I can't believe it took me over four years to write this chapter. I just can't. That's horrible, even for me. Well, I still like this story somewhat, so here we go~
I also realized I could have put Eliza in Celia's place…but I don't think Eliza was this witchy. Don't worry, she and Faust will make an appearance.
War and Soul: Chapter Three
"Do you have any idea what you've done, Pin-Mei?!"
Pin-Mei cringed and looked at the floor. After discovering just how grave an error she had made the night before, she had allowed herself to be found, knowing what the consequences could possibly be.
"I…I'm sorry…" she whispered.
"Apologies won't change the fact that you deprived a patient of their meal, a bed-ridden one, no less! It only proves that you are incapable of giving patients the care they need!" Celia yelled. "Not only was Mr. Tao hungry when we discovered him around nine o'clock, more than eight hours after his last meal, but he was severely thirsty! So much so that it brought on a headache! How could you even think of leaving a patient as vulnerable as him to fend for himself?!"
"I'm sorry," she repeated. There was no way she could ever explain why she had stormed out of the veteran's room the night before. Nothing could rationalize her actions.
Her boss let out a deep sigh as she shook her head and touched her brow. "I don't even know what I'm going to do about this." She looked at Pin-Mei, who quickly averted her gaze. "For now, I'm suspending you."
The intern's eyes widened. "Sus…pending?"
"What else should I have you do, hm? Let you loose so you can deprive another soldier of the care they so rightfully deserve?"
"I…" It was no use. "Yes, ma'am."
The nurse pointed to the door. "Go home, Pin-Mei."
Biting her lip, the girl obeyed. As she turned to escape to the bathroom, she ran into someone and fell to the floor. The momentary shock wore off, and she looked up.
"I imagine it would behoove you not to run in the hall, Pin-Mei. The conditions outside are most unkind as well."
She tried to force a smile, hiding the utter horror of knowing that her worst fears had been realized. Jeanne offered a hand and pulled her up. She smiled kindly.
"I hear you'll be having some time off."
The words stabbed her. "Y-Yes. I…um…need to do some Christmas shopping for my family."
"I see. Yes, I imagine you will have enough time to do such things. How enviable."
Pin-Mei clenched a fist. Jeanne knew it was a lie. In fact, she probably knew exactly what had been going on.
"This has been a pleasant conversation, but Celia asked to speak with me, and I don't want to keep her waiting."
Pin-Mei's face went pale. "Y-Yeah."
"Take care of yourself."
She could only let out a muffled whimper in response. Jeanne passed her and entered the room.
"Ah, Jeanne. Thank you for setting aside the time to come here."
"It's no trouble at all."
"Right, well, I have to ask a favor of you."
Pin-Mei froze. I should leave right now. I should just clear my locker and go home. I shouldn't stand here and listen to this. All the same, she quietly leaned against the wall near the door, quiet as a mouse.
"One of the interns has been struggling with a particular patient. I'm concerned that he may be too much for her to handle."
"So I've heard. What an unpleasant situation."
"Jeanne, I know we're already asking a lot from you, given how many patients are in your direct care right now, but if you could please take on one more, it would really help us out."
"I would be more than happy to."
A sigh. "What a relief. Thank you. Now I just have to decide what I'm going to do with her."
"Yes, that one. I told her three strikes, but…this was not a simple lapse of judgment. It caused harm to a patient. Part of me says to fire her, but the other says to let her redeem herself in some way."
There was a beat of silence. Pin-Mei was covering her mouth to suppress any chokes that came with her crying. She had lost her patient, and now she was at risk of losing her job as well. It made sense of course, but that did make it any easier to take.
"Celia, did you not say once before that you needed someone to work the night shift, cleaning the rooms and restrooms and the like? I doubt she could get into much trouble there."
A cleaning lady? She wants to make me a cleaning lady? This isn't what I went to school for! This isn't what I stayed up all night studying for! She clenched her free fist. Jeanne, you jerk!
