This story is by Paula M. Coulter and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
She donned on her newly purchased black Prada suede pumps to compliment the black Armani jersey dress her mom had given her for Christmas. It was her first day at Beckler & Henderson, the most prestigious medical malpractice law firm in Miami, Florida. Her seven years of study, graduating as the valedictorian of her class at Harvard Law School at the young age of 25, in addition to her father knowing the president of the company, awarded her this position… almost without an interview.
The click of her heels echoed off the parking garage walls as her black Maserati beeped at her command. She slid onto the leather seat behind the wheel. The smell of the luxurious leather never got old, even after owning it throughout college. The new job would be able to compensate for an upgrade since her parents already bought her a condominium in Florida, as a college graduation present.
This was the only life she’d ever known. Fancy dresses growing up, birthday and holiday parties with the elite of the elite, the refined sense of being a strong, independent and untouchable woman. There was nothing that could derail her. The money was something her family had more than enough of, handed down from previous generations. The nobility of her family meant that she, too, had to be driven to succeed, no matter what…even if she was adopted.
However, something inside her still ached for closure. Two years ago, she read the letter her birth mother left for her when she gave her up as an infant. Her biological mother mentioned how she loved her very much but, at her young age of 16, she couldn’t imagine how to give the newborn the life she wanted her to have. Cassandra tried to locate her, but the records were sealed and she was left to only imagine who, and where, she was now.
As she drove through downtown Miami, she was heartbroken when she saw a man dressed in dirty, ripped jeans complete with a dirty, white t-shirt, holding a can at an intersection in the hopes of receiving spare change from the morning commuters. He wore a Colts cap that reminded her of home and, for a moment, her mind wandered back to the letter from her real mom. Where could she be? Unfocused, she hit the gas pedal so hard at the green light that she almost missed the turn-off to the interstate as her long, glossy black hair flew in the wind.
She arrived a few minutes ahead of schedule and was greeted by Brian Bekler himself.
“Great to see you again, Cassandra!”, exclaimed Brian.
“Oh, it’s wonderful to be here, Brian! I am so excited to start.”
She met the others in the conference room. During an hour, the others quickly gave their feedback on the cases at hand: a brain surgery that become infected with a staph infection that resulted in premature death, medical negligence of an Acute Myeloid Leukemia case due to lack of insurance, and a misdiagnosed blood clot that resulted in a pulmonary embolism. It was decided that Cassandra would take the Leukemia case that had just arrived last week.
Looking over the file, Cassandra noted that the case concerned a 41-year-old woman who was a part-time Walmart clerk for six months, only after arriving from Indianapolis, Indiana. Interesting, someone I may relate to since I grew up in Indiana too.
In room 401, of the cancer wing of the county hospital, Ashley Arlington lay defeated in her hospital bed.
Her grey-black hair was matted to her sweaty forehead, face and neck. The regrets of her life were swirling in her head just as Cassandra knocked on her door.
“Hi, Ms. Arlington. My name is Cassandra Chandler. I’m with Bekler and Henderson…about your malpractice case?”
Ashley felt like her heart had skipped a few beats.
The woman at the door looked exactly like…no, it couldn’t be.
“Oh. Hello, Ms. Chandler. Come in,” Ashely said quietly. She hoped her face didn’t show the shock she felt inside.
“Please, call me Cassandra. I was wondering if you could provide more details on your case, particularly your medical history, so I can start the investigation?” asked Cassandra.
“Of course,” said Ashley in her typical, quiet voice, “Well, I was released by the first hospital only hours after being admitted. They said that it was an undetermined diagnosis but I think it was because I had no insurance. When I came here two months later, that’s when I was diagnosed. I came down here six months ago from Indiana. I thought I could have a better life. I never graduated from high school and only maintained little jobs here and there as a waitress, gas station attendant and cleaning person. The only thing I could find down here was part-time, so I have no health benefits.”
Ashley could see the puzzled look in Cassandra’s face. Is Cassandra thinking she’s staring into a mirror too?
Clearing her throat, Cassandra asked, “Where do you live now?”
Ashley’s brow furrowed as she struggled to try to evade the question. “I don’t wish to say.” Ashley stated curtly.
“We only need to know because it is going to come up in the case.” Cassandra said, gently. “I am certain you have a legitimate case just with what I’ve found so far. The firm’s job is to look out for your best interest and to get you what you deserve.”
The hot tears started running down Ashley’s face just before Cassandra finished her sentence. God, even her voice is like mine.
“I deserve nothing!” Ashley cried out as she futilely struggled against the emotions rising in her. “I live in a homeless shelter! I…I have nothing but the backpack that’s in that closet.” Ashley wailed, as she pointed to the little doors in the room.
The professional demeanor Cassandra exuded fell away as Ashley watched her stroll over to the closet and pull out the blue backpack. Were those tears in Cassandra’s eyes?
Abruptly, Cassandra said, “There was one more thing in your medical file, Ashley. The files from when you were 16 years old.”
Cassandra’s head was spinning. It was so hard to maintain her composure when she felt like she was staring into a mirror during the entire visit.
Ashley tearfully confessed she had a baby girl and had given her up for adoption when she was 16 years old. She is now 41…even the math added up.
The days of helping the homeless and less-fortunate came flooding back to Cassandra. The numerous community service hours her adoptive parents enforced her to endure stating, “It is always good to give. You can help anyone just by giving kindness.”
Cassandra would give the poor folks she met portions of her lunch on the days she was helping them. They would have the biggest, more sincere smiles out of anyone she knew. On Christmas, she even gave one woman her own jacket because she had none, and it was snowing.
Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The kind that likes a donor whose HLA tissue type closely matches the patient’s. Typically, a blood-relative. I have been searching for so long. I could lose her before I have really found her.
The next day, Cassandra spoke to Ashley’s doctor and convinced him to test her as a donor. Privileges are abundant when you’re an attorney and…rich. The results were conclusive. Cassandra was an HLA match. A very close HLA match for a bone marrow transplant.
It was something she was hoping for since she met Ashley, but didn’t know how it would affect her until now. She always wanted to help someone beyond the mere sandwiches and clothing she had given in the past. She had the power to give back to the one person who had given her up so long ago to have a better life…a better life that could now come back full circle to the one who thought selflessly as she placed the fate of her newborn baby girl into that of another, all because they were richer than she. Cassandra would pay for her medical care…that, she decided.
Cassandra was trembling as she walked briskly to room 401 of the county hospital and entered the room. Ashley smiled weakly as Cassandra entered.
“Hey there, attorney.” Ashley said, as she rested her head back down on the pillow.
Trying to keep her voice from trembling, Cassandra started to speak assertively. “You will be transferred from here to the Miami Cancer Center this afternoon. The nurse said your white blood cell count is low and you need a transplant.”
“But…I can’t afford that?” Ashley seemed to ask, rather than stating. “And what about a donor?”
“Well, you have both now.” Cassandra said as her tears fell like warm rain down her cheeks.
Confused, Ashley softly asked, “Why are you crying, Cassandra?”
“Because I have always wanted to find you, Mom, and I don’t want to lose you now.”