Boredom sets in after a few days stuck in a hospital bed. You get tired of people staring at you. Are they waiting for you to die? Do they think you’ll get better? More than anything Kalenia Wallace wants to go home. To return to work. To have her boyfriend Marco wrap his arms around her and tell her it’s alright. None of that’s happening at the moment.
The last time she was hurt while acting as a vigilante under the Vigilantes Making Us Safe, or VMUS, Act she was able to get back in the office within a few days. She shrugged off being stabbed in the shoulder. Pushed through the anger and the hurt. Comforted herself with training and weapons which she was sure would keep her safe. They didn’t work. She was still every bit as vulnerable to a man with a gun. This time though she couldn’t push through it and pretend nothing happened.
When Marco arrived at the hospital she expected a big fight. Instead she found him sleeping by her bed when she woke up from surgery, his eyes red from crying. The next time she opened her eyes he was holding her hand and smiling at her. They haven’t talked about the reason she’s here or how she got hurt. He even stepped outside when a detective showed up to question her. After two weeks of sitting around here they’re walking on eggshells. Marco’s smart enough that he has to have figured out at least the rough details. Even if he’s content to sit around playing the doting boyfriend now, that’s going to pass and a fight’s going to happen.
Everyone keeps saying how lucky she is. The bullet nicked her liver but somehow avoided major blood vessels. A few inches in almost any direction and there’s a good chance she’d have never made it to the hospital. Even if she did she’d be in for months of physical therapy and hospitalization. With the bullet missing anything major though the doctors are talking about discharging her in a few days or maybe a week. She’ll need to take it easy for a month or two but she can go home and get back to her life.
A giant stack of paperwork sits next to her bed. Her assistant was here on the second day she was in the hospital to bring all of her case files. Her clients need the best legal defense and they aren’t about to wait. A few cases did have court dates pushed back while others had to be reassigned but plenty of others are still upcoming. She can’t wait to get back into the courtroom. A part of her even wonders if she can play the injury up in court though another part of her feels guilty even considering it.
Orange Jello and soup are the only things she’s been eating. Anything else makes her stomach upset with the medicine they have her on. A packet of the jello’s sitting on the tray next to her bed right now but her focus is on a case file for Edgar Juatco. He’s back in court next week and she’s hopeful she’ll be back on her feet in time to represent him. She keeps glancing at the door, hoping to see Marco walk in. He went back to work last week but has so far refused any trips out of town. His work’s been great at giving him the time they need. He should be here any time.
A nurse pokes her head in to ask if Kalenia needs anything but she shakes her head. She’s used to spending time alone but it’s one thing when you’re in your own house with a giant TV, stacks of books, bottles of wine. It’s another when you’re in a strange bed in a strange room and want to be anywhere else. She breathes a huge sigh of relief when Marco walks in, tossing her case file back on the stack.
“Thank god you’re here. I can’t take another minute of daytime TV.”
Walking to her bed, he leans down and gives her a kiss. It’s brief, his lips barely brushing hers before pulling away. That’s the only way he’s kissed her since she’s been here. At first she thought it was because he was afraid to hurt her but her mind’s starting to wander. A bundle of lilies, her favorite flower, are slipped into the vase by her bed as the ones from two days ago are taken out and tossed in the trash. “Glad I get to keep you entertained.” He takes a jacket off, something he wears all times of year regardless of the weather, and tosses it on a chair before slumping into it. “How are you feeling this afternoon?”
Positioning her bed so she’s sitting up, she feels a slight twinge in her stomach. She figures she’ll be feeling that for a long time. “Mostly alright. Dr. Batra’s been around a lot and he’s pretty sure I’ll be going home later in the week. He wants me to wait a few weeks more before going back to work but I don’t see why I can’t work as long as I take it easy.
“You should take your time. The clients aren’t going anywhere. They need you at your best.” There are large black circles under his eyes. She knows he hasn’t been sleeping much but he won’t talk about it. Every time they’re together he wants to focus entirely on her.
“These clients can’t wait. I’m the best lawyer for them so I’m going to push through it. and get back. Don’t worry, I can handle it.”
Marco flips over to the news and the conversation fades for a few minutes. When it goes to commercial though he turns back to her. “So, your mom called.”
“Oh? Any change on her coming to visit?”
He laughs and leans forward. “You know very well pigs will fly before your mother gets away from her new boyfriend and comes out here. Do you want me to give her your number here in the room?”
“Alright then. Your uncle says he still hasn’t heard from your dad but when he does he’ll tell him. Your sister-“
“I talked to Shanika. She’s busy with the kids.”
“Right. Good news though is that you’ve got me and my mom’s going to stop by tomorrow during the day.”
Laughing hurts so she fights one back. “I’ll wait on her with great anticipation.”
