Book four of the Lost Humanity series
Knowing when you're going to die is both convenient and frustrating. For instance, when my friend and paramedic colleague Nathan Schmidt asked me if I could be in his wedding in January, I was able to definitively tell him no. I certainly didn't expect him to change the wedding date to accommodate me like he did. His fiancée called me up to thank me because she didn't want to wait that long for the wedding, and he was dragging his feet. Nate bitched at me about her moving it all the way up to mid-November, but there wasn't any blame addressed to me.
Cassandra was a police officer he had met on a call a couple years back. They went on two dates, broke up and then somehow ended up trying again on Valentine's Day this year. Whatever hadn't worked the first time wasn't a problem the second. Nate had moved in with her by Easter and proposed in June. My wife didn't really like her. Not that there was anything wrong with Cassie, but they didn't connect on any level. Personally, I think Cassie had dismissed Sarah the minute she heard that she wasn't in emergency services.
Sarah didn't particularly care. She wasn't a huge fan of the stories we tended to stand around sharing, and the majority of her current interests reflected her being a mother to our daughter, Evangeline, and second mother to the daughter and baby son of her not-legal-wife, Jamie. Both Eva and Amelia were mine, although I'd never had sex with Jamie. Jamie's son, Julian, was conceived with my not-legal-husband, although Lukas had never had sex with her, either.
Jamie was Sarah's alone. That was how she liked it. Of the four of us, she was the only monogamous one and the only one who wasn't bisexual. She was enjoying the summer break as much as she could. When the end of August rolled around, she would be back in her demanding graduate courses for her doctorate in cognitive psychology. Not that she didn't have plenty to do now, but there was a lull.
Jamie was probably the smartest person I had ever known, and she was my best friend. Her favorite hobbies included video games, internet memes and clothes shopping. We quite enjoyed doing the first two together, but the third was probably a lower circle of hell for me.
Thankfully, Lukas didn't mind taking her. He gave her a monthly wardrobe allowance of $200—that was in addition to the money she set aside herself for clothes. I couldn't understand how she could spend that much. That was barely less than I spent a year and didn't count toward her formal or semi-formal wardrobes.
Lukas paid for most of the things in our lives but especially for Jamie since she was still a student. Sarah earned a small amount of money teaching art classes, although she was off for this final semester. Sarah also sold her artwork for a fairly nice amount of money. She had a showing once a year or so—when we pestered her into it. Her parents had convinced her that it could never be more than a hobby, so she was always surprised when someone actually paid for one of her pieces.
I made barely more working part time as a paramedic than she did as an artist. I had been on full-time until Julian was born, but I had dropped down because my family needed me and I wasn't going to be around that much longer. I had toyed with quitting, but I loved my work too much. Just losing that one day a week left me feeling antsy. I had once quit for a year and a half to focus on my family, but I'd missed it too much.
If someone had asked me ten years ago if I'd have felt adrift without a demanding job, I would've laughed my ass off. I never would have believed that I'd choose that over a life of all the video games, books, sex and lazing around that I wanted. I suppose I hadn't known myself very well yet.
Long hours, working holidays, not seeing my family for entire days—if it hadn't been for Lukas and Jamie, I never would have been able to go back. Thankfully, they were both just as in love with Sarah as I was, so I didn't leave her all alone. If they hadn't, Sarah would have left me years ago, or I'd have had to put everything into my bookstore and give up the emergency medical services part of my life.
The rest of my income came from Bound To Entertain, my used bookstore and game café. Once upon a time, I had thought that I just wanted to be an emergency medical technician to make the money to open it up. While I loved my store and my customers, it had turned out that EMS was what I felt I was meant to do. Our area was pretty quiet, and even as a first responder, most of our calls were false alarms, transport, car accidents, elderly persons and chronic conditions, but there were occasionally exciting calls.
For nearly the last ten years of my life, this had been my family. While it was true that when things went badly, they went very, very badly, my life was as close to perfect as I could hope for. I had two gorgeous spouses that made my life constantly happy, three beautiful little kids and my amazing best friend all in one house. We all slept together every day—adults and baby in the big bed, little girls in a twin bed next to us, safe and happy.
Unfortunately, Jamie was going to be leaving our bed for her own when school started again, because she had to be awake earlier in the day than the rest of us. I nearly missed seeing the kids at all on the nights that I worked. The girls went to bed at 2 AM and the rest of us at 5 AM. On work nights, I didn't get home until 8-9 AM... if I was lucky.
If I worked two days in a row, that meant that I slept through everyone else's day. That was the one thing about my job that I wasn't crazy about. A lot of my coworkers complained that most of our calls were people who didn't even need a hospital, but it didn't bother me that much as long as they weren't combative or rude. Nights where we got slammed with critical cases always ended in a lot of bad dreams.
I continued thinking about my life and impending death while some hard rock song I didn't know played from a stereo a few feet away. A high-pitched buzzing resumed and filled my ears. A burning sting returned to the back of my shoulder. My face and bare chest were stuck to the cool, black vinyl chair that I was sitting backwards in. Sarah's right hand was holding mine, but she wasn't really paying attention to me. She was watching the guy with the tattoo gun immortalizing her art in my skin.
Well, 'immortal' was assuming that I never lost the flesh on that part of my body. With my life, that was a legitimate concern. I lifted her hand up to my face and nuzzled it. She looked down into my face, a grin plastered to hers. It faded as her eyes met mine. She licked her lips, and lust filled her eyes. I didn't know if we were going to make it home before she jumped me.
I was totally okay with that.
This experience was confirming that I was way more of a masochist than I realized. It hurt, but I was so turned on that I almost wanted to ask for a break just to have a quickie with Sarah behind the shop. Sarah's grin returned as Rick, my tattoo artist, started talking to her again. I went back to thinking about Nate, who had six tattoos at last count. This was my first. As far as I knew, it was also my last—but I couldn't say for sure. Forever was a long time.
The gun went quiet again. Paradox was messing with the stereo. He was the guy who had pierced my ear twice. He'd also done Sarah's ears five times and pierced her belly button. I laughed when he started marching in place to the Proclaimers' I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles). Half the shop burst into laughter, and one of the artists jokingly called him a pussy. He grinned and continued his goofy walk while holding up both his middle fingers.
I felt Rick wipe my skin again, as he had randomly throughout the session; then he sat back.
“All right, it's done. Go have a look,” he said. He handed me a mirror, and I scooted back so I could stop straddling the chair. I brushed off the feeling of being stuck to it from my chest, lying flat the bit of hair I had, and then I stood up. I walked over to the big mirror and turned away, holding up the little one to have a look.
A vivid blue EMS star of life was now etched into the back of my right shoulder, surrounded by smears of ink and blood. Sarah's shading made it look like it was rising up from my skin—which it was right now, just a bit, being fresh and all. The rod of Asclepius, the symbol of health care, was in the center, slender and simple, the way I wanted it. The rod itself wasn't colored, but the snake wrapped around it had a little bit of green running along its back. Tiny drops of blood were beading across it.
“Do you like it?” Sarah asked.
“Yes, quite a bit,” I said. “Ha, I got a tattoo before you did.”
“I have fully corrupted you,” she said, going up on tiptoe to kiss me. Rick gestured to the chair, and I sat back down so he could clean and rub ointment on it. He taped a paper towel down over it and then rolled away to start cleaning up his tray. I took my shirt from Sarah and put it back on, stood up and took my wallet out. I pulled out the $250 cash I'd brought for this and waited for Rick to finish what he was doing. I held out the money after he pulled off his gloves, and he took it.