Authors: Carolyne Aarsen
And me? Well, I was off to work to make that money that Dan so quickly denigrated but didn't seem to mind when it showed up
in our checking account. I didn't understand why going to work labeled me greedy and why holding on to the bank account simply
labeled his mother cautious.
I got angrier as I drove. Thankfully I didn't have to navigate past snail-paced tractors pulling huge implements or fuel trucks
that took up half the road. The quiet roads still surprised me. In Seattle, driving to work meant scooting between hundreds
of cars, wondering why all these people were on the road, juggling through radio stations to avoid depressing news, and worrying
about what the owners of all these cars were going to do when the oil ran out.
I've always been good at multitasking.
But now my commute was quiet and, because my anger always manifested itself physically—in this case via my foot on the accelerator—short.
Which meant I had almost an hour to kill before the sun came up and my shift started.
I got some coffee at the staff cafeteria and picked up a muffin for breakfast, looking forward to a few moments of absolute
peace. One other nurse dawdled over a newspaper and didn't even look up as I passed.
An empty table called out to me and as I dropped into the chair, I yanked the paper off my muffin, anger with Dan battling
with guilt that I would miss his family get-together. Other than Wilma and Gloria, the few members of the extended VandeKeere
family I had met were friendly and pleasant. I hadn't met Dan's Grandma VandeKeere. She lived in Bozeman, over an hour's drive
away. She would probably have attended the party, and I would have liked to meet her.
I had a grandma of my own stashed away somewhere. My mother lost her when she turned eighteen and was pregnant with Terra
and hadn't bothered to go looking for her again.
Once in a while Dan would ask me about my family. I kept telling him there wasn't much to say, which was true. He never really
understood. Now, as we were spending more and more time in the bosom of his family, I knew he never really would.
As for our own family, I was getting nervous. Dan had taken to glaring at me each evening as I unwrapped another chocolate.
One less chocolate, one less day on the farm. Every week created some new shift in our relationship. I wasn't sure if we were
shifting closer together or if Dan was slowly being sucked into his family and away from me.
Not thinking about that right now,
I warned myself. I pulled a pen and notebook from my purse. My dream book had all the details of Dan and my dream home. The
size, the number of rooms, the style of the cupboards, the brand of siding, the colors of the paint. Sometimes I rearranged
the house plan, moved the rooms, added features that I found in home and gardening magazines.
I flipped through the book, coming to the back section. The finances. I examined the final figure Dan and I had estimated
our house would cost us. My heart sunk as the dream wavered. Was I being realistic? Would we ever be able to afford it? And
if not, then what?
The phantom thought reared its head again.
Dr. John. Yay. Distraction.
“Do you live in the hospital?” I asked, closing my dream book. “Weren't you on call last night?”
“Just finished and needed some down time. I don't like going home. House is too empty.”
He sounded so lonely I felt a flash of pity. “How was last night?”
“Steady, though I managed to get some sleep about four o'clock.” He brought me up to speed on a few of the cases even though
Roberta would be giving me a rundown at changeover. “Amelia Castelman brought her baby in again. Poor thing is going downhill,
but she won't let me refer her to either a pediatrician or a social worker. I was tempted to keep the baby in the hospital
so we could feed her, but I didn't have a strong enough reason and Amelia wouldn't allow it.”
Amelia's baby's chart was long and illustrious, as was Amelia's. Single mother, living on welfare. Her little girl was borderline
malnourished and, we were sure, handicapped. But Amelia wouldn't let us refer her to a specialist. Social Services had gotten
involved, but again, their hands were tied. Not enough evidence.
It broke my heart. Each time that baby came in I wanted to kidnap her and bring her home.
That's why I didn't read the papers. Why read about misery abroad when enough of it came through the doors of the hospital?
“All in all another night in Harland.” Dr. John rubbed his chin, his whiskers dark against his skin. I thought of Dan's whiskers.
Mentally compared the two. Then wondered why I did. Married women shouldn't be comparing their husbands to attractive men.
It wasn't fair. I got to see Dan in sickness and in health, in dirty clothes with grease under his fingernails and first thing
in the morning when both his hair and his mood stuck up in all directions.
