Cait woke to the hum of machines around her and the sting of dryness in her throat. She could feel the needle in her arm, the cool liquid flowing into her veins, and hear the drip-dripping of the IV. Through the haze in her eyes she could make out some medical equipment, a small dimly-lit television and an empty side table. The pale gray of the walls reminded her of the prison cells she’d seen on television. The hospital gown was faded and drafty, and the thin beige blanket provided little warmth or comfort. There was a cold and dreary feeling to the room, almost ominous, and the lack of personal belongings made her concerned. She raised her hand to her throat and thought, where the hell am I? What happened to me?
She looked around for a nurse call button, and found one attached to her bed. She pushed the button and waited. The few minutes it took the nurse to enter were excruciating and she had just pressed the button again before realizing she wasn’t alone. The nurse was young, with sandy hair, green eyes and a friendly face.
“Well, Good Morning Cait,” she said, sounding surprised. “I’m Sandra, your nurse. It’s nice to see you awake for a change. How are you feeling?”
“I’m okay, I guess. Thirsty. Wha…what happened to me?” Cait asked. “I can’t remember anything.”
“A young man brought you in, said you’d had a case of food poisoning. Let me take your vitals and then I’ll grab you some water.”
Cait jolted upright rather quickly, her heart racing as she hyper-focused on what was just said. “Really? Why are you surprised to see me awake if I had food poisoning?”
“The young man said you had it, but you were unconscious when you arrived, not sick.”
“That’s not normal with food poisoning?”
“I will get the doctor to explain everything to you.”
“What did he look like?”
“I’m sorry, what did who look like?”
“The man that brought me in. What did he look like?”
“He was tall, dark hair and piercing blue eyes, mid-twenties, said he was your husband,” she said.
Cait resisted the urge to roll her eyes. Sandy’s detailed description embodied her husband, who made ladies swoon everywhere he went. People often said he looked like a young James Dean, dark and mysterious, killer hair, crooked smile, and they made sure Cait knew how lucky she was to have him.
“Thanks. That sounds like Jack,” Cait said. “Has he been back? How long have I been here? You said I was asleep, but for how long? I don’t remember anything.”
“I can’t say for sure if he’s been back or not, but I haven’t seen him. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen anyone around for you.”
“Not that I recall, but I haven’t been here the entire time. You’ve been here for nearly four days.”
“So, I didn’t have food poisoning? My husband hasn’t been back? You don’t know what’s happened to me? Is there anything you can tell me?”
“Ah, I think it’s best if I get the doctor.”
The nurse turned to walk out of the room but paused, “this envelope has your name on it,” she said, picking up a large manila envelope off the table by the door, “but I’m not sure who dropped it off.” She handed it to Cait and left the room.
Cait looked at the envelope and a tremor washed over her. She didn’t know what was inside of it, but for some reason it gave her an unpromising feeling. She began to open it when Sandra, the doctor and a police officer entered the room, breaking her thoughts. She shoved the envelope under her hip and looked up at them. The look on Sandra’s face was more somber than it had been the first time, and it made Cait leary. “It’s good to see you awake, Cait. Your vitals seem to be stabilizing, which is great,” the doctor said. He was an average looking man, middle-aged with thinning hair and a robust center. He seemed friendly enough to Cait, but this whole situation brought on anxiety and she was beginning to feel claustrophobic.
“What happened to me?” Cait asked.
“I can’t say for certain, yet, but I believe whatever happened was done on purpose.”
“I’m confused. I, I thought I had food poisoning?”
“When you were brought in we were told you’d had food poisoning, but you weren’t sick at the time, merely unconscious. So we ran some tests that first day and found traces of arsenic in your system.”
“Wow. Who…what…do you know what happened to me?”
“We don’t know much, just that you seem to have been given a fairly small dose, or doses. Have you been having stomach problems, vomiting, any unusual pains lately?”
“I mean, sometimes, I guess…but I had a baby fairly recently and I just assumed it was from that.”
“Well, I can only speculate at this point, but I don’t think this was the first time you’ve ingested it. There doesn’t appear to be enough to have caused any permanent problems, yet, but if it were a long term situation, well, it would become much more serious, even deadly.”
