DAY 3 – WEDNESDAY
Doctor Kadowaki pulled off the next form sheet and looked it over, sipping some hot coffee. She pushed up her glasses on her nose. The pearl attaching strings tickled her cheeks - 'idiot strings' she called them. Upon finishing the review, she put the mug on her desk, picked up her pen, and started tapping it, wondering how to diagnose this patient. Complaints of stomach problems from greasy foods, off and on diarrhea. There were a few possibilities - it could be a stomach bacteria or a gastrointestinal virus. A remote prospect, but possible. The two might have been unrelated as well, sometimes patients diagnosed themselves wrong. Or maybe it was just an intolerance to greasy foods. She wrote down on the sheet, in the space provided, that she needed to get a stool sample from that patient, wondering if she was noticing any blood in the stool.
Smiling, Rinoa came out of the washroom, holding her drying hands up. "Okay, I'm all scrubbed up," she said enthusiastically. The doctor rolled her eyes before turning, so Rinoa wouldn't see, and swiveled her chair to match her gaze.
"All right, look. You're a sorceress and the significant other of the garden commander. I agree with you that you should find a place in Garden to 'earn your keep' or whatever you call it. But I'm not going to tolerate any monkey business from you. I've been a doctor for over thirty years and I've done this job fine without a nurse and I still can. All right?"
"...Oh. All right." She lowered her arms.
"Sorry," the doctor said as she pushed up her glasses again. "I don't mean to be harsh, but I don't tolerate nonsense in my infirmary."
"I understand. I'll do my best," she said with a determined expression.
"All right, there's a student here for a physical in room one. Peto Spander," she said as she handed her a file folder. "Give him the once over like I showed you."
Rinoa confidently nodded and took the folder into the room where Peto was sitting on the bed, dangling his feet off. He had fair hair and looked to be about fifteen or sixteen, wearing a denim jacket and jeans.
"Hi, Peto, I'm Rinoa. You're here for a physical?"
"Yes," he said quietly.
"All right, can you get on the scale here?" Rinoa said, gesturing to it.
The boy hopped off the bed and approached the scale. "Should I take my shoes off?"
"Um, I'm not sure." Rinoa checked the sheet where the weight box was and saw nothing about qualifications of shoes or not. "Why don't you do it with shoes on, and I'll write it here."
The boy stepped on the scale while Rinoa wrote 'with shoes' next to 'weight'. She took down the numbers of his weight and height and then had him sit on the table again. She took the armband for the blood pressure instrument and wrapped it around his arm, just like she'd read how to do, pumping up the small bladder and keeping the stethoscope on the elbow joint. The needle remained at zero though. No matter how much she pumped, the dial remained stationary.
"Hm," Rinoa thought. It was very weird. She tried taking off the wrapper and reapplying it, going through all the motions again. She knew she wasn't forgetting anything in the process. The needle stayed at zero. She was either doing something wrong or the thing was broken.
"Doctor? Can you come in here for a second?"
Kadowaki tromped into the patient room, seeing Rinoa holding up the blood pressure instrument. "I can't seem to get this," she said.
The doctor sighed and took the bladder. "That's fine. I'll do it. Why don't you go in the second room? Fara needs some blood taken."
Rinoa nodded and headed off. She could take blood, that was no problem. She could do this job, she knew it. This was just an unlucky piece of equipment failure, she couldn't let it bring her down. She was going to show that she could fit in this job. This was really the best place of calling for her. She wasn't a SeeD, she couldn't be sent out on missions, so serving Garden as a medic was the most helpful role she could play.
Fara was sitting on the bed with her sleeve already rolled up and arm bared. "Hi, I'm Rinoa, I'm going to take some blood now."
"All right," she said. Rinoa took a rubber hose from the nearby box and tied it around Fara's arm. Then she spread a little disinfectant on the elbow joint, at the same time pressing down to find a good vein to stick the needle in. Thinking she found one, she poked in just a little ways. It was like puncturing soft rubber. This part was a little squeamish for her, but she was a big enough girl to handle it. Doctors looked at blood and guts everyday.
"Ow," Fara said as a reaction.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Are you okay?"