Dr. John's smile made his eyes crinkle with warmth. “You're looking lovely this morning.”
After my fiasco this morning, his compliment was like gourmet chocolate. Smooth and soothing and easy to take. “Thanks,” I
said, the kindness in his voice making me feel trembly. “Not feeling too lovely.”
“Why not? Your in-laws making you feel inferior?” John covered my hand with his.
I clung to the sympathetic connection, feeling like I had an ally. “I missed an anniversary party today that I knew nothing
about. Big problem.”
“Was it a VandeKeere function? Sorry, my dear, you are in it deep,” he teased.
“I can just imagine what Wilma and Gloria will say,” I groaned, shaking my head. “Or look like.” I could picture perfect Gloria
with her perfect figure, clothes, and hair. Which usually made me perfectly envious. Which I didn't want to be because envy
of Gloria meant she had something I wanted, which meant she had something over me, which meant I was lacking.
Jealousy. Not as easy as it looks.
“You don't want their life,” Dr. John said quietly. “All that pressure to keep up the facade. I'm sure Gloria spends hours
getting the eye shadow right.”
This comment struck me as a little harsh, but at the same time I felt a niggling satisfaction that someone somewhere didn't
see perfection in Gloria. “I guess I won't be asking her for makeup tips.”
“You don't need makeup tips from anyone,” Dr. John said. He leaned a little closer, smiled just a little deeper, his hand
squeezed just a little tighter. “Especially not from someone like Gloria. You are a very beautiful woman, in your own right.”
He's coming on to you.
I knew that, but I let myself linger in the light of his appreciation for a little longer. The insecure part of me welcomed
his flattery, his attention. Like eating that extra piece of cake you know you shouldn't. This morning I needed the boost.
He yawned, and rubbed his eyes with his other hand. Lines of weariness etched his face.
“You'd better go home,” I said, feeling a moment's sympathy for him. “You look exhausted.”
His smile warmed my heart. “I am tired. But it's nice to sit with you a minute.”
You're playing with fire.
This time I listened and slowly drew my hand away from his. Then I checked the clock. “Time to go.” I stood as Dr. John pushed
himself up with a sigh. He was so tired, he almost swayed into me. I had to take a quick step to avoid him.
“Sorry about that,” he said. “Exhaustion makes me clumsy.”
“That's okay,” I assured him, but as I walked away, I couldn't resist a glance over my shoulder.
And he was watching me! His scrutiny made me uncomfortable, but I am a weak woman, and the second glance from him was as tangible
as a touch.
From: [email protected]
I wouldn't fuss over the Dr. John thing. Sounds like U can use a friend. As for Dan, U need to set some boundaries, sister.
Dan is changing the rules and U shouldn't put up with it. Sure, Montana is beautiful, but so is Seattle. Do U really think
U'd manage to survive there? BTW I'm probably going to be moving up there. Lost my job here. Boss was a jerk, so it's all
good. So U have to move back, little sis. Be like old times again.
From: [email protected]
I don't know what I want anymore, Terra. Josie, my last friend from Seattle, hasn't been returning my calls or my e-mails.
I feel like I'm slowly losing my identity, my husband, my family. I'm getting confused. Dan and I have been living past each
other the past few days. Judy called—said she was sorry I missed the party. I felt bad for letting her down. Gloria phoned
too. Said she had forgotten to tell me about the party. Said she was sorry. I felt like hanging up on her.
oberta just called. She's going to be about half an hour late. Had another emergency at home,” Arlene said, leaning against
the partition that gave me some privacy from the rest of the ward.
I felt a stab of annoyance with Roberta but knew that it could as easily have been me trying to find a babysitter.
“Lucky for her, things are pretty quiet for a Friday night,” Arlene continued.
I looked up at the receptionist, horrified. “Are you asking for trouble?”
Arlene shot me a puzzled look.
“You never, never say that out loud.” I gave her a stern look, hoping that by warning her I had possibly staved off disaster.
The same thought had crept around the edges of my mind, taunting it, but I knew better than to give it even a whisper of attention
for fear it would create its own energy. “Every time someone says that, things go haywire.”
