Authors: Minka Kent
I shake my head. “He
himself to me. I remember. I remember shaking hands. I remember him telling me about his job at the hospital, about why he went into oncology—he said his mother had died of cancer. It was like meeting him for the first time . . . or like meeting a complete stranger.”
“Again, your alter has a way of—”
“No.” I cut him off. “Regardless of how I interpreted the meeting . . . what I’m trying to say here is that he
I wasn’t Kate. And he’s known for months. Why would he wait until now to do something about it?”
“I . . . I don’t know.” He places his pen flat on his notebook before his hands form a temple. “That’s a very good question.”
I’ve rendered him speechless. Or maybe he’s embarrassed. Embarrassed that something like this slipped past him.
The clock on the wall fills our silence with steady ticks.
“I have to admit, there are a couple of things about your diagnosis that aren’t exactly textbook,” he says a moment later. “For example, it would be highly unusual for an alter to pretend to be another personality. The personalities don’t like to acknowledge each other. They serve a sole purpose—protection. Not manipulation.”
“I spoke to one of the nurses on Sunday. She said you’ve still not received my medical records,” I say.
“She said the place my husband gave you has no records of a Kate Emberlin.”
“That’s what they’re telling us, yes.”
“I know this is going to sound crazy.” I swallow the lump in my throat and wring my hands before looking up at him. “But what if there is no Kate Emberlin? And what if there never was?”
Dr. Schneider doesn’t write me off, doesn’t dismiss my theory. He doesn’t immediately respond either. I doubt he wants to admit he’s been taken for a fool. But to be fair, neither do I.
“I need to go home,” I say. “How can we make that happen?”
He shifts in his chair. “Because you’re voluntarily committed by your husband, you’ll need to write what we call a three-day letter. I’ll take it to the Crestview board, and we’ll let you know by Thursday whether or not we can release you. I will say, however, that if the board disagrees with discharging you, it then becomes a matter of the court. There will be a court order in place, and you will then be involuntarily committed. If you attempted to leave after that point, there would be legal ramifications.”
“Okay, so if I write this letter, in three days I’ll either be going home, or I’ll be looking at an indefinite stay . . .”
“Tell me, Dr. Schneider,” I ask, “what do you think of all this?”
He draws in a long breath, one that makes his chest and shoulders rise beneath his brown-gray sweater. “I’d like to give this some more thought.”
My heart sinks, but my resolve strengthens.
“You can’t be serious,” I say.
He’s quiet, and I imagine he’s contemplating the liabilities and ramifications.
Dr. Schneider exhales, his fingers interlacing across his soft belly. “I’m going to have to make a few phone calls. Consult with some colleagues. But I will say that given the recent and limited evidence I’ve been presented, combined with your husband’s lack of transparency, your diagnosis is beginning to fall apart.”
It’s exactly what I wanted to hear, and yet it isn’t.
“Why don’t you start working on that letter for the board in the meantime?” he says, giving me hope in not so many words.
He hands me his notebook and pen, his gaze fixed on the floor. I’m sure he’s wondering how he missed the signs. How he could’ve been duped after decades of working in this field and earning a half dozen letters to place behind his name.
I find comfort in the fact that I wasn’t the only one.
“Dr. Schneider?” I ask, looking up from my letter.
“Can we keep this between us? If I’m discharged, I don’t want Niall to know I’m coming home.”
He contemplates a response but not for long. “Given the circumstances, that shouldn’t be a problem. But, please, don’t get your hopes up. I’ll do my part and you do yours, and we’ll go from there.”
“Hi.” I call Brienne on my way home from work on Monday. Today was insane, transport page after transport page. We did at least three patients every hour, and my lunch break got cut short, so I didn’t have a chance to call Schneider like I’d planned.
We’d talked Saturday afternoon over the phone, and I’d shared my concerns with him—that “Kate” was faking her recovery. He said he’d visit with her first thing at the beginning of the week and try to decide at that point. I figured he’d have called me by now or left me a message at the very least, but nothing.
“Hi,” Brienne says from the other end of the phone.
