“So,” He said with a small smile. “Why history?”
I put down my wineglass and thought about it for a moment. “I don’t know, really,” I mused, choosing my words carefully. His smile was distracting. “History always fascinated me, I guess. I loved learning about what we come from, how people used to live. It puts things in perspective, you know? Makes everything happening now seem so miniscule and unimportant. History’s so vast. I love that.”
“Completely understood,” He grinned, leaning back in his seat. He was wearing a pale blue button-down shirt with the first button undone. Usually I would want to fix it, but for some reason, it was fine on him. He opened his mouth to speak again. “I always thought people back then were so much cooler than now.”
I laughed a little at his easy tone and simple choice of words. His eyes sparkled in the dim light of the restaurant we were in. “I always liked the Romans,” I continued, meeting his eyes. “Everything about them. It captivates me. Their whole society, how it worked and everything.”
His eyes lit up even more. “Me too!” He exclaimed. “Hey, what do you think was more severe: the collapse of the Western Roman Empire or the collapse of Han China?”
“Definitely the Western Roman Empire,” I said assuredly. “The Roman Empire had been around for so much longer. Latin disintegrated along with all the centuries of Roman culture. The empire was overrun with and eaten up by barbarians. It was completely divided and—”
“But what about general Dong Zhou in Han China and the millions of eunuchs and innocent civilians he slaughtered? He and his Xiongnu troops raped and pillaged nearly every town they came across…and Xian, the boy emperor—”
“Twenty-five out of twenty-six Western Roman emperors were killed in a fifty year period,” I interjected. “The Roman Empire had so much more influence and control at that point than the Han because they’d been around longer. The empire touched every corner of Europe and all the way into Africa and the Middle East. Their presence had been established for so much longer and over so much more land than Han China. When the Western Roman Empire fell, all the civilizations that’d relied on them declined. It wasn’t just the fall of the Western Roman Empire, it was the fall of all those states. Europe went right into the Dark Ages and then the Middle Ages and didn’t come out for centuries after that.”
He grinned, his eyes twinkling again. My heart flew up into my throat. “Alright, Katie,” He surrendered, studying me with that funny grin on his face. “That’s a pretty damn good argument. I’ll give you that one. Now tell me what you know about the Islamic World. Do you think their entry into Africa was beneficial?”
The Islamic World wasn’t my forte, but I went on talking, spewing out anything and everything I knew. Random facts popped up as I spoke and I let them roll off my tongue. Before I knew it, it was a little after ten-thirty and the waiter was hinting at us to leave. I reached for the bill at the same time he did. He grinned mischievously. “Let me pay,” He said. “Seriously, I’ve got this.”
“No,” I argued lightly. “Don’t be that guy. Let me do it. Here, I’ve got my credit card right here—”
He snatched the bill slyly as I was looking through my purse. “Ha!” He said, victorious. I couldn’t keep from smiling. I faked frustration and sat back in my seat. “You win this time,” I said.
“I know,” He grinned. “We’ll have to do it again. Then you can pay, I promise.”
My mind spun with the idea of ‘again’. The corners of my lips twitched up, and I felt blush creeping up to my cheeks. “Thank you,” I said softly. “I had a great time.”
“No problem,” He replied distractedly, signing the bill sloppily. He put it back down on the table with his credit card sticking out and smiled up at me. I straightened the card, and he laughed. “You’re one of those girls,” He chuckled. “You’re really organized.”
I looked down at my lap. “One of those girls,” I repeated. “I’ve been grouped now?”
“No,” He sighed, looking at me. “I was just saying. I’m really messy. You should see my apartment, it’s crazy. I call it an obstacle course designed to keep me in shape, but my mom has a fit every time she visits.”
“I’m a little quirky, I guess,” I admitted. “But nothing too bad. I just wanted to straighten the card, that’s all.”
“Okay, Katie,” He smiled. I smiled back, looking down in my lap again. The waiter came over and took the bill, and we talked a little while waiting for the credit card to come back. When the waiter returned with it, he slipped it into his wallet and put the wallet in his back pocket, standing up. I followed suit, tucking my purse over my shoulder and pushing in my chair. We walked out of the small restaurant and into the chilly night air. I pulled my coat tighter around me. He wasn’t wearing a jacket at all. He didn’t even seem to notice the cold.
