Blink (Part One)

You couldn’t picture a more different group of best friends if you tried.  All things considered, it was amazing that we got along at all.  Becca was tall and blonde, but even though her looks opened the world to her, she could still be unconfident and clingy. Jenna was Becca’s polar opposite in every possible way.  She was a very independent woman, her darker edged looks helped her to move around in the crowd and get her work done without much notice.  

My position was somewhere in the middle of my two greatest friends; a buffer of sorts.  I filled the slot of the strong willed red head.  I came off as independent, yet I needed my friends around me at times or I would crumble.  

We were doctors.   Day in and day out, we worked together in the same hospital. We formed somewhat of a pack.  When they were younger, our children were even a part of it, playing in the hospital daycare center.  

We were doctors.  Being doctors, we all had the general hero complex that we could fix anything broken that came along.  However, sometimes that just isn’t the case.  Sometimes, what is broken will always stay broken.  And sometimes, the heroes are among the first to break.

The day it happened started out just like any other day.  After it was over, whispers could be caught, little snatches of conversation where people wished that they could have done it differently.  The truth was, there absolutely nothing that we could have done, because none of us ever saw it coming.

Sometimes, you don’t dare to blink.

*

“Good morning, Dr. Bradley,” the barista chirped through the drive-thru speaker.  “Your usual on this fine day?”

Quickly scanning over the menu, I responded, “Maybe something new.  The pumpkin spice latte sounds interesting.  I’ll have one of those.”

“That will be $4.22.  You can pull around and we’ll have it ready for you.”

My daughter rolled her eyes and stared out the window.  “Don’t get me anything,” she muttered.  “That’s fine.  It’s not like I wanted anything anyway.”

“You don’t need caffeine,” I told her as I pulled up to the window and handed off my credit card.  “You’re hyper enough already.”

“Mom!  I am so not a morning person!  And who seriously pays for a four dollar coffee with a credit card anyway?  I mean, come on, Mom.”

“I don’t believe in cash,” I answered, taking the coffee the man was holding out the window.  “If I had cash, I would spend it.  I’m less likely to spend on a credit card.”

I put the cup down into the holder, managing to slosh a little of the piping hot liquid onto my hand.  “Ouch!” I yelled, fighting the urge to use stronger language.  I pulled away from the drive-thru, sucking on my hand where the coffee had spilled.  

Lanie eyed the coffee cup.  “Can I at least try some of yours?”

I waved my wounded hand at her in dismissal as we drove towards the high school.  “If you burn yourself, don’t blame me.”

Watching out of the corner of my eye, I saw her take a careful sip.  “Oh,” she said, putting the cup back into the holder.  “Interesting.”

“See,” I said, “I know you well enough to know that you aren’t a coffee person, no matter how much you try to convince me.”

“Whatever, Mom,” she replied with another eye roll.  

We pulled up in front of the high school, my car blending in with dozens of other parent cars.  “Do you have a ride home?” I asked.  “Your father and I are both working late tonight, but one of us can take an hour off to get you if you need us to.”

“Don’t worry about it.  I can get home.  I’m a big girl.”  Slinging her backpack over one shoulder, she slipped out of the car and disappeared seamlessly into the crowd.

I still hadn’t adjusted to this experience.  This was the first year she would get out of the car without a hug, or even so much as a goodbye.  Apparently, fifteen was the age where they stopped wanting to admit that they came from parents.  Fifteen was the age where every teenager began questing for independence.

Unable to see my daughter anymore, I pulled away from the curb and took a sip of my coffee.  It was the beginning of another ordinary day.

*

Checking her watch, Jenna pushed aside the morning paper and her cup of coffee and walked up the stairs.  Her son’s room was dark when she opened the door.  Crossing the room, she yanked open the curtains to let some light into the room.  Rich was curled up in a ball, the blankets wrapped tightly around his body and pulled up almost over his head.

Jenna pulled the blankets off of Rich’s head.  “Rich, you’re going to be late.”

“Ugh….” he moaned, pulling the blankets back over his head.

Reaching up, Jenna yanked the covers down again, a little more roughly this time.  “You have half an hour to go ‘till first period starts and I do not want you speeding, so you had best drag your butt out of bed right now.”

He rolled over, rubbing the sleep out of his eyes with his fists.  “When did morning come?  It feels like I just went to sleep.”

“How late were you up?” Jenna questioned, going over to the top dresser drawer and throwing some jeans at him.  

“I don’t know…twelve?  One?  I was doing SAT prep.  My test is this weekend.”

“Uh-huh,” she said.  “Get dressed.”

