'Light slices the darkness, jerking me awake.'
'My right eye—someone's prying it open. Latex-gloved fingers part the lids, yanking on them like they're stubborn window shades.'
'There's more light now. Harsh. Painfully bright. A penlight, aimed at my pupil.'
'The same is done to my left eye. Pry. Part. Light.'
'The fingers release my lids, and I'm plunged back into darkness. Someone speaks. A man with a gentle voice. "Can you hear me?"'
'I open my mouth, and hot pain circles my jaw. Stray bolts of it jab my neck and cheek.'
'My voice is a rasp. My throat is parched. So are my lips, save for a single slick spot of wet warmth with a metallic taste.'
'"Am I bleeding?"'
'"You are," says the same voice as before. "Just a little. Could have been worse."'
'"A lot worse," another voice says. "Where am I?"'
'The first voice answers. "A hospital, honey. We're taking you for some tests. We need to see how banged up you really are."'
'It dawns on me that I'm in motion. I can hear the hum of wheels on tile and feel the slight wobble of a gurney I just now realize I'm flat- backed upon. Until now, I had thought I was floating. I try to move but can't. My arms and legs are strapped down. Something is pythoned around my neck, holding my head in place.'
'Others are with me. Three that I know of. The two voices, and someone else pushing the gurney. Warm huffs of breath brush my earlobe.'
'"Let's see how much you can remember." It's the first voice again. The big talker of the bunch. "Think you can answer some questions for me?"'
'"What's your name?"'
'"Jules." I stop, irritated by the warm wetness still on my lips. I try to lick it away, my tongue flopping. "Jules Larsen."'
'"Hi, Jules," the man says. "I'm Bernard."'
'I want to say hello back, but my jaw still hurts. As does my entire left side from knee to shoulder. As does my head.'
'It's a quick boil of pain, going from nonexistent to screaming in seconds. Or maybe it's been there all along and only now is my body able to handle it.'
'"How old are you, Jules?" Bernard asks.'
'"Twenty-five." I stop, overcome with a fresh blast of pain. "What happened to me?"'
'"You were hit by a car, honey," Bernard says. "Or maybe the car was hit by you. We're still kind of unclear on the details."'
'I can't help in that department. This is breaking news to me. I don't recall anything.'
'"Just a few minutes ago."
'"Right outside the Bartholomew."'
'My eyes snap open, this time on their own.'
'I blink against the harsh fluorescents zipping by overhead as the gurney speeds along. Keeping pace is Bernard. He has dark skin, bright scrubs, brown eyes. They're kind eyes, which is why I stare into them, pleading.'
'"Please," I beg. "Please don't send me back there."'