“Hey, Mom! What's going on?" Having seen who it was, college sophomore Ari Douglas answered her cell phone on the first ring. “You want me to bring something home tonight for dinner?" Ari usually stayed in her dorm room at New York University and went home to Queens to visit her mother and sister on the weekends. But she missed the last weekend, so she was making it up to her mother tonight.
“Don't worry about that now." Her mother's voice had a bit of an edge to it, like when she was a child and she didn't want to worry her.
“What's wrong, Mom?" Ari stopped on the campus sidewalk and bent her head toward the phone to listen.
Her mother sighed. “Ari, it's nothing to worry about, but Henley collapsed on the track today."
“What?" Ari's voice rose several octaves.
Track was her sister's favorite sport and, when she wasn't in class, she spent every waking moment practicing for meets.
Ari switched ears, shaking her head. “I knew that she was going to pass out one day from overworking herself! Is she all right?"
“She's fine." Ari could hear the smile in her voice, always trying to put on a brave face. “They're going to keep her over night while they run some tests, but there's nothing to worry about."
“I'll be right there." Ari began walking toward her dorm room. “What room is she in?"
Ari listened, committing the information to memory as she picked up the pace, having to keep herself from sprinting. When she entered her dorm room, she quickly said goodbye to her mother and clicked off. Then she grabbed her duffle bag and started throwing things into it, packing enough for a few days, just in case.
“Where's the fire?" Vickie asked. Vickie Thompson and Ari had become fast friends since they became roommates their freshman year. Now, they were both sophomores and looking forward to just a few more years of college. Ari had thought about going for her Master's degree, but wanted to finish this degree in Creative Writing first.
“Henley collapsed on the track today." Ari quickly threw things onto the bed from her chest of drawers.
Vickie's chocolate brown eyes opened wide, contrasting sharply with her wild, light brown hair and caramel skin. “Is she okay?"
Ari shrugged, not slowing her pace. “She's in the hospital." She zipped up the bag and quickly threw it over her shoulder. “Please tell my professors why I won't be in class tomorrow. I'll send them a text when I can." Ari balled up her long, dark brown hair and secured it in a ponytail, her usual go-to move when she was in a hurry.
Vickie pulled her in for a hug. “Drive carefully." She pulled back to look into her eyes. “and don't speed."
Ari smirked. “Yes, Mom." A few minutes later, Ari was in her Volkswagen Beetle, headed for Queens, hoping that it was nothing serious.
At the hospital, Ari saw her mother across the room. She quickly closed the gap and pulled her in for a hug. “How is she?"
Cecille pulled back and led her to a nearby chair in the waiting room. “As I said, it's probably nothing, but the doctor wants to run some tests."
Ari didn't want to worry her mother any more than she already was, but doctors didn't just keep people and run tests for no good reason. “Where is she now?"
Her mother inclined her head toward the door. “They have her in the back, running tests. Then they'll put her in a room."
Ari nodded, letting out a deep breath.
Her mother gave her hand a gentle squeeze. “Now don't you be worrying unless we have something to worry about."
Ari gave her mother a weak smile. “I just wish there was something more I could do."
They waited into the night for what seemed like days but had been only hours, when a doctor pushed through the doors. “Mrs. Douglas?"
“Here!" Cecille raised her hand.
The doctor's eyebrows pulled together in concern and his lips formed a straight line as he crossed the room to them. “Let's go into the back."
Her mother nodded, but Ari's heart sank. They didn't call you into the back to talk privately unless there was good reason.
The doctor pulled them in a room and closed the door.
“How's Henley?" Cecile asked, a crease forming between her eyes.
The doctor sighed. “Well, the tests are inconclusive as of yet, but we'll know for sure after we run a few more tests."
“What do you think it is?" Ari asked, unable to take the suspense. She hated when doctors hemmed and hawed around. It was better when they just got straight to the point.
“Leukemia," the doctor said flatly.
Cecille's eyes widened. “Are you sure?"
“We won't know for sure until after the other tests are ran," the doctor repeated, looking at them with sorrowful eyes. “But, yes, I'm afraid so."
Tears sprang to her mother's eyes, obviously unable to speak.
Ari squeezed her mother's hand in support. “What can we do?"
The doctor spent the next hour talking to them about chemotherapy treatments and eventually a Stem Cell Transplant after she's in remission. So much information caused Ari's head to spin.
After the doctor left the room, her mother looked into Ari's eyes and said in a low voice, “Ari, I don't have any insurance." After Ari's father left them six years before, her mother had worked as a waitress in a local diner. Although the tips were good, there were no fringe benefits. And surely no insurance.
“Don't worry, Mom." She pulled her to her shoulder. “Everything's going to be all right. We'll think of something." As her mother's tears fell onto her shirt, Ari silently vowed that she would do whatever it took to help her sister.
“Mom, I'm going down to the cafeteria for some coffee." Ari stood and stretched in the middle of the night, unable to sleep. “Want some?"
Cecille shook her head. “No, hon, but thank you."
Ari raised her eyebrows. “Will you be okay for a few minutes?"
Her mother nodded. “Yes, of course. I'll be fine." Then she forced a smile. “Hey! I'm supposed to be taking care of you. Not the other way around."
Ari smiled. “Mom, we're in this together." She pulled her in for a quick hug. “Besides, you don't have to protect me anymore. I'm no longer a child."
Cecille laughed. “Honey, you haven't been a child for a long time. I think you were born a little adult."
Ari chuckled and then headed down to the cafeteria, wondering where she was going to get the money for Henley's treatments. Short of robbing a bank, none of them had much money. Between both hers and Henley's college tuitions, there wasn't much money. Ari made a mental note to cancel the rest of her classes and quit school until she could figure out what to do next.
Then Ari started thinking seriously about robbing a bank. She could pretend she had a gun and go into a bank. They were the only ones who had the kind of money she needed....
Ideas ran through Ari's mine and a plan started to solidify as she entered the cafeteria. Normally, there was no way that she would even consider robbing a bank, but dire situations caused for drastic measures. She walked through the cafeteria line, but everything was self-served at this hour. So, Ari made herself a cup of coffee and approached the cashier.
A few pencils in a cup set right in front of her. “Mind if I borrow one?"
The cashier waved toward them and smiled. “Not at all."
Ari took one and a napkin, and then looked around the room, and no one was there. Ari let out a sigh of relief, not in the mood for idle chitchat. After paying the bill, she sat at a corner table, out of the way, needing time to think and plan.
Ari made a list of all the ways she could get money. Rob a bank. Check. Take out a loan. Check. After staring at the napkin for a moment, she turned it over and started drawing out a plan to rob a bank, when a voice brought her from her reverie.
“I'm sorry to bother you, but is this seat taken?"
Ari looked up and sighed, palming the napkin to hide her work. It was a nurse from the emergency room. Ari shook her head and raised her hand toward the chair. “Have a seat." She sighed. “I'm sorry, but I'm afraid I won't be good company tonight."
The nurse wore a tag that read MELISSA. She took a sip of her coffee. “I hope you don't mind me saying this, but I overheard what the doctor said in the waiting room earlier. I'm so sorry."
Ari tilted her head to the side. “Thank you, but it's not over yet."
Melissa's eyebrows rose in concern. “Well, don't do anything stupid. Something will turn up."
Ari took another sip of her coffee. “Look. I appreciate your concern, but no one's going to help a poor college girl without insurance."
“I hope that's not true." Melissa looked into her eyes. “It's none of my business, but do you have any idea how you could raise the money?"
Ari smirked. “Short of robbing a bank? No."
“Well, don't do that." Melissa smiled, and then leaned in conspiratorially. “I have an idea."