Esther and Star Ch. 05

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Clothed

I woke in a hospital bed, and my head and shoulder hurt like fuck. A female cop was sitting across from me, reading the Herald.

I glanced around. The other bed was empty. I could feel something on my head, and I saw a kind of sling holding my right arm tightly against my body.

“Where am I?” I asked.

The cop glanced up, threw down the paper, and said, “Mass General.” She left the room in a hurry.

She came back ten seconds later, followed by a few medical people and another woman in a suit.

The older of the two medical people, a doctor I guessed, confirmed my name.

I nodded.

He introduced himself and said, “Well, sir, first: you’re going to be fine. You’ve been shot, but nothing critical was damaged. The bullet appears to have ricocheted off your skull and gone through your right shoulder. You lost a fair amount of blood, but we managed to stitch up your scalp and repair your shoulder.”

I reached across my body with my left arm and touched above my right ear. I felt some bare skin there and a big padded bandage.

“Careful,” the other medical person—the nurse—said. “Don’t put any pressure on the wound. Wouldn’t want you to start bleeding again.”

“This,” the doctor said, “is Perce. He’s your nurse, and he’ll take good care of you.”

Perce the Nurse?

I touched my right shoulder, and a shot of pain slashed through the rest of my body. I winced.

“That’s going to be a little sore for a few weeks,” Perce said, smiling.

“Can I go home?” I asked.

The doctor glanced at the woman in the blue suit and then back to me. “This is Detective Gambia from the BPD. She needs to ask you some questions, first, and then we can talk about that. Before Perce and I go, do you have any further questions about your medical condition?”

I shook my head. “But, maybe later.”

As Perce walked out, he reached out and, very gingerly, shook my hand. “A pleasure to care for a hero,” he said, smiling kindly.

The door closed, and the Detective stepped closer. She gestured to the cop, “Sir, this is Officer Noonan; I’m Detective Gambia. I’d like to ask you some questions about the incident today at the Barnes and Noble in Downtown Crossing. May I?”

I nodded.

Gambia took out her phone, pressed a few buttons, and then set it on the bed beside me. “I’m going to record this.”

I nodded.

She started asking. Noonan jotted down some notes in a little flip spiral notebook. It was very business-like. When Gambia finished, about ten minutes later, she looked at Officer Noonan.

Noonan nodded, and a little grin unfurled on her face.

Gambia nodded back at her, and then turned to me with a smile. “I don’t know how many lives you saved today, sir, but I think it may have been quite a few.”

I nodded. “The shooter dead?”

“No, he’s going to live. Looks like your tackle did some serious damage to his spine. I can’t tell you anything more; it’s an ongoing investigation.”

I nodded.

“We may need to speak to you again for some follow-up. Would that be okay?”

“Yeah.”

“Then, on behalf of the City of Boston, thank you.” She shook my hand. Noonan walked over and did, too. They left.

Perce came in. “There’s some people from the networks and the papers want to talk to you when you’re up for it?”

“No!” I said a bit too forcefully.

Perce drew back, surprised.

“Sorry. I just…I don’t want to talk to them, okay?”

“You won’t have to, buddy. I’ll fend ’em off.”

The doctor walked in.

“No press,” Perce told him.

“Really?” the doctor asked me.

I shook my head.

“Are you sure? They want to interview the hero,” he offered, smiling.

“No, thanks, Doc.”

“Another time, then.”

I sighed, shaking my head. “Can I just go home?”

The doctor cleared his throat. “Ah, yes, to that question. We would like to monitor you for the next several hours to ensure that the bleeding does not resume. If the sutures are holding up and everything else is functioning normally, then you can be released with a pain prescription.”

“Functioning normally?”

“Urinating,” Perce explained. “We can’t let you go until you’ve urinated—all systems go, you know?”

“Okay.”

The doctor added, “We’re going to send in a mental health professional to talk to you about PTSD before you go, as well.”

“When will that be?”

“Do you feel up to it?”

“Yes, let’s get it done.”

The Doctor shrugged and left.

“Hey, Perce, where’s my stuff?”

“Over here,” he said, walking to a small desk where, piled on top, sat my clothes, wallet, keys, phone, and The Count of Monte Cristo. “What do you need?”

“Cell phone, please.”

He brought it to me.

I thanked him and he left.

I called Esther. No answer. I left her a short message, hoping everything worked out with her family. I didn’t mention the bookstore.

I called Star. She picked up.

She said, “You are so good, brother mine.”

“No big deal. I’m not even really hurt all that bad.”

Silence. Then, she said, “Uh, what are you talking about?”

