To many, the sight of Julian Garcia, chest open, heart beating on the cold sterile table, would be the stuff of nightmares. But to John, it’s one of the most beautiful sights he will see all day. Julian’s little heart beats strongly in his chest cavity, his vitals are strong, everything seems to be working the way it’s meant to. Four hours of surgery has culminated in this moment.
‘There is no greater high than this.’ John thinks to himself.
“Beautiful work Dr. Hodges.” His assisting surgeon, a short, light haired Indian woman named Aakansha says through her face mask.
“Thank you Doctor. If you could please assist with the closing. I’ll go inform the Garcias.”
“Very good.” Dr. Aakansha nods and takes John’s place by the table as the nurses prep their closing instruments.
John retreats to the prep room and discards his gloves and apron in the hazardous waste bin before heading out into the hallway. He feels better than he did in the morning. A successful surgery could do that to him. Erase the uneasiness in his life, if only for a few hours.
John adjusts his scrubs as he enters the waiting area, an overly bright and uplifting looking room at the center of the pediatric ward. From the far corner of the room, a woman and child sit anxiously, watching the door. Mrs. Garcia looks exhausted, as though she hasn’t slept well in days. She probably hasn’t. But that will change soon. Julian’s mother looks over at John expectantly. She bounces an excitable two year old girl in her lap, and when John meets her gaze with a friendly smile, she nearly crumples, baby and all.
John’s chest warms at the sight of Julian’s mother’s relieved expression. The woman regains her composure enough to lift herself on to her wobbly feet and run over to John.
“Julian. He did good?” Mrs. Garcia asks, in the best English she can muster. English is not Mrs. Garcia’s first language, but she knows enough to get by. What’s more, she’d taught herself even more English since Julian was admitted. She was determined to speak to her son’s surgeons directly – not through a third party.
Mrs. Garcia is an exceedingly strong woman in John’s eyes, and out of respect for her, responds back in his best Spanish, “Julian es fuerte, como su madre. Él era muy bueno.”
There is nothing casual or routine when it comes to heart surgery, but John anticipated a successful operation, so he’d prepared a few lines of Spanish. He’d practiced a few times and hoped he’d said it correctly. Gauging a look of understanding on Mrs. Garcia’s face, John smiles proudly.
Patiently, John explains as simply and clearly as he can, that his co-surgeon is taking charge of the closing up procedures and that Julian will be back in his room shortly. Mrs. Garcia squeezes his hand gratefully, trying her best to relay her feelings in English. After stumbling on a few sentences, she gives up the ghost and continues in Spanish. Though John cannot interpret everything she is saying, he understands her completely.
After a few final congratulations, John leaves the waiting room and heads towards his office. His trip down the hall brings him past the nurse’s station where Michelle sits, diligently working as usual. As he passes, Michelle looks up and flashes him a smile.
“Dr. Aakansha was just looking for you.”
“Everything alright?” John questions.
“It didn’t seem urgent.” Michelle insists, waving her hand as though waving any suspicions away. “Everything went well I take it?”
“Damn near perfect.”
“That’s a relief.” Michelle smiles, returning her gaze to the schedule she is putting together. John is about to head towards his office when a sudden thought comes to mind.
“Who’s on call this evening?”
“Lorenzo.” Michelle says with a sigh.
John struggles to hold in his disappointment. It doesn’t work. John has one more surgery today, and past experience has taught him that although the photogenic young man is great with the kids, easing their anxiety, he tends to get a little distracted. And when things don’t happen as quickly as John likes, John tends to get a little temperamental. He doesn’t need any issues with the nurses today.
“I’ll keep on him.” Michelle assures John, noticing his grimace.
John isn’t convinced, but drops the subject.
“Thank you.” John says. He knocks casually on the desk before walking to his office. As he walks, he wonders what Dr. Aakansha could have wanted to speak to him about. She isn’t assisting on his next surgery, so John assumes it must be in regards to Julian. But if there were some complication during closing, there would have been more urgency – a page or something along those lines. With those thoughts whirling through his head, John finally reaches his office, walks inside, and closes the door firmly behind him.
John takes a seat at his desk and prepares to do his post op paperwork when he notices the blinking light of his cell phone. John never carries his cell phone on the floor and especially not on days he has surgery. There’s never been a need. The people that need to reach him, know to either call his office or the Pediatric ward if they need him.
Curious, John presses the button, lighting up his phone’s lock screen and sees several missed calls from Kinaya and from a few numbers he doesn’t recognize. The missed calls immediately make John uneasy. Kinaya rarely ever calls his cell phone on days he has surgery. Much less, call several times over a short period.
John unlocks his phone and sees that there are also several voicemails. No text messages. John is now fully on edge. Missed calls and voicemails but no text messages? And what of the numbers he doesn’t recognize? John counts at least three different numbers.
