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Between Want and Need Ch. 01

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Cheyanne frowned but didn’t open her eyes. No dumb dog was going to disturb her rest with its maniacal barking. It seemed she had found time, at last, to catch up on her sleep. A miracle in itself.

Ugh, but why was her bed full of crumbs? It was her biggest pet peeve in the world! Surely she hadn’t brought a sandwich to bed?

But no. She couldn’t recall making a sandwich. Come to think of it, she had no recollection of going to bed at all. Odd.

A sudden gust of wind rushed over her supine form. Her frown deepened. She shifted her legs to burrow deeper into the blankets only to encounter more of the same intolerable graininess against her bare calves.

The dog’s barking seemed closer. What on earth… Cheyanne slid her palms over her sandpapery sheets. Irritation gave way to alarm as she realized that this was too hard to be her bed. She was lying on a cold surface, not unlike asphalt.

She lifted her head, or tried to. A red hot shaft of pain exploded in her head, swift as lightning and blinding in its extremity. Her mouth opened and a piercing scream rent the air.

Cheyanne lay gritting her teeth as the agony took its sweet time to abate. She heard the sound of feet hurrying towards her but was far too incapacitated to care whether it was friend or foe; she was beyond caring, beyond fear.

“It’s alright, miss, I already called 911,” said a man’s anxious voice. “They sent out an ambulance, it’s on its way.”

“What happened to me?” Cheyanne asked in a weak voice.

“You took a nasty spill. The way I found you, I didn’t expect you to be breathing much less talking,” the man replied, a heavy note of relief in his voice.

Cheyanne tried to open her eyes, shut them again when the bright sunlight stabbed at her retinas. “Where am I?”

“Don’t you know? You’re in an alley, between-“

“An alley?!”

She forced her eyes to open but this time she was protected from the harsh light. Now she could focus, make out a dark-skinned face, a concerned frown between light brown eyes. By far the kindest eyes she had ever seen in her life.

“Who are you?” Cheyanne asked, forgetting her previous question.

For a second, the angel eyes went blank as though stunned. “Um, Jerome, miss. Jerome Carver, and I- I just happened to see you on the ground, now, I had nothing to do with that. I don’t mean any harm.”

Why was he being so defensive? He looked as though he expected to get maced any second now. Which was comically absurd, since she wasn’t in a position to so much as wag her finger at him.

“I hit my head, huh?” Cheyanne asked with a demonstrative wince.

“Yeah.” The concern was back in his voice, and in his eyes as they examined her hair. “You’re bleeding quite a bit. How much does it hurt?” His hand lifted to the light brown waves.

“Not so much, if I stay still. That dog, though…”

The deranged mutt couldn’t have been more than five feet away from them. The constant barking was going to drive her crazy.

She was then aware of being covered in a pleasantly warm cocoon, blocking out a chill she hadn’t been aware of feeling.

“I’ll scare him off,” Jerome said, moving out of her line vision and getting up.

“What am I doing here?” Cheyanne queried abruptly and she saw him look down at her in wary incredulity. She returned his stare, feeling the alarm return, creeping ever closer even as the barking dog was doing.

“How did I get here,” she repeated, her mind leaping in one direction then the next in search of information that wasn’t there.

“Where is this place, and what am I doing here?” Cheyanne demanded, feeling more and more agitated. “Why-“

“Alright, alright, just calm down,” Jerome said, hunkering down next to her. From his eyes, however, she could tell he was as far from calm as she was. That couldn’t be good.

“Jerome, what’s happening to me?!”

“Just calm down, miss, don’t work yourself up, now. Um… where were you going, are you almost there?”

Cheyanne didn’t speak for a second as a horrible empty feeling spread behind her ribs. The force of her heartbeat seemed violent enough to break her into pieces. “I don’t know,” she whispered in horror.

“Is there somebody waiting for you that you can call or something?”

“I don’t know, I can’t… I can’t remember.” Her voice was a hoarse whisper but he seemed to have heard her loud and clear.

“Lord almighty,” Jerome muttered, wiping a hand over his face. “Look, can you remember your family, your friends, anyone? ‘Cause I really have to get going, miss, please.”

“I don’t… know,” Cheyanne turned saucer-wide eyes to him as panic threatened to overwhelm her. “I don’t know my family.”

She felt faint with worry but nonetheless forced herself to take stock of the extent of her memory loss. “I don’t know how I got to be here… where I was coming from, where I was headed. I don’t know where I work, where I live… It’s all gone.”