We strolled slowly down the sidewalk. Cars whizzed past, the headlights brightening up the darkness. His voice was quiet and calming. We reached his car and he opened the door for me before slipping into the driver’s seat. It was a Lexus, sleek, with leather seats and that new car smell. “Nice car,” I commented.
He seemed proud, turning the key to the ignition. “Yeah,” He sighed. “All mine.”
We drove off. The radio was playing softly. It was classical music. I recognized it as Benjamin Britten’s Simple Symphony. I smiled. “I know this,” I said. “My mom used to hum it around the house. I used to be able to play the violin part.”
He nodded. “Benjamin Britten was a cool guy,” He said. “Have you heard his version of Mozart’s 40th symphony?”
“Yes,” I confirmed. “My mom hummed that, too. She was always humming classical music.”
“Do you see her often? Since you moved here or anything?”
I swallowed. “No,” I said quietly. “She’s dead.”
He was silent. That was always the reaction, I was used to it. I looked out the window, no longer caught up in the moment. Whenever I got close to getting past her death, something brought me crashing back to reality. Ever since I was seventeen. After two minutes, he cleared his throat. “When?” He asked.
That surprised me. It was always, “Oh, I’m so, so sorry” or “I’m sure it’s been so hard for you”. I hated that. They weren’t sorry. They had absolutely no idea. But he asked when. I looked up, swallowing hard. “Five years ago,” I whispered. “I was seventeen.”
He didn’t speak again for a while. But then, I felt myself suddenly in desperate need to tell him. “It was a skiing accident,” I said slowly, quietly. “My mom was such a good skier. She grew up in Sweden and had been skiing since she could walk. She skied in the Junior Olympics and won the whole thing. She used to take me and my three brothers to Sweden every winter to ski. My dad couldn’t ski for his life. He was always away anyways. He’s in the Navy. One time, when I was seventeen, my brothers came home from college and we went to Sweden. We hadn’t done it the year before because my grandmother had died. Me and my brother Tucker, who’s two years older, went up on the lift with her. Charlie and Noah were in the lodge. Charlie’s this big CEO guy, and he was always on some stupid conference call. I hated him for it sometimes. He’s my oldest brother, and we used to be really close, but he got all caught up in his stupid job and never had time for us anymore. Anyway, my mom wanted to do this double black that they’d used for the World Cup a few years back. I was with Tucker and we were too tired. It was the last run of the day. So we skied down a trail that would come out at the same spot as the double diamond. When we made it to the bottom, we took off our skis and went into the lodge with Charlie and Noah to wait. And we waited, for about ten minutes. I wasn’t worried that she wasn’t back. It crossed my mind as a bit unusual because my mom was such a fantastic skier, she didn’t usually take that long. But then it was twenty minutes and I really started to wonder. I mentioned something to Tucker and he waved it away. Five more minutes. Ten. I voiced my concern again. After half an hour the lifts were closed and people were clearing out of the lodge. Noah went out to see if Mom had gotten lost trying to find the lodge. He came back ten minutes later with nothing. We all got up and reported it to the mountain and they sent up those guys in the snowmobiles to look for her. It all happened really fast after that. They found her body at the edge of a cliff. She’d fallen two hundred feet off the side of the mountain. They tried to revive her. They brought her to the hospital and everything. Then they came out and told us there was nothing we could’ve done. She’d been gone when they found her. That was it. She was dead.”
He didn’t say anything after that. He drove ten more minutes in silence. I was shocked when he pulled up to my apartment building. He’d picked me up, but I didn’t think he’d be able to find his way back. By then I didn’t even bother asking how he’d known because I knew if I opened my mouth to speak, I’d break down. He stopped the car and sat sitting face-forward for a minute. I didn’t move to get out of the car. Finally, he took a deep breath and spoke. “I lost my brother when I was eighteen,” He said evenly. “He was nineteen.”
My stomach swooped. “I’m sorry,” I choked out. The second I said it, I wanted to take it back. “No,” He waved his hand. “Don’t be sorry. I’m fine.” He wiped his hand over his mouth, through his hair. I looked down at my hands. “Do you want to tell me about it?” I asked.
“No,” He said simply. “I don’t.”
“Yeah,” I replied. “It’s alright. I get it.”
He looked at me. Thank you, his eyes said. I nodded. After a moment, I sucked in a breath and reached for the door handle. “I should go,” I said softly. “It’s late. But I really did have a great time tonight. Thank you so much.”
