had been back in his own house in San Francisco for more than a month when he
had the accident. It was not so much that he had been careless as that he had
simply misjudged distances on the shadowy street. No one was injured. Roger,
his concentration distracted by a cat racing across the street, had simply
misjudged the distance between his own car, another car going the other way,
and the dark debris box he was passing on his right.
His car, a
four year old Audi, incurred a surprising amount of damage for such a minor
accident. What was worse, the annoying vehicle would not run. The fender was
mashed right up against the right front tire and refused to budge even when he
wielded a crowbar against it.
Unlike most of
the other doctors he knew, Roger did not have a car phone, which necessitated
his hiking two blocks to Geary Boulevard to find a pay phone. He was almost
near enough to the hospital to walk there, but the journey seemed pointless
since what he needed was the Automobile Association in any case. And he was
going to miss the monthly meeting of his grief support group.
carelessly at the lobe of one ear as he dug in his pocket with the other hand
for some dimes. He surveyed the handful of coins he withdrew and chose two,
before noticing that the phone in front of which he stood was obviously out of
order. The receiver rested in its holder, but the cord swung uselessly free
from its connection. In frustration Roger swatted the metal frame.
A horn honked
behind him, and he wondered briefly if one of the citizenry objected to this
mild gesture of annoyance. As he turned to see, a dark-haired woman leaned out
of the window of a car and called, "Do you have a problem, Dr.
familiar, in a way that made him feel a little sad. Probably from the hospital
then. He stepped closer and recognized her as a nurse from the oncology floor,
one of the nurses who had taken care of his wife Kerri. "The damn phone's
busted," he said. "I've had an accident and I need to call AAA."
okay?" she asked, peering up and down at him as though she might notice a
broken arm or battered flesh.
I'm fine. My car's not." He was dredging his mind for a name. As an
anesthesiologist he didn't have many dealings with the floor nurses, but this
one he should know. She'd helped arrange for the wedding in Kerri's hospital
room almost a year ago. Maybe was even the one who'd brought Kerri the garland
of flowers for her hair.
Judy Povalski," she said, relieving him. "Sixth floor East. Let me
drive you to a working phone."
would be great." Roger climbed into her car, an older Honda Civic, and
closed the door twice before it caught. "There's bound to be one pretty
there's one two blocks down, though I suppose it could be broken, too. We'll
further comment she drew away from the curb and raced through the next
intersection. Roger recognized her driving style as faintly similar to his own
and regarded her with curiosity. "Do people complain about your
driving?" he asked.
She glanced over at him and laughed. "Not usually within the first block,
wondered. They complain about mine all the time. Even Kerri did."
only expect so much tolerance, even from someone who loves you."
people said didn't usually bother him so much any more. But she said it almost
as though Kerri might be waiting at home for him, and he felt the dreaded ache
in his chest. "I suppose not," he murmured.
a very special woman," Judy continued. "Truly remarkable in her
acceptance of her illness and in trying to help everyone around her accept it,
you." It was the only thing he could think of to say. Most people
hesitated to talk to him about Kerri, and he often wished they would. Certainly
no one ignored him. In fact everyone had been amazingly kind. But life
continued and even his best friends assumed he was continuing with it, in a way
he hadn't really achieved yet.
Crawford, who had helped him all along, was busy finishing the last month of
her residency, and was pregnant as could be. He didn't see as much of her and
Cliff as he used to. Nan had moved to Belvedere with Steve. Jerry pretty much
lived at Rachel's. Everything outside him was constantly changing.
this one's working," Judy said, breaking into his thoughts. "Then
I'll drive you back to your car."
stopped in front of a phone booth. "You probably have something better to
that won't keep."
At first it
had embarrassed him to have people do things for him, perfect strangers and
bare acquaintances, but Jerry had convinced him that people felt better for
helping, and Jerry was a psychiatrist, so he should know. Roger climbed agilely
out of the car and checked out the phone, which gave a dial tone when he lifted
it. But he had to look up the AAA number in the phone book and before he'd
riffled many pages, Judy called a number from the car.
it by heart," she explained. "I have to call them all the time."
