Noooooooo... not again... please... not again. Tina moved unsteadily to the couch before her legs gave out completely. Car accident... no... no... no. She collapsed onto the soft surface as everything became dark and she saw white dots dancing in front of her eyes. She blinked a few times and the room slowly started to come back into focus. She became vaguely aware of a voice that sounded very far away calling her name. It took a moment for her to realize it was coming from the telephone that had dropped into her lap. She picked it up with a trembling hand.
"TINA... TINA... TINA!" Lisa was shouting into the phone.
"She's all right!"
"S... she's okay?"
"Yes. The doctor ordered some x-rays to be sure, but he doesn't think there are any major injuries."
Tina began sobbing uncontrollably.
Lisa was surprised at the emotional outburst from the normally cool, calm and collected woman. I guess this answers any questions I had about how much she cares for Sam.
Tina fought to regain her composure so she could speak. "I... I'll be there as soon as I can."
"I think I should warn you. My mother is here."
Uh oh. "Maybe I shouldn't... I mean... umm... what does Samantha want?"
"Oh, she's been quite... adamant," Lisa chuckled, breaking the tension a little. "She wants YOU."
"Then I'm on my way."
"Okay... I'll tell her."
"Thanks for calling me."
Tina hung up the phone and made her way to the bathroom. She splashed some cold water on her face and looked in the mirror. C'mon, T... don't fall apart. Samantha needs you. The dark-haired woman pushed aside her own feelings as she concentrated on the important matter at hand. Samantha needs me. Energized with that single-minded sense of purpose, she went into the living room, grabbed her backpack and ran out of the condo. She didn't bother waiting for the elevator, instead choosing to gallop down the stairs at breakneck speed. Jumping into her car, she zipped through the streets of downtown Tampa, relieved that it was Sunday and traffic was light.
Once on the interstate, she had to use a substantial amount of restraint not to press the accelerator to the floor. Not that the car couldn't handle it. The BMW could go well over 100 mph with ease. She was more concerned about being pulled over for a ticket, causing a delay in her trip. Given what had happened in her past, Tina was a careful driver who rarely speeded or took unnecessary chances. She decided to set her cruise control to15 mph over the posted limit and hoped she didn't get caught.
Thirty minutes later, Tina arrived at Sarasota Memorial. After parking in the visitor's garage, she raced to the hospital entrance, stopping abruptly when she got there. She stared at the automatic doors. I swore I would never set foot in this place again. An ambulance siren wailed in the distance. Memories of the day ten years ago when she and Steven were brought here flashed through her mind. She took several deep breaths to calm her thundering heart. I can do this... for Samantha...
Hesitantly, she stepped into the busy lobby. People were coming and going, brushing past her as she tried to get her bearings. She rubbed her temples to try to alleviate the pounding in her head. Aspirins... I need aspirins. Spotting a water fountain, she went over and leaned against the wall next to it. She removed from her backpack the bottle of extra strength aspirins she always carried with her in case her back pain flared up. This should help. She took a sip of water to wash down two of the tablets before glancing around for a sign indicating the way to the ER. A flash of blue in her peripheral vision caught her attention. What's that? Tina peered through the large glass window of the gift shop and smiled at a cute teddy bear sitting on one of the shelves. She went inside the store to examine it more closely. The stuffed toy was approximately a foot tall and somewhat unusual because it had dark black fur rather than any of the more typical shades of brown. A sky blue ribbon was tied in a bow around its neck. I bet Samantha would like you a lot. She lifted the bear off the shelf and headed to the cashier.
"Will that be all?" the clerk asked.
"Yes." Tina paid for her purchase and borrowed a pen to sign the heart-shaped card dangling from the animal's ear.
Armed with the bear in hand and directions to the ER from the cashier, she walked out into the lobby with a bit more confidence. She went past the elevators and turned right, following that hallway until it ended at the Emergency Room.