“I did, too,” He sighed. “Yeah, thanks. We’ll have to do it again so you can pay, remember?”
I smiled. “Yes. I’d like that.”
“Great.” I opened the door and slid out of the seat. “Goodnight, Katie,” He said, leaning down to see me. I caught his eye once as I closed the door to his car.
When I got back into my apartment that night, I didn’t really know what I was feeling.
I’d been on plenty of dates. My friends always tried to set me up, and I did pretty well for myself on my own anyways. The last steady girlfriend I’d had was a couple months back. It wasn’t going to work out, I realized. We’d been together for eight months when I broke up with her. For some reason, breaking up with her wasn’t even a big deal. I’ve got issues with emotions, I always have. I’m always on my toes, and I hate letting my guard down. I don’t like to let people into my life.
But Katie was different than anyone I’d ever met in all my twenty-four years. She was beautiful, for one thing. She had this thick, shiny ink black hair down past her shoulders, twisted up into some intricate knot at the nape of her neck. She had creamy skin and red lips and these crazy ice blue eyes that pierced right through my own. Those eyes were strange. They were something.
And she was smart, too. She loved history almost as much as me, maybe even as much. We shared all sorts of opinions, and she had her own that really interested me. We didn’t once run out of things to talk about. When she told me about her mother, all I wanted was to hold her close. I never want that. I don’t like hugs. I keep my distance from people. But seeing her like that, all distant and wounded, I was a second away from pulling her into my chest and rubbing her hair and telling her it was okay, I understood it.
She made me think about my brother, Calum. Ever since Calum died, I pushed away all thoughts and memories of him. Thinking about it hurt, so I didn’t let myself. I kept it all out. It’s worked for all these years, but last night, listening to her talk, I let myself feel.
Calum was a year older than me, almost exactly. I was born on the 28th of December, his birthday was the 21st. We’d been inseparable since we were one and two. There isn’t a moment in my life or a memory I have that doesn’t involve Calum.
As I lay on my queen-size mattress in the middle of my bedroom, I felt so conflicted my brain hurt. Everything had always been easy for me. School was a breeze. I didn’t ever have to try. Sports came easily; I was the star of the hockey and lacrosse team. Everything to me had a logical answer. Feelings were insignificant and distracting, only an obstacle. I closed my eyes and ran a hand through my dirty-blondish-brown hair, blowing all the air out of my lungs. Suddenly it wasn’t so easy, and I couldn’t tell if I liked it or hated it.
Eventually I got up, took a shower, brushed my teeth, and crawled beneath my sheets. I couldn’t get Katie and Calum out of my head. By the time I fell asleep I was remembering details of my childhood I couldn’t believe I still had, and I kept hearing “Goodnight, Lionel” over and over again.
In the morning, my alarm sounded at 9:00 and I rolled out of bed, groaning. I took my time eating before throwing on a nice shirt and slacks and brushing my hair and teeth. My mind was still spinning, but things were a little more normal up in there. I grabbed my briefcase and finished tying my tie as I headed out the door at 9:30.
I made it to the museum at 9:38 and the guards nodded their morning greetings to me. “Hey Bob, Tommy,” I greeted them with a smile.
Mornings at the museum were always my favorite. No one was there yet when I arrived. The place was so massive and full of history, I sometimes felt I could hear it humming. I loved walking down the wide hallways and looking at all the artifacts I’d memorized over the two years I’d worked here. It felt like another home.
I slipped into my little office space and put down my briefcase. The desk was a mess, but everything else was pretty sparse. My favorite part was my big diagram of the inside of King Tut’s pyramid hanging on the right wall.
At that point, I had about ten minutes to wander around before the day started. I had two tours on my schedule, one before lunch and one afterwards. I loved doing tours. Seeing children’s eyes light up at all the history was exactly what I loved about the job. I wanted them to have a positive experience with it; I wanted to show them how fascinating human history is and that history class should never be a bore. That’s what I tried to instill in them with each tour. Perhaps I was completely unsuccessful, who knows. All I knew is that I tried.
