Dead Man’s Party part 2/?
(Ch 6-7 )
by feral [CRJ] firstname.lastname@example.org
This piece is based in the world of Emergency Medical Services and the ICU. Ultimately, however, it’s people who make life what it is, and sometimes living is darned hard work. Sometimes you actually have to choose to live, and how you will spend the life you own
There’s a part in here, a conversation where a part of Rae’s personality is asserted in a reed against the inhumanity of modern life and a brief mention of strong feelings about organized religion that is not examined further. If you have issues with other’s opinions in life and can’t accept the fact every person holds opinions, you may want to avoid this part. Personally, I believe heresy is important in a world too far removed from the grit of the earth, and invite you to follow along. Its little more than a conversation that rambles around a bit, the kind we all wind up in on occasion and it’s not meant to teach anyone a damned thing. I eat meat. I’m not looking for anyone to agree or disagree with the views stated. Life is a dialogue and entering into it is part of what makes us who we are in this world. If you’re squeamish, you’re probably not reading this anymore anyway.
This is an original piece based on things I’ve done and experienced. I own these characters and these words. The world I live in isn’t shiny, but it is interesting. I don’t flinch from gross. Don’t steal. Do comment. Please.
Ceiling. White tiles with black dots.
Black dots with white background.
Black stars on a golden grid.
Sometimes the stars were close. Sometimes they were washed in a blur and she couldn’t seem to distinguish them, but she knew they were there.
Sometimes they were too far away to see.
They were always boring, even when they moved.
She rolled her eyes to piece together a view, her vision still oddly cropped.
Walls painted soft beige, all but one; a large heavy curtain running in a track… Beyond was glass, leading out into a hallway.
She knew this place.
ISJ, in the ICU. She was in a room, in a bed in the ICU!
She jerked her head to one side, opened her mouth to swear and croaked instead.
Something moved. She heard it, and swung her head and eyes to the left to try and see despite the lance of nausea and pain.
“Oh God.” The voice was choked, skeletal, compared to her memories of rich, clear intonations. Even so, she recognized it before her eyes managed a wavering lock on the blonde lunging toward her.
She was crying.
Her partner looked like hell, blonde hair held back in a ponytail looked dark with neglect, and there were hollows under her bloodshot eyes that were dark and desperate. She was crying so hard her nose was running.
Rae tried to lift her hand to wipe away the tears, but she found herself too weak to do more than move her fingers.
El seemed to understand though, taking her hand and bringing it to her face, kissing Rae’s knuckles before burying her face in Rae’s palm.
“H…” Rae coughed and struggled to clear her throat. Trying again, she felt something unnatural rumbling in her chest. “Hey.”
“Don’t talk, hon. You ripped out the tube last night and your vocal chords are swollen.” El’s fingers skipped along the left side of her face, her thumb tracing her lips. “Let me get you some lip stuff, okay?”
Blinking, Rae waited as El smeared emollient on her lips. Why did she look so haggard?
Then Rae remembered how she’d failed her and knew in her heart why El looked like she’d been to hell and back. “S-s-sorry.”
She watched El’s brows contract, then smooth in that look of patient indulgence Rae knew so well. This was the look Rae saw when she knew El was completely in love with her. El didn’t have to say it, and Rae usually didn’t have a clue what triggered it, but she knew it.
A hand smoothed through her hair and that look on El’s face deepened. “Don’t leave me. Just focus on that, okay.” She was crying again.
“I’m crying, and you’re gonna have to deal.” El said with a ferocity Rae tried to process. “Christ Rae. It’s cry or do handsprings down the corridor and kiss all the nurses!”
She could feel her face rearrange itself in something like a scowl. Nurses? Did El want to kiss nurses? That was her job… not the nurses, but the kissing El thing…
The edge left El’s aspect as she watched her, and a moment later she was bent over Rae, forehead to forehead. “You’ve been hurt really badly baby.” Her normally rich round tones were pinched and labored, as though she were talking through a straw. “Really badly. I almost lost you, and I…” El’s voice broke, then reasserted itself. “I’m really really glad you’re here with me.”
Hurt? She was hurt and she was hurt bad… Rae tried to put that together in her head along with El’s tears and something about stars. There were mice too… and the number 42. No, that was a book…
“You don’t remember do you?” El read her expression, recognizing Rae’s confusion and bestowing a kiss to her forehead. “It’s okay, it’ll come. Give it time.”
“What?” It’s what Rae had intended to say, but the word came out mostly as a croak.
