Upon a Midnight Clear (Chapter Four)
She walked into her father's dimly lit room. She could see her father lying in bed, his eyes closed. She sat down next to him and took his hand. She could never remember holding her father's hand when she was growing up, and under normal circumstances, she never would have dreamed of such a gesture. But every hour on the hour it was just about the only way she could communicate with him. It was a simple yet universally understood sign of affection.
She looked down at his thin, white hand. "I'm here, Dad." She was beginning to worry that he would never wake up. She glanced up at the heart monitor, watching the regular, steady graphs duplicate across the screen. "Oh, Dad," she said with a sigh. "You've got to get better, I'm sorry we haven't spoken in such a long time. I'm… well, I'm sorry for a lot of things." Kim stopped. She could have sworn she felt something. A slight tightening of his hand, as though he was attempting to communicate. She looked up at him. His eyes were open. "Dad?" she whispered. She knew he couldn't answer her with the breathing tube down his throat. Again she felt the weak squeeze. He attempted a smile, but the simple act appeared to exhaust him and he shut his eyes again.
"How's he doing?" a nurse asked, popping her head in.
"He's awake," Kim said excitedly.
"Dr. Risson?" the nurse said loudly, leaning over him. She picked up his wrist and took his pulse. "He seems to be coming out of it. That's good. Dr. Hoffman will be pleased."
Kim smiled. She felt a sense of accomplishment and relief. Her father was not only waking up, he was happy that she was here. She could feel it. The nurse motioned toward the clock. Kim nodded as she stood. Her ten minutes were up.
As she left the room, she practically bumped into Dr. Hoffman. "Hi, Kim," he said, flashing her his shy smile. "How's the patient?"
She practically beamed at him. "He was awake."
He nodded. "Good," he said. "C'mon back in. I'm just going to look him over."
He walked past Kim, close enough so that she could detect the faint smell of aftershave. Kim stepped back into the room and watched as he picked up her father's chart and flipped through it. "Good," he repeated matter-of-factly. He put down the chart, took out a small pocket light, and opened her father's eyes, flashing the light in his pupils.
Tony slipped the light back into his white jacket and nodded for her to follow him. As soon as they were out of the room, he said, "Your father's doing well, but he probably won't regain full consciousness until tomorrow. Dr. Harkavey's got him scheduled to have his breathing tubes removed first thing, so he'll be able to speak." He walked with her out of the critical care ward and stopped at the elevator. "If I were you, I'd go home and get some sleep. Hell be all right," he said, pushing the elevator button.
She frowned. Home. That might be a problem. She had no idea where her father lived, or if he'd even be comfortable with her staying in his house.
"Is something the matter?" Tony asked.
"I… urn, I can't remember where he lives."
Tony looked at her curiously. "I'm afraid I can't help you. I've never been there myself."
"I… ah, I haven't spoken with my father in quite a while," Kim stammered. "What I said at the airport, about our being so close… it wasn't exactly true."
"It's okay," he said, nodding understanding. He paused, thinking. "There're some decent hotels around here. Of course, the closest ones are pretty expensive."
Kim hesitated. Her airline ticket had cost her almost all the money she had in her savings. Maybe she should just stay at her father's house. As long as… well, as long as there wasn't anyone else already livinp there. "Is he… uh, my father… Is he married or anything? I mean, I haven't seen anyone around here, but I wasn't sure…"
"No. Your father's definitely not married. And as far as I know, he's not dating anyone. At least, no one I've heard of. And I make it a point to stay on top of hospital gossip," he joked.
The elevator arrived and the doors opened, but Tbny ignored it. "Cmon," he said, nodding toward the waiting room. "Why don't you grab your stuff and we'll go find a computer."
He followed her into the waiting room and picked up her suitcase.
"You don't have to…" she began, uncomfortable that he was carrying her luggage.
"I've got it," he said, motioning for her to follow him. He led her out of the waiting room and made a left. "This way," he said, heading toward the nursing station. "Hey, Melva," he said, smiling at the pretty brunette nurse who was sitting behind the desk. "Look up Dr. Risson's address for me, will you?"
She walked to the computer and leaned over, typing in some information. "222 Sycamore Street."
Kim exhaled. Easy. "That's where we used to live. I guess he never moved." She looked at Tony and smiled. "Is there a place where I can rent a car around here?"
