Tony’s alarm jarred him to his feet. Something about not getting enough sleep always made waking up a shorter, more instantaneous process for him. He blundered into his dresser as he looked for his glasses. His mother coughed in the adja-cent room. He froze, hoping she wouldn’t wake. The sound of her snoring set him back into motion. A moment later, he found his glasses in his dresser, wadded up in a pair of dirty boxers. “What?” he muttered as he slipped them on.
Being that he was still in his clothes, he considered whether it was necessary for him to even change. Monique would say something. He dug through the pile of clothes in his closet, finding what he thought was a clean shirt. He left his jeans as they were. He was going to have to change at the hospital an-yhow. He staggered out into the living room.
As expected, his grandmother was sitting at the table, drinking coffee. “Working early again?”
“That thing happened, Halmoni.”
“Ah, yes the thing with the Dome,” she said.
“Yes,” he answered shortly. Halmoni was right, his Korean really was getting worse.
“Hungry?” she asked, standing to get him food.
“No breakfast, Halmoni.”
“Aren’t you hungry? You didn’t eat dinner.” She was al-ready at the refrigerator.
“No. Not hungry. Tired. Just want to go,” he muttered as he trudged to the front door.
“Don’t ride the skateboard. You’re too tired today. I’ll drive you.” She trailed after him.
“No. Skateboard is okay. I’m going.” He kissed her cheek and picked up his skateboard. As he rolled through town, he noted that there were a lot of people out for 6:30 on a Tues-day morning. People were piling their kids into cars, suitcases strapped on top. Random groups of his neighbors were standing outside chatting between themselves, shaking their heads, and jabbing their fingers at the vacant space the Dome had occupied.
In town, many of the little shops had signs in their win-dows stating that they were closed. Was everyone fleeing the city? He could hear chanting and yelling from the direction of city hall. Someone screeched something over a megaphone. A cop car flew by him, siren screaming. A few blocks later, an ambulance. He shuddered. What was going on?
Hopping off his skateboard and trotting into the hospital, he found it somehow busier than it had been when he left the previous night. There were more than a hundred people mill-ing about in the waiting area. Nurses and intake workers were darting around, shouting names.
In the men’s changing room, he quickly changed into a pair of clean scrubs. The TV was going. The man from the local news station was outside city hall. There were mobs of people out on the stairs, screaming and chanting.
“Citizens are demanding the city be closed to Domers, stating that they may be dangerous to public health.”
The people were holding signs with phrases like, “Domers Go Back,” “Domers Not Welcome,” “Hell No! Not the Dome!” Since when had Wytheville been filled with this much hate? He started to sink down onto the bench, but his pager went off. Brow furrowed and thoughts churning, he stepped out into the corridor.
Tony made his way to the nurse’s station, still somewhat in shock. Monique, the charge nurse, glanced up from a hud-dle of five other nurses. She looked like she’d aged a full dec-ade overnight.
“Did you go home last night, Monique?” he asked.
She glared at him. “What do you think, Hop-a-long? The whole world’s gone crazy. We went from two hundred pa-tients to three hundred in a day, and for some reason beyond my comprehension, there’s a man in a dinosaur costume in the lobby.”
Tony resisted the urge to glance down the hall and try to get a glimpse of the dino-man. “Okay, tell me what to do. I’m ready.”
Monique shook her head. “None of us are ready. But it doesn’t matter. Here.” She dumped a pile of charts in front of him. “You can start with that first Domer girl you brought in, what’s her name?”
“Yeah, that one. She needs X-rays. There are ten different Domers in the main room that need to be treated for exposure, and one very pregnant Domer that looks like she can’t be over sixteen years old. There are more than a dozen people in the emergency room with gunshot wounds. I heard there was some sort of riot downtown last night. The key word for to-day is going to be speed, Tony.”
“Okay, I’m on it.” He grabbed Moxy’s chart and turned.
