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Kaleidoscope





APRIL MARIE LIBS

DEDICATION

To all the incredible doctors and nurses that have been instrumental in my children’s lives, especially the staff at Kosiar Children’s Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, with a special thanks going to Dr. Carlos Saurez, my daughter’s guardian angel.



KALEIDOSCOPE

All right reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information retrieval and storage system without permission by the publisher.


Names, characters, and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination, or are used in a fictitious situations. Any resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, incidents, or persons- living or dead- are coincidental and beyond the intent of the author.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


In the thank you department, I would like to take a moment to recognize my friends who act as my support group when things get chaotic in my life, which is quite often in the last twelve months. Your friendship, your cheerleading, and your understanding hearts mean the world to me.


My two sisters, Tracy and Jill, I owe a debt of gratitude as well for being my first response team when it comes to my writing. Their input never fails to make my stories a better read and more believable.


I would also like to thank my editor my beta readers; Lisa Kaelin, Annette Kaiser, Rita Schuler, Shelly Person, Shelly Haworth, and Dawn Durbin. It takes a village to write my books and I appreciate their devoted support and the attention they give to my writing.


I also want to thank my best friend, business confidant, and the man I lay my head next to every night, my wonderful husband, Mike Libs. To paraphrase a quote from my book, I'd like to say, having him in my corner of life makes me feel strong and powerful which makes my heart blossom with gratefulness. Another thank you will always go to my three children, Haley, Lexie, and Logan for putting up with my excessive computer compulsion. I hope and pray you will each find a passion that fulfills you, as writing does for me.

Contents

Dedication

Acknowledgments

Prologue

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Epilogue

Kaleidoscope of Consequences

Other books

Prologue


THE WALL IN front of Piper was made of two inch thick, opaque glass. A solid wall in front, adhered to a translucent ceiling made of the same material above. She whipped her head in every direction and found the same glass barricade, each wall an arm’s distance away, closing her within an invisible box. Although the only sound she heard was her timorous breathing echoing throughout the space, Piper could see familiar people milling around her invisible prison. Seemingly the entire town inched toward her obscure predicament to gather close by, but still kept their distance as they gawked, cupping their mouths to whisper to the person standing next to them.

Piper took a tentative step forward and pressed both palms against the cool surface. She could see her family shuffling forward with rueful, wilting faces. She didn’t want them to be upset. She wanted to wrap her arms around them, to console them, but the stilted barrier kept her stationary.

Piper felt exposed, vulnerable, defenseless, as if she were standing on the busy street corner naked, although she was still dressed in blue scrubs from her work day. The air in the enclosure felt thick, stifling her intake of air. Her lungs didn’t have to crave for oxygen long before a blast of tepid air hit at her ankles. She stepped back into the gust, desperately needing air, dropping her chin to see where the plume came from. She found a quarter sized hole in the ground as the tunnel whooshed upward lifting her tresses, making the cranberry strands dance around her face.

Tilting her chin to look at the heavy crowd that had now conjugated outside her transparent cell, Piper wanted to plead with them to stop their whispering and snickering, when the air under her feet ceased, her hair falling in a limp blanket to cover her back. Panicked, her eyes sliced to her parents as their faces condensed in wretchedness, their red rimmed eyes spilling over with tears.

Piper wanted to console them, tell them everything was going to be okay. She was a survivor. She could get through anything, but she could feel the oxygen level sinking lower, making her lungs ache as she fought for each labored breath.

Dropping to her knees, Piper fumbled for the hole, poking her fingers into the opening, attempting to jump start the air again. When that attempt failed, she pounded her fists on the floor begging the evil soul that put her there to give her a chance to fight. Vaulting to her feet, she flailed against the glass with her hands, her feet, and her shoulders, kicking, bashing, and thrashing against the barrier until she had sore, aching limbs and tender, bruised muscles.

And while Piper fought for her life, the town continued gawking at her as her family physically grieved for her state of affairs.

Piper would like to think she was consumed in a horrendous, all-encompassing nightmare, but the truth of the matter was….this was her life. She was boxed in her home town, the circumstance of her situation making it difficult for her to breathe as the entire community gossiped behind her back. Her parents mourned for her loss, but could do nothing to help solve her discordance.

Piper felt the walls closing in on her. She needed to burst through the barrier before the enclosure sucked the life right out of her. Run, Piper, run, was pounding through her brain as she lurched out of bed, ripped open the closet and clutched onto her suitcase

Chapter One


PIPER WILKINSON DESPISED being stuck on night shift, although she really didn't have a right to complain since she jumped at the pediatric oncology position as soon as the opening was posted on the bulletin board in the nurses' lounge. It seemed like a wise decision at the time since her boyfriend, Philip, worked the late shift in the emergency room across the street. With both working the seven p.m. to seven a.m. shift, Phillip and Piper were provided the opportunity to spend the entire day together, strolling through the grocery, browsing a bookstore hand in hand, or leisurely making love, all afternoon long. They would ride to work together every evening and on the way home in the morning, would stop at a greasy breakfast diner before returning to his condo completely exhausted to crash into bed, only to be woken the next afternoon to begin the process all over again.

This crazed cycle engrossed both of their lives, from sun rise till sun set, like two hamsters jogging on a never-ending spinning wheel, but they were together, and to them, that was all that mattered. They could look past the fact the rest of their friends and family orbited in a different time zone. They thrived on being side by side supporting each other in their own sleep deprived world they had created just for themselves.

