He was laying there with an IV line in both hands, blood going in one and fluid going in the other. He was strapped to a heart monitor that was steadily beeping next to his bed, the green line making little peaks against the black screen. There was a clear plastic tube going into his mouth that was attached to a ventilator, another tube protruding out of his right hand side, near his ribs which was obviously the chest tube they had said about that was fixing his collapsed lung. The sight of him being so helpless and frail was almost enough to send me over the edge and I fought desperately to hold onto the control I had over my emotions. I needed to be strong for him, he needed me and I couldn’t let myself break down.
I pushed my legs forward and almost stumbled to the side of his bed. His eyes were closed, he looked so peaceful, like he was in a deep sleep and if it wasn’t for the tubes and wires attached to this body then I would have just shook him awake. It looked like he was faking sleep, like he was just fooling around and trying to scare me to death.
I dragged my eyes over every inch of his face and the exposed skin on his chest, my hand found his and I brought it up to my face being careful of the tubes. I kissed his wedding ring before turning his hand over and pressing my face into his palm, closing my eyes against the pain that was trying to consume me.
“I need you to wake up Clay. It’s really important, can you hear me? If you can hear me then I need you to wake up, baby. Please? Please open your eyes for me,” I begged, pressing my lips against his palm. He didn’t move, all I could hear was the steady beeping and the suck and wheeze of the ventilator as he breathed. “Clay this is so important, can you wake up? For me baby, please?” I whispered, finally opening my eyes to look down at him. “Wake up damn it! Clay Preston you need to open your eyes and help me! I can’t do this on my own so you need to wake the hell up!” I cried desperately as pressed my forehead to his. I felt a single tear fall down my face, it dropped onto the tip of his nose so I kissed it away quickly, trying to compose myself.
I heard the door open again but I didn’t bother turning around. I knew it was Linda, I could tell by the ragged sobs that were coming out of her. I didn’t even want to see her, if I saw her then I would get angry again and there was nothing I could do so I was just focusing my attention on Clay and getting him to wake up so he could sort this mess out himself.
He didn’t wake up though. I stood there feeling numb, holding his hand to my face just staring at the heart monitor, somehow hypnotized by the line and the way it moved so steadily.
No one said anything, Richard dragged a couple of chairs over to the side of the bed and touched my shoulder to get my attention, but I refused to look at him. When Clay wakes up, if he tells me that I was wrong and that he wouldn’t have gone in for the operation, then I’ll take back everything I said to them. I’ll apologize and beg for their forgiveness, but until that time I wasn’t even going to acknowledge their presence.
After about an hour the door opened and I flicked my eyes up to see if it was another nurse or doctor. They’d been coming in pretty regularly to check the printout for his heart monitor and to increase or decrease the dosage on his drip.
It wasn’t a doctor though; it was my mom and Brian. They both looked so sad that I almost lost it and burst into helpless tears, but I caught myself just in time. My mom ran into the room and hugged me tightly, a little too tight for comfort but I couldn’t be bothered to protest so I just let her do it.
“Oh god, is he ok? Why is he attached to all these machines?” my mom asked breathlessly, her face stained with tears.
“He’s going to be fine,” I mumbled.
Her eyes were searching my face, probably checking to see if I was ok. “Are you ok Riley? Do you need a drink or something? You look like you’re going into shock or something, why are you so calm?” she asked, rubbing my back in small circles.
I cringed away from her hand, I didn’t want her touching me and comforting me. I wasn’t the one that needed her attention, Clay was. “I’m fine mom.”
I could hear Brian and Richard talking, the conversation getting heated as Brian was asking about the surgery and why he was not already having it if it could help him walk. I turned my head to look at him properly for the first time in over two weeks. He looked murderously angry as he glared at Richard.
“What the hell do you mean; you’re waiting for Clay to make the decision? You don’t need to wait for him to wake up, are you crazy? Of course he’s going to want the operation! This is Clay we’re talking about, that boy isn’t happy unless he’s doing something physical, you know that. Hell, I know that and he’s not even my son!” he cried, looking between Richard and Linda in disbelief.
I smiled at his angry face. God I’d missed him so much this last couple of weeks and here he was echoing my exact feelings to Clay’s parents. He looked up at me, his eyes wide and a little scared. “Riley, you need to send him in for the surgery, you can’t do this to Clay,” he said looking at me pleadingly.
I bit my lip and shook my head as my eyes met his, “They won’t let me,” I whispered, knowing my voice wouldn’t work if I tried to speak.