He shook his head. "They won't be open today. If I were you, I'd just drive your father's car."
"I don't have keys."
"Hey, Melva," he said, calling the nurse back. "Where are Dr. Risson's valuables? His keys and stuff. Do you guys have them? If so, cough 'em up."
She raised an eyebrow. "Why?" she asked suspiciously.
"Because I want to go to his house tonight and rob him. I figure it's a good time since he'll be busy for a whle."
Melva shook her head as she put a small plastic basket in front of him that held a wallet and a set of keys. "If anyone's head rolls because of this, it better be yours."
"I'm taking full responsibility. By the way," he said, fishing out the keys. "Have you met his daughter?"
She nodded, making it clear by her cold, stony stare that it made little difference that it was his daughter who was taking the belongings. She was still holding Tony responsible.
Kim smiled politely. She had seen the nurse quite a few times, but she had never introduced herself.
"Nice to meet you," Melva said curtly.
Thank you for doing this," Kim said appreciatively.
"Yes, thank you, Melva," Tony said, pushing the little plastic basket back toward her. Melva raised an eyebrow as if she definitely did not approve.
"Do you know which car is his?" he asked, focusing his attention back on Kim.
Kim looked at him blankly.
"C'mon," he said, nodding toward the elevator. 'I'll show you. You cant miss it." He led her to the elevator and caught it just as the doors were closing. They stepped inside and he pressed the button for the lobby.
Her eyes wandered toward his ring finger. No band. When she glanced back up at him, he was looking at her with a little smile that let her know he was fully aware of what she had been trying to determine. Embarrassed, Kim glanced away and busied herself by focusing on a piece of lint on her pants.
"You must be exhausted," he said quietly. She nodded as she picked lint off her sweater. "It's been a rough few days."
"I bet" He paused. "Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?"
She nodded. "Go ahead."
"Do you have anyone that could help you with this?"
"What do you mean?"
"I mean family."
She shook her head. "My mother is dead. And I'm an only child. So," she said, tilting her head to one side and shrugging, "I'm afraid I'm my father's only family."
He gave her a small, admiring smile. "He's lucky to have a daughter like you."
She blushed. "He's lucky to have a doctor like you." She inwardly winced. What was she doing–flirting?
"I don't know that he'd agree."
Kim glanced at him, confused. "What do you mean?"
Tony hesitated. "Your father and I have had our issues."
"He can be difficult," she said diplomatically.
Tony smiled appreciatively. Risson's daughter was very different from her father. Despite her obvious personal strength, there was a softness in her demeanor that Tony found enticing. "He's a damn good surgeon, though," Tony said. "One of the best. He's the reason why I came here. I wanted to study under him."
"Oh," she said, trying to hide her disappointment. "You aspire to be like him?"
He laughed. "You don't sound as though you think that's a worthy goal," he said as the elevator doors opened.
"No, of course not," Kim said vaguely and followed him toward the front door.
He stopped suddenly and looked at her. "Where's your coat?"
"I stuck a windbreaker in my suitcase. I don't really have a winter coat," she said.
"No coat?" he said incredulously. "Where are you from?"
"Wait here," he said, setting her suitcase down. He took off running down the hall.
"I don't need one," Kim called out, but he didn't bother to stop. He returned a few minutes later carrying a warm-looking down jacket. "Take this," he said, holding it out to her.
"What's this?" she asked, looking at it.
"Boy, you do live in Florida," he said, laughing. "This is called a winter coat," he said, holding it open for her.
Kim paused and smiled at him. "I know what it is. Who does it belong to?"
"I can't take your coat," she said, putting up her hands in protest. "It's very sweet of you to offer, but if I take your coat, what will you wear?"
"I'll be fine. I've got a ton of sweaters in my locker, and I've got plenty of coats at home."
Just then a man walked into the hospital and a blast of cold air shot down the hall. It was enough to make Kim reconsider.
"Take it," Tony said, handing her the coat.
"Are you sure?" Kim asked, impressed by his generous and chivalrous offer.
"Absolutely," he responded, helping her put it on.
Despite the chilly air circulating in the hall, Kim felt a warm, cozy feeling melt through her as he slipped the jacket onto her arms.
"Thanks," she said, feeling awkward and embarrassed, although she wasn't sure why. "Thanks very much."