“And don’t think I don’t know that you’re the one who took off that girl’s restraints, Hop-a-long. We don’t restrain people for nothing. You know better.” He glanced over his shoulder. Monique’s eyes were calm and her voice was soft, but Tony knew he was seconds away from being in a lot of trouble. Better just admit he was wrong and get going.
“Sorry. I’ll get her X-rayed,” he said, dashing away before she had time to lecture him on hospital policy.
He pushed open the door to Moxy’s room. She was sitting up in the bed, staring out the window. Already some of the hollowness was gone from her cheeks. Her head swiveled sharply and her muscles tensed when he came in.
He smiled at her. “Hi.”
“Hi,” she said. He walked to the front of the bed and took her chart.
“So… you have to have an X-ray today. Do you know what an X-ray is?”
“We need to look at your bones. We have a special… cam-era, do you know what a camera is?”
“We have a special camera that can look at your bones.”
“Why do you want to see my bones?” she asked.
“Well, some of your bruises are pretty severe. I’m a little worried that some of your bones might be broken,” he said.
“Can you fix them if they’re broken?”
“But the thing is, you aren’t strong enough to use the stairs, and the X-ray is on the third floor, so we’re going to have to take the elevator. It’s a machine that moves you upstairs. I think it will be scary and might make you feel sick.” He peered at her face.
“Will you go with me?” she asked, keeping her eyes turned down to her lap.
“Yes. I will go with you.” Tony couldn’t help but grin. There was no one Nurse Tony couldn’t charm. “Also, I don’t want you to walk because I think your leg may be broken. You have to use a wheelchair. Do you know what that is?”
“But there is some good news. Your friend, Stephanie is al-so on the third floor. After your X-ray, you can go see her.”
“Did she wake up?” she asked hopefully.
“Uhm…” Tony frowned; he probably should have checked that first. “Actually, I don’t know. But either way we can see her.”
Moxy nodded again. “Okay.”
It took a few minutes for Tony to get Moxy and her IV transferred into the wheel chair. After she was situated, he wheeled her down the hallway to the elevator. “This is the ele-vator,” he said.
“Okay,” she said in a tight voice.
The doors slid open. He pushed her wheelchair in. She gasped softly when doors shut behind them, but otherwise remained silent. He watched her as the elevator began to move. At the initial movement, her muscles tensed, but she didn’t say anything. Seconds later, the doors popped open and they were on their way.
As they approached the door to radiology, there was an abrupt change in her demeanor. She sat up straight and her breathing quickened. She looked back at him and her expres-sion was terrifying, even behind the sunglasses.
In an enraged voice she muttered something he couldn’t exactly understand, but it ended with “liar.”
He frowned. “What’s wrong?”
She shook her head and glared at the door to radiology. Fi-nally, he realized that she was staring at the radiation sign.
“Have you seen that sign before?” he asked, moving to the side of the wheelchair and crouching down, so he could look her in the eye.
She nodded. Her eyebrows were knit into an accusatory scowl over the top of her sunglasses. What in the world could they have been using that sign for in a place that, as far as he knew, didn’t even have any electricity?
“What does it mean in the Dome?” he asked.
“The government uses it,” she spat. Her face was turning a bright, scarlet red.
“I think you might be misunderstanding. It isn’t a gov-ernment symbol. It means radiation. We use radiation for things like looking at bones.”
At this Moxy grabbed the rails of the wheelchair and start-ed to push herself up. Several nearby employees looked on cautiously.
“I promise you. It’s just so we can look at your bones. Trust me.”
How could he get her to trust him? He tried, “What if I just open the door a little and let you look in? There’s just a technician and some machines in there.”
Moxy reached over to her arm, yanked the IV out, and stood. People were moving to assist him. He held up his hand to keep them from coming.
“Moxy, I really don’t want you to stand or run on your leg because I think the bone is broken. Will you please at least sit in the wheelchair?”
She shook her head without even bothering to look at him.
“Okay, are you ready? I’m going to open the door.”
Moxy bobbed her head once in assent.