I left my office and made my way through the Vietnam exhibit and into the fossil area, which was arguably my favorite. As I rounded a glass case with animal teeth in it, I caught sight of Katie. I smiled automatically, my hands shoved deep in the pockets of my tan slacks. She was standing in front of the television that played a short documentary about the history of dinosaurs on repeat, low volume. She wore black slacks and a white sweater with bracelets hanging from her thin wrist. She was standing, deep in thought, hands held in front of her. I approached quietly, wanting to surprise her. I reached out and grabbed her shoulders. She let out a muffled shriek and whipped around. I cracked up. She saw me and looked relieved, her eyes wild. “Oh my God,” She gushed. “Lionel, you scared me!”
I chuckled, not able to stop grinning. “I had to,” I said. “You were so quiet and focused.”
She rolled her eyes, and I came to stand beside her. We watched a minute or so of the movie. Then I looked at her for a second. “Katie,” I said.
She looked up. “Yeah?”
What I really wanted to say is that she looked beautiful, but I inwardly scratched that. “We’ve got a kindergarten tour coming in when the doors open,” I told her. “You’re helping me out, right?”
She nodded. “What time is it?”
I looked at my watch. “9:52,” I replied.
“We’ve got time,” She said. “Just another minute or so. Then we can head to the front.”
So I stood with her and we watched the film until I nudged her at 9:56. I had a sudden urge to grab her hand, but that was crazy even in my mind. So we walked side-by-side in warm silence, bumping sides as we headed to the front of the museum.
The kindergarten class Lionel and I were touring came in about ten minutes after ten, all wearing matching red t-shirts with their school’s name on it, as usual. They were all adorable. They had a young teacher with them who introduced herself as Meredith Kelly.
We brought them to the back of the lobby, where we always started our tours. “Alright, everyone!” Lionel called out, standing in front of the wide-eyed group of four and five year olds. Their teacher helped us quiet them. When the voices were hushed, Lionel continued. “Great. Thank you guys. My name is Lionel Flynn, and you can call me Superman. Nah, I’m just kidding. Call me Lionel.” The kids thought that was hilarious. Lionel paused to let them laugh before continuing. “So, I’m Superman, and this is my assistant, Superwoman. No, alright, I’ll stop joking. Would you like to introduce yourself, Superwoman?”
I smiled at him. “Hello, everyone, I’m Katie Hamilton.” I waved a little and then stepped back, letting Lionel take the lead again. “Okay!” He said in his commanding voice. “Katie and I are here to show you guys how awesome science and history really are. I’m sure your teacher is awesome, but we’re going to show you guys some really cool stuff today. Is everyone ready?”
The kids cheered, grinning. A girl in the front row was missing a tooth. Their adorableness was overpowering. “Great! I like that attitude!” Lionel said. “So, let’s go! We’re going to start where it all began—the dinosaurs.”
Lionel and I showed the kids back to the exhibit we’d been standing in not twenty minutes before. We talked them through a bunch of things before letting them explore and look into all the glass cases for themselves. They each had a partner, which was the cutest thing. Most of them held hands as they walked around. Lionel and I stood side-by-side again, keeping our eyes on them. “They’re so adorable,” I gushed quietly.
He grinned, looking at me out of the corner of his eyes. “They’re cute until they spit food in your hands or cry every night before bed,” He said.
I rolled my eyes at him. “Stop it,” I laughed. In reality, I was buzzing just from his presence. “How can you say they’re not cute? Look at them. See those two over there? They’re holding hands…that’s just about the sweetest thing I’ve ever seen!”
“I didn’t say it’s not cute,” He mused. “I just meant they have their moments.”
I sighed. “Yeah,” I said. “I know.”
“You want kids?” He asked randomly.
“Definitely,” I replied, surprised at how quickly it rolled off my tongue. I never told people things like that. I immediately wanted to swallow the word back up. He chuckled. “What?” I asked, embarrassed.
“Nothing, nothing!” He said, putting his hands up. “It’s completely understandable!”
I frowned. “Do you not want kids?” I asked.
“Nah, I do,” He shook his head, grinning. “I’m just teasing you.” Then, he called the kids all back. “Alright, guys! Come on, we’re going to head into a new exhibit now. Everyone follow Katie!”
We took them into the Human Origins exhibit and then on to the African Peoples exhibit. We made our way through science exhibits and animal exhibits until we came to the top floor. Since it was still early, slightly less people had made their way all the way up yet. But from the looks of it, it was going to be a busy day.
