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Read an Excerpt
By Sabrina Furminger
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Sabrina Furminger
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe morning bus reeked of sweat, cheap cologne, bologna, and weed. Ivy juggled a book bag and coffee cup and struggled to stay on her feet between an overweight postal worker and a Korean exchange student. The student giggled into a pink phone. Far too perky for this hour of the morning. The bus hit a bump and lurched forward. A small drop of coffee spilled onto the postal worker's shirt. He didn't notice. She said nothing.
Ivy's eyes wandered aimlessly. She never knew where to focus her eyes during the morning commute. They fell onto a plastic twenty-something in a polyester suit standing a few feet away. Likely a financial type at the beginning of his career. His hair is too perfect. He winked at her and pulled his lips into a shit-eating grin and revealed teeth that were far too white to be natural. Ivy averted her gaze and focused instead on an ad for erectile dysfunction medications plastered above the window.
Would it really be so bad if I smiled back? Her eyes drifted back to the young man's tanned face. He'd been staring. He blew a kiss. Quickly, her eyes returned to the spot of coffee on the postal worker's shirt. Tomorrow I'll save the bus fare and drive. Her stop couldn't come soon enough. She pushed her way through the groggy masses and was relieved when the banker didn't follow her off the bus.
Try as she could to avoid it, people stared at Ivy wherever she went. "There's something about you," strangers would say. "I can't look away." They approached her on the bus, in the library, at the produce market around the corner from her apartment. "You should be a model," they'd utter in amazement. Ivy couldn't see what they saw. She saw average: a big mass of curly brown hair, blue eyes, her mother's nose and lips. Sometimes she'd stammer out an awkward thank-you, but for the most part she'd hurry off and pretend she hadn't heard them. Her mother had handled similar interactions with tact and warm smiles. I wish I was invisible.
Ivy didn't date. Didn't have friends. Seven years had passed since her mother's death, since she'd put 3,000 miles between herself and her father, with no complaints on either end. She lived a quiet life in a small apartment in Vancouver's crowded West End. She worked, read, ran along the beach, and ate alone. Rinse and repeat. Each day she strove for invisibility.
Ivy was attempting to fit her lunch into the overstuffed employee fridge when Janet—her eternally exasperated boss—burst into the break room.
"A busload of eight-year-olds ... within the hour," Janet reported breathlessly. Clearly this was crisis time. "Colleen will lead them through story-time. Stand by with the vacuum cleaner and a garbage bag. And make sure none of the little bastards ride the book carts."
"Would you like me to choose some books ...?" But Janet was gone before Ivy had a chance to finish her sentence. Janet rarely remained in a room long enough to confront a question or a dissenting opinion. Ivy sighed and headed to the supply closet for the vacuum.
"Not what I had in mind when I became a librarian," Ivy mumbled as she hauled the ancient contraption out of the closet. She sighed, closed her eyes, and pictured the pile of books awaiting her on her bedside table. The image gave her pleasure. I'll take five minutes with a good book over a prolonged conversation with another person any day. Books were free of judgment. Books couldn't hurt her. Books accompanied her to restaurants, on bus rides, to bed. Books ushered along the hours so that Ivy could collapse into a deep sleep without once having to speak to herself.
But sometimes, books failed her, as they did sixteen hours after the frenzied onslaught of hyper third-graders. In the uncomfortable space between wakefulness and sleep, her repressed instincts began speaking up for themselves. Is this it for me? Will I always sleep alone? The chatter rose to a fever pitch. Her mother had begged her to knock life off its axis. I'm barely scratching the surface of life. I'm a freak. I can't shake my truth.
Her thoughts strayed out of bounds, to the incident with the homeless man a few weeks previous. He'd been a daily sight, lounging under a tree near her bus stop. He'd never once begged for money. Often, he'd smiled at her, a toothy, ageless smile that reminded her of the jack-o-lanterns her mother had carved with such precision.
One morning, Ivy had arrived at the bus stop and noticed a large red puddle on the sidewalk where the grass met the pavement. Slowly, her eyes had drifted from the puddle to where her homeless man lay sprawled under his tree.
"Are you okay, sir?" She'd received no reply as she moved towards him. Only when she was four steps away had she realized the seriousness of his condition. His skull had been smashed in. Eyes closed. Breathing shallow and uneven.
I can save him. The thought had been unexpected. Heavy with uncertainty, she'd closed her eyes and implored her hands to vibrate. Nothing. She'd strained. Okay, I'm ready. It's time. Again, nothing.
Defeated, she'd called 911 on her phone, and looked on forlornly as the paramedics wheeled her homeless man away. She'd sat at the bus stop for two hours. Bus after bus had passed her by. He had yet to return to his spot under the tree. She didn't know if he'd survived his injuries.
I opened Pandora's Box and found—nothing. Dust and disappointment. She pulled the pillow over her head. Maybe I've outgrown it. I'm a freak either way. Her heart cried out into the night.
