Anders stepped off the elevator into the lobby of the ICU, and the sounds of everyday life evaporated. He still heard voices, but they were more hushed than the ones in the main lobby downstairs, and he suspected most of them up here on the fourth fl oor belonged to doctors or nurses. Otherwise, the halls were silent. His eyes scanned the area, and he tried to determine where he was supposed to go and how he was supposed to get there. The hallways appeared to form a large H, with the elevators in the middle. He saw only two sets of doors, one on each side of the elevator banks, each leading to one leg of the H. The doors nearest to him had an identifying plaque at shoulder height—it merely stated icu. He stepped to the opposite side of the hall and read icu—neuro next to the other set. He pulled both handles, but they were locked.
A sense of helplessness overcame him. He was a grown man—
almost thirty years old—and yet he couldn’t figure out something as
simple as how to visit his girlfriend in the intensive care unit of a hos
pital. He felt as if he was on a scavenger hunt to find something very,
very important, yet no one had given him any clues to get started. It
occurred to him then that perhaps the hospital prohibited visitors in the ICU. But no, no, that wasn’t right either. The kind lady in the pink clothing at the reception desk downstairs would have mentioned that when he asked her which floor Olivia was on. Too bad she hadn’t mentioned how he should get behind these doors once he got up here.
He heard more voices, a man’s voice above softer female ones, so he followed the sound down the east hall. He came to a glass-enclosed room in the middle of the floor, though curtains had been drawn to block his view inside. He leaned into the open doorway, anxious to ask someone the secret code for penetrating the ICU, but when he saw who was there, he stopped.
He’d never met Lawrence Mayfield in person, but there was no mistaking that this was Olivia’s father sitting on the couch against the opposite wall. The Romanesque nose and the dark waves of hair gave him away. On Olivia the features were regal, but on Lawrence May-field they were warrior-like, and to Anders, chilling.
Her mother was there, too, or someone Anders assumed was her mother. Though she’d chosen the most comfortable-looking chair in the room—a leather lounger with plenty of cushioning—she sat erect with both feet planted fi rmly on the floor. A hospital blanket draped her shoulders but underneath it her clothes screamed money.
And then there was the final person, a tall, slim black woman who sat in a folding chair just to the right of Olivia’s mother. The two of them held hands.
All three faces looked in his direction and, to his surprise, two of those faces—the two belonging to Olivia’s parents—hardened. It might have been a mouth closing a bit tighter on one, a cheek lifting ever so slightly into a grimace on the other, or simply a straightening of shoulders, but Anders sensed it, however imperceptible. It became immediately clear to him that they knew exactly who he was, too. The large raw scrape on his right arm, flesh exposed, provided only the fi rst of many clues.
He nodded, his eyes on Olivia’s father. “Sir.” He managed the word by habit of manners, and as if its mere utterance set in motion a sequence of events, he finally moved to shake the man’s hand.
“You must be Andy.” The flat tone of the comment told Anders that this man would not be extending his arm in greeting, and he stopped mid-step from advancing farther into the room. A sudden anger began to build as he processed the name Olivia’s father had used. Only his friend Lenny referred to him as Andy. Olivia had never used it, so he was certain her father used the nickname in some strange attempt to be the alpha dog.
“No, sir, I’m Anders. Anders Erickson.” He almost added “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” but he caught the instinctive impulse in time.
A slight smirk crossed the man’s face. “Excuse me. Anders.”
Anders waited in anticipation of further introductions, however cold, but it became apparent that none would be made. The Mayfi elds stared at him with accusing eyes. The black woman, though, gazed at him behind a veil of anguish and fear. Anders recognized it because it mirrored his own.
“Is there something you need?” her father asked, though Anders was sure the question was not intended as an offer to help.
He slowly turned his gaze back to the patriarch of the family. “I’ve just come from talking to the”—he almost said “cops”, but then thought better of it—“police. I was hoping to see Olivia.”
“Well, that’s a lovely thought, but only family members are allowed to visit.”
Without thinking, he asked, “Is she family?” and pointed at the woman next to Olivia’s mother. Now he sounded hostile, and he regretted asking the question.
A derisive laugh erupted from her father’s throat. “Not that it’s any of your business, but Makena has known Olivia since she was born and might possibly know her better than even her mother and me.”
Her mother and I, Anders thought.
Before he could respond, her father added, “Olivia never told you about Makena?”
Anders chewed on the inside of his cheek without realizing it. He knew the point of the man’s question, and he refused to give him the satisfaction of an answer, but her father had nevertheless succeeded in sowing the seed of doubt in his mind. Olivia hadn’t ever mentioned Makena, and all Anders could think now was, why not? What else hadn’t she told him?
He turned and left the room to find a nurse. At the other end of the long hall, he found a U-shaped nurses’ station but no nurses, and was about to return to the lobby downstairs for help when he saw one of the doors to the ICU open.
“Excuse me!” he called.
A nurse in light blue scrubs turned at his voice and put one fi nger to her lips to signal “quiet.”
“Could you hold that door, please!” He tried to shout and whisper the words simultaneously as he jogged in her direction, but it was impossible. It didn’t matter; the door closed silently and the nurse made no moves to stop it.
She waited until he stood, a bit breathless, in front of her. “Sir, I’m sorry, you’re on the intensive care floor. You must keep your voice down.”
Even though she meant to scold, her voice had a soothing, sympathetic tone. She looked so young, like she could have been his kid sister. Her chin-length blonde hair was stick-straight, and her pale skin was clear and dewy. Skinny arms stuck out from the short sleeves of her top; her delicate hands held a chart against her chest. He required an angel and she was his only possibility.
“I need to see Olivia Mayfield,” he said. “They told me downstairs she was in ICU.”
The nurse nodded to the doors behind her. “She’s in Neuro.”
“Can you take me to see her?”
Her eyes darted in the direction of the waiting room, as if she was trying to remember whether she’d seen him in there with the rest of them. “Are you family?”
Anders shifted on his feet. “I guess that depends what ‘family’ means. She’s my . . . we’re . . .” He fumbled for the correct term. “Lover” sounded inappropriate, but boyfriend and girlfriend sounded too juvenile, and neither came
Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Family secrets -- Fiction.