Flame Turns Blue
Zander paced up and down the hallway. Occasionally he paused to reassure Elizabeth that he was okay. She looked shaky and scared. Zander tried to convince her that Emily would be all right. Emily, who was in a room with her parents and a specialist. Every few steps Zander would almost collide with Lucky, who was pacing right along with him. Emily's collapse had been a shock to them all.
He whirled to face Monica. "How is she?"
Monica sighed. "It's not good. Emily has developed Meningitis. Emily's immune system is dangerously compromised. She's at high risk to any and all infections and it won't take much to shut her body down."
"But she'll pull through." Zander was adamant.
"I hope so."
Zander squeezed Monica on the shoulder. "Can I see her?"
Monica nodded. "In a few minutes. But you have to be gowned, gloved and masked. Emily needs to be contained in as sterile an environment as possible."
"Fine. Whatever it takes." Zander didn't care. He just wanted to see Emily. To be with her. He paced some more while he waited, vaguely aware of Elizabeth and Lucky chatting with Monica. Then Alan and the doctor came out of the room and Monica helped Zander with the gown and mask. He pulled on the gloves then entered the room.
It scared Zander how small and pale Emily looked. She was hooked up to oxygen and even so her breathing was labored. But Zander vowed not to let it spook him. He moved to the stool at the side of the bed and carefully took Emily's hand. The other hand had an IV taped to the back of it. "Hey baby," Zander said softly. "I'm here now and you're going to be okay. You're going to beat this." Even with the gloves on, Zander could feel the heat of Emily's skin. Like fire. "You can do this, Em. I know you can. This…this is just a bump in the road. We're used to those. We'll get over it. And then we'll get on with our lives. This is just a little time out. Okay?" Zander shifted on the stool. "Hey...I had a great time today, ya know? You looked so beautiful, baby. So perfect." Zander reached out to brush a damp lock of hair off of Emily's forehead. He realized his hand was shaking.
"Em.." Zander's voice broke and he paused to clear his throat. "Someday we're going to take our kids to the amusement park. It's gonna be great." Zander felt his eyes burn and he blinked back tears. "I'm gonna stay right here beside you, Emily. All the way." And Zander was true to his word. He didn't move from the stool until Alan and Monica came in to check on Emily. They told him he could stay with her since his presence seemed to have a calming effect on Emily. But four hours later Monica pulled Zander out of the room.
"You need to go home and get some sleep," she told him.
Zander stripped off the gown and mask and gloves. He would have to put on sterile dressing to go back in. "I'm not leaving."
Monica sighed. "Zander...you have to take care of yourself. You have to do it for Emily. Go home. Shower, eat, sleep."
"I'll go home and shower," Zander allowed. He felt gritty and worn out and he knew a shower would help him be more alert. "But I'm coming back. I'm not leaving Emily. She needs to know I'm with her."
"All right." Monica conceded defeat. "Go home and shower. I want you to get something to eat and try to nap a bit. The room next to Emily's is vacant and I'll have a cot set up for you there. Deal?"
Zander nodded. "Yeah. How you holding up?" He could see how scared Monica was and he wished there was something he could do, or say, to convince her that Emily was going to be all right.
Monica sighed. "I've been better. But we'll get through this. I want to thank you, Zander...for supporting Emily through everything. You've been there for her every step of the way and I know it's been a big help to her."
"You don't have to thank me. I love Emily. I'll do whatever it takes to help her get through this." Zander patted Monica on the shoulder. "Um…I'm gonna go. I'll be back soon." That said he headed for the elevators.
* * * * *
An hour later Zander was ready to head back to the hospital. He had taken a quick shower and was dressed in clean jeans and a tee shirt. He brushed his still damp hair, popped two pain pills, then winced at his hand. It was throbbing and bleeding a bit from when he had forgotten about it in the shower and had torn the stitches a bit. Plus he didn't have any bandages big enough to cover it and he was out of gauze. But Zander wasn't concerned with his hand. He stuck a packet of pills in his back pocket and headed for the door.
