It had been seventy-six hours since he’d last heard her voice.
Seventy-six hours since her smile had brightened the room.
Seventy-six hours since her eyes had twinkled simply upon meeting his.
Seventy-six hours since her laughter had made his chest burst to an almost painful deliciousness.
Instead, the last seventy-six hours of his life rang with words like intracranial pressure and hemorrhage and we’re doing everything we can.
Instead of her voice, incessant beeps pricked at his ears like the needles that were entering too many surfaces on her skin.
Rather than feeling her breathing against his chest as they embraced one another, he watched a machine pump her lungs mechanically up and down, up and down. It was robotic, unnatural; watching it too intently made him nauseous.
Her touch, so warm and light and full of life just three days prior now hung heavy and small in his large palm, her fingers cold and rough where he brushed around the IVs that were taped to her skin.
He was supposed to meet her family for the first time, officially, at a backyard barbecue, at a nice dinner in the city where he paid for everything and stood every time her mother left the table, in the living room of her childhood home where her mother showed photos that made her blush and her father observed him with a cautions but approving eye. Not in the waiting room of the Geisinger-Community Trauma Department.
Their first conversations were supposed to be comedically awkward, slowly settling into a comfortable chatter that all revolved around one topic: how much love his heart held for their daughter. Not her mother in tears, unable to form words without spurring another breakdown, and her father sending painful words through his lips, curt and brief, giving only imperative details.
That had been seventy-two hours ago.
Seventy-six hours since he’d seen her last.
Seventy-two since some asshole had had one too many and gotten behind the wheel of his car.
Seventy-two and a half hours since she’d packed the last of her things from the house she previously shared with Roy, that she insisted on doing alone, because they were starting something new. She could stand up for herself. He would be there waiting for her later tonight. He respected that.
Seventy-two and a half hours since she’d last called, her voice dripping with warmth and excitement and pure elated joy. She was finished. It was done. She was dropping off the last carload, freshening up, and their planned night of dinner and a movie was what awaited them. Her new future, and she was simply alive for all of it.
Seventy-two and a half hours since she had chosen to skip going to her new place, deciding rather to head straight to him. The smile that had encapsulated her face in the moments prior to the headlights that blinded her from the driver’s side window was unlike any joy she’d ever experienced. She was heading to the arms of her love; she was finally heading home.
Seventy-one and a half hours since he’d received the phone call that would send his toothbrush clattering to the floor, render his bathroom faucet an environmental outrage as he left it on and rushed out of the door in a blind haze. There was a toothpaste stain on his shirt that he didn’t notice until day two, when his mother had all but dragged him home to “put on something a little more decent.” He barely recognized, as day three came to a close, that he had on different clothes than he had on the night his world had been turned upside-down.
When her mother and father knocked on the door, their soft taps encouraging him from the hypnosis that her heart monitor had tranced him into, he blinked back the dryness and daze, nodding for Helene and Will to take the chair that had molded to his body over the past three days.
As he watched her parents lament at her bedside, he couldn’t bring himself to leave the room. That’s how it had been, those hours since she’d taken up residence in the ICU, whose whitewashed walls were starting to strain his eyesight. Visitor after visitor entered, cried, left. But he remained as constant as the machines that kept her breathing. He was the wallflower, perpetual and silent. He respected the time of others, often remaining in the corner where he could keep an eye on her, to make sure her fragile body didn’t whither away anymore than it already had.
He looked on, a silent bystander, as parents, friends, grandparents made their way to her bedside and out the door. His parents remained in the waiting area most evenings, his mother only entering once, both to pay her condolences and to urge her son to take proper care of himself.
And then there was Roy.
It made sense, really.
She’d called off the wedding only weeks ago, and he hadn’t taken it lightly.
Of course he was here.
But in those three days, he hadn’t dared step foot inside the room.
Not with Jim there, standing silent guard; though his body was worn, the adrenaline that ran solely on his need to protect her wouldn’t stand for any nonsense.
Instead, he sat dejected, his five o’clock shadow mimicking Jim’s in the way that a fuller beard had begun to sprout.
Roy went home at night, took food breaks during the day, but still he remained, another silent observer.
He was immune to the door opening without warning; doctors and nurses came by frequently to check her vitals, the bandages on her face and head, the healing progress of her casted right arm. They all shared the same sad eyed expression when he moved out of the way enough to let them do their job. But this time was different. This doctor was using words like, “Progressing nicely,” and “Waking up,” and “Weaning her off the sedatives.” There was talk of ventilators and slow-going process, but all he was concerned with were those two words, waking up.
If his body had been rooted to her side before, it surely wasn’t changing pace anytime soon. The doctor had mentioned that this process could take a day or two with the heavy sedatives she had been placed under, but his body had been holding up well under the constant drip of caffeine supplied by his mother (and occasionally Mrs. Beesly). He would be here when she woke up.
Dr. Livingston warned him about how painful it might be to watch the extubing process, but he remained by her side, through the pain and the tears and horror of it all. He was there the first time her eyes fluttered, the first time they opened and glanced around the room for longer periods of time. His heart skipped beats, and for a second, he considered taking the plug off of her index finger to watch his own motions in the electric pulses up on the screen.
She was in and out of consciousness, muttered words incomprehensible, but still quickening his pulse at the fact that her voice was finally playing in his ears again. Finally, in a bout of sleep that he had found himself frequenting in twenty minute bursts with his head tucked softly against her body, he felt her stir, jolting him into a consciousness he hadn’t known he was capable of existing in. His hands found hers, holding them tenderly as if not to shock her senses. She’d been a sleeping angel for so long now that he knew her body would need to adjust to simple tasks again. He was prepared to be in this with her for the long haul, whatever it took to get her back to where she belonged.
What he didn’t expect was the way her fingers tensed so quickly under his, the way her eyes bulged under confusion-knit brows, the words that scratched at her bone dry throat.
At first, he thought she was joking. His Pam, such a kidder, even in a time like this.
“Who are you? Where’s Roy?”
His senses masked the scene that played out before him; her yells sounding animalistic in the dehydrated state of her lungs and throat, the way she forcefully pushed him away like he was riddled with toxicity, the way the door came crashing open, and the one person he thought they’d finally left in their past came crashing back like a freight train, his meaty hands and lump of a body cradling her to his chest in a way that made Jim reach for a bedpan before hanging his own lanky form out the door.
Seventy-six hours ago, his world was finally whole.
And seventy-six hours later, just like that, it was all gone.