Book: Outside The Ropes

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Next: 29: Breathe

SITTING ON THE TRAIN TRAPPED ME WITH my thoughts. Thoughts I wanted to rip out and drown; thoughts that I wanted to bury and hide. Too many thoughts to keep straight or to ignore. Even my music couldn’t touch them.

Dexter had tried to stop me. He even went as far as picking me up and attempting to lock me in my room, but he owed me and I cashed in. It worked to my advantage that he cared more about my forgiveness than his brother’s disapproval. We all knew that Gage would forgive him for letting me go, just like he forgave him for everything else.

He tried to call Gage first, but of course there was no answer, just like every other time I had called. If everything was still on track he should be leaving for New York anytime now.

I had already called the hospital. Nan was in surgery to repair her lungs; they had been shredded with multiple stab wounds in the back. And I was having a hard time breathing.

The morning sky was a blaze of red and oranges, too pretty for the way I felt, but somewhere in the burning clouds I saw hope. Just a strand, but I clung to it. I had to.

My muscles shook with anticipation and nerves. Damien couldn’t get away with this. I wouldn’t let him. I pulled out my phone to call Anthony.

***

The train station was only about two miles from the hospital. I could have walked, but Anthony picked me up.

His honey eyes were filled with concern as he waited by his truck. I hesitated slightly when I saw he intended to hug me, but I still stepped into the warmth.

“This brings back memories. You freaking out, me picking you up…” he mumbled into my hair.

I pulled away; that’s not what this was. I wasn’t running to him like “old times.”

“Sorry. It was supposed to be a joke. It’s okay, I’m glad you called.” He tried to put his arm around me again but I climbed into the passenger side of his truck to escape.

When he was buckled in, I blurted out, “This isn’t like before. I really did call you for help. It’s my friend, Nan; she’s in the hospital. This guy, Damien, he put her there.”

His eyebrows narrowed at me. “You called me to file a police report? The hospital has probably already done that.”

I bit my lip, trying to find the best way to say it. “I might know more to the story. I wanted to see if you could find out any information. She may not make it.” I swallowed the sadness that tried to escape with that admission. “He needs to be in jail for this so he can’t’ hurt her again. But he has some dangerous friends and I don’t want them hurting her more.” I turned in my seat, to face him. “I need your advice.”

“Give me their names and I’ll look into this today.”

I nodded, wishing I could do more. “Nancy Baker and Damien Jallow.” I wrote the names on a piece of paper.

He sighed, grabbing the paper from me. “Alright. I’ll take you to the hospital now and call you later.” He started the car and turned back to me. “Are you in any danger from this man? Should you stay with me today?”

I squeezed the bridge of my nose, a pain starting just behind my eyes. “The hospital will be safe enough. I’m not going anywhere else.”

He nodded running his hands over his pants legs. “So, he’s a threat to you too?”

I nodded, and he sighed heavily then made the short drive to Johns Hopkins.

When he pulled up to the curb to drop me off he grabbed my hand. “I’ll call soon, keep your phone on and stay here.”

“Thank you.” I squeezed his hand before pulling away and exciting the truck.

The hospital campus was huge, and it took too long to get to Nan’s room. I took the stairs, too impatient to wait for the elevator, and practically ran down the halls till I came to the doors for the Surgical Intensive Care Unit. Once I stepped through I had to admit it all. I had played a part in her being here; I certainly could have done things differently, perhaps prevented it.

But wallowing in guilt wasn’t helping Nan. I pushed through the heavy doors and scanned the door plaques to find Room 322b, heart tight in my chest.

She looked so tiny in her bed. The room was filled with natural sunlight from the large picture window. I tried to focus on the view of the city because the sound of the machines attached to her was unbearable. They beeped and breathed a steady, eerie, rhythm, and her small body laid in the middle of it all, eyes closed, and still.

