Ryan held his phone in his palm, his finger hovering over the call button. He wanted to tell Charley about the video and let her know that maybe her suspicions had some sort of merit; maybe they could talk about it together and end this frustrating silence. She could come home, and everything would go back to the way it was…suddenly Ryan slumped his shoulders. Who was he kidding? This would only make her worse. She would get more obsessive and crazy, becoming harder and harder to deal with until- he couldn’t bear to think of the consequences.
Ryan sighed and admitted to himself that the real reason he wanted to call Charley was because he just plain missed her. He wanted to hold her while watching CSI reruns on the couch with a beer in his hand and pizza in the oven. He wanted to watch her practice tattoo designs on the kitchen table. Heck, he even wanted to hear her snore like a growling bear as he tried to sleep at night. But he couldn’t, because she was gone, and there was no way around it.
That did not mean, however, that the business with the video had to be left alone. Although he couldn’t be with Charley, he could find out what was really going on at the hospital. Then once she knew the truth, Charley could finally feel that justice was served and begin to heal from the horrible memory of her parents’ death. Ryan smiled. He was going to fix everything.
Kince was not in the habit of following Loren home from work, but after their encounter in the freezer, he feared she might report him to…her. Every species had their leader, and the Matriarch was the queen of the Essentials. She rose to power sometime in the distant past; as the last female capable of giving birth to new Essentials, she had controlled the fate of the entire race. Soon, even she had lost the ability to reproduce, but her power was already in place. Thousands of years later, she still held the Essentials like putty in her hands. Kince often wondered why the Essentials were still so securely under her thumb after all these years. He supposed it was more a matter of habit than anything else. She was a singular being for sure; no one ever crossed her, and she always got what she wanted.
What she didn’t want was an uprising like the one Kince had suggested to Loren. The Matriarch had a system. She preferred to remain behind the scenes and control a lesser species while leaving them blissfully unaware that they were being ruled over. That is how the Essentials were able to survive so long without being able to reproduce. If she found out that one of her own was threatening to overthrow that system, there would be consequences. Kince shuddered.
All Essentials were required to report anything and everything strange and suspicious to the queen, especially among members of their own. Her argument was that with their numbers so small, and no way of increasing them, their race could not afford infighting. Kince suspected it also had to do with the Matriarch’s desire to control every aspect of her surroundings. Nevertheless, if Loren did not report Kince’s behavior and the Queen found out about it some other way, Loren would suffer the same consequences as if she had suggested the uprising herself. So he expected her to try and report it sooner or later, and he wanted to be on hand to stop her.
Kince soon found that tailing somebody was not exactly an easy task for a hemi-pelagic; having to limp at every step slowed him down considerably. He found himself sighing with relief every time she stopped to look in a store and found that he appreciated her compulsion for shopping for the amount of time it afforded him to catch up with her.
After the 3rd store, Kince smiled smugly to himself. Loren was blissfully unaware that she was being followed. That smile quickly turned to a frown as he saw a hooded figure pause a block away from Loren, looking in her direction as she happily shopped for a pair of heels. He had seen that same figure pause outside the last store Loren entered. Was someone else following her as well? It certainly seemed like it. Wearing a hood was a strange choice for a nice bright summer day, and the figure, scrawny and probably male (from the absence of certain…physical characteristics) seemed strangely fidgety. Kince surmised that either he was tailing Loren (badly) or he was on drugs.
Kince’s eyes narrowed and his focus shifted. Kince may have been following Loren, but he would never wish her any harm, no matter how hurt he was by her rejection of his plan. This figure’s intentions did not seem benign, though, and he was not an Essential, so Kince felt a sudden urge to protect Loren from the suspicious outsider in any way he could. His first thought was to punch the guy in the face, but making a scene would put both him and Loren at risk of exposure, not to mention pissing off the Matriarch. Also, considering his disability, Kince was not exactly going to win any fight he started…at least not fairly.
Kince backtracked, stepping into a local coffee shop, still within plain view of Loren and her potential stalker, who was looking more suspicious by the minute. He then pulled out his phone and called Loren. He watched as she rummaged through her purse and found her phone.
“Hey Loren. It’s Kince.”
“Umm, hi. Look, I’m kind of in the middle of something right now-”
“There’s a problem with one of the blood samples from yesterday. Can you meet me at the hospital?”
“Right now?” Loren sounded irritated. “I basically just left.”
“Yeah, sorry about that. Superior Ecton said it was urgent.” There was a pause on the other end.
“Okay. I’ll be right there.”
Kince watched Loren unlock the main hospital doors from the edge of the parking lot. Between Kince and Loren, the hooded figure peeked around a bush, flinching whenever Loren made the slightest movement. Kince would have smirked if he wasn’t so tense. Humans were hilariously pathetic sometimes.
