November 21, 2000 - Part II
Almost as soon as Ben booted up his powerpoint, Jon knew he was fucked. Ben was talking, but it didn’t take long for it all to become a blur. Jon had admired Dr. Johnsen grately from his first interview as a fellow, and had even considered him a friend--as much as he had friends, anyway. And now all of his hard work--the presentation he had focused on so painstakingly for weeks--was all for naught.
Dr. J wasn’t supporting Jon’s case, as Jon had assumed he would. Instead, he was reporting on Kai, as the only patient with known FS to have undergone transplantation, and he was claiming that it was inconclusive how curative the procedure had been.
“Early on the morning of September 3, this year, Mr. Fox was brought into the ER by ambulance . . .”
Jon’s heart stopped, and he barely managed to catch bits of what Ben was saying. Just shy of three months ago, Kai had stopped breathing, gone in and out of consciousness, was rushed to the ER and kept for observation for several hours, most of those on mechanical ventilation.
“Unfortunately, Mr. Fox declined further treatment, and though I did run several tests a few days later . . .”
Jon stared at the slide and tried to remember this was real and not a nightmare. Kai had almost died and he hadn’t thought to mention it? And how was Jon not notified in the first place? Not only was he Kai’s next of kin, he was listed in Kai’s files as his medical proxy. If Kai was unconscious, Jon should have immediately gotten a call. Who the hell from pulmonology had been on call that night? Jon’s thoughts turned murderous as he struggled to not rip his hair out.
Dr. J continued, talking more about Kai’s case and his test results, how Kai’s issues didn’t seem related to rejection, how Dr. J had started Kai on the amphigarol again, etc., etc., but Jon wasn’t able to concentrate on any of it. He’d never felt more betrayed in his life--by both Ben and Kai--and never felt more sick to his stomach that something could have happened to Kai and he wouldn’t have known about it until nothing could be done.
“There’s no doubt the transplant has prolonged Mr. Fox’s life, and his quality of life, even with immunosuppression, is unqualifiedly better,” Dr. J said, winding down. “However, I must acknowledge that there is still a lot we don’t understand about FS, and it is impossible to say how much long-term benefit he will receive, or his life expectancy, excluding post-transplantation sequelae.”
The last few minutes of the meeting passed, the committee announcing they’d reveal their verdict at next week’s meeting, and filing out after a few words to Ben, who was packing up his laptop. Jon sat in his seat, seemingly frozen, waiting. Then he mechanically rose and strode over to Dr. J, who had slung his briefcase over his shoulder.
Perhaps he saw the look on Jon’s face, his only warning, because he threw his hands up in supplication. “Jon--”
Later, Jon could hardly recall what had happened after the meeting; it felt like a nightmare, like a dream in which his body was doing things he never imagined it would do, but he wasn’t able to stop himself. In an instant, Jon lunged at Ben, shoving him against the wall, standing in front of him, arms on either side of the shorter man’s head. Kai was taller than Jon, nearly 6’4”, but not by much; Jon stood a half a head over the man he had considered his mentor until about fifteen minutes earlier, fuming with rage so intense his vision went red.
“You motherfucker! You fucking cock blocked me! The committee will never rule in my favor now! How could you?”
Though Ben had initially flinched, he leaned against the wall, outwardly calm, looking up at Jon. “I did what I was ethically obligated to do. We don’t know with certainty that a transplant is curative for FS patients, and Kai has been exhibiting some FS symptoms recently that he shouldn’t be experiencing post-transplant.”
“And you couldn’t give me a heads up that you were going to side swipe my entire presentation?”
Dr. J at least had the decency to look contrite. “I worried if you knew it might weaken your resolve. Your case was solid and well argued. Even with the info about Kai, there’s still a chance--”
“And Kai. How was I not notified?”
Dr. J made to duck under one of Jon’s arms, but Jon shifted to keep him trapped, forcing him to answer. “Just because you’re his proxy doesn’t make you automatically privy to everything. You know that. Kai was conscious enough to state his wishes: he didn’t want invasive ventilation, and he didn’t want you contacted.” Ben shrugged.
Jon ducked his head, though he didn’t move otherwise. “You’ve killed Martin, you know that? And God knows how many other kids.”
