THE DARKNESS HELD NO PEACE, ONLY PAIN. A liquid fire ran through me and surrounded me, consuming and destroying. I didn’t know if I was still being attacked or who it was this time: strangers, foster parents, or bullies from the group home. It all bled together. Past. Present. Pain. I didn’t even know if I was lying down. Everything burned, and the dark prison was terrifying.
I struggled to open my eyes, to see what was going on, but I was trapped in my body. My mind, long conditioned for survival, wouldn’t shut off and fought for awareness. Muffled sounds reached me. Someone yelled something about an ambulance. I had to get up. Now.
My eyes cracked open. A shadowy form was above me, patting the air surrounding me, but I didn’t think his hands made contact.
“No,” I croaked out.
The figure jumped back, and then leaned in towards me. “What? Just rest, you’re safe now. You’re going to be okay.”
I moved through the strong grip of pain and sat up. The man in front of me yelled to someone else for help as I attempted to stand. My legs were shaky and ached, but I couldn’t go to the hospital. I couldn’t afford those bills. I needed to get to Nan’s. I pushed his hands away as he grabbed for me, but the movement was slow and my arms were too weak.
“Stop, you’re hurt. You need to sit down. The ambulance will be here soon,” the panicked man said as another one joined him.
It was like being submerged in mud. Sounds were muffled and movements were difficult. Talking was near impossible; something was wrong with my mouth.
“You need stitches, but you'll be fine,” a new man said to me. He was calm as he turned to his friend. “I think she’s going into shock.”
They were on either side of me, blocking my escape. My head was heavy. It swayed on my shoulders, making everything around me disjointed.
The anxious man was wearing shorts. Way too cold for that. And his composed friend’s shiny head needed a hat.
Thick, dark blood pooled in the spot I had been. Was that mine? I tried to bring my hand to my face, but a shot of pain radiated from my shoulder. That arm wouldn’t move. It made me light headed.
The other hand worked, and I lifted it, but didn’t recognize the feel of my face. It was sticky and lumpy. Disgusted, I pulled away and studied the blood that now covered it. That couldn’t all be mine; it was too much.
“Catch her,” someone yelled.
I was sat against a brick wall, shaking and unable to stop.
A jacket covered me and a pair of arms held me, stilling me.
A voice spoke from far away, "You are going into shock, but you'll be fine. Everything's fine. Rest now. Rest.”
This time, the darkness wasn’t as terrifying.
“How is your pain?” My nurse was too speedy. I couldn’t keep track of her as she moved from one end of the bed to the other. She checked my monitors, IV’s, and then wrote something on the chart she placed on the table.
I nodded, but don’t think she saw. She probably didn't care for the answer anyways. She pulled open the blinds, and I closed my eyes against the bright daylight streaking through.
“The police are here and have some questions for you. They will be in shortly.” She zoomed out of the room, and sure enough, two officers in uniform stepped through the open door.
“Ms. Regan Sommers, how are you feeling?” the female police officer asked.
Of the two, she was the one I would trust to protect me on the street. She was solid, tall, and looked every bit of an authority. Her partner was a sad case. His tiny frame drowned in the uniform; he looked like a kid playing dress-up.
I nodded. My swollen lips made it hard to speak. The officers must not have realized how pointless this interview would be.
“My name is Detective Andres, and this is Officer Grand. He will assist me with this investigation.”
I half laughed at his ironic name, but the force of air hurt my bruised ribs.
Detective Andres’ eyes seemed to soften and the corner of her mouth tugged up in a knowing smile. She got the joke.
Officer Grand stared at me, eyes wide. I must have looked as bad as I felt. I turned away, not wanting to see that look anymore.
“Let’s see.” She flipped open her notebook and scanned several pages. “Citizens on the scene detained two of your attackers. We have a good idea who the rest are based on that. So rest assured we will get the perpetrators. The three gentlemen there also gave us their account of the story, but they only saw the end. Can you tell us what happened?”
