FIVE SISTERS

A little about this story:

It could be about reintegration for people who are a bit disintegrated from trauma, or it could be about a sibling system.

It is a work in progress; if you find you have ideas for it, please feel free to make suggestions.

 

Enjoy:

 

 

FIVE SISTERS

TESSA
Tess bent down and pulled on a piece of plastic.  She was hoping it would be large enough to cover up in the rain.
The day was miserable:  Cold drizzle soaked everything and everyone to the core; it was gray, bleak and bone chilling.
“Hey!  What do you think you’re doing!  This is mine!”
Tess was shaken by the sound of a man’s angry voice.  she quickly let go of the plastic and ran.  On and on she went, until her breath came fast and hard.
Her heart was pounding in her ears.  She shook, perhaps as much from fear as from cold.
It was only mid morning.  The 8th Street Diner, which fed homeless people at noon, would not open for at least an hour: An eternity!
Tess wanted to cry.  She would have to continue walking, just to avoid feeling colder.  She was tired, hungry and achy.
“No,” she told herself, “no tears!”  She’ll just keep moving; then she’ll arrive at the diner early so she can do a chore in exchange for her meal.
She turned the corner onto Madison Avenue.  A little stroll and some window shopping under the covered sidewalks would get her out of the rain for a while.
She would have to be careful, however:  If she stopped too long, especially in front of McNeil’s, someone would call the police and have her removed for
loitering.  Tess had it down to an art, though:  Walk slowly, pausing ever so often to gaze at a display; then move on.
“There you are.  I was pretty sure I’d find you here today.”
Tess turned to see her sister, Naomi behind her.
“You look miserable.  Let’s go into the Espresso Shop and get some coffee.  I have a couple of things for you.”
Tess walked beside Naomi in silence.  She didn’t feel much warmth or compassion from her  elder sibling, but this one at least seemed to understand her
a bit and showed some concern.
“She’s with me,” Naomi said to the man behind the counter.
“Well,..okay, but sit in that back corner out of sight.  I don’t want you scaring people away.”  He looked Tess over with a mix of disgust and repulsion.
He never would get these bleeding heart do gooders who think they have to bring filthy gscum like that in off the street, especially into his place.

NAOMI
Naomi watched the pink raincoat disappear as Tess walked up Madison toward 8th Street.
She always felt such conflict when she gave her sister things.  On one hand, she knew she was probably being Tess’ enabler; on the other, she couldn’t
stand to think of her out on the streets, cold, hungry and lost.
When she could no longer see her, Naomi turned and walked two blocks to the building where her office was.  The heat in the lobby felt good.  she shivered
as she took her coat off while waiting for the elevator.
“How is Tess today?”  Naomi’s office manager, Ella,  was a bright, warm presence.  She was nurturing in every sense, from her physical appearance to her
manner.  Even the sound of her voice said, “mother.”
“She’s the same as usual,” mumbled Naomi.  “I do wish I could convince her to go into the women’s transition program, but…”
“I know,” soothed Ella.  She sighed as she reached for the messages she was saving.  “And as we always say, Tess gets to make her own choices.”
Naomi had a very busy, successful practice as a psychotherapist.   She often turned to her clinical knowledge to understand Tess; yet she kept her distance
from her and the other three sisters.
As a matter of fact, Naomi’s primary relationship was her job.  She often thought about going to concerts or shows; she sometimes ached for a good friend
and dreamed of romance, but she couldn’t bring herself to take the risk.  Besides, she was usually exhausted after a long day of listening to people, so
she retreated to her apartment and her cat.

HAILEY
The eldest and most affluent of five sisters was Hailey.  But then, she worked hard to get where she was.
She knew how to read people, determining exactly what it was they wanted from her, and delivering…as long as it didn’t violate her strong moral ethics.
Hailey worked her way through college, waiting tables and running a mail room.  Then at last, she was hired as a research assistant for Greeley and Parks,
a large corporation that specialized in medical equipment.
When she completed her MS in biomedical engineering, she was promoted to a position in the R and D department.  That wasn’t good enough, so Hailey immediately
began taking night courses to work toward her PhD.  Nothing ever seemed satisfactory to her.
It was 6:30.  Almost everyone had left for the day, but Hailey sat at her desk, studying charts and data.
Her phone rang.  “Strange,” she thought, “it’s a bit late for customers or people in other departments.”
She answered on the fourth ring.
“Hailey,” she said.
“Hi,” a familiar voice said, “I am just leaving my office and was wondering if you want to meet for dinner.”
Naomi was the only sister Hailey ever talked to.  She sometimes checked on the youngest, Stacey, but she had as little to do as possible with Tess and
Samantha.  Most of the time, it was Naomi who initiated anything.
“Yeah,” sighed Hailey, “I could do that.  Mitchel’s in about fifteen minutes?”
“That sounds great,” Naomi replied, “I’ll meet you there.”
Hailey cleaned off her work station, bundled herself into her coat and walked briskly toward the exit.
She stepped out into the howling wind and driving rain.  As she quickened her pace, a woman appeared from  a recessed doorway and whined, “Do you…”
“No!”   Hailey barely looked at her, half afraid it might be Tess.  Besides, she didn’t believe in helping street people.  There are programs for that,
and most of them could work if they wanted to.
She hurried on, almost running now.  Mitchel’s was only three blocks from work, but it felt like miles tonight.
“Hailey, here I am.”  Naomi stood near the front door in the light of a window.
“Good to see you.  Let’s get in out of this miserable weather.”
Hailey was happy to follow her sister into the warmth of this little restaurant.  She settled into her side of a booth and picked up the menu.
Naomi looked over the specials for the evening, deciding on salmon with rice and a salad.  She left it up to Hailey to choose topics of conversation:
She knew better than to say anything about their other sisters or matters of concern.  Hailey had no patience for such things.  It was best just to listen
and let the eldest be in charge.  She definitely would not say that she had met Tess two days ago and given her a raincoat.  That would bring on a lecture
that Naomi could do without.
The server came, took each woman’s order and brought a basket of warm bread.
Once in a while, one or the other would comment on a news event or particular part of their meal, but for the most part, they ate in silence.
At last, Hailey excused herself, saying that she needed to get home.  She rose and left Naomi to pay the bill.
After she left, Naomi ordered a glass of wine and sat quietly, watching people and thinking about how crazy things seemed.  Hailey would not have approved
of the wine.  She believed that it was better to stay away from anything that might possibly compromise moral principles or distract one from important
goals.  Naomi did have to give her big sister a lot of credit, even if she did seem a bit harsh:  Hailey had brought the five of them through some very
difficult times.
As the dinner crowd thinned, Naomi put on her coat, laid money on the table and walked to her apartment, just two blocks from the restaurant.
She said hi to her cat, Perky, scratching his head; then took a hot bath and got ready for bed.
Hailey didn’t go straight home.  Instead, she decided to work for a couple more hours; then she would study thermal dynamics.
As she walked back to G and P from Mitchel’s, she kicked herself.  She had been so preoccupied, she forgot to pick up the check.  Now Naomi would have
to pay it.  “What’s wrong with you,” she chided, “that kind of neglect is inexcusable!”  She promised herself that she would make it up to her sister somehow.
When she finally left the lab, she got into her car and drove to the house she had bought a little over a year ago.  It was small and plain; yet very comfortable
for one person.  The yard was designed for low maintenance, since Hailey really didn’t have time to do much with it.
Once inside, she perused the mail, putting most of it in the recycle bin.  then she checked all of the doors and windows, brushed her teeth and changed
into her pajamas.   She fell into bed, exhausted.

