Read Anterograde Online

Authors: Kallysten

Anterograde (4 page)

She
was only following protocol—Eli knew that and he would have done the same in her
place—but he still felt absolutely no remorse in giving a call to the one person
who could cut through the red tape with a wave of her
hand
.

“This
is Eli Wright. Ca
l
den’s in the hospital,” he said when Lana picked up
the call. He hadn’t called Calden’s mother in a couple of years, not since his
overdose, but he’d kept her number. It could always be useful to have a direct
line to the person basically in charge of running the city. “I’m guessing
encephalitis, but I’m not his doctor and don’t technically have a right to see
his records because I’m not
family
.” He spit the word as though it tasted
foul. After all this time, he and Calden were as good as family.

“Encephalitis,”
she said after a brief silence. “That’s… serious, isn’t it?”

“It
can be when it’s not treated quickly enough. I’m not sure how long he sat on
his sofa with that headache. He might still be there if I hadn’t come by.”

He
didn’t add the last of it, the part that made the acid in his stomach roil and
burn his throat.
He might have been in the hospital faster if I hadn’t been
too annoyed to think like a proper doctor.

“Are
you coming in?” he said instead.

“I
can’t right now. I’m in the middle of a strategy meeting. But I’ll send someone
to sort things out.”

Seventeen
minutes later, a soldier breezed in, clad in his full parade uniform. Eli heard
him demand to talk to the person in charge of Calden Hayes. When Samford asked
him how she could help, he demanded that she accompany him to Eli’s direct supervisor.
Eli had long since given up on being surprised at the way Lana and her people
operated.

Whatever
the soldier had to say didn’t take long. Five minutes later, he was marching
back through the same corridor again. He paused briefly by Eli and recited,
“You’re in charge of medical decisions regarding Doctor Hayes until General Hayes
is able to come here herself. That should be tomorrow morning, unless the demon
attack anticipated for tonight extends beyond sunrise. She wants you to call and
leave a message with her secretary if anything changes. Not her private line,
but her secretary.”

He
handed Eli a card with a number and left without another word.

Moments
later, Samford returned and gave directions for Ca
l
den to be
transferred to a different room. He was asleep, or more probably sedated, and
much too pale against the starched sheets. When Eli followed, no one stopped him,
and when he asked for an update, he actually received answers. Samford was
still waiting for final results to come back, although Ca
l
den had been
given a first dose of medication. Waiting too long could prove critical. It was
as Eli had supposed, but it felt different to know rather than guess.

He
sat in Ca
l
den’s room, rewinding the afternoon in his mind, playing the ‘what if’
game. It wouldn’t help anything, of course, but he had to wonder. What if he
hadn’t waited so long at the café? What if he had simply left when it had
become clear Ca
l
den wouldn’t show up, rather than actually having
lunch by himself in spite of Lola’s pointed glares every time she passed by his
table? What if he hadn’t let his annoyance blind him and had realized sooner
that this might be more serious than a simple headache?

Logically,
he knew he’d acted as fast as he could in the circumstances. But this wasn’t a
logical situation, this wasn’t a patient he could look at neutrally. This was Ca
l
den.

When
his phone rang, he felt a stab of guilt that he’d forgotten to turn it off,
despite the policy he was in charge of enforcing. At first he thought it had to
be Lana, but when he saw it was Bryce, he slipped out to the waiting room to
take the call.

“Where
are you?” Bryce asked as soon as he picked up. “Our appointment is in ten
minutes.”

Shit.

Covering
his face with one hand, Eli braced himself for the fight he knew was coming.

“Love,
I’m sorry, I won’t be able to make it. I’m at the hospital.” He paused, and his
voice was a little quieter when he said, “Ca
l
den is ill.”

Absolute
silence answered him.

“We’re
still waiting for the tests to come back,” he said, “but we’re pretty sure it’s
encephalitis.”

“We?”
Bryce said coolly. “Who’s we? Surely you’re not his doctor.”

“No,
but—”

“Then
let his doctors do their job. I’m already there. I’ll tell her you’ll only be a
little late for the appointment.”

