Dr. Jensen approached the bed of the unconscious patient while a nurse bagged the clothes that were cut off her body. He grabbed the chart at the foot of the hospital bed and began looking it over.
“What do we have?”
“This one took a plunge off Monarch Pass going too fast around one of the curves. Car versus tree. We’ve got blunt force trauma to the chest. Fractured left tibia. Multiple contusions and lacerations. Lungs sound clear. Stable sinus rhythm. No obvious injuries to the head or spine. Blood pressure normal,” the nurse replied as the EKG beeped rhythmically. “They’re preparing a bed in the ICU for her.”
“Looks like the patient’s doing well, considering. Page me if anything changes.” Dr. Jensen returned the chart to the slot at the end of the bed and turned to walk away just as the EKG began signalling a problem with a quick succession of rapid beeps.
“Her pressure’s bottoming out,” the nurse alerted. Dr. Jensen eyed the heart rate on the EKG with alarm.
“She’s in v-fib! Starting chest compressions! Call the code.” Dr. Jensen raced to the side of the bed and placed one hand over the other on the patient’s chest, beginning cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The nurse pressed the blue button on the device attached to the wall, signalling the rapid response team to come bearing the crash cart.
The team arrived quickly, and the rapid response nurse powered on the defibrillator and prepared the pads. She placed one pad just below Dr. Jensen’s pumping hands.
“On three,” the rapid response nurse ordered. “One...two...three.”
Dr. Jensen raised his hands long enough for the team to roll the patient on her side. The rapid response nurse applied the second pad to her back and the team laid the patient back down. Dr. Jensen resumed chest compressions.
“Charge to 200,” Dr. Jensen ordered. The nurse pushed a button on the defibrillator to charge it. After a few seconds, the defibrillator beeped to indicate it was ready.
“Clear!” the nurse shouted. Dr. Jensen paused compressions while the nurse held the button down for a shock. The patient jolted, but the heart rhythm did not return to normal. Dr. Jensen continued compressions.
“Again!” Dr. Jensen ordered. “Come on, dammit. Come back to us.”
“CLEAR!” The patient’s body jerked again, but still no change.
“You’re not dying on me today,” Dr. Jensen muttered under his breath.
While the rapid response team continued working to revive the crashing patient, Steph approached the opening in the curtain obscuring the bed from everyone else. She couldn’t make out the person on the bed, as the staff were huddled around her. She thought it odd to find herself in the middle of the emergency department and didn’t quite recall how she got there. Steph looked around, noting with increasing confusion that no one seemed alarmed that non-medical personnel were just wandering about.
Perhaps they were focused on their patients? It was the emergency room, after all.
Steph walked away from the dying patient, leaving the physicians to their work. She approached the circular reception desk in the center of the emergency room. Only one nurse was there logging the chart into the EMR on the computer. Perhaps the nurse could help her figure out how she got there. She waited a moment, but the nurse didn’t acknowledge her.
“Hey,” Steph said, waving her hand at the nurse. “I’m trying to figure out what I’m doing here.”
“CLEAR!” Steph heard it come from the doctor working to revive the dying patient. Steph felt a needle-like pain in her chest knock the wind out of her and she took a moment to catch her breath.
The fuck? she asked herself, raising an eyebrow in confusion.
“Did you feel that?” Steph asked the nurse behind the desk, but the nurse still didn’t seem to notice Steph was even there. Shrugging, she assumed the nurse was simply busy and didn’t hear her and left it at that.
“CLEAR!” Another sharp pain to her chest, and suddenly everything went dark.
Steph found herself sitting at the picnic table on the front lawn of Blackwell Academy, her GM gameboard hiding her campaign notes from Mikey, Rachel, and Chloe before her.
“You with us, Steph?” Mikey asked.
“Huh? Yeah, sorry.” Steph looked over her notes briefly. Mikey had just rolled for perception and failed. Probably for the best, honestly. She had a large troll on the other side of the door waiting for them.
“You approach the door hesitantly, but don’t notice anything out of the ordinary. You reach for the handle and--”
“I KICK IN THE DOOR!” Chloe shouted with excitement, catching Steph off-guard.
“I. Kick. In. The. Door. Like a fuckin’ ninja.” Chloe folded her arms against her chest, pleased with her actions.
Steph noticed with a pang of guilt Rachel squeezed Chloe’s thigh lovingly. Chloe kissed the top of Rachel’s head in return. Steph crushed on Rachel long before Chloe ever met her, and it hurt when Rachel chose Chloe. She envied their relationship, their dreams of escaping Arcadia Bay and seeing the world.
Steph wanted that. She wanted to travel with Rachel by her side, nothing but the open road and their dreams in front of them. Maybe they drive down the coast of California, or they wander Times Square in New York. The options would have been endless.
“But that’s not how it happened, is it?” Mikey asked, pulling Steph from inside her head.
“Mikey? Did you just read my mind?”
