The days undergo a gradual shift, from hazy sleep-filled hours to conscious, throbbing stretches of nothingness. Post-transplant life becomes, on Sharon’s more dramatic days, the equivalent of a drive across the desert: flat, lifeless, and pushing ever-onward toward a destination that never seems to get closer.
The milemarkers on the journey are her checkups at the transplant center. Twice a week for the first three weeks after she’s discharged, Sharon submits to becoming a human pincushion, enduring daylong tests of her new heart. It’s on these visits she’s able to exercise her gratitude, waiting for an opening in the cath lab as patients just learning of their hearts’ ailments sit stone-jawed or watery-eyed while nurses wheel them back and forth.
Even so, the appointments involve a battery of questions that reinforce Sharon’s own physical fragility and leave her mood sinking. Yes, she’s eating. Yes, she’s taking her pills. Yes, all of them. Yes, she’s moving around every day. No, she still isn’t able to do so without pain. No to smoking, drinking, overexertion. She will continue to avoid pushing and pulling motions. She will steer clear of anyone who may be sick, including her fantastic step-grandsons who’ve been battling bronchitis. She will go to an ER — or, more likely, be dragged to one by her husband — should she feel feverish or lightheaded or over-exerted.
Sharon can’t escape the idea that as she should be celebrating the extension of her life, she’s mostly struck by the restriction of it. Andy, thankfully, understands. He treats his role during these appointments as distractor-in-chief as much as her primary caregiver. As she pulls within herself with cross-armed annoyance, he keeps enough cool to pepper the doctors and specialists with counter-questions, nailing down the timelines she fears too much to ask about.
She’s able to track the checkups by their dwindling frequency. Six in the first three weeks, three more in the three following weeks, then three in the next month and a half. Emily returns to New York after checkup number one, Ricky departs after the third. Rusty gets back to the DA’s office after four. Andy reluctantly goes back on duty after the sixth.
Sharon spends her first few solo days at home catching up on chores that had gone undone (or not done to her standards) as she recuperated. She paces herself, ever-conscious of the fatigue that sets upon her with ridiculous quickness. In deference to her healing breastbone, she carries laundry in small armloads to the washer and back from the dryer. Mid-morning and afternoon naps are still necessities. But, before long, the living and dining rooms are dustless, her side of the closet is pristinely organized, and the kitchen sparkles.
She finishes her to-do list before checkup number seven hits.
In the weeks of her recovery, Sharon becomes more familiar with Lyft than she ever would have planned. Driving is out of the question until her incision is fully healed, but, despite her doctor’s repeated hints that she should stay close to home, she has no intention of sitting around like an invalid. She might not be chasing down murderers or setting out on a road trip, but the little pink icon on her phone at least allows her to go out for last-minute groceries, or to the Grove to buy a birthday present, or to CVS for Aleve and hydrogen peroxide.
It also allows for a hint of much-needed independence. When Andy mentions requesting sick leave to take her to her seventh post-transplant appointment, Sharon waves him off.
“I can take a Lyft over to Cedars, don’t worry.”
“You’re sure?” His brow furrows. “I don’t mind—”
She interrupts with a smile. “I’m sure. I’ve gotten used to this whole not-driving thing.”
His only response is to nod, concern still written across his features as he turns his attention back to his dinner.
Given this reaction, and knowing her husband, Sharon shouldn’t be so surprised when a shadow casts across her paperback and a cup appears in her peripheral vision as she waits for her turn in the cath lab two days later.
“Can I interest you in a sugar-free toasted almond decaf skim latte?”
She lifts her head, brow lifted. “What are you—”
Before she can so much as finish her sentence, Andy says, “I’m chasing down leads.” The well-worn lie leaves the corner of his mouth upturned, forever irresistible.
Still, Sharon does her best to stay level as she takes the cup from him and he settles into the chair beside her. “Something tells me Williams wouldn’t be very happy to see you here.”
“Yeah, well,” an angry sigh rushes from his mouth, “I can’t say I give a damn what Williams thinks.”
She reaches over to squeeze his knee. Captain Neil Williams, with his irreverence and brash nature had, somewhat ironically, clashed with Andy from day one. Two weeks into their working relationship and, from what she’s heard, neither of them show any signs of backing down. Then again, the rest of the squad is on Andy’s side in this particular battle. In the few opportunities she’s had to check in with them, she’s seen no indication of their approaches toward Williams warming. They’re a tough group to crack, yes, but Sharon had at least inched her way into the circle by the time she’d spent a few weeks in the Murder Room.
