Authors: Bobby Hutchinson
The salary wasn't what Jordan earned in the E.R., but at least there wouldn't be shift work. And housing was included.
And it was somewhere Garry wasn't.
Impulsively Jordan took out her cell phone and dialed the number she'd copied down. The phone rang and rang, and she was about to hang up when a man answered.
“Hello?” There was a note of impatience in the man's deep and resonant tone.
“Oh, um, yes, hello.” Damn, her hands were sweating and she could hear the strain in her voice. “My, um, my name is Jordan Burke, Dr. Burke, and I'm calling about the medical position. Is it still available?”
There was a moment's silence. “I don't know. You need to speak to Bennie. Call back another time.”
“Bennie? Bennie who?” Jordan was over feeling nervous and well on the way to being annoyed. Surely he could be more helpful?
“Just Bennie will do. He'll be here in the morning.”
“And you are?”
“Silas Keefer. And I'm hanging up now, Jordan Burke.”
“But first can youâ”
The line clicked and she heard a dial tone. The bloody man had hung up on her.
There's a motto I try to live by. It is
Whatever is happening now is right for me.
It embodies acceptance and trust, and applying that concept every day is my greatest personal challenge. When life is filled with joy and excitement, it's easy to say, “Yup, things are progressing exactly as they shouldâlucky me.” But when huge challenges seem insurmountableâthat's when it's tough to let go of outcome and simply trust.
As a writer, I hand challenges to characters and then watch how they manage to surmount them. In
as in life, family became a central theme. And a trip to Ahousaht on Vancouver Island's wild west coast made me realize that no matter how far we travel in distance and culture, the problems we encounter in life are universal. Not only that, they obligingly come right along with us.
This book taught me invaluable lessons about the different ways culture affects our attitudes toward the science of medicine and the gift of healing. The paths may vary, but the final answer is always the sameâtrue healing begins in the heart. Love is the most powerful medicine. And yes, whatever is happening now is absolutely right for me!
With love, and gratitude to all of you who read my books.
To Marie Donahue and the other Nuu-chah-nulth women who greeted me in the Ahousaht Health Centre one rainy morning. Truly, the Ancestors were there.
253âDRAW DOWN THE MOON
337âA PATCH OF EARTH
556âMAN, WOMAN AND CHILD
595âNOT QUITE AN ANGEL
643âEVERY MOVE YOU MAKE
753âTHE BABY DOCTOR
797âFALLING FOR THE DOCTOR
876âTHE BABY TRUST
906âWOMAN IN THE MIRROR
1000âALL SUMMER LONG
1051âTHE FAMILY DOCTOR
walked over to the automatic sliding glass doors and peered out at the wet April night, not really seeing the eerie fluorescent glare or the deserted cement apron that led to St. Joseph's Emergency entrance.
It was her birthday. A glance at her watch told her it was 12:40 a.m. She had no idea the exact hour she'd been born, so she might as well make it midnight on the nose. Which meant she was now thirty-two.
Spending the first six hours of her birthday working the graveyard shift in Emerg suited her fine. John Frankel, one of the other doctors, had the flu, and since Jordan was on her long break from day shift, she'd eagerly volunteered to fill in.
It wasn't as if she'd be sleeping much, anyway. She might as well be working tonight as lying in bed tossing and turning, wide-awake and worrying.
She shivered, even though it wasn't cold, and crossed her arms, hugging the front of her white lab coat.
Where the hell are all the patients?
nights, the E.R. was so busy there wasn't time to do anything except concentrate on the stream of desperate, frightened people needing medical assistance. But it had been nearly an hour since Jordan's last patient was treated and released, and she was restless.
She ought to be used to the anxiety. It never really went away these days.
“Quiet tonight, eh? Downtown Vancouver must be closed for spring break or something.” The tiny Asian nurse was new, and she laughed at her own joke.
“It is quiet.” Jordan nodded and attempted a smile. When did smiling become such an effort? “Calm before the hurricane,” she commented, aware of how callous it was to long for patients. It was just that she needed action, needed the degree of intensity that drove everything else out of her head.
“At least it gives us time to think,” the young woman replied.
“Yeah.” Jordan forced herself to nod, even though time to think was the very last thing she wanted. She glanced at the ident tag pinned to the nurse's shirt. Jordan had been introduced when they came on shift, but now she couldn't remember the woman's name.
Lola. Her name's Lola, numskull.
Forgetting things had become the norm. She'd lost her keys today, she'd misplaced her cell phone yesterday, she hadn't remembered what she needed when she got to the grocery the day before last. Thirty-two was nowhere near menopause, but she knew that constant
low-level anxiety could cause memory lapses. Eight months of anxiety. Ever since her husband's accident.
She thought of Garry now, and her gut heaved as an all too familiar mixture of emotions coursed through her: anger, sadness, guilt, longing and an overwhelming sense of frustration and futility.
Two years, is that all it had been?
She felt as if she'd been Garry's wife for at least two long, painful lifetimes. She wanted desperately to help him, she longed for an end to the problems they were having, sheâ
obsess over her personal problems here, not while she was on shift. She turned away from the doors and walked over to the admitting desk. So there were no patients, okay, she could catch up on patient files. That tedious task was every doctor's least favorite activity.
“No point getting your blood pressure up doing paperwork, Jordan.” Eddie, the desk clerk, grinned at her, revealing crooked teeth. “There's an 18-year-old female on her way, severe headache, vomiting, recent history of stomach pain. Her dad called, he's bringing her.”
A few moments later the patient arrived, a college student named Ardyth Malone, slender and very fit looking, but obviously in severe distress. Jordan escorted the girl to a cubicle and began taking a history.
Ardyth responded with negative answers to questions about drugs, alcohol, allergies, blows to the head. A careful physical examination ruled out appendicitis,
inflamed ovaries, gallbladder problems. Each successive test was normal, until Jordan examined Ardyth's eyes with the ophthalmoscope. There was a slight papillidema, a swelling of the optic nerve.
By now Jordan was beginning to feel really concerned, wondering if this was a brain tumor, but there were a few questions she still needed to ask.
“Ardyth, has there been any change in your diet recently?”
The girl shook her head. “I'm a vegetarian. I'm very health-conscious and careful about what I put in my body.” Her expression was virtuous. “I take tons of vitamins and I don't eat sugar or saturated fat.
