Heal Me

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Chapter Ten

After a quick bout of self pity, during which I slammed a few cupboards in the bathroom and brushed my teeth extra hard, I found my way to my computer and took a deep, haggard breath.

How dare these guys imply I was unrelenting, or annoying, or pushy! Because that was the insinuation, right? Well, not with Smith. He outright told me what a brat I was – right before he blatantly flirted with me. There was no insinuation there… And I still didn’t know if it was a joke, or not. But I was about to find out… Right after I found something to give me a sugar spike.

Quickly, I typed my login name and password, waited for my character screen, chose Healslater, and hit enter. Then as the program was loading, I ran back to the kitchen where Sarah was helping Cat design a new kind of protein breakfast bar for hippies, I mean, vegans.

“You can’t just add ingredients all willy-nilly,” Sarah, the stripper, was saying. I loved when she talked like a kindergarten school teacher. It made me wonder if she spoke to her clients like that. “There has to be a perfect ratio of wet to dry ingredients, or it doesn’t work.”

Cat paused in her efforts to pour extra hemp seeds into the mixing bowl. She eyed me coolly. “You better now?” she asked. “After your little tantrum in the bathroom?”

“You didn’t break anything, did you?” Sarah took the hemp seeds away from Cat and handed her a measuring cup of almond milk.

“Yes, and no,” I answered them each in turn.

There wasn’t any candy in the fridge. I slammed the door, not really sure why I’d been looking in there anyway. The pantry wasn’t much better. “Has anyone gone shopping, lately? Why are we out of anything good?”

Cat mentioned raw trail-mix and earned herself a glare. “It’s healthy,” she advised. “So that movie really got to you, huh? Ruined all your illusions about love in the real world?”

“No,” I grumbled. “It wasn’t the movie.”

Concerned, Sarah joined in. “Then what’s up? Is it your new job? Jobs can be a pain.” She was probably talking about pole burns.

On a stool, I riffled through a blue basket that had gotten shoved to the back of the pantry’s uppermost shelf. In it, everything appeared old and stale, but the choices were all of the high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden variety.

Distracted by boxes of gum and a plastic bag holding the remains of what used to be toffee peanuts, I replied that, “No, the job’s fine – the movie’s fine. It’s just this guy I met… It’s a long story.”

“We have time,” Sarah urged, always up for a bit of gossip. Cat looked on with something akin to satisfaction that I was having guy problems. Not that she reveled in my discomfort. She was often telling me how strength could only be born of struggle – probably why she enjoyed the war genre so thoroughly.

I jumped from the stool, taking with me a misshapen candy bar. “Well, I don’t,” I answered. “I have a date with my game.”

I wiggled my eyebrows for effect, and Cat’s laughter followed me from the kitchen.

“Ooh, the game,” she teased.” Don’t let it feel you up before buying you dinner!”

In spite of myself, I laughed along.

At my desk, I stuffed half the candy bar into my mouth and chewed. I was a nervous wreck now, not sure of what might happen – how Smith would respond to me, or how he’d chose to treat me. Our conversations had been tumultuous, ambiguous, and perhaps even suggestive, but never with any measure of actual, truthful communication. I couldn’t speculate with any amount of accuracy how the night would ‘play’ out…

Sword had whispered me six or seven times since I’d been away, in very frantic tones. There was an invite-to-group notice at eye level. I lined my cursor up with the accept button, squeezed my eyes shut, and clicked my mouse. When I opened my eyes, eight little avatars appeared along the left side of my monitor, complete with personal statistics like health, or rage.

I knew Martin, Sword, Fire, and Smith already. Out of the other four that were new to me, Catabolizer proved more vocal.

[Catabolizer] OMG – I’ve been waiting all day for this run! School was bitter awful… I’m totally flunking math. Guess I won’t be an engineer, after all…

From the beginning, I got the impression Cat was a nice kid who meant well. But the history between him and Sword was still lingering from yesterday.

[Sword Death] Then maybe you should be studying.

[Catabolizer] And miss out on all the wipes? No way!

He was very obviously trying to make light of yesterday’s fails. The picture he drew didn’t lend much hope for tonight.

[Sword Death] Oh, are you talking about the wipes you caused by letting your imp run around on defensive mode? Because that was so fucking awesome! You really know how to play your class!

[Firenice] Okay, guys. Let’s just have a good time!

Thankfully, Fire brought along his displaced optimism, because we were gonna need it to offset the junior-high squabbling.

