Chapter Seventeen

wind1.gif (5496 bytes)The wind was whipping quickly all around him and was constantly changing directions, as Mitch sat at the end of the pier. The Atlantic Ocean's air was often like that, unpredictable, and at times unforgiving. Mitch couldn't help but feel the same as he looked down the water and saw several orange bobbers helpless being tossed about by the waves. The water was choppy, and dunked the bobbers under several times and often, pushing them one way, then another, like utter chaos. Yet somehow, some of the bobbers managed to stay afloat without being lost. They would disappear, but seconds later, reappear from the dark murky waters, a small thin lifeline, raising high above them, and keeping them safely attached.

    The wind blew once more, and bitterly cold, as Mitch shoved his hands into his jacket, and stepped back away from the piers edge, and walked down closer to the end. His boots clumped against the wooden panels and the pungent smell of gutted fish and netted shrimp was all around him, as off to the distance a small group of early morning fishermen laughed and enjoyed themselves as they usually did at the Dania Pier on the weekends, their moods further improved by the cooler full of beer, the scattering of empty beer cans at their feet a testament to their weekend celebrating.

    Reaching the end of the pier, Mitch hiked his foot onto the railing, resting his elbows on what appeared to be one of the few spots left without fish innards. He scanned the horizon, gazing at the distant lights of the party boats coming in from their cruises. Somewhere between the stars and boats lay the horizon, still invisible in the darkened early morning mist.

    'As far as I know Jess is a perfect driver... so how do you explain her getting into a car wreck?' Zach's comments were harsh, but Mitch couldn't help but wonder what the answers were himself. Zach's word resumed his assault on his heart. 'Could it be that you, her 'friend,' served her booze irresponsibly.. then didn't take away her keys when you should have?'

    He had been more than busy last night, overcome with the crowd and subsequent workload. He had mixed and endless stream of drinks to the many revelers at the Dusk to Dawn, happy in the knowledge that the party idea had turned out to be a success. But the bar had been darker than usual, and much more crowded, the only illumination coming from the dark purple and black lights illuminating the place, and the lights aimed at the small stage they had set up in the corner. Even when Mitch decided to take a break, he could hardly see through the sea of mulling heads visible from the stage.

    Somehow between the flashing lights and loud noise, he managed to spot Jessie for a brief instant, and smiled, for she appeared to be having a good time. Yet most of his attention had been on Krystal his unofficial date and costumed partner. He had even spotted Lynn, dressed in a forties film siren. Everything had seemed fine, or so he had thought..

    Maybe Zach was right. Had he tried to do more than he could handle? Had his concern for his business superseded his good sense, and almost cost one of his dear friends her life? Under normal circumstances Mitch would have known Jessie had drank way too much - anyone for that matter - and he would have called any of his inebriated patrons a cab. Yet it hadn't been that type of party. People had managed to have fun and drink without one brawl breaking out, one drink spilled. But the place had been way too packed, so he couldn't be sure there was something he could have missed.

    Mitch struggled to concentrate, sifting through the images in his head or something. He had seen Jess walk outside.. that much he knew, reasoning in that split second, almost without thinking, that she was going outside for air, to get away from the crowd and the noise and the smoke. Or am I fooling myself with false justifications to make myself feel better? Mitch thought, with a sigh, bowing his head in shame and confusion. Had she in fact stumbled out of the bar in a stupor, and he had been too preoccupied to notice?

    It was just as Jessie said. Coulda would shoulda. He could have noticed if he had taken the time to socialize with his friend, crowd or not. If he had done so he would have sent her home in a cab, or urged her to veg out upstairs to sleep it off. He should have. The overwhelming curtain of guilt weighed down on him again, bringing tears of sadness and frustration to his eyes. You should have known better, Mitch thought, slamming his clenched fist on the railing. Hiring more staff for the party, and keeping a better head count to keep the crowd manageable would have ensured that everyone had a good time - safely.

    'You'd better hope she wakes up, or I'll have my lawyers all over your sorry butts..'