He stepped off the elevators and headed straight for Emily's room, only to be intercepted by his father. Zander forced himself to be nice. "Dad."
"Alexander. I'm sorry to hear about Emily."
"Thanks. But she's going to be okay."
Cameron nodded. "She has the best of care. How are you doing?"
Zander managed a smile. "I'm fine." He noticed Monica approaching. "How is Emily doing?" he asked, when she reached them.
"She's the same. You weren't gone long."
Monica studied him and frowned. "You're supposed to keep your hand bandaged." She grabbed his wrist to study her handiwork.
Zander shrugged. "I ran out of gauze."
"I'll rewrap it for you. Looks like you tore the stitches a bit."
"It's okay." Zander pulled his hand away.
Monica shook her head at him. "Come with me."
Cameron touched her arm. "I'll do it," he offered. "I'm sure you'd rather spend the time with your daughter."
"Thank you." Monica nodded her appreciation. Then she turned back to Zander. "Did you eat?"
Monica glared at him. "You're lying."
Zander winced. "I'll eat later."
"I'll go on a food run," Lucky offered. He had been hovering in the background. "I can get a burger at Kelly's and bring it back."
"That's okay," Zander protested.
Monica shook a finger at him then smiled at Lucky. "Thank you. I'd appreciate it."
Lucky brushed off her thanks. "Tell you the truth, I'm grateful to have something to do." He waved and headed off.
"Let's go to the treatment room, Alexander, and I'll take care of your hand." Cameron reached for his son's arm but thought better of it.
"You don't have to bother," Zander replied.
Monica gave Zander a look that spoke volumes. "Yes...he does," she said quietly, then she disappeared down the hallway.
Zander sighed and followed his father into the exam room. He sat on the table as instructed. A heavy, awkward, silence filled the room. Zander had to break it. "I'm surprised you haven't asked me what happened to my hand."
"I figured you'd tell me it was none of my business," Cameron replied as he applied ointment to the cut.
"Yeah…I would have," Zander allowed, then he chuckled, but it sounded weary to his own ears.
Cameron wrapped his son's hand with gauze. "You need to take care of yourself, Alexander. You need to eat and sleep to keep your strength up. Emily is going to need you."
Zander pulled his hand away and finished patting down the tape. "I know that," he said sharply, before sliding off the table. And so much for their uneasy truce. He couldn't help but feel defensive around his father.
"Alexander...if you need someone to talk to.."
"I know Dr. Baldwin's number," Zander interjected sharply, then he headed for the door. He tried to shake off his irritation at his father as he made his way to Emily's room. He found Elizabeth coming out of the room. "How is Emily?"
Elizabeth sighed and finished pulling off her gloves and gown. "I don't know. She looks so pale and still. So...fragile."
Zander pulled Elizabeth into a hug and he could feel her hot tears leak through his tee shirt. "Emily is going to make it through this," he stated. "You have to believe that."
"I want to."
"Then do it." Zander pulled back and wiped away a stray tear with the pad of his thumb. "Emily won't leave us." He had to believe that.
Elizabeth nodded. She stepped out of Zander's arms then helped him gown up. "I'm gonna stick around for a while."
Zander smiled. "Okay. I'll be out in a bit." He pulled his mask on then stepped inside. Zander sat down on the stool and took Emily's hand again. "I'm back, baby. I missed you." For the next half hour, Zander told Emily about his dreams for their future.
He kept talking until a knock at the door interrupted him. He turned and Monica poked her head in.
"Can I talk to you for a minute?" she queried.
"Sure." Zander turned back to Emily and stroked her cheek. "Be back in a minute, baby," he promised, then he rose from the stool and headed out the door. "What's up?"
Monica stepped behind Zander to undo his gown. "Lucky's back with your food."
Zander tried to pull Monica's hand away. "I'll eat later." He wasn't hungry right now and he wanted to be with Emily.