“Rachel didn’t fall in love with you like you wanted; she fell for Chloe.”
Steph narrowed her eyes from behind the gameboard, a knot forming in her throat.
“And when the news of her disappearance began circling the media, you applied and were accepted to the first degree program you could imagine being interested in hundreds of miles away from this town, fueled entirely by your own guilt.”
Steph looked over at Chloe and Rachel, their eyes focused on each other. Rachel took Chloe’s hands, her smile infectious. The affection they exchanged sent the guilt in Steph’s heart blooming like a wildfire. Mikey was right. The day she found out Rachel was missing, she started looking at universities in Seattle, convincing herself that she wanted to be a game designer and ignoring the underlying truth.
She felt guilty that she resented their relationship, that she couldn’t appreciate it for how beautiful it truly was.
“That’s not all, is it, Steph?” Steph felt it odd that Rachel and Chloe didn’t seem to hear this conversation taking place, and wondered briefly if she was losing her mind.
Steph felt a familiar needle-like pain to her chest. Like before, everything went dark. When she came to, she found herself on the edge of the twin sized bed in a room she hadn’t thought about in years, her cellphone in her hands.
I’m...in my dorm? Steph thought to herself. The walls were plastered with posters from her favorite musicians, her clothes strewn haphazardly across the floor. She glanced over at her open laptop, an article on Seattle’s music scene on the display. The curtains were open, and Steph noted that dusk was fast approaching.
It seemed like seconds ago she was playing D&D with Mikey, Chloe, and Rachel, and now she’s suddenly in Seattle with no clue how she ended up here so fast.
Steph tapped her phone screen and it lit up.
October 11, 2013
“Fuck,” Steph cursed. “Why is this happening to me? What is going on?”
Her phone vibrated in her hands, her mom’s picture filling the screen. Steph remembered taking that photo shortly before leaving for Seattle. Her mother’s smile reached her eyes, radiating warmth from the screen.
“Mom?” Steph answered.
“Hi, honey.” Steph’s eyes began to tear up and her heart was heavy. She did not want to relive this conversation.
“Mom, are you okay?”
“The weather’s getting pretty bad here. How is it in Seattle?”
Steph peered out the window, but there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
“Surprisingly, it’s not raining at all. I think it’s rained every day since I got here,” Steph said with a nervous chuckle.
“You know what day it is, don’t you?”
That’s...that’s not how this went, Steph thought to herself, her brows furrowed. She’s supposed to ask about how my courses are going.
“It’s the eleventh,” Steph whispered, her tears escaping her eyes to run down her face.
“It’s the eleventh,” her mother confirmed. “In about twenty minutes, a tornado is going to flatten Arcadia Bay, taking me with it, while you’re on the phone, helpless.”
“Please, Mom. Don’t do this,” Steph replied, her voice barely audible.
“Your guilt drove you to Seattle to pursue a degree program you don’t even care about. You’re failing a third of your classes but you don’t have the heart to tell me. You don’t want your mom to think of you as a failure. You think about all the times I invited you to stay for a weekend just to relax, but you had declined, unwilling to face the fact that your crush was in love with someone else.”
“And every year on this day you are reminded of how many times you could have seen me and didn’t. How the last time you saw me in person was when you looked back to see me wave as you drove away to university. As time moves forward, it gets easier to bear but it’s never easy for you. Your guilt rises in your throat each anniversary, this phone call at the front of your mind.”
“Mom...please,” Steph begged, her tears falling freely. She stifled a sob and continued, “I can’t do this.”
“You have to, baby. You’ve spent all this time running from your guilt. It’s time to face it. It’s too easy to ignore it and run away, but you can’t do that forever. It will kill you.”
Steph wiped her eyes, but the tears kept falling. She swallowed hard. Time was running out.
“This is going to hurt, baby, but you have to be strong.”
“Mom...no…” Steph whispered, her eyes wide at the realization. She heard a crash come through the phone’s speaker, the wind muffling her mother’s voice.
“The whole town is rubble!”
“MOM!” Steph screamed into her phone, her face hot with the sudden panic.
“It’ll hit our house soon! I’m taking shelter, but...I love you, okay?”
The line went dead as a flash of light blinded her eyes and she found herself in the DJ booth at the record store. She wiped the tears from her eyes and tapped the screen of her phone that lay just beside the mixer.
April 28, 2019
“You know what day it is, right?” a voice from behind Steph asked, startling her.
“Gabe, what the fuck?” she asked, turning around. Gabe rested his hands on his hips and laughed. He always loved spooking her, and Steph made it easy.
“It’s April twenty-eighth,” Steph replied matter-of-factly.
“I know the date, but you know what happens today, right?” Gabe folds his arms as he continues, “While you are searching for DJ jobs in Seattle because you haven’t found a reason to stay, I’m making up with my girlfriend hours before I lose my life. Izzie has promised you a spot in Drugstore Makeup, you just have to get back there. To your life before Haven Springs.”
