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Chapter 13. Part 2
“Are we ever going to mail those babies out?” Ryan says with a grin.
“Yes,” I say quickly. “I…I meant to get a start on them last week. Things have just been so hectic.”
“I can help, you know,” he says. “My handwriting isn’t that bad.”
“Of course it’s not,” I say. “And I’d love your help. We’ll get into wedding mode next week, okay?”
He nods, wrapping his arms around my waist, and grins. “You’re not stalling?”
“Definitely not stalling,” I say, smiling.
I give him a quick smooch. “I’m sure.”
My phone buzzes from an incoming email, and when I glance at my in-box quickly, I recall the interview I have with a panel of developers at nine-thirty. How have I forgotten this?
“Darn,” I say to Ryan. “I have that big developer interview this morning.” I shake my head. “It’s the last thing I want to do right now, but I have to work the details of their plans into the Pioneer Square series.”
“Need me to make a few calls? Ask them to be on their best behavior? Give you an exclusive look at their architectural renderings?”
“You’re very cute,” I say, “but that would hardly be professional. I’ll be fine.”
“All right,” he says with a grin. “See you tonight.” He grabs his coat. “Love you.”
“Love you, too,” I whisper after he’s closed the door.
I arrive at a high-rise in Belltown an hour later and am ushered into a conference room with bottled water, mints, and zero personality. Five minutes pass, and five men stride in. Two are named Bob. A meek administrative assistant hovers. “Can I get you anything?” she asks in almost a whisper.
I shake my head. “No, no, I’m fine.”
One of the Bobs begins to speak. “Ms. Crain, it’s such a pleasure to meet you.”
“You as well,” I say curtly. The other men introduce themselves as Steve, Dan, and Phil. I am on one side of the long honey-oak conference table, alone. I reach for my purse and find my notebook and a pen. “Of course you know that I’ve been doing a series for the Herald on the future of Pioneer Square. I’m aware that each of you has been embattled with the city council about your interest in developing the neighborhood.” I flip to a page where I took notes about Creighton Properties. “Bob,” I say. “You’re proposing to tear down the shelter on Main Street. Why?”
“Simple economics,” he says. “If you build it, they will come.”
“Explain what you mean,” I say, taking notes.
“You may not remember this, but that shelter was built in 1996,” he says. “And ever since, the homeless have been flooding to the neighborhood. You can’t walk two feet without running into one of them.”
I don’t tell him that not only do I remember when the shelter was built, but Cade was living next door.
“But, Bob, you are aware that besides the shelter you’re referring to, there are very few options for displaced people in this city.”
“Displaced people?” He chuckles, and I notice the way his belly shakes. “Sweetheart, we’re talking about mostly drug addicts here. These are people who mooch off of society and refuse to work. Bottom-feeders.”
I clear my throat. “Bottom-feeders?”
“That’s right,” the other Bob says. “Now, listen. We do not have hearts of steel. If you’ve read through our proposal to the city, you’ll see that we’ve included a nice relocation package that we believe is more than adequate.”
“Yes, yes,” the first Bob adds.
“So you’d build a new shelter elsewhere?”
“Not exactly,” one of the other men (Steve?) chimes in.
“Then what? If you tear down the shelter to build your high-rise condo, then where will the hundreds of people who rely on the shelter go?”
“How about Subway,” Phil says. “Taco Bell. McDonald’s.”
I shake my head. “I’m not following you.”
Phil smiles. “We’re talking about work, Ms. Crain. We don’t believe in handouts, we believe in work. And our plan includes a generous package geared toward attainment of this goal.”
I set my notebook down. “I get what you’re saying. And trust me, I believe in work just as much as you all do. But one thing I’ve come to learn through talking to people for this series is that homelessness is a complex problem.” I think of Cade and the countless others like him who didn’t choose a life on the streets.
Bob No. 1 shrugs. “I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree,” he says. “But we do hope you’ll get our point across in your article.”