"You're welcome very much," Tony said as he finished helping her on with the coat. He nodded toward the door. "Shall we?"
Kim stepped outside and experienced the same sense of frozen lethargy she always felt in cold, miserable weather. "It's freezing," she said.
"It's not freezing. It's just a little brisk."
"It's freezing," Kim repeated matter-of-factly, hurrying to catch up with him.
She followed him to a large, blue Cadillac. "This is your father's car," he said, his arms crossed in front of him to keep himself warm.
Kim glanced at the car with disbelief. It looked like the same car she remembered her father driving. Perhaps it was the same car. After all, they long ago stopped making cars as big as this.
"I hope you have gas money, because this car probably goes through a tank in about five minutes," Tony said.
Kim stepped forward with the key. She felt uncomfortable, as if she were breaking into a stranger's car.
Tony opened the driver's door for her. "I think the button for the trunk is…" "Right here," Kim said, popping open the glove box and unlocking the trunk.
Tony smiled as he walked around to the back and set her suitcase inside the ample trunk. He walked around to the front just as Kim was using the windshield wipers to scrape off the light dusting of snow that had fallen. "Are you going to be all right?" he asked, leaning over the top of the door. "You remember how to get home?"
"Like it was yesterday. That's the problem." He nodded as though he understood, though what she had said really didn't make any sense, even to her. He stood up straight.
"Thank you," she said. "For the coat, for everything." "No problem," he said, still leaning over the door. His teeth were chattering and his lower lip was turning a shade of blue.
"You better get inside," she said. "Before you freeze." He shook his head. "Nah," he said, looking up at the sky.
"I like the cold. I'd stay out here all day… and night, if I could." He smiled at her as he stood back from the door.
"Have a good Thanksgiving evening." Thanksgiving. She had forgotten about that. "Same to you," she said as he shut the door. She smiled and waved good-bye as she fired up the Caddy.
Kim drove through the deserted, eerily familiar roads. She felt funny driving her father's car. Especially this car. This car made her feel tiny, which was not a simple feat. At five feet nine inches, she didn't often feel small. But in her father's Cadillac, she had to lean forward to be able to see out the window.
This was not the first time she had been behind the wheel of this car. She had driven it once before, when she was fourteen years old. She had been angry that her father had not allowed her to go on a date with a boy three years her senior, so she had retaliated by getting up in the middle of the night and driving her father's pride and joy, his brand-new big blue Cadillac, around the block. That was it. She had simply driven it around the block and parked it back in the driveway and he had never found out. It hadn't been much of a retaliation, but the truth of the matter was, her father scared the hell out of her, especially then. Not because he had a temper, but because he didn't have one. He was always so controlled. So cold. Even when he was angry.
Kim glanced at the mileage. The car incident was almost seventeen years ago, and her father had only 70,000 miles on the odometer. It was obvious he only used the car to drive to and from work.
Kim turned onto Sycamore Street, and her breath quickened. She stopped in front of her father's house –the same house she had grown up in. She looked at the willow tree in the front yard, the same tree she had fallen out of, breaking her leg. Feeling as though she had stepped back in time, Kim nestled her nose in Tony's jacket, his deep musky scent bringing her back to the present day. She loved the fact that he had given her his jacket. It had been a gallant, sweet act on his part, and she respected that. Whatever happened to the "Hey, it's cold out here, let me give you my coat" type of guy…?
Obviously he was alive and well and living in Michigan; she'd be sure to tell Barbara when they spoke that evening. She smiled as she straightened in her seat. Of course, the whole coat incident really didn't count, because she wasn't dating this man–he was simply being nice. But she was grateful, not only for the warmth the jacket provided but for the sweet reminder of her present-day life. She was not a child returning to an unhappy home, but an adult, returning to her father's house not because she had nowhere else to go, but because she had chosen to return.
Kim grabbed her suitcase out of the trunk and walked down the front walkway to the door. The back door seemed too personal a way to enter this house. It was for family. And she was a guest. Not even an official guest. A visitor.
She opened the door and walked in, shutting the door behind her. The house smelled like she remembered it, a mixture of Pledge and fresh laundry. She took it as a sign that her father had kept the same housekeeper all these years.