After three months of dating, Phillip asked for Piper's hand in marriage by renting a small aircraft to fly across the clear blue sky while eating outdoors at The Seafood Post, nestled right next to the Ohio River. In fancy script writing, the banner waved in the wind for all to see. "Piper -- Will you marry me?" Getting down on bended knee, Phillip flipped open the black velvet box he had hidden in his suit pocket, his smile widening as he watched Piper's face blossom and her hand rise to her chest when she caught sight of the diamond and sapphire ring glimmering daintily underneath the sun's impending rays of light. Before Phillip was even able to utter one word, Piper threw herself into his arms with glistening emerald eyes, her strawberry hair billowing behind her as she almost knocked him to the floor with her petite frame, squealing, "Yes, yes, of course, yes!" while the entire restaurant applauded their approval.

Piper moved into Phillip's condo at the Harbor's overlooking the scenic Ohio River the weekend following their engagement. Their life together became even more manageable and stress free, with Piper not having to run home to brush her teeth, grab a clean pair of scrubs, or change for a dinner engagement, but after only six weeks of living together, their blissful cohabitation came to screeching halt when Phillip's manager switched him to day shift to cover for a doctor who had to leave the country unexpectedly. Piper immediately put her name in the hat for a day shift position as soon as she walked through the doors to the oncology wing the following evening, but knew the possibility of that shift having an opening in the near future was minimal.

Before the next month even came to a close, Piper had become worn out and agitated at having to work the graveyard shift without Phillip, not only physically, with her lack of sleep, but also, emotionally as well. It exasperated her that now days, she and Phillip never spent any amount of quality time together, and when they were given a window of opportunity, Piper was so limp from exhaustion, she usually fell asleep during whatever task they were doing, watching a movie, riding in the car, or sometimes, even right before sex.

Phillip took Piper's sleep deprivation in stride, making it clear that he wasn't upset with her over her lack of stamina. Instead, when she inadvertently fell asleep on the couch, he would scoop her up and carry her to bed. After gently placing her on top of their fluffy down comforter, Phillip would push her long strawberry hair from her forehead and begin kissing her, starting with her toes, gradually moving his way up her body, tantalizing her with his tongue, his chestnut brown hair tickling her raw exposed skin, as he murmured reassuring words in between each caress; "Stay strong, baby; it won't be for much longer, I promise."

But two months later, Piper was still blurry-eyed working nights, praying something would soon open up on day shift.




TAKING THE EXPRESSWAY on the way to the hospital, Piper phoned her younger sister, Gina. Piper and her sister were only sixteen months apart in age and grew up not only close sisters, but as best friends as well, not that Piper had any say in the matter when she thought about it. Gina had always been much more mature than the other children in her grade and out of boredom one day at Grayston Elementary, began following Piper around school like a shadow that wouldn't go away, even though the sun had long since disappeared. Always annoyed at having her runt of a sister always at her side, Piper often complained to her mother.

"Please, Mom, make her stop. Gina's following me around school like a sick little puppy. You've got to end this right now, before it gets out of hand and she actually starts to hurt my reputation."

When she received no response from her mother, who continued reading the newspaper at their kitchen table, Piper asked, her tone rising an octave in agitation, "Mom, are you even listening to me?"

Still, she received no feedback from her mother, who in Piper's opinion, always took her sister's side.

Hammering her foot onto the tile with a loud thud, Piper demanded, "Mom! Answer me!"

Continuing to focus on the paper in front of her, her mother replied calmly, "The only thing my answering you would accomplish would be to make you even more angry." She turned the page, still engrossed with its content. "Therefore I am choosing to say nothing, but I hear you, Piper, as I always do, very loud and extremely clear."

Piper flung her fists onto her hips, and in a sarcastic tone, spat, "Give it a go, Mom. Really, I'm dying to hear what you have to say."

Folding the paper onto the table, Piper's mother turned toward her eldest daughter. "Well, honey, I think you should be thrilled your little sister looks up to you and wants to emulate you. You're the lucky one in this scenario; not all siblings feel that way about each other."

Exaggeratedly rolling her eyes in a huff, Piper stalked out of the room, barking, "It never fails! You always take Gina's side!" then stomped upstairs to her room, slamming the door behind her, rattling the framed photographs anchored to the wall in the hallway.

But Gina was persistent, never giving up on trying to fit in with Piper and her gaggle of friends, and eventually, was accepted as an equal into their inner circle. Gina even tagged along to Piper's high school reunion instead of waiting for her own gathering two years later. No one in Piper’s graduating class even blinked an eye at Gina’s appearance; some even assumed she’d graduated their same year, since she was involved in every one of their high school memories.

Piper and Gina's friendship had withstood time, from high school, to college, and into adult life. Piper didn't know what she would do without her sister in her life. She was always the first person she called when something upset her, or when she just wanted to gab.

"Hey, G. It's Piper."

"Hey, girl,” Gina said enthusiastically. "I just got back from the gym. What's up?"

Piper could picture her sister's long frame in a pair of yoga pants and athletic bra with her bleached blonde hair tied into a high ponytail, sipping a bottle of Vitamin Water, as she always did after her workout. Although Gina was the runt in early grade school, she had long since passed Piper up in height and now towered over her older sister by four inches.

"Just the same ol' stuff." Piper blew out an exasperated breath. "I know I’m beating a dead horse here, but I honestly don't know if I can take this night shift crap any longer. It feels like I haven't seen Phillip in weeks. I'm really starting to think my fiancé is just a figment of my imagination."

Gina encouraged her sister. "Hang in there, Pipe. A day shift position has to open up sooner or later. I guess you're on your way into work now?"

"'Fraid so."

"Is Phillip working on Saturday?"

"Yes, he is, and it's the only day I have off. Seems to be the story of our life right now."

"How 'bout we go shopping then. Retail therapy heals all wounds. We can make a full day of it."

"That sounds like a plan." Piper smiled, grateful to have her sister to lean on, before adding, "If you don't mind, I'd love to stop by Rebecca's Wedding Boutique to try on that gown I saw in their catalogue last week, and maybe we can find you a maid-of-honor dress while we’re there, too. I'd love to mark those two things off my wedding to-do list."

