Jessie Ch. 18

Anal

Author’s note:

This chapter contains no sexual activity, though it does contain remembered sexual behavior.

This chapter contains a brief scene of violence, and some threatening speech. If that is bothersome to you, please sleep this chapter.

Thanks again for all the votes, comments, and views!

###

But if I don’t break down

And bring it on myself

It’ll hit out of the blue

That’s the difference

Between Whiskey And You

– Whiskey And You, Chris Stapleton

###

October

###

I wrapped the bandage around Mr. Lardenois’s arm, secured it with tape. “Next time, be more careful with that axe, OK?”

He smiled ruefully at me. “Yeah yeah, Miss, I been cutting wood for my fireplace for longer than you’ve been alive, I don’t need any instruction on that topic.”

I cocked my head at the obstinate farmer. “And today you’re in my exam room. Just take it slow.”

He rolled his eyes and grabbed his shirt, walked out with a “Thank you, Miss” called behind him and I sighed, threw my gloves in the trash, took his chart back to the main desk.

The clock ticked to five as I watched it, and I grinned at the other nurse. “It’s quittin’ time!”

I changed into street clothes and grabbed my backpack from the staff locker room, navigated the maze of halls down to the parking lot. October in Wyoming felt a lot different than October anywhere else I’d lived, and I looked out the glass doors of the hospital at the gray skies above, the barren trees brushed by cold wind.

I pushed through the doors and I was looking at my phone. The warm Milwaukee night was dark around me and the glowing white screen cast harsh shadows on my face. I swigged the last of the Wild Turkey straight from the bottle, pitched the empty out between the bars of the rocket to shatter on the concrete below. Fuck!

I tasted salty tears and snot and alcohol and tobacco on my lips and I wiped them with my hand. I looked at it out of eyes blurred by crying.

I wouldn’t ever taste his kiss again. Gary would never kiss me again. It was that simple, and that profound.

Never again.

It didn’t seem possible. He’d just been here a couple of months ago. I’d SHOWN him this rocket, this piece of my life.

He’d been HERE.

And now he wasn’t.

He’d been killed in a terrorist attack in Minnesota just a few days ago. Connected no doubt to the murder he’d been accused of. Those things didn’t seem like they’d be unrelated.

I lit another cigarette with hands trembling from emotion and drunkenness, read the news article again.

No survivors.

“Jessie! Jessie! Wake up!”

Someone was shaking me and I blinked my way free of my dreams. My body was stiff and sore from sleeping all curled up on two hospital chairs. I straightened, yawned. “What… What is it? Is there news?”

McKenna sighed, pointed at the doctor standing hesitantly at the edge of the waiting room. “I think so.”

It seemed hard to believe that it was Gary lying in that bed. His head was wrapped in bandages and tubes ran into his face, into his arms, under the hospital sheets, machines keeping him breathing, keeping him hydrated, keeping him medicated, managing waste. The machines beeped and blinked, the lights and sounds indicating that he remained alive, though in what state and for how long couldn’t be guessed.

I heard the doctor speaking to me as if through a train tunnel, a buzzing in my ears blocking out most of the sound. I could hear him, but he was far away.

The distance didn’t matter. His words were clinical but compassionate, a lifetime of comforting the grieving evident in his choice of phrasing, his inflection. Had I sounded like that, talking to patients after the highway attack?

I couldn’t remember.

Gary had a metal plate holding his skull together now, courtesy of the explosion-propelled slam he’d taken into the concrete. He was in a coma, and it was hard to evaluate brain damage. He might wake up tomorrow and be fine. He might wake up next week and be an empty shell. He might never wake up at all. His lungs were damaged from the explosion, and the chunk of steering column that had impaled him through one side, and he required mechanical assistance to breathe. He’d need a vent for a long time, and that was dangerous. Various bones were broken, but those would heal.

I couldn’t believe he was laying on the hospital bed limp like that. He looked like a rag someone had discarded, his big frame loose and terminally relaxed.

I walked out without saying a word. I knew the doctor was trying to help, was doing his job. I couldn’t listen to another word, even through the tunnel. I couldn’t take it. I didn’t know how I was going to walk out of the hospital, didn’t know how I was going to drive home, didn’t know how I was going to walk into our house. I just knew I couldn’t stay HERE.

And Gary wouldn’t know I was here or if I was gone.

“How’s he doing?” McKenna asked in the waiting room. I told her, and the news seemed to stagger her. I reached out, put a hand on her arm. Don came xslot over and wrapped her up in a hug from behind. “Do they know who did it?”