Eli
couldn’t think of anything he wanted to do less at that moment than go talk about
the state of his seven-month-old marriage to a soft-spoken therapist at least ten
years younger than he was and who, he suspected, had never been in a long-term
relationship herself.

“I
can’t,” he said, his voice firming up as he clenched his fist at his side.
“We’ll have to reschedule.”

“Eli—”

“He
could die, okay? Or he could get brain damage.” He knew which of these two
outcomes Ca
l
den would think was worse.

“You
watched him die once,” Bryce snapped. “Wasn’t that enough?”

Eli
sucked in a breath and resolutely kept his eyes open. He didn’t need to watch Ca
l
den flatline on
a hospital bed behind his eyelids yet again, not when Calden was in a hospital
bed right now.

“I’m
sorry,” Bryce said after a few seconds and even sounded like he meant it. “But
honestly, why does it have to be you? It’s
always
you, Eli. That’s well
beyond the call of duty of a friend or hospital coordinator.”

Eli
knew he’d always gone above and beyond for Calden. It had never bothered him.
Not even after Bryce had started pointing it out.

“His
mother’s busy, and there’s no one else. I’ll give you a call in the morning.
Love you.”

“Love
you,” Bryce repeated. The words felt empty, recited by rote. He ended the call.

Eli
turned off the phone completely before returning to Ca
l
den’s room. He
was surprised to find him awake, not so surprised that he was drowsy and
disorientated.

“Eli.
I wanna go home. I don’t like hospitals.”

“I
know,” Eli said with a slight smile, helping the nurse to get him to lie down
again. “We’ll get you home as soon as you’re better, I promise. But for now you
need to stay here. All right?”

“But
what if there’s a demon attack?” Ca
l
den’s eyes burned, feverish. “What if I’m needed in
surgery?”

“Well,
you’re already in the hospital, aren’t you?” Eli played along in a soothing
voice, patting his hand. “If need be, we’ll get you to the OR in no time. Until
then…”

But
Ca
l
den’s
eyes were closed again. Eli sat down and got ready for what promised to be a
long night.

 

(
next chronological chapter
)

 

November 14
th

 

 

Calden
closes his eyes tightly, but it doesn’t help. He has a feeling nothing can help
at this point. Not on day
three
.

Nothing
but sleep, and sleep is the last thing he wants right now.

He’s
been awake for sixty-eight hours. That’s still far from the
ninety-six
hours
that Eli decided was his limit.  And even further from the nine days his diary
says is his record. A hundred hours more. So much he could do in a hundred
hours…

But
according to Eli, that nine-day stretch was at the cost of a full blown
paranoia–slash–psychosis episode caused by hallucinations he refused to
describe. Calden doesn’t remember those hallucinations—obviously—but he has a
fairly good idea what they were like. Probably the same thing he’s seeing and
hearing now.


Just
kill yourself, already. And do it for real this time.

Shaking
his head, he opens his eyes again and pulls out his phone. He sent Eli home to
get some rest four hours ago, but now he wishes he hadn’t insisted, wishes
there’d been free beds somewhere in the hospital. It seemed like the best thing
to do at the time. Eli was falling asleep on his feet, and another night in a
chair or on the floor in his office would only have made his
arm
worse. He
never complained about it, but Ca
l
den could see it in every movement he made, in the
tightness at the corners of his eyes and mouth. Eli being in pain is not
conducive to Calden doing his best work, so he argued and pleaded, and after wringing
a promise out of Calden, Eli finally relented.

And
now, after getting too little sleep, he’s going to cross
the city
again
in the middle of the night
while an
attack is underway
to come back to Ca
l
den.

Gritting
his teeth, Calden fulfills his promise and types a single word.
Hallucinations
.
And continues to ignore
Riley
.

It’s
only seconds before Eli’s answer comes in.
On my way.

Annoyed
with himself, his body, his brain, the situation, the
demons, the
entire
world, Calden pockets his phone and rakes the fingers of both his hands through
his hair.


Still
at your beck and call, then? Poor Eli. Poor, poor Eli. You’re the one who can’t
remember, but he’s reliving the same thing over and over right along with you.
How long until he tires of it?

