I haven't been in Northwest Hospital in two years, since my dad died, and I don't want to spend much time here. The stench of Latex and rubbing alcohol. The coughing and complaining and groaning and occasional retching of people here in the Emergency Room. I hate it.
A blonde guy comes in, covered in blood like I am, and stares at me. "They took her back?" he asks.
I nod. I recognize him as our friendly pickup driver. "Thanks for helping her."
"No problem. You're friends with her?"
"You could say that."
He sticks out his hand, and I shake it. "I'm Landon."
He eyes me suspiciously. "You're a little young to be in a gang, aren't you?"
"No gang. Just my street name." I motion to my New York Yankees cap. "My dad loved them."
"He switched to the Tigers, didn't he?"
That usually shuts people up. Landon mumbles an apology, stares blankly into the waiting room, then takes out his phone. He calls in sick to work. "Surgeries like this take hours," I tell him. "Go to work. Just give me your number and a quarter for a pay phone. I'll call you when she's out."
"Just change clothes first. You look like you murdered someone."
Smiling, Landon scribbles his number on a hospital brochure. "You're a neat kid, Yank. I'll see you this afternoon."
The sliding doors let him out, and I find a clock. Eight or nine past seven--I suck at reading analog--if she's lucky, Brook will be out of surgery by lunch. Until then, I'll lay my fears aside and scavenge for breakfast. Hospitals are usually rife with food.
I have no problem stealing breakfast and lunch, and at two that afternoon, I'm finally able to find Brook again. She's lying white and motionless, her leg a mass of bandages and splints. She's sleeping off the anesthesia.
A nurse comes in a few minutes later and stares at me. "I'm the one who brought her in," I say. "Is she okay?"
"Recovery time is six to eight months, and that's the best case scenario." The nurse pulls up another chair and sits across from me, then pulls up a page on her smartphone and shows it to me. Amber Alert: Brook Charlotte Fernsby, female, age 6. Brown hair, blue eyes. Last seen on Ambassador Bridge on August 16.
The article is dated twelve years ago. I take it and read through it. There's a phone number; I copy it down on the brochure Landon gave me. "Do you think it might be her?" the nurse asks.
Before the nurse can say anything else, her pager goes off and she leaves. I settle back in my chair and stare at Brook until she wakes up.
She smiles at me. "There's a sticker on your face," she says as she swipes drunkenly at my nose.
"They gave you morphine, didn't they?"
"I don't know what they gave me, but nothing hurts anymore. Wow...it looks like a five-year-old came in here and put Dora stickers on everything...there's one on my arm." She picks at her IV line.
"Don't do that, Brook."
She stops, leans back in bed, and looks at me. "I think I went swimming and got water in my nose."
"Is your throat dry?"
"That's your oxygen. I'll see if the nurses won't get you something to drink, okay? You just stay calm and don't pull on any stickers, okay?"
"Aye-aye, captain!" Brook giggles, and I smile awkwardly and leave for the nurse's station.
I can't believe Nurse Debra still works here. She's older and a bit rounder than I remember--her roots are a lot lighter than the rest of her dark auburn hair--and she sees me before I can do anything about it.
"What can I do for you, sweetie?" she asks.
"Room 520...Brook wants some water, can she have any?"
"Room five...twenty...." She taps into her computer. "Not yet. We have some mouth-moistening spray she can use." She looks at me strangely, and I pale. "You know what, there was a doctor who worked here who had a daughter who looked just like you...."
No. Please, no. Don't call CPS on me. Don't call Mom.
"It's sad, though. She ran away rather than be put in the foster care system...."
Please, don't recognize me, please, Nurse Debra.
"Her brother missed her a lot. He lives with his aunt and uncle now...."
Don't you dare bring Isao into this! Wait--aunt? Uncle? On which side of the family?
Nurse Debra wraps me in a big bear hug and whispers, "I'm glad you're alright, Keiko."
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.