I slowly start to come to, my head pounding as I start to stir. I feel my arms still limply around someone, and I can tell by her smell that it's Kiara. I feel her gently stroking my hair as she holds my hand with her other. I move my arm, wincing as I feel something in it. I blink my eyes open and look down at my arm, noticing an IV connected to it. I sigh and lean back against Kiara, not even realizing the comfort I find in her.
"You passed out from dehydration," Kiara says as she runs her fingers through my curls. "We put an IV in to give you fluids. You're okay though." I nod, wincing at the pain in my head.
Finally, I look around the room, my eyes landing on the hospital bed in its center. There is a figure lying in the bed, sheets covering its entirety. I let out a sob before I could catch it, and I feel Kiara pull me closer and whisper, "I am so sorry, Jaz." I don't even feel tears fall down my cheeks, and I feel myself become numb as I stare at the bed. "Would you like to see her?" Kiara asks me and I nod. She stands up and pulls a chair closer to the bed. She helps me up and grabs the IV stand and wheels it next to the bed. I sit in the chair as Kiara walks to the other side of the bed and grabs the sheets. She slowly pulls them back and folds them across Wynelle's chest. I gasp at the sight of her face. Her skin is nearly as white as the sheet and cold to the touch. Her eyes are gently closed, almost as if she were asleep. I feel a tear trickle down my face as I gently stroke Wynelle's hair.
"She looks peaceful," I mutter as I feel another tear escape from my eye. Kiara remains silent as she walks over and gently rubs my back. I feel her suddenly stop and hear her walk away, but I don't take my eyes off Wynelle's face. I hear whispers outside, but I ignore them. Finally, I hear footsteps walk in and I look up to see Kiara. I glance over and see Kenlee and Bethany outside the room, but I don't acknowledge them.
"We need to take her down to the morgue soon," Kiara asks regrettably. "You need to go ahead and say goodbye."
I nod slowly before looking down at the ground and saying, "Do you mind waiting outside for a minute, please?" Kiara nods and walks out, leaving the door cracked behind her. I turn to look back at Wynelle. I stroke her hair again as I whisper, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry I didn't get here in time. I tried, I tried to get here but I didn't make it in time, I'm so sorry I didn't tell you goodbye." I feel my voice choke as I add, "I'll make sure your mom and Mackenzie are okay. And I'll adopt Avary, she will be safe and loved by me and whomever I end up marrying. I promise. And I'm so, so sorry." I let the sobs take over as I throw myself over Wynelle's body, tears streaming down my face once again. I hear the door squeak but I don't look up. I feel a hand on my back and though I continue to cry, the hand brings me comfort.
About five minutes later, when I have run out of tears, I finally sit up. I look over and see Kiara standing over me. "Bethany and Kenlee are here. Are you okay if I send them in while I take her down?" I nod as Kiara walks over to the door and motions for Bethany and Kenlee. They walk in and pull chairs up next to mine and sit down next to me. Kiara unlocks the wheels of the bed and wheels it out of the room. The room remains silent, none of us wanting to say anything. I lean my head against Kenlee's shoulder, who wraps her arm behind me. Bethany gently rubs my back in comfort as we sit in the silence.
After about an hour, I finally speak. I turn to Bethany and say, "Wynelle's mom and sister need to know. And Avary needs to know too."
"Do you need me to call them and go talk to Avary?" Bethany asks.
I sigh. "I'm Avary's mom now, I should be the one to tell her." I feel the tears begin to return as I choke out, "But I can't call Ms. Cherie or Mackenzie."
"I'll call," Kiara says, stepping into the room. "I was one of Wynelle's surgeons anyway. I can call." I look at Kiara gratefully and nod. She glances at my arm and says, "Let me take that IV out first." She walks over and removes the IV. I hear her mouth to Bethany, "Why don't you run down to the cafeteria and get her something to eat and drink?" Bethany nods and the two of them walk out of the room. I lean back against Kenlee's shoulder as she rubs my back.
After about five minutes, Kenlee takes a breath and says, "I know we've only known each other for a few weeks, but you've become a really good friend to me, even in that amount of time. So know that I'm here for you, I want to be here for you and whatever you need."
