Jeongyeon’s heart hurt. It didn’t help that the waiting room was so stuffy, making her every breath feel heavy. Her heart hurt, her chest felt heavy, and her brain felt numb. She looked around the room, recognizing the pain in everyone’s eyes. Looked down at her mother, resting her head against Jeongyeon’s shoulder. Gave her hand an extra squeeze and kept looking. Jeongyeon turned and looked at a bright monitor hanging on the wall detailing which surgeries were in progress in which rooms, and for how long. A few dozen people had walked up to the monitor in the last few hours. Not just concerned family of other surgeries, but concerned doctors, nurses, technicians, and EMT’s. Each of them would stop by the monitor, and stare for a second, before turning and looking at the waiting room. They would smile and wave in that way that says ‘nothing is okay right now, but I hope it will be.’ Jeongyeon knew it was hard for people to not like Momo, hard to not want her to be okay.
Jeongyeon looked at the nurse staring at the monitor, watching the familiar worry grow on their face. Jeongyeon looked closer at the monitor, and saw the time. It was getting late, and Momo had already been in surgery for 5 hours. Jeongyeon turned back looking at Tzuyu falling asleep on Dahyun, head resting in her lap. She remembered the younger girl, being introduced a few years ago as her Aunt Nayeon’s niece. Nayeon wasn’t an actual aunt to Jeongyeon, but she was family, and that meant Tzuyu was family too. Jeongyeon took a second to admire her Aunty Nayeon. Jeongyeon wasn’t sure she would be able to stay strong enough to perform surgery on her best friend. She wished Nayeon didn’t have to be brave, or could just come out already. Jeongyeon looked at Dahyun, her ever-goofy demeanor replaced by a fraying attempt to be calm for the kids. Her legs were bouncing earlier in nervousness, but the kid in the lab coat had taken her hand, which seemed to help. Jeongyeon didn’t know the kid, but was grateful that her aunt felt comforted.
Lastly, Jeongyeon looked at the person that was so hard to look at. Mina’s tears had dried up a few hours ago. Now she was just holding onto Sana. Mina hadn’t let go of her Mom’s friend since she found out. Jeongyeon felt a great deal of pain hoping Momo was alright, but she could only imagine how much worse Mina feels right now. She gave an extra long squeeze to Jihyo’s hand.
A door opened behind them. Jeongyeon turned, her mother twisting her head around to see who it is. Jihyo jumped up and ran towards the newcomer.
“Daniel!” Jihyo ran and hugged her husband tight.
“Hey, Ji.” There was warmth in his eyes, a sort of tired, sad warmth, but Jeongyeon felt better seeing her parents embrace. As Jihyo backed out of the hug, Jeongyeon slithered into her father’s embrace, and didn’t let go for a long time.
“Did you find someone?” Jihyo asked, loosely holding onto the hem of Jeongyeon’s T-shirt.
Daniel looked up from his daughter’s embrace. “Yeah. A Dr. Kim Chung-ha from across town. Neurologist. She’s on her way now.” Jeongyeon leaned back to look at her parents confused.
“Why do we need a new Doctor?” There was worry in Jeongyeon’s voice. She couldn’t quite understand this choice when everyone in the hospital clearly cared about Momo.
Jihyo breathes deeply, clearly tense. “If Momo wakes up—”
“-When.” Jeongyeon interrupts. Jihyo and Daniel share a silent look. Jihyo tries to let her shield of pragmatism fade in front of her daughter’s determined glare.
“Yeah. When Momo wakes up, we need a doctor who can care for her without crying.” Jeongyeon doesn’t look quite convinced, so Jihyo adds, “someone who won’t hug her to death before they run tests.” Jeongyeon lets the thought ruminate. It seems necessary. She nods, and drops the hug. Jihyo looks back to Daniel and motions towards the others in the waiting room.
Jeongyeon goes back to her seat back to silently watching everyone try to be strong. She watches her parents tell the other adults about the new doctor, watches how the pain in Mina’s face doesn’t go away. Jihyo and Daniel sit down next to Jeongyeon, and she can hear them muttering to each other, but none of it is processing in her brain. She can only stare at the two-seat bench that Sana and Mina are sitting on, watching Mina’s face bury into Sana’s neck. She wants to be over there, and not enough seats isn’t going to stop her. She stands and plops her butt down on the ground next to Mina’s legs, sharing a brief look with Sana before resting her head on Mina’s knees. Mina doesn’t move, doesn’t shift in discomfort, so Jeongyeon stays. She stays close to Mina, hoping it’s helping, even just a little bit. The slight energy from Daniel’s arrival dissipates, and the room goes back to solemnly waiting for the surgery to end. Jeongyeon lets her fingers trace along Mina’s shoes and laces as the seconds turn into minutes, and into hours.
After what feels like an eternity, the double doors to the surgery room open. Nayeon strolls down the hallway towards them. Jeongyeon sees Nayeon first, and starts tapping Mina’s leg furiously for her attention.
Dahyun sees Jeongyeon’s reaction and turns. “Nayeon!” She bolts upright, letting Tzuyu fall off her shoulder. Chaeyoung catches Tzuyu’s head and starts poking her face, trying to wake her up. The everyone else in the room stands up, joined shortly by Chaeyoung and Tzuyu. They all look at Nayeon, and she answers the question no one needs to ask.
“Momo’s alive.” Relief washes over the entire room like a wave. Nayeon lets the few sobs settle before saying more. “She’s being cleaned up right now, and moved to a new room upstairs. We’ll be able to visit, a few at a time, but we won’t wake her up for a few hours.” Nayeon’s tired smile fades into some-thing more serious. There’s something more to be said. “Her skull was fractured, and she bled a lot in her brain before we could stop it. We won’t know if that will have any lasting effects until she wakes up.”
