Across a Crowded Room

Elizabeth Marchat
Available from Siren-Bookstrand

Jason's world had become a sudden flash of searing pain and blinding light, before thoughts began invading the new blackness. When his mind clicked back, one thought repeated—if he survived, someone was going to pay for this. The ringing in his ears muffled the sounds of sirens in the background. He struggled to recall something, almost embracing the memory that teased him. The more he tried to remember, the farther the notion danced out of reach, barely beyond the edges of recognition, taunting him from some deep, dark place.

Although he may have lost track of time, he figured Fire Rescue arrived at the scene quickly, because of his phone call, or perhaps Madeleine had sent them. But when he opened an eye they were still putting out the flames scattered across the road and several lawns. He maintained a mild state of awareness, noting the hands lifting him onto the stretcher before he opened his eyes in the ambulance. What he could hear was still too garbled to understand amid the loud ringing in his ears, and the pain was nauseating. H e gave in to the relief of oblivion when the paramedics injected something cold into his arm and closed the ambulance door.

* * * *

Bright lights and emergency room noises dragged him painfully back to reality. He realized that he escaped the exploding car by jumping on reflex alone. He wasn't sure if the others actually heard his warning over the simultaneous explosion, and escaped. Had that been Madeline's voice he heard screaming his name?

Something had alerted him to the danger. For whatever reason, he thought it was important. Su bconsciously, when he had smelled the odor coming from the back of the car, warning signals triggered. Something he'd seen recently, or something he'd heard. There it was again, almost tangible, and then it disappeared.

Finally the memory came flooding back. He remembered what it was now. The London bus bombing. A witness told a BBC newscaster about his experience during the bombing. That's what caused Jason to react. He remembered the witness's description of the distinct smell.

As soon as he could, he'd investigate that type of explosive and the terrorist group who claimed responsibility in the London incident. This had been the same type device, he was sure . Maybe the incidents were connected somehow.

With a silent vow, he swore he'd find the ones responsible if it took the rest of his life.

Reality felt distorted, but this wasn't déjà vu. He could see his hand. It was the hand of an adult male, not a fifteen-year-old. It dripped with blood. But something about this reminded him of when he'd last been in a hospital emergency room. It had been a blur of noise. Pain and activity surrounded him, and he'd seen her staring at him from the hall. The antiseptic smell and clatter rudely jarred Jason back to the present.

In the midst of all this chaos, an instant of clarity touched him. Franklin escorted Andrea in, and Emily clutched her. The women embraced briefly, and Franklin hurried Andrea off.


Clarity hazed. His eye contact with Emily caused the rest of the world to drift away. There was only her. He felt her in his thoughts during those brief moments. He recalled the sensations of being buried deep within her just nights before. She knew he felt that he'd betrayed her father with his act ions. When he looked into her eyes, she could see into his mind, understand his feelings. From only this eye contact, he knew she recognized how he fought his feelings as well as his will to live. She'd panic if he closed his eyes to give into peace -- to give up.

He had to find a way to wipe away the pain etched on Emily's face, but he took the coward's way out, closing his eyes to escape the world, to shut her out of his thoughts, and to shut her out of his pain, the pain he could feel in her eyes.

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