Oww! Oh my God, do something! It hurts.”
Bent double, she cradled her stomach, moaning.
A warning bell went off in Jordan's brain. Taking iron tablets on an empty stomach could lead to excruciating cramps.
“Exactly what vitamins do you take, and how many?”
As the pain eased, the girl rattled off a dozen or more names, adding that she swallowed massive quantities.
“Have you taken any new ones recently?”
“Only more vitamin A.”
“How much more?”
“Seven extra pills. My skin's been breaking outâvitamin A cures acne.”
“How long have you been taking that dose?”
Ardyth shrugged. “A couple of months now, I guess.”
“How many international units per pill?”
“And when did you take your last mega dose?”
“A few hours ago.”
Thirty-five thousand units of A, ten to twenty times a normal dose, taken daily for sixty days.
Jordan was pretty sure she had the answer to Ardyth's symptoms, and it gave her a feeling of satisfaction. At least her personal problems weren't interfering with her diagnostic ability.
“My guess is you have acute vitamin A intoxication, Ardyth,” she said gently. “I think if you stop taking it, your symptoms will disappear. We'll run some tests, though, just to be absolutely certain we're not missing anything here.”
Jordan was jotting down orders for a CAT scan and an upper GI series when Lola stuck her head into the cubicle.
“Jordan, a guy's just been dumped outside Emerg. He's unconsciousâwhoever brought him sped off in a car. They're bringing him in now. Billy says he's got track marks, so it's probably an overdose. Can you come?”
“Be right there.” Jordan handed orders to an aide and then sprinted after Lola. There'd been a series of drug overdoses in the past two weeks, a result of exceptionally strong heroin having hit the downtown Vancouver streets. Usually the Emergency Response Team brought the victims in, but sometimes bodies were dumped at the door by people who didn't want to get involved.
Orderlies and nurses were lifting the limp male figure onto a stretcher when Jordan arrived. The patient's face was obscured by a nurse's arm, but Jordan saw at a glance that this wasn't the usual skid-row addict.
Caucasian, well-dressed, charcoal sports jacket, black trousers, blue silk shirtâ
She struggled to get her breath as a wave of dizziness swept over her.
She recognized that shirt.
Reaching past the nurse, Jordan took hold of the man's jaw and turned his slack face toward her, and her worst fears were confirmed.
It was her husband. She'd bought him the shirt for Christmas.
Someone on the medical team was calling out his vitals, but Jordan barely heard it. One of the nurses was holding Garry's wallet, going through it to determine his identity.
“Hughes, Garry M., DOB 1968, March 13.” As the woman read out the information on his driver's license, for one shameful instant Jordan was relieved she'd retained her maiden name.
“I'll see if he's listed in the book,” the nurse said. “We may need next of kin.”
The number was listed, but Jordan knew there was no one home in their Kitsilano apartment. The nurse would get the message Garry had recorded for the answering service.
“Jordan? Hey, Jordan, what's up? You okay?”
She suddenly realized everyone was waiting for her, looking at herâpuzzled, impatient.
She should tell them about Garry and have someone else take over. It was against policy to treat a relative. Instead, like an automaton, she began the necessary assessment, even though she knew beyond a doubt what was wrong. Of course he'd taken an overdose. Her husband was a junkie.
“Pulse forty, respiration down to eight,” Lola reported. “We're not getting a BP, Jordan. This guy's on his way outâ¦. He's flat! Now we're not getting much of a pulse at all.”
“Establish a line. Let's give him Narcan.” She felt cold and detached and far away as she picked up the syringe with numb fingers and inserted naloxone hydrochloride into the IV valve.
In cases of overdose, the drug's effect was miraculous. It instantly reversed the action of narcotics, and a patient who'd been on the verge of death only seconds before suddenly became awake and alert, just as if nothing had happened. In the E.R., they called it the Lazarus Effect. Except Lazarus had probably been grateful.
Everybody watched and waited. It only took a few seconds.
“Brace yourself, boys and girls,” someone murmured.
The instant the powerful drug reached Garry's bloodstream, his sky-blue eyes flew open. A frown flickered across his smooth forehead as he stared up at the faces of the medical team grouped around the stretcher.
Inevitably his gaze came to rest on Jordan. As recog
nition dawned, his features contorted with rage. He grasped the sides of the gurney and pulled himself up as staff members struggled to control him. He was a big man, and it looked as if they were going to lose the battle.
“Call a code white,” someone yelled. “He's freaking on us.”
Code white was an emergency call to security.
Garry spat her name out. “What the hell have you done to me?”
Her mouth felt numb, her throat dry. She cleared it, amazed that her voice still worked. “You overdosed. I used Narcan to bring you out of it.”
It took a moment for Garry to react to that, and when he did Jordan wanted to turn her back and run from the room.
” he screamed at her. “You filthy
you ruined my high, what the hell's wrong with you? Do you have any idea what you've done, you stupid fool?” He tried to shake off the hands restraining him so he could climb off the table.
Jordan couldn't move. She saw shock on the faces of her co-workers. They were staring at her, some of them open mouthed.
She was surprised when her voice burst out loud and strong. “Call a code white and get him out of here,” she ordered.
this guy, Jordan?”
“Yes.” Her voice was unnaturally calm now. It seemed to come from a long distance away and belong
to someone else. “I know him. Of course I know him. He's myâhe's my
Get the equipment off him, I'm discharging him.”
She saw the glances that passed among the staff. They knew she could have committed him to the psych ward for treatment. They probably figured that's what she ought to do, and maybe it was, but she just wanted him gone.
She had no energy left to deal with Garry and his problems. Over the past weeks she'd made appointments with the best drug treatment clinics in the city, appointments that she pulled strings to arrange and Garry hadn't bothered to keep. She'd spent hours talking to him, trying to understand, to reason with him. She'd tried every way she knew to help him make the decision to stop. Nothing had worked.
Now, she was worn out. She'd done her best to keep her work and her personal problems separate, and look where that got her. She hadn't wanted her co-workers to know how desperate and degrading her personal life had become. Garry had managed to take away even that last tiny shred of dignity.
Two security guards hurried in, and between them they restrained Garry as the staff quickly removed the IV apparatus from his body.
