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AWLL 1 - Book 10 - The Wife

Michael Loucks

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For Birgit

Prologue

Chicago, Illinois

"Big brother? The Board is waiting for you," my sister said.


I pushed my chair back from the computer workstation that occupied half of my corner office and got my suit jacket from the hook on the wall.


"Keep working on that bug, Penny," I said. "I'll be back in a few hours. We should be done just in time for lunch."


"I'll have this one and more fixed by then!" she laughed.


"I know you will!" I agreed. "You're always quick!"


"But you never were!" she giggled.


"Over twenty years and you haven't stopped with the silly comments! You're still cute, Pretty Penny!"


"I am, aren't I?" she laughed.


She jumped up and kissed me on the cheek, something that she'd done every time we parted once we'd started working together.


My sister laughed. "That's almost as bad as calling me Squirt. You've called her that ever since she was in High School."


"True. I assume that everyone else has assembled in the boardroom?"


"Of course," she said.


I walked down the hall, stopping to use a window to straighten my tie. I hated the things, but I felt I should dress properly when I addressed the board. I walked into the room and took my seat just to the right of the Chairman, and my sister sat across from me as she usually did.


"Now that everyone is here, I'd like to call this quarterly meeting of the Board of Directors of NIKA Consulting to order," Joyce said. "The Secretary will record the roll."


"Madam Chairman?"


"Here."


"Doctor Driesson?"


"Here."


"Captain Schumacher?"


"Present."


"Doctor Pater?"


"Here."


"Mr. Adams?"


"Here."


"Mr. Adams, the younger?"


"Here!" I chuckled as I always did at that reference.


"Ms. Adams?"


"Here."


"Mrs. Kallas?"


"Here."


"Ms. Clarke?"


"Here."


"Everyone is present. There is a quorum," the Secretary announced.


"Let's start with the quarterly financials. Elyse?" Joyce said.


"Revenues are down a bit, as was expected when the indictments were filed against the union leaders and we severed our contracts with them. The pipeline for new business was a bit soft because of Steve's absence, but it's looking better now that he's quashed the rumors that he was running off to Russia to become a monk."


There was general laughter and an "As if!" muttered under my sister's breath.


"If you'll take out the financial report, I'll go over the details with you."


I was bored stiff by these presentations, but they were necessary. I half-listened as I looked around the room and made eye contact with an old friend who was sitting in a chair at the side of the room. I wondered how the board was going to react to my announcement.


"Thank you, Elyse," Joyce said.


"Elyse, our overseas revenue seems to have spiked a bit. What do you attribute that to?" Doctor Driesson asked.


"Our relationship with the firm in Moscow has begun to pay off. Steve's friendship with their CEO is going to pay off for us very nicely in Europe."


I smiled remembering my first encounter with the wonderful Russian woman who ran a similarly named, but legally separate, firm in Europe. That had been a long time ago.


"Julia, would you present the business development report, and project status update, please?" Joyce asked.


"You have a binder in front of you that contains all current and prospective clients, along with projected revenue from each. There is also a, thankfully short, list of clients who have ended their relationship with us for one reason or another. None of them were of any significant size. As Elyse noted, the pipeline was soft, but thanks to hard work by Cindi's team, it's improved significantly.


"All of our software packages are doing well. Specifically, development of our newest medical office software release is progressing well, and we're on target for our planned release in January. Our beta customers are reporting bugs at about the expected rate and Dave was kind enough to allow Steve to be pulled out of a debugging session for this meeting. As we all know, he's better off there than here."


More general laughter. Everyone knew I hated these meetings and strongly preferred to be at my workstation with Penny at my side, coding or debugging.


Julia discussed the major new clients that were being solicited and gave the estimated prospects for closing the deals. She talked about a few new proposals that she wanted funded and then finished her report.


"I have one more item that's not in my official report," she said, passing around a sheet of paper.


"This is a request from the Naval Research Laboratory to have Penny assigned to a special project for a period of one year. It seems one of Steve's friends needs some help. The contract is fairly lucrative, but I can't discuss it in this meeting becuase it's classified. I had a background check so that I could be read into it, and Captain Schumacher's security clearance is still active, so I discussed the details with him. The Navy does have a concern about Steve, because of his recent difficulties, so he might not ever be able to know the precise details of what she's working on."


I nodded, "Understood. I'll give my blessing."


"I'll set up a meeting with the Commander for next week. She's looking forward to seeing you, Steve."


"It's been some time since I've seen her, though we talk occasionally. It'll be nice to reconnect. She's actually up for promotion to Captain, I believe." I said.


"That's all for me," Julia said.


"The President's report," Joyce said with a smile.


"I actually have something to say, for once!" I grinned. "On the advice of my attorney, I've retained a bodyguard. Melanie is concerned that some of the threats being made by union thugs might actually be serious. I believe you all know Katya Sergeyevna, formerly a Colonel in the KGB. Her firm provides our security systems. The young man sitting next to her, Quenton Jefferson is a former Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant and will be my bodyguard until this blows over."


"Mrs. Anisimova, do you think these threats are credible?" my dad asked.


"We take all threats seriously, Ray Mauricevich. I've added an extra guard in the lobby, and we'll be beefing up the card access system, and adding some extra surveillance cameras on the building. Stepa Rayevich and family, all of them, will be safe. You have my word on that."


"Anything else, Steve?" Joyce asked.


"A word of thanks to all of you for everything you did while I was spending quality time with Pete."


More laughter.


"Also, in front of you, you have a proposal for further share option grants that will come out of my holdings. I'd like it approved, if you all agree."


"I've reviewed it," Elyse said. "There are a few things I need to clear with our counsel, but otherwise, there is no impact on the firm. We're privately held, so the shares are only an indicator of how we handle profit sharing. The shares have no real value beyond that, though we do buy them back from former employees at the current declared value."


"Son, it looks like you won't hold 50% of the shares after this is done. Are you sure you want to do this?"


"Between Stephanie, you, and me, we'll still have over 50%. I also can't imagine that Joyce would vote her shares against me, nor any of the other executives. And you know Penny certainly won't. Even if they did, unless you and Stephanie join them, I'll still retain control. Not that it matters. Stephanie, Elyse, and Julia make most of the decisions and run them by Joyce. I'm just a programmer!"


"You know that's not true, big brother. You're the big picture guy. You always have been."


I chuckled, nodding with a shrug.


The meeting continued as they discussed my proposal, and in the end, it was approved. There was some other business to conduct but I tuned out, thinking about the bugs I had been working on and the new modules that I needed to write. As predicted, the meeting adjourned just before lunch. I shook hands with everyone, and then headed to the washroom. I felt a little strange being accompanied to the urinal by a 6'3", 220 pound black man with a hard look on his face, but I figured I needed to get used to it, at least for a while.


When I came out, my wife was waiting for me.


"Ready for lunch?" she asked.


"Absolutely, Doctor Adams!" I said, taking her hand and walking towards the elevators with Quenton following closely behind us.

I. It Never Ends, Part I

Christmas Eve, 1984, Chicago, Illinois

'If you end up with a boring, miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.' -Frank Zappa



"Who is this?" I asked, unsure if it was Bethany's or Jennifer's dad who was calling to tell me about an accident.


"It's Ed," Bethany's brother said.


His voice had become deeper and I hadn't recognized it!


"How bad?" I asked.


"I don't know anything except that the Indiana State Police told my dad that she was airlifted to a hospital in Indianapolis. My dad called but they wouldn't tell him anything over the phone."


"Oh fuck!" I exclaimed, tears forming in my eyes.


"What?" Kara asked, concerned.


"Bethany!" I said, as the tears began to stream down my face.


"No!" Kara said, collapsing back in her chair.


"Where, Ed?" I asked.


"Indiana University Hospital. Dad's warming up the car. Mom had me call you. I'm leaving with them right now."


"OK. We're on our way," I said, hanging up.


"Is she...?" Kara asked, a horrified look on her face.


"I don't know. All Ed knows is that she was airlifted to Indiana University Hospital. Pack a bag for each of us. I need to call my sister, Elyse, and Kathy. Then we'll drive to Indianapolis."


"OK. Can I have a hug, Snuggle Bear?"


I pulled her into my arms and we held each other for a minute, then she left the office to pack our bags.


I dialed my sister's number.