Tony slowly pushed open the door to radiology. Inside, there were a dozen or so pieces of equipment and Rory, the assistant. Tony thanked his lucky stars that it was Rory. The tiny, balding, middle-aged man from Peru was literally the least threatening person in the hospital.
As Tony pushed the door open, he called in to Rory. “Hey Rory, could you come out here and meet a patient?”
There was some muttering and the rustling of papers and then Rory emerged, smiling quizzically and holding a coffee mug. Tony looked at Moxy, who was peering into the room uncertainly. Rory stared at Moxy balancing on one foot, tense and ready to run. Then his mouth opened slightly, and he nodded. With a smile, he held out his hand.
“Hi, you must be Moxy. I’m Rory,” he said in his warmly accented English.
Moxy regarded him for a moment and shook his hand. Then wordlessly she struggled to sit back in her wheelchair. Tony reached out and caught her under the arms to steady her. As he adjusted the IV tubes, she lifted up her glasses. “I’m sorry.”
Tony gave her uninjured shoulder a squeeze. “Don’t worry about it.”
The X-ray session revealed a total of five broken bones, in-cluding a spiral fracture in her left leg so severe that Tony couldn’t believe she’d been walking on it. He wheeled her down to Stephanie’s room. Unfortunately, Stephanie was still unconscious. Checking her chart, he was dismayed to find that she’d crashed a full three times the previous night.
But Moxy didn’t need to know that, and she seemed pleased just to see her friend. She sat by the bed for longer than Tony should have let her, holding Stephanie’s hand and stroking her hair.
Once back in Moxy’s room, he made sure she was com-fortable in her bed and explained all of the things she was go-ing to have to do that day. As she listened, her breathing stut-tered into long gasping bursts. Thinking she was having trou-ble breathing, he moved to assist her and realized she was fighting back tears.
“You’re going to be okay,” he said reaching over to take her hand.
The touch seemed to open up the flood gates. She began crying painfully, sobbing roughly for air, her whole-body con-vulsing. She just shook her head.
“No, you don’t seem to understand. You’re pretty beat up, but you’re okay. The infection is almost gone, and we can fix the bones,” he said, squeezing her hand.
Her sobs died down. “I know,” she said softly.
“You know you’re going to be okay?”
“Then…” he hesitated.
“I was supposed to die.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “They …” she drew a deep breath, “My family all died… and I thought… I was just ready to be dead.”
There wasn’t much he could do about that. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he said. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She shook her head.
“If you ever change your mind, I’m happy to talk to you.” He squeezed her hand again.
“You remind me of my brother.”
That was unexpected. “What was his name?”
Moxy shook her head. “I can’t tell you.”
Also unexpected. “What was he like?”
“He was nice,” she said simply. “I miss him.”
She’d become head nurse six months before he’d started and he’d been in her first group of trainees. For seven years, she’d pushed and prodded and nagged him to reach his po-tential. Somewhere along the way, she’d ended up becoming like family to him. About three years ago, he’d started spend-ing Thanksgiving with her family after she found out his mom always had to work and Halmoni didn’t really like turkey.
“Hey, Tony,” Monique said glancing up from her coffee.
Tony stuffed the mass of Snickers into his cheek. “Yeah?”
“Word of advice from someone who’s been at this a lot longer than you: don’t get too attached to that girl, Moxy.”
He scowled slightly. She always seemed to think he was getting too attached to his patients. Sure, he’d struggled with that stuff when he’d started, but that was seven years ago. He was a little annoyed that she still thought she needed to lecture him about this stuff.
“I’m just doing my job,” he said, sounding slightly more defensive than he intended.
“I’m just worried you might feel more responsibility for her, what with picking her up right after the Dome went down.”
Tony bit his lip.
Monique laughed. “You want me to stop with the mother-ing?”
Tony nodded with a slight smirk. “Yeah. Anyhow, it’s not like I’m treating her any differently.”
“Okay. Good then. Sometimes you just-”
He cut her off, “I’m not like that anymore, Monique. Any-how, breaktime’s finished.”