What we saw at night, p.7
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       What We Saw at Night, p.7

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
 
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“Anyway, just one room to live in and one room to clean,” he added.

  “Is this a guy thing? Like, it’s okay to do everything in one room?”

  Rob sniffed. “Juliet told me she would live on a motorcycle and carry everything she would ever need in two saddlebags.”

  My shoulders sagged. Even when Juliet wasn’t here, she was here. I couldn’t think of a response. She had one-upped me in absentia.

  “It’s not appealing to me, to tell the truth,” Rob continued. “If I didn’t have to take care of it all by myself, I’d actually have a real bed and more than one room.”

  “Why would you have to take care of it by yourself? Why wouldn’t you have a roommate?” Like me?

  “You have to be on your own sometime. I’m just not really necessarily the kind who wants to. I’m not a solitary guy.”

  I smiled in the gathering dark. That was a lie. But I was smiling because I had to strain to hear him. That was really the crucial difference: he spoke so much more quietly when Juliet wasn’t around. She made the air around her hum just by being in it. Every time we did Parkour, we clamped our gloved hands together and shouted, “Live once!” And that was okay. It ritualized Parkour, which should be a ritual. But tonight … sitting alone with him was a fantasy glimpse into the lives of two regular people, who had regular habits and did regular things.

  “If I had a life for sure, a long life, I would be a judge,” I said.

  “A judge? Now that would be difficult.”

  “Not for me. I would be firm but fair.”

  “I meant, practically, it would be difficult,” he said.

  I laughed. “Night court. Someone has to be there. I think, being used to what you see at night, I would be more tolerant than a Daytimer. We aren’t very easily shocked.”

  “Tolerance. So you wouldn’t be a hanging judge?” Rob said.

  “Ha! So what would you do?”

  “In my room? My studio would be downstairs. There would be an inside staircase, maybe a fireman’s pole. And since I don’t play guitar, I’d record. I’d mix. The old rock stars, you know, like The Beatles or the Rolling Stones? They would start their day at five or six at night. They would be in the studio until dawn. Like that old song, ‘Beth’ by Kiss. ‘Me and the boys will be playing … all night.’ So that’s what I’d be.”

  “Why don’t we ever say: what we will be?” I asked without thinking.

  “I guess we’re trained out of it.”

  “I’m sick of being trained out of it. I’m opposed to thinking my early death is a foregone conclusion.”

  Rob smiled. “Allie, you don’t face the facts. Never did.”

  “Never will,” I said. “Facts are overrated. All geniuses ignore facts.”

  He kissed me then.

  We both pulled back, instantly. For a frozen moment, his eyes met mine as though we’d spit on each other or something.

  Then, he leaned over and undid my seatbelt and his. He kissed me again, pulling me under him. The times I had been kissed before amounted to once, in eighth grade, by our then-neighbor, Eric. I had worried about how it would be when it happened for real, doing silly little kid stuff like kissing the mirror and my pillow. And of course, I’d only ever imagined it being with Rob. But now that it was happening … everything fit like finely chiseled wood, smooth and soft and funny, tasting like the wasabi we’d had with dinner. Then he stopped.

  I said, “What? What?”

  “Is this going to be our time?” he said.

  “It is if you say it is.”

  He blinked. “Here?”

  “Not, well, not in the Jeep. I’m not a contortionist. But I want it to be with you, if that’s what you mean.”

  “You don’t feel like you’re cheating on Juliet?” he asked.

  My eyes narrowed. “What are you—?”

  “I didn’t mean that … I, listen. If you were bi-curious, I think I would have brought that up a few years ago, Allie. But I feel like I’m cheating on the three of us. As you know, like a unit. The tres compadres.”

  “Stop,” I said. My heart thumped so hard I thought it would burst out of my ribcage. “Let’s just go back to talking about the future we aren’t going to get instead of talking about the girl any guy would have the hots for, or feelings for, or give anything to get over.…”

  “Any guy but me.”

  “You don’t?”

  “I used to, but now I don’t. Please let me finish. If we do this, now, we can’t be the tres compadres anymore. We can’t be the three friends together. We’ll be two and one. Is that okay with you?”

