SHE WAS ON THE BALCONY. He could feel her eyes watching him. She’s gonna say it. Tossing his keys from one hand to the other, he hurried to his car, but he was too late.
Katie’s voice rang from above. “Call me later, okay.”
I knew she was gonna say it.
It was the last Friday of August, the time of year when summer shakes hands with fall. Clouds hung close to earth, huddling together against a powder-blue backdrop, the sun winking behind. A parking lot which, moments before, had been cluttered with comings and goings, was silent. Between the sky and the asphalt sat a peeling pink and brick apartment building.
And there stood Katie on the second floor.
Cyrus Driscoll unlocked his steel-grey Celica, slid into the driver’s seat, and revved the engine. He rolled down the window and flashed that grin at her—the grin that gained him passage between knees, turned excuses to reasons, and even once, had gotten him out of a traffic ticket.
“I’ll call you with an ETA,” Ed Inger said, hanging up the phone. He smoothed his graying brown hair and yawned, glancing around at the concrete walls lined with storage cabinets. Rows of open shelving turned the center of the warehouse into organized hallways.
A man in his mid-thirties took a box from one of the shelves and placed it in the back of a delivery van. He marked his inventory sheet and closed the doors. “With all the changes this morning,” he said, handing a clipboard to Ed, “I’d feel a whole lot better if you’d look this over.”
Ed ran his fingers down the typewritten row. “Looks like you got all the extra orders. Did you cancel the one for Smith Street Drugs?” He handed the clipboard back.
“Yeah.” The man glanced at the sheet. “Guess I forgot to cross it off.” He drew a line through one of the rows. “Thanks,” he said, turning to go.
“Have you seen Driscoll this morning?” Ed asked.
“No. Sorry.” The delivery man started his van and pulled out of the warehouse.
A call from the Organ Procurement Organization had jolted Ed awake at two-thirty AM. The rest of the morning had been a trail of phone calls and paperwork. He yawned again and rubbed his eyes.
The phone trilled.
“Immediate Delivery, Ed speaking.”
“Good mornin’, Ed. This is Faith over at UNOS. I have an ETA for you on that liver, #XT400593T.”
“Great.” Ed opened a red binder that hung by a twine cord from an island of shelves. “#XT400593T?”
“That’s correct,” Faith replied. “It’s arriving on MedTrans at approximately eight-forty.”
“Thanks,” Ed said. “That’s less than twenty minutes.”
“That’s right. Ya’ll have a nice day.” And Faith hung up.
Ed punched some numbers into the phone.
“You’ve reached Mercy Hospital. If you know the extension or room number of your party, you may enter it at any—”
Ed punched in 4-1-9-0 and hit the pound sign.
“Surgery. This is Mary.”
“Mary? Ed Inger with Immediate Delivery. I have an ETA on the Marshall liver. #XT400593T.”
“Oh, good. When?”
“I’m meeting Organ Transport at the hangar in fifteen. It’ll take a few to document everything, then I’ll send a courier in your direction. Thirty-five minutes, tops. How’s the patient?”
“She’s stable. I’ll let the doctor know. Thanks, Ed.”
He hung up the phone and walked to the open warehouse door. Aside from his green Subaru wagon, the parking lot was empty. “Dammit, Cyrus! Not today. I need you here.”
Ed transferred the office lines to his cell phone, closed and locked the warehouse door, and went to meet the Organ Transport Service at the airport.
Twelve minutes later he was back in his office with a red and white ice chest, which he set on the corner of his desk. He pulled the contents from a blue envelope and ran each sheet through the copier. Moments later as he jogged toward the front door, Cyrus was parking.
“Where you been, Driscoll?” He held the cooler out. “Never mind. There’s a patient at Mercy waiting for this. Can you get it there? Or should I take it myself?”
Cyrus grabbed the handle. “I’ll do it,” he said, pulling the carrier just out of his boss’ reach.
Ed handed him the envelope. “A nurse from surgery will meet you at the E.R. entrance. Don’t forget to compare our paperwork with theirs. And bring back the signed receipt.” Ed turned and went inside. “I’ll let them know you’re coming.”
Cyrus put the ice chest and envelope on the front passenger seat.
“Oh. And Driscoll. Soon as you get back, you and I are gonna have a little conference.”
Cyrus grunted and picked up the magnetic signs that identified his car as a courier vehicle. He centered them, one on each door, and started the engine.
Ed stood in the shade of the warehouse, arms crossed, watching Cyrus through the open door. “Maybe I just need to let him go,” he mumbled.
Cyrus left the car in park while he checked his voice mail.
“Hi Cy, it’s Sheila. It’s been two weeks. Call me, okay?”
