Chapter EighteenI must be totally out of my mind, Lynn thought, pulling into a parking space in the hospital's parking garage. What am I doing here? If anyone caught her visiting Jessie she would have some fast talking to do. Yet, whatever the consequences, Lynn had to find out for herself what Jessie's condition was. The little blue haired volunteer at the information desk told her Jessie's room number was 6019. So, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, she made her way upstairs.
Jessie's room was at the end of the hall, a good twenty paces from the nurse's station. Lynn walked right on by, peeking into Jessie's room to make sure she was alone. When she saw that the coast was clear, Lynn backed up, and, making sure no one was watching, slipped into the room. Having worked as a candystriper during high school, in the hopes of course of nabbing a doctor, Lynn hadn't landed a rich doctor as a boyfriend, but had in fact learned bits and pieces about medicine. Quietly, she crossed over to Jessie's bed, and was surprised to see that Jessie looked pretty much in one piece after her accident. Other than for the stitches at her left temple, and assorted scratches and bruising on her arms, she seemed okay.
The only sounds in the room came from the beep beep beep of the machine monitoring her vitals - both her BP and pulse were steady and within normal levels - and the hiss of the vaporized oxygen bottle. No biggie. Lynn reassured herself, just oxygen and the standard IV drip. That was good. Jessie hadn't made a move or a sound since Lynn had entered, laying perfectly still. Could it be a concussion? Lynn wondered, or was the pain medication keeping her sedated? There's one way to find out, Lynn thought. Sure enough, as she tiptoed to the end of the bed, Lynn spotted Jessie's chart.
Flipping it open, she lucked out, for at the top of the pile of papers, was a copy of Jessie's blood test results. Dated that very morning, they told of abnormally high narcotics levels. To a lesser degree, Jessie's blood alcohol levels were elevated too. Lynn had to think fast. Should she leave the test results sheet in the chart or.. she had a better idea.
Grabbing a white lab coat, she shoved the paper she had stolen in her pocket and went back downstairs to the lab. Pulling her hair up into a bun roughly, she buttoned up the coat to cover her clothes, and plunked down into the first computer chair with a powered up PC in front of it. Thanking herself for majoring in computers at college, Lynn whizzed through the hospitals rather simplistic database. A few keystrokes here and there, and she had accessed Jess's patient file. Dr. Benson. Condition - trauma to the head and chest due to automobile accident. Pending lab work - and it listed a lab number. Yup, this is the one they were waiting for - test #31843, which would soon disappear thanks to her, and be blamed on shoddy data entry skills on the part of the hospital's clerical staff. Click click click and bye bye to Jessie's blood test results.
Jessie's cute yet greedy fiancé Zach would have no evidence to use in court to sue Mitch, and the only proof of he results of Nick's scheme for slipping Jess some drugs into her drink was vaporized too. With Jessie's patient number, social security number, address and phone jotted onto a sheet of 'have a nice day' yellow note paper for future reference, Lynn got the PC back to initial screen she had found it on.
She had lucked out and she knew it. Underpaid and overworked nurses and technicians would be blamed for losing the test results, and, as long as Jess continued to recover her expensively-clad butt would avoid having to wear prison stripes. Lynn walked out of the hospital, and stuffed the pilfered lab coat into the first available trash bin. Only later, when she was on the expressway, would she make confetti of the lab paper and toss it out the window.
Mitch would pitch a fit if he ever found out that it had been she who had pulled his fat out of the fire with Zach. It would be so sweet for her to be able to have Mitch grovel to her for a change, but if he lost his only means of making any sort of decent money, the immediate gratification of his indebtedness to her would be short lived.
Lynn made a
vow to herself then and there, as she drove around aimlessly, killing time before she went
to pick up Kelly, that she'd think twice before letting herself get so close into getting
herself into an unfixable bind. "I'm getting too old for this crap," Lynn
announced, pulling her hair free from the hastily fastened bun.
Once again her body fought to come out of the drug induced state of numbness, and Jessie stirred in the hospital bed, her body aching its protest. Still unable to sleep on her side because of her bruised ribs, she was forced to lay uncomfortably on her back. Rubbing her eyes, she looked towards the window, her eyes adjusting to the brightness coming from the window.
"Good afternoon Jessie," the nurse said, "nice to see you're awake."
"Thanks Nancy, I feel like Rapunzel.. how long have I been sleeping like this? My butt feels like someone's gone at it with a meat tenderizer.. I want out of this bed.. and this room.."
