Gabe started running and Anna dashed out after him not even stopping to close the door. Chris’ ashen face revealed his worry as he ran back as fast as he could to his friend. Sean lay at an odd angle on the ground beneath at the foot of the tree house ladder. Ryan sat on the second level crying in pain. Sofi knelt on the floor half holding Ryan, trying to comfort him so he would stop.
Sean was unconscious, but still breathing and Gabe yelled at Anna to run back to the cabin and call 911. His cell phone didn’t have service. She made it half way back before she saw Rose step out. “Call 911, Sean is unconscious,” Anna yelled at her and ran back to the tree house to see what she could do to help.
When she returned Gabe checked Sean for fractured bones; thankfully nothing appeared to be broken. Anna hugged Chris who stammered, visibly distraught.
“Ryan fell asleep and Sean said he could carry him down and to the house. He got down the first ladder and had just started down the second ladder when his hand slipped. He pushed Ryan onto the landing, that’s why he’s crying, but then Sean fell. He wouldn’t wake up. I checked to make sure he was breathing like they taught us in first aid at scouts. I didn’t know what else to do though, so I ran for you guys.” Chris’ eyes filled and he choked on the last words.
Doug, Bob, Mary and Rose came running. “Paramedics will be at least a half hour to get up here. If he can be moved, they can meet us at the bottom of the mountain and take him from there,” Doug announced. Adam followed after them and took Ryan, now calmed down, from Sofi.
“Is there a board we can roll him onto and carry him stabilized to the car?” Anna asked. Rose told her about some extra wood in the barn and Anna and Adam took off running. Gabe stayed holding his child’s hand.
They found the wood and brought back a stiff board long enough to hold Sean, but short enough to fit in the car. Rose held Sean’s head still as the men gently rolled him onto the board. Anna returned to the house to get the keys and bring the suburban over near the tree house.
The car stopped feet away from the injured boy. Rose climbed in the far back seat and Chris got in after her. Anna started to protest, but the look on his face silenced her objections. Doug and Bob loaded Sean on the back seat while Gabe steadied the board and then sat on the floor beside Sean to hold him still. Doug climbed in the front seat and Anna sped away as quickly as she could safely traverse the uneven ground. Mary, Bob, and Adam took the other children back to the house.
The twisting mountain roads frustrated Anna. Each turn seemed to conspire to slow down their desperate hurry, each bump in the road a potential danger to a boy with unknown injuries. No one spoke the whole drive, but many silent prayers were offered pleading for God’s help and protection.
Anna pulled into the shopping center lot seconds before the ambulance arrived. The paramedics transferred Sean and the 20 minute trip to the hospital began. Sirens running and lights flashing Gabe and Sean disappeared down the road. Anna followed carefully behind, held up by other cars and traffic lights.
Eventually, the gleam of the hospital came into view. It stood taller than the surrounding buildings and Anna directed the suburban into the closest parking spot. Everyone jumped out of the car and Chris practically ran into the Emergency Entrance. Anna assured him that a few seconds would not make a difference, but she also felt anxious for Rose and Doug to walk faster.
Rose approached the receptionist and inquired about Sean. He was being cared for, Gabe was with him, and they could wait in a small room across the hall. Someone would come and update them as soon as they learned any results or new information.
Vinyl covered chairs and small tables filled a typical waiting room. A few magazines and a left over news paper spilled over a table and onto the floor. A few small children’s toys, wooden cars and a bead maze, filled a corner of the room. The patterned linoleum flooring and light green wall color appeared designed to make people sick, not help them recover.
Chris, uninterested in reading, anxiously twisted in his seat. Anna offered to take him to the gift shop to look for a balloon for Sean to keep Chris’ mind off his friend’s condition. They wandered through hallways and double doors until they noticed a sign with arrows pointing out directions. The small gift corner opened in a corner, visible near the main entrance. They took their time looking at each item for sale. Finally, they decided on a star balloon attached to a small plastic stick; brightly colored with “get well” printed in a gold font and streamers attached at the base.
Rose and Doug were not in the waiting room when they returned. A quick check at the Emergency Room reception desk told them that Sean had been taken to CT for a scan and Gabe should return to the waiting room shortly. Anna spotted him as they left the ER. He looked very tired and his shoulders slumped as he collapsed in a lightly padded chair. His hands covered his face and his breathing was shallow and uneven.