"You'll eat now," Monica shot back, yanking the gown down Zander's arms. "Emily isn't going anywhere, Zander. You can sit with her after you eat." She waited as he pulled off the gloves and tossed them in the bin, then she took him by the arm, leading him over to the waiting area. Lucky and Liz were sitting on the couch. Monica pointed to the Styrofoam container on the coffee table and pushed Zander down into a chair. "Eat," she ordered. She looked at Elizabeth. "Make sure he does."
"I will," Elizabeth replied.
Zander made himself smile at Monica until she turned and walked away. He looked at Lucky. "Thanks."
Lucky nodded. "No problem. Like I said...I needed something to do. To feel helpful."
"I know." Zander ran a hand through his hair then reached for the container. To get Monica off his back he would eat a little bit. He bit into the burger and chewed without tasting it.
"I called Nikolas," Elizabeth volunteered. "He said he'd be over soon."
Zander swallowed then reached for the soda and took a long sip. "That's good. Emily will like that." Zander firmly believed that she was aware of things, even though she was unconscious.
Lucky jumped up and began to pace. "This waiting is driving me crazy."
"We should go," Elizabeth said to him. "I have to be to work soon." She looked at Zander. "Will you be okay?"
"I'm fine. Thanks." He smiled at her.
Elizabeth gave him a hug. "Call me if there is any change."
Zander nodded. "I will."
"See you later," Lucky called out, then he escorted Elizabeth to the elevators.
"Later," Zander replied, then he heaved a sigh of relief. He gathered up the remains of the burger, which was most of it, and chucked it in the garbage can. But he did keep the soda.
He turned to see Gia standing there. "Hey...I guess you heard?"
Gia nodded. "How is Emily?"
"Holding on." Zander hugged Gia with one arm. "It's good to see you."
"Good to see you too," she replied. "How are you doing?"
Zander shrugged. "I'm okay. Emily is going to be okay too."
Gia smiled sadly. "I hope so."
"She will!" Zander snapped, then quickly apologized. "I'm sorry."
"It's okay, I know you're upset." Gia patted his arm.
Zander took one last sip of his soda then tossed it. "That's no excuse for snapping at you." Zander would have said more but he noticed Nikolas approaching. "Glad you're here."
Nikolas nodded. "How is Emily doing?"
"She's holding on. She's going to be okay though." Zander smiled. "Look…I know you want to see her, but I promised her I'd be back so I'm gonna sit with her for a few minutes first." Zander didn't wait to see if Nikolas was okay with that or not. He simply waved at Gia then headed off.
"Hey Gia," Nikolas said.
Gia smiled at him. "Hi." She sighed then sat down in a nearby chair.
Nikolas joined her. "You okay?"
"I'm fine. I'm just worried about Emily and about Zander. If Emily doesn't make it...Zander is going to fall apart."
"I think he's stronger than you give him credit for," Nikolas countered.
Gia shook her head. "With Emily and for Emily…sure. But without her...Zander won't have any reason left to believe in himself."
Nikolas frowned. "Sounds like you know Zander pretty well."
"We became friends. He's a good guy, Nikolas. And he's been through hell. Life has not been easy for Zander in any way, shape, or form."
"But he made it through before Emily..." Nikolas broke off and ran a hand over his face. "God…we're talking as if it's a given that Emily is going to die. I think I'd rather have Zander's attitude that she's going to make it through this."
Gia winced. "I'm sorry. I hope she does make it. I'm just trying to be a realist."
Nikolas reached out to pat her hand. "I know. That's what you do best. Hey…can I buy you a coffee?"
"I'd like that." They rose as one and headed for the elevators.
* * * * *
"No!" The word was ripped from Zander's throat but luckily was barely more than a whisper. He sat up on the cot and tried to calm his breathing. He could feel his heart thudding in his chest and his pulse was racing. Zander knew another attack was fast approaching. As he slid off the cot and headed out the door. He glanced through the window of Emily's room. Seeing her made Zander feel better, but he knew it wasn't enough to ward off the oncoming rush of panic. So he almost ran out the door and down the hallway to the men's room. Once there he splashed cold water on his face even as he prayed that no one would come in and find him in this state.