"Steve! Merry Christmas!" Stephanie answered happily. "When are you getting here?"


"Squirt, Bethany was in an accident driving home. I'm on my way to Indianapolis right now."


"Oh no!" she gasped. "How is she?"


"I don't know. The police told her parents that she was airlifted to Indiana University Hospital. The hospital wouldn't tell her dad anything over the phone."


"Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!" she said. "I'm going to meet you there."


"No, Squirt. Kara's with me. I need you to call Melanie, Jennifer, Joyce, Larry, and Stephie for me. I'll call you from Indianapolis."


"The hell you will! I'll make the calls, but I WILL see you in Indianapolis."


"Fine," I said, resigned to not being able to control my sister. "Drive safely."


"You too, big brother!" she said.


I hung up and dialed Kathy's number. Her mom called her to the phone.


"Steve? Bethany's mom has called twice. Did something happen?" Kathy asked.


"Bethany was in an accident driving home. She was airlifted to Indiana University Hospital in Indianapolis. That's all we know."


"Oh my God! Oh my God! No!" she wailed.


"I'm on my way there with Kara. Bethany's parents and her brother are on their way."


"I'm going to talk to Kurt. We'll probably drive there, too!" Kathy said.


"Drive safely! If I don't see you there, I'll call you as soon as I find out anything."


We hung up and I dialed Elyse's number just as Kara walked into my office with two bags. Elyse's dad answered and called her to the phone.


"Bethany was in a bad accident," I said without any preamble. "I don't know anything more than that, and Kara and I are leaving right now for Indianapolis."


"Holy shit! Do you need me to come there?" Elyse asked.


"No, I don't think so. Kara's with me, and Stephanie is on her way soon. I'll call you the second I know anything. I promise."


"Jesus," Elyse sighed. "What the fuck is going on?"


"Jennifer's in bad shape, too. She and Josie broke up."


"Oh for the love of God! Can we rewind a week and get a fucking do-over?"


"It never ends, Elyse," I sighed. "I'll call you. Please call our housemates and make sure that they know."


"I will. I'm so sorry, Steve."


"Thanks, Elyse," I said.


I hung up and Kara and I ran for her car, though I did stop to lock the front door. We threw our bags in the car and it dawned on me that I should let Penny and her parents know. I asked Kara to warm up the car and ran up the steps on to the Nichols' porch. I rang the bell and Bart opened the door.


"Steve? Merry Christmas!" he said.


"Merry Christmas," I said automatically, but quickly added, "Bart, a friend of mine was in a very bad accident and I'm heading to Indianapolis. I'll probably be gone for several days. Would you let Penny know and ask her to bring in my mail and newspapers?"


"Sure. But if you want, I can get her and you can tell her yourself."


"That's probably best," I said.


I waited in the foyer while Bart called Penny down from her room.


"Hi, Steve!" she said.


"Penny, my friend Bethany was in a bad accident and I need to go to Indianapolis."


"Your best friend? Oh no!" she said, suddenly very concerned. "Are you OK?"


"I'm hanging in there. But I need to go and I'll be gone for a while, I think. Would you bring in my mail and newspapers?"


"Yes! Of course! I'm so sorry, Steve."


"Thanks, Penny. I need to go," I said.


"Bye!" she said. "I hope she's OK."


"Me too, Penny," I said. "Me too."


"Drive safely!" Bart said as I turned to leave.


"I will. Thanks."


I ran down to the car and hopped in and Kara pulled out into the street. I checked the atlas and located the hospital in Indianapolis. I told Kara just to head as if she was going to Cincinnati and I'd give her the turns when we got close. She was driving faster than she normally did and I gently requested she slow down just a bit saying it was more important to arrive alive.


"Sorry," she said. "I'm just upset and I want to get there."


"Me too, but let's not take any risks. I'm sorry this ruined our Christmas."


"I grabbed your gift for me and my gift for you. They're in my bag. Along with our year ornament, though I guess we won't put it on a tree."


"I guess not," I sighed.


We both left unspoken the question of what we'd find in Indianapolis. There was nothing to be gained by speculating and I didn't want to talk about it. My friends from Ohio would get to the hospital a couple of hours before we would, but there was nothing I could do to get us there faster.


"Snuggle Bear, I'm going to drive through Wendy's," she said when we reached Lebanon, about 25 miles north of Indianapolis.


"OK. I suppose we do need something to eat."


Kara drove through and we got our orders, and ate as we closed the remaining distance towards the hospital.


"Follow I-65 to Exit 114," I said. "I'll direct you from there. It's only a couple of turns."

Christmas Eve, 1984, Indianapolis, Indiana

We pulled into the hospital parking lot 28 minutes after leaving Wendy's. We sprinted for the entrance to the emergency room and through the automatic doors. I quickly scanned the room and saw Ed and his parents and hurried over to them.


"Mr. Krajick, how is she?" I asked.


His face was ashen, "Bad. They don't know if she'll make it."


"Where is she?" I asked.


"She was just rushed back to surgery for internal bleeding," he said.


Kara put her arm around me and we held each other.


"What injuries?"


"I don't know all the details. The doctor said multiple internal injuries, broken bones, lacerations, and possibly a skull fracture."


"Holy shit," I breathed. "What happened?"


My sister came over and put her arm around me from the other side. It was a good thing, because I was ready to collapse. Between Kara and Stephanie, they managed to support me.


"We don't know for sure. Her car was found upside down in a ditch on I-65 halfway between West Lafayette and Indianapolis. The police think she might have been run off the road, but there aren't any witnesses who actually saw the crash. Just the trucker who saw her a few minutes after it happened. The rescue team had to cut her out of the car."


"God damn," I said,


"Dad's here," Stephanie said. "He went to get some coffee for everyone."


"Did Kathy and Kurt come?" I asked.


"Yeah, they're over there," she said pointing.


"I need to call Elyse. Did you call the others?"


"Yes. I called and updated them, too. Jennifer's in bad shape, big brother."


"Shit. OK. One crisis at a time, please. I need to call Elyse."


"Let me do that. Let's have you go sit with Kurt and Kathy," Stephanie said.


I nodded and let her lead me and Kara over to where my friends were. Kathy was crying, and we all hugged as a group, and then I sat down next to Kathy, with Kara on my other side.


"It's really bad," Kathy said, crying. "From what the doctor said, I don't think she's going to make it."


"Don't be so quick to write her epitaph," I said. "Bethany is no quitter. If she was, she wouldn't have stuck with me for this long."


"I know, but you heard what they said, right?"


"I did. And Wen was in extremely critical condition and she pulled through. If there is ANY justice in this fucking universe, any justice at all, Bethany is going to make it. What do you know about the first surgery?"


"It was to try to stabilize her and stop the bleeding," Kurt said. "I guess it didn't work since they rushed her back to surgery. They can't even try to fix everything else until she's stable."


"Fuck!"


"Yeah," he agreed.


My sister came back and sat across from me.


"I called Elyse. She's upset, obviously, just like the rest of our friends. They're spreading the word."


"Damn. I forgot to call Jackie," I said. "And the rest of my housemates."


"Steve, you asked Elyse to do that, remember?" Kara prodded gently.


"Yeah. But I should call them myself."


"Wait until morning, big brother," Stephanie counseled. "There's nothing anyone except the doctors can do right now."


"I suppose. What's up with Jennifer?"


"You heard that she and Josie broke up, I'm sure," Stephanie said. "Well, she's a basket case. I'm concerned that she's drinking again."


"Damn," I said. "I hope her mom took my advice and took away her car keys. Is she still coming to Chicago?"


"Yes. If you're still here, I'll go get her for you. Dad already reserved some hotel rooms for everyone for tomorrow."


"He's got to be the coolest customer on the planet," Kara said.


"Hey, if you'd had two destroyers sunk from under you by German U-Boats, you'd be a cool customer, too!" I said.


"What?" Stephanie gasped.


"World War II was a bitch. It tried to do him in, but failed. And here we are."


"How did you find out?" my sister asked.


"He told me a couple of months ago," I said.


As if on cue, my dad came into the waiting area with a large tray of coffee from Dunkin' Donuts. Thankfully, he'd brought one for me. He also had some hot chocolate, a cup of which Kara took. When he'd handed it out, he came over by us.


"Has anything changed?" he asked Stephanie.


"No. You know she was rushed back to surgery just before you went to get the coffee."