    Mitch was hoping Zach wouldn't be so bold. Bringing a lawsuit against the Dusk to Dawn would close them down, for Zach had the financial backing to hire a kick ass attorney, while they did not. The party - what he believed would be a quick and easy solution to all their money problems, had turned out to be nothing more than a Pandora's Box, the cruelest irony of all was that the event could never have happened without Jess. Her giving never ended. And what did she get for her efforts? Being singled out as the only one to suffer its aftermath.

    "AW CRAP!"

    One of the fishermen yelled in disgust, yanking at what now was an empty line. Frantically, he reeled it in, hoping to snare the fish that had just tugged on it. As his two buddies laughed mockingly at his efforts, his line swished in the air. But it was no use, for not even the bobber remained, dragged down at what must have been a huge fish.

    "Son of a bitch...", he mumbled, throwing an empty beer can angrily into the water.

    The dark purple dawn was giving way to a pinkish glow that was starting to creep up the far horizon, oblivious to the mini dramas unfolding on the pier. Whether any of them liked it or not, morning was coming, and Mitch swallowed the fist of dread knotting at the base of his stomach, the concept of another day never having been more daunting, especially since he had no idea what other form of hell was in store for him.

   The country music played softly on Krystal's car stereo, as she pulled her truck into the parking lot. "Think he's here?"

motorcycle1.gif (6602 bytes) Angel nodded, resting his head on the passenger seat. "That's his bike.."

    Krystal parked the truck, gripping her steering wheel tightly, before turning off the engine. "Going to stay here?" she asked, hoping Mitch's friend would come along and help her through the difficult meeting.

    "Yeah I think it's best that just you talk to him. Besides, I need to go relieve the guys back at the bar, and make sure everything's okay."

    Krystal sighed, uneasily. "How do I handle this?"

    Angel couldn't help but feel sorry for Krystal. His unexpected early morning call had clearly rattled her. But it couldn't be helped. Desperate times called for desperate measures. A now familiar vein of ice crept up his spine. And I thought foreboding stayed behind in New York, he thought. Angel looked around a bit, not knowing what to tell her. He had debated calling Sid, but had opted against it, knowing full well he would be of no use while nursing a beer hangover. The only other person who came to mind was Krystal. Luckily, he had found her number jotted down in Mitch's address book when he had returned to the bar to retrieve the boombox and music Mitch had asked for.

    "Just be supportive," Angel answered, meeting Krystal's concerned gaze. God knows he needs it, Angel thought. "Zach's really rattled him, or he would have never split like this. "I knew he'd be here.. he always comes here when he needs to think. I've done what I can. I'm just hoping that you, as a woman and a friend, can help him fight the demons in his head.."

    "I'll try.." Krystal answered, reaching out to squeeze Angel's hand.

    Angel smiled, knowing right then he had made the right decision to call. "Mitch is a good guy Krystal. He doesn't like to see anyone hurt. Yet when he's hurt he pulls away, not wanting to burden anyone with his worries. Most of the time he can snap himself out of it.. but I don't think that's one of those times.."

    "That's where we come in," Krystal smiled, getting out of the car, and slamming the door emphatically. "You go recharge. I'll take it from here.."

    The heels of Krystal's cowboy boots clacked nosily on the pier's wooden planks, cutting into the humid, heavy silence of dawn. She quickened her pace, not letting herself think, as she made her way towards the end of the pier. Lost in thought, Mitch didn't even notice her approach, and she felt him jump, as she wrapped her arms around him from behind.

    "It's okay.. it's just me," she whispered, pulling him tighter against her.

    They stood in silence for a precious few moments, before Mitch turned, to run the cold fingers of his right hand down her cheek. "Thank you," he said, in barely a whisper, the pent up wave of tears he had fought so valiantly against bursting forth, as he pulled Krystal into his arms, seeking shelter by burying his face in the softly scented comfort of her hair.