Rinoa looked at the syringe. It was not filling up with blood. The normal pressure should have been pushing it into the syringe. The steps she was going over told her she was doing everything right. She pulled the needle out and injected it under the skin again. Nothing was flowing in. Where is your vein? she thought. She pulled the syringe out again.
"Ow," Fara said. Rinoa was concentrating so hard on getting it right she ignored the yelp of pain as she tapped the inside elbow. It should have just been flowing right in there, like Rinoa saw when Dr. Kadowaki did it earlier.
She came in right there, having heard the minor cries and becoming curious. "Jeez," she exclaimed as she rushed forward and grabbed the shot. "Be careful. Here, I'll do it." She held the syringe like a pro, pulling the plunger out slowly and extracting the blood. With no hesitation she turned back to Rinoa and pulled off the capsule from the needle.
"Be careful," she whispered as she handed her the vial. "If you inject her with air, it could cause a heart attack. Now take this to the centrifuge and run it."
"Okay," she meekly uttered. So she was 0 for 2. Not so great so far, but she could make up for it. She just hoped she didn't hurt the girl too much. When she was little she was scared of needles, as were most children, so she knew what it was like. But this centrifuge was easy. It was mechanical, no humans involved. Pretty simple. All it did was spin the vial of blood so the liquid would be separated from the solid. No problem.
She set the vial in the slot and set the digital touch pad for a hundred revolutions and hit start. The centrifugal force of the disc picked up slowly and began spinning around like a mobile. It seemed so fast. Almost too fast. Rinoa had never seen the centrifuge at this speed and began to think something had gone wrong with it. The motor inside began emitting a faint humming noise. She tried stamping the stop button rapidly, but the machine continued.
The vial of blood flew off its chamber and smashed against the blue wall, leaving a vermilion and glass supernova.
The doctor came in, as well as the two other students, upon hearing the noise. Kadowaki looked at the mess on the wall and slumped her shoulders, letting out a kind of reverse gasp. Closing her mouth she stared at Rinoa disapprovingly. The new assistant felt about two feet tall.
"Um, sorry," Rinoa sheepishly grinned.
Dr. Kadowaki remained silent, drilling her eyes into Rinoa.
Rinoa looked downward. "I think maybe I should take a break now."
"Maybe," the doctor said.
Like maybe a six hour break, Rinoa thought.
The rhapsody ended and switched to the next track of a symphonic piece as Quistis balanced herself on the highest rung to which she was going to risk climbing. Briefly confused as to how get a free hand, she decided to put the light bulb in her pocket for now as she unscrewed the small knob holding the dimmer plate in place, the shield that blocked the light bulbs from blinding her if she looked up. Delicately putting that piece on the ladder she reached up and removed the broken bulb. Just another part of her errands she was doing today.
Suddenly, a knock at the door sounded. Quistis dared not risk upsetting the delicate glass on the ladder so she just yelled, "Come in."
Squall opened the door and entered.
"Hi," she said.
He saw she was changing a light bulb on her ladder. Another man would have asked what she was doing, but there was no need for that if he could tell just by simple observation. The classical music didn't surprise him either, as he knew the intelligent woman preferred that genre. He approached her, holding a set of papers. "I was wondering if you had time to go over the SeeD test prospects now."
"Sure, just let me finish this up." Quistis picked the fresh light bulb out of her pocket and stretched out to the ceiling. "Do you know who Selphie took with her shopping?" she commented idly.
"She went shopping again?" Squall's eyes bulged out. Didn't they just go shopping yesterday? They were gone the whole day. "Well, she must have taken Zell, cause I haven't seen him all day."
"Yeah, she needs to get shoes, still."
Squall thought, Oh, god, did Zell know what he was getting himself into? "Rinoa and Xu didn't go? You didn't go with?"
Quistis sighed. "I'm all shopped out. I spent near the whole day with her yesterday and I've got all these errands to run, you see." She indicated the grayed out bulb she held as she stepped down the ladder. "I don't think Selphie's quite ready for something like this." For a moment, Quistis regretted bringing Squall into this internal debate she was having.
Well, duh. Squall kept tight-lipped with his opinions, but still thought them.
"She says she 'thinks' it's right."
"It's natural for her to feel overwhelmed or scared or excited," Squall said dryly.