"How are you doing, Son?" he asked.


"I feel like one of those bags they use to train boxers," I said. "Life has pummeled the hell out of me the last few days. Shit! I just remembered that I was supposed to meet Wen's parents tomorrow. What a fucking mess!"


"I think they'll understand, Son. Can you reach her to let her know?"


"I can call the hospital tomorrow. She has a phone in her room. Stephanie said Jennifer's in bad shape, too."


"She told me on the way here. Did your sister tell you that I booked hotel rooms for everyone?"


"Yes she did. Thanks. Where's Mom?"


"Home with Jeff. I'll be driving back to Milford first thing in the morning. After that, it'll depend on how things go. If you or Stephanie need me, or anyone needs anything, I can be here in two hours."

Christmas Day, 1984, Indianapolis, Indiana

About an hour later, I saw a doctor walk over to where Bethany's parents were sitting. I quickly got up and walked over to listen.


"First off," the doctor said, "the fact that she was wearing her seatbelt when the car rolled over was an important factor. Without it, we wouldn't be having this conversation. As for her injuries, we stopped the bleeding. All we can do now is wait and see if she stabilizes enough to start working on her other problems. Her condition is extremely grave. The next few hours are critical. The good news is that there does not appear to be any inter-cranial pressure from the skull fracture. But, and this is important, that doesn't mean it won't happen. If it does, that complicates things even more than they are right now."


"Doctor, CAN she make it?" I asked.


"Who are you?"


"Her boyfriend and best friend," I said.


"It's OK, Doctor," Mr. Krajick said. "He's the person closest to my daughter of anyone, including us."


"Son, I don't know," the doctor said. "Anything is possible. If you are inclined to pray, I'll take all the help that I can get. Her injuries are that severe. I've seen some people recover. I've seen a lot who don't. I'm the best trauma surgeon in the city, but sometimes that doesn't matter."


I nodded, "Thanks for being honest with me."


"I learned a long time ago that platitudes don't help. I get complaints about my bedside manner all the time. I fix broken bodies. I'll leave the PR to someone else."


"Then she's in the best possible hands," I said. "I don't need bullshit platitudes. Just information. Would you share?"


He looked at Bethany's parents and her dad nodded.


"We removed her spleen. She can live without that. She has lacerations on her liver. We just fixed one of those that we missed before. Those are problematic, but again, she can survive those. When she came in, she had arrhythmia due to fluid around her heart. We drained that and it hasn't built up again. She had a collapsed lung which we re-inflated. We inserted a chest tube. She has several broken ribs which is a classic flail chest. Again, something that will heal. She has a tear in her diaphragm that has to be surgically repaired, so she's on a ventilator. Her skull is fractured, but there's no pressure building up. If that holds, it will heal. She lost quite a bit of blood, but transfusions have fixed that. She has a badly broken arm, shattered really, which is splinted. She also has contusions all over her body.


"Any one, or even two or three of those things, and I'd be somewhat optimistic. Piling all of them on at once? I can't make any promises of any kind, even if I was inclined to do so, which I'm not. I don't know for sure what caused the fluid around her heart. I don't know if any of her other organs were damaged. I don't know about the severe concussion that she must have, given the skull fracture. And that's just it - I don't know."


Bethany's mom was sobbing and her dad had tears running down his cheek. I had tears of my own.


I held out my hand, and the doctor took it. I shook his hand vigorously.


"Thank you Doctor Barton," I said. "The lack of BS is refreshing."


"You looked like you could take it. You understood everything I said?"


"Yeah. She's in deep shit."


He chuckled, then composed himself, "That is the bottom line. Are you pre-med?"


"No. Computers. But I read voraciously. Thanks for being a straight shooter."


"You're welcome, Mr.?"


"Adams. Please call me Steve. Everyone does."


"Al Baron. Your girlfriend is a fighter, Steve. That's a good thing, or she'd have been dead before they got her into the helicopter."


I nodded and he headed towards the elevators.


"Wow," my sister said from behind me. "I've never heard a doctor talk like that, even on TV."


"Yeah, well, I asked him to. I don't like BS. He told me she's going to make it."


"What? I heard everything he said."


"Did you? Or did you just hear the words. What was the last thing he told me?"


"That Bethany is a fighter," she said.


"Yes. And she'd have been dead if she wasn't. I think that means he thinks she's going to make it, but he's not a big enough fool to say so because he doesn't know. This doctor only deals in what he knows. Everything else is simply BS. I like it."


"You really believe that, Steve?" Mr. Krajick said.


"Mr. Krajick, your daughter survived a trauma at thirteen because she was a fighter and refused to give up. What do you think?"


He nodded, "I hope you're right, Steve."


I went back to sit down with my friends and drink my coffee while I explained what the doctor said.


"You seem pretty confident," Kurt said.


"If you think about it, what's the alternative? Sit here and expect her to die? Fuck that noise! No! I expect her to get her degree in May as planned."


"What?" Kathy said. "How?"


"She has enough credits to graduate. The only important thing that's left is the second semester of her independent study project. Otherwise, she was only taking electives. As soon as possible, I'm going to call UW Madison and I'll talk to the department chair. I bet you anything I can convince him or her to make it happen, assuming my Sweetheart isn't brain damaged," I said with a smile.


"To be your Sweetheart, she HAS to be brain damaged! How are they going to be able to tell?" my sister asked, needling me. "And how can you joke about that?"


"I could keep crying instead," I said. "But I don't want to. And you made a joke and smiled. So it worked."


I saw a nurse approach Bethany's parents with a small plastic bag and I got up and walked over to them.


"She had this necklace on when she came in," the nurse was saying. "It looks expensive so I wanted to give it to you."


"That's from Steve," her mom said, pointing to me. "Let him keep it."


I took the bag from the nurse, checked to make sure that diamond pendent was intact, then put it in my pocket.


"I'm going to put this back on her as soon as I'm permitted," I said.


"Bethany called me after you gave that to her," Bethany's mom said. "She was over the moon!"


"And she's going to get it back!" I promised.


I went back to where Stephanie and my friends were and sat down. I explained that they'd taken Bethany's necklace and Kara fingered hers. We sat, quietly for quite some time. About 6:00am I saw Doctor Barton coming out of the elevators and got up and walked over to where Mr. and Mrs. Krajick were.


"She's stable," he said. "I have a thoracic surgeon and an orthopedic surgeon scheduled to see her in about an hour. A cardiologist will do a thorough workup later this morning. A pulmonary specialist will see her this afternoon, as there's some bruising on the lung that was collapsed. And a neurologist will check her at some point, but I don't have a time for that just yet; and as long as there's no swelling, that's not as critical."


"I take it she's out," I said. "Any idea when she'll come around?"


"She's in a medically induced coma right now. And we're going to keep her there for the time being."


"When can I see her?" I asked.


"Do you know what she looks like right now, Steve?"


"A failed science fair project that was then tumbled in a dryer for an hour," I said.


Bethany's mom recoiled in horror and her dad winced but Doctor Barton smiled.


"Steve, if you take the MCAT I will personally guarantee you a spot in the medical school here and a surgical internship! I need medical students who think and talk like you!" Doctor Barton said with a laugh.


I smiled, "I'm a computer guy, Doctor Barton. I don't think I'm cut out for surgery."


"It never hurts to ask," he smiled. "If it's OK with her parents, then come with me. I'll take you to see her. I think you can handle it."


I looked at Bethany's dad and he nodded. I followed Doctor Barton to the elevator and we went up to the surgical floor. He led me to a room where he had me change into scrubs. He handed me a mask and a surgical cap and some booties to cover my tennis shoes.


"Come wash your hands. But even so, do not touch her. No kisses. No finger on her arm. Nothing."


"I understand," I said, nodding my head.


I scrubbed my hands at the sink and then dried them on a towel he handed me. He scrubbed and then dried his hands then led me out of the room and down the hall. We walked into a ward with eight beds that I assumed was a trauma ICU. The lighting was low and he led me to the far corner of the room. A nurse was by the bed doing something with a dressing.


I had thought I was ready for what I was seeing, but bile rose in my throat and my stomach turned backflips. I managed, just, to keep my double cheeseburger down. If I hadn't known it was Bethany, I would not have recognized the person in the bed - bruised, most of her hair shaved, bandages, stitches, a ventilator tube, a tube coming out of her chest, a tube coming out of her abdomen, and one coming out from under the sheets that I could easily guess where it led. There were EKG wires attached to her chest leading to a monitor that showed a high pulse and low blood pressure.


