I expected Ivy to be taken aback – maybe even disgusted – by the condition Jasper’s cellar was in. Rusty suppliesand blood caked crevices didn’t seem like something the surgeon would have seen back in Choco hospital. She took it in stride, though, as we raced down the final steps. A small shiver flowed down my spine as the moldy metallic scent that prevailed down here assaulted my senses. Noir incorrectly guessed that it was the chill of the room that caused my reaction, because he began to softly rub my bare arms to generate heat.
Jasper skirted around the operation table and Ivy filled the space he had just occupied with haste. The oversized black bag she had brought with her was instantly turned upside down – the few contents inside spilled out beside Affair’s bruised body.
“What blood type is he?” She asked, sparing only a brief glance over her shoulder as her fingers work on the cap of a pill bottle.
Jasper looked expectantly over at Noir and me, but Noir only shook his head in response, “I don’t know.”
“Do you have blood bags here, preferably ones that have not been used before.” She was already shaking the pills into the palm of her pale green hands.
“No.” Jasper groaned, his hand finding his forehead.
Ivy was still moving around, organizing the few items she had brought along with her, “What blood type are both you boys?”
“AB negative,” Jasper whispered.
“I’m O positive,” Noir answered, releasing his hands from my shoulders. The warmth his hands had provided me with was swept aside by the bitter chill; made twice as potent by my skins ache for his touch.
“Are you certain?”
“Yea. I donated blood not too long ago.” Noir assured, closing the gap between him and Ivy, “What do you need me to do?”
“Well, since you don’t have blood bags I need clean receptacles to contain your blood in. Think one of you could find something like that?” She asked looking up from a syringe she had filled with a clear liquid. Jasper was off before I even had a chance to respond, brushing past and leaving a whirl of wind in his wake.
I shifted uncomfortably in my spot, playing with the hem of my shirt as I stood around, feeling rather useless given the situation. I tried to keep my eyes away from Affair’s bloodied face but my attention kept being drawn back to his bruised corpse-like figure.
“Estelle, can you help me?” Ivy called, drawing my attention up to her clam green eyes. I nodded, scurrying over to her and Noir’s side as she began to roll up his sleeve. Noir held out his arm for her as I watched her tie a tight piece of rubber on his bicep, “I need to give my full attention to the patient so I need you both to listen to me carefully, ok?” Noir and I nodded in unison, intently listening to every word she was saying, “Noir, you need to go lie on the gurney over there and flex for me. I’m going to make a small mark with Estelle’s pen. Estellise, once Jasper gets here with the containers, you need to inject this needle into Noir’s arm, okay? Let the blood flow into the receptacles but watch him. When Noir starts feeling dizzy or nauseous you need to remove the needle and cover the blood supply, alright? Once you’re done with that, go inside the house and find him something for him to eat and drink – preferably something with sugar in it like apple juice.”
“Sounds simple enough.” Noir remarked, slowly taking steps backwards until he was next to the rusted gurney that had managed to stay in one piece. As he lifted himself up onto the scrap metal I flinched, half expecting it to collapse under his weight, but it only shuddered painfully before holding steady. Ivy held her hand out to me expectantly and I froze, staring at it like an alien object.
“Estelle, you can do this.” She soothed. I nodded, dropping my pen silently into her palm before she strode over to Noir, “Flex.” She ordered and he complied obediently. She inspected his forearm carefully, veins bulging against his purple skin, before she marked one close to the inside of his elbow, “There you two should be good to go now. Here.” She handed me a needle and tubing before crossing back over to her real patient.
I felt sick to my stomach, mentally going over everything Ivy had told me over and over again. It was an easy job, really, but I was afraid. If I messed up and somehow hurt Noir I wouldn’t be able to face him. I could feel my brows pulling together, anxiety causing my stomach to do summersaults. Noir’s easy laughter flowed to my ears and I jerked my head up to meet his eyes – the usual playful expression dancing in their lilac coloring.
“You look lost, it’s cute.” He explained a moment later. Ivy hadn’t given me my pen back so I only responded with a scowl.
“Here! Will these work?!” Jasper shouted as his steps reverberated off the stairwell. He was holding up a few glass bottles, still damp on the outside from his attempts at sanitizing them.
“They’ll work.” Ivy yelled over her shoulder. A short glance in her direction showed that she was already operating on Affair. Her small and precise incisions over his lower abdomen made my skin crawl and I quickly averted my gaze back to Noir just as Jasper handed him the containers.
“Ready?” Noir asked. I nodded, sticking the tubing into a glass bottle and grasping the needle tight.
‘Flex,’ I mouthed, nerves flaring up as Noir contracted his muscles, his thick veins once again pressing against his lilac skin. I took a deep breath to steady my hand before I jabbed in the general area that Ivy had marked. This surprised Noir since a slew of curses escaped his lips.