"Yeah, she's definitely all of those. But she doesn't seem to be sure of herself that she's making a right decision."
Why is she talking to me about this?
"She didn't have many boy experiences, you know."
"None of us have had many interpersonal relationships. Being a SeeD doesn't exactly give you time or inclination to date."
"But still, that's no excuse for being so... naïve." Quistis walked over to the garbage and tossed the bulb in. "We all told her not to get on that train with Irvine. But she did it anyway. That's how this thing started in the first place. That's where it all... began." She coughed, implying what Squall already knew. "She's been making bad decisions even before this."
"She still thinks she's gonna be a SeeD a year after the baby."
Squall kept to himself the thought Is she really that short-sighted?
"She doesn't know what a baby does to your body," Quistis continued, "It really puts you on a rack. I mean, that just shows she hasn't put the right amount of thought into what she's gonna do. Me, Xu, and Rin are gonna try and confront her today."
"What would that accomplish?"
"I don't know. Sit her down, get her to realize what's really going on. She's not worried about her situation and that worries us." Her voiced raised to an alarming tone. "I think she's in some sort of denial that she's changed her life forever. She's all starry-eyed over Irvine. He's the only thing she really wants. But she doesn't realize the cost of it." Quistis realized she was getting hostile and settled herself down. "Anyway, do you want to help?"
"I'm not her father."
"I think anything we could say would have a lot more weight coming from you. You're the commander, after all."
"It's not my place to speak. I'm not her parental authority."
"She doesn't need a parent. She needs a friend. She needs her friends to help her see what's going on. What do you think we should do?"
"She made her decision and nothing can change that about the past. Nothing."
Squall spun and left Quistis' room, shutting the door behind him, leaving the blond woman a little bewildered.
She turned and collapsed the ladder. "I thought he wanted to go over the SeeD tests," she mumbled.
Xu perused Selphie's requisition forms for the upcoming Garden Festival as she walked down the hall. They had just been turned in and she was curious what Selphie had asked for this time. The girl had a nice habit of asking for fifty times more than her appropriated budget. Xu wondered if she was doing this intentionally, if she knew one of the unspoken rules of negotiation was to always ask more than what you really wanted and then come down from there. It looked like this time would be no different.
When she entered the cafeteria she bypassed the food line and went straight for the coffee machine, where not too many people were. Energetic teens didn't need coffee. She held her ceramic mug up to the spout and pulled the tiny lever down. A thin stream of brown liquid dribbled down into the mug. As her cup filled, Xu once again looked at the cartoon of a stressed-out moogle with sweat drops flying off his head. Cid had given it to her for Secretary Day.
Just as the machine had finished and she took her cup away a female voice shouted. "Xu! Over here."
Xu perked up her head and saw Rinoa and Quistis sitting at a table amidst the medium crowd. Smiling, she walked over to her friends, holding her cup precariously so as not to get burned. Whatever it was they wanted, it would be a welcome diversion from the drudgery of the day. She set her mug down on the table. "What's up?"
"Have you ever had a boyfriend?" Rinoa asked.
Xu was visibly taken aback. "That's kind of a personal question, isn't it?"
Quistis leaned into Rinoa and chided her. "Rinoa, don't ask it like that."
Xu, who was not so offended, just surprised, said, "Why?"
"Cause we're having another 'figure out Squall' session."
Xu smiled, pulled out a chair, and sat down. These led to some interesting conversations, and there was no way she was going to miss one if she could help it. "All right, so what happened?" They were also preceded by some action of Squall's.
Rinoa said, "Squall hasn't been acting like he loves me anymore."
Xu said, "Now, I know that's not true."
Rinoa didn't react and continued. "He seems more closed off than he did before. Like his personality fell off the diving board and into the deep end."
"I haven't noticed myself," Xu said as she took a sip of too-hot coffee. "But I don't spend too much time with him."
"I think maybe with the wedding coming up so quick, it's sort of scared Squall from our relationship. Do you know what I mean?"
"I think so. Like, he's not getting scared of marriage," she explained, emphasizing 'scared', "But maybe he realizes that if he stays with you, he's going to have to do the same thing. He's kinda seeing his future right now."
Quistis nodded. "Maybe he's seeing himself here."
