what I'm trying to say," I said, "was that I was wrong. I was wrong about everything. Since you've had your talk with me I haven't gone a day without thinking about what I screwed up with you. I miss our talks about books, about life, about everything. I miss being with you. I didn't realize how happy I was when I was with you, how good you made me feel, until it was gone. I need you Nina and I want you to come back to me. I'll accept any terms you want to offer. Anything. But please, come back to me. Be with me again? You told me you had feelings for me once. Are they completely gone? I realize now how deep my feelings are for you."
She was now chewing on her lip as she listened, the first break in her professional, neutral face. She still held the blanket in her hands. I sensed that she was about to throw it at me and flee. It was time to lay down all the cards.
"Jesus, Nina," I said. "I'm sitting here talking about 'feelings', just like you did that day. Why don't we cut the shit? You were right about me and you have absolutely no reason to believe what I say based on my past behavior, but I'm going to say it anyway. " I swallowed. "I love you Nina. I love you deeply, intimately. You're all I can think about, you're all I want in this life. I waited too long to realize it, to say it, but it's the God's truth. I love you and I want you to be with me forever. I'll do anything you want me to in order to prove this to you but I love you. I love you."
She stared at me, her lip quivering now. Suddenly she shook her head almost violently. "No," she said. "This has to stop. If you have feelings for me as you say then you'll leave me alone like I asked. Just leave me alone. Stop talking to me, stop thinking about me. I need to get you out of my life and keep you out of it."
"I'll do that if you do one thing for me," I said. "Just one little thing."
"Look in my eyes and tell me you don't love me. If you can truly say that you don't love me, that you don't miss me, then I'll leave you alone forever."
She sighed, tossing the blanket on the foot of my gurney and wiping a tear that was forming in her eye. "I do love you Bill," she said. "If I didn't this would be a whole lot easier. I've loved you almost since the first time we started talking together. Don't you see that that is the problem? Love like that doesn't just die. You hurt me badly. You devastated me. You showed me how blind I could be about seeing certain things because of love. You showed me how much love could hurt me and how it could keep on hurting me long after I stopped talking to you.
"Don't you understand? I'm just now getting to the point where I can go for an hour or so without thinking about you. I'm just now starting to get you out of my system. And here you are telling me everything is all right and we should just go back to the way we were. I can't do that! I will not live through that hurt anymore."
"You won't have to, Nina," I told her. "You won't have to. I'm not saying we should go back to the way things were. I want more with you now. I want to be with you always, don't you see? I am not the same person I was last month. I've changed. I will never hurt you that way again."
"Bill, if there's one thing I learned through all of this," she said, really crying now, "it's that love sucks. We weren't even going together, we never even kissed each other, and you were able to hurt me. How much more could you hurt me if we did start going together? How much more, Bill?"
"A lot more," I said honestly. "But I won't. I promise you that. I won't."
"How could I believe you? After all the girls you had, after all the girls you used and then tossed over your shoulders like a beer can, how could I ever trust you not to do that with me? What's going to happen when you get tired of me? How long will that take?"
"It'll take forever, Nina," I said. "I will never get tired of you and I will never treat you the way I've treated other girls. When I was doing that I was being stupid and immature. I was being self-centered. But I've learned a few things. Getting your teeth kicked in by consequences does that for you. The most important thing I learned was how much you meant to me and how stupid I'd been to not see what you and I had together, to not seize it while I had the chance.
"I want one more chance, Nina. Just one more. I've given you all the promises I can and you can take them for what they're worth. I can give you all the assurances I can and you can take them the same way. But what it comes down to is your choice. If you want me to, I'll walk away from you now and never enter your life again without permission. If you ask me to do that I will, and I'll be feeling the same hurt, the same guilt, the same feelings that you've felt, that you're feeling now.
"If you give me that one chance, you'll be taking a chance of your own. You'll be gambling with your own feelings that I am true to my word and that I won't hurt you again. I think that love is like that. But if you tell me to leave you'll be taking another kind of chance. You'll be taking the chance that it might have worked out and you will never have known it. I think we have something special, Nina, something very special. Thanks to my stupidity we never got to explore it fully. I'd like to try now. Just one shot, Nina, that's all I ask. Just take one little gamble."