  Was that okay with me? Why did he have to bring up long-term consequences of instant gratification?

  Rob added, “Maybe us being here, right now, this way, it’s a sign. Although I don’t believe in signs.”

  “Since when?”

  “I never did,” he said.

  “I mean, since when do you not want Juliet?”

  “Since I kissed you just then.”

  “But you did before.”

  “Allie, there you go. This is a fact. You can’t be jealous of before.”

  “Oh,” I said.

  I drew in a deep breath, and then settled back into the cold Jeep cushions. The moment had not just been broken; it had been broken and then stepped on. Gradually my pulse slowed.

  “Let’s see how you feel after we make short work of this building. We came here to trace, right?” I had to say something. Both of us were strung wire tight and needed to do … anything. I honestly didn’t know if it was our moment to do everything.

  Rob grinned, as if nothing had happened at all. “You’re on,” he said.

  What we planned wasn’t so dangerous, unless you missed your footing or your grip. But we weren’t going to miss.

  I pulled on my gloves.

  Rob went first, roped to me, while I filmed him with his camera. Something had changed tonight. It was as though we’d done Parkour all our lives, instead of for three months. From the roof of the parking garage, down floor-by-floor, he perfectly “derived” (as Parkour speakers say) his relationship to the space—walking that little beam, then hanging from it, as though it were as wide as a boardwalk on the beach. He finished with a standing jump and a flip off onto the grass.

  I applauded and stowed the camera in my flat front pack.

  As I prepared to take my turn, while Rob raced back through the parking garage, something came over me. I decided what the hell, to be a girly girl for once. I yanked off my skullcap and my headlamp and let my newly-shortened hair fall free. For the first run, I’d be roped to Rob anyhow and he’d be filming, so I would be able to see by the light from his camera.

  The all of a sudden Rob was beside me, roping our waists together. Before I began, he kissed me again. It was a long kiss, hard and involved, as if we were both preparing for a battle I’d win. As if we both believed the future would be wide open: some sappy happily-ever-after fairy tale. It was a beautiful lie, and I grasped it tight. We both did. I began my first passage down the wall and turned fast to leap and grab the edge of the next level. Focusing, my breath even, I made my way one more level down.

  Vaguely, somewhere above, I heard a car start. I tried to ignore it. Focus was all. But the car kept revving, like some kid horsing around. Had Rob and I missed someone? Rob couldn’t have been messing with me. Besides, I knew the sound of his Jeep. Anyway, the rope was still taut; he was on the other end.

  Then I heard the squeal of tires.

  Rob yelled, “Christ, no!”

  There was a clatter and his headlamp went out. Camera light: gone. Rope: slack. Darkness. Nothing.

  Steady. Steady, Allie.

  The car corkscrewed down the shadowy interior of the parking garage, plunging toward the street. I couldn’t stop the car; I was tethered to Rob. Not unless … I unhooked the rope. Who knows what had happened to him up there? My fingers trembled. I stopped breathing. Parkour is all about using momentum in your favor, turning jumps into rolls
where you can’t get hurt—

  So I jumped.

  Without preparing, I hurtled into the air and became a part of it, twenty feet straight down. Tried to roll but only hit. Snap. A thunderbolt in my right forearm, a lightning flash behind my eyes. My arm felt heavy and numb. It’s broken, I realized with curious detachment. The kind of break that would tear skin. Not my head. Not my neck. But it was hard, sickeningly hard.… I reached out with my left hand. No grass. This is how mistakes happen. And deaths. You can’t derive what you can’t see. I must have landed on concrete, not the lawn where Rob had beamed up at me only minutes ago.

  Rob.… Was he hurt?

  I tried to sit up. No, no, no.

  The car. I heard it. It was coming. I could see it. Lights down around the back of the garage … then appearing again—bearing straight towards me down the exit ramp. I squinted in the glare of the headlights. The driver aimed that car like a gun.

  Roll, I commanded myself. Roll over that useless, limp, pain-shriek arm. Hide. Where? The fountain nearby? The one we’d passed on the way back from sushi? Jerking up to my knees, I crept behind the lip of the giant stone bowl. The light grew brighter, the engine louder. This was the end. Not by the sun. By the night. By some maniac.