Rinoa directed her eyes downward. "But wouldn't you think he'd be happy seeing that? Doesn't he want to marry me?"
"Oh, yeah, that is weird," Xu agreed as she sat back in the chair, a little defeated.
Quistis interjected, her hands gesturing on the table as she spoke. "Rinoa, I can't picture him not marrying you. You've changed his life so much. You are so important to him."
"Then why is he so weird? Maybe I'm not what he wants anymore. That's why he's been distancing himself from me."
"Except that he's been distancing himself from all of us," Quistis said.
"How could you tell?" Xu joked and laughed.
"Kids," Quistis cut in. "Maybe he has an aversion to kids."
"Ohhh," Rinoa sighed. "But I want kids. You're not making me feel better, Quistis," she smiled.
Xu put her hand on her chin. "I didn't think about that. That kid's gonna be in all our lives. We're all potential babysitters."
"Yeah, in a way, we're all gonna be that kid's parents," Quistis said, glowering. Selphie was going to have that kid and there was no way she could do it all alone. Being friends with her, they were now forced into helping her, helping a friend, even if they had no parenting skills or didn't want to. Because of her irresponsibility, now they were all going to get dragged down with her for it. That fact angered Quistis a great deal, that Selphie hadn't realized how this was going to affect her friends as well.
"The whole thing just seems too odd to be true," Quistis said.
Rinoa said, "Well, would you rather Selphie have it out of wedlock?"
"Does it mater? You can have a child out of wedlock. It's not so big a deal anymore."
"Except society still looks down on it."
"Yeah, but society or not, the baby is going to come. Kerboom. And there will be two people there to take care of it, whether they're married or not."
"Unless Irvine skips out."
"But Irvine would never do that," Rinoa said.
"Yeah." Both Xu and Quistis nodded solemnly in agreement. "But some people aren't so lucky."
Xu said, "I think that's what marriage is for, so two people can be cemented together, so that one can't leave."
Quistis leaned over, "Not that that stops them."
"Well, it's harder to leave, legally. Or maybe it's subconscious. You think 'we're a legal family now. I can't leave'."
"Not that Selphie's thought about that," Rinoa said.
Quistis grumbled. "Selphie hasn't thought about much." She sat up straight and alert. "Where is she going to stay? In Garden? I don't think Cid would allow that. It's not a place for kids or families."
Rinoa, ever the hopeful, said, "Maybe Cid would make an exception?"
"I doubt it," Xu confirmed Quistis' observation, "Not after Garden became a mobile command center. And certainly not after the Galbadia attack."
"I guess Selphie was talking about getting a house on Obel Lake."
"With her money? I don't think so," Quistis, ever the realist, said, "She won't be making money if she's not in SeeD. She'll be a full-time mom. Irvine will have to send them 90% of his earnings."
"That's mostly why they're getting married. If Irvine dies on field duty, the SeeD insurance will cover him nicely, since he's a high-ranked SeeD."
Xu sat back in the chair. "Everything's happening so fast, she probably hasn't had time to think about the consequences. I mean, geez, they haven't even been able to send out proper invitations, everything's just been by word of mouth. I wish she had some time to stop and think about things with a little perspective. If only she'd never gotten on that train."
"I bet she's wishing that now, too. We all warned her it was a bad idea. She really only has herself to blame. But she never really made any good decisions regarding Irvine." Quistis sighed. "She really was the most naïve of all of us. I hate to use that word, but it's true. She's lacking a lot of street smarts."
Rinoa said, "Well, she grew up in Trabia. That's not exactly a bustling metropolis. I'm surprised there's a Garden there at all."
Quistis nodded and said, "And it's not that Selphie's not intelligent. She just hasn't had time to think clearly because of the speed this is all happening at. This couldn't be a worse time. Selphie was eleven months away from becoming a veteran SeeD. She would have gotten even more benefits."
Xu commented, "No one's retired and come back to work. You lose your edge."
"And she thinks she can come back after a year. If you're not ready to handle the responsibility of babies, you're not ready to have sex. At least not unprotected sex."
Xu nearly choked on her coffee, sputtering up liquid. "That's how? It was unprotected? Nothing... uh, broke?"