She wiped her eyes again with the back of her hand and then sniffed. "It's not a little gamble," she said. "It's a big one. The biggest one."
"We can start slow," I told her. "I'm not saying we should rush out and get married. I just like to be with you. I'm not complete when you're not with me. I know that sounds like a freakin' cliché from a romance novel but it's true. I think about you all the time. I want to be with you, to talk to you. Is that too much to ask?"
She shook her head. "I don't know anymore, Bill," she said. "I just don't. I need some time to think about all of this."
"Take all the time you want," I said. "Just don't tell me to leave yet. Just don't tell me that until you've thought it over. I will if you want me to, but I hope you won't."
"I have to get back to work," she said. She turned and headed back through the curtain.
"Nina?" I said.
She turned to look at me.
"Thanks for listening to me."
She nodded and slipped out of my sight again.
The doctor came in a few minutes later. I don't know if you've ever had stitches before but it is certainly not one of life's greater pleasures. He stuck a needle into my hand in eight different places in order to inject lidocaine. The pain from this rivaled everything associated with the time I'd been stabbed. There are an obscene amount of nerve endings in a person's hand. When he was done I had a neat line of eight stitches keeping the wound closed. He promised he would write me a prescription for some pain pills and then he shot off to his next patient.
It was Nina who came in to give me my discharge paperwork. Her face was once again blank as she entered the cubicle, clipboard in hand, and sat down on the stool the doctor had used. I looked back at her.
"You know something?" she asked me quietly.
"What's that?" I asked.
"The girls at school have been complaining about you lately."
"They have?" I asked, not at all sure where this was going.
She nodded seriously. "I hear them in the bathroom and between classes all the time, just like I always did before. Of course before I could never bring myself to believe what I was hearing."
"Nina I told you..."
"Shhh," she hushed me. I shut up.
"Anyway," she continued, "lately they've been saying things about how you're getting kind of uppity and so forth. Saying you won't go out with anyone anymore, won't do your vacuum cleaner routine..." She gave me a sharp look, "... whatever that is."
I swallowed, blushing.
"I ignored them when I heard them talking about you," she went on. "Like I said, I didn't want to hear anything about you lately. But after what you just said, it came back to me."
She nodded. "It did." She looked at me for a moment. "What I'm trying to say is..." Another deep breath. "Well, if you're not doing anything else at lunch tomorrow, why don't you come over and sit with me? I just read a cool book and I've been dying to discuss it with someone who has some intelligence."
I smiled, my heart warming as I heard this. "I'll be there, Nina. I've read a few books too."
"I'll keep an eye out for you," she said. "Now, here are your discharge instructions. You need to keep this wound dry and change the dressing every day. When you take a shower..."
10-20-2012, 11:27 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
I don't believe I ever looked forward to a simple lunch session in the school cafeteria as much as I did that Tuesday afternoon. I hardly slept at all that night, tossing and turning restlessly as my mind kept screaming at me: Nina is back! Nina is talking to me again! Bleary eyed I drug myself off to school and experienced a near crawl of the time continuum through first period. When the bell rang I nearly sprinted to my second class, feeling like the teenager I was charading as for perhaps the first time since returning.
I took my seat and waited nervously while other students filed in, my eyes drawn to the seat next to mine, the seat that had been so recently occupied by a silent and reproachful Nina. That would be different today, wouldn't it? She hadn't changed her mind, had she? She was talking to me again, wasn't she?
When she entered the room her face was blank, expressionless. She walked to her chair and methodically removed her book and notepaper from her backpack before stowing it in under her seat. She arranged her supplies on her desk and sat down.
"Good morning, Nina," I told her nervously.
For a horrible instant I thought that she was going to simply ignore me as she had in the past. Just keep her eyes facing forward, her psyche radiating a stern signal that communication was not desired. Had she changed her mind? Had she decided to wash her hands of me after all?