When he had
explained his dilemma to the person who answered, he was informed that a truck
would be there in half an hour to forty-five minutes. Roger sighed and returned
to Judy's car. "I'm just a few blocks away. Over on Lake Street near
Judy whipped the little car around the block like a race car driver. When she
stopped in front of his car, her headlights illuminating the mangled right
front, she whistled. "They'll total it," she said with conviction.
you mean, total it? Who will?"
insurance company, of course. If it costs more to repair than the Blue Book,
they total it."
don't want it totaled. It has sentimental value."
Kerri's car?" she asked, surprised.
we drove everywhere together in it. It won't be that expensive to repair."
probably haven't had body work done on a car lately," she said
knowledgeably. "It costs a fortune."
going to argue with her. No matter what it cost, he was going to have the car
repaired. "Well, thanks for driving me over, Judy. I'll wait in my
problem." She watched as he climbed out and then rolled down her window as
he walked across in front of her car. "When you were a teenager, did you
get into trouble?"
Surprised, he turned back to her. "Nothing important. Why do you
"I just wondered if all teenage boys do. Sometimes that's the impression
people give you."
have a teenage boy?" Roger tried to remember whether he knew if she was
married. He drew a total blank. In the dark he couldn't see if she wore a ring.
I live with my sister and hers. Your car reminded me. Larry took her car last
week without asking and managed to do that kind of damage to it." She made
a gesture indicating her dismissal of the subject. "Sorry. I didn't mean
to insinuate that you'd have been some kind of troubled kid when you were
attention had been captured by a subject very close to his experience. He
walked back to the driver's side window. "I didn't get into trouble like
that, but my brother Carl did. Not that I was an angel, mind you. But I was
always kind of too interested in science, and pretty much a loner."
isn't a loner," Judy said tartly. "In fact he seems to be very easily
led astray. Or, maybe, he does the leading."
father in the household, I gather."
She shook her
head. "His father was killed in a car accident over a year ago."
brother got into trouble even with my father in the house, and my father's a
great guy. Sometimes I think that's what Carl was rebelling against."
Roger sighed. "He didn't get over it for a long time, until my uncle
stepped in to help."
hoping Larry will grow out of it one of these days. Well, thanks, Dr. Janek.
Good luck with the car."
Roger. And good luck with your nephew."
If he hadn't
had to wait half an hour alone in his car after she left, he would probably
never have come up with the idea. Say the tow truck had showed up immediately
after her taillights had disappeared down the street. He would have been so
involved in the details of the car being attached to the towing bar and
deciding where to have it towed, that Judy's remarks would have instantly
dissolved from his mind.
Later, in the
OR dressing room, Angel's husband Cliff had tried to discourage him. "You
can't get involved in someone else's life that way," he insisted as they
changed clothes after a colon resection. Cliff, a big bear of a man with unruly
black hair and a slightly overbearing manner, said, "Face it, Roger.
You're vulnerable right now. You're looking for something to distract you and
make you feel useful again. You can't just choose to take on someone's troubled
teenager. You don't even know him."
Roger agreed. Since the death of his wife his youthful face had aged, but the
difference was only noticeable to his friends. He was of medium height, with a
curly brown mass of hair, a wiry build and an excess of nervous habits like
tugging on the drawstring of his scrub pants, which he was currently doing.
"But people become Big Brothers to kids all the time, and they're kids
they don't even know. At least this kid belongs to someone's sister. To me that
makes more sense than choosing someone anonymous."
makes any sense to me," Cliff assured him as he tossed his scrub suit in a
laundry bin. "What do you know about helping disturbed teenagers? Zilch.
You don't even have any kids of your own."
I was a kid once upon a time.
Like you and everybody else. I bet Angel wouldn't think it was such a stupid
gets misty-eyed at the sound of a baby crying these days," Cliff confessed
without rancor. "She can already picture us in the wilds of Wisconsin
sitting on a screened porch with the new arrival in a cradle her mother saved
from thirty years ago."
to miss you two, even though I don't see that much of you these days."
bristling eyebrows rose a fraction. "Is this a subtle hint that we should
have you over to dinner?"
course not! I know how busy you are." Roger rubbed his temple absently.
