“Don’t move.” The voice, I try to place it. A neighbor? I don’t know who else—“ETA on the ambulance! This kid’s gonna bleed out!”
“What . . .” My voice makes no sound, only a low gurgle within my chest. I try to push up, reach out. Help me! Shadows dance behind my eyes.
“God have mercy—we’re gonna lose him!”
“Stay down!” A male voice is close. “Oh shit . . . don’t move!”
I slip in and out. Voices frantic but muted in my ears.
“Neighbors said he’s fifteen . . .”
“. . . fucking bloodbath . . .”
“Help . . .” I cough and reach for the fire blazing in my jaw.
A firm grip wraps my neck. I struggle against it as it cuts off what little breath I’m able to take. “Hang on, son.” It loosens and I suck in a gulp of blessed air mixed with fluid that makes me cough.
“He’s gonna drown in his own blood if we don’t get him—”
“Son, can you hear us?”
I nod as best I can, reaching for the light. Don’t black out. Don’t give up.
“Did you do this, boy?” The thick growl of a different man sounds in the distance. His voice deeper. Angrier.
I’m in so much trouble. I want to tell him I don’t remember. I have a condition. Lapses in memory. But I can’t get the words to make it to my mouth.
“They’re all dead.”
My heart kicks behind my ribs.
Dead? Who’s dead?
Dizziness washes over me and I don’t fight it. Nausea rips through my gut. The biting taste of vomit mixed with blood floods my mouth. I suck air, fight through the mud for oxygen. My lungs burn. I absorb the words and pray for a blackout to come. The dark that takes away all the pain, the shadow that tucks me in and shelters me.
The pounding pulse in my neck slows to a dull throb. The static between my ears turns to a purr. Warmth envelopes me.
“Son of a bitch.” More shuffling. “He’s our only witness.”
Words blur as I drift in and out of darkness. Not like the blackouts, but something different. Deeper. As if sleep pulls me, then releases me like a yo-yo.
“Dammit! We’re gonna lose him.”
The pain dies off. Peacefulness wraps around me. I drift back into night and welcome the dark I know will protect me.
There isn’t a single moment in life that compares to this one. Eh . . . I suppose if one day I meet the right guy who doesn’t mind playing second to my career goals, maybe a wedding would compare. Or not. I mean, weddings mean family and family means ripping open old wounds, and, well, that idea alone makes me want to barf all over my knock-off Jimmy Choos.
No, I was right the first time. This moment is a game changer. It’s hit or miss, no room for second place. Five years in college, working my ass off and pulling in more student loans than I’ll be able to pay back in four lifetimes all teeters on thirty seconds of live newsfeed.
I shift restlessly in my seat, squinting back and forth between my phone and the dark road through the windshield. “Should be right up here, less than a mile.”
“Know that. Got the same address you did.” My cameraman turns left into a residential area, a decent part of town, middle-to lower-class neighborhood. “Besides, the place will be crawling with police. There’s no way we’ll miss it.”
I turn toward him and grin. “Police, but we’ll be the first and only news van.” I’m downright giddy! “This has to be perfect. We can’t afford to fuck this up.”
He grunts and I glare, annoyed by his nonchalance.
“I’m serious, Leaf. Make sure you get the right angle. I need this to be perfect. If the camera hits me funky, I look like a Cabbage Patch doll.” I smooth my skirt and blouse, wishing the outfit brought me more confidence, but instead I feel like one of those assassin bugs that wears the corpses of other bugs as armor. Not what I’m most comfortable in but at least I look enough the part to be taken seriously.
Fake it till you make it, Shyann.
“I got just as much riding on this as you do.” His voice is more animated than his usual lazy hippie drawl. He eyeballs me for a second. “Sure you’re ready for this?”
I swallow my nerves. “Of course I am. I was born ready for this.” My toes curl up, already cramping in my Timmy Shoos. Not sure they were even worth the eighteen bucks I paid for them.
“Good to hear, ’cause”—he squints at a grouping of emergency vehicles in front of a single-level home and slows to a stop—“it’s go time.”
I lean forward to gaze out the front window. An officer glares at our news van. Typical. An ambulance sits in the driveway, and the back doors are open and the cavity inside is empty. “They haven’t brought her out yet?”
“Shit! Let’s hurry!” Leaf scrambles between the seats into the back to grab his equipment.