Andy takes a draw of his own coffee and slouches further into his chair. “He’s got nothing for me to do anyway, so it’s not like he has any right to tie me to my chair.”
“Other than the fact he’s your boss,” Sharon teases.
“You gotta keep reminding me?” He groans. “That’s half the reason I left the office.”
“And the other half?”
“Provenza got sick of me checking my phone and told me to just get the hell over here already.”
She pats his leg before moving to pack up the book she obviously won’t be reading now. Leaning over to slide it back into her purse, she says, “You don’t need to be nervous. These tests are normal, now.”
When she straightens, it’s to find Andy giving her a steady stare. “They’re gonna cut off a piece of someone else’s heart, which now lives in your chest, to make sure it’s still functioning.”
There’s no downplaying the process with him. He knows each step and expected outcome like the back of his hand, having devoted himself as her caregiver. “The new normal,” Sharon clarifies, with a grin meant to ease away his tension.
He nods. “What’s the word so far?”
Her morning appointment with the transplant nurse had kicked off at nine, starting her through the maze of tests and meetings that always end with her afternoon biopsy. “Alonzo said everything is looking normal, from his end. He should have the results of my blood work by the end of the day.”
Andy rubs at his neck, “He’s okay with your weight now?”
“It’s still a little low. But getting better.” She sips at her latte. It’s a welcome treat, and despite her desire to get through a clinic visit independently, she’s glad both for it and the company of the man who brought it.
“Huh.” His mouth curls behind his coffee cup. “I still say what you need is some pasta therapy. I can make that happen…” He trails off suggestively.
“No, Andy.” The admonishment comes on a laugh. Sharon’s already had to turn down the offer — an Italian cure-all, as he describes it — more times that she can count. As it is, her weight dropped most severely prior to the transplant, thanks to a month’s worth of flu-like symptoms and the three-way stress of her diagnosis, the wedding, and the intensive cases they’d been working. When eating became a physical challenge following the surgery, the scale turned downward a bit more. “All I need is time.”
“Pasta would be more fun, though.”
“No doubt.” She hums into her drink, recalling one of the dozens of pamphlets they’d been sent home with, Eating for Your New Heart . “But what about all of those healthy habits we’re supposed to be building?”
He scoffs. “Pasta can be healthy.”
“Sure, it can be.” She’s about to point out that she’s watched him prepare several different pasta-based dishes that would make her dietitian cry, but a green-scrubbed nurse steps into the lobby before she can get there.
Andy’s mouth tips upward, and she anticipates some variation of the charmingly lame joke that comes next: “Either that’s you, or my doctor’s been keeping stuff from me.”
Sharon rolls her eyes as she rises from her seat, ever-mindful to avoid pushing down on the armrests as she goes. Before she’s up, Andy bends down to lift her bag from the floor, a maybe-romantic gesture that’s just cloying enough to leave her quirking her brow.
He ignores the hint of her annoyance. “Ready?”
“As I ever am,” she says, making her way to the doorway.
Once the nurse shows them to a pre-op/recovery room and Sharon is in a gown with a IV stuck into her arm, uncomfortably settled onto a stretcher, her nerves ratchet a few notches tighter. Andy rolls his shirt cuffs up his arms, having shed his jacket for the day, and scoots his chair nearer to her perch.
“I need a distraction,” she sighs.
“That is my specialty, as you know.”
She runs her fingers along his tie, a calming quirk she won’t shed as long as he continues to wear them. “How are things at work?”
A crease forms between his brows. “That’s not a very good distraction.”
“It is for me.” Sharon lightly tugs at the length of silk — the pink and green striped one, a sentimental favorite. “Please? What’s going on with your new case?”
He lays it out for her, hamming up the commentary for maximum effect and embellishing more than a little as he describes Williams’ missteps. The squad has had hardly any downtime since Andy returned to duty, and it’s starting to show.
“I get the feeling Wes hasn’t had a solid night of sleep all week,” he says, having covered the basics, “and poor Amy is busting her ass for recognition she’s never gonna get.”
They both look up when the curtain moves aside, opening the room to a small group of medical staff.
“Sharon, we’re ready to take you back.”
This is always the worst part. No matter how still Andy is able to keep his expression, she’s able to see the panic deep in his eyes, every time.
This time he plays it nonchalant for their audience, “Oh, okay,” before leaning in, pressing a kiss to her cheek. “I’ll see you in a few.”
