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ONE Anders stepped off the elevator into the lobby of the ICU, and the sounds of everyday life evaporated. He still heard voices, but they were more hushed than the ones in the main lobby downstairs, and he suspected most of them up here on the fourth fl oor belonged to doctors or nurses. Otherwise, the halls were silent. His eyes scanned the area, and he tried to determine where he was supposed to go and how he was supposed to get there. The hallways appeared to form a large H, with the elevators in the middle. He saw only two sets of doors, one on each side of the elevator banks, each leading to one leg of the H. The doors nearest to him had an identifying plaque at shoulder height—it merely stated icu. He stepped to the opposite side of the hall and read icu—neuro next to the other set. He pulled both handles, but they were locked.
A sense of helplessness overcame him. He was a grown man—
almost thirty years old—and yet he couldn’t figure out something as simple as how to visit his girlfriend in the intensive care unit of a hos
pital. He felt as if he was on a scavenger hunt to find something very,
very important, yet no one had given him any clues to get started. It occurred to him then that perhaps the hospital prohibited visitors in the ICU. But no, no, that wasn’t right either. The kind lady in the pink clothing at the reception desk downstairs would have mentioned that when he asked her which floor Olivia was on. Too bad she hadn’t mentioned how he should get behind these doors once he got up here.
He heard more voices, a man’s voice above softer female ones, so he followed the sound down the east hall. He came to a glass-enclosed room in the middle of the floor, though curtains had been drawn to block his view inside. He leaned into the open doorway, anxious to ask someone the secret code for penetrating the ICU, but when he saw who was there, he stopped.
He’d never met Lawrence Mayfield in person, but there was no mistaking that this was Olivia’s father sitting on the couch against the opposite wall. The Romanesque nose and the dark waves of hair gave him away. On Olivia the features were regal, but on Lawrence May-field they were warrior-like, and to Anders, chilling.
Her mother was there, too, or someone Anders assumed was her mother. Though she’d chosen the most comfortable-looking chair in the room—a leather lounger with plenty of cushioning—she sat erect with both feet planted fi rmly on the floor. A hospital blanket draped her shoulders but underneath it her clothes screamed money.
And then there was the final person, a tall, slim black woman who sat in a folding chair just to the right of Olivia’s mother. The two of them held hands.
All three faces looked in his direction and, to his surprise, two of those faces—the two belonging to Olivia’s parents—hardened. It might have been a mouth closing a bit tighter on one, a cheek lifting ever so slightly into a grimace on the other, or simply a straightening of shoulders, but Anders sensed it, however imperceptible. It became immediately clear to him that they knew exactly who he was, too. The large raw scrape on his right arm, flesh exposed, provided only the fi rst of many clues.
He nodded, his eyes on Olivia’s father. “Sir.” He managed the word by habit of manners, and as if its mere utterance set in motion a sequence of events, he finally moved to shake the man’s hand.
“You must be Andy.” The flat tone of the comment told Anders that this man would not be extending his arm in greeting, and he stopped mid-step from advancing farther into the room. A sudden anger began to build as he processed the name Olivia’s father had used. Only his friend Lenny referred to him as Andy. Olivia had never used it, so he was certain her father used the nickname in some strange attempt to be the alpha dog.
“No, sir, I’m Anders. Anders Erickson.” He almost added “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” but he caught the instinctive impulse in time.
A slight smirk crossed the man’s face. “Excuse me. Anders.”
Anders waited in anticipation of further introductions, however cold, but it became apparent that none would be made. The Mayfi elds stared at him with accusing eyes. The black woman, though, gazed at him behind a veil of anguish and fear. Anders recognized it because it mirrored his own.
“Is there something you need?” her father asked, though Anders was sure the question was not intended as an offer to help.
He slowly turned his gaze back to the patriarch of the family. “I’ve just come from talking to the”—he almost said “cops”, but then thought better of it—“police. I was hoping to see Olivia.”
“Well, that’s a lovely thought, but only family members are allowed to visit.”
Without thinking, he asked, “Is she family?” and pointed at the woman next to Olivia’s mother. Now he sounded hostile, and he regretted asking the question.
