The First Mistake
The lights in the train car flicker as we pass through another tunnel. I let it pull my attention from my e-book on nursing etiquette and I glance around the train. I hadn’t noticed how many people have gotten off since I first stepped on. The once full car is now empty leaving only me, a snoozing old lady and a hooded, broad-shouldered man with his back turned. I guess we’re all from the same part of town. Poor bastards . . . and I mean that in every sense of the term. We’ve long since passed both upper and middle New York. From here on out, luxury isn’t a word anyone knows.
As we exit a tunnel, the lights above me stabilize and I let my attention float out the window. Masses of colors and shapes blur past. I’ve always liked graffiti, or at least the pretty kind. Nothing brightens your day quite like a good painting of an animal in a hoodie telling the government to go fuck itself. It’s nice to see the constant shades of gray, black and white broken up by a rebellious streak of color. Even when it’s dark like this, at one a.m., it’s nice to have something stand out in what feels like a never-ending blackness.
I return my attention back to my book and read the words on the screen. I try to become intrigued even though I’ve lost my place. I haven’t been a student nurse for long. I’ve learnt enough to know how to dress a wound and insert a cannula, but that’s the extent of it. I spend most of my time watching other nurses, learning as much as I can through them, not with my head stuck in books. I’ve never been good with reading. It never sticks and, as a result of that, I now spend every minute of my life outside of the hospital studying for the exam in three weeks. I’m a hands-on kind of girl, one who chose nursing as a career not only to help people, but for the thrill of not knowing what’s going to come through the door each second. I crave suspense and the unknown. I live off the flurry of excitement and nervousness that comes with surprise.
Strangely, my skin prickles at the thought, like it knows something I don’t, and a loose tendril of excitement twists around my spine. Subtly, I shiver and relish in the feeling, until the random bout of excitement disintegrates and I feel nothing once more.
A crackly voice blares through the speakers announcing my stop, but I don’t need anyone to remind me where I live. I’m aware of it—hyperaware. I couldn’t forget, even if I wanted to.
I reach for the large, brown bag at my feet and pull on the strap, slinging it around my neck and adjusting it between my breasts. It’s heavy and my spine complains as it takes on the weight. Ignoring it, I fumble with my tablet, closing the flap on its screen before the train has arrived at the platform. As the brakes screech and the sound of the slowing wheels becomes more prominent, I move from my seat and into the aisle. I keep my eyes downcast to my black runners, mentally ticking off my checklist, making sure I’ve got everything.
I grip the pole in the middle and wait patiently as the screeching sound of train brakes echoes through my carriage. The vibrations seize my shoes and tingle up my legs, like a million tiny spiders, as metal clings desperately to metal in a desperate attempt to get the train to stop. Eventually, it slows before finally grinding to a halt. I feel a large body move into the space beside me, but I don’t bother to lift my eyes. Living in this part of the city, I’ve learnt to keep to my own. Something as simple as a glance in the wrong direction can get you in trouble, and trouble is the last thing I need at this time of night.
Two distinct dings chime through the train car and a recording of a robotic woman thanks us and reminds us to watch our step. I linger for a few seconds before the doors pull open with a groan. I move forward before they fully open, and conveniently, so does the stranger beside me. What the fuck happened to common courtesy? Ladies before gentlemen?
With a squeak, I bounce off of the man’s large frame and into the edge of the door. The door shudders as I collide with it and I curse as the tablet I clench in my left hand slips from my grasp and crashes to the dirty, concrete floor, along with my stomach. I stumble forward in an attempt to regain my balance and I manage to, but the cracked screen of my tablet is long gone. Irredeemable. And I don’t have the goddamn money to fix it.
I look up at the man in the black hoodie with the broad shoulders. He keeps walking, his shoulders square and his head down, his backpack slung casually over one shoulder.
“Hey!” I shout after him, but he doesn’t turn around.
I scoop up my tablet and clasp it against my chest. I look east, in the direction of my home, but the rude stranger heads west. Common sense tells me to forget about it, to not follow the large stranger into the shadows, but my empty, moth-eaten wallet demands he replace what he broke. My hunger and hardship team with my pride. There’s no way common sense has a chance. It’s stupid to risk my life for money, but these are dark times and money is the only thing keeping me from throwing myself off the Brooklyn Bridge.
