The room was littered with copies of Us Weekly, People, OK!. There was no magazine that she wanted to look through, no pictures or articles that captured her attention. She couldn’t read about one more celebrity divorce, scandalized beauty queen, or bad teen mom. She even tried for a while to find the differences between the two pictures in a copy of Highlights but found she zoned out longer than she could stay focused. She sat. She paced. She was so tired of waiting. She wanted Ryan to wake up. She would’ve settled for Cordelia to wake up, although she knew that it would take everything in her power to not walk into her room and lash out at her with harsh words.
Then Lila realized she was hungry. She knew she needed to eat, should eat. She was well aware of the fact that she could do nothing for her two comatose friends by sitting in the waiting room. She needed to keep up her strength. How many times had she seen a “doctor” on some television program tell the family they needed to rest or eat? Too many times to count. She was aware that the programs weren’t real life, but when the writers are smart, they slip in real advice with fake traumas.
She found a hospital information pamphlet on one of the tables. The cafeteria was on the ground floor. She walked to the elevator, pushed the button, and waited.
When the doors opened on the first floor she hadn't remembered stepping into the elevator or pushing the button. Her subconscious mind had taken over leaving her conscious mind free to wonder through its memories.
She walked through the cafeteria buffet line little more aware than a zombie. She stared at blobs of Jell-O and leaves of lettuce that both seemed to be moving, cottage cheese that made her question her sanity, meat in gravy that didn’t even look real. Nothing looked like food. She was exhausted and delirious. She blinked her eyes and shook her head. She took a deep breath and released it. She had to focus on what was in front of her. She grabbed a small salad and an iced tea. She tried to leave her thoughts of Ryan and Cordelia up on the ICU floor, but she couldn’t. They were here with her, trapped in limbo while she tried to eat.
Over the course of that summer that Lila told Cordelia that she and Ryan had become an item, things were tense between the three of them. Lila and Ryan went out on dates, of course, but they also went out for drinks or dinner and a movie with Cordelia—three friends out for a few laughs. Ryan was insistent that they try to maintain a since of normalcy in their lives. Lila made every effort to plan girls afternoons or evenings just for her and Cordelia. Cordelia canceled many of those dates.
By the time they headed back to Brown for the fall semester things had gotten back on track, or so the couple thought. Cordelia seemed much more accepting of the fact that Lila and Ryan were indeed an item instead of a fling. She had become much more receptive to their dinner invitations. She loved them both. She was single. Why not enjoy the company of her two best friends?
The why proved itself in time. Attending college is stressful. There’s the headache of making yourself go to class, making yourself do homework. There is research to be done and papers to write. And don’t forget the social events. Cordelia was always heavily booked on the social calendar. Combine all of those things and mix them in the mind of a jealous 19-year-old and then throw in watching the man you love coo at his girlfriend—your best friend—across the table and you’ve got a powder keg waiting to explode.
It started small. Ryan, Lila, and Cordelia would be enjoying coffee and the three of them would be talking about something they had in common: a class, a teacher, a favorite new cocktail; and the conversation would veer off into Loveland. Cordelia would pretend to be interested in what the other two were talking about, and for a while she managed to hide her frustration with what she saw as their blatant disregard for her feelings. The moments of discussing each other’s lives—the three of them as friends—became less while the moments of Lila and Ryan discussing their life together increased. It was more than she could bear at times. Instead of full inclusion in the dinner she felt like an intruder on their moment, an inclusion out of habit rather than desire.
At first she started zoning out—consciously choosing to not pay attention to what they were talking about. Then she started drinking more. She would put on a smile and pretend to be listening, but she really couldn’t have cared less about the weekend getaway the two of them had planned or the fact that they had purchased a couple’s spa package for over the Christmas holiday. Mostly she just wanted to leave. Every time, she just wanted to leave. She kept asking herself why she continued to say yes to their invitations. Would it be so bad if she just said no?
Finally, she had taken all she could take. She was drinking her second glass of wine while the two of them were halfway through their first glass. She was listening to Ryan talk about his art history class. He was directing all the words to Lila. Cordelia wondered if they even remembered she was there.
“You know, I think I’m just going to go,” Cordelia interjected into Ryan’s story.
“What? Why?” asked Lila, taken aback.
“Honestly, every time the three of us are out together it is more and more the Ryan and Lila show. I’m here too, you guys. You hardly include me in the conversation.” She added a shrug as she took a drink of wine. “Normally, I would just interject myself, but I find it so tedious to sit here and listen to the two of you talk about shit that you can talk about anytime instead of us talking about things like we used to.” She stood up as she finished her thought, picked up the near empty glass of wine and downed it. “I need a break from the two of you and our dinners together. I’ll see you later. Ryan, you’ll take care of the wine?” She said this almost as an after thought and then left the restaurant.
“I need to go after her.” Lila was on her feet immediately.
“No. No you don’t.” Ryan was not angry. He was almost compassionate. “I’m sure it’s awkward sitting here with us. We’re a couple and we’re not including her. I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Sit back down and let’s have dinner.”
Lila sat down hesitantly.
“She’ll be fine,” Ryan confirmed.
Cordelia was unaware that Lila had become conscious of her newly developed facial ticks and the exaggerated eye rolls that had become her outlet for focusing her frustration. Lila was concerned for Cordelia. She wanted to reach out to her friend and have an honest conversation about how her relationship with Ryan was affecting her relationship with Cordelia. She was unable to find the words. Just like the day in Windsor when she told Cordelia about the kiss and what it had led to.
