Momo has had enough of feeling like she’s trapped in a cage. She sets down the book she is reading, and glances up at the clock. It’s snack time. She gets up from her bed and walks out the room quietly. The sounds of the TV grow louder as she approaches the living room. Momo peeks her head around the corner, sneakily.
The warm light of the TV shines on Mina and Jeongyeon as they sit on the couch, playing Mario Kart intensely. An explosion sounds, the light of a blue shell filling the room, and Mina whines, “Jeongyeon!” She turns to glare at Jeongyeon, who snickers, her mouth breaking into a wide smile as she takes the lead. Mina’s glare softens, her gaze lingering, too long, over Jeongyeon’s smiley eyes.
“Don’t give up yet, there’s still a lap to go.”
“AH!” Mina jolts, looking back at the screen, her character sitting against a wall, now in 6th place. Mina swears she can hear a soft giggle coming from the hallway.
Jeongyeon laughs and leans into Mina, resting her head on her shoulder, and letting her hands and controller rest on Mina’s legs. Mina shifts a little towards Jeongyeon, allowing her friend to get more comfortable. Her heart feels warm, even as she’s losing the race. Mina notices Momo sneaking through the living room into the kitchen, and blushes as Momo pumps two fists at her and mouths “fighting.” Jeongyeon stays focused on the game, not seeing Momo.
Momo continues into the kitchen and softly opens the fridge. She stares for a while, but nothing looks good right now. She closes the fridge somewhat loudly, cursing to herself as she hears the noise. She turns and sees Jeongyeon, stiff as a board, as far down the couch as she can be from Mina. Momo pouts, and turns back towards the pantry. She grabs some chips, and walks through the living room back into the hallway, giving a smile and wave to Jeongyeon, who reciprocates.
She stays in the hallway a moment, and peeks around the corner again.
“What map should we play next?” Jeongyeon asks.
“How about Sunshine Airport?”
“Okay.” Mina scoots across the couch and lays down, leaning her head onto Jeongyeon’s lap. Jeongyeon smiles, playing with Mina’s black hair before the race countdown begins.
“I swear they were so cute together,” Momo says to the group through a bite of her sandwich.
The five of them were enjoying their lunch in the hospital break room. Momo, Sana, and Jihyo were wearing the dark blue collared shifts of EMT’s, and Nayeon and Dahyun were wearing lab coats over their dress shirts. Dahyun was enjoying her food as she watched her friends excitedly gabble. She briefly gave a mental ‘thank you’ to whatever fates decided their group of friends from high school could stay so close for so long in life, even working out of the same hospital. She appreciated her friends for being able to make even a cramped break room feel like home for a little bit.
“How long have we been saying they’re perfect for each other?” Sana jumped in excitedly.
“Mina was blushing so much when she saw me,” Momo giggles.
“Momo,” Jihyo says, drawing her attention. Momo looks over, a pout already beginning to form on her lips. “What did we say about Jeongyeon and Mina?”
Momo’s pout deepens. “Not to force them together.”
“Exactly. Let’s let them figure out if they love each other, and support them if they ask for advice. Okay?”
Momo mumbles out an affirmative, and Jihyo turns her gaze on Sana. Sana looks flustered, asking, “Why are you looking at me?”
“It’s just as likely for Mina to talk to you about her feelings as Momo. So, you promise too.” Sana mumbles into her food. Jihyo claps her hands, satisfied with her coworkers’ cooperation, and looks towards Nayeon and Dahyun holding hands and eating. “Anything new with you two?”
Dahyun, mouth full of food, nods vigorously. Nayeon offhandedly says “My niece is coming to live with us for a few years. She’s going to visit in an hour or so.”
“Your niece from Taiwan? Isn’t she like 12? Why is she moving out already?” Jihyo asks.
“Dahyunnie told me already,” Sana says. “She’s a super genius.” Momo and Jihyo look at her confused.