His immediate thought is that something came up at Isaiah’s kindergarten. Still, the fact that Kinaya called his cell phone instead of the office or one of the hospital numbers is odd.
With a growing sense of anxiety, John taps on his voicemail icon and listens to his first message. It is from Kinaya’s cell phone, but the soft female voice on the other end isn’t hers.
“Hello? This is Alese, I’m one of the assistant’s at Kinaya’s gallery, um…”
The voice on the phone is nervous, and shaky. John imagines that she is very young and the unease in her voice makes him all the more uncomfortable.
“Um, I’m hoping this is the right number, I’m trying to reach Kinaya’s husband. There’s been an accident.”
John’s stomach drops. His jaw immediately stiffens. A mix of fear, dread, and guilt roll around in the pit of his stomach.
“Um, Kinaya’s been hit by a car. The medics are about to put her into the ambulance now. Um… please call me back on this phone – or you can reach me on my cell…”
John isn’t listening anymore. He tuned out after he heard ambulance. Disbelief is giving way to panic as he looks at his phone, as though unable to believe that the message is real. The voicemail came in just over 2 hours ago.
Suddenly, he has so many questions. How? How did she get hit by a car? Who did it? Had they been arrested? Was she conscious? Was she… was she alive? Where was she? John’s skin crawls, filling him to the brink with unease. He listens to the voicemail once again, but the girl doesn’t give him much information to go on. Impatiently, he listens to the next voicemail. It is also from Kinaya’s cell phone, but the voice this time is male.
“Hello, Mr. Hodges. This is officer Frank Ridley of the LAPD. I’m calling you to inform you that your wife Kinaya has been the victim of a hit and run. She is being transported to Keck Medical. For more information, please contact the emergency room at…”
But again, John is no longer listening. Keck Medical… They’d brought her here. Kinaya is in this very hospital, and he’d had no idea. John stands up, ready to run across the medical campus. His skin is prickling and crawling. Panic and guilt. How? How could Kinaya have been brought here and he not know?
John takes a deep breath, trying to keep his composure, then leaves his office. His urgent walking speed increases to a jog as he navigates the halls, making his way towards the emergency room. He notices the startled faces of Michelle and the other nurses and patients as he goes, but he doesn’t have the time to worry about that.
2 hours! It’s been over 2 hours since he got those calls.
John stops only to call for an elevator to the ground floor. As he waits, he keeps checking his phone. There are more messages. There is one from Kinaya’s assistant, Reese, and another one from the police department. It’s similar to the one from Officer Ridley earlier, although it’s obvious that this is a receptionist.
John is about to check the last voicemail when he sees Dr. Aakansha. Her face is bright.
“Ah Dr. Hodges. Wonderful work today.”
“Thank you.” John answers, distracted. He pushes the elevator call button again, more urgently.
“I was looking for you earlier. A call came for you, in Surgery, just after you left. A nurse in Emergency. Did she reach you?”
John’s stomach flips again. While he’d been self congratulating with Mrs. Garcia, the Emergency Room was trying to tell him about Kinaya. His face felt hot.
Finally, the elevator arrives. John mumbles an incoherent reply to Dr. Aakansha and steps inside. She looks at him concerned and a touch offended, but keeps it to herself as the doors close on her.
Alone in the elevator, John breaths deep. He needs to calm his nerves. He looks down at his phone again and sees the last message. It’s another number he doesn’t recognize, but it has called several times. Hesitantly, he plays the voicemail, and the guilt immediately rises up in his throat again.
“Hello, this message is for Mr. John Hodges. This is Paula Alvarez from Sunshine Academy. We were hoping to get in contact with you or Mrs. Hodges, as the school day has ended and we are still awaiting Mrs. Hodges to pick Isaiah up…”
John looks at the timestamp on the message. That was left an hour ago. John groans, painfully. Isaiah is still at Kindergarten, waiting for someone to get him. His poor boy.
As he wrestles with who he can call to pick up Isaiah, his phone rings. He doesn’t recognize the number, but he picks it up quickly.
“Hello?” John says, impatiently. The doors of the elevator open and he immediately walks out and in the direction of the emergency room.
“Hello, Mr. Hodges?” Comes the soft voice from the earlier voicemail. “Hi, this is Alese. Did you get my earlier message?”
“I did. Thank you.”
“Have you heard anything yet?”
“I just got out of surgery. So, no nothing yet.”
“Oh, I see. Well…”
“I’m sorry but I need to get a handle on what’s going on and I still need to sort out things with my son so, I need to get off the phone, but thank you for calling.”
“Oh! Actually, Mr. Hodges, I’m at Sunshine Academy right now. The school was calling Kinaya’s cell phone.”
“You’re at the school now? Do you have Isaiah?” John asks, raising his voice.