SAMANTHA
2:30 A.M.
Samantha sat at the table in the break room drinking coffee from her thermos and eating a sandwich.
She was the only one there.  Her other two co-workers on the night shift at Garrison’s Discounts had learned to stay away from her a long time ago.
“That one bites!  Leave her alone and you’ll be okay,” they would say.
That people avoided her was fine.  As far as she was concerned, the whole world could go to Hell.  No one had ever done her any favors; most had just hurt
her and ripped her off.
“Bite first,” That was her motto!
At the end of her shift, Sam caught Bus #49 at the corner of 2nd and Washington.  She always brought a magazine or paper so people would not be tempted
to try visiting with her.
When she got to Steinfeld Station, she transferred to the 53 and rode another two miles.  Then walked five blocks to a small, old house that she had bought.
Samantha liked her place.  It was a bit run down, but quaint and cozy.  Nothing about it said, “Come in.”  There was a wire fence with a locked gate in
front.  Her yard was well kept, but plain.  The curtains in the windows facing the street were all closed.  If she wanted to be outdoors, she sat in the
back, which was very private.
She ate breakfast, did chores and ran errands most of the morning.
Then she would sleep in the afternoon and part of the evening, when most people were out and about.
When it was time to go to work, she would start her routine all over again.
Tess had been the only sister Samantha liked at all:  She was quiet.  Stacey was too childish; Hailey was a tyrant; Naomi was too “understanding,” always
having some sympathetic answer that made Sam want to throw up.
Come to think of it, Sam hadn’t seen Tess around for the past several days.  she often saw her on her way to the first bus stop in the morning.  Sometimes,
she called out to give a few dollars; usually, though, she just kept walking.  If Tess noticed her, Sam waved half heartedly, then hurried on her way.

STACEY
“La la laughing, ho ho ho…”  The sound of a childlike voice singing this cheerful song rang through the hallway as feet came skipping down the stairway.
Anyone hearing this for the first time would expect to see a six-year-old appear.  But everyone waiting for the shuttle to campus already knew it was just
Stacey, age 22.
She rounded the corner to the front entryway, wearing a pink, blue and white peasant blouse with jeans and pink tennis shoes.  Her hair was gathered into
a ponytail and held with a beaded fastener.
Most of the time, she was over cheerful and a bit “hyper.”  Then, she could be severely depressed.  She was afraid of men, timid in groups and always managed
to be  unavailable for dances or social events.  Everyone at the counseling center knew her well; yet they were confounded by her.  She could be so insightful
and so immature, all at once.
This was Stacey’s fourth year at Green Valley Junior College.  Most people finished in half that time, but she couldn’t seem to settle on a career, so
had tried just about every major there was.  She worked part-time, enough to pay for room, board and school.
Academically, Stacey did very well.  She was also active in the music and art departments.  So far, she had managed to avoid every field placement and
practicum, however.  She was not at all convinced that she could succeed.
Stacey was the only one of her siblings to move as far away from home as possible.  As far as she was concerned, there was nothing to stick around for:
Home had been unhappy; school was miserable.  She had no best friends and no prospects for work.
She liked the small town of Franklin, where Green Valley Junior college was located.  It was quiet and far less overwhelming to her than the city had been.
She could walk anywhere without fear; all of the stores were small; people said, “Hello.”

EMERGENCY
Naomi woke suddenly.  It took her a moment to realize that the phone was ringing.
“Hello,” she said into the handset, still half asleep.
“Is this Naomi Ellis?”
“Yes,” she replied. She looked at the clock on her nightstand.  Only 3:15.
“This is the emergency department at St. Andrew’s Hospital.  We have a patient here by the name of Tessa.  A card with your name and phone number was in
her pocket.”
Naomi sat up in alarm.  “She’s my sister!”
Now she was wide awake, looking for her clothes and shoes as she talked on the phone.  “How is she?  what happened?  Will she be okay?”
“At the moment, the person on the other end of the line said, “she is nonresponsive.  We are doing all that we can, but it is difficult to determine the
outcome at this point.”
“I’m getting dressed now; I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
Naomi’s hands shook as she finished getting ready to leave.  She put on her coat, threw her keys into a pocket and hurried out the door.
St. Andrew’s Hospital was at least six blocks away, and normally, Naomi would not even consider walking this time of night.  This was different, though.
She didn’t stop to think about possible danger; but instead, ran from home to the emergency department
.
“I’m Naomi Ellis,” she panted as she reached the reception desk.  “My sister Tessa is here.”
“I’ll let the staff know; someone will call you shortly.”
Naomi could not sit down to wait.  She paced at one end of the waiting area for what seemed like an eternity.
Then she heard her name and followed a nurse into a room.
Tess was not moving.  Her eyes were closed and her breath came unevenly.  She had a gash under one eye; her face was swollen and purple.
Naomi looked around the room for Tess’ belongings.  She saw only a pair of tattered jeans.
“What happened?”
“Evidently,” the nurse said, “someone wanted something she had.  She was found unconscious on the sidewalk by the on ramp to the highway.  She’s pretty
beat up.  whoever it was took almost everything,  including most of her clothes. They probably pushed her off the retaining wall.  she hit her head plenty
hard.  It’s good that your name and number were in her pocket.  So many times, we get these people and have no one to contact.”
Naomi took Tessa’s hand and called her name.  There was no response.  She didn’t know much about the readings on the monitors, but what she could understand
was not good.
“What now?”
“We’ll be moving her to the ICU,” replied the nurse.  “The doctor will talk to you about the details of her condition as soon as he is available.”
Naomi  sat down beside Tess as the nurse left the room.  It was so hard to think or feel at that moment.  Was it the raincoat someone wanted?  Naomi hoped
she had not put her sister in danger.
She should call the others, at least Hailey and Samantha…Stacy, too.
The door opened and a short, stocky man with slightly graying hair walked in.
“I’m Dr. Wilkins,” he said.
“I’m Tessa’s sister, Naomi.”  She sat in silence, afraid to ask if Tess would die; hoping that the doctor would tell her everything will be all right.
She has a severe  concussion and a fracture at c6.  We don’t know how much damage there is to the spinal cord itself; it’s a little early to
say.  The next 24 hours will be crucial.  We won’t know much more until then.”
After the doctor left, Naomi stood.  Turning to Tess, she said, “I’ll be back.  I’m going to go call the others.”  she waited for a moment, hoping that
the silent form in the bed would respond, but there was nothing.  Naomi started to cry as she left the treatment area so she could use her cell phone.

“Sam!   Phone call for you.”
Samantha straightened up.  She had been stocking a bottom shelf in the canned goods section.
“Coming,” she called.  Who would be contacting her at work?
“Samantha,” she said into the receiver.
“Hi, it’s Naomi,” a strained, tired voice said.  “Sam, Tessa has been hurt.  She’s in the ICU at ST. Andrew’s; they don’t know if she’ll make it.”  Naomi
started to cry again.
“Hurt?”  Sam caught her breath.  “How? what do you mean she won’t make it?”
“She has a concussion and broken neck,” explained Naomi.  “You’re the first one I’ve called.  Oh, Sam, can you come?”
Rage welled up in Samantha.  She knew no other feelings, at least consciously.
“Yeah.  I’m on my way,” she said gruffly.
As she hung up, Sam turned to her co-worker.  “I have to get to St. Andrew’s.  One of my sisters is there and they don’t think she’ll live.”
“sorry, Sam,” he said, “we’ll cover for you.”
“Thanks,” she replied.  She was already closing the door and running toward the nearest bus stop.

“Hello,” a crisp voice answered.
“Hailey, it’s Naomi.  I’m at St. Andrew’s…”
Hailey listened as Naomi repeated all of the information she had about Tessa.”
“Well, I always said she was making poor choices!  Have you called the others?”
“I talked to Sam.  She is on her way here.  I’ll call Stacy after seven.”
Hailey frowned.  She felt such a mix of anger and something else she didn’t recognize.
“I’ll be there shortly,” she said; then hung up the phone.

