Helene had long gone home into the late hours of the evening, it was nearing 9pm, and Pam had been moved back to her inpatient room, Cece, still by her side. Pam knew she should have had her mother bring Cece back to her room, but she wasn’t giving up on this effort, and if there was one battle she could win today, she was getting Cecelia to eat.
She’d let her daughter sleep up against her most of the evening, Cece only turning to adjust herself in her mother’s bed, opening her eyes briefly when they were rolled upstairs, and only when a nurse tried to pick Cece up to bring her back to her own room, did Mama Bear come out. Pam saved that side of her for special occasions. She promised herself years ago she wouldn’t be a helicopter parent, but in the midst of Covid, and the uncertainty of her husband’s life at this very moment, she wasn’t letting Cece out of her sight.
“She’s going to stay with me,” Pam stated, matter of fact, wrapping an arm around Cece, pulling her tight. She felt her stir within her grip, “She’ll be fine, for one night. You can check her vitals in here, just let her doctor know she’s with me,” Pam was certain this was violating so many hospital policies, but tonight she didn’t care. When the nurse had left, her mother’s phone hummed slightly beside her and she glanced at a text.
MichaelJust landed, be there in a jiffy lube :D she smiled, setting the phone down. Within minutes it was buzzing again, she sighed, wondering if this back and forth would continue until Michael arrived at the hospital, but immediately pressed the green phone button when Philip’s face appeared on the screen.
“Hi baby,” she said quietly,
“Hi,” he looked utterly exhausted. She’d never seen bags under her eight year old’s eyes before, but she knew he wasn’t sleeping.
“Mommy, can I come there soon and see you and Daddy?” He asked, pleading. She looked at the time, 9:14pm
“Soon, sweetie, soon. They’re being really strict about visitors right now because of the virus, remember,?” His eyes widened in fear,
“Wait, you and Daddy have the virus?”
She shook her head quickly, “No, no, Phil, none of us do, we’re all okay. We’re just staying here a little while longer because we got hurt. Remember when you were teeny tiny and you had to have surgery?”
He shook his head no,
“You were four years old, and Mommy and Daddy took you to this very hospital and you had to have surgery in your ears, and you were so brave. She closed her eyes, reassuringly.
“I was?” he asked. She saw Larissa come into view,
“Hey Pam,” she waved, an attempt of a smile on her young face. She sat down next to Philip.
“Hey Larissa,” Pam said quietly,
“Baby, can I talk to your auntie for just a few minutes?” He bit his lip, debating, as he usually did when he didn’t want to do something, “please?” she prodded, pouting slightly at him. He sighed, handing the phone over,
“You can talk to her again in just a minute, okay?” Larissa promised, and waited until he shut the bedroom door behind him and they were alone.
It was silent as they both stared at each other. Pam knew she wanted information, she was young, impressionable, in her early 30’s and recently out of a relationship. Her brother was her world, and she’d spent so much time with them and the kids in Austin, coming back at a moments’ notice was no issue for her. She’d been with Philip at their home for the last few days.
“He’s in an induced coma,” Pam started, Larissa’s concerned face didn’t change,
“They don’t know what’s going on right now, his vitals are stable, but we won’t know anything for a while. They told me,” she glanced down to make sure Cecelia was still asleep, “they told me..” she choked on something creeping up the back of her throat, it felt like vomit, and despair, and the idea of being a widow all coming up at once, “that if he wakes up, he may not be him anymore”. Pam stopped, she wasn’t sure how much more she could say without having another full breakdown. It had been hours almost a day since she’d had a glimpse of her husband, and talking about him in this way just felt wrong.
Larissa said nothing and just nodded, swallowing hard. Pam watched as her eyes filled up with tears,
“I haven’t told my Mom,” she muttered,
“Don’t.” Pam closed her eyes, “Please don’t tell her anything just yet, Betsy’s got enough on her plate with Gerald being sick right now,” she rubbed her hand against her forehead.
