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A Girl's Guide to Open Heart Surgery

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“Aw, baby, I missed you too,” Jennifer says the first time Needy calls her back from the dead. Her skin is crackled and black, and blood leaks from the corners of her mouth, and her eyes are dark sockets where no light can shine. When she stretches, there’s a crackling sound. “Kiss me hello?”

“Yeah, no,” Needy says, wrinkling her nose. “I’m not into crispy kritters.”

The thing that was Jennifer Check two lives ago regards her own slim, blackened arms and grimaces, thin lips twisted. “Yeah, I like ‘em wet. Dripping.” She sounds hoarse, like the first night she’d died, fire and ash and dead things in her lungs. “Is that for me? Needy, gross.” She purses her mouth and pouts, a caricature of her old self. “I can’t eat that.”

“What?” Needy says blankly, and takes the knife out of Father Simon’s chest and checks her notes. Shit, she’d punctured the left ventricle, or aorta, or something. That spoiled fucking everything. “God, you have to be so fucking picky.”

Jennifer shrugs, and Needy thinks she can almost see a dimple. “But baby, I gotta be me.”

Father Simon gasps, wetly, the fucker, and Jennifer smiles. Her teeth are the only whole thing about her, white and gleaming and familiar, and Needy thinks for a moment, wait, thinks wait, before you go, I don’t mind--, but Jennifer’s body is already collapsing in on itself, dissolving away into ash.

“Goddammit,” Needy says, and the priest stares up at her with wide, panicked, dying eyes.

Then wheezes some lame-ass typical bullshit about God expelling demons, and saving his lamb, blah blah fucking blah.

“Yeah, I’m thinking no,” Needy says, and smirks at the looming statue of Christ that’s staring down at the pair of them balefully. She traces the knife around the edge of Simon’s eye socket. “You did a lot of lamb-seizing yourself, buddy. How righteous do you feel now, huh?”

She takes his eye and rolls it thoughtfully in her fingers as he splutters and screams. It’s a quiet country church, far from any house. She’s got time. She didn’t get what she came for, but what the fuck. She can still have fun.

***

Now it’s back to the books, again.

Needy isn’t the same Anita Lesnicki who watched her best friend cheerlead with big worshipful eyes. She’s not even the one who lost her virginity with blood dripping off the ceiling and into her open mouth, who let her mom curl her hair for prom, who screamed and sobbed and mourned the dead boys of her quiet, sleepy town.

But really, she’s not that different these days. She still likes libraries, likes the smell of dust and the silent corridors. She still loves that feeling of satisfaction that only comes from hunting down really esoteric texts, using Interlibrary Loan, making notes on an iPad and listening to Fall Out Boy on her headphones, learning for learning’s sake as well as for practical purposes. She spends a whole day chasing down a text on Assyrian demons and the mythology of the underworld. It’s totally useless, but it’s fascinating, and if she didn’t have such a stupid high stake in getting this ritual right, she’d have let herself do more research. Maybe write a paper, submit it somewhere.

Basically, she’s still Nerdy Needy.

Okay, so she also likes to hear men screaming, loves watching open red wet mouths beg for mercy. Yeah, that’s new, but really, that’s just growing up, right? That’s learning more about yourself. Tastes change over time. And give her credit, she’s no Jennifer. She has discretion. Taste. Politicians and rapists are a personal favorite. And they’re so easy to find. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel; Needy could almost feel bad about it, except she really doesn’t.

After the disaster of that fucking priest, Needy studies anatomy books over a gasping frat boy, nudging the aorta aside and making a smudged notation on the orientation of the veins. The blood’s getting to be a real fucking problem. She can barely see anything, it’s just all—red and gooshy, miscellaneous organ glop.

She and her mom used to watch Grey’s Anatomy, though, and she thinks she knows the problem. She needs suction, right? That’s what McDreamy always called for. Suction.

She tries the old fashion method first, straw in the chest cavity, drinking the bastards down as she works, but the assholes usually die before she can manage a good clean heart extraction.

She needs a perfectly severed heart from a still-living man, or woman. Seven of them, actually. Virginity unnecessary. It should be easy—donors are a dime a dozen, but getting the process right is a total fucking bitch, and Needy’s getting frustrated. She considers killing a couple of the g-men who are following her exploits across the country, just for fun, but if a girl doesn’t have standards, what does she have? And if this works—and it has to work—she’ll have Jennifer with her soon, pouting at her, asking for randoms for dinner. Needy’s got to practice her self-restraint.

She practices a lot of things. She’s getting pretty good at this surgery thing. One day she’d thought, what would Jennifer do, and stole into an OR wearing too-large scrubs that she borrowed from the surgeon she’d just fucked, and watched the open heart-surgery with great interest.

