The Heart of the Matter


Author's Notes:See Part One

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  Part Four… Conclusion

Chapter 16

Crystal woke with an arm being draped over her mid-section and she held back a scream at the last moment as she realized the limb in question belonged to Lauren. The blonde certainly wasn't used to sleeping with anybody again. Davey had crawled in with her once or twice after bad dreams, but usually he remained snugly within his own bed.

Moving only her eyes, Crystal glanced to the window. There was no sign of dawn, which accounted for the scarcity of light in the room. It had been just into evening when she and Lauren had come to the bedroom. Memories of their first time together flooded back and Crystal found herself blushing, now grateful for only the moon's pale light. She moved her head on the pillow just enough to see the digital alarm clock which read, "1:43".

It was the middle of the night and she was wide awake next to a very nude and warm Lauren. The muted illumination still gave Crystal a good view of the woman who had moved up in the bed and now rested beside her. Crystal's eyes wandered over the womanly form. Lauren was fit and was sculpted in all the right places. A surprisingly curvy form resided under the jeans and t-shirt she usually favored. Her breasts were generous, but not overly large, with delectable pinkish nipples. Her face was calm and innocent in repose.

"How am I supposed to sleep with you staring at me that way?" Lauren asked without opening her eyes. Crystal startled at the unexpected comment.

"I thought you were asleep," the blonde observed.

"I was until a little while ago," Lauren confirmed. "I think hunger, thirst and a moderately pressing need for a bathroom is what woke me up." She opened her eyes and met Crystal's.

"You were looking at me."

"I was not," Crystal replied indignantly. "Much."

Lauren gave a soft laugh. "Look all you want. I'm going to the kitchen for refreshments for us, so if you want to use…" She pointed toward the bathroom. "I'll be right back."

The nurse's naked form rose from the bed and Crystal stared spellbound until Lauren disappeared down the hallway. It was then her own pressing need to visit the bathroom made itself known. Moving quickly, she finished in time to meet Lauren returning from the kitchen with two slices of pizza on a paper towel and two cans of Diet Pepsi. Setting them on the dresser, Lauren slipped into the bathroom as Crystal arranged an impromptu picnic. The blonde glanced over at her nightshirt that hung over a chair in the corner. She thought about putting it on, but decided Lauren might feel a little underdressed if she did.

Crystal opened the cans of soda and brought one of them and a slice of pizza to the bed where she took a bite just before the brunette re-emerged.

"Started without me, huh?"

Crystal took another bite. "Seems to be a habit with me tonight." She indicated the bed and Lauren laughed.

"Don't worry, I may start slow, but I catch up fast." She walked over to the dresser and took two large bites of the slice of pizza there to illustrate her point.

Watching Lauren standing there and eating, Crystal realized that she was in her bedroom, in the middle of the night, having pizza in the nude with her female lover. It sounded incredulous even to herself and she made a sound of amazement around her slice.

"What?" Lauren asked. Crystal swallowed and took a sip of the soda.

"It's just that this is the first naked picnic I've been on in…ever!" She began to work on the crust of the pizza. Lauren nodded as she chewed.

"It becomes you, we'll definitely have to do this more often." They finished their food with Lauren getting them each a second slice.

"I'll do the dishes," she offered, carrying their empty cans to the kitchen. When she returned, Crystal was under the covers with the blankets pulled up to her chin. "It's a bit chilly in here. Mind if I join you?" the nurse asked respectfully.

"Please do," the blonde answered magnanimously. Lauren virtually dove under the covers and slid up next to her partner.

"Oh my God you're cold!" Crystal shrieked.

"You haven't seen anything yet," Lauren threatened as she pushed both her feet against Crystal's leg.

"Holy cripes! Those aren't feet, they're ice cubes with toes. What are you, the undead?" Crystal cried.

"Yep, and I've come to dine on human flesh," Lauren laughed as she began nibbling on Crystal's shoulder. "Mmm… Say, this undead thing isn't such a bad gig!" She nibbled her way from the shoulder down to the breast nearest her. Crystal writhed with the pleasure Lauren's mouth was creating, but she kept control long enough to push at the brunette's shoulders.


Lauren lifted up her head. "Is something wrong?" she asked, her tone concerned.

"No, I'm definitely all right, but that's the problem. I'm all right. I may be clumsy and inexperienced, but I want to make you feel a little of the way you made me feel earlier. I might need a little coaching though, if that's okay." The brunette was ecstatic that Crystal seemed to share her enthusiasm for the physical side of their relationship.

"Absolutely!" Lauren flopped onto her back dramatically and moaned, "Do me!" Crystal rolled her eyes and laughed. Lauren lifted her head and looked at Crystal. "That's the first rule; make it fun. The second is, care. I don't mind if you're inexperienced or clumsy, Crys. I'll feel you loving me and it will be great."

"How will I know what to do or if I'm doing it wrong or you don't like it?" the blonde asked anxiously. Lauren thought a moment.

"How about this…if you know it gives you pleasure, go ahead and do it to me. If you just think you or I might like it, ask. And remember, I'm in this too. I want to help you. I'll talk to you and you'll have no doubt if you're doing something right." Crystal was satisfied with Lauren's response. Their brief talk was more conversation than she and Sean had ever had about sex in their whole marriage.

I want you, Lauren." Crystal's words were open, honest and touched the nurse in a place she had thought long abandoned.

"That's a good start," she said as she pulled Crystal down for a heated kiss. Many kisses followed the first, but the latter ones were accompanied by the exploring hands of the novice.

"That's good," Lauren groaned when Crystal's hands found her breasts. Crystal's hands and fingers didn't feel like that of a beginner and when her tongue and teeth joined in the activity, Lauren knew she was a natural. Crystal wasn't thinking about skill or technique; she only knew when she had Lauren's words and moans of approval, that she must be on the right track.

As much as she was enjoying Lauren's breasts and nipples, her curiosity compelled her to move on. Moving into unexplored territory, Crystal's uncertainty was increasing until she recalled Lauren's words. "If you know it gives you pleasure…" She moved her hand between Lauren's legs. That evoked the reaction she was hoping for.

"Touch me, Crystal," Lauren pleaded. I need you to touch me." Crystal complied, delving into the wet warmth of Lauren's center. Finding the firm nub, she stroked across it several times.

"Yes, just like that," Lauren hissed. Her breathing had quickened and her face was showing an attractive pink flush. Resuming her rhythmic stroking of the nub, Crystal gloried in the feelings she was evoking in the nurse. She was also becoming powerfully excited herself. Lauren's hips took up a rhythm to match Crystal's action on her clit. Her eyes were closed as she concentrated on the sensations emanating from between her legs.

"Go inside, Crystal. God…go inside now." Lauren's tone wavered between begging and demanding. Inexpertly, but with great eagerness, the blonde moved her hand in the wet heat. Finding the opening, she slipped two fingers inside easily.

Crystal loved the feeling of being inside the woman she loved, but missed the almost wild way Lauren had moved against her. She sat up further and brought her other hand to bear and stroked the clit rapidly as her fingers plunged in and out. The doubled contact pushed Lauren over the edge and she came hard.

"Now!" she announced with a cry and an arching of her back. For several seconds she seemed to be suspended on the edge of ecstasy before falling over into it entirely. Completely spent, she then lay on the bed panting. It was several minutes before the breathing of both women returned to normal.

"Coaching?" Lauren said. "I don't think so. That was amazing." Lauren pulled Crystal up and into her arms and with tired smiles they drifted back into sleep.


After a languid morning in bed and a lazy afternoon on the couch watching old movies together, both women were ready for a more vertical activity. Lauren had a suggestion.

"I know this whole thing is a little new to you yet. Okay, a whole lot new to you, but I was wondering if you'd like to go out dancing with me? I don't think there's anything I'd like more than listening to good music and holding you close to me."

"Where would we go?" Crystal asked.

"I know a dark little club downtown where we could dance for hours if we want. Look, I know you might not want anyone to know about this yet," Lauren said in a tone of acceptance. "But I'm pretty sure you're not going to meet anybody there you know."

Crystal laid a hand on Lauren's arm. "I want to say something to you right now and I'm just going to say it once so I need you to listen closely and believe what I say." Lauren sat up on the couch a little straighter and gave Crystal her full attention.

