Chapter 1
Jenn stared out her ground floor office window in the Mayo Building at the snowflakes swirling and clustering outside. She had a ton to do, but her mind wandered to the weekend. Mostly. Would she go skiing at Trollhaugen in Wisconsin with Toni and Brandon? Ice skate with Elaine and her kids at the Milwaukee Road Depot downtown and then be the children's heroine because she would buy them the large and not budget-sized hot chocolates? Or would she talk Emily into going for a facial at the pretty expensive new salon and maybe convince her that just because the Red Dragon's Wondrous Punch had at least six shots of liquor in it didn't mean they would become comatose afterward? She was certain that this sort of mental wandering is what kept her mostly sane. But then she realized that her first choice, slaloming down the Troll's small but still rolling hills, was out of the question because she was on call this weekend. Again. She was considering this when the phone rang.

"Jenn, do you know a TV crew is up here?"

Her brain kicked in after hearing the stark bark sans greeting. The bark belonged to Laurence, nursing chief of station 89, the most intense of the hospital's intensive care units and someone Jenn thought should be on a continuous intravenous drip of anti-anxiety medication.

"No, I did not know anyone was up there," she replied, taking a deep breath, which she often had to do when talking to Laurence.

"I'll be right up."

"You know ... you know the rules ... why does this keep happening?" Laurence screeched.

"As we've discussed before, Laurence, if they get past the desk, and if security doesn't catch them, and if they don't call me ahead of time to tell me they're coming, and if the patient doesn't call me, I can't stop something I don't know is going to happen."

"Fine, then ... just get up here now and get rid of them."

Jenn put the phone down and wondered whether she had been solicitous enough. Laurence had sent at least three explosive letters to her boss over the past two years, complaining that Jenn acted more like a crusading reporter than someone "paid to protect our hospital." Jenn's boss, a former wire service reporter himself, would just call and remind Laurence that Jenn needed to put on reporter airs in order to better manage the reporters.

Jenn didn't hate being compared to reporters; well, the real ones, anyway, who could write and find Bolivia on a map without assistance. But not the ones who just appeared to do hair, makeup and wardrobe upon occasion, painfully pausing to report some real news from time to time.

Jenn ran out of her office and into a stinging breeze; she wanted to get to the hospital before things got worse. She was literally running, despite wearing a slightly tighter and shorter skirt than she normally wore to work, along with expensive four-inch heels she had bought in Rome when her father told her to get some good walking shoes. She thought that even she, Jenn Bergquist, age 36, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, deserved a tiny bit of élan in what she considered an often all too very average life, frequent trips to the intensive care unit notwithstanding.

Of course, élan was not a characteristic most Minnesotans, including Jenn's own thoroughly Norwegian-Minnesotan architect father, thought useful. They tended to favor a life that probably should be quite unassuming if it were to be productive.

She stopped at the information desk to see if the receptionist had seen any television reporters. Although she always asked the same question whenever she was on her way to catch any rogue journalists, this sort of query usually only resulted in something like an "Oh, which station? I just love that Ken Davidson on Channel 8 ..." remark from the elderly, innocent and heavily perfumed volunteers who usually staffed the desk.

After finding out that, as usual, no one had seen anyone or anything untoward, she ran on to the elevator and almost charged right into the chest of Dr. Yuki Atagari, the center's very short yet unquestionably powerful chief of surgery. Jenn liked him; he was one of the relatively few doctors at the hospital who understood why major medical centers needed people like Jenn on staff.

"Jenn! Jenn, my dear girl, what could cause you to be running again? I don't see any rain," said Dr. Atagari in his carefully cultivated Queen's English British accent (an accent that didn't really seem all that incongruous despite the fact that he had been born and raised in Tokyo). "You are always on the run. One might think you were in some sort of trouble."

"Well, Dr. Atagari," she said as she jumped off the elevator. "I just may be, as there are more outlaw reporters on 89."

