The lavish private clinic in suburban Maryland was usually used for plastic surgery patients -- Senators getting hair transplants and scalp reductions or the occasional botox. Now it was closed. A single patient, a woman, lay in a private room, an intravenous line running into a port in her chest. Machines all around her signaled she was still alive.
“I wonder how they found me,” Lucy thought, as consciousness slowly came back to her. Bound, gagged, and tossed into what felt like a bed on wheels, she didn’t have a lot of things to think about. The campaign had been so careful, never announcing her presence until she appeared and guarding her every place she went. She never thought she’d say it, but she had even been a little tired of the sight of Evan Martinez, dogging her every step. She’d never have been able to go to the bathroom alone, if they hadn’t all been diverted by being in their heavily guarded media facility. She thought she was she so lucky to get a bathroom break. Now she was in the hands of some enemy – she’d sort of lost count of how many there were – going god knows where. She looked around at the truck her bed was bolted into. Was it an ambulance? There certainly were no windows.
They pulled in somewhere; she heard a sound like a garage door opening and then a car door opening. Two guys in full face masks and jumpsuits stood over her, methodically unstrapping the ties that held her down. She shook her head groggily. They motioned for her to try to sit up and put her legs over the side of the bed. When she had achieved that, they bound her hands with what felt like duct tape and blindfolded her eyes. But not her legs. Like she might be able to go anywhere anyway.
They led her up some stairs. She could hear a door opening and the garage smell went away. They walked her for a bit more and pushed her down in what felt like an easy chair. When they tied had her tied to the chair they took the blindfold off. The binding and unbinding and blinding and releasing left her feeling really disoriented. It might have been the chloroform too. Although now that she thought about it, she remembered a needle in her arm, so they probably knocked her out. She was in a room, like a hospital or a crummy hotel. She desperately needed to pee.
“Please?” she said. “The toilet?”
One of the masked men went out and came back with a basin and a roll of toilet paper.
“Can I?” she asked.
“Not a chance. You go nowhere.” One of them picked her up and pulled down her pants, placing her on the bedpan. When she finished they tied her back to the chair and left. Bedpan. Not a hotel then. There were windows, although completely covered. She heard birds chirping. During those days in solitary confinement in prison, she had learned to slow down her internal clock, to survive. The window let in enough light so she could feel the day go by. The day went by. One of those men untied her to eat stew from a bowl with a plastic spoon and drink a plastic cup of water. The bedpan. Even handcuffed to the bed, she managed to fall asleep. The days began to take on a certain rhythm. She begged for a shower. More days passed. The worst part was not knowing. Who had her. What the deal would be.
The door opened.
“I understand you want to take a shower.”
Arthur. Well now at least she knew. She didn’t think President Wonder would resort to kidnapping. He used the legal system as his weapon. Her stepfather must be freelancing.
“Is Mom dead?” she asked.
“Of course not,” he answered in a slightly aggrieved voice. “Now that we have the right mix of medicines, she’s doing much better. You might even get to see her. If you do exactly what I tell you.”
“He’s still doing his guard service,” Arthur said blandly. “The new governor of Maryland is sounding like a crazy person. Now they’re all hysterical over you disappearing. So the guard is still on alert. But that’s one of the things you’re going to do for us, Lucy. You’re going to tell the world you escaped from the Rainbow terrorists who were guarding you in New York, because you wanted to see your mother. After the spy Evan Martinez abducted you from your hotel room in Maryland when the FBI was coming to rescue you, you were a virtual prisoner of Sylvia Giffords, you see. That trip to the bathroom at the TV studio was your first chance and you took it.”
“How did you know I was alone?” she asked. She’d been wondering since they took her.
“Good thing your school put that chip in you before you ran away. We’ve had catchers with a tracker following you since that debacle at the Baltimore Marriott. And they finally found you without your guard dogs. But that’s not your story, Lucy. The story you’re going to tell is the reunion with your beloved mother. Some footage of the tearful reunion should take the wind out of Sylvia’s campaign about cancer and,” he hesitated, “whatever.” Or,” he continued in the same level tone, “you could spend the war in a prisoner of war camp.”
“The war?!” she said. “Are we at war?”