"You've fascinated me, charmed me and loved me to the point of exhaustion. I'm not college educated or a rain man in the art of romance, but I know when something is right for me. This…you…are right for me. It's true that I don't want to go out right now. The reason that's true is because I don't want to share you…with anyone." Crystal looked down and blushed. "Maybe the other reason is that I don't want you to be able to compare me to any other women because I'm not sure how well I'll stack up against them."

Lauren understood it then. Crystal wasn't scared or ashamed, she was insecure. That the nurse could deal with. I'll enjoy showing her how wonderful she is. Lauren leaned forward and placed a very soft kiss on Crystal's lips.

"There is no comparison. You're best thing that ever happened to me and I know it. A million women could cross my path tonight, but I'd only see you. A billion women could cross my path over the rest of my life and I'd love only you." Crystal was the one asking for belief, but now she couldn't quite put credence in her own hearing.

"Yeah, you heard me right," Lauren repeated. "I love you. If you don't love me yet then that's alright; I intend on sticking around until you do."

Crystal's world flipped upside down at that moment. Something she thought she would have to hide and work up the nerve to say had just been said by the love of her life. She launched herself at Lauren and kissed her long and hard.

"I take it this comes as good news then?" Lauren asked when the kiss broke, her head swimming with happiness.

"Very good news," Crystal replied from her place in the nurse's arms. "I love you too. I didn't know when I'd be brave enough to tell you or if I'd be brave enough to tell you. Thank you for saying it first."

"If I'd known this was going to be the reception, I'd definitely have mentioned it earlier." Lauren pulled Crystal up so she could look into her eyes. "You're the one, Crystal. I didn't even realize I was waiting for you, but I was. You and Davey are part of my life now and I'm going to love every minute."

Crystal blinked several times. "Davey…guess I need to have another talk with him now."

"Another talk?" Lauren asked, looking for enlightenment.

Crystal smiled. "I was trying to give him a bit of a heads up about us. I think I realized this was getting serious."

"What did he say? What did you say to him?"

"I said I'd tell him if I found out I loved you," Crystal clarified. "I'm not sure he understands it, but he will. There's no going back for me, not even if I could, so Davey is going to have to get used to you in our lives."

"When you talk to him I'd like to be there. This isn't a you or I thing anymore…it's an us." Lauren looked at Crystal earnestly and the teller knew this was something important.

"Absolutely." Crystal return to her place in Lauren's embrace. "I can get ready in just a couple of minutes if you still want to go dancing."

Lauren shrugged and held Crystal tighter. "Nah, all of a sudden I found something better to do." She moved to kiss Crystal again when the phone rang. Lauren had to chuckle when the blonde literally growled in frustration over the timing of the call. "It could be worse," she said as Crystal got up to answer the phone. "We could have been in the shower."

"We can do that?" Crystal said, clearly intrigued as she reached for the ringing instrument. "Hello?"

"Crystal, it's Dad," Dave Jenkins' voice came over the line. "I've got an extra ticket for the Padres' game tonight. One of my friends can't use his season tickets for the game and gave them to me when we went golfing this morning. How about taking in the game with your old man? I'd ask to take Davey, but your mom told me he's gone on a camping trip."

Crystal looked over at Lauren still sitting on the couch. "I'd like to, Dad, but with Davey gone I'm taking advantage of the time to take care of some important things around here. As a matter of fact I just found out I have some cleaning to get done." She winked at Lauren who had to suppress a laugh.

"Okay, Crys, but I'm blaming you in advance for me having to explain the infield fly rule to your mother for the hundredth time." Dave Jenkins moved the phone away from his mouth and called, "Get your hat and mitt, Georgie, you're in." Crystal could have sworn she heard a distant sarcastic "whoopee" and she laughed at her parents.

"Bye, Dad," she said as they hung up. She ran back to the couch, jumping over the back, and returned to her lover. More heated kisses were exchanged when the phone rang again. Crystal laughed. "I could have predicted this. That'll be my mom asking me to spare her from having to go to the game. She doesn't mean it, but she likes to make my dad think she's doing him a favor." Reluctantly she got up from the couch again. "Don't lose my place, I'll be right back."

She went to the phone again. "Hello?"

"Crystal, thank goodness. It's Patsy." Patsy's voice contained an unmistakable tone of anxiety.

"Patsy? Patsy, what's the matter?" Crystal's tone was rapidly mirroring the older woman's. Lauren heard it and got up from the couch quickly.

"It was so fast," Patsy said. "One minute they were playing and tossing pinecones around and the next… We went straight to the Emergency Room up here in Morrisville. It was the closest place. They said it was pulmonary edema…flash pulmonary edema. Crystal, can you meet us at Patterson General? That's where we're going; it has the closest Pediatric cardiologist. They're going to use the Life Flight helicopter and we'll be there as soon as we can in my car."

"Oh my God," Crystal said as Lauren reached her and put a concerned arm around her. "Is Davey going to be okay? What did the doctor in the Emergency Room say?"

There was a moment's pause. "I'm so sorry, Crystal. I should have said something earlier. It isn't Davey, he's fine. It's Sydney and she's in critical condition."

Chapter 17

"I don't know how you do it. Every phone call could be the phone call you dread. Look at your hands, they're still shaking." Crystal looked down at her hands as instructed. As Lauren noted they still showed a fine tremor. The adrenaline was just now leaving her body as the nurse drove her to the hospital.

This is going to scare her off now. It's too much to expect for her to take on a new relationship and a child with Davey's problems too. Crystal said nothing aloud.

Lauren continued. "This is just the kind of thing I want to write about in my thesis. Nobody can understand how there are moments of extreme stress in having a child with serious heart problems, but there also has to be an undercurrent of worry all the time. I think that's an important point to get across."

It's back to business. She's had a taste of what it's like and she's going to back away. I can't blame her. If Davey wasn't my son, would I willingly take on the responsibility? I'm not sure I would, so how can I ask her to?

Lauren stopped for a red light. "I'm so glad I'm going to be around now to support you and take some of the worry off you. I know being Davey's mom that you will never be free of that stress, but I hope I can take a share of it on and be there for you." Lauren took one hand off the steering wheel and reached over to take Crystal's hand in hers.

Crystal was stunned. That was the only word for it. In that minute, with those words and that gesture, Lauren answered all Crystal's concerns. She squeezed the nurse's hand and tears misted her eyes. She had to look away as a wellspring of pure emotion rose within her.

The action confused Lauren and she looked over her last words in her mind. The light changed and she reclaimed her hand to begin to drive again. She had a gut feeling she knew what was bothering Crystal and she decided to ask the question she'd wanted to know about for a long time. "Crystal, will you tell me about Sean leaving?" Crystal didn't look back at Lauren, but a tightening of the blonde's body told Lauren she had hit the problem exactly. Crystal took a deep breath.

"Sean and I had been pretty much just friends who occasionally had sex, I told you that before. When we found out I was pregnant, that friendship became closer. Sean was really happy about the prospect of being a dad. When the ultrasound showed it was a boy, Sean went out and bought a baseball mitt and a football. He decided on the spot where his Father of the Year trophy would go. He was there with me during Lamaze classes and during my labor. He cried when Davey was born." Lauren felt a pang of envy that Sean had shared all that with Crystal.

"He even held Davey first and cut the umbilical cord. I thought the baby was going to be the answer to all the problems I could see were developing between us. 'Just friends' didn't seem like it was going to be enough to last until 'death us do part'. Then the problems started…almost immediately it seemed. Sean was shocked of course, we both were. It wasn't anything we had thought about or prepared for." Crystal paused here and Lauren glanced over, thinking Crystal might have started crying. She hadn't. She was speaking of the events in a flat tone and Lauren knew this wasn't new ground Crystal was going over; this was something she had thought about quite a bit.

"Sean stayed with me as the neonatal intensivist explained the problem and gave us our choices. He had called in a cardiac surgeon who was standing by for our decision. Sean left to take a 'quick walk and think,' he said. That quick walk was a walk away. I made the decision for Davey to have the first surgery and I've made them all since then. Sean drifts in and out of Davey's life, but he has no part of mine. He forfeited that when he left me and Davey." Crystal fell silent, but Lauren felt she hadn't finished just yet and so she said nothing. There was one more thing.

