When I woke on Saturday morning, grit scratched across my eyeballs as I pulled them open. The right side of my neck protested painfully as I lifted my head from where it had fallen to rest on the edge of the couch.
Aaron still slept on the floor in front of me, one hand inches from my fingertips. Hope also slept, her breath rasped, but came and went in even intervals. Her cheeks looked flushed, but I dared not touch her for fear of waking her and setting off another fit of coughing.
As I pushed myself off the floor, I had to stifle a groan. As quietly as possible I stole across the living room and into the entryway. My coat and mask remained where I’d dropped them the night before. I cringed as the whisk of the material disrupted the soft sounds of my children’s slumber as I picked up my coat and shoved my arms into their respective sleeves. With a glance back in the living room I checked to see that the sound had not woken anyone.
My heart clenched at the sight of their thin, peaceful faces. I swallowed the lump in my throat then walked into the kitchen to type a note for Aaron on the digital message board. Finally, I retrieved my mask and stepped out of the apartment.
The streets were eerily still on Saturday morning. Only a few people rushed to catch the subway for their morning commute, everyone else stayed inside, breathing the purified air in their homes or apartments.
I walked with measured strides, trying to appear calm and confident in spite of my quaking heart. Finally, I stopped in front of a familiar metal door recessed into a wall with no windows. I swiped my ID through the scanner attached to the door frame and waited.
Ten minutes passed before a faint buzz preceded a tired, and irritated, voice.
“Whaddya want, Warren?”
“I need your help, Lenny. It’s Hope.”
Another five second pause, and then I heard a sigh.
“Just a minute.”
As I waited, I caught myself wringing my hands and clasped them together to make them stop. I hated to do this to Lenny, he was a good friend, but I had no choice.
When the door finally zipped open without warning, I jumped back a step and heard Lenny chuckle.
Dr. Leonard West stood before me, shirtless, with wild brown hair that appeared to be fighting to free itself from the man’s head; only the straps of his breathing mask held it in place. At least he’d taken the time to pull on a pair of paisley-print pajama pants, though the material looked dangerously thin.
“Well, don’t stand there letting the stink in.” Lenny’s voice sounded distant, muffled as it was by the filters on his face mask. He backed up a step to give me room and I entered the four foot by four foot space, pressing close to the wall as Lenny closed the main door and flipped on an overhead fan.
We waited a full minute, unable to hear each other over the hum of the fan. After Lenny flipped it off, he opened a second door and I stepped onto the white tile floor of his home. We both removed our masks after the door closed again. Lenny led me into a small and tastefully arranged office.
“So, what’s wrong with Hope?”
That’s what I liked most about Lenny. No need to play games, he always got straight to the point.
“She’s sick. Seems like the same thing Mary had.”
Lenny’s brow knit in concern. He hadn’t been Mary’s official Doctor, but he’d been to the house countless times, especially at the end. He’d done everything he, legally, could do to help.
“Have you been to the hospital?”
My gaze shifted to the floor as I shook my head.
“Can’t afford the visit,” I replied.
When I looked up again, Lenny studied me through narrowed eyes.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” Lenny finally asked.
Without hesitating, I nodded.
“I have to, Lenny. Mary wouldn’t let me do this for her and it kills me everyday. I can’t watch my daughter die; no matter what it costs me.”
Lenny nodded his understanding and slid into a seat behind his office desk. With one hand he reached under the table top as far as his arm could stretch. I heard a click, then watched him sit up, enter a code on the desktop, and scoot back as a drawer popped down and out from underneath the desk.
He pulled out an old prescription pad, one of the paper kind that was no longer approved but not yet banned. With a fountain pen he scratched some letters onto the paper, then signed on the bottom line with one of those completely indecipherable signatures that looked more like the lines on a cardiac monitor than a name.
The page came away from the pad with a satisfying rip and Lenny met my eyes as he help out the scrip.
“I know nothing.”
I nodded once as I took the paper.
“You may not want to thank me for this. You do understand the consequences if you’re caught, right?”
Again I nodded, then added, “Better me than her.”
Whew! It’s been a crazy, busy, fun week here. I’ve been visiting family for the Fourth of July and next week I’m headed to our family cabin. It will be a family/writing retreat of sorts since I’ll have no internet, no phone, and no television for the week. I plan to post a story next Friday, but I may be a day or two late depending on our return schedule! How’s your summer going?