"Miss Morgan?" the nurse said quietly. Julie turned in response, her face pale as she sat between the two hospital beds holding her parents, both in comas.
"Yes," Julie said, her voice rough.
"Dr. Terrance would like to speak with you, and I'm sorry to say that visiting hours are over." The nurse, Alia Easton, spoke very gently, trying to be as kind as she could to the young woman sitting between the beds. Jim and Ilsa Morgan had been recovered from the site of their plane crash, for what good that did. Both of them lay comatose. To make it worse, their brains had survived just enough for basic functions. They breathed on their own, their hearts pumped blood through their bodies, and IVs kept nutrients in their systems, but they would never wake up. And poor Julie, thought Alia, she comes every day.
"Thank you," said Julie. She stood, gave each of her parents a kiss on the forehead, and walked out of the room. Dr. Braydon Terrance was waiting for her, going over a chart at the nurses' station. "Doctor?" she inquired. He gestured her over to a chair in the waiting area.
Dr. Terrance felt badly for this young girl. He'd rarely seen a more faithful visitor, even for patients that were conscious and alert. He was guessing that guilt of some sort was driving her, in addition to the love he knew she had for her parents. She sat before him, her dark blonde hair pretty but untidy, her grey eyes surrounded by dark circles. He wished very much she had a sibling or other relative to share the burden, but it seemed she was alone.
"Julie," he said. She raised her eyes to him. "I've made arrangements to have your parents transported to a hospice."
"But..." she started to say, then stopped. She had no idea what to say anyway, and decided she should hear the doctor out. Some reflex had made her protest, she guessed. After all, hospices were where people went to die.
"It'll be a much nicer atmosphere, there," he continued. "Certainly cheerier than here. They'll be in a room together, with windows and fresh air, and you can see them whenever you like; the visiting hours will be much more flexible. The staff there can provide any necessary medical care, and there are always doctors on site and on call. There's really no reason to keep them here." He didn't want to mention that the hospital staff simply couldn't baby sit her fairly healthy but unconscious parents.
"All right," she said, somewhat dully. It made sense. Her parents simply lay there, taking space away from people who were probably more seriously ill and had a chance of recovering. It would be nice not to come so often to the hospital so often. The staff were all wonderful, people like Dr. Terrance and Alia tried very hard to keep her informed, to make her comfortable, to work around a rule or two if it helped. But it was a hospital, with sterile white hallways and sheets, the hydraulic beds and that antiseptic smell that you simply couldn't escape. Perhaps a hospice would do some good for her, too. Perhaps if she were in a place where death was prepared for, instead of avoided, she could cope a bit better.
Dr. Terrance gave her a small smile. "We will move them over the weekend, probably Sunday when it's a bit quieter. Here's the number of the hospice." He handed her a card that said Fleming Hospice Center, with an address, phone number, and the name of the hospice director. "Give Josie, the director, a call when you have a chance, and mention my name. She's very friendly and would be happy to have you over for a tour and answer any questions."
"Thank you," Julie said. "I really do appreciate it." Dr. Terrance nodded.
"I have to go," he said, patting her hand, "but don't hesitate to call me if you need anything." He stood up, grabbed some charts, and left to do his rounds. Julie stared at the card in her hand for a few more moments and then stood as well, putting the card in her pocket.
Alia came over before she could go. "Are you all right?" she asked, knowing how inane the question sounded.
"I guess," said Julie. "I hoped it would get easier, I suppose, but it doesn't seem to be. Maybe a change of scenery would help." She didn't sound as though she believed it.
"It will." Alia squeezed the other woman's hand gently. "It's a nice place. We took my grandmother there when her cancer became terminal. It's amazing how a place like that can help you. Now, go on home and rest up. I know you have to go to work tomorrow."
"Thanks," said Julie. She sighed and made her way through the brightly lit hallways, down to the dim parking garage. She found her little blue Dodge Neon, and drove home.
"Come on, Julie, let's get a coffee." Julie held a finger up to indicate she'd be ready in a minute, typed a few more keystrokes and saved her file.