“What are sancaktepe escort you talking about?”

“The divorce papers, dumbass. They worked. Now, what’s this about you being hurt?”

“Miriam and Astrid are talking to Ess again?”

“Yes. Well, Esther had to sign the papers first, but once she did, the elders did some kind of emergency meeting, and I think they’ve—I don’t know—temporarily relaxed the restrictions.”

“Good. I’m glad for her.”

“I love you for that, you know,” she said. “Hey, you did it so that she could be with her family, right? You didn’t do it to actually end your marriage, did you?”

“Be with family,” I responded. “But look, Star, if she wants it to be the real thing, I’m not going to fight her on it. I signed those papers.”

“Don’t give up on her!”

“Yeah.”

“Really? You won’t?” she asked, pressing me.

“I won’t, but it’s her decision.”

Star sighed, and then she said, “Wait a second. What about you being hurt?”

“Nothing. I gotta go.”

“Come on! At least tell me things are okay.”

“Things are okay, Star.”

“Well…okay.”

“Talk to you later.”?

“Love you, brother mine!”

“Yeah. Bye.” I hung up.

Signed. Esther signed them. That was it. All she had to do now was mail them, and in a couple of months, we’d have a court appearance, and I’d be divorced from Esther.

I should have been happy—for her and me. She got her family back.

I wasn’t happy. I just felt like a fucking failure.

Perce came back into the room a few minutes later. “Hey, uh, I know you don’t want to talk to the news right now, but there’s also a lady out there. She says she was in the store when it happened, says she knows you.”

“Diane?”

Perce shot a finger at me. “That’s her. Can I send her in? She’s been waiting a long time.”

“Yeah.”

I didn’t think about the pain while I waited; I just felt my heart start pounding.

Perce escorted her in.

“Hi, Diane,” I said.

She smiled, but it was forced. Her eyes grew glassy as she thanked me, told me I saved her life, told me she’d never been more terrified, told me she knew she was going to die. By the end, she was crying, and the smile was gone.

“It’s really cool that you came to say that. I…well, you know what I think of you.”

Then, she did smile. She said, “I don’t understand what I did to make you feel that way, but thank you.”

“I was lucky. It worked out, I guess.”

“You were incredibly brave,” she said, and she moved beside me. She took my right hand and said, “Is there anything you need? Let me do something for you to show my gratitude.”

“No. No, thanks, Diane. You should go and be with your family and friends. I’ll be alright.”

“Are you certain there’s no way I can help?”

The image of her pussy lowering onto my face flashed through my mind, but I said, “Thank you—no.”

She took a card and a pen from her purse, jotting something down. She placed it on the rolling table beside my bed. “It’s my number. Please call me if there’s anything—anything at all—that I can do.”

“Okay,” I responded.

“Please do,” she urged. She put away her things, and then she squeezed my hand gently. As she walked out, she turned back one more time, smiled sadly, and waved.

I nodded. In the moments that followed, I let my mind romp, thinking of Diane, but it lasted only a few seconds.

I remembered that Esther signed the fucking papers.

Son of a bitch!

I hated her.

Fucking hated her.

I sighed.

No, I didn’t.

Hated myself, really.

***

An hour later, Perce came in. He said, “You gotta see this” and turned on the television. Once he found the right channel, I saw the Mayor speaking at some kind of press conference. The chief of police was there. The commissioner, I guess, too. When they mentioned my name, Perce turned to me with a huge grin, nodding.

Fuck. “You can shut it off,” I muttered.

“Really?”

I nodded.

“They showed the footage from the bookstore cameras, too. It’s on every channel now. YouTube. You’re everywhere, man.”

“Please, Perce.”

He shut off the television, set the remote down, and asked, “Do anything for you? Need anything?”

“Get me out of here?”

“I’ll see what I can do.”

He left, and it was then that my phone started going crazy with phone calls and text messages—from Star, from my parents, friends back home, guys I knew from work. Geez.

I didn’t answer any of them, and eventually, I just shut it off.

***

It was just after 9:00pm when Perce told me I could go. I had finished the PTSD counseling, gotten my brief on the pain medication, and signed my discharge papers. I had successfully pissed, too. Perce had stood by the bathroom door, cheering me on.

As he helped me sit up, Perce said, “I need to tell ya, there’s still a ton of press here, waiting to interview you. They’re setting up a table with a podium and a microphone—the works.”

I closed my eyes and sighed. “Perce, you’ve got to help me out here. Is there any sarıyer escort way outta this place without running into them? A sneak exit or something?”

He paused, thinking it seemed, and then said, “Gimme ten minutes.”