Anna knelt on the chair beside him and wrapped her arms around him. His shoulders began to shake and a small sob escaped. She tightened her embrace and kissed him on the head, like she would have comforted Chris. Rose and Doug returned to the room and rushed in to ask Gabe about Sean’s status. “He is getting a CT scan to check for brain injury. He came to while he was in the room, but seems to be drifting in and out. He has a large swollen egg on the left side of his head, he must have hit a buried tree root. There isn’t any blood and since it’s swelling outside, hopefully it’s not swelling inside. The scan should tell us more.”
Rose sat on the other side of Gabe and held his hand. It seemed like hours or days that they all sat there frozen, each lost in their own thoughts. The door creaked as it opened and a doctor came in with a very serious expression. It softened as he saw them all. “It looks fine; there isn’t any swelling on the brain. He has a severe concussion and we want to keep him overnight for observation. They are moving him now to a room. He is awake and asking for you.” The doctor was taken aback when Gabe stood abruptly and hugged him.
“I don’t want more than 2 or 3 at a time,” the doctor added and gave them the room number. All five of them dashed through the hospital corridors. Anna stopped in the hall on the upper floor to make a phone call back to the cabin to inform everyone of the wonderful news and the new over night plans. Jayne answered the phone and was relieved to hear from her. Anna could hear her repeating to the others. Jayne said good-bye and Anna hurried to catch up to the others speeding down the hall.
Anna and Chris waited outside the hospital room door while Rose, Doug, and Gabe went in. Sean, obviously groggy, tried to focus on Gabe as he sat in a chair at the bedside. Gabe held desperately to Sean’s hand as though that lifeline would hold Sean there with him. Rose stood beside her son and Doug sat on a stool at the foot of the bed. Gabe caressed his son’s arm, afraid to touch his head now. A flexible ice pack laid under Sean’s head with a thin towel between the pack and his shaggy scalp.
Fifteen minutes later, Rose and Doug came out and told Anna and Chris they could go in. Chris stopped in the doorway when he saw the EKG machine and IV hooked up to his friend. Gabe motioned for them to come in, never letting go of his son’s hand. Chris only came over to the foot of his bed and waved hello. Sean had a hard time focusing and Gabe offered, “Chris and Anna are here to see you too.”
Chris took a deep breath, “I was scared when you fell.”
Sean, still not thinking clearly enough to respond, just closed and opened his eyes in an attempt to nod. Anna touched his leg and told him, “You just get some rest, dude. Don’t think that smashing your brain is going to get you out of eating my world famous pumpkin pie. You have to be hurt worse than that to escape.”
Sean smiled and closed his eyes for a second. “You probably just need a nap after all this excitement.” She said it more for Gabe and Chris’ benefit. Gabe looked at her thankfully and then returned his focus on Sean. Sean slipped back into unconsciousness.
Anna and Chris walked out to the hall to talk to Rose and Doug. “The nurse says it will be at least a few hours until Sean is coherent. I would love to stay, but we should take you two and Rose back to the cabin,” Doug suggested.
They all agreed and Doug went back in the room to explain the plan to Gabe. Anna met them all at the door with the car. The drive back flew by now that the need to hurry disappeared. She turned the car into the drive before she noticed that all three of them had drifted off. She shook each one gently and they all groggily walked into the house to share the latest update. Sue, John, and they daughters were waiting at the house for them too.
In their absence, Mary had prepared dinner and the delicious aroma filled the house. They were met by Jayne, Adam, Rana, Matt, and Michael all dressed to go out. Anna looked at them in stunned silence. It took her a minute to realize that they were following through with their plans. Don’t they know that their friend’s son is in the hospital? But then she reminded herself that staying around here waiting wouldn’t do any good. They might as well be out having fun. No use sitting around worrying. They said good bye and left Clover and Poppy to babysit.
Rose was stunned to see it was 8:30 pm already. Doug sat down at the table and Mary handed him a plate. Chris waited for his dinner, his head leaning on his arm on the table. He nodded and nearly rolled off the chair. The anxiety of the day had worn him out. Anna dished herself some food while Mary got some for Rose. One look at them and she knew that Doug would not be in any position to travel back to the hospital, especially down the mountain roads in the dark.
“If you’d rather, I am happy to go back to the hospital and stay with Gabe and Sean,” Anna offered. “I’ll take Gabe some food and he can get some rest while I keep watch.”
