“I don’t belong here, Joel.” Tears sprung to Winnie’s eyes as she walked in the door to the clinic and tried to walk back out. Joel was in her way and turned her around to keep walking forward. “I want to go home.”
“We’re just coming here for an evaluation,” Joel said in a soothing voice.
“Then why did they make me pack a suitcase?” Winnie panicked. “They wouldn’t ask me to bring a suitcase if they weren’t going to force me to stay.”
“If you’re healthy enough to come home and get treatment as an outpatient, then we’ll bring the suitcase home with us,” Joel said. “But if they do want you to stay, at least you’re prepared.”
“I want to come home with you,” Winnie begged. “Please don’t make me stay here. You can take care of me. And your mom can take care of me.”
“I’m not a doctor or a nurse.” Joel shook his head with a sympathetic but insistent firmness to his eyes. “And neither is my mom. You wouldn’t want a chemistry professor teaching you how to do a pirouette, would you?”
“That’s a silly comparison.” She continued to pull her husband back toward the door, but he was a million times bigger than her, and he kept her moving forward.
“Hello, you must be Edwina,” a friendly voice said. Winnie turned to see a woman in a normal blouse and slacks. She didn’t look like a nurse or doctor. “I’m Barbara. I’ll be taking you through the evaluation today.”
“I don’t need to be here,” Winnie insisted. “I want to do treatment as an outpatient.”
“Great, let’s get you home as soon as possible then.” Barbara smiled.
“Okay, good.” This woman was going to let her go home. As soon as they did the evaluation, Winnie would be allowed to go home.
“Mr. Anderson, I’m glad you’re here to support your wife, but there will be many parts of the evaluation where you’ll need to sit in the waiting room.”
“You’re welcome to call me Joel,” he said then held up his smart phone. “I have all my textbooks downloaded to an app on my phone. I’ll get lots of studying done.”
“What are you going to school for?” Barbara asked, cocking her head with sincere interest. Winnie decided either Barbara was a very nice person or trying to distract her.
“I’m just finishing my first semester of medical school, actually.”
“I thought the semester ended in early December.” Winnie’s heart panicked with a fear that he was somehow suffering because he was with her. “You should be on Christmas break now.”
“I took an incomplete in my classes so I could stay with you in New York City.”
“But I was in the hospital for weeks.” Tears spilled from Winnie’s eyes. “You could have gone back to Ann Arbor to finish your semester.” Why was this just now occurring to her? Was she so self-centered that she didn’t remember he was supposed to be at the college, not sitting in her hospital room?
“You are way more important than my silly classes.” Joel pulled her gently into a hug. “There’s no other place I’d rather be than with you.” He kissed the top of her head.
“But medical school is your dream.” Winnie felt terrible. “You can’t give up your dream for me. We should go back to Michigan. We need to be in Michigan.” She tried to pull him toward the door, but he resisted easily, bringing her back to stand in front of Barbara.
“Like you said, it’s Christmas break. I would have wanted to come home to California this time of year anyway.”
“We should be in New York City.” Winnie tried again to convince him to leave. “I’m important as the understudy for the Sugar Plum Fairy. They need me there. What if someone gets sick or injured?”
“There are five other understudies for that part,” Joel reminded her. She was surprised he even remembered that. “The chances of all five of them getting sick or injured at the same time is probably less likely than getting struck by lightning.”
“But nothing,” he said, turning her around again and holding her shoulders firmly, forcing her to face Barbara. “Let’s spend some time with this nice lady and see how your evaluation goes. The sooner we get done with the treatment, the sooner we can go home to the city.”
“But I want to spend time with your mom first,” Winnie whined. “You promised I’d get to spend time with your mom. And you promised me a dance studio.”
“We can stay in California as long as you want,” Joel said in a soft, placating voice. “But we need to get through treatment first.”
Winnie scowled and realized she was fighting against a brick wall. She had agreed to come here and now she was stuck here. They’d had just a few nights alone together in between the time she’d gotten out of the hospital and the moment she walked into this building, an inpatient treatment center near the beach, overlooking the Pacific Ocean a mile away from her in-laws’ beautiful home. She stopped arguing and lifted her chin with a confidence she didn’t feel. “Fine,” she told Barbara. “Do your stupid evaluation.”
“Wonderful,” Barbara said. She must have an unnatural amount of patience in her petite frame because she didn’t even look annoyed at Winnie’s complaining and rationalizing. “Follow me, please.”
Barbara turned and walked into treatment center with Winnie and Joel right behind her. No going back. Winnie instinctively knew she wasn’t leaving this building any time soon.