Treading lightly around Cordelia was taking its toll on her. She didn’t want to lose her friend, but she didn’t know how much longer it would be worth it. She sacrificed her own happiness in discussing Ryan in order to spare Cordelia’s feelings. She often wished they could just talk; talk like the girlfriends they used to be. She didn’t want her relationship with Ryan to become an irreparable divide between her and Cordelia, but if Cordelia made her choose, she knew she would choose Ryan.
It was early in their dating life—and she knew there were no guarantees—but she felt so good about it. Saying that she would give up a friend for a man had never been her m.o., but the more she thought about it the easier it was to admit she would separate Cordelia from her heart.
“Lila Hayward, please report to the ICU nurses station.” There was an announcement over the intercom. Lila thought that she had heard her name but wasn’t certain.
“Lila Hayward, please report to the ICU nurses station.” The announcement was repeated.
Lila felt her heart sink into the pit of her stomach, which then knotted with a pain that nearly caused her to double over. She took a deep breath, picked up her tray, dumped it, placed it on the conveyor belt, and walked toward the elevator. She realized she was shaking. She was afraid every eye in the cafeteria was on her. She didn’t want them to know she was Lila Hayward. She didn’t even know why it mattered if they knew, she just wanted to appear to be a girl finished eating and leaving the room.
When the doors to the elevator closed she stood inside taking deep, calming breaths. She had only two floors to try and prepare herself for whatever news she was getting ready to hear. Her fear that Ryan had died outweighed her hopes that he’d awakened. That’s always the way I guess. In situations like these one always prepares for the worst. Lila was no different.
When she reached the nurses station she looked around for who might have had her paged. There was a single nurse sitting behind the desk.
“Hello. I’m Lila Hayward. I was just paged to this nurses station.”
“Hi, Lila,” said the nurse. When there was no immediate recognition she continued. “It’s Jenny Commons.” The girl behind the desk had been a neighbor and classmate of Lila’s. In her exhaustion Lila hadn’t even recognized her.
“Jenny? Hi.” Lila smiled for what felt like the first time in hours. She and Jenny had not been close friends, but they had been speak-in-the-hall-or-at-the-mall friends. Jenny had always been kind to Lila and Lila could only hope she had been kind enough to Jenny in return. Their lack of close friendship had more to do with Cordelia than Lila. Jenny didn’t care for Cordelia so an intimate friendship with Lila had been out of the question.
“I’m so sorry about Ryan and Cordelia,” Jenny said.
“Did something happen?” Lila asked as her breath immediately quickened and she looked down the hall toward their rooms.
“No. Nothing has happened,” Jenny responded, reaching up without thought to comfort Lila by holding her hand, hoping for a calming tone to her voice. “I just mean that they’re here at all.”
“Oh.” A sense of relief washed over her. “Me too.” She gave Jenny a smile, but it was imbued with sadness. “Thank you for saying so, Jenny. I mean that. I know how you feel about Cordelia. It means a lot to me.”
Jenny removed her hand from Lila’s, “Dr. Martin had you paged. I’ll let him know you’re here.”
Jenny picked up the phone and spoke briefly before looking back at Lila. “He’s on his way.”
“Thank you, Jenny.”
Jenny smiled, “It’s going to be okay, Lila.”
Lila nodded her head in acknowledgment, placed her elbows on the nurse’s station and her head in her hands. She closed her eyes and waited.
“Lila.” She heard Dr. Martin’s voice and turned to see him.
“Has there been any change, Dr. Martin?”
“They’re both still in a coma, Lila, but we may have found something that could help us with Ryan.” Lila’s eyes lit up. That must be why she had been paged.
“Is there something I can do to help? Is that why you paged me?”
“We ran a tox screen on Ryan.” He watched Lila contort with confusion as to why anyone would think Ryan would be on drugs. “It’s standard procedure when someone without a history of seizures has one. The results showed us a drug we didn’t recognize.” At these words, Lila knew what it was before Dr. Martin could say it out loud.
“We searched the FDA database for drugs awaiting approval. It was Laztripol. We found Laztripol in his system. I wasn’t aware that Ryan suffered from depression. However, what concerns me more is that Laztripol has not yet received FDA approval and is therefore not on the market.” His words chilled Lila and angered her at the same time.
“Where did Ryan get Laztripol? How long has he been taking it?”
There was a time when she would have protected any of her friends to the end, especially Cordelia and Ryan. She had taken the blame for Cordelia’s antics many times before when her own punishment was to be less severe than Cordelia’s. However, the time for protection and secret keeping had passed.
“I can answer the first question, Dr. Martin,” she said without looking him in the eyes. “He received it from Cordelia.”
“What do you mean he received it?” he asked, confused by her choice of words.
“I mean that he unknowingly ingested it,” Lila responded. “He didn’t ask for it. He didn’t want it.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “He certainly didn’t need it. Cordelia slipped it into his drink. He didn’t know, and I didn’t know. Confronting her about it led us here.”
“Why would Cordelia put an anti-depressant into Ryan’s drink?” Dr. Martin looked at her like a student primed for the day’s lesson, ready to absorb all of the information. It was crucial that he learn it.
“Because she figured out that in its liquid form it was a really smooth high.” Lila wished she didn’t know this information, was embarrassed that she had to repeat it to Dr. Martin.
To himself: “The Laztripol could be what caused the seizure.” To Lila: “Thank you, Lila. This information may be just what I needed to help reverse Ryan’s coma. I can’t guarantee it, but now I know what I’m dealing with.”
He gave her upper arm a squeeze then dashed in the direction of Ryan’s room.
©2011 Michael Rohrer