"Doctor," I said quietly, "I won't touch her, but I want to whisper in her ear."


"Go on," he said.


I stepped forward and whispered, "I love you, Sweetheart. Come back to me."


Doctor Barton touched my shoulder and led me out of the room and back to the room where I'd changed a few minutes before.


"You OK?" he asked. "You looked a bit green there for a moment."


"I was a LOT green," I answered. "I thought I was going to lose my burger and fries, but I kept it down."


"A lot of first year medical students can't do that. I was serious downstairs about what I said. And you can keep those scrubs."


"Thanks. And I know you were serious, Doctor. I'm one of the top students at IIT in computers. I can be the best computer guy in Chicago."


He laughed, "Got it! I need to get some sleep. I'll walk you down. I'll be back around noon to get the reports from the other doctors. I assume you're staying?"


"Wild horses couldn't drag me away, Doctor."


"You need some sleep, too. Find a place to get a few hours. That's an order. She'll need you when we bring her around."


"Yes, Doctor. And Merry Christmas."


"Merry Christmas to you, too. She's lucky to have a friend like you."


"I'm the lucky one, Doc. She's been my best friend for years. I love her dearly."


"Are you going to marry her?"


"Could be," I said. "We both need to graduate before we make that decision."


"Do you have a picture of her by any chance?" he asked.


As we stepped into the elevator, I pulled out my wallet and showed him her High School Senior picture and one of her in her cheer uniform.


"Damn, Steve. I guessed she was pretty. I have to ask, who are those other beautiful girls who were with you?"


"The redhead is Bethany's best friend from High School. They were cheerleaders together. She's with her fiancé. The strawberry blonde is my little sister. The other blonde is a former girlfriend and current housemate."


He arched an eyebrow, "Where does Bethany go to school?"


"UW Madison. She's a psych major."


He chuckled, "I am not going to ask. The answer will either depress me or piss me off!"


The elevator opened and we walked back into the emergency room waiting area. I walked back to Bethany's parents and Doctor Barton headed down the hallway towards the parking lot. Her mom and dad looked at me expectantly.


"I guess she looks like you would expect from having been in a serious accident. The doctor described her injuries. I have a feeling that Bethany is going to pull through."


"You know her better than anyone," her mom said. "I hope that you're right."


"I need to get some sleep. Doctor's orders," I said.


"We're going to take turns. Your dad was gracious enough to arrange a room for us."


"That is his way," I said. "I'll be at the hotel. Call me if anything comes up. I'll be back after a few hours of sleep."


"We will. Thanks for coming here, Steve."


I walked over to where my dad was and got a hotel room key from him.


"Doctor's orders. I figure after he did me such a huge favor, I'll follow them."


"What's with the scrubs?" my sister asked.


"That was the favor. I got to see Bethany. Oh, and I promised him that I'd take the MCAT and go to medical school and become a surgeon on his team."


"Right!" Stephanie laughed, "About the time I become the first American woman on the moon! But you saw her?"


"Yeah. It's bad. And I mean really bad. You don't want to see her right now. I need to get some sleep."


"Son," my dad said, "I'm going to head back to Milford. Your sister is coming with me, because we brought my car. She can come back after she gets some sleep and we celebrate Christmas at your grandmother's house."


"What?!" Stephanie protested.


"You heard me, Stephanie," my dad said. "He's going to sleep. Sitting here isn't going to help Bethany. If you want to go to Chicago to see Jennifer, you're coming home with me."


I was surprised at how firm he was with her. Usually she got her way, but I could tell she wasn't going to this time.


"Fine!" she groused.


I hugged her, and they left.


"Kara, let's go get some sleep," I said. "We've been up for nearly twenty-four hours, and with all the stress the last two days, I'm just beat."


"We'll come along, too," Kathy said, showing me her room key.


Kara and I went to her car and got our bags, then the four of us walked the two blocks to the hotel, and took the elevator up to the 5th floor. We found our room, called down to the front desk for a wake-up call for 11:00am and then got into bed. I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.


The wake-up call came as requested and we dragged ourselves out of bed. We took a quick shower, then dressed. Kara stopped me as I headed for the door.


"I know it's a bad time, but can we exchange gifts?" she said.


"Yes. I'm sorry this ruined your Christmas plans," I said.


"Why are you sorry? You did the only thing you could do and what I would have done! Let's just exchange our gifts and head back to the hospital."


She got the gifts from her bag, as well as the year ornament. The ornament showed two teddy bears sitting by a Christmas tree and read 'Kara & Steve, Christmas, 1984'.


"Bears, of course! I'm surprised they aren't making love!" I grinned.


"Well, we didn't, so it fits!" she giggled. "I guess that's the last thing on your mind right now."


"It is," I sighed.


We each took our gifts and ripped open the paper. My gift to Kara was a pin that had two embracing teddy bears that had small blue stones for their eyes. She squealed with delight.


"Teddy bears again! Do I detect a pattern?"


I chuckled, "I prefer penguins, but I think I started the whole 'bear' thing."


"And the whole 'bare' thing, too," she smirked.


When I opened the box with Kara's gift to me, I found an envelope. I opened the envelope and couldn't believe my eyes.


"Tickets to the Daytona 500?!" I gasped.


"Four. You, me, Red, and Stephie. We have the day after the race off from school."


"Kara, these cost a small fortune!" I said.


She smiled, "I could take them back, if you don't want to go."


"Are you kidding?!" I asked, clutching them tightly.


I pulled her into a tight hug.


"It's going to be a hell of a drive, especially if we have to drive down Saturday and back on Monday. I think we have to fly," I said.


"I agree," Kara said, handing me another envelope. "Stephie will pick us up in Atlanta on Saturday afternoon. We'll nap, then drive down to Daytona very, very early on Sunday morning, getting there around 9:00am. We'll fly back on Monday. We're staying at Red's house because Stephie's mom won't let us stay together there."


"When did you set all of this up?" I asked.


"In September. Red used his connections to get the tickets. Stephie did most of the legwork. I paid."


"Kara, you are amazing!" I grinned.


"If you want to take thirty minutes, I could show you just how amazing I am!" she giggled.


"It's tempting, but I want to check on Bethany and get some lunch. We haven't eaten anything since Wendy's last night."


Kara smiled, "I hate to say it, but you do have your priorities straight."


We left the room and headed back to the hospital. Kathy and Kurt were already there, and so were Ed and his dad. I didn't see Bethany's mom, so I assumed she was sleeping. I went over to her dad.


"Any news yet?" I asked.


"No. Doctor Barton was here and said that he hadn't had a chance to review any of the specialists' reports yet. He did say he was happy that you listened to him."


I smiled, "He ordered me to get some sleep, and he was right. I still feel off, but it helped a lot. So no change in her condition?"


"No. All Doctor Barton says is that they have her stabilized and they'll plan the next steps together this afternoon."


"Did you get any sleep?"


"An hour. Nora's taking a longer nap now, and then I'll sleep this afternoon. Ed's been here all night, though he took a nap in a chair."


"Kara and I are going to go to the cafeteria and get some lunch. Have you eaten?"


"Yes, about two hours ago. We're fine."


I walked back to where Kara was with Kurt and Kathy.


"I need to call Chicago and talk to Wen. I'll be right back."


I went to the payphone and dialed information in Chicago to get the number for Mercy Hospital. I wrote down the number, thanked the operator, and then dropped some coins in the phone to call Chicago. I was connected to Wen's room and explained to her what had happened.


"Oh my! I hope she will be OK!"


"Me too. I'm sorry that I can't see your parents."


"They will understand," she said. "They will be staying for at least a week. Perhaps you can see them when you come home."


"I will certainly try," I said. "How are you doing?"


"Quite well. If there are no problems, I will be out of the hospital on Friday. I feel OK, except for my neck hurting, but they gave me some pills to reduce the pain."


"Good. I'll see you when I get back to Chicago."


We said our goodbyes and I hung up. I walked back to where Kara, Kurt, and Kathy were standing and then the four of us started to walk to the cafeteria. Just as we were leaving the waiting area, I saw Doctor Barton come out of the elevator. I stopped, turned, and walked back to where Mr. Krajick and Ed were.


