Tabitha Ray was the safest daughter anyone ever had.
She could not have been more insulated if she’d been entombed in concrete, which is what it felt like most days.
What she was being guarded against wasn’t exactly clear, but Tabby suspected it was probably everything. The world, after all, was a dangerous place and she was lucky to be protected. She would be thankful for it later.
At least, that’s what her mother said whenever she took away the car keys or shredded the concert tickets or unpacked the suitcase: “You’ll thank me later. I’m keeping you safe.”
Tabby, who was what her father affectionately called spirited, and her mother—less affectionately—called reckless, thought safety overrated. It felt suspiciously like confinement.
She grew more and more convinced of this the older she got and, as she neared her eighteenth birthday, she became steadfastly determined to have something happen.
Her father’s placement on the organ transplant list three months later wasn’t the kind of event she had in mind. Tabby was not a great believer in fate, but she couldn’t help feeling the universe was answering her desire for excitement in the worst way possible. This is what you get for not being grateful, it seemed to say. It was the kind of shitty thing the universe would do.
She considered all this as her mother began a third lap around the Chicago Memorial Hospital parking lot.
“Why is there never a place to park?” Rebecca Ray muttered as she steered their mid-sized sedan through the maze of neatly spaced vehicles.
“Maybe you should drop me off at the doors while you look for a place,” Tabby’s father suggested from the passenger seat. “We don’t want to be late.”
No, they didn’t want to be late. Memorial’s dialysis department might have been an antiquated relic left over from previous decades, relegated to a poorly lit corner of the third floor and used by only a handful of patients, but it was all there was, and they were lucky to get it. The staff frequently reminded the Rays of just how lucky. It wasn’t everywhere that still provided the service. They always said “the service” in the same way other people said “pickled eggs” or something else they weren’t fond of. The same way they muttered “those people” to one another when they saw the Rays in the waiting room.
Radicals. Dissenters. Ungrateful troublemakers.
Tabby almost didn’t blame them for it, that was the worst part. Maybe they were right.
“I don’t think you should go alone, David,” Tabby’s mother said, looking around the crowded lot like there might be a parking space hiding behind the azaleas. “In case something happens.”
In case there was an accident, she meant. In case he fell.
Tabby’s eyes moved involuntarily to her father, to where faded bruises still colored his left arm.
“Rebecca,” her father began, in a tone meant to convey to his wife that he was a forty-two-year-old man and not an invalid. “I don’t—”
“I’ll go,” Tabby volunteered, before the conversation could venture into more uncomfortable territory. “We’ll get checked in and wait for you upstairs.”
“Well…” her mother said reluctantly. “If you think you can manage…”
Tabby resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I think I can manage to navigate a hospital lobby and an elevator, yes, Mom.” She lifted her foot in the air. “I wore my hiking boots.”
“That’s very funny, Tabitha.” Her mother brought the car to a stop alongside the curb. “Be careful getting into the elevator; there’s a lip. I’ll be up as soon as I can.”
Tabby scrambled out of the backseat, eager to avoid any more of a conversation that didn’t seem likely to improve, and unloaded her father’s walker from the trunk.
He opened the passenger door and accepted it without looking at her. “Thanks, Tabby.”
He was ashamed of it, embarrassed by the curious, pitying glances of strangers wondering what had reduced such a big man to such a thin shell. Tabby averted her eyes as he struggled out of the car; she wouldn’t add to his embarrassment by being witness to it. Instead, she pretended to read the poster hanging in the hospital entry windows, the one reminding the public that flu season was only six months away.
“That actually was very funny,” her father said, as the car door at last slammed behind him and the vehicle moved off to resume its futile search, “but you shouldn’t tease your mother; she means well.”
“So does the French prime minister. Look where that’s gotten him.”
“That reminds me.” He glanced sideways at her. “You’re watching too much CNN again.”
Now Tabby did roll her eyes. “I have to find out about the rest of the world somehow.”