Finally she looked over at me, her expression remaining blank. "Good morning."
"Are we still on for lunch?" I asked her, dreading her answer but needing to hear it all the same.
A slight smile gave me hope. "Sure," she said with nod. "If you still want to."
Relief and renewed hope washed over me. I returned her smile. "More than anything."
Her smile widened, warming her face and making me feel giddy. She was smiling! At me no less! In that instant I blessed that idiot Brett and his carelessness at leaving the scalpel blade up in the tray. In fact I wanted to buy him a beer for doing that.
The entrance of the instructor and the initiation of that day's lecture brought our conversation to an abrupt end. I hardly heard a word that was said.
Third period offered us little chance to talk. By the time we found our seats in the classroom it was time for class to start. I barely heard that lecture too, so intent was I on the agonizingly slow ticking of the clock as it marched its way towards lunch.
Finally, lunchtime came. We walked in silence together to the cafeteria, unsure of what to say to each other, unsure how to begin. We got our food and then found seats at an empty table. I wasn't sure what I'd expected from this reconciliation but the awkward silence we were experiencing was certainly not it. We picked at our food, neither one of us able to make the first statement, both of us secreting nervousness as we secreted perspiration when hot. What was happening here? I'd never had trouble talking to Nina before. Why couldn't I say anything now? Was it because, for the first time, we were both aware of our naked feelings for each other? Because we'd both used the word love in conversation? Because we both knew that our relationship depended absolutely on what transpired? Were we both deathly afraid of saying the wrong thing?
I wanted to reassure her that I loved her. I wanted to promise once more that I'd never hurt her again. I wanted to hear her say she loved me, only this time not in a break-up conversation or in anger. But none of that seemed right. I'd said my piece the day before and she knew how I felt. I knew I was on probation here, an extremely rigid probation. If I said or did one wrong thing, Nina would possibly disappear from my life, moving back to the fate that was still trying to claim her.
I looked at her, at the features of her plain face that were so beautiful to me now. I knew that something needed to be said. She looked back at me, probably thinking the same, probably wondering what was going to come out of my mouth, probably wondering if she'd made a mistake in giving me a second chance. What had brought us together in the first place? What had made us love each other before? Could that be recaptured?
"What was the book?" I finally asked, speaking softly.
She continued to stare at me for a moment, her face taking on the expression of one that doesn't believe she's heard correctly. "The book?" she asked.
I nodded. "You said you read a book you were dying to discuss. What was the book?"
Her face warmed almost imperceptively and I knew I'd said exactly the right thing.
"It was called The Cider House Rules," she said.
"By John Irving," I said, thanking whatever gods there may be that it was a book I was familiar with. This was not entirely a coincidence. Nina and I, we'd discovered earlier in our relationship, shared the same tastes in literature.
"You've read it?"
"Yes I have," I said. "A very astute analysis on the issue of abortion. Very good book, one of Irving's best I think. I particularly liked how well the characterization was done."
She sat up straighter. "So did I. My favorite character was Candy. I really liked the way she..."
We discussed the book together, hitting upon our favorite parts and characters and then opinionating on what the meaning of the story was. This then led to a discussion about abortion in general. Though we were talking together as we used to it was clear to both of us that there was a strain that had never existed before. Nina was very guarded, her smiles not as broad or genuine as they'd once been. It was as if she did not want to enjoy our conversation, did not want to allow herself to get too close to me too quickly.
By the end of the lunch period it was plain what the rules were going to be. We would be moving slow and I was going to have to regain the trust I had lost. It wasn't going to be awarded to me by default. Those were my terms, firm though unspoken, and I was going to have to accept them.
10-20-2012, 11:27 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
I had put considerable thought into the problem of Anita. Though I had ended my relationship with her and though my second talk with her seemed to have brought this fact home to her, I still felt a considerable amount of guilt. Things were not right with Anita. She had been pulled from her destiny because of me. And because she had been pulled from her destiny, her children had been pulled from theirs. They were growing up without a father figure in the house, something they were not meant to do. The ramifications of this could only be guessed at. Maybe there would be no change in their future. But maybe there would be a catastrophic one. Anita, for many reasons, needed to be steered back to her destiny. The responsibility for doing this was mine alone.