“Wow. I can’t believe—do you know how? Or who? Or…I…”
“This nice detective here is actually going to talk to you about everything. It’s going to be fine, you’ll see.”
The detective stepped forward slow and easy, as if he had all the time in the world. He offered a half smile that didn’t quite reach his eyes, flipped open a notebook and began.
“Ma’am, my name is Detective Shmick, but you can call me Tom, and these fine doctors have asked me here to investigate what’s happened to you.”
“Okay, that…that’s fine.”
“Do you have any idea what happened to you?”
“The last thing I remember before waking up here was being out with my husband and his family for dinner…”
“And you’re sure there’s nothing else?”
“I told you, that’s all I remember.”
“Is there any reason we should believe you might want to harm yourself?”
“What?” Cait could feel her pulse quicken, and a familiar tingle radiate through her skin.
“The paperwork says you have a history of depression and anxiety. I have to consider the possibility that this was done on purpose.”
Oh my God, I can’t believe this is happening. “Yes, postpartum depression and anxiety…it started when my daughter was born eight months ago…but, what does that have to do with this?”
“It doesn’t necessarily, but— “
“You really think I’d do this to myself?”
“No, Ma’am… relax. I’m just trying to understand what happened. All we know with certainty is that you were brought in by your husband, and arsenic was found in your system. But he clearly made it a point to let us know you have anxiety and depression. That’s it.”
“Don’t you think you should ask him about what happened then?”
“We don’t have any way of contacting him. He didn’t leave a number on the paper and hasn’t been back since he dropped you off four nights ago.”
“What the hell?”
“Is there someone that wants to hurt you? Did you eat at any restaurants the rest of your family didn’t? Anything to tell us how the arsenic got into your system?”
“No. I mean, I had lunch alone, except for my daughter, Brea, and then went to dinner with Jack and his parents at some fancy place. But, Brea ate some of my food at lunch so…oh God, is my baby okay?” Cait was starting to hyperventilate, and Sandy was trying to calm her down amid the chaos.
“There was no child with you when you got here,” he said, looking toward the doctor for confirmation. The officer stepped forward to try and soothe Cait but stopped short of her. “Breathe, Ma’am. I think that she is okay…in fact, I think this was aimed at you specifically.”
“You mean, you think someone’s trying to kill me?”
“Alright, I think we should take a break for now,” the doctor finally spoke up.
“No, wait…you can’t just drop a bomb like that and then stop!”
“Listen, let me do some research and try to make some calls. You should try to relax a little.”
“Cait,” the doctor said, stepping forward, “Is there anyone we can call to come be with you while we figure things out? Do you want us to call your husband? Maybe your parents?”
“Yes, I’d, I’d like you to call my parents, please.”
Cait hoped that they’d be willing to come after everything that happened. They’d warned her that Jack’s mother, Ann, was going to drive a wedge between them and cause problems. She hadn’t wanted to believe it at first, so she drove away most of the people closest to her because they wouldn’t listen to her. She was so enchanted by Jack and their marriage that she refused to hear them. By the time she really saw who Ann was, it was just her, Jack, and their daughter, Brea. Cait had isolated herself. Jack couldn’t see it, or didn’t want to, so it had caused a rift between them, and now, this.
Cait gave them the number and slowly got out of bed as they left. Her legs were stiff, and her head hurt, but she didn’t feel too bad, considering she could have been killed. She stared out the window thinking, this is not exactly how I thought my life would end up. There’s got to be something I’m not seeing here. Something, anything… She was so lost in thought she almost didn’t hear the door open, and the doctor’s subtle cough.
“Your parents are on their way, Cait,” the doctor said.
“Thanks. I’d like to go downstairs and wait for them, if that’s alright. I’d like some fresh air.”
“I think we can arrange that, but you’ll need to keep the IV.”
“Okay, that’s fine.”
“Alright, well, let me get someone to accompany you downstairs. We can’t let you go on your own just yet, I hope you understand.”
