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Authors: Synthia St. Claire

Love Lift Me

BOOK: Love Lift Me
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Love
Lift Me

©2013
Synthia St. Claire

This
is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, or events are either the
product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any
resemblance to persons, alive or dead, is completely coincidental.

***

One

 

I
opened my eyes and tried to turn my head, but an awful, gripping pain in my
neck stopped me. Everything was dark.

My
mind lurched slowly back into reality.
What happened? Where the hell am I?

I
tried to move, to get away, but something heavy was pinning me in place. Flaking
rust crumbled beneath my fingers as I brushed them along the object, which
pressed cruelly into the soft flesh of my thigh and across my chest. I sent one
hand through a narrow, cramped space between myself and it and touched my leg. The
right side of my jeans had somehow been torn open and there was a slick, cool
dampness there that seemed to crawl down my skin and soak through the shredded
denim.

A
shallow surge of fear rushed into my gut and I took in a shuddering, weak gasp
of air. I sampled the damp scent of rust and water in that breath along with
the suffocating, acrid hollow of burning rubber and gasoline.

I’m
dying
,
I thought with an absurd, sudden burst of clarity, and tried to remember what I
was about to say to the man sitting next to me on the bus. Somehow, that was
important. He’d been so kind, and what he asked deserved an answer…but now…I
was all alone.

Alone
again.

Among
the loud rattles of things settling in the darkness and the distant warbling
echoes of sirens racing towards me, I heard a man call out my name.

“Kat!
Hold on!”

I
could tell he was shouting, but the words fell on my ears like a muffled, far
away whisper. With a grunt of effort, I tried to push away the metal pinning me.
Almost instantly, the sharp clarity that I’d gained and whatever remaining
strength I had left drained away. There was only a dizzying sense of
lightheaded weakness to take its place.

“H…help
me,” I struggled to speak, barely hearing my own broken voice over the din.

Then,
my world became silent and numb. Everything was gone, taken from me, except the
blurring shadows and the solid blackness which steadily began to fill my sight.
I felt my heart thump lazily and I wondered again how I’d wound up in such a
way. Was this what it felt like to die?

I
closed my eyes.

Time
was lost to me then. Hours may have passed for all I knew. When shaky reality
came back to me, everything was different. A flickering orange glow and rapidly
moving shapes seemed to fill my vision instead of the cold, impenetrable black
of before. The air, thick with smoke now, was like stinging fire in my lungs
and throat. I writhed wildly in place under the object resting on top of me, my
desperation renewed. Blind panic overtook my senses until my trembling, sapped
muscles could fight no more.

Hopeless.
I’m…I can’t…

Just
as I ended my struggle and gave in to fate, I felt the crushing metallic weight
suddenly shift off me. Strong fingers encircled my ankles and began to pull. A
warm hand caught around my waist and lifted. My shirt caught on something,
resisting the movement only briefly, and then it ripped apart down one side and
gave way. The stinging air and the metal that ensnared me were being left
behind. I could only manage to open my mouth and groan out.

There
was one final tugging sensation and I was free.

“I’ve
got you,” the man’s voice said reassuringly. He gingerly supported my head,
which felt like it was on a loose swivel. “Come on, Kat…stay with me.”

The
sleepy feeling was coming on again. I fought against it, lifting my eyelids and
trying to see past the haze which had formed around me like a cloud. There,
above me, was the face of the kind, handsome man I remembered from earlier. His
concerned eyes looked down into mine. Had it really been less than twelve hours
since we’d met or was this just some sort of dream?

“Shane?”

He
smiled weakly at me. “Thank God. Everything is gonna be fine, Kat. We had an
accident…the bus…s-someone already called for help. I can see the ambulance
coming.”

“Why
did…
oh
.” The world spun around at once.

“Don’t
try to talk. Just hold on,” Shane pleaded. “Hold on.”

