Wednesday, July 26, 2000

In/Exhale - November 23, 2000 - Part IV

November 23, 2000 - Part IV

Kai had waited until he’d gotten his emotions under control enough he could wheel himself out on his own power without embarrassment. He’d apologized to David, promising he’d text him later. He’d also asked David to make his apologies to the remaining guests, since he didn’t have the energy for the thirty-minute-plus good-byes that Deafie social rules required, which included individual attention to each person, and probably a hug or two.
   
Before leaving, David had snagged Jon’s arm and pulled him aside, angling his body and signing close to his chest to make sure no one would oversee what he was saying. “Sometimes, Kai does stupid things when he’s upset.” David stared hard into Jon’s eyes, as if doing his best to impart more meaning without further signs. “Please watch him.
   
Jon had only nodded, not sure what else to say. Perhaps David’s hostile stares had been directed at Jon not for the fight so much as for pushing Kai past his limit. Vicky was certainly right: Jon had never shed the truly Catholic trait of carrying guilt, because Jon agreed with David there.
   
Text me if you need help with him,” David had continued, signing hesitantly. Then, to Jon’s surprise, David added, “I’ve hurt him too.
   
Kai had wanted to drive himself home, but Jon had taken his keys while Kai was still in David and Megan’s bed, recovering, leaving them with David before they left. Jon wasn’t going to risk letting Kai behind the wheel when it was still likely Kai could suffer another flashback and while his emotions were barely contained, hastily stitched up to keep them at bay from the guests, though Jon knew they were liable to rip open at any second.
   
Still, Kai had insisted he was fine, that Jon could drop him at home and return to Vicky, but even without Dr. Miller’s and David’s warning, Jon could see Kai hadn’t been able to hide the pleading, if guilty, look in his eyes that said the exact opposite of his words: Please, please don’t leave me alone.
   
Now they were in Kai’s room, Kai transferring to his bed, then just sitting there, hugging himself to try to hide the way he was shaking, again. “I’ll be fine,” Kai repeated, trying to keep his voice level but not quite succeeding. “You moved out, remember?”
   
Jon shook his head, offering Kai a bottle of Gatorade. “I was only planning to stay away for the week,” he said simply, tapping out several Valiums into his palm. “Give us both a chance to cool off.”
   
“Everyone always leaves me,” Kai muttered, abandoning the bottle so he could wrap his arms tighter around his legs. “Why should you be any different?” Kai’s words hurt, but one look at his brother told him that again, they weren’t meant as a jab. Kai genuinely believed them.
   
Jon sighed softly and sat next to his brother. “This is my fault, isn’t it?”
   
Kai looked at Jon, surprised. Then he shook his head. “You were right, the other day. I need to take responsibility. People leave me because of me. Everything that’s happened to me, I’ve deserved. ‘You make your bed, you lie in it,’ right?” Kai was parroting back more of Jon’s harsh words from their fight a few days before, and Jon never wished he could take words back more than those. Worse, Kai was trying for his disaffected mask, pretending that those words hadn’t torn his heart out, but right now, the effort was such it only made him tremble harder, and he looked ready to break again at any second.

“When you were 10, I was 18. If had come for you as soon as I was a legal adult, instead of waiting eight more years like a . . . coward, we might not be sitting here like this right now.” He handed Kai the pills.
   
Kai nodded, almost a reflex, though, and hurriedly stuffed the pills in his mouth, washing them down with some of the sports drink.
   
“Tell me what you need,” Jon said simply. “Don’t be ashamed. All of this can stay between us.”
   
A look of profound relief swept over Kai’s face. “I . . .” Despite Jon’s invitation that Kai could say anything without judgment, Kai still seemed to hesitate, sitting on his hands as if they didn’t belong to him and it was his only way to control them. His eyes scanned the room frantically. Kai started to tremble so hard Jon could feel it through the mattress.
A creak--probably someone walking in the apartment above them--sounded suddenly.
“The door is closing!” Kai gasped in panic, reaching for his chair to transfer, but in his panicked hurry--and because of the shaking--the wheelchair moved and Kai misjudged and fell. But before Jon could react, Kai was dragging himself across the floor, pulling himself backward with his arms. It was the fastest Jon had ever seen Kai move without his chair outside of the water. A quick glance at the door showed it in the same position it had been in, as far as Jon could tell.
    
Kai didn’t stop until he’d covered the short distance and braced himself in the doorway, breathing hard from exertion and panic, still trembling subtly, his eyes closed, tears visible on his cheeks.

Fuck. “Kai, come back to bed. The door won’t close. I won’t let it.”