“Escort him to the exit and see that he gets a cab,” Jordan instructed the men.
The guards flanked him, and Garry's broad shoulders sagged as they started to hustle him out of the treatment room. Over his shoulder he gave her the look
she'd come to despise in the past months, the contrite, little-boy-lost look from under long, curling blond lashes. Those baby blues had charmed her when she first fell in love with him. At this moment they made her stomach churn with nausea.
Yesterday morning he'd begged her to write him yet another prescription for morphine. She'd refused, and he'd sworn at her, just as he had a moment ago. For a man with an expensive education, he had a limited vocabulary.
“Hey. Hey, Jordie,” he called over his shoulder as the guards hustled him out. “I'm sorry, babe, I'm really sorry. I didn't mean it, it was just, you know, the shock of coming to in this place.” He dragged his feet, going limp.
“Jordie, tell these goons to back off me, okay? Please, honey?”
She didn't reply. The security guards had stopped, holding him upright. They turned and looked at her, questioning. Her co-workers were all pretending hard to be busy with other things. By morning the whole episode would be all over the hospital, probably posted on some Web site.
“Jordie, talk to me here, okay?” Garry's voice dropped, and he assumed the wheedling tone she'd come to despise. “See, the thing is, I've got no money for a cab. I shot the whole wad on that fix. Could you maybeâ? Please, honey?”
Amazed that her legs worked, she hurried to the staff locker room and got twenty dollars from her handbag.
She had to keep swallowing, and her hands were shaking so much she could hardly get her handbag opened or the door to her locker closed.
Security had escorted Garry to the exit by the time she got back, and Jordan marched into the rain and wordlessly held the money out to him.
He glanced at it and his mouth turned down petulantly before he snatched it, jamming the single bill into his pocket. “Twenty isn't enough, not when I'm really in pain like this. I told you how bad it hurt this morning, Jordie, you could have given me something then and this wouldn't have happened.” In one lithe motion, he twisted out of the guard's grip.
“C'mon, babe, don't be chippy with me, surely you can spare another couple twenties?”
She jerked her head from side to side and then turned her back on him, fleeing through the doors that led into Emerg. Inside, not one person looked at her, but their curiosity was like a scent in the air.
She couldn't remember anything about the rest of that shift except that the trembling and nausea grew more and more difficult to control. She felt disoriented, far away, watching herself go through the motions of treating one patient after the other, amazed that she looked and sounded so normal.
When morning finally came, she had trouble driving home to the apartment. Fortunately the morning rush hour hadn't really started yet, because she drove through a red light and sat through a green one. She scraped the side of her red Toyota against a cement
beam when she tried to park it in the underground lot, and when she got out she didn't even bother to check the extent of the damage.
She took the elevator to the second floor and after three tries, unlocked the door. The apartment was empty; Garry wasn't there. She hadn't expected him home. She'd hoped he wouldn't be.
She knew he wasn't at work, he hadn't been all week. It was Thursday, and his secretary had left increasingly desperate messages for him every day. Up until this week, he'd managed to keep up a relatively professional facade at his law office. The partners had been lenient with him, blaming his erratic behavior on the accident. They'd covered for him the same way Jordan had, she mused as she walked through the rooms she'd painted and decorated with such care.
It felt as if she were seeing her home clearly for the first time in weeks. A great many things had disappeared lately, and she'd tried to believe it had nothing to do with Garry, but now she forced herself to face the truth.
In the living room, an empty CD holder stood beside the equally empty space where the expensive audio system had been. They'd bought it on their first anniversary. Several weeks ago, the apartment had been broken into while they were both supposedly at work. Her few good pieces of jewelry had been taken as well as all the electronic equipmentâeven the damned microwave.
Garry had taken them. She'd known it even then, but
hadn't been able to face the fact that her husband was an addict who'd steal and lie and cheat to get drugs.
Slowly and painfully as though she were old and brittle-boned, Jordan lowered herself to the dove-gray sofa and forced herself to look at what her life had become.
It had started with that damned car accident. Garry had been driving home late, undoubtedly going too fast. The expensive little sports car he'd insisted on owning had been struck by a pickup truck at an intersection. Garry had come away with a compound fracture of the left arm and a concussion. He'd also complained of excruciating pain from torn muscles in his back, pain that nothing seemed to alleviate.
Garry's physician, Albert Mayborn, had finally prescribed morphine.
Jordan blamed herself for not recognizing that Garry was becoming addicted. She ought to have known, the signs were all there. Garry complained of pain long past the time when any muscle strain should have healed. She'd finally seen the physical signs of drug abuse in her husband's bloodshot eyes, his jumpiness, his inability to sleep, his hair-trigger temper.
At last she'd confronted him about it, and of course he'd denied it. Until tonight, she'd managed to deny the extent of the problem herself.
The awful scene in the E.R. kept replaying in her head, and Jordan's humiliation and shame grew. She drew her knees up to her chest, trying by sheer force of will to impose control over her shaking arms and legs.
She couldn't get a deep breath. Her heart hammered against her ribs. She began to cry, deep, tearing sobs that scared her. Try as she might, she couldn't stop them. Soon her stomach and chest hurt, her lungs felt as if they were on fire, and still the wrenching sobs went on and on. She was completely alone.
Hours passed. The phone rang, and she couldn't answer it. She couldn't move. She was thirty-two today, and she didn't want to live. She began to think of the many ways there were to die.
And then the physician in her recognized that she needed help.
She forced herself up off the sofa, dialed the telephone and ordered a cab.
Sweating and shaking, still gulping back sobs, she found her handbag and made her way outside.
The Native driver gave her a concerned and wary look. “You okay, lady? Where you want to go?”
“St. Joseph's Medical Center,” she gasped.
St. Joseph's was an old building, and she knew every inch of it, having interned there. She dragged herself up a set of stairs at the back of the building to the third floor. It was the only place she could think of to get help.
The psych ward.
HE INTAKE NURSE WAS
both intuitive and gentle. Jordan managed to choke out her name, adding that she was an Emerg physician, and without even asking her to fill in any forms, the nurse guided Jordan to a tiny private room with a cot and a chair. She helped her lie down, covering her with a blanket.
Jordan curled into a ball, too exhausted and spent to resist the emotions coursing through her. After a time, the door opened and Helen Moore, the resident psychiatrist, came in. Jordan knew her slightly, and had always liked her kind smile and forthright manner.