She glanced inside the large living room off to her right The same rust brown shag carpeting covered the floor. A familiar white, furry rug was still lying in front of the fireplace. The walls were paneled with the same heavy oak paneling. Even the furniture was as she remembered it. Kim stepped inside the room and stopped. The portrait of their family still hung over the fireplace, as though she, her mother, and father were still the occupants of this big, old lonely house.
Kim had a sick feeling in her stomach. This was weird. Very weird. Apparently her father had suffered a little bit more than she had suspected. Why else had he never changed the decor?
Kim couldn't bear to look at anything more. She walked up the stairs and made her way to her old bedroom. As she suspected, it was neat and clean, but appeared to be exactly as she'd left it. Exhausted, she slipped into her old twin bed and closed her eyes. Kim reached the parking lot at five minutes after seven. The heat in the Cadillac was blasting as high as it could go. So hard, in fact, that her hair was blowing back. "Ahhhh," she sighed out loud, as she adjusted the vents so they were aimed at her toes. They just don't make cars like this anymore. She could understand why her father had wanted to hang on to it.
Kim had woken up bright and early, and even a little cheerful, although she wasn't sure why. She suspected it was because of the house. She was encouraged by the fact that her father hadn't changed anything. Perhaps he had left everything the way it was because he missed them. For whatever reason, it had certainly been helpful this morning. Kim had rummaged through the front closet and had found one of her mother's old winter coats with a pair of brown leather gloves still tucked into the pocket. Kim glanced down at the slightly moth-eaten blue wool. She wasn't going to win any fashion awards, but at least it was warm. And the best part was that it had been her mother's.
As she pulled into the hospital parking lot, she checked her watch. She had made it there in under five minutes. She glanced at the parking lot instructions. Visitor parking to the right. Maternity parking to the left. Patient parking to the left. Physicians parking… right in front. Kim hesitated as she glanced at the special parking sticker posted in her father's front window. Maybe she should park in the physicians parking. After all, who knew what time she would be leaving? Did she really want to stroll through a dark parking lot in the cold of the night?
Cold was the key word.
She drove slowly toward the front, making a wide turn into a parking spot. As she stepped out of the car, she realized that she had inadvertently taken up two spots. She got back inside, fired up the engine, and slowly backed out and pulled back in again, this time pulling in closer to the car to her right. Perfect, she thought, stopping the car and turning off the engine. She glanced to her right. She was definitely close to the car next to her. Very close. But what could she do? If she parked any farther away, when someone pulled in on the other side, they'd be so close to her she wouldn't be able to get back into her car. She stepped out of her car and walked over to check the distance between her car and the one on the right. Just fine, she thought. As long as the driver was slim. Make that very slim.
She was distracted by a thundering roar and glanced back. A man in a motorcycle pulled into the open spot behind her. He pulled off his helmet. It was none other than Dr. Anthony Hoffman. Tony to her.
He made a point of staring at the Physicians Only parking sign. Then he looked at her and winked
Kim could feel herself blush. Busted.
"Good morning," he said, hopping off his motorcycle.
Kim nodded. Her eyes scanned his outfit as he walked toward her. Black motorcycle jacket and jeans. His wavy brown hair fell over one eye.
"Isn't it a little chilly to be riding a motorcycle?" Kim asked incredibly.
He shook his head. "It's nice outside."
"Speaking of which," she said, reaching back into the car and pulling out his jacket, "thank you very much. I really appreciated it."
"Are you sure you don't need it? You can hang on to it if you want…"
"No, I'm fine," Kim insisted, handing it back to him. She nodded toward her coat "I found an old coat of my mother's."
"Oh," he said, nodding in approval. "That's nice. And it's in style, too."
"Yeah, well, there's no accounting for taste, I guess," Kim said with a smile, and they began walking toward the hospital.
After a pause, Tony said, "I was thinking about you last night. How did everything go? Did you find your way to your dad's house?"
"Yes, thanks. I found my way and got inside without any trouble. It was all a little weird, but I survived. I feel much better today."
"Well, good," he said, opening up the hospital door for her. As she stepped inside, their eyes locked for a split second before Kim glanced away.
"I'm sure I'll see you upstairs," he said casually as he turned down a long, narrow hallway.
Kim paused for a moment, glancing after him. She realized that she was warm. She pulled off her glove and held a hand to her cheek. Either she was getting a fever, or she was still blushing. She thought back to his grin, which she had decided was definitely one of the sexiest she'd seen. She had a feeling she knew why she was warm.
