“Hey. Hey! You’re doing your job. That’s how you do your job.” I got up onto my knees to put us at more of an even level. “If you personalized everything, you’d never be able to save anyone. You’d be like one of those doctors on TV, where every person you had to work with was your brother or your best friend…”
“Or my girlfriend?” he asked, with another unsteady laugh. “We met in the hospital.”
“And I was never your patient. Dating me is more like dating one of those extras who only appears in one episode and then goes off to be on a different show.” I touched his cheek lightly with the back of my hand, doing my best to keep my own anxiety in check. Nathan needed me. I was going to be there for him. “You’re doing your job. Now what happened with Kate?”
Nathan took a deep breath. “She was presenting with normal symptoms for the sleeping sickness. The EMTs who were working on her decided to let Devi stay in the room, because she wasn’t getting in the way, and it was easier than separating them. Devi wasn’t getting in the way. She was crying and trying to hold Kate’s hand when she could, but she understood that if she interfered at all, she’d be asked to leave.”
“Uh-huh,” I said.
“Devi’s dead.” Nathan made the statement without emotion or inflection: it was a fact, and he presented it as such. I dropped my hand, eyes widening. He turned to look at me, and there was no life in his expression. He looked as empty as his voice sounded. “She was holding Kate’s hand, and Kate attacked her.”
“The EMTs didn’t have a chance to react. They’d never seen that kind of behavior from one of the sleeping sickness cases before. One moment, Kate was on the bed, unresponsive, and the next, she was sitting up and grabbing Devi by the throat. Her trachea was crushed. It broke her hyoid bone. They couldn’t react in time. She died before they even got her onto a table.”
“Oh my God,” I whispered.
“Kate never even blinked. Not even when they were pulling her off her wife’s body. She never blinked. As soon as they got her away from Devi, she went limp, and returned to the base fugue state that they all seem to be in.” Nathan moved abruptly, standing and starting toward his dresser. “I need to get to the hospital. They need me. I’m really sorry to do this, but if I leave you money, can you take a cab to work in the morning? I’m not sure I’ll be back.”
“Of course. This isn’t the time for me to insist you be the one to drive me.” Devi was dead. Katherine had the sleeping sickness, and now Devi was dead. I stayed on the bed, watching Nathan as he dressed, and tried to make my thoughts stop spinning wildly around those two poles: Devi was dead, and Katherine had the sleeping sickness.
Whatever answers we might find, they were going to come too late for Devi, who had always been kind to me, and for Katherine, who had loved her wife very much. Even if they could find a cure for the sleeping sickness, how was Katherine ever going to recover from what she’d done? “I was in a coma, I didn’t know” didn’t seem like much of a justification. It wouldn’t have worked for me. It wasn’t going to work for her.
Nathan crossed back to the bed and bent to kiss me quickly, whispering, “I’m sorry.” He thrust forty dollars into my hand. Then he was out the door, leaving me sitting on the bed and staring blankly after him.
It wasn’t until the front door slammed that I actually turned and looked at the clock on his bedside table. It was a little bit after three o’clock in the morning. A new day had started. It hadn’t started particularly well.
Instead of going back to sleep, I decided to go home. Beverly would need to be fed, and I could use the company. The taxi let me off in front of my house half an hour later. The driver insisted on staying to see me get inside, possibly because I’d tipped well before getting out of the vehicle. I didn’t mind. It was nice to know that there was someone at my back if I needed it.
Beverly met me at the door, tail wagging wildly from side to side, mouth hanging open in a wide canine grin. She didn’t bark. Her previous owner had trained her well before the sleeping sickness had taken him away from her. For the first time, I looked down at my accidental dog and wondered if she missed the man she used to live with. Dogs were loyal. How much time did she spend wondering if he was ever going to come and take her home?
I waved to the taxi before stepping into the house and easing the door closed behind me. If I was quiet, maybe I wouldn’t wake anybody else up. They all had things to do in the morning, and I had already e-mailed Will to let him know I wouldn’t be in. Nathan was going to need me when he finished his shift and finally allowed himself to think about the reality of what had happened. Devi was gone. Devi wasn’t coming back. We both had to deal with that.
Beverly followed me to my room, tail still waving. At least someone was happy about my unexpected return. I sat down on the bed, patting the mattress to encourage her to jump up. Not that it took much encouragement; with Beverly, keeping her out of the bed was usually a harder task. She hopped up and sat down next to me, tail wagging harder than ever. It kept wagging as I bent over, put my arms around her neck, and wept silently into her fur.
About five minutes had passed when I heard my father clear his throat. I looked up to find him standing in the doorway of my room. The hallway light was on, turning him into a black outline of a man. Quietly, he asked, “Long night?”