Dr. J finally lost his cool. “Jon, you're brilliant, you have great intuition, and your patients adore you. You're also incredibly passionate and dedicated to your work. But passion can be a bad thing for a physician. We need to have distance. You forget that, sometimes. This case in particular, this kid--I know you see Kai every time you look at him, and that's one reason you're so determined to fight for him. But it's beginning to blind you. You've gotten on the bad side of a lot of those committee members--including the Chief of Surgery. That could have serious consequences for your ability to get done what needs to be done in this place.” He pushed at Jon’s arm, which finally dropped. Jon took a step back, releasing Ben from where he’d been pinned against the wall. “I'm starting to worry about your ability to make good decisions regarding Martin’s care.” Dr. J adjusted the strap of his bag, watching Jon warily, though he’d gone back to his calm composure. “I should assign him to another physician.”
Jon stepped back farther, letting the older man walk around him. “Don't, Ben. Please. Martin has been my patient since I got here. I know him. I know his mother.”
Dr. J sighed. “You need a break. A real break, away from this place. I want you to go home and I don't want to see you here again until Monday.”
“I'm on call--”
“I'll arrange for someone else.”
“You don't have the author--”
The first flash of genuine anger passed fleetingly in Ben’s eyes. “Do you want me to get MacDonald on the phone? Should I tell him how you assaulted me?”
The magnitude of what he’d done hit Jon hard. He could barely find the words to say, “No, sir.”
Kai was sitting in his wheelchair, leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, watching David make a few adjustments to the frame of his master bathroom door. Kai had been surprised by how handy David apparently was, and David had confessed to learning most of what he knew from odd jobs he’d found to pay the rent. He wasn’t skilled enough to make a living at it, he’d quickly realized, but good enough for DIY and the occasional extra cash for a small, simple job.
David turned around and looked at Kai with a frown. “The door keeps sticking. I might have to try to cut it down. What do you think?”
Kai shrugged. “I’ve never even held a hammer. You’re asking the wrong guy.”
That made David laugh.
“Look, part of the reason I came over today is I have a favor to ask you.”
David grabbed a bottle of water he’d set aside and took a long drink, then gave Kai a look that said, “What are you getting me into?”
Kai sighed. “I’ve been thinking a lot about my mom, ever since Jon gave me that photo--”
David grabbed his tools, as if to leave and end the conversation, but Kai reached out for him, urging him to wait. With a sigh, David collapsed on his bed, gave Kai an eyeroll, then a gesture to continue.
Kai nodded a thanks. “Jon won’t talk about her. I’ve tried,” Kai added in response to David’s skeptical look. “All he’ll say is that I remind him a lot of her, that I’m a lot like her, but then he shuts down. It’s been driving me crazy lately.”
David frowned deeply, crossed his arms tightly on his chest. His face told Kai, without signs, that he might not know exactly where Kai was going with this, but he thought it was a bad idea. The past was better off forgotten, and one way or another, whether by death or choice, both their parents had left them behind, and the sooner you remembered that and got on with your life, the better off you were. David had said as much to Kai more than once in the past, and his current scowl meant his opinions on the matter hadn’t changed.
Kai continued anyway. “There’s a room in the basement of the hospital where they keep the records of the deceased patients--”
As if sensing where this was going, David popped up, shaking his head. “No,” he said, using his voice, one of the few words he knew how to say. Speaking was something he almost never did, but it was a way of expressing how vehemently he was opposed to the direction Kai’s plea was taking him. “No,” David said again, the word inarticulate, but clear enough all the same. He continued in sign, his movements rapid and jerky. “I’m not breaking into the hospital records just to satisfy your curiosity. I may have been a fuck up when it was just me I had to worry about and damn the consequences. But now I have Megan, and she’s a sweet, innocent girl who doesn’t need to know that I barely stayed out of jail after I aged out of CH.”
Kai blinked. That was news to him. David had explained that life hadn’t been easy for him after aging out, that he’d done whatever he could to scrape by until he finally got a solid job that let him put his life back on track. But, true to character, David had left out the finer details, and Kai wasn’t exactly known for being an open book himself, so he didn’t push. Now he kind of wished he had. David had always been an expert lockpicker and petty thief when they were kids, and had run a mini smuggling operation at County House, getting items for kids on the down-low that they normally would never have had an opportunity to have. Things like lipstick for the girls or dirty magazines for the boys, items bartered, stolen, or bought with bartered or stolen cash. Was that how David had survived on the streets?
Still, Kai tried to convey in his face how important this was to him. “I would do it myself, but I’m not exactly inconspicuous,” Kai signed, indicating his wheelchair. “Especially since everyone knows me in that fucking place. But you could sneak in, snatch my mom’s files, and sneak out, and no one would be the wiser.”
David’s scowl, which could have melted glass, intensified. “And how am I supposed to do this, exactly?”
