The nurse named Princess watched the girl she knew as Jennifer Joy Masterson, and whom we know as J.J., as she left the gallery that had become a crime scene.
She seethed with frustration, mostly at the cop and a bit at the headstrong girl who was refusing medical treatment.
If the detective hadn’t been there, if she hadn’t had to waste some of her well-honed people management skills on keeping the situation de-escalated, she was sure she could have talked her patient into the wisdom of waiting around for the ambulance.
But Detective Gilbert had set the girl on edge, made her defensive and eager to get the hell out of there, and forced Princess to spend some of her focus playing buffer between them.
Then there was the mess with the motorcade and the damned Artery, the jagged, ugly wound that cut the island in two. If the ambulance hadn’t gotten stuck, the Masterson girl would be under observation right now, not skipping away—actually skipping—like nothing had happened!
Princess understood all too well the desire to avoid unnecessary bills, but… some bills were necessary, even when they were avoidable. She’d had friends and neighbors, close neighbors, who’d died from things that could have been caught if they’d been less shy of the doctor, or if the doctors had been less dismissive of them.
The girl was apparently grown enough to live on her own, but not wise enough to know when to listen, or when to shut up. She also wasn’t Princess’s responsibility, except to the extent that she was a patient, and she had effectively discharged herself. There was nothing more Princess could do, nothing more she needed to do.
Still, there had been something in the way the girl had looked at her… something she’d maybe been missing for so long she’d lost sight of the fact it was missing.
Are you an angel?
She caught up to the girl at the elevator, where she’d stopped to pull out her phone and swipe out some kind of message before hitting the call button. Rookie mistake; she could have written War and Peace while waiting for it to rumble up from all of one floor below.
She kind of wriggled her hips while she was typing, doing a weird excited shimmy, then stuck her phone back in her jacket pocket and finally hit the button.
Probably stopped to Google how to tell if you have a concussion, Princess thought.
“Hey, kid… Jennifer. Let me walk you out of here, okay?” Princess said, fixing her face with what she thought of as her number 2 smile: not her actual smile, not her genuine smile, but sincere enough. Placid, reassuring, professional. She quickly added, “Just so I know you don’t swoon and crack your head open on the marble floor.” Princess was sure the girl hadn’t pegged her as queer, but there was no sense giving her the wrong idea. “Got to think of the museum’s liability here.”
“Okay, if it makes you feel better?” J.J. said. “I mean, I don’t want you worrying about me or nothing, right?”
“Thanks, you’re a real prince,” Princess said. Let her think she’s doing me a favor, if it made her more compliant. Princess has done this dance before, with the stubborn ones. “You must have made some kind of impression on Susan, you know, for her to stick her neck out like that.”
“Yeah, she’s swell,” J.J. said. Swell. “She actually let me help her with the summer enrichment kids once, you know? I think that was the most fun I’ve had since I was that age.”
A vague memory surfaced in Princess’s mind, swirling around behind her eyes just out of focus. Susan, leading a pack of middle schoolers down a hallway, and in the back, shepherding stragglers…
“Was your hair that same color then?” she asked.
“Nah, it was like this mermaidy seafoam green gradient type thing?” J.J. said. “And longer on both sides. I had this kind of Jessica Rabbit flip going on over my eye? My hair changes a lot.”
“I guess I’ve seen you around, then.”
“I don’t think I’ve seen you,” J.J. said.
“Didn’t notice me, maybe?” Princess said.
“Maybe? But, you know, I’m pretty sure I would remember your face.”
Princess felt the heat rising up behind her cheeks.
“It’s my freckles, right?” she said. “Everybody remembers the freckles.”
“It’s your everything,” J.J. “Congratulations.”
Princess said nothing, not wanting to be rude but not knowing how to respond to that, and needing to keep it professional. She also felt no need to explain to this stranger that she’d slid back down the hall when the troupe of kids came echoing down it.
Kids were fine, individually. She certainly saw her share of them in her office with banged up knees and elbows, sudden nosebleeds, or stomach upsets. But in large groups, in the cavernous confines of the museum, they could make a worse racket than a hospital corridor…
The elevator dinged and the door slowly slid open.
J.J. stepped aside and put her arm out to block it, ushering Princess in ahead of her like she was holding open a carriage door. She even gave a cutesy little half-bow as Princess passed. It struck Princess as faintly ridiculous, just as everything else about the young woman did.
