16 1 ««..18 MONTHS LATER 7.00 p.m.

"The next step is to take your scissors and scalpel, and cut from the distal end of the sternum to the proximal end towards the trachea." Dr. Archer was a tall, sturdy woman in her early fifties with salt and pepper hair neatly coiffed so that the curls framed her face. She had a professional yet stern air in her presentation of the subject matter at hand. She also had a reputation for being among the toughest instructors in the physiology department. "...crack open the rib cage, you will clearly see the lungs and the bronchial tubes." The professor pointed with her wooden wand at the overhead diagram. "Notice how the tubes from both lungs are adjoined to form the trachea." Tanya Blanchetti and Michelle Rainford, her lab partner opened their lab books to the section that pertained to respiration. "I find it hard to believe that this was once a real person. Just the thought of dissecting this cadaver makes my skin crawl." Michelle was apprehensive about making the incision. Tanya offered to make the cut and nodded in empathy. "The best way to look at it is to pretend you're doing an operation." She carefully opened up her dissection kit and pulled out a pair of scissors and a scalpel. Even though Tanya had taken a logical approach to the matter, the sight of the cadaver partially skinned with exposed muscles and tendons reminded her of a 1980's horror movie where the corpse could come to life at any moment.

Michelle intently observed as Tanya deftly made the incision and opened up the cracked rib cage, exposing all the vital organs of the respiratory system. Dr. Archer continued to lecture in a business-like tone. ³On next week's lab practical, you will be expected to know the functions of each vital organ and explain the entire breathing process. You should know this to the point where you can explain it in your sleep. To review, as you breathe in through your nose..." There were in-depth discussions among lab groups regarding the breathing process. Michelle took a probe and pointed where the gas exchanges took place. A pearly white grin spread across her attractive face. "This looks like liver sausage with bubbles in it."

As Michelle continued to probe, both laughed at her remark. However, the thin, metal probe flashed at Tanya like a candid photo shot. Dr. Archer's words seemed to fade into the distance as the flash of silver stung sharply in Tanya's head. Her large violet eyes took on a distant, murky look as everything grew darker and blurred before her. A total blackness gradually enveloped the entire laboratory. Tanya suddenly found herself laying on a flat hard surface. Her total body shivered violently from the coldness that surrounded her. She was crying either out of fear or pain. Tanya. She heard a sensual masculine voice softly called to her. As she looked around to see where the disembodied voice was coming from, there was only a thick fog. He had spoken to her, but in her highly emotional state, she was unable to comprehend what he was saying. A warm feeling crept through her blood as she felt his strong hands tenderly stroking her thick hair and shoulders. His moist lips brushed her forehead. As Tanya began to open her eyes, everything was still hazy. She could feel him firmly holding her left arm as she felt a little prick in her left arm. Moments afterwards, Tanya had a strong sensation of drifting into an endless oblivion as he continued to say her name.

As she began to refocus, Tanya realized that the voice calling her name was female. Someone was lightly shaking her. "Tanya, Tanya, is everything OK?" Michelle's tone was urgent. Just then, Angela White, a tall, thin, African-American woman came rushing towards them. She took note of Tanya's glassy eyes and ivory skin with sweat oozing through the pores. She immediately had Tanya sit in a chair with her head in her lap. Two young men at the table diagonally from them looked at Tanya. Chris Coburn, the athletic one with crew cut dark hair smirked. "What?Can't take it, Tan-ya? Remind you of a horror movie?" Tanya lifted her head slowly, still momentarily disoriented. Chris's partner, Kurt, a tanned, muscular, blond man, zoned in on her clammy face and glazed eyes. "Have you seen anything like it?" Kurt lowered his voice, turning to Chris. "Talk about popping too many pills.´ He observed her dilated pupils. ³Look at her eyes.´ "Just shut up!´ Angela spoke sharply. ³I'm getting sick of you being such jerks! Just because she doesn¶t feel well doesn¶t mean she¶s on drugs.´ She turned to Tanya. "You do look pale. I wouldn't pay any attention to those clowns.´ She lowered her voice. ³Kurt¶s just mad because you turned him down at the beginning of the quarter.´ ³Maybe I might have given him a chance if he would learn the meaning of personal space,´ Tanya spoke with hushed agitation. Michelle agreed with Angela. ³He¶s a douchebag. He thinks he¶s tough, but he¶s all talk.´ She changed the subject. ³Dissecting a cadaver is not easy. I don't know how you did it." Tanya's tone was muffled. "It's not the body. I'm just a touch nauseous. The smell just hit hard." Just then, Dr. Archer looked at Tanya as if she was a specimen under a microscope. Her voice was firm. "Tanya, are you sick?" "Just a little dizzy," Tanya echoed as her cheeks flushed. "Normally, the formaldehyde doesn't hit me like this."