"Good afternoon, Doc," I said with a smile.


"Not really," he sighed. "Bethany's heart stopped." ## Fourth Interlude



"What are you doing here? You don't belong here! You belong with Steve!"


"I was in a car accident!"


"Go back! He needs you!"


"I can't help him anymore! He's grown so much!"


"There's more to be done. Things I can't do for him. Things you must do for him. Go back!"


"I can go back? I have a choice?"


"You do. You can fight. It was different for me. There wasn't anyone to help me. There are people trying to help you. Steve needs you!"


"But it's nice here. Peaceful. I don't feel any pain."


"The true pain is in the waiting. I miss him. You'll miss him."


"Who are you holding?"


"The baby. His baby. With her. You know the one."


"How?"


"I can't explain it. It just happened one day. The baby was here and was lonely and needed me. I'll care for him until he comes for him."


"What about your sister? SHE can help him."


"She did what she could when they were together. He needs help, but he's looking elsewhere. To you."


"He needs me?"


"Yes. Go back. Don't stay here. Be with him. You need to decide. NOW! "


"I'll go back."


"Good. I hope I don't see you for a long time. Someday. When he has many grandchildren. Then you'll both come."


"Will I be with him?"


"Go now. Hurry!"


"I will..."

II. It Never Ends, Part II

Christmas Day, 1984, Indianapolis, Indiana

Mr. Krajick collapsed into his chair and I felt nauseated and faint. I grabbed the back of a chair and felt an arm grab me to steady me. Ed turned pale as a ghost. Doctor Barton continued.


"We managed to get it going again. The problem is, we don't know why it happened. The on-call cardiologist is with her right now. As soon as I know more, I'll come back."


"Does she have a regular heartbeat again?" I asked.


"Yes. Honestly, it's as if nothing happened. The rhythm is exactly like it was before it stopped."


"How long?" I asked.


"Less than a minute. She's still on the ventilator, so breathing wasn't an issue. All things considered, it shouldn't have a negative effect, in and of itself. The problem is figuring out why it happened. It could be the head injury. It could be the chest injury. It could be something that we've missed. It could be from the drugs we've given her. I just don't know."


"Thanks for being honest with me again, Doc," I said.


"Steve, I think that you may have missed your true calling!" he said. "Now, I have to go."


He turned and went to the elevators. Kara, who had grabbed my arm to keep me from toppling over, helped me into a chair.


"Does this ever fucking end?" I sobbed, completely overcome by emotion.


Kara and Kathy both put their arms around me and held me while I cried. I simply let it all out and about ten minutes later, I composed myself and actually felt a lot better. Kara handed me some tissues from her purse and I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. I got up and dropped the tissues in the trash, then went back to sit down.


"I still need to eat," I said. "I don't feel like it, but if I don't eat, I'll just make myself sick. But I don't want to leave."


"I'll go to the cafeteria," Kurt said. "Anything in particular that you want?"


"Just pick something that looks edible," I sighed.


I fished out my wallet and handed him some money. Kathy went with him and Kara stayed with me. Mr. Krajick sent Ed to the hotel to wake up Nora and have her come to the hospital. I just sat in the chair, staring blankly into the distance, not focusing on anything. I looked at the pictures of Bethany in my wallet and tears welled up in my eyes again. For all the hope I'd had earlier, now I felt only despair. What would I do without her if the worst happened?


Kurt and Kathy were back with sandwiches, chips, and lemonade. The ham and cheese was passable, but not great. I quickly ate my lunch and finished my drink. Kathy offered to get coffee and I gratefully accepted.


"I was supposed to call Karin and Sofia today," I said. "I think I'll call my sister and have her make the calls. From the payphone it would cost more than $4.00 a minute to tall overseas! Did you want to go see your mom, Kara?"


"I'm staying with you. Mom will have to deal with it. I do need to call her, though."


We got up and went to the pay phones and I called my little sister. I told her that I needed her to call Sofia and Karin and let them know why I hadn't called and she agreed. I also asked if she'd call Jennifer and let her know that I'd call her later in the day. Then I told her about Bethany.


"No!" she shrieked.


"Squirt, they're working on her. They have the experts they need and Doctor Barton is the best in the city. Just have faith, OK. I'm scared, but I have faith."


She sighed, "Do you need me, big brother?"


"Always. But right now, I have Kathy and Kara right here. I'll be fine. Make the calls for me, please? I'll call you with any updates."


"You better!"


"I love you, Steph," I said.


"I love you too, big brother," she sighed.


I hung up just as Kara was finishing talking to her mom. Her mom wasn't happy, but understood, and hadn't really given Kara a hard time. We went back to sit down and a few minutes later Kathy arrived with our coffee. I gratefully accepted the large Dunkin' Donuts coffee and sipped carefully. It was going to be a long few days, and even then, Bethany might not be out of the woods.


It was three hours before Doctor Barton came back to see us. This time, he asked us to follow him to the elevator and Bethany's parents and I went up to his office.


"Have a seat. I'll go over what we know and what we want to do," he said.


"First off, she's right back where she was before the cardiac problem. The cardiologist did a complete workup and is attributing the dysrhythmia to myocardial contusion - a bruise on her heart. It's not uncommon for symptoms to present in a delayed fashion. He saw a minor issue on her EKG and he's reasonably certain that it's all related to the chest injury. All we can do right now is keep an eye on it, watch her EKG, and respond to symptoms that present. The longer she goes without another issue, the more confident we'll be.


"For the rest of her injuries, the thoracic surgeon wants to do a surgical repair of her ruptured diaphragm, and realign her ribs. The conclusion is that if she doesn't have another cardiac incident, we'll do that surgery first thing tomorrow morning, because that's a major part of the problem. Her skull fracture will knit by itself, and it doesn't appear that there are any fragments. There is no swelling at this point, and that's a good sign. The repairs on her liver are holding. Her bruised lung will be painful, and once the surgery is done, we'll give her some anti-clotting drugs. I'd like to give those to her now, but that would cause trouble when we go into her chest and stomach.


"Her lower left arm is badly broken, as I said. The orthopedic surgeon says he can fix it, but we can't do that for probably another week. She'll need some rods, plates, and screws, and might end up with some permanent metal hardware in her arm. The arm is splinted for now. The orthopedic surgeon is fairly confident that after he repairs it, she'll regain most, if not all, of the use of her arm, though it will be a lengthy rehab period."


"The bruises and lacerations she has are going to heal. I don't believe she'll have any visible scars on her head or neck, though she'll have one along the top of her head. That will be invisible once her hair grows back. There isn't much we can do for all the scars on her chest and stomach. I'll have a plastic surgeon look at her, but the extent of the trauma surgery was such that even the best cosmetic surgery won't eliminate the evidence. Any questions?"


"When will you bring her out of the coma?" her dad asked.


"We'll evaluate that after the chest surgery. A flail chest is very, very painful, even breathing hurts. Her arm will be even more painful. So, even when we bring her out of the coma, she'll still be heavily medicated. My goal is to get her off the ventilator and out of the coma as quickly as possible after Doctor Hicks fixes her diaphragm."


"What about having kids?" I asked.


Doctor Barton smiled, "As best we can tell, there are no reproductive issues. She has a nasty bruise on her hip and knee, but no damage to her pelvis. When we did the emergency splenectomy and liver repair, I didn't detect anything that would contraindicate childbearing. I'm not an OB/GYN, but I'd say she'll be able to have kids naturally. That said, if you two are sexually active, that's on hold for several months, maybe as many as six, depending on recovery and rehab."


"You sound optimistic, Doctor Barton," Harry Krajick said.


"Credit your future son-in-law here. He's been nothing but positive since I met him. I'm telling you; sometimes it has nothing to do with my skill and everything to do with God, or Fate, or whatever you believe in. Could things go badly? Yes. Her heart is the real concern. Everything else depends on that. If there is no repeat, then yes, I'm optimistic. Your daughter is going to have a hell of a time in recovery and rehabilitation, but she's a fighter. And she has a great support team here in her parents, her brother, her boyfriend, and her friends."


"What about moving her to Cincinnati?" Nora Krajick asked.


"She's going nowhere for weeks," Doctor Barton said firmly. "Moving her would be asking for trouble. I would recommend that she stay here until she's released, and then you can take her home. I doubt you'll want to do rehab here, so I'll recommend someone in Cincinnati when the time comes."