Kai shook his head, pulled his legs up into a tuck, and wrapped his arms around himself again, shivering violently as if he were cold.

Realizing Jon wasn’t going to be able to coax Kai to move as he was, he wandered the room, his mind working. Finally, he pulled Kai’s psychology textbook off the shelf--he’d dropped the class this semester but planned to take it in the spring with the same professor, so he’d kept his book. It was a typical college textbook, hardcover and heavy. Jon tucked it under one arm, then disappeared into Kai’s bathroom, searching in the bottom of the linen cabinet until he found what he wanted before reemerging. Kai was shaking less now, though he had a death grip on his legs, watching Jon warily.

When Jon grew within a few feet of him, Kai saw the book and immediately buried his head in his legs, covering his head with one arm, beginning to tremble in earnest again. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry,” Kai pleaded, the words blurring together.

Jon’s brows furrowed in worry. How bad had things been for Kai when he was a kid that he was reduced to this? Jon spoke softly. “I’m going to use the book to prop the door open,” Jon explained, carefully walking around his brother to the other side of the door. “And then I’ll tape the jam so even if the door were to close, it can’t catch.” Jon noticed Kai peek out through his arms, so he showed him the medical tape he’d snatched from Kai’s bathroom, leftover from his post-transplant care.

Jon quickly secured the door as he’d explained he would, then reached out for Kai.

“No! Please! No!” Kai screamed, frantic now, shoving Jon away from him, then trying to back up farther, but he had no where to go. His chest rose and fell in rapid, panicked breaths.

Jon was saved from falling on his ass by the other side of the doorframe. It hurt like a motherfucker, but the Valium had evidently begun to take effect, Kai’s posture and muscle tension slackening, stealing some of his strength. “Kai. It’s Jon. I’m not going to hurt you.” But whenever Jon got within a foot of Kai, he’d lash out, his eyes wide with terror, his chest heaving, so Jon sunk down into a crouch a few feet away, holding his hands up. “You’re safe,” Jon tried to tell Kai, but it was clear his words weren’t being heard.

Kai was mumbling, crying, rocking his torso, whacking his head against the doorframe, and it scared the fuck out of Jon, who kept an eye on his brother while he slowly pulled out his phone, not wanting to move too quickly.

“Dr. Miller, thank God,” Jon said when she answered after only a few rings.

Kai had sunk down to the floor, weak from the Valium, but still hypervigilant, hyperventilating, sweating profusely, his eyes wide in panic. Any minor thonk or whoosh of the plumbing, any change in the heat or the hum of the refrigerator made him startle, breathe quicker and shallower.

“Kai’s lost it,” Jon said for lack of a better term.

He heard Dr. Miller’s sigh. “What happened?”

“He thought the door was closing, and threw himself at it, and he was just . . . gone. Like in the hospital, like he’s not here. He thinks I’m going to hurt him and keeps attacking me whenever I get too close.”

Kai was still except for the excessive movement of his chest, an occasional slow tremble, and the fingers of one hand repeatedly picking at the skin of his opposite arm and wrist.

“He’s probably stuck in another major dissociative flashback. You gave him the Valium?”

“Ten milligrams. He should be unconscious.” While Jon waited for Dr. Miller to respond, he crept closer. “Kai, you’re OK,” he tried, but when Kai’s eyes met his, the terror increased a hundredfold, and he pushed against the floor, trying to increase the distance between them, but thanks to all the muscle relaxant, he had no strength. Instead, he clenched his eyes shut and began breathing even faster and shallower.

“Do you think you can get him to take more?”

Jon pushed himself to his feet. “No. Well, maybe, since the Valium’s weakened him, I could shove it down his throat, but . . .” Jon paced in a tight circle, his eyes never leaving Kai. “Wait. Dr. Gates gave Kai some injectable diazepam after his last major MLS flareup. He might still have some.”

Jon dashed into Kai’s bathroom, doing his best to be quick so Kai wouldn’t be out of his sight long, and thankfully found what he was looking for. “Found it,” Jon said into the phone. He filled a syringe, snagged an alcohol swab packet, and dashed back out. “Hold on,” Jon told Dr. Miller. “I’m going to need both hands for this.”

Jon frowned when he saw Kai had managed to scratch the skin off his left wrist in places, approaching cautiously. “Kai, I’m going to give you a shot that’ll make you feel better, OK?” Jon spoke soothingly, though he wasn’t sure if Kai even heard him.

Kai didn’t respond, and though he flinched when Jon shoved his clothes out of the way to expose his hip, he clearly didn’t have the strength to fight him, to Jon’s relief. He swabbed Kai’s skin, then injected the medicine into the muscle. He reached out to try to pull Kai’s hands apart, to stop him from hurting himself, but it was no use. Kai dug his nails into Jon’s wrist in warning and then went right back to pinching his skin.

