Abby groaned as her phone buzzed on the make-shift bed side table. Moonlight streamed through the plastic blinds, dropping into pale lines onto her cologne stained pillow and streaking a set of packed bookshelves and worn textbooks with faint rays. She winced at the dim glow on the screen and rubbed her eyes. They felt dry as her tongue. She licked her parched lips, tasting the lingering coating of beer, as the phone jumped again.
Against her back, Jim shifted at the noise. She froze as he rolled, the bed springs squeaking then quieting as he settled back under the sheets. Abby felt her stomach drop as her clearing thoughts registered how the evening had concluded.
She shut her eyes and reached out before a third shake from her phone echoed into the night. Resting the device against her pillow, she blinked her eyes into focus.
The neon panel shone around a set of digits from the bowels of her address book. Ones she hadn’t had the heart to delete.
Abby frowned at the numbers. Her heart began to thump against her ribs.
He can’t be calling, she thought.
The phone shook in her hand once more. She sucked in a quick breath as Jim shifted again.
The seconds stretched toward the fourth and fifth rings and then the sixth, the one that would shove the call into her answering machine.
Let it ring, ordered a small internal voice, you both agreed it was over.
You know you should answer it, urge another from her chest.
The fourth buzz sounded.
Cupping the phone in her hand to dim the shine, she sung her feet from the bed. She took the short steps over Jim’s scrubs and her own clothes littering the carpet in order to enter Jim’s semi-tidy bathroom. She didn’t bother to search for the light. Instead she closed the door, used the phone’s glow to find the toilet, set down the lid and sat. Her fingers tugged at the edge of Jim’s shirt in a vain attempt to cover her bare knees and warm the skin pebbling from more than the night’s chill. With a tremble in her fingers she clicked up the top half of the phone and brought it to her ears, cutting off the fifth vibration.
“Hello?” she whispered.
“Abby?” His voice sounded weary, as if he had finished a marathon and decided to ring.
His name stuck on her teeth but she pushed it out in lieu of an exhale.
“God it’s good to hear your voice.”
She smiled and rubbed her free fingers at her throbbing temple.
“You too,” she found herself saying before she could temper her response. She swallowed down a flurry of butterflies and steadied her voice. “What’s going on?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry. It’s so late.”
“It’s not that.”
“I know.” A few ragged breaths fell against her ear through the receiver. “I found out what happened.”
“What?” She frowned at a lump of dirty laundry outlined in the dim light.
“I found them,” Darren continued. “The ones who were after my…dad.”
“Sort of.” His voice trailed off into concerned trepidation. “It’s gotten kind of complicated.”
“Darren,” she said again, barely believing the man attached to the name was really on the other end. “What’s going on?”
He gave a heavy sigh. She thought she heard a rumble of traffic behind his pause and then pain filled grunt brushed her ear. The sound reminded her of patients first arriving at the emergency room. They usually held wounded limbs or pressed hands onto various hidden ailments concealed by muscle and flesh. Her Hippocratic Oath bounded through the stale haze of alcohol.
“Are you alright?”
“No,” he said through clenched teeth. “Can you meet me? I could really use some help.”
“Are you hurt?”
“Not badly, but I’m not as good at stitches with one hand as I need to be.” His attempt at humor fell flat.
“You should go to a hospital.”
“Why,” Abby paused to lower her voice as the bed springs squeaked again. “Why not?”
“Like I said, it’s complicated.” He sighed and let out a brief growl as if fighting against himself. “Please Abby, I don’t know who else to call.”
Abby felt her heart clench, avoid a few beats and then try to make up the rhythm in a quick staccato. Darren’s oval face hovered in the bathroom’s slightly humid air. The vision carried a pleading glimmer in the pair of brown eyes and his stubble dimpled with a thin lined mouth. The same look had crossed his features nearly a year ago when he had explained his need to leave her and what they had begun in order to find an answer to the mysteries around his estranged father’s death.
A staggered breath struggled out of her chest. She licked her lips and tried to make sense of her spinning thoughts amidst the start of a clinging hangover.
“Where are you?” she asked.
Another relieved exhalation reached through the phone. “Down at Union Station, by track 5.”
“Give me fifteen minutes.”
“Thanks, Abby.” A wordless sigh hung in the air. “I…”
She swallowed down a rising lump of anxiety based on a myriad of emotions she failed to clearly perceive. She focused on the necessary treatment for most injuries in order to keep steady. “Keep pressure on the wound and try not to move.”
Abby muffled the brief chuckle at the remembered nickname. “See you soon.”
A few seconds passed before he hung up. Once the dial tone sounded, she held the phone before her until the light on the screen dimmed. In the darkness she began to move with numbed purpose.
She figured Jim, like any good resident, had a first aid kit and three drawers later she had the white box in hand. Abby slipped back into the bedroom and began a search for her clothes.
“Abby?” murmured Jim. He propped himself up on an elbow, the moonlight shading his broad shoulders.
Abby swallowed as she gathered her jeans from the floor. Her eyes stayed latched on the denim.
“Cathy called.” She slid her limbs down each leg. “She’s having a bad night and really needs to talk.”
Abby hoped the darkness masked her wince as well as the lie. She grunted in the affirmative.
“Are you…” Jim sat up further and the blankets gathered with a soft hush. Abby felt his gaze fall on her back as she exchanged his tee-shirt with her own tops. “Are you coming back?”
She knelt to pull on her socks and tie on her sneakers. “Probably not tonight,” she said to her laces.
“This is a first,” said Jim with a mirthless laugh.
“What do you mean?” She stood, found her backpack by the door and slipped in the first aid kit and phone before slinging the bag over her shoulder.
“I’m not used to being left in the middle of the night.”
Abby winced again at the hurt tingeing his words even though she could hear him trying to keep them light. She walked around the bed and pecked his cheek.
“Sorry. I just have to go…”
“No problem,” he said with forced ease. His hand found hers and gave a squeeze. “We can talk, later.”
“Yeah.” She disentangled her fingers as his digital clock ticked away another minute. “See you at rounds.”
“”Night,” he said as she turned the knob and slipped out.
She padded down the hallway and into his cluttered living room. The array of empty beer bottles, used to help overcome a particularly morbid shift, glinted wetly. Abby strode quickly to the front door and locked away a sudden rise of guilt as the springs squeaked in the bedroom. By the time her sneakers met the sidewalk outside Jim’s apartment, her feet were already churning at a swift trot.