"When can we see her?" Nora asked.


"Mrs. Krajick, I'd wait," I said, putting my hand on her arm.


"It's that bad?" she asked.


"Yes," I said simply, but firmly.


"If you want to go," Doctor Barton said, "I can take you. But I'll tell you that even Steve, with his attitude, almost lost his lunch. It's up to you."


"Honey, why don't we wait until after the surgery," her dad said gently.


"What time do you plan to do the surgery?" I asked.


"6:00am. I won't be doing it, but I'm going to watch in the surgical amphitheater with my students. Want to join us?"


"Seriously?" I asked.


"Sure. I think you can handle it."


"Then yes, sign me up," I said.


"Be downstairs at 5:00am. I'll send one of my students to get you."


"Thanks, Doctor," I said.


"I'll remind all three of you to get enough sleep. You can't do anything for Bethany right now. And she's going to need you all when she wakes up."


We all nodded.


"Steve, would you lend me those pictures of Bethany? I want to show the other doctors and the nurses what she looks like. I promise you that I'll get them back to you tomorrow morning."


I slipped the pictures from my wallet and handed them to Doctor Barton, and then he walked us back the elevator and we went down to the waiting area. I told Kara about witnessing the surgery in the morning.


"I don't know if I should say 'cool' or 'gross'," she said.


"Yeah, I'm a bit uneasy, but Doctor Barton seems to think I can handle it. And I'll feel better being there. I wish I could hold her hand, but that's just not going to happen."


"Are we going to hang out here for the rest of the day?" she asked.


"I think right now I'd like to take a walk. It's a bit chilly, but I need to get some fresh air. Are you up for a walk?"


"Yes," she said.


We walked for about thirty minutes before returning to the hospital. There hadn't been any changes and Harry Krajick had gone to get some sleep. Ed was still there, sitting with his mom, but he looked like he was about to collapse. I hoped that he'd get some sleep, but that was up to him and his parents. We went to sit with Kurt and Kathy.


"We talked it over and we're going to go back to Milford," Kathy said. "As much as I want to be here, we can't do anything for her and it's going to be days before I could see her."


"That makes sense. I'm staying, though I have to figure out what to do about Jennifer, because she's flying in to Chicago on Thursday."


"Why not have her change her flight and come here?" Kurt asked. "Or just have her take a puddle-jumper from Chicago?"


I chuckled, "Why not? I can be pretty dense sometimes."


"Weren't you the one who said 'one crisis at a time'?" he asked with a smile. "That's what your friends are for."


"I'm going to call her," I said. "I need to get some change, though."


I went to the cafeteria and sweet-talked the cashier, a lady about the age of my grandmother, into making change for the payphone despite the note saying they couldn't do it, then went back and dialed Jennifer's number.


"Merry Christmas, Jen," I said.


"Bah humbug!" she said grumpily. "How's Bethany?"


"In bad shape, but I think she's going to make it. The doctor is more optimistic today than yesterday, though we had a scare earlier when her heart stopped."


"Her what?" Jennifer shrieked.


"Her heart stopped," I replied. "But they got it started up again somehow. They think it's a bruise on her heart. She's most likely having surgery to fix her diaphragm in the morning, so that tells me that she's stable enough to start fixing all the problems. I'm calling because I want you to come to Indianapolis. Book a one-way ticket from Chicago to Indianapolis. I'll reimburse you. We have a hotel room here."


"Are you sure you want me to come?" she asked. "I'm not going to be very good company."


"Yes, I'm sure. I want to talk to you, Jen. My sister said you were pretty down."


"What the fuck do you expect?" she said angrily.


"Come see me," I said firmly but with love. "You need me right now."


"I do," she sighed. "OK. How do I get in touch with you?"


"Call my sister. She's going to pick you up at the airport. Just make sure she knows it's Indianapolis and not O'Hare!"


"Got it. See you Thursday," she said.


"Jen, remember I love you."


"I remember," she sighed.


We said goodbye and hung up. I went back to where Kara, Kathy, and Kurt were, and we said our goodbyes. I hugged both of them, and Kathy gave me a quick kiss. Kara and I walked them to Kurt's car, and then we went back inside to let Nora Krajick know that we were going to the hotel to eat. I'd have preferred elsewhere, but given that it was Christmas Day, not much was open. We'd been lucky that the Dunkin' Donuts was open, but I assumed that it was because it was right near the hospital.


The hotel was serving two 'Christmas Special' meals, and I opted for the sliced turkey with all the trimmings over the honey ham. Kara wasn't as hungry, so she had a chicken Caesar salad. For dessert we shared a piece of chocolate triple-layer cake with vanilla ice cream. After I signed for our dinner, we went back to the hospital.


"Kara and I are going to go back to the hotel and sleep," I said. "I'll be back here tomorrow by 5:00am for the surgery."


"Thanks for everything, Steve," Mr. Krajick said, then smiled, "Oh, and is there something you need to ask me?"


I chuckled, "Doctor Barton made a huge assumption. Bethany and I have indeed talked about that, at length, but we delayed any decision until summer after we both graduate and she moves to Chicago."


"You know we approve," he said with a smile. "You've been there for our daughter for nearly eight years now."


"Right now, I'm focused on her recovering," I replied. "Everything else will have to wait."


We shook hands, and Kara and I headed back to the hotel. We took the elevator up to our room and I sprawled on the bed.


"How are we going to handle things when Jennifer is here?" she asked.


"She and Stephanie can share a room. I don't know Jennifer's state of mind, but before the blow up with Josie, she wasn't interested in sex with me one-on-one, and you certainly are NOT going to be involved in a threesome!"


Kara giggled, "You never know!"


"Kara, that would be foolish," I said.


She got on the bed and stretched out next to me.


"I know," she said softly. "But in all seriousness, how bad are things with Jennifer?"


"Bad. She might be drinking again. She growled at me when I wished her a Merry Christmas. Before her accident, Bethany was worried about Jennifer's mental state."


"This is just so messed up," Kara sighed.


"Elyse said the same thing. She wanted to rewind the clock and get a 'fucking do-over' on the whole week."


"How are you holding up?" she asked.


"You saw me bawl like a baby earlier. But I'm trying to hold things together for everyone - Wen, Bethany, and Jennifer."


"I can understand you crying before, Steve. You needed to let it out. It's good for you. But I watched you with Wen, and at the hospital. You've become a rock for your friends, including me. I know you did it for Bethany when she was younger, and now you're doing it again for her. I know how it feels to get that kind of support."


I sighed, "But can I actually do it? What if I screw up? It's one thing to mess up my own life, it's another to mess up someone else's."


"If you can't accept that kind of responsibility, you shouldn't have kids, Snuggle Bear. With anyone."


I took a deep breath and slowly let it out. She was right. That would be the biggest challenge of my life. Messing up there would have far-reaching impacts. My own life was a perfect example of that. My mom had messed up badly, and all of us had paid the price in one way or another.


"That's a hell of a responsibility," I said.


"Yes it is. And didn't you already agree to father some children?"


"Yeah, I did. I think it's really just this week weighing on me. Fate is trying her best to mess things up. But I am not going down without a fight. And I have a very good ally on my side in Doctor Barton. Fate can kiss my ass!"


Kara giggled, "I have a place or two that could use some kisses, if you're up to it."


"You missed out on Christmas Eve, so I suppose it's the least I can do," I said with a silly grin.


"Jerk!" Kara laughed.


I pulled her to me and we kissed for a minute then got out of bed and undressed each other. We made love gently and slowly, trying our best to forget the chaos in the world around us, and simply lose ourselves in each other. When we finished, I reached for the phone and arranged a 4:00am wake-up call, and then pulled Kara to me and quickly fell asleep.

Boxing Day, 1984, Indianapolis, Indiana

I awoke with a start when the phone next to the bed rang. I lifted the receiver and thanked the operator for the wake-up call. I slid out of bed and showered, then dressed while Kara showered. I had encouraged her to stay in bed, but she said she wanted to come to the hospital with me. When she showered and dressed, we walked to Dunkin' Donuts and bought coffee and doughnuts for breakfast. We munched them on the way to the hospital, arriving about 4:40am. I didn't see Bethany's parents or Ed, and was happy that they were at least getting some sleep.