Jon sighed, snatching his phone from where he’d left it. “Now we wait.”

“That should knock him out. What’s he doing right now? He’s quiet.”

Jon explained, including how he’d tried to stop Kai and gotten his own wrist scratched up in the process.

Dr. Miller sighed gravely. “I didn’t want to do this, but perhaps we should reconsider hospitalization. Normally, I’d need Kai’s consent unless he’d attempted suicide, but since you’re his proxy, if we determine he’s not mentally fit, you could--”

“You’re talking locking him up in the psych ward, potentially restraining him?”

Jon noticed Kai’s eyelids were growing heavy, and his picking had weakened in intensity. The extra drug was beginning to hit his system.

“If he’s a danger to himself and others, yes. We could use IV sedation, perhaps start him on some other medications. Get him through this crisis.”

Jon crept closer, knelt beside Kai, who had finally slipped into unconsciousness, his chest barely rising and falling with each breath. Jon couldn’t resist smoothing his brother’s hair. “He’ll see that as a betrayal. Like I abandoned him again,” Jon said, switching the phone to the crook of his shoulder so he could examine Kai’s wrists. They were red, and a little bloody, but Kai hadn’t actually caused much real damage, the skin barely broken. “We got into a fight Tuesday afternoon, and I said a lot of hurtful things I didn’t really mean,” Jon confessed, rising and going to the kitchen to dispose of the used syringe in the sharps container. “I accused him of being selfish, I threatened to move out, and cancel the proxyship so he could have his independence.”

“I see,” Dr. Miller said after a long pause. “I suppose you can keep an eye on him for now, and I’ll keep my phone handy if necessary.”

“Thanks,” Jon said, his voice defeated.

#

Kai woke slowly. His body felt strangely heavy, weighed down, unnaturally loose, like parts of him did sometimes after an MLS attack when his muscles would go hypotonic and refuse to contract. He didn’t try to open his eyes, but the room felt strangely cold and bright, even through his shut lids. Vaguely, he knew he was breathing, but it was like his chest barely moved, each breath shallow and almost nonexistent.
    
Kai tried to move, but his body resisted. He felt himself panic. Or, rather, the rush of panic raced through his thoughts, but his body didn’t respond. His breathing didn’t change. His heart--he could still feel that--continued its slow drumbeat in his chest, though even that didn’t feel quite right. And Kai had definitely--in his head at least--sprung up, hands pushing his torso away from the bed, but he hadn’t moved. It was kind of like when his legs refused to listen to him. No matter how much he focused on moving his left foot, for example, his muscles refused to so much as twitch in response to his command, and it had been that way so long he never even thought about it anymore. Moving that foot with other parts of his body, or dragging it felt more natural.
    
Kai focused on his heart. It was fuzzy, like the rest of him. And he really was cold. Was he dead? Was this what death was? Being trapped in your body until, what, you were buried or it decayed and then you were free? Or maybe he just had to separate himself from it. Maybe that’s why he felt so heavy. But how did he do that?
    
Perhaps he was in the morgue. That could explain the cold and the brightness. Had they gutted him yet? Kai had donated his organs--but not his full body--to science, since it was highly unlikely any would be viable for transplant; he’d made the decision nearly two years ago now, figuring maybe people like Jon could learn something from his fucked up remnants. Would it hurt, when they cut into him? Would he feel hollow without his insides? Could ghosts even feel pain? Because if he were dead, that did make him a ghost, right?
    
He definitely wasn’t in a hospital, because the room was too quiet. He could hear the blowing of a fan, or perhaps the climate control system, and distantly, some plumbing, water moving through pipes. But otherwise, he was alone. No beeping. No breathing. No shuffling feet or whispers. Nothing.
    
He wondered what Jon would do with Kai’s body. For months before his transplant, Jon had tried to get Kai to tell him his wishes--it’s how the “donate the organs” thing had come up and been arranged, paperwork signed while Kai was still cognizant enough to do so. But more than that, Kai had told Jon he didn’t care. Maybe if he’d realized his soul or whatever the hell it was that made us human would hang around after death, he would have insisted on a very specific send off.
    
Even days before his transplant, when Kai could barely communicate anymore, and it was all but certain that Kai would be dead within a few days, weeks, at most, Jon had tried to get Kai to impart his wishes. Finally, Kai had managed to scrawl on a sheet of paper, Fun 4 live - wht u wnt fne. It had taken him several attempts to write this, needing to rest between each couple words, but he’d been able to confirm when Jon at last got the message: Funerals are for the living. Whatever you want to do is fine with me.
    