“I was!” he exclaimed, gesturing over at the desk where all his prep books was strewn around wide open.  “See?”

“Okay, okay,” Jenna relented, throwing her hands up in the air.  “So long as you get to school on time.  I have to head to work.”

“Always,” Rich laughed.  “Say hi to everyone at the hospital for me.”

“Will do.”

*

Doug rearranged the items in his backpack a third time, trying to figure out how to make everything fit.  The angry words of his mother and father drifted up to him from the kitchen downstairs.

“You’re the one who’s letting him get away with being ordinary!” Gabriel screamed.  “For pities sake, Becca, the boy hides in his room all day and you do nothing about it!  Make him get out, make him join a club, make him do something, anything!  We aren’t such bad parents, our kid doesn’t need to be like this, it’s not…”

“We aren’t bad parents,” Becca whispered, sitting down at the kitchen table with her morning coffee.  “Doug is just…different.  It’s okay to be different.”

“Not this different!” Gabriel roared.  “Have you seen him lately?  His hair is black, Becca, black!  And I ask him to dye it back, and what do I get?  The door in my face!  The door in my face, by my own son!  I don’t even know him anymore!”

Doug carefully folded up the letter he had written on torn out notebook paper at five am and put his mother name on the front, tucking it into the computer keyboard.

“He knows what you think of him.  Did you ever think that maybe that’s part of the problem?” Becca asked.

“What are you talking about?” Gabriel snapped.

“He knows you think he’s a disappointment.  He knows!  I can’t believe you think it has nothing to do with you!”

“I have to go work,” Gabriel said, grabbing his bag from under the kitchen table.  “We can talk about this later.”

“That’s it, Gabriel,” Becca taunted.  “Run away.  Run away, again.  It’s what you do best.”

Finally satisfied with the arrangement and selection of his backpack, Doug slung it over his shoulder.  As he started down the stairs, he heard the backdoor slam.  Becca sat in the kitchen, her fingers still clutched around her cup of coffee.  Opening the cupboard door, Doug grabbed a pop-tart without speaking.

“How much did you hear?” Becca asked.

“It’s okay, Mom,” he said, crossing the kitchen to give her a quick hug.  “I have to get to school.”

“Sit for a minute?” Becca pleaded.

He carefully set down his backpack by the door before pulling out the kitchen chair next to his mother.  “A minute.  Seriously, I have to get to school.”

Becca put down her cup of coffee and turned slightly so that she was eye to eye with Doug.  “Doug?”

“Yeah?”

“What your father said…”

“Mom, it’s okay.  Don’t worry about it.”  Doug took a quick bite of his pop-tart, shoving the rest into his jacket pocket.

“You aren’t a disappointment,” she insisted.

“I know, Mom, I know.  Like I said, it’s all good.”  He looked at the digital clock above the kitchen table.  “I have to go,” he said, getting up and grabbing his backpack.

“I love you, Doug,” she said.

“I love you too, Mom,” Doug answered as he put his backpack back over his shoulder and slipped out the door.

*

Becca Watkins was sitting in her car in the hospital parking lot, staring at the massive glass paneled front doors, when I pulled up beside her.  I got out and walked around to the driver’s side window, and when I bent down I could see her white knuckling the steering wheel at ten and two.  I waved slightly, but she gave no indication that she had seen me.  Lowering myself even more, I tapped gently on the glass.

She started, and then pulled her keys out of the ignition and opened the door.  “Hey, Michelle,” she said, reaching behind her seat to pull out her bag.

“Hey,” I answered, eyeing her up and down carefully to check for signs of external damage.

“He didn’t hurt me,” she whispered.  “Just lots of yelling.  It’s getting sort of old.”

I put my arm around her shoulders as we walked into the building.  “What is it this time?”

Becca shook her head slightly, pushing the up button on the elevator. “Just stuff with Doug.  Nothing major…I’m just sorry that Doug had to hear it.”

“Hi, beautiful,” I heard as the elevator doors opened.  

I stepped into the arms of my husband as Becca hit the button for the third floor.  “Hi,” I replied.  “You on your way out?”

“Yeah.  But I’ll ride back up with you.  Hey, Becca.”

“Hey, Alex,” she answered, leaning on the railing on the rear wall and staring into the corner.

I leaned into my husband and let his arms wrap around me for the short ride up.  When the doors dinged open, I gave him a quick hug goodbye.  “I’ll see you tonight when you come back, okay?”

“Okay,” Alex answered as the doors shut.

Becca and I walked down the hall to the attending offices.  Slinging her bag over the opposite shoulder, she said, “I’ll hook up with you and Jenna at lunch, okay?”

