Wednesday, August 9, 2000

In/Exhale - September 12, 2000 - Part II

September 12, 2000 - Part II
Renee was busy reshelving books in the mystery section after a frazzled group of old ladies had messed the entire section up in their combined quest for large print (which Renee had reminded them numerous times was in another part of the store) along with their search for “that one book with the black cover and the white lettering.” She sank into one of the wingchairs momentarily as she arranged a stack of paperbacks. The store was quiet after the relative lunch rush, and she’d find it almost peaceful if it weren’t for the fact that Kai still lingered in her mind. Had it only been a few days since the morning they’d sat here together and he’d begged for her to give him an opportunity to explain himself?

It felt like forever ago. And then he’d stood her up, and even though she’d promised Diane she’d forget about him and move on, she’d agonized all Monday hoping to see him in class. But he never showed. Even today, part of her half hoped every time the door chimed that it would be him, and he’d look at her with those soulful blue eyes and apologize and she’d forget all the bad and just remember that one, wonderful kiss.
“Everything all right?”
Renee jumped. For an old guy, Art sure had a way of sneaking up on people. “Uh, yeah. Just finishing up here,” she said, her heart racing.
Art chuckled, moved some books out of the way, and took a seat in the other chair. “I don’t bite, Renee. Would’ve thought you’d figured that out by now.”
She blushed.
“Know it’s none of my business, but did you and Kai sort out . . . whatever it was needed sorting the other day?”
Renee sighed, and debated saying something to end the conversation. But then, Art knew Kai, had known him a long time. Maybe he’d have some insight she didn’t? “Uh, I think he’s been avoiding me.” She suddenly was intently focused on arranging the pile in front of her.
Art inhaled sharply through his nose. “That doesn’t sound like Kai.”
Renee stacked some of the books with a little more force than was necessary, making a loud thump. “Saturday morning he asked to see me that night, and he didn’t show. I haven’t heard from him or seen him since.”
In her peripheral vision, Renee saw Art stand again. “How much has Kai told you about himself?”
Surprised, Renee looked up, but Art’s back was to her, his shoulders working as he fixed the spines on some of the novels. “Um, not much, honestly,” she admitted, blushing again. “He told me he was an orphan, that he has a bad leg. We were supposed to meet so we could get to know each other better.”
“It’s not my place to get involved, but I’ll say this much: Kai’s a good kid. Life hasn’t been easy for him, but he always does right by his friends. If he’s been MIA, he has a good reason for it. Trust me on that much.”

