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.