Larissa followed suit, rubbing her temples. She stood up, and Pam watched as she walked out of her and Jim’s bedroom where Larissa had been sleeping, she caught a glimpse of their latest family portrait on her side of the bed. The four of them had been in Galveston on a beach trip over the summer just to get away. With the help of a tripod and their camera, they’d managed to catch some great shots, but her favorite was this candid. Philip was sitting on his Dad’s shoulders’, Cece looking up at her Mom in admiration, and she and Jim looking at each other laughing. They were wet from being in the water all day, their hair, strewn with salt, and their sun kissed. That day had been perfect. In the midst of so much chaos, that day had been exactly what they’d all needed.
Her mind wandered back to her son when she heard the door to her room open up, and shut a little louder than she’d liked.
She watched her old friend pop around the corner. Every bit of aging he had done had come so gracefully to him. She saw the joy in the wrinkles in his forehead, and the greying of his hair reminded her of a time when Michael seemed so young to her. She smiled, as his eyes widened at the sight of both of them, particularly Cece, who didn’t look much like her typical self. Michael stared briefly at the staples in her head, and the bandaging around her ear, and looked to Pam. Pam stared back in disbelief that his next visit would be in these circumstances.
She watched as he carefully set a backpack on the floor he’d no doubt stuffed with all of the essentials for a few days in Texas. With absolutely no surprise to Pam, he pulled out a pair of rubber teeth, stuck them in his mouth, and grabbed some oversized sunglasses and delicately placed them on his face.
Pam noticed there was no Visitor sticker adorned to Michael’s t-shirt and she laughed to herself, knowing he’d creatively snuck his way inside. Frankly, seeing him brought a sense of relief she hadn’t felt in days.
Michael had been in a hospital exactly six times. Once, when he fell off a skateboard that Jeff had told him was safe to ride, it wasn’t, again when he needed to bring Dwight to the hospital for being a complete idiot, again when Meredith made a miraculous recovery from rabies and had an unfortunate run in with someone’s vehicle, when Pam delivered Cece, and finally, the birth of his first two sets of twins. This was his seventh time. And since seven was such a lucky number, he was sure this visit would be exponentially better than the others. Pam hadn’t shared many details with him, but he was seeing his niece tonight, and that was all that mattered.
He snuck up the side of the bed, knees on the floor, crouching low, before lightly tapping on Cece’s shoulders.
“You order a pizza,?!” He hollered at her, and she jumped, almost entirely out of the bed, to find her Uncle Michael at her side. Grinning wickedly at her, he pulled the teeth out, and the glasses off, and his eyes danced. He’d loved that little girl. She was a spitfire, and much to his own work, and her parents disapproval, she knew exactly when to say, “That’s what she said,”.
“Uncle Michael!” she screamed, nearly at the top of her lungs. Pam thought back to the following year, it had been at least a year and a half since they’d been to Colorado, and maybe two since Michael had been to Austin. She’d facetimed him a couple times a month, mostly to see her cousins, and of course, Holly, but seeing him in person was always a treat to Cece.
He laughed that hearty laugh, sounding so much like Santa Clauss in every Christmas movie, and she moved herself so she was standing on the bed, putting her arms out. He lifted her out of the bed, and onto the cold linoleum floor.
“What are you doing here?” Pam was shocked at how much she was speaking, and the delight in which her voice was coming through.
“I told you already,” he touched her nose, leaning down to her, “I brought you a pizza,” She snickered at him, but watched as he pulled out two triangle shaped boxes with Sbarro plastered on top. Pam knew these were 100% cold, and probably had stuck to the inside of the box, but if Cece ate them, she didn’t care. She’d let her eat a pixie stick right now if it meant food in her stomach.
“I brought you two slices of New York’s finest,” he told her sincerely, opening the box,
“But the plane was a little bumpy, so..” he trailed off.
Before she could say anything, she’d grabbed one of the melted slices, pulling it to her face, and taking a huge bite. Pam felt a sigh of relief, and her head relaxed into her pillow in a way it hadn’t in ages.
Between bites she was asking him so many questions, “Did Mom tell you why we’re here?” she finally moved to a more serious question after finishing not one, but both slices of pizza, and eating a cookie or two Michael had shoved in his pockets.