"Sure. Whatever you want to do is fine by me."

"Okay, great. I gotta go. I'll see you on Saturday, and by the way, you're the best. Thanks for always listening to my whining."

Gina laughed. "No problem. Be safe, and I'll talk to you later."

Piper hit the end call button on her Bluetooth and immediately pushed the button again to phone Danielle Valent, her and Gina's third partner in crime. Danielle, a statuesque brunette, was a lifelong best friend of Piper's that lived two houses down the cul-de-sac from her parents and was considered a fourth child in the Wilkinson household. Throughout grade school, Danielle had always hung out at the Wilkinson house rather than her own. She ate most dinners at Piper's house, vacationed with the family, and more often than not, didn't even bother to let her mother and father know about parent's night at school, choosing to pull Piper's mom and dad around the classroom showing off her paper mache’ solar system, instead of her own.

Danielle answered on the first ring. "Hey, Piper. What's up?"

"A whole lot of nothing."

"Are you on your way to the dreaded graveyard shift?" Danielle used a deep, gravelly voice, muttering, "Mwahahhaha..."

Piper wrinkled her brow. "What in the world was that?"

Danielle snickered. "That's my spooky zombie impression. Get it? Zombies belong in graveyards."

"Ahhh, got it. Very funny," Piper replied dryly as she glanced in her rear view mirror.

"Pipe, you are sooo grumpy these days. Can't say as I blame you though. I wouldn't last one week working the shitty hours you do."

"Tell me about it," Piper said as she turned on her blinker to change lanes. "Hey, I was calling to see if you had any plans this weekend."

"Let me check my schedule." Danielle paused and then cackled out loud. "You know I never do anything unless it's with you. So, what do you have planned, a little late night bar hopping?" she asked hopefully, then added as an afterthought, "Hey, maybe it's not too late and we can still get in on the pub crawl downtown on Saturday night."

Piper winced. "Actually, I was talking about bridesmaid dress shopping."

Danielle groaned. "Ahh, Piper. Can't you just pick something out for me? You know I don't care what it looks like, really."

"Come on, Danni. I want whatever dress I pick to look good on you, as well as Gina."

Danielle huffed in sarcasm. "Whatever you choose will look great on the Bean Pole, so just pick something out that's a little more tentish for me, and we'll both look fine."

"Danni, we both know you're a six, now come on."

"A size six, compared to your sister's size zero, is gargantuan."

"Danielle, you're being ridiculous, and you know it." Piper veered her Volkswagen bug into the exit lane. "You have to come with us."

Danielle blew out a breath in surrender. "Fine. Since you're so flipping determined to have my opinion on the subject, I'll go, but I'm not trying on a hundred friggin' dresses. I can promise you that."

Knowing she could talk her best friend into anything, Piper replied, "Perfect! I'll call you back tomorrow with all the details."

"Hey, before we hang up, my mom called today and asked me to give those white linen tablecloths back that she borrowed. Your mom said since you'll be the next one using them, just to drop them off at your place. I have them hanging in my car as we speak. Is Phillip going to be home tonight so I can go ahead and get rid of them?"

"I'm pretty sure he is, but text him before you head over, just so you don't make a wasted trip."

"Sounds good. Have a great night, Pipe."

"You do the same and give my boyfriend a big hug from me, would ya?"


Piper veered into a parking spot on the seventh floor of the parking garage and yanked the visor down to look into the mirror. While she was weaving her long, strawberry blonde hair into a French braid, she gave herself the same pep talk she'd been giving herself for the last two months. I love my job. I love the sweet children I care for. I will have a good attitude today and every other day until I get switched to day shift. She sucked in a deep breath and swung open the door.

Within thirty minutes, Piper was back in her car, bubbling with excitement. The scheduling nurse had overbooked the staff that evening, which had never happened in the two years she had worked at the hospital. The nurses who had been called into work huddled behind the station desk to draw straws to see who received the night off, and low and behold, it was Piper. She had finally gotten a break, which she needed more than ever.

Although Piper tried to stay within the speed limit on her drive home, the elation she felt carried all the way down to her feet, making it nearly impossible to obey the law. She squealed her tires turning into the parking garage of the Harbor's and raced over to the elevator, punching the illuminated button numerous times until the doors finally squeaked opened. Once she had made it to their condominium, Piper paused to catch her breath, wanting to surprise Phillip with her unexpected night off from work. Trying to make as little noise as possible, Piper cracked open the door, peeked her head in to make sure the coast was clear, then began tiptoeing down the hallway to the living room, which had a breathtaking view of downtown Louisville.

As Piper inched down the hallway, she walked painstakingly slow to insure her steps were soundless, until she stopped dead in her tracks when she heard a bizarre grunting noise that sounded like a wounded animal. Fearful that Phillip may be having a heart attack, Piper hurriedly propelled forward into the living room and found herself standing a stone's throw away from Phillip's hairy white behind humping vigorously against the backside of an unidentified female. Although the lights were off and candles lit the area, there was no mistaking her fiancé's silhouette, or his stunned expression as he whipped around after hearing Piper's loud gasp.

Piper's first instinct was to run. She quickly spun on her heels, ready to retreat, when rage exploded within her, turning her back around to confront her cheating fiancé. She pushed him hard against his bare chest while he attempted to step into his trousers, knocking him sideways onto the black leather couch. Piper stood above him, her face red with uncontrollable fury as tears began streaming down her face, saturating her blue scrubs.

"How could you?" Piper screamed, her eyes narrow slits as she poked against his bare chest. "We were engaged! Do you understand that terminology, asshole? That means we were going to get married! And you have the audacity to cheat on me? You are a lying, sack of--"

Piper interrupted her own rant when she realized the woman, who had been cowering in the corner of the room hidden by the wool throw from the back of the couch, tried to make a fast getaway. Piper stepped into her pathway.