   The next two days were a blur for Mitch, trudging sleeplessly between the hospital and the bar. Happily, Mitch and Zach had managed to avoid each other, Mitch didn’t really know how that was possible - since he was there so much - but counted his blessing. Who cares where the hell Zach was. All that mattered is that he was there for Jess in case she woke up. The doctor was very sketchy about Jessie’s condition, not wanting to disclose much to he and Angel, since they weren’t family. Nurse Nancy, the main nurse assigned to taking care of Jess did say that the doctor would be by in early, before his rounds, since Zach had said he would make a trip to the hospital then for the latest update on Jess.

sunrise1.gif (4764 bytes) The sun made an inauspicious appearance in the morning sky, casting a orangy glow through the plum colored clouds along the horizon. How many times had he and Jess watched the sun rise or set together? Mitch thought, as he leaned up against the 6th floor window sill, and sighed. There wouldn't even be a nice sunrise to brighten his day..

    Angel was down the hall calling the guys at the bar, making sure everything was running smoothly. Mitch had no idea that Zach had arrived just moments before Mitch turned back towards Jessie’s hospital room. Seeing Zach with Jess, Mitch stopped, taking the opportunity to watch Zach interact with his fiancée, without him knowing he was being watched. Was it his imagination, or did Jess seem restless? Mitch thought. Even with her fiancé at her side, Jess didn’t seem calm like how she was when Mitch held her hand. Or was it just wishful thinking? His thoughts were interrupted, as a young doctor excused himself, easing past Mitch and into Jess's room.

    "Mr. Blair? I'm Dr. Benson. I’ve been treating your fiancée since she arrived in the ER a few nights ago.."

    Zach followed the young doctor out into the hall, Mitch backing up to be unobtrusive, yet at the same time staying close enough to be able to hear what was being said.

    "Your fiancée’s lucky she had her seatbelt on.. the police said that if she hadn’t been wearing it, the impact of hitting the cement divider she crashed into on the highway would have caused her to be flung violently from the vehicle.. it was a Jeep Wrangler, right?" the doctor sighed.

    "Was?" Zach asked, in amazement. "She totaled the car?"

    Dr. Benton nodded. "Even with her safety belt fastened, the force of the impact was so great, that it slammed your fiancée against the door frame of the Jeep. That's why she's drifting in and out of consciousness. The various scans we’ve done show some swelling in her brain. This type of injury is pretty common where car accidents are concerned. Jessie has a concussion, but the medication we’re administering intravenously is slowly taking care of the swelling, which should mean that she’ll be awake soon.. The doctor flipped through Jess's chart before continuing. "But other than that, bruised ribs on her left side, and the nasty bump on her left temple, I'd say your fiancée is one lucky lady.. the nurse informed me that she's even starting to move her limbs, maybe even coming around? That's a good sign.."

    Zach ran his fingers through his hair anxiously. "So you think she's gonna come out of this okay?"

    "With rest and time to recover - she'll probably be with us for a week or so, just so we can keep an eye on her, and make sure she's fine before releasing her - I don't see why not.."

    Mitch sighed with relief, turning around to smile at the doc. Yet all of a sudden, something changed in the doctor's demeanor.

    "We see quite a few accidents late at night, especially around the holidays," he said, his brow furrowing. "As far as you know, your fiancée has never done drugs has she?"

    "What?!" Zach asked, raising his voice. "No way.."

    "Jessie? Drugs? Never. And I should know.. I've known her longer than he has," Mitch stated, approaching the two.

    "And you are..?" the doctor asked, a little uneasy.

    "Her best friend.. Mitch. .My friend and associate Angel over there have been at Jess's side since she was brought in," added Mitch.

    "Well upon arrival at the ER it's customary to have blood tests run on our patients.. especially on holidays. Halloween’s one of our busiest nights. Jessica was brought in wearing a rather disheveled looking costume.. the neckline was torn on her blouse.. we wanted to make sure the accident wasn't a DUI related incident.."

    "This is too much," Mitch said, raising his voice. "How many times do I have to repeat this.. Jess doesn't drive drunk.."