Stacey had just finished braiding her hair.  She looked at herself in the mirror, not quite sure she liked her outfit for the day.
Someone knocked on her door.
“Stacey, phone call,”  Miriam said.
“For me? Now?”  She opened the door and stepped into the hallway.
She liked Miriam, who was warm and friendly; she often encouraged Stacy when she was feeling down.
Tears began to fall immediately as she listened to Naomi’s report.  When her older sister tried to suggest that Stacey remain at school, she adamantly
objected, saying that she would come as soon as she could.  An unfamiliar emotion filled her:  Anger that her sisters would want her to stay away.
“Stace, are you okay?  What’s wrong?”  Miriam had barely walked away when she heard Stacy start to cry.
“My sister, Tessa…” she started; then dissolved into deep sobs.
Miriam held the petite blonde girl in her arms and rocked her until she could speak.
When Stacey finally told her what had happened, Miriam called to the other women on their floor.
Footsteps came from every direction.
Lois brought Stacey a cup of tea; Susan wrapped a blanket around the shivering girl; Maureen said she’d drive her to the hospital.
“Now, don’t worry,” various women said, “we’ll let the instructors know where you are and get assignments for you.”
Lucy and Miriam packed Stacey’s suitcase for her, while Lois brought her some more tea and a roll for breakfast.

CONFLICT
“Where is she?”  hailey demanded as she walked up to Naomi, who was waiting in the lobby.
“Still in the ER,” replied Naomi.  “They’ll be moving her shortly.”
“Who do I talk to?  I’ll save them some time and effort.”
“What do you mean by that?”  Naomi was very uncomfortable with Hailey’s harsh manner and words.
“We’re certainly not going to let her live; she’ll be a vegetable!  I’m here now.  You can stand down and let me take care of things.”
Naomi took a deep breath.  She had been dreading this moment:  There was about to be an argument that she had hoped to avoid somehow.
“Not this time, Hailey,” she said firmly.
“What are you talking about,” Hailey hissed.
“Tess and I have discussed this many times.  She said that she wanted me to be in charge of her affairs, should anything happen.”
“Well,” Hailey started…
“Who the hell do you think you are,” Samantha yelled.
Naomi and Hailey turned around in surprise.
Icy blue eyes locked as Sam and her eldest sister glared at each other.  They had not spoken since their father’s funeral.
“You always think you have the only answer,” Samantha shouted, “but you don’t!  You’re nothing but a bully!”
“Who do you think you Are,” Hailey growled back at her sister.
A security officer walked up to the three women.
“Hey!  This is a hospital,” he informed them.  “You will either quiet down now or leave.”
“We’re sorry, Sir, Naomi said,  “We’ll go up to the waiting area for the ICU.  Tessa should be moved there any time.”  She turned and walked toward the
elevator.  Samantha caught up with her, but Hailey stayed where she was.
“Come on, Hailey, let’s pull together.”
“I’m not riding the same elevator with her,” Samantha snorted.
“Sam, please help out by staying calm.  It’s hard enough to deal with Hailey at the moment,” Naomi pleaded.
“I’ll do it for Tess and you, but as for her…”
“Hailey, are you coming?”
“Why!  You have everything in hand,” she retorted sarcastically.
“Everyone matters right now,” Naomi soothed, “Stacey should be coming pretty soon; then we can talk.”
“You’re including that baby,” Hailey protested.
“Stacey is one of us.”
Samantha could not hold her temper.  “Stop!  Or I’ll punch you in that loud mouth of yours!”
“The elevator arrived.  Naomi and Hailey stepped inside.
“I’ll wait for Stacey,” Samantha said through gritted teeth.
Hailey and Naomi rode in silence.  They reached the Intensive Care Unit where Tessa would be.
“I could use some coffee,” Naomi said, trying to restore peace, “would you like some?”
“Yeah, sure,” Hailey said glumly.
“Let’s see, a little cream, right?”
“Yeah,” Hailey said as she sat down.
Naomi went to the small cafeteria at the other end of the hallway; then returned with two steaming cups and some banana bread.
she set the tray she was carrying down on a table; then settled into a chair.
“Hailey,” she said, “you have always done well by us and you’ve brought us through some really hard times.  Help me now by letting me take charge, okay?”
Hailey looked away, trying to hide her tears.
“sorry, Naomi.  I’m…”  She started sobbing.
After she gained some control, she took a deep breath and drank part of her coffee.
“I’ll do better,” she finally said.
“Naomi smiled, mostly with relief.  “Thanks, Hail, I really appreciate it, and I need your help.  There are big decisions to make.  I want every sister
to have her say, but in the end, I’ll have to sign any orders.”
“You got it,” Hailey said, finally regaining her composure.
Both women sat in silence as a team of attendants wheeled a bed carrying their precious sister into the unit.  Almost at once, they both started to cry.
A short while later, Dr. Wilkins walked into the waiting room.
“She’s stable for now,” he explained, “but she’s not out of the woods just yet.  There’s a bit of edema on her brain and at the fracture point.  We won’t
know much until that goes down; then, we can evaluate a little more.”
“So,” Hailey began, “we don’t know…”  she hesitated, “if she’ll live.”
“There’s no guarantee at this point, “replied Dr. Wilkins.
“There are too many factors at work.  The next twenty-four to forty-eight hours will be crucial.”
Naomi asked, “Is she allowed to have visitors?”
“We allow one or two people at a time, for about 10 minutes; then, she’ll need to rest.  She isn’t awake at this point, so don’t be too alarmed.”
Dr. Wilkins excused himself and left the room.
“I’ll go in with you,” Naomi offered softly, “she looked pretty bad when I saw her in Emergency.”
The two women went to the door.  Naomi called the number posted by the phone and they were let in.
Tess had a bandage under her eye.  Her face was still purple with bruises.  She lay still.  There wasn’t even a flutter of an eyelash.  Her time on the
street had left her very thin so that every bone in her arms showed.
Hailey blinked in shock and horror at the sight of her sister.  she was instantly filled with regret for not staying in contact with Tessa.  Her own judgmentality
had prevented her from letting her know how much she really cared; now it might be too late.
When the older sisters returned to the waiting room, they were greeted by a very silent Samantha and over cheerful Stacey.
Hailey scowled.  she was seriously tempted to correct the youngest one for her immature behavior.  “When will you grow up,” she thought.
Naomi hugged Stacey first; then, sat down by Samantha and put her arm around her.
“There’s a little cafeteria at the other end of the hall.  Do you want something to eat?”
Samantha shook her head.  she had not had anything for hours, but all of the stress had killed her appetite.
“Can we see Tessa?”  Stacey was standing nearby.
“yes,” replied Naomi.
“One or two people can go in at a time, but only for ten minutes.  Do you want to go with Stace?”  She squeezed Samantha’s shoulders.
“Not yet,” answered Sam, “I need some time.”
“I would like to go by myself,” suggested Stacey.
Naomi walked her to the door and showed her the phone.
Stacey punched the numbers and was allowed to come in.