“Not yet. But it’s looking increasingly likely. Some computer genius broke the codes on the New Mexico nuclear site. Once they got control of the actual site, it was easier to work backwards from the last activation setup. We’ve all just been waiting to hear that they figured it out,” he conceded. “All the blue states have called up their guards. And they’re patrolling their borders to bring runaways to safety.”
“You’re going to cool all this off Lucy. You started it, with this Where’s Mom business, and you’re going to stop it. And then you’re coming home to Mom. And me. Here’s what you’re going to do.”
At least she got a shower out of his plan. So when she walked into Mom’s room in the clinic the next day she didn’t look like she’d been chloroformed and held in solitary confinement for a week. That wouldn’t fit with the story they wanted her to tell the world.
Mom couldn’t get up, but she could hold out her arms.
Lucy took the outstretched hands in her own and leaned down for a hug. How tiny Mom had become in the five months since Lucy shimmied down the tree in Richmond and set out into the night. When Lucy stood up her cheeks were wet with tears from one of them. Or both. She pulled another chair close to Mom and took her hand again. At least mom’s room looked like a nice sickroom, not a prison like Lucy’s. The hallways she saw on her way to mom with Arthur right on her tail of course looked very pleasant too. It was obviously some kind of high-end clinic. She wondered where all the patients were.
“How do you feel?”
“Better,” her mom answered in her trademark upbeat voice. “After you left, I got a lot worse. Did you know they took Daniel into the National Guard?”
“I do,” Lucy answered cautiously. She didn’t know how much Mom remembered about Daniel sneaking her the medicine they thought would work.
“When Arthur brought me here I started feeling a lot stronger. I hardly need the morphine at all now. And the doctors and nurses are wonderful,” she volunteered.
“But Lucy I missed you. Arthur told me you went to spend the summer in Arlington with your friends from when you were little. Why didn’t you say goodbye or call or anything?” She fell silent, seemingly exhausted from even the short exchange. “I am so glad to see you!” she exclaimed suddenly. “Are you going to school in Arlington now?” She obviously didn’t remember Lucy asking her to get Daniel to take her to Baltimore or the plan to marry her off or much of anything actually.
Arthur had told Lucy about the cover story he used to explain her disappearance. He didn’t think it mattered what she said to Mom.
“We’re going to have to give her a teleprompter and just tape as many times as we need to in order to get the message down. She’s getting the medicine she needs and you and she are reunited and it was all a terrible mistake and you’re so glad to be able to spend whatever good time is left together. We need you to be convincing, Lucy. Your story is driving this country to war. Whatever Clarissa doesn’t do you need to do. We mostly just need people to see she’s still alive.”
Lucy didn’t have to answer Mom right away, because the doctor walked in. A husky male nurse who looked more like a cop came in with her and stood at the door.
“Good morning Clarissa,” the young Asian looking doctor said in a melodious voice. She had no accent at all, so Lucy figured the Chinese features were probably from a long ago immigrant ancestor. “Who is this?” the doctor asked.
“This is my daughter Lucy,” Mom answered. “Remember I told you I had a daughter. She’s been off visiting, um,” she tailed off.
Lucy extended her hand to the doctor. The doctor showed no sign of recognizing one of the most famous faces in blue America. They must still be in a red state, then, Lucy figured. Probably no coverage of me in Virginia. Wonder how Arthur got the medicines to revive mom here. That science maven in Sylvia’s campaign told her they didn’t last more than a few hours outside the body. Usually people were infused right where the stem cells were harvested.
“Doctor Tung,” Mom said. “Is it a nice day?”
“Very nice!” Dr. Tung replied. “October is so beautiful in Rockville.”
“I wonder if Lucy could take my wheelchair into the garden,” mom asked. “We have so much to catch up on. And the mums are so lovely here in the fall.”
Rockville. We’re in Maryland, Lucy thought. So the doctor is just one of Arthur’s. Of course she’s not surprised I’m here, when everyone in the state – all the blue states – is looking for me. She knows he kidnapped me. He must have brought her here when he brought Mom to get the medicines after the Where’s Lucy’s Mom campaign started.
“I’ll take you out,” nurse/cop volunteered.
“NO!” Lucy’s mother said with unexpected force. “I want to be alone with my daughter. She can push the chair, can’t you dear?”