Dr. Archer observed Tanya through large, gray, plastic framed glasses. She noticed Tanya was now flushed, when she had been pale only moments earlier. "What you should do right now is to get some fresh air and rest." Dr. Archer adjusted her glasses so that her focus was clearer. "There's also a lot of flu going around, so if you haven't gotten your flu shots, I suggest doing so as soon as possible." After the class recessed, Tanya purchased a can of seven-up and a bag of pretzels. Although the snack made her feel better, she still didn't feel quite right. She turned to Angela and Michelle. "Listen, I'm going to have to leave early. I'm feeling a bit off. My cramps are killing me and I can't concentrate. I will see you at open lab." Angela had a suggestion. "You might try Advil and a hot bath." She sipped her bottled water. "You'll be fine on that practical. Dr. Archer just likes to scare us to make sure we study the material. Stressing out will only make it worse." Michelle disagreed. "I don't know, Angie. She's one of the hardest instructors in the department. She teaches as if it was the only class we've got. I thought I did well on the pop quiz, but only got a 76 %."

After Tanya graciously thanked Michelle and Angela for understanding why she had to leave so early, she headed toward the East exit of the Campus. Unbeknownst to her, a large figure clad in a charcoal trench coat loomed in the stairwell. He blended into the dimmed hallways so he could not be seen. He knew when Tanya was due to get out of her class. He also had known where she had parked her car.As she left the lounge across from the laboratory, he headed towards the vending machines and purchased a soda. While his back was to her, he carefully listened to her footsteps. He watched her out of the corner of his right eye when she passed him. He had waited until she was at least fifty feet ahead so she wouldn't have a clue she was being followed. The way her hair moved with her sent shivers through his entire body. He made note of those awful Kelly green scrubs she was wearing. Tanya deserved something far better. Yet, even those scrubs couldn't hide her shapely body. His eye fixed on her rear end, which some would say was too large. In the

stranger's eyes, however, she looked healthy. His philosophy was that curves were what made the woman. He watched her like a hawk, as she zipped up her jacket and ambled towards her car. He was tempted to approach her, but he exercised self-control and held back. Now was not the time. He knew she was not well for whatever reason. He was close enough to watch her climb inside the car and closed the door.

21 2
After Tanya parked her car, she turned off the ignition and headed towards the side entrance of the duplex. She set her book bag on the floor; her denim jacket on the sofa and went into the bedroom to change into an old pair of pink sweats. She headed towards the living room and collapsed onto the beige sofa. A tiny meow awakened her from her relaxed state. ³Pst, pst, pst,´ Tanya called out to her kitten when she realized that the meek mews were traced to her book bag. ³Lightening!´She scolded, removing the kitten from her bag. ³You get into the biggest trouble- how something as little as you could be so bad.´ She carried the kitten in her bedroom as she removed her sweats and put on a plush, black, terry bathrobe. Tanya turned on the faucet to the bathtub and poured her favorite bubble bath scent in the water. She debated whether or not to give Susan Novak, her best friend since freshman year in high school, a call but decided to wait until after her bath. She was hoping this hot, herbal bath would trigger something that would give her a clue as to what those visions were trying to tell her. As she closed her eyes, she inhaled the rich, herbal aroma of the bath as she felt the warm water penetrate her entire body. Her cramps began to subside.Perhaps it was the formaldehyde which aggravated them. When Tanya began to relax, her mind zoomed in on the mysterious stranger in the vision. It was as if a radio was picking up two stations at once. As she began to focus, it was as if the voice she heard was coming from a remote station. A warm, tingling sensation crept over her as she heard the voice again. Although she couldn¶t put a face with the disembodied voice, she had a sense that it belonged to a man in his late twenties or early thirties.The way he had spoken and touched her gave the impression he was trying to seduce her. However, the feeling she experienced was what some would describe as an addict going through withdrawal. Yet, Tanya never used drugs. Aside from occasional marijuana use back at U of I, she never had used anything else. And marijuana was not a powerful enough hallucinogenic to bring

