"Talk to me. What's got you so spooked?"
"Daddy and I were in Manhattan when the Twin Towers were hit. We'd gone for my tenth birthday. We were a few blocks away when we heard the explosion, saw—everything! It was horrible! I was just a kid, I thought it was a thunderstorm. My father was a medic in the Army, so when he found out what had happened, he ran to help."
"Leaving you alone?"
"We were with friends. Mom was in the hospital, she'd just had my sister, Emily."
"So you stayed with friends, while your dad helped rescue people?"
"Yes. They made us leave, so I didn't know where he was, forever. I thought he'd die. All the noise, confusion, screaming. It was—horrible!"
"Oh, Wynter. Did you ever talk to anyone about this?"
"Mama put me in therapy."
"Did you talk about it?"
She nodded jerkily. "But now, thunderstorms.... They make me remember."
"I'm so sorry. Do you want to go home? Or do you want to go upstairs?"
"I want my mama!"
"Of course. Let's get you up there." He got another nurse's attention. "Maxi, we're going back to her mom's room. Could you have Karen drop by room 420?"
"Of course, honey. Is she okay?" She nodded at Wynter.
He shrugged. This was beyond his ability to cope, but his friend Karen was a social worker, experienced in dealing with PTSD. If ever there was a clear cut case, this was it. She arrived shortly after they got back to Wanda's room. Wynter went in to talk to her mother. Obi kept Karen outside for a moment, explaining the problem.
"This isn't something I felt competent to address," he admitted quietly.
"Understood. This is your – girlfriend?"
"No. I just met her a few hours ago. Long story. No." He glanced at her, his face softening. "No."
"But you'd like her to be?" Karen said, in that penetrating way she had.
"I just broke up with Cieran."
"Oh, honey. I'm so sorry. I told you that witch wasn't good enough for you."
He chuckled, nodding. "You did. On more than one occasion. Let's deal with her meltdown. Mine can wait."
"If you say so." She strode confidently into the room, holding out her hand. "Hello there. I'm Karen, a social worker here. Obi thought you might want to talk—"
Wynter bridled, recoiling for Karen's outstretched hand. "You called your ex-girlfriend here?" she gasped.
"No! No. I promise. This is Karen. My ex is Cieran." He spelled both for her. "Karen and I have known one another for years. Her older brother is a good friend."
"I apologize for the confusion," Karen said, her hand still out.
"It's my ears," Wynter said, shaking her hand.
"Being afraid can do that. Would you like to talk here, or come to my office?"
"Why don't you go talk in her office, honey? That way, it's private. Obi will keep an eye on me, and make sure I'm a good girl."
Wynter gave her mother a hug and went out with Karen.
"That was close," Wanda said. "You're telling the truth? She's a friend?"
"Yeah. Cieran isn't a kind person."
"What does she do for a living?"
"You know those annoying car dealership commercials—the one with the butt ugly dog?"
"Yes. I hate them. That brassy blonde—she's all fake tan and big— Wait. That's Cieran?"
"Yep. In the flesh."
"What did you want with a bimbo like that?"
He laughed loudly. "She can be very seductive, when she tries. And I could only say no for so long."
"You didn't pursue her?"
"But why a priest?"
"No idea. I could be conceited, and say it was my good looks and innate charm, but I'd be lying."
"Don't sell yourself short. You're a handsome man. And kind. Any woman would be lucky to have a man like you."
"Why did you stay with a woman like that?"
"Because meeting new women is difficult. Most of them are interested in a lifestyle I can't provide, and don't want. I'm happy helping people, giving of myself. Cieran never understood that."
"A woman like that, wouldn't."
"Do you know her?" he frowned, focusing on her face.
"We've met a time or two," she didn't sound impressed.
Nodding, he ducked his head, clasping his hands. "Not an atypical reaction. My parents will be glad to find out that we're not together."
"You haven't told them?"
"It only happened last night. They aren't local."
"I see. You should call your mother."
"Yes. I should. I will. When are you going to tell Wynter?"
"Perhaps not right now. But soon."
"I know she's emotional right now, Wanda. But it won't get any easier. She may get angry, if you put it off."
"How do you say a thing like that?"
"No idea. I've never had to, though I've been with family members in similar circumstances. You need to tell her right away, and schedule your appointments and treatments."
"I hate it, but you're right."
Someone tapped at the door.
"Come in," Wanda said.
"Hi. I didn't want to interrupt, but it's time to take vitals," the nurse said with a shy smile.
©Dellani Oakes 2023