A/N: Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (That's An Irish Lullaby) isn't mine, it was written by James Royce Shannon in 1914.
February 26, 2012
Raquel Gallagher, her cell phone clutched tightly in one hand, so tight the hard plastic cut into her palm, exited the sterile, sanity-stealing hospital room. Hurrying down the barren hallway to an empty waiting room, she sank into one of the stiff vinyl seats. With hands shaking and vision blurred, she scrolled through her contact list to the entry for Rafael, her older brother, pausing a moment before hitting send. She hadn't spoken to him in nearly a year, but it was long past time that he came home.
Their father was sick, and as their mother had left for parts unknown before either of her children were fully grown, all the decisions for his care were falling squarely onto Raquel's twenty-four-year-old shoulders.
She needed Rafe's input. She had absolutely no clue what her father would've wanted in this situation. Not that she was sure her brother would, either, but at least they would make the choice—whatever it might be—together.
"I'm sorry, but this call cannot be completed as dialed," said a robotic female voice. "Please hang up, check—"
"Fuck," Rocky hissed, ending the call. "Fuck, fuck, fuck!"
Closing her eyes, she rapped her knuckles sharply against her forehead, trying to force herself to think more clearly. Once she had calmed down, she dialed the number manually, hoping the entry in her phonebook had been somehow accidentally altered. She received the same recorded message five times before admitting that her brother had changed his number without letting her know.
Although they hadn't been close lately, she was nonetheless surprised by his thoughtlessness.
After graduating from high school, Rafe had moved to California with the garage band he had formed his freshman year of high school, hoping to make it big. They hadn't, of course, though they were talented and had made a decent splash. For nearly seven years, they had toured, playing for a small core of diehard fans, at small venues across the country. Until a year and a half ago, when the lead singer, Kassy, split up with the bassist, Rafe, and Last Minute Lullaby had broken apart.
All but Rafe and the band's manager-slash-songwriter had come back to Florida to rejoin the real world. Jesse Smithson, Rafe's best friend, had loyally stayed behind to keep an eye on Rafe. He wasn't handling his break up with Kassy very well, and had been having a bit too much fun out in L.A.
She hadn't spoken to Jesse since shortly after the last time she had talked to Rafe. Hopefully he'd still have the same phone number. If not...well, she didn't want to think about that.
Letting out a sigh of relief when the call went through, a familiar voice saying hello into her ear. "Oh, Jess," she breathed. "Thank God."
"Rocky?" he asked cautiously. "What's wrong, Lil Bit?"
"Do you have Rafe's number?" she inquired anxiously. "I tried calling him, but I guess I have the wrong one or something."
He let out a dry laugh. "No, it's not the wrong one," he said. "His phone's been disconnected a while now."
"Oh. Well, have you seen him recently?" she inquired, hearing the desperation in her own voice. "Dad is...um." She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, as tears threatened. "Well, he's really sick and I need him to come home."
Jesse sighed. "Ah, man, Rocky, I'm so sorry," he told her, sounding truly apologetic. "I haven't seen Rafe in a while, not since around Christmas." There was a moment's hesitation, as if he was pondering his next words. "The last time I did see him, he wasn't looking too good."
She dug her nails into her palm. She'd been afraid of that. "Drugs?"
"Yeah." He sighed again and then, as if to soften the blow, added, "Probably."
Rocky took another deep breath, letting it out audibly as fresh tears started. "Fuck. Okay. Thanks, Jess," she said, her voice breaking. "Um, if you see him, tell him to call me or—better yet—come home."
"I will, Rocky," Jesse promised her. "What hospital is your dad at?"
"Bayside," she replied. "He's in the ICU, bed five."
She could hear pencil scratching against paper. "I'll let him know as soon as I see him," he reassured her. He paused and his voice was quietly determined when he spoke again, "Hey. Everything will work out, yeah?"
She sniffled. "Yeah," she said skeptically and then disconnected the call. She took another quiet moment for herself, scrubbing her hands over her face to remove evidence of her crying jag, before she returned to her father, sitting in the chair beside his bed and taking his hand. "I'm back, Daddy."
Studying his face, she looked for any sort of reaction to the sound of her voice, but his face, oddly pale beneath his faint suntan, remained blank. Using a tissue from his bed tray, she wiped a trace of drool from the corner of his slack lips and waited for him to open his hazel-green eyes on his own, instead of simply as an involuntary response to pain.
