"I'm sorry about that. I guess I never really believed it would happen. I knew Tommy would try his best, but… When I discovered that he'd left, I was so overjoyed that he took the chance. I thought that if he made, at least one of us would live, but then I became afraid. What if the guards found him and killed him? I guess deep down, I never thought we would really be found and one day live again," Simone said, dabbing at her eyes with a Kleenex.
Gina smiled at her as she moved away from the bed to stand by the window. Her gaze was drawn to the children who played in the park across the street. She spoke softly. "Don't apologize. I still find myself crying about it. The joy of not living in fear of punishment or abuse is overwhelming. I wonder if I'll ever get used to it."
"I know. I wonder the same thing. So many things have changed since we've been gone. We've changed. I hate to admit this, but I'm glad I don't have to face the outside world just yet. I know I'm not ready, and I'm not even sure if I want to face it."
"Not want to? Why?" Gina asked, turning around to face Simone.
"Well… I see how you and Tommy have adjusted. You both seem to have taken to everything so well. You have a job with Gail, a place to live. Tommy is finally able to be a teenager. He has friends. Me...well, I'm not sure what I'll do. I can't be a doctor-"
"Why not? You could take a few refresher courses-"
"No, I don't think so. Me in class?" Simone chuckled softly as she shook her head. "I don't want to be confined by anyone's strict rules and regulations. Not ever again. Hell, at this point, the last thing I want to do is work, but I have to. I have a son to support."
"But that's not something you really have to concern yourself with now, right? So many people would love to help you and Tommy. The last thing, you have to worry about is finding a job."
"No charity, Gina. I don't want anyone to support me or Tommy, but me."
"You know, you're just as pigheaded as your son."
"Thank you," Simone said with a broad smile.
"It wasn't a compliment," Gina said, laughing softly.
"I know," Simone said, joining in Gina's laughter.
Gina shook her head as she wandered back to sit in the guest chair again. Her eyes drifted to Simone's bedside table and the various assortment of reading material which was placed there. A small frown furrowed her brow as she pointed to the magazines and books and looked at Simone. "And you said you were bored?"
"That's Lark's doing," Simone said, resting against the pillows.
"Why did she bring you so much?" Gina asked as she leafed through the stack. "Town and Country...National Geographic...Sports Illustrated?"
"As if, I'd read Sports Illustrated," Simone said with a chuckle. "She's trying to be subtle, but I know the real reason she's been so helpful and considerate."
"And it's not to fulfill her candystriper duties?"
"More like to feed her curiosity," Simone said with a smile. When Gina's face continued to show her confusion, Simone continued. "Tommy. Every time she's come in here, she's asked about him."
"She has?" Gina asked, lowering her eyes to her hands. Suddenly, she was bothered at the thought of Lark Madison's interest in Tommy. She didn't feel she had a right to be upset, yet, she couldn't seem to stop herself from feeling that way. She didn't want Simone to see it in her eyes so she kept them glued to her lap.
"Oh, has she!" Simone replied, oblivious to the turmoil which raged inside of her friend. "She's been in and out of here all day, asking me in her careful way, when or if Tommy plans to stop by. Looks like my Tommy has been busy."
"Busy?" Gina asked, with a frown, daring to raise her eyes to Simone's.
Simone smiled. "Wasn't it called 'getting busy'?" Simone laughed softly. "I can't imagine my Tommy showing any interest in a girl, not to mention, asking her out. I thought his face would explode when you described his dancing techniques to me, he was so embarrassed. So, how do you think he feels about her?"
"I wouldn't know," Gina said with a shrug, failing miserably from keeping the animosity from her voice.
"What's wrong? Is there something about Lark I should know?" Simone asked, frowning.
The door opened before Gina could answer. Tommy walked in. Judging by the way both women looked at him, he knew he was the topic of conversation. He couldn't decide if he should turn around and leave or tough it out. Not being one for running away from his problems, he stayed. He moved to sit on the other side of Simone's bed and said, "Hi, Mama. Gina."
His eyes moved to Gina's when he said her name. Somewhere, in the back of his mind, something told him not to look, but he found he couldn't resist. Gina met his gaze and gave him a small smile in reply. Tommy beamed back at her, happy that she didn't appear to be angry with him any more.
"And where have you been?" Simone asked, smiling at her son.
"Well, as long as you stay out of trouble," Simone said, playfully scolding him.
Tommy's eyes darkened and quickly moved to Gina's. Silently, she tried to tell him that she hadn't said anything to Simone, but instinctively, she knew he didn't understand. Moving quickly, before Tommy accidently incriminated himself, Gina changed the topic of conversation.