about those horrible visions. She distracted herself with a memory of when she and Susan were high school sophomores and had detention for deciding to ditch gym class and catch a bus to the nearest mall. Afterwards, they got a ride home from Drew Finley, a neighborhood boy who was a senior and ran with a fast crowd. Tanya never forgot the way her mother grilled her on how stupid it was to cut class and how Drew was bad news. A scampering sound entered through the bathroom door. She opened her eyes and saw Lightening looking up at her right next to the tub. She dried her right hand on the red towel and stroked the kitten¶s charcoal fur behind its ears. ³Oh, sweetie; Mommy didn¶t mean to neglect you. I¶m just out of synch.´ The little kitten appeared concerned for his owner. After Tanya drained the tub and rinsed herself off, she reached for a green towel. She wrapped herself in the towel and ran a wide-tooth comb through her long, black, layered hair. Deftly, she wiped some of the fog from the mirror and glanced at her reflection in disgust. She felt as if a total stranger was looking back at her. Her face was puffy; her ivory skin was nearly white; her thick hair was in desperate need of a cut. Even the fuller breasts seemed to belong to a different woman than the former gymnast standing in front of the mirror. This was not the time to be reminded of the thirty extra pounds she had gained after the loss of Brian and their unborn child. Over the summer, she and her friend, Renee Vazquez, would meet over lunch and weekends to work out. However, because Renee had recently injured her back, Tanya had lost the motivation. Working full-time, and attending evening classes four nights a week, she felt lucky to even have time to sleep, let alone exercise or get a haircut. As Tanya was in the midst of her thoughts, her cell phone rang a couple of times before she answered. The caller ID prompt read Unavailable. ³Hello? Hello?´ There was silence on the other end. ³Hello? Hello?´ She grew annoyed as the line went dead. ³Probably a wrong number,´ she thought aloud, sensing nothing sinister.

23 3

Maureen Blanchetti was a woman in her mid-forties whom appeared ten years younger. Nicole, her youngest, was a senior in high school. Maureen was stir-frying various vegetables as Nicole was putting spaghetti in the pot of boiling water. She talked non-stop about her prospective major in college next year. ³I¶m looking at the University of Minnesota. It has a good business program. I¶m just not sure whether I should go into business or marketing.´ Maureen nodded, but had her reservations. ³I have no doubt you¶ll be good in marketing. You¶re very outgoing, ambitious, and pretty. However, you¶re looking at over $40,000 a year for tuition alone, let alone out of state. You¶re better off going to WakefieldCommunity College first to get your associates degree. That way, it¶ll automatically transfer to a state university.´ She paused, stirring the vegetables with a wooden spoon. ³It¶s something to think about, Nicki.´ Nicole heard some noise coming from the lower level in which Tanya resided. ³Doesn¶t Tanya have class tonight?´ She tasted a noodle to see if the pasta was ready. ³She¶s back early.´ ³Class probably got out earlier. She¶s probably very tired.´ Five minutes later, dinner was ready. Nicole heaped a generous portion of spaghetti on her plate, followed by the stir-fried vegetables. Maureen¶s fair eyebrows rose at her daughter¶s appetite. ³At least save some for your sister,´ Maureen chided good-naturedly. ³Oh, you don¶t need to worry about that, mom. I will,´ chirped Nicole. ³By the way, when is your car going to be ready? I need it on Saturday.´ ³Alan¶s still working on it. He¶s got three other cars before ours.´ Nicole had a glint of mischief in her dark brown eyes. ³Is it just me, or does he look good lately?´ ³He stopped drinking awhile ago. It¶s a good thing he quit while he¶s still young. I just lost a patient to cirrhosis of the liver. You just can¶t abuse your body all your life and expect not to suffer.´

