Authors: Nicole Castle
A Story of Love, Luck, and Murder
By Nicole Castle
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Copyright: Nicole Castle 2013
Cover art copyright: Hewitt Photography 2013
To my family, official and otherwise
Part One: Circumstance
Most teenagers think they’re invincible. At that moment, more than any other, I wished I was like most teenagers.
I stumbled forward, falling further behind the speeding traffic with every weakened step. Just one driver. Just one glance in a rearview mirror was all it would take.
A flash of brake lights, a flash of hope, and another car accelerated past me. Two trucks. A van. An ambulance. I stomped through the roadside slush, clinging with desperation to the terrifying warmth at my side, the bleeding, steaming wound that was the end of me. It didn’t hurt. That should have been reassuring. It wasn’t.
My sneakers were soaked through. The filthy, foot-high snow lashed against my legs with each step, so cold it hurt. That wasn’t reassuring either.
I’d always known I wouldn’t make it to eighteen. Live fast, die young. Only life had been in slow motion for the past few years and I hadn’t felt young in even longer. And yet, I was
to see the end so vividly just six months to the day before my seventeenth birthday.
Whatever blood hadn’t escaped through the hole in my side was pounding in my temples; the volume cranked up, here is death with a heavy metal soundtrack, beating and pulsing and screaming. It felt like I’d dived too far under water and couldn’t make it back to the surface in time.
Reruns of my childhood aired rapidly before my eyes like flipping channels on television, brought to you with limited commercial interruption. I saw the grizzled face of a survival show host shaking his finger to remind me that no matter what, you shouldn’t remove the object the bad guy sticks in you.
“Oops,” I panted, the world briefly coming back into focus. I’d already screwed that up by pulling the knife out. But it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world, leaving a sharp object sticking in your body. In fact, my very
response after realizing I’d been stabbed was to pull the fucking thing out. My second response was to stick it in the guy who’d stabbed me. I had probably killed him, self defense or not. But it was becoming increasingly clear that he’d killed me right back.
I clutched my side and walked faster, focusing on Charlie so I could live long enough to see syndication.
Charlie had seemed borderline creepy to me when I first saw him, grinning like a hyena and inviting me in from the cold, one windowless white van and a bagful of sweets away from a kidnapping. Even as I’d sat across from him on the torn green vinyl, the smell of burnt toast and bacon grease making my stomach growl in ways that couldn’t be healthy, I’d had a feeling that making his acquaintance would turn out to be one of the biggest mistakes of my life. But now all I could think was how happy I was that we’d met. True, he’d gotten me into this mess, but now he could get me out again and then everything would be all right. This wasn’t the end of me. Not quite yet.
The only doctors I’d ever met were the ones who gave me a lollipop to apologize for sticking a gigantic needle in my arm, and the one in blue scrubs who’d politely informed me that I was an orphan. They were hygienic and wore white coats. They were sanitary. Charlie looked like he hadn’t washed his hair since he started losing it, and his grotesquely patterned coat would’ve appeared stained even if it hadn’t been a sanctuary for assorted condiments.
I’d been skeptical when he told me about his medical background; the dirt under his fingernails and the way he smoked like a chimney further fueling my disbelief. I hadn’t even bothered to humor him and ask what his field was, though gynecology came to mind. But from the moment that guy plunged his knife into me, I’d started hoping I was wrong.
Please be the right kind of doctor
, I thought, blinking against the blowing snow. A vision of Charlie came to me clearly, though his voice belonged to Pat Sajak when he said “I don’t know, kiddo, that’s an awful lot of blood. You sure you gonna make it?”
“No,” I said, letting my attention wander to my seeping wound. When I looked back up, Charlie was gone.
Seeing blood had never made me uncomfortable before. One of my earliest memories was of finding a dead body in the ditch behind my trailer park. I wasn’t supposed to be playing down there to begin with, and because I hadn’t wanted to get into trouble, I never told anyone what I’d seen. But that didn’t stop me from standing there, staring at what was left of a hacked up little girl not much older than I was. The one who’d been headlining missing posters for over a week. Whatever had happened to her, it had happened with something sharp.
A few hours later, a responsible adult had found her and alerted the proper authorities. I never had bad dreams about what I’d seen, though she visited my sleep nightly for the next few years. I’d found it fascinating that such a small person could contain so much blood. But when it came to my own body, and the blood that had soaked half of my blue shirt into a terrifying dark purple, I suddenly felt squeamish.
Still, as long as I didn’t look down at my saturated clothing, I could remain optimistic. Charlie was a doctor. If I could only get to Charlie, he’d fix me. Like he had said before, back in the diner when I couldn’t get my hands to stop shaking, “No problem, kid. I can fix anything.”
The neon sign flashing VAC NC ES was the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. A few more feet and I’d be at his door.
I stopped in front of his hotel room,
Do Not Disturb
hanging cruelly on the doorknob. For all the times I’d been abandoned, no longer welcome or wanted, it had never felt as brutal as it did now, spelled out with block letters in black and white. I took a deep breath to keep myself from crying, knowing that while it looked like rejection it really meant he had to be in. Then I slowly knocked with my left hand, keeping my right firmly on the bleeding puncture wound in my side.
The door opened, and if there could be a more welcome sight than a perfectly capable doctor standing before me, it was that one. The man of my dreams, exquisitely tall, beautifully dark and devastatingly handsome, giving me his full attention.
