Disclaimer: These characters and this story are all mine.
Sex: There will be in subsequent chapters but not in this one.
Violence: Again, yes for soon to be published chapters but none in this one.
Drug Use: There is a graphic depiction of heroin use and incidents of other drug use. Please don’t proceed if this will bother you.
Thank you to everyone who’s read and commented on this story thus far especially LadyKate, Nutty, Snikkerz, and Elsieaustin whose advice and suggestions are invaluable.
Shameless flattery: email@example.com
Last Good Day
by Amy Boatman
The rubber of the tourniquet bit into my skin but I didn't notice. It was part of the ritual. My mouth watered in anticipation as soon as I felt the latex touch my feverish skin. The vein in the crook of my arm was forced to the surface from the building pressure. A little dam of blood soon to be filled with sweet nectar. My hand, which had been shaking uncontrollably just moments ago, was now steady as a rock. The acrid odor of longing oozed from my pores and that was also part of the ritual. To me, the smell was heaven. The whole thing was nirvana. Glorious oblivion was on its way.
The needle piercing my vein wrapped me in a mother's embrace. The warmth began flowing up my arm. Joy rode the wave on a search and destroy mission. Its mission: to find and obliterate every nook and cranny containing pain, sorrow, guilt. I exhaled all my cares away as my eyes became lead weights. There was nothing like this feeling of ecstasy, nothing as sweet, nothing as effective. My head lolled to the side but I was no longer in my body. I floated up and away into the cosmos, no longer constrained by my cumbersome flesh. Mere mortals were tied to their pitiful existence but not me. I found a wind current and was off to Neverland.
I awoke seconds, minutes, hours, years later. I had no sense of time. My flight across the stars had led me there and back again, to Hobbit land, to Candy Mountain, and through an explosion of orgasmic proportions. My body tingled all over and I felt the lover's embrace that only the ambrosia provided. I could do anything, say anything, charm anyone, 'Cause baby/There ain't no mountain high enough/Ain't no valley low enough/Ain't no river wide enough/To keep me from getting to you.’ My giggle turned into a crazed belly laugh as the tune ran through my clogged synapses.
I drifted off again, swept away by a wave of beautiful numbness. The Nothing had no power over me here. Wrapped in my cocoon, The Nothing was left to beat feebly on the tough exterior. Its screams of rage were completely blocked out, it's threat of total annihilation held at bay for another minute, another hour, another year. There was no sense of time.
A starburst behind my eyes pulled me back and my senses slammed into my body. This was the part I hated. The part I held back as long as possible. But just as the moon rose in the night, the sun peeped over the horizon directly into my aching eyes.
I put my hand up to my face and felt a sharp bite on my arm. I looked down to see the needle still hanging from the tender flesh. Luckily, I had removed the tourniquet, so my skin was not mottled and blue like so many times before.
The stench emanating from my body assaulted my nose. When was the last time I had showered? I had no idea. I had begun this excursion on Friday, but what day was it now? I felt something crusty on my chin and looked down to see that I had thrown up on myself at some point. Ah, that's what smelt so bad. My mouth was dry and my tongue felt engorged. I couldn't speak even if I wanted to. I slowly opened my eyes, still holding my now needleless arm between me and the invading sun.
I slowly pulled myself upright realizing I had fallen from the chair onto the floor. The grapefruit sized puddle of drool was a testament to how long I had lain there. The dizziness began to recede as I propped myself up against the chair. After several minutes I believed I could stand and pulled myself upright. Oh yeah, there we go. Look ma, no hands.
I stumbled into the kitchen in search of water. The cabinet was empty of glasses as they were littered all over the counter. I found the one that looked least dirty and filled it up. The cool water soothed my tongue and washed away the accumulated gunk blanketing my cheeks and tonsils. I greedily poured down two more glasses before my thirst was slaked. Coherency began to coat my mind. I realized I was going to be okay. I wasn't sure if I was happy about this or not. Sometimes I wished the tide would sweep me out to sea never to be heard from again.
I padded over to my computer and saw that it was 4:12 pm Sunday. I had been out for two days. Just the right amount of time. I was getting good at calculating the dosages. I had to be at work in the morning. I had responsibilities. I had a job. This was just my weekend diversion. I was not a junkie because I had a life.