“Pretend to be an orderly, sneak down, grab the files, and go. I figure if you do it Thanksgiving night, or the day after, when a lot of the usual staff will be off, no one will notice you.”
David rolled his eyes. “Yeah, don’t you think they’d know if they had a deaf orderly?”
Kai smiled. “Put some headphones in and act bored but with a purpose and no one will notice you. Trust me.”
David shook his head and stormed out of the room, signaling the end of the conversation, but it wasn’t another adamant “no,” either.
Neither Kai nor David had brought up the subject of Kai’s mother’s records again, and they sat together on the sofa, eating pizza. The TV was on, ESPN talking heads going on about the various top college football teams and who seemed to be the most likely candidates to make it to the National Championship in January, the volume off and closed captioning text scrolling automatically on the bottom of the screen, but Kai could tell David wasn’t really reading it.
David had given up on getting the door just right for now, and everything else about David’s house was pretty accessible. It turned out that Megan had asthma--nothing like what Kai had been like before his transplant, of course--but it meant no carpets, no rugs, so with only some adjustment of furniture, plus the modification to a few doorways and the bathroom, and Kai could be quite at home here.
It was strange, seeing David in his own house, starting a real life for himself, and Kai wondered, vaguely, if maybe he could have this someday, too. Maybe with Renee.
“You need to eat more than one piece of pizza,” David said, gesturing with a crust with one hand while he signed with his other. David had gotten an extra-large, half everything and half cheese, but he’d eaten most of it himself.
Kai shrugged, looked at his half-eaten slice sitting on a plate in his lap before setting it aside on one of the end tables. “I should probably go home.”
David sighed and rolled his eyes. “Don’t be mad at me because I don’t want to be charged with breaking and entering, and who knows what else since this is medical records we’re talking about.”
“She’s been dead 16 years. No one will care.”
David shifted in his seat so he could face Kai better. “Why is this so important to you? What are you hoping to find in her medical records? I’m sure yours could wallpaper the White House, but would that tell me who you are?”
Kai sighed. “I want to know . . .” Kai hesitated, dropped his hands.
David tilted his head, his eyes urged Kai to finish.
“I need to know if she was treated . . . psychiatrically,” Kai looked sheepish.
David shook his head. “You feel like you’re going crazy, and you think if your mom was crazy that’ll make things better?” David leaned forward and grabbed Kai’s face, peering into it for a long moment, as if he’d find the real answer there if he only looked hard enough.
Kai pushed him away. “Maybe if I can understand her, I can understand myself.” Kai reached for his chair, pulled it closer. “I should go.”
The lights flickered, and David put a hand out to plead with Kai to wait as he rose to answer the door.
What happened next, happened fast.
Kai was debating about ignoring David and transferring back into his chair anyway when he heard a commotion behind him. He turned his head in time to see Jon, a look of fury like he’d never seen on his brother’s face before, pushing past David and barreling straight toward Kai. Jon might’ve had several inches over David, but it was only surprise that had enabled Jon to barge past the stronger man.
“Why the fuck didn’t you say anything?” Jon was screaming, and he leapt at Kai, causing them to both fall onto the floor with a thud loud enough David probably felt it.
Kai’s head and shoulders slammed into the hardwood with enough force it sent electric tendrils of pain through his joints and momentarily caused his vision to blur. In the confusion, Kai’s body took over, knowing he was in a compromised position, that someone was restraining him, that they were going to hurt him, that he had to fight back. His pulse skyrocketed as he shoved against the person on top of him with full force, causing them both to roll onto their sides. Kai registered the thud and whoosh of air as the other man landed hard, and now, free from immediate threat, Kai’s brain cleared.
He released his grip on Jon. “What . . . what the hell, Jon?” He was breathing heavily, but he hoped Jon would think it was from exertion and not . . . what the hell had just happened? For a split second, it was as if Kai had slipped outside of himself and hadn’t quite realized the man he was fighting was his brother. It had to be from hitting his head.
David paced like a caged tiger nearby, ready to pounce if Kai indicated he wanted help, but Kai tilted his head and cast a look at David that said, “I’ve got this.” In the process, Kai saw his wheelchair had rolled across the room, far out of his reach.
Jon growled, pushed against Kai with all his strength, using the ground for leverage and managing to throw Kai on his back again. “The ER. Dr. Johnsen talked all about your little visit a few months ago, which pretty much nailed the coffin shut as far as the transplant committee was concerned. What the fuck is wrong with you? Why didn’t you tell me you were having breathing problems?” Jon was still pinning Kai, though some of his anger had faded, and he relaxed his hold.