A derisive laugh erupted from her father’s throat. “Not that it’s any of your business, but Makena has known Olivia since she was born and might possibly know her better than even her mother and me.”
Her mother and I, Anders thought.
Before he could respond, her father added, “Olivia never told you about Makena?”
Anders chewed on the inside of his cheek without realizing it. He knew the point of the man’s question, and he refused to give him the satisfaction of an answer, but her father had nevertheless succeeded in sowing the seed of doubt in his mind. Olivia hadn’t ever mentioned Makena, and all Anders could think now was, why not? What else hadn’t she told him?
He turned and left the room to find a nurse. At the other end of the long hall, he found a U-shaped nurses’ station but no nurses, and was about to return to the lobby downstairs for help when he saw one of the doors to the ICU open.
“Excuse me!” he called.
A nurse in light blue scrubs turned at his voice and put one fi nger to her lips to signal “quiet.”
“Could you hold that door, please!” He tried to shout and whisper the words simultaneously as he jogged in her direction, but it was impossible. It didn’t matter; the door closed silently and the nurse made no moves to stop it.
She waited until he stood, a bit breathless, in front of her. “Sir, I’m sorry, you’re on the intensive care floor. You must keep your voice down.”
Even though she meant to scold, her voice had a soothing, sympathetic tone. She looked so young, like she could have been his kid sister. Her chin-length blonde hair was stick-straight, and her pale skin was clear and dewy. Skinny arms stuck out from the short sleeves of her top; her delicate hands held a chart against her chest. He required an angel and she was his only possibility.
“I need to see Olivia Mayfield,” he said. “They told me downstairs she was in ICU.”
The nurse nodded to the doors behind her. “She’s in Neuro.”
“Can you take me to see her?”
Her eyes darted in the direction of the waiting room, as if she was trying to remember whether she’d seen him in there with the rest of them. “Are you family?”
Anders shifted on his feet. “I guess that depends what ‘family’ means. She’s my . . . we’re . . .” He fumbled for the correct term. “Lover” sounded inappropriate, but boyfriend and girlfriend sounded too juvenile, and neither came close to describing what they meant to each other. Anders determined in that instant to propose to Olivia when he saw her. Why had he waited?
“Are you a boyfriend?” She smiled slightly. She’d seen others struggle with the same explanation. Even though he knew she hadn’t intended to, she’d made him sound like he was one of many.
“Yes, we live together.” So that she didn’t mistake them for mere roommates, he added quickly, “We love each other.” He didn’t care anymore how immature he sounded.
“I understand, sir. I really do.”
He believed her. When she looked down at the floor and shook her head, he knew what her next words were going to be.
“It’s just that hospital rules prevent non–family members from visiting patients in the ICU. Otherwise, we’d have so many people traipsing through and our patients would never get better. I’m sure you can understand.” The pained look on her face told him that she really didn’t enjoy relaying this news. He knew another, less compassionate nurse might have. “I’m sorry, sir.”
“Are there ever any exceptions?”
She shrugged. “Sometimes, if the family gives permission, and the doctor okays it.” She must have seen the flash of hope in his eyes. “But . . .”
She breathed deep and he waited.
“. . . the family has made it quite clear that no one outside her immediate family is to be allowed in.”
Anders could feel his legs weakening underneath him and he wondered what in God’s name these people had against him. They didn’t even know him, yet he was an enemy.
“I’ll talk to them. I’ll see if I can convince them, okay?”
She nodded sadly, and he suspected she’d already spent enough time with Olivia’s father to know what he was up against. She started in the direction of the nurses’ station.
“You can call me Carrie.”
“Thank you, Carrie. Can you at least tell me how she’s doing?” He braced himself for a litany of privacy rules.
She paused, as if trying to decide which of them to break for his benefit. “Look, sir—”
“You can call me Anders.”
Just her eyes smiled this time, and she came close to him again and touched his shoulder. They were friends now.
“Anders. I shouldn’t be telling you anything, and I’m not sure whether this will make you feel better or worse, but she’s in a coma.” He gasped. “What I mean is, she won’t know whether you’re there or not.”
He looked to the ceiling to stall the tears welling up in his eyes. “That’s it? You’re going to give me that information and not tell me more?”