My talk with Tracy and the run of my own thoughts had convinced me that putting Anita back on her track was not only possible but should be reasonably easy at this point in time. Fate was, for once, on my side, my ally in this endeavor. All she needed, I theorized, was a little nudge. But the more time that went by, the harder that nudge would have to be. Since I was under a doctor's orders not to return to either ROP or my normal job, I took it upon myself to fill this idle time giving that nudge. Her and her intended needed to be put together. The question was how to do it?
I knew from my long relationship with her that Anita was a real estate agent specializing in single-family houses in the North Spokane area. Though I had never been there, I knew where she worked. I also knew that Jack Valentine, her destined husband, worked at the same office. What I did not know was what Jack Valentine did at that office and I only had the vaguest impression of what he looked like. My only memory of his features came from my previous life. I needed to gather some information.
Being free from ROP after my first lunch with Nina, I climbed into my car and drove to North Spokane, parking three blocks down from Anita's office. It was located on a major street that fed to the freeway system. The street was lined with gas stations, mini-marts, and strip malls. The office itself was located between a dentist's office and a pizza parlor. A light snow was falling as I entered the side parking lot of the complex, moving with all the caution of an infantry soldier in enemy territory.
I had purposely dressed warmly and was fully prepared to wait in the parking lot until she went out on a showing of some suburban house. I was aware that it might take several days of observation before such an event happened. After all, winter was not the prime time for real estate sales. But, to my surprise and delight, my luck was in. Anita's car was nowhere to be seen after three circuits of the parking lot.
Gambling that she would not return in the short time I needed to be in there, I walked quickly to the door of the office and stepped inside, blessing the orgasmic warmth that rushed over me from the building's heater.
There was a waiting area with several chairs and the inevitable outdated magazines. These faced a receptionist's desk where a pretty young woman was typing with machine-gun bursts. Behind her were ten or so desks, about half of which were occupied. One of the occupants I recognized as Jack Valentine, the only male present in the room beside myself. None of the desk workers paid me any attention as I entered but the receptionist gave me a suspicious look.
"Can I help you?" she asked, her voice not nearly as friendly as it would have been had an adult walked in. She probably figured I was going to ask to use the bathroom or something.
"Yes, ma'am," I said shyly. "My dad asked me if I would stop by here and pick up something called a..." I paused as if trying to recall information, "... a listing paper?"
"You mean a listing sheet?" she corrected, becoming instantly friendlier.
I nodded. "Yes, that's it."
"Did your dad tell you what range he wanted that for?" she asked patiently.
"Oh," I said, shaking my head as if disgusted with myself for not remembering, "I'm sorry. Seventy-five to eighty-five thousand."
"Why sure," she said, brightening even more when she heard that. She stood up and headed over to one of the desk people.
I took a moment to admire her legs, which were truly magnificent encased in dark nylons as they were. I then cast a nervous look outside, making sure Anita hadn't pulled up and was heading in. I could only imagine what would happen if she found me in there.
It took a minute but the receptionist returned with a sheaf of copied computer printouts upon which all of the current houses for sale in the price range I'd specified-the upper end for that time period in that city-were listed. The existence of such a document was not something the average sixteen year-old would have known about since most sixteen year-olds have not purchased a house in their past.
"Here you go, young man," she told me, smiling professionally.
"Thank you," I said, taking the papers and returning the smile. "And he also asked if I could have one of your brochures too?"
She picked one up from a stack on her desk. It was a full color pamphlet that listed the real estate agents employed by that office, their mission statement, and phone numbers. She handed it to me. "One brochure," she said. "Anything else?"
"That should do it, ma'am," I told her. "Thank you."