But now, Kai knew one thing was certain: he didn’t want to be buried. Maybe if his body would burn he would cease to exist, and he couldn’t stand the thought of being in a dark, locked box six feet under. Forever. Or for however long this would last. Kai had always believed in reincarnation after death--one of the luxuries of growing up in a home had meant he could form his own beliefs about life and death and God. But maybe everyone had been wrong. Even the atheists hadn’t gotten it quite right. When you died, you didn’t cease to exist, but rather, horrifyingly, you continued. It just wasn’t right.
    
That panic started to form again, not quite expressing itself in his body the way it normally would have, and the instinct to try to speak--since his limbs wouldn’t allow for signing--burst through. Perhaps it would only be like it was when he was a kid, before his vocal chords and lungs and tongue and mouth would align in the correct way to produce sound, but he had to try.
    
Don’t bury me, he thought.
    
“Kai?” A voice. Nearby. Jon? Maybe this was a wake? Kai laughed in his head at the thought.
    
“Don’t bury me.” Kai tried again, and this time, the words took form. Sort of. It sounded more like “Dohn beary.”
    
Jon’s hand was on Kai’s forehead, smoothing it, before he peeled one of Kai’s eyes open and shown a light into it. It was so, so painfully bright, but for a fraction of a second, Kai got a view of his bedroom. Wait. What?
    
“Jesus. I was worried,” John said after a few minutes, “that you’d OD’d.”
    
What? And for a moment, Kai was sure his eyebrows had dipped that time, though he kept his eyes firmly closed. He felt his brother's hands slipping something on his finger, probably a pulse oximeter, then a cuff on his arm. It tightened, painfully, so that meant he was still alive, right? Wait. Kai was confused. He felt the cuff slowly deflate, till it finally released completely with a hiss and Jon removed it.

Kai risked opening his eyes, just a slit.

"I only left you alone for a minute. To check my blood sugar." Jon was gripping one of Kai's hands painfully tight. "When I came back, it looked like you weren't breathing, and you wouldn't wake up."

Drugs. But he was home. Had he taken too many Valium to help him sleep? But then Kai remembered panic, though the rest was hazy. "I try kill myself?" The drugs also apparently eliminated the censor in his head that would've kept that just a thought.

Jon let out a long, whooshing sigh. "No. God, no. It's my fault. The Valium didn't seem to be working, and you were so terrified. Dr. Miller thought a few more milligrams would knock you out. Thought maybe your tolerance was high. But it was more than you've ever taken outside the hospital. I'm sorry." Jon smoothed some hair out of Kai's face. "How are you feeling?"

"Dead," Kai said before he could stop himself. And sick, like he was going to throw up, though he didn't have the energy for it.

Jon may have frowned, but Kai wasn't sure. He'd let his eyes close again. "How's your breathing? Should we go to the hospital?"

The image of being strapped to a stretcher and trapped inside a tiny ambulance sent a new rush of panic through Kai's brain, but apparently the drugs were keeping his body in check. Kai managed to shake his head. “Help me sit?”

Kai’s body was loose--not quite like it had been in September, when he was on a cocktail of muscle relaxants, including Mexitil, to try to keep his body from pulling itself apart at the seams, but he couldn’t really push himself up, and he was pretty certain that even if he could manage that, he wouldn’t be able to hold himself there. Jon seemed to sense this, so he shifted Kai’s legs, and then Kai felt the mattress dip, then Jon lifting him up, though being deadweight didn’t help, especially since Jon wasn’t as strong as he was. But he was able to help a little, and soon Jon had Kai settled awkwardly, leaning against Jon’s chest, Jon apparently against the wall, his arms helping to keep Kai upright.

Sitting up helped the nausea and his breathing. Kai was able to open his eyes finally without the light hurting too badly, and he glanced toward the bathroom. Something about it wasn’t right, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. He let his head fall back on his brother’s shoulder because keeping it up was too difficult right now.

But Jon apparently had followed Kai’s gaze. “I took the bathroom door off its hinges while you were out,” Jon explained.

So that was it. The door was gone. Kai wasn’t sure where Jon had put it--out in the main room, maybe?

“I thought maybe you wouldn’t be terrified of going in there if there wasn’t a door.”

A rush of grateful relief swept through Kai. “You best brother.” Dammit, now Kai remembered one reason he didn’t like to take too much Valium. Too much raw honesty.

“Renee called while you were out. I let it go to voicemail.”

