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When I'm Gone; Chapter 6

Chapter 6-August 1, 2001 (Michael)


I took in a deep breath, and tightened my hold on the bouquet of flowers I was holding. I glanced at the little note card written in Anna King’s loopy script. On it was Claire’s name and room number.

Ding.

The elevators opened and I stepped inside looking for the correct floor number. I smiled, my eyes landing on a bright nine. I pressed it, and waited impatiently for the elevator to start rising.

“Come on,” I sighed gruffly, glancing at my watch. It was 11:36. I had 44 minutes.

Ding.

The doors reopened on a new floor and I stepped outside. The faint smells of medications and latex drifted towards me and I looked down on the card again. Room 917.

“Do you need help sir?” a light voice asked me. I turned to my right and saw a pretty nurse watching me. She was wearing a slight, suggestive smile on her lips and her blue eyes bored into mine.

“No thanks,” I said and turned away. I started to walk down the hall, pausing every now and then to look at a sign.

After a few minutes, I finally found her room, decorated with a nine by eleven inch painting. As I walked closer, I could see that it was a collage of multiple things all hand painted on the rough canvas.

On the top right corner, a family was smiling and holding hands. The kids, an older sister and younger brother, looked nothing alike, but were smiling all the same. One of the girl’s hands was reaching down and soon faded away to where a picture of the mom from the happy family was walking away. The street turned into a large black heart, broken and poorly stitched up. I traced the outline of it, following one of the stitches into a large grey eye, dotted with silver and blue. The eye was crying and was wonderfully painted. I glanced down, looking for a signature, when to my own surprise, Claire’s name was written in gorgeous calligraphy in the corner.

“Hm,” I muttered to myself and tore my eyes away from the painting. I knocked on the door, low and tentative, hoping not to wake her.

When nobody answered, I pushed the door open and softly stepped inside. I heard the erratic beeping before anything else. I looked around the corner and saw Claire asleep in the bed, snoring lightly. My lips tugged upwards into a soft smile and I walked further inside.

To my left, was a table where I sat the bouquet down along with a short card that I had written the night before. I turned back around to face Claire.

Her lips were graced with a soft smile and even though her eyes were closed, I could still see that beautiful grey. Mournfully, I forced myself to not reach out to stroke her cheek. Her skin had a slight rosy glow to it, brightening her tan.

“Oh, Claire,” I whispered in anguish. I longed to hold her hands, to place my arms around her waist, to kiss those soft lips.

I turned away, aggravated. When I did, I noticed a sketchbook, lying on a small table next to her bed. I picked it up, surprised by the expensive leather that was covering it.

I sat down in the empty arm chair next to the window and opened it up. At first, there were only amateurish sketches; ones of dogs, cartoons, and household items. After flipping through the first twenty pages, I got to these drawings of this woman. They weren’t colored in but they were beautiful all the same.

The woman was tall, graceful. She had long dark hair, and according to the shading, bright, attentive eyes. She was always smiling and in almost every picture she was standing with her arms opened wide, inviting you to come to her.

After I got past the pictures of the woman, the sketches got more elaborate and better looking. I smiled, flipping through the pages of the sketchbook, realizing that I was getting to know Claire better.

“Who are you?” A defensive voice sounded from the bed. Startled, I looked up and saw Claire staring at me with distaste. She opened her mouth again. “Answer me. I asked you a simple question. Who. Are. You.”

“My name’s Michael,” I offered setting the book down and standing up. Fire flashed in her eyes and she scowled.

“Why are you here?” she growled. I held my hands up trying to get her to back down.

“To make sure you are okay,” I answered truthfully. And to see your beautiful eyes again, I added in my head.

“But, I don’t know you.” Her voice was tight but feral.

“I know,” I started, “and I’m sorry. I will just be leaving now.”

I picked up my roses and card and started for the door.

“Wait,” she called out. I stopped and looked at her. “I want to know the truth. Why are you here and who are you?”

I walked towards her and handed the roses to her, a peace offering. She took them, inhaling deeply. I also handed her the card, which she took carefully and and set it on her lap. She watched me take in a breath and let out a haughty laugh.

“I’m waiting,” she said impatiently. I glanced at her, and she glared back.

“My name is Michael Herring and I am a firefighter.” I waited for a moment to gauge her reaction. Anger turned to confusion and then to recognition. “ I was the one who rescued you four days ago. I was the one who carried you out of the building and got you to the hospital.”

“Okay,” Claire said slowly, “but why are you here?”

“To make sure you were okay. Our station normally does this if the victims are sentenced to an extended stay at the hospital. How long are you staying here, by the way?” I tried to change the subject.

“Another five days,” she said in a strained voice. “You don’t need to be changing the the subject either.”

Dang, she is good, I thought and stared at her.

“Your station always does this?” she asked incredulously. I nodded and she thought for a minute. “What is your number?”

“Excuse me?” It was like she had asked what sign I was. A virgo or a cancer?

“You know, your station number...or whatever that number is on your coat.” She rolled her eyes and grimaced.

“38,” I answered and watched her smile wickedly.

“So, if you visit everybody that has an extended stay, did you visit that little kid you saved six days ago?” Her grin widened when confusion covered my face.

“Who?” I flipped back to six days ago. I tried to remember what fire that was.

“Six days ago, there was a fire in a tall brick building. There was a little girl about four floors up, screaming for help. I watched as you put your oxygen tank on. By the time you reached her, she had to be burnt severely. So did you go and visit her?” She leaned back on her pillows with a smug look spread over her sweet face.

“I didn’t go to visit her-”

“Ha! I knew it! You are here because you-” she interrupted me and and I shot her a look.

“But my teammate did,” I lied quickly. She frowned and studied the card still in her hands.

“Okay,” she said in a defeated voice.

“Okay?” I repeated. She nodded and I took a look at my watch. It was already 12:10.

“Whatever,” she retorted and glared up at me. “Something is very wrong with you.”

“Well maybe you’ll figure it out soon enough,” I said and smiled gently.

“You wish,” she said with a harsh laugh. “I will never see you again.”

“You hope,” I added. She stared at me in astonishment. “You never know when an opportunity will present itself.”

“Oh, how I despise you,” she shot back. I was the one who laughed that time. I slid my hands in my pockets and watched her studiously.

“You might be wrong about that,” I managed between chuckles. Her eyes were in slits as her face turned red. “Now, I have to go. Bye, Claire.”

With that being said I strode out of the room, ignoring her protests. I walked past the young nurse who was calling out to me and entered the stairway. After walking down a few flights of stairs, I eased down, until I was sitting on one of the steps.

“You were right, Andrew,” I said to myself. “Opposites do attract. Even though she is nothing like me, my heart is still pounding in my chest.”

I smiled and pulled myself to my feet, starting down the stairs again.



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