They caught two already. The news encouraged me.
My lips were sticky and crusty; the skin pulled apart as I separated them to talk. I licked the corner where the stitches were, feeling the hot pain. “I as ahki o ma eeehsou.” I couldn’t form the necessary consonants for intelligible speech.
Officer Grand’s head whipped towards Detective Andres. “Did you understand any of that?”
She narrowed her eyes at him before turning back to me. “It’s alright, no need to talk just yet. Can you write?” At my nod, she gave me a pen and paper from her notebook. “Write down what happened. Everything, even if you think it doesn’t matter, write it down. Take your time. You can give it to the nurse when you’re done.”
In the middle of writing the events, the speedy nurse returned. “Your Aunt Mary will be coming tonight to take you home. You'll be discharged at 7:00 pm as long as all your vitals stay stable. Let’s go over the doctors’ orders and medication.”
She pulled up a chair, took out the medicine, and explained each dosage and side effects. I was only half listening. Aunt Mary wasn’t my aunt; she was the last foster parent I had—my last known address. But I hadn’t lived there since I was released from the system over a year ago. The police, or hospital, must have called her. I didn’t know what to expect, but she’d agreed to come, and I had to have someone pick me up to be discharged. I couldn’t get in touch with Nan; you never could during the day. She was a creature of the night.
“Girl, what trouble have you gotten yourself into now? I’ve got babies at home, and you have me driving into the middle of the city for you. Do you know how much--Good lord, you look awful. Are you prostituting yourself? Is it drugs?”
Ms. Mary’s shrill voice woke me up from my nap. The pain medication made me drowsy. I swung my feet off the bed and stood up to leave.
I wore sweats the hospital gave me, a small kindness I was thankful for since the clothes I came in were stained with blood.
“Well, hurry it up. I don’t have all day. Do you have your things? Do you need to sign something? Where is someone to help us?”
As if on cue, a nurse pushed a wheelchair into the room. “We'll take you to the entrance of the hospital.” She turned to Ms. Mary. "You can bring the car to the front for patient pick up.”
“She’s fine. I just saw her standing. She don’t need no special treatment. It’s her own fault she’s here anyways. Always been up to no good, now it’s caught up with her.”
The nurse nodded, tight lipped. “It’s our policy, for insurance reasons. Everyone uses the wheelchair when leaving.”
That stopped Ms. Mary, and she smiled. “I understand that crazy insurance stuff. They always trying to cover their own asses.” Her laughter boomed in the tiny room. “I’ll go get the car and meet you all out front.”
I slid into the passenger side of the station wagon, and Ms. Mary pulled away before I even got my seatbelt on.
“So where can I take you? I ain't got any free beds at my house. Those damn social workers won’t give me money to expand like I wanted.”
Thank God for small blessings. That lady didn’t need any more foster kids. “Turn right,” I managed intelligibly, pointing to the intersection.
I would go to Nan’s, but I wasn’t sure what my reception would be like now that I had no cash to offer.
Bass seeped from within the apartment, vibrating the walkway leading to the door. Luckily Nan lived on the first floor; my bruised ribs made walking even this short distance a struggle.
I knocked and rested against the frame, waiting for an answer. The music cut off and James, Nan’s older brother, opened the door. His stringy hair hung over his red eyes.
“Damn girl, what sort of trouble you bringing here?”
“None,” I mumbled, looking down the hall and into the room behind him. Several people lounged, different stages of high if the smell in the air was any indication. “Is Nan home?”
He stepped back, letting me walk in. “You must've pissed someone off to end up like that.” He walked to his recliner and threw himself back, popping out the footrest. Laughing and pushing back his greasy hair, he turned to his friends. “Check out Regan, she got the crap beat out of her.” He turned to the far door and yelled, “Nan, come get your friend before she falls over.”
The room erupted as I walked out of the shadow of the hallway.
