Teasers & Deleted Scenes"Going Over Home"
Baltimore, MD / Arlington, VA, July 2008
Chaz planned to take a taxi home from the hospital; it would cost the earth, but he couldn't think of anything else to do. He knew he wouldn't be able to manage the train. When Daphne said, "When are they letting you go home? I can give you a ride," he was startled as much by the realization that that's how other people got home from the hospital as by the offer itself. He accepted.
He had twenty-four hours to regret it, and did. He'd be weak and in pain, and she'd see it.
But Daphne was exactly the right person. She was calm and quietly cheerful, helpful without hovering. She didn't ask him how he was. He had no idea why not, but under the circumstances, the action (not-action) was more important than the motivation.
She invented an excuse to go down to the nurse's station while he dressed. He could do it himself--if he couldn't, they wouldn't be letting him out--but he cursed the pigheaded optimism that had made him ask her for a t-shirt. He got it on, mostly because he had to.
His reward was in the bathroom mirror. He was washed-out, scrawny, pinched with pain and exertion, but he looked like him. Rotten, but him. You're still here. It's easy after that.
Yeah. He'd said it to Falkner: Everything's changed.
Daphne came back in with a wheelchair.
"I don't need that." Too harsh. Don't jump down her throat. She wants to help.
She blew her bangs out of her eyes and scowled. "Enough with the fish face, it wasn't my idea. They don't let people walk out of hospitals anymore."
No, they didn't. "We could steal an orderly's uniform, and I could push a laundry cart to the back door." He ought to apologize, but a joke was easier.
She jabbed with her chin toward the bed and smiled. "We may need a laundry cart for your stuff."
He'd piled everything on the bed, mostly so he couldn't crawl back into it. His laptop, a stack of DVDs, extra clothes, Dr. Srinivasan's nutrition plans, wound dressings, the Percocet from the hospital pharmacy, the purple stuffed coyote. (Where would he put it? Would Daphne mind if he gave it to Brandon, a thank-you for feeding the Angry Kitteh?). He'd dropped the get-well cards in the trash when he was alone; at home, they'd be a reminder of not being well. He'd kept the origami animals, maybe to prove that he hadn't dreamed that visit from Frost.
The autopsy report was folded inside a sweater, and the sweater stacked with a pair of sweatpants. The jeans he'd worn...that he'd put on the last time he was in his apartment, he'd parted company with in the emergency room in Texas. He hoped somebody'd burned them.
"No sweat," Daphne said, and he realized she'd read his long look as worry. "Sort out what you need for tonight. I'll deliver the rest tomorrow." She handed him a drawstring plastic bag printed with the Johns Hopkins logo.
Because otherwise he'd have to carry everything up the stairs. She knew he couldn't do that. Was it better or worse that she knew? "Thank you," he croaked.
She nodded without looking at him. Looking would mean there was something different, wrong. That he might need something.
Daphne knew he hated to need.
Daphne's car had sheepskin seat covers; he could lean back as long as he was careful. The worst discomfort was the butt of his pistol poking him in the ribs when he sat.
She told him scraps of news about work, about the gym. He let it wash over. Her voice was comforting, and he didn't want to think too hard about whether he would ever fit in the Chaz-shaped spaces he filled--used to fill.
But he noticed when she drove past the GW Parkway. "You missed the exit!" His voice rang sharp and too loud in the little space. His breathing sped up, his heart fluttered.
This time Daphne did glance over. "Construction. They've closed your ramp."
Detour. Nothing you can't go around. But his heart kept pounding; something frighteningly like a sob stuck in his throat. He dug his left hand into the sheepskin, hidden beneath his thigh.
She parked illegally in front of the door of his building. Her hands dropped off the steering wheel into her lap. "Platypus... You know you can talk to me, or to Wabbit."
"I just want to get home." Like a slammed door. He saw her flinch. I'm sorry, I'm sorry. She'd driven him all the way from Baltimore, she was there to help, she'd saved his goddamn life. He was a lousy human being.
He worked the passenger side latch with his left hand. Reach, pull, push. They all set off the deep ache in the healing muscle. "I suck, man. I'm sorry. I'm tired, I guess."
She nodded. "Want help with anything?"
"No, thanks. I think--just hand me the bag and I'll be all right."
Daphne reached (he watched her turn and stretch and felt a jab of envy--such a simple thing, done so easily) and plucked the bag out of the back. Chaz turned sideways, stiffly, and got both feet on the ground before he levered himself off the passenger seat. He didn't teeter. Hah--nailed the dismount. Daphne handed the bag out after him. It weighed six pounds, two ounces. The pull across his shoulders was a dull burn.
"You're sure you'll be okay on your own? I can come up and hang out for a bit, just in case."
Deep breath. Smile. It's what she needs to see. "Thanks, Daph. I've got it."
She wasn't happy, he could tell. But there wasn't anything she could do about it.
"I'll call you tomorrow, before I bring this stuff over."
"Sure." He let her drive off before he dealt with the weight of the front door.
The stairs were work. He had to stop and sit down on the landings to get his breath. It was like a preview of life at 80. No, unlike 80, this wouldn't last. This he could recover from.
He fished his keys out of his pocket. Familiar action, so familiar it was stored in his muscles more than his mind. Made strange by...five weeks away. Lucky he hadn't left anything volatile in the refrigerator.
He rested his forehead against the door, caught his breath again. Inside were his books, the ones he hadn't read yet, and the few he kept for what they were, rather than for what they contained. His kitchen, stocked with non-perishable food, because even in Arlington the power could go out. His closet and chest of drawers, full of clean, comfortable clothes. His bed, quiet and safe and unvisited by medical professionals. Home. His life, ready to walk back into. It would be all right. He unlocked the deadbolt and pushed the door open.
Stale, stifling air hit him.
He lunged backward, staggered when his heels caught the hall runner. His heart pumped at full stretch, his lungs worked and worked, useless. The hallway tilted and circled. He sagged to his knees on the carpet and got his head low. The scar tissue on his back pulled like hell, but that was better than being found passed out in the hall. Sweat tickled his forehead, his chest, under his arms.
The air had breathed out of the house in Texas hot and stale like that. Just like that. The Relative had waited, breathing that air, until what he wanted came through the door.
No. That door was ash. This one had safety behind it. Correlation does not equal causation. I won't let you take this away, too.
He pushed up from the floor, pulled himself up the doorframe. He swept the bag over the threshold with his foot, followed it, and threw the lock behind him.
Everything was as he'd left it, where he'd left it. Everything in the room had its story written in his memory. Everything was familiar.
The man who'd lived here was gone. The only stranger in the room was him.
Still, he was alone. He was safe.
He drew his gun and cleared every room, every closet, every corner, by the book.