“I didn’t want to worry you,” Kai said simply, not liking the way his pulse was racing and his limbs were beginning to feel tingly, like they did before a full-blown panic attack. Kai planted his palms on the floor to push himself up into a sitting position, but Jon shifted his weight, shoving against Kai’s chest with one arm and leaning forward to keep him down. Anxiety flared and Kai shifted his restrained hand subtly in Jon’s grip so he could push against the floor while he took advantage of his one free arm to violently reverse their positions, using his superior weight and strength to pin Jon beneath him, ignoring the way his legs tangled awkwardly.
His body was still on edge, but being in control eased some of his anxiety, though his anger flared to replace it, making his skin hot. “I’m breathing fine. It was one time.” Kai’s nostrils flared, his eyes glinting, wordlessly telling Jon not to fuck with him. “It’s not like you tell me everything,” Kai challenged. “I’m sure there’s been times you didn’t eat or check your sugar like you should, and you didn’t give me a full fucking report.”
Kai expected Jon to give in, but instead, he shouldered into Kai, catching him off guard, and they rolled along the floor, each fighting for control. If David hadn’t already cleared the living room to make egress for Kai’s wheelchair easier, it was likely they would have destroyed it. The two brothers wrestled across the open floor, unwilling to yield, though neither one was able to overpower the other enough to fix their position. Kai was much stronger and fitter, but Jon had the advantage of all four limbs, and he finally managed to use his knees to subdue Kai, getting him on his back again, sitting on Kai’s stomach. Jon utilized all his weight to pin Kai’s arms out at his sides, palms up, crucifixion style, pressing him into the ground.
Both brothers’ chests were heaving, both were sweating, though Kai’s was more from anxiety than exertion. He fought against Jon’s hold, but without his arms and with Jon securing his abdomen, he could do little more than squirm, his body racing toward full panic again.
“Get off me,” Kai said, trying to make it sound like a threat and not like fear. Though adrenaline and determination were making Jon stronger than normal, Kai knew he could displace his brother, though he wasn’t sure he could escape without seriously hurting Jon. Kai’s heart was beating so hard it felt like it would tear its way out of his chest. “Get the fuck off me, now,” Kai said, his voice tinged with anger, though it wobbled, his pulse fluttering frantically in his throat.
Jon’s grip tightened on Kai’s arms, and Kai had to bite his lip to try to keep himself under control. Fortunately, Jon pushed against him, releasing him with a grunt of frustrated anger. “For once in your life, stop being so fucking self-absorbed. The world doesn’t revolve around you. Your actions--and inactions--have consequences,” Jon said, his words harsh, though Kai noticed his voice broke. Jon rose, immediately looking away. Then he stood for a moment, as if trying to collect himself, wiping his face with his sleeve.
Kai lay on his back, propped up on his elbows, the hum of adrenaline still coursing through his body, feeling dizzy, knowing he would begin shaking any moment and desperately hoping he could keep it together for a few more minutes. He stared up at Jon, grateful he was no longer trapped, but bewildered. Jon was never violent, and he rarely got angry. At least not directed at Kai.
“I’m going to Vicky’s. I may not come home for a while,” Jon said in a cold voice. He hesitated, glanced at David, then seemed to remember that Kai’s friend couldn’t hear anything he was saying, and added, “Vicky wants me to move in with her anyway, because of the baby. Might as well do it now.” Jon adjusted his coat and headed toward the door, past a scowling David. “I’ll have the paperwork drawn up to cancel the proxyship. Might not happen till after the holiday, but if you want your independence, I’ll give it to you.”
Kai’s blood ran cold. He pushed himself up into a sitting position. “Jon--”
“Don’t fucking ‘Jon,’ me,” Jon said, his anger flaring again. “You make your bed, you lie in it. Just remember that Martin will die if the committee votes against me. And it will, now that they know the golden-haired boy isn’t cured.” Jon’s final words came out sounding like he was going to lose his lunch, and before David slammed the door behind Jon, Kai thought he heard heaving sounds.
Kai let the trembling take over, struggling to take slow, deep breaths to get himself under control.
David rushed over to offer Kai a hand, but Kai pushed him away, pulling himself back to his chair and lifting himself up into the seat, relief washing over him as he settled into it, even if his pulse wasn’t yet back to normal, and the tingling still made his fingers numb. Without a word, he hurried to the front door, ripping it open, the cold piercing through his T-shirt and jeans, but Jon was gone, the only sign he had been there the faint smell of vomit somewhere in the bushes.