Wearing his customary tie with patterns reminiscent of fine geisha kimonos, Dr. Atagari laughed more loudly than he normally might as the elevator shut. Jenn turned to find a reporter and photographer who clearly were not from the local group she knew, and, for the most part, that she either respected greatly or had learned to tolerate. The female reporter's hair was not so much haystack as it was perhaps missile silo, colored a garish yellow. The photographer seemed much more servile and outfitted in a more businesslike fashion than the local photographers, most of whom considered wearing clean jeans dressing for success.

"You must be the P.R. lady," cooed Silo Hair. "I am sure you can clear things up here with this dedicated nurse ... what is your name again, sir?"

Laurence stood next to the station's main desk stacked tall with purple and pink folders, hands planted firmly on his squishy hips.

Jenn laughed to herself as she realized Laurence's hair wasn't very much different from that of the reporter, although maybe his yellow was closer to that of smudged old highway line paint rather than taxi exterior. Too bad they are getting off to such a bad start, Jenn thought.

"Jenn, these people just came up here and marched into Ms. Fiona's room," he snapped, his eyes twitching in a sort of unison with his eyebrows. "Now they have to leave this second or I will have to take further action with security and your superior."

Jenn took several deep breaths, just as she would at yoga. Did she really enjoy watching heart transplant surgery, or the thrill of mostly understanding articles in the New England Journal of Medicine, enough that she was willing to be smacked about so often by people like Laurence? She'd have to ask herself this question again later when she had time.

"Laurence, I am going to take care of this situation," she sighed. "I am just as concerned about this breach of security as you are, I assure you."

"Now listen here, we did not know about your rules," said the reporter in a far testier voice than her previous coo. "And Ms. Fiona invited us here and she wants us here and I would think that you would respect the patient's wishes."

Jenn had been in so many of these sorts of confrontations that she almost thought she could write a manual that every public relations person in North America would buy. She'd name the manual: It Helps to be a Masochist: The Art of Subduing Staff Along With Reporters.

"Laurence, I am going to escort the journalists out now," she said with what she hoped was some measure of calm authority. "Everything will be fine. I will talk with the patient later." Laurence slowly walked back behind the main desk and gave hard looks to his staff nurses who had been listening the entire time. It didn't appear as if he believed a word Jenn said, and as that was his usual reaction, she figured everything might be just fine.

"Well now, I don't believe we've been properly introduced, but I'm Jenn Bergquist, the hospital's media relations director," she said to the reporter in a way she felt conveyed the basic information as well as how mad she was that she not only had to run over to deal with someone with such terrible hair, but that she had to take abuse from Laurence yet again.

She made her introduction while purposefully walking past some gurneys and toward the elevator, forcing the reporter and photographer to follow her off the station if they wanted to hear her out. "It's true, photographers and reporters may not be present on intensive care units without prior authorization from my office, the patient's physician, and the nursing staff. Even if the patient wishes it so," Jenn said with what she knew was more than a touch of sarcasm but the silo was bothering her more than the attitudes or hairdos of most reporters. The photographer was another matter, as he seemed to be a kind person with rather gentle eyes, albeit one who did not speak.

"Well, Ms. Bergquist, I'm Nadine Jackson from Action News 3 in San Francisco," the reporter said without offering her hand. "We have flown a hell of a long way, we haven't even checked into our hotel yet, and we came here to interview Bianca Fiona and we are not leaving until we do so."

Jenn immediately realized that Bianca Fiona would not be like one of the many adorable small children who happened to need an organ or bone marrow transplant or some other medical intervention the likes of which was only available at world-renowned medical centers such as the University of Minnesota. Television stations didn't tend to send this sort of reporter to cover a mere child's sad story. No, when they sent harpies like this Nadine Jackson (Jenn's own strong feminist beliefs notwithstanding, she did like the word Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis used to describe detestable female reporters), the patient involved was someone famous, infamous, rich, or all three. Jenn was quite accustomed to celebrity patients. Laurence also thought he was very accustomed to celebrity patients. At least this patient wasn't a former first lady, like the one who had been at the hospital the year before, complete with her own professional salon standing hair dryer and small army of Secret Service agents.