Kai let his head roll with gravity so that it barely stayed on his brother’s shoulder, closing his eyes again. If it weren’t for the fact that he said almost every thought that sprang to his mind, he had to admit he felt pretty good right now. He hadn’t even realized how much muscle tension he lived with everyday until it was suddenly all blissfully gone. Was this how people became addicted?

“You love Vicky?” Kai asked lazily.

Kai felt his brother’s deep breath. “Yes. Yes. I do.”

“She love you?”

“Yes. If she didn’t, she wouldn’t put up with my shit,” Jon added with a slight laugh.

“I think I love Re. I think she loves me. But.”

“But?”

“But she doesn’t know me.” Kai was so relaxed and secure right now he could fall asleep again, but at the same time, a gnawing in the back of his brain seemed to whisper, Don’t fall asleep. Keep vigilant. And then he suddenly remembered the freak out at David’s house, the reason he was doped up and telling things to Jon he wouldn’t tell anyone, except maybe Dr. Miller, behind closed doors. He felt his heart lurch, like a car trying to turn over in cold weather, like it wanted to race but the drugs were holding it back. “I’m so fucked up.”

Perhaps Jon misinterpreted what Kai meant, figuring he was referring to how incredibly stoned he was right now. “I shouldn’t have given you so much diazepam. I’m sorry.”

Kai laughed, far longer and louder than he should have, and a voice inside of him was screaming, What the fuck is wrong with you? Shut up! “I would have slit my wrists if you hadn’t.” Fuck, Kai thought. I hadn’t intended to say that out loud. Especially since that wouldn’t even be Kai’s first choice for suicide.

Kai felt Jon stiffen.

Kai vaguely remembered powerful, irrational panic, embarrassing hysteria, desperation to get outside his head anyway he could. A diazepam shot and the sleep of the dead. Sleep of the dead. Ha. That made Kai giggle.

Kai sensed Jon’s anger before his brother even moved or spoke. Somehow, faster than Kai’s drug-soaked mind could process--Jon shifted their positions so Kai was on his back, Jon looming over him. “Is this funny to you?”

Kai blinked at Jon, struggling to focus his vision. “I think about it sometimes,” Kai admitted while his internal voice yelled, Shut up!!

Jon stared down at Kai, though he didn’t try to pin him, likely assuming Kai couldn’t resist right now anyway. A faint feeling of relief wash over Kai.

Kai laughed, but it wasn’t a happy sound. “You’d be better off without me. No one to fuck up your life. You could marry Vicky, or not marry her, guilt free.” Kai gave up trying to focus his eyes, so he let them shut. “It would be easy, too,” Kai continued in his nonchalant voice. “Valium plus Mexitil. See which stopped first: my breathing or my heart.”

“Stop it,” Jon said, the words coming out like a hiss.

“If I was dead, the committee couldn’t blame me anymore. Martin could get his transplant.”

Kai could feel Jon’s angry glare through his closed lids. “You don’t understand why I was so angry about the committee meeting, do you?” Jon paused, as if waiting for Kai to say something, but when he didn’t, Jon continued, “I don’t want Martin to die. I don’t want any of my patients to die. I still think the committee is a bunch of old-fashioned, stick-in-the-mud, narrow-minded assholes who couldn’t see the truth if it was pinned to their nose. But I lost my temper, really lost my temper, because I had to find out from Dr. Johnsen’s presentation that you almost died, Kai.” Jon’s voice changed, becoming more honest, sadder, somehow, and he sunk down, as if in defeat. “Do you have any idea how getting a call from the ER--after it was too late--would have destroyed me?”

Kai let this soak into the murk of his brain. He felt powerfully nauseated. He may even have dry heaved, because Jon rolled him onto his side.

"I'm such an asshole," Kai muttered as Jon arranged his limbs in the recovery position. "Worthless. Disgusting." Kai gagged again, and part of him wished he would throw up, because maybe then he'd feel better. "That's why she locked me up, you know." He didn't even really care anymore that his brain was leaking directly out his mouth. That wasn’t the only thing leaking, he realized, as tears trailed down his cheeks, catching on the bridge of his nose. “God dammit.” It worried Kai, a little, that Jon had said nothing, but then, what was there for Jon to say? “Just give me more drugs and shut me up.”

“Is that what happened? That woman . . . she drugged you to keep you quiet?”

Kai found himself laughing again, though he was still crying, and a remote corner of his mind pointed out how strange that was, but like his inability to filter his thoughts, he couldn’t suppress his emotions right now, either, apparently. “I was mute. She didn’t need to drug me. Just lock me away so she didn’t have to look at me, either.”

Jon sighed, but it wasn't a frustrated sound. "I don't know what to with you," he said, almost to himself.

