Michael's mother was seated stiffly beside him in the waiting room of the hospital, legs crossed, hands neatly placed in her lap. Michael knew that she was struggling to keep her composure. He knew that she was biting her tongue, trying not to explode at him. And although she never said the words, he knew that she was holding him accountable for Kate's current stay at the hospital.
"I'm sorry." That's what Michael had been trying to tell his mother since the day of the accident, but it seemed as if she was never listening. "I didn't mean to … It was—" Michael stopped, silenced by his mother's steady gaze. He waited for any sort of response from her, but found none in the silence of the room. He sighed and sunk far into the chair.
The door across from Michael and his mom opened up a crack, and a nurse peeked through it. "Ms. Johnson, you may see Kate now."
Immediately, the mother and son made their way to the bed where Kate lay.
"Kate!" Ms. Johnson nearly screamed, as she took her daughter in his arms. "Kate, are you alright?" Michael followed suit, ruffling his younger sister's hair gently. "Nice gown," he teased, but before she could respond Mom gave him that cold stare once again.
Kate caught her mom's look. "I'm fine. Really," she said and flashed a smile, trying to ease the tension.
But of course the children's mother could not easily forget the reason why her daughter had come so close to death. She turned to face Michael. "I don't want you near her," she stated simply. "All I asked was that you watch her for 30 minutes. You couldn't do that?"
Michael didn't see any more reason to argue with her; she was angry with him, and that wouldn't change no matter how many times he begged her forgiveness. The damage was done, his sister would live with the physical scars forever, and he would have to live knowing he was the reason she had them.
He glanced at his mother, then his sister before turning around and walking out the door.
Ms. Johnson watched her son leave, her face emotionless, ignoring the slight tugging in her heart. She may have been mad at him, but he was still her only son - her first child. But he'd almost killed her baby, and that was unforgivable.
"Mommy," Kate called softly, her big, bright green eyes tired and scared. "Mommy, don't yell at Mikey."
In seconds, Ms. Johnson was beside her daughter, her fingers brushing her short, blonde curls back. "Shh, sweetheart, you don't understand."
"I understand just fine, Mommy. It was my fault; I should have stayed in bed -"
"Michael shouldn't have left you alone -"
"If it wasn't for him, I would have still been lying on the floor at home, bleeding to death!"
Her mother was silent. Both shocked at how much her daughter understood the situation, and how truthful her words had been.
Then suddenly it all clicked in Ms. Johnson's brain, it wasn't anyone's fault. Bad things happen to the world, and there's nothing anyone can do to stop them. It was up to the small family of three to stick together and get through; they were, after all, all they had left.
"Go find him, Mommy," Kate said, tenderly removing her mom's hand from her hair.
She didn't have to look far. Michael was in the hallway, just a few steps from the door. He was on the floor, curled up with his forehead resting on his knees. Ms. Johnson hadn't seen him like this since he was ten, about seven years ago. It was when Mr. Johnson had passed away on that fishing trip...
"Michael..." he looked up, his eyes read and puffy from all the crying he'd done. She imagined that her face was just as messy as his. They stared at each other, each waiting for the other to say something, until Michael took the floor.
"I'm sorry, Mom," he sniffled, wiping away the stubborn tears that refused to stop falling. "I didn't mean for her to get hurt. I'm-I'm so stupid-"
"Don't say that about yourself! You're a very smart boy, you just made a mistake." Michael looked up at her, not sure if she was just saying that, or if she meant every word. He stood up, never breaking eye contact with her.
Ms. Johnson held her arms out, silently encouraging him to come into her embrace, which he did. "I'm so sorry, Mom," he sobbed, his tears running down faster than they had all night.
"I'm sorry," Michael uttered. "I'm sorry I wasn't watching her. I'm sorry I left the door open. I'm sorry she got outside and I didn't notice. I went out to find her, but I couldn't, and when I came back to the house … there she was—just lying on the floor and …"
"It's okay," she said certainly. "I forgive you."