Celia made a sound of thought. "Yes…Yes, I think that would do just nicely. Maybe if she behaves and does her work, she can be given another chance. Thank you for that wonderful suggestion, Jeanne."
And so, all work and effort Pin-Mei had put into her four-year degree in medical school became meaningless.
Working at night was a lonely existence. Most of her normal coworkers had gone home, and many of the other cleaners couldn't communicate with her. The silence was horrible; it gave her too much time to think.
A few days before Christmas, the thoughts were swirling in her head once more as she pushed the cleaning cart down the expectedly deserted hall.
I wonder what Mr. Tao is doing right now. She quickly shook her head. No. Forget about him. He hates you. You messed up. You're…never seeing him again.
Celia had told her that she was close to returning to the day roster; Pin-Mei knew that she probably wouldn't be allowed to return to caring for him.
"I never even got to apologize," she whispered. She crumbled against the cart. "I hate this! I want to take care of people, not clean! Anyone can do this! Jeanne didn't do this to save me, she wanted to humiliate me!"
She hid her face in her folded arms on the cart's handle. "I just wanted to help people," she said in a hoarse whisper. "I didn't plan on getting attached to one of my patients. I didn't mean to hurt him. I just wanted to make him smile. I thought that if I could, not only would he be happier, but it would prove even to myself that this is the right career for me."
Suddenly, she heard some frantic screams. She jerked her head up, then looked in the direction they were coming from. Her eyes widened.
"That's…That's Mr. Tao!" She took a few steps, then stopped. "I want to help, but…if anyone catches me, I'll just get in trouble again."
She returned to her cart and gripped the handle tightly. It hurt to hear him and be unable to help, and the thought of allowing him to suffer alone killed her. Then she remembered that even if she couldn't help, there were others who could. She left the cart and ran down the hall, hoping to find someone at the nurse's station so she could tell them what was happening.
No one was there.
She cringed as she heard another scream.
"I'm sorry…I can't do anything…"
Helpless, she returned to her cart and pushed it far enough so the troubled yells faded into the darkness of the corridors.
The next day, Pin-Mei arrived early, hoping to catch Celia before she left. If they insisted that she not see her former patient, she had to at least tell her superior about the night terrors she heard him having. But when she approached the office, she could hear another discussion already taking place.
"He truly is an enigmatic patient. He won't even speak to me, not even to say 'Thank you,' when I bring him his meals."
"Pin-Mei did say that he was a little rough when speaking to her."
"But he won't even speak to me. I try to be understanding with his hiding behind the curtain, however, he seems to have completely shut everyone else out. He seems to be one of the worst cases we have here."
"I don't doubt that. He pretended not to know any English when he was brought in, though we all know that to be near impossible considering the enlisting requirements. Have you tried getting in touch with his family?"
"Yes. However, he hasn't a single family member in America. It would seem that they are all back in China."
"I see. I'll have to ask Pin-Mei if she knows anything that can help us get him to open up."
"…I suppose if that's the only way."
After murmuring a few more things to each other, Jeanne left. Pin-Mei hid around the corner, not wanting to be seen by her again.
Still, what she heard had astonished her. Jeanne having trouble with a patient? It was unheard of. She was known for getting even the most introverted patient to open up, and yet it seemed as though Mr. Tao wasn't being charmed by her.
Wow…I must have really hurt him if he's refusing to talk to any of the other nurses. If only I hadn't been so ignorant of his condition…
When Celia's door closed, she woke up, remembering why she had come in the first place. She went around the corner to see the nurse locking her door. The woman looked up, surprised, then finished turning the key before attaching it to her waist again.
"Pin-Mei? What are you doing here?"
Pin-Mei took a deep breath. "I-I came to tell you that I think something's wrong with Mr. Tao."
Celia's eyes narrowed. "I thought I told you…"
"No! I didn't go in! I promise!" she cried, waving her hands in front of her face. "It's just…Last night, I think I may have heard Mr. Tao having a night terror." She played with her fingers. "I went to the nurse's station to tell someone, but no one was there, and I didn't want to be yelled at again, so I didn't go in." She looked at the floor, her eyes threatening tears. "I-I felt bad for him, but I knew that you didn't want me in his room, so I didn't know what to do…I-I was worried about him."