The place was full and very noisy, with the TV blaring, babies crying and people talking. A nurse's station was positioned near a door that apparently led to the treatment area. Tina approached the counter and waited impatiently for the sole employee manning the station to acknowledge her.
"May I help you?"
"I'm here to see Samantha Whitwell."
The nurse picked up a clipboard and looked at the top page. "Yes, she's here."
"I KNOW THAT. Can I see her?"
"Are you a relative?"
"According to this," the woman tapped the clipboard with her finger, "Ms. Whitwell already has two family members with her. You'll have to wait out here until she is released. It shouldn't be long now." The phone rang and she reached for the receiver.
"WAIT A MINUTE!" Frustrated, Tina attempted to bang her fist on the counter. However, she forgot she was holding the teddy bear and only succeeded in plunking the adorable animal right in front of the employee. "I NEED TO SEE HER." Lowering her voice considerably, she continued, "She's my... umm... partner."
The nurse paused, her hand resting on the still-ringing phone. She smiled at the bear before raising her eyes to the person it very much resembled.
Both women's heads turned toward the doorway to the patient area, where Lisa was gesturing for her sister's visitor to come in.
"Go on," the nurse waved Tina away before grabbing the phone. "Sarasota Memorial, Emergency Room... May I help you?"
Tina nodded her thanks and hurried over to Lisa. "How is she?"
"She came back from X-Ray a few minutes ago. We're waiting to hear the results."
"The... the accident... what happened?"
"Kathy was driving Sam home after lunch." Lisa led the way through the bustling infirmary. "They were waiting at a stoplight and when it turned green, they started into the intersection. Some guy going the other way ran the red light and hit them. Thank goodness he wasn't going very fast, but he hit the passenger side of the car. Kathy wasn't hurt, but she's pretty shaken up. I took her home a little while ago."
They arrived at the last curtained section in the row and Tina peeked around the cloth. Sam was lying in a partially inclined hospital gurney, eyes closed and face turned away from her mother, who was sitting in the only chair available in the cramped space. Mrs. Whitwell rose from the seat as soon as she saw Tina and the two women exchanged reciprocally unfriendly looks.
Lisa quickly moved between them. She gently took hold of her mother's arm. "Let's go get a cup of coffee." She ushered Mrs. Whitwell away, continuing to talk in order to quell any protest that might be forthcoming. "I think there's a beverage machine in the lobby. Maybe by the time we get back they'll have the information about the x-rays."
Tina sighed as she watched the mother and daughter leave. I owe you one, Lisa. She turned and gazed at Sam, pleased to see that she was awakening.
The blonde rubbed her eyes. "Am I dreaming... or are you really here?"
"I'm really here." Tina sat on the edge of the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm okay. The diagnosis at this point is just some bad bruising to my right side. If the tests come back showing no internal injuries, I can go home."
"I... I'm so glad you're all right. This... it... scared me."
"Hey," Sam said softly, "I'm fine..."
"You could've been..." She didn't dare say it out loud. Killed.
"You listen to me, Tina Mellekas, I may be small, but I'm tough." Sam flexed her left arm and made a muscle. "See?"
Tina nodded, not sure that she could speak without bursting into tears.
Sam observed the silent woman, who was fidgeting with a stuffed animal in her hands. We're going to have to talk about this... but not now. She's barely holding herself together. "T?"
"Is that for me?"
"Oh... umm... yeah." Tina handed the teddy bear over. "I... I thought you might like it."
Sam took the tall woman's hand and pulled her close. "I LOVE... it."
Only inches apart, blue eyes met green, communicating better than words ever could.
Tina sprang off the bed.
"Hi, Doc." Sam grinned at the blushing resident. "This is my partner, Tina."
The doctor shook hands with the equally blushing visitor before addressing his patient. "The x-rays show no damage to any internal organs. There are no broken bones, though you do have some deep bruising. You're going to be sore for the next few days, but otherwise you'll be fine."
"So, I can I go home now?"