The nurse opened up the blinds letting the late afternoon sun bath the room. "Well this is gonna have to do for now. We can go ahead and sit you up before your fiancé gets here. It's almost five.."
"Ugh.. there's no way I can have a hairdresser smuggled in here? I must be a mess."
"Your friends don't seem to mind," Nancy smiled, "there hasn't been one day that various people haven't come by to see you.."
Jess sighed, looking at the flowers scattered about her room. She had been so out of it the last few days that she couldn't really be sure who had come to visit her and who hadn't. "It's all a blur to me. You could have paraded Godzilla through here and I wouldn't have known."
"You were pretty banged up when you got here. Between your concussion and the pain medication we had to administer for your chest, it was better that you slept most of the time anyway. But I can tell you, you were hardly ever alone. Mitch brought you that boombox and played you music. That tall gentleman.."
"Angel," Jess grinned.
"He read you the newspaper," Nancy smiled. "Your fiancé Zach is the hit of the nurse's station bringing the gals doughnuts and real coffee.."
"That's Zach.. a real charmer.."
"Plus a couple of ladies have dropped by too. You're lucky to have so many friends.."
Other than Cassie, Jess couldn't think of any other woman who would have come to see her. "Well I'm calling one of them now to see if she can bring me over a hairdresser," Jessie laughed.
A quick call to a tickled Cass, and her hospital makeover was just minutes away. Jessie contemplated reaching for her. It would be quite a reach from its position on the bedside table, but she needed to check out just how bad she did look. Nurse Nancy was right. Zach would surely be coming over to see her soon. She had no idea how long she had been in the hospital. What she did know is that she wanted to put the whole mess behind her as soon as possible.
She tried to twist, turning to the right in the direction of her purse and the compact she needed. Damn it, she winced, a stabbing pain lancing up her side. Settling back down onto her back, Jessie shut her eyes - the pain zapping most of her energy. The worst part of her accident was that she felt helpless. No one had mentioned the accident, or what had happened. All she knew was what Nancy had said, that she had been in bad shape when she had arrived at the hospital.
Okay think back.. Concentrating, Jess tried to recall the last thing she could remember. The pain killers were making it hard, since her brain felt kinda groggy. She couldn't really be sure what were dreams and what were memories at this point.
"Hey.. you falling asleep again?"
"Nope," Jessie smiled, watching Nancy walk into the room. "Just resting up before the makeover brigade gets here."
"Lucky you.. well dinner should be on its way soon. I just came in to let you know and grab your chart."
"Can you do me a big favor? Hand me my purse.. and switch on the boombox for me..? Thanks.."
"No problem. I know you're ribs are still hurting, but we have to get you out of this bed so your lungs can heal and you don't get pneumonia.."
"I know. I'm gonna have to get up and out of this bed to at the very least wash my hair," Jessie grinned. "Okay.. how about trying to get myself sitting up in bed.."
"That's a good idea. Then maybe you can venture a move to the recliner over there."
Nancy reached for the bed controls. Little by little, she eased the upper half of the bed into an upright position. "How ya doing? Let me know if you feel dizzy.."
"Between the pure oxygen and the head rush, I'm buzzing," Jessie laughed. "My ribs are smarting, but I guess that's to be expected. Besides, I want out of this place.."
"You really know how to make someone feel wanted," Nancy grinned, happy to see that her patient was doing better. "If the pain gets to be too much, let me know, okay?" she added, switching on the radio.
"Okay.. it's not too bad as long as I don't make any quick movements."
Jessie was glad when the nurse finally left the room, leaving her alone to examine the aftermath of the accident. Reaching into her purse, Jessie grabbed her compact and snapped it open. "Oh no," she groaned aloud, shot at her reflection. She had a tremendous black and blue gash at her left temple, dark stitches a shocking contrast to her creamy complexion. Her hair was a tangled, matted mess, causing her to grab suddenly for her purse again, in search of her brush.
"Dammit," she cried, a tear of shock and frustration rolling down her cheek.
Jessie hastily tried to make a improvement of her disheveled locks, but it was no use. Who was she kidding? Even if her hair were perfect, she'd still have the scar. Jess shut her eyes, grasping the handle of the hair brush tightly, gritting her teeth through the pain in her chest. If her face looked this bad, what did her chest look like? Yanking the front of her hospital gown forward, she held her breath, bracing for the worst. Her left side was covered in bruises, from her collar bone to her waist, but thankfully, there was no scarring.