Nicole changed the subject. ³I think Alan and Tanya should get married.´ Maureen had a dubious look. ³You also have to be compatible. Alan¶s more like an older brother to you girls. He¶s a diamond in the rough who¶s going to need a smart woman.´ She took a bite of her vegetables, ³If only he¶d get rid of that tramp-´ Nicole rolled her eyes. ³God, she makes me want to puke!´ ³You girls are in school to get an education; not to chase after boys,´ Maureen¶s tone was firm, as she made her point. ³The ones who spend all their time doing that don¶t go very far in life. They either end up unwed mothers, or with AIDS. Let¶s not forget other diseases-.´ ³But Tanya ended up pregnant and not married, but she¶s not some slut-.´ ³She and Brian were also a loving couple with big career plans already set in motion´ Maureen finished. ³It was a very different set of circumstances.´ ³He was also a drunk,´ Nicole persisted. ³How he could be that stupid when he knew-³ ³Not everything¶s so clear cut, Nicole,´ Maureen cut in. ³Don¶t kid yourself-Tanya would still have had a very difficult time raising an infant on her own, even with our help. Had Brian not been killed, there¶s a good chance he¶d have gotten a DUI or killed someone else because he made an unwise decision to drink and drive. I mean, I liked Brian-very bright, pleasant guy. It¶s terrible what happened-I felt like I lost the son I never had, but your sister refuses to face the probability that he¶d have been thrown out of med school for that, not to mention facing time in jail. Imagine having a new baby to raise under those circumstances.´ ³Hey, I¶d have helped out. Crazy as it sounds, I was actually looking forward to being Aunt Nicki.´ Her face assumed an impish look. ³I know what it is. The thought of being a grandmother makes you feel old.´ Maureen gave Nicole a friendly slap on her shoulder. ³Don¶t remind me. I¶ve had to start dying my hair to cover up the grays.´ She looked at the yellow ceramic bowl in front of her only one third full. ³Your sister better come up here if she wants to eat.´

Nicole laughed as she wolfed down the last few bites on her plate. ³Oh, don¶t worry. She can smell pasta a mile away. She¶ll be here in no time.´

26 4

The sound of Metallicaechoed throughout the apartment as Alan Wyman was struggling with his last two repetitions of the bench press. ³Eleven«.twelve«´ He grunted as he barely lifted the bar with two forty-five pound plates on either side. After he was through with the bench press, he did sit-ups with a thirty-five pound weight behind his head. When he finished, his roommate, Danny Cosco gasped as he saw the heavy weight Alan was using. ³Man, how many of those do you do?´ He spoke in a fast, New York City dialect that matched his medium height and husky face. ³Fifty´, Alan replied confidently. ³You¶re crazy, man. You work for twelve hours every day and work out. That would kill me.´ ³That¶s exactly why you need to do it. In the marines, it¶s the first thing you do: At 5:00 a.m. Wehad to wake up and run three miles. And that¶s just a warm-up.´ ³I can¶t even run a half a block let alone three miles.´ Danny headed to the balcony of their apartment and lit a cigarette. Alan looked at his roommate. Danny Cosco was a fast talker from Queens, New York. He worked as a salesman for a large marketing firm that relocated toChicago.³Next week will be my first year of sobriety,´ Alan shared his victory with Danny. ³Whenever I would feel the urge to drink or light up, I¶d go for a run or lift weights. The first few months were hell, but you get used to it.´ Danny inhaled, the cigarette poised between his stubby index and middle fingers. ³You lost weight, too. But I¶m the kind of person that if I quit, I¶ll gain twenty pounds-as in twenty extra pounds I don¶t need.´ He patted his round belly. Understand, Alan, I have a high stress job.´ ³That¶s where you might need help. Being a mechanic with long hours is also hard.´