It burned her a bit, how flattering she found the attention. She wouldn’t have minded it, except she didn’t need this in her life right at that moment. Not from a girl with pasty skin and bubblegum hair, no matter how tight her butt looked when she skipped or how her arms bulged under her sleeves when she flexed them.
“You know, I don’t even know your name?” the girl said, slipping in after her.
“It’s on my nametag,” she said, coolly. A little conversation while waiting for the ancient elevator was one thing, but this was not social, it was professional. The elevator only had one floor to go, but it was old and it was slow and while they were in it she had an excuse to stare straight ahead.
“…the one on my desk,” she said, slapping the place where it had been. “I’d been about to change and go home when I the alarms went off, and then there was the explosion…”
“Oh, man, that’s enough to make anyone forget their nametag? No big. But what do I call you? I mean, it can’t be any worse than the dreaded Francis X.”
Princess took a slow, deep breath. The kid had to be decently respectful in general for Susan to take to her. And it wasn’t like she knew…
“It’s not very nice to make fun of names, you know,” she said.
“Oh, dang, I know. Sorry,” J.J. said, and she did sound sorry, but she kept talking. “But, if my mom called me Francis X., I’d at least try to have a sense of humor about it?”
“I’m not sure if you know this,” Princess said, conversationally, “but Francis Xavier is a saint.”
The elevator dinged and lurched to a stop, and the door jerked its way open. J.J. did the arm-blocking thing on the sliding door again, and Princess stepped out, J.J. following behind her.
“Oh? Well, I’m sorry,” J.J. said. “I’m sure he’s an upstanding dude and all, but I guess I caught him on a bad day? Not a great day for me, either, though.”
“No, I mean, there is a saint called Francis Xavier,” she said. “Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta, from Javier. Francisco de Javier. Francis Xavier. One of the first Jesuits.”
“Neat!” J.J. said. “I did not know that.”
“Somehow, I didn’t think you did,” Princess said. “You go back a couple generations, it’s a real common name for Catholics, okay? Not unusual at all for an Irish cop.”
“Well, maybe Francis X. should go a couple generations back, then,” J.J. said. “He…” She stopped, looking at Princess. For the first time since waking up, Princess realized, J.J. was looking at her eyes and not just an indeterminate point on or around her face. The girl’s face did a sort of spasm thing that was hard to quantify in terms of emotion, but was definitely some shade of stricken. “Aw, peas,” J.J. said. “You don’t think I’d make fun of your name if I knew it?”
“I don’t like people who make fun of names,” she said. “That’s all.”
“I promise, I won’t,” J.J. said. “Do people do that?”
“Sometimes. Not often, anymore, but it stuck with me when I was a kid.”
“Why would anyone do that to you?”
“Because I’m Princess Elena Martinez,” she said, then waited for the inevitable reaction, whatever it might be. Nobody ever heard her name and didn’t react.
“Oh, so, you’re a nurse that works in a museum and you’re a princess?” J.J. said. It was hard to characterize her tone of voice, but it sounded surprisingly neutral, like she could easily believe it. Not a trace of mockery. “Neat!”
“Actually, I’m a nurse who works in a museum, and I’m Princess” she said. “As in, that’s what my mama named me.” She braced herself again. “Is there… uh, is there anything you want to say about that?”
“She must have loved you very much?”
“She does,” Princess said.
“So… do you go by ‘Princess’?”
“It’s my name,” Princess said. “My mother gave it to me.”
“Well, mine named me Jennifer Joy?” J.J. said. “And I go by J.J. And… sometimes I’m a jerk about stuff?”
“Yeah,” Princess agreed. “Sometimes, you are.”
“It doesn’t mean I actually, you know, hold people’s names against them. It’s just that guy was being a total hecking jerk? Um. Pardon my language.”
“Are you for real right now?”
“I’m real all the time?” J.J. said. “As far as I know. Anyway, there’s nothing wrong with your name. I mean, if Perfect Jones can be a senator, there’s no reason Princess Martinez can’t be a nurse?”
“Kid… J.J. I know you mean well right now, but the thing is, I don’t need to be told there’s nothing wrong with my name,” Princess said. “I need to know that other people know it. Not making fun of a name isn’t some great big gift you can give a person, it’s like a baseline for decency. If someone’s being a dick, you kick them for being a dick. No reason to drag other stuff into it, okay?”
