“Please wake up,” he whispered for the one-thousandth time.
He reached over to her limp hand and laced his fingers in hers. As he silently wept for his one and only love, he felt her pulse pump strongly through her fingers. It was then he knew that she would live.
She lay in that same bed, with that same guy by her side, for the next eight weeks. One day, a Saturday, as the young man rested his head on the edge of her bed, she stirred. Her voice, having not been used in so long, was hardly a whisper.
“Michael?” she said.
Michael jolted upright, only halfway allowing himself to believe it could be true. He had experienced this moment so many times in his dreams over the past two months, that he was wary of setting himself up for disappointment.
As he turned to her, Michael was suddenly and frighteningly aware of his up and coming responsibility to explain to his girlfriend where she was, and worse, how long she had been there.
“Michael…” she began again, before Michael took her shaking hand and squeezed it gently, signaling for her to let him speak.
But he didn’t know where to begin. How do you tell the one you love that they have just woken up from an eight-week-long coma? He asked himself.
Just then, the attending nurse entered the room for a routine check up on the patient. When she discovered that her previously comatose patient had awoken, she gave a little “Oh, dear!” and scurried back out of the room to fetch a doctor.
Michael saw this as an opportunity. “When the doctor gets here, he can tell you what happened. How do you feel?”
The girl’s deep green eyes simply stared at him in terror. As Michael broke her gaze, she slowly turned her head left, then right, surveying the room she was in. It was very plain; every wall was white, the white blinds were tightly shut, and, as she glanced down, the sheets covering her were white as well. Of all the thoughts running through her head, the one she chose to speak aloud was “You’d think they could put me in a more interesting room.”
As Michael looked at her, first confused, then slightly amused, until he finally burst into laughter. When he finished chuckling, he reached over to the bedside table for a tissue, and for the first time in weeks, dried the happy tears from his face.
He was about to say something when there was a knock on the hospital room’s door. After Michael stated that he could enter and moved back from his girlfriend’s bed to make room, the doctor strutted into the room. He was one of those doctors who walks in, does his job, and leaves. So, not surprisingly, he walked over to the girl in the bed, who still had no clue what she was doing in a hospital bed, and with a businessman-like air about him, introduced himself.
“Good afternoon, I’m Dr. Bergman. Nice to finally meet you.” He extended his hand, which the girl took weakly. “Now, I’m sure you want to know what the heck is going on. So here it is: you were in a drunk driving accident eight weeks ago yesterday. You have been in a coma ever since, stemming from a head injury attained during the crash. Michael here was in the car with you. He suffered only a broken foot. There was only one other person involved in the wreck; the driver of the other car. He ran a red light, side-swiping your vehicle. He was ejected from his car and died on the scene. Any questions?”
The girl, shocked, silently shook her head no. The doctor cleared his throat and began the business of examining his patient, taking lengthy notes on her file. After the doctor left, Michael walked over to his girlfriend and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “I’m going to run down to the food court and grab some lunch. I’ll be back soon.”
He turned to leave, but she grabbed his hand. “Please, Michael. Before you go, could you ask my family to come see me?”
“I’ve already called them; they’re on their way.” He left the room, closing the door quietly behind him. Michael knew she would want some alone time to process what she’d heard, but mostly, he didn’t want to be there when she found out that the driver of the other car was her brother. He couldn’t bear to see her grief.
“Erin, honey, wake up. We’re here.”
Her eyes flickered open. A smile crept across her face as she saw first her mother, then her father. Her older sister stood behind her parents. As her family took turns hugging her, she noticed something was missing. “Where’s Derek?” she asked.
An uncomfortable silence filled the room. Finally, her father cleared his throat. He moved closer to her and took her hand. “What has the doctor told you about the accident?”
Erin told him what she knew. As he hesitated once more, she had a horrible realization. Her pleading eyes swung from person to person, praying for someone to tell her she was wrong. Her brother couldn’t be dead. She had, just yesterday it seemed, watched him graduate from high school with tears in her eyes. He wasn’t gone. It wasn’t possible.
But the harder she tried to wake up from her nightmare, the harder the truth fell upon her shoulders. Derek was gone.
A week later, Erin, Michael, and what remained of her immediate family stood hand in hand as Derek’s ashes were buried in the ancient family plot in front of a host of Derek’s friends and family. Each member of the family had a chance to speak a few words. When it was Erin’s turn, she walked, with the help of crutches and Michael’s arm, to the podium.
The crowd went silent as she opened her mouth. Erin glanced over at her brother’s fresh grave. “Derek, I promise you, from the bottom of my heart, that you did not die in vain. I vow, today, in front of this audience, that I will devote the rest of my life to creating a safe haven for teens who feel the need to drink alcohol. Because I know, even good kids can get involved in bad things sometimes, and unfortunately, they don’t always get a second chance to redeem themselves.” Tears were streaming down her face as she wrapped up her speech. “I love you Derek, with all my heart. I’ll make you proud.”
After the funeral, a man walked up to Erin. He shook her hand and introduced himself. “I’m Officer Ben Harris, and I was the officer on duty the night of your accident. When I got there, your brother was still alive. He told me something I think you’d like to hear.”
“What’s that?” Erin asked, excited.
“He said ‘Tell Erin I love her best of all and that there is a box under my bed...’ He died seconds later, unable to finish.” The officer told her.
Erin thanked the officer with tears in her eyes. As he lay dying, he had made it a point to tell the officer something he had obviously thought very important. She wondered what the box contained. As she turned to leave with her family, her sister Lauren wrapped her arms around her and helped her walk slowly to the waiting car.
When they arrived back at home, Erin found herself walking back to Derek’s old room. She carefully lowered herself onto the floor by his bed, and looked underneath it. There, amongst other odd and ends, was an old shoebox marked “Derek’s Box”. She solemnly slid it from under the bed and opened the lid. Stacks of twenty dollar bills filled the box.
Derek had worked two full time jobs for the past two summers, and two part time jobs through the school years. It seemed he never spent any of his money, and now Erin knew what he had done with it. As a tear rolled down her cheek, Erin carefully replaced the lid on the box and slid it back under the bed.
As she turned to leave the room, she saw her parents standing in the doorway. They had their arms wrapped around each other and tears in their eyes as they quietly witnessed their daughter’s discovery.
“He saved it all for me for college.” Erin stated, remembering a promise he had made to her years ago, his vow that he would make sure she could go to a good university. She could hardly believe his extreme generosity.
Her parents gathered her into a hug as Erin looked towards the sky, where she knew her brother was watching her.
“Thank you, Derek.” She whispered.
c.2009 Steen Krause