Late to work again, but the aerobic flush of the extra lap through the park was worth it. After a hasty rinse-off and change in the employee locker room, she’s hustling down the hall to Medical Records when she hears voices coming closer around the corner beyond the waiting lounge:
“…keeps letting her get away with it, it’s not fair.” Marlene’s distinctive nasal whine.
Damn. Lindsey ducks behind the big activities calendar at the corner opposite the elevator.
“What’s the deal with her, anyway?” Marlene’s the data-entry clerk. She’s passing by now, along with Sono, another transcriber like Lindsey. “When she hired on, Katie over at the Madrona Center was like, ‘Oh, Lin Friedland! I went to high school with her, she’s a hoot.’ Guess they were always waiting to see what she’d pull off next, like the time some boy dared her to climb the big maple up to the third story, and she arrived in class through the window.”
Lindsey bites her lip. She never had been able to turn down a dare. The climb was no problem, and the window was open. Then she’d figured, Okay, just act casual, sit down and pull out your book and nobody will pay much attention. Until Mr. Thornycroft was standing beside her desk, tapping his foot, everybody’s faces turning expectantly. All she could think to say was, “So, I guess no extra credits?”
Headed for the hospital elevator, Sono’s chuckling.
Which seems to be annoying Marlene. “So what’s her problem now? Ms. Stiff Upper Lip. I mean, would it pollute her to come down for Donut Day in the break room?”
Something muffled in response as they stop at the metal doors, blocking Lindsey’s escape. Sono punches the Down button and turns back toward Marlene. “…so why not cut her some slack? Anyway, Olivia’s not about to give her the boot, she racks up the fastest production rate in the department.” Her voice is matter-of-fact, as usual.
“I still say it’s about time she got over it already.”
The elevator doors open for them, then close.
Great. Lindsey blows out a breath, darts out from behind the calendar, and hot-foots it toward Medical Records. Just in time to collide in the doorway with her boss Olivia.
“Oh! Shi-shoot. I’m sorry.” Lindsey kneels to pick up the cascade of chart folders she’s knocked out of Olivia’s arms. Thank goodness they’re all stapled.
“I know. I’m trying.” She scoops the files into a neat stack, stands, and offers them to Olivia.
Who’s shaking her stylishly short-cropped gray head, peering over pink half-glasses and pursing her brightly glossed lips. Then she sighs and gives Lindsey a smile. “I know that, Lin. But I have to think about department morale. Make sure you’re on time the rest of the week.” She starts to take the stack, then pushes it back at Lindsey. “While you’re at it, why don’t you run these down to Archives? I’ve got a meeting. Jenny’s sick today, so I’m putting you on the Number Two E.R. line. After you catch that up, you can do the surgery reports. If you need any extra hours, you’re welcome to stay after.”
“Great. I will.” Lindsey places a hand atop the thick stack to steady it. “Thanks.”
Olivia’s already tapping briskly down the hall, with a backwards waggle of fingers toward Lindsey.
Another long exhale, this time relief. She sticks her head into the office to tell Gayle, who’s on the Number One E.R. line and typing away, that she’s going down to Archives. That’s where they store the backup paper charts.
Gayle, neat little dreadlocks setting off her perfect dark complexion, pulls off her headphones and makes hyper typing motions in the air. “They went nuts in E.R. last night. I’ve got Trauma Jock on the line, too bad we can’t ship him off to Hollywood.”
“Fun fun,” Lindsey sympathizes. Dr. Nichols, ruler of night-shift Emergency, suffers from short-man syndrome and compensates with his red Porsche and custom TRAUMA DOC plates, cowboy boots, and a pain-in-the-ass reputation. Though, to be fair, he’s a super surgeon with a way low complication and loss rate.
“Luck of the draw.” Gayle shrugs philosophically. “You get busted again?” She tilts her heads toward Olivia’s charts in Lindsey’s arms.
She surprises herself by chuckling. “Yep, ran smack into Olivia and knocked them flying.”
Gayle grins. “Wish I’d seen that one.” She winks and swivels back to her keyboard, humming. She’s the newest employee, just coming up on her six-month review, and Lindsey’s never seen her anything but cheerful. Unlike Marlene and some of the others, she doesn’t push for responses, just lets people have the space they need.
Lindsey heads for the hall, grappling the chart stack and a pang of envy for Gayle’s mellow smile, her fresh young face. Then realizes it’s not so much envy as nostalgia for her own younger self.
Hardly anyone uses the back stair, but she doesn’t like elevators. Likes to think she’s conserving energy, though in reality it’s any excuse for a little exercise when you work at a computer all day. As she reaches bottom, she hugs the tippy stack to her chest against the ID badge, a keycard necklace, and backs through the door. It clicks locked behind her as the balky old fluorescent light on its timer flickers and crackles in the dark.