“Hello sexy. It’s Diana. We met the other night at Tanzi’s down on the plaza. That was such a great band and I thought . . . well, I thought maybe you could meet me there tonight. Let me know. 555-4688.”
“Well, that dumb-ass father of yours has done it again. He went and married that red-headed bitch who works down at Mulroney’s. You know who I mean. The one with legs up to her nostrils who likes to show off her new boob job over at the Christian Church. Why doesn’t he just spit in my face? All I ever did was try to be a good wife, but he didn’t want to be happy. Not with us anyway. Really, Cyrus! I wish you’d call me once in a while. I’m the only mother you’ve got.”
He put down the phone and shuffled through a stack of CDs on the passenger floorboard, plugged one into the player and cranked up the volume. In his rear-view mirror, he saw Mr. Inger still watching, shaking his head. He lit a cigarette and took his time leaving the parking lot. “Fuck him and this damn job. If he doesn’t appreciate the work I do, he can straight-up kiss my ass.”
Cyrus was waiting for a song to play so he passed the shortcut to Mercy Hospital. I’ll take the next left. It’s only two extra minutes. He crushed his cigarette in the open ashtray, lit another and started hitting the skip button on the CD player.
“Christ,” he shouted, realizing he was playing the wrong disk. “Can anything go right?”
He steered with his left hand, using his right to rummage through the pile of music on the floor of his car. Looking up and down between the road and the floor, he found the CD he wanted, ejected the old, slid the new silver disk in, and raised the volume to vibration mode. As he tossed the old CD into the heap on the floor, his lit cigarette joined it, landing next to the pile and rolling underneath.
“Damn it!” He hated this day. First he’d had to deal with Katie’s clinginess, then Inger, then his mom’s message. Now he was going to set the car on fire. “God damn it!” He pounded his fist on the dashboard. He scanned the side streets. There’s nowhere to park. He began to drive with one hand on the wheel again, looking down at the floor, scrambling through the pile, trying to find the burning cigarette.
“There you are, you little son of a bitch,” he cursed. Stretching as far right as he could, he grabbed it between his thumb and forefinger.
This time when he looked up, there was a city bus in his face.
Then there was blackness. Not a hard, cold blackness. More of a tepid, liquid blackness. It cocooned around him. Made him sleepy. But each time he started to doze off, a floating motion woke him. Mumbled words drifted nearer.
“Where the hell are you, boy?”
Her voice seemed to come from everywhere. He glanced at the woods around him and sped up, zigzagging from one trail to another, running deeper into the black and green shadows.
At the center of the forest was a lake hidden by a band of trees and thick brush. She’d never find him there. Only one path led to the water. He and his friends had worked hard to keep it covered with fallen branches and pine needles. He’d gotten there many times—once on a night with no moonlight. So, why couldn’t he find it now?
He stopped, listening for the gentle lapping of water on shoreline. Instead, his pulse thumped in his ears. Where were the frogs? The crickets?
“Cyrus! I know you’re in there. I saw you run this way.”
He jerked to attention and darted forward toward the musty smell, hoping he was moving in the right direction. When the growth became too dense, he stopped running and wove his way through the thicket. He knew where he was now. He walked a few more yards. The trees thinned. Fingers of sunlight beckoned to him from between dark branches. He stepped into the clearing, out of her reach.
He took off his shoes and squatted by the lake glancing at his reflection in the calm water. The handprint across his cheek still stung. He rubbed his face, recalling the glare in her eyes as she’d swung at him. The same hand that tenderly cleaned his scrapes and ruffled his hair had, without warning, turned into a weapon. So great was his trust in her that he hadn’t even flinched. She hates me now. His eyes teared.
He pushed back the tears with anger. He would never go home. He searched the ground for something heavy to throw–something that would make a splash. After filling the bottom of his t-shirt with four baseball-sized rocks, he returned to the water. One at a time, he lobbed them into the distant edges of the lake. The ripples they caused floated toward each other and touched, forming a diamond shape in the middle that grew smaller as the ripples expanded.
Nearby, there was a rustling in the bushes. A crow cried out in alarm and flapped away. Someone was coming.
He ran to the ancient oak and shimmied up, the rough bark raking skin from the inside of his knees. He crawled out onto the widest branch, grabbed the swinging rope, and stood.
Below him on the muddy bank, she staggered back and forth. “Don’t hide from me, dammit!” she slurred. “I won’t just slap you this time. When I find you I’ll whip your ass.”
He stared down at the lake and swung a wide arc toward the center of the diamond. He let go and fell into the icy water just as the diamond closed.
He thudded against the dark, slimy floor, stunned. A moment later, he pushed himself upright and kicked off toward the light—the air. But, when he reached the point where he’d submerged, the surface was solid, like glass. He strained against it. It wouldn’t budge.