His neighbor had found him on his front porch the previous afternoon, not breathing; the doctors had said he'd had a severe heart attack, during which his heart had stopped, cutting off the supply of oxygen to his brain.
He was in a coma and nobody seemed able to tell her when, or if, he would wake up. There was brain activity—he was definitely not brain dead—but the doctors wouldn't know until he awakened how extensive the damage was to his brain from the lack of oxygen. He could be completely fine, or he might never be independent again. She didn't even want to think about what that would do to him, having to rely on someone else—even his own daughter—for everything he needed.
"I tried calling Rafe, but, of course, his phone's disconnected," she told him, trying to keep her voice upbeat. "So I called Jess and he promised me the next time he saw Rafe he'd tell him to call home." She squeezed his hand. "By the time that happens, you'll probably be awake, and you can talk to him yourself."
Rocky sat with her father for another several hours, filling him in on the latest goings-on of his favorite TV shows and reading to him out of the newspaper, before heading home to catch a couple hours' sleep. Luckily, she had enough vacation time accumulated—nearly three weeks—so she wouldn't have to work for the next few days; she would call her boss mid-week to let him know if she needed more time off.
For obvious reasons, she sincerely hoped that her father would be awake by then, that Rafe would be home—and in such a condition that he would be able to help out with things—and that she wouldn't have to use up the rest of her vacation days.
At her apartment, she scooped up her tabby cat, Azrael, when he butted his tan head against her shin in greeting as she came through the front door. Dropping her purse on the table at the end of the couch, she scratched him behind the ears and carried him into the kitchen. He squirmed out of her arms and landed neatly on his feet, nearly tripping her as he twisted between her legs while she went about giving him fresh water and putting down his dinner.
Not particularly hungry herself, she grabbed an apple out of the basket on the counter and a jar of peanut butter, then, after pouring a tall glass of milk, took it all out into the living room. Flicking on the TV, for the background noise and the distraction, she cut off a slice of the Fiji, smearing it with a blob of peanut butter, and absently watched the actors on-screen.
After showering and blow-drying her hair, she climbed into bed. Azrael, jumping up with her, curled up on the spare pillow beside her head. She reached over, stroking her hand down his spine, and started his little kitty engine rumbling. The rhythmic sound of his purring, coupled with the mental exhaustion caused by a long day of worrying about her dad and of doctors talking at her, sent Rocky almost straight to sleep.
As usual, she was awakened around seven by Azrael pouncing on her feet beneath the covers. The act usually amused her, but not today. Rolling out of bed, she shuffled into the bathroom, remembering to take care of Azrael's litter box while she was in there. When she finished, she went out to start a pot of desperately needed coffee.
She changed the cat's water, and returning to her room, dressed in a pair of well-worn jeans and a purple, long-sleeved Henley while her pick-me-up perked. As soon as her coffeepot stopped gurgling, she poured the dark brew into a travel mug and headed for the door. They would've called her if something had happened overnight, but still, she was anxious to see how her father was doing that morning.
"There's no change today, Miss Gallagher," the charge nurse, Jaquie, told her twenty minutes later when Rocky had arrived on her father's floor. "Not yet, at any rate."
Rocky nodded, giving her a wan smile. "Okay, thank you. And, please, call me Rocky," she requested. "I'm going to go sit and read to him. Will Dr. Randal be around soon?"
Jaquie nodded, glancing at her watch. "He typically makes his rounds about this time," she replied vaguely. "Go read to your daddy. I don't know if he can hear you, but it certainly won't do him no harm."
Kissing her father on the forehead, Rocky greeted him cheerfully and settled into the chair at his bedside that she had occupied for the past few days. He turned his head almost imperceptibly towards the sound of her voice, but the doctors had told her that, although it was a good sign, it was also an unconscious reaction. As were most of the things he did.
Sighing, she took her e-reader out of her purse and navigated to the novel she had downloaded on the way into the hospital. It was the latest book in a series by one of his favorite authors and she was half-hoping the words would draw him out from wherever he was.
Two hours, and a good-sized portion of the book, later, an orderly came in to take her father down for some more tests. Rocky knew it would be at least half an hour before he was back and so went down to the cafeteria for coffee and a snack. Much like last night, she wasn't terribly hungry, but she made herself purchase a muffin and banana to go with the orange juice she had grabbed in place of coffee; her father wouldn't be amused if he woke up to find that she'd worried herself sick over him.
He'd never been one to tolerate being fussed over and she didn't think him being in a coma would change that.