He came back with a sack in his fist. Perce said, “Your picture is all over the news, so we need to disguise you a little first.”

“Whose are these?” I asked, gesturing to the sack full of clothes and items that were not mine.

“Co-worker. He was happy to give ’em up to the hero,” he said. “Now, who can you call to pick you up? I need to give them specific directions to avoid the press.”

I shook my head. “Nobody.”

“No family?”

“No.”

“Friends?”

“Just moved here back in May.”

Perce seemed to think about this for a moment, and then he said, “I’ll call you a ride. Be right back.”

When he returned, Perce helped me out of the “Immobilizer Sling.” He put a button-up shirt on me—those would be a lot easier to put on for the time being, he said. I put on my own shorts, but he had to button them for me. Then, he draped a light windbreaker over me to hide the sling—something they sold in the gift shop. He put a straw fedora over my head, carefully avoiding the wound. I slid on my socks, one-handed. Perce handed me sunglasses. While I put them on, he tied my shoes.

I looked in the mirror. I was ready. “How do I get out?”

He said, “Follow me. I already checked you out at the desk, and I put your paperwork in the pocket of that coat. Your prescription is in there, and you’ll want to fill that soon. The rest of your stuff I’ll stick in this sack.”

We went to the door, and he said, “Wait here.”

He walked out.

A minute later, he came back, pushing a fat rolling janitorial cart. He left it against the door of my room, blocking a portion of the hallway. Vanishing again, he returned with a wheelchair.

“Give it a minute,” he explained. “There’s a pack of reporters in the lobby down the hall. They’ll see you come out. So, here’s the plan: I’m going to push you in the wheelchair across the hall and were going to use the custodial cart to block you from view. Just duck a little. I’ll leave the cart in the hall, swing around and push you to that other hallway.” He pointed to a place where the hallway outside my room formed a T intersection.

“Do I have to be in a wheelchair?”

He nodded. “I’d get canned if you weren’t.”

I nodded. “Got it.”

When the time was right, Perce pushed me into the hall. Then, he tried to move both me and the cart at the same time. It was obvious that, combined, it was too heavy a load for him, so I used my good arm and helped myself alongside the tall cart. Together, we passed over to the other hall with no problems—other than my shoulder ached.

Perce came around the corner. “Good to go?”

I nodded.

“Okay, let’s go.”

He pushed me to the end of the hall to a service elevator. We’d been on the 3rd floor. Down we went to the basement level.

“I don’t have much money on me,” I said.

“I know. I checked, but here.” He shoved a wad of cash into my hands. “I took up a quick collection for your ride. From the ER staff.”

“Holy shit. Thanks, Perce.”

“Our pleasure.”

At the basement level, Perce peeked out the window. He opened the door and waved at someone. A few seconds later, a cab appeared.

“Your ride, my friend.”

I gave him a left-handed shake. “Thanks for everything, Perce.”

“No problem whatsoever.”

“You’ve been great, really.”

“Good luck, hero.”

I got in the cab and told him where to go.

There were news trucks parked around our apartment complex. No way I’m going through that, I thought. So, I had the cabbie take me to South Station. No one noticed me until I checked into the employee’s area. There, I got accosted by a bunch of co-workers, all asking about the incident.

I said enough to pacify them and went to the bunkhouse to sleep. Man, did I sleep hard.

***

Some dickface at South Station—one of my fellow conductors—blabbed, told people I was there. A shift boss came by in the morning, woke me, and told me two things. One, I was not to report back to work until I was 100% healthy. Two, I had to get the fuck out of his bunkhouse.

“I can’t go home. The press is all over the place.”

“Yeah, no shit. You’re the Bookstore Hero.”

“Fuck.”

“So talk to ’em. Give ’em what they want, and they’ll leave you alone,” he suggested.

“No way.”

“Why the fuck not? It’s not like you got caught fuckin’ a cat. You’re a hero, for fuck’s sake.”

“Shit,” I sighed.

“Look, you do what you gotta do, but I got bosses asking about you, telling me we can’t have no injured employees bunkin’ here. People are fuckin’ coming. The place has got reporters running around asking about ya. If you don’t want to talk to them, fine. But, you can’t stay here.”

“Where then?”

“Who am I, your pop? I don’t know. Get a fuckin’ hotel room. Call a friend.”

He left.

Not wanting to turn on my phone, I walked over to the office with my bag silivri escort of things. I found the card I was looking for, read the number, and called it on the office landline.

A woman’s voice answered. It was her.

“Diane?”

“This is.”

I identified myself, and she seemed surprised, but glad for my call.

