I have spent most of the morning researching literary agents with the hopes of finally finding someone to represent Something Beautiful for me. (I decided not the change the title after all, thanks to J1 and J2.) All of the research made me decide to change today’s topic to a little teaser of a chapter of the story I’m currently working on – You Better Run. I”m open for comments, but may not answer many questions, since I’m not finished with it yet.
* * *
Alannah – four hours after
My phone rings just as the lawyer I have spent the day with is leaving. Finally. It’s been a long day. I love my job, don’t get me wrong. But some days… well, some days are harder than others.
“Hello?” I answer, breathless. I had to hurry to find the phone to beat the end of the ringer. No one calls me on my cell while I’m at work unless it’s an emergency. But, I remind myself, it’s Saturday. I’m not supposed to be working.
I frown. “Saoirse? What’s going on?”
“Alannah, why are you panting?”
I sigh. “Because I had to run across the room to find my phone.” I gasp and try to catch my breath, but it’s pretty clear to me that I’m going to have to use my inhaler. Again.
There is marked silence on the phone while I take a hit from the inhaler. My breathing finally slows. But Saoirse is still quiet.
“You called me, Saoirse,” I remind her while I start to gather the files from my troubled patient and lock them away in the cabinet.
“I’m worried about your breathing, Alannah. You should go back to the asthma doctor. I don’t think anything they’ve done so far is helping.”
I sigh again. I am well aware of my health issues; I don’t need my baby sister scolding me. “That’s why you called me?”
“No.” Her voice is suddenly quiet. Fearful.
“I’m scared, Alannah. Neal… he’s been worse than usual. Something’s off. Can I stay with you tonight?”
I take a deep breath and stand up to my full height. “Saoirse, you technically live with me. You don’t have to ask if you can stay. But will you actually talk to me tonight? Fill me in?”
Her breath shudders. I have never heard her sound like this.
“Yes, I’ll tell you everything. I promise. I’m ready.”
My eyes narrow. “Ready for what?”
“To leave. I’m ready to leave Neal.”
All of the tension relaxes out of my body as I collapse in my desk chair. “It’s about time,” I murmur.
“When will you get to my house?”
“I’m… leaving now.”
I nod, even though I know she can’t see me. “Good. I’m leaving work as we speak. I can help you get your stuff from his house whenever you’re ready.”
“See you soon,” she whispers, on the verge of tears.
“Gráím thú,” I respond, smiling.
“I love you, too, Sissy.”
* * *
Saoirse hasn’t been with Neal for that long, but I haven’t liked him from the start. I was with her when they met – she accompanied me to a benefit where my then-boyfriend, Chuck, was speaking. Chuck was a stuffy lawyer, someone who appreciated my analytical, medical mind. Well, at least I thought he appreciated it. It turns out that I am incapable of love, according to him. I’m emotionally distant. This coming from an entertainment lawyer who has made his millions defending guilty celebrities in court.
He failed to see the irony in the situation.
Neal was there because he was one of those celebrities. A client of Chuck’s. He gave a lot of money to the cause that the benefit was championing, and was dashing and charming, and all of those adjectives that sound good, but really aren’t.
When Chuck and I broke up, Saoirse and Neal were just getting started. Chuck tried to warn me about Neal – he said that he had been charged with domestic battery and had at least one restraining order against him. Chuck got him off, of course, but the allegations remained. And Chuck had it on high authority that they were true. That he was a girlfriend-beater. All of that is bad enough. But the worst was still their first conversation.
I was standing next to Saoirse when Neal approached. I’ll never forget it. His hair was slicked back like Scott Disik’s, and he had on a lavender shirt under his suit. I tried not to gag from all the cologne he was wearing, but Saoirse was flattered. They talked, laughed, and then he asked for her name.
“Saoirse,” she said. She was smiling, innocent. My little sister. It’s burned into my memory.
“What?” Neal had asked, making a smug face.
“It’s Irish. My parents were born in Ireland.”
“How do you say it?”
“Seer-sha,” she sounded out, giggling like a schoolgirl as he put his slimy hand on the small of her back so she would have to talk into his ear.
“I’m not calling you that,” he said clearly, too loudly. He’d already had several drinks, and was apparently feeling bold.
“What?” she asked, laughing.
“It’s too ethnic for my taste. I’m going to call you Shay.”
I had expected Saoirse to be outraged. She loved the uniqueness of her name. But she wasn’t. Neal already had her under a spell. She whispered something in his ear, and they walked away from me together. And she’s been with him ever since.
That was a little over a year ago. And now look where we are.