ENCOUNTERS
Stacey took Tessa’s hand and gently stroked the rough, bony fingers.
“Jesus loves me, this I know…”
She sang in a soft, clear voice, rocking slightly.
“I love you, Tessa,” she said, “I hope you live.  Life can be better, you’ll see.  I’ll help you…We can make it better together.”
“The King of Love my shepherd is,…” Stacey’s heart swell with affection as she sang.
A nurse walked into the room and stood beside her.
“I don’t know what you’re doing, but keep it up,” she whispered as she motioned to the monitors.
“Her heartbeat and respiration are looking better.”
Stacey nodded; then sang another song, encouraged by these words.
“Tessa,” a voice said.
There was such a loving, peaceful presence; no confusion or pain; warmth, understanding and everything good.
She knew Him immediately.
“Lord Jesus,” she said.
His love filled her so completely.
“Can I come home to You now?”
“Tessa, I want you to learn to be at home in the world before you come to Me here.  You are still needed there.  Let Me show you.”
Tessa became aware of Stacey beside her bed, holding her hand and singing.
then she saw Samantha, who was taking a walk and feeling so ashamed.
The past, present and future all seemed to parade by at once.  she saw the house fire that Samantha had accidentally set, remembered the harsh words of
their parents,  the day they sent her to live with Aunt Jane and Uncle David.
Next, she saw Hailey. crying as their father threw all of her belongings out into the yard and burned them.  He told her that the house would not have
caught fire had she been watching her younger sister more closely.  “Ultimately,” he scolded, “It’s your fault.”  Hailey was 16 at the time.
She saw Naomi stepping in to take care of each person.  She risked her own safety by intervening on another occasion when their father was going to punish
Hailey.
She saw her mother, dulled by pain meds, unable to stand up for her children or even cook supper for them.  Naomi took over that job.
Tessa heard her parents tell her that she deserved to be homeless.  She had gone outside to a grove of trees near their house to cry.
Then, she relived the day that her parents announced they would be leaving for an extended trip to Europe.  “We’ve had enough of kids and mundane life,”
they told the four girls who still lived with them.  “Hailey will be in charge.  Maybe you’ll do a better job this time.”   Hailey had just turned 19.
Naomi was 17; Tessa was 12; Stacey was 8.  Mother didn’t come back:  Instead, Father had put her into a six month drug treatment program.  She divorced
him while she was there.  Perhaps Samantha was the best off that time.
“Tessa,” Jesus said, “do you forgive these wrongs?”
At once, Tess knew that she must, that she wanted to.
“I want to; please help me.”
A warmth filled her as she found freedom that she had never known.
Samantha strolled around the hospital
.  Anger was giving way to shame and despair.  She hadn’t given Tessa much thought; in fact, she had often avoided
her, when she might have helped.  Now there was nothing she could do for her.  “Oh, Tess,” she said half aloud, “I’m so sorry!”  Guilt washed over Samantha,
adding to the weight she already felt.
She went into a small chapel and sat in the back.  “I bet even God hates me,” she thought as she studied the cross on the wall at the front.
Then without warning or explanation, Samantha felt a sensation that was so tender and loving, she could hardly stand it.
She shook herself, thinking that she was just tired and hungry, but the feeling grew.
“Samantha,” she heard a voice say.
She caught her breath and looked around.
“Don’t be afraid.”
“Who are you?  Where are you?”  Her voice was barely audible.  she was trembling.
“I am Jesus.  I am answering your thought.  The truth is, I love you profoundly.  I always have and always will.”
Samantha sat absolutely still.  she had heard of people encountering God before, but she never dreamed that He would talk to her.  She was never really
sure she believed in Him in the first place!
Eventually the feeling..or presence left, but she had a sense of comfort and hope that Tessa would live.  She was ready to go see her now
.
CONFRONTATION
Hailey had been walking around the hospital for almost an hour now.  She was feeling a bit irritated:  Naomi was nowhere to be found, and there was business
to discuss.
Finally, she went back into the arboretum.  This was her third time here, but there had been no sign of Naomi.
“There you are,” Hailey said almost too sternly, “Ive been looking for you.”
Naomi looked up at her older sister without changing her expression.  She wasn’t in the mood for company; she just wanted some time to herself.
“We need to talk,” Hailey continued, “How long do you intend to let things slide?”
Naomi felt a pang of rage go through her, something she almost never experienced.
“Why? Do you want Tessa to die?”  Her voice was filled with pain and anger; she almost yelled.
“No, of course not,” protested Hailey, “How could you even suggest that!  I just don’t want her to suffer.”
“You mean you don’t want to suffer,” Naomi retorted.  she surprised herself:  She had not stood up to Hailey since they were children.
Hailey gasped and gritted her teeth.
“You don’t talk to me that way!  I’m only trying to take care of things.”
Naomi stood up and braced herself.
“You aren’t the one to “take care of things”; I am.  WE already established that.  Believe it or not, things aren’t always neat, clean and on time.  And
speaking of time, when have you even seen Tessa?  I’m betting it’s been since she ran away and started living on the street.  Am I right?”
Hailey clenched her fists.  she had never hit anyone, but she wanted to now.
“I did a good job!  She never minded!  She disgraced all of us when she chose homelessness!”
“Did it ever occur to you,” Naomi began in a quieter tone, “that Tessa’s running wasn’t actually about you?  Why should she stay?  Nothing she did was
okay; she felt like an outsider.  Stop thinking of yourself long enough to consider her this time.”
Hailey turned to go without saying another word.
Naomi was shaking.  She had kept silent for so many years.  Now it seems that she and Hailey can only argue.
She sat down and put her head in her hands.  She wanted to cry, but couldn’t, so she closed her eyes and just sat.
Hailey could hardly breathe.  “Who does Naomi think she is!”  She went outside and marched around one block, then another, almost pushing anyone who got
in her way aside.  She walked for an hour before she realized that she was cold and soaked to the skin.
Finally, she began to calm down a bit.  She went into Mario’s Cafe for some coffee and a roll.  She sat in a corner booth where she could stare out the
window at the cold, dreary day.

ICU
When Stacey returned to the waiting room, no one was there.  “Curious,” she thought; then found a comfortable chair where she could wait for the others.
She realized that she was a little hungry, so meandered down the hall to the cafeteria.  After choosing a sandwich, cookie and tea, she went back to her
chair, found a couple of magazines and settled in.  Before she knew it, she was asleep.
Samantha came back a short while later, found Stacey and went to the phone for the ICU without disturbing her.  Once inside, she stood by Tessa’s bed,
watching the motionless form and her monitors.  She said nothing to Tessa:  She was too full of feelings and thoughts that clamored in her mind.
Then, the strange, peaceful presence came back, more tangible this time.  Samantha felt a strange love and connection with Tessa.  They were more alike
than different.  In a real way, both had been homeless; now they were together.
“Tessa,” the familiar, warm voice said.
“Jesus,” Tessa acknowledged.
Then she became aware of Samantha standing by her bed, but she could not move or greet her.
“Do you know this woman?”
“Yes, of course:  It’s Sam!”
“Yes,” Jesus replied.  “She is becoming aware of her heart.  She is realizing that she and you are alike in very important ways.  She needs you to help
her with her own experience of homelessness.”
“How can I do that?”  Tessa wondered.
“If you choose to stay and help,” Jesus told her, “you will have opportunity to teach her many things, along with your other sisters.”
After what seemed like a long time, Samantha whispered, “Tess, I need you.  Somehow, I know you’ll live.  Please stay..I mean….”
She quietly walked back out to the waiting area and sat down near Stacey, falling asleep almost immediately
.
“Samantha,”  The wonderful presence was back.
“Somehow,” she began, “I know you.  You seem to know me very well.”
“Yes,” said the loving voice, “I have always been with you, even when no one else had the slightest idea you would be.”
Samantha felt very clear-minded.  She was at peace and not angry or afraid.
“You said you are Jesus when You talked to me in the chapel.”
“That’s right.  Samantha, would you like to be healed from past wounds?”
“I – I guess so,” she replied with uncertainty.
Then, the day that she had gone out to burn trash came back.  She saw the fire in the burner; then the curtains in a nearby window burst into flame.  She
felt afraid and helpless.
“I did everything exactly as Dad had taught me,” she cried.
The vision went on:
Her parents were gone on one of their many trips. They had left their five children at home in the care of the eldest sister, Hailey.  When they had to
come back early, they were furious.  Her father whipped her with his belt and threw her toys in the trash.  Her mother did nothing.
Then her belongings were being put into boxes and she was taken to Aunt Jane and Uncle David.  She didn’t know that she would not be returning home with
her parents, until she woke the next morning to find that they were gone and it was up to her aunt to explain.
“The fire was not your fault,” Jesus told her, “it was an accident.  your father chose poorly when he put the burner so close to the house and had a child
lighting fires in it.  Can you forgive him?”
Samantha immediately felt all of the pain, fear, dismay and anger she had carried in her heart.
“I don’t know,” she stammered, “That was so unfair!”
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “I understand.”
Then she felt something very strange.  It was like knowledge, but she didn’t know how she knew.  She felt the unfairness of Jesus’ suffering and death.
“Your parents did wrong, Samantha,…”
“But You paid for it,” Samantha finished.
“Yes.”
Samantha stayed in the warmth of Jesus’ love for a while.
“I want to forgive, but I don’t know how.”
Jesus seemed pleased with her progress.