  The car revved and roared. I begged my brain to go black. And then—

  Another screech. And a shout: “Allie!”

  I peered over the lip of the fountain. Rob seemed to be sprinting toward me in slow motion, like some cheesy old film of runners on a beach. “Allie! Allie!” The car was speeding away now. I could see the silhouette of the driver: a shadow puppet. Shouting to himself? Or talking to someone beside him.… My brain began to slip pieces of information back in, like cards into a deck.

  The car was small and sleek, a dark metallic convertible with the top up. Too dark to see color. But it was the same: Blondie’s. His car. Here. But how? Why? Trying to scare me into silence? No. Trying to silence me into silence. For good.

  Another card: a vague mental picture as the convertible vanished into the night. There was someone else, hunched over in the passenger seat—someone small, who sat up as they cleared the turn onto Canal Street.

  The final card: Rob, cradling me against him.

  “My arm is broken,” I gasped. My voice sounded funny. I realized I was whistling through gritted teeth. “Don’t move me.”

  Rob laid his windbreaker over my shoulders, more a gesture of gallantry than utility, since I was drenched in sweat and his jacket was filthy. Then he used his shirt to tie my arm to my rib cage.

  “I don’t know why I’m doing this,” he said. “I saw it in a movie.”

  As I lay there, he forgot there was an elevator and sprinted up five flights to get the Jeep. “Hold on, Allie,” he shouted over his shoulder, and despite the agony that was now rolling through me with the immensity and intensity of a cement drill, there was a spurt of satisfaction. My boyfriend was taking care of me.

  IN THE ER at Duluth Summit Hospital, a woman doctor and the trauma nurses took a quick look at my arm, then shuttled Rob and me into an X-ray room. There we waited with a guy who was so drunk that he clearly felt no pain at all despite a head wound the size and shape of golf ball, and a little kid who either had a 104-degree fever or was under sedation. I wouldn’t have minded some sedation.

  “Do you have any nausea? Did you hit your head?” the doctor asked. She wasn’t that old—mid-thirties, maybe—very slender with thick blond hair like Juliet’s in one of those pretty, no-nonsense bobs like mine was attempting. She wore big red-framed glasses that should have looked absurd but didn’t. She could have stepped right out of an ad for the young professional woman. She peered into my pupils with a little penlight.

  “My arm,” I said. “I didn’t hit my head at all. The only nausea I have is from the pain. And somebody tried to kill me, incidentally. The tire tracks are right there.”

  “Dilaudid,” the doctor replied. “Two milligrams.”

  “If this is a police matter,” the nurse said. “Then—”

  “We have time,” the doctor interrupted.

  The room was dark, which was a comfort, and the staff moved fast, which also was a comfort. They led me into a little curtained cubicle.

  Rob sat down next to me on the bed and turned the lights off. The doctor left. Then she came back in and turned on every light there was.

  “Please leave the lights low,” Rob pleaded.

  “I need to examine Miss.…” She glanced at her clipboard. “Kim. Allison Kim, is that right?”

  “Yes,” I said. “More or less. Alexis.”

  The doctor flipped on a huge new control panel of lights, the size and intensity of a space station. She shot Rob a cold glare. “You need to leave.”

  The syrup of the Dilaudid was beginning to distance me from the throbbing bawl in my forearm.

  “I’m her friend.” Given what had happened earlier in the car, the description stung. I’d already moved to the boyfriend-girlfriend stage. Though technically, Rob still was only my friend, nothing else.

  “Young man, just step outside for a moment. I don’t want to have to ask for security.” Rob—dirty, scraped, and practically hyperventilating— must have looked to her like a Yeti.

  When Rob stepped outside the curtain, the doctor said, “Sweetheart, tell me how this really happened. Nobody has a right to hurt you.”

  “Wait,” I said, as she turned the lights on again. “Please turn the lights off first.”

  “You have other, older bruises—”

  “I have Xeroderma Pigmentosum. The bruises are the least of my worries.”

  At the mention of XP, the doctor blinked, then stood up and snapped off the lights. “I’m sorry,” she said.