Initially Doug declined, but eventually admitted his exhaustion and gladly accepted her offer. Sue and John suggested they go with her, but Doug explained that they wouldn’t be permitted in the room after visiting hours. Anna was permitted in only because one of the nurses had mistakenly assumed Anna was Gabe’s significant other. As nearly family she was allowed to be there. Anna raised her eyebrows in surprise, she hadn’t known about the misunderstanding. She hadn’t even thought about it. Grateful none the less, she walked up the stairs to grab a change of clothes for Gabe. I’m sure he won’t leave the hospital at all and he’ll be glad for some clean things.
She felt a little silly as she went through his drawers deciding on clothes, but pushed it out of her head. I’m a grown woman, underwear and socks should not embarrass me. She laughed to herself as she placed them all in a bag. Last minute she remembered his toothbrush and deodorant from the bathroom and added them to her collection.
Just as an after thought she grabbed hers as well. If I’m going to let him get some rest, I might need to stay. It only took a minute to grab an extra shirt and her toiletries. Mary had filled two plastic storage containers with food and a jug with fruit juice. She handed them to Anna as she rounded the foot of the stairs. Anna kissed Chris good night and assured him that his friend would be ok. “I’ll be here when you wake up tomorrow. I love you,” she added as she walked to the car and Chris stood in the doorway watching her leave. The headlights barely illuminated the darkness as she drove the swerving mountain road for the third time that day.
Gabe felt both grateful his parents, Anna and Chris had left and abandoned at the same time. I don’t want to have to pretend to have it together. I can’t act like I’m strong or have any answers. I can’t pretend like I know it will work out all right. But I really wish someone was here to tell me he will be fine. I could use a shoulder to cry on. His mind drifted back to his breakdown this afternoon and how nice it felt to have arms around him for comfort.
Anna walked into the lobby of the hospital and an attendant walking by stopped her, “It is way past visiting hours and I can’t let you in.”
Trying to be discrete she explained, “I am bringing clothes for the father of the patient in room 273. He is still in there and I just need to see him.”
The woman told her to wait there while she checked at the nurses station. A few minutes later she returned and gladly directed her to the elevator to get up to the second floor. “Sorry about that misunderstanding. They said you are to go right in. You must be family,” the attendant added, obviously fishing for information.
Eager to get inside and a little afraid that if she told them she was just a friend they would not let her go, Anna didn’t correct her and simply responded, “Almost.” The woman smiled and opened the door to the corridor.
Only a small table lamp barely lit Sean's room. Gabe sat in a standard waiting room padded chair set close to the bed. His elbows rested on the edge of the mattress, his head buried in his hands. Anna opened the door and seeing her there brought a little bit of sunshine to a dreary day. She will take care of me. I can rely on her.
Anna dropped the bag on the floor at Gabe’s feet and dug out the plastic containers of food. She pulled off a lid and inserted a fork. She handed it to Gabe and nicely commanded, “eat.” He tried to shake his head no and tell her he wasn’t hungry, but she stared at him with a look that she used for the boys when they were doing something stupid but she didn’t want to scold. When he took a bite, she relaxed, pulled out the bottle of juice and twisted open the cap.
After a few bites, he really was starving, she handed him the juice which he gulped eagerly. He made quick work of the food and drink. Sitting back in the chair his eyes closed for a second. Now that he had eaten his fill, his mind could focus again. He returned his attention to his son.
Anna touched his shoulder to get his attention. He turned to look at her briefly, but focused his gaze again on the unconscious boy. “There is a new doctor and she has been in several times to check on him. Sean is unconscious again, not just sleeping, and he is not responding at all. The doctor is worried, she doesn’t say it, but I can see it.” The words tumbled out in a whisper, the tears in his voice barely veiled. “I can’t survive if he doesn’t make it. I can’t lose him. I have nothing else.” A small tear escaped, “Oh, God, please make him alright. Please heal him and bring him back to me.” What had started as an explanation to her had ended in a prayer, pleading for his son’s life.
She pulled a second chair to sit beside him. She wrapped her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. She closed her eyes and silently prayed for Sean and for his dad. Warm tears escaped as she considered how she would feel if put in his place. I can’t do much, but I can be here for him. He is rightly terrified.