"What about Oregon?" I ask, not bothering to look up. "Aren't you going back there?"
I feel Kenlee shake her head. "I requested to move to the Southeastern Region team. I'll permanently be in Florida now. So I'll be there if you need me." She smiles at me and I look up at her and smile gratefully, before hugging the blue haired girl. "If you need anything, transportation, babysitter, therapist, anything, call me okay?" I nod as I continue to hug her.
I release the hug and look up as I hear the door open. Bethany walks in with three boxes of food and a drink carrier holding three drinks. "I brought food," she says with a small smile. She pulls a table towards us and hands out the food and drinks. Bethany sits down and Kenlee immediately begins eating. I simply stare at my unopened box, not having the will or appetite to even open it. Bethany nudges me and says, "You have to eat, kiddo." I shake my head and she adds, "I'll go get Kiara." I shrug as Bethany gets up and pokes her head outside the door. Bethany walks back over and sits down before the surgeon walks back through the door.
Kiara sternly looks at me and says, "You're going to eat." I shake my head as she walks over, puts her hands on the table and leans close to me. "I don't care what happened. It's not an excuse to starve yourself. You are a mother now, you have to eat to have the strength to take care of your daughter." I continue to stare at my box of food as Kiara sighs and adds, "I heard you promise Wynelle that you would take care of Avary. But you can't do that if you starve yourself. If you can't eat for yourself or Avary or any of the three people here who care about you, then for God's sake eat for Wynelle!" Kiara steps back, keeping a stern face, but I can see in her brown eyes worry that she crossed a line. She cares about me? I think to myself. I sigh, opening the box and grabbing a fork. Kiara sighs. "Thank you," she says as she walks towards the door. "I'm going to go check on patients and I'll come in to check on you." I nod as I continue to eat, slowly but surely.
I finally finish eating about an hour later, and I sit with Bethany and Kenlee in silence for another hour. Finally, I sigh, looking between Bethany and Kenlee and say, "I need to go talk to Avary."
"Do you want us to come with you?" Kenlee asks.
I pause before answering, "You can sit outside her room, but I'd rather be alone to tell her." They both nod as the three of us stand up. They start to walk out and I stop, staring at the nearly empty room that once held one of my best friends. I swallow a lump in my throat as I turn and walk out to go tell Avary that she has once again lost a mother.
I notice Kiara at the nurses' station on Avary's floor, writing notes on a patient's chart. She looks up and recognition goes across her face as she realizes what I'm there to do. "Do you need me to go with you?" she mouths and I simply shake my head. I walk into Avary's room to see her watching Paw Patrol on the TV. I smile at her before sitting down on the edge of her bed. She smiles back at me and crawls over to hug me.
"Hey, do you mind if I turn off the TV for a minute?" I say gently. "I need to tell you something." Avary nods and hands me the remote and I press the "off" button. I sigh as I tuck a strand of hair behind Avary's ear. "You remember Ms. Wynelle? The woman who saved you and was going to adopt you?"
Avary nods. "I call her 'Mommy' now," Avary states. "Dr. Kiara has taken me over to see her a lot since we've both been feeling better!"
I smile and nod. I feel the lump creep back up in my throat as I say, "Well, Mommy went to be with Jesus this afternoon."
"Why?" Avary asks.
I shake my head. "I don't know sweetheart. The doctors said that sometimes this happens with people who were as sick as she was. Even after they seem to be getting better."
"So she's with my real mommy and daddy?" Avary asks. I nod as I tuck another strand behind her ear. She looks up at me and asks, "Does that mean you're going to be my mommy now?" I nod as I pull the little girl into a hug, kissing the top of her head.
"Yes, I will be your mommy," I say as I gently squeeze her. "I'll take you home and take good care of you. I love you."
"I love you too, Mommy," Avary says as she reaches up to kiss my cheek. I give her a smile and kiss her forehead. I sigh, as I stroke Avary's hair again. If I hold on to the fact I'm now this little girl's mom, I can make it through this.