“Aw, cheese. Look, I’m really dang sorry,” J.J. said. “You’re not seeing me at my best?”
“I’ll bet,” Princess said, thinking again about Susan and the obvious fondness she held for her. “But it’s how I’m seeing you, anyway… and it’s hard to un-see.”
“It’s been a weird day, I’ve been through a lot, I’m not usually this much of a jerk. Is there some way I could make it up to you?”
You could roll up your sleeves and flex, Princess thought.
“You could go to a hospital,” Princess said.
“Why would I do that?”
“Because you were caught in an explosion of unknown nature and were unconscious for several minutes!”
“I’m conscious now, though?” J.J. said. “So, it’s like, I’m recovered. Whatever happened is over.”
“I don’t think you understand how serious it is to lose consciousness, okay?” Princess said. “Even for just a few minutes. Most people don’t, but it’s a really big deal, medically speaking.”
“Well, I like to live dangerously?” J.J. said. “I make a point to lose consciousness almost every day. Sometimes twice on my days off.”
Princess repressed the urge to laugh, which then threatened to become a snort before she managed to contain it to a tiny sniff.
“Seriously, though, it’s bad,” she said.
“Okay, seriously, then, if it makes you feel better, I’ll talk to a doctor tomorrow.”
“It’s not me you should be worried about,” Princess said. “Why’d you ask me if you could do anything to make me feel better if you’re not going to go?”
“Maybe I gave you the wrong impression with my patronage of the arts and also the culture,” J.J. said, “but a hospital’s not exactly in my budget right now? Could I buy you a coffee instead?”
“Sure. Buy me as many coffees as you want,” Princess said. “Just leave a gift card at the front desk. If you won’t get checked out, are you going to at least be around people tonight?”
“Yeah, I told you, I live in a co-op,” J.J. said.
“I don’t know what that means.”
“It’s like when you’re in college and you rent a house with a bunch of your friends? Only there’s a corporation and a board and stuff,” J.J. said. “There’s privacy if you want it, but. Trust me. I’ll be fine just as soon as I get home.”
“Fine, just go straight home,” Princess said. Then, a penny dropped into place. “Wait, you said you lived up in the Fort!”
“That’s a long way to drive when you might have a concussion, kid!”
“Good thing I’m walking, then,” J.J. said.
“Jesus! That’s like five miles.”
“More like seven?” J.J. said. “Five would be a straight shot, but you can’t go straight from here to there? Even where you can, you’d take your life in your hands trying to walk across the Artery.”
“You can’t walk seven miles at night!”
“But I can?” J.J. said. “I do it all the time. It doesn’t even take me two whole hours.
“Let me give you a ride to 40th, at least,” Princess said, utterly against her better judgment. She couldn’t safely go any farther than that, and even that was a risk. For a girl she didn’t know, who was by her own admission a jerk?
The way she looked at me, though…
“Do you live out that way?” J.J. asked.
“Then, no?” J.J. said.
“Because I wouldn’t go out with you?” Princess said. What kind of person would rather walk seven miles than accept a ride?
“Maybe. Well, no? I mean, sort of? But not really,” J.J. said. “I don’t want someone who won’t go out with me go out of their way for me out of a sense of obligation. I’m not trying to get you to give in on the coffee thing, by the way. I know I’m kind of a jerk, but not a big enough jerk that I’d tried to lever accepting a favor to extort a date? If you don’t like me, you don’t like me.”
“I didn’t say I don’t like you!” Princess said. “I don’t know you. I don’t go out… I mean, with strangers, you know? And I’m not big on Florence Nightingale syndrome, okay?”
“Okay, I guess I meant that whether you like me or not, you don’t have to justify it? But look, I didn’t get stranded here. My ride didn’t leave? My car wasn’t stolen? I planned on walking home when I came here. I know I don’t look like it, but I have so many layers on I’ll be hot after I’ve been walking a while.”
“And you’re perfectly okay being alone on the street after dark?”
“I’m, like, very comfortable with the streets?” J.J. said.
Princess gave her a hard look.
“Sure you are,” she said.
“Is that sarcasm? I seriously can’t tell.”
“Can I see your phone?”
She handed it to her, and Princess put in her number.
“Text me to tell me you made it home, okay?”
“I will,” J.J. said. “And don’t worry, okay? I feel perfectly fine?”