“Damn!” Ty exclaimed, hopping up to get a better look at me.
“What the fuck happened?” Miguel asked, sitting back with a bowl in his hand, his eyes glued on me.
“You should sit down, you don’t look well.” Sienna nodded her head towards an empty seat on the couch.
I sat, needing to rest. I knew I looked a mess, but I’d have to get use to this reaction for a while. Nothing to do about it. Nan came out of the back room, stretching. Her baggy shirt lifted with her arms, showing her tiny tattoo-covered waist. She stiffened when she saw me.
“What the hell?” She was at my side in a second, studying my face. “Regan, where have you been? Were you at the hospital?”
James perked up in his seat. “Get any good pills for your troubles?” His eyes narrowed on the white paper bag in my hands.
Nan cocked her head, still looking at me. “Come with me, Regan, we need to talk.”
I rose to my feet, careful and slow, trying to minimize the pain that seized my lungs. James stood, too.
“We need to talk, Nan. Your friend better not be putting us in the middle of some shit without me getting a kick back. I live here, too. You remember that.”
“I remember, let me find out the details bro, then I’ll talk to you. Have some fuckin’ sympathy; she obviously needs a place to rest.”
Nan took a cigarette out of her pack on her dresser, lighting it as she watched me situate myself on her bed. She walked to the window, banging on the edges to get it to slide up. “You planning to stay here for a while?” At my nod, she released a stream of smoke out the open window, plopping on the worn down chair beside it. “Figured as much.” She pointed her cigarette at me. “I want to hear what happened, but first let’s work out our arrangement.” She blew out the window again before whipping around. “Wait, are people after you? That’s going to affect the price…” She chewed on her lip as she considered.
I wasn’t sure what had happened last night or what the repercussions would be from the arrests. Maybe those boys would be after me, but they didn’t know who I was. The purse they took had no forms of identification. They only knew where I worked because my shirt had said Johnny’s.
Work. I was supposed to work tonight. Damn, Johnny’s had been my first decent serving job. Maybe I could explain everything to them tomorrow.
I focused back on Nan and shook my head. “No one’s after me. I was robbed.”
Her eyes widened. “Jesus, you even sound awful.”
The medicine helped with the swelling and pain, making it easier to talk. Now it was more like a mouth full of marbles than golf balls.
“Alright, so down to business then. What pills did you get?” She placed the cigarette between her lips and walked over to me, grabbing the bag. Her eyebrows rose as she pulled out my large bottle of pills. “Oxycodone. Well, alright. Ah, 30 milligrams controlled release. Damn, doctors could have done better.” She walked back to the window and threw her cigarette out before continuing, “There’s fifty in here. How many do you need?”
“Leave me ten, just in case.”
She counted out my share and placed them in an empty cigarette pack. “Don’t let James see that." Handing me the box, she sat on the edge of her queen size bed. "Alright, so you can stay here and take twenty percent of what we make.”
“Forty,” I countered. I knew she’d tell me she sold them for less than she did anyways. I needed some money to live off of while I was out of work.
“Thirty and I’ll run to the store for you this week for whatever you need. You don’t look like you could make it.” She kept her lips tight when she smiled.
“I get the bed, too,” I added.
She rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Well of course. You look like crap; you need it more than me. So we have a deal?” She waited for my nod before continuing. “You know this is all just business, right? If things were different, I’d just let you stay, really, you’re my girl. I have to look out for myself first, though. You know, nothing personal.”
Just like Nan, she ripped me off but smoothed it over with a “nothing personal.” It never was with her. She had a deceivingly sweet face that appeared younger than her twenty-one years, but she was ruthless. I knew she’d always look out for herself first. But so did I. Our mutual understanding of each other was what made our friendship work.
“I know." I nodded to her. "Now get off my bed, I need to sleep.”
She stood up and walked backwards out of the room, my meds in her hand. “Fine, but when you get up, you’re telling me that story.”