Lionel was keeping the kids totally enthralled. They were laughing hysterically and asking all sorts of questions. I couldn’t stop smiling as I watched him. He was so good with the kids, and you could hear his passion for history in the way he spoke. Plus, he looked pretty good in the lavender button-down he had on…
Next we made it to the back of the fourth floor where they had a new French Revolution exhibit that I hadn’t yet gotten a good look at. There were still things that were being brought out and moved around. “Alright, guys. They’re got a new exhibit over here.” Lionel told the kids as we walked through the arch into the area dedicated to the French Revolution. “It’s still a bit under construction, but we can give you a good look around. Does anyone know what a revolution is?”
“It’s like a war!” A little Africa-American boy called out. “That’s almost right,” Lionel said, giving the kid a high-five. “Often there is a lot of fighting involved with a revolution. A revolution happens when people are really angry at how the world around them works and they want it to change. So they all band together to try and take down what they don’t like and fix it. That’s what the French Revolution was. The King of France, Louis XVI, wasn’t a very good king at all. He didn’t really care about being king, only about the power and the wealth. People didn’t like him, so they overthrew him. That’s when it all started.”
He walked the kids all over the exhibit, explaining as he went. I said a few things, but I mostly hung back with their teacher, Meredith, talking quietly. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something. I turned. “Lionel!” I called out. “Look what I found!”
He stopped midsentence and followed my gaze to the museum’s only full-scale replica of the infamous and renowned Guillotine killing machine. Lionel’s eyes sparkled. “Whoa!” He grinned. “Alright, guys, come take a look at this! Everyone sit down in front of Katie. I want to show you this.”
The kids ran over and sat “criss-cross-apple-sauce” in front of me, looking up happily. I smiled at them, crossing my arms over my chest. Lionel caught my eye, and I blushed, looking down and getting those stupid butterflies. He grinned and joined me on the other side of the Guillotine replica. “Wow, this is awesome,” He said. “Does anyone know what this is?”
They all shook their heads. “Well, perfect, it’s time to learn. This machine is called the Guillotine, or la guillotine in French. In the French Revolution, it was a killing machine. It was their way of killing criminals and often kings or officials they didn’t like. This one right here isn’t a real one. There aren’t any of those left. It’s an exact replica just like one, though, which is pretty cool. Don’t worry, it’s safe. It worked like this.”
He showed them the blade and mimed how the executioner would cut the ropes, letting the blade down on the victim’s neck. Somehow he managed to make it less dark that it actually was, and the kids didn’t seem completely disturbed; at the same time, that could’ve been because they didn’t really understand. “Here,” Lionel said, walking past me and to the back of the guillotine. He brushed my hand, and it sent tingles up my arm. We shared a secret smile. “Everyone, watch me. I’ll show you what it was like.”
He kneeled down and indicated to me. I creased my eyebrows together, wondering if it was such a good idea, but I lifted the wooden piece for him that allowed him to place his neck in the hole. I closed it over him, and the kids cracked up, pointing and laughing, having a great time. I smiled as Lionel made funny faces and then pretended to be dead. “So, the prisoner would put his head in here, and the executioner would come and cut or release the rope. The blade that you see up there—don’t worry, it’s completely safe—would come flying down and cut off the head really fast so the victim didn’t feel anything…supposedly.”
The kids laughed harder. “You look funny!” One little girl giggled, pointing to Lionel. He grinned, and I couldn’t suppress my own smile. “What, you like this?” He asked, wiggling around. The thing rattled. “Yeah!” The kids exclaimed. Lionel chuckled, and our gazes crossed again. I smiled, shaking my head, and he grinned up at me in a way that made my stomach shoot up into my throat. He broke the gaze, turning back to the kids. “So, the guillotine was used on—”
Just then, a boy of about ten years old ran headfirst into me. I didn’t have time to react. He’d been looking over his shoulder and collided forcefully with me. I stumbled backwards and slammed into the side of the guillotine, losing my balance. A shooting pain exploded when my head made contact with the replica. And that’s when the unspeakable happened.
My vision went blurry, but all of a sudden there was a furious whoosh and a screech and then a sound like nothing I’ve ever heard in my life. It was a sort of sucking sound, a squish, accompanied by a sharp chopping noise. As I struggled to regain my balance and get the stars out of my eyes, I felt something warm trickling down into my shoes. And then I heard the screams.
They erupted in my ears, making my blood run cold. I looked down, still a little dazed, and saw thick liquid so dark red it was nearly black splattered all over my white sweater, black slacks, and shoes. It spilled onto the carpet and into my shoes, warm and wet. Blood.