Nadine pursed her heavily shellacked lips in the way a prostitute might if she was told she wasn't worth her asking price. Jenn decided it would be best to just keep taking deep breaths and to think hard before she said anything she might regret.

"Ms. Jackson, I do understand your situation, including the flying, but I have to enforce the hospital rules," Jenn said as she guided Nadine and the photographer into yet another elevator. "Let me find out what is going on with the patient. If her caregivers think it is okay for Ms. Fiona to be interviewed, I will let you know as soon as possible."

The elevator stopped at the lobby level. Jenn waited many moments in silence, with Nadine standing there, lips still pulled tight, before she and her photographer realized Jenn wasn't going to give in. Nadine fished into an enormous gold leather tote bag to pull out a card that she handed to Jenn with more than a little disgust.

"Here is my cell phone number, so call me or text me as soon as we can get to the patient," Nadine sneered. "Tell Ms. Fiona we are sorry her hospital of choice has kicked us out."

The photographer bowed his head of longish, dark brown hair. Jenn could have sworn he rolled his eyes. It was no wonder Jenn's diaphragmatic breathing was so excellent, as she had ample opportunity in this job to breathe deeply and think very carefully before talking.

"Ms. Jackson," she said in a cadence most people reserved for small children. "I'm sorry you see my actions as kicking you out.

I'll talk to everyone involved as soon as I can and I will get back to you immediately. I'm really not here to be an obstacle, even though I know you might consider people like me to be just that." Nadine gave Jenn a frozen stare. "Okay, we are out of here,"

Nadine clipped and turned away. Jenn watched them walk out, noticed Nadine carried none of the photographer's equipment as he wrestled with his camera, lights and all of the gear he needed to make aging celebrities look reasonably good. Jenn, too, turned and went back to the elevator.

When she got out at 89, Laurence was still behind the desk, although he didn't appear quite as ticked off. Maybe Jenn would avoid having another Laurence Love Letter sent to her boss today.

"So, I suppose you want to know about Ms. Fiona," Laurence said without any emotion. "She's in room 14. I'll take you there."

Jenn followed him, being careful to not click her heels too loudly and to stay a few steps behind. She let him use the sanitizing solution first and then was dutiful in slathering it on her hands so he could see she was observing infection control protocol.

"Ms. Fiona," Laurence announced in an almost too loud voice and door rap that Jenn thought shouldn't be used anywhere in a hospital, much less on intensive care units. "Our hospital P.R. girl, Jenn Bergquist, is here to talk with you about those reporters. I'm sorry she had to send them away, but our rules are firm."

Jenn didn't have time to be insulted that he'd called her a "P.R. girl." When she entered the room, she could scarcely believe she was in a hospital, much less a place for the quite critically ill. The normally dull aqua and beige walls had been almost entirely obliterated by a mass of paisley silk bedspreads in colors usually visible only after dropping acid, although a sort of purple seemed to dominate. Several large brass urns lined the tan terrazzo floor and were filled with hordes of silk flowers, in shades only slightly more restrained than those of the bedspreads. A large poster of what looked to be an unlikely collision of Saturn and the moon was mounted above the bed's headboard. There was what Jenn swore was a distinct patchouli scent that seemed to grow stronger the longer one stayed in the room.

Ms. Fiona herself fit right in. Jenn knew severe illness could put years on even the most beautiful people, so she could not always guess a patient's true age, but she appeared to be in her late 50s. She did have the yellow-tinged skin and eyes common to those with liver disease and resulting high bilirubin counts but she otherwise looked almost energetic. She was wearing a caftan that exactly matched one of the bedspreads. Jenn estimated at least a pound of gold jewelry was affixed to her ears, wrists, neck and fingers; it looked far more Cartier than street bazaar cart. Her mostly dark brown hair, darker than Jenn's own, reminded her of Elizabeth Taylor's, although Elizabeth Taylor's had been far better groomed.