The worry for Momo’s life now replaced with worry for Momo’s quality of life, everyone in the room found someone to embrace. Dahyun ran towards Nayeon, whose arms rose to meet her wife. Mina and Sana hugged beside Jeongyeon and she just stared before Sana pulled her into the hug as well. Mina shifted this time, bringing an arm around Jeongyeon, squeezing Jeongyeon by the middle of her back. Jihyo and Daniel hugged tight, and Tzuyu stood awkwardly still for a few moments before Chaeyoung took her hand. When Nayeon soon called Tzuyu over for a hug, she brought Chaeyoung along with her.
It took Jeongyeon a long time before she let go of Mina and Sana. Or rather, it took a long time for Mina to let go. Jeongyeon let Mina and Sana go around hugging everyone else, and walked over to Tzuyu and Chaeyoung.
“Hi Tzuyu-ah. Who’s the kid?”
“Hi Jeongie.” Tzuyu barely made eye contact, trying to hide a very faint blush.
“I’m Son Chaeyoung,” Chaeyoung said, offering her hand. “Dahyunnie’s my doctor.”
Jeongyeon shook her hand, eyeing Dahyun’s name on the lab coat Chaeyoung was wearing. “Ah. I thought you were a little short to be a doctor.” Tzuyu and Jeongyeon snicker, and Chaeyoung blusters, only letting the anger turn into a pout after she sees Jeongyeon’s smile is genuine and warm, like they were already friends.
Jeongyeon doesn’t know it, but the few laughs she gets from the two younger girls during their conversation helped everyone as they resigned themselves to more waiting.
“Hi, I’m Dr. Chungha. You’ve had an accident. A few days ago, you hit your head. You’re going to be okay.”
Mina wanted to scream in anger, let out this frustration she felt. This hurt. She had already done a lot of screaming in the last few days. Into a pillow, at Dr. Chungha, into the night sky, but none of it helped. Mina was sitting in the hallway next to Momo’s room in the hospital, listening to Dr. Chungha introduce herself to Momo for the fifth time already. Five days now Momo has woken up and forgotten everything about the day before. Everything about all days before. Mina had spent each of those days having her heart broken, having her hopes dashed as Momo’s face would contort in confusion and ask, “Who are you?” to everyone. No one handled this well.
Dr. Chungha had slowly been picking her way through Momo’s brain to find that a lot of things were still there. Language, song lyrics, dances, movies, food preferences, street directions, her sense of humor, and even passwords. But not memories. Not who was with her when she first watched Monsters Inc. Not who she helped practice the dance for ‘Born This Way’ for several weeks. Old videos of Momo and her friends, or Momo cheering on Mina at a dance recital only made Momo sad. She wanted to remember, wanted to remember her friends, but felt disappointed, both for herself and for her friends.
Every day was a fresh start for Mina’s mom, or just Momo now. Who Am I? Who are you? Why am I here? What’s your name? Are we friends? Am I married? Do I have kids? What was my job? How long will I be here?
On that last question, Mina knew there was a meeting taking place right now. Mina, Momo’s only family, was still a teenager, so the hospital asked Sana, Momo’s emergency contact to act as proxy. The director of the hospital, Park Jin-young, was sitting down with her right now to discuss Momo’s future, and Mina’s as well.
Mina wasn’t in the head space to have that kind of discussion right now. Her brain was almost empty of anything but pain. Mina was fighting hard against this dawning reality.
Sana needed a breather. Usually she could let the world and all her stress melt away by cuddling Momo and watching a Disney movie, but all her stress was about Momo. And, maybe more importantly, Mina. She felt slightly better after talking with the Director. Momo’s insurance with the hospital would take care of her for a long time. Momo would stay in a psychiatric care facility, one of higher class that would normally cost an insane amount of money, but, according to Director Park, ‘We take care of our own.’ Sana was not happy that Momo needed help, and would probably need help for the rest of her life, but she was happy to get the best. Sana’s mind was racing with responsibilities, so she asked for a quick break. Here she was, standing on the roof, staring into the distance. Sana was trying not to think about how she was going back to work in a week. How Jihyo had said they were going to look for a new EMT to replace Momo. Momo was her rock. Her best friend and undeniably the safest and happiest part of her life.
Sana ran her hands through her hair, cringing at the knots in her hair. She and Mina hadn’t gone home yet. The hospital let them stay in the on-call rooms when they realized that sleeping in Momo’s room might make her uncomfortable. Sana worked with good people, she thought as she started her way back towards the Director’s office.
She nodded her greetings to the Director as she sat back down across from him. “Thanks for that. I needed a second.”
“It’s no problem at all, Miss Minatozaki,” Director Park said. Sana could tell he meant it. “Shall we jump back into it?” Sana nodded. “Okay, on the topic of young Miss Hirai Mina, her mother is her only legal family correct?”
Sana was confused about the question, or rather, why it was relevant. “Yeah.”
“Okay. As she is a minor, I will call Social Services in the morning to help her find a new home.”
“No!” Sana would die before she saw Mina in a stranger’s home. “I’ll take her in.” All her doubts flew out the window. She knew this was the right thing for Mina, and that she could do it.
The Director was taken aback. “Really? You’ll care for her?” His was a happy disbelief.
Sana had never been more sure of anything in her life. She would do anything for Mina. Not just because Mina was Momo’s kid, and Sana would do anything for Momo, but because Mina was truly a wonderful person and deserved that kind of dedication from her family. “Maybe not by blood, but she damn sure is family to me. And our friends. Let me take her.”
The director smiled, admiring the determination in Sana’s eyes. Eyes that dared him to say anything but yes. “Okay. Let’s just get her to agree, and Social Services will accept.”