Jon watched Kai for nearly a half hour while his brother slept. Seemingly peacefully at first. But as the time stretched, he began to moan softly, and Jon could see the faint twitchings of his legs beneath the sheets. Spasms. They were slower, less powerful and frequent than they would be without the drugs, but they were there.
Kai’s murmurs grew more pained, louder, almost like a young child locked in a nightmare. He wouldn’t be asleep much longer. The monitor beeped as his heart rate increased sharply.
“Shh, Kai. It’s OK. It’s OK,” Jon whispered, taking one of Kai’s arms and smoothing the skin there.
Kai’s cries grew louder, the sounds drawing out so that they were almost one long, low noise. It was the most vocal Jon had ever heard Kai be because of his pain. It reached up inside his chest and squeezed his heart to hear it.
A moment later, Mary came in. Likely drawn by the monitor’s alarm, although Kai was getting loud enough it was possible she heard him, too. After a quick glance at the monitors, and Kai’s legs, her eyes met Jon’s.
“I’m going to get Gates on the phone. See how he wants to handle this.”
Jon nodded, leaned closer to his brother, as if that would somehow protect him.
Kai let out a pathetic little sound, disturbingly inhuman, like a wounded puppy. Then his eyes opened halfway, and they met Jon’s. “Hurt,” he said in a voice unlike his own, small, scared.
“I know,” Jon whispered. “Your doctor will be here soon. He’ll make it better.” It pained Jon to say “he” instead of “I,” especially since he wasn’t sure Gates could do anything other than sedate Kai again with more Pavulon. Which would mean back to ICU. The spasms weren’t nearly as bad as they could be, Jon knew, but Kai was already hurting, and even small twitches that pulled at injured muscles and tendons could magnify significantly what would otherwise have been minor pain. And that didn’t account for any nerve damage Kai could have suffered as well.
Kai's eyes opened a little more, his pupils wide, glossy. "Really hurt," Kai whined. Jon had never heard Kai whine before. Ever. The drugs and the pain were clearly affecting his brother's ability to be his usual stoic, "I'm fine" self. Kai let out a small sob, and Jon felt Kai's fingers--weakly--tighten on his own. Kai's eyes were shut, his cheeks wet with tears.
"It'll be 'K, K," Jon said, doing his best to offer what little comfort he could.
"Dizzy. Sick."
Jon frowned. The antiemetic had worn off, but Kai was on a steady drip of Mexitil, which kept the spasms from being too quick or intense, and it prevented his muscles from locking up. But it didn't stop the spasms, or the pain. And on top of it all, Kai had the side effects. Maybe sedating Kai again would be a mercy.
Kai let out a sound that was half scream, half sob as Jon saw--saw Kai's back arch slowly, painfully, like an unseen force were torturing him on an invisible rack. Kai's breathing became more sporadic, the monitor howling out another alarm. Then the spasm ended, leaving Kai loose, boneless, panting and sobbing. He heaved, making horrid retching sounds, but nothing came up.
Mary reentered, pushing a tray of supplies, another nurse in tow, who was wheeling a bipap machine. "Kai, I'm Mary, your nurse. And this is Ellie. She's going to help me get you feeling better."
Kai's only response was a whimper, squeezing his eyes tightly closed. Mary nodded to Jon, and he tried to rise to give the nurses space to work, but Kai clung to him with what meager strength he had.
"No. Please. Don't leave me."
"Kai, I'll be right here. They need to take care of you."
Kai sobbed, and linked his fingers into Jon's as best he could.
Jon looked up at Mary, who shook her head, her face suggesting she'd handle this. "Kai, we're going to put a mask on your face. It'll be just oxygen at first. Then I'm going to give you some medicine that will stop the spasms and you won't be able to move. But the mask will keep you breathing, OK? Then I'll give you something to make you sleep for a little while. It'll take the pain away. OK?"
As Mary and Ellie started moving, prepping Kai, Jon thought it would be better to knock Kai out first. But it was possible that the order was at Gates' specific directive; stop the spasms ASAP. Then, and only then, sedate Kai for the sake of his mind.
Jon had begun to inch away, to give the nurses the opportunity to work on his brother, heading toward the foot of the bed.
"Jon?" Kai's voice was frightened.
"I'm here. I'm not going anywhere. Just getting out of their way." He touched Kai's feet lightly through the blanket. "That's me, touching you."
"Jon," Kai said again, his voice even more like that of a child, sitting alone in the dark and praying there was someone else out there.
"Shh. It'll be 'K, K," Jon whispered.
"Try to relax," Mary said in a soft, reassuring voice. "We've got to move you a little. Then the mask. OK?"
Kai had been positioned partially on his left side, so with a coordinated effort, the two nurses shifted him onto his back. Mary did the bulk of the moving, using the sheets to help--Kai was not a small man--with Ellie making sure his hurt right leg was secure and not further injured in the process. They were careful. Delicate. But Kai still whimpered.
As they worked, Mary spoke soothingly to Kai, explaining everything she was doing. Jon watched as Ellie carefully lifted Kai's head so Mary could position the straps of the bipap mask underneath it. It didn't take long for her to fix the mask securely in place while Ellie started the flow of oxygen.
She continued to speak in soft tones, one hand on Kai's chest, observing that the mask fit properly. "I'm going to start the drugs now."
"Jon!" Kai cried, panicked. Jon wasn't sure why Kai was reacting like this. He normally took things in stride. Usually, it was almost impossible to know what he was feeling, except when he let his anger explode out. It was like the stress, pain, and drugs had stripped Kai's outer protective layers away, and what was left was the raw, scared, hurting young man underneath. Jon wondered if seeing this side of Kai had anything to do with the marks he had yet had a chance to ask about.
"I'm here," Jon said, touching Kai's feet. "I'm right here."
"You won't be asleep long. Not more than an hour," Mary assured Kai as she injected what had to be the Pavulon into Kai's IV. "You're going to start feeling this almost immediately. Don't be scared."
Kai blinked once. Twice. Three times. Then his body went still, the spasms in his legs stopping. Mary nodded to Ellie, and Jon heard the bipap turn on, saw the forced rise and fall of his brother's chest.
"I'm right here," Jon said, working his way back to Kai's side now that Mary and Ellie were sure the bipap was working sufficiently to keep Kai breathing. He made sure his hands ghosted along Kai's body as he moved, so Kai could feel his brother, even if he couldn't move or see him right now.
"You'll be asleep in seconds," Mary said in that same voice. She could have done relaxation tapes. Jon held Kai's hand as Mary connected Kai to the Propofol drip. Because of the paralytic, it was harder to tell when Kai went under as it normally would, but the monitor revealed Kai's heart rate slowing, and after a few more checks, Mary nodded, laying a gentle hand on Kai's chest. "There he is." She sighed. "How's his sats?"
For a second, Jon thought she was asking him, but then Ellie responded, "Good."
Mary smiled and nodded, apparently the signal for Ellie that she was excused. Mary checked Kai's IVs, catheter, etc., as Jon watched his brother sleep.
"Dr. Gates should be here before Kai wakes up," she informed Jon.
Jon nodded, but said nothing.