I nodded, but she was already disappearing down the hall.  Opening the door to my office, I turned on the lights and threw my bag behind the desk.  I hooked my pager onto my belt as I pulled my lab coat on.  

“Dr. Bradley.  I need a consult.”

Rolling my eyes, I looked up as I adjusted my coat.  “Jeez, Olivia, I’ve been here five minutes.  If that.”

She laughed, leaning against the doorframe.  “I was watching for you.”

“Uh-huh,” I said, kicking off my driving shoes to switch them out for more comfortable patient rounding shoes.

“I have a pregnant patient in the pit who was the victim of a car accident.  She’s presenting with mild bleeding and some abdominal pain, and we need someone from OB to come down and check her out.”

“No one but the best, huh?”

“Of course,” Olivia answered as I shut my office door.

“I’ll be down in a minute,” I said.  “I’m going over to check the OR board, and then I’ll head your way.”

“Thank you, Dr. Bradley.”

*

Jenna dropped into the chair behind the main desk on the psych ward, dragging a chart over the counter and into her lap.  “How’s my patient?” she asked the nurse sitting next to her.

“Quiet,” the nurse answered.  “I haven’t really seen her as much of a talking type.”

“I’ll be stopping into her room shortly.  Have her parents been back at all?”

The nurse shook her head without looking away from her computer monitor. 

“Okay,” Jenna said.  “Thanks for your help.”

Jenna walked down the hall and slipped into the patient’s room.  “Good morning, Jodi.”  

The teenager was rolled over on her side, staring out the window.  She had drawn the blankets tightly around her, blotting out the existence of her hospital gown.  Walking across the room, Jenna cracked open the blinds slightly and pulled a chair up to the side of the bed.

“Hi, Jodi.  I’m Dr. Fischer.  How are you feeling?” she asked.

Jodi held up her wrist without making any other movement.  “How do you think?” she replied, drawing her arm back up to her chest.

“Have you seen your parents?”

“They won’t be here if they don’t have to be,” she answered.

“Do you want to tell me why you did what you did?” I asked gently.  

She shook her head vehemently.  “You’ll laugh.”

“Try me.  I’m a terrific listener.”

Twisting her neck so that her cheek was directly on her shoulder and she could look directly into my eyes, she said, “My boyfriend broke up with me, okay?”  A single tear trickled down her cheek as she whispered, “Are you happy now?”

Jenna handed her a kleenex off of the table beside the bed.  “Happy that you’re talking?  Yes.  Happy that you’re hurting?  No.”

Pulling herself up slightly in the bed, she said, “We went out to a movie, and as we were driving home, he pulled over to the side of the road.  He parked the car, and he told me that it just wasn’t working out; that he didn’t want to see me anymore.”

“I’m sorry,” Jenna said.

“He said that it wasn’t me, it was totally him.  But no matter what he says, I mean…He broke up with me.  What’s wrong with me that made him break up with me?  I don’t know how…I got it in my head that…I thought that I could cut the bad parts out of me, the parts that made everything not work.”

Jenna sat silent, letting the young girl mull over her words before continuing.

“His home life isn’t good…His mom’s okay, but his dad is a total jerk, and I know that.  But my parents are bad too.  I know that he’s sad.  But I thought that I was good enough, that I could love him enough to fix it.  I thought I was enough to heal everything that was broken.”  She held up her wrist and added, “Now he left me and I’m the one who’s broken.”

“You aren’t broken,” Jenna said, “not completely.  You’re talking about it, you’re getting help, and that means that you’re on the road to being fixed.”

“I wish my mom was here,” Jodi stated out of the blue.

“I’m sure that she’s sorry she can’t be.”

“No,” Jodi shook her head, “she’s not.  My father isn’t either.  They work a lot.  When they are home, they pretty much ignore me.  I think I’m a disappointment to them.”

“Now I’m sure that’s not true.  Tell me about yourself.”  Jenna attempted to guide the conversation to a more positive track.

Jodi played with the bandage around her wrist.  “I don’t know,” she stammered.  “What do you want to know?”

Jenna shrugged.  “What do you want to tell?”

“I’m learning how to drive.  My boyfriend was teaching me, because my parents didn’t have the time.  I’m in the Honor Society at school.  I stay after a lot doing drama stuff.  I was one of the leads in the last play we did.”  She chewed on her lower lip for a second before she added, “And I like to sing.  Sometimes I write stuff too.”

“Cool.  Those are awesome things.”

“Uh-huh,” Jodi countered with a raised eyebrow.

“Those are awesome things,” Jenna repeated.  “I don’t know how anyone could look at those things and call you a disappointment.”

