"Just what the hell were you doing, spying like a pervert at a peepshow?" Sheila demanded in hissing whisper. One stern look from those dark brown eyes, coupled with those wiry black hands ending in brightly colored nail polish pressed against her hips in a defiant stance, could make even the most belligerent of Oak Ridge's residents cower into submission. Marissa, always the pliable type, felt ready to bawl like a scolded child.
Sheila, looking as if she immediately sensed this, quickly broke into a gleaming white grin, a stark contrast to her dark skin and loose turquoise scrubs. "Oh, now, don't start with that. I'm just yanking your chain," she told Marissa, and gestured for the girl to help her retrieve the spilled mail. "I take it nobody told you about Room 112."
Marissa bent forward like a robot, further movements equally stiff as she gathered the letters and cards addressed to various residents. "I heard something," she said. "A woman ... she sounded sick."
Sheila stifled a giggle. "No, I guess not. Figures. That seems to be a rite of passage around here, the new person walking in on that room. Come on, I'll take care of this." Sheila took the mail Marissa had collected and guided the girl down the hall toward the employee lounge. Down the long, tiled path, bordered by white walls interrupted by the occasional bulletin board filled with activity notices, their crepe-soled shoes made no sound.
Marissa kept her focus straight ahead, unwilling to let the odd resident shuffling past or waiting in a wheelchair outside his room distract her. Who knew what else was going on these rooms?
The employee lounge was no less elegantly appointed; there was a long table with a chipped wood finish, mismatched molded plastic chairs, a couch against one wall, and a soft drink machine by the sink counter. Sheila had Marissa sit in the one chair that did not rock on a lame leg and set her stethoscope and the mail on the table next to her. She fished into the pocket of her floral print smock, jingling change.
"This one's on me," Sheila said, and purchased two root beers from the machine. "You probably want something stronger, but we're not allowed to keep booze in here." Sheila indicated the mini refrigerator in the cubbyhole under the sink. "Sucks, especially with the summer picnic coming up. All these patients running around Rogers Park ... I'm going to need a stiff drink to get through it."
Marissa cringed at that word. Patients. She had been advised by her supervisor never to use that word around others. At Oak Ridge, non-personnel were to be known as residents. True, they were no longer able to live unassisted, but it was understood that the term patient implied total helplessness, something terminal, and could introduce a macabre atmosphere. Those who lived at Oak Ridge, Marissa had been schooled, were to be treated always with dignity. These people were residents. Marissa was a residential aide.
And whoever those two people were in Room 112 ... well, they were probably the happiest people in the building at the moment. To say nothing of the luckiest.
Sheila cast her a sideways glance as she picked at the tab of her soft drink can, careful not to chip a nail. "You're Melissa, right?"
Marissa snapped to attention and sipped her root beer. "Ma-rissa," she corrected. "I officially started today, though I trained all last week."
"Um-hmm. Stuck you in the back room with the TV and made you watch all those videos?" She laughed as Marissa nodded. "I'll bet none of them prepared you for what you saw today."