Behind me, the doors of the train close and I hear the brakes release the tracks. Despite my better judgment, I march in direction of the stranger, leaving my sanity and an empty train behind me.
I hate the taste of it. Even so, I let the metallic tang trickle over my taste buds. A fresh bout of fear flares through my system and I bite down on the inside of my lower lip to keep my body from trembling violently. I follow the man in the hood down a dark alley and into a former industrial area. Rundown warehouses and abandoned machinery litter the space, all of it forgotten by the ever-modernizing world. I purse my lips, worried the rapid sound of my terrified heart will escape through my mouth and awaken whoever and whatever is hiding in the rusted corners of the wasteland. Right now, the tall man who smashed my tablet isn’t my biggest concern. Spiders and tetanus, however . . . I shudder.
I’ve called out to the stranger a hundred times, but he doesn’t react. I’d thought he was being ignorant until he’d plucked an iPod from the pocket of his hood and scrolled briefly before stuffing it back in.
He can’t hear me.
Heavy, gray clouds block the glow of the moon and a cold thread of regret slithers down my spine as I follow him further into the dim, industrial abyss. Tall, steel and beaten warehouses tower over us, but the stranger doesn’t glance around him, not even once. It seems he’s comfortable here, much more comfortable than I am. Then again, if I were a man of his size there’d be little I’d be scared of too. A lot of words come to mind when I look at him, but prey is definitely not one of them.
He walks without a care, as if he were going for a casual midnight stroll, but his wide shoulders are held with purpose and determination. His shoes, an expensive pair of thick, white sneakers, barely scuff against the crunchy rubble under his feet. I, however, make no attempt to quieten my steps. Under my worn, black sneakers rocks crumble and small pieces of tin, metal and glass all grind against each other.
“Hey!” I try again. This time, my voice comes out less confident and more uncertain.
To my left something scatters, sending my heart into my throat. Suddenly out of breath, I squeeze my busted tablet closer to my chest and swallow hard as the stranger slows to a stop and peers to the left. I hold my breath while he turns, confused. Then, he spots me and he pulls his brows together, making shadows pool in the hollows of his face.
That much is clear.
In a slow movement, he reaches for the cord to his ear buds, and with a swift tug they fall. When all of his attention is on me, I notice immediately that the light shining down from an emergency post offers no real service. If I had to pick this man out of a police line-up tomorrow, I’d have no idea. The shadows make it impossible for me to get a proper look at his face.
I clear my throat in an attempt to drag up some confidence. “You broke my—”
He shoots forward and I squeal, dropping my tablet. The stranger’s large, heavy hands grab my shoulders and he shoves me to the side. I stumble and squeeze my eyes shut. I expect to slam into the large, metal warehouse beside me, but instead he catches me again, his fingers digging into the flesh on my arm with bruising pressure. He slams me into the warehouse and I grit my teeth, keeping my eyes tightly closed. My spine aches against the rigid metal and all I hear is the sound of my heart hammering relentlessly in my ears. Amongst it, I think I hear my brain chastising me, calling me an idiot.
“Are you out of your mind?” he bites out.
My lips part and I splutter as I open my eyes. I take in the man’s dark features, each curved in anger. His full lips purse over gritted teeth and his nostrils flare. I remain frozen with fear, paralyzed by the man who holds me against the wall. I don’t know this man. I don’t know his triggers or his intent. One wrong word or move and my life could end. His irises, their color undistinguishable in this light, flick over my face. He glances at my chest and I become hyperaware of the speed at which it rises and falls. I’ve never been so scared in my life.
I don’t love my life—not like most people do anyway. I’ve wanted off the earth a million times before, but now it’s a possibility I’ve never appreciated my life more—no matter how abysmal it is. The broken tablet is no longer on my mind. It’s not worth my life and I’ll forget about it—I’ll even leave it in the rubble if it means making it back to my apartment tonight.