Fingers touched her lips to hush her, their pressure less than a feather, but so tellingly sweet, Rae found herself suddenly close to tears. Her throat burned and her palate stung and something in how her face seemed to set beneath the tears told her she was pretty beat up.
El was shaking her head, not wanting Rae to hurt. “No, don’t cry. You’re here with me. You’re here.” She was saying it as though she was convincing herself as much as breathing out a prayer.
Rae had only heard El speak that way on a rare few times, each had raised the hair on her body in goose flesh. Her body reacted this time by breaking out in a sweat, a heavy flush firing her skin. The banks of monitors around the head of the bed began sounding alarms and Rae felt her heart skip a few beats.
“Baby, relax.” El had looked up at the bank of equipment to Rae’s right, then back to her, expression cleared to calm assurance.
The curtain parted and two women in scrubs strode in with no business looks about them. “How long has she been awake Elsa?” the shorter, older of the two asked.
“Just a few minutes.” Elsa kissed Rae’s temple and stepped back to allow both nurses access. “She just started to blush and sweat a second ago.” She was standing at the foot of the bed, arms crossed around her stomach, watching with far too knowing an eye as the nurses went about tending Rae.
“Well, good early morning to ya sweetheart, we’ve been laying bets on when you were going to join us this side of awake.” The older woman smiled easily, her sharp blue eyes darting efficiently over everything, especially Rae.
On the other side of her the younger woman was checking Rae’s temp. “Little high right now. Let’s get these blankets off you and let you cool a bit.”
“Rae, look at me honey.”
Rae turned her head toward the older nurse as she breathed off the sudden heat her body was generating. “You remember me hon?”
Rae’s brows knit in confusion.
“That’s okay punkin, you will. Right now though, let’s get you cooled off. Elsa. You want to wait out in the lounge for just a bit hon? We’re gonna be pushy and do our job…”
Then El was gone and the bustle of assessment and a sponge bath and the changing of sheets, checking of dressings and business of nursing wore Rae out. They injected something into her IV and she had time to whisper El’s name…
“I think this is a no win situation.” El’s tone was clipped, precise, and unwavering.
Privately, Rae agreed, but she wasn’t giving up yet. She put her back into the bumper and set her feet like anchors in deep snow, a dangerous position given her plan.
Watching, El’s voice picked up a note of alarm, and Rae could hear her hurrying out of the car into the snow, bracing her hands on the doorframe to push as she caught the rhythm Rae had set, rocking the car forward, letting it roll back, rocking forward again…
El had straightened the wheels, and didn’t bother now with the accelerator, not until there was some kind of good traction under the tires. They’d put down salt and chicken grit they carried in the trunk, had scavenged gravel and twigs to form a double road for the front tires to grab once they got out of the rut in which the car had come to rest. Rae had shoveled and worked at clearing the undercarriage of the old SHO, refusing to let El crawl and reach under the car and wheels.
They pushed and relaxed, pushed… until both sensed they’d hit that point of momentum that could carry the car beyond and forward and together they pressed hard to where El dropped into the drivers seat and slowly fed the accelerator, the big car rolling under its own power with Rae at the rear, and finally driving out of the ditch onto the shoulder of the highway.
Putting the car in neutral, El set the brake and got out, watching Rae make her way up out of the ditch with a fond smile. Wind whipped at the snow around them, at Rae’s short hair and El’s longer blond. The dusty, sharp non scent of polar cold no longer held the note of alarm it had moments ago. The car idled smoothly, the growl of the engine barely noticeable over the jet siphoning of the fan.
Walking round the car, Rae settled her hands on El’s hips, her thumbs stroking over the lower, active bulge of their baby. “That was fun.”
Elsa’s expression took on a touch of pique. “You do that again, and I’ll break your legs myself! That was a stupid risk.”
“Yup. But it worked and we’re outta the ditch. Now let’s get you two home and into bed so I can ravage you.” She was leading El around the car, had opened the passenger door and helped her into the seat, then kissed her as she fastened the seatbelt. “Yum.” She grinned when El’s face went blank. Closing the door, she dropped behind the wheel and fit her own belt before El’s hands suddenly grasped her by the ears and pulled her in to a deep kiss.
“I don’t know how you do that, but don’t ever stop!” El whispered, kissing her nose then sitting primly back in her seat with a smile. “I believe we were headed home?”
“Hey, gorgeous.” Elsa whispered, lifting her face from Rae’s hand to meet her eyes. “How are you feeling?”
It took some time for Rae to formulate a response, but El waited patiently. “Squashed.”
El’s face relaxed into a smile as she leaned forward to place a kiss on Rae’s mouth. Her lips were warm and soft and felt wonderful. “I love you.”
