“I heard her, right? She’s okay? She said my name!”
“Calm down, Will. You need to calm down. They won’t let you stay in here if you keep freaking out like this.”
Calm down? He has no idea just how calm I’m being!
“She’s responding,” he says. “Her physical responses were all good. She doesn’t remember what happened. She may not remember a lot of stuff right away. She needs rest, Will. I’ll let you back inside, but you’ll need to let her rest.”
“Okay, I will. I promise. I swear.”
“I know. Now go,” he says.
When I open the door, she’s facing me. She smiles a really pathetic, painful-looking smile.
“Hey,” I whisper. I walk to her bed and stroke her cheek.
“Hey,” she whispers back.
“Hey,” she says again.
“Stop it,” she says. She tries to laugh but it hurts her. She closes her eyes.
I pull down the rail and crawl back into the bed with her. I take her hand in mine and I bury my face in the crevice between her shoulder and her neck…and I cry.
For the next few hours she goes in and out of consciousness, just like Dr. Bradshaw said she would. Every time she wakes up she says my name. Every time she says my name I tell her to close her eyes and get some rest. Every time I tell her to close her eyes and get some rest, she does.
Dr. Bradshaw comes in a few times to check on her. They lower the dose in the I.V. one more time so she can stay awake for longer periods. I decide not to call anyone yet. It’s still too early and I don’t want everyone bombarding her right now. I just want her to rest.
It’s almost seven in the morning and I’m walking out of the bathroom when she finally says something besides my name.
“What happened?” she says.
I pull a chair up beside her bed. She’s rolled over onto her left side so I rest my chin on the bedrail and stroke her arm as I face her. “We had a wreck.”
She looks confused, then a look of terror washes over her. “The kids…”
“Everyone’s fine,” I reassure her. “Everyone’s okay.”
She breathes a sigh of relief. “When? What day was it? What day is it?”
“It’s Saturday. It happened Thursday night. What’s the last thing you remember?”
She closes her eyes. I reach up and pull the string to the light above her bed and it flicks off. I don’t know why they keep turning it on. What hospital patient wants a fluorescent light three feet from their head?
“I remember going to the slam, she says. “I remember your poem…but that’s all.. That’s all I can remember.” She opens her eyes again and looks at me. “Did I forgive you?”
I laugh. “Yes, you forgave me. And you love me. A bunch.”
She smiles. “Good.”
“You were hurt, Babe. They had to take you into surgery.”
“I know. The doctor told me that much.”
I stroke her cheek with the back of my hand. “I’ll tell you everything that happened later, okay? Right now you need to rest. I’m going outside to call everyone. Kel’s worried sick. Eddie, too. I’ll be back, okay?”
She nods and closes her eyes again. I lean forward and kiss her on the forehead. “I love you, Lake.” I grab my phone off the table and stand up.
“Again,” she whispers.
“I love you.”
Visiting hours are strictly enforced once everyone starts to arrive. They make me wait in the waiting room just like everyone else. Only one person is allowed in at a time. Eddie and Gavin got here first, so Eddie’s with her right now. Kel shows up with Sherry about the same time my grandparent’s show up with Caulder.
“Can I go see her?” Kel asks.
“Absolutely. She keeps asking for you. Eddie’s with her right now. It’s ICU so she can only have visitors for fifteen minutes but you’re next.”
“So she’s talking? She’s okay? She remembers me?”
“Yeah. She’s perfect,” I say.
Grandpaul walks over to Kel and puts his hand on his shoulder. “Come on Grandkel, we’ll get you some breakfast before you go see her.”
My grandparent’s take Kel and Caulder to the cafeteria. I tell them to bring me something back…I finally have an appetite now.
“Do you need me and Eddie to stay at your house with the boys for a few days?” Gavin asks.
“No. Not right now, anyway. My grandparents are keeping them for a couple of days. I don’t want them to miss a lot of school, though.”
“They can stay with me,” Sherry says. “I’m sending Kiersten back to school on Wednesday. If your grandparents have them home Tuesday they can stay with me until they discharge Layken.”
“Thanks, guys,” I say to both of them.
Eddie walks around the corner. She’s wiping at her eyes and sniffing. I sit up in my chair and Gavin stands up and grabs Eddie’s arm and guides her to a seat. She looks up at him and rolls her eyes. “Gavin, I’m four months pregnant…quit treating me like I’m an invalid.”
Once she’s seated, Gavin takes the seat next to her. “I’m sorry, Babe. I just worry about you.” He leans forward and kisses her stomach. “Both of you.”
Eddie smiles and kisses him on the cheek.
It’s good to see he’s accepted his new role as a Dad. I know they’ve got a lot of hurdles ahead of them, but I have faith that they’ll make it. I guess Lake and I could start recycling all the stars we open for them, just in case they need them.