Later that night, she broke in and stole the machines they’d used, and one of the nurses who’d been fondling the coma patients, an old lady with blue-gray curls and seriously creepy dentures.

Jennifer had watched laconically from her bed of ashes as the old bitch writhed and pleaded.

“God, what a whiner,” she mused, picking a finger bone clean. She smiled at Needy and her white teeth were streaked red in her black face, and Needy suddenly missed her so much her chest ached, like an X-acto knife had gotten lodged between her fourth and fifth intercostals. (See? She was getting really good at this anatomy shit.)

“Hurry up,” Jennifer had said, her voice ash on the air as the old lady died—Needy clearly needed more practice performing both extraction and suction all at once. “Being dead totally sucks dick, Needy, you don’t even know. And I’m really sick of dick.”

***

So Needy gets good. Really good, precise. She’d be a fucking great heart surgeon, so long as you didn’t want the patient to live.

“Oh,” Jennifer moans, and her eyes are bright blue as she chows down on Senator Cromwell’s heart. “Needy. I thought you’d never fucking get it, but this is so salty.”

Needy stretches out beside the corpse and watches Jennifer eat. She’s still pretty fucking crispy, but her eyes are back, and her voice is throaty and full. Candlelight flickers around them, and for a moment, Needy remembers Chip. She doesn’t think of him much, these days, but she remembers his sweet smile and his dorky whitey-tighties and the life they could have had.

Jennifer sucks her red fingers clean, and Needy doesn’t miss that life too much.

“One down, six to go,” she promises, and Jennifer smiles at her before she starts to sink back into the scorched tile of the senator’s kitchen.

“I knew you couldn’t live without me,” she brags, and Needy shrugs.

When Jennifer’s right, she’s right, but the flip side of that particular coin is that Jennifer couldn’t live without Needy, either.

They can have a tits-to-the-wall fight later, over Jennifer’s shit communication skills and Needy’s lack of attention, over the mistakes they made and the opportunities lost. They can scream at each other later, when Jennifer’s femurs don’t crumble when she stands up, and then they can make up.

Needy’s looking forward to making up.

***

Sometimes she wonders, though. If they’d just been girls, if there hadn’t been a fucking demonic rock group, if they’d had a chance to push through all the bullshit and high school drama and miscommunications on their own. If she’d been allowed to work through things with Chip, and see Jennifer’s jealousy for what it was, if they’d ended and begun things on a human scale instead of the infernal.

Needy harvests organs, feels the pulse of blood and the delicacy of membranes, and thinks over the screams, I’d have liked to go to college.

She can see it in the dancing light of the candles, the shadows of her other life: Professor Lesnicki, bedecked in tweed with her glasses slipping over her nose, and Jennifer sneaking into the back of the lecture hall, biting a pen and smirking at her and distracting all the students in visual range.

They’d have had an apartment, and maybe a cat, and fought over dirty dishes and irrational jealousy, and made up with sex and strap-ons and leather cuffs stamped with BFF that Jennifer could see on her wrist until she felt secure and wanted and remembered. Loved.

Needy doesn’t think about it often. She’s too busy, and like her grandma always said, no use crying over spilled milk. If things work out, she’ll still get to see what Jennifer looks like fucked out and complacent, sprawled in their shared sheets. She thinks, if this works, that she’ll be happy.

Needy doesn’t think happiness is a lot to ask of the universe at this point. She figures she’s owed one.

***

What Needy forgets is that the universe is a son-of-a-bitch. Things go tits-up one night, after Needy’s harvested the sixth heart. Jennifer’s giving her a sultry, promising look as she licks Needy’s fingers clean, and Needy’s thinking, why wait before the final ceremony? She’s got Jennifer right here, for at least a little while longer.

Then a SWAT team bursts in on the first floor.

Ugh, Needy bet that rich bitch hit a panic button or something before Needy grabbed her by her pearls. Dammit. She’s getting distracted. Sloppy.

Jennifer has that effect on people, Needy reminds herself, sitting back on her heels and looking away from Jennifer’s pretty, perfect smirk. Don’t beat yourself up too much. You can still come back from this.

“Told you you should have slept with that FBI dude last month,” Jennifer is saying, leaning back and regarding her nails. She’s already looking smoky, like a strong breeze could blow her away. “I’m telling you, you get in bed with the law, you’re gold forever. Like that.”

“Yeah, no thanks. Besides, I don’t think that theory applies with murder one,” Needy says, and Jennifer shrugs and looks pleased. Needy wants to kiss her, but she needs to find an exit. A window, maybe, or go up another flight of stairs, find a servant’s dumbwaiter or something.

But it’s too late; they’re already coming up the stairs, and she can hear the sound of footsteps above. She is well and truly fuck-out-of-luck, and completely surrounded.