"He was using the withdrawal method," Quistis said with a sneer as she shifted her eyes to her.
Xu said, "Oh my god, how stupid could you get?"
"That's why I think we need to sit down Selphie and force her into a serious talk about what she's doing. Force her to face this reality. That Irvine loves her and it's gonna be a fairy princess story. She doesn't have any proof that Irvine loved her before the baby."
"Wait," Xu interrupted, "Irvine told me that he was thinking of marrying Selphie in the summer."
Finding a place to speak, Rinoa said, "That could have been a line. When did he say that? ... After all this?"
"See?" Quistis said, holding up her palm, "All Irvine is concerned with is his image. I never understood why Selphie is so interested in him."
"I kinda wondered that too," Rinoa said. "I mean he's nice and all, but I could never take his ego or his flirting."
Xu said, "Their relationship has always been sort of cool. I guess because no one thought anything would come of it, since Irvine's such a ladies man. Especially after Selphie tried to woo him and got nothing, but then they still stayed," she made quote marks with her fingers, "'friends'. I think it's a combination of things - Selphie's need to be the center of attention, Irvine's forcefulness, his suaveness. She's always been head over heels for him. We all kinda were, in a superficial way."
Rinoa said, "Maybe it's the fact that he's a project, and she thinks she can change him."
"Kind of like Squall."
"Exactly," Rinoa chirped, not minding the crack at her expense at all, in fact, agreeing with it. "All women need projects to work on. It keeps them busy. Except in her case, Selphie thinks she can domesticate him."
Xu said, "I read, though, that men can't be changed like that."
"They can't," Quistis said, "That's why Selphie's plan is stupid. She's going to end up in a relationship with someone who doesn't really care for her."
Xu was agitated at that, "Hey now. At least he's doing the right thing."
"What? Living inside a lie? Is that the right thing? The way they're going now is based on an illusion. She's not seeing the forest for the trees. I have no idea what Irvine is thinking, but I know Selphie better."
"They're both good guys."
"Sure they are," Rinoa said, trying to return to a calmer and more rational tone of voice. "But they made bad choices."
"Yeah, and they still are," Quistis said, standing up with her cup, ready to refill it at the fountain.
Xu said, "Irvine and Selphie were never official in the first place. Irvine said they were just friends with benefits for a while."
"That's Irvine for you. I can't believe they were both so stupid."
"Hey, it's not like either one of them wanted this."
Quistis rolled her eyes at Xu. "Come on. It takes two to tango. It was only physical to both of them. She was easy and he was horny!"
She covered her mouth immediately, as if she was trying to prevent the words from reaching the ears of her friends. The worser part, she realized as she took her hand down, revealing a thin mouth, was that she meant it and stood by her statement. Gripping her mug, she stormed out of the cafeteria.
Birds chirped to each other as Squall walked through the open air hallway of Garden, holding a clipboard under his arm and looking cross. Students wearing their dark blue uniforms said hello and hi as he passed them, to which he returned a polite nod. They really only distracted him. This was the last item of the day to do and he needed it signed before he could leave. He was tempted to leave it till later, but his devotion to his duty nagged at him until it got its way. The reason he'd put it off was because he needed Irvine's signature to finish it.
Squall tapped the back of the clipboard against his thigh while looking down at the purple striped walkway. He was dreading this moment. Squall hadn't talked to Irvine since he found out. He had no idea how he was going to interact with him, how he himself was going to interact. Was Irvine going to mention anything to him about it? If he was, what was he going to respond with? There was no clean way about it, no way of getting through life without ever talking to him again. Especially as commander. It was no use avoiding the problem, so Squall was going to have to take it like a man. After all the times he'd cheated death, he couldn't believe he was nervous about something like this. He took a deep breath and pushed those feelings aside. They were inappropriate.
Squall turned the corner, walked down the rows of doors, counting the numbers, when he saw a girl standing in the hallway near Irvine's door. In fact it was Irvine's door, and in fact, it was Xu, for some reason. She was looking up at his door number dolefully, hugging a stack of books to her chest with one hand and holding an envelope marked with red in the other.
Hearing his footsteps, she turned to him. "Oh, hi, Squall," she said, almost surprised. She put the envelope on her stack of books and tucked them into herself.