The rattle of curtain rings announced a visitor. “Awake?”
Elsa pulled back and tossed a warm look at the nurse bustling in quietly. Tall and broad and dark skinned with an amazing turban in purples and orange, the nurse turned her attention to Rae and smiled reassuringly.
Rae was still processing when the nurse started speaking, her attitude up beat and kind, her movements and touch calm and gentle. After a quick assessment, she removed the earpieces of her scope from her ears and started asking questions.
Head, neck, face, chest, back…
“How’s your vision?”
Rae blinked. “Like I’m looking through a slot in a fence.” She answered, surprised when the nurse nodded knowingly.
“You took some really hard hits, sweet pea.” Her Id badge read Winnie, and her hands were huge and efficient in their movements. “What’s the last thing you remember before waking up here?”
Rae had to think to put the words together for an answer. She and El had argued about Christmas, then made up, kind of… She’d gone on duty, still feeling unsettled until the constant demand of work had torn her focus off her own life onto the comfort of the job… “We made a run to the casino. Woman allergic to mustard ate the potato salad.” Some people are just plain pigheaded.
“When was that?”
Rae thought about that. “Tuesday?” Even to her own ears, it sounded like a guess.
Smile never wavering, Winnie patted her hand. “Well, Sweetie, that was a good 6 days ago and you’ve had a pretty interesting week since then.”
A week? A whole week?
Rae blinked, looking from Winnie to seek out Elsa, finding her lover at the end of her left hand, holding tight. “I don’t…”
“Don’t you worry sweet pea, it’ll come back. and you’ll probably be happy to hear your one stubborn woman, even when we drug you to the gills. You’re girlfriend here is a real lioness too. She nearly took one of the interns out with a look.”
“Now, I’m gonna go call your doctor and you three can have a nice discussion. We’ve lightened you’re pain meds so you let me know if you’re uncomfortable.” Again Winnie patted Rae’s hand, then left the room.
“What happened?” Rae asked, her throat sore but her voice growing stronger.
El smoothed a light hand over the left side of Rae’s face. “There was an accident with the rig.” She waited, letting Rae digest that fact on its own.
“It was bad Rae. You were in back with a patient, Tim was driving.”
Rae closed her eyes, trying to remember anything… the sound of a free wheeling set of dualies spinning on good bearings echoed in her head. It was the only thing that came to mind.
“The highway patrol says it was a combination of winds and black ice. Tim lost control and rolled it. They found you at the bottom of the valley near the tracks with your patient.”
Rae’s eyes popped open, worry vying with horror on her face.
El didn’t seem surprised. “He’s already home, Rae. He stopped by the third day you were here. He and his wife said they’d come back once you were up and around. He’s a very kind, very sweet man, and I think he may want to adopt you.”
Relief washed through Rae, even though she didn’t remember the man, He’d been a patient and her responsibility. “Tim?” If he’d been driving, he’d been in the safest spot for a roll over…
“There was a fire after the module separated from the chassis. Tim was dead before it broke out. They think he died on impact.” El managed around the lump in her own throat.
“She and the kids have family staying with them. I called and talked with her. She’s toughing it out.”
“Rae,” Elsa began, but couldn’t finish, tears leaking from her eyes. What she wanted to say lay naked in her face and posture, and Rae looked past her grief to read El’s.
Words weren’t necessary, and El didn’t even try for them as she settled her forehead over Rae’s and let herself cry.
Follow the light…
Follow the finger…
Wonder why the smelly neurologist is frowning…
“Thank you Ms Irons.” He left in a cloud of Stetson and didn’t look back.
Guess I won’t be getting a biscuit. Rae tried to straighten her back, with little success. God, her head hurt. hell, everything hurt!
“There’s a big conference at the end of the hall.” Elsa said in a clear, calm voice, moving back into the room to take Rae’s hand in her own. “What? I go take a shower and you turn into Godzilla? Or did they finally find out you have an imaginary friend named Elmer?” She bent to kiss Rae’s brow, smiling.
Rae looked at her and grumbled. “Creepy little sniffer was in here with needles and feathers and waving around a pen light.”
“Ooo. That sounds kinda kinky! Do I need to go beat him up?” El glanced out the glass wall and leaned down to place both hands astride Rae’s shoulders, bringing them face to face. “I’m the only one who gets to…” Her expression changed as she read Rae’s face. “What’s wrong?”
“What if they have to go in and play inside my head?”
Worry stretched across El’s face, hid behind her eyes. “Headache’s back?”