I didn’t have time to think. The cries and screams escalated until it was white noise. My head spun. An unbelievable stench filled my nostrils, clouding my brain. People collided with me, running, screaming. I still couldn’t make my mind work properly, and my head was pounding from the collision with the guillotine. A thought crossed my mind: why hadn’t that boy apologized? I’d probably have to get checked for a concussion now.
The things going on around me didn’t really register in my mind. I remember that the warmth of the red liquid splattered all over me was ticking me off, but I couldn’t really place what it meant. People ran frantically away, their eyes wide with terror. The kindergarteners sobbed and screamed, spattered with blood as their teacher herded them out of the room as if she’d just seen a murder. I wondered where everyone was going in the middle of our tour. And that’s when I saw it.
It rolled around on the floor in a funny circular motion. I couldn’t see anything but the blood, dark as night. It was everywhere. Only the shape revealed that it was a head. No features could be seen through the curtain of red-black.
My vision went red, and I fell to my knees. More blood soaked into my knees where they hit the ground. It was spreading, creating a pool around the head and the guillotine and me. My eyes darted frantically about. I saw the blood-and-gore-covered blade hanging eerily, the people running, the headless body trapped in the neck hole, and the head lolling on the floor. But I couldn’t piece it together.
I crawled forward on hands and knees. The head had stopped rolling. My hands, covered in blood, shook uncontrollably. I didn’t even realize tears were rolling down my cheeks until I tasted them in my mouth, bitter and salty. I raised three fingers to my nose and sniffed the liquid all over them. It was most definitely blood. I got it on my face because my fingers were shaking so badly.
I looked back at the headless body hanging there lifelessly behind me, only kept in position by the neck brace. I could see the cut arteries, veins, brain stem and beginning of the spine, and the muscle. And I promptly threw up.
When I wiped my mouth and turned back to the head, the room was deserted and I was drenched in blood. It was only a trickle now. I could hear it dripping to the floor behind me, and I could see the drops fall from the head. My tears fell and mixed with it, creating a horrid, putrid mixture. My vision was all blood red, and my head felt as if it would explode.
With shaking hands, I reached out and turned the head towards me without thinking to see the features. What I saw horrified me. Before my eyes was Lionel Flynn’s head, eyes open wide, mouth open just a little, as if he was just taking a breath.
I don’t remember anything after that. I think I remember screaming and hearing it echo off the vaulting ceilings of the museum and feeling so incredibly empty that I felt as if I was the one who had no blood left in my body, not Lionel. My brain still wouldn’t let me think. After an indistinguishable amount of time, three men came to drag me away kicking and screaming. My fists and stiletto-clad feet made contact with their faces, arms, chests, stomachs, and legs, and I lost my voice screaming. Eventually I gave up and went silent. I let them take me away.
The next thing I knew, I standing beneath my shower at home, wearing my bra and underwear. Two strange men stood in the bathroom with me. One was holding open the door of the shower and helping me, talking in a soothing tone. I saw him and the other and screamed, pushing one back and running from the shower when I saw the red liquid swirling off my body and down the drain. All I could see was rivers and oceans of blood.
After that I remember waking up in my bed, sweating and breathing hard. My brother Tucker, a woman, and a graying man all sat around me. Tucker stroked my hair. He was the first person I saw when I opened my eyes. “She’s awake,” He said quietly. Then, to me, “Hey there, Kit Kat. How’re you doing?”
My eyes searched around frantically. “Hot,” I croaked. “Water.”
“Oh,” Tucker said. “Hey, could one of you get her some water? She’s asking for it.”
The woman, who was wearing an ugly brown suit, stood up and left the room. She returned a second or two later carrying a mug. She handed it to Tucker, who held it out to me. I took it with two shaking hands. “Got it?” He asked.
I nodded and brought the cup to my lips. But the second I saw the water, I screamed and dropped the mug, scrambling out from under the sheets. It was blood red.
I didn’t make it far. The three people were on me immediately, and I curled up in the corner, hugging my knees to my chest and rocking back and forth, tears streaming down my cheeks. I wore only one of Tucker’s old long-sleeve shirts over my underwear. “Blood,” I whispered over and over. “There’s blood in the cup. Blood. Blood everywhere.”
