A loud ringing sounded from somewhere down the hall, and my eyes slowly opened, wary of the large fluorescent light right above. I opened them fully, and with the ugly light came a wrenching headache. I groaned and raised my hand to my forehead, only to find it had been hooked up with tape and tubes, a long needle inserted into the top of my hand, taped down. I gazed at it, slightly disgusted, and wondering if I had flinched in my sleep when it was inserted and if I could pull it out.
“Don’t you dare think about it,” an irate woman’s voice sternly said from beside me. I looked around, the room becoming clearer. The hospital. I had somehow gotten into the hospital, and Linda was right next to my bed, with red-rimmed eyes, looking like she was living on two hours' sleep and all the coffee.
Gingerly, I pushed myself up, and she obliged by sticking a pillow behind my back. The room was plain, but clean, with a window facing out to the hallway. Linda was the only person here.
“What happened?” I groggily asked, shifting for a comfortable position to face her.
“Box jellyfish. Little guy took a liking to your flavor and wrapped himself around your foot, got stuck. You were fucking lucky you had that doctor on the boat. You went into shock and passed out, Jackson called in a medivac helicopter and she flew with you here to Proserpine.”
I took a long exhale at her explanation, rubbing my chest with my free hand. “Wow, huh?” I mumbled and looked down to my feet, hidden by the blankets. The sting I had felt surge through my body was still there but muted. I had seen pictures of stings, a line of ugly red and white welts would appear on the skin, eventually looking like someone had taken a red sharpie to my skin. It would leave a scar.
A knock rapped on the door, and Doctor Lee from the boat walked in with a smile on her face and a younger man in a white lab coat trailing her.
“Quite a morning, huh?” she asked with a smirk.
I nodded in agreement, “I already had this pegged for the worst Christmas ever.” Linda beside me leaned over and gave my hand a squeeze in sympathy. Doctor Lee now turned to the younger man,
“This is Doctor Lyeman, the resident here who admitted you. You went into shock, but not cardiac arrest, thankfully,” the older woman looked like she had more to say but kept quiet and from behind her back, she brought out a clipboard to write on, “I actually thought you did went into arrest, since that wetsuit was so thick and began CPR but I was mistaken. Your chest might have a few bruises because of it. Now, we had Linda here call your emergency contact while you were passed out to ask about allergies, but she said she was unsure. Do you know of any allergies, Carter?” she asked, pen ready at the clipboard.
I froze and turned to Linda. “You called Jenny in Sydney? Over allergies?” Linda’s face turned confused, “Of course. She said she didn’t think you had any, but she had to ring your parents to be sure.”
The young doctor now cut in, “It wasn’t an issue, your EKG and CT scans came back normal, so just an epinephrine shot and IV fluids were needed until you came down. You got some morphine in your system to deal with the actual sting, but you should be feeling it wear off soon.”
My spine erected itself with Linda’s mention of ‘parents’ and I vaguely took in what the hospital doctor was telling me about my condition. He finished and I gave a slight smile, coming back to the room and trying to calm my nerves. “So, can I get out of here?” I asked, holding up my hand, laced with tubes. A glance to the window outside showed it was well past sunset, and close to dark, maybe 8pm.
He pursed his lips at me, and confidently shook his head, “Not tonight, sorry. Just stay the night to make sure there are no complications, and then I’ll discharge you.” I slumped back in bed, when he added, “...and just so we are clear, you are on a week of rest afterward, right? Your foot is going to feel on fire for a little while, I doubt you’ll want to walk on it for the next few days.”
Linda stood and dropped the overnight bag I had been using at her apartment at the end of the bed. “Yeah, yeah, Doc, we get it. Week’s vacation. I promise.” The man and Dr. Lee gave a small smile before leaving the room, and Linda opened my bag. “Okay lady, here is a change of clothes after they get you out of that potato hospital sack, toiletries, etc. I know you aren’t a social media or phone person, but here it is anyway, along with a few magazines.”
Clapping her hands together and rubbing them, she looked around the room seeing if there was anything she had forgotten. The window looking out to the hallway showed it was empty, the visiting hours must have ended some time ago. No one was out there, but I had to ask. I was a masochist.
Linda’s mouth gaped like a codfish for a brief second, thinking over where he might be. Certainly not visiting me in hospital.
“Well, after your dramatic airlift, he had to take the passengers back into port. I arrived about half an hour after you did, and called him to update about you just as they were arriving. I’m guessing he spent the rest of the day arranging for you to be out for a week or two.”
