It started as a joke. Mostly. Holden's friend Rochester knew the owner, so whatever Monday night Holden could slip away from the hospital, the couch under the stairs became his office.
He even had a little folded paper sign.
PSYCHIATRIC HELP 5¢
He got a lot of half serious questions asked, abandon once he cut to the point. No worries; this was more about real world practice with people who didn’t scream at shadows.
Tonight, he met a charming man and a few drunk girls, but the guy currently lying on the couch, had been here for a while.
"—Can’t forget. Can’t forget every horrible thing I’ve ever done to her. Every thing's changed. Shoulda learned that from my ex." The man laughed, a painful sound. "Both times."
"Relationships change, even healthy ones," Holden said. The guy had a rough look about him, and refrained from asking what the horrible things were.
"Me and my ex, we had this forever kind of love, but it was shallow, you know? Fast living and endless tomorrows. Not like with her. With her it feels like lifetimes in a few years. I changed everything about myself for her."
Holden needed a refill. And the number for the doctor on call tonight. His charming friend left to get them both another drink while Holden tried to wind this down. "So you changed your entire life for this girl you love, who doesn't love me back."
"I never said that. Don't put words in my mouth. I mean, changing was a mean to an end. To be worthy of her. I know now that's a lie, will never be worthy of the likes of her." the man on the couch ran a hand through his hair in frustration.
"I'm picking up some heavy feelings of inadequacy with this women. Is this new in your relationships?"
"No. Maybe. I mean..." The man fumbled for meaning.
"You know what I think? I think you need more then what I can offer for five cents under the mezzanine of a bar."
"I have a fifty in my wallet," the man sat up, patting his coat pocket.
"I've really enjoyed our talk, and I'm glad your opening up to me, but its last call. You should stop by the hospital and we can finish our conversation tomorrow."
"Naw, I don't get out much during the daylight hours. It was just good to get some stuff off my chest." The man reached out and shook Holden's hand.
"Your welcome," Holden shuffled in his wallet for some singles as the man zipped his coat and walked away, nodding as he passed Holden's charming new friend, Spike. Holden reached out for the shot glass.
"Thanks for the drinks, Spike." Spike took the now vacated couch, tapping his glass against Holden's raised one and swallowing the shot whole.
"'S ok, you gave that bloke some good advice. Know where he's coming from, lovin' a girl like a slender knife to the heart."
"I gave you some pretty good good advice too, and you took twice as long as he did." Holden dropped the empty glass on the table. " Have you seen Rochester? I'm taking him home."
"No. He was talkin' to some pretty bird by the pool table."
"Fine then, he can find his own ride home." Holden said, rising a bit unsteadily. Spike shrugged on his denim jacket and walked with him to his car, his hand against his elbow cool and steady when he tripped on the stairs.
"You need a ride anywhere, Spike? Its not too safe here at night."
Spike shook his head. "Feel like I should be asking if you'll be ok."
"I'll go slow. I do this in Hanover all the time."
Spike shrugged his shoulders and kept walking down the alley, humming to himself. Holden watched him go. He hoped Spike would be OK, wandering around town at night is what got half his high school class killed. Fighting to turn his slightly bent car key in the lock, he didn't hear anyone approach until he felt something brush against his back.
"Changed your mind for-" Holden cried out as something sharp dug into his neck. He fell against the car, thinking about all the hours he spent practicing Tae Kwan Do and when he needed it, couldn't recall one move.
A bloody wrist jammed against his teeth. A hard grip in his hair forced his neck back, and the blood seeped in his mouth.
Angled into the door of his Toyota, Holden can't see the reflection of his attacker, only the rapidly fading vision of a pale wrist and the hem of a denim jacket pressed to his cheek.