"Neither did she." Kai tried to see if he could find the edge of the drug, let it pull him back to sleep, but apparently enough had worn off to keep him awake. His mind refused to be shut off, and he was reminded of one reason he hated Valium so much: it took a shitload of it to have an effect, and then, unless he kept taking it, it didn't last, leaving him nauseous, groggy, sluggish, and hungover.

Kai felt Jon climb out of bed, and a sinking feeling hit him: his brother had hit his threshold. Everyone had one, and Jon had apparently decided Kai was simply more trouble than he was worth. Kai wondered, distantly, how much longer it would take Renee to figure out the same thing. Kai strained his ears for the sound of disappearing footsteps, braced for the inevitability of doors shutting. Maybe, if he really concentrated, he’d even hear a car driving away.

Instead, he heard Jon moving quietly beside him, felt the pulse oximeter being slipped onto his finger again, the cuff of the automatic blood pressure device being fixed on his arm. Jon wasn’t leaving him; he was taking Kai’s vitals.

“Jesus, Kai. Your pulse is racing,” Jon said after a minute, then softly smoothed Kai’s hair.

Kai squinted his eyes open, but couldn’t see much since Jon was standing. “I’m still freaking out inside, but the Valium’s keeping most of my body in check.”

Kai could almost hear his brother’s frown. The blood pressure cuff beeped. “You’re still feeling the muscle relaxant effects but not the CNS ones,” Jon muttered to himself as he removed the cuff. “Dammit.”

Kai was so relieved Jon wasn’t really giving up on him, he was speechless.

Jon checked his watch. “How’s your stomach?”

It was empty, and angry, but he’d felt much worse. “I’ll live.”

Jon sighed heavily. “If you promise to drink a bottle of Gatorade and eat a sandwich, I’ll let you have some more Valium so you can sleep, and we’ll call it an early night. Fair?”

“OK,” Kai said. “But not here. I . . .” He couldn’t even say why, maybe because he’d spent most of the day freaking out in his room, but he just . . . he couldn’t see himself being able to sleep here.

“Fine. I don’t really want to share that narrow bed with you anyway, the floor is hard and cold . . .”

Kai had a vague memory of passing out in his doorway, like his aunt had been there, trying to drag him into the bathroom, but it felt like a dream. It had to be a dream. But was it? Was that when the shot had happened? His head was muddled. Dammit.

“And I’m definitely not leaving you alone.” Jon paused. “Will you be OK for like, one minute while I get the food?” Jon’s nervousness and uncertainty was palpable.

“Yeah. Just . . . don’t take too long.” Kai winced. “I won’t do anything stupid. If I start panicking, I’ll scream.” It was only partially a joke, especially since Kai could feel sweat breaking out on his neck despite the fact that he was cold.

Jon sat down on the edge of the bed, and when Kai forced himself to look, he could see Jon’s face was serious, concerned. “Except those twelve years we were apart--which I’ll never be able to make up for--I’ve always taken care of you. And I always will, as long as you need me. I won’t let anything bad happen to you.”

Kai breathed slowly for several seconds. “Dr. M says no one can protect anyone from everything.”

Jon laughed, a surprised sound, like he hadn’t intended to, finishing it with a gentle sigh. “It’s true. God, it’s true. But it doesn’t mean I can’t try.” Jon smoothed some of Kai’s hair out of his face. “Things will have to change with the baby, but you will always be my brother, and if you need me, I will be there.”

Kai felt tears prickling in his eyes. Again. Dammit, dammit, dammit. “I don’t want to need anyone,” Kai admitted with lingering Valium honesty.

“I know,” Jon sighed. “But--”

“Yeah, everyone needs someone sometimes. I’ve gotten that speech more than once from Dr. M.” Kai wasn’t sure if snippiness was a sign he was more of himself or that he was heading for another breakdown. At this moment, it really could swing either way, and the tears suggested the latter rather than the former. “I’m such a fucking mess,” Kai said, half sobbing now. “I wish I could be like you.”

Jon laughed. “Grass is always greener,” he said. “I’m not as together as I seem, and if it weren’t for Vicky, I never would have survived the past four years. I need someone sometimes, too.”

Kai was surprised by how much that admission made him feel better: Jon always seemed to be so focused. He didn’t get distracted, and though he wasn’t quite as good at modulating his emotions as Kai was (when he wasn’t freaking out, anyway), his brother had a certain calm, comforting nature that Kai had always envied.

“You’ll get through this,” Jon said, squeezing Kai’s hand. And for the first time that day, Kai believed him.

