Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California
Frantic, I searched for my key chain. My checkbook, coupon book, and bills were fine. The smaller items tangled in the bristles of my hairbrush. My keychain, the one with little silver beads linked together, had been broken in the middle. I opened the leather purse wider and looked into every cracker crumb filled corner. I felt my temper rising.
That’s when Eric Warner came back. “Hey there, did you ask the nurses to take care of your knees like I told you? They must be hurting you right now.”
“No, I’ve been busy answering questions.”
I held up my hairbrush with dust crumbs, rubber bands and paper clips hanging on it. “Did you do this?” I asked with fury in my voice.
He looked at it and laughed. “Why would I? All I touched was your wallet, and when I got your ID, I put it back.” Seeing that I was angry and to the verge of tears, he said in a more serious tone, “Honestly. I did not touch or read anything else in your purse.”
My face must have flushed red. My embarrassment gave me away again.
I pulled the broken key chain out of the bristles and looked one more time for the keys to my apartment. “I can’t find them.”
“The keys to my apartment building and the key to my front door.”
“That’s bad news,” he said. “Did you check every pocket, on the inside and outside of your purse?”
“Done. It’s not there. All that’s left is the small mailbox key.” I held it up for him to see.
“Don’t worry. I can help you with getting the lock changed and new keys. I know a locksmith who will come over when it is convenient for you tomorrow. Are you staying here until Mrs. Johnson is off the critical list tomorrow?”
“Yes, I’m thinking I’ll stay the whole night if I can get in to be with her.” I was getting tired. I didn’t want to talk with anyone, but I had to call Jeanne. “I’ve got to make a phone call. Is there a phone booth nearby?”
“It’s around the corner. I’ll show you. It’s this way.”
“Don’t you have to be on calls again?” I asked as I dug out a couple of dimes.
“No, I’m about done for the night. Are you sure you want to stay? It can be uncomfortable. The ER gets a tremendous load of injuries at night.”
“I wish I can be with her right now. Mrs. Johnson has become very important to me,” I confessed. “I don’t want her to be alone.”
“I wish I had someone to care about me the way you care for her.”
I looked at Eric and felt my heart soften. I was beginning to like him. “You’re a nice guy. Don’t you have a girl friend?”
“I did once,” he replied and paused to think. “I thought she was the one, but found out she wasn’t genuine. I let her go.”
I dropped my change and he bent down to pick up the coins. “The nurses are already on overload. Why don’t you let me clean up your knees and put a bandage on it while you wait? I’m the best EMT in the area, you know?”
He made me laugh. “Okay, Boss. I’ll make a phone call and met you back by the nurses’ station. I’ll just be a moment. Thank you.”
Eric went off in another direction. I had been able to ignore the sting from my knees, but not anymore. Now that it seemed I would have to wait quite a while, it was a good time for me to get them cleaned up.
I dropped a dime into the phone slot and then, for some reason, I remembered the man who had been following me on my way home. I needed to share that with Jeanne. I took a deep breath and yawned as I dialed home.
Jeanne answered on the first ring. “What’s happening?” she asked without greeting. “Is Mrs. Johnson still alive? Everyone in the building is talking about what happened. Someone said she got shot!”
“No, she hasn’t died. And yes, she did get shot. Though I didn’t realize it at the time. I don’t have much news except that she’s been in surgery and is recovering in the Intensive Care Unit now.”
“Can we all come down and see her?” Jeanne asked.
I heard people whispering in the background. “Who’s at home with you?”
“Mainly Krista. Just about everyone in the building has stopped by asking about you, and Mrs. Johnson. You’re okay, aren’t you?”
“Yeah, my knees are scraped up and my nylons ruined, but I’ll be okay. Listen, Jeanne. I’m going to stay here until I can see her. All right? Please let everyone know what I told you. They aren’t telling me much since I’m not a relative, but I think I’ve made a connection with a young nurse here. Maybe she’ll help me see Mrs. Johnson soon.”
“Roger! Will do, pal. Call me as soon as you know, okay?”
“Sure. And Jeanne? Lock the door and windows, okay? My keys are missing from my purse. Let’s play it safe.”
For the first time that evening, Jeanne spoke more her age. “Yes, I agree with you. I’ll do just that. Don’t worry. I’ll be good. Give Mrs. Johnson my love?”
“You got it. Good-night now.”
“Wait, wait, wait! How are you going to get home? Are you going to take the bus?”
“I’ll take a taxi. Thanks for asking. Good night, Jeanne.”
“Over and out,” she said.
Back by where I had been sitting, Eric had a first aid kit open and ready for me. I sat down and slipped off my shoes. The runs in my stockings were a mess. I felt like ripping the nylons off. The dried blood made the nylons stick to my skin.
“Here’s what I’m going to do. I’ll use these scissors and cut all around this area above your knees. Then I can wash your cuts with this antiseptic.” He pointed to a plastic bottle of what looked like liquid soap.
“Go ahead.” This time I was giving the okay, just as he did to the EMTs who drove tonight.
I will admit he did his work with care and with speed. I excused myself and went into the women’s restroom where I took off the rest of the stockings and threw them away. Walking in my heels without stockings was the strangest feeling. Not only did it feel improper, but also the leather insoles stuck to the bottom of my feet.
“I thought you’d like these,” said Eric as I sat down again. He handed me some hospital blue paper slippers.
“How perfect!” I slipped them on. “You’re really making me feel at home here.”
“I do what I can to please,” he said and bowed. We laughed together and shared details of our lives non-stop until several mobs of people came in from car accidents. Eric went off to help the nurses, and I kept busy trying to comfort a tearful Chinese family who didn’t speak English. I remember praying for some people, and then waiting for Eric to come back.
Eric shook my shoulder. I had fallen asleep in the small chair of another waiting room and my body ached.
“Wake up. Jeanne and Krista are here to see you.”
I rubbed my eyes and saw their downturn faces. “What’s the matter? Why did you come? I would’ve called you…”
“I went down to the car and discovered that the tires on our car were slashed,” said Jeanne. “And, the antenna is bent beyond repair.”
“I can’t imagine who would do this to you guys,” added Krista.
“Did you make a police report? The insurance company will want one,” I said.
“No. Especially not the police. ” Jeanne hesitated. “Last night, a police big wig and two other cops came to the door after we had fallen asleep in the living room. They said they were there in answer to a call about us disturbing the peace.”
“I swear, Haley. We didn’t even have the music on. It was 2 o’clock in the morning!” added Krista.
“What happened?” Eric and I said in unison.
“Well, to make a long story short,” said Jeanne. “When I told them we had been asleep and that the music had been turned off three hours earlier, they laughed. And then, they wanted to come in and check out the apartment. I told him a definite, ‘No!’”
“These cops were pushy, Haley. She told them ‘no’ with a baseball bat,” said Krista.
“Are you two okay?” asked Eric. “Did they leave right away?”
“Yeah,” said Jeanne. She lifted her chin and shoulders in a proud stance. “I didn’t have to hit them, but I got them to believe I would.”
“Come sit down here with me.” I directed my friends to sit close to me. “Now, tell me again, how things happened last night.”
Jeanne and Krista repeated the story. Then it was my turn. I shared the details of what happened with Commander Stetson, after Eric left on a call. And I shared the details of what the young nurse had shared with me. Eric was quiet and he was a good listener. I could tell he was angry about the incident when the creep wanted to drive me home, and angry about how he might have been involved in my missing apartment keys. I sensed that he was angry about something else, as well. However, I didn’t have any idea what was on his mind.
Copyright 2014 MillieAnne Lowe, Orange County, California