Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pink Hats 13: 3 AM


"I'm not sure what to do with you two," Bob whispered softly. The sleeping twins, one in the crook of each arm, were completely oblivious. He visited them daily, sometimes in the morning before walking through the waking hospital to his office, sometimes at the end of the day, now and then in the middle of the night. He checked his watch, 3 AM. Was that middle of the night or just really, really early? Ordinarily, he wasn't so anal retentive that he'd notice, much less care, but at the moment, the thought was entertaining. A sure sign he was tired.

It had been a good week, he had no complaints. His new student was working out well, he showed initiative, put in his share of the long hours, and, thus far, hadn't said a curious word about Bob and Jessie. He'd also visited the twins a few times, usually when Bob was there. Students whose ages were a decade or two within striking distance of his own weren't the most common variety, and having one who was, presented its own challenges. Chuck was a student who looked, and sometimes acted, like a colleague. Bob had to remind himself of the distinction.

Jessie was on call but he hadn't wanted to bother her. The fact was, any other Friday night/Saturday morning, he'd have been out like a light, but things had been building and his light switch was on the fritz. Not in the same way it had been during the divorce when nights behind the wheel reminded him of an uncle who had driven for DC Trucking. From Denver to Chicago, back and forth, until the miles looked like one of Warren Buffet's better investments. Bob didn't like driving that much.

He'd tried to sleep, couldn't, got up, punched the remote until he realized the Boss was right, 57 channels and nothing on wasn't simply a good lyric. Melatonin? He knew the problem wasn't biology and anyway, running away had never been his drug of choice. Come to think of it, he didn't have any in the house to begin with. The only thing to do was get in the car and go see the girls. So that's what he did.

"Here's the problem, ladies," he whispered once again, placing them back in their cribs, "it's like last call, you don't have to go home, but you can't stay here. Sooner or later, someone's going to pull the plug on your free ride, despite the fact that the hospital has gotten a lot of great PR out of this. Even they have a limit. So, that means foster care and, as you might imagine, that's not an idea I'm thrilled with. It's time to fish or cut bait, you two. It's either foster care... or you come home with me. God, what am I saying? Well, what do you think? Do I look like dad? I'm going to take your silence to mean you'll sleep on it."

He looked at his watch a second time, 4.30, the worst time of the morning for all-nighters on call, and started to get up when he felt a hand on his shoulder. "Wanna buy me a cup of coffee?" Jessie whispered. She hadn't slept much, maybe an hour or two on and off, her coat was stained, and she looked like she felt like the third day of a four day old hangover. He smiled and said, "Sure, let's go." How does she do it? he wondered, how can she work all night and still be so damned beautiful?

They made their way to the doc's lounge where, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, a coffee machine produced a freshly dripped cup of regular grind, French roast, a reasonable approximation of espresso, or hot chocolate, at the press of a button. Leaded or unleaded. The only other alternative had been unit coffee, and after cooking all night, it was primed to produce a florid case of gastritis. No thanks.

Jessie yawned hugely for the third time since they'd walked in the door. "I am so tired," she said, "but it's been a good night. Know how I know?"

"Nobody died?"

"Yep, and that's the way, uh-huh, uh-huh, I like it, uh-huh, uh-huh." she sang.

"You definitely get the first cup," he said, chuckling.

She smiled and leaned against him, pretending his shoulder was a pillow. "Don't move, stay right here." She faked a snore, snapped out of it, shook her head, and said, eyes wide, "I'm awake!" They both dissolved into the kind of laughter that comes when you're too tired to do anything else.

He put his arms around her, pulling her close and inhaling the faint scent of lilac in her hair, as the last drops of French roast drip, drip, dripped into her cup. "Jessie, I've got some serious decision-making to do. I know it's late and my brain feels about as dense as a Maine dirt road at the height of Mud Season, but I feel like I need to do something substantive where the girls are concerned. I know we haven't talked, even though we're going to, we haven't yet, and I want to be fair with you. But the clock is ticking..."

"I know," she said, leaning back so she could see his face. She laid a hand on his chest, stroking it with tips of her fingers, one at a time, then let go of him and reached for her coffee. "You don't have to figure everything out right now, right here, nor do you have to worry about me. It's the weekend, nothing's going to happen before Monday and not even then, if I know social services. Yes, they're talking about alternatives, but nothing's been decided, or so I've been told. We have time to sort out what we're going to do, about us, about the girls, about all of it," she said, stressing the "we."

When he said nothing, she went on, "Remember when I said you weren't the type to let fear alone keep you from doing what you felt you had to do?"

He nodded. "I remember."

"Well, I'm not that type, either," she said, firmly, looking him straight in the eye, without blinking.

(Creative Commons image entitled "3 AM" by Shahram Sharif via Flickr)
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