" –and I don't know when I'll be back, so I decided to visit," she said, glancing out the window of the Lorelei building where her grandfather lived. "Since I've been busy lately, Gramps," she added, the lie tasting bitter on her tongue. But she'd have to stick to it; Mom didn't like Jeff, and most of the time, Gramps agreed with her. She wasn't going to consider the thought that she might be right.
Her grandfather coughed, a wet, thick sound, and rubbed the oxygen hose on his nose. "So what've you been up to, young lady?" he asked, in a crackly voice.
"Work, mostly," she said, fiddling with strands of hair that were right on the line between blond and brown. "And I've got a boyfriend," she added reluctantly.
"Oh?" he asked, coughing again. "What's his name?"
"Jeff," she said, biting her lip. "I met him at work."
"Office romance, Caro?" her Gramps asked, winking at her.
"I guess," she said. I have no clue.
"How's Rosa doing?" he asked, coughing again.
"Mom's good," she said. "So's Christine. She and Ben are expecting, but they don't want the word out quite yet, so keep it quiet," she added with a smile.
He nodded. "Mum's the word," he said, coughing again.
The wail of sirens grew outside the building. She leaned over and tried to get a better look, but the window was in an inconvenient spot. "I don't know what's going on," she said, frowning.
"It's a bad window," Gramps said. "I know; I live here." He coughed again.
When the door swung open and hit the wall loud enough to bang, she jumped and gasped. "Don't move, don't say anything," the man who stood in the doorway said in a harsh whisper. The gun in his hand was enough to convince her. She knew guns, and she knew men who carried guns. They were usually willing to use them. This one certainly looked it –his clothes were ripped, and his dark face had extreme tension written all over it. He took a quick, furtive, glance out the doorway before shutting it and managing to climb up and brace himself against the ceiling and walls, using the bookcase near the door as a support.
Gramps coughed, and she bit her lips hard. What was he doing here? What was he doing, period? What did he want? Was someone chasing him?
Her question was answered momentarily as another man holding a gun burst into the room. She jumped again and realized she couldn't feel her lips anymore. He ran through her Gramps's small apartment, searching. She cast a small, furtive glance at the man against the ceiling, who was as still as a statue.
Oh, God, she prayed, but couldn't think of what else to say.
The second man turned back to them and frowned slightly. Fear clenched her heart as she glanced at her grandfather, who, bless him, was trying to signal to the man the location of the intruder. Her legs tightened with flight instinct.
The second man got the hint just as the first man dropped on him.
As they crashed into the partition between the two rooms, she flew to her feet and grabbed Gramps's wheelchair, trying frantically to pull him out of the room, out of the line of fire. As they smashed into something else, the wheel got caught on the doorway, and she wailed inwardly, feeling seconds slip away. She got the wheel unhooked from the doorframe and yanked Gramps into the hallway just as a young man came barreling around the corner down the hallway. He had a gun, too.
She wordlessly pointed towards Gramps's room, trying to put distance between them and the chaos. She pulled the wheelchair down the hall as her Gramps coughed and the young man ran past them.
She had nearly reached the end of the hall when the shot rang out.
"Stay here!" she told her Gramps (like he was going anywhere) as she ran back to his room, feeling dread well up in her stomach. Guns always hurt people; she knew that better than most…
It seemed so quiet as she took in the sight of the young man on his back on the floor, with a red stain welling up on his white T-shirt. His hands twitched and he gasped, which made her fall to her knees beside him as what little nurse's training she had gained before dropping out of school kicked in. She grabbed a towel from the bathroom and pressed it as hard as she could to the wound in his chest.
"Hey, can you hear me? Sweetie?" She didn't know why she called him sweetie –he didn't look all that much older than she –but she had to call him something. "Look at me, okay?" she asked, trying to keep the fear out of her voice.
His eyes slid over to her face. Well, that's good.
A string of curses filled the air as someone dropped down beside her. "Newman?" an older man with a large nose and a taut expression said, "Jesus, kid…"
The young man –Newman –coughed and tried to say something.
"Don't try to talk, kid," the older man said. "Don't move, don't talk." The older man cursed some more and grabbed his walkie-talkie. "This is Gerard in the 8th floor of the Lorelei building," he snapped, "I need an ambulance; Newman has been shot! What the hell happened?" he turned away from them to someone she recognized as the 'second man' who seemed quite distraught.