* * *
Saoirse is waiting for me in my driveway when I pull in a half hour later.
“Took you long enough,” she says, smiling at me, huge sunglasses covering her face so she looks bug-eyed and tiny. I could see a cut on her lip, remnants of an earlier fight, probably. I’m sure Neal split it. He’s done it before.
“Let’s get inside,” I say softly. She follows me in, and after I set all of my stuff on the kitchen counter, I turn to face her. She’s still wearing her sunglasses. “Take off the glasses.”
Her face hardens and I see her lip tremble ever so slightly. But she reaches up to pull them off.
Underneath is the most fantastic bruise on her temple, and one of her eyes is swollen shut. I cover my mouth with my hand, tears pooling in my eyes. “Jesus, Saoirse.”
“I was wondering if you could take me to the doctor? I… I can’t really see. Nothing will… focus.” She blinks with her good eye, and a tear trails down her cheek.
“When did this happen?”
“A… couple of hours ago. He stormed out… I think. I blacked out, I guess, and I woke up on the kitchen floor. I was actually… already here when I called.”
I shake my head. “Does your head hurt?” I ask, reaching for my purse again, readying myself to leave.
“Yes,” she says. “I thought it would go away, but… it hasn’t.”
I sigh. “Let’s go,” I whisper, trying to keep my cool, trying to not explode. I take her by the arm and lead her back out to my car. Then I drive her to the nearest hospital, because I’m afraid he gave her another concussion. Or worse. She starts feeling nauseous on the way there, and I have to pull over twice so that she can vomit out the door onto the shoulder of the 405. I’m surprised I make it to the hospital. In the Emergency Room, she’s taken behind a curtain, and I’m left in the waiting room, seething. Who does this guy think he is? And why does he believe that, just because he’s famous, he can treat his girlfriend like this?
An hour later, I’m allowed to go back and see her. She’s been admitted. The doctor said he wants to keep her under surveillance because it’s her fourth concussion in a year. But there’s more. He shows me an X-ray of her skull, and I start to cry. You’d think I was looking at a windshield, the way the crack spiders out from her temple. But no. It’s my sister’s head. It’s what’s supposed to be protecting her brain.
The doctor takes a deep breath and asks if he can have a word with me in the hallway. Saoirse is resting, and he doesn’t want to disturb her.
“I had the nurse call social services,” he says softly to me once we get into the hallway.
I nod, wiping my eyes. “I’ve tried that. They’re not married, and they don’t live together. There’s nothing social services can do. She chooses to go back there, to him. And I can’t get her to stop.”
The doctor swallows and looks away for a minute. “You should call the police,” he says, his voice harder. “The way these injuries are escalating, she’s going to be killed.”
“Did you tell her that?” I ask.
“Yes,” the doctor replied. “And she said she can take care of it. That he didn’t mean it. That it was her fault.”
“Jesus, Saoirse,” I murmur for the second time that day.
“She needs help.”
He nods and takes his leave. I take a minute to gather my wits. I don’t want her to see me this upset. Not when the reason she’s even here can be traced back to me. But I can’t. So I take a walk down the hall in search of the cafeteria, to get some coffee.
Twenty minutes later, I’m walking back into her room with a cup of coffee and a plan for how I’m going to breach the topic of calling the police with my little sister.
“Saoirse, I talked to the doctor, and…” I look at the bed. The empty bed. “Saoirse?”
She’s gone. The bed is empty, the machines beeping because no one is attached to them.
The cup of coffee slips out of my hand and I turn around and run out the door to the nurses’ station down the hall. My lungs are on fire, but I make it.
“Room 512, Saoirse O’Leary?” I wheeze at the nurse behind the desk. “Did she get taken somewhere? The room is empty.”
The nurse furrows her brow and types a couple of things into the computer while I take another hit from my inhaler. “No… all the tests she needs to have done have to wait until the swelling goes down in her brain.”
“The room is empty,” I repeat.
“Did you check the adjoining bathroom?”
My face flushes. “No, I didn’t, but…”
The nurse smiles in a “there-there” kind of way, and leads me back to Saoirse’s room.
Except the bathroom is empty, too.
Moving fast, the nurse announces a code on the intercom, and the hospital is locked down.
“We’ll find her. With traumatic brain injuries, she probably got confused and just wandered off.”
“Traumatic brain injuries? She just has a minor concussion.”
“Oh, no, dear. With the fracturing of her skull, there’s a chance there could be permanent damage. This is the traumatic brain injury floor.”
I start to hyperventilate. Where is she? And what else don’t I know?