"Oh, no you don't. You have to make this walk of shame without the help of this blanket." Piper ripped the cover from the woman's grasp and then stumbled backward at who she unveiled.

Her younger sister, Gina, stood naked, totally mortified, not knowing which part of herself to hide first, her scarlet face, or her naked body. She snatched the blanket back from Piper and covered her thin frame, babbling, "Piper, it's not what you think. Phillip was just feeling a little lonely with you on night shift. This was nothing, really."

Piper swiped at her tear drenched face with the pads of her fingertips. "Nothing? So let me get this straight. You were just trying to," she threw up air quotes, "'help me out' here by sleeping with my fiancé? You are totally unbelievable!"

Piper's angry sobs exploded from deep within her core. "How could you, G? You were my best friend." She wiped her nose with her forearm between ragged gasps of air as her bitter words spilled out. "You always wanted everything I had. Now you got it. There's nothing else left." She flung both arms into the air, gesturing to her surroundings. "You've got it all, G. Congratulations! I hope you are fucking happy with yourself!"

She turned her scorn on Phillip. "And you! Exactly how long have you been cheating on me with my little sister, huh?"

They both began speaking at once. Piper held her hands up in each of their faces. "You know what? Save your sob stories. I wouldn't believe a word that came out of either of your mouths anyway." She dropped her head with the weight of seeing her entire world crumble right before her eyes and in a defeated tone, demanded, "Get out now! Both of you! The sight of you makes me sick!"

Piper slunk out onto the terrace, shutting the glass door behind her as Gina gathered her workout attire quickly and dressed, while Phillip jogged into the back bedroom. He came back carrying a small satchel of clothing, grabbing his car keys and his wallet on his way out of the condo with Gina tailing closely behind. When Piper heard the front door close in finality, she ran over to the potted palm tree in the corner of the balcony and let loose of the acidic bile from her stomach that she had been choking down since witnessing the disgusting scene she knew she would never, ever, be able to dispel from her memory.




Chapter Two


AFTER THE FOURTH straight day of lying in bed weeping, not only from the pain of betrayal, but also from the loss of the two people she felt were her closest loved ones, Piper came to a decision. She stayed up until two a.m. contemplating, mulling over what she felt was the only logical decision there was to make, and then fell into a deep sleep for the first time since witnessing firsthand the affair between her sister and her fiancé.

The next morning, Piper put her plan into motion. She yanked out two enormous, flower-patterned suitcases, a college graduation present from her parents, from the hallway closet and tossed them onto her bed. Haphazardly, she threw miscellaneous items of clothing and shoes into the bags, without giving it much thought. After zipping up the suitcases, she wheeled them out to the front door and then rummaged through drawers in the kitchen until she found a pad of paper and a writing utensil. Meticulously, Piper combed through the entire condo, labeling by room which items belonged to her, and then stuffed the paper into the front pocket of her suitcase, along with her personalized stationary, as well as her laptop.

Ambling back through the condominium one last time, Piper collected all the framed photographs of her and Phillip displayed throughout each room. Stepping out onto the terrace, Piper analyzed each photograph thoroughly; the picture of her and Phillip on their first date at the State fair, the photo of their one and only vacation as a couple on Fort Meyer's beach, and a snapshot of her, Gina, and Phillip in a three way embrace from a family reunion. Squinting in the sunlight, Piper studied each picture differently than she had in the past, as if she was looking through a microscope that highlighted the flaws in each person; Phillip's over abundant smile, which Piper used to think made him appear strong and confident, now seemed cheesy and more like a cheap car salesman. Her eyes switched photographs, moving to Gina, with her platinum blonde hair, bright red lipstick, and plunging neckline. Piper had once been envious of her sister's appearance, but now thought she just looked like a pathetic minx, desperate for attention. Piper took her time scrutinizing every aspect of the picture of the three of them together, with Gina on one side of her, and Phillip on the other. Piper had always adored this picture, thinking both her fiancé and sister were beaming at her in the candid snapshot, but under closer inspection, she couldn't help but notice their line of vision was slightly off, and realized for the first time, they probably were not adoring her, but most likely each other.

After evaluating each photograph and filing all the faults from her sister and ex-fiancé into the back of her memory to bring forward when needed, Piper began chucking each frame individually over the balcony into the cloudy river below. With each toss, Piper felt lighter and more free. She even considered tossing Phillip's wardrobe over the balcony to help in the liberation process, but reconsidered, deciding he wasn't worth the energy that would entail.

Once the task was complete, Piper dusted off her hands, satisfied with her expulsion process, when she noticed her engagement ring sparkling elegantly on her left hand. Slipping the diamond off her ring finger, she studied it in the sunlight, each tilt of her hand throwing an array of colors onto her white T-shirt. Knowing Phillip would soon be demanding the expensive ring be returned, Piper stretched her arm back as far as it would go, then propelled the ring forward and watched as it spun in circles toward the dark, murky water below. Piper desperately hoped a fish would assume it was a shimmering lure and swallow it whole, which was exactly what the ring symbolized; a lure into a false life of never ending fake happiness, which would have been Piper's future, if she hadn't stumbled upon her ex-fiancé's repugnant affair with her younger sister.

Piper watched the tiny splash the jewelry made in the water and the ripples that followed. She then closed her eyes and tilted her chin up toward the heavens, the sun's rays bathing her in a blanket of warmth, and said a quick prayer for her grief to be lessened and for strength to move forward with the rest of her life.


