[I'm moving to Mexico after this post.
Thank you for not coming to my house and burning it to the ground. You won't do that, right??]
“James?” Elizabeth stands up. “James? What are you doing in here?”
James hovers in the doorway. He heart is beating much too quickly.
“I had to see him,” James whispers. “I had to come.”
“But...The infection!” Elizabeth’s eyes are wide and terrified. “You can’t be in here! It’s too dangerous!”
James takes a tentative step inside. “I’ve been discharged. I can be here. How is he? Is he okay?”
“But Alexander! If you’re here…” The look on James’ face makes her stop. “Oh, sweetheart,” she says, hurrying over to him and pulling him into her arms. “I’m so sorry.”
“I had to see him,” James says again. His voice is strained. “Alexander understands. He’ll be okay. But I couldn’t…I couldn’t let…”
He can’t even think the words, let alone say them out loud.
“I know,” Elizabeth says, stepping back. She tries to smile. “He’ll be happy to see you.”
James walks over to Michael’s bed. The sight of him takes his breath way. Even though it’s only been a few days, the change in him is significant: he’s lost weight and his skin is ashen, making him look much older than he is. James sinks down into the chair beside the bed.
“Acute endocarditis,” Elizabeth says, sitting down beside James. “The MRSA is in his heart. The antibiotics haven’t been helping. Dr Phillips says that if they don’t get the infection under control soon, it could spread to his other organs.” She covers her mouth. “His heart…His heart is…”
She doesn’t need to finish the sentence.
“What are they doing about it?” he asks unsteadily. “Why is he just lying here?? Shouldn’t they be doing something?? Shouldn’t they be IN here??”
“They’re doing everything they can.” She brushes the tears out of her eyes. “The infection is in his heart valves. The next step is surgery. They are trying to control it with the antibiotics before it gets to that.”
James has never heard her sound so broken.
“Heart surgery??” His throat constricts.
Elizabeth tries and fails to stifle a sob. “I can’t lose him. We can’t lose him. We can’t.”
Her words from before play in James’ mind.
Nobody is going to lose anyone.
He wants to say it to her now, to comfort her, but the words stick in his throat.
Michael’s voice sends a jolt of electricity down James’ spine.
“You don’t…look…so good.” Michael tries to smile. His every word is punctuated by a laborious breath.
“Michael.” James takes his hand. “How are you feeling?”
“Peachy.” He fumbles with his oxygen mask and moves it away from his mouth.
“Hey now,” James says, fixing it. “Don’t do that, Darth. You need it.”
Michael chuckles, which quickly dissolves into a coughing spasm. James lets go of his hand and pours him a cup of water. He moves the oxygen mask long enough for Michael to take a sip of water through the straw, then he puts it back into place.
“What are...you…doing here?” Michael breathes, moving the mask. James helps him adjust it into a comfortable position. “You…shouldn’t be here. Alexander.”
“Alexander is okay,” James says, putting the cup on the table beside the bed. “He’s out of the ICU. You don’t need to worry about him.”
Michael manages a smile. “He’s a…tough…kid,” he says, struggling to catch his breath. “I knew…he’d…be alright.”
“Do you want me to call someone?” James asks, glancing towards the door. “So they can help you breathe?”
Michael shakes his head. “Fluid…in my lungs. They’ve…been draining it. They’ll be…here soon.”
“In your lungs?” James looks over at Elizabeth, who is trying not to cry. “I thought the infection was in his heart?”
“Infections in the heart often cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs.” Her voice shakes. “They’ve drained it twice already, but it keeps coming back.”
“Drowning…on dry…land,” Michael says, closing his eyes. “What a…way…to…go.”
Elizabeth makes a sound like a wounded animal.
“You aren’t going anywhere,” James whispers fiercely, turning back to him. “You are going to be fine. We’re all going to be fine. Isn’t that what you’ve been saying all this time?”