Thoughts streamed into her mind, in one crazy rush. Zach.. he was on his way.. Zach who loved beauty.. who wanted everything and everyone to be perfect.. but she wasn't perfect anymore.. look at me crying in this bed like a baby.. emotional rushes making me even more helpless than I already am feeling physically.. even her usually sharp mind was failing her.. why couldn't she remember what had happened?
The frustration built as the sounds of a
song playing on the radio melted through the mad rush of thoughts crowding her mind.
'In a New York
minute.. everything can change..
in a New York minute.. things can get pretty strange..'
Her life was turned upside down and she didn't know why, let alone how, and Jessie didn't like the feeling of being out of control. The sun was setting, fingers of light reaching at her from across the room, reminding Jess of just what she was missing. Suddenly Jess felt an overwhelming sense of claustrophobia, and she couldn't remain in her hospital bed a moment longer. Ripping off the oxygen, she jumped from the bed, reaching to switch off the boombox. Slamming the brush against the on-off switch, she fell to her knees, her bed ridden body weak and unstable.
Her knees rammed harshly against the cold linoleum floor, the jolt of the floor throwing her unkempt hair into her face. Her chest heaved painfully, a mixture of painful exertion and adrenaline, and her head spun, a snippet of a vision rushing across her eyes. Sheets in disarray.. a pounding heart.. blurred vision.. a struggle.. no.. no.. trying to get away..
The next thing she knew was that someone was grasping her by the shoulders.
"Jessie?" Nancy pleaded, "are you okay? Did you fall?"
Slowly the tension started to dissipate from her body, her eyes opening, the feeling of a soft, soothing hand wiping her hair out of her face. "I fell," she stammered, ashamed at having been found like this.
"Here, let me help you back into bed.."
"NO," Jessie answered, pushing the nurse's hands away. "I'm tired of that bed. "I.. need to get.. up," she continued, bracing herself against the edge of the bed, and standing up. Nancy reached to steady her again. "I can do it," Jessie demanded. "I just lost my balance that's all."
Forcing her legs to comply, she crossed over to the recliner by the window and sat down. "There, you see? I knew I could do it."
Nancy sighed, straightening up, and looking at Jessie in silence. Cabin fever was quite normal for people who had been unconscious. The nurse knew that Jessie shouldn't rush it, but by getting herself up and out of bed alone, Jessie had experienced a much needed sense of self reliance. They had removed her IV a few hours earlier due to her progress, and the oxygen was going to be next tonight anyway.
"It's good that you're up," she said, disconnecting the vapor bottle from the wall, and rolling the oxygen tubing into a loop. "It'll be a nice surprise for your friends to find you up and about. Just take things slow, okay?"
Jess watched the nurse go from the corner of her eye, as she lavished in the comforting warmth of the sun peeking in through the window. Gazing longingly at the activity and life outside, she made a vow to herself to do anything she had to get out of the hospital. Working her legs and arms as she waited for her friends to arrive, Jess was determined to put on a happy face for her friends and her doctor, whoever he or she was. She would grit her teeth and smile and pretend away the pain - anything to get out of her hospital room which now felt more like a prison cell.
By the time Cassie and Manny her hairdresser friend arrived, Jessie was raring to start her performance of wellness.
"No more gypsy girl look or hospital gown nightmare get ups for you girl," Cassie called in to Jess as she changed into her jeans and button down Polo shirt.
Jessie was glad that Cassie had opted to stay outside and allow her to dress in private. The last thing she wanted was for anyone to see her bruises, she thought, making sure to button up her shirt all the way to the collar. "You got that right."
Jess bit her lip as she slid her legs into her jeans, the memory of the feel of a ruffly skirt on bare legs snapping in and out of her mind. Gypsy girl.. gypsy.. she thought.
Cassie was hiding something behind her purse when Jess emerged from the bathroom. "Much better girl," she said, trying to distract Jess. She was already cursed herself for slipping up earlier. The last thing her friend needed was to be reminded about the night of the accident.
"Cass?" she asked sitting on the edge of the bed. "What's that?"
Already cursing herself for her earlier blunder in mentioning Jess's outfit, Cassie scrambled to recover. The last thing her friend needed was to be reminded about the night of her accident. "Oh nothing," she smiled. "The nurse gave this to me when she saw me coming in here."
Reluctantly, Cassie handed Jessie the bag. She held it in her hands, more images flooding her mind. "My Halloween costume.."
"Yeah," Cassie nodded. "She also gave me this." Reaching into her pocket, Cass pulled out a ring.