When they went outside, Lucy could spot Arthur’s men here and there but they let her roll mom over to a picnic table and put their coffee down on it. In the light, Lucy saw how transparent Mom’s skin was. The blood vessels shone through underneath, and almost felt like she could see Mom’s bones.
“Sit here next to me,” Mom said, patting the end of the picnic bench by her wheel chair.
“Lucy,” Mom said in a tiny voice. She had to bend over to hear the words. “They bugged my room in there. That’s why I asked to go out. You must not say anything in my room – or yours.”
Luckily, Lucy had been on the run long enough now so she automatically knew not to react. To learning that her dying, disabled, helpless, dependent mother knew what was going on. She put a sympathetic look on her face and stroked her mother’s arm as if they were just having a sweet comforting chat.
“How?” she said softly, turning around and leaning back against the picnic table, tilting her face up to the sun for a casual posture. They were just having a mother/child reunion, to all appearances.
“Daniel told me something before he got taken away,” Mom answered. “Oh, Lucy, I am so sorry,” she volunteered. “This is all my fault. I should never have let you two come back. I never dreamed, your own uncle, got so bad . . .” She started to cry, began crying harder and harder. Lucy knelt down by her wheel chair and put her arms around her distraught parent, who said, between the covering sobs, “Dr. Tung. Trust Dr. Tung.”
Seeing the scene, one of the guards started toward them, seemingly to offer his handkerchief. When he got within earshot, Mom said, her sobs subsiding, “Isn’t it time for my infusion? The medicine is only good for a few hours,” she told Lucy. “Lucy, will you come with me? Dr. Tung,” with an emphasis on Tung, “is doing it in the X-Ray rooms. It’s not nice in there, you know,” she seemed to babble on, “so sealed off and all. But it’s not radiation,” she volunteered. “They just use those underground rooms, I don’t know why even. But you can stay with me.”
Silent, sealed off and underground. The door to the X-Ray room swung shut, leaving Lucy and Mom alone with Dr. Tung. Lucy looked at her hard.
“Were you?” she asked, not wanting to seem crazy to the only person who could help them. “Possibly in the hospital in . . .” She waited to see if their ally thought it was safe to talk in the sealed off X-Ray space.
“Yes,” the Doctor answered. “I followed you to the hospital in Baltimore when they brought you there. It’s amazing how easy it is to pass in a hospital with a white coat and a stethoscope.”
“Are you working for the Rescue?” Lucy asked. “Are you even a doctor?” she added in alarm as she saw the spy threading a tube into her mother’s chest.
Tung smiled. “Yes, I don’t just play one on the Road. We have someone at the stem cell lab, so I’ve been here since your Mom came. I let them know you’re here, Lucy, as soon as I saw you this morning.”
“Oh, thank God,” Lucy said.
“And they’re figuring out what to do,” Tung continued. “Clarissa is getting the right drugs. And they’re getting a lot of mileage out of your disappearance. They didn’t seem like they were in a big hurry to rush in and rescue you. Between the cancer video and you disappearing, Sylvia Giffords’ numbers are through the roof. Of course the President swears he knows nothing about it.”
“Oh, great,” Lucy said. “So I’m left here with my, um,” she looked at her Mom and hesitated. How much did Mom actually know about what Arthur had done? Sooner or later the Rescue would come and get them out of this prison and she and mom could live in Baltimore or something. Maybe the medicines would give her another year or whatever. She didn’t need to know her second husband had raped her daughter.
“She knows, Lucy,” their ally said.
Mom nodded, looking down. “They got pretty careless what they said around me when they thought I was at death’s door,” she confessed. “I put you at the mercy of that wicked man,” she continued sadly. “I will take that to the grave.”
“Mom, it wasn’t your fault,” Lucy said. “Nobody knew how awful it was going to get.”
“I don’t think you need to be afraid of Arthur at this moment,” Dr. Tung interrupted. “There are a lot of guards and nurses and people around who he would not want to have know what he does. He says you seduced him, remember? But just in case, you could ask whether you can sleep in the other bed in your mom’s room. She’s not getting much morphine at the moment. They must be waiting to make the video to see if she’s going to get any better. These new drugs are great for the pain at least.” She finished setting things up and left. Soon Mom began to doze.
“At least.” Lucy knew what that meant. Maybe it was a slip of the tongue, or maybe the good doctor spy had intended to warn her that regardless of the politics, her time with Mom was short. Arthur better get cracking with that video.
