No brain function.
Donate his organs.
My brain repeated what Brody said over and over but refused to comprehend it. How could this be happening? It was just hockey. You’re not supposed to die from playing hockey. You’re also not supposed to kill your best friend. My hands started to tingle as I wiped away a thin layer of sweat that had formed above my lip.
Louie turned away from the group and around to face me. His eyes grew huge and his jaw dropped when he looked at me. “Viper, are you okay? You look like shit.”
Ignoring his comment, I moved over to a chair in the corner, as far away from him and everyone else as possible.
I couldn’t wrap my head around what was happening. I didn’t understand it. How could a young, healthy man be alert and smiling one minute and the next his brain was gone? How was I ever going to look at Michelle or his kids again? It was hard enough when I was worried that I’d broken his arm or something stupid. I would give anything for a broken arm instead of this.
Throughout the day, people filtered in and out of the room, each going in and taking their turn saying good-bye to Mike. I pretended to be asleep most of the time so people would leave me alone. I didn’t want to talk. I didn’t want to hug. I just wanted to be left alone.
With my eyes shut and my head leaning against the wall, I felt someone sit down next to me. “You can pretend all you want, but I know you’re not sleeping,” Brody said.
“Yes, I am. Go away,” I insisted.
“Almost everyone is gone, you know. You can sit up now.”
I opened my left eye just enough to see that the only people left in the room were Taylor, Brody, Michelle, Louie, and Ross. “Where’s Kacie?” I asked.
Brody’s elbows were resting on his knees, his hands folded out in front of him. “She’s in with Mike,” he answered quietly, wiping the corner of his eye.
I took a deep breath. “Did you already go in?”
He nodded and then looked at me. “You’re the only one left, other than Michelle, who’s going in last.”
I hadn’t seen Mike at all since they’d wheeled him off the ice on a stretcher, and this was the last place I wanted to have a reunion.
“I don’t think I’m going in,” I said flatly, closing my eyes again so I didn’t have to see Brody’s disapproving glare.
“What the fuck do you mean you’re not going in?” His voice was low and stern. Turns out I didn’t need to see his glare when his voice was that thick with judgment.
“Just what I said. I’m not going in,” I repeated.
I finally lifted my head off of the wall and grimaced as I turned toward him slowly. “Why do you think, Murphy? What am I supposed to say? Sorry for putting you here?”
Brody stared down at the floor and sighed. “No, of course that’s not what you’re supposed to say, but I think you’re going to regret not going in. I really do.” He lifted his head toward me. “He was your best friend, Viper. Don’t you want to say good-bye? Tell him you love him? Anything?”
Do not cry.
Even before I walked through the sliding glass doors, I could hear the rhythmic beeping coming from inside Big Mike’s room. I knew that what I was about to see would be permanently burned into my memory. It wasn’t something I wanted to see once, let alone forever. But Brody was right—I would always regret it if I didn’t go in.
I took a deep breath.
Do not cry.
The beeping got louder as I pulled back the privacy curtain. Mike was lying still in the hospital bed. I stopped and stared at him, surprised by what I saw. He had a big bandage wrapped around his head, and other than a small white tube going up his nose and a blue hose taped near his mouth, he looked like he was sleeping, not brain-dead. The machine next to him hissed as it went up and down. I watched it for what felt like an hour.
Up and down.
Up and down.
Up and down.
Up until that point, I was mad at myself for what had happened, but being in that room with him, I started to get pissed at everything else too. We were in a hospital, a good fucking hospital. There had to be something they could do for him. Hockey doesn’t kill people. The longer I stood there staring, the longer that machine would move up and down, which meant the longer he would be alive, which meant the better chance he had of waking up. He just needed time. Mike was one of the strongest guys I knew, and he could absolutely come out of this; he just needed time.
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” a voice from behind me said.
I turned to see a nurse in blue scrubs frozen in the doorway, but I didn’t say anything back.
“I just need to check his vitals real quick, then you can have all the time you need, okay?” She smiled cheerfully as she passed me and walked over to him.
All the time I need? I need forever. Okay? Can you make that happen?
“Is he in pain?” I asked.
She pressed her lips together and looked sadly down at Mike. “No, he’s very comfortable.”
He’s not comfortable.
I watched her as she moved around him in a practiced way, like she’d done this a thousand times before. I had no clue what she was doing, and honestly, I didn’t care. Unless she was going to wave a magic wand and wake my best friend up, I just wanted her to leave.
While she was doing whatever she was doing, I walked over to the small blue chair they had in the corner of the room and sat down.
Why was everything in hospitals always blue? Blue scrubs on the nurses, blue furniture in the rooms, blue curtains hanging on the windows, blue blankets on the beds. No wonder blue has always been such a depressing fucking color.
I pulled back the curtain and looked out the window next to me. It was sunny as hell outside and that pissed me off all over again. What pissed me off more were the people I saw going about their days, acting completely normal.
Two women sat on a blanket eating and laughing.
A man sitting on a bench pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and turned the page in his book.
Wonder if he’s a doctor. Maybe he can save Mike.
“Okay, I’m done here. Take your time.” She squeezed my arm as she walked by my chair. I never even looked up at her. I’d never despised a woman’s touch more than that very second. Closing the curtain and knowing I couldn’t avoid it for much longer, I lowered my head into my hands and sighed. I was supposed to be saying good-bye to my best friend, but all I wanted to do was run out of the room and down the hall and forget the last three days had ever happened.
Do not cry.
“I’ve never said good-bye like this to anyone before,” I said in a shaky voice, still staring down at the ground. “I don’t know how to begin or what to say.”
I paused, half expecting him to sit up and answer me.
“How did we get here?” I finally sat back in the chair and looked up at him. “A few days ago we were sitting at my house, not playing poker, and now we’re here. One stupid bet led to this. One stupid bet plus my stupid pride.”
Another long pause while I stared up at the ceiling. Every muscle in my body ached from the tension I felt sitting there in that room with my dying best friend.
“I’m sorry, Mike. I’m so, so fucking sorry.” My eyes stung as they started to water, but I didn’t care anymore. “I wish I could go back. I wish I could take that hit back. I’d wear that fucking tutu every day for the rest of my life.” Tears ran down my cheeks, and they felt good. So fucking good.