"Sheridan managed to get off a shot and Newman just –just walked right into it," he said, waving his hand. "Walked right into it… oh, God…"
He seemed to notice her presence for the first time. "Who're you?"
"This is my grandfather's room," she said. "I was visiting –I've had some nurse's training –" she was babbling; she knew it. So did he.
"Okay," he said, going back to his radio, "I repeat, I need an ambulance, do you copy?"
Luckily a police officer poked his head in the doorway just at that moment. "I need your EMS team up hear pronto!" he snapped angrily. "Miss, can you –"
"I'll stay," she said, applying renewed pressure. He went out the window.
She felt… this huge sense of guilt. She had pointed him into here –he had gotten shot–
"You might want to let up, he's looking like he has trouble breathing –" the 'second man' said.
"Who's the one with nurse's training?" she snapped. "That's right, me! Shut up!" She was desperately afraid that if she let up the pressure on him, if she let go, he'd bleed right out. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I'm so, so sorry, sweetie… it's my fault –"
He blinked and shook his head slowly. "N-no…" he managed to choke the word out. "J-job…"
"Don't hurt yourself," she said. "Okay? You stay with me, okay? You promise?"
He was turning whiter and whiter, but he had given what strength he had to make sure she knew he didn't blame her.
"Where're the medics?" she snapped at the police officer.
"Here they are!" he called, directing them in. Four men carrying a stretcher ran into the room, and immediately started assessing his vitals, trying to clear his airway, and helping her put pressure onto his wound.
Her arms were going shaky from how hard she was trying to press this towel into his chest –which was getting soaked with red –but she had to stop the blood. It wasn't supposed to be out here…
"Ma'am, we're going to lift him onto the stretcher on the count of three, alright?" one of the men said.
"Yes, alright," she said.
"One, two… three." They lifted him up and onto the stretcher, where they strapped him in and put an oxygen mask on his face. "Can I come with him?" she heard herself ask.
"Sure," the first man said. "Do you mind keeping pressure?"
"No," she said, reapplying force on the new bandage that had been put over the towel. That had been a basic rule –don't take dressings off, just put more over to stop the bleeding.
They took the elevator. She didn't know what else to do except… talk to him. So she did. She asked him if his eyes had always been blue and if he had gotten the curly, sand-colored hair from his mother or father, if he had any brothers or sisters, and what his first name was. He couldn't talk back –and she thought that was a bad sign –but he was looking at her, so she kept it up. He had a very young face –what her mother would call a 'baby face' –and a nose that seemed a little out of proportion with the rest of his features, but it was kind of cute. She told him so.
She thought she saw the corner of his mouth twitch under the mask.
They got him in the ambulance and she climbed in, not thinking. The older man from before reappeared and climbed in after her. The doors closed and the sirens blared.
"This is unit 115, we are en route to the facility with a 32 year old male with a gunshot wound to the chest. ETA five minutes."
She could tell it wasn't going well. As the paramedic called, "Hey partner, can you hear me? Partner?" and the older man whispered, "His name is Noah," she kept talking.
"Noah, sweetie, we need your eyes open, okay? Can you do that for me?" She said, and she heard the beeps slow.
She let go of his hand long enough for them to use the defibrillator, but then she grabbed it again, saying in a louder voice, "Noah, you promised me, now you open your eyes! Noah!" She felt strangely gratified to see his eyelids flutter.
"That's good, okay?" she said. "Now keep them open, Noah. Understand?"
The ambulance stopped and the doors popped open, and she got out of the way to let the paramedics do their job. "Does he have a chance?" the hospital worker asked.
"Slim," the paramedics said. "We had to defib, but he's still responding, so…"
She didn't hear the rest. She headed for the nearest clump of bushes and was promptly sick. "At least I held off until now," she told herself, wiping her mouth. She stared at her hands without seeing them. They were red up to her wrists. I need to wash, she thought. I need to call Gramps. I need…
"Thank you," the older man said, and she jumped, not having realized he was that close.
She nodded awkwardly. "I hope he makes it," she whispered.
"If he does it's because of you," he said, and his voice was thick.
"Thanks," she said. "I'm gonna…" she motioned towards the hospital with her red hands. He nodded.
As the blood ran down the drain in the bathroom, she wondered if she had underestimated herself again by quitting school those years ago. She scrubbed her hands under the sink. If he makes it, it's because of you, her mind whispered to her.
It was a good thought.