Loren yanked the door open and slipped inside, leaving the door unlocked behind her. Kince paused and shifted his focus to the stalker. If he followed Loren into the hospital, there would be no doubt that he had bad intentions. Sure enough, after a couple minutes, the hooded figure walked briskly to the door. Kince saw his head begin to swivel and correctly assumed the intruder meant to check behind him; ducking behind a parked car, Kince fought the urge to put a face to this mysterious figure. When Kince raised his head once more, the door was slowly drifting shut. Waiting a minute of his own, Kince formulated a plan. Then, when he was sure enough time had passed that he could cross the parking lot without fear that the hooked figure would turn around, he proceeded to enter the hospital.
Ryan stepped into the hospital, his heart pounding in his chest. He resisted the urge to wipe his sweaty palms on his jeans, and mentally berated himself for wearing a hoodie. It had seemed like a good idea at the time, and besides, stalkers did that in all the movies, but Ryan was finding out the hard way that his current garb just wasn’t practical. He bit his lip and listened for movement. When he heard the jingling of keys off to his left, he quietly tiptoed in the direction of what he hoped was Loren. Panic washed over him as he realized for the first time that he had no idea what to do when he found her. His plan was to catch her in some sort of illegal act, but how to do that without her seeing him? He would have to hide somewhere. A supply closet, maybe?
Ryan, deep in thought, had not noticed the footsteps creeping up behind him. Hearing a rustling sound, he turned around just in time for a heavy metal box to hit him squarely in the face.
Kince hadn’t meant to break the intruder’s nose, only hit him in the back of the head to knock him out and prevent him from hurting Loren. However, he couldn’t deny that it felt good. Finally after millennium of silent disapproval from the rest of his race, he felt a small sort of release at being the giver of pain instead of the receiver. Then Loren screamed.
“Kince what the hell? Is this how we treat patients now? God, you are out of control! I’m going to the Matron right now-” Kince tried to protest but Loren continued on a high pitched diatribe until Kince was forced to shout.
“He was stalking you, ok? He followed you in here!” Loren stopped mid accusatory remark and stared at the crumpled, bleeding figure on the floor. Then she looked up at Kince. “Oh.” She averted her eyes, another “human” mannerism she had picked up. Then she looked at Kince, her unblinking eyes wider than usual.
“So you were trying to protect me?”
“Yeah whatever.” Kince brushed off her question, trying to ignore the incredulous tone. The Essentials took care of their own; he would have done it for anyone. Loren nodded and looked back at the man on the floor.
“So what do we do with him? If the Matron finds out about this-”
“It was to defend one of our own. She would excuse it.”
“Not from you.” Kince sobered up at the truth of her words. The Matron had made her dislike of Kince clear for as long as the Essentials could remember; she hated that he was weak. According to her, he had outlived his usefulness long ago. She would be glad of an excuse to euthanize him, regardless of the Essential’s small numbers. Kince turned to Loren, suddenly aware of the power she held over him.
“Are you going to tell her?” His breath caught in his throat, which was weird, because Essentials had no need for breathing at all; so why had he been expelling breath in the first place?
Loren’s face betrayed nothing this time. No human mannerism fluttered across her face to give Kince any hint as to what she was thinking. Then a groan emitted from the pile on the floor and Kince and Loren sprung into action. Kince hit the man again with the metal first aid kit, this time in the back of the head, like he had intended at first. Loren disappeared for a minute, returning with a hospital bed. Together they managed to lift the unresponsive human onto it; admittedly Loren did most of the work. They then agreed to toss the human in an unused room on one of the top floors, which were only used for overflow. They wheeled him into the elevator and passed a silent few moments as it ascended. When the elevator dinged, they wheeled the bed into the furthest room on the floor. The man had been lying face down on the bed, and Loren realized he might suffocate, making this situation an even more complicated. She slowly turned the man over, then dropped him with a gasp.
Kince was busy fetching the “patient” some water and food, so he had no idea that Loren recognized the face of someone she had met just a few days ago…what was his name? She took a closer look. Despite his bloodied face, it was definitely him. The one with the tattooed girlfriend…who was probably calling the police right this moment, reporting him missing. She went over to the supply cabinet and retrieved a washcloth, wet it in the sink, and began to clean the blood off his face.
An overwhelmingly unpleasant sensation caught Loren by surprise as she assessed the giant purple bruise stretching across the bridge of his nose. She lifted the back of his head to check for bleeding. She found she was relieved to find none, but the unpleasant sensation returned when she felt an incredible bump forming that she was sure was as purple as his nose. By then Kince was back, and he put the water and food on the nightstand before motioning her to leave. Loren stole one last glance at the injured human before closing the door firmly and locking it behind her.