Momo starts to say “but why is she moving out?” but gets interrupted by Dahyun.
“She’s entering college here.” Momo and Jihyo gasp, looking towards Nayeon for confirmation.
Nayeon nods, “She’s actually a genius. Finished high school a few months ago. She’s picked up more of the language since then, and is coming to college and then med school here.” Nayeon’s pride is undeniable as her friends “ooh” and “aw,” but her face soon falls a bit grimmer. “My brother says she’s still very anti-social, so I’m a little worried.”
Momo pounds her chest with pride. “We can be her friends. She liked us the last time she was here.” The others nod, but Nayeon shakes her head.
“That’ll help, but she needs friends closer to her own age.”
Momo looks grim, but perks up, “what about -”
Momo, Jihyo, and Sana all jolt up as their radios rattle off news of a nearby crash with an injured pedestrian. Jihyo looks at Dahyun and Nayeon, with a thankful smile and says “Duty calls.” Jihyo and Sana stand up, throwing their food away as they race off, Momo right behind them, taking one last bite of her sandwich.
Nayeon and Dahyun stare out the door, watching as sirens light up the nearby parking lot. Dahyun turns to Nayeon, concern on her face. “Are you really worried about Tzuyu?”
Nayeon nods, leaning into Dahyun’s shoulder, enjoying the comfort of her wife. “I’m not sure we can care for her as well as she deserves.”
Dahyun smiles, holding Nayeon’s hand with both of her own, absentmindedly rubbing the wedding ring on Nayeon’s fingers. “I have a patient I bet she would really like.”
Dahyun feels a little unprofessional without her lab coat and stethoscope, but rounds have been going well. Dahyun’s patients are all stable and her cardiology residents have been mostly right with their answers without divulging any private information of patients. It’s an unusual challenge in rounds, but Dahyun is amused enough to play along.
She rounds a corner, entering a patient’s room. Flowers sit on the nightstand, next to pages and pages of colorful drawings. The piece of paper on top showing bright red strawberries and a blue giraffe. The room is very clean and well stocked for patient care, but there is no patient in the bed.
Dahyun whirls around, in teacher-mode, to address her residents. “Okay, last patient. Dr. Son?”
There are some bustling sounds as a small, short-haired girl wearing an over sized lab coat and stethoscope steps forward, pushing her ‘fellow’ doctors out of the way. “Yes, Dr. Kim!” she says with a crisp salute that knocks her round-framed glasses askew.
Dahyun and her residents smile as the young girl fixes her glasses, and Dahyun forces herself to keep a straight face. “Dr. Son, what is the name and status of our patient.”
“Yes Dr. Kim!” The short girl says with another adorable salute. “The patient’s name is Son Chaeyoung, age 12!” she yells, causing Dahyun to wince. “The patient received a new heart several weeks ago. Her recovery is very quick, and the patient is scheduled for release in a few days!” Chaeyoung looks at her doctor expectantly.
Dahyun looks down at Chaeyoung in amusement. “Good. What is the patient’s recovery duty for the day?”
“Brief walks about the hospital, accompanied by a nurse, followed by long periods of rest in bed!”
“See to it that Miss Chaeyoung gets her rest in bed,” Dahyun says to her. Chaeyoung nods with a ‘hmph’ and leaps into bed, reaching for her art supplies. Dahyun turns back to her residents, getting actual vitals from them on Chaeyoung’s condition before dismissing them. She turns back to Chaeyoung, who showed her the next drawing she was working on.
Chaeyoung was by far her favorite patient, always joking with a mischievous smile on her face, and taking a genuine interest in the medical process. They had spent several hours getting to know each other over the last few weeks. Dahyun cried tears of joy after Chaeyoung’s surgery went perfectly and felt a weird balance between being sad the young girl would be leaving soon and hoping to never have to see her in a hospital again.