“Yeah, I mean, it’s the fucking Brotherhood. They’ve been doing this for years now. No one wants to come right out and say it though because they’re political darlings and we don’t want to fucking insult them. Which reminds me…” I dug in my purse and transferred a couple bills to Don in a handshake. “Want up stick around for a while, be a bodyguard?”

“Long as you guys need.”

“I’ll be here too,” McKenna said, then stepped away from her boyfriend to wrap me in a hug. She felt soft and comforting, and I pulled away before I started to cry. “Let me know if you hear anything. Doctor said he was stable now, so… No news is good news. I’m gonna go home, call his sister. And just… Not be here. I can’t right now.”

“Go,” McKenna said. “We got this. Get some sleep.”

###

I stared at the key in the ignition of my Monte Carlo for a long time. Turned it. Hoped I’d explode. I didn’t want to feel this pain, this loss anymore. Instinctively I knew – I KNEW – that Gary wasn’t coming back. It was the worst-case scenario and I couldn’t see it not happening.

I drove home with the windows open, venting hot tobacco smoke out into the night. Without Gary here to yell at me about my lungs, I chain-smoked, lighting another cigarette as soon as the previous got too short, threw the butt out the window to skitter sparks along the road. The cool night air felt good on my face, in my hair. I felt like it was keeping me awake and alive in my exhausted state, but I knew I wasn’t going to sleep any time soon, I was far too wired for that right now.

There was a news van parked in front of my house, a reporter waiting in the driver’s seat, illuminated by the interior lights.

Fuck em.

I pulled into the garage, heard his door slam just after mine. He sprinted up the driveway as I lowered the garage door. “Miss Rigg, Miss Rigg, Tony Verhoven with SeeBeeEss Eight, can I ask you some questions?”

I tasted bile, covered the sick feeling with a sweet, pretty smile. “Sure.”

“How’s Gary Galloway doing? He survived the car bombs yesterday, right?”

“He’s in a coma.” I forced myself to say it. To acknowledge it.

“Sorry to hear that. There was a little kid there too, right? That he saved? How’s she doing?”

“Just fine, all things considered.”

“That sure is heroic. Miss Rigg, can I call you Jessie, we looked at the hospital records and saw that… Jane…doesn’t share a last name with either you or Mister Galloway. What’s your relationship to her?” He was holding a phone out to me to record my answers, pulling it back in like a fishing reel, tapping furiously on the screen.

“Child of a friend,” I replied suspiciously. “We were watching her.”

“Is that the same friend who disappeared and then was admitted to the hospital last month following a shooting at this house? How’s she doing?”

“Well, The Brotherhood Of The Red Flag burned more than twenty percent of her skin off while they tortured her for two days, so she’s not doing particularly well.”

That got his attention. “How do you know it was The Brotherhood? They’re a grassroots political advocacy group that’s been doing some wonderful things for the homeless downtown? Why would they torture a young woman… Who, by the way, it appears lived in the same town in Minnesota as Mister Galloway about five years ago?”

“Uh, because the two shitheads my friend shot in my dining room were wearing red and black uniforms like The Brotherhood. Because the head of The Brotherhood was standing on my husband’s chest in my living room after tasering me. He shot my husband in the head last year.”

The reporter nodded sagely. “Your friend, the shooter, being McKenna Krossley. You two came into a lot of money last year, didn’t you? More than three hundred million apiece, if I’m not mistaken, for the sale of your technology company?”

I felt ice cold. “That’s confidential.”

“Couldn’t this have been a run of the mill burglary? That makes far more sense than a politically oriented charity attacking your family, constantly for months.”

So that was his game. “Not just me they’ve been attacking. The highway shooting was them. The car bombs are them. And yes, fuckface, I know, because I was in the farmers market riot, here, not twenty miles away, and then in the Denver riot, watching them beat people to death! I spent three days that should’ve been my fucking vacation elbow deep in blood and shit and pain after they shot up that highway, and I don’t give a flying shit what you say they do for the poor! They’re EVIL. And now they took…” I was shouting, but I couldn’t shout THAT. I couldn’t say they took Gary from me.

“You’ve got some really shitty luck, Miss Rigg.” The reporter leaned forward and winked at me. “Might want to keep certain names out of your mouth, or it might get worse.”

I flicked my extendable baton open and took a step towards him, a cruel smile crossing my face. Finally, an EXCUSE. “Get off my property. Fucking NOW.”