"Hell, Cliff, this would give me something to do. Something
back on the 'Rescue the Teenager' kick? Roger, anesthesiology is important. You
protect people's lives during surgery. You train the next generation of doctors
to have iron nerves and impressive skills. Take some kind of advanced training,
do some research, travel to a conference, write a paper. There are a dozen
things you could do that wouldn't involve getting entangled in someone else's
wasn't paying much attention. Truth be told, he'd already decided. Of course,
Judy and her sister might not be interested in his trying to help out, and if
they weren't he'd have to find some other project. But this was, at least
temporarily, a project that he felt almost compelled to attempt. There were
several reasons. His brother Carl was one, certainly. What if someone hadn't
stepped in and turned Carl around?
reason was Kerri. She'd been a teacher, and Roger had heard her numerous times
discuss how important it was for a child to have someone in their lives who
proved the right kind of model. She had said that, as well-intentioned as they
were, a child's parents weren't always the right people.
described his brother Carl to her, Kerri had nodded and said, "Yes, that's
what I mean. Your parents are obviously good people, but they lived on a
different plane than Carl. They were intellectuals and sophisticated in a way
that made him seem to them like a changeling. You have a restless kind of energy,
too, Roger, but you channeled it in ways they could understand. Carl obviously
She had said
something then that he grasped at now: "If you'd been grown then, I think
you would have understood Carl, even though you were so different. But you were
only a kid, too." She had also said how much she regretted that they
wouldn't have children of their own. Roger hadn't thought of that much then,
but he'd thought a lot about it since her death, that he would never be a
father. God, she would have been the perfect motherÂ—patient and loving and
generous and understanding.
have approved of his trying to help a troubled teenager. Roger was sure of it.
~ ~ ~
worked on the oncology floor at Fielding Medical Center. She had switched there
two years before, after working at SF General and Fielding over the previous
ten years as a circulating nurse and a scrub nurse in the operating room.
Though people thought it a strange move, from an atmosphere of high tension and
excitement to one of frequent desperation and gloom, Judy found the work on the
cancer unit more rewarding. Instead of anesthetized patients, here were people
in the very throes of the most difficult period of their livesÂ—living with
disease, dying of disease. She could be of far more assistance here than
handing over instruments in a sterile if companionable environment.
After a year
on the floor she'd been offered the assistant head nurse position, but she had
refused it. Administrative work was of little interest to her. Again people
shook their heads wonderingly. Had she no ambition at all? Didn't she want to
get somewhere in her field? No, she told them, she wanted to do precisely what
she was doing. Very codependent, her friends said. Judy couldn't be bothered
with glib labels. She liked working with people, liked being the one who
brought comfort into their shattered lives. That's what nurses, much more than
doctors, were able to do.
think much of it when she saw Roger Janek come onto the floor. Some of the
patients on 6 East were there for surgery, and Roger would come to talk with
them the previous day to get a history. He didn't need to have much interaction
with the nurses, however, so when he headed straight for the nurses' station,
she raised her brows inquiringly at him.
up, Dr. Janek?" she asked. "Everything okay with your car?"
"The insurance company totaled it, just like you said they would. And it
did sound outrageously expensive to have it repaired right, so I just had then
fix it enough to make it run for now. Cliff's trying to talk me into a new Saab
convertible. He says they're really sharp."
are. Halverson has one, bright red. You could ask him how he likes it."
I could have the same car as Halverson," he muttered. "Lucky
better than to ask him if he had something against the heart surgeon.
Halverson's reputation in the operating room was legend. He was possibly the
only surgeon at Fielding who treated the anesthesiologists like water boys.