I lumbered into the bathroom, the harsh glare of the uncovered bulb burning my eyes. I gotta get that fixed, I thought. My brown eyes were bloodshot and the skin underneath them looked stretched out and dark. My eyelids were swollen and my lips were dry and cracked. Even my cheeks were sunken from the lack of hydration over the last two days. I never ate or drank when I was flying. I just threw up anything in my stomach anyway. No pain, no gain, right? Although judging from the dried vomit down the front of my grimy shirt, I had eaten something. It looked like cereal which made sense as it was the only thing I had in the house.
My long brown hair was limp and dull, patches of it stuck together. One side was all squished up giving me a Mohawk from a side view. There was a trickle of blood from my left nostril, already dried and black beginning to flake off. I wondered how that happened. Flying always gave me unexplained bruises and bleeding. To be expected while soaring above the clouds. Who knew what detritus one encountered up there?
I stripped off my crusty t-shirt and sweat pants, leaving them in a pile on the floor along with the other dirty clothes I hadn't washed yet. The skin on my chest was pale beneath the blotches. My ribs and collarbones were clearly visible just beneath the surface like twigs beneath the water. Even when I wasn't high, I often forgot to eat. The constant supply of pills I took kept my stomach in knots and the nausea just a retch away. But I certainly couldn’t fly at work so they were the best alternative. No pain, no gain.
Once upon a time, people asked if I was a model. I had been a real beauty. My tall, lanky body and full breasts had opened many doors for me. My soulful brown eyes and sculpted face had kept them open. But that was a long time ago. That was before I learned to fly. These days I got worried looks and talk of anorexia behind my back. I didn't care. They were mere mortals who didn't know how to fly and I felt sorry for them.
The next morning, decked out in my crisply starched uniform, I headed off to the EMS station. Having had my morning cocktail of Vicodin and Adderall, I was feeling fine and ready to go. I had left the weekend behind longingly, knowing that it would come again soon.
I arrived at the station fifteen minutes late as usual to the irritated glare of Jack, the paramedic I was relieving.
"Jordan, why the fucking hell can you never get your sorry ass here on time?!" he yelled across the ambulance bay before I had even unloaded my stuff.
"Because it takes me a while to brace myself to see your ugly fucking face this early in the morning!" I giggled at my joke. The drugs in my system convinced me I was the funniest person on the planet. Jack was probably the hottest medic in the system and he knew it. He took great pride in his looks, keeping his wavy brown hair trimmed just above his collar and his bristly moustache groomed to exact specifications. I pictured him in his bathroom with a straight edge bringing the ends to perfect attention like soldiers all in a row. His 6'2" frame sported rippling muscles and biceps that threatened to tear through his shirt. He always reminded me of the Hulk just as he was transforming. He worked out twice a day every day, coming up to the station even on his days off to utilize the weight equipment. I delighted in telling him how unattractive I found him when secretly, had I swung that way, I would have jumped his bones in a heartbeat. Sadly, he had a penis, which took him off my radar.
"Bitch, one of these days you're gonna push me too far!" The vein on his forehead bulged ominously.
"Dude, chill out. You're gonna give yourself a stroke. You know I'm just jerking your chain."
"Whatever. Your partner, who arrived half an hour ago," he said with pointed sarcasm, " has been briefed, so I'm outta here." He shouldered his giant gear bag and stormed out. I pulled my equally enormous gear bag from my trunk and lugged it over to the ambulance. After stowing everything away, I walked into the station. The smell hit me in the face as usual. The weight room was adjacent to our office and those guys never shut the door. They filled the room with their noxious man sweat stink. It drove me nuts and I'm sure that's why they did it. They delighted in tormenting me as much as I did them.
"Oh man, why do those guys insist on stinking up the place?" I propped open the door and then went into each of the two bedrooms and opened the windows. A refreshingly sweet breeze blew across my nostrils, appeasing them for the moment.
"They do it because they know it bugs you. If you'd just let it roll on past you, they'd stop doing it." Rufus didn't even look up at me as he continued filling out the morning paperwork. He was the antithesis of Jack. His shaggy blonde hair fell below his collar and his beard and moustache were ragged and unkempt. His shirt was wrinkled and only haphazardly tucked into his pants. His black boots were scuffed and, because his dark blue pants were just that much too short, I could see white socks peeping over the top of his laces. The inner tube around his middle was filled with donuts and ice cream, and his posture made him a close cousin to the Hunchback of Notre Dame. He was a good guy and I really liked him but the way he looked embarrassed me. Why didn't he take better care of himself? Had he no pride?
