Ten years ago . . .
It’s dark. Like when I hide under my bed and can’t see my hand in front of my face. But I’m not under my bed now.
Cold seeps into my body. My head rings; static blares in my ears.
I blacked out again, but this is different. Everything about this feels different.
There’s shuffling . . . some kind of panic in the air. My heart pounds and with the rapid blood flow brings a sharp stabbing pain that explodes in my neck. I try to open my eyes, push at the dark and reach for light, but a sticky coating covers my face. I suck in a breath, cough against the thick sludge that clogs my nose and throat. The metallic tang of blood turns my gut. I retch, hacking up something thick, and agony slices through my jaw.
“Oh fuck!” A deep masculine voice rips through my panic. “This one’s alive!”
I try again to open my eyes.
“We need an EMT!”
I need to get up, find somewhere to hide. Mom always gets angry after one of my blackouts and with the pain . . . oh God the pain . . . I can’t take one of her punishments.
My arms ache but I force them to my eyes to clear the dark haze that clouds my vision. Weight presses against my shoulder, keeping me down. No, I have to get out of here.
“Don’t move.” The voice, I try to place it. A neighbor? I don’t know who else—“ETA on the ambulance! This kid’s gonna bleed out!”
“What . . .” My voice makes no sound, only a low gurgle within my chest. I try to push up, reach out. Help me! Shadows dance behind my eyes.
“God have mercy—we’re gonna lose him!”
“Stay down!” A male voice is close. “Oh shit . . . don’t move!”
I slip in and out. Voices frantic but muted in my ears.
“Neighbors said he’s fifteen . . .”
“. . . fucking bloodbath . . .”
“Help . . .” I cough and reach for the fire blazing in my jaw.
A firm grip wraps my neck. I struggle against it as it cuts off what little breath I’m able to take. “Hang on, son.” It loosens and I suck in a gulp of blessed air mixed with fluid that makes me cough.
“He’s gonna drown in his own blood if we don’t get him—”
“Son, can you hear us?”
I nod as best I can, reaching for the light. Don’t black out. Don’t give up.
“Did you do this, boy?” The thick growl of a different man sounds in the distance. His voice deeper. Angrier.
I’m in so much trouble. I want to tell him I don’t remember. I have a condition. Lapses in memory. But I can’t get the words to make it to my mouth.
“They’re all dead.”
My heart kicks behind my ribs.
Dead? Who’s dead?
Dizziness washes over me and I don’t fight it. Nausea rips through my gut. The biting taste of vomit mixed with blood floods my mouth. I suck air, fight through the mud for oxygen. My lungs burn. I absorb the words and pray for a blackout to come. The dark that takes away all the pain, the shadow that tucks me in and shelters me.
The pounding pulse in my neck slows to a dull throb. The static between my ears turns to a purr. Warmth envelopes me.
“Son of a bitch.” More shuffling. “He’s our only witness.”
Words blur as I drift in and out of darkness. Not like the blackouts, but something different. Deeper. As if sleep pulls me, then releases me like a yo-yo.
“Dammit! We’re gonna lose him.”
The pain dies off. Peacefulness wraps around me. I drift back into night and welcome the dark I know will protect me.
There isn’t a single moment in life that compares to this one. Eh . . . I suppose if one day I meet the right guy who doesn’t mind playing second to my career goals, maybe a wedding would compare. Or not. I mean, weddings mean family and family means ripping open old wounds, and, well, that idea alone makes me want to barf all over my knock-off Jimmy Choos.
No, I was right the first time. This moment is a game changer. It’s hit or miss, no room for second place. Five years in college, working my ass off and pulling in more student loans than I’ll be able to pay back in four lifetimes all teeters on thirty seconds of live newsfeed.
I shift restlessly in my seat, squinting back and forth between my phone and the dark road through the windshield. “Should be right up here, less than a mile.”
“Know that. Got the same address you did.” My cameraman turns left into a residential area, a decent part of town, middle- to lower-class neighborhood. “Besides, the place will be crawling with police. There’s no way we’ll miss it.”
I turn toward him and grin. “Police, but we’ll be the first and only news van.” I’m downright giddy! “This has to be perfect. We can’t afford to fuck this up.”