Jessie's eyes widened. My ring, she thought. She had totally forgotten about her engagement ring. "Thanks," Jess smiled, slipping the ring onto her finger and caressing it lovingly. "Zach will be glad to see this on my finger again I'm sure.."
Cassie sighed, nodding sadly. Jessie's concussion was a blessing in a way, for if she would have been conscious, Jess would have realized that Zach hadn't spent hours by her bedside as a truly devoted fiancé should, but instead had just shown up after work, or where ever the hell he had gone.
Manny, who had stood uncomfortably silent
by the window, decided to cut in. "Well ladies, if we're gonna complete the
metamorphosis before Loverboy gets here, I need to get started."
With peach colored roses in hand, Zach rode the elevator to the sixth floor in silence. His meeting with the lawyer had gone well. Mitch would get his just desserts as soon as Zach talked to the doctor and retrieved Jessie's blood test results. After he gained ownership of the bar, and humiliating Mitch, he would make the bar into a high class hangout, the proud owner of his own money making babe playground. It was the perfect plan. He'd be able to continue his sexual escapades, having his pick of the upper class ladies he would soon attract to his bar, and even have a great excuse to visit the bar on a regular basis. Jessie would have no reason to suspect anything was up. As owner of the bar, it would be perfectly plausible for him to have to go 'make his runs' for his new business.
accident had been a total surprise - albeit an unpleasant one, but as usual, Zach made the
best out of a difficult situation. He had never wanted Jess to be hurt in any of this, and
was glad she had survived. Jess was a looker, and a smart one at that, and was a definite
and useful part of his future. And she clearly loved him. That above anything else would
work to his advantage. Zach was pretty sure that Jessie would do just about anything to
prove her love for him. No matter what kind of woman, from what part of life had entered
his life, Zach knew that they all wanted, above anything else, to have a love in their
lives. If his plans, both in Florida and with his new ventures in New York kept smoothly
rolling ahead, Jess would have all her heart wanted - all except a faithful husband. He in
turn would become independently wealthy, free of his father's tight fisted staunch
control. Nothing would suit him better..
Back at Jessie's hospital room, the two friends talked as Manny the makeover had boosted her friend's spirits, and yet she couldn't help but notice the way Jessie kept fiddling with her hair, pulling it forward to cover the scar on her temple.
"You look wonderful Jess.. I'm so happy you're okay," Cass said, squeezing Jessie's hand.
Jessie met Cass's gaze. "This is all so surreal to me.. I don't know what's real anymore," she sighed, running her finger along her left temple. "One minute I'm fine, and the next.."
"Sweetie?" Manny interjected, applying one final sweep of blush on Jessie's cheekbones. "Don't worry about anything. Yeah it's a shock to have stitches, but I'm sure the shock of just seeing them is making it worse in your mind. "I'm sure you won't even have much of a scar. The doctor's did a really good job. Besides, it's right by your hairline.. I bet you'll be the only person that notices it.. who'll be looking at your temple when they have such a pretty face looking at them anyway?" he smiled.
Jessie looked up at Manny and smiled. "God, I don't wanna come off sounding self absorbed. I know you're probably right. This has all been such a shock.."
In her gut Cassie knew that her friend was concerned about what Zach would say when he saw her scar. It was a pretty safe bet that he hadn't gotten to see it up close - how could he if he had hardly spent much time at Jess's bedside. She could only hope that for once Zach would show more sensitivity where his fiancée was concerned so that Jess wouldn't feel pressured into enduring plastic surgery, just to meet Zach's vanity.
"You know that I'll be here for you.. whatever you need, just ask.."
Jessie nodded, knowing full well that she could count on Cassie. If it came to plastic surgery, she knew that Cass could help her find a good doctor, since most of her friends had already jumped on the cosmetic surgery bandwagon.
"Voila," Manny announced, handing Jessie a mirror. "Beautiful.. just beautiful.."
"You're the best Manny, thank you," she said, getting up and walking to the window to look at herself in better light. Turning the right side of her face towards the mirror, she sighed. "Looking at me now, you'd hardly know I've been in the hospital.."
But the all knew full well they had. No matter how much they skirted the issue the sporadically intensifying pain in her side and the gaps in her memory would be a constant reminder to Jessie of her ordeal.
"Dinner time Miss Reynolds," announced a nurse's aide, setting down a dinner tray.
"Oh joy," Cass teased.
Manny knew that the friends needed time to talk, so he took his chance to leave. "I'll go anywhere to work on a good client, but enduring the sights and smells of hospital food is where I draw the line," he laughed. "Ta.."