Members of the medical staff came and went throughout the endless day, turning him every two hours so he didn't develop bedsores and looking for any sign he could possibly be waking up. Each time, before they left the room, they gave her the same sympathetic look and told her there was no change in his condition.
Despite their words, every time her father made even the slightest of noises, Rocky's heart sprang optimistically into her throat, only to settle back down into disappointment when she realized he was still unconscious. The sounds and vocalizations were involuntary, as were the occasional twitching of his legs and arms.
"Oh, Daddy," Rocky whispered hours later, massaging lotion into one of his cool, limp hands before she left for the night. "I really wish you'd wake up."
She got up, crossing to the sink to wash her hands, and then picked up a comb from the bedside table. She began to sing, "'Over in Killarney, Many years ago, My mother sang a song to me, In tones so sweet and low. Just a simple little ditty In her good old Irish way And I'd give the world if she could sing That song to me this day.'"
Running the comb through his sandy hair, Rocky sang the lullaby to him, the same as he'd done for her and Rafe at bedtime when they were younger, and as he'd said his parents had once done for him. "'Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, too-ra-loo-ra-li, too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, hush now, don't you cry. Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, too-ra-loo-ra-li, too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, that's an Irish lullaby.'"
She would've sworn that the small smile gracing the corner of her father's lips was due to the familiar song she was softly humming getting through to him, not because of some unconscious muscle spasm. She cleaned his face and neck with a wet wipe, and then settled back at his side, resuming the lullaby, "'Oft in dreams I wander To that cot again. I feel her arms a-huggin' me As when she held me then, And I hear her voice a-hummin' To me as in days of yore When she used to rock me fast asleep Outside the cabin door. Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ral, too-ra-loo-ra-li...'"
The lullaby finished, she pressed a kiss to his forehead several minutes later with a whispered goodnight, and gathered her things to leave. Knowing the nurses would be in soon to check on him and prepare him for—lacking a better term—bed, she left the light on above his head. She stopped a moment to say goodbye to the charge nurse at the station in the center of the ward, and then headed for the elevator.
Exiting the building from beneath the covered portico in front of the main entrance to the hospital, she passed a taxi pulling in to drop someone off, but other than that there was no activity. When she thought she heard somebody calling her name, she paused a moment to look over her shoulder, expecting to see a nurse or orderly running after her. There was no one, though, except for the man getting out of the Yellow Cab. Shaking her head, she resumed the walk to her dark blue truck.
"Rocky!" the baritone voice, unmistakable this time, called again.
She turned to find the cab driving away and a tall, light-haired man—a tattered duffel bag at his feet—staring at her. He was clearly illuminated by the spill of light from the hospital lobby, revealing green eyes, a slightly crooked nose, and firm lips stretched into a half-smile. Seeing his friendly, familiar face, after having such a disheartening day, was too much for her and knees weakening, she burst into hysterical sobs.
Bracing her hands on her thighs, she lowered her head in a doomed attempt to hide her dramatic reaction to seeing him. Feeling a warm, comforting hand on her shoulder, she straightened and gave him a tremulous smile.
"I'd ask you why you're here," she said to him, throwing her arms tightly around his waist. The force of it knocked him back a step before he could brace himself. "But I'm so happy to see you, Jess, I don't even care why."
Seeing her reaction, Jesse was glad he had decided to come. Soothingly, he rubbed a hand up and down her slender back. "I know you'd rather I was Rafe," he told her, lips brushing against the fine hairs at her temple. "I spent a few hours trying to track him down, but no one's seen him. I left word with everybody I could think of to tell him to call."
"And in the meantime you came to keep me company?" she queried, laughing lightly, as she stepped back and then wiped her watery eyes. "You really didn't have to do that."
He chucked her chin, a faint smile curving his lips. "I know," he said lightly and looked up at the hospital. "It's probably too late for me to see him right now, huh?"
She nodded and followed his gaze with her own. "Yeah, he's probably already down for the night," she told him before turning her attention back to the handsome man in front of her. "So, where are you staying?"
"I'm not sure yet," he replied, shrugging carelessly. "You can just drop me off at a hotel. There's nothing going on in town this week; I shouldn't have a problem getting a room."
She rolled her eyes. "Save your money," she told him with a dismissive wave. "You can just stay with me."
"You don't have to do that, Lil Bit."
She watched him shoulder his satchel, flashing him the same smile he had sent her a few moments before, grateful beyond words that he was there. "I know."