"Well, it might not suit your style right now, anyhow. They're a bit
know that my style was ever sporty, and it certainly doesn't feel like that
now. I think Cliff was sublimating his own wish. Angel's apparently suggested a
Judy said with a laugh. "That's what having kids will do to you, I
of which..." Roger surveyed the congested area and waved toward the
conference room down the hall. "Do you have a minute for me to talk with
nodded and followed him down the corridor. He was wearing scrubs and a
patterned scrub cap. His wiry build was almost indiscernible in the folds of
the blue scrubs, but he carried himself with a barely controlled energy that
was recognizable even from a distance. No one who knew him was unaware of his
nervous habits, which were generally accepted as evidence of his restrained
energy. Judy found them touching.
room was empty and he switched on the light and left the door open, taking a
seat at the small rectangular table and waving her to another one. "This
is going to sound crazy, I guess." He tugged at the lobe of his right ear.
"The other night you mentioned that your nephew had been getting in
nephew? Well, yes, but nothing really bad."
far," he said bluntly. "Things usually go from bad to worse."
hope not. But I don't understand what you're getting at."
been thinking about himÂ—your nephew."
"I didn't mean to bother you about Larry, Dr. Janek. The question just
sort of popped out of me."
he reminded her. "And I'm glad it did." He knocked his scrub cap off
with an impatient hand, revealing hair that was only slightly more curly than
her own. His was a rich brown, though, and hers a gleaming black that made
people question her about Irish origins.
Judy waited a
little impatiently for him to continue, thinking that he was going to offer
some advice. Which was thoughtful of him, perhaps, but a bit presumptuous. For
some reason, even unmarried men seemed to think they knew a great deal about
could help him," Roger finally blurted.
him?" Judy cocked her head inquiringly. "I can't imagine how, Dr. . .
Roger. He's a teenager."
exactly. That's when boys tend to get into trouble and they can keep on going
bad if someone doesn't step in and take hold of them."
protested, "But you've never even seen him. You don't have any
relationship to him. I don't understand what you're saying."
Roger took a
deep breath and exhaled quickly. "I'm not being very clear. I'm restless,
Judy. I need to do something useful, really useful. Not anesthesia. That's my
work. I need to do something that will make a difference. Maybe I could step
into his lifeÂ—what did you say his name was, Larry?Â—and help turn him
have no experience with boys," she pointed out. "What could you
possibly do that would help? He already has aÂ
tutor for math and belongs to a sports club that Liza can scarcely
afford, all so he'll have male authority figures in his life. He's got teachers
and coaches and neighbors, and you aren't any of those things. I beg your
pardon for being so frank, Dr. Janek, but it seems to me your good intentions
probably exceed your experience."
he agreed with a grimace. "It was stupid of me to think I could
say that! You're being incredibly generous to make that kind of offer. I
understand that you'd like to help." Judy was starting to
feel guilty. How could she just shoot down someone with such good intentions,
someone whose wife had died within the year? But his offer came completely out
of left field, with no tie to any personal relationship. The whole thing made
briskly and pushed her chair back under the table. "Look, I really ought
to get back to my work. They'll wonder where I've gotten to. But I want to
thank you for the thought. Really, it was . . . um . . . very thoughtful of
you, Dr. Janek." She started backing toward the door. "I'll bet there
are lots of things you could do that would be, you know, just the right thing
for someone. That would make a difference." With a small wave of her hand,
she fled the room.
Well, I really
screwed that up, Roger decided as he retrieved his scrub cap from the table.
What the hell was I thinking of? I don't know these people and they don't know
me. Plus, I'm not some kind of authority on wayward teenagers. I just wanted
the boy to know that someone else cared about him. But how do I know if I'd
care about him? Probably he's a little jerk who'd drive me crazy if I ever met
him and had any responsibility for his actions.
must think I've completely lost it, he thought, and considered tracking Judy
down again to prove that he hadn't. SomethingÂ—probably Cliff's voice in his
headÂ—warned him that that wouldn't be a smart idea, and he abandoned it. After
checking his watch and finding that he wasn't due down in surgery for half an
hour, he wandered through the medical center until he came upon Jerry's office,
thinking to have a little chat with his psychiatrist friend. But there was no
one in the office and the first nurse he ran into explained that Dr. Stoner was
away at a conference for a few days. Roger sighed and headed for surgery.