“Do you remember when I was born?” Kristen asked as we stared through the glass at the squirmy little newborns.
I shake my head. “I didn’t see you in the hospital. I saw you when Mom brought you home.”
“Was I cute?”
I smirked. “You were so blonde you looked bald until you were like two.”
A tiny arm smacks my chest.
“Do you remember anything else from your childhood?”
I shook my head, even though that was the biggest lie I’d told her. I remembered damn near everything, from mom having needles in her arms, to watching her boyfriends beat her and then have their way with her. Many nights spent without food, Tyler and I huddled on the top bunk in the corner, trying to shield ourselves from her drunken boyfriends and hiding our growling stomachs. When Kristen was a baby and she would cry but mom would be passed out from heroin so Ty and I would take turns holding her or giving her a bottle.
“I wonder when Michelle and Tyler are gonna have babies.”
Comments like that made it hard for me to remember that she was seventeen instead of twelve. If Tyler did one thing right, it was keeping her innocence for the most part. That, and the fact that she was a hopeless romantic apparently.
I laughed once. “I dare you to ask Ty that. He barely admits him and Michelle have a thing goin’ on. Not to mention he takes care of all of you. He probably thinks you’re all his annoying kids. And we live in the ghetto, Kris. It’s not always a fairy tale and a lot of us don’t want to bring a kid up in the same environment we grew up in.”
She’s quiet for a minute, her blonde eyebrows creased together in thought. “So basically, I’m never going to be an aunt is what you’re saying?”
I shrugged but another thought crossed my mind and hit me like a damn train wreck.
You could’ve been, Kristen.
Nikki and I could’ve been here, four years ago; in this part of the hospital.
The part of the hospital that was quiet, where the only cries signalled new life.
Stop thinking about it. You’re just going to dig the knife a little deeper.
What would have been?
Thank god Michelle came running around the corner.
“She’s out of surgery! She’s going to be waking up soon, come on!”
My heart started beating hard.
Nikki was okay.
I really had to focus on keeping it together as Michelle and I walked from the maternity wing up onto the second floor. Kristen ran ahead of us and I was tempted to start running too, but I don’t think Michelle would’ve ever let me live that down.
“Babies, hey?” She looked at me, her green eyes laughing.
“Shut up. She asked me to go and I thought it would keep her mind off of Nik. And I haven’t been around her for four years so I’m not going to be the asshole that says no. By the way, she asked me when you and Ty were gonna start havin’ ’em.” I elbowed her side.
Michelle snorted. “Not on my damn life. You so much as tell Tyler that and he’ll be running down the block and not coming back. Or double baggin’ it with condoms to be safe.”
“The only one that knows him better than me is you.” I laughed.
“I just wonder why she went there in the first place, especially by herself. She knows better.” Michelle said, “Seth was saying she seemed upset and just jumped in the truck and then took off on her own.”
My stomach turned. I was the one who had picked a fight with her earlier that morning. I could’ve easily pretended nothing happened, but my temper got the best of me and I went off. I was the one who had made her upset.
This was my fault.
We rounded the corner to the first door on the left, which was open and had Kristen sitting on the bed, Tyler and Seth hanging back and Nikki trying to sit up.
Michelle and I both rushed in as the Nurse muttered something about how she could only have one visitor at a time but none of us were listening.
“I’m fine,” Nikki murmured in that raspy voice of hers and when I finally stepped in to get a good look at her I froze.
She looked like hell.
Her eyes were black and blue, her left eye almost swelling shut. She had a deep gash down her cheekbone and a busted open lip. The rest of her injuries were covered by her hospital gown.
I was a hitman; I was paid to do this on the daily and not once did it bother me. I took innocent lives and it was nothing to me. But looking at Nikki and what they had done to her was making me sick to my stomach and my blood boil with anger.
I’d make sure those girls got theirs.
Kristen was starting to tear up again and it made Nikki freeze, unsure of what to do and I almost wanted to laugh because she liked dealing with feelings and crying chicks almost as much as Tyler did.
Michelle stepped in next, whispering to her and patting her hair down.
Seth, unable to keep still for five minutes, ran up to her next, hugging her. If they didn’t have Nikki doped up on so many painkillers, she probably would’ve smacked him and told her to get the hell away from her because she hated touching.
He hated hospitals so I feel like he did that so he could get the hell out because when Nikki said her little brother needed to be picked up from school, he all but ran out the door.
Tyler picked her up like a little rag doll and hugged her.
“Don’t you ever do that to me again.” He set her back down.
I stayed off to the back. A pang of guilt ran through me because the last time she saw me conscious we were at each other’s throats and I had made her feel like shit about going off with Mark that night.
Michelle looked at me, but didn’t say anything.
And of course, her dead-beat mother was nowhere to be found, as usual.
“Nikki,” Tyler started, “Michelle and I have to go into the other side of the city for another drug deal. Shane’s gonna take you to our place and you’re gonna stay there once they discharge you. I wanna make sure you’re good.”
I was supposed to go on this deal but I let Michelle take my place because I wasn’t letting Nikki out of my sight and I was going to be the one to take care of her and make sure she was good.
Whether she liked it or not.
“I’ll need a change of clothes then.” She murmured and I could tell she was looking for an excuse to avoid me.
Yeah, not happening.
“Shane can take you there first then. We’ll see you later tonight.” Tyler said in his no arguing, no bullshit voice.
