Elena Lopez's father joined her as she completed her rounds through the Children of Hope Hospital. Three generations of Lopez's had cared for terminally-ill children, but Elena was the first woman doctor in her family.
At thirty years of age, she'd given her life to the hospital. She'd grown up inside its walls, and she'd known since she was a young girl that she would follow in her father's footsteps.
"Marta's welcome party is this night. We should get ready soon," her father reminded her, his voice sounding more melodious to Elena as the unpainted plaster walls and saltillo tile halls absorbed and hushed it to an intimate whisper. "You are planning to attend?"
Elena glanced at him warmly. "Of course. How could I turn Marta down?"
Her father's mouth turned up in amusement at the mere thought.
Though Marta was in a wheelchair, crippled from the car accident that had claimed Elena's mother's life years ago, she was a formidable woman who simply didn't take no for an answer--certainly not from her best friend's family, which Marta had claimed as her own since Susana's death.
"I just want to look in on Juan before we go."
Her father nodded, and they stopped long enough to put on gowns, masks, shoe coverings and gloves to protect Elena's patient from infection. Then they continued down the hall to the isolated section of the ward. Her father stayed in the doorway while she went into Juan's room.
Though Juan Habanera had had a bone marrow transplant a few weeks earlier and hadn't developed an infection in that time, Elena could recognize the signs of decline in the seven-year-old. Even so, the joy in his smile was never affected by his unstable health. His optimism belied all of his suffering. He'd come to the hospital three years ago, justifiably afraid and uncertain of his future, but he'd become a new person in that time. Everyone in the ward drew strength from him.
Juan was frail, with huge dark eyes set in a pale face. He'd lost his hair long ago from treatments. In his hands, he held the small amethyst angel statue Elena had given him when he came. As he often did, he raised it up toward the window beside him. The sun pierced through it and exploded light-filled, lavender rays all around him. Elena had told him her mother gave her the angel just before she'd died, promising her the angel's light of love would never go out as long as life was lived and love was shared.
"How do you feel this afternoon, cariño?" Elena asked him with a smile.
"Sleepy. Happy. I hoped you would come back tonight to tuck me in."
Elena picked up his chart, anxious about the results of the tests she'd taken earlier. His temperature was elevated, and she could see the glands in his neck were swollen even from the foot of the bed.
She moved to the side of the bed and folded his blanket down past his waist. Gently, she probed his abdomen below the ribs and confirmed an enlarged spleen.
She didn't want him to see her unhappiness. The results of the bone marrow biopsy she'd performed that morning weren't in yet, and she wanted all the facts before she talked to him. She set down the chart. Sitting carefully beside him, she unlooped her stethoscope from around her neck and warmed it in her gloved hands.
"How did you enjoy the sunshine today, Juan?"
"The sun felt nice. I was glad to be outside. Pablo came with magic up his sleeves."
Elena laughed at the delighted smile of memory lighting the boy's pale face. "He did, did he? Seems I missed the best part of the day."
Though activities had to be limited, considering the isolated patients' tendency toward infection, everyone--including the staff--enjoyed a good magic show.
"He asked after you," Juan told her with a teasing smile. "If you'd been there, the flowers he pulled out of his construction hat would have been yours."
Elena lowered her gaze, too aware of how her heart rate had picked up with the mention of Pablo. He'd used his lunch hour to entertain the children again. "Yes, I saw Pablo's flowers on Liz's nightstand. She was very happy with them."
Elena pressed the warmed stethoscope to his chest, listening to his heart and breathing. He sounded labored.
"Is Liz still afraid of being alone during her dialysis?" Juan asked.
"She's getting better. She loved the picture books you suggested. That helped a lot. Thank you, Juan."
"I'll try to visit her tomorrow."
"I think she'd like that." Elena drew his blanket up around his shoulders. "Have you had any headaches?"
"Not bad. Not like they were."
Elena nodded, sure they would be back soon, based on the symptoms she was seeing in him. "All right. I'll have Henry start you on antibiotics right away, then you need to sleep, cariño. I'll come back and check in on you before I go to bed tonight. 'Night."
"Goodnight, ángel de amor."
Elena hugged him before getting up to jot notes on his chart. She left the room, her father's calming hand at her back. "Bad news?" he asked when they were far enough down the hall to be out of Juan's hearing.
"He's developing pneumonia. I'm still waiting on the results of the biopsy I did this morning. The last thing he needs right now is to get an infection."
At the receptionist desk, they removed their scrubs. Elena gave the ward nurse instructions for starting the IV, telling him to page her if Juan developed cyanosis and a higher fever over the next few hours.
Her father didn't offer her any of the number of platitudes she already knew when they left the hospital. In silence, they followed the stone path behind it to the simple home several generations of Lopez's had lived in, in order to be on call at all times. None of the children in their hospital were expected to live more than five years. Many of them wouldn't survive to the end of the year. Her father also didn't tell her not to get involved. He--they--believed it was their calling in life to make sure these children were comfortable and as happy as they could possibly be in the time left to them. Loving them was a given, and it was necessary to give freely of what they had.
"Have you met Marta's nephew before?" Elena asked once they let themselves inside the cool shadows of their foyer.
"Arrio, no, though I have met several of her other nieces and nephews." He placed his cane in the oversized antique Apache basket.
"Did she invite many people to the welcome celebration?"
"Merely all of Santa Fe, I believe," her father said, his face serious. Marta had to be excited about Arrio's arrival.
Pablo would be there. Of course he would. He was Marta's son, and therefore Arrio's cousin. Pablo would certainly be there. Her pulse jumped at the thought.