Danny cocked a black, bushy eyebrow. ³Too busy for Pam, aren¶t we?´ When Alan hadn¶t responded, Danny cut in. ³Don¶t take her for granted. You don¶t know how many guys would snatch her up like that.´ He snapped his fingers. ³She¶s a hottie.´ ³We had a big fight. She¶s got to understand that my AA meetings are top priority. I¶ve even been trying to get her to go to Al-Anon so she could learn about alcoholism. What most don¶t understand is that it¶s a disease.´ ³Bullshit!´Danny interjected. ³It¶s just a matter of willpower.´ ³You don¶t understand,´ Alan shot back. ³Nobody can know what we struggle with unless you¶re affected with it. I was drinking to the point where I would have black-outs and not remember anything I did or said to whom. Finally, I got fed up and said µthis is fucked up¶.´ Danny had a haughty look. ³Tan-ya, by chance, doesn¶t have anything to do with your getting sober, does she?´ He mispronounced her name like the³a´ in cat. Alan became annoyed with his roommate. ³First off, it¶s Tanya, as in Tonya Harding, the skater, not Tanya Tucker. She would flip out if you said her name that way. As for being sober, I said and did some things that embarrassed her while I was drunk.´ ³You were just using being drunk as an excuse for beingan asshole´, Danny argued back. ³Besides, if Tanya is really your friend, she¶ll understand. If I didn¶t know better, I¶d swear you had a thing for her.´ Alan shook his head. ³We go way back. She¶s like the kid sister I never had; both she and Susan.´ He moved the red bandana from his forehead. ³Sure, Alan, sure,´ Danny was sarcastic. ³And I¶ll sell you the BrooklynBridge.´ He lightened his tone. ³Look, I¶m not knocking her. I guess I can say she¶s good-looking if you like that cat look. Personally, I find it weird. Now, Pam- There¶s a girl who knows how to have a good time.´ He winked his left eye. ³I¶ll be honest with you. Give her my number if it doesn¶t work out between her and you.´ Alan rolled his jade eyes asan irritated sigh escaped his lips. Danny was the sort of person who would date three different women simultaneously. He considered it a status to be seen with a model-type

woman irregardless of character or intellect. Every time he got dumped or cheated on, he would never learn from his mistakes. However, because of his success in sales, he drew women like magnets. ³You¶ve always had a thing for blondes. I keep telling you, stop flaunting your success. Lynnae was just using you. Over the years, our looks change, usually not for the better.´ ³There¶s no point in trying to win this argument,´ Danny spoke with defeat. ³I guess it depends on what you¶re looking for. Now, if I was in your shoes, I¶d try to work it out with Pam; not waste your time mooning over Tanya. She barely has time to date let alone get serious.´ He became more sympathetic. ³From everything you told me, I can see why she¶s the way she is.´ ³For crying out loud; the guy was stupid enough to get drunk and drive into a fucking telephone pole at eighty miles an hour,´ Alan finished. ³I may have done a lot of crazy stuff when I was drinking, but I sure as hell wasn¶t dumb enough to get behind the wheel. That¶s bullshit!´ Danny agreed with his roommate. He paused before voicing his opinion of Tanya. ³If you¶re hoping to hook up with Tanya any time soon, don¶t hold your breath. She¶s very high maintenance. I¶m telling you as a friend that if you and she hook up, you¶ll be getting involved with a very unstable broad. Never know when she¶ll flip out on you.´ He lowered his voice. ³And why go after her when you have Pam? Now, she¶s available.´ He glanced at his watch. ³Ooh, got to meet with this guy at 7 p.m.´ He looked back at Alan. ³If, by chance you change your mind, you can meet us at O¶Grady¶s pub downtown.´ ³I wouldn¶t count on it,´ Alan called out to Danny as he shut the door behind him.