Using his shirt bottom to dry his face, Zander pressed his back up against the nearest wall and willed himself to breathe slowly in and out. He could feel the cold sweat on his skin and he was shaking so hard that his knees threatened to buckle, but eventually his breathing evened out and his anxiety abated. Zander felt relief wash over him. He had managed to avert a full fledged panic attack. He still felt crappy though. He felt cold and his body ached, and his temples throbbed with pain. Zander fumbled in his pocket and cursed when he realized he was out of pain pills. He splashed cold water on his face again, ran a hand through his hair, then headed back to Emily's room.
Since there was no point in trying to go back to sleep, Zander suited up settled for sitting beside the bed and watching her. He took Emily's hand in his and spoke softly. "Hey, baby…it's me again. I'm probably driving you crazy, aren't I? You're probably screaming at me to shut up, but I like talking to you. You've always been a good listener." A yawn escaped Zander and he rubbed at his gritty eyes with his free hand, but the rubber gloves made it less effective. Then he heard it. His name spoken softly. Zander looked at Emily and found her staring back. "Em? God…Emily...you're awake." Zander leaned in to kiss her cheek, uncaring about the mask he was wearing. "How do you feel?"
"Tired." The word was rough.
"Do you want some water?" At Emily's nod, Zander poured some into a cup, added a straw, then held it for her. After she took a sip he asked, "Better?"
Emily nodded. "Thanks." She squeezed his hand. "You look like hell."
Zander chuckled. "Sorry. It's been rough without you."
"You feel warm."
"I'm good. Great now." Zander couldn't keep the smile off his face. "Hey…I'd better go tell the nurse you’re awake. I know your mom is still around. She said she would sleep in her office so she would be close by. I'll be right back." Zander kissed Emily's hand then headed out of the room.
* * * * *
Zander paced in the waiting area, where Monica had sent them while she and Dr. Leeds examined Emily. The moment he heard footsteps approaching, Zander stopped, whirled around and ran to meet Monica. "How is she?"
"Doing better," Monica stated. "Emily's fever is down but she's still critical. We'll keep a close eye on her."
"But this is a good sign, right?" Zander heard the desperation in his voice.
Monica nodded. "It's very good. But Emily is worried about you, Zander. She asked me to look after you. She said you felt warm."
Zander shook his head. "I'm fine. Emily just got confused because of her fever and the stupid gloves."
"Maybe, but you do look flushed." Monica reached out and pressed her palm to Zander's forehead. He jerked back. "You are warm. I want to take your temperature."
"No…I'm fine. Emily is the one you need to worry about." Zander backed away.
Monica stalked him. "I also want to look at your hand."
Zander glared at her. "I told you…I'm fine!"
"Emily needs for you to be okay, Zander. All I'm asking is that you let me check you out. If you really are fine then it's no big deal…right? Do it for Emily."
"Can I see her?"
Monica smiled. "After I examine you. She's asleep right now anyway. It's good for her."
Zander sighed. "Fine...do your worst." He followed Monica to the elevator and down two floors to a treatment room. He laid back on an exam table and remained silent while she took his temperature and checked his pulse. Then she re-bandaged his hand. No words were spoken between them during the process. When his hand was finished Zander asked, "Can I go now?"
"No. You have a temperature of a hundred and one point 5." Monica locked eyes with Zander. "You didn't take the antibiotic, did you?"
"I took some. I just forgot."
Monica nodded. "I'm going to give you a shot, try to get the fever down."
Zander sighed. "Fine. But can you do it quick so I can get back to Emily?'
"I'm having you admitted, Zander."
Monica glared at him and pressed a hand against his chest before he could move. "Don't even think about arguing the point with me, Zander. I don't think you understand how serious this is for you."
Zander shook his head. "I'm fine...I'm fine. I need to see Emily. She needs me." He heard the plea in his voice.
