"Daddy,” I whisper.
“Go talk to him, baby.” Mom guides me next to him. “You can touch him.”
She nods quickly, tears spilling from her eyes again. “He is, honey. They’re just keeping him with us until we have a chance…”
My eyes fly to hers. “He’s going to die?”
A doctor joins us. She has crazy red hair and freckles, but she has kind eyes too, like the policeman.
“Your dad was in a very bad car accident, Meredith.”
“He’s breathing,” I point out desperately.
“With the help of this machine, yes he is. But sweetie, when we turn the machine off, he will pass away.”
“How do you know?” I ask angrily. “You don’t know! My daddy is strong! He’s just scratched up!”
“Your daddy is strong, Meredith,” the doctor replies when my mom can’t. “He tried all he could to save your sister. He is a brave man. But you have to say goodbye to him now, honey. You can both take your time. Spend some time with him.” She squeezes both mine and mom’s shoulders and leaves. The policeman leaves after her, and we are alone with my dad.
“Mom?” I don’t want to touch him. If I touch him, this might all be real, and it can’t be real. “Mom, he just looks scratched.”
“I don’t want to say goodbye.” I shake my head slowly. I can’t look away from him.
“Okay.” She clears her throat and smiles bravely at me, then pulls two chairs by his bedside and motions for me to sit closest to his head. “Let’s just sit for a while and talk. Let’s tell stories. I bet he can hear us.”
“What k-k-kind of stories?”
“Any kind. Happy ones.” Mom takes Dad’s hand in hers and bites her lip. She puts it up to her face, nuzzles her cheek into his palm the way she always does when we all sit and watch movies together. Tiff always steals all of the Sour Patch Kids.
“Remember when we took the road trip down to the beach in Oregon last year and Dad kept warning Tiff that she might get bit by sharks?” I smile at the memory as Mom snickers.
“He likes to torment you girls,” Mom says. “You and Tiff collected about a hundred sand dollars on that trip.”
“Ninety-six,” I say proudly. “We were so close to a hundred, but then we had to come home.”
Mom and I sit and talk for a long time. Daddy never moves, but I think he can hear. I finally get brave enough to reach out and lay my hand on his arm.
“I think we have to say goodbye now, baby.”
Tears cloud my eyes as I stare at this man that I love so much. “I don’t want to.”
“I don’t either.”
“Mama, why did this happen?”
“I don’t know.”
She’s quiet for a long minute.
“She’s in the morgue, honey.”
“Here? In the hospital?” I’ve seen Law and Order when Mom and Dad didn’t know I was watching, so I know how the morgue works.
“Can we say goodbye to her too? Before we leave?”
“I don’t know for sure. We’ll ask, okay?”
I nod and stare at Daddy. I just want him to wake up. Just for a minute. Just to tell me that he loves me and that I’m pretty. So I can tell him I love him and that I will be responsible and I will take things more seriously.
I stand and lean in so I can whisper in his ear. His hair is bloody and his ear is all swollen and scraped up, but I ignore it and talk anyway.
“I love you so much, Daddy. You are my hero. I will watch over Mama. Don’t worry, okay?” I sniffle and kiss his cheek, resting my lips against his scratchy stubble for a second. He used to always tease me with his stubble, rubbing it against my neck, making me giggle. I brush my nose over it for a second. “I love you.”
I step away and wipe my nose on my sleeve and watch as my mom, rather than sit next to him, or lean in and whisper like I did, crawls on top of him, rests her head on his chest, wraps her arm around his waist, and just cries. It’s the saddest cry I’ve ever heard. So loud and long. She buries her face in his neck and holds on, crying for a long time.
When it seems like she might have fallen asleep, she kisses his cheek, his neck and then his lips. Tiff and I always make gross faces when they kiss and stuff but this time it just makes me cry harder. When she lays her head back on his shoulder, she whispers to him. I can’t hear all of the words, but I do hear love, forever, best time of my life.
Finally, when she’s all done, she stands and leans over him. She kisses his forehead and next to his lips and presses the red call button.
A few seconds later, the doctor comes back with a bunch of other people. She has Mom sign some papers, and then the team of people unplug all of the machines and take the wires off him. I don’t know what they mean or what they do.
They leave just the one that beeps with his heartbeat on and silently leave the room. Mom sits with him, murmuring to him, caressing his face.
“Love you so much, darling. You’re not alone. You don’t need to be afraid. Go see our girl. Go be with her now, and I’ll see you a little later.”
I’m crying silently. The beeps are getting farther and farther apart, until finally, there’s a beep and then… nothing.
No more beeps.
Just me and Mama, crying.