Jenn fought hard to stifle an enormous laugh. Given the room's decoration, she figured Ms. Fiona had to be a psychic or medium of some sort, and probably wanted the TV people in there to promote her latest book or video. She couldn't believe how many New Age stereotypes Ms. Fiona brought to life, all the way down to the caftan, the planets in motion, and even the patchouli. Jenn wondered how often she would have her equally royal purple nails done each week, and if Laurence would allow a manicurist wielding acetone to come onto the floor without also doing his nails.

Ms. Fiona kept a serene look as she listened to Laurence, and Jenn was too busy taking in Ms. Fiona's aura to hear exactly what he was saying. When he seemed to be finished expounding on the importance of rules and why they had to be obeyed, Ms. Fiona raised her hand, kind of like how one would expect a great prophet to do when dismissing someone, and flitted it Laurence's way.

"I believe I can take care of things with Ms. Bergquist here," Ms. Fiona said in a voice that reminded Jenn of those of the good fairies of film. "She looks to be someone who understands priorities."

Laurence gave Jenn a look of rebuke as he left the room. Ms. Fiona's eyes might have been blue at one point, but now they just looked sort of tinged with ocean green as they fixed upon Jenn, although it was a little hard to really tell with the amount of extremely dark eye shadow she was wearing.

"I take it you don't approve of my interior decorating," Ms. Fiona said with a kittenish grin, moving a huge silk pillow near Jenn and motioning for her to sit down on the bed. "That's okay. We have a lot of time to work on you. What's important now is to deal with those people, even though so many journalists are so artless, as I believe Alexandre Dumas once wrote. Still, I do imagine my friends want to know if I am going to move on to the next plane of existence soon."

Jenn wanted to laugh some more but she also realized this might be one of those moments when a patient, even a seeming loony like Ms. Fiona, would want to talk. Jenn knew all too well that many patients didn't really have anyone at all to talk to, or they did not have much in the way of family who weren't focused on totally flipping out because their mother or husband or whoever was very ill and likely to die. Few nurses were as constantly angry as Laurence, but most of them were just too busy setting up IV lines or doing nine million other things to be able to listen very much.

"Ms. Fiona, I'm glad you realize the need to handle the television people," Jenn said in what she realized was a voice almost exactly like that of Ms. Fiona's, although she wasn't at all sure why she suddenly was sounding like Ms. Fiona. The last thing she wanted was to become yet another patient confidante, much less to someone who might tell her, for example, that she had actually been a sexually frustrated young milkmaid in 13th century Scotland. In 21st century Minnesota, she didn't need to be reminded that she was just carrying on as usual.

"If your doctor says you may have reporters in your room, and if Laurence agrees—and even Laurence agrees at times—well then I just need to have you sign this consent form giving me permission to talk publicly about your condition and then we can make arrangements for them to return," Jenn said. She wished Ms. Fiona would stop looking at her with an almost angelic but still creepy stare. She just didn't want any grief about the need to sign the form; she suddenly remembered the news release she needed to write for the human genetics people when she got back to her office.

"So Laurence is charming at times, that is lovely to know," Ms. Fiona said as she fumbled on her bed table for a filigreed gold fountain pen. "I just don't want to tolerate the kind of bad energy he seems to radiate, not now. But you won't have any trouble with Yuki. I mean Dr. Atagari—I've been calling him Yuki forever. He has a delightful soul, despite what he may have to display at times."