Stacy stirred in her sleep.  Samantha watched this child in a woman’s body with a new sense of compassion.  It had not been any easier for her when they
were all growing up -supposedly.  For the first time that she could remember, Sam wasn’t angry.
She watched as Stacey opened her eyes, looked around and sat up.
“Did you have a good sleep?”
“It was okay,” Stacey replied.  Her voice was filled with fatigue.  She looked at her sandwich.
“Do you want some of this?”
Samantha gratefully accepted the larger portion, along with half of Stacey’s cookie.  Food tasted good.
“You want to come stay with me,” she asked as she swallowed the last bite.
“Thanks!”  Stacey’s voice was still a little too cheerful for the circumstances, but much more subdued than usual.
She continued, “Should we check in on Tess before we leave?”
Samantha paused for a moment.
“It’s up to you, but I’m ready to go.  We can come back later if we want to.”
“I’m good with that,” Stacey answered.  She stood up.
Neither woman knew where the other two had gone, so Samantha wrote a note and left it on the table.

Naomi returned to the ICU’s waiting area and found the note that had been left by her younger sisters.  she picked it up; then went to speak with
the social worker for the unit.  Her concern was that Hailey would take matters into her own hands and try to force her will by speaking for the whole
family.

A quiet, middle-aged woman sat behind a somewhat cluttered desk.  The plaque that faced the door on one corner read, “Linda Carlson, MSW”she greeted Naomi
with gentleness as she sat down.
After she had described the situation, Linda drew up Tessa’s file on the computer screen.
“Our records show,” she began, “that you are the only one with authority to make decisions.  If Hailey tries to circumvent you, she’ll automatically be
asked to show ID.  By the way, you’ll need to present valid ID when you sign for Tessa.”
Naomi sighed with relief.  This was one battle that would not be fought quite so directly.
“It is important that each sister be able to visit Tessa and have a say,” Linda added.
“My thoughts exactly,” Naomi replied.
When she and Linda completed their conversation, she checked on Tessa, who seemed to be resting quietly, but still showed no sign of waking up.
Naomi touched her hand; then stepped quietly away.  The others had the right idea.  She asked the nurse on duty to let Hailey know that everyone had gone
home, should she return; then she walked to her apartment, almost too tired to feel the aches in her body.

DECISIONS
Hailey was jolted back to reality by a hand on her shoulder and a somewhat irritated voice.
“We’re closing,” a woman said, “and we need you to leave so we can finish up.”
“Oh,” replied Hailey, “I lost track of the time…I’m on my way.”
As she collected her things and stepped out into the gloomy chill, a plan came to her.  she abruptly turned and marched to the hospital.
When Hailey arrived at the ICU, none of her sisters were around.
“Good,” she said to herself, “that will make things easier.”
She lifted the receiver to the phone and dialed the number so that she could be let inside.  Once there, however, she did not go to Tess’s bed.  Instead,
she stepped into the nurse’s station.
“Excuse me,” she began.
A woman in her mid 40’s turned around.
“May I help you?”
“Um, yes,” Hailey began pleasantly yet a bit authoritatively, “I would like to discuss plans for my sister, Tessa.”
“Your name, please.”
“Hailey.”
the nurse turned to her computer and pulled up a record of some sort, but Hailey couldn’t read it.
“It says here,” began the nurse, “that Naomi is…”
“I’m, Tessa’s sister, too,” Hailey protested in a voice that was more gruff than she had intended.  “Can’t I also make decisions on her behalf?”
“I’m sorry,” the nurse responded, “I can’t help you at this point.  you’ll have to speak with the social worker on duty.”
“I just want to make things easy on the family!”  Hailey was frustrated, almost in a rage.
“Why are you people making this so difficult!”
The nurse seemed unshaken by this outburst.
“I am not the person to help with these matters.  You really need to…”
“Yeah, talk to the social worker on duty,” Hailey snorted as she turned to go.
After some searching, she found the appropriate office.  by then, she had calmed down a bit and planned her strategy.
“Hello,: Linda said as Hailey stepped inside, “how might I help you?”
“I’m Hailey Ellis, Tessa’s eldest sister.  I need to discuss her future with you.”
Linda listened quietly as Hailey gave her speech about how the family didn’t want Tessa to suffer and it would be better to let her go peaceably; then
chose her words carefully.
“Have you talked to your other sisters?”
“Of course,” Hailey lied, “they’re all in agreement.  This is so hard…you understand…and it is just easier for me to be the spokesperson.”
“I know this is terribly challenging,” Linda agreed.  “I also know that it is important for each sister to have a chance to talk about her own feelings.
I would be happy to visit with each one…”
“No!”  Hailey could no longer contain her anger.  “I am making the decision!”
Linda sat back in her chair.
“Hailey,” she said in a quiet, but firm voice, “I need you to calm down.  Take a deep breath, sit in that chair.”  She motioned with her hand.
Hailey was shaking.  Her face was bright red and her breath came hard.
She did as Linda had directed.
“Now, I am not required to talk to anyone who rages or yells at me.  If you want to have a conversation, it will need to be respectful.”
Hailey said nothing for a minute; then replied, “Okay, sorry.”
“About Tessa,” Linda began, “the instructions are clearly laid out and signed by Naomi…”
“Naomi!  Who the Hell does she think she is!  She can’t do that!…”
“Hailey,” Linda said,
but her rage had won out.  She yelled, cursed and pounded her fists on the desk.
Her tantrum was interrupted when two security men walked in, took her by each arm and escorted her out of the hospital, still sputtering.

“If you try this again,” one said, “we’ll issue a restraining order against you.”
She kicked at him, but he dodged her blow.
Once she was outside, Hailey almost ran to Naomi’s apartment.
“I’ll deal with her!”  Her thoughts came fast and hard.
When she arrived, Naomi was not home.
Hailey kicked her door; then left, but stopped in her tracks two blocks away:  where to now?
After walking back to the hospital to get her car, Hailey decided to try Samantha’s place, if Sam would let her in.
The good news was, it would take at least twenty minutes to get there, and she could regroup a bit.

Naomi arrived at home to find a message from Samantha that said she and Stacey were having pizza; would she like to come over?
She sat down for a few minutes and held Perky, who purred and rubbed her hand with his head.
Next, she took a shower, put on fresh clothes and filled Perky’s food bowl.  she was feeling a little better.
“Hi
, Sam,” she said when her sister answered the phone, “is the pizza offer still on?”
“Yeah,” replied Sam, “any favorites?”
“I’ll eat whatever you girls choose.  It will take me at least half an hour to get put together and come.  do you want me to pick it up?”
“No,  I know a place that delivers, and their pizza is good.”
Naomi found two bottles of wine and some carrot sticks to bring with her; then she packed her smallest overnight bag so she could have a change of shoes;
then she set out for Sam’s house.
When she arrived, the smell of pizza greeted her, bringing a sigh of relief and a smile to her face.
Samantha was in her kitchen, getting plates and napkins.  She was barefoot.  She had dressed in sweats and tied her hair back in a comfortable ponytail.
Stacey had changed into jeans and a t-shirt.  Her long blonde hair hung in loose curls down her back with a straggler or two over one shoulder.
“I brought some wine,” Naomi offered.
“I’ll take some,” Samantha replied, but Stacey opted for a coke.
Each woman lounged with her pizza and drink.  The room was silent for a long time:  so much had happened and everyone was exhausted.
“Do you have any movies?”  Stacey asked, “I’ll put one in.”
“Samantha pointed to the entertainment center and told Stacey where to look.  After some searching and discussion, all three agreed on a rather light hearted
chic flick.
They had settled in for a quiet, stress-free time together.  Most of the wine was gone, the pizza had been devoured and a nice, sleepy lull had moved in.

