What the hell was going on? I tried to get up.
“Edie.” Bill put a hand up to stop me. “Hey, kid. Where are you going?”
“I need to talk to them.”
“I’m sure one of the detectives will want to talk to you at the hospital.”
“No.” I slowly stood. Whoa, nothing felt good. Not that I’d thought it would. But if it weren’t for Bill’s hold on me, my poor bruised ass would probably have hit the ground. Again. “I need to talk to them now.”
“What you need to do is let me patch you up.”
Bill sighed. Then he helped.
“Stop,” I said, voice horribly weak, even to my own still-ringing ears. “What are you doing? Why did you cuff him?”
The cop pushing John into the back of the cruiser frowned, closing the door. “Stay back please, miss.”
“He didn’t do anything.”
A man in a rumpled gray suit stepped forward, giving me a professional smile. “Miss Millen? Can I call you Edie?”
“Get him out of there,” I demanded, swaying on my feet. Not good. “He helped me. He saved my life. Christ’s sake, his friend just died!”
His smile turned to condescending. “Edie, I’m afraid it’s not that simple.”
“What?” I wanted to scream in frustration. But honestly, I didn’t have it in me. Wondered if they’d wait to continue this conversation after I had a brief nap. “Why are you doing this? I don’t understand what you’re doing.”
The cop opened his mouth, doubtless to continue on with more of the same. Except John tapped on the inside of the car window. He didn’t smile, didn’t frown; he just looked at me. Blood speckled his face and stained the fresh white bandage around his upper arm. His light-brown shoulder-length hair hung around his face. There were clumps in it too. Out of the five people who’d been in the store, only he and I were left. Besides Chris, of course.
The car engine rumbled to life.
The tapping stopped, and John pressed a bruised and bloodstained palm up to the door window. Maybe it was his way of waving good-bye or signaling glad-you’re-okay. But with the gray-metal handcuffs looped around his wrist, the gesture just made him look lost and alone. His expression didn’t change, haunted eyes looking out from a pale, shell-shocked face. Nothing about this was okay. While I was shrugging off the attentions of Mom and Georgia and the nice ambulance officer, John was being carted off in the back of a police car.
We held each other’s gaze as the vehicle slowly moved forward, more police clearing a way out through the crowd. Cameras and reporters pressed in like a frenzied mob. Once the cruiser was gone, they trained their lenses my way. I turned my blanket into a Jedi-style cape, hiding my face from view.
“Come on, tough girl,” said Bill, ushering me away with a firm hand. “They’ll be taking him to the hospital to get patched up. Same place you need to go.”
The man in the gray suit said nothing, but he didn’t look happy. Made two of us.
Turned out the man in the suit was one Detective Taylor. He, along with a Detective Garcia, questioned me at the hospital Sunday afternoon. It was as soon as the doctors and Mom would allow. My story never changed, no matter how many ways they came at it or how many times they made me repeat the sequence of events that took place Saturday night. Eventually they were satisfied. The good news was that because everything had happened in plain sight, Chris had pled guilty, which meant I wouldn’t have to appear in court as a witness or anything. Suited me just fine. If I went the rest of my life without ever seeing Chris again, that would still be too soon.
An unsmiling Detective Taylor confirmed that John had been released after questioning. That was welcome news. I kept replaying the haunting picture of John in my head, alone and injured, as the police drove him away. At least things had been made okay since then. Chris was behind bars and John was free. That made me feel better. Still not great, but better. Pain meds and careful movement were what the doctored ordered. It was hard to stay still, though, when my head worried that every tall figure walking into the room might be Chris. Shaking and imagining all sorts of crazy shit seemed to be my new normal.
When Georgia came in, she cried all over me. It wasn’t pretty and it also wasn’t comfortable what with my cracked ribs, cuts, and bruises. But it was great to see her.
“I told them we were only there by random fate or whatever,” she said, wiping at her cheeks with the palms of her hands.
“You gave interviews in your unicorn satin pajamas?”
She nodded. “I looked like a total lunatic.”
It hurt, but I couldn’t help but try to laugh. Stabbing pain, so much fun.
“God, Edie. I’m so sorry.”
“For what? None of this is your fault.” I grimaced, trying to get more comfortable among my mountain of hospital pillows.
A heavy sigh.
Looks-wise, Georgia and I were total opposites. She had short dark hair, her body petite. Perfect for the acting career she’d been dreaming of since birth. Our shared sense of bad humor, love of Sephora, and taste in books bound us tight. We’d be friends forever, Georgia and I.
“Your TV debut and your hair is a mess and you don’t even have any makeup on,” I teased. “Catastrophe.”
Hands slapping her cheeks, she fake-gasped. “Can you believe it?”
“Such bad timing.”
“Yeah.” With a small frown, she sobered. “What the hell went on in there? I’ve never been so scared in my life. But you were actually stuck inside there with those people.”
“It was just the one, that meth-head Chris.”
“Are you sure? They led that other kid away in cuffs; I saw them.”
I shook my head, vision wavering and pain stabbing at my brain. Concussions sucked. Careful, they’d said. I needed to be more careful. Groan. “No, John did know the guy, but he tried to help. He actually handed out beers and cigarettes to everyone.”
“What?” Her nose wrinkled in disbelief.
“It’s true. I drank beer at gunpoint.” My attempt at a smile hurt. It twisted into a grimace. That hurt too. “He was trying to keep the asshole calm. It worked . . . for a while.”