She was strangely comforted by Mom’s shocked ignorance of what she had caused by letting Lucy come back to care for her. She hadn’t been happy thinking her mother had been so careless with her well-being. Mom wasn’t a bad one. She had just been naïve. But then, Lucy thought remembering her hour with Meck that last day in Chicago, so was Lucy. Now that she had joined the grown-ups, the barriers she had put up to let her survive with a cold and distant mother were the faintest memory. At least this time she was determined to have a proper good-bye. She picked up Mom’s chart, hanging from the foot of the treatment bed. Maybe she could find out exactly how long they had.
When Mom woke up, Lucy was holding the chart.
“You had cancer before?” she said. Mom’s eyes opened wide.
“How did you?” She saw the chart. “Ah. Could I have some water?” she asked. When Lucy got back from the sink, she had apparently composed herself.
“Well, sweetie, it was before you were born. Blessedly, they had just developed the medicine for it, so I didn’t die. Although Dr. Tung thinks this cancer is actually a result of the treatments they used way back then. The stuff was pretty crude. But it did buy me twenty years! I got to see you and Daniel grow up.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We didn’t want to worry you, sweetie. No one knew if the new treatment was going to hold or not. It was totally experimental. Daniel was pretty young, so he didn’t really understand much. We never thought we’d get to have another baby, for sure! You were a complete accident. We were so lucky.”
On their way from the treatment room, Lucy stopped and picked some mums from the clinic garden, and put them in a water pitcher on the side table by her mother’s bed. “Is there a library in the clinic?” she asked the nurse guard who took up duty that first night she spent in Mom’s room. When he nodded, she asked if he could walk her down there to get mom a book. She remembered how much Mom used to love real books, even long after everyone was reading on their devices.
Since the room was bugged and they couldn’t talk about what was happening to them, they spent their time as if there was nothing but their private world and their memories. Lucy picked fresh mums every day when they went out. She read to Mom from the real books in the library. Mom told her as much of the family history as she could remember -- how Mom’s family had come to America and about her father’s family, the Atreides, more recently from Greece. Every day her skin got a little more transparent, and Lucy knew the reprieve was short. Their first night together, Mom asked Dr. Tung if she could get a steak dinner. She remembered how much Lucy loved steak. But even then she didn’t eat much of the meat, and her appetite seemed to get smaller every day.
Rooting around for some coffee one morning after Mom had gone for treatment, she found a piece of paper on the breakfast tray.
A baby girl after all the waiting
That’s what the doctor said was coming
I never thought I’d see the ending
Of the longing.
Now I’m waiting for the ending
That the doctor says is coming
I cannot stop the longing
For a few more days of waiting.
When Mom came back, Lucy was sitting in her chair, with the poem in her hand. She had an unaccustomed sense of peacefulness. She had known what she meant to Dad. But Daniel always seemed to suck all the air where mom was concerned. Lucy had long ago resigned herself to second place. She pleased her teachers and she pleased her father. She didn’t know how much it hurt until the pain stopped.
“You were glad I came,” she said.
“Of course we were!” Mom said.
“But why did you always leave me with Dad?” Lucy had to ask.
“I really had no idea I’d live long enough to raise you. Getting pregnant surprised my doctors almost as much as it did us. We were hoping for a few years, then five years went by, no one could understand what was working. Then I started feeling sick in the morning, and, well. . . there you were. But I didn’t want you to get to attached to me, because I thought it would be Aggie who would have to take care of you when the cancer came back. I kept my distance because I loved you. Not because I didn’t. And then after they shot him, it turned out, it was going to be me after all. Could I have some water?”
She always did that when Lucy got too close. Water. Dad loved the water and Mom used it to keep her distance. Lucy remembered her announcing she had to take a shower at the oddest times.
“I tried everything I could to make it up to you after Dad was killed, marrying his awful brother to save your inheritance and letting Daniel take you away to a better place than Richmond. But I could see you never trusted me. The damage was done. I wanted to tell you the truth before I died. That’s one of the reasons I let you stay in Richmond while we fussed with those new medicines. And then you disappeared before I could tell you my side of the story.”
She really looked awful today, Lucy realized.
“Imagine how I felt when I learned what I had done.”
And then the door opened and Arthur walked in.