Beginnings – Chapter One
Inspired by the Reedsy Prompt “Summer Love, the quarantine edition.” View the story prompt here: https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/
I entered the main lobby of Sparrow Hospital at a near-sprint, and nearly crashed into a surly looking nurse who was stationed at the front door next to a big metal sign that read “All visitors must be screened for COVID19.”
“Hold still while I take your temperature,” she said through gritted teeth. Displaying a forced smile, she rubbed the tip of a device against my forehead. “Thanks, now don’t forget to pick up a mask.”
I followed her gaze to a box of masks which was located on a nearby table. I pulled one and put it on. “Can you tell me the fastest way to the ER?”
“Yes, down the hall and to your left. You can’t miss it.”
I finished adjusting my mask, and started down the hallway. It had been a crazy morning so far which had started when my friend, Wendy, called me to tell me that she had been released from jail and transferred to the local ER for stitches. I knew she was going to be attending a protest in front of the state capitol, but never expected that she would be arrested. Around one o’clock in the morning,, my phone began buzzing with the text messages she was sending. “Being detained, currently in a minivan surrounded by men with guns, fml,” it read. Then, forty minutes later, “We’re pulling in front of a police station. Dunno if I’ll be able to keep my phone.” I made arrangements with work to take a half day, then worked on a project and attended an important Zoom call with a client. By eleven thirty I had wrapped up everything I needed to get done for the morning, and I left home right at twelve o’clock.
I stepped through a set of double doors and found myself standing inside the waiting room for Sparrow Hospital’s ER. To my right was a window through which patients could talk to a receptionist. On the left were rows of chairs, some which ran along the wall, and one row which ran down the middle of the room. About half of the chairs were occupied, although it was hard to tell if this was due to the current load of patients or COVID19.
I was getting comfortable in a chair next to a table full of dusty magazines when the door next to the receptionist’s window opened, and Wendy appeared alongside a nurse. I could see that there was a bandage on her left arm. She was scanning the room with her blue eyes as the nurse was talking to her, but before I could catch her attention she was distracted by an older couple who were stepping into the waiting room from the hallway.
“Wendy, dear, are you alright?” The stout, grey-haired woman was asking her. I assumed that this must be her mother, and the dapper gentleman in the suit and tie could have been her father. Although we had known each other for nearly three months, I realized as I watched the three interact that I really didn’t know much about her family, other than she had one which included two siblings, a cat, and two dogs. I often sensed that she was reluctant to say too much about her father, and just let her share as much as she was comfortable with.
I silently watched from my seat as her parents fired a multitude of questions at her, many of which she deflected with a wave of her hand or rolling of eyes. I had always appreciated her self-confidence, and willingness to speak her mind no matter what.
I felt uncomfortable, as though I had crashed somebody’s party. I thought about getting up and slipping out of the waiting room. But, Wendy had called me too, and it was a whole hour long drive back to Alma. My hunch was that she was counting on me to drive her home.
Finally, she spotted me. Even the mask couldn’t hide the smile that spread across her face. I recognized the creases of skin which peaked around the edges. She waved me over.
“Scott, you came!” She said, reaching out and giving me a quick hug. I hugged her back, but tried to keep it as nonchalant as possible considering that every person in the room including her parents were watching.
“I had to come. I’ve been worrying about you all morning,” I said, sounding far more sappy than I had intended. I motioned towards her arm. “What happened?”
“It’s a cut, it only needed, like, twelve stitches,” Wendy said.
“Oh my God,” her mom exclaimed.
“I fell as those guys were pushing me into their van, and cut myself.”
“What guys?” her dad asked. Apparently, Wendy had not shared her experiences with her parents via text like she had with me.
“Policemen, Daddy,” she said. “I was arrested. Well, not arrested so much as detained for questioning. When they were done, they let me go. I asked if someone could take a look at my arm, because it hadn’t stopped bleeding.”
A red haired nurse stepped to the circle we had formed around Wendy. “Here is the prescription for the antibiotics,” she said, glancing at each of us. We seemed to all take this as a signal for us to take our conversation elsewhere. Wendy’s parents followed us out into the hallway.
This when her parents shifted their focus to me. “And, who are you?” her dad asked.
“This is Scott McLean,” Wendy interjected. “We’ve been friends since May.”
“Oh,” Her dad said, extending his hand. I accepted, and shook it. “I’m Alan, Wendy’s father of course. This is her mom, Eleanor.”
“Good to meet both of you,” I said.