Rae nodded carefully. “It’s getting harder to see too.”
Blue eyes narrowed and El waited a beat before asking. “So what does that mean?”
“He says my spine is decompressing, and I’m already starting to get more sensation and motor functions.” Rae tried to concentrate on the positive for El’s sake. She was tired and felt disconnected from everything, and no one was answering her questions. She still didn’t have much memory of how she’d gotten here, and she absolutely hated being ‘handled’.
“That’s good news.”
“They’re gonna up the cortisone and diuretics. My optic nerves are ‘irritated”.”
“Just your optic nerves?” El asked lightly.
“They’re connected to everything else, obviously!” Rae groused. It had been a long day full of tests and grim looks from technicians. She’d gotten the chance to catalogue her injuries, and deal with her evident mortality. She felt guilty as hell about Tim, though she knew that was stupid.
She had a basal skull fracture, hairline and healing, but it was there, and her brain apparently resembled a sadly formed Jello mold with too much cottage cheese seeping out. The problem with her memory and her eyesight were compounded by a rising ringing as her blood pressure and body temp ran amok. Her right collar bone had dislocated posteriorly, and had to be corrected surgically before it pierced any of the great vessels. They’d apparently decompressed her right shoulder at the same time, the rotator cuff ripped to hell.
She’d been worried about her back and ribs and learned she had some posterior breakage, but her musculature was doing most of the splinting and her right lung had been repaired and the drains already removed. Her previous bout of awareness had been interrupted by the find of a retroperitoneal bleed than had continued to compress her spinal cord, once they’d drained that, her body had quickly compensated and returned her temp and body responses to normal.
No more spiking sweats and plunging chills. And she was beginning to regain gross control over her legs and feet. Even the left leg, with its compound fracture of the tib, fib, was becoming painfully sensitive.
Whatever had struck her across the back had carried some heft behind it. The doctors had made it clear she should be dead or worse.
She felt a shiver run through her and knew it had nothing to do with cold.
“Hey.” Elsa nudged her. She’d settled in with her arms next to Rae’s head, her chin on her hands. “Remember me?”
“Yeah. You’re that nice lady who rubs my feet…” Rae butted her head against El’s and sighed. “I love her.”
Coloring, Elsa chuckled. “That’s me! The foot lady.”
“What if my eyes don’t come back?” Rae asked.
“Then I’ll still be in love with you. And we’ll get a dog to lead you around.”
Rae blinked. “Gee, kinda blunt there. I guess I expected you to say my eyes would be fine.”
Something had changed in Elsa over the years, and even with her cropped vision and singing headache, Rae could read it in her even more clearly now. There was a certainty to Elsa, a choosing to stand and fight rather than demure. “You want someone to baby you, ask a nurse. I’m your partner, and I’m saying it like it is from day one. Whatever happens, we’re gonna deal with it.”
“No giving up?”
“Nope. I’ve got what I prayed for. You’re alive. The rest we can work with.”
A sliver of pride lanced through Rae as she met those level, intelligent eyes. “How’d I get lucky enough to catch you?”
El’s eyes narrowed in mock indignation. “I’m not a fish, and you’re memory is flawed, I caught you.” Her tone was imperious.
Affectionate indulgence colored El’s features – the ‘I love you’ look that always got to Rae even as it confused her. “Yes dear, I did.”
Rae tried on a smile, her face stretching over scraped and stitched wounds on her right side. “Oh.”
“Exactly. Now, how about you get a nap? You have visitors coming in a few hours.”
Elsa kissed Rae on the forehead and took her hand again. “You do. Now sleep.”
Rae’s eyes were already closing.
They’d covered her eyes so she couldn’t see, leaving her with a new sense of vertigo and sinking vulnerability. She’d started to recall small parts of the crash.
Her head wasn’t really a safe place to be trapped.
At least she had the anchor of El’s presence. Without her having to ask, El was rarely out of physical contact: a hand in hers, a subtle touch to her face, the press of her arm against Rae’s while she was being examined or questioned.
The headache was beginning to dim now that she wasn’t being assaulted by light.
“El?” Rae could tell by the sounds that it was night. Those same sounds making it equally obvious El wasn’t sleeping. “What’s wrong?” She felt rather foolish asking that. They were in the ICU, after all, and she was literally a mess…
“I wish I could hold you right now.” The wistfulness of her tone communicated the ache of loneliness she felt, and the guilt of feeling it. Fingers ran lightly over Rae’s fingertips, traced the lines of her palm. “Why haven’t we ever been to a palm reader?” Elsa asked out of the blue.
