“You’ll be fine,” she says.
Her hand falls away from my wrist when she sees that she has my attention. I smile faintly back at her.
We follow the hall to the elevator and ride up to the third floor. Every step of the way I feel like I should just turn around and leave this place. My father doesn’t want me to show emotion when I go in there and right about now I’m about to explode with it.
Maybe I should go outside and punch a few trees and get it all out of my system before I go in there.
We stop at the waiting area where a few other people are all sitting around reading magazines.
“I’ll wait here for you,” Camryn says and I look right at her.
“Why don’t you come with me?”
I really do want her to. I don’t know why.
Camryn starts to shake her head no. “I-I can’t go in there,” she says, looking uncomfortable now. “Really, I…I just don’t think it’s appropriate.”
I reach out and gently take her sling bag from her shoulder and put it on mine. It’s light, but she’s starting to look discomforted by it.
“It’s fine,” I say. “I want you to go with me.”
Why am I saying this?
She looks down at the floor and then carefully gazes around at the rest of the room before her blue eyes fall on me again. “OK,” she says with a subtle nod.
I feel my face break into a small smile and I instinctively take her by the hand. She doesn’t pull away.
I’m comforted by her, needless to say, and I get the feeling she’s happy to oblige. Surely she knows how hard something like this would be for anyone.
We walk hand in hand toward my father’s room.
She squeezes once, looking over at me as if to give me more encouragement. And then I push open the hospital room door. A nurse looks up when we walk in.
“I’m Mr. Parrish’s son.”
She nods solemnly and goes back to adjusting the machines and tubes hooked up to my father. The room is a typical bland and sterile space with bright white walls and a tile floor so shiny the lights running along the ceiling panels blaze off of it. I hear a constant and steady beep coming from the heart rate monitor next to my father’s bed.
I still haven’t actually looked at my father. I realize I’m looking at everything in the room but him.
Camryn’s fingers squeeze around mine.
“How is he doing?” I ask, but I know it’s a stupid question. He’s dying; that’s how he’s doing. I just can’t get anything else out.
The nurse looks at me expressionless.
“He’s in and out of consciousness, as you probably already know.”
No, I didn’t know, actually.
“And there hasn’t been any change, good or bad.” She adjusts an I.V. running from the top of his rugged hand.
Then she walks around the bed and picks up a clipboard from the side table and tucks it underneath her arm.
“Has anyone else been here?” I ask.
The nurse nods. “Family has been in and out for the past several days. Some left about an hour ago, but I expect they’ll be back.”
Probably Aidan, my older brother and his wife, Michelle. And my younger brother, Asher.
The nurse slips out of the room.
Camryn looks up at me, tightening her hand around mine. Her eyes smile carefully. “I’m going to sit over there and let you visit with your father, OK?”
I nod, though everything she said just kind of slipped through my head like a wispy memory. Her fingers slowly fall away from mine and she takes a seat against the wall on the empty vinyl chair. I suck in a deep breath and lick the dryness from my lips.
His face is swollen. Tubes are running from his nostrils, feeding him oxygen. I’m surprised he’s not on life support yet, but this gives me a small sense of hope. Really small. I know he won’t get better; that’s pretty much already been established. What’s left of his hair has been shaved off. They had talked about trying to perform surgery, but after my dad found out that it wasn’t going to save him he, of course, complained:
“You’re not cuttin’ into my fuckin’ head,” he had said. “You want me to shell out thousands of dollars so you boys can have these cereal box doctors crack my damn skull open? Dammit, boy! (He had been talking to Aidan specifically), you are one nut shy of a man!”
My brothers and I were prepared to do whatever it took to save him, but he had gone behind our backs and signed some kind of ‘stipulation’ that when things got worse that no one would have the right to make these decisions for him.
My mom was who alerted the hospital of his wishes days before the surgery was to be performed and provided them with the legal papers. We were upset by it, but my mother is a smart and caring woman and none of us could ever be pissed at her for what she did.
I move closer and look the rest of him over. My hand sort of has a mind of its own and the next thing I know it’s slithering up beside his and taking a hold of it. Even this feels odd. Like I shouldn’t be doing it. If it were anyone else, I’d have no issue holding their hand. But this my dad and I feel like I’m doing something I shouldn’t. I can just hear his voice inside my head: “You don’t hold another man’s hand, boy. What the hell is wrong with you?”
Suddenly, my dad’s eyes crack open and instinctively I pull my hand away from his.
“That you, Andrew?”
I nod, gazing down at him.
“Linda,” he says and his eyes can’t decide if they want to stay open. “My wife, Linda. Where is she?”
