What had she done?
Jade stared at her trembling hands suspended above Trina’s stomach, untouched by the blood just inches from them, blood that moments before gurgled out of her friend’s side in an unrelenting gush. Jade pulled her hands away. Trina’s wound was smaller now and the flow of her blood had dried to a mere trickle.
Jade felt the sharp pain in her own abdomen. It took her breath away and she sat back on her heels, instinctively clutching her side. Wetness soaked her hand. She looked at her side to see blood soaking her cotton tank top. She was bleeding. A lot.
Had she taken too much? She looked at Trina.
Confusion marred her friend’s sweat soaked brow and she began to sit up. “What…?” Her unfocused eyes dipped to Jade’s side.
Jade knew what would come next. She had experienced it before. Her foster mother had the look Trina wore, and so had Kimberly, a girl from the second grade.
Jade’s heart ached almost as much as her side and she curled her arm around her stomach. She tried so hard to fit in this time, being careful not to give into the temptation to help those who were hurt. It wasn’t fair. And it hurt. This time, it really hurt.
“What did you do?” Trina gasped.
It wasn’t her words, so much, as the tone in her voice. Condemnation. Horror. Jade stood, slowly. The look in Trina’s bright blue eyes made Jade stumble back. Repugnant. Repulsive. Reprehensible.
Jade shook her head, silently begging Trina not to look at her like she was a freak. She and Trina had not been friends for long. A month, maybe. But there had been an instant bond between them. Or so Jade thought. She wanted a real friend, a friend who could understand. Tears rose in her eyes, blurring the image of Trina lying on the dark sidewalk. Was that too much to ask?
Sirens blared in the distance, the piercing sound drawing closer. Jade backed away. She knew Trina would be all right. She knew she had taken a large portion of the gunshot wound away from Trina and into her own body. Trina would survive.
Jade swayed beneath the onslaught of a wave of lightheadedness. She had never taken this much. Her foster mother had sliced her finger with a knife. Kimberly had fallen from the monkey bars at school and tore up her knee. But neither one of those times had been this bad. There had been others. Others who had never known what she had done. A touch had taken a paper cut away or soothed a bump on the head. But nothing like this.
Jade staggered through the dark street, away from Trina. She had to get home, back to her apartment. She wondered if her body would be able to heal itself as it had those other times.
Jade glanced one last time at her friend. Trina would tell them what happened. She would tell them of the mugger and the gunshot. There was so much blood on the pavement, they wouldn’t believe it was all Trina’s. Any DNA testing done would show it wasn’t only Trina’s. She would tell them what Jade had done. They wouldn’t believe her, but they would still want to talk to Jade. And they would come for her.
Jade doubled over, using the wall of Yen Ching’s Chinese food to hold herself up. Pain spiraled up her side like liquid fire, immobilizing her. She clenched her teeth and closed her eyes. Would she make it back to her apartment? She could feel her blood leaving her body between her fingers. So tired. But she had done the right thing. She had saved Trina’s life.
She used the walls of the closely built shops as supports to get her through the streets. She wasn’t far from her apartment building. She never went too far. Just in case…just in case she had to leave quickly.
She stopped and leaned her head back against the bricks. So tired. She looked down at her wound. Even now, it was closing. The amount of blood running through her fingers had let up. If she could only rest. Just for a little while.
Prickles suddenly raced across her neck and she looked up. Dark sky greeted her. Distant muffled voices floated through the night. She scanned the sky between the tall buildings above her. What was it that set off her alarms? She shook herself. She was bleeding. She had to get home. Again, she lurched forward. Just make it to your apartment, she told herself.
Her chills wouldn’t ease. Was it the mugger coming after her? Why had her instincts caused her to look up? It was the strangest thing.
Barking dogs sounded in the distance. Not strange in Chicago, certainly, but the way they grew louder was. Like an approaching tsunami, their barking swelled.
