Marissa looked up the steps to the four storey building in front of her. She hadn’t been told there was a flight of stairs - she’d assumed that “first floor” would be ground level, so she hadn’t asked. Normally, she could get up a flight of stairs with effort, but it was slow going and today it was raining. I’m already soaked, she reasoned, but I’m not sure I want to go in. I shouldn’t have come, even though my oncologist really gave me no choice if I didn’t want to be hospitalized involuntarily.
“Hi, you must be June?” a voice asked as a man approached her. She looked at him and estimated his height to be about 5 feet 9 or 10 inches and his age early to mid 40′s. He had shortish dark hair with a bit of grey at the sides and a somewhat stocky build. He was wearing a long coat and holding an umbrella over his head. His face looked kind, but in that split second she made the decision that she could not go through with it. Little did she know that he would some day save her life.
“No, I’m Marissa”, she said, using her real name for the first time in 3 years. She decided to be proactive instead of reactive. “Are you my hair stylist?”
The man looked taken aback. “Hair stylist? No, there are no hair salons at this address.”
“Oh, I must have the wrong place.”
“What address are you looking for?”
“503 Bridgeton Street.”
“You have the right address.”
“Perhaps I wrote it down wrong.”
“Do you have the paper with you?”
“May I see it?”′
Marissa let go of one of her forearm crutches and took a piece of paper out of her jeans pocket, thanking herself for putting it there instead of in her purse, which was harder to rummage around in and keep her balance at the same time. She didn’t owe him a look at the paper, but she had to make her lie believable and she did not want a confrontation – she just wanted to get out of there and go home. She also thanked herself for not writing his name down on the paper. Over the last few years, she had learned to always be cautious.
“You have the right address”, he said as he looked at the paper. “Are you sure you aren’t my 10 o’clock appointment?”
“Only if you are a ladies’ hair stylist.” She forced a smile.
“No, not a hair stylist”, he chuckled. “At any rate, you are soaking wet, why don’t you come in and dry off? I’ll make you a cup of tea.”
“Oh, I couldn’t trouble you”, she replied.
“It’s no trouble at all … really. Though if my appointment does show up, you’ll have to sit in my kitchen.” He was certain she was his new patient, but he played along, hoping to trip her up and get her to admit the charade. “Are you able to get up those stairs?”
“Oh, I can do the stairs”, she said “but I’m not going into a strange place with with a man I’ve never met before”. She turned and started to walk past him, down the street.
Braxton let her get a few feet away, then called after her “June!” She didn’t even flinch and kept walking. “Marissa!” She stopped and turned around. “You forgot your piece of paper.” He loped to her and handed it to her. She took it and put it back in her pocket.
“Thanks, though I don’t really need it since it’s the wrong address.”
“Look, I know you don’t know me, but I can prove who I am. My name is Dr Braxton Jagger. Let me show you my identification.” He reached in his coat pocket and took out his wallet. Handing his driver’s licence to her, he said “You’ll see the diplomas on my wall when we get up there.” He gestured toward the building.
Marissa looked at the licence. She could tell the picture was of him and the name was the same he’d given her. She hadn’t doubted his identity, but had to keep up the pretense of not being his new patient. She handed the document back to him.
“So, you’ll come up and dry off?” he asked.
“I really should get going. I’d like to find the salon and get my hair cut before I go home.”
“Do you have an appointment?”
“No, they take walk-ins.”
“Then come inside for a bit. You’re soaking wet, I don’t want you catching your death of pneumonia.” If he was right about her, he knew she had a tumour that was likely cancer and thus her immune system could be compromised. She looked small and frail, not much over 5 feet in height and he’d be surprised if she weighed 100 lbs. So young to have cancer, he thought. The patient he’d received the referral for was listed as 30 years old.
“But you have an appointment.”
“It looks like she may not show, but if she does, like I said, you can dry off in my kitchen. Come on.” He put his free hand on her back and gently guided her back to his building. Marissa wanted to tell him to shove off, but she was wet, cold and in pain and she didn’t relish the thought of walking back to the bus stop in the rain. She felt certain she could trust him as far as her physical safety was concerned, she was just worried that he would continue to push her about her lie. She knew it was an attempt to trip her up when he’d called her June as she was walking away from him. Well, she would have to stay alert, she decided. After all, she lied so much these days, it was almost second nature.