“Oh, I will,” I say, closing my notebook.
I call Jan on the way to Harborview. “Just got out of the developer interview.”
“How did it go?”
I roll my eyes. “I’ll fill you in later. But, for now, one word: ugh.”
“You coming in today?” Jan asks.
“I’m going to be out again. Cade’s in the hospital.”
She gasps. “Oh no. Is everything okay?”
“Yes and no,” I say. “He was badly beaten. A few broken ribs, but most of his injuries were superficial. The good news is that one of the doctors thinks he may qualify for a new program for patients with traumatic brain injuries, which they suspect he has. Anyway, I’m heading back to the hospital this morning.”
“Take all the time you need,” Jan says. “I mean that.”
I exhale deeply. “You don’t know how bad I feel about leaving you in a lurch like this.” I sigh. “I feel like I’m leaving my entire life in a lurch.”
“Well, don’t worry about the work part of this lurch just now,” she says. “I mean, don’t go MIA entirely on me. But take a few days to sort things out. I’ll cover you until then.”
“Thanks,” I say as I pull into the parking garage.
“Have you told Ryan?” she asks.
“No,” I say. “I’m afraid to.”
“You should tell him, Kailey,” Jan says. “He deserves to know.”
Cade is awake when I enter his room. The walls look dingier in the morning light. I suppose no amount of paint can cover the stain of illness.
“Hi,” I say, walking to his bedside. In his lap are the iPod and headphones I left with him. I wonder if he enjoyed the music. He doesn’t look up. “Have you eaten?”
He stares straight ahead as I reach for the phone on the table beside him.
“Hi,” I say. “I’m with Cade McAllister in room 502. Has he eaten anything this morning?”
“Oh yes,” the nurse says. “Mr. McAllister. We brought him breakfast an hour ago, but he refused.”
I look at Cade, so thin, so lost. “What did you bring him?”
“Let me check,” she says, sounding a little annoyed. I hear papers shuffling in the background. “Ah, yes, oatmeal. And prunes. With milk.”
“He hates oatmeal,” I say.
“Well, that’s what our dietitian recommends for patients with broken ribs,” she says. “Bowel movements should remain soft. You have to avoid—”
“I’d like you to bring him scrambled eggs and toast,” I say. “With Tabasco. He loves Tabasco.”
“I’ll see what they can do,” the woman says.
A half hour later, a young woman from the cafeteria arrives with a tray. She smiles at me as she sets it down on Cade’s table.
“Thank you,” I say as she leaves.
I take my sweater off and set it on the chair by the window, then walk over to Cade’s bed again and lift the metal dome on top of the plate. Eggs and toast. I’m grateful to see a small bottle of Tabasco on the tray, and I sprinkle a few drops over the eggs and reach for a fork.
“Here,” I say, holding up a bite to Cade.
He looks straight ahead, but I am not deterred. I lift the fork gently to his mouth, and, like magic his lips part. He takes the bite and looks to me for another, like a child. I give him one, followed by a bite of toast. With each morsel, he looks at me, eyes unwavering.
“We’re going to get you healthy again,” I say to him. “But you have to eat, okay? You’re too skinny.” I smile. “You were always thin, but you used to have a little gut. Remember that? I used to tease you about it.”
He silently opens his mouth each time my fork reaches his lips. The memories keep coming, one after the next. The two of us sipping wine on the rooftop of my apartment. Me juggling a tray of appetizers at some party he hosted at his place for a new “it” band. Walking hand in hand through Pike Place Market.
“You always loved spicy food,” I say. “I swear, even when you didn’t like something I made, I knew that if I added enough red chili flakes or smothered it in Tabasco, you’d think it was divine.” I smile as Cade takes the last bite of eggs. “It was my little secret.”
