“Why isn’t he waking up?” Jessi asked, shaking Ben’s arm. “Why isn’t he getting up? Shouldn’t he be waking up?”
I could feel her body vibrating. Tears had started to stream down her face. I looked at my watch. It had been over two minutes. He should have woken up by now. Normally, once a person is on the ground, they regain blood flow to their brain and regain consciousness.
My heart sank. I squeezed Jessi’s shoulder and left my hand there. “It’ll be okay. EMTs are coming. Ben will be okay,” I reassured her, even though I had no clue what would happen, really.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked back. Monica stood over me, her face also streaked with tears. She had her purse on her shoulder and cocked her head to the side, indicating away from the crowd of my friends. I patted Jessi’s shoulder and stood up to follow Monica.
“What are you doing?” she whispered through clenched teeth. Her eyes flicked over to my friends, who now stood crowded around Jessi and Ben, everybody in different states of panic: Mallory wrung her hands and shifted her weight from foot to foot; Claudia stared, unblinking, like she’d just gotten in trouble with the headmaster; Stacey watched analytically with her arms crossed against her chest and her brow slightly furrowed.
“What do you mean?” I whispered back, although I already knew.
“Let’s go. There’s enough of them to deal with this. We don’t have to be here, too.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
“After how they just treated us? Yes. You can.”
I don’t know how my insides managed to get heavier, but a ball of lead sunk into the pit of my stomach. I scratched an imaginary itch on the back of my neck, uncertain of how to respond.
“Aren’t you mad?” she added, her voice rising.
I nodded, although it seemed very theoretical at the moment. Mostly, I wanted to be over by Ben, as though my presence could somehow make things turn out okay.
“So come on, then!”
“I can’t.” I glanced over at the group, but, thankfully, none of them were watching us. “Ben is–” I didn’t know how to finish the sentence. Hurt. Sick. Dying??? I waved my arm in his direction. “And this is my gym. I can’t just leave when there’s an emergency.”
Monica dropped her chin and raised her eyebrows.
“Well, I can’t.”
She closed her eyes and took a deep breath through her nose, letting it out slowly. She kept her eyes closed for a beat longer, then opened them. “Okay. Fine. Well, I’m going to go.”
“Sure. Yeah. That totally makes sense. I’ll call you when I’m done?”
She nodded stiffly and about-faced. She didn’t look back as she exited the building, and the previous heaviness had now become a multifaceted ball of dread, turning over in my stomach. I stood there for a moment, watching where she’d been, trying to form some sense of what was happening.
Mary Anne slipped over and put a hand between my shoulder blades. “Hey,” she murmured. “Everything okay?”
My muscles tensed and I stepped away. “What do you think?” The words came out as a snarl.
Her eyes shone and she blinked quickly. A small part of me felt satisfied.
Then her breath quickened, fast, deep breaths. Gasps. Tears spilled over.
God damn it.
My knee-jerk reaction was to say it was all okay. But it wasn’t all okay. So I watched my best friend ugly cry, scrubbing at her face with her hands. And somehow, I felt like an asshole in this situation, even though I’m pretty sure I was most definitely not in the wrong.
Thankfully, I didn’t have to dwell on this fact because the EMTs exploded through the front door. I waved them over to the group. Jessi was such a wreck by then that she couldn’t tell them anything besides, “Why won’t he wake up?” So I found myself explaining the situation: that he passed out suddenly, no physical activity that seemed to cause it, that he’s been out for about eight minutes now, that he’s 39 and doesn’t have any known health problems.
They loaded him on the stretcher. His normally deep tawny skin had turned yellow and waxy and his features had slackened into a grim mask. A lump rose in my own throat, but I swallowed it back.
“Jessi, you go in the ambulance with Ben,” I directed. She nodded mutely. “Give me your keys, and I can drive your car over, okay? Who’s with Davie?”
“Okay. Mallory, can you call Mrs. Ramsey to let her know what’s going on and see if she can stay with the baby?” Mallory nodded. I continued, “Somebody should probably get a bag together in case Ben gets admitted. And some magazines or something in case they’re just stuck there a while.”
Stacey nodded. “On it.”
I looked at the mess of the gym: the table Ben knocked over as he fell, plates and food avalanched across the floor. That damn intervention sign. The stupid camera men, who had stopped gathering their things in the hubbub, but were now hastily packing their last remaining wires and mics.
I should just stay behind, I thought, get this place straightened up before the morning rush. Somebody else could go with Jessi to the hospital.
But even though Monica told me I shouldn’t care, should let them deal with it on their own, I didn’t know how to: this was all I’d ever been, one part of the whole. So I ripped down the sign, threw it in the garbage, and, once everybody had left the building, locked the door. I would deal with the mess the next morning.