Watch yourself, she commanded. He may be nice, but she had little desire to end up in a cold, unhappy marriage with a man who worked night and day. And at this point, she wasn't much interested in a casual fling. At least not with Tony. It was too complicated with his working with her father. She had best focus on the matter at hand. She picked up her pace as she headed toward the elevator.
"Dad? Dad, it's me. Kim." Kim paused as she waited for a reaction. She glanced at the clock on the wall. It was almost noon. Time for her to leave. She patted his hand. "I slept at the house last night. I hope you don't mind." She left out the part about driving his car. If he was awake, that might be enough to send him back into cardiac arrest.
His eyes fluttered and he opened them. "Kim?" he said in a voice that was barely audible.
"Hi, Dad," Kim said, her eyes welling with tears.
Her father squeezed her hand. "Thank you… for coming."
Kim nodded. She couldn't think of anything else to say.
"My throat…" he began. "So dry."
"Want some ice?" Kim asked, anxious for something to do. Her father gave her a slight nod.
She stepped back out into the hall and hurried to the nurses' station. Melva was sitting behind the desk. "Ice" Kim said, in a low, anxious whisper. "My father wants some ice."
"He's awake?" Melva asked, exchanging a glance with the nurse next to her. Kim nodded. "He's awake and he wants some ice," she repeated, as though his very life depended on it.
Melva shot Kim a glance that said, "Calm down" as she filled a Styrofoam cup with some chipped ice and began to walk quickly back toward Kim's father's room. She pushed open the door. "Good morning, Dr. Risson. Here's your ice."
He nodded. He tried to sit up but was too weak. Melva skillfully grabbed his arm and helped move him up on the bed as Kim stood helplessly off to the side. Like a feeble old man, her father accepted the ice from Melva and attempted to suck on the chips.
Melva began to take his blood pressure. "You have a lovely daughter, Dr. Risson," she said. "She's been here with you every day."
Kim's father gave Kim an appreciative smile. "Yes," he said simply. Melva finished taking his blood pressure, marked it down on his chart, and walked out of the room, leaving father and daughter alone once more.
"Kim," he said, storing at her with tears in his eyes. "So much time…" His voice trailed off. He smiled at her weakly. ""You've grown up."
Kim nodded. "Yes."
"How did you find out about me… my heart attack?" "Dr. Harkavey called. He got my number out of your address book."
Harold nodded. "And you came," he said weakly, as though he didn't quite believe it.
Kim nodded. She paused, biting her lower lip. "Of course. You're my… my dad."
He smiled. "I'm happy you… thank you for coming." he stammered, putting the cup of ice back down on his bedside table. He closed his eyes briefly from exhaustion and pain. He gingerly slid back down on his pillows.
"How long…" he said, his voice heavy with sleep. "How long can you stay?"
She didn't hesitate. "As long as you need me."
He opened his eyes once more and again attempted to smile. "Thank you, Kim."
After her father had fallen back asleep, Kim wandered back toward the waiting room. She stepped inside and hesitated. She had begun to hate this room. She felt so sorry for the people who had come and gone since she had arrived. Some left crying, others left hopeful, but all left exhausted. She glanced out the window and saw Tony step out of the elevators. She immediately walked into the hall, happy to see a familiar face. "Dr. Hoffman," she called out.
He stopped and turned around. "Kim," ha said, his face brightening as he walked toward her.
"My dad's doing much better," she said.
"That's what Dr. Harkavey said. I was just speaking with him. He said your father was already quizzing him about his medications. A positive sign."
Tony caught himself staring into Kim's tired, big brown eyes. He felt sorry for her. She looked like she was in dire need of a break from all the stress. "Look," he said, hesitating. "I could really use a cup of coffee. Would you care to join me?"
Kim nodded, anxious to avoid the waiting room. "That sounds good," she said, happy for the distraction.
Kim and Tony took the elevator to the main floor. As Tony led her through the cafeteria, she said, "Thanks, again for last night. Helping me get my dad's address and everything."
"Sure," he said as he poured them both a cup of coffee.
"I've got this," Kim announced, nodding toward her purse as she picked up her Styrofoam cup and headed for the cashier. "That's all right," he said.
"No. I insist," she said adamantly. She didn't want it to appear even slightly romantic. He was not buying her coffee, nor did she even want the issue to arise.