She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off and began pacing the floor. “I can’t believe this is happening. I’ve gotta wake up soon because there’s no fucking way this is actually happening.”
“Sir.” She grabbed his arm with surprising authority. “I’m sorry. I’ve already told you enough to get myself fired. But you can’t assume the worst, okay? Many people recover full mental and physical function when they emerge from a coma.” She paused and waited until he nodded, a signal to her that he’d regained control, however tenuous. “I just didn’t want you to leave here thinking she was lying there wondering where you were, why you hadn’t come.”
Or worse, Anders thought. Asking and being told a lie in response.
He knew she offered the information to be kind, and he didn’t want to direct his anger at her. “Okay, okay. I’m going to speak to them, though, her family. Okay?”
Carrie nodded. “There’s a bell—” she motioned to a small button to the right of the door “—just press it if you don’t see me around.”
She turned to go, and he called to her one more time. “Carrie?” She looked back over her shoulder. “Just . . . well, thank you.”
She gave him a quiet smile, but it didn’t look hopeful.
When Anders returned to the waiting room, her father was alone, talking into a Bluetooth hooked over his right ear. He glanced up at Anders, but his expression remained the same; the presence of the man his comatose daughter lived with affected him no differently than if he’d been looking at a picture on the wall. To Anders’s ears, the phone call consisted of all business. He caught no mention of Olivia. All my father’s business meetings were important, Olivia had told Anders the first time she’d brought up her father. More important than his daughter’s life? he wondered now.
Digging his hands into his jeans pocket, he fingered the necklace he’d found on the ground before the ambulances had arrived at the scene. He spoke only after he saw the man touch the device at his ear, signaling the end of the call.
“Sir, the nurse said she could allow me in to see Olivia if her family gave permission.”
“Well, Andy—Anders—I don’t think that will be happening.” He reached into the briefcase at his feet, pulled out an eyeglass case, and took his time retrieving the glasses and placing them on his nose. He then pulled out a stack of papers and began to leaf through them. Anders watched in disbelief. He didn’t want to believe Olivia shared blood with this man. But her father’s behavior was all too familiar, and it eroded his already shaky determination.
He stood straighter, reminding himself that this was Olivia’s dad, not his own.
“Mr. Mayfi eld?”
Her father looked up over the top of the reading glasses as if he was surprised to see Anders still in the room.
“Did I do something to offend you, sir? Is there a reason you don’t want me to see her?”
The man leaned back into his chair and sighed.
“Olivia’s mother and I think that you have done quite enough for her, Andy. I’m sure the two of you have had a hell of a time together— God knows I cringe to think of the details—but it’s time for her to come home and be with family. If she’s lucky, that is.”
For a moment Anders stood speechless, staring at him and trying to process the meaning of what he’d just said. What he’d just accused him of. If Anders had been a different sort of man, more like Lenny, he would have considered taking a swing at the guy. But if he’d been more like Lenny, he would never have been standing there discussing Olivia with her father. Olivia would have never been in his life.
“Are you saying you think I caused the accident? That it was my fault?”
Her father had turned his attention back to his damn papers, and he answered this time without even looking up. “You were driving the motorcycle, weren’t you?” He spoke the word “motorcycle” with obvious contempt.
Anders snorted in disgust. “Someone tried to run us off the road!”
“So you say. But it’s interesting how there were no witnesses, isn’t it?” He flipped a page. “Not to mention no helmets. How dare you be so cavalier with my daughter’s life.” Finally his eyes showed emotion, though it was only cold hate. “Now, if you’ll let me get back to my work.”
Anders’s face burned, and he felt the blood pumping fast through the veins in his neck.
“Sir, I’m begging you.” Though he tried to control it, he could hear the encroaching desperation in his voice. “Can you please just let me see her? When she comes to, she’ll tell you the same thing.” He realized he’d just let slip that the nurse had told him something confi dential. But if her father realized it, he didn’t show it. He didn’t show anything, for that matter. Anders could have been speaking to a deaf man. “I would never hurt her. I just need to see her. I’m begging you,” he repeated. “Please.” His voice cracked with the last word.