He xslot Giriş backed up, babbling, courage and threatening demeanor gone. “Hey, I’m just a journalist. A free press is the hallmark of – you shouldn’t – don’t – I – “

I rested the third extension of the baton on my shoulder, crossed behind my neck, the perfect position to chop from. “I don’t give a shit about your press pass. If you don’t leave my property right now, I’m gonna beat you to death on the front lawn. Go tell Morgan Skolnich that.”

He darted back to the van. “I’ll be writing an article about you!”

“I’m sure you will,” I muttered, and bounced the tip of the baton off the pavement to close it.

I let myself in, looked around the darkened kitchen. Gary’s backpack hung on the hook by the door, and I reached out to brush my fingers across the straps.

Everything in this house was him. The tile we’d put down together. Fuck, the tile we’d happily argued over in the store for weeks. The gray wood was his choice. The kitchen fixtures I’d thought were too expensive were his choice, he’d insisted on them.

That table. I flushed and felt regret as a memory tingled through me. I’d been bent over that table last year…

I took the steps up to the third floor, knocked on the door. Sienna answered it after a few moments, looked at my face, burst into tears, and wrapped me in a hug. I tried to avoid her injured arms.

“How is he?” she asked when I pushed her away.

“Alive. Critical. The doctors don’t know if he’ll…make it. Or if he does, if he’ll wake up. He’s gonna be on a ventilator for a long time, and the longer that he is… It’s not good.”

I looked the damaged girl up and down. Gary had told me that she used to be exuberant, vibrant, HAPPY. Now, now she was just a shadow. Shattered.

Jane slept in her toddler bed next to the real bed, and I tiptoed over. Bandaged, broken hand. Angry red cuts and scrapes on her face.

It occurred to me that I should be angry at them. I should want to be angry at them. Gary had sacrificed his life to keep them safe. I should resent them for that.

I didn’t have the energy. I saw in them myself when I’d moved out. Disconnected, at the whim of cruel misfortune, alone in the world. And… Sienna was my friend. More than that. I couldn’t help but look at See and not remember kissing her. Doing…more.

“I’ve got some calls I need to make, I’m gonna be outside. I’ll let myself out and back in. You see or hear anyone else on the property, call the police. And don’t raise the shutters or unlock the doors for anyone. Got it?”

“Yeah.” Sienna looked at the floor, and I thought for a moment she might slump towards it.

I put a hand on her arm, forced myself to project more strength than I felt. “He’s gonna pull through. We’ll be ok.”

I left before I started to cry.

My movements were robotic through our second-floor bedroom. If I stopped moving, stopped to think, to look at anything, I’d crash, I knew it. Extra pack of smokes from the dresser, Colt Anaconda in my jacket pocket, extended phone battery, and I stomped downstairs, grabbed a bottle of Wild Turkey from the liquor cabinet.

I was gonna need alcohol for this.

I had no idea how I’d made it through yesterday without getting drunk off my ass, but that was certainly happening tonight. I wanted to sleep the sleep of fools, wake up with a really distracting headache. One that distracted me from the fact that I’d probably never fall asleep next to the man I loved ever again.

I climbed up through the rocket, sat with my back to the central column in the nose at the very top. The night was unseasonably warm for late October, and I could see out across the neighborhood, little islands of light surrounding streetlights, illuminating a sea of darkness. A hint of a breeze carried the sounds of the highway to me, and if I strained, I could maybe hear a honking horn far away.

I uncorked the bottle and took a swallow of harsh, spicy alcohol. I lit a cigarette and inhaled the calming smoke while I sorted through the contacts on my phone. I’d added Kim yesterday…

I stabbed the Call button before I had a chance to think about it. One in the morning here, she should be just going to bed.

I got a tired man’s voice on the fifth ring. “Hello?”

“Hi. I’m Jessie…Galloway… I’m calling for Kim, Gary’s sister?”

“What is this about? Is everything alright?” He covered the phone and I heard his muffled call for his wife.

“No, it’s not.”

“Hello? This is Kim. To whom am I speaking?”

“This is Jessie Galloway. I’m Gary’s wife.”

Silence. Then “I didn’t know he’d gotten married. Never seemed like the type. Why are you calling me at ten at night?”

“Because…” I held the phone out at arm’s length, stared at the glowing screen. How do I say this? How do I put such loss, such pain into words? Why do I speak it and make it real? “Because your brother, my husband… He got blown up yesterday. Car bomb, I’m sure you’ve heard that they’re going off all over. Well, one of them got him.”

There xslot Güncel Giriş was silence on the other end of the phone for a long time as she processed the news. “When’s the funeral?”

“Not yet. He’s still alive but barely. In a coma.” I paused. “You should know, your brother is a hero. He got himself blown up rescuing a little girl. Not his…our…child. Someone else’s.”