“Well I’m here, but I don’t have him. They can’t release him to me without his parent’s permission.” The girl’s voice is shaking. John’s noticeable change in tone has made her nervous again.
John sighs in relief. It is an annoyance but a welcome one. He doesn’t like the idea of someone he doesn’t know taking his child from school, but at least Isaiah won’t be stuck.
“Have them call me on my phone. I’ll give them permission.”
“Ok. Um, did you want me to take him home? I have Kinaya’s purse here. Or, is there someone I can drop him off with?”
“Bring him to the hospital. Keck Medical. I’ll bring him home with me. Thank you.”
John hangs up the phone as he gets closer to the emergency room. He knows that there should be another call from the school coming any moment, but for now, he needs to find out where Kinaya is.
The automatic glass doors leading to the emergency waiting area slide open, and John makes a beeline for the front desk where two nurses sit. The nurses nod respectfully as he approaches.
“My wife was brought in a few hours ago. Kinaya Hodges. Where is she right now?”
One of the nurse’s face drops a little in sympathy before she turns her gaze to the monitor. Her fingers work quickly against the keys.
“Auto accident?” The other nurse asks, with a hint of recognition.
The other nurse too, turns her attention to the computer.
“I know they took her out of the O.R already. Give us just a moment Doctor.” After a few seconds, the other nurse, points and taps on the monitor screen, signaling the attention of the first nurse.
John’s cell phone buzzes. It’s the school. He answers it impatiently and gives the teacher on the other end permission to hand off Isaiah to Alese. As he talks, the nurse writes down a room number on a post it note, and slides it over to John. He picks up the note, gratefully, and is off once again.
Based on the room number, John can see that Kinaya is on the third floor. However, this time, rather than wait for the elevator, John takes the stars. He moves quickly, taking the steps two at a time until he reaches the third floor, scans his ID for access, and jogs down the hall to the room written on the note.
The door is open when he arrives, and there are nurses in the room. He can see them refilling IV lines and filling in their charts. As he enters, the nurses look at him, confused at first.
“Can I help you, Doctor?” A short, spectacled, Filipino woman asks the unfamiliar doctor. She has the stern voice of a veteran nurse. The other nurse, a younger Mexican woman looks up from the IV shyly and nods a greeting.
But John isn’t paying attention anymore. His eyes fall on Kinaya and his breathing stops.
When John left this morning, Kinaya was looking her best. Make-up, hair, nails, and clothes. She was flawless. Although she doesn’t always get done up as much as she did today, she is proud of her looks and takes care of her appearance. She always makes sure that when she is out in public, that she looks her absolute best. This holds true, especially, if she is going anywhere people from John’s circle of influence might see her.
Image is important to her.
So seeing her here, in the state she’s in, is all the more upsetting for John.
Kinaya lays unconscious in the hospital bed, barely recognizable. Most of the damage appears to be on the left side of her body. She is bandaged across her head, her arms, and her left leg is elevated in a cast. Her left eye is also covered in gauze. There is a considerable amount of damage to the left side of Kinaya’s face. Scratches and lacerations web across her head, ear, neck and shoulder. As his eyes race across her body, taking in every inch, he can see considerable swelling, and nasty contusions all over her body. Her wig is gone, discarded, no doubt, by the medics or left at the scene.
She is hooked up to countless IV lines and monitors. Based on the wrapping around her head, the drainage tubes, and the monitors in place, John can see that she’s being treated for some kind of brain injury. His breath hitches.
John goes closer to the bed to look under her hospital gown, but is stopped when he hears Filipino nurse clear her throat, a little more insistently this time.
“Doctor…” She leans in closer to see his badge “…Hodges?”
“This is my wife.” John says. Despite the way his mind is racing, being in the hospital room, assessing the extent of her injuries, John suddenly feels a sense of calm.
“Oh, I see.” The Filipino nurse says, apologetically, after looking back and forth between John’s ID and the medical chart.
“May I see?” John asks, holding his hand out for the chart in her hand. It’s not really a request though, and his tone implies as much.
The Filipino nurse hands over the chart without another word. John scans it, nodding to himself as he interprets the shorthand. As he suspected upon first glance, Kinaya has suffered a traumatic brain injury as a result of the hit and run. The O.R doctor that attended to Kinaya is Joe Chang.
“Joe Chang. That’s good. He’s good.” John nods his head in approval.
He continues reading the chart. Most of Kinaya’s injuries are easily remedied. A broken leg, a bruised ribcage, cuts and scrapes. But the head injury is another matter all together. There is significant swelling in the brain. John checks the medications and notices a continuous use of Propofol.
“You’ve induced a coma?”
“Yes Dr. Hodges. Dr. Chang was concerned that Mrs. Hodges wasn’t responding well. We just started maybe 15 minutes ago.
