By: Aria Cage

THE NOISE OF THE ER is like a songbird that I welcome every day. There’s not a lot of room for anything else, and that’s how I like it; it’s the only way I can function. I admit, it lacks some of the fundamentals of a human life, but I left that kind of existence a long time ago.

Hooking up the IV bag, Jamie bumps me, and I almost drop it. She mutters an apology even though there’s little time for pleasantries like “please,” “thank you,” and “sorry.” The patient’s heart rate is dropping, and he’s losing a lot of blood. An automatic panic grips my stomach, but I push it away, shove it down where the shadows claw for me. This man needs this team and this team need me. The emergency room of Beaver Dam Community Hospital is a fine machine. Every person is like a single part that has a job to do, and we all do it well.

I became a nurse so I could help people. I don’t need to know them or them know me. I don’t ever need to see them after they leave this room. That is how I need it to be.

My fingers trace the IV line to his inner arm where the paramedics had placed a cannula. I freeze. I can’t breathe. I can’t move. I just… can’t.

It’s him. I don’t have to look at his face, or his chart to know what’s screaming in my heart and churning my stomach. That one scar on his hand in the shape of a “D” tells me who he is.

I barely recognise the call of my name, the concern from the lips of my team as I stand there, willing my eyes not to look up and see the face of the one person I ruined. But they betray me, and I see the harder features of a boy I once loved. My best friend, my protector, my secret, is lying on the bed, half naked with a piece of steel protruding his shoulder, maybe penetrated right through his subscapular. There have been so many changes over his body since I was fifteen. A lifetime of sorrow, lies, and pain; all because of me. Nate lost everything because I’m a coward, a dirty-fucking-damaged-coward.

Jamie grabs my shoulder, and she shakes me hard. “Charlotte. You okay?”

I can’t look away from his relaxed, sleep induced face as I shake my head no. I don’t know why I did that. I can usually hide my emotions; it’s a gift Daddy taught me well.

“Go then. I’ll come see you when we have this guy in surgery,” she urges.

I’m dead weight to them, but I need to stay. I can’t stop shaking my head pointlessly. I stroke the old scar on his brow that’s crusted with blood from his head injury as my team work around me. I feel their intrigued eyes boring into me, and I don’t care. Nate stayed by me through thick and thin, hell and worse, until we have been forced apart, and taught what we shared was wrong. I’ve been taught that my actions caused everyone pain; what he was taught, I guess, is to stay away from the likes of me, because I never heard from him again.

“OR two is ready for him. Let’s get him out of here before his stats drop any further,” Paul instructs the team. For the first time, I look away from Nate to find my boyfriend staring at me as he pushes Nate from the room, directing his broken team on their next steps.


NATE MAKES ME LAUGH. He always makes me laugh. I love him. Not like I love Davey, he’s like my brother. He has something wrong with him; people don’t say it, but I can see. He’s Nate’s brother, and they live with Nona, their gran. She likes to be called Nona, and she’s like my gran, too.

Nona makes me pretty dresses because I don’t have a Mamma no more, and my daddy doesn’t know how to shop for me. He’s always so sad until I help him smile. He always says I make him smile and make him happy, and that makes me happy.

Nate is hanging upside down from the big branch just above me, showing off. He’s eight, only two years older than me and has more muscles, but I want to try it, too. I reach out to the next branch when I hear Daddy calling me across the big yard.

“Gotta go, Nate,” I say, rushing down from the tree.

“Wait, Charlie. I’ll come with you.” I watch Nate pull himself upright and climb down to the same branch as me, and he takes my hand. “Ready to jump?”

I look down to the ground, and it seems real high. I bite my lip so hard it hurts. He squeezes my hand and leans into my ear, “It’s okay. We don’t have to. Come on, we’ll go down the other way before your dad gets worried.”

I smile and swing my skinny arms around him and hug him. He can’t hug me back because he makes sure we don’t fall, and I know he won’t let anything happen to me—he promised to always look after me and Davey. We both climb down and run toward the house, past the old dog house which needs a dog, and I pull Nate toward the garage ’cause I know that’s where Daddy will be waiting for me.

I push the old door open. It’s never actually closed ’cause the knob is too high for me. I rush in holding Nate’s hand. Daddy is always happier when he gives me a big hug. But this time, he has a strange face, and he is looking at my hand that’s in Nate’s darker hand. Our hands look funny and just a little dirty, but I don’t care.

“Well, what do we have here?” Daddy asks and smiles. See, he’s happier when I’m near him.

I relax in one big breath when I see his smile. “Daddy, you know who Nate is, silly.”

Nate squeezes my hand, and I smile bigger before letting it go and running to my daddy, jumping into his arms. He holds me for a long time, but instead of taking me over to his big chair by the old radio, he lets me down on the ground and watches Nate.

“How old are you again, Nathan?” Daddy asks, and I turn to my best friend and try to figure out why he isn’t happy.

“Eight, sir,” Nate says, puffing out his chest, making me giggle.

“You two spend a lot of time together. You protect her?”

“Yeah,” I say, bouncing up and down. “Nate always looks after me. Last week, stupid Cindy pushed me, but Nate showed her. He didn’t hit her though, Daddy. He said you never hit a girl.”

“I see.” He nods, and I’m so proud of Nate, and I want Daddy to love him too. Nate needs a daddy. “Why don’t you and Charlotte go sit on the sofa for me? I’ll get you both a soda.”

Nate doesn’t move right away, so I take his hand and take him to the big chair that smells of daddy, oil, and a little bit damp. I sit and tuck into a corner so that Nate has room, when Daddy clicks his tongue.

“Charlotte, you know better. How do we sit on Daddy’s chair?”