Piper's first stop on her agenda was to the local storage company. After renting a unit and stuffing the key into her back pocket, Piper headed to her next destination, the post office. After grabbing the stationery from her luggage, Piper sat in her car with the engine idling and wrote continuously for the next thirty minutes, until she had completed three letters; one to her parents, one to her best friend, Danielle, and one to her brother, Samuel. Each letter briefly summarized the events leading up to her departure and stated that once she was settled, she would give each of them a call. In Samuel's letter, Piper included the list of personal items that she had created from her condo, the key from the storage unit, as well as her key to the condominium. She asked him to please box up her items and place them in the rental unit at his earliest convenience. Piper had chosen Sam for this task, hoping Phillip would not interfere, being he was 6'4, and also a former college football player.

After mailing the letters, Piper headed north on Interstate 65, and then grabbed her phone from the console of her car. She hit the button on her iPhone and told Siri to call Robin Nolan, then waited while the extension rang three times before her sorority sister from college answered.

Robin answered enthusiastically, "Hey, Pipe! Long time no hear." She tried to use her best country twang, poking fun of Piper's southern accent. "What's going on down in good Ol' Looville, Kentucky?"

Hating to have to regurgitate what had happened with Phillip, Piper immediately choked up and had to pull her car off the interstate into a McDonald's parking lot.

"So, what did that son of a bitch do?" Robin demanded, her voice taking on a hostile tone.

Through quiet sobs, Piper explained in detail what she walked in on between Gina and Phillip.

Robin sucked in a sharp breath. "So, Phillip finally showed his true colors, huh? Well, now I can honestly tell you how I feel about that man -- I think he's a chauvinistic, condescending pig! Just because he was a doctor, he thought he was better than everyone else, but he had it all wrong," she fumed. "You're the one who was too good for him, Piper. I know you can't see it yet, but he actually did you a favor here."

Piper smiled through her tears, needing someone to have her back.

"And as for that two bit slut that parades around as your so called sister -- I've never met anyone so plastic in my entire life. I'd like to pop holes in those implants, pry off those extra large caps on her teeth, and shave off that fake blonde hair. Then let's see who looks twice at that bitch!"

Piper laughed out loud at her friend's outburst, thinking, this was definitely the call she needed to make. "So, I hope you're not busy the next few weeks, 'cause I kinda quit my job, packed my bags, and I'm heading up 65 as we speak."

"Perfect! Come right on up!" Robin purred. "My roommate actually has been staying at her boyfriend's every night for the past six months. You can use her room until you decide what you want to do. You remember how to get here, don't you?"



PIPER PULLED UP to the curb in front of Robin's apartment in downtown Chicago, an old three story home that had been refurbished into three separate apartments. Robin rented the bottom floor unit which was partially hidden underground and had bars on the windows as a safety precaution for being on street level. Five steps led down under the sidewalk to her barnyard red front door, which usually had trash cluttered around it due to litter blowing in from the street.

Inside, the apartment had been furnished modernly with two tan leather sofas with an opaque glass coffee table nestled in front, covered in a multitude of candles in various shapes, colors, and sizes. Artsy paintings in vibrant hues covered the walls, creating a contemporary hang out area for Robin's friends to gather. The only downfall to the living room was the limited amount of square footage. Robin's guests had to climb over the coffee table, literally, to sit on the couch. The same problem existed in each bedroom as well. A double bed and one lone dresser were the only furniture Robin and her roommate were able to fit into each room. As an added nuisance, they could only open their lower dresser drawers about halfway before it slammed into their bed frame. The other two rooms inside the apartment were a dilapidated kitchen with ivory cabinets that had yellowed over the years and one miniscule bathroom with a pedestal sink, which also featured an ancient, claw-foot tub surrounded by a clear plastic shower curtain.

Robin only had three stipulations for her living arrangements after she graduated from college: downtown Chicago, walking distance to the bars, and a place to park her car. She couldn't be happier living in this apartment and had no intentions of upgrading, even though she could afford to do so, anytime in the near future.

Piper lugged her two suitcases down the stairs to the ruby-red front door, raised her fist to knock, when Robin, expecting her arrival, swung the door open before she had the opportunity, and enveloped her in a huge bear hug. Needing the affection, Piper's eyes filled with tears once again.

"I told myself no more crying."

Robin tucked her brown hair with chunky blonde streaks behind her ears. "You are so right, Piper. That bum isn't worth the energy it takes to form a tear." She grabbed her bags and dragged them into the apartment, murmuring under her breath, "Jackass."


Piper's first week in Chicago zoomed by in a clouded blur. Since Robin worked out of her apartment as a pharmaceutical sales rep, she was able to put her clients on hold to make sure she kept her friend busy, every second of every day. The first days after Piper's arrival, she and Robin strolled through Lincoln Park, enjoyed a play at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre and another at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, toured the Museum of Contemporary Art, as well as the History Museum, and frequented every bar within a twenty mile radius of her apartment. The next thirty-six hours, Robin dragged Piper shopping at each and every boutique within walking distance, hauled her into every art gallery, and pushed her to attend every festival in downtown Chicago. By the end of the seventh day, although Piper appreciated her friend's concern and companionship, she was beat and ready for a break.

At the start of her second week, Piper pushed Robin to go back to work, insisting she would be fine in the apartment by herself, assuring her she was thoroughly capable of entertaining herself. Her first morning alone, Piper enjoyed sleeping till noon, padding around the tiny apartment in Robin's canary yellow bathrobe and watching soap operas all afternoon long. The second morning, Piper threw on some sweats, slipped into her running shoes, and jogged up to Lincoln Park, enjoying the solitude. She made her way to North Avenue Beach, lingered in the sand, transfixed by the movement of the water and then ambled over to the Conservatory to breathe in the lush, tropical landscape. On her way back to the apartment, she roamed through the farmer's market and brought home dinner; salmon, asparagus, fresh bread, and a bottle of white wine.

On the third day, Piper stood outside Robin's apartment, with nothing in particular on her docket. Dressed in a black jogging suit and thin down vest, Piper closed her eyes, tilting her chin upward to soak in the warming rays of the sun. The breeze blew her silky hair across her face, tickling the end of her nose. Pushing her locks to the side, Piper secured her hair behind her ear and came up with a plan to begin her day. She closed her eyes again, took in a long deep breath and exhaled slowly, centering herself.