Jenn handed Ms. Fiona the form and before she could ask if she had any questions, and before Jenn could think about Dr. Atagari having a delightful soul, the paper was filled with some of the most interesting penmanship she had ever seen. To say it was like calligraphy wouldn't be quite accurate. But it did remind Jenn of the way people wrote centuries ago, beautifully flowing yet sturdy like Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence hand, although she doubted Ms. Fiona was quite as concerned about liberty and justice. "Thanks," Jenn said just a tad hurriedly. "I'll get in touch with Dr. Atagari, and Laurence, and if they say okay, Nadine can come on up."

"That sounds wonderful, sweetie," Ms. Fiona said as she adjusted more vividly colored silk pillows behind her back. "Then we'll talk about your soul. So very, very much turbulence in one who has traveled so far for so long."

Jenn looked down at the floor for a moment, and then stared vacantly at Ms. Fiona for a few seconds, before she stammered thanks and a promise to talk again soon. She walked quickly to the elevator without even pausing to look at Laurence.

When she got back down to the lobby, she could still smell the desk volunteer's lilac perfume, although for some reason the odor didn't really bother her. Maybe it was a relief from all the patchouli. She ran once again across the now snow-covered cobblestone courtyard to her office and stopped to tell the story of Bianca Fiona to her co-worker Caroline, the office manager and executive assistant to the boss. Although she was now well past 50 (Jenn was sure she was at least 60), Caroline looked and acted more like a former Las Vegas showgirl. Well, one who had regular access to an extraordinarily advanced plastic surgeon than a very capable Midwestern medical center office manager.

"So, I bet this woman probably had a patchouli candle burning under her bed—that had to be where the scent came from," Caroline snickered in her throaty voice while frowning hard at the office's latest budget reports. "Or else she's smoking pot and trying to hide it. I think it's great, Laurence is going to be so pissed when he finds out, no matter if she's burning pot or incense or even kerosene. Caroline laughed loudly and in a rather hard way, like some cigarette-addicted nightclub singer, though she did not smoke, and Jenn didn't think she had ever sung in a nightclub. "If she's burning pot, Laurence is going to want some, you know that."

"Caroline, Jesus Christ himself could appear on that station with a joint and a camera and say he was doing a story on medical uses for marijuana and Laurence would still be pissed, okay?" Jenn said, taking a moment to stretch out on one of the red velvet lounge chairs that Caroline had bought herself. She appreciated the idea that Caroline would spend her own money to buy things she found beautiful for the office rather than live with the "Appalachian gray" or "Sonoran beige" stuff from the hospital's furniture warehouse. "Although, to tell you the truth, and you know how much I detest Laurence, but I can't really blame him for wanting that reporter off of the station. If you meet her, you'll see and hear exactly what I mean. You would not believe that hair! I am not making this up—it had to be a foot high."

Caroline laughed and then ordered Jenn to get the hell back to work (with just the slightest shadow of a smirk) so she could justify her salary in the budget. Jenn rolled her eyes, forced herself out of the soft velvet, and went to her own more prosaic chair. A small miracle had occurred in that she had no phone, text or email messages. She started to think about how she was going to make inborn errors of metabolism sound fascinating to the general public when her damn phone rang again. She had to get that news release written and she was not particularly interested in helping Nadine at the moment.

But it was only Dr. Atagari.

"Jenn, I hear you have just met with Ms. Fiona," he said. Although many others in the hospital were happy to yell at her on any given day, he wasn't going to be one of them. "She truly is a beautiful person, even though she ... well, she lost her way somewhat when she was younger. And that is why she is here with us now."

"Oh, okay, I suppose lots of people in this same situation have had troubles," she said in a way to let Dr. Atagari know she wasn't going to specifically ask if a patient abused alcohol or drugs in order to get on the liver transplant candidate list.

"She did have a difficult life," Dr. Atagari said softly. "I have known Bianca for years, ever since I roomed with her brother at Berkeley when I first came here from Japan for my undergraduate education. My English was even more BBC then than it is now, if you can believe it. He never once made fun of me. He was always the smart one in the family. No one was as good at math or physics or chemistry, or anything, as Tony Fionarello. He's a rather famous volcanologist now ... but I'm always worried sick that Mount Kilauea is going to get him some day."