I hear a knock at the door. I call for the knocker to come in, and the door opens to reveal the head pediatric doctor in the hospital, Dr. Laars. He smiles at Avary and says, "Hey little one! How are you feeling today?"
"Good!" Avary squeals as she shyly pulls the covers over her face.
Dr. Laars turns to me. "Avary has been doing phenomenal since her surgery. Her incision has healed up very nicely, and she's doing great with her physical therapy with Dr. Flores. I think she's ready to go home."
"Woah, woah, woah!" Kiara yells as she walks into the room. "She can't be released yet. She's my patient!"
"Yes, well she is a child and as I am the chief of peds, that makes her my patient too," Dr. Laars adds. "She's cleared of her chance of developing a post-op infection, she can continue her physical therapy while she's at home, there is no need for her to be in this hospital."
"But she's missing a leg!" Kiara counters. "She still needs physical therapy, and she needs to get fitted for a prosthetic and work on walking with that! Besides her mom still needs shoulder therapy so she can properly care for her!"
"Her mom has a support group, they're sitting outside. And they both can continue therapy with you once they go home."
"They live in Florida!"
"Well I'm sure there are competent orthopedic doctors who can help them there. But I refuse to keep a child in a hospital when there is no medical reason for her to stay here."
My heart sinks. With the investigation being closed out and ready to be transferred to headquarters, the only reason I have been provided the funds to stay in a hotel in Tennessee is because of Avary and Wynelle still being in the hospital. With Wynelle dead, if Avary's released, my hotel will no longer be paid for if I were to stay in Tennessee, and I cannot continue to afford a hotel room while Kiara finishes up therapy with Avary and me. Which means I would have to say goodbye to Kiara…probably forever. I hold Avary's hand as I look at Kiara pleadingly, her returning an almost panicked look.
"What if…" Kiara starts, "what if I go with them? I'm not ready to close out Avary's case with me, and this way, I can monitor Avary's progress, work with her on a prosthetic, and work with her mother on strengthening her shoulder so she will no longer need help caring for Avary."
Dr. Laars shakes his head. "It seems stupid to me to not just transfer her but do what you need. You're going to have to talk to the chief though, it's in no way my call."
Kiara looks at me hopeful. "I'll be back," she says with a smile as she runs toward the elevators.
Dr. Laars jots down some notes on Avary's chart and says, "I'm going to work on getting her discharged. She can go home tonight."
"Thank you," I say as Dr. Laars walks out of the room. I sit with Avary on her bed for a little while, Bethany and Kenlee coming in to keep my company as Avary falls asleep.
About an hour later, Kiara walks back into the room with a huge grin on her face. My hope rises as I sit up and she looks at me. "You got yourself a house doctor," Kiara says as she points to herself. I cover my face in happiness as I stand up and walk over to hug her.
"Thank you," I say into her ear, squeezing her tight.
"Of course," Kiara says with a smile. She pulls away and says, "Lord knows that discharging a patient can take forever, so I'm going to run home and pack my stuff and then I'll meet you back here to take you back to the hotel." I nod with a smile as Kiara waves and walks out of the room.
I sigh and look at Bethany and Kenlee. "I guess I don't need you guys here anymore. Kiara can help me from here with my shoulder and Avary." I point to Bethany and say, "I know you have to get home and get back to your third graders and you," I add pointing at Kenlee, "need to find a place to live so we can start on the investigation once the labs come back." I smile at them as they both come and hug me. "Thank you guys for all your help. I love you both."
"Of course," Kenlee says with a smile.
"Don't hesitate to call either of us if you need anything," Bethany says with a stern look.
"I won't," I say with a smile. "See you both soon." I watch as they walk out of the room. I sigh, conflicted feeling happy that my doctor crush is temporarily going to be living with me when one of my best friends just died. I guess Wynelle would want me to be happy, I think to myself. I start to get drowsy, and I lay my head down on the pillow next to Avary.