Jodi smiled slightly.  “I don’t know.  I was just saying…”

“It’s okay to still like yourself even though the relationship is over,” Jenna said.  “Sometimes, relationships just end.  It doesn’t have to be his fault or your fault.  It can be nobody’s fault, and that’s okay.”

Jodi’s gaze drifted back towards the window.

“I know that you don’t see that now, but it’s the truth.  And it will take some time, but we’ll get you turned back around in the right direction.  You’ll see.”

Jenna opened her chart and made a couple of notations before getting to her feet and shoving it back under her arm.  “I have some other patients to see, but if you need anything, the nurses know how to get a hold of me.  Otherwise, I will be back a little later.”

“Okay,” she answered quietly.  Jenna had turned around and was almost out the door when Jodi whispered, “I know that it doesn’t have to be anybody’s fault…but I loved Doug, and I gave him everything…I don’t know how to get that back.”

Jenna turned back around.  “We’ll help you get that back.  That’s what doctors are for.”

Jodi turned around on the bed and drew the blanket tighter around her body as Jenna went out into the hall.

“It’s going to be a long day,” Jenna mumbled to herself, setting the chart down at the nurse’s station.  “It’s going to be a really long day.”

*

Lanie rummaged through her messenger bag, pulling out a small makeup compact.  Leaning into the mirror, she applied eye makeup darker and stronger than her mother approved of.  Pulling out her hair tie, she shook her long red hair loose around her shoulder and used her palm to scrunch it up.

“Lanie.  You got any lip gloss?”  Lanie’s best friend Cassie sauntered into the bathroom with her hand outstretched.  

Bending down, Lanie pulled her tube of cherry lip gloss out of the side pocket of her bag and tossed it to Cassie.  “There you go,” she said, watching as her best friend applied it without so much as a glance into the mirror.

“More makeup your mom doesn’t like?” Cassie asked, handing Lanie back the lip gloss tube.

“Yeah.”  Lanie gave her hair one last once over in the mirror.  “We’re going to be late to homeroom.”  Stooping down to pick up her bag, she headed out of the bathroom with Cassie on her heels.

“Have you seen Rich yet today?”

“Not yet.  But he’s never here until right when the first bell is ringing anyway.”  Lanie turned around the corner, dodging student traffic cluttering the halls.

“Did you talk to him like you promised?” Cassie asked.

“Not yet.”

“Come on, Lanie,” Cassie sighed.  “You promised.”

“I’ve known him practically my whole life, but we haven’t been that close lately, Cass, we were together, but, I mean…when I see him, I’ll hint that you’re interested, but beyond that…”  Lanie shrugged and lifted her hands in the air in a gesture of surrender.

“I guess,” Cassie pouted.

The pair walked into their homeroom and settled into their desks right beside each other right as the bell rang.  Rich slipped into the room right as the bell finished ringing, and dropped into his desk across the room as the teacher turned to face the class.

“We have a couple of announcements today,” Gabriel Watkins said to his class.  “First off, there is an all school assembly tomorrow morning directly following homeroom.  Apparently the administration feels the need to go over the school tolerance rules a third time, once again disrupting our student’s education.”

“We don’t mind!” someone called from across the room.

Lanie looked over at Cassie to exchange a laugh, but Cassie’s gaze was locked on to Rich across the room.  Lanie pulled a notebook and a pen out of her bag, flipping it around to doodle on the back.

“As of this moment on,” Gabriel continued, “any student caught using an Ipod or any sort of music player during class will receive detention, as well as the loss of their music player.”

A course of groans echoed throughout the room.

“We are here to learn, people, to memorize and absorb knowledge.  We aren’t here to listen to that sludge you call music.”

There was a rustling noise across the room as several students removed headphones from their ears and shoved them into their bags.  Lanie watched out of the corner of her eye as Cassie removed her own earbuds and slipped them into Lanie’s bag.
“Hey!” Lanie hissed.

Cassie just shrugged, returning to her adoration of Rich.

“Last thing,” Gabriel said, an undertone of relief in his voice.  “The guidance office is starting to set students up for classes for next school year.  Class selection forms can be picked up in the guidance office.  If you want certain electives, your best bet is to sign up early so that you have the best shot.  Pick up the forms, fill them out, have your parents sign them, and bring them back.  The end.”

As Gabriel finished talking, the bell signaling the end of the homeroom period rang.  “See you tomorrow,” he called to the students as they spilled out of his classroom into the hallway.  Flopping down in his chair, he waited for his next students to come in.