Ivy took her work home with her every night. Leaning against her Jeep (a farewell-and-don't-come-back gift from her father), she balanced a stack of books on her hip and searched her purse for her keys. Last night she'd led herself through several academic journals documenting aberrations in human evolution. This weekend she planned to return to her favourite subject: anthropology. Looking to explain myself away. The air was damp and crisp, typical September weather for the Pacific Northwest. Perfect night for a run, and then a sweet surrender to wine and books.
Or I could go clubbing and pick up a guy for a one-night stand.
A smile danced across her lips and faded fast. Those experiments, few and far between as they were, always left her feeling empty and angry.
A crash of shattering glass shook her from her reverie. She froze. Indistinct sounds of scuffling and shoving poured out of the alley down the block from her car. Feet kicking meat. Male laughter. Groans. Despite the laughter, there was nothing funny about the groaning.
Alarmed, Ivy surveyed the empty street. Do I run? Do I call the police? If so, what do I say? That I heard a loud noise? Frantically she turned to her instincts for guidance and was informed that, in this instance, the police would arrive too late to save a life. Better to actually see what's going on and be a reliable eyewitness. She swallowed her fear, placed her books on the pavement, and crept into the alley.
"This isn't a game, Victor," boomed a male voice, deep and unaccented, from fifty yards away. "You're out of your league."
Ivy kept to the shadows. Her eyes were slow to adjust to the dim light. Eventually she identified four male silhouettes: three standing, delivering the kicks, the other on the ground. The piece of meat. One of the standing silhouettes swung a baseball bat. Ivy pulled further back into the darkness and pressed her body against the wall.
The deep-voiced man crouched next to the man-meat and poked him roughly. "Are you listening to me, Victor? I want to make sure you hear this." Another groan. The crouching man brought his face into a shaft of moonlight and revealed Asian features. "You've crossed the line from amusing to irritating. Cross it again, and you will die a death so brutal, you'll wish I'd killed you tonight." And with that, the crouching man leapt up and strode past Ivy, out of the alley, and into the street. The scent of expensive cologne tickled her nose. The two other suits followed close behind. A car started and pulled away quickly. Finally the alley was silent—until the injured man resumed his groaning.
"That's one helluva warning." The figure on the pavement began to stir. He attempted to prop himself up on his elbows, but immediately collapsed. "Shit. Ribs. Shit." More muttering. A misty rain began to fall. With much effort, the man—Victor—rolled onto his back and examined his hands. Ivy spied chunks of broken glass lodged in a deep cut. She didn't have to see his chest to know that several ribs were poking through the skin.
"Fuck. What now, Victor?" He asked no one in particular, and Ivy unintentionally.
Stop cowering in the shadows like a loser. He needs your help. Ivy took a deep, steadying breath and crept into the light. Victor jerked suddenly at her footsteps, which led to more cursing and groaning.
"Please don't move," Ivy implored gently as she dropped to the ground beside him and fumbled in her purse for her phone. "I'm going to call an ambulance."
Wet hand on her wrist. She looked into Victor's face for the first time and inhaled sharply. A handsome face, mid-thirties, dark features, contorted in pain. A bloodied urban cowboy. "No hospital," he croaked. Their eyes locked. Now it was Victor's turn to gasp. His chest constricted and the pain from the broken bones and traumatized organs seemed to overwhelm him. Ivy's heart ached in empathy. "Luminous," he drawled. "You're glowing." His eyelids fluttered shut. His hand fell from her wrist.
"Stay with me, Victor, please." Bewildered, Ivy picked up Victor's hand and stroked it gently while she considered her options. Sketchy dealings aside, the poor man had been the recipient of a brutal beating. He required immediate medical help. He didn't want a hospital. Aren't there off-the-grid clinics that could treat him? How can I locate one at this time of night?
"Hmmm," he moaned dreamily while her thoughts raced. "Wanna have dinner with me? Champagne? Lobster? Pudding?" He's delirious. Suddenly it dawned on Ivy that her palms were vibrating. Then came the buzzing in her head—a sensation she'd all but forgotten.
Not now. I can't pass out in this alley. What if those men come back?
"Come home with me, Ivy." And in an instant she was blinded by the pure white light, and she fell into his pained dark eyes. Immediately before the descent, she remembered that she hadn't yet told him her name.
Chapter TwoThe clanking and sputtering of a nearby train jarred Ivy into consciousness. Disoriented. Head in a fog. Palms ice cold. She awoke curled up on a corduroy couch with a musty afghan draped across her body. She rubbed life into her eyes and surveyed a cavernous room bathed in daylight: brick walls, high-beamed ceilings, sparse furnishings, concrete floors, numerous windows and doors, books piled high against one wall. A mud-splattered Harley Davidson parked in the middle of the floor. An indeterminate workshop cloaked in shadows. An unmade bed. She raised her wrist to her face to check the time. Eight in the morning. It was then that she noticed the blood on her hands. Flashed to blood in the alley.
