Dylan stares at her closed eyes. Wake up, Mika. Wake up. For the love of God, wake up. The litany echoes through his head without pause. He’s not positive how long they’ve been in this room, but he knows it’s been damn long enough. He’s tired of the same four walls, the stupid stuffed bear on the dresser staring at him, the dull landscape painting on the wall with the grass the wrong shade of green and the white house off-center and off-perspective.
He stands. His back groans in protest. He stretches until the sharpness recedes to a throb and paces to keep awake. On the other side of the door, he hears the day nurse whispering to the one coming to replace her. He steps closer.
“Tragic really,” says the day nurse.
“Yes, that. But I mean the family dynamic. Husband sits by her side day in and day out.” She pauses for effect. “Did you know her sister is in room 314?”
“Excuse me?” The evening nurse’s voice rose before she could control it.
“There is no physiological reason to keep her from waking up. But,” and here the woman lowers her voice so that Dylan strains to hear, “I don’t think she wants to wake up.”
On the other side of the door, Dylan closes his eyes. He can imagine very well the looks on the women’s faces. He shakes his head and returns to his seat beside the hospital bed wondering if his in-laws would ever come down the hall, do more than ask how Mika is when he passes them on his way to the coffee machine in the waiting room, or show any awareness whatsoever that they have another daughter just down the hall.
Leaning back, he returns conscious thought to the words on perpetual repeat in his head. He would not let her be alone. Wake up, Mika. Wake up. For the love of G- He stares at her flickering eyelids. Something is different.
She lifts her hand.
Dylan jerks so quickly his knee knocks the bed. He takes her questing hand with one of his own and with the other retrieves the washcloth from the table next to him. He’d run hot water over it less than half an hour ago. Most of it is still warm. He uses it to carefully remove the crust that keeps her eyes from opening completely.
Now she opens them and he can see her denim-blue eyes focus on him.
v v v v v v
When I wake, I don’t know where I am. The bed, the smells, the sounds are so strange I am afraid to open my eyes. I am afraid to move. Sleep has crusted around my lashes so that it is hard to blink. I reach up to touch my face and something jerks the bed.
“Here, let me help.”
Outside, thunder rumbles. Seconds later, lightening flickers through the room bright enough to shine through my closed lids. If I concentrate, I can hear the raindrops on the window to my left. A warm cloth, cold at the edges as if it has been sitting for a while, brushes gently over my eyes until the crust is gone. I blink until Dylan’s unshaven face and blood-shot blue eyes come into focus. There is relief in his smile. I take a breath to speak although I have no idea what I’m going to say, but Dylan shakes his head. He slips an ice chip between my lips and leans down to hug me as if he hasn’t seen me in a very long time. Over his shoulder, I see a painting. I blink a few times to make sure all the crust is truly gone from my eyes.
The picture is of a tiny house with a glassed-in porch in the middle of nowhere. The sky is too large and blue, the grass is an surreal green and blends with a darker green of what may be a forest surrounding the landscape. Through the windows of the breakfast nook, I can see the yellow of a table. Amid the greens, blues and pure white of the house, the tiny speck of yellow looks wildly out of place.
To my left is a window. Flowers stand out brightly against the forbidding grey of the storm: a big bouquet of tiger lilies, smaller bouquets of pink carnations, white, red and pink roses. There’s a Get Well teddy on the dresser across the room surrounded by newspapers. The television hanging close to the ceiling in the corner is a black mirror of the room. An old white telephone, a pitcher of water, a pitcher of ice, several glasses, soda cans and a handful of papered straws completely fill the little table beside the bed.
Taped to my hand is an IV needle. The white tape barely covers the bruise beneath.
The last of the ice chip slides down my throat.
“How long have we been here?”
Dylan sits back, clinging to my hand as if to a lifeline. “A few days, maybe a week.”
There’s a knock at the door. A slender man in a white coat enters. He is tall. His hair is black. His face is long. His nose is a little sharp. His eyes are green. He looks up from the clipboard in his hands. His face lights up when he sees me looking at him. “I see you made it back.”
v v v v v v
Dylan lifts me into the wheelchair careful of my leg in its pristine white cast. He is almost giddy wheeling me out into the hall. I am still groggy from whatever medications they’d pumped into me. I don’t want to leave the room. I feel sick when I have to hold myself up.
“You have to build your strength back,” he says. “You’ve been in bed for almost a week.” He looks tired, stressed, and happy all at once.