Dahyun always felt better spending time with Chaeyoung, but her other patients needed attention. “Okay Chaengie, can I have my coat back?” Chaeyoung shook her head no, a pout forming on her face. “Fine you can keep the coat, but can I at least get my stethoscope? I actually need that.” Dahyun smiled as Chaeyoung handed her the device, and turned her head towards the door as a knock sounds throughout the room.
“Never thought I would see a doctor spoil their patient this much.” It was Nayeon at the door, with Tzuyu standing close behind, already catching up to Nayeon in height, despite her tender age.
Chaeyoung sat up with a gasp. “Are you Dr. Dahyunnie’s wife? The mean neurosurgeon?”
Nayeon’s brief smile at being recognized faded into a frown at Dahyun and Chaeyoung. “You know I have the power to change your deserts here, don’t you?” she said with a smirk.
“Not my strawberries!” Chaeyoung yelled. “Dr. Dahyunnie also said you were really pretty!”
Nayeon’s smirk broadened. “Oh really?” She asks, turning to Dahyun. “Are you getting your relationship advice from pre-teen doctors now, Darling?” Tzuyu, still somewhat hidden behind Nayeon, lets out a laugh.
Chaeyoung frowns, but Dahyun’s sunshine laugh sounds through the room, her hand falling on Chaeyoung’s knee.
“That’s right. Chaengie has been very helpful with planning our next date.”
Chaeyoung nods vigorously. “I have great ideas. And I don’t wanna be a doctor, this is just pretend.” Nayeon and Tzuyu both quirk their heads, asking the silent question, ‘why not?’ Chaeyoung looks at Nayeon with all the determination in the world, “I’m gonna be Dr. Dahyunnie’s nurse. The best one in the world.”
Nayeon and Tzuyu’s confused looks fade into warm smiles, a little bit of admiration showing in their faces. “I’ll be glad for my wife to have the extra help. I’m looking forward to it, Chaengie. You can call me Nayeonnie, okay?” Chaeyoung nods, feeling satisfied.
Dahyun smiles at her wife, as they wordlessly agree that Chaeyoung is a good kid. Dahyun then leans a little to see Tzuyu behind Nayeon, and smiles warmly at her. “Hi, Tzuyu-ah. How have you been?”
Tzuyu smiles and gives a shallow bow, her straight hair bobbing forwards and settling back as she says, “Hi Aunty. It’s nice to see you again.”
Chaeyoung whispers a soft “gosh, she’s pretty,” under her breath.
Dahyun tries to pretend that she didn’t just hear that, and that she didn’t just envision these two kids getting married one day. She shook off that train of thought, remembering Jihyo’s words earlier. Dahyun watched the smile from Tzuyu’s eyes fade as they settle back on Chaeyoung, her hands coming together as if she were worried about damaging Chaeyoung.
“Why is she…?” Tzuyu slowly sputtered out, having slowly come to remember Chaeyoung was a patient in her aunties’ hospital.
Dahyun looks at her patient with an eyebrow raised. “Dr. Son?”
Chaeyoung puffed her chest up, looking at an imaginary chart, “Patient Son Chaeyoung had a bad heart, so we replaced it with a new one.” Chaeyoung bangs her chest twice. “A strong one.”
Tzuyu smiles wide, relief showing on her face. She steps forward and extends her hand. “Patient Son Chaeyoung, I’m Chou Tzuyu.”
Chaeyoung shakes the other girl’s hand shyly, grumbling out “we’re playing doctor right now.”
Tzuyu smirks, looking around the room before settling on Chaeyoung’s drawings. “Is that a giraffe?!”
The excitement in Tzuyu’s voice shocks Chaeyoung, who eagerly starts showing Tzuyu all her drawings. Dahyun looks at her wife by the door, and uses her eyes to point out Tzuyu becoming wrapped up in the colorful world of Chaeyoung’s art. They exchange a brief look that speaks volumes of gratitude, warmth, happiness, and a little bit of ‘I told you so.’