Her feet know the way to the Archives door, so she doesn’t wait for the slow warmup with the light, just starts down the hall. She stumbles over something in the dark.
“Shit!” She’s tripping forward. She manages to throw out an arm for balance and catch herself, but the charts go flying as she staggers back. The light flares on, and the folders shower down over a man sitting lotus-style against the cement wall.
“Ah!” Lindsey windmills back, heart jolting.
The man just sits there, calmly looking up at her as the manila folders spill over his legs and across the cement floor. “Hello,” he says.
“What are you doing here?” Lindsey steps back farther, voice sharp as she gropes for her key badge and glances toward the stairway door.
He just raises his palms, then starts to gather up the files.
He’s a big man from what she can tell as he sits, broad in the chest and shoulders, wearing jeans and a fleece top, wavy gray hair a bit long and shaggy, but he doesn’t look threatening. No hospital ID badge.
She clears her throat. “Are you okay? You’re not hurt?”
He stands then in an easy movement out of the crossed-legged position, hands her some of the folders, and crouches to gather up the rest. “I don’t like elevators. Thought there was an exit down here, but there was only that emergency door down the hall that would set off an alarm. Then the stairway door was locked, and the light timed out.” He glances up, eyes crinkling in what seems to be amusement. “I figured someone would come down eventually, so I might as well sit and meditate.”
He rises again, holding the rest of the charts. He’s tall, and she has to look up at him now. “So, Lindsey, I guess you have a key? Or else we can both sit here and practice some mantras.” Another glimmer of humor in his eyes. He has a lot of laugh lines scrunched around them.
“Uh….” She glances down, sees her ID badge twisted on its cord. He must have read her name off it. “Were you visiting a patient and got lost?”
“Yes. And no.” His mouth twitches. “I’m not lost, just taking a detour.”
She shoots him a look, frowns, then shrugs. “I need to put these charts in Archives, then I’ll take you to the exit.” She reaches for the folders he’s holding.
“Allow me.” He tilts his head and holds onto them.
She thinks maybe he’s laughing at her and she wants to get huffy after the shock in the dark, but somehow his presence is calming, like he’s inviting her to laugh along with him. Though when she glances back at him, he only has a neutral, inquiring look on his face.
She spins on her heel and stalks down the hall toward Archives, thrusts her keycard into the reader, and yanks open the door, gesturing him in. Strictly against security rules, but he doesn’t look like he’s out to pilfer confidential patient records. “Just set them on the cart there.” She adds her own stack and gestures him back into the hall. He’s giving her another attentive look, and she sees now he has gray-blue eyes under shaggy brows. A square, strong-jawed face thickening around the edges with middle age.
“So. Where were you trying to get to?” She starts back down the hall.
“Harvey from the kitchen said there was a back exit, I seem to remember that from years ago. You could get to the park faster that way. But I haven’t been in the hospital since the big expansion, not since my mother–”
He takes a breath, resets. “My daughter’s having knee surgery, so I thought I’d take a walk in the park.”
“You know Harvey?” she asks incoherently.
“I do now. Nice kid.”
She shoots him another look, shakes her head, inserts the keycard into the stairway door, nods him through.
But he holds it open for her. “After you.”
She gives up, lets him usher her up the stairs, surrendering to the lunacy of the day. Up one flight, she pauses at a door, this one unlocked. “Here’s the door you wanted. If you go down the hall past the cafeteria, there’s a back exit. Then across the parking lot to the park. There’s a path—”
“I know. I grew up in this neighborhood.”
“Oh.” She frowns. Maybe that’s it. He does look familiar somehow. She shakes her head, says briskly, “You know there’s a waiting room for family. I can take you up there.”
He raises his palms. “Actually, I was taking a break from that. Melani’s mother’s up there. She…. It doesn’t work too well for us to be in the same room these days.”
“Guess she thinks I should have asked her permission to take Melani skiing, even though it was my weekend with her.” A shrug. “Kimberly’s still caught up in old anger, it’s really her pain body talking. She needs more time to move through it into detachment.”
He looks down at her, into her eyes. “You know. How everything comes to feel like a source of suffering. It’ll pass.”
She stares up at him, gears ratcheting. Is he a kook? That strange calmness, she’s seen something like it in the way the patients in the psych ward can look right through you. Into you. Maybe he’s a nut case, escaped off the ward….
But even as she thinks it, she sees he’s got a gentle smile tugging his lips. She’s the one spinning out.
“Thanks.” He gives her a nod, pushes through the door, looks back as it’s swinging closed, and the smile widens. “Be well, Lindsey.” The door shuts with a soft click.
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