    Hearing the yelling, Angel hung up the phone and came over to the group. "Mitch? What's wrong?"

    But the doctor cut him off. "Be that as it may, it is customary for us to draw blood, for our own purposes, as well as for the police report.. we'll know for sure once the results of the blood tests come back.."

    Mitch had heard enough. His head started to ache as he turned on his heel and retreating into the silence of Jess's hospital room. There has to be another explanation for what had happened, he thought, taking Jess's hand in his again. Yet, in his heart Mitch couldn't help but wonder if he could have contributed to all this. "What have we put you through?" Mitch sighed. Zach's philandering was bad enough, but by getting swept up in his own melodramas didn't help matters. Through it all, Jess was his friend, trying to help he and Angel out even when her own life was in shambles.

    Once again, Jess was drawn to the soft warmth of Mitch's touch, the soothing quality to his voice, as she fought her way out of the dreamlike state. Little by little, her ears started to hum again and she felt herself rise through the swirl of feelings and images. Goosebumps began to raise on her legs and arms as a dark foreboding swept over her mind, the sensation of a warm, alcohol laden breath on her face. The beep beep beep of the hospital machines set an eerie pace to the sound of a man's lustful words emanating in and out of her consciousness, reality and fantasy intermingling.

    ‘Hear how she's moaning.. you want me baby, don't you?.. a dark man is entering your life.. will change your life forever.. I'll see you on Sunday babe, don't have too much fun without me..’

    "Jess?" Mitch whispered, feeling her hand jerk in his, her face scrunching up. "Are you in pain? Doc.. DOC?!" racing to the door.

    Jessie's lips parted, and she took in a big gulp of air into her sore lungs. Jess moaned, the images in her head only amplifying the pain she was feeling. "No.. leave me alone.. get away from me.." she managed to say, in the tiniest of voices in the newly empty room.

    Dr. Benson came rushing in, motioning for the men to wait outside.

    "She was moving in bed," Mitch sighed, resting his head against the cold white wall...

    A few moments later, the doctor emerged from Jess's room.

    "Is she okay?" Mitch asked.

    "The human brain is like a computer, and when it receives a blow or other trauma it sometimes short circuits in a sense. It's almost like she's in a dream state, where images merge together in her mind." The doctor, seeing the look of worry on Mitch's face, laid a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "Between the effects of the concussion she suffered during the accident, the resulting pain, and the various medication we’re administering through her IV, it’s normal for her brain to react this way. But all in all, even though she may seem like she’s in pain, Jessie is okay.."

    "Then it wasn't me?" Mitch asked, uneasily.

    "No. Her small outburst is most likely a result of the jumbled images I mentioned."

    "Any idea when the tests results will be in?"

    "We’re rather backlogged I’m afraid.. Halloween's always like this. But as soon as I know anything I'll let Ms Reynold's fiancé know. If he okays it we'll pass the information on to you."

    Mitch looked away from Dr. Benson in annoyance as his face twinged with anger. Where in the world was Zach? He couldn't help but wonder how he could have left, as quickly as he had arrived. Had seeing Jess been too much for him to take? No, more than likely Zach was mad and doing something about it, his bold and harsh statements screamed retaliation.

    "I'd appreciate that," Mitch mumbled.

    "I was told...", Dr. Benson said, flipping through his papers once more, "that you asked if you could bring a radio to Ms. Reynolds room?"

    Mitch nodded. "Yes, she loves music."

    "That's fine. But please, keep it at low levels. We wouldn't want the other patients, much less the staff be disturbed by the music."

    "Thank you," Mitch said, shaking the doctor's hand.

    "It's important you do things to keep her spirits up, and whatever makes her happy," he noted. "Keep talking to her, and bring by more friends and family. The more that you do for her, that she recognizes, and enjoys, the better. Light physical contact and touching is comforting for them as well, and don't get anxious or excited when she rouses again."