“Why are you doing this?” Steph asked, again wiping the tears from her eyes.
“You’re always hunting for the next big adventure, but not for the reasons you tell yourself. It’s not because of your dreams of traveling the country. It’s because you’re terrified that if you stay in one place too long, something bad will happen.”
“Okay, but something bad does happen, Gabe.”
“Bad things happen to people every day. It’s a part of life. It’s cruel, unkind, and unfair, but a necessary evil to help us appreciate what’s right in front of us. You never gave yourself the chance to heal, because you fought so hard to escape it. When your emotions were challenged in Arcadia Bay, you fled to Seattle and it followed you there. When your mom died, it grew, and you were presented with an opportunity that let you leave Seattle and you thought it would get you away from it. But it was in the face of the people that showed up to your shows. You saw your guilt in Izzie when you’d fight over trivial things.”
“What am I supposed to do, Gabe?” Steph gave up wiping the tears away and just let them fall. As much as she hated it, she knew he was right.
“Face it, Steph. Stop running from it. You’re in a hospital bed with a heart that’s trying to die. There’s a glowing neon exit sign ready to let you run from your guilt forever, but you’ll lose so much if you take it.”
Gabe approached the mixer, pushing the volume fader up until the song on the playlist could be heard on the speakers. Steph recognized it immediately as “Bomb Squad.”
“This isn’t where your story ends, Steph. You’ve run all your life. It’s time to face it and fight.”
Gabe waved a hand toward the large window looking over the record store. Steph followed his gaze through the window and smiled when Alex appeared. She remembered the first time she ever saw her like it was yesterday, her stomach fluttering at the mere sight of her.
Another needle-like pain in her chest clouded her vision, and with a flash of light she found herself standing behind Dr. Jensen, still performing chest compressions.
Steph looked to her right and saw Gabe silently standing beside her.
“OH MY GOD, NO!” Steph heard someone shout, and saw that Alex had found the open curtain.
“Somebody get her out of here!” Dr. Jensen shouted.
“CLEAR!” Dr. Jensen paused the chest compressions as Ryan tried desperately to pull Alex away from the bed. Steph’s body jolted, but the EKG still showed her in v-fib.
“Gabe, what do I do? I can’t leave her,” Steph asked her friend, panicking. “I need her. She’s the one thing I did right.”
“I remember you closing the shutters and laying down by my side,” Gabe muttered, his gaze focused on the doctors’ efforts to revive her.
Steph cocked her head to one side, puzzled. “The fuck are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense.”
“And the light that was still slipping through, it was painting your body in stripes,” Dr. Jensen said, monitoring the EKG while performing chest compressions.
Steph eyed the doctor with concern, as that statement had nothing to do with the issue at hand.
“CLEAR!” Another pause in compressions. Another jolt of electricity. Another defeated expression when the EKG didn’t change. One of the nurses begged Dr. Jensen to call time of death, but he refused.
“Steph, goddammit, wake up,” Steph begged her dying body.
“I remember the trees summoned down like an archangel choir,” the nurse charging the defibrillator whispered, waiting for the beep to indicate it was ready for another shock.
“And the ocean was all we could see and I knew that I wanted you!” Alex shouted, fighting hard against Ryan, wanting desperately to be beside Steph.
“When am I gonna lose you?” Steph spoke, the knot in her throat making it difficult to swallow.
She realized that despite everything she had ever endured, that Alex was the one person that made everything she endured worth it. No matter what happened to her: the death of Rachel, the death of her mother, her failed relationship with Izzie, or even the death of her best friend, all brought her to the best thing that ever happened to her. Steph realized the guilt would follow her everywhere no matter where she went, but her love was stronger than any hardship she ever encountered.
And in that moment, Steph realized that her experiences helped her grow, but her love for Alex made it all worthwhile.
Dr. Jensen paused chest compressions once more while the nurse held down the button to send the shock to Steph’s body. The entire room held their breath as the EKG displayed a normal sinus rhythm.
Steph watched everyone breathe a sigh of relief. She looked to her right to see that Gabe had already disappeared. Alex freed herself from Ryan and raced to the side of the bed, taking the unconscious Steph’s hand.
Several days had passed before Steph opened her eyes. The lights were dim in the hospital room as she looked around, adjusting to her surroundings. When she didn’t immediately see Alex, she tried calling for her. Steph’s throat was dry and her voice raspy, so she wasn’t sure Alex could hear her.
“Oh God, Steph!” Alex exclaimed, jumping up from the armchair in the corner of the room to take Steph’s hand. “You’re awake!”
“A-Alex…” Alex grabbed a bottle of water from the table beside the bed and uncapped it. She held it up to Steph’s lips and helped her drink before returning it to the table.
“Alex,” Steph said more clearly, gripping Alex’s hand. Her eyes teared up at the sight of her love before her, and she knew now more than ever she wanted her for the rest of her life. Fuck guilt, she wanted Alex.