When I got to the hospital, Jessi, Mallory, Claudia, and Stacey were already there, crowded into a what seemed to be a hallway that had been turned into a makeshift waiting room, chairs packed together so closely I had to walk sideways between them to reach my friends. A few other sullen people sat in the area, mostly staring at their phones, although one kid, maybe four or five, seemed to be doing wind sprints up and down one of the narrow paths between chairs. His mother didn’t seem to care, just staring at her phone, head propped up on one hand.
“How’s it going?” I whispered, although the place wasn’t particularly quiet, with medical personnel running back and forth, announcements on the PA, and random beeping from all directions.
Mallory put a hand over Jessi’s. “They think he may have had a stroke?”
“Oh my god,” I said, loud enough that the delinquent mother glanced over. “But I thought that caused, like, slurred words and stuff?”
“They said it depends on what part of the brain lost blood flow. So they’re doing a CT scan and some other tests.”
Jessi stared mutely at her hands, folded in her lap. My chest ached. I wanted to pull her in my arms and hug her, hard.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. Monica: U almost done?
I quickly typed back, No, they took him in for testing. That will probably take a while.
I watched the “…” flash on the bottom of the chat window as she typed a response. Finally, it said, Wait ur at the hospital?
Yes? I replied, regretting the question mark the moment I hit send.
I thought u were just getting the gym cleaned up and leaving.
I didn’t know how to respond, so I put the phone back in my pocket. My body suddenly felt heavy with exhaustion. I looked at my watch. Just after 9. Normally, I’d be hunkering down in bed to watch an episode of some show before going to sleep.
I jumped to my feet. “I’m going to get coffee. Anyone want anything?”
“I could use a coffee,” Mallory said. She turned to Jessi and murmured, “You want anything?” Jessi didn’t respond.
“I’ll go with you,” Claudia said, hoisting herself up on the arms of her chair.
“No, I’ll go,” Mallory said. She jumped to her feet, leaving the space directly beside Jessi empty. “I need to stretch my legs.”
Claudia shrugged and took Mallory’s seat, placing her own hand on Jessi’s. “Get me a mocha?” Then, after noticing Stacey’s side-eye, “Sugar free? If they have it?”
Mallory and I left. When we were a few feet away, she blurted out, “I’m sorry about tonight.”
The words hit me with a jolt, so hard I stopped walking for a second. “Oh. Okay.”
“I didn’t think we should do that.” When I didn’t respond, she added, “The intervention, I mean.”
“I knew what you meant.”
We walked in silence for a few more feet. She had to know I couldn’t talk about that mess right now. “I hope Ben is okay,” I said.
She nodded. “Me, too.”
We reached the coffee machine and stared at it. The thing was probably as old as we were. I pulled some crumpled bills from my wallet and ran them along the corner of the machine to flatten them out. “Jessi just takes hers black, right?”
“Yeah.” Then, after a moment, she continued, “I know you really like Monica.”
“I do.” I handed her the cup of coffee. “What do you want?”
“Um. Coffee with cream is fine.” I punched the order in. The machine gave a mechanical hiccup, then started whirring away. “We’re just worried about you, is all. She seems to have some issues she needs to work through. A bit.”
“I’m sorry. I forgot you all were so perfect.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
The coffee finished. I pulled it out and handed it to her… but my hand moved so forcefully, the coffee sloshed over the top, onto my hands. It was really fucking hot. Like, McDonald’s coffee cup warning hot.
“FUCK!” I dropped the coffee and it spilled everywhere. I looked around for an orderly with a mop or a roll of paper towels or something. A couple people in scrubs sped past, quickening their pace as they saw my mess.
“Look, I don’t think you should stop dating her, personally.”
“Well, I’m glad I have your permission. Can you go look for some paper towels or a rag or something?”
She pouted. Not intentionally, I don’t think– that’s not how Mal works– but an involuntary sticking out of her lower lip. “Yeah, right.”
But then janitor did appear basically out of nowhere, and I was stuck glaring at Mallory while he awkwardly mopped between us. “Sorry,” I apologized to him. “Just on edge.”
He didn’t respond. Just dropped a Wet Floor sign in the middle of the spot where we’d been standing and wheeled his cart away.
“I don’t need a coffee,” Mallory offered. “Just get what you and the others want.”
“I’ll get you your fucking coffee,” I said. I stuck another couple bills in, ordered it. When it came out, I let her collect it. She waited silently as I got coffees for the others. Then, just as I went to order my own, I realized I’d run out of cash.
Fucking fuck face.
“Don’t you want anything?” she asked.
