“Well, well, well. Look what the cat dragged in!”
Tony’s voice dripped with undisguised contempt as he watched Sorel being wheeled past him, a uniformed officer following close beside the gurney. He made no move to attend to him. His eyes simply narrowed, noting the dried blood that painted Sorel’s forehead and matted in his hair. Taggert casually strode into the ER, stopping behind Tony.
“Take your time Dr. Jones. Have a cup of coffee, update some charts…verify Sorel’s medical insurance. I can wait all night.”
“Do I really need to deal with this?” Tony turned to Taggert. “Doesn’t the jail have an infirmary any more?” He shook his head and looked around the room for someone else to take this one.
“Just make sure the cuffs stay put.” Taggert answered. Tony eyed the two pair of handcuffs, one on each side of the gurney, locking Sorel’s wrists to the metal. He finally, reluctantly moved to him.
“It seems that his head had an unfortunate encounter with the hood of a car.” Taggert came up to the gurney, smiling down at the bloody sight.
Tony inspected the small gash in Sorel’s forehead. “The unfortunate part being…the encounter wasn’t strong enough?” He looked up to Taggert, who kept his mouth shut. “Any idea how long he’s been out?”
“Nope. It happened six, maybe seven hours ago, but I have no idea if he’s been out all that time.”
Tony flashed his penlight in Sorel’s eyes - the same one he’d with her. “He’s got a concussion, but I think that’s the extent of it.” He referred to the EMT. “I assume his vitals are all okay?”
“Everything’s normal. He’s just out like a light & seems to need some stitches.”
“Peachy.” Tony sighed, turning to the nurse beside him. “Okay, let’s get him cleaned up, stitched up & taken for a brain scan, just to be sure. Page me when you get the results”,
As Sorel was wheeled away, Taggert called out after the officer who followed. “I don’t want him uncuffed for a second, or out of your sight for HALF a second!”
Taggert turned back to Tony, who stood rubbing at his tired, burning eyes. “Sonny says you’re taking care of Alexis?”
Tony’s shoulders were heavy, his eyes still closed as he nodded his weary head. “Yeah.”
Taggert hesitated a moment. “How bad is she?”
Tony opened his eyes to the floor, then raised them, gazing off in the direction Sorel had gone.
“She’s…” He shook his head. “It’ll take some time.” He swallowed and looked Taggert in the eye. “Was it him?”
“Yeah. It was him.”
Tony nodded. He suddenly felt tainted.
“First, do no harm.” He quoted. “Sometimes I’d like to take the Hippocratic Oath, go back in time & shove it down Hippocrates’ throat. Do me favor Taggert: get that piece of garbage out of here the minute I say so. The hood of that car may not have killed him, but there are several people wandering around this hospital right now who’d be happy to finish the job…if they know that he’s here.”
Taggert gave Tony a wry smile. “Well in that case...point me toward the paging system.”
Sonny bolted from the room, eyes large and frantic.
Johnny turned with a start, jarred out of his quiet thoughts.
“Where the hell is she?”
“Alexis! Where is she?”
Johnny’s jaw dropped. He looked at the door, then back to Sony. “I…I thought she was supposed to be in there?”
“But Dr. Jones said…”
Sonny interrupted. “Has ANYBODY been in there?”
“No, Sonny! Not since I got here. Maybe they just took her for another test or something?”
Sonny frowned, his heart still racing. “No.”
He pushed the door back open and gazed into the darkness. Johnny moved into the doorway next to him, surveying the empty room.
“Something’s wrong.” Sonny’s voice was soft and low as he studied the ends of the wires and IV tube lying still on the bed, illuminated by the light from the corridor.
“She should be here.”
Johnny turned his head slightly, placing his hand on the inside wall next to the door, searching. He found the light switch and pushed down, the darkness giving way to a sudden flood of light. His eyes closed against it, his hand rising up to shield them. As they slowly blinked open, Sonny’s voice came at him with a disturbing timbre.
“Johnny, get Dr. Jones. Now.”
Johnny squinted at Sonny, confused. His head turned, following the path of Sonny’s fixed stare. His eyes landed on the small, trembling body of Alexis, huddled on the floor.
Johnny was gone in an instant.
Sonny stood very still, afraid to move…afraid to make things worse. He watched, helpless, as she shook, her palms and face pressed against the cold wall. She had torn at the bandage wrapped around her injured arm, but failed to pull it completely free. A thin trickle of fresh blood ran down her skin from where the IV had been pulled out. All Sonny could hear was the intermittent sound of her labored breathing. He couldn’t even see her face, didn’t know if she was dreaming or awake…or trapped somewhere in between. He couldn’t take it any more - he had to reach her.
“Alexis?” He murmured softly, taking a small step. There was no response. He took another small step, then stopped as he heard the approaching footsteps came closer to the room, stopping at the open door.
“We found her like this. I don’t know how long…” Johnny’s voice dropped off as he left the words dangling in the air.
