I sighed and turned into her touch. It felt really nice.
"Why didn't you just outrun that SUV, Nassir? As much as this car cost, I know it goes faster than that ordinary piece of junk."
She was stroking my cheek and I knew she was talking mostly to keep me awake and alert, but all I wanted to do was close my eyes. My head really hurt and it was starting to throb.
"Didn't want them to . . . hit . . . you . . . let them hit me." The words were slurred and I wasn't sure I got them out in the right order. I shuddered a little when she brushed her thumb along my bottom lip. I wished I could move my hands and that I wasn't hanging upside down.
"Jesus, Nassir. You can't do something that chivalrous and thoughtful and then die on me. Keep those eyes open."
I thought I heard sirens, but maybe it was just the ringing in my ears. I must have let my eyes drift all the way closed because my cheek stung as she full-on smacked me across it and barked my name in a panicked tone.
I peeled my lids open and tried to reassure her. "The devil doesn't die, Key. He just goes back home." Hell was always waiting.
Getting the words out took the last of my energy and I couldn't fight the darkness that was waiting to drag me under anymore.
It took two paramedics and a uniformed police officer to pull me away from the car. I was freaking out and not thinking rationally because Nassir had blacked out, and I couldn't tell if his chest was still rising and falling. He was covered in blood and the car looked like a crushed soda can. He was too still, and if he wasn't giving me hell, then I knew something was really, really wrong with him. I decided if I took my eyes off him and couldn't touch him, he was going to be taken away from me forever, and that sent me into a full-fledged panic attack.
I was on my knees in the mud holding Nassir's pretty, bloodied face in my hands and saying his name over and over again when help arrived. He stopped responding to me and I didn't want to let him go, but the first responders thought I was in the way. The paramedics pulled me to my feet and handed me off to the cop as the fire department made their way down the hill carrying some kind of heavy-duty equipment that they were going to use to cut him out of the crumpled metal surrounding him.
"Is he breathing? I couldn't tell if he was breathing." I sounded frantic and kind of crazy, but the cop just kept hauling me away from the carnage up the embankment and toward where I had left the Honda parked askew on the side of the road. The lights from the sirens cast everything in an eerie light and I balked a little when I saw another cop putting a middle-aged woman in the back of a police car.
"Let the first responders get him out and then I'll make sure to get you an update on his condition. It's a shame. That's a really nice car."
I cut him a look and crossed my arms over my chest. The cop just lifted his eyebrows at me. "What? I've been on the streets since day one on patrol. I know all about Nassir Gates. Can't say I'm surprised a deranged lady tried to run him off the road. Lots of people want a piece of him for one reason or another."
I looked over at the hobbled SUV with the smashed-in front end and then over to the dejected woman in the back of the police car. I had no idea who she was, but she looked like the president of the PTA or a suburban mom
. She definitely didn't look like the type of person that would have a grudge against Nassir or be crazed enough to try to kill him.
"Who is she? Why did she run him off the road?" I asked the question but it was almost drowned out by the screech of metal as they started pulling the car from around the injured man. I went to bolt back down the hill but the cop grabbed my elbow and held me in place.
"She said he ruined her life, that her husband left her because of him. She's a little wacky and not making much sense. She banged her head pretty good when she rammed into the Bentley, so she might not be operating on all cylinders."
I couldn't care less about how she was or if she was right in the head. I wanted to punch her in the face, and if Nassir was fatally injured no amount of police presence was going to keep me from ripping her apart. I was going to tell this to the cop, but voices started moving closer to the top of the hill, so I shook him off and rushed to the point where the road turned into grass. I almost collapsed back onto my already dirty knees. Not only was Nassir breathing and in one piece, he was standing wobbly on his feet and arguing with a paramedic that was trying to tell him that he needed to wait for the stretcher and backboard to be rolled down the hill.
I dashed back down the hill before the cop could snatch my arm again. I'd ditched my heels the first time I rushed down the embankment to see if he was okay, so the ground was cold under my bare feet, but all I felt was heat when Nassir's bronze gaze hit me. It wasn't as shiny and as lit up as it normally was, but I could see him in there, foggy with pain and dulled with confusion, but he was still my unbreakable, resilient devil.
I pushed a paramedic out of the way so that I could get to him, hearing myself sworn at and seeing myself glared at in the process. I put my hands on each of his cheeks and my fingers immediately got slick and red with the blood that was coating his face and running from the top of his head. He had multiple cuts on his face from the broken glass and a particularly nasty-looking slice right above the collar of his shirt that was leaking a steady trickle of crimson down the curve of his neck. But his chest was rising and falling with strong and steady breaths, and even though his skin was cold where I touched him, he was still vital and very much alive.
"You passed out and wouldn't wake up. You suck."
He lifted his hands and I could see them shaking. He was going to pull me to him, but at the last second he stopped himself and let them drop to his sides limply. Even as battered and barely holding himself upright as he was, his will to keep me, to challenge me, was stronger than the pain clearly stamped across his face.
"I was stuck upside down. All the blood rushed to my head. Let's get out of here." He grunted and lurched a few steps forward on wobbly legs.
"Hey, man, you need to head to the hospital. You're all kinds of messed up," one of the young paramedics called out to Nassir as he determinedly put one foot in front of the other. I slipped an arm around his waist and tugged on his arm until he wrapped it around my shoulder.
"I'm not going to the hospital." Nassir stumbled a little and almost pulled both of us to the ground. I squeezed him tighter as we took one slow step at a time.