Take me wind. Take me in the direction you want me to go.

She flipped open her eyes and waited. Being that she was standing in the heart of the Windy City, the breeze stirred, whipping in all directions at the same time. Piper stood still, waiting for the wind to make up her mind. Closing her eyes once again, she concentrated on the movement of the air. Finally, a strong gust pushed Piper on the left side of her body, throwing her strawberry blonde hair to the right. She smiled up to the sky and turned her feet in the direction the wind took her. She walked all the way down Division Street until it came to a T with Lake Shore Drive. Another breeze turned Piper to the right, and she followed Lakeshore for a few blocks, and then took another right onto East Chicago Avenue. Knowing she had a GPS on her iPhone if she got lost, Piper wandered down the street, exploring the city with no particular destination on her mind.

Piper strolled through downtown completely unencumbered, until her eyes were drawn to a building unlike anything she had ever seen before. She stopped in her tracks and gawked at the anomaly in front of her. It was an extremely tall building, virtually made of glass, which is not uncommon to see in any city, but what made this particular structure discriminant was the top half of the building was much larger than the bottom half, giving it an odd shape, as if the superstructure may topple over at any given moment. Piper tilted her head to the side, studying the architecture and then glanced at the sign in front of the building, Lurie's Children's Hospital.

She had to laugh. Of course, the one building I'm drawn to is a children's hospital.

Piper felt compelled to enter the glass doors and take a look around. As she entered the building, she was struck with the feeling that she had walked into a children's museum rather than a hospital. The lobby was two stories tall and surrounded by glass, which framed the area in natural light. Two huge humpback whales, a mother and her baby, floated in the air suspended from the ceiling, with the floor underneath covered in decorative tiles in warm shades of creams and grays. Piper spun in a slow circle, loving the overall ambiance of the hospital setting. She spent the next hour touring as much of the facility as she could without any credentials, and then headed back toward the apartment with pep in her step that she couldn't quite explain.

The next morning Piper rose early to have breakfast with Robin before she left for work. Robin was already seated at the kitchen table eating her egg-white sandwich when Piper emerged from her bedroom.

"Well, look who's up. Did you not sleep well? Is everything okay?"

Shuffling over to the cabinet, Piper withdrew a box of Cheerios. "Yeah, actually, I'm doing better than okay." She reached into the adjacent cabinet for a bowl, shook a cup of cereal into it, then swiveled toward the refrigerator. "Getting out of Louisville was the best decision I could have made, considering the circumstances." She paused with the gallon of milk dangling from her hand. "Thanks for letting me crash here. You have no idea how much I appreciate it."

Robin wiped her mouth with her napkin. "No problem at all. Stay as long as you like. I'm really enjoying your company. My roommate has been MIA ever since she hooked up with that new boyfriend of hers."

Piper sat down at the dinette table across from her friend. Settling her elbows on the table, she folded her hands over her breakfast. "I hope you were sincere when you made that last statement, if not, this next question might be a little awkward." She raised her eyebrows, asking tentatively, "Would you be alright if I asked your roommate if I could sub-lease from her?"

Picking up her spoon, Piper pushed her food around in the bowl, concentrating on how the milk swallowed up each round circle as she dunked it with her spoon. "Please, don't feel like you have to say yes. It's just that this city seems so right for me at this time in my life, and I found a hospital that--"

Robin interrupted her. "Are you serious right now? Do you really think you would have to talk me into this? I would love for you to be my roommate, you dumbbell!"

A wide grin spread across Piper's face. "Did you just call me a dumbbell?" Shaking her head, she teased, "Rob, I think you need to cut back on watching TV Land for a while. I think it may be warping your personality."

Robin laughed. "Well, I was going to call you a dumbass, but I thought you might be a little fragile right now." Scooping up her plate, she placed it into the dishwasher. "I've gotta go or I'll be late for my appointment, but I'll call Melanie from the car and get the ball rolling on the sub-lease."


The following week, Piper hand delivered her resume to the human resource department at Lurie's Children's Hospital and was thrilled when they called to set up an interview the following Tuesday. When she was offered the nursing position in the oncology unit three days later, Piper was tickled beyond belief at her good fortune, feeling fate must be smiling down on her. She was told to report to work as soon as her Illinois nursing license was approved to begin her training.

The weekend prior to the start of her new job, Piper was a complete bundle of nerves. On Sunday evening, she tossed and turned throughout the entire night, waking up every hour to check the clock, in fear of oversleeping. At five a.m., infuriated with her insomnia, Piper got out of bed, showered, and was dressed in pale pink scrubs, drumming her fingers on the kitchen table when Robin rolled out of her bedroom at six a.m.

Full of nervous energy, Piper spoke in a brisk pace. "You know, I flipped and turned all night long. My mind was spinning five hundred--"

Robin held up one finger to silence her and hoarsely spoke one word, "Coffee," then proceeded to pop a cartridge into the Keurig machine and slide a mug under the spout. After the warm liquid filled the oversized mug, she took a deep swallow and then turned around to face Piper, giving her a nod to continue.

Piper restlessly fidgeted with her hair. "My mind was spinning five hundred miles a minute last night and I couldn't turn it off. I guess I'm just totally stressed out about starting this new job. What if I hate it; or worse yet, what if they hate me?"

"Do you want my advice?"

Piper locked her hands together on the table, attempting to keep them still. "Shoot."

She shrugged her shoulders. "Who cares if they hate you? You can't go through life worrying about what other people think. Just do your job and do it well." Robin took another long swig of her coffee, pulled out a chair, and relaxed into it. "You know what I do when I go into a new clinic to sell my meds? I go in with the notion that I'm going to despise every person I come in contact with. That way, if I actually like two of the ten people in that office, I walk out of there satisfied."

