Waking Nightmare

Change of shift at General Hospital was normally a bustling -but relatively quiet- event. Hospital employees just beginning the day tended to greet one another and engage in soft-spoken discussions as they made their way to their various departments. Thin white paper bags and to-go cups from fast food places were clutched in one hand while everything else was juggled in the other.

Medical personnel that had just completed a shift moved with a different kind of energy. They headed directly to their vehicles, not stopping to engage in conversation with others around them (with the exception of a muttered 'See you tomorrow'), lest some crisis require them to return to the hospital for additional hours. Emergency room doctor Ellen Burgess was in this latter group.

It had been a pretty uneventful night in the ER. A 9-year-old 's broken arm, two marbles stuck up a fraternity pledge's nose and a couple of unrelated cases of food poisoning constituted the emergency staff's activity for the shift. Ellen had been initially grateful for the unusually quiet night. It presented her with a rare opportunity to update her files in peace. But 10+ files later, the frustrated doctor almost irrationally yearned for just a bit of emergency excitement.

Ellen slid her key into the ignition of her five-year-old Honda Civic but didn't turn the key. She took a moment to yawn and drop her head to the steering wheel as she did an internal check that she was awake enough to safely make the journey home. Dawn was just ending and the morning sun pressed impatiently for its turn in the spotlight.

An unexpected buzzing against her collarbone jolted Ellen to full alertness. She activated the Bluetooth receiver about her neck. "Hello?"

"Hi. I'm just calling to let you know I have to stay here at General a few minutes longer," psychiatrist Kevin Collins said. "I'm having a short Skype session with Stefan Cassidine."

"What does he want?"

"I don't know. I guess I'll find out," Kevin said. "That's him. Gotta go." Abruptly he ended the call. Ellen shrugged , wearily started up the car and headed out.

The drive home took Ellen past the local high school. She'd done a presentation there once, representing General Hospital at a mock job fair. Most of the kids participating had only been interested in getting out of classes for a while. A couple, though, had made a lasting impression on Ellen with their eager questions and quick, adaptable minds. Those faces stayed with her all the way home. That night at dinner with Kevin, she shared the encounter, as well as her growing desire to become a part of some teenager's life.

'11th-graders? I work with a few of them,' Kevin explained. 'They've been in the foster system most of their lives. It's not likely that they'll be adopted at this point so they need help in preparing for what happens when they age out of the system.'

Kevin's remarks were sobering-- and a reminder that any decision Ellen made about becoming involved in a teenager's life could not be a casual one. He'd gone on to add, 'Most of them believe that they are self-sufficient. And they are, to some degree. They've had to be. But they have no idea what it is to be on completely on their own, responsible for housing and food and bills. So we teach them some basic cooking skills, show them how to dress for job interviews, help them get part-time work...that kind of thing.'


'Me. And Ward House,' Kevin said. 'Keesha Ward has put together an amazing program that is actually getting some attention from the Department of Human Resources."

Ellen was impressed. "Faith says she's really come into her own taking charge of Ward House."

'Yes,' Kevin nodded. 'She has.'

That discussion about the high-schoolers opened the door for one about their future. It was the first time they'd openly discussed their relationship status and Ellen was relieved to hear Kevin agree that a conversation about any kind of legal commitment was far too premature. Moving in together seemed a logical next step, though.

They chose one of the new homes constructed on the outskirts of Port Charles. The move added another 15 minutes to their daily drive but the quiet neighborhood was worth the extra time, Ellen thought as she drove along the smoothly paved road that led to the house.

She didn't bother to close the garage door after she pulled inside. Kevin had reassured her that his video meeting with Stefan Cassadine would not be a long one. He probably wasn't far behind her. Ellen hung her keys on the hook just inside the door and made a beeline for the bedroom. She collapsed onto the bed and took a minute (as she did after each shift) to just enjoy the sensation of sinking into the mattress.

That was the last thing the doctor recalled before being gently jostled awake.

"Huh?" Disoriented, Ellen stared at the hand on her arm through eyes that did not want to fully open. "Wha-?"

"Ellen, it's me, Dara."

Ellen jerked upright. The last time Dara had used that pained tone of voice she had been breaking the news to Ellen of Dr. Alan Quartermaine 's shocking death. "Kevin? Has something happened to Kevin?"

"Kevin is fine." Dara sat on the bed and wrapped her arms around Ellen. "I came to check on you."

"Me? Why?"

"You've been asleep awhile?"

"Not long." Ellen glanced at the clock and did a double take. She thought she'd only been asleep moments, but almost 2 hours had passed since she'd fallen onto the bed to await Kevin's arrival from General Hospital. "Wow, it feels like I just closed my eyes. I must have been more tired than I realized," she mused.

Dara sighed. "Now I'm sorry I woke you. Turn on your television set."

Curious, Ellen did as she was ordered. She turned the television on to a sight that she never would have imagined in a million years. There on the screen, a world famous evangelist clutched hands and prayed with a normally hostile atheist news anchor. "Damn," Ellen joked, shocked by the sight of the weeping anchorman. "It must be the end of the world."

"Not now," Dara said quietly. "But in a few months...yeah. That's what they're saying."


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