She laughed. “Sorry. I was just making conversation.”
I was about to reply, when I heard the roar of a car pulling up to the entrance, tires screeching and horn blasting.
“Like I said,” I muttered as she left to see what the problem was. I got up to prep a room just as the doors swooshed open
and the unbridled sobbing of three teenage girls filled the entrance. I couldn't help the faint uptick of my heart, the little
adrenaline rush that prepared me to face this so-far unknown.
“She's not talking. She's really sick,” I heard the girls wail.
I strode quickly out to the reception area and repressed a sigh at the typical Friday-night sight that greeted me.
A boy who didn't look old enough to drive half-carried, half-pulled a young girl whose long blonde hair hung in a stringy
mat over her face. Her head hung almost to her stomach; her bare feet dragged over the floor. She wore standard-issue low-cut
blue jeans and a skimpy T-shirt, her clothing almost identical to that of her two friends, who were sobbing and hugging each
The sour stench of regurgitated alcohol and food rolled ahead of her, and I tried not to sigh. I could handle blood a lot
better than vomit.
Arlene glanced up at me. “Guess you've got work to do. I've paged Dr. John. He'll be here right away.” Arlene called one of
the girls aside to get what information she could. Her next step was the unenviable job of calling the young girl's parents.
The young man turned to me, desperation in his eyes. “I don't know what happened. We were at a party.”
I glanced at the girl's stained blue jeans, the vomit streaking her T-shirt and clothes. And as I brushed her hair aside,
my heart skipped its next beat.
Dan's niece and Gloria's pride and joy.
Her pert little face and beautiful shining hair were smeared with dirt and vomit, her head lolling to one side, like a doll
with a broken neck.
“What's your name?” I asked the boy.
“Deke,” he answered.
“Help me get her on this bed, Deke.” I glanced over at the hysterical girls and chose the most lucid one. “You come with me. The
rest of you go back to the reception area.”
“She's not going to die, is she?” the other girl sobbed, weaving as she stood.
“Go wait in reception,” I snapped. I didn't have time for hand-holding.
Once we got Tabitha into bed, I propped her up so she wouldn't choke, then brushed her sticky hair away from her mouth and
checked her breathing.
“What happened?” I asked Deke as I pulled open both eyelids. Pupils normally dilated, thank goodness. I slipped up her sleeve
to check her blood pressure. Her icy skin made my own heart rate jump.
I needed to start an IV, but I needed more information first.
To my surprise, my hands were trembling as I pressed the button to inflate the b.p. cuff. I had never had to work on someone
I knew so well, and it created an extra tension.
“We were at a party and then, well… I don't know,” his voice trailed off, guilt emanating from him in waves.
“You do know. Tell me.” My don't-mess-with-me nurse voice was colored with an edge of ticked-off-auntie.
“Well, we had some liquor there.”
“How much did she have to drink?” I asked, my glance ticking from Deke to the girl. “Did she have any drugs?”
“Do you remember, Cassie?” Deke asked the girl, who steadfastly refused to look at me.
“Don't mess with me, kids,” I said sternly as the machine read off her b.p. I clipped an oxymeter to her finger and turned
back to Cassie. “I don't care what you did. I'm not going to report you to the police, but I need to know exactly what happened
so that I do the right thing for Tabitha. We don't have a lot of time here.”
Cassie turned wide eyes to me. “Are you going to tell my mom?”
“Right now that's not important. What else did Tabitha have to drink?”
I glanced at the monitor. Steady and normal. Heart rate slightly decreased.
“No drugs. Right, Cassie? She didn't have any drugs. And she only downed one cooler. I swear.”
“Don't swear—tell the truth,” I said as I glanced down at Tabitha, hating the way she smelled and looked.
The scenario was so cheap. So common. “She had way more than one cooler,” I said.
“Okay. Maybe it was more,” Deke relented. I started a chart, scribbled a few notes.
Standing orders in this case were to start an IV to rehydrate and dilute the alcohol, so I prepped the site and started the
drip. Cassie wavered at the sight.