.:VirtualSalt

The Million Dollar Girl
A Novel

Robert Harris
Version Date: October 11, 2008



Chapter 27

Matt and Amy arrived at the hospital and learned that Tina was still alive, but in critical condition. None of the doctors or nurses would say whether they thought the girl would live. No one was willing to make any comment. All assured Matt and Amy that everything possible was being done. No one would give any details because Matt and Amy were not relatives.

The two spent the night in the emergency room, waiting for news that never seemed to come. They could have collected the repetitions of “They’re still working on her,” and printed them up in a small book. Amy’s imagination wandered through scenes of a dead girl that no one wanted to admit having lost. The delay was to concoct a plausible story or to blame someone else. Or perhaps the staff was still looking for the doctor. The middle of the night must be a difficult time to find someone who knows something.

Matt’s imagination was different. He imagined Tina opened up from head to toe, most of her organs under repair or removed, all her limbs in casts. In his mind, he saw a half-dozen monitors, pumps, and machines all attached to the frail girl’s body. Six or seven people stood around examining X-rays, EKG tapes, lab reports, charts, holding test tubes of blood up to the light and shaking their heads with regret.

The reality was that Tina had been treated throughout the night. Spaced out at half-hour or hour intervals, she had been medicated, cleaned, bandaged, and X-rayed. Now she was lying by herself in a curtained off section of the emergency room, while an occasional person, usually an orderly, looked in to check on her IV drip. A single monitor measured her heartbeat, blood oxygen, and blood pressure. It was set to sound an alarm if any vital sign went outside the prescribed boundary. She was alive but asleep.

+++

Matt and Amy were resting, possibly dozing, heads together, holding hands in the waiting room, while a television talked to itself. The night had been a quiet one for the hospital, and the two students had only the company of a little old lady, who waited, sad and alone, for news about her husband, who had suffered an apparent heart attack in his sleep.

Someone in light blue hospital clothes came into the room. A label on his shirt said “Carlson.”

“Are you the friends of the Jane Doe attempted suicide?” he asked Matt and Amy. They stirred, no longer lingering between waking and sleeping.

Amy did not recognize the description as referring to Tina, and was about to say, “No,” when Matt spoke up.

“I guess so. We’re friends of the girl who jumped off the roof at Pelletier Hall on the campus.”

“She’s my roommate.”

“I see. I’m Dr. Carlson. Well, the good news, if that’s what it is, is that she didn’t succeed in taking her life. The bad news is that she managed to bang herself up pretty well. However, I’m upgrading her from critical to serious.” He sounded tired, even bored. Matt was struck by the irony of being upgraded to serious condition. “We thought she was really hurt, but it turns out she’s only seriously injured.” He wondered if these thoughts came from not enough sleep.

“You think she was trying to kill herself?” Amy asked, with evident surprise. The doctor looked at her with one raised eyebrow.

“Well, I doubt that she jumped off the roof for amusement. The toxicology for drugs and alcohol have so far come back negative. Was she drinking or taking drugs last night?”

“No, she never drank or did drugs, ever, as far I know.”

“Was she depressed over school or romance or anything? Boyfriend dump her recently?” The doctor’s tone seemed to imply that being dumped by a boyfriend would be an obvious reason for jumping off the roof.

“No. She said she was going to return to her orb.”

“Her orb?” The doctor sounded displeased.

“Yeah. I think she was having mental problems.”

“Are you a psychiatrist?” It was a rhetorical question, with an edge on it.

“No. I’m just a college student.” Amy said, sheepishly. She still remembered her time with the school counselor, so she backed away from the information.

“Does the girl have any ID? A driver’s license or school ID?”

“I could look.”

“That would be helpful. We need some ID to get the records going. Do you know how to get in touch with her parents?”

“No. She hasn’t ever mentioned them.”

“Well, once we get her ID, we can get the other information through the school.”

“Her name is Tina Davidson.”

“All right. But bring in her ID as soon as you can. We’ve got to get the insurance billing going.”

“Can we see her?”

“Not now. Give her some time to recover. She needs to give verbal permission for a non-relative to see her. She can’t do that right now. Come back Monday and see. And bring her ID.”

The doctor left without ceremony. Matt and Amy looked at each other. “That guy was real nice,” Matt said. “Imagine him working on a patient. ‘Does this hurt?’ ‘No.’ ‘Darn.’”

“Matt. Don’t say that. He’s taking care of Tina.”