Their moment of brief bliss is interrupted by the blaring sound of Dahyun’s pager, followed immediately by Nayeon’s going off as well. Chaeyoung and Tzuyu look up from the bed at them. Dahyun and Nayeon share a momentary look of confusion as they read aloud the message on the pagers
“Stay here!” Nayeon and Dahyun say in unison, as they sprint out of the room and down the hall, making a turn towards the elevator. Chaeyoung and Tzuyu hesitate a moment, looking first at the couple running down the hall, then at each other. They stand up and walk together out of the room. They look for the lines towards the ER, and follow them towards the elevator. As Chaeyoung hits the down button for the elevator, Tzuyu grabs hold of the shorter girl’s lab coat, bringing her close.
Nayeon was staring at the closed elevator door, her foot bouncing with impatience as her brain jumped from possibility to possibility of what would be waiting for them in the ER. Did the ER need both a cardiologist and a neurosurgeon at the same time? Or did someone just need Nayeon and Dahyun as people to be there. She looked down at her pager again, the curt message not giving any hints.
Dahyun was typing furiously in her phone, rapidly moving through a search engine, before she gave up. She looked at her wife with worry, “There’s no big accidents in the news.” Nayeon looks back, worry growing, and grabs Dahyun’s hand, giving it a squeeze.
The elevator slowed down as it reached the bottom floor, the light feeling in their stomachs leaving as the doors opened. They ran out of the elevator, dodging a nurse pushing a patient in a wheelchair towards the elevator, and they round a corner into the ER.
They look around the ER, but nothing seems extremely wrong. There were patients, sure, but not so many as to need help from specialist doctors like themselves. Nayeon spots Jihyo’s form from afar, and feels relief as she spots her ride-or-die best friend since grade school. Nayeon pulls Dahyun into a jog towards Jihyo, who’s giving a doctor vitals on her patient: some guy with a piece of wood through his leg, being lifted from a stretcher onto a bed. There’s a faint sound of sirens getting closer.
They get closer, finally able to see Jihyo’s face, and see that she’s talking through tears. Consistent streams of tears roll down Jihyo’s cheeks, occasional sobs interrupting her reading of vitals. Nayeon’s stomach twists looking at Jihyo, her brain stunned by the rare sight of her best friend crying.
“Ji? What’s going on?” Nayeon asked panic rising in her heart. She barely registers Dahyun asking something similar next to her.
Jihyo turns to look at her friends, and breaks out into deeper sobs. The sirens get ever louder as an ambulance pulls up, shutting off its siren and lights. Jihyo just pointed at the ambulance, and turned back to helping the doctors with her leg patient.
Nayeon hated this. Hated seeing her best friend cry, hated not knowing why. Hated Jihyo for still trying to do her job through tears, leaving Nayeon and Dahyun in the dark for a few moments longer. She hated that she didn’t know the EMTs who jumped out of the front seats to open the back ambulance. And she hated that she knew both people that were in the back of the ambulance.
The EMT’s opened the door, and extended the legs of the stretcher to the ground, and began pulling it into the ER. On top of the stretcher was Sana, arms covered in blood, and eyes full of determination and tears, performing CPR. Nayeon could see the person under Sana was dark haired, despite her head being wrapped in bandages, and very fit. Her dark blue shirt was covered in blood. Oh, her EMT uniform.
“MOMO!” Nayeon dropped Dahyun’s hand and darted forward to the stretcher as it was being wheeled into a room. “WHAT HAPPENED?”
Sana sat on top of Momo, still giving chest compressions. Nayeon and Dahyun took up positions at the side of the stretcher. “She—fainted—hit her – head and”
“One, two, three,” called the EMT drivers, and Nayeon and Dahyun helped shift the pad under Momo and Sana off of the stretcher and onto the ER bed.
Sana continued, uninterrupted by the transfer to the bed, “her heart—stopped -.“
The EMT’s cleared out of the way in the same moment, one of them turning back to Sana, “Tell me how she ends up.”