“How’s Lake feeling?” I ask.
Eddie shrugs. “Like shit,” she says. “But she did just have her head cut open, so that’s understandable. I told her all about the wreck. She felt kind of bad once she found out she was the one driving. I told her it wasn’t her fault, but she still said she wishes you were driving. That way she could blame her injuries on you.”
I laugh. “She can blame them on me anyway if it makes her feel better.”
“We’re coming back this afternoon,” Eddie says as she stands up and grabs Gavin’s hand. “She really needs some TLC in the makeup department. Is two o’clock okay? Does anyone have that time slot yet?”
I shake my head. “See you guys at two.”
Before they leave, Eddie walks over and gives me a hug. An unusually long hug.
After her and Gavin walk out, I look down at my watch. Kel will see her next, then Sherry. My grandmother may want to go see her. I guess I’ll have to wait until after lunch before they’ll let me back in.
“You’ve got great friends,” Sherry says.
I raise my eyebrows at her. “You don’t think they’re weird? Most people think my friends are weird.”
“Yeah, I do. That’s why they’re great,” she says.
I smile and scoot down in my seat until my head is resting against the back of the chair and I close my eyes. “You’re pretty weird yourself, Sherry.”
She laughs. “You, too.”
I can’t get comfortable in the chair, so I resort to lying in the floor again. I stretch my arms out above my head and sigh. The floor is actually starting to feel comfortable. Now that I know Lake’s okay, I’m starting not to despise this hospital as much.
“Will?” Sherry says.
I open my eyes and look at her. She’s not looking at me, though. She’s got her legs crossed in the chair and she’s picking at the seam of her jeans.
“What’s up?” I reply.
She looks at me and smiles. “You did a great job,” she says quietly. “I know it was hard calling me about Kiersten. And taking care of the boys during all of this. How you’ve handled everything with Layken. You’re too young to have so much responsibility, but you’re doing a good job. I hope you know that. Your mom and dad would be proud.”
I close my eyes and inhale. I didn’t know how much I needed to hear that until this very second. Sometimes it feels good to have your biggest fears discounted with a simple compliment. “Thank you.”
She gets out of the chair and lies down next to me in the floor. I look over at her and her eyes are closed, but it looks like she’s trying not to cry. I look away and don’t draw attention to it. Sometimes women just need to cry.
We’re quiet for a little while. She blows out a deep breath, like she’s trying to choke back tears. “He was killed a year later. A year after he proposed. In a car wreck,” she says.
I realize she’s telling me the story about Jim. I roll over and face her, resting my head on my elbow. I don’t really know what to say, so I don’t say anything.
“I’m okay,” she says. She looks at me and smiles. This time it seems like she’s trying not to pity herself. “It’s been a long time. I love my family and wouldn’t trade them for the world. But sometimes it’s still hard. Times like these…”
She pulls herself up and sits Indian style in the floor. She begins to pick at the seam of her pants again. “I was so scared for you, Will. I was scared she wouldn’t make it. Seeing you go through that was hard for me and it brought back a lot of memories. That’s why I haven’t been up here very much.”
I understand the expression in her eyes, and the heartache in her voice. I understand it, and I hate it for her. “It’s okay,” I say. “I didn’t expect you to stay. You had Kiersten to worry about.”
“I know you didn’t expect me to stay. I wouldn’t have even been any help. But I worry about you. I worry about all of you. Kel, Caulder, you, Layken. Now I even like your damn weird friends and I’m gonna have to worry about them, too,” she laughs.
I smile at her. “It’s nice to be worried about, Sherry. Thank you.”
Sunday, January 29th, 2012.
I’ve learned something about my heart.
It can break.
It can be ripped apart.
It can harden and freeze.
It can stop. Completely.
It can shatter into a million pieces.
It can explode.
It can die.
The only thing that made it start beating again?
The moment you opened your eyes.
All the visits wear Lake out and she sleeps the majority of the afternoon. She slept through Eddie’s second visit, which is probably good for Lake’s sake. The nurse brought her soup at dinnertime and she sipped most of it. It was the first thing she ate since Thursday.
She asked more questions about everything that happened the night of the wreck. She mostly wanted to know all about her forgiving me and us making up. I told her everything that happened after I performed. For the most part I was honest, but I may have thrown in a more climactic make-out scene for added emphasis.
It’s Sunday and the fact that she’s in the hospital doesn’t deter her from her routine. I walk into her hospital room and set the bags of movies and junk food down in the chair. Lake is sitting up on the side of the bed and the nurse is working with the IV.
“Oh, good. You’re right in time,” the nurse says. “She doesn’t want a sponge bath, she wants a standard bath. I was about to assist her in the bathroom, but if you’d rather do it you can.” She unhooks the IV and clamps it, then tapes the end of it to Lake’s hand.