[Catabolizer] Hey, don’t talk about my imp like that. It hurts his feelings.

[Sword Death] What-EVA! I do what I want!

[Zekari] Why isn’t there an age requirement to play this game?

In a way, I agreed with Zek. And so did Martin.

[Martinsforlife] Arguing over the internet is like the special Olympics.

[Zekari] Yep. Even if you win, you’re still retarded.

An oldie but goody - that joke would never go out of style.

[Smithlol] Okay, let’s get started. Cat, you can have your imp, or your felguard out, but only during the pre-fights, alright? We don’t need any more accidents. And Sword, chill out a little. It’s just a game.

As soon as Smith responded, I wanted to throw up a little for getting excited. What WAS it about this guy that his name showing up on my screen sent my blood pressure toward the roof? I couldn’t even tell if I was nervous or excited, if my fluttering heartbeat was from fear or anticipation.

I ate the other half of my candy bar and checked my pulse.

It turned out, since we were missing a second tank, and Martin’s wife ‘didn’t have anything better to do’ (in her own cheerful words), she joined the group.

[Caché] Hello, people. Here’s the thing. You give me four seconds to get agro, or I let you die when you take shit off me. No joke.

Okay…

We girls were the minority at two against eight (unless you counted the pervert who’d rolled a female character so he could stare at her cartoon ass all day). And I had kind of hoped Cashé and I could be comrades against the droves of testosterone in here, if not for her snooty attitude. That was a no-go, but I didn’t have a lot of time to be horribly heart-broken, because Smith suddenly took control, leading us through the beginnings of the raid.

He explained the fights, but I couldn’t pay attention for the beauty of the place. Digital, or not, it felt so real around me. There was no ceiling above, but a thick layer of storm clouds from which a web of lightening crackled to cast a cerulean glow upon ancient stone walls. Elementals graced every corner; groups of them waited in majestic doorways. Electricity was everywhere, flicking in reds and blues on the edges of my peripheral, and also quivering up my spine to see Smith’s next words directed at me.

[Smithlol] Heals, you gonna take care of me?

[Healslater] What?

[Smithlol] Martin’s healing Cashé, and you get me, okay?

I choked on the sip of stale water I’d taken. Being primarily responsible for Smith’s life felt like a trap. And my pause caused him to whisper me in private chat.

[Smithlol] Hey, I’m glad you came.

[Healslater] Really?

[Smithlol] You sound shocked?

[Healslater] Is this really Smith? Or is someone else playing his character?

[Smithlol] It’s really me.

Even though I still didn’t know who ‘me’ was.

[Smithlol] Anyway, I hope you don’t hate me completely.

[Healslater] Not completely.

[Smithlol] I guess that’s a start;)

Okay, something might be wrong with me that a simple winking smiley-face is all that’s needed for me to forgive this guy. But it’s the online version of flirtatious apology! And it made me all warm inside - unless that was the stale candy bar I’d eaten. Can those things grow mold?

[Sword Death] Okay, the scenery is awesome, but all I really need is new gear.

[Zekari] You’re telling me. Are you actually wearing a cloth head piece?

Zek was our token pervert, having rolled a female blood elf hunter, which was apparently the mature thing to do, considering his earlier comment.

[Sword Death] Okay. My little sister got on my computer and messed some stuff up. She lost my helm. That’s really why I’m here. So, fuck off.

Smith marked a couple of targets, then Catabolizer bound one of the elementals, and we went to work.

The first sequence proved to be without incident, and I was feeling like a fantastic healer, except for the silent help. Martin didn’t say a word about all the little HOT’s he kept throwing on my targets to help me out, but he was probably carrying me… And I was grateful.

We collected gold from our killings, wandered through the first doorway into a magnificent hall. Everyone stopped to see the conundrum before us. There were about twenty elementals, and drawing them in the right order was essential. It was a puzzle that looked to be simple, but wasn’t.

[Smithlol] Okay, so we didn’t get this far yesterday. Who doesn’t know this fight?

A chorus of aye’s ensued. Smith explained:

[Smithlol] The boss is in the center. If we draw him before killing all the elementals around him, it’s over. And if we don’t kill the elementals in a specific order, we inadvertently draw the boss, and it’s over. We’ll pull them in groups of four.

As he went on with his directions, I watched several of the avatars around me break into dance. Cashé kept mentioning how bored she was, but nobody paid much attention.

[Smithlol] So, I’ll mark the ones that need to be bound or iced, you guys need to re-cc whenever they come free, alright? With each sequence, it’ll be skull first, X second, then diamond, and square is last. Got it? We do this four times, then the boss.