A moment later I was out the door. Five minutes after that I was sitting in my car, letting the heater run while I looked at the paperwork I'd acquired. According to the brochure, Jack Valentine was indeed another agent, not a supervisor or a lawyer or something else, as I'd feared. Perfect. He was one of four males in an office staffed by eighteen.
I looked at the printout next, looking mostly at the addresses of the houses for sale. Eight years as a paramedic had made me more than passingly familiar with the layout of the streets in this, or indeed any Spokane County neighborhood. There were four listings in close proximity to the office. I started up my car and drove to the first of them, my eyes looking for the right combination of details. I had a pretty good idea of what I was looking for.
I checked all four of the houses as a matter of course but the moment I saw the second one I knew it was as close to perfect as I was going to get. A small city park was directly across the street, complete with rows of bushes and thick foliage. The house itself had two large trees in the front yard, trees which would serve to cut the view from inside the house. The driveway, which I looked at most carefully, was completely unobservable from the interior of the house due to it's positioning. Truly, for what I had in mind, it could not be much better.
After dismissing the last house and firmly settling my mind on the second, I drove to the freeway, heading for downtown Spokane, my mind full of shaky confidence that my crazy scheme could be pulled off.
The hall of records was located in the Spokane County Courthouse, a dilapidated building in the unfashionable part of downtown. After battling for a parking spot, fighting my way through three clerks who wanted detailed explanations of why I, a teenager, wanted to take a look at these supposedly open public records, and then pouring through tons of paperwork in the largest filing cabinets I've ever personally seen, I was forced to admit there was something I missed terribly from my old life. The Internet. In 1999 I would have been able to pull up this information-information that took me more than two hours to retrieve in the courthouse-in less than five minutes. God bless technology, despite the Unabomber's ravings to the contrary.
I finally found what I was looking for in an obscure file marked "Real Estate Transactions--1983", a file which was not, I might add, stored with Real Estate Transactions 1900 to 1982 as you would have thought it would be. The file was more than an inch thick. I paged forward until I found the months of October and November. I began scanning through the columns of text and legalese, looking for two names in particular: Anita Browling and Jack Valentine. I found them eventually and copied down the names that were listed with them as clients.
Satisfied with my work, I returned the file to its proper place, signed out, and went home. I hoped this was all going to work. I'd been to a lot of trouble if it didn't.
10-20-2012, 11:27 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
That night I gave Mike a call.
"What's up?" he asked me, pleasantly enough.
"Not much," I told him. "You still coming over to study tomorrow?"
"Fuckin' aye," he agreed. "Got a test coming up in English and I need you to go over this modifier crap with me."
"You got it," I said. "How's ROP going?"
"Bitchin. I'm digging the new station. The BC has been hangin out with me a lot, you know, talkin to me and all. I think he likes me. He told me they'd probably be testing for hire in August this year. Looks like I might be getting paid to work there then."
"Cool, Mike," I told him. "You'd better quit smoking and start running." I advised. "I hear that physical agility test is a bitch."
"Yeah, that's what the BC told me too," he said. "I thought maybe I'd start jogging at night before I go to bed. That'll probably help."
"Probably," I agreed, inwardly feeling very pleased to hear his words. It sounded like Mike was growing up a little. Strange but true. "Listen," I told him, "I was wondering if maybe you could do me a little favor before you head to the fire station tomorrow."
"It'd have to be a quick favor," he told me. "I don't want to be late."
"It'll only take a minute," I explained. "Just meet me at the payphone by the office after lunch."
"I need to borrow your voice for something."
"How is your hand healing up?" Nina asked me the next day at lunch, her voice still careful and guarded.
"I think I'll live," I answered, holding it up for her inspection. The stitches were still quite prominent but the skin itself was starting to knit back together. It didn't actually hurt anymore but it itched like mad most of the time.
She nodded quietly. "You ought to be more careful what you do," she commented.
"I'm trying to be, Nina," I told her seriously. "I'm really trying to be."
This won me a smile. Not the best I'd ever seen from her, but it was getting there.