Dr. Gates arrived about thirty-five minutes later. He shook Jon's hand, then examined Kai thoroughly, asking Jon a few questions since he'd been there during the last flare up, and taking his time to look at Kai's right thigh. It was swollen and red, and hot to the touch.
"It's worse today," Gates said with a frown.
Jon sighed. "He was in a lot of pain. More than I've ever seen. I think the spasms . . ."
Gates nodded, carefully resecured Kai's leg, then covered him again with the blankets. "I don't want to wait much longer to get that MRI, and I'm going to call in a good ortho consult to review the films and examine Kai."
"What's your plan?"
Gates sighed through his nose. "I've been treating Kai since he was a kid. He's had a few bad patches. When he was growing, mostly. Around age two, ten, fourteen. Worse each time. But this may be the worst I've seen him. He's not responding the way he should."
Jon nodded. "He's scared."
"It's one reason I went for the noninvasive ventilation today. I'll see how he is when he wakes up. I'll bump up his meds, temporarily. Hopefully, it'll control the spasms. With any luck, after a few more days, I'll be able to drop his dosages so he can go home."
 Jon nodded. "What about his pain?"
Gates sucked air through his teeth. "I want to stay away from anything that'll depress his breathing any more. So our options are limited. But I'll do what I can."
Jon grunted. But he knew Gates was against a wall. Kai wouldn't want to be intubated, or even on the bipap for any longer than necessary. The cocktail of muscle relaxants already put his breathing at risk.
"I'll be back to check on him in about twenty minutes, as he comes up."
Jon offered a terse nod, then sank back into his chair. He suddenly felt very tired.