Promptly at 5:00am, a young man in a short white lab coat approached us.


"Are you Steve Adams?" he asked.


"Yes," I said.


"Come with me."


I hugged Kara and gave her a soft kiss, then followed the medical student whose lab coat had 'Perkins' stitched on the breast. We got into the elevator and he slid a key in next to a button, turned the key, and pressed the button for the surgical floor. The elevator doors closed and we began our ascent.


"Are you a medical student?" he asked.


"No. I'm a Computer Science major. The operation you're going to observe is on my girlfriend. Doctor Barton invited me to watch."


"Interesting," he said. "I'm Jerome, by the way."


"Nice to meet you, Jerome. Are you first year?"


"Yes. I'm hoping to do a surgical internship when it's time. Doctor Barton wants everyone to observe so they know what they're getting into. I have to ask; do you know what you're getting into?"


"I hope so," I said.


The doors on the elevator opened and we stepped out. I followed him to a changing room where he handed me some scrubs. I quickly changed, stowing my street clothes in a locker. He disappeared for a moment and came back with Doctor Barton.


"Good morning," Doctor Barton said. "Are you ready?"


"As ready as I'll ever be, I guess," I said.


He smiled, "Put this on, and the badge, too."


He handed me a short white lab coat that had 'Adams' stitched on the breast, and a clip-on badge that said 'VISITOR' in large red letters, and had my name printed below it.


"I think that suits you nicely. Now, can I talk you into a non-visitor badge?" he asked with a friendly smile. "You can keep that lab coat either way."


I smiled back, "I do surgery on bits and bytes, Doc. If I'm opening something up, it's going to be with a screwdriver not a scalpel!"


He laughed, "Maybe I'll just keep your girlfriend here until I can convince you! Come on, let's go to the amphitheater. You'll have to listen to my lecture on surgical prep, and the play-by-play as the surgery happens."


"A fair trade," I said.


"By the way, I showed the pictures to everyone. It helps everyone know just who they're trying to fix," he said, as he handed me back the pictures.


"She's damned cute," Jerome said quietly.


"Thanks," I said.


We followed Doctor Barton to the amphitheater where six other medical students were already waiting. I chuckled because the ratio was just like IIT. There were six guys and one girl. As everyone introduced themselves, I mentally sized them up as potential doctors and to my disgust, only one of the seven, the girl, made a good first impression. The rest seemed almost like little kittens being stalked by a wolf. I wondered if Doctor Barton's assessments matched mine.


"Gentlemen and Miss Wilton. You've all met our guest, Steve Adams, the boyfriend of the young woman who is undergoing today's surgical procedure. If he's as smart as I think he is, she'll be his fiancée before too long. If he's smarter, he'll apply to medical school."


The students all laughed dutifully.


"Today's procedure is a repair of a ruptured diaphragm. The young woman in question was involved in a single-car, high speed, roll-over accident. The damage to her car was severe enough that she had to be extricated from the vehicle by the rescue team with the aid of saws and hydraulic equipment. She was then flown here by helicopter and I attended the trauma."


He continued describing Bethany's injuries, using medical terms. I more or less followed because he'd explained everything in more layman's terms during the past day. He described the treatment so far, the trauma surgery that had been done, and the complication of her heart problem.


"All of you have indicated that you're interested in surgical internships. If you're going to get one here, that means you have to have my approval. That does not come easily. Pay very close attention to what I say and what you see. There will be a quiz afterwards. Steve, I'd like you to take the quiz as well."


I laughed, "I don't know the medical terms. And I haven't done any biology or anatomy since High School."


"Nonetheless, I want to see how much attention you've paid. The rest of you, if you don't score better than Mr. Adams, you can forget about ever being on my surgical team!"


There was some forced laughter, and the young woman smiled at me. I hoped Doctor Barton was kidding, but I wondered if he might actually be serious. I decided it wouldn't surprise me if he was.


"As you can see below, the team is preparing the room for thoracic surgery."


He went on to describe why each thing was being done and the purpose of each piece of equipment. It was fascinating to watch. Just before 6:00am, several additional people came into the operating room, and I heard what sounded like Mozart coming over the speakers. A few seconds later, Bethany was wheeled into the room and placed on the operating table by orderlies. It took some time to get her moved and situated because of all of the wires and tubes. The last thing that was done was to disconnect her breathing tube from a portable ventilator and connect it to one in the operating room.


"Good morning, Doctor Barton and students. I am Doctor Hicks. I understand we have a visitor as well. Welcome Mr. Adams. I'll explain as we go along what I'm doing and Doctor Barton will, of course, provide commentary as well. Our procedure today is to repair a ruptured diaphragm and align some broken ribs on Miss Bethany Krajick, 21, who was injured in an automobile accident. We'll begin."


He said a few quiet words and the room sprang to life. The anesthesiologist gave the OK and the procedure began. I had a struggle to keep my doughnut and coffee down as my stomach turned as I watched them cut into Bethany. Doctor Hicks spoke only in very terse sentences as he moved through each step of the procedure, while Doctor Barton gave a running commentary.


I was queasy for about the first ten minutes, but then my stomach settled and I watched in fascination as Doctor Hicks and his team worked to repair Bethany's diaphragm. I watched the monitors carefully for any blip but didn't see any. Eventually, Doctor Hicks announced that they were ready to close and Doctor Barton described the drain that they were going to put in Bethany's side, as well as the types of materials and methods they were using to close, including staples and regular stitches.


Bethany was wheeled away to recovery and Doctor Barton turned to me.


"That went spectacularly well," Doctor Barton said. "She came through it like a champ."


I smiled, "A fighter, as you said, Doctor."


"I'm handing out clipboards. There are ten questions. Please answer thoroughly so that I know you were paying attention."


I looked over the questions and suppressed a chuckle. There were only four questions that I would call purely medical. The others were about things in the operating room, or, in the case of the first question, asking the patients name, sex, and age. I answered that one, as well as the observational questions such as where each member of the team stood relative to the patient, what Bethany's pulse, blood pressure, and respiration rate were, and the type of injury being repaired. I had some serious difficulty with the medical questions; one was about the anesthesia used and another was about the procedures used. I handed back the clipboard about the same time most of the other students did.


"Steve got seven right. He missed three medical questions, which is to be expected. I'll grade the rest of yours and let you know. Miss Wilton, would you take Steve back to the changing room and wait for him, then escort him to the elevator."


"Yes, Doctor Barton," she said.


She led me to the changing room and waited on the opposite side of the lockers while I dressed.


"Impressive," she said. "But that first question was a 'gimme' for you."


I chuckled, "Yeah, her name, age and sex!"


"I bet you that half the guys didn't get one or the other of her name or age right."


"Did you?" I asked.


"Yes. I think I got ten out of ten. How did you get in here, by the way?"


"I impressed Doctor Barton by telling him what I thought Bethany looked like when I asked him if I could see her yesterday."


"What did you say? He's hard to impress."


"I said that she probably looked like a failed science fair project that was tumbled in a dryer for an hour."


She laughed, "That's too funny. I can see why he liked it. You have the right attitude as far as he's concerned. I'm Jessica, by the way."


"I like him," I said. "He tells the truth and doesn't care what people think. That's the kind of trauma surgeon I'd want if I needed one. Screw the bedside manner. I don't think Bethany gave a damn about his bedside manner!"


Jessica laughed, "No, she didn't. I'm the same way. No bullshit. I want to be a trauma surgeon. The job is fixing broken bodies. I'll leave the soothing bedside manner to those boys in the class who can't hack it as trauma surgeons."


"You're very sure of yourself!"


"Would you want me cutting into you after an accident if I wasn't?" she grinned.


I came around the lockers to where she was waiting.


"No, I wouldn't. If my life depended on it, I'd want Doctor Barton. Period."


"And that's why he invited you. You get it. So do I. Those boys in there don't. They want to be surgeons because that's where the money and prestige are. They want the golf club membership, the trophy wife, the mistress, the Lamborghini, the vacation condo in Hawaii, and the multi-million-dollar mansion."


"And what do you want?" I asked.


"To be the best surgeon around. When somebody's life depends on it, I want to be the one they call. Just like Doctor Barton."


"I hope you make it," I said. "What year are you?"


"Second. Doctor Barton keeps inviting me back. I think he'll arrange a surgical internship for me."


"Cool."