Then Samantha’s phone rang.
“I’m in front of your house,” Hailey announced.  I see Naomi is here; we need to talk.”
Samantha bristled.  The hair on her neck stood on end and she stiffened her shoulders.
“Not now, Hailey,” she barked.
but Hailey would not hear of it.  She yelled back at Samantha that she had had enough of Naomi’s insubordination and Samantha’s disrespect.
“Let me in,” she growled.
Samantha held the phone against her leg.
“It’s Hailey,” she looked at Naomi as she spoke, “and she is pissed!”
“I’ll go outside and talk with her,” naomi suggested.
“She’s on her way,” Samantha started to say, but Hailey yelled back, so Sam hung up on her
.
“Hailey,” Naomi said as she stood just inside Samantha’s locked gate, “what’s up?”
“Don’t give me that innocent bull shit,” Hailey shouted, “you fixed it so that you’re the only one who can talk to the hospital about Tessa!  I’m the eldest;
I’m in charge; I know best!”
“I knew you would try to circumvent the rest of us,” Naomi began, “but Hailey roared with anger and would not let her finish.
Naomi held up one hand.  “If you want to talk to me, you’ll settle down right now!”
“Don’t give me that psychobabble!”
“Fine,” retorted Naomi, “I’ll just go back inside and we’ll call the police.
As suddenly as she had come and announced her presence, Hailey stopped yelling and stood quietly.
“Okay,” she said in a voice that was so quiet she could hardly be heard; yet so tense and ferocious, her outrage was all but hidden, “what shall we talk
about?  Are you happy that Tess is lying in a hospital bed, a vegetable and probably in pain?  Does that do something for you?”
“Stop,” Naomi said firmly.  “I already told you each sister would get her say.  Yours counts…”
“The hell it does!”  Hailey clenched her fists.
“I’m done talking,” Naomi said.  “Go home and get…”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Hailey hissed.
“Stop!”  The voice came from behind Naomi.
Samantha walked out into the yard, followed by Stacey.
Hailey glared at Samantha, completely ignoring the baby-in-a-woman’s-body.
“You stop,” she spat back.
“Who decided that the two of you would be in charge,” Samantha snarled at Hailey, “you would think that you were the only ones who cared or had something
to say!  I want Tessa to live!  I know in my heart that she’ll…”
“What’s with you,” Hailey protested.
“Tess is not even conscious.  She has a broken neck…”
“It’s too soon to tell how she’ll do,” Naomi interjected.
“Save it!” Hailey interrupted.
“n-no,” came a timid voice.
“It’s far better just to pull the plug,” Hailey said in a superior voice.  She did not acknowledge Stacey’s attempt to speak at all.
“Stace,” Samantha said, “speak up.”
“I-I know…”
Who cares about what the baby has to say,” Hailey jeered.
“I-I get to choose, too.”  Stacey stood as firmly as she could.  she had never spoken up to her sisters; instead, she had always run as far away from them
as possible.
“I agree,” encouraged Naomi.
A tense silence fell over the yard and street.
“Go ahead, Stace,” Samantha urged, “speak up.”
“When I was with Tess,” Stacey started, then hesitated, remembering her visit, “I just knew that she would come through this…Her monitors showed that she
was stronger, at least for a while, and…”
“Stacey dear, Hailey interrupted in a patronizing voice, “that doesn’t mean anything.”
“Yes, it does,” Stacey protested in a much stronger way than anyone expected.  “It does matter; you’re wrong!”  She began to cry.  “Why do we have to make
a decision tonight?  Why not give her at least another day?”
“I agree,” Samantha joined in, “that’s a good idea.”
“A day or two can really make a difference,” Naomi added.
“Fine,” Hailey’s rage was brewing.  she turned and went to her car.
“Call me when it’s time for her funeral!”  Her tires squealed as she pulled away from the curb and drove off.
“I-I didn’t mean to…”
“Don’t worry about it; you did good and you’re okay,” Samantha interrupted.
“Yeah, Stacey,” Naomi encouraged, “You did well.”
All three women went back inside.  they watched a second movie, saying very little.  At last, Naomi announced that she really needed to go home.
“I’ll talk to you tomorrow,” she said as she put her driving shoes on and picked up her bag.
“I’m beat!”
The other two agreed.  Naomi hugged each one.
“both of you did so well today,” she said, “not that you need me to tell you that.”
When she arrived at her apartment, Naomi mused at how surprising Stacey’s boldness had been.  perhaps the Baby would grow up after all.
She sorted her mail and played with her much neglected cat; then retired after a long, overwhelming day
.
Hailey was not able to settle when she arrived at her house.  She paced the floors, dusted already spotless furniture and scrubbed her kitchen floor until
her arms hurt.
“What is wrong with me,” she cried, “I never lose my temper the way I did today.  Everything is so out of control!”
It was not like her to cry.  the time or two at the hospital were the rare exceptions.  Now, she was too tired and distressed to shed tears.  Her energy
drove her until early morning, when she finally collapsed on the sofa in utter dismay and exhaustion
.
“Tessa,” the familiar, loving voice said.
“Jesus,” she acknowledged.
“Are you ready to wake up?”
The same, quiet clarity that held no confusion was back.  Tessa could review her life and feel all of the things she had repressed.  She felt her loneliness;
relived the day she ran away and saw where she was when the man pushed her off the retaining wall.  She remembered the day she gave her life to Jesus at
the little shrine in the park and saw two of her friends who had come to Him.  They were living in apartments now.
Then she saw her sisters all living together again, grown up this time.  They seemed so happy!  There was a feeling of promise growing within her soul.
“You are not homeless, Tessa.  Will you stay?”  Jesus asked in a tender voice.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Good!”  He exclaimed, pleased with her choice.
After the reality of His presence subsided, Tessa became aware of the room around her:  The ICU.  She kept her eyes closed as she listened to the sounds
and felt the bed she was in.  She couldn’t move!  Fear caught her and she wanted to scream, but no voice came from her lips.
when she opened her eyes, a young woman with a gentle smile stood beside her bed.
“Hi, Tessa,” she said, “you are in the hospital.  You had a bad fall and your neck is broken, but you’re awake: That’s a very good sign.”
“I can’t…” Tessa began, relieved to hear her own voice whispering.
“I can’t move,” she finished.
“No, not yet,” the nurse explained.  “It’s too soon to tell.  I’ll make sure the doctor talks to you when he comes in.  It’s early morning, so he won’t
be hear for a few hours.  Meanwhile, rest, okay?”
Tessa wanted to nod her head, but she couldn’t, so she simply blinked.
“I’ll check back often.  Oh yeah, I’m Amanda.  I’ll be your nurse until 7:00, when the next shift starts.”
Tessa closed her eyes.  A strange, wonderful peace filled her.