We all tried convincing him we could handle ourselves, and that we understood the instructions. I made no grandiose claims as my eyes grazed the power button glowing purple atop my computer box. The pessimist within was certain I would screw this up, somehow. Nerves began to rattle with the image of destruction, the bad sort. Because I didn’t want Smith all pissed off at me again… And it bothered me that I cared, but I did.

[Smithlol] You okay?

He asked again, in private chat. Nobody else could see his words. Or mine.

[Healslater] Just try not to get an aneurism if you die.

[Smithlol] I can’t make any promises.

I rolled my eyes. But then he softened the joke with:

[Smithlol] Does my opinion really matter that much?

[Healslater] No.

Yes.

[Smithlol] Liar.

Maybe.

[Smithlol] Heals, I’ll be nice. I promise.

Our Shaman was Záp, and he performed beautifully from his place in the doorway. He even helped out with the healing once in a while. Zekari dismissed his pet, and just shot off arrow after arrow, never drawing anything we didn’t want to fight. After getting four guys down, twelve to go, and thinking things were going pretty good, Cat sent his felguard after a guy that Smith fighting. Only, because the room was circular, and the path around the WRONG side was shorter, the felguard drew everything in the room, including the boss.

We wiped. Everyone died. My ulcer reached an extra centimeter outward.

[Sword Death] Dude, are you high?

[Catabolizer] Was that me?

[Sword Death] Does anyone else have a felguard in here? You’re the ONLY warlock, man!

Fortunately, Martin’s wife joined in to stick up for Cat, and in her efforts, diverted the attention toward me.

[Cashé] I was dead long before Cat drew the crowd. I thought your precious healer was supposed to be awesome, Smith.

Had he actually said that about me? If so, everyone was in for the disappointment of their lives.

[Smithlol] She is awesome, lay off.

Was he actually justifying my change of heart toward him by defending me? Warmth gathered along my skin and crept into my cheeks.

[Zekari] Yeah, Cashé. I don’t think your gear is as epic as you think.

[Smithlol] And by the way, Heals is my healer. It’s not her job to keep you up. Martin should be doing that.

I cringed. This was not the direction I wanted the conversation to go. Either Martin would throw me under the buss by admitting he’d had to help me so much that he’d let his own tank die, and I’d be humiliated. Or he’d stay quiet about the issue, and I’d feel guilty. Either way, he was sleeping on the couch tonight. And maybe even tomorrow night.

[Martinsforlife] Look, I can’t take care of the whole team, and Heals isn’t really up to par tonight. Sorry, Heals…

The buss rumbled at top speed and crushed me. But I had to admit it.

[Healslater] I’m really not. He’s right.

[Smithlol] You’re doing fine.

[Healslater] You’re delusional.

And everyone agreed. Except for Mr. Prozac.

[Firenice] This game is all about team work. If Martin’s been helping Heals, that’s a good thing!

[Zekari] I don’t think you’re getting the point, here, Fire.

[Cashé] You’ve been helping her instead of me?

Uh-oh.

[Martinsforlife] BRB – Need more beer.

[Zekari] Me too…

[Sword Death] Me three.

On a note of common interest, the group disbanded for a quick break. Even I ran for something to drink in the hopes that I wouldn’t be kicked from the group upon returning.

Cat and Sarah had long gone to their rooms, leaving the house awkwardly quiet and dark. I had to switch on a light to see my way through the kitchen where I uncapped the only bottle of Corona and added a large splash of lime juice. I didn’t usually crave beer, but Martin’s suggestion must have left a subliminal residual inside my brain. As I trudged from the kitchen, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that I’d left the door unlocked earlier. I flipped the deadbolt and attached the chain - no use taking chances. When I got back to my computer, the other’s had yet to return, but Smith was messaging me again in private chat.

[Smithlol] Hey, you there?

[Healslater] No.

I’d lost my state of denial about being the world’s greatest healing paladin. Grumpy irritation had taken over. I didn’t want to have to talk about it, either. I just wanted the run to be over with, so I could crawl into my bed and imagine the whole world away.

[Smithlol] So... the healing isn’t going so well?

[Healslater] How could you tell?

[Smithlol] Well, my first clue was all the dying. And then more dying...

[Healslater] I guess you know my secret, now.

[Smithlol] I won’t say anything, if you won’t.

[Healslater] ’Cause otherwise they won’t be able to tell?

