The Drafter

Page 33

She fell into Allen, the sudden motion reviving her. She took a heaving breath, but it exploded from her in pain when Allen twisted her arm behind her, threatening to dislocate it.

“Sandy, some help here?” Frank said brusquely as Allen tightened his grip, and she gasped, seeing stars. “I don’t want to have to explain him when Peri finishes the weave.”

“Don’t do this,” Peri demanded, hating her inability, and then adrenaline flashed through her as time began to mesh. Suddenly, forgetting was too high a price to pay, and she panicked, fighting Allen and sending them both down.

“Get your ass over here and help me!” Frank shouted, and Sandy screamed something in a singsong language, bitter and angry.

“Let me go!” Peri exclaimed, but it was too late, and she seized as time snapped and her head exploded in a red wash.

“Her scarf! Get her bloody scarf,” Frank exclaimed.

“No!” Peri raged as Allen slipped into her mind, the way opened by the meshing of the timelines. Images sped past her, curling up in flame, destroyed: the button from the security guard, New Year’s under the stars, throwing flowers from the bridge in Paris in the rain, a total eclipse of the sun seen from a cruiser in the Bahamas, their toes rising out of a tub of bubbles, their first kiss, a shy smile and introduction as she was given a new anchor. She was going to miss Jennifer, but Jack seemed nice.

Pulse hammering, Peri looked up, confused when the man kneeling beside her staggered to a stand, a hand to his chest as he panted. Heart attack, she thought, and she felt her own chest, not knowing why.

Suspecting that she’d drafted, she lurched to her feet, reaching for the table when suddenly everything hurt. New hurt layered over old. She was at Overdraft, but not the one she remembered. It was closed, with chairs on the tables. Sandy was behind the bar, pale and unmoving as she stared at her with wide eyes, her beautiful hair mussed. Frank was with her, dropping a red towel into the sink and turning the water on full. The smell of spent gunpowder was obvious.

Sandy—always-in-control Sandy—was quietly panicking, muttering in a singsong until Frank told her to shut up. His back was to Peri, and he watched her through the mirror. But it was the mirror with its shelves of bottles that Peri stared at. They looked wrong in their orderly smoothness, and she couldn’t say why.

“Where’s Jennifer?” Peri whispered, glancing at the unfamiliar man. Her hand went to her throat. It was sore, and she was sweating. Confused, she looked at her wrist, red where someone had twisted the skin. Her shoulder felt as if it had been wrenched.

“Call 911,” Frank muttered, and the man beside her jerked his head up. Peri’s eyes widened. Frank was covered in blood!

“We’re all okay,” the man beside Peri said firmly, a ribbon of sweat inching down his neck, and Sandy looked at her feet, her lips parting. “B-but …,” Peri stammered.

“I said we’re all okay,” the man said again. “Frank doesn’t need an ambulance. It’s just a bloody nose, for God’s sake.”

Frank turned off the water, motions small as he edged out from behind the bar. Shaky, Peri sat against the edge of the table and tried to figure out what had happened. At least she knew where she was and who she was with. Her eyes slid to the Opti stiff now sitting on the raised fireplace hearth, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands, his curly black hair hiding his eyes. Mostly, anyway.

Feeling ill, she staggered to the bar. Sandy made a tiny noise, looking scared as Peri moved to stand right before her. Frank, too, became oddly alert. “Shit, I’ve got a black eye,” she said as she caught sight of it in the mirror. She carefully prodded it, deciding it was a day old. They’d just come back from task, then. That would explain the aches.

Just that small knowledge made her feel better. “Where’s Jennifer?” Peri asked, her flash of good mood dying when Sandy’s eyes darted to the man at the fireplace.

Peri turned, her growing hunch that she’d overdrafted growing when the man on the hearth looked up, his eyes haunted. “Ah, what day is it?” Peri asked him weakly. Crap, the jukebox was gone, replaced with some new system she’d have to relearn.

“Er, it’s Saturday now. I think.” The man glanced at Frank when the big man cleared his throat in warning. “I’m sorry. I should have asked you before. Are you okay?”

Peri’s throat tightened. Something had gone very wrong. “No,” she said as she turned back to the bar, laying her arms flat on the smooth wood and dropping her head to hide her face against them. It was bad, really bad—so bad she felt sick to her stomach.

“I’ll give it all to you later, but the guy you were watching tried to rob the place. He shot you. You drafted. He ran out in the second weave.”

Why is it I can handle both when told, but remembering them will cause a psychotic episode? “I don’t remember you,” Peri said, her breath coming back from the bar warm and stale. She tensed at his footsteps, then jumped when his hand landed on her shoulder and fell away. A tear brimmed but never fell. Knowing he was still there, she looked up at the stranger with whom she’d been sharing her life for who knew how long. His glasses drew her, as if she should recognize them. “What year is it?”

His smile faded. “Year?” The lump in Peri’s throat grew, and when she did nothing but silently stare at him, he whispered, “It’s February 2030. Valentine’s is next week….”

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