Block and Strike(4)

By: Kelly Jensen


“Yep. His insurance coverage probably sucks.”

“Maybe that’s why he didn’t want to go to the hospital,” Jake said.

“Or he could just be a wuss, like you.”

“Hey, we don’t all live for the scream of sirens and people in pain.” How anyone could enjoy being a nurse was beyond him, but Jake was grateful, this once, for his sister’s profession.

“Oh, and guess where he lives?”

“Um….”

“Under you.”

“Huh?”

“Same building. The basement apartment.”

Jake pulled his cell away from his ear and blinked at it. Lamplight glinted off the screen, blanking out the portrait of his sister. He put the phone back to his ear. “Seriously?”

“Yeah. I guess that explains why he was outside your door. It’s his door, too.”

Now Jake really felt like an ass for not replacing the light bulb or hassling Mr. Wu to do it. The basement apartment was a hole in the ground, literally—a cellar Mr. Wu optimistically advertised as a “studio apartment.” The only light in the small, coffin-shaped room seeped down from two high windows covered by rusty old grilles. The bathroom was a moldy cupboard. The kitchen, as he remembered, consisted of a microwave on top of a bar fridge. Jake had painted the apartment for Mr. Wu after the last tenant moved out, just a month before. Not even the brightest rental white had improved the space.

Had he ever seen the new tenant? “Hey!”

“Hmm?” his sister answered.

“I’ve seen him. Skinny guy. Doesn’t own an umbrella, or likes walking in the rain.” A slice of memory, a bedraggled figure slipping through the door as Jake stepped out. Thin, wet, dripping. A flash of dark hair, vivid blue eyes, and pale skin. Though he still didn’t know Gareth Maxwell Wilson, Jake felt his concern was now somehow warranted. They lived in the same building. They were neighbors—could have been friends. “How’s he doing?”

“He woke up not long after you left. He’s actually pretty lucid this time. We had his name before then, which was great. Can you imagine waking up and no one knowing your name?”

Maybe. Being in prison had been like that at times. Not the waking up part, the moving among strangers part. The sense of being out of place, of being someone else, or just unknown.

“Would be rough, yeah. So when is he being released? Does he need a ride home?”

“I don’t know, and probably. Why, are you offering?”

“Ah, I guess? I mean, he lives in my building.”

“We’re trying to contact his family.”

“Okay. Let me know, then.”

“I will, and Jake?”

“Yeah?”

Willa hesitated. “I’m sorry.”

He didn’t ask what for. “See you at home on Sunday?”

The Kendricks clan went home to Doylestown every Sunday they could. Jake had resented the obligation when he was younger, but after missing those weekly gatherings for a whole year, he now craved the bosom of his family with something close to obsession.

Willa’s tired sigh sounded like static against his ear. “Yeah. See you then.”

Jake slid his phone back into his pocket and picked up the bucket and gloves. Breathing deeply, he inspected his couch. The dark brown leather looked clean and smelled clean. Maybe now he could sleep.





Chapter Two


“DO NOT call my father.” How many times did he have to say it? “I’m twenty-one. An adult. You do not have permission to call my father.” Every word pulsed along his jaw and up into his skull, setting off a hundred clanging bells. Closing his eyes, Max made an attempt to swallow a groan. The sound vibrated low in his throat and that hurt too, dang it.

He opened his eyes again—just the one, really, as his left was swollen shut—and rolled his head toward the tall nurse at his bedside. Agitation and worry pinched her features and clouded her gray eyes.

“You really should have someone with you,” she said. “You have a grade three concussion. I really can’t advise leaving if you don’t have someone to stay with you. There’s also the matter of tests—”

“I can call my girlfriend.” He didn’t want to talk about the tests he couldn’t afford. His head hurt. His whole body hurt. But he didn’t need a CT scan or an MRI. If his head was going to explode, it would have happened already. He wasn’t going to call Melanie, either. He’d never see a way clear if he invited her to hover.