#

David wasn’t sure what irritated him more. The fact that he was caving in and attempting to steal medical records, putting himself not only in jeopardy of jail time, but also losing Megan’s trust and love, or that Kai had been right. Thanksgiving night had meant a skeleton staff in most of the hospital, and those who were working were primarily temps, newbies, and residents who’d forgotten what sleep was.
    
It had been ridiculously easy to slip through the busy ER, find a supply closet, and pull on a pair of scrubs. He then carefully double-checked his phone settings to make sure it wouldn’t ring and blow his cover, plugging in a pair of headphones he’d pilfered from Megan. His phone wasn’t capable of playing music, but in his scrub shirt pocket, it would at least give the illusion of one of those digital music player things like Megan wanted when they could afford to spend that kind of money. It was a paper-thin disguise, but hopefully, it’d be enough.
    
Feeling ridiculous, David stuffed the earbuds in each ear, frowning. They were uncomfortable, making his ears ache. He shook his head, rolled his shoulders. Kai had outlined exactly where he needed to go, and reminded him if he walked with a combination of purpose and bored distraction, no one would notice him.
    
It worked; a couple female nurses merely paused to check him out. He knew he wasn’t handsome, at least not like Kai (although Kai never seemed to realize how innately good looking he was), but he’d been told more than once he was striking. Largely because of his hair, though he’d covered it with a cap since it was such an intense red it would make it easy for someone to identify him later, if it came down to it.
    
He was surprised by how easy it was to sneak down into the basement, and the simplicity of the lock on the records room door, which he picked easily. He had expected more security, perhaps keycard locks, but presumably the hospital didn’t care too much about the records for deceased patients, particularly since this room apparently only held records older than ten years.
    
Thankfully, the room was neat and looked organized, though it was dusty and a little dark. Kai had explained that the room was a disaster the last time he’d snuck down there, a few years before his transplant, and so dusty that he’d barely lasted a few minutes before coughing and wheezing forced him to abandon his quest.
    
As David immediately dove into the files, he wondered if the hospital had begun digitizing some of the old records, and in the process had put the hard copies in order. Whatever the reason, it didn’t take David long to find the month and year he was looking for, and the files for the Taylors.
    
He frowned. They were surprisingly thin, as if they only had a single sheet of paper in them. Even if Kai’s father had been healthy and never been to the hospital except when brought in after his death, David knew Kai’s mother had given birth three times in this hospital. Certainly, at least the records from those stays would be here.
    
Glancing over his shoulder to make sure he was still alone, he flipped each open and noted that his initial impression was correct. The folders were bare except for each person’s death record and postmortem. A wave of irritation flared at the idea that he’d gone through all this trouble--including sneaking out of his house in the middle of the night--for nothing, so he checked a couple of the other patients’ files to confirm a potential suspicion.
    
Unlike the Taylors, all the other files were filled with all kinds of records, from nurses’ notes, doctors’ orders, and test results. It meant that someone had taken the real files for Bryan and Ann Taylor and left these bare-bones duplicates to prevent suspicion. After all, how many people would really look for the records for people who had been dead sixteen years?
    
Only two people would be interested, and David was looking on one of their behalf. Which meant Jon had obviously taken his parents records at some point. But why?

#

It would have been easy enough for David to go home, to tell Kai the quest had been a bust, but even though Kai had chosen his real brother over him, David felt a certain obligation to Kai, as if maybe being around a bunch of strangers when he’d already been in a precarious mood had pushed him over the edge, which wouldn’t have happened if David hadn’t insisted Kai come over for Thanksgiving dinner. Kai could be a bit bipolar when it came to people; either he put on his friendly, affable mask that no one would even know was a front, or he became anxious, withdrawn, and barely communicative.
    
Jon’s office had been easy enough to find, tucked away in a corner of the sixth floor with several other pulmonologist’s offices. Fortunately, it looked like only the staff doctors had offices here, and with the holiday, they were all off duty, so the hallway was isolated and empty, giving David time to pick the lock--another easy one (this hospital really needed to reconsider its security measures)--and take time to search for the files.
    
Jon’s office was decently sized, large enough for a generous desk, several bookshelves and filing cabinets, and a couch that looked like it got quite a bit of use. David noticed that the furniture was arranged to give Kai enough space to maneuver in it on wheels or crutches, though it wasn’t nearly as neat as David would have expected. He hardly knew Jon, and what he did was primarily from the little bit Megan or Kai told him second hand, but he’d pictured Jon as the type of person to be almost pathologically organized. David had imagined Jon’s office would look like a label maker exploded, with everything meticulously labeled and color-coded.
    