Kai’s cheeks were bright red, his lips were turning blue, he was shivering, and he was blatantly ignoring David’s shoulder taps and hand waves. So David tried to grip the bar on the backrest of Kai’s chair to forcibly pull him inside, but Kai locked his hands around his wheels and rims, and it became a war of wills and strength, making David grunt in frustration.
David stomped his foot loudly, to no avail. Clapped his hands. Used his voice to let out a short, sharp sound that usually worked well enough to get a hearing person’s attention. No response. Finally, he cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted, throwing the air out from deep in his stomach, something he normally would do only if he were trying to get someone’s attention across a large space. Maybe it would snap Kai out of whatever trance he’d fallen into after his brother had stormed out.
David had no idea what the two had said to each other, but he’d seen the hurt and angry expressions on each of their faces, and he’d seen how utterly lost Kai had looked when David had finally come out to check on him. The same sad, vacant shadow that had taken over Kai years ago, when they’d both run away from County House hoping to confront Kai’s parents, who Kai had been convinced--at age eight--were still alive. So he could ask them, point blank, why’d they’d left him.
Only, when they’d finally made it to Kai’s childhood home, a stranger had answered the door, and even though Kai had tried not to show it, all his hope had crumpled in that moment as he realized he was alone. David being beside him, refusing to leave him even when they knew the cops and CPS would be by any minute to reclaim them both, to whisk them back to County House, hadn’t mattered.
David let out a less powerful second shout, shaking Kai’s shoulder harder.
Kai seemed to finally snap out of it, looking up at David, causing a chill unrelated to the winter weather to race up David’s spine. Kai looked like his soul had been hollowed out and discarded like the pulp of a Jack-o-Lantern, leaving only an empty shell. It was even worse when Kai smiled, put a hand to his chest. “I’m fine.”
Before David could contradict or call him out, Kai had pushed back inside and was pulling on his coat.
“Where are you going?”
“To kill myself.” Kai signed with that same creepy, dead smile, and it scared the shit out of David. “Where the fuck do you think I’m going? Home.”
David blocked the door, ignoring Kai’s paint-peeling glare. “Stay here tonight. The bathroom’s ready--”
Kai inhaled sharply. “I’m fine. I don’t need Jon, and I don’t need you. I’m fine.”
David could see Kai’s walls crumbling, like he was threatening to lose it at any moment, but he also knew Kai well enough that nothing he could say could keep Kai if he’d already made up his mind. “Don’t do anything stupid,” David said anyway, doing his best to impart all the meaning he could into a couple signs. Kai and David had never talked about it, and David had never ratted Kai out, but over the years at County House David had occasionally found the razors, the sharp plastic, the glass, whatever Kai could manage to steal unnoticed, hidden in their various caches in the walls or under the floor. And David had discarded them every time, trying to ignore how they’d sometimes still be coated with dried blood. “Text me if you need to. OK?”
Kai stared at David a long time, almost as if Kai wasn’t seeing him, before smiling faintly. “Tell Megan I’m sorry I missed her. I’ll see you Thursday at ten,” Kai said, as if nothing unusual had happened. Then he smiled again, the expression pained, before heading out the door.
The apartment seemed particularly empty and forlorn when Kai got home. He forced himself to push to his bathroom, where he dutifully took his nightly meds, including his inhaled medications, trying his best to ignore his reflection in the mirror.
Then, because he felt like torturing himself, he went to the fridge and pulled it open. Tried to pretend his stomach didn’t curl painfully in on itself when he saw the vials of insulin were gone. Completely gone. Not even one left.
Something broke inside Kai.
He swallowed, shut the door mechanically, pushed to the far corner of the kitchen. He stared at the kitchen knives in their block, imagining how the steel would feel when he pulled it through his flesh, how easy it would be to aim for something more than a superficial wound. Immediately, he hated himself for the thought. Talk about self-absorbed, he thought bitterly. Instead, he ignored them, pulled himself up on the counter, sitting on the edge awkwardly. It reminded him a bit of Renee, how she did the same thing to reach stuff in the higher cabinets, and it made him smile faintly as he pulled open the one in the corner. He stretched, just barely managing to snag a bottle from the top shelf, where Jon had sequestered it.
Jon didn’t really drink because of his diabetes, but he occasionally was gifted a bottle of liquor from a grateful patient’s family, and Kai was relieved the bottle of Jack Jon had saved was still there. Kai never drank, either, partially because he didn’t much care for the taste of alcohol, partially because of his shitty stomach, and partially because his liver was put through enough paces with all the drugs he needed to take, but if it was between getting drunk and doing something far more self destructive tonight, Kai’d pick the whisky.
Continue to November 23, 2000 - Part I ---->