The sheets were pulled up to her shoulders, arms on the outside of them. I grabbed her hand as I scanned over her. She had some bruising on her face, but it didn’t look too bad. She still looked like her, only pale and young. But her arms were spotted with bandages, some from the IV’s and different machines, but some were covering wounds. Her hands were discolored with cuts and bruises, her nails ragged and broken. Whatever happened, she had fought.

I pulled a chair close to the bed and wrapped both of my hands around one of hers, hoping she could tell I was here. I wondered how long she had been alone for. Where was James?

A nurse came in after a moment, with a small smile and gentle presence.

“You don’t have to move. You can stay there. I’m only replacing her medicine and IV.”

She removed some bags from the metal hanger and put up full ones.

“Are you her family?”

I nodded. “I only just got here. Can you tell me anything? How surgery went?”

After untwisting the lines and adjusting the bags she turned to me and her eyes told me what I didn’t want to know. It didn’t look good.

“The next twenty four hours will be critical for her. The doctor will be in later, he can explain more. But for now they’ve paralyzed her lungs to give them a rest; so this machine is breathing for her.” She gestured slightly to one of the machines on wheels. “They will probably take her off that tonight. Until then they will keep her in an induced coma. It’s good you’re here though. Talk to her, hold her hand. It helps.” She squeezed my arm softly and her smile tightened. Then she left.

I tried to say encouraging words. I think I even got some out, but all I kept thinking was that Damien had to pay for what he did. The anger was the only thing keeping me from falling apart.

I jerked up straight when the door opened again. James floated into the room in his typical too big clothing and a backwards cap on. His eyes were blood shot and rimmed red. He shifted them around the room nervously, before landing on Nan.

“It’s good you’re here. I can’t do this and Grams can’t make it till tonight. I just came from Mom’s house; Bitch wasn’t even there so I just left a note.” His voice cracked as he walked to the other side of Nan, opposite me. He picked up her hand as he continued, “Nan’s in the hospital, she’s going to die, you should be here. What type of note is that? We don’t need her here though.” Tears were rolling down his cheek as he squeezed her hand. “She wasn’t around when you were living, why should she be here when you die?” He asked Nan’s still body.

I broke. Stood up from my chair and pushed him away from her. “Stop saying that.” I rounded the bed as he staggered back and I pushed him again. “She’s not going to die. Stop telling her that.” I pushed him one last time, back against the wall. He didn’t fight it, just let his body fall back each time.

“This is your fault.” I pounded on his chest, the anger in me draining fast. James stood, arms by his side, tears falling steadily. I wanted him to fight me, but he wouldn’t. I hit him one last time, but let my hand stay on his chest as I sucked in breaths. I was crying too, and I hadn’t even realized it.

“I know it is. I’m a horrible brother and this is all my fault.” He leaned into my hand on his chest, tears dripping onto my arm. “Hit me again. I deserve it and so much more. I should be in that bed, not Nan.”

My throat burned with suppressed tears. I dropped my arms, bracing them on my knees as I leaned over and squeezed my eyes, trying to pull myself back together. I stood up and walked to the bathroom to wash my tears away.

When I came out James was sitting by the bed and I went back to my seat on the other side.

James met my eyes over Nan. “I’m going to kill Damien if I ever see him again.”

I nodded. “What happened?”

He leaned forward gripping Nan’s arm. “She said she was leaving, moving to Florida. I was pissed that she was going.” A tear slid down his cheek and he quickly wiped it away. “I left and when I came back I found her in the living room. Shit was knocked everywhere, and she was on the ground, in a pool of blood.” He looked up at me. “I called an ambulance right away. I didn’t even care about what they would find. I deserve to go to jail, look what I did to my sister. The monster I introduced her too. The police are all over our apartment now.”

“But you didn’t see Damien do this?”

His face turned hard. “I know it was him. He was there when I left. I should have never left her with him.”

I nodded in agreement, but couldn’t speak. We sat in mostly silence after that.

Then Anthony called, pulling me away from Nan’s side.

I touched James’s shoulder. “I’ll be back soon.” I wouldn’t say I had forgiven him, but in this situation I could put our differences aside. He loved Nan too.