Approaching footsteps echoed on the polished hospital tiles in the hall, but Anders heard nothing but the sound of silence coming from the statue in front of him. He turned to escape and almost knocked down Olivia’s mother, who stood in the doorway in front of the other woman. “Excuse me, ma’am,” he muttered, and as he darted past them, his eyes caught Makena’s. Perhaps he’d imagined it, but he could have sworn he heard a voice, deep and grainy but distinctly feminine, telling him not to give up. Never give up.
Not that he’d planned to, anyway.
The day before had started pretty much like many of the others they’d spent together. Anders woke before Olivia. The early rise wasn’t new to him; even as a kid he’d woken at the break of day. He’d go fi shing before school, or just hang out in the tree fort behind his house while he waited for his dad’s car to pull out of the drive. Now, if he had to work, it gave him a chance to sit on the deck with her first, drink coffee and watch for dolphins in the morning surf. If he didn’t have to work, well, that was even better.
He hadn’t set an alarm. The light of dawn crept through the window and tapped him on the shoulder to announce the arrival of the new day. His eyes opened, and the gentle sound of the surf reassured him that nothing had changed overnight. He rolled over and inhaled the salty air mixed with the sweet smell of her sweat. He longed to touch her, but he didn’t. She’d had another nightmare a few hours earlier and needed her sleep. Though she claimed she never remembered them, she always seemed a bit off the next day; an unexpected touch by him would startle her, or she’d tense at overhearing a stranger speak to his female companion in the wrong tone.
So instead he watched her sleep. He watched the flutter of her eyelids as she dreamed, he watched the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. Every once in a while, a white tern landed on the sill of the open window and watched with him. He felt they shared a secret, he and the bird.
He knew she wasn’t pretty by conventional standards, yet to him she was beautiful. Her dark hair fell against the pillow in long, kinky coils, its color reminiscent of the black coffee she drank each morning. Her eyelashes were long, too—they were one of the few features she liked about herself—and they protected sleepy olive-green eyes. (“They’re hazel, Anders,” she’d say, laughing. “Simply hazel.”) Freckles dotted the bridge of her nose and then cascaded down to her cheeks. A Cupid’s bow framed her lips.
But he liked her neck the best, the way the long lines of it stretched lazily from collarbone to jaw when her head tilted to the side, away from him. A delicate silver chain with a small charm in the shape of a crane rested in the hollow. She never removed the necklace, not when she showered, not when she slept, and he’d come to think of it as just another part of her for him to marvel at. It was all he could do not to lean over and kiss that neck, ravish it until she awoke in delight and joined him in the lovemaking that had become almost a morning ritual for them. But he waited. The waiting made it all the better.
“Anders.” Her voice was hoarse. The lips formed a slight smile.
They each said it as if to confirm the existence of the other. A pinch just to be sure.
“And that it is.” He returned her smile.
She turned toward the window. “Hmm, I can smell the ocean today.”
The tern was gone. All that remained inside the window frame’s perimeter was one cotton- ball cloud against a periwinkle- blue sky.
She reached for him, wrapping her arms around his neck and pulling him close. “Let’s go for a ride today. A long ride.” She gave him a peck on the lips. “Take me somewhere I’ve never been.”
He retreated to the hospital cafeteria on the main floor. He told himself he’d figure out some way to get in, that leaving would be the equivalent of conceding defeat. Anyway, it’d be easier to get updates on her condition if he stayed close.
He bought a cup of coffee and dropped the change in the handmade Styrofoam tip cup next to the cash register. The cashier didn’t acknowledge it. He took a seat at a table in the far corner, near a picture window facing the parking lot. The dinner hour was just beginning, and the cafeteria buzzed with the chatter of hospital personnel as they pushed their way through the cafeteria line and jockeyed for the cleanest tables. The groupings reminded Anders of his high school days, when the jocks and the cheerleaders dared not sit with the intellectuals or the potheads. Here, he could pick out the doctors by their white lab coats over dress shirts and ties, in the case of the men—or skirts or pantsuits, in the case of the women. The nurses dressed in scrubs, mostly solid colored but sometimes floral for the women.
Excerpted from Rescuing Olivia by Julie Compton.
Copyright © 2010 by Julie Compton.
Published in February 2010 by St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.