  “Rob is my best friend. We were doing Parkour stunts on a building and this crazy person came along in a car and Rob dropped the rope. I fell off a wall. That’s all.”

  “He didn’t hit you?”

  “He’d rather break his own arm. We’ve been friends since we were babies.”

  The doctor hooked a piece of her blond hair behind one ear. “It must have been a big wall.”

  “It was. I fell from the third level of that circular garage, you know, about a block from Orchestra Hall. Near Shimata, the Japanese restaurant.”

  “That’s quite a fall. Why did you say someone tried to kill you?”

  “Did I say that?”

  “You did say that.”

  “Because after I fell, a car drove up over the sidewalk and drove straight at me, and then turned away. But not until the last minute.” I licked my dry lips. The air around me seemed fuzzy. A police officer had arrived. He leaned against the wall of the cubicle. Even though he was wearing a light linen jacket, a black T-shirt, and cowboy boots, you could tell he was a cop. Maybe I could tell because I was so used to seeing Tommy Sirocco try to act like a regular person and look just silly at it.

  “Did you see a license plate, Miss Kim?” he asked, without bothering to introduce himself.

  “No. But I’ve seen the car before. I think I have. Up in Iron Harbor, where I live.” I told him about Red Beach and the sports car.

  The cop smirked. “Guy probably lives here in the cities. Gets his thrills playing games with his car.” He tapped his notebook. “Can’t be too many Italian sports cars around here. I’ll run it.”

  “You go to the Tabor Clinic, for XP,” The doctor said to me. It wasn’t a question; it sounded like an accusation. “Why are you down here then?”

  “The bigger the building, the better the trace. Don’t you do anything for fun?”

  I could see the doctor’s smile in the faint glow from her penlight. “I knit,” she said.

  “Oh.”

  “Joking. I surf.”

  “On Lake Superior? Dude!” The drugs were sillyficating my already loopy brain.

  “Yes, but I come from San Diego. We aren’t talking about me.” She tried to stop smiling, but she was having a hard time. So was I. “So you’
ve been doing this a while. Hence the other bruises. I’ll apologize to your boyfriend.”

  “We wiped out a lot last spring. And yes, it is harder at night.”

  “It’s borderline,” she said. “No, it’s clinically insane to do it at night.”

  “We use headlamps.” I tried to point to my head with my right hand but the pain made me breathless. “Now, I wish you would call my mother, Jacqueline Kim, who is a nurse. Although she’s going to need the ER when she hears this.”

  “Do you have a permission to treat?” the doctor asked.

  “In the outside pocket of my front pack,” I said.

  You don’t leave home without it, in case you fall down in the street and wake up lying on Miami Beach at high noon.

  “Both bones are broken, the radius and the ulna, Allie. You need a screw in there. I am a reconstructive and hand surgeon, which is good luck. Everything else is bad luck. We need to act before there’s more swelling, and that’s part of the bad luck. And I have to do it in a situation that won’t hurt you, and quickly, and with your whole body draped in … I’m thinking out loud now … Helen!” A nurse appeared, as though she had been waiting to read her lines. She was chewing gum, and her red hair, unlike my own, came directly out of a box. I liked her immediately. “Let’s get Brent and Martina to find out which OR is open stat. We need to repair this girl’s arm and get her and her boyfriend home before daylight.”

  “Is she a vampire?” the nurse said.

  “Yes,” the doctor said. “So don’t piss her off. I need the OR with low light and a microsurgical headlamp.… Allie, would you like us to call your mother right now? Or afterward? You aren’t seventeen yet.”

  “Please, afterward. My sister is asleep. Might as well let her sleep. Because she won’t be … won’t be.…”

  “Be sleeping for a while. I get it. This will hurt worse later than now. We’ll med-flight you to Divine Savior, so I need to warn the doctors there.”

  “They have rooms for us. Darkrooms. As though we’re developing.…”

  The doctor patted my thigh. “I’ll see you upstairs. But you’ll be out of it by then. You’ll have a tiny scar. And no jumping off any more buildings.” She stopped and peered back through the curtain. “For a while.”

 
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