Celia studied her, then nodded. "I'll talk to the other nurses. We'll look into some additional treatment for him."
Pin-Mei's eyes lit up. She smiled. "Thank you."
Her boss let out a small grunt and began walking down the hall. "Thanks for letting me know."
"I'm making the new schedule. Make sure you check it."
The following week showed that Pin-Mei's good behavior had been rewarded with some of her morning shifts being restored. She still had a couple night shifts, but it hardly mattered to her. At least during the day it wasn't so lonely.
While she was given the responsibility of delivering meals to some patients, she was still demoted somewhat. When there wasn't something immediately available in terms of patients, she was given menial tasks, such as collecting towels, changing water pitchers, and replacing air freshener cartridges. It was still grunt work, but she knew she was in no place to complain.
It was on the second day of one such shift that she was changing the scent strips according to the list she was given. If the patient was awake and noticed her, she would greet them, then engage in small talk or at least listen to them before moving on.
"Let me know if you need anything," she said before backing out of the room. Once she was out of sight, she turned and looked at the list, making a mark next to the room she had just tended to.
Alright, next is… Her eyes widened.
She held her breath. It would be the first time she had been in his room since she had abandoned him.
All I need to do is slip in there, change the air freshener, and leave. No talking. No even looking at the curtain. She grasped the door handle. I can do this. She quickly opened the door.
The freshener was on the opposite side of the room. She quickly scurried over to it.
"Where have you been."
She froze. How did he know it was me?! Her mind raced. If I don't reply, I can probably make him think he's wrong. Yeah, just stay silent, Pin-Mei!
"I know it's you. You're the only one with small footsteps like that."
He's wrong! He's mistaken!
"Didn't I say that I didn't want to have to get used to another nurse. That new woman is bothersome. Her persistence is even more annoying than yours."
With a shaky hand, Pin-Mei pulled the strip from the module. It slipped through her fingers and fell to the floor with a small 'thunk'.
I need to get out of here!
She stooped to pick it up.
"Don't ignore me."
She struggled to open the package with the new slip.
"I said don't ignore me."
It burst open, sending this one to the floor as well. She hurriedly retrieved it.
"Don't tell me you're still upset about that dose of reality I gave you last time."
She was just putting the new cartridge in, but stopped. It had been hard to basically hear him say that she was nothing but a nuisance. Don't think about that. Just get out of the room! She put it in place and headed for the door.
"I thought you had some nonsense about making sure your patient is always happy and comfortable and other quixotic things like that. Am I suddenly excluded from all that."
She stopped again.
"Don't you dare leave without even saying anything."
I have to…
She ran out and closed the door.
Outside, she escaped to a space under a stairwell. There, she squatted and covered her face.
"I don't understand," she whispered. "I just don't understand what he wants from me now. And calling Jeanne 'bothersome'? How could he…" Yet, she couldn't deny that the thought of Jeanne being unsuccessful at least once didn't give her a tiny bit of satisfaction. Sure, she had pretty much failed herself, but having the angel be no less productive was nice for once.
Haha…I'm not very nice, am I?
Pin-Mei looked outside. More snow.
Christmas…It's this weekend. I wonder…I wonder if Mr. Tao is going to get any gifts.
It was a question that was especially troublesome to answer. For one, she had no blatant reason to believe he was Christian, especially considering that he was probably born and raised in China. Her family celebrated it, yes, but she felt it was a way for her parents to make her feel more "American" as it were; they wanted her to fit in at school without completely whitewashing their culture. The Christian population in China was especially small. If she were to guess, his surname suggested that he was in fact Taoist, and therefore the day meant nothing to him.
Still…If I could get him a little something and leave it anonymously…The other soldiers will be receiving gifts, and I would hate for him to feel left out, even if he never admitted it.
But what to get him? …Especially on an intern's budget?
She thought and thought, then sprang up.
"I think I've got something!"