"When I went home for the first time after I delivered Davey, it wasn't how I had envisioned it. Instead of Sean, Davey and I coming home to live happily ever after, my parents drove me home long enough to shower and get some fresh clothes so I could head right back to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. I found the baseball mitt and football in the trash. Sean, for all intents and purposes, gave up on Davey then and I gave up on Sean. I haven't expected much from anyone since then." She concluded her story and looked over to Lauren who was now navigating the hospital parking lot. Pulling into an available space, the nurse brought her Mustang to a stop and killed the engine. She reached for Crystal and pulled her close.

"Expect a lot from me, Crys. Please…expect a lot." Crystal did cry a little then, but it was tears of relief mixed with happiness instead of the hurt and frustration of the past. They were the kind of tears she'd experienced far too few times in her life.

Lauren patted Crystal on the back. "Let's go see Patsy, find out how Sydney is and get your son." Crystal nodded and reached for the handle of the door.


They found Patsy and Davey in the waiting room of the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. Davey jumped up and ran to hug his mother.

"Mom, Sydney is sick. We were just playing and she got sick. We weren't doing anything." Davey's voice was anxious and Crystal reassured him that they had done nothing to cause Sydney's illness.

"They won't let me see her. Is she going to die?" Crystal looked to Patsy, not knowing the answer to that herself.

"The last update I had was that she was stable, but very serious," Patsy said. "She's on a respirator to help her breathe and they are working to get the fluid off her lungs. I needed to wait here with Davey before I could stay in there all the time. They wouldn't let him visit unless he was family."

"How about if I go see if I can grease some wheels for us?" Lauren offered. "Sometimes it pays to know somebody and as a staff member of the PICU, I pretty much know everybody."

"That would be wonderful," Patsy replied.

"I'll try to get another update on her status too. Be right back." Lauren walked over to the doors of the PICU, entered a code in the box on the wall and the double doors swung open. She gave a little wave and entered.

Patsy turned to Crystal. "Thanks for getting here so fast. I was trying to hold it together so both Sydney and Davey wouldn't be so scared, but it's tough when I'm absolutely terrified on the inside. I'm so sorry again for having scared you too when I called earlier. I suppose I wasn't thinking straight. It's not like I have the only child with a heart problem." Crystal put her arm around Patsy's shoulder and led her back to the chairs where Davey had already returned, now engrossed in Sponge Bob Squarepants on the television there.

"It's okay, my heart was racing there for a minute, but Lauren calmed me down. She even drove me here. She's a good person to have around in a crisis."

"I'm glad Lauren was with you. That was very good timing," Patsy said.

"She never left," Crystal confided in a low voice after glancing at Davey. Patsy gave a tired smile.

"Well, that's the best news I've heard all day…literally." The doors to the PICU swung open and Lauren re-emerged. She approached the little group in the waiting area.

"I did a little explaining and a lot of cajoling and we can all go in to see Sydney. Patsy will be able to stay with her of course and we…" she indicated Crystal, Davey and herself, "have five whole minutes. Patsy, why don't you go on in first…the pediatric resident just got back and he'll be able to talk to you." Patsy got up and headed for the doors, but glanced back.

"Davey's things are in my car, but his medicine is in that small bag there, Crystal. I brought them inside because I didn't know how long we'd be here." Crystal saw the small backpack and gave Patsy a thumbs up sign. The older woman picked up a phone hanging by the door and waited a moment. "Patsy Cohen to see Sydney." She listened and then hung the phone up. The double doors swung open and she went inside.

"How is Sydney?" Crystal asked when Patsy was out of earshot. Lauren sat next to her in the chairs.

"She's going to be okay. She's responding well to the diuretics and it looks like she's going to need her medications tweaked a little, but she's going to be fine."

"What's a di-retic?" Davey asked. The program had gone to commercial and he was now paying attention to the grown-up's conversation.

"It's the same medicine you take…the Lasix. They give it into Sydney's vein though, through a needle in her arm. You've had those before, remember?"

Davey nodded. "Yeah, those hurt. Sydney's not going to die then?"

Lauren smiled. "Nope. She has to stay on the breathing machine until morning probably, but she will be a lot better by then. In a couple of days she'll be back home."

"Yes!" Davey said, pumping his arm in the air. He caught his outburst and checked the emotion. In a very calm voice he said, "She's my best friend." Sponge Bob returned to the television screen then, as did Davey's attention.

Lauren took Crystal's hand in hers. "You okay?"

"I am now. It would have broken my heart if anything had happened to Sydney. She's all Patsy has. Candy gets sentenced in a few days and that will be it. Patsy came into the bank the other day to get some papers notarized. I've been helping her with the formal adoption stuff. She told me Candy's going to get another twenty years tacked onto her sentence probably, but that it doesn't make a difference. It is her third strike and she is inside for the rest of her life."

"God, what a horrible thing for a mom to have to go through," Lauren said. "I'm glad Patsy has Sydney…and the other way around too."

"I'm glad I've got you," Crystal said. "I'm really glad you're here today."

Lauren smiled softly at the blonde. "Where else would I be? I love you."

"Yes!" Crystal said in a low voice and pumped her arm as Davey had done. Lauren laughed.

"Why don't we go in to see Sydney and then go get some food?" With all three in agreement, they headed for the PICU doors. Lauren went to put in the entrance code, but Davey reached up for the phone.

He listened and then said, "Davey O'Brien, my mom and Lauren to see Sydney." He beamed when the doors opened. They entered the PICU.


Patsy was standing at Sydney's bedside when they entered her cubicle. Davey stood stock still when he saw the medical equipment, lines and tubes snaking their way in, out and on the girl.

"It's okay," Lauren said to him. "These are all the things we use here to make sure Sydney is getting better. You've had some of these things yourself, remember? You had the IV," she pointed out the bag of fluid connected by way of a pump to a vein in Sydney's arm. "And you had the heart monitor, too." Davey looked as Lauren indicated the oscilloscope showing Sydney's heart rhythm, heart rate and oxygen level. Remembering that he had been in somewhat the same position not too long ago seemed to put Davey at ease. He walked up to where Sydney lay in the bed.

"Hi," he said a bit shyly. Sydney's eyes tracked to her diminutive visitor. She looked pointedly at the tube emanating from her throat.

"Sydney can't talk right now because that tube is helping her breathe," Crystal said to Davey. His eyes wandered to where loosely tied restraints kept the young girl from reaching up and pulling the endotracheal tube out. He thought very hard for a moment and then fished something out of his pocket.

"You can't play this with those things on, but maybe you'd like to hold it for when you can." He took the Game Boy and placed it in Sydney's hand. The girl wrapped her fingers around it, hanging onto the familiar object for security.

Crystal touched Davey's shoulder and he turned to his mom. "Davey, we have to go now. We were only allowed to be here for a few minutes."

Davey nodded. "Okay, mom." He returned his attention to Sydney. "I got better here; you will too. Lauren works here and she'll take care of you." His words made the nurse smile. Sydney didn't respond to the words; she looked miserable with all the tubes, especially the one in her throat.

"You'll get that thing out in no time," Crystal assured her. "When you're better, maybe we can all go on that camping trip again." Sydney looked slightly happier at the news, but not by much.

"She really hates that tube," Patsy explained. "The doctor told me she was doing really well and he planned to take the tube out tomorrow, but that seems a very long time away to her. I guess I can understand that. I'm going to be right here with you all night, sweetpea," she said to her granddaughter.

"Is there anything we can get you?" Crystal offered.

"No, I'm okay. Now that I know my girl here is going to be fine, I will be too. They're going to bring in a cot so I can stay with her. I'll give you a call tomorrow and let you know how things are going," Patsy promised.

Lauren, Crystal and Davey left the cubicle as Patsy made herself comfortable in a chair by Sydney's side. Lauren glanced at Crystal who was looking back into the cubicle, a concerned expression on her face.

"She's going to be fine," Lauren reminded her.

"I know; it just breaks my heart to see her look so upset. She might be better in the morning, but it's going to be a long night for her before that."

