Nocte (Page 24)

Nocte (The Nocte Trilogy #1)(24)
Author: Courtney Cole

“It’s all right,” I tell him. “I just wasn’t expecting to hear a voice.”

He nods, his lip twitching. “Yeah, I guess that would be a bad thing in here usually.”

I nod, still willing my heart to slow down as I grab the supplies I need.

Dare turns in a slow circle, eyeing the wall of coolers, the metal tables in the middle with the run-off trays, the sterile walls, the medicinal smell.

“This room is creepy,” he announces, focusing in on the run-off trays.  “I don’t see how your dad can do what he does.”

“I don’t either,” I agree, as I pull him from the room.  “I hate being in here. The last time I was down here was when they wheeled my mom in.”

She’d been in a bag, completely covered by black canvas.  I thought she needed me with her, to hold her hand, so she wouldn’t be alone.  But I’d only lasted until the zipper reached her chest, and I saw her yellow shirt turned red with blood.  Then I was out of here like a shot.

I poke a long swab of iodine at his knuckles, and Dare doesn’t even flinch.  “Surely your dad didn’t… your mom…” his voice trails off as he realizes how sensitive that subject is.

I swallow hard.  “He did, actually.  I have no idea how.  But he said he couldn’t trust anyone else to take care of her.  I don’t know why he bothered. The casket was closed, anyway.” 

My chest clenches up, and I dab, dab, dab at Dare’s cuts and then wrap his hands with gauze and tape.

He looks into my eyes, a long, slow look.  “I’m sorry.  It was thoughtless of me to ask. I’m not usually so clumsy with words.”

I shake my head.  “It’s ok.”

He examines my hands, moving deftly to bandage his.  “I’m not going to ask how you learned to do this so well.”

I can’t help but smile.  “Smart.  Although I have to say, it’s nice to work on someone living.”

I snort when Dare does a double-take.  “Kidding. I don’t work on the bodies. Ever.”

He exhales and I laugh, and then put the supplies away.   When I turn back around, Dare is trailing a finger down one stainless steel cooler door.

“Are there any… I mean, is anyone in here?”  He doesn’t even sound nervous.

I nod. “Yeah.  I think there’s one.”

Dare raises an eyebrow. “And it seriously doesn’t bother you to sleep in the same house?”

I shrug. “I’ve never known anything different.  My father has been a mortician my whole life.  I used to get made fun of in school.  Funeral Home Girl. That’s what they called me.”

I don’t know why I said that, and apparently Dare doesn’t either because he studies me now.

“Why would they do that?  It’s not like you chose your father’s profession.”

“I know.  Who knows why kids do what they do?  They can be cruel.  But I lived.  And Finn did too.  They used to tease him for being crazy.”

Dare’s eyes are dark as he looks into mine.  “So you were basically all each other had growing up,” he says slowly.  “No wonder you’re close.”

I nod.  “Yeah.  That about sums it up.”

“So that’s why you were upset the other night on the beach.  Because you don’t want to be separated from Finn.”  Dare’s voice is so calm, so slow and so steady.  I nod, sucked into the vortex of that comfort.

“Yeah.”

He nods.  “I can understand that.  What’s wrong with your brother?  You said he’s…”

“Crazy,” I interject. “I shouldn’t call him that.  He’s not. He’s just got a mental issue.  He’s medicated though.”

I hear the condensation in my voice and cringe.  My brother is more than, not less than.

“He’s harmless,” I add.  “Trust me.”

“I do,” Dare answers, his eyes gleaming.  “Trust you, I mean.”

That answer causes my heart to thud.  I don’t know why.  It’s not like others don’t trust me.  My dad, Finn.  My mom used to. But to hear that Dare trusts me, it’s like an intimacy, words that roll off his tongue and meant only for me.  I like it.

“Ready to eat?” I manage to ask casually.  Dare nods and we make our way up the stairs and into the dining room.  When he holds my chair out for me, I manage not to swoon.

***

The sound of cracking crab legs fills the air, along with the fishy smell of the meat.  It makes my stomach growl in sort of a Pavlov’s reaction to melted butter.  Across from me, Dare eats his like a pro.

He’s clearly done this before. I watch as he expertly cracks the leg, then picks the meat out in one deft movement.  Most people utterly muck it up.

“So, where do you live, Dare?” My father asks this casually as he takes a bite of biscuit, but his tone is anything but casual.  I know it, and Finn knows it, but thankfully, Dare doesn’t know him well enough to see that my father is pumping him for information.

“My family lives outside of Kent, in the English countryside by Sussex,” Dare answers just as easily.  I might be imagining things, but his eyes seem guarded.

“Oh?” My father raises an eyebrow. “You don’t say.  You’re a long way from home then, fella.  What brings you to the Pacific Northwest?”

I’m of course at attention now, blissful that my father is asking him these questions so I don’t have to.  My questions are numbered and valuable.

Dare smiles politely.

“I’m just here visiting.  America is beautiful, particularly this area.”  He skillfully skirts the actually question, something that we all clearly see. However, there’s no way we can politely ask for a better answer.

Crack.  My father splits open another crab leg.  “I guess you’re used to the rain, coming from Sussex.  My wife grew up in England. That’s why she never minded the rain here.”

Dare nods.  “I’m very used to it.”

We all fall silent and continue eating, and I can practically see my father wanting to ask more questions.

“You are twenty-one, right?” he asks as Dare takes a swig of his beer.  “I don’t want to contribute to the delinquency of a minor.”  He says it jokingly, but he means it.  Dare smiles.