[Smithlol] They might figure it out the next time we’re all staring at pavement.

[Healslater] Awesome. Why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it?

I was actually quoting Billy Chrystal there, and he got it.

[Smithlol] Ah, you like movies.

[Healslater] Not all movies.

Not Serendipity.

[Smithlol] I’m just kidding - you’re an okay healer.

[Healslater] An okay healer? Wow, you’re gonna give me an ego.

[Smithlol] lol - Where are you, anyway?

[Healslater] In my bedroom?

[Smithlol] lol – I meant, in the world.

[Healslater] Oh. The US. East Coast. Why?

[Smithlol] Just curious.

[Healslater] Where are you?

[Smithlol] In bed. With Toshiba…

[Healslater] Oh.

Way too much information. And the sort that made my heart drop a little. Did he have a cool, tribal girlfriend? A wife? Why was he paying attention to me? I grew warm again, this time from anger, but it was immediately dispelled at his next words.

[Smithlol] lol – Toshiba? My laptop?

[Healslater] Oh, right. Of course. I knew that. Like I care if you have a girlfriend.

The scramble of idiotic words was there on my screen before I could think twice. I slapped my forehead.

[Smithlol] lmao – what?

I was saved from having to explain myself when the rest of the group returned as though they all had synchronized their watches. I’d been forgiven. Either that, or everyone had done shots of Everclear in their kitchens, and none of them could remember my awkward lack of heals. Especially Sword, who, all at once, seemed very uncharacteristically cheerful.

[Sword Death] All right, let’s do this!

[Catabolizer] I’ll put away my felguard…

[Sword Death] That wasn’t really your fault. And your DPS is awesome!

[Catabolizer] …Really? Are you on something?

You might think that after a nice break for refreshment, things would go more smoothly. I mean, this is the part of the story where I tell you how we grew, and prevailed, and overcame, right? No.

At first, as we drew the crowds and wore them down, there was an empowering amount of sparks, and bursts of colorful light, and the noise of Fourth of July. Heals and arrows were flying amid bolts of lighting and pools of purple shadow spells. For a minute, it seemed, we had an authentic chance.

Smith was marking targets, Cat and Zek were taking care of the crowd control aspect; everyone was working together in a beautiful, graceful dance. It was mesmerizing. But then, it fell apart.

The first person to die was Cashé, and I can’t say I was all that upset for the loss. Cat drew a guy, and instead of going directly to the tank, he ran around in a frantic circle. Sword tried to help him out, but in the confusion, instead of grabbing the guy on Cat, he grabbed the one that was supposed to stay cc’d.

[Sword Death] OMG – I totally just grabbed the wrong one!

[Smithlol] We see that.

[Zekari] Well, don’t kill it – I’ll re-freeze it!

Too late. As Cat continued to kite his add, Sword killed one of the elementals in the wrong order, and a swarm of guys, including the boss, came at us.

[Smithlol] Shit.

[Catabolizer] Was that my fault again?

[Zekari] Combined effort.

[Catabolizer] So... Yay for teamwork?

Until now, Merdok, our Death Knight, had stayed silent. A shame too, because he seemed to know just what to do in an emergency. Right away, he drew all the adds onto himself, instructing:

[Merdok] Zek, freeze one. Cat, bind one. I’ll tank the rest. Smith and DPS on Boss!

We did as he told us. Smith dragged the boss away from the group to keep his AOE from interrupting our spells. Martin managed to resurrect Cashé, then he started healing her and Merdok like crazy as they gathered all the elementals into the corner. Cat was jumping in between the spells he threw; his little green goblin body was bouncing around on my screen, making me feel dizzy. Zek had pulled out his pet cat and sent it after the boss.

It was intense, but we were doing well. The boss’s life was dropping lower and lower, along with my mana. I had to pop a few oh-shit spells, but even so, I was only able to keep Smith at about 40% life. Fortunately, since the last time we’d run together, he’d picked up some better gear.

Still, I watched his life drop, point by point. I watched the boss lose his life, also point by point. And when the boss was at five percent, and Smith was at one, I closed my eyes. That was it, I thought pessimistically. Then I opened my eyes to see that Smith was still alive; he was standing there staring at a boss encased in ice.

Zek had frozen him?

[Zekari] Fuck. Accident.

[Catabolizer] Is that even possible?

[Smithlol] Must be a glitch.

Martin healed Smith to full life.

[Sword Death] That is so fucking awesome! Nice job, Zek!