Lauren thought a moment. "Maybe I can help that. Hang on a sec." She left Crystal and Davey and walked back into Sydney's room. She leaned over the bed and whispered something into Sydney's ear. The little girl listened and smiled around the endotracheal tube as she gave Lauren a thumbs up sign. Lauren smiled back and gave Patsy a nod as she left the room and re-joined Crystal.

"Okay, that was an amazing transformation," Crystal marveled as they walked from the PICU. "What did you say to her?"

Lauren pushed a large silver button on the wall and the doors swung open. "I just told her she was a very smart little girl and that she was right…sometimes when you kiss someone it does mean you love them, because I kissed you and I love you very much. I guess she liked being right more than being miserable."

Crystal stopped walking for a moment. "You're pretty terrific, you know that? Hey, how'd you like to spend the night with a very attractive single mother and her son?"

Lauren considered the offer. "As much as I would love to take you up on that, I better head home tonight. I'm sure Ram is starting to get worried about me and he hasn't had his fix of stinky cat food today. I'm working tomorrow, too and I have scrubs to wash and…"

"And Davey is home and you're feeling a little awkward with that," Crystal surmised.

"Well, maybe," Lauren admitted. "I just think we should have that talk with him before I stay overnight with you while he's there. He's only six, but he deserves that respect."

Crystal smiled at that. "Did I mention lately that you're pretty terrific?"

"Yeah," Lauren said ruefully as she took Crystal's hand and headed for the exit with Davey. "And tonight I'm going to be terrifically frustrated."

Chapter 18

A very sleepy Patsy Cohen rubbed tired eyes as she sat up from the recliner she'd spent the night in. Sydney had done well through the night and the Pediatric resident had already seen her, promising to come back and remove the endotracheal tube when she had completed her rounds. Sydney had been off the respirator for eight hours and only had oxygen flowing through a piece of equipment that resembled a "T" attached to her tube. The nurse had called it "blow by" and said it was a precursor to Sydney having the tube discontinued.

No doubt about it, all-nighters are a thing of the past for me, Patsy thought as the heartburn she'd had much of the night returned. Fishing another Tums from her purse, popping it into her mouth and chewing slowly, she thought, Hospital coffee and no sleep. I'll be lucky if I just don't go ahead and get an ulcer. She looked over at Sydney who was finally resting, knowing the endotracheal tube would soon be gone. She'd be worth an ulcer though. Patsy gazed at the brown-haired little girl and smiled slightly. My poor baby, all these problems at your age. You're strong and brave though, you'll come through this.

The Tums started to kick in and Patsy felt better. She felt even better a few minutes later when the resident made her appearance with Sydney's nurse. The doctor was scribbling in Sydney's chart while the nurse gathered a few items from the supply cart in the room. She turned on the suction apparatus that hung on the wall and placed a new kit containing a suction catheter at the head of the bed.

"Okay Sydney," the doctor called, rousing the girl. "We're going to get rid of that tube now, but we need you to help us."

Sydney's eyes opened and she paid close attention to the doctor. She was anxious to have the hated equipment gone. The nurse began disengaging the Velcro holder from around the girl's neck that held the tube in place. She also removed the light ties that had prevented Sydney from reaching the breathing tube and then handed the doctor an empty syringe without a needle on it.

"I'm going to deflate the cuff…that's the balloon on the tube that holds it in your airway." Patsy and Sydney watched as the doctor used the empty syringe to deflate a tiny plastic balloon on the end of a thin plastic tubing. "When I see that this balloon is flat, I know the balloon in your airway is too. Now, I'm going to count to three and when I get there I want you to cough, okay?" Sydney nodded in understanding. "Ready? One, two…three!" Sydney coughed as the doctor pulled the tube out. Patsy was amazed at how much had been inside her granddaughter.

Sydney coughed twice more. The nurse handed her a tissue and asked, "How does that feel?"

Despite the rough night the little girl smiled and said in a slightly hoarse voice, "Better. Can I have a drink of water?" The nurse placed nasal prongs on Sydney and adjusted the flow of oxygen by a meter on the wall.

"Sure thing. I'll get you some ice chips to start." The resident promised to check back in later and the nurse left to get the ice. Sydney spoke to her grandmother.

"Is it okay if I take a nap? I'm kind of tired now." Patsy reached over the siderail and patted Sydney's arm.

"You go ahead, sweetpea. I think I'll join you." Patsy and Sydney slipped into some much needed sleep.


It was nearing noon, the time Lauren usually laid down to get a couple hours rest before tackling her first twelve hour shift of a series. She had been busy all morning with the routine chores she had put off while staying with Crystal. Now the laundry was done, the apartment was clean and the groceries bought. As she slipped between the cool, clean sheets she recalled how the morning had started.

An indignant Ram had been dogging her heels ever since she woke. Actually it had been even before she woke as Ram had acted as her alarm clock by jumping on the bed and walking on her still slumbering form. He circled a few times and plopped down on her blanket-covered legs. Lauren was pulled from sleep abruptly by the action.

"Good grief, I must be feeding you too much. I swear I can't feel my lower limbs now. Get off me, you big galoot." She moved her legs enough to plunk Ram unceremoniously to the mattress. Unfazed, he got to his feet and marched toward the head of the bed where he sniffed at Lauren's face, tickling her with his whiskers as his purring kicked into high gear.

"Affectionate, motor running, wanting to snuggle…your bowl must be empty I'm guessing." Ram gave her an inscrutable look, but at the mention of the word "bowl" he jumped off the bed and headed out of the room.

"Got it in one guess," Lauren said as she piled out from under the covers. She gathered the shorts and t-shirt from where she had dropped them on the floor the night before and then glanced at the alarm clock. "Five thirty? You need stinky cat food at five thirty?" she groaned as she made her way to the kitchen. Opening the cupboard, she selected a can at random.

"Will you look at this? 'Poultry Picnic'. Can it get just a tad more repulsive?" She opened the can, appalled at the smell. "Never have so few done so much for so little," she said as she placed the bowl on the floor. She placed fresh water in Ram's other dish and shuffled back to the bedroom. The phone rang as she walked in.

"Hi there, lover," she said. Caller ID had been a godsend.

"Hey there, wonderful. Did I wake you?" Crystal's voice was bright and wide awake.

"No, no…I've been awake for hours," she lied.

"Sure you have. Just remember, I know that wake up voice of yours now." Lauren knew she was caught.

"Okay, it might have been minutes. I just got confused there," she amended.

"That sounds more like it. How are you this morning? I missed you last night."

"I'm good, great in fact now that you said that," Lauren repied. I'm just like Ram, she thought, I might start purring any second now.

"I called the hospital and Patsy was awake already. They took out Sydney's tube and she will probably go to the regular Pediatric ward on a portable heart monitor later today."

"That's great news," Lauren said. "I'll stop by before my shift starts and say hello."

"You can say hello to me too. Davey and I are going to the hospital to visit after she's moved out of the PICU. I thought maybe I could spell Patsy and let her go home for a shower and a nap. I'm taking her a bowl of homemade soup and I thought I'd see if you want some too," Crystal offered.

"Oh my God, I'd sacrifice a chicken to you if you did that. I'll be there about six, okay?"

"Sounds good to me. See you then. Love you." Crystal hung up and Lauren had glowed with how right things were in her world.


Crystal arrived at the hospital with Davey at a half past five o'clock. They were familiar enough with the pediatric portion of the hospital that they had no problem finding Sydney's room. Patsy was dozing in a chair when they walked in and Sydney was playing a video game on a television that was placed on a rolling cart. Davey immediately walked to the head of the bed to see which game was being challenged.

"That one's for babies," he said with disdain.

"I know," the girl agreed. "This old Nintendo is all they have. I wish they had an X-box or a PS2." Crystal shook her head at the video game jargon and turned to Patsy who had woken when Davey spoke.

"You look tired," the teller said.

Patsy shrugged in acceptance. "This was easier when I was younger. Every time they came in to check on Sydney last night or give her a medicine or a treatment, I woke up. I guess it was left over from being so scared on the camping trip and at the little hospital and during the time she was being transported…oh heck, all through this. I knew things like this were possible and even probable. It's one thing to know them, it's another thing to experience them. That girl shaved time off my life I tell you."