Run for your life, Ivy. Run!
But before she had a chance to stand and flee, the injured man from the alley—Victor—entered the loft carrying two coffee cups. His footsteps echoed throughout the massive post-industrial space. From the couch, Ivy appraised his face: rugged and chiselled with a slight damaged quality. Like a timeworn statue of a Roman warrior. His boot-clad strides were broad. No limp. He was obviously no longer in pain. The deep gashes on his face and hands and muscular arms had been replaced by pink scars. He seemed to sense her eyes upon him and stopped in his tracks. He turned to her. A smile spread across his face.
"Don't be scared," he said quickly as she jerked in surprise and nearly tumbled off the sofa. "I couldn't leave you in the alley, so I brought you home with me. Your car keys are on the table, although I hope you'll stay for breakfast." He peered at her closely as her eyes darted to her keys. "Are you okay?"
A torrent of stammered words fell out of Ivy's mouth. "I passed out on you, didn't I? In the alley, I mean? Sorry about that. Blood makes me squeamish. Some help I turned out to be!" Forced laughter. He'll never buy it. His healed wounds tell a story. "Your name's Victor, right?"
"Victor Morgan," he replied. She tried not to squirm under his piercing gaze. "Are you a crime fighter? Or a superhero?" There was no edge to his voice. A lilt, perhaps. His eyes were deep pools of green. She turned his question over in her mind. Maybe he thinks I'm dangerous.
"I'm a librarian," she managed finally. "I work in the building next to the alley." She trembled as he moved towards her.
Victor dropped onto the sofa and set the coffee cups on the floor. Ivy's eyes trailed along a string of words that had been tattooed onto his tanned forearm: To understand is to forgive. "Do all librarians rush to the aid of injured men?" He searched her face. "You healed me." Pause. "How did you do it?"
She forced out a tinkling laugh and hoped it rang out as carefree as her mother's. No need to panic. There's no subtext. He's just curious. "Maybe you weren't as badly hurt as you thought you were," she said. She affected a yawn and stretched her arms towards the ceiling. "Is one of those coffees for me?" I'm going to have to do better than that.
He cocked his head. "What's your name, Florence Nightingale?" His voice was deep and hoarse and gentle. Her palms grew warm.
"Ivy. Ivy Merchuk." You said it last night. You don't remember. How did you even know?
A look of recollection flashed in his green eyes. "I'm going to start on breakfast now, Ivy Merchuk. Enjoy your coffee. You've been asleep for fourteen hours."
Victor recounted the events of the previous night while he sliced red peppers for an omelet. He'd awakened strong and happy with Ivy collapsed on top of him. Pain vanished. Wounds healed over. No more blood, except for what had already drenched his shirt and jeans.
"I was laughing, if you can believe it," he said jovially. "It's been a long time since I've felt that ... light." Ivy nodded coolly while scrambling to conceal the ball of anxiety forming in her chest.
According to Victor, he'd hoisted her up, identified her Jeep by the pile of books on the pavement, fished her car keys out of her purse, and driven them both to his loft, located in Vancouver's gritty Railtown district. He'd been awake and energized ever since.
Bacon sizzled in the frying pan. Victor was relaxed and conversational, as if the surreal events that had flung them together had been normal, everyday occurrences. Ivy perched on a barstool and sipped her coffee. Her eyes strayed to a computer streaming video from a security camera trained on the exterior door. Well, that's odd and troubling. Am I in danger? Leaving had crossed her mind for a second, but then she resigned herself to her instincts. Stay put—at least for the moment.
"You want it spiked?" He nodded towards a half-empty bottle of whiskey on the counter. She shook her head. "Are you sure? You had a rough night." He poured several shots into his own coffee.
They ate in comfortable silence side by side at the breakfast bar. Arms barely touching. Ivy took sidelong glances at her dining companion, glimpsed dark memories in his face, and looked away quickly. I should go. I don't know what will happen if I stay.
"God, you're luminous." Victor broke the silence. Ivy turned to face the green eyes. He'd been staring. "And magical, evidently."
"Magical?" There it was. Ivy went cold. "Magical" could be just another word for "freakish." "Victor, there was nothing magical about it. You were beaten, I fainted from the blood, and you recovered quickly."
Victor smiled. "I had at least three broken ribs. Gashes on my face and both hands. Before you arrived, they pummelled me with steel-toe boots and a baseball bat. Not the sort of experience you bounce back from in five minutes." Ivy sat frozen. Victor leaned in. She could smell the whiskey on his breath, wondered what his lips tasted like, and immediately chastised herself for the ill-timed thought.
"Something remarkable happened to us, and I want to understand it." Victor's voice was low. His hand fell to her wrist. "Why are you so afraid? What are you hiding?" There was no threat in his voice.
Excerpted from The Healer by Sabrina Furminger Copyright © 2011 by Sabrina Furminger. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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