“He
won’t,” Calden snaps, remembering the words on Eli’s chest. Marker rather than
tattoo, and Eli explained why, but what if there was another reason for the lack
of permanence, what if—

Riley
laughs
, her phantom steps hitting the
floor what feels like inches away. Calden could swear he can smell her perfume,
that blend of lilac and roses she liked so much. If anything, it confirms what
he already knows. She’s not there. She can’t be. She ran out of that favorite
perfume long before she died.


Are
you sure?
” she asks in her singsong voice, the one she always used to tease
Calden, but it was never as cruel as this. “
Really, really sure? Do you have
all the information to predict what he will or will not do?

Calden
resolutely keeps his back to her and glares at the images in front of him, as
though by looking harder he’ll be able to treat the patient better.

“He
won’t,” he repeats more quietly, absently stroking his chest with two fingers.

Behind
him, the feet of a chair scrape against the floor, and Caroline wakes up.

“Huh?
What? Did you—”

“No,
I didn’t
say anything,” Calden
interrupted
. “Why don’t you just go
home
already?
Your snoring is irritating
. You’re of no
use to anyone if you can’t keep up
.”


Tss tss. She wasn’t snoring. Don’t tell me you’re
hallucinating her, too,
Calden. So
much for our
special
bond.

“I
wasn’t snoring,” Caroline echoes.

Her
chair scrapes the floor again. When she stands, her back cracks audibly. It
makes Calden’s own back twinge in sympathy. He’d like to sit, to lie down, but
he’s afraid if he does either he’ll be asleep in moments. With heavy steps, Caroline
comes to stand by Calden, her arms crossed over her chest. She’s in scrubs, and
the pale green does little for her complexion.

“What
do we have?” she asks, yawning, as she looks at the images pinned to the wall.

“You
tell me,” Calden demands. “What do you see? Tell me like I have no idea what’s
going on.”

Caroline
turns to frown at him, her mouth already opening for an altogether predictable
question. Damn, Calden walked straight into that one. He’s just so
damn
tired.
Riley laughs
again behind them.

“I’m
fine,” he says gruffly. “I wasn’t the one napping. And I’m not the one who’ll
have to drill into this poor guy’s head again and try to save what’s left of
his brain.”

Frustrated, he turns his back to the images. He could
do this. If he was well rested, if the demon attack hadn’t started three days
ago, if casualties hadn’t been streaming in ever since, overwhelming the
hospital, requiring every surgeon to put in extra hours, including Calden
himself, he could have opened that soldier’s cranium, found whatever the
surgeon who operated on him six hours ago missed, and in a few months the poor
idiot would have been ready to go back to the battlefront and try to get
himself killed properly.

But Calden is tired. Too tired. And admitting it is
killing him.

Before
he can walk away, Caroline rests a hand, heavily wrinkled but perfectly steady,
on his arm.

“So…
You’re not going to assist?” she asks quietly.

Assist.
That’s what they call it when Calden has been awake too long to be trusted with
a medical instrument anymore. So he just stands there, right by the actual
surgeon, and gives advice the surgeon tries not to resent him for because they
all know he’s the best in the hospital, even now.

It’s
all Calden can do not to jerk himself free.

“Eli’s
on his way,” he says sharply in guise of answer. “I’m rather certain he’ll
insist I need to go home. So if it’s all the same for you, I’d rather talk
about how many holes you’ll have to drill to save that guy than discuss my
hallucinations.”

Damn
it! He didn’t mean to say that. It’s a rule in the diary, at the top of the
page devoted to dealing with anyone at the hospital
:
Never, ever
mention hallucinations. They will send you home faster than you can claim you
were joking
.

Not
that anyone would believe he can joke about that particular topic. Or maybe Eli;
he knows Calden well enough to appreciate his jokes, even when they’re
terrible.


Oh, come on, Ca
l
den. You know what a slip
like that means. There’s no shame in admitting you’re exhausted. It won’t kill
you to sleep for just a minute, will it? Although you know
I wouldn’t mind if
you
did
kill yourself. I’ve been waiting all this time for you
to
join me
. We were supposed to always be together, remember? You’re
not going to break your promise
again
, are you?
You already fucked me over once. Twice would
be
a bit
much.