Crystal sat down on a straight back chair next to Patsy. "I can understand that; when Davey had his angioplasty I sat in the waiting area of the Cath Lab and nearly chewed my fingernails to the nub. It's stressful. When I got Davey home all I wanted to do was sleep for the next week at least."

Patsy leaned forward in the chair and rubbed the back of her neck. "You mean sleep, in a real bed? Does that really exist? I cant remember," she laughed.

Crystal leaned over and brought up a large plastic bag she had placed on the floor when she came in. She reached in and brought out a plastic container. "The soup was hot when I put it in here so it's probably still warm. I can ask the nurse to put it in the microwave if you want." She handed the container and a spoon to her friend. Patsy took the lid off and inhaled the mouth-watering aroma.

"Navy bean! I haven't had this in years. Sydney had macaroni and cheese earlier along with a hot dog and chocolate pudding. The stomachs of the young," she marveled. "I'll take this anytime." She dug into the substantial soup with relish. "At least this won't give me heartburn," she said between mouthfuls. "I'm pretty certain food in the hospital is designed to get visitors to go home."

"You could be right," Crystal said, concerned about the dark circles under her friend's eyes. "It's worse when you combine it with a lack of sleep. Why don't you go home and get a shower and a nap. My mom and dad will come by in an hour or so and pick up Davey, but I can stay until about midnight. I have to work tomorrow, but with them taking him to school, I'll get plenty of sleep."

"You're sure this isn't imposing? I mean I won't look a gift horse in the mouth, but if this is a bother, just say so, okay?"

"It's not a bother," the blonde assured her. She watched as Patsy finished the soup. She was amused as she observed the interaction between Davey and Sydney. Davey was constantly giving advice about the game and Sydney was patiently replying, "I know," to it all.

Patsy snapped the lid back on the container. "You saved my life. Now I'm going to go home, get a nap and get back here by midnight. Every bone in my body is grateful to you." She rose and slipped a lightweight jacket on. "Sydney, Crystal will be here for a while and I'll be back later. I'm going to be at home if you need me and I'll be back by midnight. You have Crystal call me if you need anything."

"Okay, Grandma. Can you bring me Grumpy when you come back?" Patsy nodded, knowing the twelve inch high stuffed replica of Sydney's favorite dwarf was a cherished companion during times of stress.

"Sure thing, kiddo. You be good for Crystal." Patsy started to exit Sydney's room, but turned back and said to the blonde in the chair, "Heads up, the nurse is coming in." Expecting Sydney's nurse, Crystal looked toward the door and a broad smile creased her face when Lauren entered. She was dressed in olive green scrubs and had a stethoscope looped around her neck.

"Don't mind me, just on my way out to Dreamland," Patsy said as she passed Lauren.

"Sleep well," Lauren said over her shoulder. She couldn't take her eyes off Crystal. It hadn't even been a full day, but she had missed the blonde.

"Hey there," she said softly as Crystal rose from the chair to meet her. She glanced at the two kids who were still absorbed in the video game and leaned over to place a quick kiss on Crystal's lips. "What's up?" she asked.

"Probably Patsy's blood pressure," Crystal said, only half joking. "She's pretty tired. I'm glad I could give her a break."

"And I'm going to give you one. What time is Patsy coming back?"

"Midnight, why?" Crystal asked.

"Because you're going home at eleven. I arranged to take my lunch time and breaks together and I'll be here to take over for you. You can get home and get some rest yourself. I'm going to be up all night anyway, so it's logical," Lauren answered.

"I'd argue with you, but you make too much sense. I brought you some Navy bean soup for your lunch. If you're going to sit here on your lunch time, I guess I can at least feed you."

"That's an offer I won't refuse," the brunette said. "How is she doing?" Lauren asked, indicating Sydney.

"Better from what Patsy said on the phone after they transferred her to this room. It looks like she'll be here another two or three days. The doctor said they didn't feel she had any permanent damage."

"That's great news; Patsy must be relieved."

"She is, but she's going to have a lot to share at the next support group meeting." Crystal checked her watch. "When do you have to be on in the PICU?"

"Not for a while yet, but there's a staff meeting before the shift starts that I need to attend so I have to get going. I will see you later though and a quick peck isn't going to do then," Lauren added in a low tone.

Crystal smiled. "For me either." She held Lauren's hand briefly before letting her go. "See you at eleven." The nurse waved as she left.


Lauren was completely relaxed in the chair at Sydney's bedside. She wasn't sure if the pleasantly warm sensation inside her was from the homemade soup that Crystal had heated and had waiting for her or the deep and loving kiss they had shared in the dimly lit room before the blonde went home.

Definitely Crystal, the nurse thought as she glanced at her watch. Plenty of time. It was as that thought crossed her mind that Patsy walked into the room.

"I didn't expect you for another half hour," Lauren observed.

"I tried to sleep and I drifted off eventually, but I kept thinking I needed to be here, needed to see for myself she was all right." Patsy moved to Sydney's bed and watched the rhythmic and unlabored breathing of her granddaughter. She pulled Grumpy out of a canvas tote bag she carried over her shoulder and set it next to the slumbering girl. He was a little the worse for wear, but his scowling countenance in his red jacket would soothe and comfort Sydney as soon as she was awake.

"Grumpy, huh? He's my favorite," Lauren commented softly, coming up beside Patsy. "Other kids liked Dopey, but I was always a fan of the Grumpster. You should have seen me push those kids aside in the big gift shop in Disneyland and get my Grumpy. They stared at me like I was crazy."

"Why would they do that? Everybody has their own favorite dwarf."

"Maybe because I was twenty-six at the time," Lauren replied.

Patsy snorted and laughed quietly. Sydney woke slightly and saw Grumpy next to her. She pulled the stuffed toy close and settled back down into sleep. "Grumpy therapy…works every time."

"Speaking of therapy, I better get back to the unit. My break will be over soon and I've got a couple of kids up there who need my attention."

"Thanks for staying, Lauren, I appreciate it. I'd say Crystal is a lucky woman." Patsy reached over and gave the nurse a quick hug.

"Don't be fooled," Lauren said as she was leaving. "I'm the lucky one. Goodnight."

"Night, Lauren." Patsy returned to the chair she had occupied earlier. It folded out to a small bed and she would ask the nurse to help her with it in a bit. She was having a hard time admitting why she had returned to the hospital early.

For most of the evening, Patsy couldn't shake the feeling of impending doom. She looked over at Sydney and realized that logically she had no reason to feel that way. All the doctors assured her that Sydney was doing well. Maybe it was seeing Sydney so sick out there in the woods where I didn't have anything I could help her with. That must be it, she thought.

She settled back in the chair, still plagued with uneasy feelings.


The phone at Crystal's house rang at six o'clock in the morning. Opening one eye, Crystal's first thought was that she had forgotten to pack something in Davey's overnight bag.


"Is this Crystal O'Brien?"

"Yes," she replied to the unfamiliar voice.

"This is Rhonda Craft, the charge nurse on the Pediatric Unit at Patterson General. Mrs. Cohen asked that I call you…"

Chapter 19

Lauren was giving report to the oncoming day nurse when James, the unit clerk, paged her for a phone call. Must be that new intern, she thought in exasperation. He doesn't know his ass from a hole in the ground. Still, she picked up the phone and pressed the line with the flashing light indicating someone was on hold and said in a pleasant voice, "PICU, this is Lauren."

"Lauren, it's Crystal." The tension in the blonde's voice was almost palpable.

"Crystal? What's the matter? No, wait. Hold on a second, okay?"

"Sure," Crystal replied and the nurse put her on hold again.

"Any questions?" she asked the day nurse.

"No, go on home and get some sleep. See you tonight." Lauren nodded and walked quickly to the nurse's lounge where she picked up the phone located there.

"Okay, Crystal, I'm back. Honey, what's the matter?" She sat at the table where the nurses took their lunch breaks and held meetings.

"It's Patsy. The charge nurse on the Pediatric Unit just called me…"

"Sydney's in trouble again?" Lauren interrupted. "I didn't hear that we were getting a transfer from the floor, but I can go down and check on her right away."