By the end of that lunch period she'd thawed a little more. Not completely, but a little more. She laughed a little. She offered looser comments. She even slapped at my shoulder playfully once, sending thrills racing through me at her touch. I began to suspect that things between Nina and I might just work out. Maybe even sooner than I'd expected.
10-20-2012, 11:27 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
I left the lunchroom happier than I'd been in quite some time.
Mike met me at the payphone just as I'd asked him to. The light snow of the day before had turned into heavier snow accompanied by an icy north wind. He was shivering when I found him there.
"God damn, dude," he told me, hopping from one foot to the other to keep warm. "I was about to leave. I'm freezing my ass off out here. What took you so long?"
"Sorry," I apologized. "I was talking to Nina and time kind of slipped away from me."
"Nina's talking to you again?" he asked, feigning disinterest.
"Yeah," I said. "I guess you could say we made up."
"Cool deal," he told me wisely, speaking with his voice of experience. "I think she's got the hots for you, man. You play your cards right, you might even get some off her like I did with Kathy the other night. Let me tell you, that bitch knows how to suck a..." He continued for more than five minutes, graphically detailing an encounter with this girl; someone I'd never heard of.
When he finished, I said, "Well that's cool. But anyway, can you make this call for me?"
"Sure," he said. "What do you want me to say?"
I explained what I wanted to him and we went over it a few times. "And be sure to deepen your voice a little, just a little, so you sound like an adult."
"And why are we doing this again?" he asked.
"It's a long story," I told him. "But you can rest assured it's for the betterment of all mankind."
He looked at me for a moment and then laughed. "Jesus, Bill, you sure know how to come up with 'em."
I handed him a dime and he picked up the phone. As he plugged the coin into the slot he took a sheet of paper from me, scanned it for a second, and then punched in the number I'd instructed him to dial. He held on to the paper after dialing so he could refer to the names and addresses I'd printed there.
I was worried that he would over-act but, to give him credit, he performed perfectly. He listened for a few seconds and then I could see by his face that the phone had been picked up. With just the right amount of deepening to his voice, he said into the phone. "Good afternoon, Mrs. Browling. My name is Bob Hartley. I was referred to you by a friend of mine who purchased a house on Sallyport Way last month; Rick Whaling?"
He paused for a second and then gave me a thumbs-up, letting me know she was buying it so far.
"Yes," he said. "Rick loves the house and he recommended you if I should ever find myself in need of a good real estate agent. Well, as it turns out, my wife and I have been planning to buy a house for quite some time. We've managed to put aside eight thousand for a down payment." A pause. "Yes, that's right. Eight thousand. Anyway, we've been kind of looking on our own and we found a house that is listed with your agency out in North Spokane." Another pause. "Well it's at..." He read from the sheet, "twenty-one nineteen Westbrook Lane." A pause. "Yes, Westbrook Lane." He rolled his eyes upward for a moment. "Why sure, I'll hold."
He covered the mouthpiece with his hand. "She's going to get the file on that house," he told me. "Who is this bitch anyway?"
"Maybe I'll tell you someday," I said cryptically.
He shrugged and went back to waiting. A minute or so passed. Finally he began to listen again. "Yes, that's right," he told Anita. "My wife and I would like to take a look at that house as soon as possible. Is there any chance you could show it to us, say today about one o'clock?"
He nodded, completely into the drama he was participating in. "Very good," he said and then listened some more. "No no, we know where it's at. How about we meet you there?" He listened some more. "That's right, one o'clock. See you there. Thank you very much, Mrs. Browling."
He hung up the phone and looked at me. "Whatever you're planning," he told me, "you're dialed in."
"Thanks, Mike. I owe you one. You've been a benefit to oppressed people everywhere."
"Yeah right," he said. "Well I gotta go, dude. Catch you this afternoon."
A thought suddenly occurred to me. "Hey, Mike?"
"Yeah?" he said, in the middle of turning to leave.
"You got any buds? I've been itching to get stoned."
He looked at me strangely for a second. "I got some at home," he told me. "About enough for a joint, but I don't have any on me. You want to get stoned later?"