Managing a rattling wheeze of a laugh, Rae enjoyed the feeling of El’s exploration. “I guess we’ve never tripped across one. Are they listed in the yellow pages?”
“Not a lot of gypsies in MN I guess, huh?” Humor tinged El’s voice.
“Maybe we can find a Norwegian palmist.”
El snorted. “I can’t even imagine.”
Rae just grinned, knowing she’d scored a smile.
“We’d probably get a reading on how many lutefisk dinners we’ll go to and how much egg coffee we have to drink before we each croak of old age.”
“The answer to the lutefisk is NONE.” Rae said firmly. “That stuff is not meant for human consumption!”
“No Norwegian palmists then?”
“I’d prefer not, if you don’t mind.” Rae answered with a mock shudder.
“Okay, how about tarot cards?”
“What’s the deal with the spiritualist fortune teller thing?” Rae asked.
“It’s one of those stupid things couples do.”
“You mean like making out in the back seat of the car or getting tattoos?” Rae was puzzled. What was this really about? El’s hands had not failed in their soft caress of her hands and fingertips, and that wistful tone was still very evident.
El giggled at that. “Not exactly. No, I’m just thinking of stuff I want us to do this year, like hit the renaissance festival and hike the north shore…”
Ahhh. Rae smiled. “You want more traditions.” El had been big on traditions when they’d started off as a couple, and all of them had stuck. New years was never shared with others; it was just theirs. Thanksgiving meant they fed anyone they knew and they had enough pictures of turkeys over the last 8 years to make a healthy collage. The same holiday meant Rae had to gag down the green Jello thing that El’s grandma always brought with carrots and olives in it, along with the requisite dab of mayo on top. A real shudder ran through her at the thought.
“Grandmas’ Jello mold?” El asked, noting the rise of hair on Rae’s arms and the quiet tremor.
“You did well this year.” El praised.
“She gave me seconds.” Rae groaned.
“And you’re her favorite grand daughter-in-law.”
“I’m her only—whatever, you’re sisters are all straight.” Rae pointed out.
“Yes, and grandma always spends thanksgiving and Easter with us.” El pointed out.
The old girl was a hoot too: sharp as a tack and full of life, even though her body was giving out on her. The fact she lived in the same town and didn’t like to travel had a lot to do with her holiday choices. Christmas was another grandma holiday, one too often skewered by the obligatory migration to Brainerd to pay homage to El’s parents.
Which reminded Rae. “Christmas.”
“Is 2 days away, love.” El said.
2 days! Fuck! She had plans… besides being mindlessly polite to her in-laws. “I gotta talk to Ruth.” Rae blurted out. Can you dial for me?”
“What are you up to?” A note of joy and happy suspicion colored El’s question, and Rae had to smile thinking of what that tone had so often led to.
“Nothin.” Rae managed in her most innocent approach.
“Not buyin, and not dialing. It’s after 11:30 pm. Tomorrow you can call grandma and plot to work your evil ways. Tonight, you’re mine.” El stated gently, the position of her voice shifting until it was directly above. The warmth of her mouth preceded her lips with just enough warning to stave off surprise. El’s tone had been the only warning she wasn’t just coming in for a brief buss.
They took their time with the kiss, and Rae could relax now, since they’d allowed her the freedom to brush her teeth and floss.
“I didn’t hurt you, did I?” Elsa asked, her forehead resting lightly against Rae’s.
“I want to see you. I feel like I’m missing so many things…”
El kissed her again, more slowly. “Still missing anything?” she husked against Rae’s lips.
Swallowing hard against the lump that had formed in her throat, letting the dressings over her eyes soak up the evidence of her sudden, unexplained tears, Rae didn’t trust her voice to answer, so she just shook her head and thanked the universe when Elsa’s lips returned to claim her again.
They rolled, the grass crushing soft beneath them, smelling sweet and green.
El tasted like mint tea. Her lips soft and velvety and so soft Rae wasn’t sure she wasn’t dreaming. But the body pressed against hers was more than warm and the skin her hands mapped was awake and alive and urging her on.
“Look at all the stars.” El whispered.
Chuckling, Rae looked past El’s shoulder at the cloudy night sky. “Only stars out tonight are in your eyes.”
Elsa’s head tilted, her features hidden by her own shadow against the barely there glow of city lights against the blanket of clouds above. “The only thing in my eyes, girl, is you.”
The whole thing was cloyingly sweet.
Rae had worked her hands beneath El’s blouse, brought them around front beneath the band of her bra to lift it out of her way as she buried her face in El’s cleavage.