"No, it's Patsy. Patsy's the one who's sick. The nurse said she started having terrible chest pain this morning and they sent her on a gurney to the Emergency Room. I'll be on my way as soon as I call in to work, but can you go down there and find out what's going on? Patsy doesn't have anybody but Sydney; she's basically on her own. Oh God…Sydney. She's got to be frantic too."

"I can go down there, no problem. I'll go right away. I'll meet you in the waiting room."

"Thanks, Lauren. Thank you so much."


Lauren had known Geri Davis for several years and had served on a couple of hospital committees with her. Geri was the day charge nurse for the very busy Emergency Room at Patterson General. She was coming out of a patient's cubicle when Lauren entered the treatment area of the department. Extraneous foot traffic was kept to a minimum in the ER as nurses, doctors, phlebotomists and X-ray technicians already crowded the hectic area.

"Geri!" Lauren called.

"Hey Lauren, what's up and whatever it is I hope it's short. We've got a big MVA coming in, a dissecting triple A just left for OR and a whole mess of criticals waiting for unit beds. I don't remember seeing any kids on the list though." Lauren's mind automatically made the translation of the medical jargon. An MVA was a motor vehicle accident and usually called for the trauma team. The dissecting triple A meant someone had a weak and ballooning portion of the wall of the biggest blood vessel in the body and it was cracking open. Emergency surgery was the only means to save that person's life.

"I'm not here about any kids right now." A pediatric ICU nurse always accompanied any transfer from the Emergency Room to the PICU. "This is about a friend, Patsy Cohen. She was visiting on Peds and got brought down here for chest pain."

"Let me check the board." Geri consulted a large dry-erase board mounted on a nearby wall that listed all the patients currently admitted to the ER along with their chief complaint. "Here it is, Bed Seventeen. Oh yeah, I remember now. She's the one they brought down right before shift change. Let me see, her first labs should be back by now." Geri went over to the closest computer and entered her ID and password. Tapping a few keys, she brought up Patsy's results. "CBC, lytes, coags all normal. Whoa! Her Troponin is sky high. She's going to need TPA."

Lauren knew then that Patsy was having a heart attack and that she would be given a "clot-busting" drug to try and open up whatever narrowed or closed blood vessel in her heart was causing the problem.

"Your friend could have picked a better day to infarct," Geri said as the announcement came for the trauma team to assemble in the ER. The MVA was arriving.

Lauren walked over to Bed Seventeen. It was actually a cubicle with a gurney and medical equipment in it. She pulled back the curtain quietly. Patsy was lying on the gurney, the head up slightly. Lauren's eyes roamed the scene in a nursing reflex. Vital signs were displayed on a monitor behind and above Patsy's head. A continuous EKG showed her heart rate to be a little fast, but in a normal rhythm. An IV slowly dripped fluids into the somewhat ashen woman, keeping a line open for medications. A second IV was on a controlling pump. The name "Tridil" was on the bottle dripping into Patsy and Lauren knew this was intravenous nitroglycerin being used to control the woman's chest pain.

Patsy opened her eyes then. She saw Lauren and smiled weakly. "I suppose Crystal called you?" Lauren came up to the side of the gurney.

"Yeah, she said all the Cohen women were getting a turn in the hospital. How are you feeling?"

"Like death warmed over; I imagine I look that way too. How's Sydney?" Patsy was acutely and possibly critically ill, yet her first thoughts were for her granddaughter.

"I haven't seen her yet this morning; I wanted to come down here first. I know her first question will be to ask how you are doing."

Patsy raised her eyebrows. "Probably. I'm not supposed to be the one who gets sick, at least in her eyes." Lauren knew Patsy was unaware of how serious her condition was and she desperately wanted to tell her, but knew this was a medical line she couldn't cross. The new confidentiality rules said she wasn't supposed to even know about Patsy's condition, much less tell her about it.

"Crystal will be here pretty soon. I better get out to the waiting room to meet her. I'll make sure she goes up and checks on Sydney." Lauren started toward the door.

"Lauren," Patsy called. The nurse turned. "Tell Crystal I didn't expect her to be needed so soon." Lauren nodded, not completely understanding Patsy's meaning. She assumed the older woman was referring to Crystal being her back-up with Sydney.

Heading out to the waiting room, several heads turned toward her, expecting news of their friend or family member. She disappointed all but the blonde who was just coming through the door. Lauren met her and took her aside where they could talk.

"What's going on?" Crystal asked. "Have you had time to find anything out?"

In a low voice, Lauren said, "You can't say anything. If you do I could lose my job." She waited to be sure Crystal understood that important point. "Patsy is having a heart attack."

"Shit," Crystal said, sitting down on a plastic waiting room chair. "Can I see her?"

"I'd give it some time. They're going to need to work with her a little bit. I think she wanted you to check on Sydney. Apparently she was pretty shaken up."

Crystal ran a hand through her blonde locks. "I bet. That girl has had a rough road lately; she really doesn't need Patsy being sick. I'll go up now and see how she is."

"I'll hang around here for a little while until you get back. I'm going to need to head home pretty soon though, I have to work again tonight." Lauren sat beside Crystal. "I wish I could stay longer and be with you today, but the staffing is thin on my unit. We have one nurse on vacation and two more out on maternity leave. There's no way I can miss my shifts without hurting the other people I work with." She placed her hand over Crystal's.

"I know. It's okay. Can I call you when you get up and let you know what's going on?"

"Absolutely. You better." She squeezed the hand in hers. "You better get upstairs and see about Sydney. Don't worry, I'll be here when you get back. Come on, I'll walk you to the elevator." They rose and headed for the doors leading to the main hospital. Before they could exit, Geri Davis came out of the treatment area doors. She approached the women.

"I'm glad I caught you, I thought you might have left already. Are you Crystal O'Brien?" she asked the blonde. Crystal nodded. "Okay, Mrs. Cohen has requested we give her medical information to you and Lauren. I've got to make this quick…we're swamped. Her chest pain is back and Cardiology has decided to take her right to the Cath Lab. You should be able to find something out in an hour or so. Lauren, can you show her where it is?"

"I know where it is," Crystal interjected. "I've spent a bit of time there."

"Okay then, that's all I've got for you. The rest you'll need to get from the Cardiologist. There's some beds opening up in the Cardiac Care Unit so I assume she'll be transferred right to there after the angio." The nurse headed back to the treatment area.

"An angioplasty," Crystal said ruefully. "Yeah, I know about the Cath Lab and angioplasties." Lauren put a supportive arm around the blonde's shoulders. "There's just a lot of waiting involved now. I remember that all too well. You might as well go on home and get to bed. I'll call with the news later."

Lauren hugged Crystal and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "Call me any time you need me. I mean that." They stood together a moment more and Crystal pulled away.

"Sydney…" she said apologetically. She would have liked to have stayed in Lauren's comforting embrace a lot longer, but knew she was needed on the Pediatric Unit. "I'll call." She moved away slowly and Lauren watched her until she got on the elevators. Lauren stood in the doorway of the ER a moment more doing what most nurses did. They hoped for the best, but expected the worst.


Crystal stood by the door a moment, gazing in at the young girl. The television was on, but Sydney was simply staring out the window. Even the beloved Game Boy was sitting on the bedside table untouched.

"Hey there," Crystal said softly, not wanting to startle the child.

"Crystal!" Sydney cried. There was no pretense of being brave or unfazed; this was a little girl who was frightened to death. Crystal's maternal instincts kicked in and she moved quickly to sit on the bed and take Sydney into her arms. The little girl wept as she attempted to tell Crystal what had happened. The blonde rocked the girl and stroked her brown hair, untidy now from the time in bed.

"It's okay, Sydney," Crystal said in a soothing tone. "I know about Patsy; the nurse called me."

"Where is Grandma?" Sydney asked plaintively. "Why hasn't she come back?"

Crystal set the girl back from her a bit so she could look her straight in the eye. "Your grandma was taken to the Emergency Room, like you were a day ago. The doctors and nurses are working very hard to make her feel better so she doesn't have so much pain." Sydney's tears subsided a bit. "Do you remember when Davey was in the hospital a while ago?" The girl nodded slowly. "Well, they took him to a special room where they put a wire into his leg and ran it up to his heart so they could look at it. That's what they're doing to your grandma right now. They're looking inside her heart."