“How did the two of you meet?” Eleanor asked.
I hesitated, as I tried to think of the best way to explain how we happened to become friends. “We ran into each other at Meijer,” I said, hoping that would be enough to satisfy them.
“Scott is being modest,” Wendy added. As soon as her parents weren’t looking, I began making the “cut it out” gesture in front of my throat, but it was completely in vain. “There was this guy who refused to wear a mask while he was returning bottles inside the bottle return area. I asked him to either leave or put on a mask, and he refused. Scott stood up for me.” I held my breath as I waited for her to reveal the most embarrassing part of this story. “Or, at least, he tried to. The asshole turned around and punched him in the stomach.”
I winced from the memory of that evening. Her mom muttered “oh dear.”
“I offered to buy him dinner as a thank you, and we’ve gone on a few more dates since then,” Wendy shared. I made a double take when I heard her reference our nights together as “dates.” I thought we were just hanging out.
“Are you a student at Alma College?” Alan asked, snapping me back to the conversation.
“No, Central Michigan.” I answered.
“Oh, I see. What are you studying?”
“I’m undecided right now, but I’m considering Communications as a major.”
“He’s the co-owner of a tech support business,” Wendy said, with a wry smile. “Called ‘Nerd Corps.’”
“That’s certainly . . . different.” Her dad said.
We had drifted out to the hospital’s main lobby, and it was beginning to look like we were about to part ways. “Do you need a ride back home?” Her mom asked.
“No, I asked Scott to drive me home. It would be too far out of your way.”
It didn’t seem to bother Alan, but her mom seemed a little dejected when she answered, “Oh.”
“Just drive safely, and make sure you call us when you get home,” Alan told her. He looked at me. “Good to meet you Scott.”
“Thanks, likewise,” I said.
We exited the hospital as a group, but her parents split off to find their vehicle. I guided Wendy towards the center of the parking lot where I had parked my blue Cobalt.
“Thanks for giving me a ride home,” Wendy said. “I didn’t know who else to call.”
“What happened to the friend you rode down with?” I asked.
“Stacy texted me while I was in a holding cell. I told her she could go back home. There wasn’t anything she could do to help me, and I knew I was going to be there for a while.”
I paused before I climbed into the car. “It all sounds so scary,” I said. “I can’t imagine what that was like.”
“Not anything I”d want to do again,” she said.
I fastened my seatbelt and started the car, and removed the mask I had been wearing. Wendy had already removed hers. “Are you hungry?”
“Starving,” Wendy said. “I’ll buy you lunch.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“No, seriously…it can be my thank you for driving me home.”
“You don’t need to do anything,” I said, “I’m just glad you’re okay.”
Wendy told me more about her experiences during our drive north. Things between the protesters and police had gotten a little heated, but it never seemed to escalate very much. The two had actually been heading back towards Stacy’s car when a van had pulled up. Four armed men dressed in army uniforms poured out of the van, grabbed Wendy and then drove away. She was taken to a city jail, processed, but never really charged for anything at all. They asked her questions and searched her purse, but didn’t find a reason to keep her.
As we neared Alma, I brought up her parents for the first time since leaving Lansing. “Your parents seem nice,” I said.
“Yeah, well, with the way they treat me you’d think I was still twelve.”
“I’m sure my parents wouldn’t drive three hours to come see me in the hospital,” I admitted. “And, if they did, it would be to also lecture me on all of the things I’m doing wrong.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll hear a comment or two about being arrested the next time I’m home. Probably over Christmas dinner. ‘Uncle Frank, please pass the cranberries and also were you aware that our twenty-year-old daughter is a convict?’” She chuckled. “Seriously, though, I know mom and dad love me, but sometimes they look at me like I’m Peter Pan, or something.”
“You’re definitely not Peter Pan,” I said.
She turned to me and scowled. “Really? Who do I remind you of?”
“Hermione, minus the frizzy hair.”
“I was always partial to Ginny,” Wendy said wistfully. “Only with brown instead of ginger hair.”
I pulled off of the expressway, and turned left towards Alma. “Does that make me Ron Weasley?” I asked.
Wendy was quiet as she thought for a bit. She looked away from me, out her window. When she faced me, I could see that she was blushing. “No, if I was Ginny, you’d have to be Harry Potter.”
“And why?” I thought she might say it was because I was too short, or not smart enough..
“Because Ginny and Ronald are brother and sister, silly.” She said, adding quickly, “I hoped we could be more than that.”