“Hi, Jordan.” Helen sat down beside the cot and reached for one of Jordan's hands. She took it gently, cradling it between both of hers. “Can you tell me what's made you so upset?”
Jordan tried, but it was impossible to talk through the tears. Helen reached for a box of tissues and handed over a fistful. “Try to take deep breaths.”
After a few moments, Jordan was able to put words together. “My hus-husband isâis a drug addict,” she began. Once she'd said the words aloud, it became eas
ier to tell the rest of the story. She began with the car accident, the morphine, the prescriptions she'd written him and, when she'd refused to supply him, how the apartment was ransacked. Amid fresh bouts of weeping, she managed to recount what had occurred the previous night in the E.R.
“Whatâwhat aboutâaboutâGarry? What am I going to
about him? Howâhow can Iâhelp him?”
“This is not about him,” Helen said firmly. “This is about
Jordan. What are you going to do about
Helen's words shocked Jordan out of her tears. For so long, she'd exhausted herself worrying about Garry and his problems, believing that if only she could help him stop taking drugs, their life together might work.
“Garry is an adult, making choices about the way he lives his life,” Helen continued. “Do you want to go on allowing him to make those same choices for
life? You're an exceptional physician with a great reputation at this hospital, Jordan, and I know you to be a good and caring person.” Her kind face broke into a mischievous smile. “Lord knows you're good to look at. I've seen men fall over their feet like schoolboys when you're around.”
Jordan started to cry again. It had been so long since anyone had complimented her. When she'd first met Garry, she'd felt confident and even pretty. Now she felt gray and old. And ashamed, so ashamed of not being able to control herself.
Helen gave her hand a comforting squeeze. “I think
you need to value your own worth, Jordan, and go from there. The scene last night in the E.R. was hard, but sometimes it takes a hard lesson for us to see we're on a path that isn't the most beneficial for us.” Helen smiled again and released Jordan's hand. “I've had my share of those tough lessons, I know how much they hurt. But they also help us heal. Right now I'm going to give you a sedative because you need to rest. We'll talk again.”
“I feel soâso stupid,” Jordan admitted, her voice trembling. “You'd think I could cope with this on my own. It's humiliating to admit that I can't.”
“Weâall of usâare only human, Jordan. Being doctors means we start out with a higher level of daily stress, and then we have our own personal stuff on top of it. As a profession, medicine carries the highest rate of alcohol dependency, drug addiction, divorce and suicide. Coming here shows good judgment and common sense. And no one needs to know you're here.”
Jordan blew her nose. “Thank you. That would make things easier.”
“I'll have a word with the staff. Now, I think rest is the best restorative at the moment.” She gave Jordan a sedative and gently tucked the blanket around her. “I'll be in this evening to see how you're doing. Relax now.”
As the medication gradually took the edge off her panic and her muscles loosened, Jordan was able to think more clearly than she had for weeks.
Garry was a junkie.
As an E.R. doctor, she'd seen enough junkies to
know that no one could help them unless they chose to help themselves.
He wasn't making the slightest effort.
Her eyelids were heavy, and she knew that within a few moments, she'd be asleep.
What are you going to do about
The answer floated to the surface. It made her terribly sad, and it frightened her as well, but it was the right thing for her. The only thing.
As soon as she felt able, she was going to see a lawyer about a divorce.
HE VERY LEAST
you could have done was tell me you wanted a divorce before you saw thisâthis scumbag of a lawyer.” Garry's face was scarlet with rage and disbelief. “How could you do this to me, Jordan?” He threw the copy of the proposed separation agreement she'd just handed him to the floor and stood glaring at her, hands knotted into fists. The pages scattered, landing at her feet.
His voice rose. “You know I'm not well. I'm not over the accident yet! You could help but you won't. What about the marriage vows you made?” Sarcasm dripped from every word. “I could swear there was something in there about in sickness and in health, till death do us part. Have you thought about my parents? They've treated you like one of the family, and now you're doing this to meâto
Jordan's heart was hammering. It was true, Meg and Edward had been good to her. She hated the thought of
hurting them. She kept her expression impassive and did her best to convince herself that the problems Garry was throwing at her weren't hers to solve.
This was all
stuff, as Helen would phrase it. And Meg and Edward had witnessed Garry's recent tantrums. Surely they would understand her decision when they accepted the reality of their son's addictionâ¦.
It was helpful to remember Helen's advice. Jordan now viewed the two days she'd spent in psych as an intensive training seminar.
Right now she noticed that everything Garry said related only to himself. Lordy, how could she have missed how self-centered he was? She'd known him two and a half years, and yet she felt that during the past week, since she'd come home from the psych ward, she was seeing him as if he were a stranger.
And it surprised her to realize she didn't even like him anymore. His addiction had turned him into a bully and a whiner, not exactly a sexy combination. There hadn't been any sex for months now, anyway.
He was hollering at her again. “What kind of bull-shit is that dyke of a doctor pumping you full of, Jordie? You never acted like this before. What's between us should stay between us. I don't like you dumping your guts to some stranger.” His voice grew softer, and he tried to reach out and take her into his arms. “You're my wife, babe. Shouldn't you be talking to me about stuff that bothers you?”
Jordan held up both hands, palms out, and moved away.
He swore a long stream of curses, and then she could
see him consciously turning on the charm again. “C'mon, Jordie. Honey, baby, don't be this way,” he wheedled. “I said I was sorry for what happened in the E.R. I just couldn't take the pain in my back anymore, and you wouldn't give me anything for it, remember? I'm not good with pain, honey, you know that.”
She moved farther back, out of his reach. She remembered everything. He sickened her.
The second day of her stay in psych, Jordan had called home and left a message for Garry, telling him where she was. Hours later, he'd come to the ward, and on Jordan's instructions, Helen and the staff had conveyed the message that she didn't want to see him. High, he'd become verbally abusive. Helen had threatened to call security, and finally he left.
Now Jordan looked at him, and she couldn't even summon pity.
“I won't prescribe drugs for you ever again, Garry. So don't bother asking.”
He tightened his mouth and narrowed his eyes. Taking a step closer, he shook his trembling finger under her nose. His breath was foul.
