Falls Like Rain
8.1. A Hell of a Town
New York, New York, a Hell of a town!
Tracy couldnít think of any place else to go. She had remained calm through the moment of crisis, like all good cops, but the reaction, once she let it happen, would be emotionally overwhelming, devastatingly violent. There was only one person she could talk to about the whole terrible incident; only one person who would intimately and instantly understand.
She knocked on door 203, finding the right apartment more or less by feel. Natalie opened the door a short time later; it seemed Tracy had woken her out of a sound sleep, for she had only one arm in a pale pink chenille robe, her feet were half stuffed into matching pink fuzzy slippers and her thick hair was all mussed. Tracy mumbled an awkward apology, but was bereft of will to move or to articulate any further.
Natalie took one look at her newest friend (with whom she nothing in common but that they both had a vampire in their lives), blue eyes wide and slightly wild, blond hair disheveled and clothing stained and askew, and wasted no time pulling her inside the apartment. Natalie led her guest to the sofa and sat her down. Tracy lost much of her tension and disorientation, yet was still unfocused.
"Tracy, what happened?" Natalie asked gently. "Can you tell me?"
Tracy blinked once or twice and then looked into Natalieís eyes. It seemed she saw her for the first time. "Natalie! I - I woke you. I should go." She attempted to stand, but Natalie stopped Tracy with a hand on her arm and a few sharp words.
"Hey, Miss, you stay right where you are."
Tracy plunked back down on the couch, responding to the air of authority in Natalieís voice. The surge of adrenaline burned off some of the mental fog Tracy arrived in. At least she found the presence of mind to adjust her linen blazer and finger comb her hair into some semblance of order. She pulled herself upright against the sofa back.
Natalie took more than a visual inventory of the detective then followed up with her hands. She looked deeply into Tracyís eyes and examined her pupils for signs of a concussion or other neurological damage. Just to be safe she directed Tracy to squeeze her hands; the grip with each hand was firm and even. Nothing appeared broken, although Tracy had a nasty bruise on her right temple that just about matched her lime green blazer, and a few spots of dried blood matted her hair in that area. Her right ear was speckled with brick red drops of blood. Natalie paid close attention to Tracyís throat, but it was unblemished.
"Tracy, talk to me. Did Vachon do this to you?"
Tracyís eyes widened at the mention of his name. "No," she whispered as she shook her head as if it was a fragile object. "No, Nat. I was mugged."
"Mugged?" Tracy began to shake from the suppressed reaction; she pulled her blazer closer to her body, as if to ward off a chill. "Come with me, Tracy," Natalie directed in that same firm tone. She helped Tracy to her feet and into the kitchen. "Iíll put up a pot of coffee."
Natalie settled Tracy into one of the padded wooden chairs that surrounded the European tiled table, and then went about preparing the coffee. This particular blend was a favorite, and Natalie hoped Tracy would enjoy the mixture of hazelnut and vanilla as much. When the coffee finished brewing, Natalie placed the carafe, mugs, sugar and milk on the table within easy reach of them both, then took her own seat. She fixed herself a cup and urged Tracy to do the same, hoping the commonplace task would steady her. Tracy raised the mug to her lips, both hands wrapped around to capture the steaming warmth, and breathed in the sweet, nutty aroma before taking a sip, and then another. A ragged sigh escaped her as the trembling subsided.
"Better?" Natalie asked in her best casual tone.
Tracy nodded once. "Thanks, Nat." Her voice sounded normal enough. "This is what I needed."
"I do make a mean cup of coffee," the doctor quipped with a twinkle in her eye.
Tracy smiled a bit, though a hint of sadness played about her eyes. "No - I mean the normalcy. Sitting here without worrying whether my companion is overwhelmed by the scent of my blood, or if Iíve gone too close to the edge in enticing him."
"It wasnít him, Nat, not directly. He wouldnít hurt me," she assured her friend. Tracyís voice held a strong belief that Natalie filed away.
"Tell me what happened then," Natalie prompted. "Maybe I can help. Thatís why you came here, right?"
Tracy nodded. She took another long pull on her coffee then settled back in the chair to relate her tale. The story came out in fits and starts; there were still some parts of it Tracy didnít know how to describe, some feelings she couldnít yet admit, some fears she didnít want to put into words. Natalie was a patient listener, even intuitive, understanding Tracyís frequently mumbled explanations and descriptions of the frightening events. Sadness welled up in Tracy and distorted her fair features. The effort of speech drew tears from her, leaving her large eyes awash, which Natalie promptly ignored, knowing how much Tracy hated to cry. Natalie gripped her friendís hand until the sobs subsided into hiccups. Tracy pulled in another few sips of coffee, which had long since cooled.
"You donít have to tell me any more, Trace."
"No, Nat. I need to talk about it." She topped off her mug and took a sip of the hot brew. "He saved my life, Nat, again. I never could have reached my weapon. Even before the perp clouted me with his gun -- it all happened so fast -- he was so fast."
Natalie didnít know who Tracy meant until she continued on. "I was watching Vachon from where I fell. He was a blur. One second that creep is standing over me, the barrel of the gun looking more like a cannon, the next Vachon has him in a half-nelson and he -- he plunges his fangs into the perpís throat. One second we were a normal couple out for a walk, and the next Iím in the alley with two killers."
"But, Tracy, you know what he is," Natalie pointed out.