El hissed as Rae rolled a nipple with her tongue. Since the pregnancy, El, always sensitive, had practically begun to come from nothing more than light suckling. It was a turn on Rae hadn’t expected. “You okay?” she asked, breathless, receiving her answer in the form of El’s other breast.
Enjoying her feast of flesh, Rae began work on El’s jeans, the buttons yielding more because they were familiar territory than anything.
“What if the neighbors see?”
“It’s 3am, El, if they’re awake and looking at us instead of doing one another, they’ve got deep seated problems.” Rae urged her partner upward, her goal clear.
“Let’s see if we can’t give them an inferiority complex.” Rae placed a kiss to El’s belly. “hi baby.” She whispered so soft El didn’t hear. This was her own ritual, started only a month before when she’d learned El was pregnant. She didn’t feel the need to be particularly original or circumspect, but it was her private time whether in the deep of El’s sleep or in passing en-route.
El snorted. “Think much of yourself?”
“Think more of you.” Rae teased back. Eyes open, she steadied El with her free hand, watching the subtle play of shadow on her body as it reacted to her touch. She loved the way El responded to her, loved the way her breath caught on certain moves, how she tasted and smelled. There were differences with the pregnancy, small but wonderful. She awaited each new alteration in El’s body and sensation with an eagerness she’d never felt before and the way El relished each within herself was a huge turn on.
Neither of them heard the panting or desperately running footsteps in the alleyway. It was Rae who reacted first though when something hit hard to the back fence, then dropped to the ground inside the garden.
Rolling them to be atop El, Rae pulled them both to their feet and had them against the garage, her body shielding El as someone came roaring through the growing tomatoes and peppers, swearing and falling among the thin wire towers they grew in before running full tilt into the short run of chain link fence between the garden and lawn proper.
The security lights Rae had installed over the garage side door and the back porch door both suddenly flooded the patch of yard to the east, just in time to catch the ungainly sprawl of long coltish limbs pin wheeling to the bright green grass. Whoever this was, they landed hard on one shoulder and just kind of folded down onto themselves like a crushed party hat. Flopping onto its back, the kid -- because it was definitely a kid – stumbled back onto his feet, running before he was even close to upright, and launched himself in what a moment later amounted to a personal declaration of war against the front fence.
He was up and over and hauling ass through the side yard and blundering into the large pine before he hit the street and continued his path of destruction through the next block of homes.
With El pinned behind her, Rae listened for any persuit, then grabbed her hand and hauled ass herself toward the porch door, muscling El ahead of her and into the house where she locked them in and turned to search the yard.
“Why would anyone…” El had gone for the phone and was dialing when Rae nodded to the yard east of the shrub line.
“There.” Rae watched as 3 more agile, less panic’d shadows dodged through the unfenced yard of their neighbors.
Even from a number of feet away, Rae could hear dispatch over the tinny speaker of the phone. “911, Please state the nature of the emergency.”
Still watching the yard, Rae spoke softly, her breath forming a brief series of clouds on the glass. “One chased by at least three. Look like kids. Headed south through the yards on the 300 block past Michigan.”
El relayed the information, answered a number of questions, then hung up, returning to press herself against Rae’s back. “I thought this was a safe neighborhood.” She whispered.
“It is.” Rae responded with a shrug. “Didn’t you ever get into trouble when you were a kid and have to run your ass off?” As soon as she said the words, she knew the answer. The silence behind her was an unequivocal ‘no’. she tried again, from a different angle. “Kids and summer go together. kids 2, 3 and 4 probably want to kick the shit out of kid 1.”
“Something he seems to be accomplishing on his own.” Elsa commented. “I hope the tomatoes got in a few good hits.” She’d planted that garden, and as her first attempt at home owner domesticity, she’d claimed the ground like a fifth generation farmer.
“Glad I didn’t leave the grill and the chairs a little further over on the patio.” The kid would’ve killed himself on the wrought iron furniture. Rae had a feeling the kid in the fore had been pretty desperate, and she hoped he got away.
The doorbell in front rang and Rae went to answer; on El’s face, a look of sincere displeasure. So much for cuddling tonight.
This home owner thing was beginning to piss Rae off.
Rae took a deep breath and plunged ahead. “Donna, It’s Rae Irons.” She’d gotten one of the nurses to dial for her, not wanting El around when she did this. It was hard enough without letting herself stay open the way she needed to around El.
The silence at the other end of the phone was thin, almost brittle.
“I’m so sorry…” She kept her voice under control, trying not to see Tim’s face in her mind. “I wish I could tell you what happened, but I don’t remember much.”