Piper's first reaction was to snort at her friend's advice, but after contemplating, decided she might be on to something. She stood, brushed the crumbs from her bagel off the front of her scrubs, and pushed in her chair, saying, "I need to get going." She turned toward the front door then paused. "But thanks for the pep talk. I think I got the gist of your advice; hate everyone you meet before they can hate you first. Does that about sum it up?"

Robin nodded her head slowly as she smiled at her new roommate over the rim of her coffee mug. "Exactly..."



PIPER STOOD OUTSIDE the glass door to the oncology unit frantically searching through her purse for the entry code. Dropping her handbag to the ground, she squatted beside it and ripped out every loose piece of paper floating around in the bottom, but still couldn't find the code. Giving up, she stood, tossing her handbag onto her shoulder and lightly tapped her fingernail on the glass door. A man about her age, wearing white scrubs covered in yellow smiley faces, peered around the nurses' station. When he caught sight of Piper at the door, he placed one hand on his hip and held the other high above his head, flapping his wrist in a wave. After hitting the entry button at the nurses' station, he pranced over to Piper and threw his arms around her.

"You must be Piper. I just L. O. V. E. that name." He spelled out the word while holding her an arm’s distance away as he looked her up and down. "You're just a tiny little thing aren't you and that figure of yours -- What woman wouldn't kill for those perky little things."

Piper studied her feet, her face turning crimson red with embarrassment. "Hi..." she sputtered then paused, not knowing his name.

"The name's Jeffrey." Winding his arm around her shoulder, he guided her toward the nurses' station where a tall attractive blonde watched their interaction. Jeffrey made a grand gesture toward the woman. "And this is Blair. She's second in command here in our unit."

Piper stuck out her hand. "Nice to meet you. I'm Piper."

Making a tight movement with her thin lips, which Piper would later learn was her version of a smile, Blair latched onto Piper's hand, shaking it firmly. "I heard we were getting a newbie today." Glancing back to Jeffery, she spouted, "And I'm not the one training her. You are." After she stated her peace, she turned on her heels, her tennis shoes screeching against the laminate square flooring and stalked away from the nurses' station.

Hearing the glass door swoosh open behind her, Piper turned to see a tall, lanky woman with dark spiky hair rush over to the nurses' station and throw her backpack underneath the counter. She had several piercings; one on her nose, another on her top lip, and several trailing up each ear. She started to hurry off, oblivious to the people standing around her, when Jeffery grabbed her arm to gain her attention. He swung his hands in from of her face. "Hello... Earth to Alex... This is Piper. She's the new nurse on our unit."

Alex briefly looked into Piper's eyes, and said, "Oh, hey," before she scurried off and disappeared behind a closed door.

Staring at Alex's retreating back, Jeffery commented, "I promise, you will like her; now Blair on the other hand, not so much."

Strolling around the desk, Jeffrey reached into the bottom drawer and withdrew a lanyard with Piper's name and credentials, then placed it around her neck and bowed ceremoniously as if she were royalty. "I christen you, Knight of the bald heads," he said. Patting her on both shoulders, he then trotted off toward the nearest patient's room, calling over his shoulder, "Now follow me. You have a lot of little people to meet."



THE FIRST WEEK flew by for Piper at the hospital, learning the correct procedures for admitting new patients, being educated on the computer charting system, and meeting all the new patients and their families, which had always been Piper's favorite part of her job. Being that most children were in her care for at least a week at a time, sometimes longer, Piper had the benefit of actually developing a relationship with the child, as well as the parents. She loved watching the interaction between parent and child. It made her look forward to the future when she would have a child of her own to care for and dote over.

During her second week at the hospital, Piper was leaning over the computer at the nurses' station finalizing a patient's chart when she heard a loud rap on the glass doors. Piper looked up to find a scrawny woman with stringy, dirty-blonde hair and dark-shadowed, haunted eyes beating on the entry door. Peering around, Piper was unsure of what to do. She had heard all kinds of horror stories about deranged patients shooting up hospitals, but finally decided to let her in, fearing the woman may need medical attention. After hitting the entry button, Piper walked around to the front of the counter to meet her. The woman stumbled in, followed by a young boy with long, matted hair, dragging a tattered blue blanket behind him.

She pointed at Piper as she swayed. "Who are you, and where’s my nurse?" the woman slurred.

Laying her hand on her chest, Piper explained, "I'm new here at the hospital. My name's Pip--"

"I don't care who the hell you are," she scoffed, taking wobbly drunken steps down the corridor, searching the halls for the phantom nurse.

As his mother roamed the passageways, the boy shuffled over, his rummaged blanket dragging the floor, to stand beside Piper, and quietly slipped his hand into hers. Piper peered down at the boy, but he did not return her gaze, just kept his chin tucked, staring at his sock peeking out of the hole in his rickety tennis shoes. Before Piper could decide the best way to handle the situation, Jeffrey breezed around the corner and took hold of the situation.

He held onto the teetering woman by her shoulders. "Well, hello there, Ms. Lampert. I'm so happy to see you again."

The woman eyed him suspiciously but didn't rebuke his help.

Jeffrey spoke in a soothing tone. "How 'bout we head to the family room for a cup of Joe so we can catch up? We have so much to talk about since your last visit." Jeffrey turned the woman in the direction of the family room as she continued mumbling about wanting her own nurse. Over his shoulder, he directed Piper, "Take Jack into a room and get him settled."

Realizing Jack's tiny hand was burning hot within her grasp, Piper grabbed an admittance tray and whisked him into room 304, then tugged back the covers on the bed. He didn't put up a fight as she helped him out of his clothes, slipped him into a hospital gown, and hoisted him up onto the bed. Before starting an IV to flush fluids through his system, Piper rushed to the bathroom for a cool cloth to place on his forehead. Once the washcloth was pressed against his blazing skin, Piper pulled his hospital gown aside for port access, but was confounded when she realized he didn’t have one.