 It
was then I realized that I’d been clutching something hard and round in my fist.
I held my hand up to see what it was, and there, between my wavering,
outstretched fingers, was the silver chain and locket that my grandmother had
given me so long ago. There were several bloody fingerprints on the outer shell
and the clasp was broken.

“Let
them know what happened, Shane. Take it…” I whispered and opened my hand to him.
When I did, the last remaining bit of strength poured out of me and a feeling
of coldness took its place. “Tell my family.”

Two

 

In
the overcast parking lot, I fumbled through my purse and retrieved the beaten-up
phone that always managed to creep past everything else and find its way to the
bottom. I thumbed through the cracked touchscreen on the thing, which I’d
managed to drop so many times it was a wonder it even worked anymore, found the
name I was searching for, and dialed. It would be the sixth time I’d done it in
the last three hours.  

As
I waited for the call to connect, I watched the beaten-up taxi that had brought
me to the bus station pull away and bounce out onto the empty asphalt road, exhaust
steaming from both tailpipes and grinding its suspension the whole way. I
looked up into the gray sky and took a breath.

The
rain would be here soon.

“Come
on, come on,” I whispered faintly into the receiver. “Answer, damn you.”

There
was a brief moment of hope when the line picked up and then my heart sank. It
was just Hale’s recording again, emotionlessly telling me to leave a message. The
deep, soothing voice that used to make me tremble with delight was starting to
make me feel sick. There was an distinct clicking noise at the end and then came
the familiar beep, but I decided against leaving yet another message.

“Not
available. What a surprise,” I mumbled and shoved the phone back in my purse.

I
peered towards the glass windows at the front of the building, hoping for a
look inside. All that appeared was my own distorted, approaching reflection; a
quiet girl with her arms crossed over her chest, twirling locks of loose,
reddish-brown hair as it danced around her head carried by the gusting wind.
She was wearing faded blue jeans and a loose-fitting pink t-shirt which had
been a favorite since high school. There was a frown, but it was hidden to
most, buried deeper and behind years of practiced smiles.

That
was me, alright. As I watched myself stroll slowly across the lot I sighed, but
not at the foul weather which had begun to settle in or the casual outfit I’d
hastily tossed on less than an hour ago. Instead, my mind was plagued with the
question of which excuse that so-called boyfriend of mine might give me this
time.

Predictably,
Hale would come up with something to convince me that his absence wasn’t his
fault, just like he always did. “
Sorry Kat, the truck broke down on me,

was one of his favorites, despite how much time or money he spent on the damn
thing. Funnily, or maybe not, I’d never actually seen it out of commission. I
couldn’t forget his old standby either, “
The alarm clock didn’t go off baby,

but I knew better now. He was a liar. At that moment, I was sure that Hale was sleeping
off yet another hangover on his couch after a long night spent doing God knows
what with God knows who.

I
blew out in frustration and kicked a little stone free from a crack in the
asphalt parking lot and watched it skitter away towards the curb. Why did I
always give that boy more chances than he deserved? Long-distance relationships
were supposed to be a challenge, I knew that, but you were supposed to be able
to rely on your significant other in times of need. There had to be give and
take.
Trust
, for God’s sake. Over the last year, Hale and I shared none
of those things anymore. And now, thanks to him, it looked like I was on my own
again.

I
was used to that, though.

Almost
four years of nursing school had taught me a thing or two.
Sink or swim,
girlie
. If I screwed up, I knew there wouldn’t be another shot. There was
no money for a second chance, and it was not easy to do it without the comfort
of my family, but damn it, I did it anyway.

Only
a few short months remained until I was due to graduate. Clinical course study
and hands-on time was over. I’d started so many IVs that I could nearly do it
blindfolded. Exams and last minute studying were all that remained. I could
almost see the full auditorium and feel the diploma in my hand. The long nights
and the countless hours on my feet as an unpaid intern were finally going to be
over. Somehow, knowing how close I was made all the distance and loneliness worth
it.