“Still. Tina may have too much imagination, but that guy seems not to have any. He can’t imagine that Tina might be nuts, and he can’t imagine that other people might be human beings with feelings. Makes you wonder what it really means to be sane.”

“It’s not what you do, but why you do it that tells whether you’re sane or not.”

“Like what?”

“Like talking to yourself, Mr. Mechanic.”

“Huh?”

“You were talking to yourself that day when I helped you with your car.”

“Maybe I was just singing along with the radio.”

“You were arguing with your tools or something.”

“And you know I’m sane, huh?”

“I usually think so.”

“See?”

“But I’m biased, too.”

“Biased? How?”

“Well, I told Elderberry you were my boyfriend.” Amy blushed a little as she said it. She did not know why she chose this time to reveal the fact. It was an impulse.

“Oh, really?” Matt was surprised and touched. He had been the King of Patience over the last year. He had often felt that Amy was either the Queen of Indecision or the Princess of Gradualism. Now she seemed willing to come closer. He tightened his arm around her a little more. She rested her head on his shoulder a little more fully.

“Would you want a girlfriend who’s going to be kicked out of college and probably disowned by her parents?”

“Amy, I’d want you no matter what. You’re a treasure.”

“Aw, that’s sweet.” Then, feeling awkward about the moment, she added, “In fact, that’s so sweet, I think I need a drink of water to wash it down.”

“You are one of a kind, young lady.”

“Yep, they broke the mold after me.”

“You’re just different. Witty. A little crazy, in a good sort of way. I think I like you.”

“You think so, but you’re not sure?”

“Hey, I’m a modern guy. Don’t want to go overboard with the commitment stuff.”

“Would you climb the highest mountain for me?”

“Maybe a medium hill with a snack bar at the top.”

Amy gave Matt an elbow in the side.

“Ow. That didn’t hurt.”

“Darn.”

“Hey, you ought to be a doctor.”

“Just one thing, Matt.”

“Yeah?”

“If I’m going to be your girlfriend, does that mean we have to be all mushy and syrupy all the time?”

“You ask this after you have just fractured my rib with your elbow?”

“No, it’s just that you know I’m too shy to be all touchy feely and kissy wissy, especially in public. I just want to take things slowly.”

“So we should slow down this passionate rush into heavy romance that we’ve been engaged in the past year or so?”

“Matt, you’re losing points.”

“Just my luck. Boyfriend for two minutes and I’m already losing points.”

“And from now on, when we’re walking across the quad and you want to check out the cheerleaders, try not to gawk and stare and drool so openly. It just looks bad.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You almost choked the last time. Just remember the girl in the photo in your room. She’s sensitive.”

“Okay. Whatever.” There may have been a slight sigh.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Then Amy said, “You know, I can see why people like the world of their own imagination. We can do anything in our fantasies. We can own an eighty-gallon air compressor when in real life we only have a little tiny one.”

Matt gave Amy an odd look. “Amy, you sometimes amaze me. What’s this about an eighty-gallon air compressor?”

“I was speaking in terms you could relate to. We can always imagine something better.”

“That’s what motivates us. We see in our minds something better and then work for it.”

“Or if we are unwilling to work for it, we just fantasize about it.”

“Yeah, there’s always something better to wish for because the real world isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.”

“It’s pretty cracked up, though.”

“You’re getting awfully witty in your old age.”

“It’s the disasters of life that have made me wise.”

“‘Pain is the chalk; laughter is the eraser.’”

“My chalkboard has quite enough on it for now, thank you,” Amy said, raising her voice a little and looking up and waving at the ceiling. “Still,” she added, thinking of Tina, “I really have no complaints.”

“Yeah, you’ve got a great boyfriend.”

“And he’s so modest, too.”

“And he has a great car.”

“Well, let’s not push it.”

“Poor Bertha,” Matt said. “She can’t get any respect.”

Amy started thinking about Tina again, hoping that she was doing all right. She felt angry with herself and with the counselor and with the doctor for not doing more, for not better understanding Tina’s problem.

“Why do we have to wait until someone does something obviously crazy before we help them?” she asked.

“A lot of perfectly sane people act like they are crazy. That’s considered normal now. You know how a lot of people say, ‘I know this is stupid, but I want to do it anyway’? That’s considered being sane. As long as you know you’re rejecting reason and values and standards, you can do anything you want and still think of yourself as an even furrow.”

“It’s only when you do something dumb and think it’s really great that people know you’re going over the edge.”