“How are you feeling? How’d it go today?” I ask, slowing my words so I don’t seem too anxious.
“Dr. Schneider said it’s completely normal not to remember everything at once,” she says, almost too casually. “I was concerned at first, but he said it doesn’t mean I’m not progressing.”
“Oh, thank goodness,” I say, making myself smile through a clenched jaw so I can keep up the facade, even if she can’t see it. “I was
so worried, Kate. It’s all I thought about all weekend. So what’s the plan? Where do we go from here?”
“He wants me to stick around a bit longer,” she says. There’s no affect to her voice. Nothing that suggests she’s happy or sad about this. “Until I’m 100 percent.”
I smack my steering wheel in celebration, grinning ear to ear.
The second check arrived earlier today, a little over nine hundred grand. I’ll make the deposit tonight after midnight. I’ve already withdrawn the first quarter million from Brienne’s checking, and I had another quarter mil wired to a wire transfer place the next town over. I paid some pimple-faced kid on a skateboard a hundred bucks to collect it for me, no questions asked. Pretty sure I made his day. I’ll have to find another pimple-faced kid for the next transfer. I don’t need anyone familiarizing themselves with me, my face, my car, or my dealings.
“I’m sure that’s not what you wanted to hear.” I lace my voice with balmy compassion. “But if that’s what Dr. Schneider recommends . . .”
She’s silent on the other end. I can’t tell if she’s pissed at me or the doctor’s recommendation or the situation in general, but I need to keep her spirits up.
“I’m wearing my ring,” I say, glancing at my naked left hand as I park in her driveway and enter her house. Sam’s in the kitchen, staring at a takeout menu. I can’t go in until this call is over. “Feels so good to have it on again. I’ll show you next time I see you, all right? But I’m going to let you go now. Just got home, and Enid’s waving me over. Love you so much, sweetheart. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
I almost snort through my nose at the fact that I sound like such a lovesick puppy dog. Sometimes I wonder if I should’ve gone into acting. What I have is a gift, no doubt in my mind.
I head in—going through the front door this time so I can check the mail.
No retirement check, but I suppose at this point it doesn’t matter. With her withdrawal limits, I won’t be able to get it all anyway, and what I will be able to get is more than enough.
The scent of frying hamburger fills the air, and I sneak up behind Sam as she stands over the stove, wrapping my arms around her waist from behind.
“Someone’s happy to see me,” she says as she turns to brush her cheek against mine. “You have a good day today?”
“Dabney’s a moron,” I say to an attractive-in-a-small-town-sort-of-way nurse Thursday morning. She buries her nose in her computer after being reamed by one of the neurosurgeons, and I slide a cranberry oatmeal cookie into my mouth. She’s not crying, but her lip is quivering, and she’s trying to distract herself with work to keep the tears at bay. “You save his behind all the time. He’d be nothing without you.”
The nurse looks up at me through dark lashes. “He treats everyone like that.”
“Yeah, he didn’t need to go off on you like that in front of everyone.” I roll my eyes. “You’re one of the best nurses on this floor. Don’t let someone like that ruin your day.”
Nurse Monica manages a smile, and when she looks up, I see that her eyes are less glassy than they were a minute ago.
“You’re sweet to say that,” she says.
I don’t normally go around sprinkling sunshine all over people’s days, but I’m in a good mood today.
“Ah. Peds,” I say when a page comes over my radio. “My favorite.”
Her green eyes flash, like she’s seeing me in a whole new light, and I give her a wink before dashing toward the elevator. I would never cheat
on Sam. Never. But I’m not dead. Any man who says his ego doesn’t appreciate a little flirting and attention here or there is a bold-faced liar.
The second I disappear behind the silver doors, my mood fades.
I hate pediatric transfers.
The kids are always screaming and crying and thrashing. It’s as annoying as it is depressing. All the theatrics and overreacting. The hovering parents and the “Threat Level Midnight” hysterics. It’s draining.
When I land on the Peds floor, I find Brian already in the patient’s room, which is surprising but only because I didn’t think he could move that fast.