“Okay.” Jerome took a deep albeit shaky breath. “Do you at fikirtepe escort least know your name?”

“Ch-Chey,” she stammered. The name came naturally, automatically, but the rest of her mind was a terrifying blank.

“Shy?” He looked at her like he feared she had taken leave of her senses.

“Cheyanne. Cheyanne Dale.” That sounded about right, she felt she recognized the name. Another name also came to mind. Annie. An unaccountable aversion seized her in reaction to that diminutive of her name. Her rejection of it was immediate, visceral.

“Okay, Cheyanne, the ambulance is almost here. Don’t worry.”

She wasn’t worried just now, she was trying to focus. If she could remember her name, what else could she recall? Her place of work? Her favorite food? The answers were a mere breath away, a faint, dancing glimmer in the darkness shrouding her memory, but-

“That damn dog!” Cheyanne shouted with an irate gesture. Jerome sprang to his feet then there was a sound of fleeing paws. Close upon it, came another rushed noise.

“Hold it right there!” yelled a harsh new voice.

“Whoa, easy now, there’s no need for that,” came Jerome’s tense reply.

“You lunge one more time-“

“Not- not lunging, officer, I was just scaring the dog away. This girl right here, she had an accident, she needs help.”

“Is that blood on your hand?”

Cheyanne had an idea of what was going on and chose that moment to speak up. “Officer-” Defying the sickening throb of her head, she got up on one elbow. Beside her, she could see Jerome standing stock still, his hands raised in the air. Facing him at the end of the alley was a dark silhouette, blurry to Cheyanne’s eyes, but it was clear the newcomer was aiming a gun at Jerome.

“Officer, please put down the gun,” she called to him. “This man hasn’t done anything wrong. He was just chasing the dog away because the noise was hurting my head.”

“She’s in bad shape, officer, let’s not upset her any more than she already is,” Jerome suggested hesitantly. “Listen, why don’t you put away the gun-“

“Don’t tell me what to do!” The officer’s shout made Cheyanne start. “Ma’am, is this man robbing you?”

“What?” Jerome’s voice sounded hoarse with anguished disbelief.

It seemed a fair question to ask. As far as the policeman could see, she was a bleeding woman on the ground and there was a man towering over her with blood on one of his hands. And yet… hadn’t she just said Jerome had done nothing wrong?

“No, this isn’t a mugging. I’ve had an accident,” Cheyanne stated, forcing her voice to be loud and firm. “This man was just checking to see if I’m alright. He’s the one who called 911!”

There was a distant blaring of sirens now, which she hoped would lend credibility to her words. She couldn’t stand the sight of that gun. That it was pointed at Jerome could not cause her more dread than if it were her own head in its sights.

Fortunately, the policeman seemed to be weighing their words. His stance remained the same but his growing indecision was clear.

“Officer, please,” Cheyanne pleaded. “You’re scaring me. This man’s name is Jerome and he’s not a criminal. He’s…”

Her voice trailed off as she carefully turned her head to Jerome, who still stood with his hands in the air. He turned as well and their gazes, mirroring each other’s numb desperation, locked.

“He’s my friend,” she finished, her voice cracking on the last word.

Something flickered over Jerome’s face and Cheyanne suddenly had the impression that he wished she hadn’t said that. Her confusion deepened, and with it her alarm. Had she done something wrong? Wasn’t this what he needed to be let off the hook? Would he become angry with her now and leave her?

“Alright,” the relenting officer said as he lowered his weapon. “Sounds like the ambulance is about here. You need help getting up, ma’am?”

“I think I can manage,” Cheyanne replied as she looked down at her body. Somebody had covered her with a brown leather jacket far too big to be her own.

Then she heard Jerome, his voice far more relaxed now but still uneasy. “I think I’d better be going now.” Her head snapped in his direction at once, an unwise move that sent pain stabbing through her brain.

“No,” Cheyanne moaned. The world rocked in a nauseating cadence all around her. As if to steady her, a firm hand pressed against her back, holding her upright.

“Cheyanne, girl, just breathe.”

She looked at Jerome beside her on one knee. Just his nearness comforted her. And the naked concern for her in his eyes seemed to nourish something deep within her, something long neglected and left for dead.