I shook my head, seething with anger. I turned to walk back to the waiting area, but she touched my arm. “Look. I know you’re mad. I’m sorry. I’m just trying to say… very badly… that we’re worried and care about you and want you to be happy.”
“And a televised intervention was the best way to do that?”
“I mean. Yeah. I don’t disagree with you there.”
“Well, wish you’d said something about that before it happened.”
I walked away before she could anything more.
I knew things weren’t perfect with Monica, but they were getting better. I was pretty sure that if I started treating her like a real girlfriend, like she deserved, her jealousy would tone down. She would be able to hang out with them and let them see the side of her that I liked so much — passionate but a little bit goofy, and so caring. The girl who brought me matzo ball soup from Mameleh’s when I was sick, offered to open the club when one of the new trainers suddenly went incommunicado, who had a weird obsession with early-2000s Disney movies and western line dancing and who constantly texted and emailed with her clients to see how they were doing. They didn’t get to see the real her because I’d kept her at arms’ length. And now they wanted me to break up with her? That was the exact opposite of what I should be doing, thank you very much.
When we reached the others, they were standing up and gathering their things, a nurse with a clipboard standing nearby.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“He’s back in a bed, so we can see him,” Stacey said. “They say he did have a stroke, and they’re going to give him something to break up whatever’s preventing blood flow to his brain.” She paused. “We won’t know how bad it is until he wakes up.”
My phone buzzed: Where are u? What’s going on?
I put it back in my pocket, then thought better of it. I needed to change my actions for this to work. I pulled it out and tapped in a reply, explaining the stroke diagnosis and treatment. Then I added: I’ll call when I’m done, followed by a kissy-face emoji.
Nothing else– no, I hope it goes okay or Let me know if you need anything. Just K.
But I couldn’t blame her. Of course she was pissed at everyone. It was annoying that she couldn’t give in a little about the emergency situation, but… they had treated her really shitty.
They had treated me really shitty.
A twang of pain resonated through the left side of my head.
I needed to not think about this right now. Just focus on Ben. Then I’d go see Monica, explain how I’d treat her better, and things would smooth out with my friends. It would be okay.
The twang in my head turned into an ache. I pressed the heel of my palm into my temple and rubbed. Tonight could not be over soon enough.
The nurse led us to an area of a hallway — what was this place and using hallways for rooms?– probably not much more than 6’x10’, separated from the rest of the hubbub only by a couple of cloth room partitions on wheels. “We just administered the tPA. As the blockage breaks up, he should wake up, and we can have a better idea of how much damage was done. We’ll admit him once a room opens up.”
Jessi nodded. “Thank you.” She took one of Ben’s hands in hers and watched him. “Come on, baby. We need you. Davie needs you.” Her voice rose in pitch and wobbled.
Nobody said anything. We just stood there, watching Jessi watch Ben.
And we waited.
Mary Anne texted to see how things were going (she’d had to go back to relieve her babysitter), and I realized that, oh God, even once I left here, the night wouldn’t be over, because I’d have to deal with her when I got home. Because there was no way I’d be lucky enough she’d have gone to bed. She worried too much.
Ugh. Ugh. Ugh.
Then there was the faint crinkle of a sheet moving. We all looked up.
Ben winced. Lifted a hand to his head. Blinked.
It felt like I’d been clenching every muscle in my body, and they all suddenly released simultaneously. I let out a breath of relief.
“Where am I?” He groaned.
“We’re in the hospital, baby,” Jessi said. “You passed out at the… thing.” Her chin trembled and she flinched as she tried to hold back tears.
He didn’t say anything for a moment, just blinked and looked around the room. “I was trying to play hide and seek.”
“What?” Jessi grimaced and looked at Mal worriedly. My throat tightened. Fuck…
“I was trying to play hide and seek,” he repeated.
We all watched him seriously, as though he was relaying the truth of the universe.
He licked his lips.“But they kept finding me in the ICU.”
She stared at him for a moment. Then her face collapsed as she burst into sobs. She gripped the railing on the bed with one hand and covered her face with the other.
“Heyyyyyyy,” he said, weakly. “I’m sorry, baby. I won’t joke.” His eyes trailed down to the arm near her, and I realized that it lay completely inert. Was he trying to move it?
“No. It’s okay,” she said between sobs. “I’m just so happy you’re okay.”
“Oh. Good.” He licked his lips again. “Why did the wizard go to the hospital?”
Jessi gave a short laugh. “Why?”
“He had a staff infection.”
We all laughed, less because of the terrible joke and more out of relief that Ben was still Ben. Stacey called a nurse over, who got a doctor, and everybody but Jessi was shooed away. We all gave her hugs and said our goodbyes to them.