About an hour later, I startle awake to a knock on the door, and I see Kiara walk through the door, still in her scrubs and doctor's coat. In her hands are a stack of papers. "These are all of Avary's discharge instructions, and I also printed out information on prosthetic specialists in Florida for Avary to go to. I can work with her on the prosthetic, but someone has to fit her for one, and she'll need someone to change them out as she grows older." She walks back to the nurses' station to grab a tablet. "Sign this and Avary is ready to go!" Kiara smiles as she walks back in and hands me a tablet pen and the tablet and I sign on the line on the screen. She presses a few buttons as she returns the tablet to the nurse. She walks back in and says, "My car is all packed, I got a car seat in there and ready to go." I smile at the surgeon. She may just be perfect, I think to myself as I slowly stand up, careful not to disturb the sleeping four-year old. I stash the papers in my bag and throw it over my shoulder as Kiara carefully scoops up Avary and starts carrying her out the door. Once we're out to the car, she carefully buckles Avary in and takes my bag and packs it in the car. I open the door and sit in the passenger's seat and Kiara sits in the driver's seat and starts the car.
"So," Kiara begins as she begins to drive off, "how do you feel about doing a road trip to Florida instead of flying? It's super expensive to ship cars anyway, and it's only about a nine to ten-hour drive to Florida."
"That's fine," I answer. "I'm fine with road trips, even with small children. And I really am not up for flying at the moment."
Kiara nods as she continues, "Do you feel okay to leave in the morning? I can help you pack up your things tonight, and you can call Avary's case manager and give her an update on what's going on and make any other phone calls you need to."
"Leaving tomorrow is fine with me," I respond. "I'm glad I met you and Kenlee here, but I am so over Tennessee right now." Kiara smiles sympathetically and puts a hand on my knee as she continues to drive to the hotel.
Once we arrive at the hotel, Kiara puts a still sleeping Avary in bed. She begins to gather my things into my suitcase as I call Gloria to update her on Avary. She thanked me and confirmed a home study to take place the Friday morning after we arrive home. Once I hung up with her, I called my mom, knowing she's been anxious for me to come home.
"Hello?" I hear after about two rings.
"Hey Mom, it's me," I answer. "Guess who's coming home tomorrow?"
"Really?!" my mom responds excitedly. "I'm so excited! I can't wait to see you in person. I need to hug you after all that's happened."
"I do too," I say, my voice a little choked.
"I heard about Wynelle," my mom says somberly. "I'm so, so sorry. Are you okay?"
"Yeah…" I trail off, turning to see Kiara unpacking Avary's favorite bear and tucking it next to her. "Yeah, I will be okay."
"Good," my mom answers. She pauses before saying, "How's Avary?"
"She's doing better," I say. "She got discharged just a couple of hours ago since she has no chance anymore of a post-op infection. We're just resting for the night, and we'll have a nice road trip coming home tomorrow morning."
"Are you going to be okay driving that distance with your shoulder?" my mom asks concerned.
"I'm not driving," I answer. "Actually, Avary's doctor has offered to come home with us to continue working on Avary's leg and work with her on a prosthetic. She's an orthopedic surgeon, and she's the reason Avary has recovered so quickly. She's the one who's been doing physical therapy on my shoulder."
"Well that will be good," my mom says. "I was worried how you would do taking care of her on your own since your shoulder is not completely healed."
"And I just got off the phone with Avary's caseworker," I say. "If no family members pop up, it looks like you have a green light for having your first granddaughter. My background check is all clear and they think I would be a good match for adopting her."
"That's wonderful, Jasmine!" my mom says, hearing the happiness in her voice. I smile at the happiness in her voice.
"Well, I got to go finish packing and getting ready for tomorrow. I'll see you soon okay? Love you!" I listen to my mom's goodbye and hang up the phone. I looked at Kiara, who had packed everything but essentials for getting ready tomorrow morning. I grab my pajamas and head in the bathroom to change them and brush my teeth. By the time I walk out, Kiara is sitting under the covers in her pajamas reading. I smile at her as I ask, "Are you okay with sharing the bed? I can sleep next to Avary if you want."
"Oh no, I don't mind," Kiara says as she pulls back the covers for me to crawl under. I get under the sheet and lay my head back down on the pillow. Exhausted from the day's events, I barely hear Kiara ask to turn off the lights before I fall asleep.