"Well, thanks. I owe you one." He followed Kim to an empty table near the window and sat down across from her. "So," he said.
"So," she repeated. "You probably think that it's kind of weird that I didn't even know where my dad was living."
He shook his head. "Not really. Family relationships can be complicated."
Kim nodded. "Yeah, well. That certainly describes our relationship. Complicated." Kim looked into his deep green eyes. They radiated a gentleness, a sensitivity, that encouraged her to confide in him. "My mother died last year," she continued, "but my parents had been divorced for quite a while. It was, as they say, acrimonious. My mother moved to Florida. With me. My father never quite got over it." As she remembered the decor of her father's home, she added quietly, "Apparently."
"Sounds like you've had a tough year."
She nodded. "Not to mention, JFK. Jr. got married."
"My condolences," he said, smiling. "So I take it you're not married."
She shook her head. "No." Before she could stop herself she asked, "And you?"
He shook his head. "No."
After an awkward pause, he said, "So–you and your dad–how long has it been since you've seen each other?"
"I don't know," she said, thinking. "I guess… geez. It must be almost fifteen years."
He raised his eyebrows. "Wow. What happened?"
"Nothing really happened. There wasn't any fight. He just…" she said struggling, searching for the right words to describe the demise of their relationship. "He was very angry at my mother for leaving him. And he wanted me to stay here with him. But…" She shrugged again. "My mother and I were very close. Unfortunately, I think my father viewed my decision to stay with my mother as some sort of betrayal. It was difficult staying in touch with him after that. You know," she added quickly, "the distance and everything. I guess it was bound to happen."
Tony nodded sympathetically, although he didn't really understand. He came from a close-knit family, and he couldn't imagine his parents cutting off contact with him, regardless of what he had done or where he lived. She seemed to read the expression in his eyes. She sighed. "Who am I kidding? You know my dad. I'm sure you think he's a pain in the neck, don't you?"
He almost spit his coffee out. "I… ah, I don't know your father very well," he said, avoiding her eyes.
She smiled as though she had caught him in a white lie. "Like I said last night, he can be difficult. My mother loved him, but even she couldn't take it anymore. She had given him so much of her life, and although she had me, and a lovely home, she said that she couldn't deal with the loneliness anymore."
"Did she work?"
"She did when my parents first met. She was climbing the corporate ladder at an insurance agency, and she loved her job. She put my father through medical school. When he graduated, he decided that she should stay home, and my mother, not being as liberated as… well, for instance, as I am… agreed. In any case, after my parents' divorce, she got a job as an executive assistant, but I think she always wondered what her life would have been like if she had continued working after she married." She paused. "What do you think? Do you want your wife to work?"
He laughed. "Not having a wife, I think the question is moot." She shrugged. "I would have to work. I love my job. It's part of who I am. So I know right off the bat that I'm going to need a husband who can help me raise the children and be an integral part of my life."
"Sounds like you've got it all figured out."
She laughed. "Not really. I just know that I don't want to make the same mistake my mom made when she chose my dad. His main priority has always been his job."
"He is a brilliant surgeon," Tony said.
"Yes," Kim agreed almost sadly.
"I first heard about him when I was in college. I knew I wanted to be a doctor, and my parents got me a subscription to the Journal of American Medicine. I remember reading an article written by your father about a sick little girl who was in need of a transplant. The child had no insurance so your father offered his services for free and convinced the hospital to donate their care. Unfortunately, the transplant failed and the girl died. Your father took it very hard because he had formed an attachment to this child. To make matters worse, the parents turned around and sued him and the hospital for malpractice."
Kim sat back in her chair. Her father had tried to save a poor child? It certainly didn't seem to fit with the mental picture she carried of him. "When was this?" she asked.
Tony squinted his eyes, thinking. "I was a senior, so… 1982."
The year she and her mother had left. Kim didn't speak. She thought back, remembering that year. She had had little idea of the professional chaos her father had been dealing with.
"Kim?" Tony asked, leaning forward. "Are you okay?"
"Yes, sorry," Kim said, forcing herself to focus back on Tony. "I just… I'm surprised," she stammered. "I didn't know about that." She thought back to the child her father had tried to save. "Why did the parents sue?" Kim asked. "Without a transplant the child would've died, right?"