"That's right, Emily does need you. But she needs you to be well and strong, Zander." Monica had a syringe ready and she grabbed an alcohol swab. She pushed up the sleeve of Zander's t-shirt and pinched his skin between two fingers before administering the shot. "You have to rest to get better. We need to pump you full of antibiotics and I'm going to start an IV."
"I'll rest…I promise. But I have to see Emily." As Zander spoke he slid off the table, but his knees buckled and he had to grab it for support..
Monica frowned at him. "You don't get a say in this, Zander. I'm doing this for Emily as much as for you."
Zander shook his head. Big mistake. He locked his knees and took a step away from the table. Emily needed him and he would be there for her. But he wobbled on the next step and darkness swirled around him. But took another step, then another, then suddenly it was as if the ground disappeared beneath his feet and Zander was falling. The last thing he heard was Monica calling his name.
* * * * *
"How is Zander doing?" Elizabeth asked Monica.
"He's doing better. The fever broke, finally, about an hour ago."
Elizabeth felt relief wash over her. "So he's going to be okay."
Monica sighed. "I hope so."
"I don't understand what happened? How did Zander get so sick?"
"When he burned his hand he didn't take the antibiotic I prescribed. Then because he didn't sleep or eat properly, and the stress factor, he developed an infection. It could have been worse."
Elizabeth nodded. "It's going to be rough when he hears about Emily."
Monica didn't deny it. "I'm going to go check on him."
"Can I come with you?"
They headed down the hallway together.
* * * * *
"Go to your room, Alexander!"
"Don't you dare turn your back on me!"
"What are you going to do, dad? Hit me again? Go ahead!"
Zander moaned and tossed his head against the pillows as childhood memories flashed in his head.
"Thanks, kid. Aren't you coming to the celebration?"
"Nah. Not my thing. And you know dad and I would only fight and ruin things."
"Come on…I want you there. It's my party."
"Some other time. I'm beat."
"Okay. Hey…we'll talk later."
A sob escaped Zander as he remembered that day. He remembered tossing his science project in the trash can. He had gotten an A on it and had been so proud. But his father hadn't been so impressed. He had simply swept the project off the table and onto the floor where it had shattered, to make room for Peter's cake.
* * * * *
"I didn't mean to hit you. I was angry."
"It's okay, dad. I know it's my fault. I made you do it."
But Zander hadn't waited. He had run out the door blinking back tears, one hand still pressed to his stinging cheek.
"You killed your brother!"
"NO!" Zander screamed and came awake with a start. He was shaking and he could feel wetness on his face. He scrubbed at his eyes, willing the image of Pete's bloodstained body to disappear.
He lowered his hands and saw Alexis staring at him. She looked sad. Then it hit Zander where he was. "Emily!" He croaked. His mouth was dry and coughed.
Alexis reached for his water glass and helped him take a sip. "Better?"
"Yes. Thank you." Zander couldn't believe how weak he felt. His body felt battered and his arms and legs felt like they were weighted down with sand. "How's Emily?"
"You need to focus on yourself, Zander. You scared me."
Zander frowned. "How long was I out?"
Alexis sighed. "Two days. Your temperature spiked to one hundred and three. You were delirious for a bit."
"I feel like I was hit by a truck."
"You need to rest."
Zander shook his head and regretted it. Pain stabbed in his temples. "I need to see Emily." He tried to sit up but broke out in a cold sweat at the effort.
Alexis rubbed his shoulder. "Take it easy, you need to rest."
"I have to see Emily." Zander saw the IV taped to the back of one hand and started picking at the tape. "How is she?" He hated the thought of the time they had missed together, and it was all his fault. When Alexis didn't answer him, Zander felt panic stirring. "She's okay, right? She's probably pissed at me for not taking the antibiotic."
Alexis looked sad as she squeezed his arm. "Emily slipped into a coma, Zander. I'm sorry."
"No!" Zander grabbed the bedrail and tried to yank it down. He was ready to climb over it when his father entered the room. "I have to see Emily!"
"Take it easy, Alexander." Cameron pressed his son back against the pillows.
Zander went a little crazy as strong hands held him down. "Emily!" he screamed. "Emily!"