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Rebel (Dead Man's Ink #1)
Callie Hart

ALEXIS

A brief thought on death.

I never thought I’d die on the streets of Seattle. I never thought I’d be the kind of person to wish for death, either. You ask people what frightens them most in this world and nine times out of ten, you’ll get the same universal answer: death. The Great Unknown. That one last wild ride. I used to be one of those people, paralyzed by the mere thought of non-existence. Seems a lot has happened recently to adjust my outlook, though. Now, I’ve realized there are more frightening things than simply ceasing to be. Living, for example. Continuing to breathe, even though it feels like your heart is shattered into a million pieces and you can’t possibly go on another moment. Continuing to feel, even when your nerve endings are so frayed and overloaded from pain inflicted by others. Continuing to hope, despite the odds of rescue growing smaller and smaller each day.

I never thought I’d die on the streets of Seattle. I never thought I’d want to die. Beg for it. Wish for it constantly. I suppose my ingratitude for the great gift this life poses might be hard to comprehend. Perhaps if I started from the beginning, you might understand.

Here.

Let me explain.

ALEXIS

2012

St. Peter’s hospital looms over the city, the building a crouched, disapproving sentinel blaring light and sound into the night. Fog blossoms on my breath. Curled around my takeaway coffee, my hands are finally beginning to thaw out. I’m listening to Led Zeppelin on my busted iPod with the cracked screen, watching people stream in and out of the hospital, and imagining their stories. Filling in the blanks from the expressions on their faces.

Broken leg.

Chest pain.

Only one more shift before the weekend, thank god.

New baby.

Lost loved one.

It never ceases to amaze me how a person’s face alone can convey so much of what they’re feeling, especially when they don’t know they’re being watched. I’ve seen the whole world crumble and be reborn at least five times before the cell phone, in the pocket of my thick Parka, rumbles against my stomach. It’s my dad.

“I’m so sorry, sweetheart. Are you still on the bus?”

I smile. I smile because the old man is clueless. “No, I’m outside. I’ve been waiting for you for half an hour.”

He groans. In my mind I can see him pressing his fingertips into the creases of his brow, trying to figure out the problem he’s presented with. Because there’s a problem. There’s always a problem. “Ah, okay. All right, I’ll be out in a moment. A little girl just came in. She was in a car accident. Her whole leg’s shattered. They asked if I could stay behind and monitor her while they operate, but I’ll just tell them to—”

“Dad?”

“Yes, sweetheart?”

“It’s fine. I can catch a bus back to your place. It’s not a big deal.” This is not the first time I’ve said these words, nor will it be the last. Since I decided to stay in Seattle and go to college here, it’s been tradition to go back home every Sunday to hang out with my parents. They’re big on church, big on Jesus. They like it when I spend Sunday nights with them. Most of the time, Dad’s working, though, and Sloane, my older sister, is following in Dad’s footsteps, training to be a doctor, so she’s hardly around either. Usually it’s just Mom and me, and I’m used to that. Used to the endless cups of tea and church gossip. Used to doing the dishes after dinner and sitting in comfortable silence while we watch whatever inane reality TV show Mom’s hooked on at the time.

“You’re sure you don’t mind?” Dad asks. This is a script both of us have repeated countless times; we barely need to think before the words slip out of our mouths.

“I’m sure, Dad. It’s okay. Go and anesthetize the crap out of that kid.”

Dad tuts—is crap a curse word? Dr. Alan Romera sure thinks it is, but then again, the old man thinks shoot is a curse word. His disapproval is, as always, mild and affectionate, though. “Love you, sweetheart. I’ll see you when I get home. Tell your mother not to put dinner in the oven for me, okay? I’ll heat it up when I get back.”

No dinner in the oven means he won’t be back until well after midnight. I tell him I love him too and hang up the call. My role as voyeur is at an end. I drain the remnants of my coffee, shove my ear buds back into my ears, and begin the long walk across downtown Seattle to the bus depot. It’s not often that snow sticks here since it’s so wet. I feel like a little kid again as I trudge through the four-inch covering that carpets the sidewalk, tucking my face into my jacket, trying to keep warm as I listen to Robert Plant sing about letting the sun beat down upon his face. I pass a homeless guy hunkered over in a shop doorway, the only person out on the streets in this frigid weather.

I come from a family where giving is second nature. The ten-dollar bill I pass to the man vanishes quickly into the many folds of jackets and shirts he’s wearing as protection against the cold, his quick, distanced eyes blinking thanks at me as I hurry down the street. I’m almost halfway to the depot when I can no longer hear Robert Plant singing anymore, and the ground feels like it’s shaking apart beneath my feet. A convoy of motorcycles sweep down the street, engines snarling, drowning out all other sound. You don’t get many packs of motorcycles traveling through the city. The sight is bizarre enough that I stop and watch them pass, until the very last of them disappear around a right-hand turn at the intersection behind me. They’re gone from sight, but the sound of their rides echoes off the tall buildings for at least another twenty seconds.

Dad calls men who ride motorcycles temporary citizens. He’s seen so many fatalities over the years, so many decapitated heads still inside crushed helmets. He swears blind if he ever catches me on the back of one of the things he’ll ground me for life. The patients he’s dealt with in the past are usually riders of sports bikes, though, aerodynamic things designed for going way too fast. The men who just passed me—at least twenty of them—were on machines constructed from polished chrome and exposed engines, handlebars way too high, exhausts way too fat. Society tells me they are criminals. Perhaps they are.

I carry on toward the bus depot, my iPod shuffling through songs. The streets are clear by the time I find myself closing in on my destination. Everyone’s playing it smart tonight, already inside, enjoying the warmth and a hot meal. That’s exactly where I’ll be soon, and I cannot wait. I’m getting ready to cross over the street when a tall man with silvered hair staggers out of the darkened side alley beside me.

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