I was slowly losing it, looking at Brian was making me lose the control I had over my emotions; I could feel my cool calm exterior crumbling into a quivering mess. My heart was thumping in my chest and I just needed him to hug me and tell me that everything was going to be ok. Brian was always the one I could depend on, Brian and Clay were the two men in my life and I would love them both forever. I just needed a hug from my dad.
“What do you mean they won’t let you?” he asked, frowning and looking confused.
A tear fell down my face as I pushed myself away from Clay’s side for the first time since I had walked in the door. I threw myself at Brian wrapping my arms around his waist as I sobbed into his chest. He gasped, obviously a little taken aback before hugging me fiercely, taking most of my weight as my legs seemed to give out underneath me.
He pressed his cheek to the top of my head and rocked me gently. “It’s ok pumpkin. Everything’s fine, shh. It’s ok,” he cooed softly as I just continued to sob uncontrollably.
I breathed in his smell, the scent of axe mixed with apple shampoo that was unmistakably my step-dad. I gripped the back of his shirt tightly as he stroked my hair, still rocking me like a three year old.
“Lets go sit outside for a while and get some fresh air,” he suggested, trying to pull me towards the door.
I dug my heels into the floor and shook my head quickly, pulling away from him. There was no way I was leaving Clay, I needed to be here when he woke up, I needed to be the first person he saw when he opened his eyes. “I don’t want to. He might wake up.”
He smiled down at me reassuringly and wiped my tears away with his thumbs, “They’ll call you Riley. Come on, just for a couple of minutes,” he said, giving me a persuasive smile.
I broke into a fresh round of sobs, “They won’t call me, they don’t even want me here!” I croaked, my voice barely above a whisper.
Brian glared at Richard, he looked incredibly angry; he always was protective of me and always stepped in if someone was hurting me. He opened his mouth to say something but my mom stepped forward and spoke first. “Riley, I’ll stay here with Clay. I’ll call you if he wakes up, I promise,” she said nodding fiercely.
I smiled at her gratefully and nodded, I didn’t like crying in this room. What if Clay could hear me and knew I was upset, that would upset him and I couldn’t have that. “I’ll just be in the hallway, I don’t want to go outside just in case,” I croaked, my throat sore from all the crying.
Brian led me out of the room, my arms still tight around his waist. He pulled me over to the plastic chairs and smiled at me sadly. I pulled my knees up to my chest and put my head on his shoulder as he murmured soothing words, stroking my back.
After a couple of minutes I started to calm down a little, the empty, numb feeling starting to return and I was actually quite grateful that it was, because the grief and sadness of this situation was almost too much to bear. Add on top of that the fact that this was all my fault, that Clay was hurt because of me, that he would never walk again because of me. The feelings were killing me slowly and I couldn’t deal with it.
“Why won’t they let you send him in for surgery, Riley? As his next of kin, why can’t you just go tell the doctors that you want him to have it?” he asked, his hand cupping round the back of my head, holding me to him tightly.
“Linda told the doctors that our marriage isn’t legal. Apparently because we used a fake id then it doesn’t count. I can’t sign the form, I tried,” I whispered, gripping his shirt that was wet with my tears.
“Not legal? Is that right though? I thought you could get married at 17 in Vegas…..” he trailed off and I jerked back to look at him. I felt a bubble of hope, could that be true? I would give anything for that to be true!
“Really? Oh god, daddy please, please say that’s true,” I begged, gripping his shirt tighter.
His face softened and I knew it was because of what I had called him; I hardly ever called him that. A few times it had slipped out over the years and every time it looked like it made his heart melt. He stroked the side of my face lightly, “I’ll look into it for you. I’ll call Ron, he’s a lawyer, he’ll know.”
Oh god please, please, please let that be true! I nodded quickly and even laughed at the hope that I felt inside. Everything was going to be fine; Brian would sort everything just like he always did.
His smile faded and he looked at me so sadly that I almost broke into a fresh round of sobs again. “I’m so sorry that I pushed you away like that Riley. You and Clay. I shouldn’t have done that, and the things I said……” he trailed off, clenching his fist tightly and squeezing his eyes shut angrily. “The last words that I said to Clay were that he was a stupid little prick. I’m so sorry, so so sorry. I hope I get a chance to take it back. I love him for you Riley; he’s the best man I could ever imagine for someone as special as you are. You two are perfect for each other and I over reacted. I wasn’t thinking about you two, I was just thinking about myself and what I had lost. But I love that boy like a son, I always have and I always will.” A tear slid down his cheek as he spoke and it was the only time I had ever seen him cry. His chin quivered slightly as he looked at me with eyes so apologetic he looked like he was the child and I was the adult. He was begging me with his eyes for my forgiveness; he looked like he was torturing himself over it.