Instead, it was more like organized chaos. The bookshelves were overflowing with medical textbooks and journals, with both stacked in every possible free space, swamping the otherwise neatly arranged shelves. Jon’s desk was similarly messy, but in a calculated way, with careful piles stacked at angles on top of each other, and his computer monitor a mess of colored post-its stuck all over, trickling onto the desk surface. It was as if Jon had organized everything at some point, then simply gotten too overwhelmed and managed a compromise by stacking and sorting haphazardly as he went.
    
David actually found it a little amusing, because Kai was kind of like that, too. On one hand, he was inclined toward neatness (David’s tendency to be a slob constantly causing problems between them over the years they shared a room). But on the other, when things got more complicated (like suddenly having an influx of paperwork or books he had to worry about), Kai got stressed easily and found trying to keep things straight too overwhelming, resorting to a confined mess not unlike Jon.
    
For example, it hadn’t surprised David to find that Kai had an obsessively organized system for his daily medication regimen, but all his accessory drugs--the meds he took symptomatically or only when his MLS flared up badly--were not so much organized as gathered together in little villages of prescription bottles that bloomed up on one surface or another.
    
Surveying the room, David tried to think where Jon would keep his parents’ records. Jon must have known taking those files was wrong, if not illegal, hence the flimsy coverup, so there was a good chance he’d hidden them. In fact, David realized, Jon might not even have kept them here at all. Still, the most obvious place to look--the filing cabinets--might be as good a hiding place as any, simply because it was such an obvious place to put anything.
    
A quick survey of the filing cabinets didn’t reveal what he was looking for, but it was possible that Jon could have misfiled the records to conceal them. David reached for the top drawer to pull it open, but it wouldn’t budge. Locked. And not with a key; this one apparently used a six-digit combination. He frowned. That would be a good place to keep files you didn’t want anyone to know you had. Unless they knew or correctly guessed the combination, it would be virtually impossible to pick without destroying the lock, or cutting open the drawer with some serious tools. Math had never been David’s forte, but he knew the possibilities of a six-digit password with ten possible digits had to be in the millions.
    
All David could do was try a few possibilities based on the little he knew about Jon and hope for the best. It would be frustrating to have gone through all this trouble and risk for nothing, but since the filing cabinet looked like a particular sturdy fire-proof model, it was unlikely he’d get the drawer open even if he had a crowbar.
    
Taking a moment to think, David entered the first possible code he could think of: Kai’s birthday, day, month, and year, two digits each. He entered the numbers, then pulled on the drawer, surprised when the expected resistance wasn’t there and the drawer opened. David wondered if Jon realized how disturbingly predictable he was.
    
It didn’t take long for David to find the files, though they were wedged in the back and not labeled. Bryan’s was thin; not much thicker than the fake one in the records room. Apparently, unlike his youngest son, he’d been a healthy man. Ann’s, on the other hand, was another story, taking up most of the drawer. It meant one of two things: either Ann had had her own physical ailments, or, considering Kai’s rationale for wanting to see her medical records in the first place, she had been majorly mentally ill.
    
David was tempted to flip through the files for more than mere confirmation that they were all hers, to see what it was that had created such a huge paper trail, but quickly decided against it as he shoved the files into the bag he’d brought with him. They wouldn’t all fit; he’d have to carry the rest, but hopefully no one would question why a guy in scrubs was carrying a bunch of files.
    
Still, David couldn’t get out of his head how lost, how gone Kai had looked that afternoon after his fight with his brother, or how clearly terrified and barely together Kai was that afternoon. Whatever Kai was dealing with at the moment, perhaps reading about his mother wouldn’t be healthy. David could always pretend he’d never come in search of the records; after all, he’d insisted he wouldn’t. Or he could hand them over later, when Kai was feeling more of himself. If there were things in these files that pushed Kai over the ledge, David would never forgive himself.
    
But on the other hand, what if they helped Kai? David knew nothing about Kai’s mother, because Kai had always claimed not to remember her.
    
As David carefully emerged from Jon’s office, making sure the door would lock behind him (unless Jon checked the locked drawer, he’d never know David had been there), he decided he’d give Kai the chance to make his own decision about the records. After all, Kai was an adult.
    
Besides, David already felt like he’d betrayed Kai once by not making more of an effort to check in on him after aging out. Yeah, life had been tough for David, but it hadn’t been easy for Kai, either. And if Jon hadn’t come for Kai when he turned 18? David tried desperately not to think about that, knowing how sick Kai had gotten even with a roof over his head and food and medicine.
    
If Kai found out David had gotten the records and never given them to him. .  . . It was a good bet Kai would never forgive David.
    
And that was not something David was willing to let happen.

#######

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a great episode. This was so well handled. I always feel like I am there in the room with each of your characters.

    ReplyDelete