Tony nodded. "Yes. But people are so upset when someone they love dies that they don't always think rationally. They were angry that their little girl was taken away, and they blamed the doctor. Unfortunately, it's not that unusual." He sipped his coffee. "Your father has taken some risks, operating on people that other doctors refuse to touch–simply because they feel the patient's chance of survival is not all that good. Your dad believes that every patient deserves a chance. If he succeeds, he's lauded as a hero. But if he fails–and occasionally we all do, not necessarily because of an error but because the patient simply wasn't strong enough–the doctor is often viewed as the villain. We're used to it. But in that particular case involving the little girl, there was a lot of publicity–negative publicity. If your dad had been anyone else, he probably would have been fired. But he was… and is, one of the best surgeons in the country. The hospital couldn't afford to lose him."
Kim had always thought of patients as the enemies. They took her father away from her. But now she was realizing how immature and selfish she had been. She had never given the patients names or faces, nor had she imagined them as husbands, wives, sons, and daughters whose only chance at life might be held in the hands of their doctor–her father. She felt as though she should say something, in some way atone for some of her immature thoughts, but the best she could do was to say, "I guess you guys have a pretty stressful job."
Tony nodded. "It can be."
"I mean, in most jobs when something goes wrong, or when you make a mistake you can say, 'Well, at least it's not life or death.' I guess you can't really say that, can you?"
He laughed. "Not really." He paused, looking at her. "What kind of work do you do?" "Me? I'm an artist."
"Really," he said, leaning forward slightly as if fascinated by her response. "What kind of an artist?"
"A painter. An oil painter. Basically abstract, although I do some portraits."
"Are you commissioned to do them?"
"Some of them. And some I just paint and hope that I'll sell them. As a matter of fact, I've got a show coming up in a couple of weeks at an art gallery in Miami."
"Congratulations." He nodded, impressed. "So you must be good," he said.
"Well, I support myself, but not in style. I just stopped waitressing a couple of years ago."
"I like to think I appreciate art. A beautiful painting always seems to remind me that there's more to this life than work–and I definitely need to be reminded of that sometimes."
"So you're a collector?"
"I wouldn't go that far. I just know what I like. I can't tell if a painting's any good or not."
"If you like it then the artist succeeded."
He nodded. "Are you working on anything right now?"
"Actually, I brought a piece with me. I've been having trouble finishing it. And a bunch of supplies. I always have to have my supplies with me."
"I'd love to see your work sometime."
Kim nodded, feeling a slight blush creep over her face. "Sure," she said as casually as she could.
"Hi, Tony." A bubbly blonde in blue scrubs appeared at the table. An attractive tall brunette, also in scrubs, stood beside her. "We waited for you last night. How come you never showed?" the brunette asked.
"I had to work," Tony said, shrugging his shoulders.
"You missed a lot of fun, Teddy," the blonde said, winking at Tony as she called him by what was obviously a nickname. "Well, we've got to run. We're due in surgery in two minutes. Call me later?"
Kim felt a pang of jealousy tug at her heart. She forced herself to sip her coffee, avoiding Tony's eyes.
"Those two are doctors here," Tony said self- consciously. "More surgeons."
"I should have known by the way they were rushing out of here," she said calmly. "Is Teddy your nickname?"
"No," he said. "She calls me that. She thinks it's funny."
Kim put down her coffee. You have nothing to feel jealous about, she reassured herself. You have no claim on this man. He's simply your father's doctor. "She's cute," she said, nodding toward the blonde. "Do all your girlfriends give you nicknames?"
He shook his head. "Whoa. She's not my girlfriend. We're just friends."
"Oh?" Kim said hopefully.
Tony just smiled. He was intrigued by the woman sitting across from him. From the first night he had seen her he had been aware of the intense personal strength that seemed to radiate from within her. He knew that it couldn't have been easy to come back to Michigan to help care for a father whom she hadn't spoken with in years. Yet the minute her father had needed her she had flown to his side, not sure of where she would stay or if she would even succeed in arriving in Michigan before he died.
Kim raised her hand as she sneezed.
"God bless you," he said.
"Excuse me," she said, blinking her eyes. "Allergies."
"It's this hospital air. You should get outside. Get some fresh air. You've been spending all your time in that stuffy waiting room."
"I don't know. I just can't get used to this weather. I'll freeze to death in about a minute."