CATHARSIS
Hailey was awakened by a severe headache and nausea that consumed her from her belly to her throat.  There was also a heavy feeling in her heart, but she
couldn’t identify it.  “Not exactly anger,” she thought, “but so painful!”
She stood slowly; then rushed for the bathroom.  Throwing up made her head throb.
With more effort than she felt like she had, Hailey made some tea and toast.  She sat at her kitchen table in a fog of pain, shame, fear, anger and fatigue.
What had happened yesterday?  She had not lost her temper and lashed out in rage since she was…five or six?  What would people think?  How could she face
any of them.  And Tess:  How could she do this to the family!  “That’s irrational,” Hailey scolded herself, “it isn’t like Tess chose to get beat up and
thrown off a retaining wall…but then, it was her choice to run away.”
The morning passed without notice.  Hailey felt so lost and out of sync.
She stood up with a great deal of effort and went into her bedroom, where she laid down and immediately fell into a sound sleep.
Hailey was walking through an abandoned house.  It was night and the air had a foul smell to it.
She was in a hallway; then turned into a bathroom that was grimy.
She looked in the mirror and was horrified to see that her face was blood red with yellow blotches.
She began to run out of the house in a panic.
She was having trouble keeping her balance because she was carrying a heavy basket.
Then, she fell and couldn’t get back up.  She was sure she would die.
she woke suddenly.  Her breathing was rapid and her heart was pounding.
She sat up.  What time is it anyway?
The clock beside her bed indicated that it was 4:30:  A whole day lost.  Hailey laid back on her pillow.  She felt dull.  At least her headache was gone.
Now, she was on a stage, an actress in some sort of play.  She was dressed in black.
She couldn’t see the audience or any of the others on stage.  She was trying to recite her lines, but couldn’t remember them.
Next, she was walking into a basement.  A scorpion dropped from above her somewhere and stung her.  She woke screaming.
Hailey got up and took a shower; then fixed some soup.  She had not checked on Tessa or called her sisters.  It was now 7:00 in the evening.  She felt
empty and completely alone.
What had become of her?  Who was she anyway and what really mattered?
She reassured herself that she had done a good job:  She kept the house going after their parents left; she worked hard and had some great accomplishments
to show for her efforts.
“Who cares,” she thought.  When it really came down to things of importance, nothing she had done was worth much at all.
“Where from here?  The others don’t really need me; I’m tired of performing and trying to prove myself, just to be rejected…Ah, stop the self pity!”
For the first time in her life, Hailey had a strong urge to pack up her car and run away.  she had never allowed herself to entertain something as irresponsible
as this, but now, why not!  Her attempts to take charge and do what is best for everyone failed miserably yesterday; her sisters proved that they can handle
things on their own…

Without thinking any further, she packed her favorite clothes, got her wallet and left, headed for …
Where?
She drove out of the city without paying much attention to the direction.  Once on the freeway, she settled into a comfortable speed and drove.
Two hours into her journey, she stopped for gas and bought a large drink; then traveled for three more hours before deciding that she needed to stop.
She chose a rest area and put her seat back so she could sleep a while.  Running felt good
.
“No word from Hailey?”  Samantha looked up as Naomi returned to the waiting room.
“No,” answered Naomi.  She was heavy with concern and regret.  Things could have been handled so much better.  Now, Tess is awake, and Hailey doesn’t know
and, perhaps, doesn’t care.
Stacey came into the room.  She had spent as much time with Tessa as the ICU staff allowed.
“You’re going to make it,” she soothed as she sat beside her sister, “I’ll help you.”
It would be a while before Tessa was out of the hospital and sent to a rehabilitation center; then after that, she would need to have assistance.  Stacey
had already announced that she would be Tessa’s primary care giver.  She actually knew what she wanted to do for once!
“Maybe she’s just sleeping after all of the stress,” Samantha suggested.
“Possibly,” Naomi replied, “but this isn’t like her at all.”
“Who, Hailey?”  Stacy looked from one sister to the other.  “Do you want me to try calling her?”
Naomi and Samantha exchanged glances.  They had always tolerated the baby of the family without really considering her.  Now, she was becoming more present.
They found her to be a bit irritating.  Then again, this was better than the immature, helpless girl in a grown up body.
“Yeah, sure,” Naomi said, “let her know that Tess is awake; ask her…”
“I know what to say,” Stacey interrupted.
Silence filled the small waiting area.
Hailey reached for her phone, more out of habit than because of a desire to see who was calling.  She looked at the ID.  Hmm, there were numerous calls
from Naomi, but this was…
“Hello,” she answered.
“Hi, Hailey,” the over cheerful voice of Stacey caused her to grit her teeth.
“Where are you?  We tried to reach you all day and into the evening.”
“How’s Tessa?”  Hailey didn’t want to say that she was…wherever this place is.
“She’s awake,” Stacy announced with exuberance.  “She’s going to make it.  Isn’t that great!”
“That’s good,” Hailey replied.  She felt a strange mix of anger, regret, shame and relief.
“Tell her I said ‘hello.’  I have to go now.”
“Okay, bye!”
Hailey closed her phone.  she had been so wrong.
She got out of her car to walk around a bit.  The sun was well up in the sky.  The day was sunny and beautiful.  She stretched; then strolled through pungent
evergreens.
When she was ready to move on, she knew it would be farther away from her sisters, work and the life she had left behind.  She still didn’t have a plan,
but the freedom she felt was intoxicating.  She was so alive!
“I got her,” Stacey announced triumphantly
.
“So what did she say?”  Samantha’s voice had an edge to it.
“She just said to say hello to Tess,” Stacey answered, slightly more subdued.  “I asked her where she is, but she avoided my question.

“That’s strange,” Naomi said, “Hailey is always so organized and in charge.  I’ll call G and P.  I’m sure she’s at work.”
When Naomi came back to the waiting room, she had a distressed, perplexed expression.
“Hailey had not even checked into work for two days.”  Her voice was shrill with concern and frustration.  “That is so not like her
!”
Samantha shrugged.  “Neither was the way she acted when we first got here and Tess was comatose.”
“True,” Naomi mumbled.  She sighed and sat in a large chair.
The one who had always been in control, to the point of tyranny, was now AWOL:  How strange is that!  Just when she was needed, too.
Naomi seethed with anger and regret.  She had done her best to communicate with each sister; yet she was so unwilling to relinquish control herself.  Then
again, Hailey wanted to end tessa’s life!

Stacey stepped out of the ICU to join her sisters.
“Aren’t you going to see her today,” she asked as she looked from one woman to the other.
“Of course we are,” growled Samantha.
Stacey flinched; then got up to go to the cafeteria.  She was not able to stand up to this kind of strength and fury just yet.

DIRECTIONS
As Hailey walked around the rest area, one time; then again, her exhilaration turned into ambivalence.
She had always been the responsible one, in charge and in trouble if something went wrong.  Now, she could leave all of that behind; something that had
never occurred to her until last night.  “The girls don’t really need or appreciate me,” she told herself, “they’re all grown ups now; let them make their
own choices, sink or swim.”

Then doubt would move in.  “I have a job, professionally and in the family.  I know what’s best; not Naomi; Stacey is still such a child…”

Next, she would find herself thinking of new ideas and possibilities.

“Ma’am,” a voice interrupted.
Hailey turned around to see a man in a green ranger’s uniform.
“Are you all right?  You’ve been pacing around the park for an hour or more.”

“Y-yes,” Hailey stammered, “I guess I should get going.  Thanks for your concern.”
As she returned to her car, she decided to go into Grantsville, a small town nearby.  She would find something to eat and try to firm up her  plans.
Perhaps she would get a motel there and spend a couple of days resting.  She was so tired!
It was almost 1:00 in the afternoon when she settled into her room.  Her plan was to work out a budget and write a letter of resignation; but she fell
asleep as soon as she sat on the bed.
The morning sun was streaming into her room when Hailey finally awoke.  How many hours had she been asleep anyway?  Her mind was foggy and she felt a bit
disoriented.  Gradually, she recognized a strange, but familiar sound:  Her cell phone ringing.  She felt stiff.  Instead of running to answer, as she
normally would, Haily let the call go to her voice mail.  “When I get up,” she thought, “I’ll turn it off.”
She lounged on the bed for a while longer; then took a shower and dressed in the only clean clothes she had packed.