“But I only woke up yesterday afternoon.” I know there is something he is not telling me. Even though we’d talked all night, he had evaded all questions about my family.
The nurses look at us from their desk. I think I see pity in their eyes and behind that….guilt?
I can feel his reluctance. But he stops pushing. Just behind the nurse’s station is a small lobby surrounded by windows overlooking nothing more than cars lined up in rows and a grassy hill beyond. I make him take me there; make him sit in one of the green, cushioned chairs in front of me. He refuses to meet my eyes.
“What’s wrong with me? What are you not telling me?”
“Nothing is wrong with you,” he answers quickly. “You’re awake.”
He is ignoring my other question. “What are you not telling me?” All I can think of is the dream with the nightmare images of Jenny’s lifeless body and the blood pooling around her. Was that a dream? Or was that part of the reason why I’m in a hospital. I’d told the doctor and my husband the truth: I don’t remember getting hurt. What I do remember comes from a dream within a dream. How reliable is that?
Dylan still refuses to look at me. He is studying his hands.
“What’s wrong?” I keep prodding, because I have to know.
After a long silence, he takes a deep breath and begins. “The night you got hurt, you were following a lead for a story.” This is not strange. I am a reporter. I nod to keep him going.
“Jenny took you to an area where there have been several attacks. She’d dispatched officers there several times in the past year. But the attacks seemed to happen at random and not frequent enough for officials to do more than have the area patrolled a little more often and issue a general warning. She thought she saw a pattern. You went out there….” He avoids any details he knew. “Both of you fought. You cut two of them.” He smiled at that. “Jenny fell into a drainage ditch. You must have kicked one of them hard enough to break bones. When you fell, you messed up your knee and hit your head on the concrete.”
I remember none of this, not really, not as anything more than a dream.
Dylan drops his eyes. “They brought Jenny in with you that night.”
I don’t want to interrupt him, but I have to know. “How is she?”
He smiles wryly. “Fine, actually. Nothing more than a minor concussion and a broken arm. She’s been sitting in her hospital room happy as a lark with all the attention she’s getting. Officers come in all the time bringing flowers and gifts. Friends we didn’t know she had drop by. You know she’s loving it.”
“So what’s the problem?” I push for more.
“You’re parents have been here since that night.” He slows down and captures my eyes again. “I know you’ve told me how it has always been. I know I’ve even seen the evidence with my own eyes…. But Mika, this is insane. Both of you have been here almost a week. There’s nothing wrong with Jenny that a cast can’t fix and you’re down the hall not waking up. I know your Dad works a lot, but…. Even the nurses noticed.”
My heart fell. For what had seemed like an eternity I had punished myself for letting Jenny get hurt. All I could hear were their words: “Take care of your sister. She doesn’t have anyone. She’s all alone in the world. Don’t let anything happen to her. Take care of your sister.” I thought parents weren’t supposed to show favoritism. I thought all of the jealously and resentment I carried was a result of my own mind. I thought that I was being selfish. Since I met Dylan, I thought they were right, she didn’t have anyone and I am lucky. I have Dylan.
I can’t say anything. Something clogs my throat. But I nod and motion for Dylan to take me down the hall. He stands and gets behind my chair, grabs the handles and maneuvers me past the nurses. Now, I understand their pity. It’s not because I was stupid enough to get hurt. It’s because they had never seen parents so blatantly ignore one child in favor of another.
Dylan stops in front of another room swings me around and pushes on the door with his body. I can hear the laughter before the door completely opens. He swings the wheel chair around. I can tell he is holding his breath.
In the hospital bed sits Jenny. She’s wearing the silk pajamas we’d given her at Christmas, the ones that bring out the blue in her eyes. The ends of perky blonde hair peak out from the bandages that cover her head. Her arm is in a cast full of signatures in different colors. Balloons and flowers: roses, carnations, daisies and more of every color have turned her room into a florist shop. They fill up the windowsill and dresser. She has her free arm wrapped around an overly large white teddy bear with blue eyes like hers. To complete the picture, Mom sits on the cushioned rocking chair nearby and Dad sits at the foot of the bed.
At least Dad stands when he sees Dylan and I enter the room, a strange look plastered on his face. Jenny’s grin freezes. Mom doesn’t even blink. “You’re just in time,” she says. “Jenny’s going home today,” she says as if I’d simply dropped in between shopping excursions.