"So, what's our theme for the day going to be?" I asked with a grin. It never failed that we had the same types of calls over and over again each shift. It'd be chest pain one day, shortness of breath another, whiny ass crybabies with nothing really wrong with them the next. "I feel a psych day coming on."
Rufus looked up at me with abject horror on his face. "Do not even say that in jest! You know how much I hate psych calls."
"Hey you work with the psych queen; you should be used to them by now." In the business, people who seemed to run a lot of really serious calls like major trauma, true medical emergencies, stuff like that, were called shit magnets. I was a bullshit magnet. If there was a non-call to be had, I would get it. I ran the sniffles for a week, people who fell three days ago and now have a back ache, people "bitten" by dogs where the skin isn't even broken - these were my specialties. I was also the number one medic when it came to psychiatric calls. Suicide attempts, schizophrenics, mentally ill people off their meds; if there was a psych call within ten miles of me, I would get it.
Sure enough, like a sign from the gods, the tones went off. The dispatcher in her toneless, flat voice said, "Medic 15, priority one psych 1818 Rutherford Cove."
"Motherfuck! You had to go and jinx us didn't you! Geez oh pete, I hate fuckin psych calls." He grabbed his utility belt off the hook and rambled out to the ambulance. He climbed into the driver's seat, thereby ensuring I had to be responsible for the patient. "Just for this, you get to take every fuckin psych call we get today." He was genuinely pissed. How the hell was I at fault? I couldn't help it if the gods had a sense of humor.
The interior of the ambulance cab was spotless. No matter what else Jack and his partner Lloyd were, they were total neat freaks when it came to the ambulance. Every surface gleamed, every light glistened. They even armor-alled the floor mats. As I pulled myself into my seat, I smelled new car everywhere proving that Lloyd had gone spray happy again.
Rufus pulled the ambulance out of the bay and onto the road. He flipped on the lights but waited until we were out of the residential around our station to hit the siren. The neighbors got pissed when we sounded the siren near them, and, as it was 7:20 in the morning, we obliged them.
This was one of my favorite parts about being a paramedic. Driving down the road as fast as the lumbering beast of an ambulance would go, lights blazing, siren blaring, massive horn sounding its call daring anyone to defy it. The cars moved out of our way like kids giving way to the cool people. It was all I could do not to laugh maniacally as the adrenaline flooded my system. My chemically overloaded brain did its best to keep up. I was the snake's tongue taking in everything touching it. A radio antenna receiving every signal. This was living!
We rounded the corner on to a small residential street only to find three cop cars and a fire truck already there. Rufus pulled up to an empty spot on the curb and blocked the street. Another thing I liked about being a paramedic was that you could park anywhere you damn well pleased. I grabbed the medical bag as he grabbed the heart monitor and we headed up the driveway. "I fuckin hate psych calls," Rufus mumbled under his breath.
"I can hear you, man. Get over it."
We opened the door onto a scene of chaos. Someone was screaming, "Get the fuck away from me or I'll do it." I saw a girl, no more than 16, cornered in the living room holding a very large butcher knife. Blood dripped from a large laceration running lengthwise down her arm. She was hunched over with the knife to her own throat. Facing her were two police officers and three firefighters. My nose detected a scent I knew all too well. My veins popped to the surface, raring to go for ride. Someone had cooked up some heroin very recently. The room was stiflingly hot, and I began to sweat immediately. The girl had probably had the chills. Judging by her behavior, I didn't think she had slammed yet. One glance at the disgusted look on her mother's face told me she had probably caught her before she could fly. Nothing worse than being grounded just before takeoff.
My suspicions were confirmed when I heard the girl’s mother telling one of the remaining police officers that she had just returned from the store. She walked in to the living room and found her daughter about to stick a needle in her arm. "I knew she smoked pot and her grades were in the basement this year but I had no idea it had gone this far." In her eyes, I saw the conflicting desire to hold her daughter to her and beat the crap out of her all at the same time. "She grabbed the butcher knife and cut herself before I could stop her. She threatened me with it. I think she really would have stabbed me if I hadn't managed to make it out of the house."
I put down the bag I was carrying and approached the men. "Guys, can I get in here? Can y'all just back up a bit and give us some room." The five of them complied and I approached the girl. She screamed when I got too close, and I backed up a couple of paces. I squatted down so I could be eye level with her but still ready to spring up and away if she lunged at me. I was no amateur to craziness.