She asked about me, but I launched into my request. “Say, I know it’s asking a lot, but can I crash on your couch or something for the day?”

She didn’t respond.

I continued, “I don’t want to talk to the press, so I can’t go back to my apartment. They’re everywhere. I…I just need peace and quiet.”

A few seconds elapsed before she said, “Of course you can.”

I sighed. “Thank you. Thank you so much, Diane. I can’t even tell you.”

“It’s no problem. Let me give you my address.”

I jotted it down on the card. She lived in Allston.

The minute I hung up, the pain settled in.

I sneaked aboard a train to Harvard Square, hanging out in the control room with the driver. I got out and went into the pharmacy. It took them more than an hour to fill that prescription. I swallowed a pill without any water.

Every minute sucked.

Back in Harvard Square station, I took a bus to Allston. I had to walk about five blocks from the stop to Diane’s home. The pain began to die away. Instead, I felt woozy.

The day had become scorchingly hot and humid, but I noticed on the painful walk that I wasn’t sweating. Every fifty yards or so I stopped to address a leg cramp. Fuck, I was thirsty.

Diane opened the door and her welcoming smile immediately turned into alarm.

“Oh, dear, you don’t look so good.”

“I think I need some water.”

She escorted me inside her small two-story home. I sat on the couch, dazed. My calf cramped up on me, so I stood, putting all my weight on it until the intense contraction diminished.

Diane brought me a glass of water.

I downed it instantly.

She returned to the kitchen sink to get more. The next time, she brought a big 44-ounce cup.

I downed that one, too.

She brought another one, setting it on the floor beside the couch.

I didn’t see it until I woke up.

***

It was completely dark, and I had no idea where I was for a minute. When my eyes adjusted, I remembered: Diane’s home. I wandered into the kitchen, the hardwood floor cracked and groaned under my feet. I didn’t see a clock.

But, I heard a door open.

Soft footsteps overhead.

I went toward them, waiting at the bottom of the stairs.

Diane was coming.

“I’m sorry if I woke you,” I whispered.

“Woke me? I feel like I’ve been awake for two solid days. No, I was reading. I can’t sleep.”

I nodded, and she reached the landing. She was wearing a bathrobe.

“Feeling better?” she asked.

“Yes. Thanks.”

“I imagine you must be hungry; you’ve been sleeping since eleven this morning.”

“What time is it?”

“Just after midnight.”

“Wow.”

She turned on a lamp beside a chair and sat down.

I needed to piss, really bad, but it felt funny doing it after she’d just came down to visit with me. I went to the couch.

“Sure you’re not hungry?”

I said, “I will be; just don’t feel it, yet.”

“Anything I can do for the pain? It must be terrible.”

“No, thanks. I got some meds.”

She crossed one leg over the other and regarded me silently. “I don’t mean to be forward, but why did you come here?” she asked.

“I’ll go. I’m sorry.”

“No, no. I’m not asking you to do that. It’s the middle fo the night, for goodness’ sake. I just want to understand why you’re here.”

I shrugged. “Like I said before, I don’t feel like talking to the press or anything, and the parking lot around my apartment was full of news vehicles. Can’t stay at work. You offered to help.”

“Don’t you have friends? Family in the area?”

“Just moved here in May. I live in my sister’s apartment; she’s out of town. Parents in Virginia.”

She watched me and then asked, “Why is it that you don’t want to talk to the press?”

I thought about the question, then pushed it aside, saying, instead, “I’m keeping you up.”

She waved that off. “I’m up. I’m fine.”

“Is it a problem that I’m here?”

“You mean that I’ve invited a young man, a man half my age—practically a boy, really—a boy I barely know, and one with bullet wounds to stay in my house? Is that what you mean?”

I guffawed, but her face didn’t betray any hint that she was joking.

Then, she said, “You saved my life, so it’s not a problem unless you make it one.” She offered me a small grin. Then, as if the idea just occurred to her, she said, “My daughter might find it disconcerting, but she’s not here.”

“Where is she?”

“Holyoke.”

“That a college?”

She nodded.

“Where?”

“South Hadley.”

I shook my head.

“Western Mass, near Springfield.”

“What year is she?”

“Just finished freshman year. She’s staying on campus for swim.”

“She’s a swimmer?”

Diane said, “Yes. She just had a meet in New York yesterday.”

“How’d she do?”

“I don’t know, yet. All she wanted to talk about was if I was okay. She was going to skip it to come home, but I persuaded her to go ahead and compete.” Then, turning from me, she said, absently, “I ought to call her to see how it went.”

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