I swallow hard and glance over at Camryn who is sitting so quietly, watching.
I turn back to my dad. “Dad, you and Linda divorced last year, remember?”
His pale green eyes are glazed over by moisture. Not tears. Just moisture. He looks dazed for a moment and smacks his lips together, moving his dry tongue around in his mouth.
“Do you want some water?” I ask and go to reach for the long lap table on wheels that had been moved away from the bed. A pale pink pitcher of water sits on it next to a thick plastic mug with a pop-on top with a straw poking up through the center.
My dad shakes his head no.
“Did’ja’ fix Ms. Nina?” he asks.
I nod again. “Yeah, she looks great. New paint job and rims.”
“Good, good,” he says, nodding a little, too.
This feels awkward and I know it’s written all over my face and my posture. I just don’t know what to say or if I should try to force him to drink some water or if I should just sit down and wait for Aidan and Asher to get back. I’d rather them do this than me. I’m not good with this kind of thing.
“Who’s that pretty thing?” he asks, looking toward the wall.
I wonder how he can even see Camryn all the way over there and then I notice he’s looking at her through the tall mirror on the other side of him which reflects that portion of the room. Camryn freezes up a little, but that pretty smile of hers brightens her face. She raises her hand and waves at him through the mirror with her fingers.
Even through his swollen skin, I see a grin on my dad’s lips. “Is that your Eurydice’s?” he asks and my eyes freeze wide open. I hope Camryn didn’t catch that, but I don’t see how she couldn’t. My dad weakly raises one hand and gestures toward Camryn.
She gets up and walks over to stand next to me. She smiles so warmly at him it even impresses me. She’s a natural. I know she’s nervous and probably feels more uncomfortable than she ever has standing in this room with this dying man who she doesn’t even know, yet she doesn’t break.
“Hi, Mr. Parrish,” she says. “I’m Camryn Bennett, a friend of Andrew’s.”
His eyes move to me. I know that look; he’s comparing her answer with the look on my face, trying to decipher her meaning of ‘friend’.
And then suddenly my father does something I have never seen him do: he reaches out his hand…to me.
The gesture stuns me numb.
Only when I notice Camryn covertly glaring at me to acknowledge him, do I break free from the numbness and nervously take his hand. I hold it for a long, awkward moment and my father closes his eyes and drifts back to sleep. I move my hand from his when I feel his weak grip go completely slack.
The door opens and my brothers walk in, along with Aidan’s wife, Michelle.
I step away from my father right on cue, taking Camryn with me and not realizing that I’m holding her hand again until Aidan’s eyes move down to see our interlocked fingers.
“Glad you could make it,” Aidan says, though with a bit of contempt in his voice, no doubt.
He’s still pissed at me for not taking a plane and getting here sooner. He’ll have to f**king get over it; we grieve in our own ways.
Regardless, he pulls me into a hug, gripping one hand between us and patting my back with the other.
“This is Camryn,” I say, looking back at her.
She smiles up at them, having already found her way back to the empty chair against the wall.
“This is my older brother, Aidan and his wife, Michelle.” I point gently at them. “And that’s the runt, Asher.”
“Dickhead,” Asher says.
“I know,” I say.
Aidan and Michelle take the other two seats next to a table and start distributing the burger and fries they just bought.
“The ol’ man still hasn’t come to,” Aidan says, stuffing a few fries in his mouth. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think he’s going to.”
Camryn looks right at me. We both spoke to my father just moments ago and I know she’s waiting for me to give them the news.
“Probably not,” I say and see Camryn’s eyes wrinkle in confusion.
“How long are you staying?” Aidan asks.
“Why doesn’t that surprise me?” He takes a bite of his burger.
“Don’t start your shit with me, Aidan, I’m not in the mood for it and this isn’t the f**king time or the place.”
“Whatever,” Aidan says, shaking his head and working his jaws around to chew his food. He dips a few fries in a mound of ketchup Michelle just made on a napkin in-between them. “Do what you want, but be here for the funeral.”
There is no emotion in his face. He just continues to eat.
My whole body goes rigid.
“Damn, Aidan,” Asher says from behind me. “Can you please not do this right now? Seriously, bro, Andrew’s right.”
Asher has always been the mediator between Aidan and me. And always the most level-headed. When it comes to me or Aidan, we think better with our fists. He always won the fights between us when we were kids, but little did he know that all that time he was beating the shit out of me, he was training me.
We’re pretty even now. We avoid actual contact fighting with each other at all costs, but I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t hold my shit back as good as he does. And he knows it. It’s why he’s backing off now and using Michelle as a distraction. He reaches up and wipes ketchup from the side of her mouth. She giggles.