Nikki fought with her hair, which kept escaping the ponytail she’d hurriedly stuffed it into. The wind was fierce, heralding the storm she could feel in the humid air and see in the darkening sky that made four-thirty in the afternoon look like night. She ducked into the alley, taking a shortcut toward the storage room of the diner, hoping she’d find a spare cigarette in some back recess of the small locker Marge’d let her use. She hadn’t spent long with Kai, having rushed to see him almost immediately after getting off her last shift, and desperate for sleep. But she’d hardly gotten to rest, her mind worrying, imagining him beside her in bed the way he’d been Saturday night, then shifting to him, so cold and still in the hospital that first day, then confused and groggy this morning, brain still hazy from days of heavy drugs.
Maybe she had a cigarette, or some gum or something in her bag. She slowed her steps, moved her purse to her stomach, and bent her head, digging through it. Restless was not a good way to start a long graveyard shift, even if it was Tuesday.
Nikki barely realized she’d been shoved from behind until her face hit the brick wall of the alley, hard, her vision swimming with stars. She tried to struggle, but a heavy, muscled body pinned her in place, the smell of cheap cologne and cigarettes assaulting her nose.
“Mark.” One side of Nikki’s face was pressed to the wall, and she struggled to see him through her good eye.
“You never call, you never write. Makes a guy feel neglected.”
Nikki squirmed, testing his grip, managing to free one of her hands just slightly. “Neglected. Didn’t think you could use words with more than two syllables.”
He shoved her harder against the wall. “Oh, I know one or two. Monica.”
Nikki froze; she hadn’t heard that name in years. “I’m Nikki Browne, now,” she said, trying to hide the threatening panic from her voice as she surreptitiously eased one hand into her purse.
Mark laughed. “A whore with a girl-next-door name is still a whore.”
Nikki sorted through her purse blindly, doing her best to keep her movements as small as possible so Mark wouldn’t notice. “We’re square, Mark. You know that.”
He licked his way up her neck toward her ear, and she had to fight the instinct to flinch. Keep him distracted, she thought, as her hand found the item she’d been praying was still deep in the recesses of her bag.
“Maybe I decided you still owe me. Maybe I decided it’s time you stop playing house with that charity case you seem so fond of. Maybe time you stop pretending you’re anything but a cheap whore and come back to Chicago with me.”
A loud clap of thunder resounded in the alley as the first pellets of heavy rain began to fall. Nikki carefully flicked the blade open in a move she’d practiced thousands of times. As Mark talked, she counted. Then, in one quick movement, she tore her hand free, stabbing the blade half blindly into Mark, praying she’d hit something fleshy enough to force him to release her.
He let out a harsh cry of pain and fury, taking enough of a step away that Nikki was able to kick out, her foot landing hard mid-torso, knocking him further back as the wind whooshed out of him. She ran for the door, grateful it wouldn’t be locked this time of day, not losing time in looking back. Her breath came hard and fast, her heart thrumming. Either she’d make it, or she wouldn’t, and she couldn’t think of that possibility; she was out of tricks. If Mark got her again. . . .
She heard wet footsteps behind her, then a crash and a curse as Mark slipped on the newly wet concrete. The nonslip shoes she wore for work helped her reach the door just in time. She ducked in, damp, shaking fingers fumbling for the lock. It clicked just as a loud thump made her hop back.
Mark’s muffled shouts permeated through the metal. “Fucking, Goddammned bitch!”
Nikki slid to the floor, catching her breath, water dripping around her, hating herself every time her shoulders jerked when Mark pounded again, still screaming and cursing. It felt like she spent hours in this position, but knew it had to be only seconds before Clyde emerged from the kitchen, cleaver in hand, followed by Marge.
Marge locked eyes with Nikki, then the secured door--intended to keep out thieves, it wouldn’t be broken down easily or quickly--and looked to Clyde. “Call the police.”
Clyde hesitated a moment, then obeyed, disappearing back into the kitchen.
Marge extended her hand for Nikki, who reluctantly accepted it, getting back to her feet.
“He’ll be gone long before anyone gets here.”
“You can still file a report,” Marge said, hissing as she examined Nikki’s face. “Scraped you up pretty bad, but nothing serious.”
“I’m not pressing charges.”
“Hell you are,” Marge said over her shoulder as she dug through the first aid supplies. “I’m patching you up, you’re talking to the police, and then you’re going home.”
“No,” Nikki said immediately, almost before Marge had time to finish speaking.
Marge sighed. “No offense, hon, but you’re in no shape to be serving paying customers.”
“Then I’ll work in the back. I can’t go home, not now, OK? Please, Marge.”
“Your eye’s already starting to bruise.” Marge shook her head as she dabbed at the worst scrapes on Nikki’s cheek. “You can stay if you talk to the police. And if you won’t file a report, I will. I may not own this place, but it’s still my restaurant. I’ll say he was trying to break in.”
Nikki sighed heavily, winced. “Thanks, Marge.”
Marge frowned, grunted. “I protect my own.”
Nikki nodded faintly, wondering if Marge would still say that if she knew the truth. That Mark wasn’t some jealous ex-boyfriend. The things Nikki had done before she’d found Jonesville and the refuge of the diner after the end of a long road of bad.


Continue to September 13, 2000 - Part 1 ------->


  1. I love all the drama in this episode. Great story. Thanks for all your hard work.

  2. Wow! I'd have to say it's the best chapter so far. I almost had to stop reading because it sort of overwhelmed me, but soo good!!!

  3. Such an intense chapter! It almost hurt me physically to read about all the pain: Renee's heartache, Kai's physical pain, Jon's pain about not being able to do anything to help Kai, the doctor's worry about Kai worst flare up and finally Nikki... I had started growing rather fond of Nikki, especially her being the haven Kai would turn to when he was at his worst. I even thought that despite Renee being around, maybe she would be the right one to Kai. So, I my heart ached for her when she had the unexpected encounter with Mike.
    Anyway, I am emotionally thoroughly shaken and I truly hope that things will start getting better for all the characters involved.
    I am a great admirer of your writing and always looking forward to your updates! Also, I can't wait for the promised short stories and the novels which you have left me wanting for more through the excerpts on your homepage.

  4. Amazing story! I honestly think I'm a little addicted to it, so please keep posting updates! Thank you so much for sharing this.