“Vampires?” I couldn’t believe my ears. Vanessa knew how I felt about those fanged freaks. “You’re kidding me, right?” I had to get up and walk into the kitchen where she was making us tea to make sure I’d heard her correctly. “There’s no freakin’ way I’m trusting a vampire, of all things, to help me with this or anything else.”
Vanessa and I had been friends since the first day of nursing school, took our state boards together, got hired at Methodist Dallas Medical Center on the same day, and sadly, attended my brother’s funeral together shortly thereafter. Putting your last blood relative to rest is not something you should do alone and thank God, I didn’t have to. Vanessa was my best friend, the sister I never had, and the best person I knew. So, she had to be kidding, right?
As soon as I saw her face, I knew she wasn’t. “Just listen to me, Kat.” She poured the boiling water into the mugs, returned the kettle to the stove, and then turned and leaned her hip against the kitchen counter. “I know what you’ve lost at the hands of vampires. I was there for the last chapter, remember?”
“Not to mention that vampires ultimately caused what I’m going through now,” I scoffed to keep from screaming.
“If you’d just listen, I have a point to make.” Vanessa shook her head and sighed in exasperation. “Just like people, there are good vampires and bad. You’ve only ever dealt with the bad. The ones that killed your brother…bad.” She held up the index finger on her right hand. “The ones that forced those kids to sell drugs and then fed from them until they were little more than skin and bones,” she added a finger, taking her count up to two, then added, “bad. The ones who leave people dead and dying in the streets that we get to patch up in the ER every night…bad, bad, bad.” She held three fingers high and made her eyes wide while waiting for me to agree.
Finally, I nodded, just to see where she was going with what was obviously a well thought out argument. As usual, my bestie did not disappoint. “I want to make something clear. Something I’ve been preaching since you got caught with your hand in the cookie jar, so to speak.” She leveled her gaze at me. “You are responsible for the actions you took to help those children.”
My best friend held up her hand as I started to object. “You had other options. Options I know you say would’ve scared them away or worse yet back into the hands of the very creatures who exploited them, used them, abused them, and left them for dead.” Vanessa paused and gave me her mother look before continuing. “But there were still other avenues you could’ve taken than stealing from the hospital. That is on you and you have to own it.”
As she turned to finish our tea, I thought about picking up the crystal bowl that had been my grandmother’s and throwing it on the ground in frustration or at the very least, arguing my point…again, but my conscience wouldn’t let me. Vanessa was right. There had been other options. I had simply chosen the wrong one. That was on me and now I was caught like a rat in a trap, and my best friend thought vampires, of all things, could help me. I was sure the pressure of the last few days was causing her to have a breakdown of some kind.
The whole mess started after an especially long day in the Emergency Room that included a double shift, a school bus crash, and hundreds of grieving parents. Stumbling out of the double doors and into the parking lot of Methodist Dallas Medical Center, I gulped my first breath of air that didn’t smell like antiseptic, blood, and the agony of loss, and simply let the chaos of the day roll off my back. Looking up at the starry night, I prayed for all the families who would go home without their loved ones then stepped out of the way of an approaching ambulance.
Tommy, the EMT who’d been asking me out for the last month, jumped out of the driver’s seat with his usual easy smile and waved. “Hey Kat. How’s it going?”
“Pretty good, Tommy,” I lied.
Making his way to the rear of the ambulance, he asked, “You walking home? Isn’t it kinda late to be out all alone?”
“Yeah, I guess, but I need to clear my head and a walk is just what the doctor ordered,” I answered, turning and taking a few steps before he responded.
“Oh, okay then. Be careful. Catch ya later.”
“See you tomorrow,” I answered over my shoulder while sighing in relief that he hadn’t asked me to have a cup of coffee with him for the umpteenth time.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like Tommy. He was a nice enough guy, but I wasn’t at a place in my life where I wanted it complicated with a man. I had a new apartment, a great job, and friends; that was pretty much all I could handle for the time being. Mom had always said I would know when the right guy came along, that I would feel it in my bones. To date, I hadn’t felt anything in my bones, or any other region of my body, but the unseasonably cold weather that had recently descended upon the Dallas/Fort Worth area.
Leisurely walking toward home, thinking about a cup of hot chocolate and a long soak in the tub, I nearly jumped out of my skin when a little girl with tangled dirty blonde hair and bright blue eyes appeared out of nowhere. Her dingy, pink woolen coat was way too big and out of style, not to mention soiled and musty smelling, but the way she reached out her bare, shaking hand and sobbed, “We need your help,” nearly broke my heart.
Looking around, I found the street deserted. Where was a policeman when you needed one? My moment of indecision apparently spooked the child, because she disappeared just as quickly as she had appeared. Throwing caution to the wind, along with my better judgement, I ran around the corner, caught sight of the back of her, and raced down the alley, screaming, “Hang on. I’ll help! Don’t run away!”
Rounding the third corner, I skidded to a stop. Barely missing the little girl, out of breath and sure I’d lost my mind, I leaned against the brick of an abandoned textiles factory and wheezed, “Why did you run?”
With wide eyes and the one foot already positioned to run again, she trembled, “I heard their car.”
Not sure what to make of the way she kept looking from side-to-side and over her shoulder, as if she was expecting trouble, I asked, “Who are ‘they’?”
Stepping forward, she cupped her chapped little hands around her mouth and whispered, “The Runners.”