    Mitch kept nodding, as the doctor continued. "If she seems frightened or scared, keep soothing her."

    Mitch shook the doctor's hand once more as he left down the hall, to call Angel. "I'll do my best."

boombox.gif (5994 bytes)"Got it," Angel whispered, showing Mitch the CD boombox to Mitch.

    "See that? Angel brought you some music," Mitch said, lifting Jess's hand to his lips, and gently kissing it.

    "Is there an open plug that I can use?" Angel asked.

    The nurse nodded, and pointed to a plug concealed behind the table at Jessie's bedside. "Please remember, keep the volume very low."

    "Yes ma'am," he answered, kneeling down to plug in the boombox. "How's she doing?"

    "Fine," Mitch said, "nothing scary yet."

    "Good!" Angel said, pulling himself back up off his knees and gently brushing them off.

    "What CD's did you bring?"

    Angel brushed a hand across Jessie's cheek and smiled. "I brought a few you mentioned."


    Mitch set Jessie's hand down, and started to rifle through the stack of CD's on the table. 80's dance, Billboard hits of '84, Best of the 80's.. Hmm..

    "Whatcha' pick?" Angel asked.

    "Something nice..." Mitch said, "Don't want to put anything to loud or busy, y'know?"

    Angel nodded, as Mitch took a seat next to Jessie again and took up her hand as the music began to play.

kenya1.jpg (88926 bytes) 'I hear the drums echoing tonight
    But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation..
    She's coming in 12:30 flight
    The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation..
    I stop to know that along the way,
    hoping to find some long forgotten words or ancient melodies..
    He turned to me as if to say
    Hurry boy, it's waiting there for you..
    It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you,
    There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do..

    I passed some rains down in Africa,
    Gonna take some time to do the things we never had..
    The wild dogs cry out in the night,
    as they grow restless longing for some solitary company
    I know that I must do what's right
    As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti..
    I seek to cure what's deep inside,
    frightened of this thing that I've become..

    It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
    There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do..
    I passed some rains down in Africa
    Gonna take some time to do the things we never had...’

    It was a risk. Lynn knew that going anywhere near the hospital was pushing her luck. But she also knew that the ever present nagging thoughts crowding her brain were driving her crazy. The last few days had been a big test on her nerves. Going to the bar to find out about Jessie's condition had been no use, since Mitch was at the hospital a lot, and even when he wasn't, Lynn's presence was even less tolerated than ever by him and Angel. And Nick.. Just the thought of the man made her stomach churn. Not an hour went by when she didn’t cringe at the possibility of the phone ringing. Not even her luxurious hotel room could soothe her. All Lynn knew what that she had to do something. Eluding Nick for the last three days had been hard enough, and she realized that it was just a matter of time before hiding out at the beach with Kelly to avoid Nick's call wouldn't be enough anymore.

    Dropping Kelly off at her grandmother's house, Lynn headed for the Dusk to Dawn one more time, for a well needed stiff drink. It was early, and she knew Nick's band wouldn't start their first set til around seven. Maybe, if her luck held, she would get to see Mitch, and not have to resort to the risky business of going to the hospital to see for herself what was going on.

    Mitch and Angel sat in silence at Mitch's desk, surrounded by the usual end of the month paperwork. With his John Lennon-styled glasses perched at the end of his nose, Angel snuck a glimpse at the unusually stern-faced Mitch. The mood of the office - heck of the entire bar was somber and austere, no light music to be heard. The bar's employees knew better than to cause any problems, each going about their allotted tasks in efficient silence.

    Angel sighed, shifting in his chair, the tension starting to wear at his already frazzled nerves. Focusing back to the task at hand, Angel finished reconciling the bar's October bank statement. Ever since Jess and her accounting friend had redone and balanced the books, all the accounting was a snap. Angel couldn't help but smile. How many years had the books been a nightmare?

    "The party last week put us well into the black," Angel announced into the silence. "We made six grand in a matter of eight hours. We should have theme parties more often.."