“They say it was ice, and there were deer tracks.” Donna’s voice was bland, not at all like the sarcastic wit Rae had grown to know over the years. “I miss him.”
“I know. Me too.” Rae said softly. “How are you and the boys? Is there anything…”
“We’re figuring out how to deal. It’ll take awhile. El was here this morning. She’s been by a few times, everytime she’s in town. She’s been a godsend.”
Rae’s brow rose under the dressings. El hadn’t said anything.
“She’s been through hell, Rae. You were still in surgery and she was holding me together when Terry and Bill told us Tim didn’t make it. She didn’t know if she was the next one to hear or if you were gonna live, and she held me together.”
“She sees it different.” Rae managed.
“Of course she does.” Donna’s voice picked up the painful lilt of the battle against bitterness. “Just don’t leave her, you big dork.”
“I’m still here.” Rae said, confused.
“No, you’re not. You’re somewhere half way. She doesn’t care if you’re body isn’t perfect, or you can’t see past your nose, Rae. She just wants you to hold her for the rest of her life and let her in.” A flare of fire had taken hold in Donna’s tone. “You hear me?”
“I called to comfort you.”
A hard, bark of a laugh came through the earpiece. “Then do everything you can to let her know you’re still alive and all hers. When you feel up to it, come over and let the boys destroy you at one of their video games.”
“I think I’m getting off pretty light here.”
“No Rae, living is a lot harder than dying.” Donna let some steel show in her voice. “there was nothing you or anyone could have done to keep Tim alive. Everyone did what could be done, he just didn’t stand a chance. There’s no guilt to pick up and carry.”
“Kay.” Rae felt lucky to get that much out.
Donna sighed. “I’ve been thinking about this for over a week. I think I’ve got it out of my system now.”
“I’m not going to say goodbye.”
“Don’t. I expect you around here for the boys on a regular basis. And bring Elsa. She’s okay,” which for Donna was a resounding round of applause.
“You’ve got it.” Rae promised.
“Rae, you remember that article last year about the artists and the embryonic stem cells?” El was half way through news of the weird, their daily paper read wrapping up. On Rae’s apparent interest, El continued. “They called it victimless leather.” A nod and El was on her way. “Well, it seems the mouse stem cells they were using went a little crazy in the exhibit in New York. The curator had to kill it.”
“The exhibit.” El supplied. “It had overgrown its space.”
“Umm.” Elsa Quoted. “The curator said ‘I’ve always been pro choice, but it’s weird, now I’m losing sleep over killing a coat.’” Her voice was perfect for reading aloud, and Rae wondered if this was a sign of their tomorrows.
If it was, she’d cope. El wasn’t allowing much room for anything else. “When did people stop thinking before doing?” Rae asked.
“You think she should’ve let it keep growing?”
“I don’t think I know enough to make that kind of proclamation.” Rae could hear the rustle of papers being folded, and El’s hand slid gently into her own. She smiled at the feel. “I just wonder when it started making sense to grow a coat? Are we as a species so incapable of facing our nature and the inherent destruction knit into our need for food, shelter and protection, that we can’t honor the beasts we raise by valuing their gift to us, and the life we husband for them?”
“Oh goody! You’re going metaphysical!” Real pleasure suffused El’s tone and Rae wondered how big her smile was. This was the first time she’d felt bucky since she’d been brought out of her coma and trapped behind dressing in the dark. She knew El enjoyed that side of her personality, and personally, it felt kinda nice to just be again.
“Think about it El, everything is industry now. There’s no connection to the earth or the other beings that inhabit it with us. When’s the last time you had a conversation or even reflected on the well being and comfort – even honor – of a cow?” Rae felt the tug of a smile on her lips and its echo on the tight scraped skin of her face. El was tracing her hand with her fingertips, trailing lightly up her forearm.
“You know that series of dairy farms on 212?” El asked. “I always think all that green grass and those ponds look idyllic and the cows always have such shiny, clean coats…”
The fact El actually had dreamed of cows and good green earth didn’t surprise Rae, but she pushed none-the-less. “And when one of those cows is at the end of it’s milk producing life?”
“Don’t they get to just kind of hang out like the cows in the happy cow commercials?”
“No El, they go to slaughter in a great big truck where they march nose to tail up a big winding shoot, hearing the screams of the cows ahead of them and knowing when they’re at the front of the line that the guy with the bang stick is gonna blow their brains out, then while they’re still falling, grapple their bodies with giant hooks and they’ll be hauled into the air. From there they get gutted, skinned and halved out.” Rae didn’t pull any punches. She was making her point and facing the realities of being a meat eating, leather wearing modern human who let someone else, some poor guy who just needed a job to make ends meet, be the constant executioner of beasts who’d done no harm. That kind of karma was there for everyone, but most never even bothered to acknowledge it.
