“Remember when you said that to me? ‘I really love your intensity.’ When we were first dating. God, you’re such an idiot.”
Barb smiled as Thomas put his head back, wincing.
“Oh Jesus. Did I really say that? Well. What can I say? I was pretty smitten.”
The screech of curtain rings brought them out of their reveries. It was the ER doc. “Ms…Oldroyd?” he said, looking down at his chart. “Dr. Choi.” He nodded briefly to Tom before continuing. “Well, your vitals look like they’ve stabilized, your temperature is looking good…”
Somewhere nearby, someone started moaning. It was ghostly, mournful. Barb had to focus to hear Dr. Choi clearly.
“…incipient hypothermia,” he was saying. “Which is very strange, especially considering you were down in the boiler room, correct? If you don’t mind, I’d like to admit you for overnight observation.”
Barb started to protest, but Thomas was already standing. “No, doctor, I don’t think that will be necessary. If you say Barbie is good to go, then I think we’ll be going. Thank you for all your help.” He held out his hand and Dr. Choi shook it, but the doctor didn’t really take his eyes off Barb.
The moaning was getting louder. Barb couldn’t hear anything but the wailing now. She put her hands to her ears and shut her eyes tightly.
The moaning stopped. “Hon?” It was Tom, leaning in, a look of concern on his face.
“Sorry, it was just that person and their wailing. I hate hospitals…” Tom shot a worried glance to Dr. Choi.
“Uh—what wailing, dear?”
Barb felt her stomach drop. “You didn’t…?” She could tell Thomas was about to say something, so she jumped off the triage bed. “I’d like to get changed out of this gown so I can go back to the real world. Thanks.”
Tom stepped out with Dr. Choi, who pulled the curtains shut behind him. Barb knew they were talking to each other now. Dr. Choi was probably telling Tom to keep an eye on her.
She dressed hurriedly, her fingers fumbling with buttons and belt loops.
It really had been terribly gallant of him to defend her down there in the boiler room. All the horrible memories from so long ago had threatened to come rushing back in on her like a tsunami, like in her recurring dreams of being on a beach and watching that tidal wave sweeping in… She’d been so scared, felt like she was a frightened child all over again. And he had defended her, just like he did before. Or at least that’s how he’d always told the story. If she concentrated really hard, she could almost remember him finding her, all alone and terrified. But maybe that was just a false memory built off Tom’s stories?
Barb sighed, picking up her purse.
Basil didn’t deserve that black eye, even if she’d said so at the time. She knew she’d have to apologize to him, make it up somehow.
The drive home in Tom’s Subaru. A comfortable silence. Tom letting Barb be alone with her thoughts. He obviously had a lot on his mind as well.
At the corner of Camino Real and Ocean, Tom stopped for the light. Something whispered in Barb’s ear.
“Where are you?”
A voice as cold and lonely as a sepulcher.
“What!?” Barb jumped, as if goosed by an electric shock.
“What?” Tom asked, startled by the sudden outburst.
“Oh. Nothing. Sorry. I’m still a little jittery.” Barb reached down to her purse, pulled out her phone and plugged in her ear buds. “I’m going to listen to music for a while.”
She popped in her headphones and quickly picked something with plenty of bass.
“We miss you. We’re so lonely.”
The voice again, coming up through the music.
Barb gritted her teeth, determined not to let Thomas see her start again. Finding the volume control on her phone, she casually turned up the song until it was uncomfortably loud, even by her standards. The voices were still there, somewhere in the background, but she couldn’t hear them anymore.