Tony’s face wore a pained expression of his own as he gazed at Alexis, cowering into the wall. He was stunned, confused, afraid of the possible onset of something beyond his scope. His voice was steady and quiet.
“Has she spoken?”
Sonny shook his head. “No.” He turned back to her, taking another careful step as he called her name once more.
Her body tightened, her head slipping downward. Her hair fell across her cheeks, keeping her face hidden.
“Shhh. She’ll find me…and she’ll be so angry.”
The small whisper that came from her was that of a child. Sonny’s stomach fell to the floor. He understood the sound well. He stiffened his jaw as he looked furtively at Johnny’s bloodless face. He turned back to Alexis and took yet another step toward her. As he began to crouch down to the floor, Tony’s voice halted him.
“Sonny, don’t. Let me get someone from psych up here...”
“No!” Sonny’s tone was fierce, as his eyes looked pleadingly to Tony. “No one else.”
The sound of his rising voice sent Alexis’s breathing into a rapid gait. “No, don’t let her…”
Sonny kneeled down beside her. “Who, Alexis? Who are you afraid of?”
She didn’t respond. Sonny reached a tentative hand out to her. “Alexis?”
As his fingers touched down on her, Alexis jolted, her body jerking away from him as she cried out.
“No! Don’t!” She doubled over, whimpering, her breath catching in her throat. “Ow…”
Sonny pulled back, cringing at the sight and sound of her as she pulled her arms in tightly against the sides of her face.
“It’s dark…it’s too dark…”
“No, no it’s light. Open your eyes Alexis. It’s not dark.”
Alexis turned her heard further away. Her shaking palms pressed back against the wall. “I can’t see. He locked it. She’ll be angry…”
Tony was growing more nervous. “Sonny?”
“I know where she is.” Sonny whispered, his eyes focused on Alexis. He continued.
“Alexis, nobody’s angry, and nobody’s going to hurt you. The dark is gone. I’m going to touch your arm now, so don’t be afraid.”
He reached out again – she flinched at his touch, but didn’t shrink away. He kept his hand on her shoulder, firming the pressure slowly, allowing her to accept it before going any further.
“Alexis, can you hear me?” She didn’t respond, but sat quiet and still. He needed to see her. Sonny gently moved his hand up from her shoulder, lifting a strand of hair from her face. She abruptly pulled away.
“No! I didn’t want to…he locked it.” Panic overtook her voice, the rumble in her body intensifying. Suddenly, her head pulled up, frozen eyes locked shut.
“She…she…her perfume. She’s coming…” She leaned her body back against the wall, face pressing against it. Her knees pulled up and she wrapped her arms around them...Alexis began to slowly rock herself back and forth.
Sonny sat back onto his heels – he suddenly remembered the bowl of gardenias he’d placed on the table. He could smell their sweetness floating in the air around them. The fragrance scared her, pushed her deeper into her dark place. He leapt up and grabbed them, shoving the bowl into Johnny’s hands.
“Get rid of them!” Sonny ordered sharply.
Stricken, Johnny quickly disappeared from view.
Tony turned to Sonny. “This has gone on long enough, Sonny. I’m paging Kevin Collins.”
“No!” Sonny’s voice rose. “No one else is touching her, do you understand? I can take care of this!”
Alexis’s whimper grew in response to Sonny’s angry tone. She clutched at her abdomen, still rocking.
“Ow! Stop...” He waited. As her pain - real or imagined - subsided, Sonny made an instinctive choice. He raised his hands quickly, cupping them firmly on either side of her head.
“ALEXIS! Look at me!” His voice was strong and deep.
Alexis sharply inhaled, her hands flying up to his, as they held firm and steady on her face. Sonny held his breath as hers regained a slower rhythm. Her eyes finally fluttered open, briefly, rising no higher than his mouth before they closed again. He felt her head release from her neck, as her hands gave way to the weakness in her arms. They slipped from his, falling limp into her lap. The trembling subsided, but it was there.
Sonny glanced back at the door. Johnny was nowhere to be seen. Tony stood back, his hand holding the edge of the doorframe. He moved slowly into the room, speaking softly as Sonny sat before Alexis, her head still held gently in his hands.
“The tox report came back. There’s nothing else in her system, Sonny. This is either the fever or…”
“Or her.” Sonny whispered. Her secrets would be hard to keep.
He moved his hands away from her face, pushing them to the back of her head. Her body started to give in to his demands. He moved his own body closer to her, pulling her gently toward him. She was now pliable beneath his touch, unflinching and unafraid as her head fell down onto his shoulder. He had her trust.
The things that welled up in him defied words or measure. Her soft hair brushed against his face as his hand held her head against him. His other arm reached around, palm sliding down her back to keep her secure, supported.
“Be careful Sonny. She has some bruising on her back, along her ribcage.” Tony felt somewhat useless in the room right then.
Sonny closed his eyes, turning his mouth toward her ear. “Alexis, I’m gong to pick you up now…okay?”