"What's your name?" I asked in the most soothing voice I could manage. I had often been told my voice was one of my best features, and I had to agree. It was the instrument with which I could get anything I wanted.
"Natalie," she squeaked. She eyed me with mistrust. Her face was streaked with tears and her whole body was shaking. She was covered in a thin sheen of sweat. I figured she must be jonesing pretty bad by now. From this distance, I could see the laceration on her arm was deep and would need medical attention soon if she was to survive. Judging by the pool of blood beneath her, she had already bled quite a bit.
"Hi, Natalie. My name is Jordan. I really want to help you but you have to put down the knife first, okay? Can you do that for me?"
"If I do, they're going to hurt me." She gestured towards the five men leaning in like hungry vultures.
"Guys," I said looking at them pointedly. I gestured with my chin for them to back up and they did. I had worked with these men before and they knew I was good with patients like this one.
"I promise you they won't hurt you. None of us will. We only want to help. Now, come on and give me the knife." I held out my hand, but I knew she wasn't ready yet.
As if she read my mind, she tucked herself tighter into the corner. "Please, just leave me alone," she pleaded. "There's something I gotta do."
"Yeah, Natalie, I know exactly what you have to do, and I'm afraid I just can't let you right now. I also can't let you continue to bleed all over the floor. I know you don't want to die so you really need to let me look at your arm. I promise nothing bad will happen to you."
Still not swayed, she cried, "They're gonna take me to the nut house and my mother's gonna let them! She told me that's where I belonged."
"Natalie, your mother is just upset. She's worried about you. We all are. I know you feel bad right now. I know you hurt and not just your arm. I know your whole body is aching. I know your mind is screaming at you. I can help you, I promise. I can help you feel better. Please trust me and let me help you." I could feel her readiness to open up to me. "I want to wrap up your arm, okay? I really can make you feel better."
Her hand holding the knife began to droop and I knew I had her. "You'll stay with me? You won't let my mother get me?" Her eyes were those of a child wanting comfort and protection, wanting to know she's safe and fearing she never would be.
"I'll stay with you all the way to the hospital. Not the psych hospital," I clarified as she tensed again. "the regular hospital. That cut is going to need some stitches. I'll take care of you all the way there." I held out my hand again and her shoulders slumped with defeat. She let the knife fall to the floor and I reached over and grabbed it. I pushed it behind me knowing the police officer would take care of it.
I moved toward Natalie until I was right next to her. I could smell the need for the drug coming off her in waves. I knew the feeling well. I put my arms out, and she leaned towards me allowing me to wrap them around her. I held her trembling body for a second, feeling the clamminess of her skin and her tears falling onto my arm. One of the firefighters had placed the trauma bag behind me on the floor, and I reached inside to retrieve a trauma dressing. I pressed it to her arm staunching the flow of blood. The front of my white uniform shirt was stained red but I didn't care. I had another one in the ambulance for just such a reason.
I slowly helped her stand and led her over to the stretcher the firefighters had retrieved from the ambulance. Her face was haggard and her eyes were swollen. She was deathly pale, and her trembling had turned into shakes. Tears continued to make rivulets down her cheeks. I continued dressing her arm.
"Natalie, what I'm doing is wrapping your arm to stop the bleeding. These guys here," I gestured with my chin towards the three men helping me, "are going to help me get you situated, okay?" She nodded dejectedly.
I hooked her up to the heart monitor as one of the firefighters took her vital signs. As I started an IV, I noticed the track marks running down the inside of her uninjured arm. She'd been slamming for a while now. I drew up some Valium and injected it into the IV line. She began to relax almost immediately. I spoke to her in soothing tones telling her everything I was doing as I was doing it.
Once we had her ready, the men raised the stretcher and prepared to wheel her out. I was looking over the floor making sure I had gathered all my stuff when I spotted a plunger peeking out from beneath the couch. I bent down and surreptitiously picked it up. Inside the syringe was a small amount of brown liquid. My body tingled and my mouth watered. I looked up to see if anyone was watching me. The firefighters were busy with Natalie and Rufus was occupied with Natalie's mom. The police officers were talking amongst themselves. I put the syringe in my breast pocket and patted it. My heart leapt knowing I would have a treat waiting for me later.
Inside the ambulance, I sat holding Natalie's hand as Rufus drove us to the hospital. "How ya feeling?" I asked her.
