The hospital was bright, cheery, and smelled of horribly harsh chemicals used to sanitize the lives of the patients inside. The nurses at the desks smiled as they directed the group to the room they sought, and they filed in slowly to stand beside the white bed in the white-walled room. The doctor smiled with perfectly white teeth and wore a striking white coat, opaque white gloves on his hands as he waved them to the plastic seats along the wall. They were uncomfortable and awkwardly placed, so that one had no elbowroom and could accidentally kick the hospital bed if they weren't careful. Only two of the five actually occupied them, the other three choosing to stand and stare at the teenager they came to visit.
She looked ethereal underneath the pale sheets, wearing a sickly green hospital gown presented to all of the patients. Her long brown hair was plastered to her face from a lack of washing and care; she looked as if she had run a marathon across the country and collapsed on the bed to rest. Her body was sweating terribly from a fever, and the nurse laid a chemical packet on her forehead to cool her down. Her fingers curled beside her, they were limp to the touch when her mother tried to pat them. Stricken with grief at her child's condition, she had to be led out by the father and brother sitting on the chairs, leaving the only two who remained to stand in awkward silence.
After five minutes of the clock mocking their silent vigil, one of them turned to the other and whispered before quitting the room in a rapid manner, as if eager to leave the ominous atmosphere behind him. That left one lone visitor to watch her sleep, eyeing her breathing as her chest slowly went up, down, up, down. He was afraid that if he took his eyes off of her, she would suddenly stop breathing altogether. The chair scraping across the floor as he dragged it over, he placed it so he would straddle the back and rested his elbows on it, never tearing his gaze from her still form.
He sat by her bedside, unmoving and silent, for the longest time.
The clock continued to tick annoyingly, making itself known as if gloating at the fact it added to the time the teen had been out. He wanted to tear it from the wall, but the need to watch her overruled all. So he let it tick, every second passing by like molasses and creating an echo of clicking in his mind that nearly drove him mad. He reached out and rested two fingers on the sleeve of her gown in an attempt to escape losing his sanity, and suddenly the clock was silent. He stroked the cool material like a kitten as his mind, after a day filled with stress and anxiety, finally had a chance relax.
For three days, he had come with the others, and for all three of those days he would always be the last one remaining. Every day, they'd come to see that doctor's smiling face, his reassuring words, his glaringly white coat, the painfully bright walls. He was so sick of all of this white, he needed a change of scenery–she needed a change of scenery. He was sure she would go insane if she had to sit in this room while she was awake, and he was sure that was the only reason she remained here. She just needed to wake up, she just had to.
"You need to come back," he suddenly whispered. He gripped her sleeve as if to stop himself from shaking her into the waking world, and his eyes searched her face for any sign of hearing him. When he didn't find any, he slowly released his grip and returned the arm to the back of the chair. "You need to come back, soon. Whenever you can." When he tried to smile, he only managed to make a sour grimace. "It's not like I can rush you, anyways."
The silence threatened to consume him, and he found his voice running off without him. "You need to come back," he repeated a third time, "before Christmas time. You go to your dad's, don't you? How can you visit him when you're here?"
Of course she couldn't answer him, but he could imagine what she'd say all the same. I'd find a way to get there! I'd even get onto the plane strapped to this thing if I had to!
"You were always so excited to see him." He bowed his head a bit, eyes glazing over in thought as he remembered how bouncy she would be at the mention of her father. "You would talk for days on end before Christmas break, about how you'd run up and hug him, how you'd make him laugh with your silly faces, how you'd miss him terribly whenever you were away. You always loved him dearly, and I'm sure he misses you just as badly, especially now. I'm sure he'd like to be here, beside you, night and day.
"And your mother misses you, too. She often comes to talk to me about you, as if unburdening herself with her memories will make us both feel better. But it doesn't help, because we end up missing you even more." Coming out of his daze, he found himself reaching for her sleeve again, clutching it like a life preserver among a sea in turmoil. "She's so weak without you, I don't think she ever realized how much she depends on you. You're her lifeline, her crying shoulder, and now . . . she has nothing. You . . . need to come back."
He watched her breathe for a bit more, trying to maintain the peace in the room by keeping silent for as long as he could. The clock had returned–that evil thing didn't seem to care that it was tearing him apart. He would take that thing off of the wall before he left, he decided. He didn't need a screwdriver, a scalpel or a hammer would do just as well. Eventually he reached his limit and spoke to her once more, even if she couldn't hear it. "And what about your brother? What'll happen to him? He needs an older sister to be bothered and taunted by, like every younger sibling does, even if he doesn't like to admit it. Who'll keep him in line now?"
He felt his excuse was futile, and his hand slid from her sleeve to her arm to grip it firmly in compensation for his weak words. "You're a part of a team," he told her. "You promised to always be there for us when you joined the rifle team. You worked your ass off to keep up with grades just so you could qualify, and you always sweated a lake when you went out there with us. And still, you stayed. After all of the wasps and spiders and hot and cold days, you stayed." He squeezed her arm to try to get his words across to whatever plane she walked on now. "You can't abandon your team now. Your hard work would have all been in vain."
As the silence coiled around them like a spiteful serpent, he felt he still wasn't coming out clear enough. Letting go only to turn the chair around to sit properly, he instead grasped her hand in both of his to try to wake her from her worrying state of unconsciousness. It was an unnatural feeling, to hold her limp hand, but he cradled it like a butterfly and tried to get his urgent message across. Would she not listen? Would she refuse to wake up? Did she know what she was doing to her friends and family?
"You need to come back." His voice was insistent, almost panicky, and his hands began to tremble. "You need to stop whatever you doing and get back, now. We can't sit here and wait forever. We can't! I can't!" He shook his head. "We want to, but we can't. We have our lives, our jobs, our futures to look after. We can't sit and wait and hope for something that may never happen. So, you have to come back. Don't wait, or we might not be there to welcome you home."
Nothing could be heard in the room. His hands trembled, his gaze wavered, and still she kept her constant motion of breathing, the steady rise and fall of her chest. It felt like time had slowed down, and he watched as his hand shakily brushed a bang away from her face. She was the worse he had ever seen her, and he realized that she had hit rock bottom in her life. She lay in a bed in a bright and cheery hospital, surrounded by joyful people who bounced around to talk to friends and families and new parents, passing her open door without a second thought. With all that she did for people, all that she sacrificed, she got nothing.
She was only another patient in these white halls.
His hand rested on her cheek for a moment before he sighed and stood up straight. Although he felt as though his shoulders were sagging, he would not let himself show that weakness–he had to be strong for her in her absence. Turning from the bed and placing the chair where he had gotten it, he paused at the door to give her one last glance. Her hair was a mess and she looked like she was in her deathbed, and yet she seemed to be the toughest and bravest person in the world.
He whispered to no one before leaving her to lie underneath the pale sheets, his words carried by a supernatural breeze to flutter in her unhearing ears, a promise she would never be able to appreciate in her slumber:
"I'll wait for you. No matter what happens, I'll welcome you home."