“You go ahead with this divorce shit and I promise you I'll ruin you financially. I
a lawyer, in case it's slipped your mind. Any judge would award me ongoing support when they hear about the accident. And I've got the firm behind meâit isn't going to cost me anything.”
He'd already tested his firm to the limit, but she resisted the urge to tell him that. She was grateful that Helen had given her the name of an attorney she liked
and trusted, Marcy Davis. Marcy had handled Helen's own complex divorce several years ago. It made it easier to withstand Garry's bullying, knowing Marcy would deal with all the legal issues.
“And I'm not moving out of this apartment, either,” he said. “You want a separation, you move out, lady.”
“I already have.” He hadn't even noticed that her clothes, some of the furniture and the few personal things she cherished were gone. She'd packed up that morning, called a moving company to put the furniture in storage, and rented a housekeeping room at a motel across the street from St. Joe's.
“You're welcome to everything that's left here. But I'd like to put the apartment on the market as soon as possible, Garry.” Her lawyer was well aware that Jordan had been making the mortgage payments since Garry's accident.
She could tell by his expression that he hadn't expected any of this.
“My lawyer will handle the details,” she said in a quiet voice. “Call her if you have any questions.” Exactly what Marcy had told her to say. She'd practiced so that now it came out smoothly, without revealing the effort it took her to speak.
“Where the hell are you going? You come back here!” She heard the panic in his voice as she headed for the door. “We haven't finished talking yet. What if I need you for something? You could at least give me your new address, Jordan.”
It was tragic to recognize that the only thing he'd
need her for was money. Prescriptions and money were all he'd needed from her for months.
“You have my cell number.” And Marcy had already suggested she get that changed if his calls became too frequent or abusive. “And I'd rather you didn't come to St. Joe's again, Garry.”
“Last I heard it was a free country,” he snarled. “I can go wherever the hell I choose.”
“Okay, then I'll alert security.” She prayed she wouldn't have to carry out the threat. She opened the apartment door. “Goodbye, Garry.”
“You're making a big mistake, you dumb bitch!”
She closed the door and hurried to the elevator. Her legs were shaking as she made her way down and out of the building. She was crying when she climbed in her car. Some of the tears were for the dreams she'd forfeited, but mostly they were tears of relief.
She'd taken a first and much-needed step toward finding out who Jordan Burke really was, and she was learning fast what she didn't want in her life anymore. If that was a negative positive, so what? She'd take what she could get.
She blew her nose hard and for the first time in days, she smiled wryly. But the smile went just as quickly as it came.
Now she had to figure out what it was she did want.
T WAS THE FOLLOWING WEEK
when the notice on St. Joe's computer bulletin board caught Jordan's eye.
Resident GP wanted for isolated First Nations village, Vancouver Island's west coast. Ahousaht, Clayoquot Sound, Flores Island. Applicants must be willing to work with Tribal Community Services. Access by boat or floatplane only.
There was a Web address and a phone number, and Jordan scribbled them down. She wasn't sure why. She knew nothing about native villages, and not much about First Nations people. The ones she was most familiar with were the ones who ended up in the E.R., most of them unfortunate residents of Vancouver's troubled Lower East Side.
She was on the early shift, and when she was finished work she had an appointment with Helen, who once again asked the question that was becoming a mantra between them.
“What is it you really want, Jordan?”
“I want to move away.” The words came of their own volition, surprising her. “I've always lived in Vancou
ver. I grew up here, went to university here, trained at St. Joe's. This is the only hospital I've ever worked at. I think I'd like to leave the city, go somewhere where no one knows me, maybe give general practice a shot. Make a fresh start.”
Somewhere Garry isn't.
She didn't say the words aloud. She didn't have to. Helen understood.
“Maybe that's what you need to do, then. Just keep in mind that you take all your emotional baggage with you, along with your underwear, no matter where you travel,” Helen reminded her.
“Wherever you go, there you are,”
she quoted with her teasing smile. “Any idea where you want to go?”
Jordan shook her head. “I'll have to find a job before I make any changes. There's the legal bills to think about.” It was too soon to speculate.
But later that afternoon, she explored the Web for Ahousaht. Photos showed a wild and windswept village surrounded by the Pacific Ocean. She learned that until now medical care had been provided by the nurse at the local clinic and a doctor who flew in twice a week. Emergency cases were transported by medevac to the hospital in Tofino on nearby Vancouver Island. But the community's requirements had changed, and now the Tribal Council needed a full-time doctor. The salary wasn't what Jordan earned in the E.R., but neither would there be shift work. And housing was included.
Impulsively, Jordan took out her cell phone and dialed the number she'd copied down.
The number rang and rang, and she was about to hang up when a man answered.
“Hello?” There was a note of impatience in the man's deep and resonant tone.
“Oh, um, yes, hello.” Damn, now she was losing her confidence. Her hands were sweating and she could hear the strain in her voice. “My, um, my name is Jordan Burke,
Burke, and I'm calling about the medical position. Is it still available, or have you found someone?”
There was a moment's silence. “I don't know for sure. Call back another time. The office is closed for the day.” His tone was brusque, bordering on rude.
“Well, can you just tell meâ”
“Nope, I can't. You need to speak to Bennie, he's the rep from Tribal Council.”
“Bennie? Bennie who? Does he have a last name?” Jordan was over feeling nervous and well on the way to being annoyed. Surely he could be more helpful?
“Just Bennie will do fine. He'll be here in the morning.”
“And you areâ?” This person should never be answering a business phone. She'd say so, in the nicest possible way, when she talked to this Bennie, Jordan decided.
“Silas Keefer. And I'm hanging up now, Jordan Burke. There's a celebration I need to attend.”
“Oh. Sure. But first can you just tell meâ”
The line clicked and a dial tone sounded. The bloody man had hung up on her.
Jordan pushed End and shoved the phone into her bag with more force than was necessary. Whoever, whatever Silas Keefer was, he'd succeeded in discouraging her from applying for the position.
ILAS HAD FORGOTTEN
about the call by the time he took his place in the welcoming circle. When his turn came to hold the fragile baby, he cradled him against his heart. The tiny boy seemed too small to bear the weight of his sturdy name.
Hello, Cameron Michael John. Welcome, Nuu-chah-nulth warrior.