"Why?" Sydney asked in a straightforward manner. "Why do they have to do that?" Crystal could only answer her in the same way.

"Your grandma had a heart attack." Sydney's tears ceased then; she knew from her own experiences and those of her friends in the support group what a heart attack was and what it could mean. She began trembling and Crystal pulled her into her arms again.

"Will Grandma be all right?" Sydney asked through nearly chattering teeth.

"I don't know, Sydney," Crystal said truthfully. "Right now, I don't know."


Her day's sleep had been nearly worthless. Lauren had tossed and turned and when she finally had fallen asleep, she kept dreaming about what was happening at the hospital. At three o'clock in the afternoon she gave up and got out of bed. She fed Ram and wandered around the apartment for a bit, completing the odd chore here and there. At four o'clock she could stand it no longer and called the cell phone Crystal carried for emergencies. She hoped the phone ringing wouldn't upset Crystal any more than the day already had.

The phone rang three times before Crystal answered, "Hello?"

"It's me," Lauren said. "I'm sorry, this was the only way I had to reach you. I didn't know where you'd be."

"It's okay and boy am I glad to hear from you. This has been a day I don't want to experience again anytime soon. I'm about at the end of my rope, but just hearing your voice is helping me."

"How's Patsy…and how's Sydney? And yes, how are you?"

"Well, lets start with the easy one. I'm okay. Sydney is doing remarkably well. I saw her Pediatric resident this afternoon. She'll be ready to go home the day after tomorrow. She's worried about Patsy, but not hysterical or anything. Patsy has done a great job with her." Lauren was somewhat relieved, she really liked the intelligent girl.

"What about Patsy?" Lauren inquired. Crystal hesitated.

"Patsy's another story. They took her to the Cath Lab and from what they told me, they worked on three of the major blood vessels of her heart. She seemed to be okay afterward, but she developed some bleeding at the puncture site in her right groin. Her blood pressure dropped and she had some irregular heartbeats because of that. They finally got her stable enough to transfer up to the Cardiac Care Unit and right now she's on IV medicines to keep her blood thin and to control her irregular heartbeats. Her blood pressure is holding right now, but the doctor said the next twenty-four hours would be critical. He also said if she comes through this, when she's stronger she'll need open heart surgery. Patsy apparently didn't know it, but he said it looks like she's had a few 'silent' heart attacks before."

"Jesus," Lauren breathed, "what a mess."

"Yeah. I'm outside the CCU right now waiting to be able to see her. It'll only be for a few minutes I'm sure, but I want her to know Sydney is okay. Sydney will be coming to stay with Davey and I until Patsy gets better."

"Oh, I forgot this morning, Patsy asked me to tell you she didn't expect you to be needed so soon," Lauren said.

"Oh." Crystal's voice took on a tone of dejection. "I hope that wasn't a premonition on her part."

"A premonition? I don't understand, Crystal. Wasn't she talking about you being the back-up care for Sydney?"

"Kind of…" Crystal was holding something back and Lauren waited to hear what it was. "When Patsy got custody of Sydney, she realized there wasn't anybody in her life she could trust Sydney with. There aren't any blood relatives except Candy and she's out of the picture now. I thought about it and when Patsy asked, I agreed to it."

"Agreed to what exactly?" Lauren asked though she thought she already knew.

"It's in Patsy's will. If she dies, custody of Sydney passes to me."

"Holy Christ," the nurse said. "I'm on my way in."


Crystal was escorted to Patsy's room in the Cardiac Care Unit by her nurse. It reminded her of the Pediatric ICU in many ways and the equipment was all too familiar. Nurses moved quickly in ways and patterns she recognized from Davey's and Sydney's admissions. Vital signs were being checked, rhythms recorded and progress notes written. The hum and whir of many different machines created a kind of white noise that was almost soothing until an alarm would break the calm. She followed the nurse into Patsy's room.

"Just a few minutes, okay? She's pretty weak and tired right now." Crystal nodded and the nurse left. Approaching the bed, she was almost intimidated by the amount of equipment and lines attached to the older woman. It was as if Patsy was being enveloped by Medusa's hair.

"Patsy?" she said. "Patsy, it's Crystal." The red-haired woman opened her eyes and looked around groggily. Crystal moved closer to the bed to allow Patsy a better view. "Hey, how are you?"

"I've been better," Patsy admitted. "How is Sydney?"

"She's been better too. Her best friend is in the hospital, you know."

"She's my best friend too," Patsy said quietly. She looked directly at the blonde. "I don't want to leave her, but I'm scared that's precisely what might happen. Apparently she's not the only one in my little family with a bad heart." Crystal wasn't sure how to respond to that, knowing Patsy was exactly right.

"You've just got to concentrate on getting better, Patsy. Try not to worry about Sydney. I'll bring her home and take really good care of her for you while you're in here. The doctor said she could go home the day after tomorrow," she said, hoping to give Patsy some good news on this day when she hadn't had much.

Patsy reached a hand out to Crystal who took it gently. An IV was situated in the back of the hand and an elastic bandage held an oxygen monitor in place. "I know you'll watch out for her, but what if the job becomes…permanent? I know when we wrote that will you were helping me out with the State people. Neither one of us thought we'd be faced with the possibility so soon." She was quiet a moment, sure she was saying what Crystal was thinking. "I know I'm not doing so hot. There's a certain amount of sugar-coating that the doctors have to do, but I'm not an idiot. I realize this can go either way. I just need to know Sydney is going to be safe and taken care of."

"She will be, Patsy. I agreed to take care of her if anything happened to you and I will. We will, I mean. Sydney will never lack for a family. It'll be us if that's what happens, but I think you'll be around for a quite a while to do that yourself." Patsy accepted Crystal's assurances and relaxed back onto the bed. The nurse returned, staying near the door, but providing a reminder that Crystal's time to visit was up.

"I need to pick up Davey soon, but I'll be back tomorrow afternoon. If you need anything at all, have the nurses call me on my cell phone."

"You gave me everything I need, Crystal. I'll see you tomorrow," Patsy said as she settled back onto the pillow. "I'll be fine now." From the corner of her eye, the blonde saw Patsy's nurse move quickly to the heart monitoring station. She left the room as the nurse came back and entered.

"Mrs. Cohen? I'm going to check your blood pressure, okay? How are you feeling?"

"I've got a little pressure here," Patsy said, indicating an area under her breastbone. Crystal walked slowly toward the exit, glancing back occasionally at the increased activity around Patsy's door. She was exiting when a shrill alarm sounded at the monitoring station. A nurse was pushing a large red cart to Patsy's room and yelled back to the technician at the desk.

"Call the Code!"

Chapter 20

Sydney sat in the living room at Crystal's house, staring forlornly out the front picture window. It was a place she could be found frequently, having lost interest in most everything. School had been out for a week and Crystal was finding it difficult to get the girl to be excited about or participate in anything.

Crystal was carrying a basket full of freshly laundered and folded clothes to the bedroom when she spied Sydney back at the window, observing, but not becoming a part of the world outside.

Poor kid, she thought. It's been almost four weeks since she got out of the hospital and she's spent most of her time right there. I know it's been tough on her. She's been uprooted from her regular routine, regular friends and regular world. That's a lot for a nine year old to handle. Hell, that would be a lot for anybody to handle. With a sigh she continued up the hall. She looked in on Davey who was playing a new video game Lauren had given him. The nurse had been spending a great deal of time with Crystal and the children, trying especially hard to get Sydney to feel comfortable being with them fulltime. She hadn't had much success yet.

"How's it going?" Crystal asked her son. He looked up at her in consternation.

"This one is hard. Is Lauren coming back soon? I think I need some help." Lauren had used Davey's video games to create common ground between them and now that initial common thread was weaving itself into a full blown quilt of a relationship. It made Crystal happy to see Davey bring questions, problems and even the fun and happy things to Lauren more and more.

"Maybe I can give you a hand; did you ever think to ask me?" She managed to keep a straight face as she made the offer, knowing both she and Davey were aware of her ineptitude at the whole genre of video games.