"Bye Manny, and thanks again for your help.."
"My pleasure sweetie.."
Manny cringed, the combination of the dowdy hospital uniforms and that particular hospital disinfectant scent causing him to increase his pace to the elevator. The elevator doors opened and he rushed in, bumping into a bunch of roses. "Oh excuse me," he said, looking up, eyes widening at the strikingly handsome face before him. Could this be Loverboy?
"Watch where you're going Flyboy," Zach grunted, pushing past. God I hope not, Manny thought, with a quick harumph, as the elevator doors began to close.
"God Cass, I need to get out of here. This place is gonna drive me nuts.."
"I know hon.. shouldn't be too long now. Ask the Doc when he comes to see you tonight.."
"Feeling cooped up is bad enough, but the fact that I can't remember anything about the accident or the last few days only makes it worse."
"You have a concussion Jess. that's to be expected. You'll be good as new, you'll see, you just need to let yourself heal. How are you feeling otherwise?"
It was so good to have someone to confide in, and Jess was feeling her tough resolve starting to chip away at the edges. "Cass.. my ribs hurt.. I almost died when I saw myself when I was changing.. the bruises.." she said, tearing up, "I can't let Zach see me this way, I just can't.."
"Aw honey," Cass said, gently hugging her friend. Her heart ached for Jessie, for she knew just how much of a babe hound Zach was. He had no clue what he had in Jessie, or that, scars and all, Jess was one of the most beautiful human beings, inside or out, that he's ever have the luck of meeting. "It's you that you need to worry about, and healing. The bruises will fade in time, and if Zach is that shallow that he lets it bother him, I'll beat him to a pulp."
"I feel so lost Cassie," Jess said, in admitted, in barely a whisper, as she lay back onto the bed. "Help me, tell me what happened."
Cassie struggled to find the right words. Other than for knowing what her friend's physical condition was after the accident, all Cassie knew was that Jess had had an accident, slamming her Jeep into a cement divider on the highway. "You had a car accident after the Halloween party at the Dusk To Dawn.." she said her voice trailing off. Cass knew Jessie well enough to know that she wasn't one to drive drunk, and couldn't bear to think that her friends at the bar had let her drink too much and worse, let her get behind the wheel.
Zach had just arrived at Jessie's room. From where he stood, he saw what he recognized to be Cassie sitting on Jessie's bed with her back to the door. "None of this would have happened if I had been here," Zach announced.
Stunned, Cassie turned towards the door. "Look what the cat dragged in," she purred through semi clenched teeth. "Must have been a tiger to drag you all the way from New York.."
Jessie's heart pounded, anticipating Zach's reaction when he caught a good look of her scar. "Zach?" she asked, sucking in a breath as she sat up in the bed.
"Nice to see you too Cassandra," Zach answered. "Nothing could have kept me away," he added, turning on the charm as he approached the bed, holding the oversized bouquet before him. "Where's my pretty girl?"
"Oh God Cass," Jessie whispered, just loud enough for her friend to hear.
Cassie squeezed Jessie's hand before getting up, and backing away from Zach. The moment would be difficult enough, but she knew the two needed time alone. "Oh, look at that, it's hubby," pretending her beeper had just gone off. "I'll be by to see you tomorrow Jess. Just call if you need anything.."
"Thanks Cass," Jessie said, taking the flowers from her fiancé, and pulling them towards her face, camouflaging her face a moment longer, as she breathed in their wonderful scent.
"Yeah thanks Cassie, but Jess'll be well taken care of now that I'm back."
Zach was more than a little surprised to find Jess looking so much like herself - hair styled, makeup on. "Look at you," he said, cupping her face in his hands. He leaned down, setting the flowers aside as he descended, and for a split second, he stopped, his fingers grazing the coarse stitches across Jessie's left temple. "I've missed you babe.."
"I've missed you too," Jessie replied, drinking Zach's strength in through his kiss.
"Everything will be alright again, I promise. Leave it to me.."
Drifting in and out of a drug induced sleep, Jess had been aware of Zach being there at her bedside, but this was the first time she was truly 100% awake, and not groggy. Yet, the uncertainty she had felt just seconds before, holding her breath as she felt her fiancé's fingers slip quickly down and away from her scar to cup her chin, melted away as soon as Zach pulled her close and wrapped Jess in his arms. "I wanna go home Zach.. please take me home.."
* * * * *
Copyright © 1998 Susana Audrain and Richard Tingle All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this novel or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by the U.S. Copyright Law.