“Which is why you always whisper a thank you to your food, even a salad.” There was less enthusiasm in El’s tone now. She’d been grossed out and felt a bit appalled. She also welcomed the mental stretch of Rae’s occasional harangues. She’d asked once, a long time ago about that odd quiet quirk where Rae simply stopped for a second before eating, thinking at first it was prayer. Rae’s views of organized religion had been an earful. El had spent the next hour with her jaw half open and her eyes round in amazement.
“My point is…”
El interrupted her, a finger light to Rae’s lips. “You’re point began with mouse stem cells in a dish…” El replaced her finger with her lips. “I miss being held by you.”
If it had been a debate, El would have just won. Rae’s brain, only marginally present in the best of times today, had left the building.
“You’re crying.” Rae guessed correctly.
El lay her head against the outer edge of Rae’s left shoulder, hugging her arm close, letting Rae’s hand sweep through her hair. “I’m kind of an idiot that way lately.” El managed.
Rae wished she could see her. There were so many nuances to El’s emotions she could read on her face, in her eyes. She wasn’t as adept at untangling that weave with her ears. This though, this made sense to her. History has a way of rising up to kick the crap out of the unwary, and Rae had been waiting a few days for this little slice of hell. “I know you hate being here.” She whispered.
“I do.” El choked out. “Now more than ever.”
Rae let the edge in El’s tone slice through her. Old wounds still bleed, she’d discovered, and she worried about these wounds atop the new. She still carried guilt she’d never quite been able to surrender, and she hoped she was the only one. “I’m sorry.” She whispered into El’s soft, sweet smelling hair before leaving a kiss in the nest of warmth her words had created.
“You looked a little like last time, at least, before they covered your eyes.” El admitted, something soft and gentle in her voice that might have been a sigh, or even the lightest touch of a chuckle or a choke. “I could’ve done without all the drama of the vent and coma though.”
“Wasn’t really my idea of fun either.” Rae agreed. “I wish…”
“Don’t.” Elsa stopped her. “I just hate this place. I don’t want to lose you to it.”
“I’m still here.”
“And the day they say I can get you out of here and take you home, I’m going to strip you down, give you a bath, wash your hair, put you into bed naked and kiss every single inch of you better.” Elsa wore iron in her tone. Oddly enough there didn’t seem to be anything sexual in the statement. Rae hoped that was just a nod to her more slow to heal wounds and not a lack of interest brought on by the permanent changes in her appearance and possible loss of sight.
The thought was unworthy of Elsa’s devotion, an echo of Rae’s own self doubts, and she quashed it immediately. “I bet I can wiggle over enough for you to climb up here and put your head on my shoulder.” She said with hope in her throat so thick she could barely speak.
“They have a draw sheet under you. Let me help.” No hesitation, no fear of unknowns or worry about breaking rules lay resident in El’s voice. She kissed Rae’s cheek, then was gone. No, not gone, moving around the bed where her hand brushed light at Rae’s elbow, the sheets rustling as El checked and shifted lead lines and catheter, the soft brush of the plastic hook on the cath bag being shifted forming a pause.
When had El become so adept at the less visible facts of ICU care? The thought bothered Rae.
Rae could feel El at her left side, feel the lift of the draw sheet as she gripped it at the corners. She’d already moved Rae’s legs, taking extra care not to disturb the metal cage around her lower left leg. On Rae’s nod, El drew the sheet toward her and made room on the left side of the bed.
It had been a smooth, practiced move, and again Rae wondered about her ease. “How many times have you done that?” She asked, her sightless head following the sound of El’s footfalls as she rounded the bed, then the whine of the bed as she lowered it closer to the floor.
“A few. You think I’m gonna miss a chance to ogle you?” Elsa asked lightly, lifting herself onto the mattress and carefully moving until she was tucked into the crook of Rae’s arm.
“Please don’t tell me you find catheters a turn on.” Rae deadpanned as she felt El settle against her. She sighed as the familiar warmth of their combined bodies soaked into her bones. “But if you do… I’ll learn to deal.”
“No baby, not the cath, just the woman.” El asserted, her hand settling along Rae’s pelvis where she knew it wouldn’t hurt her. “I’m so completely in love with you.” She whispered, releasing a sigh of her own.
“I’m home, El.”
“Yes hon, you are.”
TBC in Part 3, ch 8
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