After he’s done analyzing my terrified state the man backs away cautiously, with the palms of his hands exposed and I let out a shaky exhale, ignoring the tremors that threaten to shake me to my foundations. After a few short eternities, he arches a brow and I realize he wants me to speak—to explain myself. I swallow hard and it’s painfully dry.
“You broke my tablet,” I manage to croak out.
“Jesus Christ,” he huffs, pushing his hood off of his head and exposing short, spiky jet-black hair.
Even without his pressure, I remain glued to the metal wall, my heart pounding in my throat. I could run, but how far would I get? This man is quick, much quicker than me, and I’ve never been much of a runner. He rakes his fingers through his hair, pulling slightly. “You need to get out of here.”
I frown. Just like that? “You’re letting me go?”
He angles his head, allowing the shadows to swallow up his face. If I could imagine the expression he was pulling, it’d be a confused one, like mine. “I have no reason to keep you. If you’re smart, you’ll run as fast as you can.”
He doesn’t want to hurt me, and strangely, the thought fills me with confidence. Or maybe it’s desperation. I can’t study without my tablet. If I don’t study, I’ll fail and if I fail, I’ll have nothing left. “I’m not going anywhere. Not until you replace my tablet.”
The confidence doesn’t quite reach my voice, but at least I found the balls to bring up what he did. I can’t see his face, but I’m pretty sure I hear the smile on his lips.
“I broke your tablet?”
I nod, curling my fingers around the strap of my bag and twisting nervously. “On the train. You pushed past me coming out the doors and I dropped it.”
He folds his strong, thick arms tightly over his chest. “And you chased me into an abandoned industrial site? For what?”
I push off the wall. “To tell—”
“To demand I replace what I supposedly broke?”
With a nod, I sigh, exasperated. I need him to replace it. Without it, I have to go an hour or two out of my way to the library after my shifts and that’s not realistic for me. Of course, there’s no way I can force him to replace what he broke, but I’m hoping the universe gives me a break. Just this once. I need it.
Silence falls as he gives me an overt once over. I wonder what he sees. A small, desperate nurse who can’t even afford a comfortable pair of shoes? Or a liar? To him, I could be a crazy woman looking for a handout.
“You need crack money?” he asks, his voice dead serious.
“What?” I spit, inching forward. “No. I’m a nurse.”
“If you get your drugs for free, then what do you want with me?”
“I don’t need drugs. I—” I pause and let out an exasperated sigh. “All I want is for you to replace what you broke. So just fix it and I’ll be on my way.”
“What the fuck do you expect me to do?” He gestures around him, dramatically. “Do you see any electronic shops around here? Would any be open at this time?” He steps closer. “Look, lady, I’m not messing around. You need to get out of here before—”
He’s cut off by a loud clank that seems to vibrate up the entire height of the warehouse. The noise sounds creepy and dooming, and I’m sure it echoes for miles.
“What is that?” I ask, creeping closer to him.
His entire body is taut and tense, but in this moment I find more comfort in the huge stranger than the waking warehouse.
The stranger clears his throat. “That is your biggest mistake.”
Pronunciation of the name Jai:
Jai = Jye
It rhymes with pie.
I know what you’re thinking. Why a series of novellas? Why the hell would Skyla Madi write a series of novellas? Well, let me answer that for you right here at the beginning of the book rather than at the end or in a blog post. On January 29th (give or take) I am having a baby. Yay! We’re all very excited here in the Madi household, but unfortunately, it’s not good news for everybody. As you know, or don’t know, newborn babies are hard work and this fresh little bundle of joy will take up most of my time and all of my energy—not to mention my four-year-old daughter, who needs mummy time too.
I don’t want to say it (and the thought of having to kills me), but my writing will suffer and I feel it’s a safe move to write a small series until I’m able to establish a proper routine. There is no ulterior motive to my decision. I’m not trying to earn money by working less than any other author does, that I can assure you. I did my best to keep my readers happy in the nine months leading up to my baby’s birth. I wrote Forever Consumed, The O Intention, The Unfortunates and Slammed but now it’s time to slow it down a little bit. When I’m comfortable, expect many more full-length novels from me. ♥