Jade turned and ran. Whatever it was, it was not good. She stumbled, weak from blood loss. The barking was only blocks away. Whatever was coming was coming fast. She had to get home. Jade sprinted across the street.
A loud noise jarred Jade and a bright light blinded her. She stopped in the middle of the street, her arms raised to block the light.
The honk sounded again from the car before her. “Ya dumb bitch!” a voice shouted. “Watch where you’re going!”
Shaking, Jade staggered to the curb. She watched the car zoom off down the road. Her gaze shot to the sky as if she expected something to fall out of the darkness onto her head. Nothing appeared. Nothing swooped down and snatched her from the street. She moved to the door of her apartment building, staring at the sky. The dogs stopped barking.
Was that a good thing or a bad thing?
She swung open the door and entered the lobby with a sigh of relief, slamming the door behind her, sealing out whatever it was that had her so unnerved. She leaned against the wall, trying to catch her breath.
She went for her purse, only to realize the mugger had taken it. She swore softly and pressed a button on the row of mailboxes on the wall, holding her breath. She hoped her neighbor Mr. Wheeser was home. He would buzz her in.
“Yeah. Who is it?”
“It’s Jade, Mr. Wheeser,” Jade answered. “I forgot my purse. Can you-”
The buzzer sounded, making Jade jump, but she grabbed the door and swung it open, stepping through. She carefully closed the door behind her. That sense of unease was still with her. She paused on the ground floor, glancing up at the three flights of stairs. She didn’t want to alarm Mr. Wheeser by the blood on her shirt.
“That you Jade?” he called down.
“Yeah, Mr. Wheeser. Thanks,” Jade answered. She looked at the door to the lobby.
“I can’t be ringing just anyone in, ya know,” Mr. Wheeser called down. “These streets are unsafe nowadays. You’d better be careful.”
“I know, Mr. Wheeser.” She waited until she heard his mumbling disappear behind his closing door before she sat on the stairs. What was wrong with her? She wasn’t usually this jumpy. Maybe the mugger and the gun… Jade groaned. She had every right to be jumpy. Lord, he had appeared out of nowhere.
She stared down at the blood on her shirt. It glistened in the dim hallway lighting. She lifted her shirt to inspect the wound, gently probing her bloody skin. The gash was almost completely closed. Her swollen skin, covered in blood, had only a cut remaining from the wound. The pain had dulled to a constant throb. She pulled herself up with the help of the railing.
Something moved in the lobby. Jade froze. Was it the mugger? Had he followed her? Did he have her key?
The handle on the entrance door moved.
Jade spun and fearfully bolted up the three sets of stairs. She paused before her doorway and looked over the railing. No one followed her. Turning to her apartment door, her hand instinctively reached for the handle, but stopped cold. No purse. No key. Jade recalled the spare key at the top of the doorframe and reached for it, running her fingers along the edge, until they found the cold, dusty metal. She grabbed the key and shoved it into the lock.
Jade bolted inside and slammed the door shut behind her. She turned the deadbolt and leaned against the door to listen. Nothing. No sound. Her heart pounded in her chest. What was going on? Was she hallucinating?
Her side ached, a dull reminder to flee. If the mugger had her purse he would know where to find her. If the police recovered the purse they would come here looking for her. She had to leave immediately. Jade raced into the bathroom and turned on the faucet in the sink, rinsing her hands clean of blood. Despite the blood being wet, it took a vigorous scrubbing to remove all traces of it. Lifting her shirt, her gaze traveled to the wound on her side. It was almost completely healed. A quick splash of water cleansed the blood from her injury. Her skin was slightly swollen and only the barest of cuts remained. After drying it with a towel and wiping her hands clean, she dashed down the hallway to her bedroom, flicking on the one table lamp, and continued to the closet.
Her room was barren, nothing on the walls, nothing on the desk except for her laptop.