She didn’t answer, didn’t move. She’d fallen back to sleep right there on the floor, in his arms. Something in him didn’t want to move…but he did. She felt so light as he lifted her from the ground and set her onto the bed. Her arms hung loosely around his neck, but she tightened them as he tried to ease her back onto the pillow.
She wanted to be level with his face – to look into his eyes. As she struggled to hold her head upright, her tired arms released back down to her sides. Sonny kept his arm around her, his hand holding the back of her neck. Like her face, it was warm with the unvanquished fever.
She frowned and bit her lip. Her eyes fought their way open and slowly rose, connecting with his. “I…I don’t… Her voice was raw and barely carried. She closed her eyes and swallowed.
Sonny searched her face, trying to read her mind. His hand moved to her face, softly brushing the hair from her eyes. “Tell me. It’s okay.”
She looked at him once more, her chin beginning to quiver. She brought her shaking hand up, hesitantly touching her fingertips to his cheek. “Am I awake? I can’t tell anymore.”
Sonny smiled, leaning into her hand. “Yeah, honey. You’re awake.”
Her hand dropped to her side. Alexis pulled her eyes away from Sonny’s, wandering around the room as she her surroundings began to crystallize in her head. A sudden cramp hit her, and Sonny held her steady. As it subsided, she allowed him to lay her down.
Tony moved to the bed, unsure if she knew he was there. “Alexis, it’s Tony. Can you describe this pain you’re having?”
Alexis groaned loudly, her body turning away from him and curling up into ball. She didn’t speak. Tony pushed a button on the side of the bed. He caught Sonny’s eye as he pulled up the loose ends of the heart monitor and IV. He leaned down to her.
“Alexis, I know you’re hurting, but you’ll feel much better when this fever comes down a bit more, and when you’ve gotten more fluids into your body.”
A nurse appeared in the doorway. “Dr. Jones?”
Tony went to the door, motioning to Sonny on the way. “I need Demerol, now please.”
The nurse nodded and turned away as Sonny approached.
“What are you giving her?”
“She’s exhibiting definite signs of withdrawal, Sonny. With the fever, the dehydration, and whatever psychological trauma she’s suffering – she cannot be subjected to this right now.”
“So what are you saying? You want to keep her on drugs? You got some high-grade medicinal heroin stashed in the cabinets here, doctor?”
Tony’s face hardened. “What I’m saying is I want to keep her on a low dose of a Demerol, but only temporarily. It’s in the same narcotic family as heroin, and it should relieve the pain of her withdrawl symptoms without worsening any addiction she's already developed. Given the unusual circumstances, our options are fairly limited. But until she’s physically and emotionally stronger, I think this is the best and safest way to go.''
Sonny looked at Alexis as she lay shivering, arms tightly crossed against her chest. He had to trust Tony, as Alexis trusted him. “Okay. Do what you have to do.”
The nurse returned with a tray, but Sonny couldn’t look as Tony picked up the vial. He moved back to Alexis and sat down on the edge of the bed. He placed his palm on her hip as he leaned down, close to her face, whispering.
“Alexis, you’re going to feel better in just a few minutes. Tony’s going to take the all hurt away.”
Sonny couldn’t have known the trigger he’d just pulled. Sorel’s words whispered in her ear, now carried on Sonny’s voice sent her breathing into a sudden falter. Tony took hold of her wrist, lowering it down to her side...she knew what that kind of touch meant.
“No!” Alexis jerked her arm away, arms pulled back into her chest. She turned further away from Tony, pushing her face into the pillow.
Tony looked to Sonny for help, once again. Sonny tried to calm her.
“Alexis, it’s okay…” He touched her hand and she recoiled.
“No! Please, please…don’t.” Her voice began to choke up in her throat.
“I want…I want to go home.”
Sonny tensed his jaw, his eyes welling as he looked up to Tony with abject desperation on his face. “Tony?”
Tony shook his head. “It’s only going to get worse. Just do the best you can and I’ll try to be quick.”
Tony took hold of her wrist again, more firmly this time. She was too weak to put up much of a fight, but she still tried. Sonny worked to sooth her, holding onto her hand while Tony deftly maneuvered the cylinder of Demerol. Sonny spoke softly to her, telling her she was safe. Her body didn’t believe him. The strong hands still held her down, her skin still registered the sting…and she simply gave in.
“Please…I’m so tired…” Her voice trailed off as the drug began taking effect.
As Tony finished, he dropped the syringe back on the tray and set about re-attaching the errant tubes and wires. He watched closely as Alexis’s breathing slowed, her tremble subsided, her tense muscles relaxed. He eyed the thin strips of Velcro hanging at the side of the bed. While he knew it would be best for her own safety, one glance at Sonny’s face told him they’d be undone the instant Tony left the room. Sonny was fighting back a tremble of his own, as he silently brushed away the single tear that fell across her cheek.
The pain had gone into a slow dissolve. She was lightheaded, floating, unfocused. Alexis swallowed, her heavy eyelids fluttering open in search of the clear blue eyes that were always there.
Outside her door, Johnny sat on the ground…the soft, white petals crushed within his hands.
The delicacy of some things terrified him.