“Awesome.” She rolled her eyes.
“Are you sure you can handle her?” Tyler turned to me, which really meant: Don’t fuck this up.
I nodded, “Yeah I got her. She’s five two and a hundred pounds soaking wet. If that.”
“Shut the fuck up, Shane. I can still take you.” She snarled.
Michelle shot me a look as her and Tyler left the room.
This was going to be fun.
Before I could even open my mouth to start apologizing for earlier, she sat up trying to reach her clothes. Nikki swore before she gripped the handrail weakly, her body nearly crumpling from under her.
“Whoa, whoa. Take it easy.” I said, rushing to her side to try and help her back into bed but she wasn’t having any of it.
“Go away.” She shrugged my arm off.
“Yeah, not happening. You leave and almost get killed. I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
“I need to get dressed.” She sighed.
“You almost collapsed right there.”
“I’m gonna be naked.”
There was a beat of silence between us as I tried to figure out how to handle this. Being nice wasn’t getting me anywhere with her and I knew she was still pissed at me from this morning, I could feel her anger radiating off her body.
Nikki’s temper was nothing short of a hurricane and you just had to ride out the storm before you saw clear skies again.
I decided to go with my unbothered asshole tactic, because god help me if I started being nice to her now, I’d end up breaking down in tears and begging her to forgive me for everything.
“Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
“Fuck you, Shane.”
“Back at you sweetheart.” I winked.
She attempted to swing her fist at me, but her body had other plans as she lightly fell back onto the hard, hospital bed. I tried not to laugh. Miss tough badass, I don’t need anyone or anything was relying on me to help her out of bed and get home in one piece.
She knew that and it was driving her nuts.
I sat on the bed, waiting to see if she would kick at me. She didn’t. Slowly, I let my fingers brush against her skin and undid the tie on her hospital gown. Her skin was still soft from how I remembered it. I stopped, gauging a reaction from her. She hadn’t punched me in the face yet so I took that as an okay and started sliding her gown down her arm.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Nikki asked me, her tiny arms trying to push me away.
“Helping you, you can’t even sit up on your own without falling back down.”
She flinched when I came near her again and I sighed. “Just let me help you, Nicolina.”
Nikki froze when I used her full name. Finally.
I let the gown slide down past her chest, exposing her bare skin and tits. Fuck me. I wasn’t going to screw this up by trying to feel her or stare at her for too long because she had her arms crossed and was looking anywhere but at me; letting her black hair fall over her eyes. She was nervous and insecure. I hadn’t seen that side of her in a fucking long time and wasn’t about to take advantage of it.
I winced when I saw the bandages soaked with her blood, wrapping around her midsection and back.
I was a cold-blooded killer, yet I couldn’t stomach seeing her beaten and bloodied body?
“That’s gonna leave a scar,” I whispered, pushing her hair out of her eyes. “You have light skin.”
“Fuck off.” She said, again. “Why’d you beat up Mark?”
We weren’t having this conversation right now.
“Now it’s your turn to fuck off,” I said softly, as I lifted her up, leaning her tiny frame against me as I clasped her bra behind her back and got her shirt over her head.
In one swift movement, I picked Nikki up, and she tried fighting me at first, but eventually her body gave in and she slumped sleepily against my chest.
“I could probably walk.”
“Yeah and then you’d end up falling and then blaming me. And Tyler would be pissed off at the both of us.”
“You know me so well.” She rolled her eyes.
The ride back home was silent, which I hated. I wanted to tell her how sorry I was and how much she scared me that day because I thought I might’ve lost her. She refused to look at me and it was killing me.
“Don’t you even try to move.” I told her as soon as we pulled up to the house. I jumped out of my side and opened the passenger door.
I picked her up and carried her into my room, setting her down on my bed.
“Why am I here?” She asked.
“So you can rest and I can take care of you.”
“I don’t wanna be in your bed; god knows what I’d be lying in.”
“You slept in here just fine before I came home.”
“Yeah, and? That’s because you weren’t here.”
“Are you saying I disturb your way of life?” I smirked.
“Yeah, actually you do. As soon as you came back, you fucked everything up.”
By everything I’m guessing she meant Mark and how the drug game was running now with me back on the street.
“Can you just shut up before I decide to knock you out? Please, I’m tired.”
“Is that a challenge, little lady?”
“Don’t call me that, I’m not little and I’m sure as hell no lady.”
“When are those painkillers gonna make you pass out?” I took a chance and flopped onto the bed next to her and had to ignore the jab when she tried to move away from me. “I liked you better when you were quiet.”
“What are you still doing here?”
“Let me think, I’ve been in jail for four years and I haven’t slept in a comfy bed in that time.”
“How cute, you act like I’ve never been to jail.” She muttered. “I know how uncomfortable the beds are.”
I laughed once. “Little lady, Juevy doesn’t count, they baby you there compared to the pens.”
And that was one place where she would never end up.
“So you never told me why you beat up Mark.” She tried to change the subject again.
“Does it matter?”
“What’s it to you what him and I do?”
“He’s four years older than you, Nikki. Shouldn’t he do something with his life other than trying to hit up girls way too young for him?”
She quieted down and turned away from me. Wasn’t I a hypocrite?
Because five years ago, that was me- making a young girl fall in love with me when I had no intention of returning the favour.