Caroline’s
hand falls away from his arm, and Calden doesn’t know whether to be relieved or
irritated. That point of contact was unwanted, but it was also something solid,
something real, something to cling to. He braces himself for Caroline’s rebuke,
already wondering whether he should wait for Eli in here or outside.

But
rather than asking him to leave the staff room, Caroline asks,
“What did you mean, how many? The hematoma seems
superficial.
What am I missing?”

Ca
l
den’s first
instinct is to scoff and say she must have heard wrong. But as he replays his
own words, he realizes that he
did say
‘how many holes’
even though the images
show nothing beyond the blood pooled beneath the skull. He turns back to the
images, looking intently. Is he missing something?


Slow
,”
Riley cackles
in the corner of the room.

So
slow. It’s taking
you ages to figure it out when it’s all right there. Think of all the
time you wasted. That kid could die on the operating table because of the time
you wasted. One more, Calden. Just like me. And what would Eli say, then? How
disappointed would he be if you weren’t quite the genius you’re supposed to be?
Maybe he wouldn’t want you in his bed anymore. Not that you’ve been in it much
so far, have you? Do you think he’ll let himself touch you tonight, or will he
insist you must sleep as soon as possible? Poor Eli,
jerking off
in the shower again, and you pretending you don’t know what


“Shut
up, shut up, shut up!”

Ca
l
den’s fists
tightens in his hair until pain becomes a distraction, drowning out that
familiar, heartbreaking
voice as it continues spitting out every last fear lurking at the back
of Ca
l
den’s
mind. He vaguely hears Caroline saying his name in a tone filled with concern,
but Calden blocks that too, focusing on the
images
in front of him
.

And
then he sees it.

“Oh!”

It’s
right there and glaringly obvious. If he wasn’t so tired, he’d have seen it
ages ago. When he turns to Caroline, he almost wants to yell at her. Her brain
is intact, and she’s been getting at least some sleep, if not entirely as much
as she’d like. What’s her excuse for not seeing the problem?

He
doesn’t yell, but his voice grows taut as he taps the images pinned to the
light box and points out the barely visible division. It’s not one large pool
of blood pressing on their patient’s brain; it’s three smaller ones that appear
to be joined on the images but that still need to be drained separately.

“And
soon,
” Calden
says, already picking up his coat off the back of a
chair.
“You can’t wait much longer.

He
steps toward the door, but Caroline stops him with a word.

“Ca
l
den.”

Trying
to hide just how tired he is, Calden glances back at her.

“We
appreciate that you still work with us,” Caroline says, sounding sad. “We
should say it more often.
I
should say it more often. Your father, bless
his soul, would have been proud of—”

“Even
if you said it every day,” Calden cuts in, “it still wouldn’t be any different
to me.”

Caroline
grimaces. “I know. But I just.”

She
sighs. She doesn’t quite look Calden in the eyes—good thing, too. Calden has no
use for pity. She picks up a shawl from the table, bunched up from being used
as a pillow, and gestures at the door before wrapping it around her shoulders.

“I’ll
come with you
while they prepare the
operating room
.”

“I’m
just going to wait outside,” Calden says, rolling his eyes. “I don’t need a
minder.”

“You’re
not the only one who made a promise to Eli. And I need a smoke anyway. I need
to wake up.”

They
go in silence
, Caroline briefly talking
to a nurse to give instructions. She really should be preparing for the
surgery, but it’s not Calden’s job to tell her how to do hers, so he says
nothing as she accompanies him downstairs and out into the street. It’s also not
his job to comment on the smoking habits of a woman old enough to be his
mother, so he doesn’t ask when she started smoking again. They stopped
together, once. Calden
doesn’t ask if
he’s picked up smoking again, too. Doubtful anyway: Eli wouldn’t let him keep
cigarettes, and it’d be useless for Calden to try to hide them for later.

Out
by the emergency room entrance, Caroline leans back against the nearest wall,
and Calden itches to do the same. He forces himself to remain standing. Even
with the cold air filling his lungs, stinging his cheeks and giving him a jolt,
it’ll be hard enough to remain awake in the car. But he has to. He needs to.
Get home, write up the
details of the
attack
in his diary, and then Eli. Take
care of Eli. Be good to Eli. Make sure—

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