“Jeez Estelle! You don’t jam it in like that!” Noir hissed, snatching the needle out as quickly as I had stabbed him with it, “You have to get it in a vein.” He handed the needle back to me before he flexed again but this time I froze, fighting back the tears that were threatening to pool over my lashes, “Hey now, it’s fine. Just be gentle and slide it right into the dot Ivy marked. You can do it.”
Noir’s attempt to reassure and appease me worked as my vision slowly cleared. With newfound clarity, I softly stuck the needle straight into the marked area, blood instantly flowing through the plastic tubing. I helped Noir lay down on the red flecked metal before checking on the glass bottle. Slowly but surely the crimson liquid was dripping into the container – filling up with each pump of Noir’s heart.
“See, told ya you could do it.” Noir teased.
A bottle and a half later passed with little to no talking – Ivy would mutter something to Jasper now and then but that was it. Noir hadn’t complained that he felt any different but his eyes had drifted shut and I had a sneaking suspicion that he was pushing himself far past the limits in order to help save Affair. It wouldn’t do any good, however, if Ivy needed to treat him as well. Detaching the needle was simple and I waited for the last stream of blood to flow before I removed the tubing from the bottle. Noir’s lilac irises were inspecting me carefully when my attention wandered back to his face.
“I’m fine, you can take more.” His voice was soft but determined and his lips turned into a frown as I shook my head to deny his request. I motioned for him to sit up and he did so in a fluid, graceful motion. The same could not be said when he attempted to stand as his knees buckled out from under him. I managed to slip my arm under his before he collapsed to the ground but if he had not also caught hold of the gurney we would have both been sent spiraling to the cool linoleum floor.
The gurney shook, clashing against the stone walls, and we were lucky that the bottles merely quivered from the motion and did not spill. The commotion caused Jasper to glance away from Ivy and Affair to us. His brow was so creased with worry I was afraid he had aged ten years in the matter of hours, “Go lay him down inside. I’ll take care of the rest.” Jasper ordered, his attention instantly back on the more important matter at hand.
Noir tried to shrug me off of him to no avail as his footsteps where clumsy and chaotic on his own. Instead we ended up trudging up the staircase together, one of his arms wrapped around my neck for support with one of my under his arm and around his back for stability. We were already on the porch of Jasper’s home when Noir spoke, sounding much like a whiney child, “I could have given more blood. You should have taken more.”
He was stubborn and obviously in denial of his own condition. The average male only had twelve liters of blood in their body and Noir had donated a few pints. If the medical shows I watched on television were every remotely accurate than I knew he was wrong – that during a normal, routine donation they would have only taken a single pint from him. Of course, I couldn’t voice any of this to him so instead I focused all my efforts on gripping that brass door handle and getting the door open. As soon as we were inside we hobbled on over to the nearest sofa and I deposited Noir’s body there. He laid down without another complaint, arm thrown over his eyes.
After I was certain he wasn’t going to roll off onto the hard wooden floors, I headed for the archway I saw in hopes that I would find the kitchen. What I wandered into was the dining room, which had the same crimson wallpaper as the living room I had just exited. I paid little attention to the long wooden table and chairs that furnished the area and continued on through the next doorway without hesitation.
The kitchen was decorated in the same scheme as the rest of the house – red. Various shades of it painted the walls in flora patterns and countertops gleamed in the afternoon sun that spilt inside from a nearby window. I headed for the fridge, half expecting it to contain half molded pizza and expired milk. Instead I found numerous cans of beer and, in one corner, a small box of apple juices. I wasn’t really sure why Jasper would have juice boxes but I snatched one up, hurrying back over to Noir after I scavenged a few piece of bread.
Noir was sitting up when I reached him and I scowled deeply, wanting to scold him for not resting. As I held out the juice box for him to take he handed me a pen, and I blinked slowly before exchanging items with him, ‘You need to rest.’
He looked at the palm of my hand carefully before raising them to meet my gaze. His lips were pulled into a smirk and his usual vivacious glow was slowly returning, despite this condition, “How about we play a game.”
‘You can’t play a game in your condition.’ I chided, folding my arms across my chest after I was sure he had read my response.
“We can play it while lying down together,” If the heat in my face was an indication of its color, I must have matched Jasper décor pretty well. Laughter spewed out of Noir at my reaction, “Not like that, don’t worry.”
‘Okay, well, then. What’s the game?’ I was trying to look as dignified as possible, willing my face to return to its normal pale color.
“We each get to ask each other three questions. They can be anything. We have to answer truthfully.” I mulled the idea over in my mind and then agreed. It wasn’t like I had anything to hide from Noir or anyone else in the Uprising.
‘Ok, but only if you start. Oh, and you have to drink and eat.’ I compromised and Noir’s smirk widened before he tossed himself back against the cushioned sofa and jammed the straw into the juice. He sipped away, eyes trained on the ceiling as he thought about his question. He looked adorable but that thought instantly vanished when his question was finally voiced, “Why don’t you speak?”