Braxton held his umbrella over her head as she made her way up the eight steps to the yellow brick building. She sarcastically thought What is the point? I’m already drenched, but she held her tongue. He was just trying to be nice. Once inside, he led her down the hall, past two doors to the third and last one. Unlocking it, he stepped aside and let her enter. She walked into the kitchen of what had once been Braxton’s living quarters. He’d moved to another part of the city because of too many patients knocking on his door in the night instead of calling his answering service and speaking to the therapist on call. He did occasionally crash here overnight when he stayed too late doing charting and other paperwork.
“Here’s the bathroom.” Braxton gestured to a door. “I’ll get you a towel and some dry clothes. Feel free to have a shower if you like.”
“Thank you, but it’s okay. I’ll just dry off.” She didn’t want to tell him she couldn’t shower without a chair to sit on.
“Bring your wet clothes out and I’ll put them in the dryer. All of them”, Braxton said as he handed her a sweater and pair of sweat pants. “If you leave your undergarments on, you’ll just get your clothes wet again. And it’s not a good idea to sit around in wet underwear anyway. My clothes will be big on you, but you can use the drawstring on the pants to keep them up. I’ll make tea while you’re getting changed.”
In the kitchen, Braxton put the kettle on and set the teapot and cups on a tray. While he waited for the kettle to boil, he went to his office in the next room to call Dr. Gideon Maynard, the oncologist who had referred June to him. He wanted to get her description and find out if she used crutches to get around. Unfortunately, the doctor did not answer so he had to leave a message and hope he called back before Marissa’s clothes were dry. He had no doubt she’d leave the moment she got back into them. He was sure she knew he didn’t buy her story about having the wrong address for a hair salon. Had she been physically capable of it, she’d probably have run away from him. He wondered if the phone number and address he had for her was real.
Glancing into the kitchen through the double sliding doors and ascertaining that Marissa – or June – was still in the bathroom, he found the paper the referral fax had come in on. He called the number given for “June” and listened to see if he heard Marissa’s phone ring. There was silence from the apartment. After a few rings, it switched to voice mail. The outgoing message was a generic one in a man’s voice. Damn, she is good, he thought. He left a brief message asking her to call him, though he didn’t expect she would.
He was pouring boiling water into the teapot when Marissa emerged from the bathroom. “Where are your wet clothes?” he asked her.
“I can’t carry them and walk”, she replied.
“Oh, right. I should have thought of that. Go on out there and sit down. I’ll get them for you and put them in the dryer.” Marissa could see the stack-able washer/dryer combo next to the counter. She looked around and into the other room. “Where is your office?” she asked.
“In there.” Braxton pointed to what she had assumed was his living room.
Her face took on a look of confusion. “Where are the exam rooms?”
“A therapist doesn’t use exam rooms.”
“I thought you said you were a doctor.”
“I am, but I’m not an MD.”
Braxton thought to himself “This lady could be an actress, she almost had me believing that she thought I was a medical doctor.”
Marissa slowly made her way into the other room and sat down on one end of the dark blue sofa. While she waited, she looked around the room. It was tastefully decorated and she could see the degrees on the wall behind Braxton’s desk. She got up and walked over to look at them. He had a BA and PhD in Psychology and membership in a few professional organizations. She went back to the sofa and sat down again, wishing she had not accepted his invitation to come up here to dry off. She hoped he would not try to “shrink” her.
Braxton put her wet clothes in the dryer and turned it on, then picked up the tray and took it into his office. He took a seat on the matching chair to Marissa’s right, setting the tray down on the coffee table. “You are shivering”, he said. “Let me get you a blanket.” He got up and went back to the living quarters. A moment later, he was back with a blanket and wrapped it around her shoulders.
“Thank you.” It had been a long time since anyone had shown such caring toward her and he was a stranger at that! His kindness toward her made her feel guilty about her deception, but she couldn’t chance him finding out the truth about her.
He poured them each a cup of tea. He was sitting closer to her than she preferred. I should have sat at the other end of the sofa, she thought, but I can’t move without it being obvious. “So, tell me”, he asked, looking her directly in the eye. “Is Marissa your real name?”