I met Anthony out front and climbed into his truck. “Could you take me to my house so I can get some things? I’m going to stay at the hospital for a while.”

He pulled off with a nod. “Regan, I don’t know too many details, but I do know this; your friend was mixed up with the wrong people. You should stay away.”

My muscles tingled. “I know. But I want to get her away too. What did you find out?”

“I’ll tell you at your place.”

 

Aliya was home. She jumped from behind the refrigerator door when I came in. “OMG chick, what are you doing here? I thought you all were having some sort of couples week with Gage’s fight in NYC.” She closed the refrigerator door with her hip, pickle jar in her hand. “Thanks for the invite,” She threw in sarcastically.

Then she really looked at me and paused. “Are you okay?” She put down the jar in her hand and hugged me.

I took in a deep breath and her perfume filled my nose. “My friend’s in the hospital. I had to come back. I’m only here to pick up some clothes and change.”

She squeezed tighter. “I am sorry you’re going through that. I have class now, but I can go to the hospital with you later.”

I stepped away and shook my head. “Don’t worry about it. There’s nothing to do there anyways.”

I changed into a fresh pair of jeans and t-shirt and packed a small overnight bag then went back out to the truck to sit with Anthony. Eagerness and dread mixing in anticipation of what he would say.

He drove to that lake we had split up at and parked the truck, undoing his seatbelt so he could face me. “I’m only a patrol officer, so my knowledge is limited, but I tried to talk to some detectives today and it doesn’t look good. I think you need to drop this.”

I stiffened. “Drop it, why?”

His throat moved as he swallowed. “They’ve already closed your friends case and Damien's name wasn’t anywhere in it. They said she was a prostitute and drug abuser who was killed by one of her Johns.”

“That’s not true. She’s not--”

“They picked her up last week for prostitution.” He cut me off, his words silencing my argument.

“But even if it is true. It’s strange that they would close this case before finding out who exactly it is. So I asked around some and all I got was doors in my face. The ones who talked to me, they let me know I shouldn’t be asking about these people. Not Nan, nobody seemed to care about her, but Damien. He’s affiliated with some people of power and won’t be pursued in this case.”

I took a deep breath. “What if I report he attacked me? Held me at gun point.”

Anthony’s eyes flashed, unreadable. “Did he? Is there more? Because that may get him brought in, but not long enough and he would know it was you. It wouldn’t be safe.”

I sighed, defeated. “No. That was it.” I couldn’t tell the rest of the story without getting Gage and them in trouble.

“Regan, I am a police officer and shouldn’t be saying this but it’s not safe for you to pursue this. If others found out you were even asking about him it could be bad for you.” His hand moved to my hair. “I can't protect you from this if you take it further than me. Please, drop it and get away.”

I closed my eyes, letting go of the small hope I had held onto. It was surprisingly easy to let go of. “Okay. I won’t pursue this. Take me back to the hospital please.”

 

He pulled up to the curb of the hospital but stopped me with a hand on my arm before I got out. “Regan, I can’t help you anymore. Not if you’re involved with these people. I’m sorry.”

I met his eyes. “I know. It’s okay. Thank you for trying.”

I went to give him one last hug, but he turned his head pressing his lips to mine. He pulled away just as suddenly, eyes clouded with emotion. “Take care of yourself, alright?”

I nodded with a tight smile. “You too.” And walked out of the car.

I looked up to Nan’s room, the light was on I could tell and a shadow crossed the window. I swallowed my nerves and said a little prayer for her as I made my way back to where she lay.

Outside of the SICU door I was yanked into a little alcove. My reaction was immediate; I kicked at the large form. He slammed me into a wall, hands gripping my shoulders, body trapping mine.

“What the hell have you done? Why were you with the cop? What did you tell him?” Gage growled at me, voice low with anger, freezing my reactions.

But it was nothing compared to the pure rage in his eyes, a look that I had never seen him direct at me before.

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Next: 29: Breathe