Sword was running around the boss in a circle, definitely drunk.

[Merdok] Right on.

Merdok was still fighting alongside Cashé, but seemed to find the time to type.

[Merdok] DPS on adds, kill ’em. Smith can take care of the boss.

[Firenice] We got this!

On a high of optimism, we readied ourselves as Smith pulled the boss from being cc’d. It took us another thirty seconds to realize why the boss wasn’t dying… He’d been healed back to full life while in the ice.

[Catabolizer] That is so not fair! The boss has full life again!

[Sword Death] HAHA – Zekari the healing hunter! Healing the wrong guy, tho! Hilarious!

[Zekari] Not really.

Cashé and Merdok finished off the extras. With only the boss remaining, there looked to be hope. But unfortunately, most of us were too intoxicated, by this point, to remember about the AOE – a huge energy burst the boss set off every thirty seconds or so. If you weren’t out of range when this happened, it took 45% of your life and stunned you. None of us had that much life to spare, and in one fell swoop, we were flattened. No one survived. And silently, we watched as the boss returned to the center, his life spiking to 100% again, and each of his little elementals appearing around him. Thirty minutes of our lives – lost.

[Firenice] Well, we got closer than yesterday!

[Catabolizer] Yeah, we rock...

[Sword Death] Could someone res me? I’m like, under the boss. He keeps stepping on my face.

[Catabolizer] lmao

[Merdok] You know what might have helped?

[Martinsforlife] More damage?

[Zekari] Less alcohol?

[Merdok] Vent. You all have microphones? ’Cause I have a vent account we can use.

[Cashé] GTG – Baby crying. See ya.

[Martinsforlife] Yeah, I’m gonna go, too. I’ll be on tomorrow. Same time?

[Smithlol] Sure, eight tomorrow. And we’ll do the vent thing. That’s a good idea.

Vent? Listening to each other’s voices? Actually talking to Smith? Nervous butterflies grazing the inside of my stomach, I watched group members fall away as they signed off the game. Only three remained.

[Sword Death] So, no res?

[Healslater] See you tomorrow, Sword. Sleep it off.

[Sword Death] KK – G’night.

[Healslater] Night.

[Smithlol] Wait. You’re not signing off, are you?

[Healslater] Me?

It was a stupid question, as Sword had just signed off for the night and I was the only other person in the party.

[Smithlol] Yeah, you. Don’t go.

[Healslater] Okay… But I doubt we can finish this raid with just the two of us.

[Smithlol] Especially with your healing.

[Healslater] Shut up.

[Smithlol] lol

I had to wonder what it would actually sound like, him laughing. I pictured it being a low, gentle sound. I pictured it being a rare occasion.

[Smithlol] Do you still think I’m an ass?

[Healslater] Are you?

[Smithlol] Sometimes. But I can be nice. I’m not all bad.

[Healslater] So that’s why you wanted me here? To tell me you aren’t all bad?

[Smithlol] lol - I guess I just wanted the chance to prove that I’m not a total jerk.

The verbal bruising he’d done was almost entirely forgotten now. But I couldn’t be that easy to win over. I had to play a little hard to get, right?

[Healslater] Just part jerk.

[Smithlol] Ahh… That hurts. I brought you along, right? I stuck up for you… I told them all how cool you are.

Shocked, I could only respond with:

[Healslater] You said that about me?

[Smithlol] It’s true.

[Healslater] You don’t know that.

[Smithlol] I know you chased me down and put me in my place.

[Healslater] Yeah, I tend to do that.

[Smithlol] You have spirit, you know? You didn’t wine and cry and fall apart like most people when they realize they’re not very good at something.

[Healslater] Seriously, all these compliments are too much.

[Smithlol] It actually is a compliment. Who cares if you can’t heal? Okay, I’m putting my foot in my mouth again. Maybe I should just sign off for the night.

[Healslater] No, don’t.

There was a long pause after my comment. My plea - my practically begging for attention now. I’d put myself out there and showed genuine desire for friendship, something I NEVER do. And if he decided to refuse me, it was too late. I couldn’t just pass it off with one of my sarcastic deflections. I would probably be scarred for life. But then he typed...

[Smithlol] Alright... I’ll stay.

Those simple words melted my heart. I couldn’t help it. I was drawn to his strength, and also to his softer side that was starting to show a little. I decided to fully forgive him. We talked for an hour everything. I learned about his place in upstate New York, the fact that he was only three years older than myself, that he worked in programming - his reason for being connected to the game practically twenty-four-seven. I also learned that he was funny - and that I liked him. A lot.