As Cait rolled into the fresh air, the sunlight warmed her face creating a glow, and she felt freer than she had in days. The warm air smelled faintly of salt drifting off the ocean, and the buds on the trees were finally blooming, releasing a sweet scent. I can’t believe that someone tried to poison me! Who the hell would want to hurt me? It’s not like I have a ton of friends, and I certainly don’t ever go anywhere. I don’t even work anymore…it’s just me, Brea and Jack most of the time…except when his mother tries to interject, which is like, all the ti— It suddenly dawned on Cait who her prime suspect was, Jack’s mom, Ann. The woman had been a thorn in Cait’s side since her and Jack met, trying to get her out of the picture. She still didn’t understand why, but Ann made it very apparent that she wasn’t good enough for her son.
As if sensing a connection, she remembered the envelope nurse Sandra had given her. She’d tucked it under her in the wheelchair they’d made her take downstairs. She pulled it out now and looked down. She could feel her pulse quicken and her face flush, she wasn’t sure what was in the envelope, but her anxiety was flaring up just speculating over it. Taking a deep breath, she opened the envelope and let out a gasp. Divorce papers. What the hell is this? Why did Jack file for divorce? Nothing seemed to make any sense, not her being in the hospital, not the lack of personal items or visitors, and certainly not the divorce papers. She thought her and Jack were doing pretty well, considering. They’d had their share of troubles, as most young couples do, but she didn’t understand this. She clutched the papers in her hand so tightly they began to shake. I wonder… did his mother finally convince him to leave me, or was this his plan all along? Am I the reason he left me? Why did he take our baby? Does he think I’m not a good enough mother? I’m rambling again…damn thoughts seem to constantly jumble. Must focus. First things first, I need to find Jack so that I can find my baby, Brea. After that, after my heart is whole again, I can continue looking for answers.
She heard the familiar cough that came from her dad’s chest and looked up. Sure enough, just entering the courtyard on the far side were her mom and dad. She hadn’t spoken to them in quite awhile, not since she blew up at them for being too opinionated about Ann and Jack. As it turns out, they were right about it all, and she wasn’t looking forward to saying so. She braced herself, knowing that she’d hear the obvious “I told you so” from her mother, wanting nothing more than to wrap herself in her dad’s bear hug, and got up to meet them.
It was her mom that started running first, sweeping Cait into her arms while tears ran down her cheeks. “Oh, my sweet Cait, my little girl…I…I’m so sorry,” her mom mumbled into her shoulder.
“What, no “I told you so,” Cait said wryly.
“Now wait one minute, your mom has been driving herself crazy worrying about you. Don’t you start.”
“You’re right, Dad. I’m sorry. I’m just…I can’t believe this is happening to me.”
“We’re all a little on edge. We didn’t even know you were in the hospital until today, and no one has told us how you got here either.”
“Well, I still don’t know how I ended up here.”
“I’ll tell you how damnit, it’s that insane woman and her—”
“Alright, Mom! Don’t start now, okay…I just…”
“You’re right. It’s just that she makes me so crazy, and she drove you away from me and—”
“No mom, she didn’t drive me away. We drove each other away, like we always do. We’re both stubborn and we—”
“Ha! You both are darn stubborn.”
“You’re one to talk, dad. I get half of it from you!”
He ruffled her hair and pulled her into a hug. Cait reached over and pulled her mom into the embrace. “I missed you guys so much, and I, I’m so sorry for everything I said, and for pushing you, and—”
“Hey now, it’s okay. We love you and we are always here for you.”
“Your dad is right. I know that we’ve had some issues lately, and that we haven’t been there for you as much as anyone likes…and we are sorry too. But what’s important is we are here now, and we will help you get to the bottom of this.”
“We all want answers, and frankly, I think that whoever did this deserves whatever they get.”
“I love you guys so much.”
“Come on honey, let’s take a walk around the garden and relax a little.”
“Only if you’ll push the wheelchair dad.”
“What, your arms don’t work?”
“Hey! Cut me some slack here.”
Her dad chuckled as he grabbed the handles and began to push, with her mom walking on the other side of her. As they walked around the garden Cait began to relax. It was nice to see her parents again and return to their normal rhythm. She looked around and studied the garden, enjoying the fresh air and outdoors. There was a pond in the middle of the courtyard, lilies and roses were blooming, and trees were everywhere. The air was clean and crisp, and it melted all of her worries away, if at least for the moment. Cait stopped for a moment, staring off at a giant oak tree with wildflowers littering the ground beneath it. Suddenly, memories of that fateful day came rushing back to her…