Tucker grabbed me and I screamed again, pushing him away. “No!” I screeched, shaking my head violently and waving my arms. They watched me in horror. I was scaring myself. “There was blood in the cup! She gave me blood, I promise!”
“Catherine, that wasn’t blood,” Tucker said, touching his lip tenderly where I’d socked him. “That was water. See?”
Slowly I lifted my head, pushing the hair away that was stuck to my face. I wiped at the tears and kneeled up to see onto the bed where I’d dropped the cup. There was a damp spot. No blood.
“It was blood,” I breathed. “She gave me blood in the cup…”
Tucker held my shoulders and this time I let him. “Shh, Katie, shh. It’s alright. There’s no blood. You’re going to be okay.”
Expect the unexpected.
That’s what my dad told me when I was four years old. It’s probably the first memory I have in my whole life. It was the evening before he went away again, off to some foreign country to save the world, in my eyes. He never said where he went.
We were on the lawn of our big house in Winthrop, New York near Brasher Falls. My mom and my brother were inside, and my dad and I were throwing a baseball around. I couldn’t throw with any accuracy or power: I was four. But I was learning. My dad threw the ball to me and I wasn’t ready. It caught me right in the eye, directly on my eyebrow. I hit the ground crying. “Dada,” I whined. “You hit me.”
He dropped his mitt on the ground and jogged over. I reached up for him, but he didn’t pick me up. Instead, he stood over me, looking down disapprovingly. “Don’t cry,” He said flatly. “Crying is for girls. Expect the unexpected.”
With that, he walked away. I sniffled, wiping my tears. “Dad,” I moaned. I felt something trickling down my cheek. I touched it and it was red. The tears spilled over, but I immediately blinked them back, rubbing my eyes so that the tears and the red stuff mixed together. I swallowed back my sobs. “It’s okay, son,” He said. “You’re different. You’ve got to be strong. You’ll learn later. For now, no crying, okay?”
I nodded and picked up the baseball. “More?” I asked.
“No,” He said. “It’s time to go in. Let’s go wash your face.”
I nodded and followed him inside. When my mother heard us, she came in and gasped. “Oh, baby!” She exclaimed, rushing to me. “What happened?”
“I got him in the brow,” My dad said. “He’s fine.”
She fretted over me and gave me a hot bath. By the time I was lying in bed, I’d forgotten the accident. I had a Spiderman Band-Aid on my forehead and I’d been given an extra scoop of ice cream for dessert. But my dad’s words lingered. “Expect the unexpected.” “You’re different.”
My parents came in to say goodnight to me a few minutes later. Dad patted my shoulder and tucked up the blankets like usual. My mom kissed my Band-Aid. “Goodnight,” She said, and I kissed her cheek. She left the room with a little wave and a promise to see me in the morning. I looked up at my dad. He was my hero, even though he was away all the time. “Goodnight,” I whispered, reaching out for him. He backed away out the door and leaned in. “Goodnight, Jameson,” He said.
“In more recent news, the story of a young man involved in a terrible accident at the Museum of Natural History in New York City has spread like wildfire over the country. Around midday yesterday, Sunday, Lionel Flynn, a museum worker, was giving a tour to a kindergarten class with his assistant, whose name has yet to be released. In the recently opened French Revolution exhibit, there was an old model of a guillotine that had been brought out. The accident occurred when Flynn, only wishing to demonstrate for the kids, had his head in the locks of the thought-to-be-harmless guillotine model. According to witnesses at the scene, a child ran into Flynn’s assistant and she fell against the model, causing the blade to come crashing down. The museum’s president, Mr. Ronald Orswell, has spoken out on the tragedy: ‘It was all an accident,’ He says. ‘We very recently hired a new maintenance staff. Somewhere along the lines, tasks were ignored, such as the dulling of the blade. After examination, it appears as if mice chewed through the ropes that kept the model rigid. The staff has been fired in its entirety and we are looking to hire a new, more capable crew who will look after our museum and keep it safe. This accident was completely unexpected and tragic. Our hearts go out to family and friends of Lionel Flynn, and we are willing to do anything and everything to get past this accident. The exhibit has been closed in the meantime, but the museum continues running as usual.’”
I choked on my own exhalation and fell back against the pillow. The news anchor’s voice droned on, pounding in my ears.
