My favorite excerpt from Phone Calls by Lakeylou...
He takes a long time to answer but she stays on anyway. She won’t leave a message.
“Nicole!” His voice is loud and unexpected in her ear, and she is close to ending the call. He’s with people and she doesn’t want to disturb. She can hear excited voices mingling in the background. “Now is not a good time, sweetheart, do you think I can get back to you in say… fifteen minutes?”
She doesn’t mean for his name to come out the way it does. She wanted to hang up, she thinks, she should have ended the call, but her voice betrays her. It breaks and she sobs his name out instead. Red is silent, but people are still bickering in the background. She’s not sure where he is, but it sounds like a group of drunk men fighting over a game of cards, possibly something with high-stakes.
“If you’ll excuse me,” She hears him say, and Liz blinks her eyes and tilts her head to stare up at the ceiling. “I need to take this. Dembe, take my place at the table and keep your eye on Romeo here. He has a nasty set of wandering eyes.”
Laughter follows Red’s remark and then the voices fade until there’s nothing. A door closes, and then another door closes, and then there’s the distinct bolt of a heavy lock snapping into place.
“Lizzie, what’s wrong?”
“Um,” her swallow catches in the back of her throat and she quickly uprights herself. “… I just thought we could talk.”
She stands from the sofa and begins to pace in the small space her living room provides. Between the bag of red-stained clothes at her front door and the two-draw desk that has a photo of her and Sam sitting on top. She shouldn’t have called Red so early; she should have waited for a bit. She should have cleaned the bag of clothes. She should have taken Molly out the window.
Now she’s just going to dump it all on Red. And despite Red’s familiarity with death, she still doesn’t like telling him.
“Something happened at work today and I just-”
“Are you hurt?”
“No.” Liz squeezes her eyes shut, wants to tell him that she was close to being hurt, probably should have been, would rather have been, but she knows he won’t be pleased to hear her say that.
“There was a girl… ”
“She was um… four-years old, Red. And she, I didn’t protect her properly, Red. And she got in the line of gun fire and there was a lot of it and… she just got hit. She died, Red. In my arms.” She says in a rush. She thinks that the quicker she gets it out, the faster Red will help her. “She just, it was so, so quick. They, they took her to hospital but it was too late. I was meant to–I told her that she would be okay. I told her mother that I would protect her.”
She sniffs, feels the first few tears track down to her lips. She wondered when it was going to begin. She wipes her mouth with the back of her hand, and wonders why she hasn’t showered yet. Her hands smell of hospital soap and the faint, metallic scent of blood.
“And I don’t know what to do.” She says and inhales a ragged breath. Lizzie knows that Red is use to this side of her, and she’s use to giving it to him so she doesn’t bother trying to hold back tears. “She was four years old and I should have been able to protect her.”
“Lizzie, you did protect her, but there are some impossible situations where you-”
“You weren’t there. I, I told her that I would come back for her-”
“And I was trying-”
“Lizzie, I need you to stop.”
“But I can’t.” Lizzie chokes out, her voice boarding on hysteria. She shouldn’t feel like this, she thinks. “I can see her.” She says and she feels so cold now and then there’s this overwhelming pain that settles in her chest. “Like I can see her, Red. Every time I close my eyes. I, I think something’s wrong with me.”
“You need to breathe, Lizzie. You need to calm down.” Red responds, his voice warm and controlled. “Don’t say anything, Lizzie. Just take some breaths, sweetheart, or you’re going to have a panic attack on me, and I’m not there with you.”
“I can’t.” She cries, thinks that now she’s started she won’t be able to stop. She presses her back against her bedroom door and slides down, wraps an arm around her legs, brings her knees close to her chest and drops her head to rest on them.
“You can.” He responds and when all she gives him is sobs in reply, he tries again. “Lizzie?”
“Are you breathing with me?”
“I want you here.” Her tone comes out much more pleading than she expected. She hasn’t cried like this in a long, long time. “I need you to be here.”
There’s a burst of breath from Red’s end and Liz doesn’t really register what she just said. Or, she does, but she doesn’t really care that she said it. Because it’s true, she thinks. He’s not here when she needs him. She thinks that if she could be hugged by Red all night she might wake up okay.
“I know. I know. I’m sorry, Lizzie.” He replies and he sounds unsure of how else to respond.