Once outside the hospital, I realized I’d left my car at the gym because I’d driven Jessi’s over. “I can drive you to get your car,” Mallory offered, but I shook my head.
“I’ll call Monica,” I said.
Stacey and Claudia didn’t hide the look they shared. My jaw clenched. We all stood there for a moment, until I said, pointedly, “Night, guys.”
They all nodded slowly, said, “Yeah, night,” then walked together to the parking garage, while I stood alone in the cold night air.
As I expected, Monica came to pick me up almost immediately when I called. When she arrived, though, her normally vivid features, super animated with life, were slack and tired. She’d pulled her hair back into a messy bun and changed into sweats. She barely glanced at me as I got into the car.
“Thanks,” I said as I sat down. I leaned over to kiss her, but she didn’t turn to kiss me back, so my attempt just landed on the skin beside her mouth.
I leaned back, but I still felt oddly determined. I could make this right with her. I could fix everything.
“I’m sorry about tonight,” I said.
“It’s fine. Not your fault.” Her tone made it sound like she didn’t entirely believe the statement, though. She sighed. “How’s Ben?”
“He’s awake and talking. They’re not sure how badly he was affected yet, though.”
“How are you doing?”
She didn’t say anything. We reached the intersection where we would normally turn right to get back to Mary Anne’s, and she turned left. Towards her place. Which was fine, really– she lived with four roommates in a house near the center of town. But we never stayed there because, once again, four roommates.
It was strange. Monica was one of the first people I’d dated that I could just sit in silence with sometimes– looking at our phones side by side, doing work, whatever. We didn’t have to always fill the air between us, and that was good, mostly. It was like when I was with Mary Anne or one of my siblings; we didn’t feel the need to put on a show for one another. And that was part of the reason I didn’t think I should just let go of this relationship.
But there is a difference between silence that comes from a general comfort with one another and silence because someone is deliberately not speaking to you. This was definitely the second type of silence.
“I’m sorry about tonight,” I said again, lamely, unsure of what else to say.
“I know. You said that.”
She continued to look forward at the road, hands gripping the wheel tightly, like a kid in a driving test.
“I don’t agree with them. You know that? Right? I don’t want to break up with you. I want us to become more serious.”
“I really care about you, Monica. I–” The next words caught in my throat. “I love you.”
Now she swallowed hard, set her jaw. Continued to look straight forward. “It doesn’t really seem like you do, though, Kristy.”
Sweat collected in my palms. “No. I do.”
“Then why, after all that BULLSHIT, did you go off with them instead of me?”
“Ben had a stroke.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Her voice rose. Tears had collected at the corners of her eyes. I felt the kick of the car accelerating as she pressed down harder on the gas. “There were four other people who could go with them to the hospital. Why did you have to go, too?”
“Mary Anne had to go back to the kids.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. So there were only three people who could go. That makes a huge difference.”
My hands shook now. I felt the urge to cry collecting in my chest, even though my eyes were still dry. The car swung around a corner so quickly that I grabbed at the edge of my seat. I looked at the dash. We were going 60 in a 35.
“Can you slow down?”
“Oh, so now we’re going to talk about my driving?”
“Look. I’m sorry. I was worried about Ben. I know I didn’t need to go with them. I should have gone with you. I’m sorry.”
“Why–” she hiccuped and took a snuffly breathe. We were approaching an intersection where the light turned yellow, but she didn’t make a move to slow down. “Why do you always put them before me? You’re always going with them instead of me, or worried about what they’ll think, or–”
The light turned red.
We sailed through.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ll do better. They’ve just been in my life for so long. I’ve known Mary Anne since I was a baby. And Claudia.”
A siren kicked in behind us, blue and red lights flashing.
“FUCK!” Monica yelled. Thankfully, she started to break and pull to the side of the road. When we fully stopped, she finally looked me in the eye for the first time since she picked me up at the hospital. “Look. I can’t do this anymore. It’s them or me.”
“Wait. Really? You have to be shitting me.”
“I don’t see how this is hard. They had a fucking intervention. Because you were dating me. They’re telling you to make the exact same decision.”
The officer knocked on the driver’s side window. Monica wiped her tears.
I looked forward at the rows of houses and trees in front of us, everything so dark it was hard to see what was out of the reach of the car’s headlights. She was right. I did have to make a decision.
But who was I without the BSC?
©2019 Kat Setzer. This page has no affiliation with Ann M. Martin, Scholastic, or any other entity involved with the Baby-Sitters Club Series. Original stock photos ©2019 h368k742, Paolese, Aaron Amat, and Victor Koldunov from Adobe Stock Images.