Pushing her questions aside, she changed out her instruments then reached for Jack's forearm to start an IV, but his limbs were extremely thin and he shook with fever, making it impossible for Piper to find a vein large enough to insert the needle. Deciding to get the fever lowered first and then start the fluids, she placed the needle aside and exchanged it for a thermometer, placing it underneath Jack's tongue. After it beeped, Piper shook her head in anger at the reading on the display screen. This child should have been admitted hours ago; all parents of cancer patients know, once their child develops a fever of 101 or above, they are to immediately report to the hospital.

Explaining to Jack she would return quickly, Piper raced down the hall to the ice machine and returned carrying five full bags. After tying each individual bag in a knot, she placed them under his thin arms, around his neck, and between his feeble legs. Jack immediately started whimpering, uncomfortable with the freezing bags against his bare skin.

Piper perched on the edge of his bed, using the cool cloth to push his light-brown, tangled hair off his forehead. "I know you're uncomfortable, but we have to get this silly fever down." She positioned the washcloth over his head again. "I've got to run and get you some Motrin. I'll be right back. I promise."

Clinging onto her hand, Jack held on tight. The fear in his red rimmed eyes kept Piper sitting alongside him, murmuring reassuring words as she hit the nurses' call button in hopes someone would soon come. In less than a minute, Blair blew through the door. Seeing that Piper was already there, she turned abruptly, ready to depart.

Piper stopped her before she had a chance to open the door. "Wait, Blair. I need your help."

Blair spun around with her eyebrows raised.

"Could you please go get me a bottle of Motrin and a syringe?"

Rolling her eyes, Blair trudged out of the room without saying a word. She returned promptly and handed Piper the medication and syringe, then stood in the corner with a pickled expression on her taut face as she crossed her arms over her chest. Piper administered the pink liquid to the shivering child. When Piper was finished, she ambled over to thank Blair for her help and was totally thrown off guard at Blair's reaction to her.

Blair whispered sharply, "I don't know what you think you're doing here, but you are this child's nurse, not his mother. I strongly suggest you start acting like it." She started to leave the room, but stopped, narrowing her eyes at Piper once again. "And if you ever call me to do your job again, I promise you, I will report you to our superiors," then exited the room in the same briskness in which she had entered.

Flabbergasted, Piper shook her head in confusion by what had just transpired with Blair, but Jack's moaning brought her attention back to her patient. She removed the warm cloth from his forehead, rewet it in the sink, and then returned it to its original position. Hearing the door whoosh open behind her, Piper turned to watch Jeffrey steer Jack's inebriated mother into the room. Guiding her over to the window seat, Jeffrey sat her down, propped her against the wall, and then spoke to her as if she was a child.

"I'm going to go get some linens for the pull out bed. You stay put."

Keeping her eyes on the mother, Piper continued to move the washcloth along Jack's head and neck. After a few moments, she glanced back down at Jack and could see his eyelids growing heavy and smiled as his blink slowed, until finally, he drifted off to sleep.

When Jeffrey returned, he drew Jack's mother into a standing position, moved her to stand in front of the recliner, where he gently encouraged her to sit. Humming lightly to himself, he unfolded the window seat into a bed, slipped on the linens, and then returned to his limp companion. When he positioned Jack's mother on the edge of the bed, she immediately slumped over into a horizontal position. Taking off her shoes, he lifted her legs onto the mattress, and covered her with a navy flannel blanket.

"Nighty night, sweetheart. Wouldn't want to be you in the morning." Jeffery breezed over to the side of the bed. "So how's our little friend doing?"

Piper had already removed the ice bags and was now retaking Jack's temperature underneath his arm as he slept. She waited to reply until she had read the results.

"He's better now. Temp is down to one-o-two point five and he's sleeping soundly. He came in at one-o-four."

Jeffrey's eyes widened. "Holy guacamole, that is hot."

Piper smiled at his silly expletive and gestured toward Jack's mother passed out on the bed. "So, what's her story?"

Jeffrey scratched the side of his head. "I'm not really sure. I do know that Jack has just recently been diagnosed with Acute Lymphatic Leukemia. I first met him and his mom a couple of weeks before you started in much the same way you just did, but it didn't go quite so smoothly the last time around."

Piper wrinkled her brow. "Really? What happened?"

Jeffrey made horns with his index fingers, securing them to his temples. "Well, Satan's little helper decided to call security on Jack's mother when she came in all tanked up the last time. Security marched in and yanked her out of Jack's room kicking and screaming like a crazed lunatic." He gestured toward Jack. "Our little friend here was beside himself, as you can imagine."

Piper glanced down at Jack. "That was nice of you to jump in and take care of the situation so Jack didn't have to see a repeat performance. No child deserves to go through that."

Jeffery waved his hand in dismissal. "It was nothing. Drunks are actually quite entertaining when you think about it."

"You don't think she drove Jack here, do you?"

"That was the first question I asked too, but come to find out, they took the bus to the train and the train to the hospital, thank goodness."

Looking back over at the mother, Piper replied, "Well, at least she made one good decision in the last twenty-four hours."

"Good point," he said as he made his way toward the door. "I've got to get going, but let me know if you need any help if my friend over there happens to wake up."


Piper spent the majority of her time in and out of Jack's room that day. By the time six p.m. arrived, Jack was still in a muzzy sleep, his fever hovering around one-hundred-and-two degrees and his mother was still passed out on her back with her mouth gaped open, snoring loudly. At six-thirty, the night nurse arrived for her patient updates and wasn't surprised by the story Piper told her about Jack's mother, having already heard the news about the previous scene with the security guards.


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