December rain fogged the window. The view beyond — an air conditioning unit on a tar-papered section of roof — wasn’t much better. An IV alarm chirped errantly in the background, as it had most every day since they admitted Rick.
Susan flipped through Homeowners magazine, her mind barely registering the airbrushed, happy families in the ads. Her entire family lay beside her under the chilly glare of fluorescent lighting. Apart from a few cousins scattered across the country, Rick was all she had.
Nurse Jo came in with a lunch tray and set it on the rollaway table. “His color looks better today.”
She proceeded to check his hands and feet for swelling, while Susan stared at the pale indentation where Rick’s wedding ring should be. Like every other personal effect he’d had on him at the time of the accident, the golden band resided in a Ziploc bag in her purse.
Susan touched her own ring. “Our anniversary is next month.”
“He’s lucky to have you.” Jo punched a few buttons on the IV pole, silencing the incessant beep. “I’ll get this switched out today.”
“We were high school sweethearts,” Susan mused, unsure which nurse had heard what by now. She’d flipped the magazine to a two-page spread of a bride running through wildflowers, her veil and train sailing along behind her.
“You should eat.”
Jo removed the lid from her plate. Steam from mashed potatoes and meatloaf carried memories in its wake.
“That’s what I cooked the night of the accident.” Susan closed the magazine and rolled it into a tight cylinder.
Jo replaced the lid. “I’ll bring you something else.”
“No. It’s okay.” She noticed the holly berry pattern on Jo’s scrubs. “What day is it?”
Jo’s lips pinched together for a moment. “It’s Christmas Eve. Is there anyone at all I can call for you?”
“No. Rick’s boss came by this morning. He claims Rick still has a job, no matter how long it takes. But, we don’t really know anyone here yet. My parents and Rick’s dad are gone. He’s estranged from his mom, and neither of us have siblings.”
She thought of all the boxes still left unpacked in their garage. Six weeks ago, Rick had carried her over the threshold into their first real home — a two-year-old red brick with an open floor plan. They could still smell the new carpet and paint when he set her down in the foyer.
It’s perfect, huh, babe?
Definitely. No more throwing money away on rent. And such a big yard!
Perfect for kids.
Yeah. Wait, kids? You’re ready?
Sure. This job is the best thing that’s ever happened to us. We’ve got the space now, too. Besides, we’ve got a lot of rooms to christen, so why not get started?
He’d scooped her up in his arms again and marched into their bedroom. It was one of the happiest days of Susan’s life.
Three nights later, Rick was late. He didn’t answer his cell. The receptionist at the office was pretty sure she’d seen him leave. She hung up the phone and shook her head. He’d probably forgotten his phone charger and let the battery die. Susan put the meatloaf and potatoes in the oven to keep them warm and scanned the want-ads, in case her interview the next morning didn’t pan out. The doorbell rang, and she ran to answer it, relieved, until she saw the officer on the other side.
“Is there anything else I can get you, hun?” Jo placed a hand on Susan’s shoulder.
“It’s been six weeks, hasn’t it?”
“That’s about right, I think.”
“He’s not gonna wake up, is he?” Susan eased her numb bottom from the chair and stood beside Rick. She rubbed his forehead, imagining the bandages and stubble were gone and that his thick brown hair with the persistent cowlick was there instead.
“Honey,” Jo said, giving her a one-armed hug, “don’t write him off just yet. Miracles do happen. Why don’t you go to the gift shop and buy him a present? Then tell him about it. Let him hear your voice.”
“I think I’ll do that.” She kissed Rick’s cool cheek, making a mental note to buy more Chapstick for his parched lips.
Nurse Jo left, and Susan followed, waving to Jane and Ellen at the nurses’ station. Near the elevator, a trio of people huddled together, sobbing. Susan pecked the down button and shivered, wishing she’d remembered to bring her sweater.
The elevator opened in the lobby to a chorus of “Jingle Bell Rock”, sung by red-sweatered kids with entirely too much enthusiasm. Susan groaned and sped into the crowded gift shop.
She browsed through the sports gifts. Rick didn’t have a Red Sox hoodie. Or did he? Fingering the $49.99 price tag, Susan hated herself for not remembering. Ten years together, and she didn’t know this?
Her mind reeled. Damn the constant tears that came without warning, whether in room 587, the too fucking-small shower, or this goddamned gift shop with the cheap-ass, overpriced, China-made shit!
Susan snapped out of her latest breakdown, glad that no one had seemed to notice, and sought out another aisle instead. She had one other gift idea, but didn’t look forward to the outcome.
Back in the room, Susan entered the bathroom and shut the door.
Three minutes and some seconds later, Susan stumbled out, staring at the two lines on the plastic stick. She pulled up the chair and took Rick’s hand. Jo had told her to let him hear her voice. What the hell?
“Rick, I have a gift for you. You’re gonna be a daddy.”
“I can’t do this alone, Rick. I need you.”
Not even a twitch.
She tossed the pregnancy test aside and leaned back in the chair. Like so many days before, she cried herself to sleep. The stupid beeping IV woke her up sometime later. Rick’s face was turned toward her.
Mysti Parker (pseudonym) is a full-time wife, mother of three, and a writer. Her first novel, A Ranger’s Tale, was published in January 2011 by Melange Books, and the second in the fantasy romance series, Serenya’s Song, was published in April 2012. Mysti reviews books for SQ Magazine, an online specfic publication, and is the proud writer of Unwritten, a blog recently voted #3 for eCollegeFinder’s Top Writing Blogs award. She resides in Buckner, KY with her husband and three children.