"Where does your girlfriend go to school?" she asked.


"UW Madison. She's a Senior working on a degree in psychology. She's planning on going to Loyola in Chicago in the fall to work on her PhD. I just hope she can complete her Senior project. She has enough credits otherwise."


"Well, let me walk you out. If I'm late, Doctor Barton will not be happy and the boys will think we're screwing. That's all they think I'm good for," she sighed.


"Fuck them!" I said.


"No thanks!" she grinned. "I know better than to date doctors! But I agree with the sentiment."


"Miss Wilton, I think you're going to be a damned good doctor."


We got to the elevator and she pressed the 'L' button.


"It's too bad you're taken. I'd ask you out for coffee," she said.


"And I'd say yes, but I need to focus on Bethany."


"You seem like a good man. She's going to need a lot of support to recover from those injuries."


"I know. Thanks again. Now, go! Don't be late! The world needs you!"


She flashed me a wonderful smile, "Thanks."


I pressed the button for the ground floor and the doors closed. I was whisked downward and exited to find Kara alone.


"Where are the Krajicks?" I asked.


"Some doctor came to talk to them about the surgery. They're in the room over there," she pointed.


"That would probably be Doctor Hicks. Everything went well, as far as I could tell. Now it's just a matter of when they decide to wake her up."


A few minutes later, the Krajicks and Doctor Hicks came out of the small conference room. He walked over to where I was standing.


"I see Doctor Barton is trying hard to recruit you," he said, tapping the lab coat with his finger.


I smiled, "Yes he is. I assume everything went well?"


"She came through remarkably well. I'll check on her in recovery in a few minutes. There's going to be a lot of rehab just for the chest injury. I did my best to try to minimize the scar from the diaphragm repair, but compared to the one from the trauma surgery, it won't be bad. Doctor Barton saved her life and pretty doesn't get you extra points in trauma surgery."


"Doc, I don't give a damn what scars she has. You and Doctor Barton giving her back to me alive and relatively in one piece is all I could ask for. It sounds like she'll come with some additional hardware though."


"Metal detectors will love her, at least for the next six months or so. Good luck to all of you!"


"Thanks, Doctor Hicks," I said.


He went towards the elevators and Kara and I sat down with the Krajicks.


"How was it?" Ed asked me.


"Gross at first, but once I got past the first ten minutes, it was cool. They had TV monitors and we could look down into the room from where we were."


We sat quietly for about an hour until Doctor Barton came out of the elevator and walked over.


"This is where I say goodbye," he said. "She's in the hands of the general staff now. Doctor Winslow will be her physician from this point on. He's a good man. I trained him during his trauma rotation. I'm going to go celebrate a belated Christmas with my family, and then I have a day off. Well, assuming no critical traumas interrupt it."


We all shook hands.


"Doctor Barton, did Miss Wilton get all ten questions correct?" I asked.


He smiled, "She did."


"Good," I said. "I think you've got the person you need. I can safely stick to computers."


He smiled, "I can always use more, but you're right about her. The next highest score was yours."


I chuckled, "Six questions were just about watching and listening. No medical knowledge necessary."


"And what do you think is the most important skill anyone can have in ANY profession, Mr. Adams?"


Now he sounded like Doctor Bauer or Scott Bannerman.


"Watching and listening. And that's why Jessica is going to be a top surgeon."


"And why you'll be at the top of your field. Here's my card. Call me anytime. Especially if you decide to take the MCAT and can wear that coat for real."


"Thanks, Doc," I said smiling.


I watched as he headed down the hall and out the doors towards the parking lot.

III. Recovery

Boxing Day, 1984, Indianapolis, Indiana

There really wasn't much to do the rest of the day. Doctor Winslow came and introduced himself and said he was happy with the progress. His goal was to get Bethany off the ventilator and out of her coma on Thursday. After recovery, Bethany had been moved back to the ICU.


"When can we see her?" her dad asked.


"Tomorrow. Right now she has constant nursing supervision and there are doctors coming in and out. If she continues like she is, we'll move her to our special care wing. It's not as intense as ICU and has more privacy. That's where we'll bring her out of the coma."


"Thanks, Doctor."


Doctor Winslow walked to the elevators and we sat back down.


"Kara, I just remembered that Jennifer has an interview at Nuvatec on Friday. I'm going to have to take her. I can get my car as well. I suspect my sister will drive us. Do you want to come with us, or do you want to go home to see your mom?"


"How long will you be in Chicago?" she asked.


"We'll go up early in the morning, and if I can get my car from the police and drop it at the dealer, then we'll be back late in the afternoon."


"Maybe I should go see my mom," she said. "I'll just go for the day and come back."


"OK. Of course, this is all subject to change based on what happens with Bethany."


"Are you going to stay with her?" Kara asked.


"If they let me, yes, and if her mom and dad give permission."


"I know Bethany will want you there," Nora said. "The insurance won't pay for a private room, so it's going to be a bit inconvenient. We'll work something out, OK?"


"OK," I agreed, hoping that I'd be able to stay with Bethany a bit, but I knew that depended on her parents' decisions, at least until Bethany was well enough to decide for herself.


"There's a diner just down the street. Could we buy you kids lunch?" Harry asked.


"Yes, I'm famished!" I said. "Let me just call Stephanie and Kathy and let them know how it went. They'll spread the word."


I walked over to the payphone and called Kathy and let her know that the surgery had been successful. She said that she'd call my sister and coordinate on who would call whom. I thanked her and called Stephanie.


"The surgery went well!" I said.


"Thank God!" she said. "I'll spread the word. When will you be able to talk to her?"


"Maybe tomorrow. Did you talk to Jennifer?"


"I did. I'll pick her up at the airport in Indianapolis tomorrow late in the afternoon."


"OK. And Friday we need to go to Chicago because Jen has an interview and I want to get my car from the police to the dealer. If we have time, I'll stop in to see Wen's parents. Kathy's going to call so you can coordinate calling everyone with an update. Were you able to talk to Sofia and Karin?"


"Yes. They're both concerned and want to talk to you as soon as possible. Maybe you can call them on Friday from your house?"


"Good idea," I said. "See you tomorrow."


We said our goodbyes and then Kara, the Krajicks, and I went to the diner for lunch. When we finished, the five of us took a walk for the fresh air. The Krajicks walked with their arms around each other, while Kara walked with her arm locked around mine. We walked quietly, slowly, and after fifteen minutes, we were back at the hospital. Mr. Krajick checked and there was no change in Bethany's situation. I decided to head back to the hotel for a nap because I was tired, and Nora Krajick said that she'd walk with us.


"Steve, did you call Tatyana?" Kara asked.


"No! Let me do that right now!" I said.


I went to the payphone and dropped in the coins and dialed Tanya's number. As usual, a young man answered and called Tatyana to the phone.


"Stepa! Hello. How is your friend?"


"That friend is OK. But Bethany was in a very bad traffic accident on Christmas Eve. I'm at the hospital in Indianapolis right now."


"Oh no!" Tanya gasped. "How is she?"


"It was touch and go, but right now it looks like she's going to make it. She has a lot of injuries and is going to be in the hospital for some time."


"This is terrible! Do you wish to cancel our visit?"


I thought about it and decided that it might be a good idea, but I also knew that Bethany would be upset with me if I canceled.


"No, I want you to come to Chicago. I hope you will be OK with driving with me to Indianapolis to see her a couple of times."


"Of course, Stepa! I know how important this girl is to you! How are you doing?"


"OK, I suppose. I'm tired and upset, but OK. She's hurt really bad, Tanya," I sighed.


"Do you have someone there with you?" she asked.


"Yes. Kara is here. My dad and sister were here yesterday, and so were Kurt and Kathy. Jennifer will be here tomorrow."


"Good. If you need anything, you must call me!" she said firmly.


"I will Tanya. Thanks."


"See you soon, Stepa," she said.


I replaced the receiver on the hook and then Kara and I went back to the hotel for a nap. Kara cuddled close and held me while I slept, and I was comforted by her being there. When I woke, I pulled Kara to me and we made love, then took a hot shower together.


"Let's order room service and stay in," I said. "I'm sure that the Krajicks will call us if something happens."


"You're sure you don't want to be at the hospital?" Kara asked.

That was a preview of AWLL 1 - Book 10 - The Wife. To read the rest purchase the book.

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