All
those plans from before I started school were going to become reality. I’d send
out resumes, like anyone else would. Maybe get a position working in a small
clinic or doctor’s office. A hospital would pay more, but the amount of work at
one of those for a nurse was maddening, to say the least. I’d done my time in
one already, anyway. I needed something quieter; a place where I didn’t have to
treat people like numbers and my work didn’t tag along in my head when I went
home…wherever home would be, that is.

I
told myself it would only be a matter of time no matter what path I decided on
– my chosen profession was in high demand and I’d gathered up a handful of
glowing recommendations along the way. Everything had started happening so fast
once the finish line was in sight. There would be money, and just maybe, a
better life to go along with it. I’d just finished putting my senior project
together when my mother called with news that brought those plans to a
screeching halt.

Cancer
.

Breast
cancer, more specifically, but my mother really couldn’t tell me more than
that. She explained that she’d gone to the doctor after finding a large lump in
her right breast and he tested it. A few days later, he discovered it was the
kind that spread. They would cut it out soon, and after that, some kind of
treatments to try and kill it off. My mother’s voice sounded hopeful and
resilient that day as she explained those things to me in her usual, simple
manner, the way only a woman who had lived her entire life on a farm could. I
can remember looking at the scattered papers and open books on my desk as I
listened to the news, knowing what she said actually meant.

Despite
her insistence that I not to worry about it, I knew better. My little sister
Abby could help some, but she was barely even thirteen years old and more
concentrated on boys or music or whatever it was teenage girls her age were
into these days. Father would need someone to keep the house up. Mother would
need my help getting to chemotherapy and radiation appointments. If, God forbid,
things didn’t go the way I hoped, she would probably need help just getting out
of bed or forcing down a few bites of food. I saw it plenty of times before as
a student. I knew what cancer looked like up close, and the ugly, unfair
reality of it. The decision to go home wasn’t that difficult.

My
reflection had become life-size as I reached the sidewalk in front of the drab
bus station. I convinced myself that I would simply have to wait a little
longer. “
Maybe in a year
,” I thought, and straightened my hair, “
a
semester even, if things go well for mother. I can always go back then and finish
my degree.”

No
more time for regrets. Now, I had to be there for my mother. With a sigh, I
pulled the glass door open with a jingle and walked into the building’s lobby,
which was much less moody than the outside.

There
was a slightly round, middle-aged woman seated behind a lime green counter who
immediately looked up at me and smiled enthusiastically. She patted the comical,
tightly-curled, and very obviously dyed bright-red coif on her head before
rising to her feet. The wide-collared, grey and lime green blouse she wore,
which matched the countertop almost perfectly, made her look more like a flight
attendant from the disco era than a clerk at a small country bus station.

She
smiled widely at me and asked in a quirky, Appalachian accent, “How you doing,
darlin’? Can I hep’ you?”

“Yes
ma’am. I reserved a seat,” I answered and rummaged through my purse, pulling out
the crumpled piece of paper I’d written the confirmation on. “It should be
under the last name
Atwater
. I called about an hour ago and spoke
to…uhm, someone else.”

“Musta
been Randy, I suppose. He left about fifteen minutes ago.” She assaulted the
computer keyboard in front of her, typing so fast with her fingers that I
questioned if the woman had perhaps missed her calling as a court reporter. “See
you right on this here screen, Missus Atwater. Row twelve, seat B. That ‘gon be
all right?”

“Sure.”

“Got
a lot of people comin’ into town, but not a lot of folks leavin’ so they’s
plenty of seats going outbound. Reckon that’s on account of the bluegrass music
show tomorrow night.”

I
nodded politely. She sure was friendly. Amazing that a person could be so
chipper when the weather was so miserable.

“There
we go.” She tapped one last button emphatically. “Bus oughta be here in about
an hour, darlin’. Driver called in to let us know he was gonna be a tad bit
late. You know how things is sometimes. The boarding area’s right down yonder.”
The woman pointed one stubby finger towards a short hallway with a set of white
double doors at the end. “Good chance you won’t have to be here that long ‘fore
they pull up.”