They get quiet again. Marco starts rubbing his hands along his legs and Kalenia notices he won’t look her in the eye. “I’ve put this off but I think it’s time we talk. Your mom asked me earlier what happened and I didn’t really have an answer to give her. A lot of people are asking and I don’t have an answer for any of them. I mean, I think I do but I don’t feel right giving that until I’m sure and I might keep it to myself even once I am. What happened?”
Now it’s Kalenia’s turn to look at the faded blue carpeting on the floor. She takes a deep breath but it hurts and she clutches her stomach. She can see Marco tense up at the sight of it. “Well-”
“If you aren’t ready to talk about it yet we can wait, but we are going to need to do so.”
She shakes her head. “No, it’s better we get to it now. Having it hanging over me isn’t good for my stress level. You know I signed up for the vigilante act.”
She manages to look at his face and she waits for him to look back at her. When he finally meets her gaze, he gives a weak nod. “I was afraid the story would start that way. I hoped you just wanted to gamble but had a feeling that wasn’t it.”
“You want the truth, right?” He nods. “Okay then. I’ve been going out when you’re out of town. I didn’t want to hide it from you but I knew you wouldn’t like it and I didn’t want to argue.”
“What do you mean by going out?”
She glares at him and he shrinks back in his chair. “Let me get this out, then you can ask all your questions. I mean going out looking for criminals. I got a lead on a big drug bust. Which I handled beautifully by the way. Stopped the drugs from getting on the streets, caught some of the big guys in power, didn’t get hurt. It was perfect. One of the guys involved I found out had a connection to the casino. I went there and recognized one of the guys from the drug bust. Followed him around and found a big operation beneath the casino. I stopped it but when I was getting away one of their guys shot me.” Silence returns to the room. Marco’s head’s been working its way closer to the floor as the story continued. “That’s it by the way. You can talk now.”
He looks up at her with tears in his eyes. “Your shoulder?”
“That was from stopping an attempted rape. Totally worth it.”
“But you were out as a vigilante, right?” She nods. “Are you done with that?”
It’s a questions she’s been considering since she ended up here. “I know I probably should be. I’ve done this for a few weeks and I got seriously hurt twice. I’m honestly not sure though.”
Getting up from the chair, Marco walks to her side and takes her hand. He crouches next to the bed so he’s not towering over her. “Honey, I know you don’t like to quit. I want you to quit this though. You’re so lucky to still be here. You wanted to find a unique perspective to bring to your case. You got it. Why wouldn’t that be enough? You know I’m pretty understanding. I’m okay with you jumping off buildings all the time but there has to be a limit.”
She closes her eyes and looks away from him. “All of that’s true but think about what I did. I stopped a woman from getting raped. I stopped two truckloads of drugs from getting out on the streets. I threw their operation into disarray at the casino.”
“You killed people too.” His gaze is accusatory. He wants that to drive home everything she’s done but she doesn’t shrink from the gaze, looking right back into his eyes. His eyes get wider and he releases her hand.
“So you read the stories. I absolutely did, but so did they. The people I killed were people who needed to be put down. People who took pride in hurting others and putting crap out on the streets.”
“People you’d represent if it came down to it.”
She tries to sit up more but the pain’s too much and she has to lean back in the bed and squeeze her fists together until they start turning white. “Yes, if they were in a court of law. They weren’t here though and these weren’t low level nobodies. They were the people running the show, getting rich on the back of the people I represent. They’d have killed me if I didn’t get them first. I don’t feel guilty about it.”
Walking to the window, Marco moves a curtain aside. There’s not much to see from here. Only a parking lot and a few buildings in the distance. It’s still bright outside and with as dim as she keeps her room the glare hits her eyes and stings. “Look, I don’t want to make this a thing. I know you were doing what you thought was best and it was self defense. I love you. I want you to stop being a vigilante though. I want us to have a normal life. Can you do that?”
“I don’t know.”
He turns back to her, a smile spreading over his face. “Well, thanks for being honest at least. That’s more than you’ve been doing lately.” He picks his coat up. “Look, I need some air. I’m going for a walk. Think about it. I’d like an answer before you get out of here.”
“An ultimatum? What happens if I don’t make the choice you want?”
“Honestly? I have no idea. I’d rather not find out.”
“Why don’t you go home?”
Moving to her side, Marco takes her hand and squeezes it again. “I don’t need to go, I just got here. I’ll get some air and be back in a little bit.”
Closing her eyes, Kalenia struggles not to breathe deeply and make the pain worse. “No, you’ve given me a lot to think about. Take a night off. Get some dinner, watch some TV. We’ll talk about this later. I promise I’m going to think on it. Can you think about it too though? If I decide I need to do this, I don’t want you running out the door.”
He leans down and gives her a long kiss, the best they’ve had since she’s been here. “I don’t want that either. I don’t know that I can watch you kill yourself though. I’ll think about it. Promise.”
He starts to walk away but at the last moment she grabs at his hand. “Can you have a nurse or doctor or someone come in here when you get a chance? I could use some pain meds.” He nods before pulling his hand free and walking out. She closes her eyes and tries to drift to sleep.