“Like walking off the roof of a building.”

“Yeah.” The vision of Tina walking off the roof made Amy shudder as she remembered it.

“But people are always doing stupid things and later on saying, ‘It seemed like a good idea at the time.’”

“Well, that’s true. In fact, we’re doing something dumb right now.”

“We are?” Matt looked around to see what was so dumb.

“Yeah. We’re sitting here in this horrible hospital waiting room for no reason. Why don’t we go back to campus?”

“Why don’t we?” They stood up.

Amy looked around the room and saw again the little old lady, sitting so alone and quietly weeping. Amy felt a wave of compassion rush over her. She walked over a few steps toward the woman. “Ma’am?” The woman looked up. “I hope everything will turn out well for you. I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thank you, young lady,” the woman said. She looked drained and weak. Amy touched her hand and tried to smile.

When she walked back over to Matt, he offered Amy his arm and they left the waiting room. Just as they were about to turn the corner in the hallway, a nurse spoke to them.

“Excuse me, honey,” she said, looking at Amy. “Are you the friends of Tina, the girl brought in from the school last night?”

“Yes, we are.”

“You can bring her ID in on Monday. We can Jane Doe her until then with no problem. The insurance department doesn’t work on weekends, so there’s no need to make a special trip back here just to bring her wallet. Bring it when you come for a visit Monday.” Matt noticed that the nurse cleverly avoided saying something like, “Forget what that jerk doctor told you.”

“Should we bring anything else? Like clothes or a hairbrush?”

“Sure. You can bring her a change of clothes and her personal items.”

“How long do you think she’ll be here?”

“I have no idea, honey. But we’ll take good care of her. I hope she will be able to go home soon.”

“Me, too. Thanks.”

+++

As Matt and Amy drove back toward campus, the early morning sun was already up.

“I can’t believe how stiff I am,” Amy said. “My shoulders and my joints ache.”

“My back hurts. Those chairs were terrible.”

A thought occurred to Amy. “Just think, Matt. Tina’s parents won’t even know about what happened to her until at least Monday.”

“And that’s probably only if Tina wants them told. Privacy laws, you know.”

“Don’t remind me.” The phrase brought to mind her interview with the counselor.

Soon they turned off from the highway and headed down the street leading to the campus. In a few blocks they saw some activity ahead, outside one of the apartment buildings just down the street from campus. Yellow police tape had marked off an area around one of the units. Three blue vans were parked nearby, one of them backed up onto the sidewalk right outside the front door of the unit.

“Hey, look. Something’s going on.” Matt slowed the car. A dozen students were standing around watching, some still on their bicycles, stopped mid trip by curiosity. “Let’s see what’s going on,” Matt said, stopping the car.

“Matt, let’s not.”

“Okay, just a minute. You can stay here.”

Matt got out and walked over to the group of bystanders.

“I wonder if someone got robbed or something,” he overheard someone say as he arrived.

“I don’t know,” someone else said. “Did you hear about the girl who killed herself last night?”

Matt walked a little farther to find someone else to ask. He approached two students watching from the doorstep of the apartment next door.

“What happened?” Matt asked.

“It’s the FBI,” one of them said. “They’ve busted Jeremy, the lady killer.”

“Jeremy Schneider? He lives here?”

“He did. But now that they’re cleaning the place out, I guess he doesn’t anymore.”

“What did they bust him for? Drugs?”

“Don’t know. I never saw him high. Although he may have kept a stash for the facilitation of romance, if you know what I mean. Maybe some parent is upset about what happened to his daughter.”

A man wearing a jacket with huge FBI letters on the back came out of the apartment with a boxful of books. Then two more agents came out and another went in. Judging by what they now carried—table lamps, stereo equipment, clothing, books—they were taking everything out of the apartment. They loaded the items into the vans.

“What do they want with his clothes?” asked one of the apartment neighbors of his friend. “Think they’re stolen?”

“They already took all his computer stuff,” his roommate said. “I guess now they’re just cleaning him out.”

“Where’s Jeremy? Did they arrest him?” Matt asked.

“Don’t know. This was already going on when we got out here. They didn’t make a lot of noise. I always thought they used a battering ram and a loudspeaker and all that. We didn’t hear anything.”

+++

When Matt got back to the car, Amy was asleep. She did not wake up when the engine started or when the car began to move. Only at the first speed bump in the parking lot did she open her eyes.

.



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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com