"Sure, Mom," Davey laughed. Crystal had to laugh too as she dropped off Davey's things on his bed.

"Into the right drawers sometime today," she instructed. "Don't let me find any more clean clothes on the floor." She checked her watch, realized Lauren would be back soon and moved to get her own clothes put away. The few small chores she had left to do could wait until later. A car horn honked outside and Crystal recognized the sound as coming from Lauren's yellow Mustang.

"Lauren's here!" Sydney yelled and Crystal thought she hadn't heard that particular tone in a very long time. Crystal came up the hallway at the same time Davey came shooting out of his room and only narrowly avoided a collision with the streaking child.

"Easy there, Speedy Gonzalez, we're going to be with Lauren for the rest of the day." Despite her words, Crystal hurried her pace to meet the brunette also. Sydney had already opened the door and was running out to meet the woman in the yellow Mustang.

"Grandma!" she yelled as Patsy slid out of the passenger seat. Sydney had raced to meet her grandmother. Even after emergency open heart surgery and a prolonged recovery, including time on the hospital's rehabilitation unit, Patsy's smile and happiness at seeing her granddaughter was undiminished.

"Hold it, sweetpea, I've still got some healing to do, but I sure will take a nice easy hug from my best girl." Sydney stopped just short of the older woman and then gingerly walked the remaining distance and gave her a hug that conveyed in affection what it necessarily lacked in robustness. "I missed you, kiddo. Visiting with you in the hospital just wasn't the same." Sydney took Patsy's hand and showed no signs of letting go any time soon.

"Patsy, you look good," Crystal said as she came out of the house with Davey. She gave Patsy a hug and then walked to the driver's side of the car and graced Lauren with the same.

"I'm feeling close to my old self now. Well, my old self with a leg vein in my heart, but still…pretty close." As always, Patsy's good humor was infectious and there were smiles all around. "Sydney, what do you say we go home tonight? I kind of missed the old homestead."

"Me too, Grandma. I liked being here with Crystal and Davey and Lauren, but I'm ready to go home with you now." Not one of the people Sydney mentioned took offence at her sentiments. They completely understood her desire to be with her family.

"Let's get your suitcase and then Lauren is going to give us a ride home. We need to head out now because they are going to be pretty busy this afternoon." Sydney took off for the house, but looked back at the door to make sure Patsy wasn't going anywhere. "Go ahead, Sydney, I'm going to be right here." The girl ducked into the house. "I'm going to be here for a long time to come." Patsy turned to the trio waiting by the front of Lauren's car.

"I owe you guys a lot and don't think I'm going to forget it. You kept Sydney and gave me support for this last month. I don't think I'll ever be able to tell you how much I appreciate it. You three are gold in my book."

"It was our pleasure, Patsy, and you don't owe us anything," Crystal assured her.

"Well, you can say that, but I know differently. What do you say in a week or so you come over and we have a party to celebrate Sydney and I both being out of the hospital?" She started to tick things off on her fingers. "Let's see…a low fat, low cholesterol and low sodium party, but a party nonetheless."

"Sounds good, Patsy," Lauren said. "Count us in." Sydney returned with her small suitcase and placed it in Lauren's car next to Patsy's white belongings bag from the hospital. The nurse gave Crystal a quick peck on the cheek. "I'll be back in a jiffy; don't go anywhere."

"We'll be waiting," the blonde said. Davey and Crystal waved as Lauren backed the Mustang out of the driveway and took the two Cohen women home.


"I don't know about you, but my ass is dragging," Lauren said as she collapsed onto the sofa next to Crystal. "Can we do the rest in the morning?"

"We have to, I couldn't do another lick of work if you paid me," an equally tired Crystal agreed. "It's going to take a small boy and an elephant to get me off this couch as it is. I don't think it'll hurt anything to leave the rest." Lauren dropped her head to Crystal's lap.

"What would you say to a hot bubble bath followed by a full body massage with warm oil?" Lauren said from her comfortable place on the blonde's thighs.

"That sounds great," Crystal replied.

"Good, call me when my water's hot, will you?" Crystal reached over and smacked Lauren gently on the head with a sofa pillow which caused the nurse to chuckle. "I'd pillow fight you, but a strong breeze would knock me over right about now. Who knew moving was such a tough thing to do?"

"Well the lifting and hauling is done, now we only have to worry about the unpacking and sorting and…maybe we should keep working."

Lauren groaned. "Tell you what…we'll let fate decide. I'll get a quarter and we'll flip. Heads, we push all the boxes into the spare room, forget about them for a week or so and go to our bedroom for some more of that 'quality time'."

"What if the quarter comes up tails?"

"Then we forget about the boxes altogether and just head straight to the bedroom." Crystal was amused.

"Did anybody ever tell you that you have a one-track mind?"

"What was that?" Lauren asked innocently. "I'm sorry, I didn't hear you. I was thinking about sex." They laughed together and were still chuckling when Davey entered the living room. He was in a pair of Incredible Hulk pajamas. In his hand was the leash to the harness Ram still wore.

"If it isn't my son the cat master," Crystal observed. "I think we can let Ram out of that thing now that the doors are closed up. We just have to make sure he stays inside until he realizes this is his new home."

"I already took care of that," Lauren informed her. "I had Davey put ten cans of stinky cat food in a cupboard in the kitchen while Ram was with him. Believe me, Davey just inherited a feline barnacle."

"What's a barnacle?" Davey asked.

"A barnacle is something that sticks close to you. If you feed Ram, he'll be yours."

"Really?" Davey asked in amazement. "That's cool. If you're staying in Mom's room, can Ram stay in mine? I'm pretty sure I have enough space for him."

"Absolutely," Lauren answered. Davey grinned from ear to ear.

"Ram and I are going to my room to fix his bed." Davey picked up the cat and carried him down the hall. The center of attention job suited Ram just fine.

"Don't say it," Crystal warned.

"Hey Crystal, do you want to go to our room and play ship and barnacle?"

"You said it anyway!" Crystal laughed. "I can't believe Davey didn't say he was going to his room to play video games. I'd say that cat is a miracle worker."

"It might not be the cat, but we've definitely got one. Look at all the miracles we've had. My thesis is almost finished, I've found the love of my life and she loves me back, Patsy and Sydney are doing well, I'm moving in with two of my favorite people on the planet…the list goes on and on." Crystal brought up her hand and stroked the brunette's hair. She didn't say anything for a minute. Lauren waited; the silences between them were never uncomfortable.

"Lauren, what will happen if someday one of our miracles doesn't happen? We've got a lot of changes coming up you know. We have to tell my parents about us and we need to make you part of Davey's life legally. Then there's Davey himself." She paused, not needing to be more specific about Davey's problems. "There's a lot of things in which we aren't going to have any guarantees."

Lauren sat up and leaned in to Crystal for a tired but loving kiss. "The only guarantee I need is that you love me and you'll let me love you and Davey. I know all those things you said and believe me, if I didn't realize how precious and unpredictable life is, I sure would have after what happened to Sydney and Patsy." She glanced in the direction of Davey's room. "We may have very tough times ahead, but I've signed on for permanent duty. Whatever happens, we're going to go through it together."

Lauren stood and brought Crystal to her feet as well. Draping her arm over Crystal's shoulders, she headed them up the hallway. They stopped to look in on Davey who was talking quietly to Ram. Being certain the boy was fine, they moved further up the hallway to the bedroom.

Lauren turned Crystal to her once they were out of earshot. "I get it now, you know. It's the reason my thesis is nearly finished… because I get it. It's like there's a small ball of fear for him that stays inside you all the time. It never leaves, does it?"

Crystal shook her head slowly. "No, it doesn't."

"I feel that fear inside of me now too. I don't know how you stood it alone all this time." Lauren paused a moment. "It's not an 'if' with Davey, is it? It's a 'when'."

A look of profound sadness crossed the blonde's features. "Yeah," she answered simply.

Lauren nodded her head rapidly several times. "Okay, well, like I said, tough times ahead, but we're a family now and there's nothing more important than that."

"Important?" Crystal asked as she moved into Lauren's comforting embrace. "It's the heart of the matter."

The End