The Most Important Thing (Niki makes a decision)

Chapter 16

Corey put his arms around me, holding me close. My face nestles in the warm triangle where shoulder meets neck, and I can feel his carotid pulse beating against my cheek. He smells like soap and water, clean and nice. I place tiny kisses against his smooth neck, tears welling in my eyes.

“I want this Corey, I really do, but I’m not going to.”

“Niki…”

I can’t. I’m not happy, but that doesn’t give me the right to hurt others. Maybe Liz is right. Maybe being happy isn’t the most important thing.”

“Niki…”

He tightened his hold of me, burying his face in my shoulder. I felt the sob rack his body, and when he released me, there were tearstains on my scrub top. Looking at me, he did not wipe the tears from his face.

“I get the idea there’s no discussion here.”

“I’m sorry Corey. This hurts me too. I’ve gotta go.”

I fumbled with the car door handle before opening it, and slipped inside. Corey stood immobile, watching me with tears silently streaming his face. I choked back my own, started the car, and drove away. In the rearview mirror, Corey stood among the empty cars of the parking lot. The morning sun cast a sharp shadow from him, as if he were a statue.

***

In the garage, I slide off my scrubs, dumping them into the laundry hamper. I’m always worried about bringing home germs from the hospital, and spreading them to Maddie. I put on the robe I keep on a hook before entering the kitchen.

Simon’s left the dirty dishes from last night’s dinner in the sink, and the wastebasket is brimming on the edge of overflow. Its contents defy gravity. Although exasperated, I admire Simon’s flair for sculptural design.

He’s left a sticky note in his methodical printing on the counter:

“I’ll take care of the dishes and trash when I get back.”

I wash the dishes, but leave the trash. I’ll sleep better the less Simon clanks around in the kitchen. I’ll clean the rest of the house tonight when I wake up.

I take a quick shower, towel off dry and practically fall into the unmade bed in our darkened bedroom. I cry into my pillow before falling asleep.

I dream I’m still at work. The monitor and pulse ox alarms are going off in a patient’s room. Inside, a crowd of people is gathered round a crib with a baby in it. The baby is blue. Horrified, I see the ventilator is disconnected. Triumphantly, the child’s mother holds up the breathing tube she has pulled from her own infant’s throat. She turns to me with zombie-like eyes, and says,

The roar of a passing motorcycle outside wakes me up abruptly before I can make out what she says. I sit up in bed, clutching the blanket to my chest while my heart beats wildly.

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