“Don’t leave me, please,” Cheyanne managed to whisper. Tears of desperation welled up as she looked up at him.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Jerome soothed, rubbing her back. “It’s gonna be alright, the ambulance is here-“

“No-” Her fingers reached out from beneath the oversize jacket and curled into his shirtfront like gebze escort talons.

“And they’re gonna take real good care of you-“

“No! Jerome, please! You- you’re all I have.”

“Sweet girl,” Jerome breathed, his hand coming up to cradle her wet cheek. His own expression was pained even as he shook his head to deny her. “I can’t.”

At that moment, Cheyanne was aware of the tears dribbling down her cheeks, the wind rustling the parts of her hair not matted in blood, but inside, all feeling shut down. All emotion was extinguished like a candle as she gave up.

Closing her eyes, she sank into the waiting oblivion that took away the blinding daylight, the noise of the sirens and kind Jerome, leaving her in cold, lonely unconsciousness.

* * *

The last thing Jerome wanted or needed in his life was drama. He was on his way back to the straight and narrow, back to the respectability he’d scorned throughout his tough, independent youth; he would allow nothing to jeopardize his hard-won progress.

Except his own idiocy, that is. He’d clambered into an ambulance to accompany a stranger to the hospital. A stranger he could do nothing for. A stranger he might have gotten shot over. A stranger who could not remember a single thing about her lovely self.

Oh no, he wasn’t looking for drama. Not him, no way. What a chump.

Shrugging into his jacket as he left the hospital, Jerome realized he would have to hurry now if he was going to make it. He had been consistent and his probation officer was generally a chill dude but he didn’t dare imagine he could play fast and loose with him.

Of course that meant babysitting his nephews was out. Damn, he hated to let them down like this. He had broken a promise to them, as his sister had just reminded him when she’d called to ask where he was.

Vita had relayed how excited the twins were, that they had dressed up in their best outfits so their uncle could take them out for ice-cream. They were still waiting, making excuses for his tardiness.

His voice roughened with embarrassment, shame, Jerome had explained that it would not be possible to take them out today at all. Maybe some other time?

Vita’s short sigh was all too familiar, as was the robotic acceptance of her noncommittal reply.

“Sure. Next time.” She had hung up before he could apologize again.

Jaw clenching, Jerome recognized that he was back again in the category he had sworn up and down to leave for good: that of the undependable no-good man.

He couldn’t blame his sister. She was just trying to protect her toddlers, as well as herself. And now, because of him, she was forced to have a painful conversation with them, to turn their excitement and anticipation into tantrums and tears.

Dammit, those were the tears he should have thought about while he was playing nursemaid. But no, he’d felt his heart contract in his chest for the wrong pair eyes. Drowning, frightened dove-gray eyes.

He’d had to go with her. How could he not when she had looked at him like he was her whole world, then fainted dead away when he had said he couldn’t stay? Even if the cop had not looked at him then with acid disgust, as if he’d regretted not putting a bullet into him after all, Jerome’s decision had been clear and immediate.

But she was not his problem any longer. He had left her in the hands of her (very large) family. He wished he’d gotten a chance to say bye but that hadn’t been possible. She was still unconscious.

As it turned out, it was his probation officer who had to apologize for keeping him waiting. “Caseload feels like murder these days,” he said with a grimace.

Jerome gave a long-suffering shrug but was understanding itself otherwise. “These things happen,” he commiserated.

The brief meeting ended on a particularly high note today.

“The next time we meet is gonna be the last,” the P.O. said flashing a grin. “You gonna miss me?”

Jerome chuckled. “No offense, but I prefer the probation I impose on myself every Sunday at church.”

“Hey, now, that’s great! Congratulations, man,” the other man enthused, approval lighting his warm blue eyes. “I’m glad you’re taking this direction in your life. It doesn’t disappoint, you know. Stay strong in your walk, brother.”

Jerome stood and pumped the man’s hand with more vigor than usual. “Thanks, man. I’ll see you next month.”

His improved mood led him to Vita’s house an hour later, armed with two gallons of butter pecan ice-cream. An impulse purchase, and a foolish one, given his strained finances but he didn’t care. The riotous delight of his nephews upon seeing him made it impossible to regret it.

“One gallon for each,” Vita drawled, lifting an eyebrow. “You want me dead of exhaustion before I’m 30?”

“Nah, I’m just doing for them what Santa never did for us when we were little.” Jerome gave her a small, serious smile. “Remember?”