"I feel better. You were right." She looked up at me with slightly glazed eyes. I had given her another shot of Valium to further take the edge off her need. Blood stained the gauze wrapped around the thick trauma dressing, an indication that it was still bleeding heavily.
I put on the headphones that allowed me to speak to Rufus up in the cab. "Hey, dude. Go ahead and light it up. She's still losing a lot of blood."
"You got it." I took off the headphones as I heard the sirens and felt the ambulance surge forward. We were only about ten miles from the hospital, but most of that was on the Interstate which was clogged with morning commuters. I looked down at Natalie to find her eyes searching my face.
“Thank you. I do feel better. Whatever you gave me helped a lot.” She closed her eyes and relaxed into the pillow.
“You’re welcome,” I said and gave her hand a squeeze. “You’re gonna be alright.”
My thoughts drifted to the little present I had for myself in my pocket. It was becoming a lot harder to imagine waiting. I was feeling the pills I had taken sliding from my system. I had more but, nothing felt as good as what was in that syringe. “Only junkies shoot up at work and you are NOT a junkie,” the voice in my head told me sternly. “Now pull your shit together!”
I felt the ambulance make the turn into the parking area at the hospital and I looked out the side window to see three more ambulances parked there. Rufus came around and opened the door. “Damn busy morning.” We pulled the stretcher out of the ambulance and took Natalie up the ramp. Rufus typed the code into the pad and the doors swished open. Ever since September 11th, everything had keypads. “Trust no one,” seemed to be our national motto now. Mulder would have been proud.
The air smelled of bleach but it didn’t quite block out that indefinable sick person smell. We walked down the hallway to yet another coded door. The hallway always seemed to be the spare bedroom of the Emergency Department. The walls were lined with extra supplies and the corners were filled with extraneous equipment. The walls left uncovered had black smudge marks on them from years of stretchers squeezing through the cramped area.
When the second door swung open, we were greeted with the sight of two other stretchers and four other paramedics awaiting an audience with the queens of the ER. Don’t get me wrong, I loved most nurses, but ER nurses carried a sense of entitlement and arrogance draped around them like a shawl. Most of them acted as if they were doing us a favor by taking our patients. Their annoyed gazes and loud sighs let us know we were not welcome and were unduly burdening them.
I left my patient in Rufus’ care and went in search of the social worker. She was the one I would need to talk to about Natalie. The doctor would sew up Natalie’s arm and then fob her off on a psych professional. I liked to talk to them and fill them in on everything from my point of view. I had heard too many doctors dismiss an attempted suicide or someone off their meds, not bothering to tell the one person who could really help them what was going on. At almost every hospital in town, the social workers would roll their eyes when they saw me coming yet again. I had charmed the pants off most of them (some literally), so they usually gave me an indulgent smile and asked, “What did you bring me this time?”
I rounded the corner into the psych office only to find a woman I didn’t know. She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen, and for a moment, my vocal cords were paralyzed. I just stared at her, dumbfounded. “Can I help you?” Her voice stroked my ears and nuzzled up inside my head.
“I…” The voice in my head screamed, “Speak you frickin idiot!” “Are you the social worker?” I finally managed to toss out.
“Yes, I’m Bailey. Bailey Lancaster. I just started on Friday.” She smiled at me and I was gone. Her reddish blonde hair was cut short, hugging her jaw line. I couldn’t tell if her eyes were blue or gray, and I instantly knew I would have to find out. Her lips were parted in a half smile and her head was cocked slightly to the right. She was shorter than me, and her well-developed body suggested a strict workout regimen. She was stunning. Once my eyes gave way to my other senses, her sweet, slightly fruity smell approached my nose. I drank in her scent. Because I hadn’t spoken in what seemed like a year, she said again, “Do you need something?”
I shook my head, my couth rattling back into place. “Hi, I’m Jordan Jameson. I’m a paramedic for the city.”
“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Jordan.” My name on her lips was the sweetest thing I had ever heard. She extended her hand and I took it. It was tiny, much smaller than mine. Her skin was cool and dry. I let go before she had to pry her hand loose.
“It’s nice to meet you too, Bailey.” I had finally found my dignity. “I was expecting Shirley but you are a very pleasant surprise.” I gave her my most dazzling smile. Our eyes locked and I saw interest flash through hers. A knowing passed between us and I realized her eyes were blue.
To be continued in Chapter 2
Return to the Academy