"Hi, Xu. Is Irvine in?"
"Ah, no, I think he's gone."
"Gone? Where is he?"
"He said he'd be back Sunday."
"Sunday?" Squall asked incredulously. "He has a wedding to plan and he's gone for three days?"
Xu just shrugged.
Squall grumbled to himself and looked away. Another fine bit of change in this never-ending saga. The document he needed signed could wait, that wasn't what he was miffed at. He was just angry that Irvine's apparent indolent attitude was showing through even to his wedding. Just like a cowboy.
Squall said, "Well, if he's gone, what are you doing here?"
"Um..." she stammered, looking down.
"Hey, Squall," Zell piped up as he approached the duo from around the corner, deciding to make it a trio. Squall and Xu turned their heads. "If you're looking for Irvine, you're not going to find him there," the blond spiky-haired man said. "He's gone for three days."
"Yeah, I know. Xu told me."
"Hi, Xu, what's up," he waved to her.
"Do you know where he is?" Squall asked Zell.
"Dunno. Forgot to ask. Not too far, I think."
"Doesn't he realize he has a wedding coming up soon?"
"Yeah, but he's got some time. It's not like it's a huge gala celebration. Besides, the girls do all the planning anyway."
Xu looked back and forth between the two, caught in the middle, and kept her books held tightly like a schoolgirl.
Squall tilted his head to change his perspective. "Why does your tattoo look different?" The black tribal pattern that was normally black on skin tone had a distinctive red hue change.
Zell held his hand to face and turned away. "Oh, eh, huh. I tried asking one of the cashiers at the store out when I was with Selphie. I got my just desserts for it, I guess."
"Maybe she thought you were the groom and were asking her in front of your fiancée."
"Aw, man!" Zell snapped his fingers in a maudlin manner. Apparently, he was still on his quest to find a date for the wedding. "You're probably right. Jeez, what was I thinking? Should I go back there and try again?" he asked the two of them.
"Mm, no," Squall thought after no deliberation. "Maybe you should try someone new. Someone closer to home."
"Yeah, you're right," Zell kicked the floor glumly like a football player. Even despondent, he still had that bouncy energy. Squall rolled his eyes. Xu smiled and looked down at the floor. Zell continued, "You know, I was thinking. It's never gonna be the same with them. Selphie and Irvine, I mean. You were right about that too. They're not gonna be the same people we knew."
Xu said, "People don't change personalities drastically just cause they're in a relationship... or marriage."
"Ha, ha, yeah right." Zell held his stomach and doubled over. Squall couldn't tell whether the gesture was sarcasm or not. "You shoulda been there with me today. All Selphie talked about was Irvine. Irvine's gonna do this, he's gonna do that. He's gonna get this career. The kids are gonna go to this school. Before, she didn't know what she was gonna have for lunch until 11:59." Zell cleared his throat a bit.
Squall looked away. Apparently, Selphie was very stubborn about this relationship and the path she was going. She really did think she was going to be able to achieve all these goals she had set out for her and her family, and for some reason Squall was angry at her that she trying to be so controlling. But he kept his mouth shut, and didn't say anything.
Xu said, "I don't think Irvine's gonna change that much."
"Yeah, but the way we see them is gonna change. I mean, we're never gonna see the two of them alone again. Selphie's never gonna be without Irvine and Irvine's never gonna be without Selphie. It's like they're one, one unit. They're different people when they're alone. Before, me and Irvine could hang out and do guy things, but now it'll be different."
"What-" Squall caught himself again.
Xu said, "Maybe you'll still do that stuff, maybe you just won't be able to do it that often."
"Nah," Zell waved his hand dismissively, "Anyone I've ever known who went into a serious relationship just became someone else. They started hanging out with that girl 24/7. Lost a lot of good training partners that way. We'll probably never see Irvine again. Or at least we'll never see him the same way. He's got Selphie now."
"I know," Xu said quietly.
"But at least Selphie found someone she loves and Irvine's going through with it. He could easily back out or use the mission or SeeD as an excuse or something."
"I know," Xu said. "Excuse me." Xu walked quickly in between them and down the remainder of the hall. Both the guys thought the behavior was odd.
"Whoa, that was weird," Zell said.
Squall said nothing.