Cameron was barely a week old. Silas gazed down into the little face. The baby's skin was golden and downy, and he looked up at Silas through big dark eyes. One minute fist, curled into itself like a seashell, flailed and then came to rest on the front of Silas's flannel shirt, and his man's heart swelled in his chest. He never got used to the miracle of new life. He hoped he never would.
You, young Cameron, have plenty of time to grow into your nameâand you'll be growing up right alongside your parents.
Alice Pettigrew, Cameron's mother, was barely sixteen, hardly more than a child herself. And his father, Hogan John, had two full years to go before his twentieth birthday.
Children, raising children. At least here in Ahousaht, Cameron and his parents were surrounded by family, mothers and aunts and fathers and grandfathers. Most
of them were here today and Silas knew all of them were willing to help in any way they could.
The shy young parents sat side by side holding hands as the members of the welcoming circle cradled the newborn to their hearts and hummed the traditional
ahhhh nook, ahhhhh nook
deep in their chests. Conveying love and welcome and support. Then they sang the welcoming songs, the dancers up and moving to the beat of the drums. Silas said a prayer, and as soon as the blessing was complete, got to his feet and headed toward the door.
His half sister, Christina Crow, caught him just before he escaped.
She gave him her wicked wide grin. “Hey, Silas, you're coming to Mom's birthday party tomorrow night, right?”
“Yeah, I'll be there.” They both knew he wouldn't stay, but he'd put in an appearance. He was, after all, Rose Marie's firstborn. After her divorce from Silas's father, Angus Keefer, Rose Marie had married Peter Crow and five years later she'd had Christina. Twelve years after that, Patwin, her third child, was born, but Christina was the half sibling Silas really knew well. Patwin hadn't been home much since Silas had moved back to Ahousaht. And Silas was profoundly solitary.
But who could help loving Christina? She'd been born smiling. Tiny and slender, his half sister had thick black hair permed into a curly, electric frizz. Her dramatic, high cheekbones, deep-set eyes and glorious copper skin drew the hungry glances of men. But it was
her sunny nature that captivated people as much as her beauty. She had a streak of mischief that made her fun to be around, and her smart mouth brought shocked smiles to even the most dour of the elders.
Over the six years he'd lived in Ahousaht, Christina had somehow wormed her way through all the protective barriers Silas had erected.
And just like all the women in the family, she was nosy as hell.
“So what'd you get Mom for her birthday?”
“That marble pastry board and lazy Susan she's been eyeing in the new kitchenware store in Tofino.”
“Super.” Christina beamed up at him, dark eyes sparkling. “That's gonna get you brownie points, big brother. Dad and I each got her another one of those copper-bottomed pots she's nuts about.” She shook her head and her curls lifted and settled. “Mom's the only woman I know who actually wants kitchen stuff for her birthday. I'd flatten anyone who gave me pots instead of perfume.”
“How's it going with Andy?” She'd been dating Andy Makinna for a couple of months now.
“It's over.” Christina shrugged and wrinkled her nose. “Him and Eli didn't get along.”
“That kid's got a good shit detector.” Silas hadn't been particularly fond of her latest admirer, either. Good for his nephew for putting the run on the guy.
“Yeah, well, Eli's gonna end up supporting me in my old age unless he takes a shine to one of these guys pretty soon.”
“He's only eight. He's got lots of time to dig up a stepfather before that.”
Christina rolled her eyes. “I'd just as soon have a man who's breathing.”
“I'll pass that on to Eli, but a woman with a personality problem like you have can't be too fussy.”
She grinned and thumped him on the shoulder. “Take your own advice, older brother.”
“I'll give it my best shot.” Silas gave her a quick hug and eased past her, toward freedom.
Christina grabbed a handful of his shirt and held on. “Why not stay for coffee?”
“Can't. I've got a deadline on an article, and I'm trying to improve the Ahousaht Web site.”
She knew it was an excuse, but she didn't challenge him. “Okay. See you tomorrow morning at the meeting, then. No applicants yet for the medical posting, I'm beginning to wonder if we'll ever find a doctor who wants to come and live here.” Christina was nursing supervisor for the medical center. She was the one who'd convinced the Council about the advantages of having a resident M.D.
“You know, somebody did call about that posting.” He'd forgotten all about it till now. Silas was one of the band's healers, but he was the first to admit the need for both healing modalities. “Just before the ceremony, I dropped by the band office to get some stuff Bennie left for me, and the phone rang. It was a woman. She asked if the position was still open. I told her I didn't know.”
“Did you get her name and number?”
“Her name was Jordan, Jordan Brick or Bruk or something.” Silas shook his head. “I was late for the welcoming ceremony. But I did tell her to call back and talk to Bennie before I hung up on her.”
Christina gave him a look. “Probably the only person who'll ever even think of applying, and you pissed her off right up front, eh?”
Silas shrugged. “You know me, I'm not exactly Mr. Congeniality.”
“Mr. Porcupine is more like it.” Christina shook her head and rolled her eyes. “You need a crash course in human relations, big brother.”
He smiled down at her, not in the least offended. “I'm way too old to change my wicked ways.”
“Thirty-six going on ninety-seven?”
“If that woman really wants the job, she'll call back. And she'll have to really want it or she'll never stick it out through the first few weeks of culture shock. She'll find outâ” he ticked them off on his fingers “âthere's no sushi bar, no movie theater, no health club and it's a forty-five minute trip by water taxi to the nearest pizza joint, which for some strange reason won't deliver. And then there's the rain. Mustn't forget we have an annual rainfall of a hundred and ninety-six inches. So if I was a little abrupt on the phone, it's a good thingâa test. We'll see how determined she is to live on an island populated by wild Indians.”
Christina blew a raspberry. “The elders hear you call us that and they'll revive scalping. You make it sound
so bad anybody would turn tail and run. If by some fluke she phones back and even comes for a look-see, maybe you oughta lay low while I convince her there actually are advantages to living in Ahousaht.”
“If she comes, I'll stay out of the way. Promise.”
Christina shot him a mischievous look. “Come to think about it, that's not the best idea, either, big brother. If she's single, the sight of you might entice her to remain in spite of the rain and the lack of a mall. You're not half-bad to look at, although your manners leave a lot to be desired.”
Laughing, Silas made his escape when someone else came by to talk to Christina. He took the path that would lead him out of the village, along the forested path to where he'd built his compact cabin.
