Sitting in Dr. Maharta’s waiting room is oddly relaxing – the only sounds are the gentle tapping from the secretary’s keyboard and the melodic gurgle of a small indoor fountain on the table beside me. I flip through one of the folklore books from Hanson’s, trying to drown out thoughts of red-haired strangers with enchanting stories of nyads, pucas and kitsune.
I’m so immersed that the woman has to repeat my name before I realize I’ve been called in to see the doctor. I take a deep breath, counting to four as I inhale and again as I exhale, grounding myself before walking into the familiar room.
He guides me through the details of the attack and gauges my reactions. I have rehearsed my answers dozens of times; they are not lies, but I am deliberate in my avoidance of anything supernatural. I mention the singing, but not the memory.
“Hmm. This was a traumatic event. It is not unusual for such circumstances to shake our mental fortifications,” he makes some notes on the chart in his lap then crosses his arms over it, leaning forward, “I think your current preoccupation with the incident at the party may have temporarily alleviated the negative associations surrounding your music. Of course, once you begin to sing, it triggers those feelings again and the door slams shut, so to speak. It’s something we might be able to work together on, but for now you should focus on your recovery.”
I nod and try to look disappointed. It’s not hard to fake my frustration – I’m not certain whether it is more or less painful knowing that losing my music was my own choice.
I notice him scribbling on small square of paper. A prescription. He hands it to me.
“Just in case you need it while you’re coping. You know your symptoms best, if you feel yourself slipping…”
“Doctor, I haven’t needed these in six months,” I begin to hand the prescription back to him. I don’t need it. I don’t want to need it. He refuses to take the paper .
“Please, I know it’s difficult, but keep them on hand for the next couple of weeks. It’s not a sign of weakness. But it isn’t uncommon for depressive episodes to worsen after an experience like this,” he looks into my eyes, and I’m tired of navigating his questions so I look away and nod, “Don’t hesitate to call the office if you need to talk.”
I fill the prescription in the pharmacy on the first floor of the building and throw the bottle into my purse. I try to forget about it as I walk home to change for my bar tending shift, but my purse weighs heavy on my shoulder.
The pub is desolate this evening, and it makes the time damn-near crawl. In between serving the single customer at the bar, I waste my time doing unnecessary prep for the small crowd of regulars that are due soon. I almost wish she’d order something fancier than her gin and tonic, just for something interesting to do.
“Those bruises look pretty nasty,” Ryan says as he comes out of the kitchen. He’s ridiculously tall and I’m surprised he can see my neck from way up there. He’s wearing a black cook’s uniform which makes the grey peppering his brown hair and beard more pronounced. No one would recognize him as the owner unless he’d come out to speak to them before. Which he probably has.
“You know how bruises work. They always look worse right before they go. They don’t hurt at all,” that’s mostly the truth. My neck still feels a little stiff, but the strange glances the bruises draw are more irritating than the pain. I’d wear a turtleneck if it wasn’t sweltering out.
“I heard about the party from some regulars who were there. Just crazy. I’m glad you’re okay. I was really worried,” he looks around, “You know, it’s slow tonight… you really don’t have to be here…”
“I’d honestly rather be working. Kinda back to normal life, you know?” I look up at him and grin, “Or is that a polite way of saying you don’t want to pay me?”
He laughs. I love Ryan’s laugh; it reaches right into your soul and makes you want to smile too. I think that’s what won me over when I met him. I was performing solo at some sketchy dive where I didn’t really know anyone. He talked to me between sets and kept the creeps at bay. I remember the nervous tension rising from my shoulders when I heard that laugh. I told him about my plans to leave school for my music and he offered to help me get my bar tending license so I could work at the pub he had just opened. Even after everything went south he never questioned me or my plans. Just passed me as many shifts as he could.
“Damn, she’s on to me,” he says jokingly, “Truth is, I was hoping you’d stay. There’s some new art installment being opened today, and those artsy folks love a good pub crawl. Could get busy later.”
I nod and he disappears back into the kitchen. I start cleaning glasses I’ve already cleaned at least three times when the woman at the bar turns her attention from her cell phone up to me.
“So you were at that party? The one where that guy went crazy?” she raises her eyebrows and one side of her mouth lifts into a kind of half smile. The last thing I want to do is talk to some gossip hound about the attack.
“Yeah. Was my good friend’s party,” I say quietly, trying to make my discomfort obvious.
“Heard he killed some people. You look like he did a number on you,” her grin spreads further across her face, like that’s somehow amusing. Her sick interest is pissing me off. She continues, “How’d you get away from him?”
“Luck mostly. Cops showed up just in time.”
I grudgingly give her my full attention. She’s probably a little younger than Ryan, maybe in her mid thirties. Her hair is bleach blond and long with the tips dyed a reddish brown. She wears it loose around her shoulders. Her face is narrow and expressive with large, deep set eyes and a thin-lipped, but wide, mouth. She’s wearing what looks to be a designer lady’s suit. It hugs her slender frame flatteringly. I’m wondering what her occupation is when I’m gripped with sudden suspicion.
“Are you a reporter?” I ask. Of course the press would be all over the story.
She laughs and I know she’s mocking me.
“Not at all. Just a concerned citizen worried about what the world is coming to. No one likes violence. At least not when it’s so close to home.”
Her cell phone vibrates and she immediately answers. I’m relieved that she’s distracted and take the opportunity to pop into the kitchen for garnishes. When I come back, she’s already left. I haven’t even had time to ring her up, but there’s a twenty dollar bill sitting on the bar. I shrug and ring up her drinks, dividing the hefty remainder between myself and the single waitress working with me.
As Ryan predicts, we start to fill up around eight and are packed not even an hour later. I’m grateful for the distraction and for how quickly the rest of the evening passes. Before heading out at the end of the night I text Wynn to ask if she wants to stay up and watch a movie when I get home. She answers that she’s won’t be home but skips the explanation. It’s odd, but I know sometimes she has to stay late to use the diagnostic machines for her research. I decide to pick up snacks on the way home anyway, stay up on my own. I wonder idly whether Yagher is free tonight.
When I open the back door of the pub, a man is waiting for me. My breath rushes from my body, terror like a punch to the gut. Johannes. No, I know that’s impossible. His father, I remember, but the panic doesn’t abate. This is wrong.
“Thought of a couple more questions for you,” the voice is a woman’s, and I turn to see the blond from the bar emerge from behind the open door. She grabs my arm and my vision blurs, stars dancing in the hazy darkness. As I fall to the rough pavement I can still make out their faces peering down at me. The man is grimacing, his brows drawn and lips puckered as if he’s eaten something sour. The woman grins. His expression is distaste, but hers speaks only of hunger.