Lisa found the ad on one of the molded plastic chairs in the emergency room waiting area. Someone had been sitting on it, flattened it and wrinkled it but she picked it up anyway. Her eyes were too gritty to close and the room was flooded with light and noise; she was desperate for something to read. It was newsprint, something called the PennySaver, full of trucks and tools and used wedding dresses.
She could see Bobby, outside past the smoking area, pacing while he talked on his phone. He was 'making calls'. Lisa recognized the expression from her childhood. When there was trouble or the potential for trouble, her father would announce that he was going to 'make some calls'.
Bobby and her father seemed to have a lot of faith in connecting with the right person. Bobby scribbled names and numbers in the little black notebook he still carried, while he talked to New Haven and Phoenix and LA. Someone was going to get him to the best doctor and social worker in San Bernardino County. Once they were there, things would be easy. They would make sense.
The ad was for runaway teens. Milk carton kids, aged by computers, running under the vaguely accusatory banner "Have You Seen Me?" The shock of seeing the girl named Mary, so defiant in her high school photo, in the row of lost children was chilling. As if Lisa had opened something she wasn't supposed to. Her first thought was that she didn't want to know. Above the photos, maybe on purpose - who else would care more about lost children than other parents? - were little typeset ads for cribs and playpens. She realized as she saw them that this is what she had been looking for. Supplies. Crazy.
There was a phone number, of course. Parents waiting, of course, to hear. Mad, heartbroken, who knew?
From behind the triage desk, one of the tired young men in scrubs called Bobby's name, then Lisa's. Lisa tried signaling to Bobby, knocking on the window near where he stood but he didn't look up. She crossed to the desk when the man called again. She could hear, through the open doors to the examining area behind him, someone crying and someone else moaning. She smiled at the man, unable to suppress a madly cheery, "Wow, you guys are busy today, huh?"
He didn't respond except to say, "Your friends are in two B. One of you can go back at a time."
"Yeah. Could you tell me, before I go get our other friend, what, I mean how she's doing? You know, just so I don't go in and say like the wrong thing. I don't really know her --"
The nurse's aid looked up. He had a name tag on with no name on it. "I can't help you."
"She's a runaway," Lisa said. She couldn't stop herself from talking. She wanted the young man to help her. Clearly he knew what was going on. "I just found that out --"
"Listen, I already said --"
Then she saw Sam behind the triage desk, looking for her and Bobby. He looked lost and even like he'd been crying. She tried the young man one more time. "Listen, if you could just let me know. Because the thing is, it's complicated --"
"It always is," he said. "You coming in or not?"