“-beating.—Thanks—Jack—son---.” A nurse ran in, attaching electrical monitoring equipment to Momo, briefly shoving Nayeon aside to get at a cord. Nayeon felt numb. She couldn’t help with this. As soon as the vitals popped up onto the screen, Dahyun leaped into action, ordering the nurses and doctors around Nayeon into action. Tears streaming down her face, Nayeon know she was in the way and stepped out of the room. In that moment, she was helplessly staring through a window as her friend’s life waxed and waned. There was no one else she wanted in there, no one would fight harder for Momo’s sake than her friends, but she took little comfort in that.
Jihyo slinked up next to her, done with her duties, grabbing Nayeon’s hand. There were no words needed to convey how they were feeling, nor were there any words to help console them until Momo was okay. They stared at the consistent frenzy of the doctors at work on Momo for what seemed like hours.
It was only a few minutes. It was only a few minutes before Momo’s vitals jumped back up into stability. It was only a minute Nayeon watched Sana sob tears of joy over Momo, and Dahyun stare intently at the monitor, wiping tears out of the way so she can watch Momo’s heart try to beat on its own. It was only a minute before Dahyun called for Nayeon. Nayeon dropped Jihyo’s hand, stepping into the room as quick as possible.
Dahyun never took her eyes off the monitor. “She’s losing pressure, slowly. I think there’s a bleed somewhere. Probably her brain.” Sana looked up in concern.
Nayeon felt the relief drain away from her body, replaced by more worry, but then her brain kicked back in. Nayeon let the last of her tears fall out and wiped them off her cheek. She had work to do. “Give me a minute head start then get her to the CT. I’ll call an OR, too.” Dahyun nodded in agreement.
Nayeon sprinted out of the room, dialing on her phone. She passed Jihyo’s concerned face, and briefly noticed Chaeyoung and Tzuyu standing behind Jihyo, staring with a mix of awe, terror, and heartbreak. Nayeon ignored their attempts at eye contact and pushed her sprint harder, pulling the phone to her ear.
“This is Dr. Im. I need an OR prepped for emergency brain surgery right away.” Nayeon reached the elevator hitting the down button for the basement. “We’ll be coming from scanning within a few minutes.” Satisfied with the response, Nayeon hung up the phone and the doors closed on her. Nayeon tapped her foot in exasperation waiting for the door. It opened, finally, and Nayeon hit the button for the ER floor and jumped out of the elevator, running down the halls to the CT room. A resident was helping a patient get up onto the scanning table as Nayeon burst into the room.
“GET. OUT.” Nayeon said firmly, with all the fire and brimstone her voice could muster.
Jihyo held on as tight as she possibly could to Sana’s back. Sana was washing her hands through sobs, trying desperately to get the blood of her best friend off her hands. Jihyo and Sana were in a bathroom finally coming down off the protection of saving people. Now there was nothing in the way of their trauma, and their grief. The only thing Jihyo felt confident in doing right now was hugging Sana and crying her heart out.
Sana’s hands were clean after a minute or two. She dried her hands, Jihyo still attached to her. She threw the paper towel into the trash can and stared at the trash can for a few seconds, barely seeing through tears.
“Jihyo….” Jihyo squeezed harder in response. “I don’t think I can live without Momo.”
Jihyo spun her around, hugging her from the front now, and feeling Sana reciprocate. “I know, Sana, I know.”
“God, the sound her head made.” Sana sobbed. Jihyo sobbed with her, trying to get the loud clunk/crack out of her head.
It took a while, too long, for Jihyo to realize they’ve been forgetting someone important. “Sana.” It was Sana’s turn to squeeze harder in response. “We need to tell Mina. And Jeong.” Sana pulled back, steeling herself, and nods through the last of her tears for now.
Jihyo and Sana come out of the bathroom hand in hand. They walk back to a waiting room for surgeries where Dahyun is sitting, flanked on both sides by Chaeyoung and Tzuyu.