My eyebrows raised in surprise, eyes becoming wide as saucers. I looked around frantically, trying to find an excuse to not answer, but Noir must have thought I was looking for something else, “There’s paper over on the desk, if you need some.”
I stood up robotically, feet slowly shuffling over to the designated area. My pen dangled from my fingertips, on the verge of tumbling down to the wood below, as I decided to break the rules of the game. The question wasn’t fair, ‘I don’t speak because I can’t.’ I wrote simply, crossing the distance between us again and handing him the blank sheet of printer paper.
“Ah, we promised not to lie.” Noir teased, winking at me playfully.
‘How do you know I’m lying?’ I didn’t understand how he could possibly know that, it didn’t make any sense. My stomach flopped and I frowned as he sipped on his juice thoughtfully. I almost believed he wasn’t going to answer me, or by the grace of the Berry gods, was going to let the whole thing slide. I should have known my luck was never that good.
“Is that one of your three questions?” I sighed and nodded, desperately trying to keep him talking or preoccupied so I could keep my reasons to myself, “The first night you came to the Uprising with me you screamed the whole time we drove. Loud. Louder than most normal girls can.” He joked. I felt my face heat up again, “Well, I don’t know much about mutes, I’m not gonna lie, so I didn’t think too much of it at the time. A few days later I was thinking, driving by myself and I kept picturing you screaming… so I googled if mute people could scream. Turns out they can’t.”
I realized I was unusually careless around this man – allowing him to see my eyes and then fudging up my mute excuse. I wasn’t sure if it was a coincidence or if Noir had just put me on edge from the very moment I had laid eyes on him, ‘Please, don’t tell anyone else I can speak. Bad things happen when I do.’
The good thing about writing was that it gave me plenty of time to think over what I wanted to say. I could read how sentences sounded and not stutter or confuse my words like Berry’s do when speaking. The bad part was that it took a great deal longer than talking. Noir had never complained, however, and this was no exception. He slurped up the last of his juice box, looking much too adorable as he did, “Why would you think that?”
‘It’s my turn. I answered your question.’ I retaliated.
He laughed, holding up a single hand to concede, “My bad. Go on.”
I nodded, biting my lip as I tried to wrack my brain for anything to ask him. I wanted it to be difficult to answer – if he was going to play hard ball than I would make sure we were at least playing on even ground, ‘How did you know where I lived? I mean, no one comes to my house. Ever. No one even knows my Mama has children.’ I knew that wasn’t true. Ivy knew she did, as did her husband. Oh, and another girl mother spoke about with disdain sometimes. At the moment, however, none of those other people mattered to me.
Noir was chewing slowly on a slice of bread I had brought him, keeping up the bargain we had made, and I watched in amusement as his eyes grew wide the further he read. He swore under his breath, “I. Fudge, don’t hate me?”
One of my eyebrows arched gracefully but I nodded, figuring that whatever he had to say couldn’t be that horrible, “I followed you and Panda home the night I saw you.” He confessed, looking somewhat embarrassed and partially entertained, “but looking back I guess I’ve done worse to you.”
I snorted, My hands flew to cover my mouth, shock written on my face. Noir started laughing – this time loud and boisterous as his head dropped into his palms. I was scowling and seriously considering chucking my pen at tangled purple locks when Jasper busted through the front door. The laughter died on Noirs lips and he jumped to his feet, my head snapping up to take in Jasper’s triumphant expression.
“He’ll live. Ivy said he’ll live!”
Noir ran over to me, pulling me out of the chair and into his arms. I didn’t stay there for long as he span me around, laughter bubbling around us as the room span. His lips were planted firmly on my cheek at the same time my feet touched the floor. I suddenly felt like it was much too warm, my skin burning at the contact. I was left there, dazed, as Noir rushed from my side to Jasper. He hand barely touched Jasper’s shoulder before he wobbled, crashing to the floor in a pile of purple limbs.
Jasper’s eyes twinkled with amusement, “Noir, you’re still supposed to be resting.” He pointed out blandly, though humor tinted his tone. Jasper easily helped Noir back onto his feet and onto the couch as I stood – fingers still lingering on the skin that Noir lips had graced.
That night, when Noir finally dropped me back off at my house, I realized something.
Despite the dire circumstances of the day and the overwhelming expectations that might have been required of me, I had had fun in a weird way. I enjoyed spending time with Jasper. I liked seeing Ivy of my own volition. And Noir, well, I would have been lying to myself if I said I didn’t relish in every moment we spent together.
I still wasn’t sure if I was making the right decision or not but I fought back the gnawing feeling of despair that plagued my mind as I caved in, ‘Ok, Mr. Noir, you win. I’ll help you out.’