"Yes. I'm going to write you a prescription for medication for tonight and tomorrow. By Tuesday you should be able to use an over-the-counter pain reliever as needed. The nurse will be back with release papers for you to sign and then you are free go."
"You're welcome." The resident left, pulling the curtain closed behind him.
"Ugh..." Sam winced as she tried to sit up.
"What are you doing?"
"I have to get dressed. Would you get my clothes for me? I think they put them under the bed."
Tina got the plastic bag of clothes from the shelf beneath the gurney and helped the blonde get dressed.
Sam groaned in pain several times during the exceedingly slow, difficult process. Exhausted from the effort, she leaned back against the pillows. "Tina?"
"Thanks. I've been so worried today... in this flimsy hospital gown. I was sure my mom or Lisa was going to see my tattoo."
Tina finished tying the laces on Sam's sneakers. "Anytime." She moved to the head of the bed. "Though I much prefer taking your clothes OFF to putting them on," she whispered as she leaned down for a tender kiss.
"I feel better already."
"Good." Me, too. Tina straightened up. "They'll be back soon."
Sam sighed. I am NOT ready for that.
"My mom... we kind of argued earlier..."
"Here? At the hospital?"
"Yeah... umm... she wants me to go to her house... so she can take care of me. I... I told her no, but she wasn't listening."
"What do YOU want to do?"
"I.... I'd like for you to drive me home."
"Then that's what we'll do."
"Hello?" Lisa alerted the women before pulling open the curtain. "Any news yet?"
"Yes. The doctor was just here. No broken bones... no internal injuries. I'm waiting to sign my release papers and then I can leave."
"Great! I'll call Mike and let him know."
"Lisa," Mrs. Whitwell's voice stopped her daughter before she hurried off. "After you call, go get the car. We'll meet you outside after Samantha signs..."
"Mom," Sam interrupted, "Tina is taking me to my house."
"We already had this conversation..."
"Excuse me, Mrs. Whitwell," Tina said, "but it's Samantha's decision to make."
"You, of all people, shouldn't be telling ME what's best for my daughter!"
"Mom... please...don't." Sam implored.
"This is neither the time nor the place for this discussion," Tina reasoned. "Anything you have to say to me can wait until after I get Samantha home."
There was an uncomfortable silence as the women glared at each other.
"Hello!" A nurse breezed in with a clipboard. She looked at Sam. "Are you ready to go home?"
"These are the doctor's orders." She tilted the clipboard so the patient could read along. "No work for three days... get plenty of bed rest... medication for tonight and tomorrow. Any questions?"
"I need you to sign here."
Trying to keep her arm as still as possible, Sam clumsily wrote her name.
"Here is your prescription and your copy of the doctor's orders." The nurse gave her the papers. "I have a wheelchair for you. Is someone going to bring a car to the door?"
Tina spoke first. "I am." She reached for Sam's hand and squeezed it. "I'll see you in a few minutes."
Tina went through the ER waiting room and outside. There was a circular drive where patient drop-off and pick-up was allowed. She jogged along the sidewalk, past the main entrance of the hospital and to the parking garage. By the time she got back to the Emergency Room, the group was already outside. She got out of the car to open the passenger door while Lisa helped Sam up from the wheelchair. After adjusting the leather seat so it reclined a little and the injured woman assured her she was comfortable, Tina fastened the seatbelt. She closed the door and turned to face Lisa and her mother.
They stood silently for a moment, no one sure of what to say.
Lisa came to the rescue again. "We'll go get the prescription filled and meet you at Sam's."
"All right." Tina walked around to the driver's side of the car and got in. She looked at her partner. "Ready?"
"Yes." The normally cheerful woman was definitely out of sorts and it was evident in her tone. Her side was throbbing from moving around and her head ached from the emotional stress. She hugged the teddy bear in her arms. "I just want to go home."
"You got it." Tina put the car in gear. I don't know what's going to happen when we get there... but I doubt it will be very good.
And she was right.
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