This is the second half of Chapter 1 of The Incident Under the Overpass.
Lacey lifted herself up on her side, pulling her legs up to cover her privates and her left arm crossed over her chest. It was a momentously awkward position. With her right arm, she gently nudged Nathan in his side, amazed again how he had no apparent body fat. She said his name several times, low but clear.
He roused, his peaceful countenance turning into a grimace. He moaned a bit and shooed off Lacey’s hand.
“Nathan!” Lacey finally said louder. She instinctively looked out to the street to make sure no one heard her.
“Lacey?” he asked in a raspy voice.
Lacey turned her head and saw the confusion on his face. Okay, so at least I’m not full crazy. We both know each other enough to know our names, she thought.
“Nathan,” she said. “That is your name, right?”
Still lying on his back, he said, “Yes. At least I think so. Where the hell are we?”
“Underneath the interstate,” she said. “Do you think I could borrow your jacket?”
“Huh?” He looked at her, not understanding. Then her nakedness registered. He nodded, and tried to keep his eyes upward.
Something happened to the both of us, Lacey thought. Neither of our heads seem right.
Nathan sat up, slowly. He tried not to look at her. Lacey tried to shrink herself out of sight. He looked down as he gingerly removed his jacket and handed it over to her.
“Where are your clothes?” he asked.
Lacey upturned an eyebrow as she slipped into his jacket in a millisecond’s time. “Good question. And, if I knew, I wouldn’t have to ask you for your jacket, would I?”
He returned his gaze to her face, and this time smiled at the burst of feistiness. His amusement turned into a grimace, and he put his face in his hands.
“Why do I feel like I have the worst hangover of my life?” Nathan asked, lifting his head.
Lacey looked down at the bloody hole in the jacket, and a dark mark that ran down the length of it. “It looks like you were run over.”
Lacey stood, the jacket coming just to the top of her thighs. She tried to make herself smaller, to somehow shrink the surface area of her legs. She would have to make it work for the short walk home.
Nathan looked up at her and gaped. Lacey assumed it was because of the brutalized look of his jacket.
“Do you think you can take a short walk? We really need to get out of here. I live very close by,” Lacey said. She tried not to sound as panicky as she felt.
Nathan nodded. He rose up slowly, testing his unsteady legs as he stood. He went to roll his shoulder and winced. His T-shirt was torn, but didn’t look as bad as the jacket.
Lacey bounced on her bare heels. “We’ll take a look at you once we get to my house. C’mon.” She stood by his side, offering her arm in case he needed it. He looked her in the eye and shook his head. “I think I’m okay. Lead the way.”
Lacey made sure she did not see any cars in either direction, and stepped lightly to the sidewalk. By the time she made it to the train trestle that paralleled the interstate, Nathan was twenty feet behind her.
She stopped behind one of the columns of the trestle and waited. She looked back at the interstate, and could see arcs of light from passing cars. She thought they were increasing in frequency. Her stomach tightened.
Headlights approached on Marconi, from the south. Nathan was visible from either direction, clearly impaired, and sure to be seen. The chances that the coming car was a police cruiser were good—cops patrolled all over her neighborhood regularly.
Lacey ran to Nathan and pulled him to the concrete wall of the trestle. She turned her back to the street and put her arms around him. It was a reflexive action, born of a need to protect, to cover, to hide.
She regretted the embrace as soon as she made contact. She was nearly overcome by another electric feeling of déjà vu as she held on to him. The searing heat emanated from somewhere higher this time, a spot at the back of her neck. She longed to break free, but she was paralyzed by an overwhelming desire to know more, feel more, and explore what was happening to her.
Nathan wasn’t struggling. He looked down at Lacey’s face.
The feeling passed. She pulled away as soon as the red taillights were out of sight. It wasn’t a cop car. She intentionally avoided Nathan’s gaze, grabbed his hand, and continued walking. He held on to her hand. “I’m sorry I’m so slow,” he said in a low voice.
“It’s okay. I hope I’m not making you any worse,” Lacey replied in a voice equally low.
Lacey’s breathing eased once they crossed onto her street, Florida Boulevard. Neither of her two neighbors would be out so early, although there was a good chance one of them might spy her from his window. Lacey hugged the curb, under the cover of a line of crape myrtles. The nosy neighbor had planted them, illegally, on the public right of way to obscure the view of the train tracks. It was their third year, and their branches were fat with buds.
Lacey found it hard to breathe. Nathan gripped her hand firmly, but it felt like he was clinging to her throat. She realized how utterly dependent he was on her at this very moment, and how easily he had surrendered to her. It freaked her out. She felt a fierce desire to be rid of him.
She broke her focus on the trees and stole a glance at Nathan. Pain and effort was evident on his face. Lacey cursed herself, the desire for him to disappear replaced with an entirely different feeling. He looked heroic, his hazel eyes fixed on completing this grim task, jaw set, body moving with marked determination.
“We’re almost there,” Lacey said. “We need to turn here. Just a bit more sidewalk and then we’ll be there.” Lacey pulled away from Nathan and grabbed the key hidden near the side entrance of her house. She waited for him at the base of the steps. A deeper sense of recognition began to seep in as she watched him. Nathan reached for the stair rail and she turned away, ascending the six steps to the door.
Key in the lock, her hand on the doorknob, Nathan stumbled and fell against her, catching himself with a hand to her shoulder. In that moment, she remembered who Nathan was. She didn’t turn around, but hesitated before opening her door.
She was overcome by an acute longing.