[Smithlol] So, you forgive me?

[Healslater] Why not?

He offered a witty response that I leaned in to read. Before I could fully get the joke, I heard the distinct sound of someone knocking on my front door. At one in the morning.

[Smithlol] Are you still there?

[Healslater] Yeah, I just… I think someone’s at my front door.

[Smithlol] At one AM?

So, it wasn’t just me. Smith also found it strange that I would be getting visitors so late. Or early. The knock sounded again, more insistent.

[Healslater] Yeah – I wasn’t expecting anyone. But I don’t live in the best neighborhood. And my roommates are asleep.

[Smithlol] Don’t answer it.

[Healslater] What should I do?

[Smithlol] Call the cops? Now? But don’t get off the game.

There’s something about adrenaline that strips away all inhibitions to leave a person very honest. In a moment of desperate vulnerability, as I listened to the knocking grow louder and a male voice insist on being let in, I wrote the following without thought.

[Healslater] I wish you were here.

I didn’t think twice about the admission, and I wasn’t fearful of the response I might get, or if I’d stepped over any lines a little too soon. But Smith didn’t care. And his words were sweet enough to make me yearn, even in the face of unknown danger.

[Smithlol] Me too…

As I reached for my cell phone, the knocking stopped. Silence ensued, more deeply after the rumble that didn’t even cause my roommates to stir. Sarah snored so loudly, she wouldn’t be able to hear a typhoon as it ripped the roof off our building. And Cat had to wear ear-plugs every night, so she was just as oblivious. I set my phone aside, relieved.

[Smithlol] Did you call? Are you okay?

[Healslater] No, and yeah. They went away.

[Smithlol] Are you sure?

He seemed authentically worried.

[Smithlol] Did you check?

[Healslater] It’s fine. It was probably just a mistake.

A loud, splintering crash sounded through the apartment to prove me incorrect. My heart started to pound wildly as I realized they were trying to break in. Probably with an ax…

[Healslater] Oh, shit. I have to go. Whoever they are, they’re breaking in.

[Smithlol] CALL THE COPS!

I ran to Cat’s room and barged in. “Wake the fuck up! Someone’s breaking into the apartment.”

“Wha…?” She pulled out her earplugs and blinked at me. “What are you doing in my room?”

“Listen.”

Her eyes widened as the sound reached us again. The distinct sound of an intruder. Someone was looking for money, or something to pawn, or… I didn’t want to think of the other possibilities.

“Get up! Get Sarah!” I pulled on Cat’s arm, leading her into the hallway. “I’ll call the police.”

If we have enough time…

I listened to the ruckus happening in Sarah’s room as I fumbled around for my phone. It was sitting in a pile of wrappers. Smith was still messaging me, but I didn’t have time to read what he’d written.

I dialed.

“Nine one one – state your emergency,” the operator told me.

“Yeah…” I had to pause and take a breath. My voice was so shaky it was hard to talk. “Someone’s trying to get into my apartment.”

She asked for my address, and I had to think about it for a second. My mind didn’t seem to want to cooperate under the stress. From inside my room, I could only see the hallway and part of the living room. When I stepped into the hall where Cat was trying to sooth a very wide-eyed Sarah, I could see the kitchen and the front door.

“Who is it?” Cat whispered frantically as though I had an answer.

I shrugged. “Santa Clause?”

“Miss?” the operator insisted, “I need your address.”

“What’s our address?” I hissed.

“You don’t know our address?” Cat was appalled as she snatched the phone from my hand.

Sarah was quivering and white as a ghost. Cat gave the 9-1-1 person our information and stayed on the line. The banging stopped for a second, and we could hear two men arguing, then there was a new sound. Hammering of metal on metal.

Our apartment was only one of two units located on the tenth floor, and the other one was vacant. Even if anyone on the ninth or eleventh floors could hear what was going on, none of them would risk their necks to save us. This was New York, not Utopia.

“We should hide!” I pointed into my room. “Under my bed. Go!”

They followed me, but doubtfully.

Cat grumbled, “Oh, yeah. This plan is totally without flaw. They’ll never look here.”

“Whatever!” I seethed. “It didn’t look like you were coming up with anything better!”

From under my bed, we listened to the sound of hammering. Sirens cut in, but we couldn’t be certain they were for us. Finally, and for the first time tonight, Sarah spoke up in the darkness.

Her tone was without hope. “I know who they are.”

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