Michael takes several shallow breaths before he answers. “Sometimes, brother,” he says without opening his eyes, “I’m full of…shit.”
Despite himself, James laughs. It sounds like a sob.
“You are always full of shit, Mike,” he says, leaning forward. “But occasionally you are one hundred percent correct. We are going to be fine. All of us. We’re all walking out of here together.”
Michael doesn’t say anything. James wonders if he’s fallen asleep.
“I’m sorry…I…let go,” Michael murmurs after a few minutes. “And I’m sorry…I…said…we should…take the…slope.”
“Stop it,” James says. “You have nothing to be sorry for.”
“I’m sorry…I…blamed you…for breaking…Mrs…Johnston’s window.”
It takes James a few moments to understand what he is talking about.
“When I was twelve?”
“And I’m sorry…for stealing…the money…you earned…at the ice cream store.”
“Michael, I worked at the ice cream store when I was fourteen. Why are you bringing it up now?”
“I shouldn’t…have…But I didn’t…spend it…on...drugs…” His breathing becomes increasingly laboured. James looks at Elizabeth nervously.
“I think we should call someone. They need to come and drain this fluid NOW.”
She nods and James stands up, reaching for the call button. Michael opens his eyes and grabs James’ wrist.
“I spent it…on…you.” His eyes are unfocussed. “I used it…on the…guitar…I said I…was given.”
“The one Mrs Johnston gave you for helping her clean out her basement? The one she didn’t want?”
“You were…going to…spend it…on us. I wanted…you…to have…something…just for…you.”
James frees his wrist. “Why are you telling me this now?” The fear in his heart tells him the answer, but he tries to ignore it. “Why now?”
“I wasn’t…a good…brother,” Michael says, struggling to catch his breath. “But…I…loved…you.”
“Michael,” James says, fighting to keep his voice steady. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you DARE say goodbye to me.”
“Alexander…needs…you.” Michael coughs. “You have to…get through…this…for him.”
“Stop it,” James pleads, feeling the familiar prickle of the tears gathering in his eyes. “Don’t talk like that. You’re going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”
Michael’s eyes roll closed. “I’m so…tired,” he whispers. “I can’t…keep…”
“Michael!” James whacks his hand onto the call button and grabs Michael by the shoulders. “Michael!”
Michael grows limp.
His laboured breathing stops.
A shrill ringing fills the room.
Several people burst into the room and rush over to Michael, knocking James out of the way.
“He’s going into v-tach!”
“He’s shredding through his heart valve!”
“We need to get him into surgery NOW!”
“Call the OR!”
“Page Dr Phillips!”
“Michael! MICHAEL!! MICHAEL!!”
“Move!” Someone pushes James back, sending him spiralling to the floor. Elizabeth bends down to help him up, sobbing into her hand.
“What’s happening??” James demands, scrambling to his feet as Michael is wheeled away. “What’s going on? Where are you taking him?!”
An intern he’s never seen before appears in his line of sight.
“We’re taking him into surgery. We need to repair the damage to his heart.”
“The damage to his heart??”
“Someone will be out to speak with you when they can, but for now we need to get him into surgery. Dr Phillips is on his way.”
“I’m sorry,” the intern says, starting to back away. “I’m needed.” He hurries out of the room.
“Oh God,” Elizabeth whispers, barely keeping it together. “Oh my God.”
She wavers and starts to fall to the floor. Somehow James manages to catch her before she collapses. He guides her back onto the chair.
“His heart,” she sobs, gripping James’ arm for support. “Oh God, his heart.”
James tries to find the right words to say, the right words to comfort her, but he can’t.
There are none.
Instead he sits down and wraps his arm around her. She falls into him as violent sobs tear through her. He tries again to comfort her, but he doesn’t know what to say. He knows from experience that there’s nothing you can say to a parent who might lose their child. To a man who might lose his brother. To a family who might lose everything.
No words in the world can make that okay.
With nothing to say and no comfort to give, all he can do is sit there numbly, listening to her cry.