"All right, I'm ready, I could use the caffeine," said Julie as she stretched. She stood up, grabbed her purse and caught up with Mindy, who was already walking to the elevator. Mindy Rogers was a gorgeous Latina with silky dark hair, lovely eyes, and a name that belied her heritage. She'd never figured it out, she told Julie. Her mother, so traditional in so many ways, somehow decided her daughter looked like a "Mindy" when she was born. Could be worse, Julie had told her. You could have looked like a Bertha.
"So how are you holding up?" Mindy asked as they sat at one of the outdoor tables with their drinks. Julie noted with amusement the countless admiring looks Mindy received from nearly all the men in the vicinity, and Mindy's obliviousness of them. It kept her mind off of other things, such as the answer to Mindy's question.
"I'm all right, I guess," she said, then shrugged. "What's to say? They're each in a coma and God knows they most likely won't come out of them. It's a strange waiting game." She stared down at her coffee, then took a sip. "The hospice is nicer than the hospital, I'll say that. It's a less oppressive atmosphere, certainly a lot quieter. Luckily the insurance covers it, at least for now."
"I have something for you," Mindy said. She reached into her large handbag and pulled out a gaily wrapped box.
"My birthday was last month," Julie said, eyeing the package warily.
"I know. It's not for your birthday. Go on, open it." Mindy pushed the box toward her friend.
Julie took it and slowly unwrapped it. It was tall and rectangular. When she finally got through the ribbons and paper, she opened the box and found herself holding an antique bottle of some sort. Was it wine, she wondered? Finally, she said, "It's lovely, Mindy, but what exactly is it?"
Mindy smiled widely. "It's a genie in a bottle."
Julie smiled in return, figuring her friend was trying to lighten things up a little, and she appreciated the gesture. "Thanks, then. It really is beautiful craftsmanship. I'll find a place for it when I get home."
"No," said Mindy, shaking her head. "I mean it. It's a genie in a bottle. It's been in my family for ages."
"You have got to be kidding me," said Julie. Mindy shook her head again. "You mean, this is a bottle and if I rub it or something, someone will come out of it dressed in harem pants and tell me I have three wishes. Min, it's great of you to try to make me feel better, but come on..."
"Just try it when you get home," Mindy said. "I don't know about the harem pants, or exactly how many wishes you get, but there's a genie in there, honest to God."
"Have you seen it?"
"No, but my grandmother has, and my mother."
Julie narrowed her eyes at her friend. "You're serious." Mindy nodded. "Fine, I'll take it home. It's lovely. But I'm not going to be making any wishes."
"But, Julie," Mindy protested. "Think of how you could make things better. You could wish for your par--"
"No," Julie cut in, more sharply than she'd meant to. "I mean, thanks, but no. I don't believe in making wishes." Mindy looked about to say more, but Julie pointed out the time and they hurried back to the office.
Julie cleared a spot over her fireplace for the bottle she'd received from Mindy. It was the size of a wine bottle, with a light blue tint, but with a body sort of like a snowman -- three globes stacked on each other. There was lovely etching and other decoration on the glass. She wondered how old it was, and figured it had to be at least fifty years old, if it dated back to Mindy's grandmother. Genies, she thought, right.
A couple of weeks later, Julie was cleaning the house. It wasn't her favorite thing to do, but it had to be done and it kept her mind off her parents, still sleeping -- it was hard to think of it as anything else -- in the hospice. She would go over later, as she did nearly every day, but she needed a break. She wanted to believe that they heard her when she talked to them, discussing the mundane details of everyday life, but she didn't, not really. She couldn't, not when she knew there was no higher brain function happening in either of them. Still, she visited, not sure what else to do.
Mindy had been after her constantly, asking if she'd rubbed the bottle to bring out the genie. Every time, Julie gave her a dour look and changed the subject. How could Mindy believe that, she wondered. Sure, perhaps her grandmother was into mysticism, and had told it as a bedtime story. Her mother passed it on. But Mindy was adamant. Julie considered that she might have to rub the bottle while Mindy was there if only to show her how ridiculous it all was.
.... There is more of this story ...