John’s heart is pounding, but being able to detach – to become the doctor, is helping him maintain his composure. From a professional standpoint, everyone seems to be doing their due diligence. There is nothing in this chart that John finds questionable or lacking. Yet, the irrational part of his brain screams out angrily “Fix Her Now!”
Slowly, John hands the chart back to the nurse. His mind is abuzz. It’s now a waiting game. They will have to manage the swelling and see how things progress. Will she suffer brain damage? How much therapy will she need after she wakes? Will she have full cognitive function? So many questions. None of which anyone will be able to answer right now.
Isaiah is on his way to the hospital, John suddenly remembers. Looking at Kinaya now, he decides that it would be best to keep him away. Without a doubt, the sight of his mother, with her half shaved head, torn up face, and tubes and wires – would frighten him. He will need to get Isaiah home and explain what is going on in a way the boy can understand.
He also has another surgery scheduled in a few hours. ‘That shouldn’t be a problem’, John’s more practical mind thinks to himself. He won’t be far, and sitting by her bedside won’t make the swelling in her brain go down any faster. His patients need him. In fact, the whole situation makes John itch to get back in the O.R. He needs to get back to work. He needs to not think about Kinaya.
Thinking about her, and all the conflicted emotions he feels inside, weighs down on him like a lead vest.
“I have to prep for surgery. If anything changes – anything at all – just have someone page me. Or you can leave a message with the head nurse in Pediatrics.”
John doesn’t wait for a reply. He simply turns and leaves the room, anxious to be back on the side of the building where he feels in control. His sanctuary.
As he walks, John pulls out his cell phone. He scrolls through his contacts and lands on a familiar name. Salehe. He hates that he has to do it – John has never been on good terms with him, but he has to know what’s going on.
John types up a short, concise text message and cringes as he presses SEND, anticipating the unpleasantness that is about to come his way. But John decides to worry about that later. He needs to think. He needs to stay calm. He needs to work.
As he leaves the intensive care unit, John is already formulating plans of attack. One for every possible outcome – and just the idea of having a plan makes John feel calmer.
But nothing John plans at this moment can prepare him for what is about to unfold.
Why is it always so dark?
Kinaya grows thoroughly sick of living a life in the dark. The little bit of candlelight does not do much to pierce the darkness but her eyes are, as always, adjusted to see through it. As she goes deeper within the halls of her father’s church, the light grows fainter and fainter. Every once in a while she will hear the distant hooting of some far off animal or the chorus of insects. If she sits very still she can hear the water. A welcome sound. But for the most part, the church is quiet. Kinaya feels her way through the darkness until she hits the door to her father’s office. She already has the key, and feels for the keyhole. Once she finds it, she is able to unlock the door.
It’s been years since Kinaya prayed to her father’s God – though she goes to his sermons every Sunday as she is expected to. He often chastises her for the evil she holds in her heart. But Kinaya is long past concerning herself over what the “dear Reverend” has to say about the state of her soul. Not with all the darkness that lives in his. Dark just like his church. Kinaya, for the most part, wants nothing to do with anything the Reverend is a part of – not him, not his family, not his church and certainly not his God. He knows this about her, all too well.
That’s why he’s never bothered to look for her here. This is Kinaya’s secret spot. She locks the door behind her, and pulls the book out from her bookbag. She knows the Reverend keeps a flashlight in the desk for emergencies, and retrieves it.
Finally, some light.
Kinaya kneels down on the floor beneath the window. In here, she can hear a little better, the sounds of the night and of the water – not too far away. She breathes in the smell of freedom. Freedom from the tomb she calls home, and the dangerous eyes that watch her while she’s there. Here, she is safe. Here, oddly enough, he cannot see her. His fingers cannot reach her.
Kinaya turns her book to the earmarked page and begins to read. The book is not exactly the type of thing Kinaya can read in public or at home. It is a fantasy novel, full of magic, and romance, and yes, sex. At the center of the story, a woman engages in an affair that turns two loyal servants into traitors of the heart. It’s a novel full of passion, jealousy, magic and tragedy.
Kinaya has read the story a number of times, and though she has read quite a few romance novels, she always comes back to this one. Perhaps because the fantasy element is so much more compelling. She loves the world building, and the different races of human and non human characters. Yes, the love scenes are graphic and steamy, and they make Kinaya’s innocent body twitch with excitement – but there is more to the story than just those scenes. That is what makes it stand out from the others.
The novel she found with her mother’s things.
Once more, Kinaya reads through the story and dreams of escape from the horrible prison she calls home. She wants a love like the one in this story, even though it is a tragic one. She wants to escape and find her man of destiny, just as mother wanted to so many years ago.
But Kinaya knows, as her mother knew, that it will never happen. She will live and die in the Reverend’s house, never to escape. Where could she possibly go? Tears fill her eyes as she reads alone in the empty, musty church. As they do, her vision grows more and more blurry until darkness fills them once more.