Chapter 16


Ward and Helene sit in the waiting room at the hospital, her head resting on his shoulders, his eyes sinking into slumber. “Excuse me, are you two here with Ms. Gorman?” a nurse asks. They both sit upright. “Yes, yes,” Helene says. The nurse recognizes her. “Oh my God, are you Helene Hill?” // “I am.” // “I’ve seen all your shows. I saved up for three months to get a clutch from you; I love it so much. The one with the bronze clasp and the gold fringe.” // “Ahh, of course. One of my favorites as well. How’s our friend Tracey doing?” // “Sorry. How rude of me. Tracey is in and out of consciousness. Talking to herself, or to someone she thinks is in the room, I guess.” // “I’m allowed to let one of you back to see her.” Ward is quick to volunteer: “Why don’t you let me go, Helene?” // “Ward, no, I’ll go. It’s more appro–” // “No. I want to. You don’t need to see her in this state.” He stands and gestures to the nurse to lead the way. Helene, looking confused and a little offended, shouts after him: “Text me from inside?! Try to get an explanation!”


Ward steps behind a curtain where Tracey is being treated. She’s got a bandage wrapped around her head, and she’s very clearly doped up; her eyes don’t register alertness. A doctor emerges behind him, a clipboard in her hand. “Hi. Are you family, or friend?” she asks. “No,” he responds. The doctor looks concerned, but Ward recovers: “I’m her boss. I was with her when this happened. Though I didn’t witness it.” // “Yes, so I read in the report. There’s some minor swelling, but it should subside in a few days. We’ll get her a room upstairs, and she should be herself by tomorrow, though I’m going to need to switch her sedative if she keeps acting this way.” // “How’s that?” // “Episodes. Shouting. Someone named Alina?” Ward only nods. The doctor continues: “Have you contacted her family?” // “I’ll try. I have to find their info.” // “I need medical history.” // “I’ll get you that soon.” // “The bruising confirms that this was self-inflicted,” she adds. “Just to close that loop. The police might want to question you, but rest easy that they won’t be suspicious.” // “Thank you,” Ward says, in finality. The doctor smiles, and she leaves them alone. Ward doesn’t know what to do. He studies Tracey, who turns her head from one side to the other slowly. Rocking left, right, left. Her eyes pan the room. Her mouth opens, readying a scream as we change POV to Ward. We pull in on his spiteful stare as she shouts “IT’S MY TURN, ALINA. MINE. YOUR LIFE IS MINE NOW.”


Ward returns to the waiting room, but Helene is no longer there; it’s empty except for a middle-aged man with his back to Ward. Ward checks outside. He checks the women’s restroom, cracking the door and speaking her name loudly into the room. The door flies open and a young girl walks out, awkwardly stepping around Ward and shyly avoiding him. He then tries phoning Helene, but it rings into her voicemail. He fills a coffee and returns to the same chair he started in. The man in the room is the father of the young girl; she tugs on her dad’s coat, and he turns toward Ward: “Hey, buddy. Your wife, or your friend or whatever…” Ward turns around to face the man: “Yes?” // “She fell. Hurt her hip or something. They took her back there, too. The nurse just went in looking for you.” // “Oh. Uh, OK.” Just then, the nurse rushes through the doors, and shouts: “Mr. Alvaro! We need you back here.” Ward is already three paces in her direction.


Now Ward is with Helene and the doctors. She’s fighting an agonizing pain, squeezing his much larger hands and nearly breaking them. The doctors are looking at scans of her hip; there’s a large fracture in it. “We have to operate now,” says one doctor. “The fracture is serious; we need to get screws in there. Helene, are you ok with general anesthesia?” Helene looks at Ward, desperate. “I don’t want this. It’s my time. I want to go.” “Today is not your time,” he says, very poised. “It’s a setback, but we have no choice here. We have to fix this, and we can focus on getting you healed, entirely.” // She stares back, hurt by his confidence. She shakes her head slowly while keeping eye contact, begging him to let her suffer. “I was thinking about Alina when I fell. She pulled me down. I wanted to fall. I want to be with her.” The doctor interrupts: “Ms. Hill. We need to get started.” Ward has one final message for Helene: “I need you here.” She lets it sink in for a second, then turns to the doctor and nods subtly. Then, back to Ward as they wheel her bed away: “I’ll need you too, more than ever.” They keep eyes locked until she’s out of sight.

An emotionally depleted Ward makes a call from the hospital hallway: “Hi, Melissa. Can you pull Tracey Gorman’s file and get me her emergency contact information?” We hear his colleague through the phone: “Yes, one second, Ward.” // “Thank you.” A few moments… “Found it. Want me to email it to you?” // “Yes, please.” // “Of course. Also… I didn’t really think twice on this before, but I have her W9 here too. Her real name isn’t Tracey Gorman.” // “Oh?” // “It’s Sadey Preston. Sadey S-A-D-E-Y, Preston spelled like you’d think.” Ward grabs a pen and scribbles this onto his hand. “Thank you, Melissa. I’ll watch my email.” He gets the email on his phone, and sees that Tracey’s emergency contact is listed as “Ashley Anderson, friend” with a phone number. He calls the number. “Hello, Furniture Barn,” on the other line. “Hi, uh, is there an Ashley Anderson who works there?” // “No, sorry.” // “Thank you.” He hangs up, befuddled. He searches her name “Sadey Preston” on his phone’s browser. A bunch of articles appear, most from Illinois-based publications. A sampling of the headlines: “Sadey Preston Acquitted, Released to Mental Health Facilities” … “Sadey Preston to Be Tried as Minor in Homecoming Homicide” … “Prank Turns Fatal: Stevens High Yearbook Editor Drowns at Homecoming Party” … Ward scrolls and scrolls and scrolls, reading frantically. “What happened to doing goddamn background checks?” he says to himself. He scans both ends of the hallway. He’s alone. We can hear his breathing, and can see his chest pounding in and out. He hangs his head in defeat, or maybe disappointment, or maybe heartbreak, or maybe fear, or maybe in confusion, or maybe everything culminating in one. We cut to black.

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