“I
can do that. I’ve been waiting all morning, anyway.”

The
woman raised her eyebrow and looked at me strangely.

“Oh,
not you. I’m talking about my boyfriend, sorry. He was supposed to pick me up
this morning and drive me home.”

“I
see. He didn’t make it, huh?”

I
put on a sour expression and shook my head. The woman put her hands on her hips
and tried to remain cheerful as she continued, “Take it from me sugar, men can
be like that sometimes. I’m sure he’s got a good reason.”

She
obviously didn’t know Hale.

“Oh,
I’m sure he’ll come up with
something
,” I said.

The
phone on the counter rang and the woman smiled knowingly. “I’ve got to get this
now, hon. There’s a snack machine right around the corner if you’re hungry, and
a water fountain in this little hallway here, too. I’ll holler overhead when
it’s time to board. Thank you for travelin’ with Median.”

I
trudged across the lobby with my suitcase in tow and headed through the white
doors. The boarding area was surprisingly empty, save a few tired-looking
strangers with bags of their own and a young man who was absent-mindedly sweeping
the floor. I took a seat on an unoccupied, worn out couch and tried to relax.
There wasn’t much else to do besides watch the television bolted to the wall in
front of me. It was either that or try to call Hale again, so I leaned back
into the soft cushions and tried to focus my attention to whatever was on the
screen.

My
boyfriend
,
I thought, and let out a huff through my nose.
Is he, though?

That
was a title that might soon be changing. Hale wouldn’t be getting any more
calls from me today. That’s right, the next time he heard my voice it would be
me yelling at him for being a no-good jerk through his screen door!

Thankfully,
the rational side of my head took over before I started to cry.
Jesus, Kat.
It’s not worth driving yourself crazy over and it sure as hell ain’t something
to be crying about in a public place like this. Maybe he does have a good
reason this time, and then you’d look bad, wouldn’t you? Just stop thinking
about him already.

I
actually managed to do it for awhile, until the disturbing image of Hale,
shirtless and in bed and with another woman entered my mind. It was so real. I
could see his tall, sculpted frame sliding around beneath a sheer white sheet
and that playful, naughty grin of his flashing up at me. When his hand traced
across the naked back of a beautiful blonde-haired girl lying next to him, my
heart sank and I balled up my fists. With a shake of my head, I pushed it away.

Darn
it brain, I said stop.

It
went like that for a while. Absent-mindedly zoning out, watching nearly-muted
game shows, waiting for a bus to arrive so I could get out of there, and trying
the whole time not to let my anger at Hale fly out and spill over into
apprehension or grief. Finally, something happened that took my mind off it.

Just
as the next contestant was about to take his turn answering a question, the television
show was suddenly gone and the spinning, computer-generated emblem of the local
news channel came zooming across the screen. With the way they hyped those
things up and cut in like that, you’d think they were about to report on the
apocalypse.

The
camera was focused on everyone’s favorite Watauga County weatherman, Skip
Weathersby, who immediately launched into his role as lead meteorologist. The
volume was so low that I had to strain and bend forward just to hear him. Even
then, I only caught bits and pieces.

“…gonna
be some…conditions for travel today…let’s go to the map…”

I
wanted to laugh as he gestured with his hands wildly; making big, sweeping
motions in front of curving red or blue arrows, telling his audience something
he must have thought was pretty important. That guy was born to give a
forecast. I wondered how much his last name had to do with his enthusiasm for
telling people about things that fell from the sky.

The
blue background behind Skip changed to fuzzy radar images of clouds which covered
almost the entire state. Most of them were quickly moving in thick, yellow and
red bands across the middle counties. In the center of some were bright flashes
of purple which usually indicated something bad. One look was enough to know. It
was what the folks around here termed a real “valley washer.”

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