"Only if you stand still. You have to keep active to stay warm." He paused. "Hey, I have an idea," he said, leaning back slightly as he stared into Kim's eyes. "I like to skate… it's my exercise. I do it whenever I have a chance. Why don't you come with me tomorrow?"
"Ice skate?" she asked incredibly.
She emitted a small laugh as she shook her head. "No," she said. "No thanks."
"Are you sure? I leave from the hospital, and I'm only gone for about an hour or so. Then I come right back."
Kim hesitated. "I haven't skated in years."
"C'mon, it's like riding a bike."
"I don't have ice skates."
"You can rent them."
She shrugged. He seemed to have an answer for everything. "All right" It might be worth a few frozen toes just to see him twirl around. "Thanks."
"Okay," he said, standing. "I'll meet you in the lobby at three."
"See you then," Kim said, holding back a smile. At nine o'clock Kim left the hospital and walked back out to her father's car. Tony's motorcycle was gone, and a red Mercedes was parked in its place. Kim held her breath as she scooted through the tight space left between the two cars.
She turned on the radio, and classical music flooded the car as she drove the short ride home. When she arrived back at her father's house, she walked in the front door and flicked on the light She had so many memories of this house, many of them pleasant. Her parents had rarely fought, and although she was aware of her mother's deep unhappiness with her father, Kim had had a happy childhood. There was summer camp, and birthday parties, ice-skating, skiing, and tennis. Unfortunately, her father had been so busy with work that she had few memories of him.
Kim put her purse down and walked into the kitchen.
The same heavy dark oak cabinets. The same fake brick vinyl floor. She opened up the refrigerator, looking for a bottle of wine. Nothing. Her father obviously still did not drink.
She shook her head. Her poor father–didn't drink, exercised regularly, ate healthy foods, and he's in the hospital with a heart condition. She wondered if he had even known that he was critically ill before his most recent attack. She guessed not. Her father would have ignored the signs that he was once again having heart troubles, just as he ignored everything else that did not fit into his tightly structured world.
She poured herself a glass of water, made a mental note to pick up a bottle of wine tomorrow, and wandered toward her father's office, otherwise known as the den.
She flicked on the light and peeked inside. Her father's heavy mahogany desk sat in the corner. Kim noticed some pictures on top and walked over. She picked them up and turned them around. They were pictures of her, taken the summer before she left.
Kim set the pictures back down on his desk and sighed. If he had loved her, why hadnt he bothered to try to maintain a relationship with her? How could he cut her off, disown her as he had? Maybe not disown her totally, she reminded herself, remembering the child support payments that her mother had received regularly. But certainly he had cut off contact with her. She had written him letters that he had never bothered responding to.
Kim sat behind his desk and opened up the top drawer. Paper clips, pens, everything neatly arranged. Everything in its place. She pulled open the large drawer to the right. Two pictures that she had painted with watercolors in grade school were neatly placed at the top of the drawer. Kim smiled as she picked them up. One was a picture of the sun and the earth, the other a picture of what she knew was supposed to be a little girl standing next to her father. To Daddy, Happy father's day, was written in neat cursive handwriting on the bottom. She set the pictures down and glanced back inside the drawer. She saw a group of letters neatly robber-banded together. She knew they were hers immediately. It looked as though her father had saved every single letter she had ever sent him. She picked up the bundle and took the rubber band off. Taking the top letter out of its envelope, she saw that it was dated Christmas of 1982. She scanned through the letter, which was basically filled with details of her plans for Christmas. It was boring, really, just details of where she and her friends had shopped and what the weather was like. What was extraordinary about the letter was where the blue ink had run. The letter had tear marks on it, as though her father had cried when reading it.
Kim quickly folded the letter up and put it back on top of the bundle. Slipping the rubber band back on top she put the bundle back in the drawer. After she replaced the pictures she had drawn, she picked up her water and turned off the light.
Back in her room, Kim tried to busy herself with unpacking but was unable to stop thinking about her father. She needed to understand the feelings that were flooding through her. The guilt, the anger, the confusion. If her father had loved her, why hadn't he made more of an effort to stay in touch with her?
Kim took out her portable easel and the painting she had been trying to finish.
She needed to express her feelings the only way she knew how. The same way she had when she was six years old. She wanted to paint a picture for her dad.