An unfamiliar voice sounded in the distance. Blurred words penetrated the water soothing his panic as they found their way to him. “Go there, Drikkle,” they said. “Go there.”
Cyrus submerged into the liquid that had been keeping him afloat. Trapped beneath its warmth, he couldn’t move and, for a while, he couldn’t breathe.
Katie returned from the balcony drained of her morning glow. She picked up the phone and left a message at work. “I’m sorry. I’m running late.”
The spot where Cyrus had slept was still warm. She curled onto the bed and breathed into his pillow, savoring his scent and his heat. When the sheets began to cool, the truth fell over her like a shadow.
She wouldn’t hear from Cyrus. Not until he needs me.
Last night, as usual, he had shown up close to bedtime. “I’m really sorry I haven’t called, Katie. Can I come in for a while?”
Instinct told her to turn him away. “I was just about asleep,” she said, glancing at the doorknob, the wall, the floor—anywhere but his eyes. But the pain in his voice caused her to look up. One glimpse and his loneliness became her fault.
For a while, they sat in the living room sharing tidbits of their daily lives and laughing until tension released its hold on them. Then, they were off to bed where the morning found them still entwined, uneager to open their eyes.
As always, Cyrus dressed, kissed Katie’s cheek, and vanished into the daylight, leaving her with that ache she’d come to know so well.
She would not hear from him for weeks.
Katie stood and pulled her chestnut hair into a knot on the back of her head. “I’m done,” she said. She glared at her image in the mirror. “Next time, I won’t even answer the door.”
A neighborhood of apartment buildings stood two stories tall, pressed against each other on beds of concrete and asphalt. They were painted forest greens and browns in an attempt to simulate an earthy look. But the only trees or grass nearby, grew in a three foot strip between the curb and the sidewalk.
Two women stepped outside the brown building on the left. “You don’t have time to look at the grey car this morning, Melinda,” the older woman said to the younger one.
Melinda pointed to the lot where Cyrus normally parked his Celica. “Not there, Momma,” she answered. Stiff-kneed, she followed her mother to the bus stop where she turned around, staring through the clear shelter at a door on the second floor of the green building.
A burly man strutted into the structure and stood next to her. “Good mornin’, Melinda. You gonna watch that match tomorrow?”
Melinda turned toward him and grinned. “Yeah.” She looked at the ground and rubbed her forehead. “Uh-huh.”
“Who you think’s gonna win?”
“Now, Buster,” Melinda’s mother said. “Don’t get her started this morning.”
“I’m just askin’, Juanita. Last time I won a hundred bucks ‘cause I put money on Wild Billy.”
Juanita rolled her eyes. “I don’t like where this is going, Buster.”
“One day, you’re gonna have to admit it.” He pointed to Melinda with his head. “This girl knows her wrestlers.”
“Wrastlers,” Melinda corrected.
Buster shook his head. “Wrastlers,” he repeated.
“Immediate Delivery, Ed Speaking.”
“Ed, it’s Mary Jordan from Mercy. We were expecting your courier twenty minutes ago. Was there a delay?”
“No,” Ed answered. “He’s not there?”
“We’ve already prepped Mrs. Marshall. Can you find him?”
“Yeah. I’ll call you right back.”
But Ed reached Cyrus’ voice mail.
“Cyrus, it’s Ed. Mercy just called and said you never delivered. I want to hear from you right now. That patient’s ready to go into surgery.” Ed hung up the phone and slammed the palm of his hand against a cabinet door. “Dammit, Cyrus! What the hell’s goin’ on with you?”
The phone rang. “Immediate Delivery, Ed speaking.”
“This is Officer Bolin from the Metro police. I need to speak to someone in charge.
“I’m the owner,” Ed said. “Is there a problem?”
“Does your company use a grey Toyota Celica?”
Ed shivered. “Yeah. One of my couriers was making a delivery.”
“There’s been an accident downtown.”
“Is he . . . how bad is he hurt?”
“He’s not conscious,” the officer said. “They’re takin’ him to County.
“Did you find the ice chest?” Ed asked.
“There should be a red and white ice chest in the car,” Ed said. “It’s for a liver transplant. It has to get to Mercy right away.”
“Hang on,” Officer Bolin said. “Hey, Sarge, you find a red ice chest anywhere?” There was a pause, then, “Okay. Thanks.” The officer cleared his throat. “It looks like your ice chest popped open on impact. There’s nothing in there. Want me to call if we find it?”
Ed rested his forehead on his palm. “Please,” he said, knowing it probably didn’t matter. If the liver had been compromised, they wouldn’t be able to use it.
He slumped into the chair at his desk and called Mercy to give them Mrs. Marshall’s bad news. He stared at Cyrus’ employee file lying open on his desk awaiting their “conference.” He scanned the pages searching for an emergency contact.