Sharon’s fingers tighten along his. “I love you.” It comes out a little rougher, a little more desperate than she’d wanted.
“I love you, too.” His voice is soft near her ear. He pulls back, squeezing her hand before resting it at her waist. “Just a normal test, right?”
There’s no tease in the question. It’s a reaffirmation, one she needs. “Right.”
Andy settles into his chair with a nod toward the staff. With that, she’s off and rolling down the hall, around the corner, and into a wide, technology-stuffed room. Nurses attach nodes and cuffs and who-knows-what else to Sharon’s body with well-practiced choreography. They’re talkative in a shallow way, commenting on the weather or the barrage of pre-primary political television ads as they arrange her on the table and swab antiseptic onto her neck.
With each trip into the lab, the process becomes a little less odd, and she gets a little more at ease with becoming a mostly-conscious ragdoll for a half hour. If nothing else, the catheterization physician, Sam Tozier, has handsome blue eyes and a lulling English accent that seems to aid whatever they add to her IV in here. By the time he settles into the stool near her head, he’s been chatting away around the room for several minutes.
He grins down at her above a navy blue mask that seems perfectly chosen to make his eyes brighten. “Ah, if it isn’t Mrs. Flynn. One of my most favorite patients.”
He’s just about the only person who calls her this with consistency, thanks mostly to Sharon’s reluctance to have much of a conversation during what was, initially, a stressful procedure. Now it seems a little odd to tell him to refer to her differently and, to be honest, it still gives her a little thrill. She doesn’t stand on formality with many people, especially when she’s barely allowed to leave home, so she’ll take her kicks where she can get them.
She can’t resist taking a swing at his greeting, though. “I bet you say that to all the ladies, Doctor.”
“Guilty as charged.” Tozier looks up to a monitor across the table, getting down to business. “To be fair, I mean it every single time.”
When he asks for the scalpel, Sharon closes her eyes. She might not dread these biopsies anymore, but that doesn’t mean she needs to watch. They’ve become familiar enough that she can anticipate the next sensation based on the medical jargon tossed between the staff. And as long as their voices don’t rise into urgency, she figures it’s all proceeding as expected.
She’s able to drop into something close to sleep this time. Before she knows it, a warm hand presses gauze against the side of her neck, stemming the flow of blood from the incision site. Sharon finds a friendly-looking nurse smiling at her. “All finished! Let’s get you up.”
The lab is run with the efficiency of an assembly line, with patients moving in and out as swiftly as possible. Sharon would admire it more if she wasn’t one of the products. As it is, getting in and out of a lying position without aggravating her sternum has become a production, even without her head spinning from the pre-op drugs. It takes a near-embarrassing amount of guidance to get her from the table to the stretcher.
But get there she does, leaning against the bed’s elevated back, keeping her neck upright and unbleeding. Tozier waggles his fingers in her direction as an orderly pushes her out of the lab. Back in Sharon’s temporary room, Andy stands to make room for the stretcher and IV stand. Once she’s locked into place, they’re left alone again within seconds as the entire production moves onto the next patient.
Andy settles onto the edge of the mattress. “All good?”
“Mm, as far as I can tell.” Sharon winces at the weight of her tongue, fighting against her as she forms the words. “Can you hand me my coffee?”
He complies, but says, “I can’t guarantee it’s still warm.”
“Doesn’t matter.” She sips at the liquid, happy to find it’s still drinkable. “So, you were telling me about Amy.”
He grins as he takes her free hand in his. “Can’t sneak anything past you.”
“Definitely not.” With her vision still fuzzy and her head still light, she lets her eyes fall closed and her head rest back against the stretcher. “How is she doing?”
Andy’s thumb traces a pattern between and around the ridges of her knuckles. “She’s annoyed. Kinda like me, she feels like she could be doing more.” He sighs. “Unlike me, she’s actually cleared to do more. Williams is giving her all the grunt work that involves leaving the office.”
“He’s not warming to her at all?”
“Not that I can tell. Actually...it almost seems like he’s ignoring her.”
“I’m guessing he’s picked a favorite, though.”
“Well, he’s definitely been pulling Wes into a lot of interviews. How’d you know?”
Sharon sucks on her teeth. “Divide and conquer.”
“Right.” A long breath rushes from him. “I hate thinking that he might actually get away with it.”
“It’s only been a few weeks, Andy. It’s hard to tell how things might change.”