She snorted, and I didn’t know if it was due to disbelief or irony or what. “You’ll keep me updated on his condition?”

“Yeah.”

“Thanks for letting me know. Jessie, you said your name was, when did you two get married?”

Ha. When did we decide to be a couple? When did we say “for the rest of our lives.” We hadn’t really. “About two years ago?”

“Kids?”

I sighed. She liked asking the complicated questions. “Not…yet. Maybe someday? I hope? How about you?”

“Married ages ago. Three kids. Did Gary never tell you?”

“He just said he had a sister. That you guys didn’t talk much.”

“Yeah, we don’t.” I couldn’t tell if that was regret in her voice or something else. “It was good talking to you, Jessie. Thanks for letting me know and keeping me updated. I’ll wait to hear back from you.”

“Uh, yeah, thanks.”

Then she hung up and I stared at the dialer on my phone for a long time. She really didn’t give much of a shit about Gary, did she?

I took another couple of drinks, puffed away another cigarette and lit another while searching for the next number online. I’d planned my calls in an escalating level of pain, and I wasn’t looking forward to either of them.

The phone rang and rang, and I had to remind myself that it was one in the morning here. I’d been more or less awake for two days, and most people were getting a good night’s sleep right now.

Finally, a man picked up the call, sleep blurring his voice. “Hello?” he asked softly.

“Mr. Schneider?”

“This is. Who’s calling?” He swallowed thickly a couple of times.

I took a breath, let it out, steeled myself. “My name is Jessie Galloway. I’m calling about your daughter, Sienna.”

I could practically hear him stiffen, come awake through the phone. “Yes?”

“She told me a long time ago that you and your wife didn’t want to hear from her again, which is why I’m calling, and not her. I thought you should know – “

He cut me off. “She’s dead, isn’t she?”

“Nope. But she was kidnapped last month. Tortured.”

There was an intake of breath of the other end of the line. “Who? Is she ok? Is it those drug dealers?”

I laughed, harshly. “Not drug dealers. Worse. Actual terrorists. She’s… She’s got a long road of recovery ahead of her, and she’s pretty messed up mentally, but that’s not actually why I was calling. Her daughter survived a car bomb yesterday. I’m sure you heard on the news. A Milwaukee grocery store. My…my husband was severely injured rescuing her. He… He might not pull through.”

“I’m… I’m sorry to hear that.” Mr. Schneider was silent a long time. “My granddaughter… Is she ok?”

“Yeah. Broken hand. Couple of cuts and bruises. Not bad.”

I could hear him sigh in relief. “And your husband?”

“Injured very badly.” I fought to get the words out. “They don’t know if he’ll ever wake up, or if he does, what… What will be left.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, me too. You should call Sienna. She needs support, her family, right now.”

“Jessie, I… She made her choices. To separate from us. To do drugs. To send us…horrible pictures, of her doing horrible things. I’m not going to reward her for that behavior, even now. Her mother and I are decided on this.”

I held the phone out at arm’s length, stared at the screen. What the fuck?

“Mr. Schneider, hear me out. She may have – did – make some bad decisions in the past, but what happened, what you… Someone was manipulating her. An ex-boyfriend. Man named Morgan Skolnich. He got her addicted to oxy. So he could make her do…stuff. So he could control her. He sent you those pictures. And he’s also the one who kidnapped her last month. And blew up my husband.”

“Wait, what? I thought you said…”

It was my turn to cut him off. “She was, dating, I guess, the head of The Brotherhood Of The Red Flag. She escaped from him last year. Detoxed in my spare bedroom. I helped her get through that. She’s been staying here, with me, for a year. Just trying to stay off this Morgan guy’s radar.”

“You’re not making any sense. Red Flag is a protest group. I’m friends with them on Facebook, watch their videos on YouTube. They support peaceful – “

“Bull fucking shit. I’ve been caught in two of their peaceful demonstrations. Two of their quote-unquote protestors got shot in my dining room after tossing a grenade into my house, I’m sure you heard about that on the news too.”

“Mrs. Galloway, I will not be talked to like – “

“Mr. Schneider, I don’t give a fuck how you want to be talked to or not. Your daughter, your granddaughter, they really need you and your wife right now. They are hurt and scared, and at the very least, they could stand to hear that you don’t hate them.” I rattled off Sienna’s cellphone number, paused, got ahold of my anger, said it again, slower. “My husband is probably gonna die – for them – you could at least have the fucking decency to pick up the phone and make a simple call.”

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