Cassie turned back to Lanie with the smile of a plotting teenager.  “Rich has study hall this period in the cafeteria.  You want to skip next period with me and go hang in there?”

“I hate skipping,” Lanie said as they reached their lockers and grabbed books from inside.  “I feel like I’m missing stuff.”

“Isn’t that the point?  Missing stuff?”

Lanie rolled her eyes.  “Whatever you want, Cass, if you buy me a soda.”

Cassie grabbed Lanie by the arm and steered her into the cafeteria, pushing her towards Rich before heading over to the soda machine.

“Rich,” Lanie nodded.

“Hi,” he nodded back, closing his textbook.

“Look,” she started, “this is really embarrassing, but…”

Cassie dropped into the bench across from us, putting a soda in front of me.  “Hey, Rich.”

“Hi, Cassie,” he answered.

“Look…Rich,” Lanie laughed.  “Cassie really wants to talk to you.”

“Oh really?” he asked, raising an eyebrow. 

Cassie ducked behind her backpack, her face flushing a bright red.

“Apparently she has a crush on you, judging by her blushing and ducking behind her bag,” Lanie stated.  “Happy now, Cassie?”

“Thank you,” she mumbled from behind the fabric.

“So Rich, Cassie.  Cassie, Rich.”  

*

Lanie took the red block she was holding and threw it at the door of the playroom, wondering when her mother would finally come back for her.  “I want my mommy,” she said to nobody in particular.

“Where’s your mommy?” Doug asked, sprawling out in front of her.

“Working with your mommy.”

“Oh,” he answered.  “Can I play with your blocks?”

“Okay.”  Lanie turned slightly so that she had access to the dolls behind her.

“Can I play?” Rich asked.

Doug nodded, shoving some of the blocks over to Rich.  They slowly built a fort of blocks together, alternating who would lay the next piece.

“My Barbie is super woman,” Lanie stated, marching the doll across the floor until it stood by the boy’s building.  “She could blow your whole house down.”

“Nuh-uh,” Doug answered.  “Nothing could blow my house down.  I’m making the best house.  The best.”

“My half is better,” Rich said childishly.

“It’s good,” Lanie said.  After a moment’s thought, she added, “Can she sit in it?” while holding up the doll.

“Be careful,” Rich said solemnly.

“If you knock it down, you can’t play with us anymore.”

Lanie reached out with her doll, gently balancing her on the top of their block building.  The walls held for almost a minute before collapsing, but it felt like forever.  “That was cool.”

“You broke it!” Doug cried, pulling the doll out of the wreckage and tossing it into her lap.  “Now we have to do it over!”

Lanie shrugged, hugging her doll.  “So do it over.  You can build it again.  You can be anything that you want to be.”

*

I bent over the patient in the exam room, listening to her heartbeat.  “Hi, Angie.  I’m Dr. Bradley.  Can you tell me what happened?”

The patient leaned back as I wheeled over the ultrasound cart.  “I was in an accident.”

I hadn’t guessed that.  I thought to myself.  “Were you wearing a seatbelt?”

“When I got hit, it tightened around me really hard, and it’s been hurting really bad, and…”

I rolled up the parts of her shirt that hadn’t already been cut away.  “I’m going to spread some gel on your abdomen so that I can use ultrasound to check the baby.  It might be a little bit cold.”

Angie winced as I smeared on the gel.  “You aren’t kidding.”

“Sorry,” I answered as I lifted the transducer.

“It’s okay.”

“I’m going to place this on top of the gel and use it to take pictures of the baby.”

She nodded.  “I’ve had an ultrasound before.”

“Okay, here we go,” I said, lowering the transducer to her belly.  The pictures from her abdomen came up on the ultrasound screen, and I checked the baby over carefully.  “It looks like everything is normal.  I’m guessing that the pain you’re feeling right now is bruising from the seatbelt, but I’d like you to stay at the hospital overnight just so we can have you under observation.”

“All right,” she agreed.  “I’d do anything for this baby.”

I smiled, shutting off the ultrasound machine.  “I get that.  I have one of my own.”

*

Lanie gathered up her books and her purse and stood up from the table.  “Now that you have been probably introduced, I’ll leave you to your love chatting.” 

“Aw, Lanie,” Rich whined, “don’t go.”

“I have to go to class, Rich, I’m already late.”

“Fine by me,” Cassie piped in.  

Rolling her eyes, Lanie said, “I see how I rate.”

“I love you, Lanie,” Cassie said.

“Uh huh,” she muttered, turned away.

As Lanie reached the cafeteria, a unidentifiable thundering sound stole over the cafeteria, rattling the glass and causing all of the students to fall silent.

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