"Oh, I suppose it had to be tough to compete with such an accomplished sibling," Jenn said, while suddenly realizing she was actually interested in hearing this patient's story. "And her real last name is Fionarello? I guess Fiona is sexier and more suitable for the stage than Fionarello."

Dr. Atagari just laughed softly. "Yes, I suppose Bianca Fiona has better rhythm," he said quietly. "When you talk with her again, and you will, you will learn more about the things she has endured and how she finally found some peace. A lot of people scoff at what she does, but Jenn, you must know this, that we are not just the personalities we portray here in this life. We are all souls on a long journey, and Bianca has just learned how to connect with our souls better than the rest of us."

Jenn was ready to tell Dr. Atagari that she would be more than willing to learn more about how Bianca Fiona found peace, thinking he would say nothing, but then she sensed he really did want to keep talking. One thing she learned early on in her career at the hospital was the fact that when a doctor, and especially a powerful department chair such as Yuki Atagari wanted to talk, you had better shut up and listen.

"I'm just thinking here, Jenn, about all Tony and I and Bianca have gone through together all these years," he said in a way that made him sound almost like a regular person who was enduring the serious illness of a good friend while memories of better, happier days loomed poignant and large. "Bianca was still in junior high, or maybe she was a high school freshman, when Tony and I set up our quarters in that old dormitory at Berkeley. I remember she carried several of Tony's boxes of books so carefully and I thought, wow, this guy really has his little sister trained well. He could be Japanese." Dr. Atagari then laughed in a most American "guy" way, a manner Jenn found both surprising and rather attractive.

"Tony was only 18 and he already had graduate-level volcanology books in his possession," he said in his more customary voice. "And here I thought I would be the brilliant one in the room. I remember Bianca would take the bus in from San Francisco by herself, just to get away from her parents for a little while, wearing false eyelashes and some horrendously short miniskirt that was sure to get her in trouble with both school officials and boys. Tony and I would take her out to this hippie pizza place. And if you can believe it, we'd all have a cigarette.

Or two or three. And wine. And beer. Sometimes too much beer and wine. They didn't card people in those days. When I would go to the Fionarellos for Thanksgiving and Christmas because I could only get back to Japan once a year or so, Bianca would help her mother serve all of this great Italian food. I didn't know where all of this talk about Americans eating turkey for Thanksgiving came from because we'd always have octopus or chicken cacciatore or some delicious pasta in marinara sauce. I used to tell Bianca that she would make a fine teahouse hostess. She used to tell me to shut up."

He laughed again, in that same ordinary guy way. It was evident that though Dr. Atagari was pained at the fact that his great friend's sister was now his very sickly patient, he also was clearly very happy to have gone on this small trip back in time.

Although Jenn enjoyed hearing Dr. Atagari's stories of Tony and Bianca, she could hardly believe what he was saying. It seemed so uncharacteristic of him. She did know he was a Buddhist, and while being a Buddhist might permit him to have more sympathy than other physicians for someone like Bianca Fiona, he was still a scientist. She was certain he would never talk this way at international surgery conferences.

"Okay, Dr. Atagari. I will talk some more to Ms. Fiona," she said.

"I take it you have no problem with any reporters interviewing her?"

"No, let Bianca have as many reporters as Laurence will allow," he said, while laughing once again. "That way you won't have too much work to do. And I've already talked to Laurence about this particular television station, so you are spared at least one verbal lashing for this week."

"Thank you so much, Dr. Atagari," she said, all too audibly relieved.

"I wish everyone in this hospital understood."

"Go and talk with Bianca," he said. "Speak slowly, and don't run to her room, walk. I know you can walk. You never know, she just might understand you a bit, too. And make sure you really listen. You are good at that."