"Yeah," I said, hiding the grin that wanted to break out on my face. Mike had pot but he wasn't bringing it to school with him! For Mike, that was an accomplishment. "After we study today. I think we deserve it."
"Cool," he said, nodding. "Well, gotta jet."
"See ya," I replied, watching him go. He really was growing up.
Finally I turned back to business. I picked up the phone and put in another dime. Consulting my list I dialed a number. It rang three times and then a male voice responded.
"North Spoke Reality. This is Jack Valentine, can I help you?"
"Why yes, Mr. Valentine," I said, deepening my own voice, "you certainly can. You see, a friend of mine, Mark Vincent, recently purchased a house on..."
10-20-2012, 11:28 AM
RE: Doing It All Over
By 12:30 I was sequestered in the row of bushes in the park across the street from 2119 Westbrook Lane. Despite my overabundance of clothing I was shivering as the wind cut through my down jacket and snowflakes stuck to my cap. I was reasonably sure that I could not be spotted by anyone from the house even if they were looking for me, which they wouldn't be. The snow that was rapidly accumulating on me would do nothing but help with my camouflage.
I'd enticed the two real estate agents to this house by offering them dream clients, making my fictional customers almost too good to be true. It was something no agent would ever turn down-people who had apparently already decided upon a house and had large down payments in reserve in order to help finance it. They would show up, visions of large, quick commissions dancing in their heads. I only hoped that one of my suppositions was correct. If I remembered my real estate agents correctly, they always parked in the driveway if they could when meeting someone at the house. This allowed the customer to get the whole view of the house as they stepped out of their vehicle. The driveway was big enough for both Anita and Jack's cars to fit. It would certainly make things easier and less dangerous to me if they did not park in front of the house. If I was wrong, and they did, there were at least the trees to give partial cover.
As it turned out my supposition was a correct one. Anita arrived first at 12:50, fully ten minutes early. She pulled her car into the empty driveway, bringing it to a halt. Before she could even step out of her vehicle Jack pulled in, driving a late model (for that when) Buick. He parked it right next to hers.
They got out of their vehicles and looked at each other in surprise for a moment, holding a quick conversation. I couldn't hear them but I could guess what they were saying. What are you doing here? A client for this house? Oh really? One o'clock? What a coincidence. What's your client's name? Really? Well, I'll try not to step on you. Pretty weird, huh?
They spoke to each other as acquaintances, with no hostility I could detect. I saw them shake their heads a few times as if wondering at the quirks of fate that brought both of them here at exactly the same time. Finally a comment was passed that had to have amounted to, 'why are we standing out here in the snow?'. They both headed for the front door.
Anita knocked on the door and then rang the doorbell a few times. In my planning stage of this I'd worried obsessively about whether or not the owners of the house would be home before I finally figured out that it really didn't matter. Ideally, they would be gone but if they weren't, the plan would still work. As it turned out, they were gone. Giving up on the doorbell, Anita walked over to the brass lockbox that was attached to the water pipe. She dialed in a combination and opened the box, pulling out a key. With the key, she opened the door. A moment later the both of them stepped inside, closing the door behind them.
My first thoughts that had led to this plan had told me that simply getting Anita and Jack into a house together for twenty to thirty minutes would be enough to push them together. Further reflection upon this, and the consideration that the occupants would be home, therefore breaking the mood, led me to modify that plan somewhat. Just putting them together might not be enough. I had to immerse them into a situation together. Even that, I reluctantly admitted, might not be enough, but it was better than just throwing them together. An extension to the plan developed. An extension that now needed to be put into effect.
I acted quickly, extricating myself from the bushes and moving west along the perimeter of the park until I was out of view of the house. I crossed the street and began walking along the sidewalk, strolling casually towards the house, doing my best impression of a neighborhood kid out for a walk in the snow. When I reached the driveway, where the two cars were parked, I took a good look around me, searching for any neighbors who happened to be out and paying attention. There were none. It was time.