    All he got from Mitch was a grumbled, as he roughly signed a check. "C’mon pal," Angel sighed, setting down the ledger on the edge of Mitch's desk. "We all worked our asses off, and it paid off big time.."

    Mitch jumped in his chair, sliding it roughly back into the wall. "Paid off? PAID OFF?!"

    "HEY! CHILL OUT!" Angel bellowed, Mitch's anxiety finally chipping through his usual calm veneer.

    The fact that his friend raised his voice snapped Mitch back down to earth. Barely able to meet Angel's gaze, Mitch cradled his tension-etched face in his hands, resting his elbows on the desk. "Paid off.. but at what cost?" Mitch took several long, deep, steadying breaths before he continued. "Angel, Jessie could have died.."

    "Could have, but she didn't.."

    "You heard Zach.. he's just itching to sue.. there's nothing he'd like better than to rip the bar right out from under us." God knew he'd pulled slick moves in the past, Mitch thought.

    "Mitch," Angel said, reaching out to grip his friend's shoulder. "Let him do his damndest. Personally I don't think it's gonna come to that.."

    "I hope you're right," Mitch sighed, leaning back into his desk chair.

    "The important thing is that Jess is gonna be okay. The rest will take care of itself." Angel stopped, clicking closed the programs on the computer screen, and switching off the PC. "Look, everything's tied up in pretty little ribbons here. Why don't you go mail those payment checks, and I'll go pour us some tall frosty ones.."

    "Okay," Mitch nodded, shutting the check ledger book. "I'll be out in a sec.."

    Mitch opened the drawer to his right, ready to lock away the checks and grab some stamps, when something caught his eye. The desk lamp's light bounced off the glossy surface of a photograph that peeked out from under some loose papers. Reaching into the drawer, he pulled it out, a smile coming to his face.

mickey1.gif (5886 bytes)It was an old picture Jess had taken of him on one of their many spontaneous trips to Disney. It showed Mitch, giving Mickey a big smooch. Turning it over, he read the familiar caption, written in Jessie's handwriting:

    'No wonder Mickey likes you.. always knew you were a cheeseball.. J.'

    Angel reached deep into the bar's large ice maker, into the right back corner where he knew Mitch stashed a few long neck brews for just this type of occasion. Standing up, he was about to pop them open when he saw a woman walking into the bar. Dressed in jeans and a plain button down blue shirt, he hardly recognized her. Lynn.. he thought. The woman has impeccable timing.

    "Scotch.. straight up," stated Lynn, "err.. please."

    "Coming right up," Angel answered, setting down the beer bottles.

    The bar was deserted, hardly a soul in the place, so the sight of the two beers wasn't lost on Lynn. "How's Mitch?"

    "Look lady, we're all wound pretty tight around here," he said, setting the glass in front of Lynn, "so if you have a heart buried in there cut us all a break.."

    Lynn downed a large swig of scotch, attempting to swallow the large knot that had formed at the top of her throat. Swirling her drink nervously, she struggled to recover from the barb. "I just wanted to talk to him.. and see how he.. and Jess are doing."

    "Mitch is hanging in there, and Jess is slowly starting to recover," he answered quickly, roughly uncapping the beers, "now do me a favor - finish up your drink, and take the answers you came here for and have a nice day.."

    Lynn was dumbfounded, never having gotten such an out and out icy reception from the normally calm, collected Angel. "Wait," she called out, watching him make his way towards the back, "lemme pay for.."

    "My treat.." Angel called out, not even turning around.

    Lynn seethed. The one time she came to this joint white flag in hand, and this is how she's treated?! 'If you have a heart in there..' Angel's words still stung. Throwing back the rest of her drink, Lynn couldn't help but wonder if she deserved it.

    "What are you looking at?!" she snapped at Sally who was watching her from across the room, grabbed her purse and rushed out the door.

    "Nothing much," Sally muttered under her breath. Things would have been so different if the two bitches - one blonde, one brunette - had never come back into Mitch's life.

* * * * *

Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.


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