The flashing lights and whining siren caught Brian at the light, the crosswalk to the office. He watched them, mesmerized, and in his mind was in that early spring evening almost a year before. He’d clambered into the front seat of the ambulance, sure that if he could be close to Trudy he could somehow change the horror that engulfed them. Those same flashing lights had bathed them in alternating red and white light.
His daughter lay still in the back. The paramedics were working over her, efficiently running a tube down her throat to get oxygen into her system, starting an IV, connecting the heart monitor.
Then they were at the hospital, where he was ushered into a room and told to wait and the doctors would be with him soon.
He blinked, shook his head, jostled with the crowd across the busy street. For a moment there he had been right back in the nightmare. He had to get ahold of himself. He decided to take the stairs. Jogging up them would clear his mind. He had a meeting with Will and the new associate in just a few minutes.
The light in this conference room. It was just like the light in that room where they waited for news about Trudy. Brian stood in the door staring in. If he didn’t cross the threshold, would he be able to forget?
Somewhere in the back of his mind, Brian knew Jennifer’s family had all gathered around her. And he was alone in his fear, the table between them a barrier he didn’t have the energy to cross. They were focused on Jen, there at the other end of the table. His family was far away. He hadn’t even called to tell them about the accident. What was the point of worrying them? He’d call when he knew more.
If he ever knew more. What was taking so long?
“How you holding up, Brian?”
Josh. The twin brother who was closer to his wife than he was. He had even moved back to New Mexico with his new wife to stay close to his twin. What chance did a husband have to compete for love with a womb-mate? He looked up.
Josh was a nurse. Maybe he knew what was happening, or could find out.
“Josh, why aren’t they telling us anything? Shouldn’t somebody come in now and then, to give us updates or something?”
His brother-in-law winced.
“I wish I knew. Did the paramedics tell you anything on the way over?”
“Just that she couldn’t breathe on her own, so they hooked her up to machines. Would a fall make it so she couldn’t breathe?”
“It could. If she injured her head or her spinal cord, her breathing could be affected. We’ll just have to wait and see.” Josh looked like Brian felt — wiped out, confused, scared.
Did he say spinal cord? That could be bad. What if his baby couldn’t walk…
“‘Wait and see.’ That’s what they said as they put her in the ambulance — more than an hour ago now.”
“Longer. We’ve been here at least an hour and a half.”
His life was out of sync. Usually he knew the time to within a few minutes. Now he was lost, completely lost.
It was his fault. If only he had slowed Trudy down a little. If only he’d stayed right behind the swing. He could have caught her or something. He shouldn’t have made the ropes so long.
He wiped a hand across his face again. There were no more tears. He was cried out.
The shadow of someone moved past the frosted side window at the door. He watched the knob turn, almost in slow motion. The doctor who stepped through the door was young, nervous. He swallowed over and over, even before he introduced himself. Jen’s dad moved aside and motioned for him to take the chair at the other end of the table. They all sat, waited for what he had to say.
“I’m sorry to tell you that your daughter, Trudy, isn’t with us anymore.” He watched the doctor’s mouth form the words, heard the sounds, but couldn’t process what it meant. “We did everything we could. She was unable to breathe on her own, and there was no brain activity. There was nothing we could do to save her. I’m so sorry for your loss.”
“Brian? Brian, are you with us?” Will Barnes gave an awkward laugh, and his words brought Brian back to the present. He stood at the end of the table in the conference room at the office. How had he gotten there? The last thing he remembered…
A bead of sweat slipped down his spine. He could swear he’d been in the hospital where Trudy died. But that was months ago, almost a year now. Was that a flashback, like his brother, a veteran of Afghanistan, sometimes described? Maybe it was a dream. He was wide awake, but he could still hear hospital intercom, muffled in the background. Or was Will speaking? He stared at his boss, and panic rose in his gut.
Out of Agony, Starting Over Book Four, available July 21.