She only needs one more heart, just one more. This isn’t fair.

“Fuck, you’re all such fucking cockblocks,” she mutters under her breath, not sure who she’s even talking to. The universe, God. The Devil. Low Shoulder, someone.

Jennifer’s nothing but a swirl of smoke in the air, but Needy can hear her laughing anyway.

“Poor Monistat,” she sing-songs hoarsely, and Needy rolls her eyes, an unwilling smile tugging at her mouth. “Don’t find yourself another bitch in prison, okay? I know you get all attached and shit.”

She says something else, but it’s too faint to hear, and then she’s gone.

“Fuck you, Vagisil,” Needy calls back to the empty room. “This isn’t funny!

It is sort of funny, though. The SWAT team members have just arrived in time to hear that last bit of conversation and now they’re all adorably confused, guns akimbo. They’re staring at Needy, who just looks so fucking sweet and tiny and maybe a little bit crazy. Totally harmless, though, even if she’s covered in blood and has the body of an heiress at her feet. But look at her, with her empty hands and her big frightened eyes.

“Sarge, we can’t shoot her,” one of them says. “She’s just a—”

Needy kicks out and breaks a few kneecaps before vaulting for a window.

She almost makes it, but one of the fuckers has a taser, and it turns out demon succubi powers are no match for good old-fashioned voltage. Needy falls, twitchy and electric, into one of Mrs. Campbell’s Tiffany tea-sets, all crystal and gold and glaze. Things break. She bleeds, and watches, dazed, as the SWAT men descend on her, like flies over something dead.

She thinks, Jennifer better give great head, and passes out.

***

It’s a three-month delay, with trials and doctors and squeamish, horrified lawyers. They’re fun to fuck with, but Needy wants out. Straightjackets just really aren’t her thing.

She has a couple aces up her sleeves, but she’s in maximum security for the longest time, nothing to do but collect her fanmail (kill a few pedophiles and the country goes absolutely batshit for you, calls you the Girl Wonder and Lady Athena and all other kinds of badass code names. Needy’s gotten more than a few wedding rings, which obviously are confiscated. But still, it’s sweet.)

All she has to do, besides write her admiring throngs letters in crayon, is wait for the doctors and wardens to think she’s been tamed. They pump drugs in her veins, play music, send her to group therapy, shove pill after pill after pill between her teeth. She pretends to go sleepy and pliant, and mostly just has a few more nightmares than usual, when she does sleep, which isn’t often.

She gets moved to a more hippie, pacifist, bullshit prison, with mostly women. The doctors are all very sweet and solicitous. It’s like being surrounded by condescending marshmallows; Needy hasn’t hated anything more in a long, long time.

She watches, and waits, and it’s worth it in the end when she’s in a sorry excuse for solitary confinement. There aren’t even any video cameras—it’s seriously medieval, like being tossed in a dungeon, only with more shitty elevator music.

Fucking Low Shoulder.

But she’s alone and unwatched at last, and she’s finally, finally free. And she knows exactly where she’s going.

She really has to apologize to Jenn when she gets that last heart.

Learning to hover was a fucking bitch.

***

“You know, there’s just something about revenge. Especially when you can take your time,” Needy says reflectively, and kicks at the drummer’s corpse.

The lead singer of Low Shoulder is still whimpering, unintelligible, as Jennifer leans over him. Needy tests the sharpness of a scalpel on her finger-tip and then reaches for the shears she uses to crack open recalcitrant rib cages.

“Don’t kill him yet, Jennifer,” she warns. “We need him living.”

“The poor baby’s so scared,” Jennifer says, delighted, and shoots Needy a look through her hair that’s all softness and wonder. “Needy, this is, like, the nicest thing anyone’s ever done for me.”

“I’m still mad at you for trying to eat my boyfriend,” Needy mumbles, feeling a little shy. She kicks at the floor. God, she’s probably blushing. This is so embarrassing.

“You love me,” Jennifer says, contented, and Needy leans over the mess that was once an emo, douchebag, sociopath, which is now a whimpering mass of meat that still, somehow, manages to have really great hair.

“I love you,” Needy confirms. “Are you ready?”

***

Later, when the lead singer’s heart is between Jennifer’s teeth, Needy curls behind her and lifts her glossy brown hair aside, kissing the warm, living skin beneath.

“Took you long enough, Lesnicki,” Jennifer says, and purrs as Needy fastens a necklace around her neck. “It’s basically been, like, forever.”

Needy would protest that she’s managed to accomplish a whole fucking lot since Jennifer’s death, but she’s pretty sure that’s not what Jennifer means.

“Yeah, well,” Needy says, and licks the blood from Jennifer’s mouth. “Thanks for waiting.”