29 5

³You look all refreshed.´ Maureen studied her older daughter¶s wet hair and faded pink sweats. Her mother and sister perked up as they noticed the charcoal-colored kitten in Tanya¶s arms. ³Oh, let me hold the kitty,´ Nicole eagerly rushed over to Tanya, taking Lightening in her hands. ³He¶s climbing up my arm,´ she cooed as the kitten climbed up her sleeved right arm, playing with a strand of long, dark, wavy hair. ³Kittens love to explore. He thinks you¶re a tree.´ Maureen got out of her chair and returned with a brown, paper grocery bag. She changed the subject to tonight¶s dinner. ³I have spaghetti with stir-fried vegetables. That¶s assuming you hadn¶t eaten yet.´ Tanya shook her head. ³I¶m famished.´ She poured herself a glass of iced tea and helped herself to her mother¶s concoction. ³Would you please pass the parmesan cheese?´ Maureen turned to Nicole. ³Show your sister your homecoming dress.´ She turned back to Tanya. ³It¶s just beautiful.´ After Nicole returnedmodeling the dress, Tanya was amazed how her kid sister had matured into a stunning, young woman in the last year. The ruby dress complimented Nicole¶s dark, wavy hair and olive skin as her dark, brown eyes gleamed. ³If your father was still alive, he¶d be so proud of you.´ Nicole inherited her swarthy complexion from their father, but the slender build from their mother. Tanya had her mother¶s fair skin and violet eyes, but her father¶s black hair and thicker musculature. Nicole¶s eyes had taken on a saddened look after their mother¶s tribute to their father. Tanya hurt for her sister, because Nicole had always been daddy¶s girl. She could still remember the day their father died as if it were yesterday. Nicole had been seven; Tanya was fourteen. It had been on a Saturday afternoon. Tanya and her mother had been shopping at the mall for new school clothes. Joseph Blanchetti, a genetic engineer, had been playing with Nicole and helping her with schoolwork. When Tanya and her mother returned home from the mall, Nicole had been crying with

fear in her eyes, pointing to their father, unconscious on the floor. ³Daddy fell! Daddy fell!´ She had cried. Moments later, the paramedics arrived, and took a pulse. Neither would forget the solemn looks on their faces before they broke the terrible news that Joseph Blanchetti had died of a heart attack. He had been forty-nine years old. Both girls had run into their bedrooms crying. However, Joseph¶s benefits on the job had paid off the house and left the family in good financial standing. Money also had been set aside for the girls¶ college tuition. After Nicole was through modeling her dress, Maureen told her to hang it back up. ³You don¶t want it to get dirty or wrinkled. Put it in that plastic bag you zip up.´ Wheneveryone finished dinner, Tanya excused herself. ³I have a test a week from this Thursday in my anatomy class. I need to review the material.´ She took her kitten and headed downstairs into her flat.

Silence filled Tanya¶s flat as she opened the back door that led into her kitchen. Although nothing appeared to be out of place, Tanya had a sense of apprehension, yet couldn¶t quite pinpoint it. She kicked off her slippers and propped her feet on the ottoman in front of the beige chair. Lightening sat beside her, all curled up in a gray ball. As she opened up her textbook, her phone rang. ³Hello?´ She answered, seeing a somewhat familiar number flash across caller ID. ³Are you naked yet?´ a vaguely familiar male voice asked on the other end. Tanya was in no mood for Alan¶s warped sense of humor.³Knock it off, Alan. This isn¶t funny.´ She was a bit perplexed that Alan had gone this far. He and Danny were probably having a party. ³Hey, lighten up, Tan-ya,´ he said, pronouncing her name like the A in cat. She was miffed. ³For your information, Alan, I¶m getting comfortable. I have two exams next week for which I need to study.´ ³Well, I hope you¶re available Friday night. There¶s this awesome band playing over at Carlos Zapata¶s. Meet me there Friday at eight o¶clock sharp.´

Once the call ended, Tanya was annoyed with Alan for mispronouncing her name. It was something he often did back when he used to get drunk. Lovingly, she stroked her kitten. ³That ass!´ Tanya fumed. ³He knows I hate being called Tan-ya. It makes me feel like some skankyTexas showgirl.´ After she took a few deep breaths, Tanya was able to concentrate on her anatomy book. She took a study break an hour later and decided to call Susan. However, what she didn¶t notice was her kitten¶s fur standing on end.

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