Chapter OneRAIN WAS DRUMMING HARD against the windows when the midnight-to-8:00 rounds began at San Francisco Municipal Hospital. Inside the ICU, thirty-year-old Jessie Falk was asleep in her hospital bed, floating on a Percocet lake of cool light.
Jessie was having the most beautiful dream she'd had in years.
She and the light of her life, three-year-old Claudia, were in Grandma's backyard swimming pool. Claudie was in her birthday suit and bright-pink water wings, slapping the water, sunlight glinting off her blond curls.
"Simon says, kiss like a butterfly, Claudie."
"Like this, Mommy?"
Then the mother and daughter were shouting and laughing, twirling and falling down, singing out "wheeeeeee," when without warning a sharp pain pierced Jessie's chest.
She awoke with a scream-bolted upright-and clapped both of her hands to her breast.
What was happening? What was that pain?
Then Jessie realized that she was in a hospital-and that she was feeling sick again. She remembered coming here, the ambulance ride, a doctor telling her that she was going to be fine, not to worry.
Falling, nearly fainting back to the mattress, Jessie fumbled for the call button at her side. Then the device slipped from her grasp and fell. It banged against the side of the bed with a muted clang.
Oh, God, I can't breathe. What's happening? I can't get my breath. It's horrible. I'm not fine.
Tossing her head from side to side, Jessie swept the darkened hospital room with her eyes. Then she seized on a figure at the far edge of her vision.
She knew the face.
"Oh, th-thank God," she gasped. "Help me, please. It's my heart."
She stretched out her hands, clutched feebly at the air, but the figure stayed in the shadows.
"Please," Jessie pleaded.
The figure wouldn't come forward, wouldn't help. What was going on? This was a hospital. The person in the shadows worked here.
Tiny black specks gathered in front of Jessie's eyes as a crushing pain squeezed the air from her chest. Suddenly her vision tunneled to a pinprick of white light.
"Please help me. I think I'm -"
"Yes," said the figure in the shadows, "you are dying, Jessie. It's beautiful to watch you cross over."