I hold a water glass to his lips and he takes a sip, still keeping his eyes on me, as if he’s willing his brain to know me, to remember me. A part of him does, I can tell. And I wonder what it must feel like to be trapped in a state of confusion. I can remember one morning when I woke up still hazy from a dream. I was at a real estate conference in Atlanta and had had a bit too much wine the night before. I remember opening my eyes and surveying my surroundings. For about ten seconds, I had no idea where or who I was. It was as if my mind had temporarily shut down or was at least sputtering to start its engine. In those seconds, I lay there in a suspended state of confusion. Who am I? Where am I? What am I doing? How did I get here? And then the engine kicked into gear. All the pistons started firing. My world came into focus again.
Would Cade’s? I take the tray and set it by the window just as the door opens and Dr. Branson walks in. “Good morning,” she says, walking straight to Cade. She adjusts his IV cord, reaches for a blood pressure cuff, and takes a moment to check his vitals.
She nods to herself and makes a notation in his chart, then turns to me. “My colleagues and I think that your friend would be an ideal candidate for the program I told you about yesterday, but there isn’t space available, unfortunately.”
“Oh no,” I say, crestfallen.
“I did have an idea, though,” she continues. “I spoke to my colleagues, and there’s an apartment on the third floor that isn’t quite ready yet, but we’re looking into the possibility of having it completed, for Cade.”
“Yes, yes,” I say. “That would be wonderful.”
“It would be a big step for him,” she says, “independent living. But the building is monitored by medical staff. We feel it’s the best way for TBI sufferers to assimilate back into society.”
She hands me a packet of paperwork. “Admission is not for about two weeks, so he’ll need temporary housing in the meantime.”
My heart beats faster. “Temporary housing?”
“Yes,” she says. “Surely you can help him with that in the interim.”
I nod, thinking about Ryan, my in-laws, my life. “Yes, yes, of course.”
“And while the program is subsidized, grants don’t entirely cover it, and your friend is obviously uninsured, so there will be a portion of food and housing costs that will need to be paid.” She hands me more paperwork. “About five thousand dollars.”
I nod soberly. Ryan and I have the money. We recently combined our finances, and though we have plenty in savings, and this would be a mere blip on the map of our financial landscape, it still leaves me feeling uneasy. How could I pay for this without telling him about it first? Clearly it would be a violation of trust.
“I hate to rush you, but I’m afraid the deposit check needs to be submitted today to secure his spot.”
I nod, reaching for my purse. “It’s no problem,” I say. “I’ll take care of it.”
I hand her the check, and she passes it to a medical assistant who has just arrived in the room. “Gail, take this down to my office and have John get Mr. McAllister’s registration started.”
We both look at Cade, whose eyes are now closed.
Dr. Branson lowers her voice to a whisper. “Do you mind having a word with me outside?”
I nod and follow her out to the hallway.
Once the door is closed behind us, she opens a folder and produces a stapled stack of papers. “My assistant did some looking around, and as I suspected, there was a John Doe matching your friend’s description. He was admitted on August 4, 1998. The case file says he was brought in by an ambulance, completely unconscious, with trauma to the head and subsequent brain swelling. He had no ID on him. It appears that he was in a coma for two weeks and was released shortly after. There’s a note in here from the physician who treated him. Let me read it.” She pauses as her eyes scan the page, then raises one eyebrow. “Interesting.”
“Someone signed him out.”
I shake my head. “I don’t understand.”
Dr. Branson nods. “It says here that the doctor tried to convince the person to enroll him in treatment for a suspected brain injury. But that obviously didn’t happen. The next day, Cade left.”
“It just says he was released.”
“Hospitals can’t keep anyone against their will,” she continues. “Whether Cade was taken or left of his own accord, we’ll never know.”
I spend the rest of the morning staring at the rise and fall of Cade’s chest, wishing I could crawl inside his mind for just a moment, just long enough to see what he’s feeling, what he remembers, what happened to him on that August night so many years ago. Because something happened.