Marissa felt like his blue eyes were looking directly into her. “Yes, it is”, she replied. “Why would you ask that?” She knew why but she thought she’d try again to put him on the defensive.
“I’m a stranger to you. A lot of women do not want to give a strange man they met on the street their real name.” It was a lame excuse, but all he could think of on the spot.
“I can show you my ID”, she offered, reaching into her purse.
“That isn’t necessary.”
“You showed me yours. It’s only fair.” Fortunately, she kept both her real ID and one of her fakes in her purse at all times, in two different wallets. It was a big purse. She took out the black one and fished her driver’s licence out of it. She had just renewed it before everything had gone down three years ago, so it was still valid, though she had not changed the address. Braxton noticed that right away.
“A Canadian address”, he remarked. “I didn’t think you were from around here.”
“What gave me away?”
“Yours gives you away”, she replied, using the opportunity to change the subject. “You are very obviously from Ireland.”
“Yes, I came here in my early 20′s to study and never left. What brought you here?”
“I work in the travel industry. I’m gone a lot.” It was a ruse she’d created to cover up the fact she was a drug mule. It wasn’t by choice, and she wished she could find a way out of it without endangering her parents and siblings. “Are my clothes dry yet?” she asked, changing the subject again.
“They will be a while yet. What is the rush?”
“I’m sure you want me out of your hair before your patient gets here.”
“It’s half past the hour, it looks like she’s a no show.” Or is she? Braxton thought to himself. He couldn’t let her know he still had doubts - after all, she’d shown him identification. Either Marissa was her real name or she had ID in a fake one.
“Your next patient will be here soon.”
“I’m free for another hour. What’s the matter? Am I such horrid company, you can’t wait to get out of here?”
“Of course not. I just don’t want to overstay my welcome.”
“I will let you know if and when you are.” Just then, his office phone rang. He went to his desk to answer it, hoping it was Dr Maynard. No such luck. It was his first afternoon patient, calling to cancel. What was it today? That was two cancellations and one no show. As he was hanging up, he looked over at Marissa. She was doubled over on the sofa. He rushed to her. “What is it, Marissa?”
“Pain”, was all she could get out.
“Lie down, I’ll call an ambulance for you.”
“No!” she almost screamed. Realizing how hysterical that must have sounded, she lowered her voice. “I’ll be all right.”
“You don’t look ‘all right’.”
“It’s kidney stones, I just have to ride it out.”
Kidney stones, he thought. Or is it a tumour on your kidney? “Come on, lie down.” He moved her crutches out of the way.
“I need those!” she exclaimed.
“Not right now you don’t”, he replied as he lifted her legs and swung them onto the sofa. “Just lie here for a bit.” Marissa knew there was no way she could make it out of there and home on her own power right now, so she reluctantly lay back. Braxton moved the tea set out of the way and sat on the coffee table. He reached over and put his hand on her shoulder. “Stay here until the pain passes. I’ll drive you home when you are able to get down the stairs.”
“No, it’s fine. I’ll call a cab.”
“I am not letting you go home in a cab.” Marissa sighed. “Why won’t you let me help you?” His question not only referred to the pain she was currently in, but her apparent change of mind regarding coming to him as a patient. He knew he wouldn’t get an answer to the latter.
“I’m not used to it.”
“Used to what? People helping you?” She nodded. “Surely, that can’t be true.” What he didn’t say was ‘given your handicap’.
“Oh, people hold doors for me”, she replied.
“What about your friends?” She was silent. “Surely you have friends?”
“Not down here”, she replied. Of course, there were the guys from the cartel who would literally kill for her if someone was harassing her, but she couldn’t tell Braxton that. Her pain intensified and she winced.
“What is it, Marissa? Is the pain getting worse?”
“Please let me call you an ambulance.”
“No.” Her insurance was under the June alias and if he went with her, she could not give that name. Besides, if she was taken to the same hospital her oncologist was at, she would be screwed.
“Do you have pain medication?”
“I didn’t want any. I hate taking pills.” It was a lie, she had some in her purse, but the prescription was in the name of June Rivers and she couldn’t risk him seeing that name on the label. She started to sit up.
“Marissa, lie down.”
“I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Yes. Please, can you hand me my crutches?”
