Archer had made the drive to Bangor General many times. She remembered at least seven. Four to the emergency room—three lawn mower related accidents, one a sledding mishap. Rory was lucky to have all of his fingers. Plus three trips to the psychiatric wing. The first time, he was eight years old. The last, he was twelve.
As she drove, she tried Wayne’s cell. No answer. She wondered if he had forgotten to charge his phone again.
She hesitated then punched in Kara’s number. She needed to talk to someone right now. Friends since they were seven, Archer had moved into the house behind Kara’s in the middle of second grade. A transplant from Boston, Archer had felt out-of-place with the other kids in Bangor. It was Kara, with her long braids and peasant tops, who had made her feel at home when she showed Archer the Magic Eight Ball.
“Ask a question,” Kara had waved the black ball like it was a magic wand.
“Will I like my new home?” Archer had asked.
Kara shook the ball and when Definitely floated in the little window, Archer made her best friend for life.
They had attended Middlebury College in Vermont together; earning work study monies by gathering information about cadavers to be donated to medical schools. When they graduated with degrees in the useless major of American Studies, they applied to the Peace Corps. Archer didn’t meet the language requirement but Kara, who spoke French, did. She went to Ghana for two years, where ironically the official language was English. Archer went to law school. Over twenty years later, they lived within one mile of each other.
Kara answered on the first ring. “How’s Rory?”
“I’m on my way to the hospital. He got into a car accident and a bullet blew up in his hand and I don’t know what’s going on.”
“A car accident? A bullet? Where’d he get a bullet? I can’t believe he’s awake after all the vodka he drank. Is he okay?”
“I think so.”
“I’d meet you but I can’t leave right now. I’m sorry. Are you okay?”
“I don’t know. I’ll find out soon enough. How’s Evan?”
“I spoke to his mother. He’s fine. She’s willing to forget that Rory gave him vodka. Evan talks about him all the time. Says Rory is his best friend. In sign language, of course.”
“Thanks for taking care of that. I’ll call her later. I’m just getting to the hospital. I have to go.”
Archer parked the Subaru outside the emergency room. Inside, Darcy grabbed her arm. Her hospital top was green with scattered, smiling Barneys. Archer remembered when Rory would have laughed at the shirt and sing the I love you song, adding a line about mommy being a dinosaur. Archer matched Darcy’s quick, long strides down the corridor and through the waiting room.
“He’s going to be fine,” Darcy said. “The ER doc wants to observe him for a few hours due to the head injury but he’ll go home tonight.”
Archer stopped as Darcy was about to lead her through a side door into the triage. She put a hand on her shoulder. “Thanks. I really appreciate this.”
“It’s the least I can do after all you’ve done for me. My divorce was really hard. You got me through it. I couldn’t have done it without you.” Darcy opened the door.
Archer walked through, surprised at the praise. It had been the reason she became a lawyer—to help people. When she actually succeeded, it made all the madness of the legal profession worthwhile. She thought about Chief Judge Morton. Did he really think she would make a good jurist? Could she commit to a judgeship? Would she even make it to lunch with him?
“He’s down the hall,” Darcy pointed.
Like a MASH unit, gurneys lined the hallway. This is Bangor, Maine, Archer thought, and still there aren’t enough beds. She wondered what ERs were like in cities with large populations and high crime rates. She was glad to live in Bangor. Rory needed the small town life. He hated crowds. Refused to go to the movies. Wouldn’t go to water parks, carnivals or fairs. He wouldn’t stand a chance in a town larger than Bangor.
Archer rushed down the hall. She passed an elderly woman who was snoring, an IV pumping clear fluid into her veins. A man in his twenties held his arm out like a broken wing, groaning as Archer walked by. A boy, about seven years old, watched as she passed, offering no clues to his ailment beyond a watery stare. Nurses, doctors and aides mingled, seeming oblivious to the humanity around them.
Rory was at the end of the hallway, alone and parked on his gurney next to the exit into the hospital lobby. His eyes were closed. His right arm was by his side, his left hand bandaged and placed over his heart. He had a cut on his forehead and a bruise forming under his right eye.
Right before Rory woke was Archer’s favorite time to look at him. It was a chore getting him out of bed each morning, but those few seconds before the daily struggle began begged Archer to see the potential in him. Sometimes, when he was at his worst, she tried to visualize him sleeping with his face perfectly aligned, even a slight smile on his lips, just to remind herself of all he could be, of all she hoped one day he would be. She touched his cheek with the back of her hand.
He opened his eyes. “Man, my head feels like it’s going to explode”
“Did they give you anything for it?”
“I don’t know. I never smelled burning skin before. When the bullet exploded, my hand caught fire. It didn’t hurt when it happened. It hurts like twenty-seven mother fuckers now.”
“Please don’t talk like that.”
"What happened? Did you really steal a car? How did the bullet blow up in your hand?”
“Talk to me. I need to know what happened.”
He closed his eyes, his expression almost peaceful as if he hadn’t been involved in wrapping a stolen car around a tree, as if he had no connection to the havoc he had caused. As if he didn’t even know she was there.
It was then she noticed the blue markings on his right hand. She picked up his hand. He pulled away.
“What’s that?” she asked.
He opened his eyes and glared like she was an intruder. “Trish and I wrote it.” He turned his face toward the wall but his hand lay across his chest so she could read the magic marker, each letter occupying the top of a knuckle.
The next chapter will be posted tomorrow.
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