The rain that had been falling all day had stopped. The rising wind, chill and brisk, blew the clouds away, and overhead the late-afternoon sunset streaked the sky crimson and gold. Boats rocked at anchor in the bay, and kids in T-shirts raced up and down the gravel road on their bikes, impervious to the chill air. He was thinking about what he'd said, about there being no pizza joint in Ahousaht.
Personally, he'd settle for a faster and more reliable connection to the Internet.
Jordan and her two gigantic suitcases on the end of the pier just after ten on Monday morning, June 26. As well as her sizeable medical bag, she also had two shopping bags stuffed with groceries. The small convenience store in Ahousaht reputedly carried only the most basic essentials, so she'd just visited a large grocery in Tofino.
“She leaves at ten-thirty or thereabouts,” the cabdriver said, waving a hand at a decent-size boat bobbing in the water at the bottom of a walkway. “You got lotsa time.” He eyed the suitcases with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. “I'll get these on board for ya.”
He was a small, older man, and he walked with a limp. He'd struggled with the bags at the small airstrip the evening before, when Jordan arrived from Vancouver. He'd carried them into the inn where she'd spent the night and then lifted them back into his cab this morning. Envisioning herniated disks and heart attacks, Jordan tipped him lavishly and shook her head.
“Nope, not again. You've been great, and I thank you
for the offer. But I'll get someone on the boat to help me. You've wrestled with these long enough.”
He looked relieved. Thanking her profusely, he hurried away through the rain before she could change her mind.
Unsure what to do next, Jordan hefted her medical bag, abandoning the suitcases and groceries on the dock. By now quite wet, she clung to the railing, gingerly making her way down the slippery wooden ramp to the tiny floating pier. Moored to the dock, the aluminum boat the cabdriver had pointed out rocked as she scrambled aboard.
There was no one on the small deck. Feeling awkward, hoping she wouldn't slip and catapult straight down into the cabin, Jordan gingerly climbed down the narrow ladder, surprised by how large the interior was.
There was space for about twenty-four passengers, and so far, she was the only one. Two tall, heavy native men were seated in the cockpit, talking as they drank from gigantic mugs of coffee. They turned and looked at her, dark, weather-beaten faces devoid of expression.
“I want to go to Ahousaht,” she began. “I've left a couple of heavy suitcases and a bunch of groceries up on the pier. Could someone help me carry them on board?”
Without a word, the younger man got up. When Jordan turned to follow him, the older man shook his head and motioned at a seat.
“Billy'll get them.”
Jordan set her medical bag down and slid into a seat. “Thanks, that's very kind.” She reached into her handbag for her wallet. “How much is the fare?”
“You're the new doctor.” It wasn't a question.
“Yes, I'm Jordan Burke. Hi.” She got up and they shook hands, hers swallowed by his rough paw. His scarred face softened into a smile.
“Charlie Tidian. No charge this time, Doctor Jordan Burke.”
“Thank you, skipper.” Jordan smiled at him. “You make the trip back and forth from Ahousaht every day?”
“Twice a day. The boat's also used as an ambulance, if anybody needs to get to the hospital and it's not urgent enough for the medevac.”
“How long does the trip take?”
“Forty-five minutes in good seas.”
Billy heaved her suitcases to the deck and then stowed them and the groceries at the back of the cabin, and soon people began trickling aboard, most of them First Nations. A young, pretty girl with a toddler and a huge backpack, an older woman, four young men. A middle-aged couple, obviously tourists, outfitted head to toe in Tilley gear, took the seat across from Jordan. The man whipped out a digital camera and began filming the boat and its occupants, concentrating on the mother and toddler and the older woman. Jordan figured he was being rude as hell, but the three ignored him.
At ten-thirty, the captain started the engines and the boat slipped away from the dock, heading at ever-in
creasing speed out over the gray-green expanse of water.
As the mainland disappeared, Jordan thought back to her first and only visit to Ahousaht three weeks earlier. She'd taken her car that time, driving from Vancouver to Horseshoe Bay and catching the Nanaimo ferry across the Inlet. It had taken three hours to navigate the twisting and terrifying Island Highway to reach the village of Tofino. There, feeling more and more as if she'd reached the end of the world, she'd chartered a floatplane to Ahousaht.
The isolated island village had both appalled and appealed to her. Sunshine shimmered on the water, blue-gray mountains rose in the distance and thick forest surrounded the sprawling frame buildings. The only road was a rutted dirt track that snaked its way up island. If she'd wanted isolation, it didn't get any more remote than this.
The chief, council members and the nursing supervisor, Christina Crow, had greeted her warmly. They'd asked a lot of questions, including why she wanted to come to Ahousaht.
Without going into details, she'd told them her marriage had ended and that she wanted a complete change of scene. Her rÃ©sumÃ© spoke for itself, graduation at the top of her class and several years at St. Joseph's E.R.
They'd been touchingly honest about their community: the isolation, the lack of amenities, the unique customs of the First Nations people.
She'd admitted little knowledge of their culture, and
giving her two books, they'd left her alone with coffee and a plate of brownies. By the time they decided to hire her, the plate was almost empty, she knew a little about the history of the Nuu-chah-nulth peopleâand she was on a sugar high.
Jordan had accepted their offer on the spot.
Now, however, she wasn't so sure. She tried to suppress her apprehension as the distance from Tofino increased, but finally gave in and let her emotions run. Aware that the Tilley couple were watching her bawl, she turned her face to the window, pretending to be intent on the small islands rushing by.
“Be aware of what you're feeling. Don't censor it, don't struggle to subdue it,” Helen had advised. “Allow the emotions to come and just watch them. Darkness can't survive when you let light in.”
Back in Vancouver, Jordan had been certain that this drastic life change was right and good for her. But as the minutes ticked by, she began to wonder.
She'd sold her car and many of her belongings, making the trip from Vancouver to Tofino by plane this time. There really was no point in having a car on an island where the majority of the community was within walking distance. And they did have a rusted-out ambulance for emergencies.
The boat chugged along, rising up high and then slapping heavily down on the waves. The noise of its props and powerful twin-engine motor finally soothed her. Whatever lay ahead was out of her control.
The tension in her neck and arms gradually sub
sided and she relaxed. For these brief few moments, she could just be.
