38 - The Waiting

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Liam lay sprawled in Liz's lap, exhausted and sleepy now from the painkillers the triage nurse had given him. The emergency room waiting room was mostly empty. Air whistled from an elderly woman's oxygen tank, leaking out around the edges of the tubes in her nose. A young couple sat together, one of them looking pale and feverish, both bent over some video on a cell phone. 

Hours ago, when they'd first arrived, the waiting room had been far more crowded. Most patients were in the back now, being seen or tested or sent home, and Liz once again was forced to wait through an excruciating period of uncertainty for the x-rays to be finished and reviewed so they would know whether the boy's wrist was broken or merely sprained. 

Liam's right hand had swollen, an angry blue-black bruise spreading along the pale skin. The doctor suspected a hairline fracture. 

When the doctor had asked how the injury had happened, she had said he'd fallen while playing. There had been a moment -- a fierce, cruel moment -- when she had wanted to accuse Nat, to explain how she had seen her throw the boy to the ground. 

But Liz did not want the baggage that came with making a report like that. 

The police. The social workers. The lawyers -- always the fucking lawyers. She could just see the smug look on the custody lawyer's face if he got hold of this. It had been hard enough to negotiate the terms of the divorce and custody without these...complications. 

Kids got hurt sometimes. Nobody could say accidents didn't happen. 

She'd deal with it herself when she got home. 

Whatever "it" was, of course. Hours in a waiting room, surrounded by the petty tragedies of strangers, had blunted the sharp edges of her anger and left her wondering about her memory. 

She had never known Nat to lose her temper or raise a hand against the boy. And even if he had been messing with the stupid dog, she couldn't imagine Nat being upset enough to grab him like that. 

But what else was she supposed to think? 

Liam certainly hadn't thrown himself on the ground hard enough to hurt his arm like that. 

And Nat's response had been filled with guilt. She'd reacted with that deer-in-the headlights look, that stumbling for an excuse, like a naughty child caught making a mess and eager to blame it on an imaginary friend. 

Liz was worried about her. Nat had been so strange these last few weeks, anxious and needy and fostering that unhealthy obsession with the Riveras and their belongings and the damn dog. She had been weird about Matt Cook, too, and that stung; arguing with Liz about it like a jealous teenager instead of offering any kind of sympathy or support about the death of a friend. An acquaintance, maybe, a work colleague -- but still. A man was dead, and Nat had tried to make it all about herself. 

Liz was worried, but she was also irritated. She didn't have the time or the patience to put up with this kind of childish bullshit. She'd known there was a risk to marrying a younger woman, but Nat had always been cool. She'd been fun. Liz had never imagined that she couldn't trust her to act like a grownup when it was necessary. 

"Mind if I sit here?" 

Liz looked up, blinking. The man was young, maybe her age, and well-dressed. He offered a smile. She thought something seemed dimly familiar about his smile, like she'd maybe met him somewhere before -- at the funeral? at the shop? -- but she couldn't place it. 

She glanced around the mostly-empty room, lifting her brows questioningly. 

He pointed at the TV. "You've got some prime-time real estate here," he said, and chuckled. 

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