His eyes glanced over to Pam. Entertaining Cece and Phil was his expertise. Telling Pam she could use a facelift, and giving Jim a sandwich or too to fatten him up, was what he was great at. This was...uncharted territory.
“Honey,” Pam placed her good hand on her back,
“Can you do Mommy a favor and go down to the nurses station, it’s almost 10:30 and I really need something to drink before we go to sleep, can you get us a pitcher of water?” Her voice was, higher than usual, the one she used to ask favors. Cece tilted her head in annoyance, but grabbed her IV pole and headed down the hallway.
Michael smiled at her warmly,
“You look good,” she sighed, sinking down into her bed.
“You don’t,” he chuckled, and moved himself into an uncomfortable plastic chair.
“How’d you get in here, anyway?” Pam asked, turning her head to face him,
“This hospital’s a joke, I just said my wife was up here and she was going into labor with noctuplets,” he shrugged, Pam snickered, feeling warmth deep in her chest.
They stayed quiet for a moment,
“How long will this take?” He motioned to the door,
“We’ve got at least 5 minutes, there’s a cute nurse out there she likes,” Pam rolled her eyes at the thought of her daughter showing interest in boys. Albeit older boys. Men. She shook the horrifying thought off and focused back on Michael,
“Michael,” her voice trailed off, her eyebrows furrowing.
He stared at her with concern, moving to sit on the end of her bed,
“I don’t think Jim’s-”
“Hey,” he reached out grabbing her shoulder, she broke into a fit of sobs. This touch was so familiar.
“Hey, he’s going to be okay,” he reassured her. She kept shaking her head no,
“You don’t understand, this is all my fault,” she pulled her hands up to her face, covering her eyes, liquid pooling out of her nose onto the blanket.
Michael instinctively grabbed some tissues and handed them to her, chucking the box back on the table haphazardly.
Cece walked in at that moment, staring for a moment at her mother, and then back to Michael.
“Mommy?” she was concerned.
“Cece. I bet you can’t stay up all night,” Michael smiled, wickedly, turning his attention.
“I can too!” she challenged him, a smile plastered on her own face.
“No way, you’re going to fall asleep so fast. I’ve got a story to tell you,” He stood up, “But, I have to tell you in your room, because your Mom’s room is boring and I heard you’ve got video games, and if you’re staying up all night, we need entertainment. Plus... “ he looked around, clearing the air, “I’ve got candy in my backpack, and a story for you about an evil witch named Jan Levinson,” she looked back at her Mom, Pam mouthed “thank you,” and laid back on the pillows.
“Hey…” she heard Michael moving down the hall, “Where is your room anyway?”
Pam smiled, pulling the blankets around her. She grabbed her mother’s cell phone next to her bed and started flipping through her Mom’s photos. She landed on a photo that her Mom had sent in a text message to her sister, Penny. It was of Jim, his head heavily bandaged, and hooked up to a thousand machines. She immediately set the phone down, and turned over in bed. She forced her eyes closed, and willed herself not to cry again.
She was asleep in under a half an hour. It only took Michael about five minutes of impressions of the evil Jan Levinson before she’d giggled herself to sleep. He’d slipped out of the room, and moved out of the pediatric ward. It was a little past eleven when he moved up to the ICU and found Jim’s room. He stopped in front of the glass windows, making sure none of the night nurses caught a glimpse of him. He remembered the day he hired him, just a boy, twenty-four years old. He was goofy, unmotivated, and just the kind of guy to be a great salesman. Michael never looked back. Jim had become his best friend. He watched Jim’s chest unnaturally rise and fall, and looked away.
He continued to stare in silence for what felt like hours,
“Never, ever, ever give up,” he whispered quietly, and pulled his cellphone out of his pants moving out of the ICU and toward the elevator.
“Hey, I made it, I umm…” he paused, “I just wanted to tell you I love you, kiss the kids four times tonight for me, okay?” He hung up and moved into the elevator letting the doors close slowly in front of him, his eyes to the floor.