For just a second he looked annoyed, like I was interrupting a very important meeting and he was prepared to do something worse than stabbing me to make sure I never interrupted again. But then our eyes met, and everything changed.
He blinked in disbelief like he’d seen a ghost, someone from his past he’d lost hope of ever seeing again. I smiled, momentarily forgetting why I’d knocked to begin with. I felt a sense of calm wash over me, like the end of a horror show when a commercial comes on to advertise exactly what you need, and suddenly the world is safe and warm and you don’t even have to make up your mind what to eat because of course it’s Snickers and always has been.
There was a familiarity between us, and I wanted to tell him I felt it too, whatever it was, but at that moment my vision started going black.
“And now a word from our sponsors,” I said, and I weakly lifted my bloody hand for him to see why I was making such a sudden departure. The last thing I remembered was the pleasure of him catching me as I collapsed.
I woke to the crisp sound of a page being turned with just about as much malice as anyone could ever have for a book. At first I didn’t remember where I was, but even before I opened my eyes it became clear. Charlie’s unmistakable voice erupted through the silence, so much louder than the person reading that it made me jump.
Charlie’s voice sounded like an anti-smoking ad, abrasive as if his throat would start bleeding out words at any second instead of speaking them. He never went more than a couple sentences before coughing up something wet, and there was a syrupy sweetness to the things he said that made my fillings hurt like I’d been using tin foil as chewing gum. “He’s awake,” he said indifferently.
Regardless of how often it happened, it always left me disoriented to wake up in someone else’s bed, and doing so in the same room as a man like Charlie didn’t help settle my mind. I blinked a few times and did a quick mental inventory of my current physical state; orifices seemingly un-violated, fingers and toes and appendages accounted for.
The numbness in my side had been replaced by a dull ache; more uncomfortable than unbearable. It certainly didn’t feel like he’d rummaged through the entry wound to harvest any organs.
I turned toward Charlie first, then when I got the prickly sensation on the back of my head of being watched, looked the other direction. There was Gorgeous, sitting in the corner with the book I’d heard. He was seething, his entire body tense with fury. Obviously, it wasn’t merely the dilapidated novel he was angry with. He had this expression like he’d suffered a great injustice, and by his scowl, I’d say I was as much to blame as my physician.
Charlie cleared his throat to try and get my attention, but a word didn’t exist in the entire English language that could’ve drawn my focus away from his friend. There was no sign that we’d shared a connection at the door. What I’d witnessed was gone and forgotten. He only had hatred for me now. I could see it in his face, each line etched with contempt like the older boys who kicked me around at school, but would show up after class for a quickie nevertheless.
With them I’d always cowered, as much from their rage as the painful blows. But with him, I couldn’t turn away. He had a darker countenance than anyone I’d every met. His black eyes were piercing, and the bones in his face created deep hollows around his cheeks, making his five o’clock shadow even more pronounced. Judging by the dark circles under his eyes, it looked like he’d stopped sleeping around the same time he’d stopped eating. But he was lovely, and I would’ve given my last pint of blood to see what he looked like when he smiled.
“Vincent, this is Frank. Frank, Vincent,” Charlie said, giving up on getting my attention.
“Hi,” I said hopefully, flashing him a smile he didn’t return.
Frank briefly raised his eyes and aimed his scorn back to Charlie, our introduction doing nothing to ease his hostility. Then he turned to his book for a second before slamming it shut and standing up.
God, he was tall. From the bed I felt like I was staring up at Sears Tower.
Charlie remained seated as he moved heatedly toward the door, which I found to be a huge sign of disrespect. I would’ve walked him out if I could get up. It was only polite. Although, I did have a better view from here; fitted black pants covering a great ass, slightly rounded even if he was a little too thin. But the thought of Charlie enjoying the same scenic opportunity ruined my fantasy and made me shudder.
The man was the biggest pervert I’d ever met, and
was saying something. He was the kind of guy who got slapped on a regular basis. At the diner, he’d brazenly ogled a girl who was so young that
would’ve gotten five to ten years for looking at her, and then he had the audacity to do the same to her gray-haired grandmother. Thankfully, I didn’t seem to be his type.
“Leaving already, Frankie boy?” he asked with a laugh.
Frank bristled. I could tell that Charlie had said it to piss him off, and it worked. He looked like he’d been keeping vigil at my bedside the entire time. He was practically gathering dust, and his book was falling apart as if he’d read it repeatedly. How long
I been out?
The memory of his face at the door was clearer than anything, that look of recognition though we’d never met. It was still vivid in my mind, even as everything that happened after that moment faded further away.
I tried to hold on to what I remembered, recollections of pain, hazy but undeniable, and the smell of cigarettes. There were apologies that sounded insincere even through my fog, and tension in the room so thick it made breathing difficult.
Charlie had been in and out constantly, always leaving silence behind him. But I’d never felt alone. Frank
have been with me, wearing down his novel page by page while I slept. I had to wonder why he would do it, sit quietly by my bed only to scowl at me the second I woke up.
Seeing him angry made me wish I’d never regained consciousness. I wanted to go back to the doorway, to experience that moment again where it felt like he’d been waiting for me with bated breath, ready to love me despite the mortal sin I’d quite possibly committed. But it was all one big blur, a dream that may have lasted hours or gone on for days, and I couldn’t be sure that any of what I remembered had actually happened. Even the look I was certain I saw could have been a side effect of the blood loss, a hallucinatory slice of heaven before I went the other direction. If I’d bled any longer, he may have answered the door naked.