His sister nodded then lowered her eyes for a moment before raising it içerenköy escort back to his with more warmth in their light brown depths. “Thanks Jerome.” Her smile was wide and sincere. “This means a lot to them.”

Vita looked back at her sons laughing at the dinner table, then turned back to him. “And to me,” she added.

“You’re welcome, sis. Thank you.”

A nasty setback that had been straightened out just fine, the latest in a series of them this past week. He’d had his eye on a small body shop that was for sale in the Bronx, but the price had been prohibitive and the owner had not wanted to come down. Then abruptly he’d called on Tuesday night.

They’d haggled a bit then settled on a price in almost no time. His savings would be wiped clean out, but it felt like the right decision. He’d always figured self-employment was the best bet for someone with his rap sheet.

The next morning, Jerome had had the good fortune to be in the vicinity when a racy Beamer had sputtered to an undignified stop on the curb. Its owner, who talked a thousand a words a minute, had been so grateful he wouldn’t be late for his meeting after all, that he’d reached into his back seat and tossed at Jerome “a little something for your time” before zooming off.

The money had amounted to a little over a thousand dollars. All for fixing a relatively minor problem and prescribing the necessary parts to be replaced.

That same evening, Ebony had come over to his place, her PlayStation 3 in tow. She’d said it had been acting up and she wanted him to take a look at it. Interestingly, it had started up just fine and when Jerome had asked if she wanted to play, the girl he’d been pursuing for ages considered then shyly said yes.

Ebony was everything sweet and classy he admired in a female. But whenever she beat him, it was with such a fascinating catalogue of smack talk that he’d just let her win from midnight onwards. With his fridge full for once, feeding her had not been a problem.

Neither of them had been in the mood to walk her home once she’d gotten sleepy. Jerome had gamely given up his bed for her, and spent the rest of the night marveling at the fact that the gorgeous, elusive Ebony Walker was in his bed. Before that, the tension from all their flirting had been palpable; he’d been hiding his hard-on from her all night.

The next morning, she had told him, quite needlessly, not to go running his mouth to his friends. “Or that’ll be the last time I spend the night,” she’d threatened softly, looking deep into his eyes as they stood at his doorway. “Promise you won’t?”

“Cross my heart,” he’d murmured, drinking in the smiling dark chocolate beauty of her face. “You wanna tell your girls you whooped my ass on NBA Live, though, I won’t mind.”

Reviewing his week, Jerome couldn’t hold back a smile now as he unlocked his front door. A short while later, he was lying back on his couch, a cold bottle of beer balanced on his flat stomach. Yeah, things had been going pretty damn great lately. Shit, he might even step into a church for the first time in twenty years to give thanks.

Jerome grinned and took a swig of his beer. Okay, so maybe he wasn’t ready to turn it that far around. But he was grateful. He wanted to share his good fortune, spread it round while it lasted. But how?

” Cheyanne,” he whispered to himself.

Yes, that had been her name. Poor thing didn’t even know who she was, did she? She had turned to him with all the helpless trust of a child and told the police officer he was her friend. And he had been her only friend, as far as she knew. Well, at least he hadn’t just abandoned her.

He would go see her tomorrow. If he was the only person in the world that she knew, it wouldn’t be right to just disappear. Besides, he was on a roll. He took another sip. What could possibly go wrong?

* * *

Cheyanne decided that she’d never tasted anything as delicious as the passionfruit juice her parents had dropped off. It was just too bad she hadn’t known them. She had tried to make them understand the depth of her gratitude for coming to see her, but she could see they were shaken by her amnesia.

She hadn’t recognized the rest of her family either. There had just been a sea of expectant faces looking at her and all she could do was gaze blankly at them. She had felt rude for failing to remember them, then panicky, at which point her nurse had politely but firmly asked them to leave.

Cheyanne sighed, back to feeling like a little bitch for disappointing her family. And after they had brought her so much in the way of flowers, treats, cards and balloons. Oh well, time enough to make things right when she was back to normal.

Which, the doctor had warned her out of necessity, may be never. It was no likelihood, however. Already some things had come back to her.

“You’ve got a guest, Cheyanne,” her nurse announced from the door. “He brought you in yesterday. Remember him?”

Cheyanne looked up and right past the nurse to the black man behind her. He stepped forward and gave her a sheepish wave.

“I could never forget those eyes,” Cheyanne murmured, hardly aware she had spoken. Then she beckoned to him with both hands. “Come here, please! Tell me where you went, Jerome.”

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