Then, I heard the door slam, and I jumped, my skin crawling. I scrambled up in bed, my eyes wide. The noise set off a chain of alarms in my body, and it was all I could do not to scream as my vision once again went red. “Don’t worry, Kate, it’s me, Tucker,” My brother’s voice rang out, and I let out all the air in my lungs, my muscles relaxing. I heard him put down bags on the counter and rifle through them. A minute later, he entered the room, looking exhausted. He came and sat beside me, watching me tiredly. “Here,” He sighed, pulling something out of a bag. “I bought you those cookies you really like. The ones Mom used to buy.”
I stared blankly at the package. “I’m not hungry,” I told him. He blew out air so that it made his bangs fly up. I looked down at my hands. “Come on, Kit Kat, you’ve got to get out of bed and eat something. I’ll make you Mac and Cheese. You love that.”
“I said I’m not hungry.”
“Fine.” He stood up, looking around. He noticed the television and groaned, switching it off. “Katie, you’ve gotta stop watching this stuff,” He told me. He was on the verge of yelling, I could tell. “It’s not doing you any good. It’s stupid. I hate seeing you like this. Watch something else, for God’s sakes. Watch a goddamned soap opera or something.”
His tone made me suck in a breath. He saw it and sighed again, running a hand through his dirty blonde hair. “I’m sorry, Kate,” He said. “I know. You’re traumatized. Come here.”
He drew me into his arms and held me close. I cried silently into his chest, still cold from outside. He rubbed my hair like Mom did, smoothing it down my back. “Shh,” He whispered over and over. “It’s alright.”
He sat with me for an hour and we watched a goddamned soap opera, eating cookies. “I called Charlie and Noah,” He said at the end, not moving to turn off the television.
I groaned. “Are they coming?”
“Charlie is,” He replied, swallowing. “As soon as he gets back from some meeting out in California. Noah can’t. He’s in Switzerland on business. He sends his love, though.”
I rolled my eyes. “Tell Charlie not to come.”
“He’s on his way,” Tucker said. “But don’t worry, Esther and the kids aren’t coming.”
Esther was Charlie’s wife, and their kids, Josh, Tatumn, and Francis, were seven, five, and two. I was glad they weren’t coming, but I still didn’t want Charlie here.
“You’ve got to go back to work, Kit Kat,” Tucker told me slowly. “They’re only going to let you alone for a few days. Then you’ve got to come back. They want you to take over Lionel’s job.”
I turned to look at him. “What?”
“The museum called a few hours ago, while you were sleeping. I spoke to Mr. Orswell. He says you can have Lionel’s job. You get his office, his salary, his benefits, everything. It’s a step up from your position. You can start as soon as you want, but if they don’t hear back by Wednesday, they’re starting interviews for the position.”
“No,” I said. “I don’t want his job.”
“Well, what are you going to do, then?”
“Keep my job.”
“You’re his assistant. An assistant isn’t much help without anyone to assist.”
“I said I don’t want his job.”
Tucker lay back against the pillow, his arms crossed. “Come on, Katie. Don’t be unreasonable. You can get over this. I can only be here for so long before I have to go back to work myself. I can find a therapist for you, if you want. That might be good.”
“I don’t want a therapist.”
He sat up suddenly, exasperated. He threw his arms in the air. “Well, stop doing nothing! You’ve got to get out of this apartment! Go back to work! Do something! It’s been almost two days! I can’t stand it anymore.”
I cringed at his words. He stared at me. “Stop feeling sorry for yourself,” He muttered. “You didn’t love the guy or anything. You hardly knew him at all. You’re only upset because of how awful the accident was. Now it’s time to get better and forget. You can do it. You’re strong, Katie. We all know that.”
A tear fell out of my eye. “No,” I said stubbornly. “I didn’t love him. But we were friends. We went on a date the night before the accident like I told you. He told me his brother died.”
“Mom died, too,” Tucker sneered, upset. “Everybody dies.”
“Not like that,” I faltered, the tears spilling over. “No one dies like that. Lionel did. I can still see all the blood.”
“I know you can! Now pick yourself up and move past it! You’re capable! It’ll be hard, but people are here to help, okay? I’m going to bring you to the museum tomorrow morning, and you can tell Mr. Orswell yourself that you’ll take Lionel’s position. Everything’ll be okay, Katie. I promise.”
“You can’t promise anything.”
© Copyright 2016 Ivy1973. All rights reserved.
Short Story / Literary Fiction
Book / Mystery and Crime
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