Block and Strike(3)

By: Kelly Jensen


The good eye revolved in the red-rimmed socket and then the retching started again. Jake ran to the kitchen and pulled the trash can out from under the sink. He didn’t make it back in time. Vomit dribbled from Wawa’s lips and pooled on the pale floorboards between Willa’s feet.

He was going to have to burn the couch.

“We need to take him to the hospital now,” Willa snapped. She pointed a finger at Jake. “Go get your truck.”

“No,” Wawa slurred.

Willa turned her attention to him. “Shh, don’t try to speak. We’re going to help you.”

He produced a wet noise before repeating himself. “No.”

Willa smoothed his dark hair away from the blood clotting at his temple. “It’s okay. We won’t hurt you.”

“No money.”

Had he been mugged? Was that what he meant?

“Can you tell us your name?” Willa asked.

His eyelids fluttered. Well, the left one did. The right was trapped in swelling flesh. “No hospital.” He fell back, the white of his one eye, streaked with blood, flashing before he lost his battle for consciousness.

Willa turned back to Jake. “Go get the truck.”

“But—”

Her gaze flicked to his knuckles. A flash of irritation burned through Jake. She looked up to meet his eyes, and he saw the relief there at the lack of bruising across his hands, at the proof he hadn’t had a fit in the alley outside his goddamned apartment and beaten up a guy he didn’t even know for no reason whatsoever. But he resented her for thinking it, for even a second.

The whole night was fucked-up.

Jake turned so hard the soles of his shoes squeaked against the floor, and went to get his truck.



HE WAS home an hour later.

The ER had been a bright nightmare. They admitted Wawa right away, but after that, the rush had all been inside Jake’s bloodstream until his adrenaline ran short. He spent thirty minutes pacing back and forth, waiting for news he wasn’t entitled to. He wasn’t a relative—he didn’t even know Wawa’s name. Willa promised to call him later.

Back at his apartment, the silence rang more loudly than the cacophony of the ER. Jake stood in the dark for a breath or two, appreciative of the relative peace, before dumping his keys on the table by the door and snapping on a lamp. Warm light spread through the room, giving his place a homey feel he usually enjoyed. Since his release, Jake had craved comfort. Cozy spaces lit only by single lamps. The aroma of fresh-baked pies, the sweet and savory kind. Clean linen that smelled of fabric softener rather than industrial-strength bleach. Anything soft.

He went to inspect his couch.

Willa had cleaned the floor while he brought his truck around from the garage at the end of the lane. The odor of vomit lingered, though, cutting through the antiseptic tang of pine. Jake cast a wary eye over his couch and thanked all the hells he’d bought leather instead of fabric or that weird microfiber shit. Leather could be cleaned and, wound up as he was, it would be a while before he slept.

He’d changed the bucket of water twice, for the couch and the floor, when his cell phone buzzed. Jake snapped off a glove and pulled his phone out of his pocket, answering with a quiet “’Lo.”

It was Willa. “Why are you still up?”

“You said you’d call with news.”

“Are you cleaning your couch?”

Closest in age of his three older sisters, Willa might as well have been his twin. She knew how he thought and how he felt, most of the time. When she didn’t, she always seemed utterly baffled.

Jake dropped the sponge into the bucket and peeled off his other glove. “Yeah. What’s up?”

“We got an ID on your guy. I thought you might like to know.” In that respect, she knew him well.

Wawa hadn’t had a wallet, only the shirt with the breast pocket logo, which the police had taken after the emergency room staff cut it off him. The police had taken Jake’s statement, too, without looking at his knuckles.

“His name is Gareth Maxwell Wilson. Goes by Max according to his manager at the Wawa on Lincoln. He also works at the market behind the strip mall four blocks down from you.”

“Hendrick’s?” The family-owned supermarket had somehow managed to compete with the Pathmark across the road for longer than Jake had been in Philly.