“The only change I want is his ass out of that office.”
“Mm, but if that doesn’t happen, maybe he’ll break.”
“Maybe,” he concedes, “but he’s already set fire to a few bridges.”
“I bet you thought the same thing about me, once upon a time.”
“Nah,” he lifts her hand to his lips. “You always had redeeming qualities.”
She pries her eyes open to give him the full brunt of her skepticism. He frowns. “What?”
With a shake of her head, Sharon swings her legs off the side of the bed, levering into a sitting position. “I’m not sure I want to know the details on that.”
Rather than argue the point, Andy asks, “You ready for your glasses?”
He pulls them from his shirt pocket and hands them over. Once she’s slid them onto her nose and finger-combed her hair back into something like order, she’s able to catch a smirk turning his mouth. “See? How are you gonna get caught up on all the drama if I don’t come keep you company?”
She leans into his side, feeling the truth in his question. “Mm, you are an invaluable source of intelligence.”
“Ah, and now we get to the heart of why you married me.”
She frowns. “No, that’s not it.”
After bringing her lips to his, she pulls back a little and laughs into her point. “You’re also a really good kisser.”
“Uh-huh.” He, of course, views this as a challenge, urging her to part her lips into something that is a little less than appropriate for a public setting. They’re still using the newlywed card, though, and so neither are particularly bothered when the curtain swooshes open.
“Oops, sorry!” A familiar figure appears in the space, briefly holding a folder over his eyes.
“You’re fine, Alonzo.” Andy offers his hand to the nurse, who gives it a firm shake.
“Didn’t think I was going to see you today, Mr. Flynn.”
“Yeah, well, what can I say? I missed your company. It’s been two whole weeks, after all.”
Alonzo throws his head back with a bark of laughter. “That’s true!” He pulls on a pair of gloves. “Okay, Sharon, let’s check out that incision.”
She lifts her chin, allowing him better access to the gauze taped along the side of her neck. “The procedure seemed to go faster this time.”
“Mhmm. Doctor Tozier will know your veins from top to bottom by the time you’re through with your post-transplant gauntlet.” His gloved finger edges around the small cut. “Any chest pain or pressure?”
“No,” she answers.
“Feeling short of breath at all?”
“Okay then,” Alonzo steps back from the stretcher with a wide smile, his amber eyes shining. “You’re all done for another two weeks.”
Andy’s eyes track him to the counter, where he jots in the folder he’d carried into the room. “Everything’s looking okay, then?”
“You missed all the good stuff, Mr. Flynn.” Alonzo winks at Sharon. “I’ll leave it to your wife to fill in the details.” He holds a card out to her. “And I’ll see you, ma’am, at 9 AM sharp on the 19th.”
“Thank you, Alonzo.”
Once they’re alone again, Andy arranges her clothes along the foot of the bed. “Is Beijing Express good for dinner?”
“Yeah.” She glances over to find him repacking her purse, charmingly allowing her a small amount of privacy as she re-dresses. “Do you need to get back to the office?”
“Uh, I dunno,” he hedges.
He cuts her off with an exasperated sigh. “I’ll call Provenza once we get home.”
“Okay.” Sharon isn’t sure she’s ready to discuss with him how dire their finances could get, should he manage to get fired, but the point is approaching.
With her jeans buttoned, she turns her back to Andy. “Can I get your help with this?”
“Of course.” He steps close, fumbles with the lower set of ties until he’s growling, “Why do I always knot these damned things so tight?”
She snorts. “I don’t know. You should have enough practice by now.” The first ties fall free and he starts on the higher set. As his grumbling starts anew, Sharon reflects on his earlier description of Amy, scrabbling for respect she’ll likely never receive from Williams. “Do you think it would help or hurt for me to make an appearance in the Murder Room?”
“Ah, well, I guess that depends on who you’re worried about.”
“All of you. I don’t know Williams, so his reaction wouldn’t bother me.”
Andy grunts as the ties finally fall free. “You might change your mind after meeting him.”
“I doubt it.” She pulls the gown from her shoulders and holds her bra in place for him to clasp. “I’d like to catch up with everyone.”
“I’ll tell you what,” he says, guiding her around by the shoulders to take over the task of buttoning her shirt. “Next time we’re headed out for a squad dinner, I’ll call you. You can pop into one of your Lyfts and come meet us.”
“Okay,” she grins, tipping onto her toes to kiss him. “I’ll take that deal.”