"Have you changed your mind about school? Isn't registration this week?"
"Yeah! What's this I hear about you deciding not to go to school?" Simone asked, taking Tommy's hand.
"You're going to school. Ask Liz or Audrey to go with you to register if you don't want to go alone, but you *are* going. Understood?" Simone said her words with a tone of voice, she knew her son wouldn't be foolish enough to try to argue with.
"Yes, ma'am," he said quietly. He became angry that Gina had said anything at all to Simone. Once again, she was treating him like a child. Would she ever see that he wasn't? Running a hand through his hair, he abruptly stood. He needed air and some space. The idea of going back to school and being under the scrutiny of kids he didn't know and didn't want to know would take some getting used to. He wanted to be alone for awhile so he could come to terms with it all.
"I have a few errands to run, Mama. I'll come back later. We can have dinner together," he said as he bent his head forward to give Simone a kiss on her forehead.
"Okay. I'll see you later," Simone said, her eyes filled with concern. She knew that he was upset, but she didn't know why. She watched him avert his eyes from Gina as he left the room. Was he angry with Gina because she told Simone about school? Tommy didn't normally get angry over small things like that. He had to know that Simone would have questioned him about it at some point. No, he was upset with Gina about something... She could almost put her finger on it. Almost.
"I think I'll go now, too. I'll try to stop by before I leave tonight, okay? Try to get some rest," Gina said as she lightly touched Simone's arm. She tried to smile, but her thoughts were on Tommy and the rift she felt was coming between them. Maybe she could reach him before he left. Maybe she could reach him.
Simone sighed softly as Gina rushed out of the door. Now, what's her problem, Simone wondered. Something was going on between those two, and sooner or later, she planned to find out what it was.
Tommy shook his head at the passengers who stood inside of the elevator. He'd get the next one. He turned to see who owned the light feminine voice. A smile crossed his face when he saw Lark smiling back at him.
"Hi," he said.
"Were you leaving?" Lark asked, her eyes telling him that she hoped not.
"Yeah, I was on my way out. What's up?"
"Well, not much. I just wanted to say hi. I hadn't seen you around that much and I was kinda wondering what you've been up to," Lark said, moving closer to him, but not too close. She knew he wasn't like most guys and she didn't want to scare him away by moving too fast.
"I haven't been up to anything. Mostly, looking for a job. That kind of thing," he said, nodding his head. Thoughts of leaving the hospital vanished from his mind as Lark smiled at him. She didn't look at him or treat him as if he was a child. She talked with him, not to him. He noticed the differences, but he wasn't consciously aware of them. He just knew that he liked being in Lark's company.
"Oh, a job? Does this mean you're not going to school? I was kinda hoping I'd see you there."
"Oh, yeah?" Tommy asked, a slow smile creeped across his face. "Well, I'm going to PC High. The job will be part-time, you know. Afterschool and maybe weekends."
"Cool," she smiled. "Have you registered? I'm going tomorrow if you'd like to go with me."
"I'd like that. Where should I meet you?"
"We can meet at the park around 1. Is that okay?"
"It's fine. I'll see you then." Tommy smiled to himself as he went back to the elevator. Maybe high school wouldn't be so bad, he thought. He already had a few friends. Maybe he would make a few more.
Gina's eyes never wavered from Tommy and Lark as they conversed. Standing on the other side of the nurses' station concealed her from their view, as it allowed her to listen to their conversation. She didn't mean to eavesdrop. It just happened. She had intended to stop Tommy before he stepped into the elevator, but Lark beat her to it.
He relaxed when he saw that it was Lark who called him, Gina decided. She knew he held himself stiff in anticipation of seeing Gina again so soon. His beautiful green eyes, which had closed themselves off in Simone's room, had shone brightly for Lark. The smile that softened his attractive face was genuine. Did Lark realize how lucky she was to have him smile for her like that, Gina wondered. Those smiles were rare and Lark should savor each and every one, Gina silently advised her.
Gina knew she should have been happy when Tommy admitted to Lark that he was going to school. She should have been happy for him that he had a friend who wanted to register with him and maybe show him around. Actually, Gina was happy for him, but she felt a twinge of sadness that she wasn't the one who'd help him tomorrow. As she slowly made her way back to her office, she refused to allow herself to dwell on the emotion. Tommy was making friends and that was all that mattered. Her misguided feelings had no place in the life he was making for himself.