I nodded. That made sense. Running a full capacity sailboat by yourself in the week between Christmas and New Year? Impossible. There were plenty of people looking for work on Airlie Beach at the moment. He probably didn’t really need anyone with sailing experience, just a set of hands to help out in the kitchen. Another knock on the door sounded, and my heart leaped up expectantly but fell a little when the smiling face of Joe, still in his uniform, came in.
“See ya met some of the wildlife. Damn tho, haven’t met a person that got Medevaced from a sailboat for it though.” He walked further into the room and hung an arm firmly around Linda’s neck. I shrugged and gave him a smile.
“Guess my smooth American skin was too good to resist. Little bugger didn’t want to give it up.”
Joe smirked and looked to his girlfriend in the crook of his arm and for the first time ina long time, I was slightly jealous. He asked her, “Ready to go, dahl?” She nodded to him and looked back at me.
“I’ll come and pick you up around 10 tomorrow, kay?” she tapped on the end of the bed before letting Joe lead her out of the room. I took a long exhale and leaned my head back on the pillow, letting the eerie quiet of a hospital at night fill my ears. Faint sounds of footsteps walking echoed down the empty white hall and into some other room. I huffed and blew out my fringe. This sucked.
I quickly shook my head against that simple thought. No, this was nice, quiet, isolating. What was coming was going to fucking suck. Reaching down for the small weekender bag at the end of the bed, I only winced slightly at the emerging pain beginning to rear its head in my foot, as I pulled out the rarely used phone.
It lit up and a flurry of messages pinged onto the screen. All from Jenny. There was no need to open them, with All Caps on the opening line, they pretty much all followed along the idea of I needed to call her straight away. Was I still alive? Did I have any allergies? She couldn’t believe I was in the GBR. The last message made me grimace. I’m sorry.
I leaned my head back on the pillow, “Fuuuuuuuuck.” I whispered up to the ceiling. I wasn’t even going to call Jenny, I was going to bypass her and hit the real problem on the head. I dialed Cameron Magness’ office landline, imagining as he studied the foreign number with Australian country code and frowning for a second, thinking who it might be. But if Jenny had just called him, and this was a new number, he probably Sherlocked it together.
It rang only once before he picked up, his deep voice a little suspicious,
“That was quick, how was the fli..”
“Dad,” I cut him off.
“Dad, I’m fine.”
An audible sigh of relief came over the phone, he took another deep breath, a flair of emotion from a usually in-control man showing. It was another moment before he then asked with a strong command, “Tell me.”
“I was stung by a jellyfish and more or less passed out, they couldn’t ask for my allergies, so they called Jenny in Sydney.”
“So you’re in…”
“Australia. Yes. Up top on the Barrier Reef.” I confessed, feeling a little bereft of letting my long-held secret go. Dad seemed to realize what it cost me, or what I felt it did because the phone was silent for a pause. It didn’t affect him too much more, however, because he then confidently said,
“Smith is on the way to Brisbane in the jet. Send me the address and I’ll make sure he has everything. Did the doctors say you couldn’t fly?” I pinched the bridge of my nose, feeling the pressure of dealing with a loving, caring, force of nature like my dad. You couldn’t be mean to the man, he was too nice and just wanted to help.
“Dad, call Smith off. I’m fine. I’m going to stay, I am on a week of vacation from my job. Jellyfish happen to people all the time here. I just happened to get one on my foot, and it got stuck on me.”
“Carter…” he threatened.
“Dad… I’m serious. I know you’re worried, but I’ve done stellar for the last 2 months.” I imperceptibly winced at my own lie, ignorning the drug-running and murder in self-defense. “And I have friends here who are going to take care of me. Friends from work.” Jackson’s face flew into my brain, quickly dismissed. It seems he had already moved on.
On the other end of the line, I heard his chair creak, as he sat back and I could almost imagine him leaning in it, looking up to the high ceilings of the manor, wondering what he did in his past life to earn an unruly daughter.
“Carter, do you know what I have been through, what your mother has been through. To get a call from your cousin asking whether or not you had any serious allergies! I was out of my mind. I even frantically asked your friends here in Foxwood whether they knew where you are, I actually thought that this was some kind of ‘rebelling-against-the-parents’ thing, and you actually told someone where you were going.”
I perked my head up at the mention of friends in Foxwood. “Which friends?” I asked.