“Saturday,” she thought, “I’ll look for a couple more outfits; then…”  She couldn’t think of what to do after that.  All of this was so new, and very unlike
her.  Intuitively, she understood that she had turned a corner, but she couldn’t put it into words just yet.

“Did you reach her?”  Naomi’s expression was a mix of concern, weariness and exasperation.
“No,” answered Stacey, “I have left Hailey two messages so far, but… I hope she’s all right.”
Naomi put an arm around her youngest sister, still so childlike in some ways, but showing more maturity than anyone knew she had.
“I’m sure she’s fine; she is just taking time to calm down and think.”
Naomi’s words sounded more convincing than what she actually felt.  It was so unlike Hailey to act impulsively or bale in a crisis.  She felt ashamed and
guilty for arguing with her; but then, what was she to do?  Tess was making some improvements; It looked like she would recover; yet it was way too soon
to tell.

It was Saturday morning.  Stacey had spent the night at Naomi’s apartment, which delighted Perky very much.  Her cheerful manner made him feel quite playful.
A key rattled in the lock of Naomi’s front door; then a tired, grumpy Samantha walked in.  She had worked a double shift, partly to help one of the guys
and to make up for her lost hours
.
“Hi.  Want some coffee?”  Stacey stood up and went to the kitchen.
“Yeah,” mumbled Samantha as she put her things on a chair and sat down.
Stacey had always been the one who knew exactly how to please each family member.  She knew to give Naomi black coffee, while Samantha liked hers with
a little sugar and just a drop of milk.
Samantha drew the hot, welcoming liquid closer when Stacey set it on the table.
“We haven’t eaten breakfast yet; do you want some?”
Samantha shrugged.  “Okay.”
The three women sat around the table.  Stacey, who thoroughly enjoyed cooking had put together a sumptuous spread of fruit, toast and omelets filled with
ham, peppers, onions and cheese.
“Have you ever considered becoming a chef,” Samantha mused as she spread jam on her second slice of toast
.
“I want to be Tessa’s care giver,” Stacey announced with absolute certainty.  “Until I sat with her in the ICU this week, I had no idea about what I want
to do, but now I know.

Naomi and Samantha exchanged glances.  Both were surprised and pleased; yet they felt so cautious.
“Stace,” Naomi said slowly, “that’s wonderful…I mean, that you know with such certainty.  But it’s still too early…”
“Tess will come home,” Stacey interrupted, “and she will need someone to help her.  I can do that.”
The determination in this young woman’s voice silenced her sisters.  They had never heard her speak with such clarity.  Somehow, they believed what she
was saying.
“Anything from Hailey?”  Samantha had not asked upon her arrival, even though she had been thinking about her eldest sister.
“Nothing,” the other two said in unison.
“That’s strange,” muttered Samantha.  “She sure picked a hell of a time to take off!”
“Give her time,” counseled Naomi, “she’ll calm down and come to her senses on her own.  Meanwhile, we have enough to think about with Tess.

“I need to go withdraw from school and get my things,” Stacey said.  “May I stay with you for now, Naomi?  It’s closer to the hospital than Sam’s place.”
“You really have been thinking about this, haven’t you,”  Naomi commended.  “It will be a little crowded, but I think we can make it work for a little
while.

“Then maybe I can come spend a night with you sometimes, Sam.  That will give everyone a change of scenery.”
“yeah, why not,” answered Samantha, almost amused at Stacey’s attempt to make each person feel good
.
Tessa open her eyes when all three of her sisters walked in.  she wondered how they had managed that, since the rule had been that one or two could come
into the ICU at a time.
“Good morning, Sunshine,” Stacey sang in a cheerful voice.
The others just smiled and nodded at Tess.
“Hi,”  Tess responded.
An awkward silence folded around them.  No one knew exactly what to say.  “How are you?” seemed so trite!
“They’re moving me today,” Tessa announced.  “They said I’ll be in acute care for a while; then, they’ll send me to rehab.”
Stacey clapped her hands and jumped once.  “I told you,” she said, “Tess will be okay.”
Her over cheerful reaction was met with slight annoyance and subdued hope.  It was too soon…wasn’t it?

Hailey carried two large shopping bags into her room.  she emptied their contents on the bed and began removing tags.  How different these purchases were
from her usual efficient, stark look.  These were far more casual and soft.  Instead of slacks, she had bought shorts and blue jeans; she had T-shirts
and a couple of tanktops instead of blouses.  Even more unlike her, she had two different pairs of flipflops; such a change from her more practical mocs.
She looked at herself in the full-length mirror on the inside of the closet door.
“The only thing I can do about my short hair,” she thought, “is to let it grow out.  I could color it…”
she tried on each item of clothing; then decided to wear denim shorts and a purple tanktop.
Next, she packed her new clothes and studied the ones she had brought with her.  Without considering it much, she put the old ones into a bag and walked
down to a large dumpster at the end of the building, where she let her past fall among bags of garbage and other discarded things.
“Where from here?”  She had enough money saved to travel and think for a while, so she didn’t have to look for work immediately.  Then again, she didn’t
want to cut things too close and run out of funds before she got settled.  She didn’t even know where she wanted to go or why she was doing all of this.

Night time wasn’t so kind to her.  In half-sleep, memories and accusations would flood Hailey’s mind.  Dreams became hideous nightmares:  “Hailey, help me!”  Tessa’s face, distorted and grotesque from the decay of death stared blankly into her eyes.  She tossed and turned until morning.  “I was right!  I know I was.  Tessa wouldn’t want to live as a cripple…I wouldn’t!”

Morning became a welcomed relief from the nightly torment.  Several cups of coffee and some excursions distracted Hailey well enough.  “I’m used to having lots to do, that’s all.  I’ll stay busy; that always makes me feel better.”
“Can you feel this?”
Tessa felt a dull sensation in the palm of her right hand.  She hesitated before answering, “Yes, sort of.”
The doctor smiled and moved on.  “How about this?”
Nothing.
“And this?”  He continued his examination.
She could feel a little bit in each hand, but nothing in her legs.

“try lifting your right arm,” he told her.
Tessa wasn’t sure whether she was more disappointed or surprised:  She could raise her arm only a couple of inches.

“That’s a start,” encouraged the doctor.  “You are likely to get a bit more as you heal and work with the therapists.”

Tessa smiled, though she wasn’t sure why.
Recovery was going to take a long time, if she improved at all.  A whisper of grief was beginning to creep into her heart.

“You look sad,” a somewhat childlike voice said.

Tessa open her eyes to a smiling but subdued Stacy.  She said nothing.  How to answer such an obvious statement…
“I brought you a treat,” Stacy continued as she searched through her handbag.

“You still like milk chocolate, don’t you?”

“I love it,” Tessa replied.

Stacy carefully unwrapped a small piece of the delectable treat and placed a bit in Tessa’s mouth.

Pure pleasure filled her as she tasted the rich, sweet confection and let it melt.

“You always know how to make people feel better, Stacy.  That’s a real gift, you know.”

Stacy smiled timidly.

“When you’re done with rehab, I want to take care of you.”

Tessa didn’t know how to answer.  Does this baby know what she is saying?

“i know,” Stacy said as though she could read Tessa’s mind, “you will need plenty of help and it will be hard sometimes, but I  mean it:  I want to be your care giver.  This is the first time in my whole life when I’ve known what I want to do.”

Tessa smiled.  There would be plenty of time to discuss this.  Besides, the warmth, sincerity and enthusiasm of Stacy’s declaration felt good in a peculiar sort of way.

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