“Aunty?” Tzuyu asks. Dahyun turns to her, eyes bloodshot and face as sober as ever. “Will Aunty Momo be alright?”
Dahyun sighs, “I really, really hope so, Tzuyu-ah. Your Aunty Nayeon’s doing her best to make sure.” Tzuyu takes Dahyun’s hand in her own, and they fall back into their own quiet worries.
Jihyo and Sana arrive and stand in front of Dahyun until she looks up.
“We’re going to go get Mina and Jeong,” Jihyo says.
Dahyun nods. “I’ll let you know if anything changes in the meantime.”
Jihyo and Sana nod. Sana looks at Tzuyu and nudges her knee. “Want us to take you home Tzuyu-ah?”
Tzuyu shakes her head, leaning more into Dahyun. Chaeyoung looks across at Tzuyu and then up at Sana and Jihyo. “We’ll keep Dr. Dahyunnie company for now.”
Sana and Jihyo look at Chaeyoung in confusion, but something in the kid’s eyes give them confidence. She’s determined.
“Thanks,” Jihyo says. She and Sana turn away, walking towards the parking lot, heads held high, but very much not looking forward to their task.
Mina was really looking forward to the rest of her day once she was free. Jeongyeon was coming over to test out a new recipe with her, and they would inevitably end up playing Mario Kart together. Mina’s face warmed thinking about the previous night. How Jeongyeon was getting more comfortable with her, and how adorably embarrassed Jeongyeon looked when they got caught leaning on each other. Mina could spend all day daydreaming about resting her head on Jeongyeon’s lap again, but she determined herself to pay more attention.
Mina clicked her pen against the desk and looked at the clock. Still a half an hour to go before she could leave this god-forsaken place. Mina felt her phone buzz in her lap, stiffening. She ignored it, expecting Jeongyeon to be sending her some funny meme for skateboarders. She looked back up at the presentation. Just some idiot jock giving his half-assed presentation on how sponges carry so many germs. “God high school sucks.”
Mina was halfway to giving up on the presentation and going back to daydreaming when the phone rang. The teacher gave a hold on gesture to the jock presenting, and answered the phone.
“Mina, they’re calling you to the front office.”
Mina looked up at the teacher. “Should I bring my stuff?”
The teacher looked at the clock, seeing how close to over the school day was. “I think that would be best.”
Mina gathered her things into her bag, and walked towards the door. She hated how everyone looked at her as she was walking away. Too much attention for her. Just like the time she dyed her hair red.
She exited the room and walked down the hallway towards the front office. Mina was most of the way there when she heard a skateboard approaching from behind.
“Yo, Mina.” Jeongyeon called, skating a brief circle around Mina before getting off her board and falling in step with Mina.
“Hey Jeongie. They call for you, too?”
“Yeah. Any idea what’s going on?”
Mina was a little discomforted with Jeongyeon not knowing anything. “Not a clue.”
“My mom texted me and said she was gonna pick me up. Didn’t say why.”
Mina remembered the text she got earlier and pulled out her phone to check it. She read the message. “I got the same text,” she said with growing worry. Mina was no longer looking forward to getting off school.
Jeongyeon held the door to the office open for Mina, and followed in behind her. Mina came around the corner towards the visitor check-in area, and sure enough, Jihyo was there, just as she said. Mina did not expect to see Sana there as well, and she definitely did not expect to see both of them with aggressively red eyes and tears beginning to form in their eyes.
“Mom!” Jeongyeon ran past Mina and grabbed Jihyo’s hands, “What’s going on?” One look from Jihyo was all it took for her daughter to know it wasn’t her who should be told first. Jeongyeon looked back at Mina who was walking closer to Sana.
“Aunty Sana?” Mina stopped just in front of Sana, already starting to cry.
“Minari… your mother’s been hurt. She’s in surgery.”
Mina’s safe world fell apart.