He ignored the question, “Point is Carter, you have had your vacation. You have had your fun. Your mother has been frantic the last two months, and it’s unfair that you blame us for your mistakes with what happened,” he spoke forcefully through the line, and I felt the anger rise in him. He paused for a moment, trying to collect himself and keep a bridle on his emotions, “Now, Smith is on his way. If you are still at the hospital, he will collect you from there.”
I let a moment pass, letting the awkward silence lengthen. Letting him think that he had lost the connection, that I had dropped him. Vacation? Fun? I was finally starting to see what my parents thought about their daughter’s sudden escape. Taking off while they were away, leaving my responsibilities, leaving as soon as my community service had been finished. They thought I was at the damn country club drinking mai tais wanting some self-care time.
I could have yelled, I should have yelled for all the pain I physically had, and emotional turmoil I had been through. Instead, I kept my voice in check, it beaming through the phone, “Dad… I have worked my ass off for the last two months, six days a week. I have not had a full night’s sleep in that entire time, and I feel so far away from who I was when I left that a name change probably wouldn’t be out of the question.” I paused for a breath, not realizing how much strain I was putting into it.
But he kept quiet and I decided to play my trump card, “So, no, Dad. Smith will not be picking me up. I am going to do like a certain other Magness did when he was 19 and left his parents to travel to Brazil and investigate the mining opportunities down there. He might not have made any money but he did it by himself, remember?”
Dad used his unamused voice, “I also remember coming home with a bride.” And I sighed in relief at him not dictating anymore. He wasn’t going to send the gargantuan to find and ‘collect’ me like a bit of lost luggage.
“Dad, I promise, I will absolutely not get married unless I am forced to for the sake of a baby.” I said with a deadpan voice. My father guffawed through the phone,
“Don’t you dare, Carter Lee.”
“I won’t, promise. But if it helps, I’ll start using my credit card so you can feel a little bit of control… as long as you promise to not abuse it and suddenly show up in my town looking for me.”
He sighed again, this time it was one of resignation and I knew the ‘fight’ was over. Thinking over what else I had gained with this small victory, I added, “And I might be using some of grandpa’s money in the next week or so, so don’t lock the account if you see a large transfer, okay?”
His voice peaked with interest, “Really?... Okay then, agreed. But I want to be able to call whenever I or your mother want to.”
I let out a breath of relief, I could do phone calls. “Agreed. ...Okay, you better go get mom, if she’s not there already, I have a feeling I’m going to be happy to be in the hospital for the tongue lashing I’m about to get.”
I stirred around the sludge oatmeal in the bowl, looking at it with a concerned frown on my face. Nope, that was my limit. I would take being woken up in the middle of the night for useless vitals checks, the crappy linens, and the crutches for walking to the bathroom that were not my size but oozey breakfast was my limit.
“Looks...appetizing.” A deep voice from the doorway sounded and I looked up from the breakfast tray. Jackson.
Leaning against the doorframe with crossed arms, I met his eyes and he gave a small lilt to his lips, looking down at my tray. I swung the table tray away from my body, happy that I had already used the bathroom this morning, and he wouldn’t have to see me in the hospital shift.
“No, it really isn’t,” I replied and sat up straighter. The pain in my foot was now in full force, but in some kind of twisted experiment to see how bad it would get, I had yet to call for the nurse and some more pain meds. As it currently stood, the pressure of the sheet caused a wince whenever it lightly touched my foot.
Jackson came out of his lean and walked into the room to the end of the bed. Without asking, he threw back the sheet, exposing my injured foot. The clear and painful deep red welt had now fully formed, a long line along the top of my foot that wound around my ankle and down to my heel. He stared at it for a second, taking a long breath in and out, some unknown expression over his face.
He pulled the sheet back over, and leaned onto the bed near my knees, the steel look of anger coming across.
“If you ever again just casually say to me, ‘man overboard’ and leap into the water like you're going to war, I will fucking fire you, okay?”
My eyebrows arched in surprise at him and I slightly nodded my head in agreement. He erected himself and looked around the plain hospital room, and then pointedly to the overnight bag Linda had brought.
“You ready to make a move and get out of here?” he asked, a little calmer.
I looked behind him, thinking Linda must be on her way by now. “The doctor came in about an hour ago and gave me the all-clear. As soon as Linda comes, and helps me change, I’ll be ready.”
He strode over to the bag on the seat, and threw it onto the bed beside me.
“Come on, Malibu. You’re staying with me for the week.”