Dr. Lucas is chatting with the parents of the writhing and terrified angel, and they’re glued to his every word. His voice is smooth, like a glassy lake, and instantly puts everyone in a ten-foot radius at ease.
He should voice meditations on YouTube. Or start one of those hundred-dollar-a-year subscription apps. I bet he’d make a killing. (On top of the killing he already makes as a pediatric surgeon.)
I might not be the most compassionate man to walk this earth, but I can appreciate a pacifying quality in others when the time is right.
“Hi, guys,” he says to us when he’s done briefing the parents. “We’re just going to the recovery floor. Going to get this guy home by tomorrow if we can.”
Dr. Lucas smiles at us the way he smiles at everyone. He doesn’t treat us like lowly transporters, and I think that’s what makes me respect him the most. He doesn’t have a complex even though he very well deserves one. Guys like him are unicorns in the hospital world, and I’ve found myself wishing a time or two that I could be a bit more like him than me.
But those aren’t the cards I was dealt.
Some kids are raised with blankets and nightly tuck-ins and learn to see the world from a gentler perspective. Not me. I was raised falling asleep to the sound of a growling stomach, only to be drowned out by
my father screaming at Sonya in the next room and Sonya screaming back. That was the thing about her. No matter how awful he was to her, she always held her own. She didn’t cower in a corner and take it. I always admired that about her. Life dealt her a bad hand, too, but she always seemed to land on her feet no matter how hard she was thrown.
The parents give their kid a handheld video game to get him to stop writhing, and Brian and I wheel him to the next floor. I overhear one of the nurses mentioning that he just had an appendectomy. The kid, who’s all of eight or nine maybe, ignores us, keeping his attention laser-focused on the handheld Nintendo Switch in his possession.
I bet he’s never known a Christmas without a tree or had to use the same ratty, smelly schoolbag five years in a row.
Brian and I are halfway back to our office when he clears his throat and says, “So your Volvo . . .”
Here we go again. The guy must be obsessed. Does he lie in bed at night thinking about me and my car?
Probably . . .
“Aren’t those, like, sixty grand or something?” he asks.
“Something like that.” I keep walking, picking up my pace. I always like to keep a bit of distance between us so he doesn’t interpret any of this as a budding friendship.
“I just . . . Was it, like, a salvage or something?” He manages to keep up with my pace. Impressive.
“Nope. Bought it off the showroom floor.”
We round the corner to our dark hallway in our corner of the hospital.
“Yeah, but that’s over twice your yearly salary,” he says, slightly winded this time.
He can do simple math. Good for him.
“Been thinking it might be time for me to trade up,” he says when we get to our office. Plopping in his chair, he blows a breath and spins
to face me. “My Honda’s been good to me, but I’m ready to move up in the world. You’ve inspired me.”
“Well, I mean, if you can afford something like that on our salary, then . . .” His voice trails off, his confidence waning. “I’ve been here six years now. I make more than you. I’m sure I could . . .”
“My car was a gift,” I say, taking my seat and positioning myself so my back is to him.
His shoulders deflate. I’ve burst his hopeless bubble. “Seriously? That’s some gift then.”
Shaking the mouse to my computer, I wake the ancient machine and log in to the system to chart the last transfer and kill some time. Sometimes when I pretend to be busy and make it obvious that I’m only half listening, he gets bored and finds someone else to bother.
“Where are you from, anyway? I don’t think I ever asked you,” he says.
We’ve been working together for months, and he’s just now attempting to dig up my past?
“A little late for that question, isn’t it?” I keep my back to him.
“I know, I know.” He chuckles. “But really, though. Where are you from?”
“Everywhere,” I say, fingers tapping the keys.
“Can you be more specific?” he asks with another chuckle, but I know he’s dying for a serious answer.
“Mostly Missouri,” I lie.
“What part? I’ve got family in the Ozarks area and some by Independence. Some cousins in Jefferson City.”
“Kirkwood.” I lie again.
“What brought you all the way up here?” he asks.
“A woman.” For once I tell him the truth, though I won’t be going into any detail. The context is none of his business.
“A woman.” Brian echoes me, a hint of incredulousness in his tone. “Maybe someday I’ll get me one of those.”