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September (Calendar Girl 9)

By:Audrey Carlan

Chapter One

White walls. Nothing but white walls with cracked, chipped paint and ceiling tiles with gnarly rust-colored splotches. Blinking several times, I lifted my head and turned it from side to side, forward and back. The knot in my shoulder was the size of Mount Everest and had been there for almost a week.

“I’m sorry, dear. He’s not getting any better.”

“Mia, we’re here for you.”

“We’ll continue to pray for a miracle.”

“Your father’s chances are very slim, I’m afraid.”

“Make sure you notify the rest of the family.”

“Talk to him. Say goodbye.”

Snippets of condolences and responses from the doctor whirl in my head as if on an old time spinning record. I just keep picking up the arm and placing it back down until it repeats the melody.

With too tired eyes, I stare at the only man who’s always loved me. From the very first breath I took, to teaching me how to play baseball, rooting me on through my studies, all the way until Mom left before he broke down. Even when his face was bright red, his speech slurred, and his eyes a hazy gray, he loved me, and I counted on that love to get us through. For the most part, it did.

Sitting next to his bed, I clutched his hand, hoping my grip, the warmth I pressed into his palm, would worm its way into his body’s recognition and tell him to fight. Fight for his daughters. Fight for me, his flesh and blood. I’d spent the last decade and a half fighting for him, for Maddy, and now he needed to man up. Be there. Work hard to come back to us. We might not have been much, just two young women trying to find their way, but we were his, and I had to believe deep down that we were worth the fight, or he’d be lost to us…forever.

The new morning shift nurse entered. She was light on her feet, seeming to not make a sound as she checked Pops’s vitals and marked something on his chart before sending me a remorseful smile. That’s all I’d received for the last several days. Apologies, frowns, tentative condolences. I looked over at Maddy curled up in a fetal position on the tiny loveseat, asleep. Like me, she’d refused to leave for more than a speedy shower and change of clothes. If our dad was going to take his last breath, we’d be there to witness it.

We still hadn’t talked about the elephant in the room. The one that weighed so heavily on my chest, I swear it had broken a few ribs in the process. Taking a full breath was impossible, knowing that Maddy was hurting. The information about Jackson Cunningham being her real father had been a blow, one that hit us both upside the head so hard we knocked into one another. The knowledge had us tiptoeing around the other, separating us in a way that made my skin crawl. I needed Maddy now, more than ever before, and she seemed to be slipping away, uncertain of the space she occupied. I hated that and hated our mother even more for making it our reality.

The only benefit to all this was Maxwell. He’d sent us here on his private jet and called every day. Even scored us a hotel for the next month that was walking distance from the convalescent hospital. Our new brother had thought of everything, and he made sure money was no object. All of a sudden, we had the best doctors—teams of people coming in to check on our father, scouring over his medical records. They looked for clues as to not only his neurological status to be sure he wasn’t brain dead, but also whether he’d be able to overcome the physical ramifications of a viral infection gone bad, including not one but two heart-stopping allergic reactions to treatment.

A few of the doctors feared the worst. Until the new teams of specialists arrived, the convalescent hospital had written off our dad. Told us there was nothing more we could do and recommended taking him off life support.

Life support.

Removing the support that gave him life. I couldn’t do it. If I were in a similar circumstance, would Pops give up on me, stop the machines from giving me that life-sustaining air? Hell would literally turn to ice before that happened. That man would stand over me and pump my chest and give me CPR nonstop if it would keep me alive even for one minute. I had to give him the same chance.

“Good morning, Ms. Saunders,” Dr. McHottie said as he pulled Pops’s chart from the end of the bed and scanned it. For a few minutes, he’d make notes, check some things, flip pages, and repeat.

I stood, stretched my arms above my head, and did a small backbend, trying to relieve the constant ache in the center of my spine, the kind that comes from sitting in a plastic chair for nearly a week. My back protested, and I winced. Dr. McHottie shook his head, staring at me over a pair of black-rimmed glasses. His dark, curly hair was cropped close to his head and almost seemed to shine. It looked wet, and by the fresh scent of Irish Spring, he’d just left the shower. Smelling the soapy goodness reminded me of how ripe I was getting. It had been two days since I’d left the hospital. No amount of deodorant could mask the funk beginning to germinate under my arms.

“Morning, Doc. What’s the prognosis? Any better?” I tried not to sound too hopeful because every day for nearly seven days, he’d frowned and simply shook his head. Today though, there was a moment. One where I knew, I just knew, our luck was changing.

The slick, young doctor met me on my side of the bed and placed a hand on my shoulder. He squeezed, and I tried not to moan at the scant release of tension that small grip provided. I was wound so tight any touch, no matter how brief, felt like a momentous occasion. “According to the readings, at some point in the night, your dad’s lungs started to move against the machines. It’s a slight positive response indicating he might breathe on his own, but I don’t want to put the cart before the horse.

There weren’t words to express my gratitude for this tiny speck of hope. Instead, I plowed into his body and wrapped my arms around his waist.