"Yeah, Nat, I know." Tracy sighed. "Iím not saying I donít - that I was shocked. I still trust him; he wouldnít hurt me. I love him. My feelings for him arenít the issue."
"What, then?" Nat asked in confusion.
Tracy hid her face behind her coffee mug for a moment, absorbing the heat through her forehead. "Nat, I could have killed the perp myself, if I had reached my weapon in time. I may have fired, but I would have tried to disarm or wound him. Iíve killed in the line of duty before." Tracy closed her eyes briefly, stung by the painful memory. "Itís a part of the job. But to see Vachon kill so savagely, with no remorse, after heís been so compassionate and gentle - and with the same mouth thatís shown me such love and devotion..." She shook her head. "Is that what I love? What does that make me, Nat? What does that make me?"
Tracy dropped her head to the table, cradled in her own arms. Her shoulders shook once again in anguished sobs. Natalie, somewhat at a loss as to how to help her friend (so filled with the same conflicting emotions) just leaned over and stroked Tracyís fine hair in comfort. After a few minutes, Tracy responded and reached up to clasp Natalieís hand in one of her own. She wiped the tears away with the other, and sniffled. Her look said: weíre quite a pair, eh?
"Oh, God, Nat. Have I been blind all along? I mean, I know heís killed, but mostly heís just this guy I love, you know?"
Natalieís expression said she knew all too well. Picking up a spoon, she stirred her coffee needlessly, just to have a task to occupy her hand while she put the disturbing memories aside and organized her thoughts. She took a sip from her mug and arranged her expression, emotions and voice back to their neutral cast before offering her opinion.
"Sounds like you need a little distance right now. It may help."
Tracy asked bluntly, "Like the one between you and Nick has?" She watched Natalieís expression close down even further, and instantly regretted her choice of words and lack of tact. "Iím sorry, Nat, but the two of you belong together."
"I guess I canít see that as clearly as you can, Tracy," Natalie replied with a trace of bitterness, her thumb unconsciously rubbing away the memory of Nickís lips on her palm. "Anyway, this is about you and Vachon, not about Nick and me." Her tone held a stern warning for Tracy to drop the subject.
Tracy nodded once, acceding to the truce. "Maybe youíre right about the space, Nat. I do have some vacation time coming up. How about we take a trip together?"
"Yeah? Where to?"
"Well, a college housemother of mine moved to New York City a few years back. Sheís been hounding me to come for a visit," Tracy explained. "How about it?"
Natalie thought about the offer. She could use a vacation; she couldnít remember her last one, and that was a definite sign that she needed one. The stress of the last couple of months had taken its toll -- the estrangement from Nick that culminated with that near-fatal encounter at the loft, and the serial murder case that forced them to work togetheróhad just about wrung her endurance dry. A change of scenery might be just the prescription to cure her soul sickness. New York. Sheíd never been there. All these years living so close to a major U. S. city, sheíd promised herself if she ever had the chance to see it in person rather than vicariously through television, sheíd take it. "You know what? It sounds great to me," she said in what must have sounded to Tracy like a snap decision.
"Wow! Great, Nat. Iíll call and arrange everything," Tracy said with obvious excitement. "Tessa is going to be so shocked."
Natalie could only stare a bit enviously at the nubile blond. The exuberance and resiliency of youth! Just a few minutes before, Tracy had been wracked by sobs, and now she was nearly her old optimistic self. Though only a few years separated them, Natalie thought herself much older than Tracy. When had Natalie lost that ability to bounce back from emotional and physical trauma? She supposed she had left her youth behind the night a vampire jumped off her examining table and into her life. Maybe it was that one moment she realized she loved a man she could not have. Or maybe she had never really been young.
Natalie covered a yawn as she reached for the coffee pot. Tracy stopped her from pouring. "Iím sorry, Nat -- Jeez, I should just make a recording. You need sleep."
"Youíre welcome to stay, Trace, if you donít want to be alone," Nat offered.
"No, it helped to talk about it, and Iíve already imposed enough for one night." She stood and stretched the kinks out of her back. "Thanks, Nat. I really appreciated this," Tracy told her friend gratefully.
"I know how difficult keeping this secret is, Trace. Iím glad we have each other to talk to," Nat said sincerely. Their friendship was seeded by that shared secret but grew from there into something solid. Natalie shook her head many times in private over how unlikely a match they were.
"Yeah, me, too." They exchanged a look that spoke volumes. Tracy cleared her throat. "Well, talk to ya sometime tomorrow, eh? Iíll know Tessaís schedule by then, and Iíll fill you in on all the details."
"íkay. Good night, Trace. Be careful driving. Ring the phone once when you get home," Natalie instructed.
"And letís hear no sass, miss. Thatís my job."
"And you do it so well, Nat," Tracy quipped. "Couldnít resist," she added mischievously as she wrinkled up her nose.
"Go on -- go home," Nat told Tracy as she herded her to the door. "Good night."
"Good night, Nat."
Tracy put her arms around her doctor friend in a grateful hug; Natalie returned it awkwardly at first, then with growing warmth. It felt nice to have such a close friend again. Natalie was still discovering how deeply Lauraís loss had affected her, though each day lessened her suffering. She wiped a tear away before Tracy broke the embrace and headed out the door. Natalie felt more positive than she had in many weeks. Yup, a vacation is definitely what the doctor ordered, she admitted to herself.
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