He accompanied her to the bathroom to make sure she got there all right. He wasn’t worried about her leaving via the kitchen door as she didn’t take her purse with her. Women never leave without their purse. When she had shut the bathroom door, Braxton went to his desk and called Dr Maynard again. As before, he got the oncologist’s voice mail. He hung up and called a friend who was a general practitioner. He was able to reach him and gave a brief run down of Marissa’s situation, though he didn’t tell him he suspected she was his no-show new patient. Gavin wasn’t comfortable prescribing pain medicine without seeing the patient first and he was on his lunch break, so he said he’d be right over. His practice was just a couple blocks away.
Braxton went back to the kitchen to wait for Marissa. He didn’t know what it was about her that made him want to go above and beyond to help her. He’d certainly had his share of patients who pulled no-shows or left midway through a session, but he didn’t go to extraordinary lengths to convince them to stay or come back. He could not force them. With anyone else, he likely would have reported her as a no show to the referring doctor and let him put a psych hold on her and have the police pick her up and take her to the hospital. But his instincts told him that something was holding Marissa back from opening up to him and that whatever it was, it was not her fault. He wanted to try some more to get to the bottom of it but first, her pain had to be under control. He couldn’t expect her to talk when she was doubled over.
The bathroom door opened and Marissa stepped out. “Braxton”, she said to him, “Please come and see this.”
“Just come and look. He followed her back into the bathroom. “Look in the toilet – that is a kidney stone. I just passed it.”
Braxton took a look, and sure enough, there was what appeared to be a kidney stone in the bottom of the bowl. His father had had them and had kept one. Obviously, she is telling the truth about having them, he thought. Am I wrong about her being “June”? Maynard hadn’t said anything about kidney stones in the referral. Damn, I wish I could reach him.
“You didn’t believe me, did you?” Marissa asked.
“I do now. How is your pain?”
“It is still bad, I think there’s another one ready to come out, but I will be okay. Are my clothes dry yet?”
“Soon. Come lie down in the bedroom. It will be more comfortable than that sofa.” Marissa was in no condition to refuse. She lay down on the full size bed and sighed. The attack was getting worse and she brought her knees up into the fetal position. Braxton took a blanket from the closet and put it over her before sitting down on the bed beside her. “A friend is on his way over, he’s an MD. I asked him to prescribe a pain killer for you, but he needs to see you first.”
“You didn’t need to do that.”
“You need pain relief.”
There was a knock at the door and Braxton went to answer it. He came back with his friend. “Marissa, this is Gavin Wood, the friend I told you about. Gavin, this is Marissa Brennan.” She had not told him her last name, but he remembered it from her driver’s licence.
“You didn’t need to come, Gavin. I’ll be okay, I just need to ride it out.”
“Kidney stones are extremely painful, Marissa. I’ve had patients say childbirth was less painful. You shouldn’t be doing it without pain meds. Do you have any issues with addiction to opiates or narcotics?”
“No, not at all. I just don’t like taking them.”
“If you take them as directed, you won’t have a problem. Now, I need to make sure it is kidney stones you have and not something else.”
“Gavin, she passed one in the bathroom. I saw it”, Braxton said.
“Did you save it?”
“It’s still in the toilet.”
“Okay, hold on.” He was back in a moment. “That certainly looks like a stone. But I need to get some imaging to see if there’s any left and how many.”
“There are and from what I was told, quite a few.”
“Where were the tests done? I can get the results and save you a trip to the hospital.”
“Central America.” Another lie, but she could not have him seeing the scans she had in Denver.
“Oh. I’m afraid you will need to get the scans done again. I can’t give you pain medication without test results and I won’t be able to get them from there. Let me call an ambulance for you.”
“No, I don’t have insurance. I will just go home and have a long nap. I’m sure I’ll feel better.”
“A nap doesn’t cure kidney stones. Hospitals have to take you when it’s an emergency, which this is.”
“And then they will send me a huge bill.”
“Worry about that later.” He already had his phone out and was calling 911.
“I’ll go with you, Marissa”, Braxton told her “so I can make sure you get home safely.” He was hoping she’d be done before his 3pm patient arrived. He wanted to see where she lived, in case she really was June and had given a false address to the hospital and oncologist.
Damn, how am I going to get out of this? Marissa thought as she resigned herself to going.