I dashed between the two cars, both of which were ticking as their engines cooled down, quickly putting myself between the garage door and the front of Anita's Chrysler. A quick look assured me that from here I was unobservable from any angle. I had changed the oil in Anita's car several times, usually as a prelude to sexual activity, and I knew the engine compartment of it well. I knew, for instance, that you did not need to be inside the car in order to open the hood. My hand found the hood release, which was warm, and slowly pulled it until I felt a click.
Carefully, taking another quick glance for unwanted observers, I lifted it, wincing at the squeaking noise it made. When it was about a foot above the engine compartment I peered inside. Though, as I've mentioned before, I am not a mechanical genius, my 34 years on two different Earths had taught me enough to know that an internal combustion engine could be quickly disabled by removing one particular piece of it. I reached in and grasped the coil wire, which led to the distributor cap. Without this wire, electricity could not get to the spark plugs and the cylinders could not fire. I gave a sharp yank and the wire was in my hand. I stuffed it into my jacket pocket and then eased the hood back down, giving it a firm push to latch it and wincing again at the sharp noise that resulted.
One more quick glance around for danger and I dashed back to the sidewalk. I headed back the way I came, crossed the street once again, and moved back into the park. A few minutes after that I was back in the bushes, observing the house. I began to wait.
It was 1:45 before they both emerged from the house. In the ensuing fifty minutes I'd seen both of them peer out multiple times, looking for their clients pulling up out front, clients that were figments of my imagination. When they left the house, carefully locking it up and putting the key back in the lock box, they were talking to each other and shrugging. I wasn't close enough to read their expressions so I could not tell how cozy they'd gotten during the waiting period.
They conversed a moment more and then headed for their respective automobiles. Jack jumped in his first and fired up the engine before Anita was even settled. I had a moment's horror when it looked like he was going to back out and drive away before Anita even had a chance to crank her now-worthless engine. But thankfully, his mother had taught him some manners and he stood by, waiting for her to leave.
From across the street I could hear the grinding of her engine turning over without catching. She would grind it for about ten seconds, let it rest for five, and then grind it again. This went on for about four cycles before the abrupt cut-off of exhaust vapor from Jack's tailpipe signaled that he'd shut down his engine.
He stepped out and walked over to her door. She rolled down the window and a brief conversation ensued. She then opened her door and stepped out, allowing him to sit down in her seat. He cranked the engine a few times himself, as if the mere presence of a man behind the key would make it fire up. Finally, when it didn't, he walked around to the front and popped the hood.
The hood obstructed my view of the two of them while they peered inside but it was readily apparent that Jack knew his way around an engine compartment. It wasn't sixty seconds before he stepped out from behind it, looking nervously around the street, peering up and down it, looking for the culprit who had taken Anita's coil wire. He spoke to her for a moment, pointed into the hood compartment, and then she too began to look around.
They quickly gave up looking for the guilty party and turned their attention to looking under and around the vehicle, as if the coil wire could have just fallen off the distributor. When they didn't find it on the ground they searched the hood compartment. When they didn't find it there they began to converse again, this time with much shaking of heads and puzzled glances up and down the street. The conversation continued for a few moments and then Anita smiled at him, obviously thanking him. They walked to his car and he opened the passenger door for her (way to go Jack, I thought happily). She sat down and he walked across to the driver's side. A moment later his car started and they drove off.
Though I didn't know Jack at all, I know what I would have done in such a circumstance. I would have driven her to the nearest auto parts store and bought her a new coil wire, taking it back to the car and making a big show of installing it for her, making it look, of course, more difficult a job than it really was. I would then dramatically sit behind the wheel and fire up the engine, grinning sheepishly at the accomplishment of fixing the car for her. Hell, ma'am, it weren't no trouble at all. Of course she would be grateful to her knight in shining armor. Perhaps they would decide to go to dinner?
As they disappeared from my sight I extricated myself from the bushes and stretched, popping my stiff joints. I shook the accumulation of snow from my clothing and then headed for my car.
"The rest is up to you, Jack," I mumbled to myself, smiling as I walked. "Take advantage of Fate."
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