Jade threw open the closet door, grabbed a duffel bag and tossed it onto the bed. She encircled all the clothes hanging in her closet and yanked them from the hangers. There wasn’t many. There had never been enough money for extra clothes and buying them had not been important to her. Shoving the clothes into her duffel bag, she scooped up her laptop from the table beside the bed.
“You must be in a lot of trouble.”
Jade jumped, spinning, holding her laptop to her chest like a shield, her heart nearly exploding out of her chest.
He stood in the doorway, framed by the lamplight. He leaned his shoulder casually on the doorframe, arms crossed over his chest. A cynical twist curved his lips and lent an air of arrogance to him. His dark hair fell to his shoulders in waves. He was tall, about six feet, well over Jade’s head. His sharp black eyes warned her of danger. A danger she knew. A danger she wrote about.
“Demetrius,” she gasped, stunned.
His brow furrowed and he pushed himself from the doorframe. His hands dropped to his side. “How do you know me?”
Demetrius. How could she not know him? He was the hero in her story! But it couldn’t be. This was madness. The entire night. She didn’t know him. She couldn’t. Oh, how she wanted to believe her Demetrius actually stood in the doorway. She needed a hero right now. The room swam and shook her head to clear it. He wasn’t her Demetrius. It was the mugging, the gunshot, all the blood loss, all the pain fogging her senses.
“Who are you?” he demanded.
“Me?” she managed to croak. She grabbed the lamp from the table and held it before her, still holding her laptop tightly to her chest with her other hand. A silly gesture, but at least if he attacked her, she could get in a good smash to his head with the lamp. “I should ask you the same thing.”
He entered her room, taking a step toward her. “You seem to know me already.”
Jade retreated. Sheer black power emanated from his menacing movement. “What? No. No. I was confused.” She held the lamp out before her. “Don’t come any closer.”
He looked at the lamp and then his eyes slid up to hers like a languid caress. A tingle raced through her body. Those eyes, they were mesmerizing. She shook her head slightly. It must be the loss of blood creating these outrageous thoughts and feelings. “What are you doing in my apartment? Was that you following me?”
He straightened. “Was someone following you?”
“I think so. I don’t know! Stop playing games. Just leave!”
He stood absolutely still for a long moment. His gaze met hers and she could feel him all around her, powerful, dominating, and very sensual. This was madness.
“It’s nothing,” she snapped quickly. She shook the lamp as if it were a weapon of importance. “I want you to leave, now.”
He took a step closer.
Jade brought the lamp up, but the electrical cord pulled taut and she couldn’t quite position it before her.
“I am here for answers, Jade.”
She gasped. “How do you know my name?”
“How do you know mine?”
Jade opened her mouth to answer, but her answer was impossible. He was just a fictional character. He was her hero in a story she made up. But it was him. He stood before her as surely as if he materialized from her written words.
“You posted some chapters to the Internet and left your name,” he said.
Oh, his voice was so soft. It did explain how he knew her name. Surfing the Internet. But it didn’t explain how he knew where she lived. She kept the lamp between them. “Are you following me?”
“What do you want?” she demanded.
“Where did you hear that story?”
“Hear? I made it up.”
He took a dangerous step toward her. “How do you know me?”
Oh God, he was some kind of lunatic. And she must be just as mad, because for a moment she had believed him. “If you leave now, I won’t call the police.”
“What else do you know?”
Jade took another step away from him. She had to get to the door and escape.
Suddenly, he stiffened. His head tilted to the side, and his long, black hair fell over his shoulder. He moved without her seeing him, snatching the lamp from her hand and turning it off.
“I’ll scream,” she promised, backing away until the wall came up behind her. “I swear.”
He was before her, a dark silhouette, tall, powerful. “You are one of them,” he whispered, his voice coming out in a growl.
Jade lunged toward the door, but he caught her wrist in a crushing hold.
“Where did you hear that story?” he demanded.
“I told you,” she insisted, tugging at her wrist.
He pulled her close to him. “I don’t believe you,” he growled. He looked at the door. “We have to go. Now. There is someone else in your apartment.”