Leaning against the bed, elbows resting on the blanket, Gabe started to crave sleep. It was still very early, but the stress had taken its toll. He couldn’t believe only this morning he had planned to go out shopping with his parents and still go out with the gang tonight. He planned to help tomorrow with the Thanksgiving preparations. It seemed like weeks ago they had stood in the kitchen making plans.
Anna raised her head and facing Gabe softly said, “You look tired, you can get some sleep and I will stay watch for you. I’ll wake you, I promise.” She tried to sound concerned, but firm. She prepared to meet resistance and fight it with every tool at her disposal. Concern and confidence started only round one.
Expectedly, he declined. “I need to be here in case he wakes up.”
Round two: sarcasm, “Where do you think you are going? I meant for you to lean this incredibly comfortable chair against the wall and rest for a little while. I will stay awake so I can wake you the moment he stirs.”
Again he shook his head “No” and grabbed Sean’s hand as though he could hold her off with a firm grip on his charge.
Round three: supermom powers of logic and guilt, “Gabe, if you are so tired that you can’t keep your eyes open, how are you possibly going to take care of him when he does finally wake up? You need all your faculties in case there are decisions to be made. You need to be able to think in case something goes wrong.” She stood and edged her way between him and the bed. “Move your chair against the wall. You can lean back and sleep for a short time. You have to take care of yourself in order to take care of him.” In a firmer voice she added, “I will take care of him. Trust him to me for just a little while.”
Finally, he relented, “I do trust you. I trust you with him.” He pushed the chair backwards, tried to recline slightly and closed his eyes. Within seconds he fell fast asleep. Anna moved the second chair to the place where Gabe had been. She took up his vigil holding Sean’s hand. She heard Gabe start to snore slightly.
He woke up several hours later. Still dark outside, only the small lamp shown in the hospital room. He noticed her still sitting there, holding Sean’s hand. Anna stared off into space lost in thought. He unfolded his legs, then stood with a groan. He stretched his stiff and cramped body after too many hours twisted in a hard chair. She turned at the sound and she stood up, facing him.
His tired eyes were framed with exhaustion and worry lines, as though the last several hours of sleep had not happened. Anna wanted to comfort him. She knew he had been strong for too long. Single parents often develop a ‘I need to do it all because there is no one around to help me’ complex. He, and he alone, took responsibility for Sean.
She felt tired too and, at that point, had lost all inhibition. She stepped up to him and raised her hand to his face. Her fingers softly traced the lines around his eyes as though she could magically erase them. She focused on him, wishing she could draw out all the worry and take it on herself. She wished she could leave him with just peace, believing it will be alright.
Her mind cleared for a moment and she became overwhelmed with her feelings for him. In the past five months he had become her friend, the one she turned to and was most excited to spend time with. The day was not complete without a text or call to share the experiences from her day.
She was attracted to him too, she had been from the first day at his house. Even when she thought him a chauvinist, she felt a pull toward him, both emotional and hormonal. She had tried in vain to ignore this fact. She felt too tired to run from it now.
Her fingers were gentle and he wanted to succumb to the peaceful sensation. He closed his eyes and let her touch wipe away the stress and terror of the past few hours. After a few moments, she lowered her hand, brushing it against the soft stubble lining his jaw. She rested her hand on his shoulder. Without thinking he wrapped his arms around her. I need her support. I need her comfort. I need her strength. It surprised him when she responded by resting her head on his chest and melting against him. He tightened his arms around her; a warm sensation began around his heart.
They stood there for several minutes, holding each other. Each one attuned to the breath and heartbeat of the other. Unable to calm her frantic heart beating, Anna raised her head and arched back to look him in the face. He fought within himself for only a short few seconds, before he gave in. He bent his head toward hers stopping a scant inch away, waiting for her to respond. He needed to know she wanted him, that it wasn't just him kissing her, but their decision together. She closed the space between them. His eyes gently closed as she pressed her lips to his.
This was so much more than the small kiss they shared at the ball park or a half dozen times good bye. The strength of her lips, the soft warmth of his kiss. He wanted it to never end. Everything felt right with the world and would continue to be, so as long as her fingers remained entwined in his hair and his hands stayed firmly against her back. Minutes passed slowly as they were both lost in the comfort of their emotions and each others' touch.
Several minutes later, this utopian feeling was interrupted by the only thing that could make life better, a small voice coming from across the room. “Dad? My head hurts.”