Half an hour passed. Ahead, the clouds began to dissipate, revealing blue sky in patches overhead.
The water taxi skirted a long finger of land and several crab boats before turning into an inside channel, bordered by a wild, rocky shoreline. A few houses came into view, gray and weathered against the thick evergreens.
The boat glided past a fish farm and then more houses on the left and a long brown building with the sign Motel and Restaurant.
They finally arrived at the ramshackle dock, where a purse seiner and a cluster of fishing boats bobbed in the waves. And just as Jordan was wondering what to do with her unwieldy suitcases and grocery bags, Billy hoisted them out of the boat.
“They're fine here,” he told her. “You go ahead, we'll bring them up for you. You're living at the back of the medical center, right?”
“I am. Thank you so much.” Carrying her medical bag and her purse, Jordan climbed out of the boat and walked slowly down the long pier and up the dirt road. A large sign nailed to a building read, Welcome to Ahousaht. Jordan looked around for Christina. The nursing supervisor had said she'd meet her, but she wasn't there.
Two small boys on bikes came ripping past. One of them did an elaborate wheelie for her benefit and then hopped off the bike. He was wearing a billed cap backward over unruly black hair, and he gave Jordan an en
chanting, gap-toothed grin. His face was still round with baby fat.
“Hi,” he said. “You're our new doctor, right?”
She smiled back at him and nodded. “And who are you, sir?”
“I'm Eli CrowâChristina's my mom. She told us to watch for you. She had to go see Auntie Elsieâshe fell yesterday and hurt her foot, all the toes on the right foot are bruised.”
“Hi, Eli.” Jordan set her bag down and shook hands with Eli. She remembered Christina saying that she was the single parent of an eight-year-old. “Who's your friend?”
“He's Michael Nitsch. His mom is gonna make movies.”
“Hi, Michael.” Jordan held out her hand to the other boy. “So are you going into the movie business, too, when you grow up?”
“Nope. I'm gonna be a fireman.” Michael took his time shaking her hand. “Should we call you Mrs. Doctor?”
“You can call me Doctor Jordan, how's that? I'm pleased to meet you both. You came along at exactly the right moment, too. The last time I was here somebody met me, and now I'm sort of lost. Could you guys get me to the medical center? And maybe help me carry those grocery bags?”
“Sure. We're really, really strong.” One on each side of her, they hefted her plastic carryalls over their handlebars. Taking the job as guides seriously, they talked
nonstop, pointing out the band office, the school and where they lived.
They informed the smiling drivers of two pickup trucks and a man out chopping wood that they were taking Doc Jordan to her new house. They told Jordan that the man chopping wood had a wife with six fingers, and that she'd let Jordan see them if Eli asked her and said please. Jordan quickly declined the offer.
“Maybe another time.”
“Okay, whenever you like,” Eli replied expansively.
Everyone called out a friendly hello. A woman pegging flowered sheets and diapers on a clothesline smiled and waved.
“That's Audrey. She's got a new baby,” Michael confided.
“Yeah, and her daddy went to live with his other wife,” Eli said with a nod. “Audrey won't let him in the door now.”
This had a motorcycle escort beat all to hell, and Jordan felt pretty much like an informed VIP by the time her young heroes had delivered her safely to the apartment. She gave each of them two dollars and their dark eyes lit up.
“Thanks a lot, Doctor Jordan,” said Michael.
“You need anything, just call us,” Eli added. They sped off on their bikes to spend their reward money.
Jordan's apartment was at the back of the medical center. Using the key she'd been given, she tried to open the door, only to find it was unlocked. Inside, it smelled of fresh paint, and Jordan had to smile.
Christina had made good on her promise. The walls were a warm, light color somewhere between lemon and cream, and the apartment had improved drastically since Jordan had last seen it on her first visit.
That day, these walls had been a nauseous institutional green.
“Can you tell this was where the cops stayed overnight before they got their trailer?” Christina had groaned. “They must get this paint free from the government. I think a nice warm lamb's wool shade for these walls, don't you?”
“What color's lamb's wool?”
“I dunno.” Christina had shrugged and shot Jordan a wicked grin. “I'm just trying my damnedest to impress you. I saw it in a Martha Stewart magazine.”
Jordan smiled now, remembering. There was an exuberance about Christina that made her irresistible, and obviously Eli had inherited it.
The paint made the small area welcoming, but the place was still strange to her, and she was suddenly achingly homesick for the familiarity of the Kitsilano apartment she and Garry had shared.
But not homesick for Garry. She shivered. Over the past few weeks she'd had to alert security at St. Joe's, and she'd called the police and threatened to get a restraining order when he had turned up at the door of the motel one night.
No more depressing thoughts. So she had no idea how to make a fire in the iron cookstove. She'd learn. The hot plate she'd ordered in Tofino
wouldn't be delivered for a couple days, but she'd brought a lot of cereal and apples. It wouldn't do any harm to fast a little.
She walked around, taking stock of her new home. It was clean, sparsely furnished but adequate, with mismatched furniture and an odd but generous assortment of dishes in the kitchen area. A distinctive and colorful native painting hung on one wall, and someone had obviously hand-carved the two beautiful wooden bowls on the counter.
She opened the door wide to get rid of the smell of paint, hung up her jacket on a wooden peg and began unloading the groceries. When Billy arrived with her suitcases, she'd unpack and add her own small touches to the decor, like the soft turquoise silk shawl her brother Toby had sent for her birthday.
She'd use that as a table cover. And she had an old black-and-white photo of her and Toby when they were little to put on the bedside table. One of her mother, as well.
It would soon feel like home, she reassured herself. This wasn't the same as when she was a child, shuffled from one home to the next, sharing bedrooms and sometimes even beds with other foster kids.
This apartment was hers alone. It had been her choice to come here, and she'd do her best to turn this little place into a sanctuary.
ROM A WINDOW
in the band office, Silas watched the new doctor walk past with Eli and Michael. He'd hon
ored his promise to Christina; although he was a member of the council, he'd deliberately been absent for the initial meeting with the doctor. Instead, he'd hiked up island to visit an elderly couple recovering from a severe bout of the flu, but he couldn't deny he was curious. Ahousaht was a small, close-knit community. The addition of someone from Away always had repercussions.