When you lie motionless for a long time unconscious (and not completely in your right mind), you begin to believe that you're dead. This is the conclusion I came to after doing this same thing.
Even though people could say I have a wild unconscious imagination, I heard and felt things that could justify passing on. The first thing I remember after closing my eyes was a brief period of silence, which was followed by lots of shouting and crying that was too tangled up to attempt deciphering. I also felt the sensation of flying and being lifted while motionless into bright light that almost made me swim to the top and open my eyes. After that I must have blacked out again, because the next thing I remembered was a feeling similar to the flying one I had experienced earlier with shouting, then the most blinding white beam of all seared through my eyelids, followed by a sleep that felt more forced than the other times.
Next was a never-ending stream of dreams and night terrors. The dreams were some of the best I'd ever had, and in contrast, the night terrors were hands down the absolute worst. Unlike regular ones, I couldn't force myself to wake up. Instead it felt as though I was being chained under the waves with no escape, forced to endure the torture and being unable to scream or cry so someone would know to wake me up. I was convinced I would remember those until the day I died.
Slowly, I sifted back through the level of the unconscious state I had been trapped in and fought to get back to reality. All that I sensed at first was voices, which increased into focus the more I listened to them. Once the voices and other noises were clear, I was able to match what I was hearing with people or things—the beeping noises were some sort of hospital-like machines, the higher-pitched voice that sobbed frequently was an adult woman that I had concluded was my mother. And with these conclusions came questions. Why was I in the hospital? What happened? Most importantly, why couldn't I remember anything that happened less than seven days ago?
It was during one of these thinking sessions, the time in which I took advantage of whatever coherency I had at that point, when I started to hear the voices.
The voices were familiar, though I couldn't quite place them to faces for a while. Once I noticed them, I started to notice how frequently they came. Little by little, they began to get clearer and easier to understand, and I listened to them longer as they turned into voices that I knew well. When you sit on the edge of reality for too long, however, you have to return to the real world, which is exactly what happened.
Before I knew it, I was plummeting back through the blackness to the surface, like the result of what happens when you stay half-conscious and aware of the outside world around you. I wasn't ready to return yet, but I needed to because people were waiting for me, and I would only upset them by not waking up. My mom, who had probably worried herself sick, and friends that had visited me and talked to me would also be concerned, and I couldn't just sink back into the land of dreams and night terrors. Waking up was no longer an option, so I sucked in a deep breath and forced my heavy lids to open.
The fluorescent light blinded me for a minute until my eyes adjusted to the suddenbrilliance. When I was able to see, the first thing I noticed were the tubes sticking out of me from a few places, making me feel like a human science experiment. Then I heard a gasp that didn't come from me, and I looked over to see an older replica of myself across the small room with tears filling her green eyes.
"AJ, you're awake!" she cried, rushing over and enveloping me in a gentle hug. "I was so scared! The doctors were starting to think it was worse than they feared . . ."
"Mom," I said over and over to make sure she was real after what was most likely days of not seeing her. I closed my eyes and inhaled the scent of honeysuckle and lavender she always smelled like as I wrapped an arm that wasn't bandaged or hooked up to something around her.
She pulled away and wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She then gave me a weary smile. "Your friends will all be excited to see you awake. The ones out of the hospital have pretty much been hopping from room to room of people they know here. I honestly don't think they have been home in days."
I smirked. "Yeah, that sounds like something they would do. Can you . . . go get them? I want to see them again."
She stood up and smiled at me, even though she looked reluctant to leave. "Sure. They've been begging to come see you as soon as your eyes open. And the doctors will definitely want to check you out, to make sure you're alright." She looked back at me as she rushed out of the room, which caused her to bump into a boy with short auburn hair, light blue eyes, and a few bandages in view on her way out.
"I'm sorry, Xavier," she spoke quickly, leaving even before she told him I was awake.
The strange boy who looked to be my age walked over and hugged me tighter than my mom had done, to the point it almost hurt. "Hey there, sleepyhead. Finally decided to grace us with your presence, I see."
I pulled out of his hug as best I could. "Who are you?" It was creepy to have a strange man I didn't remember walk into my room and act like he had known me our whole lives.
"It's me, Xavier," the boy said, looking shocked. "You know, one of your best friends since first grade? Part of the few voices of reason you'll occasionally listen to before doing something insanely stupid or crazy? Please tell me you remember me, or at least the rest of our friends."
"I remember people named Bekka, Jenna, David, and Ross," I told him. "That's it, right?"
"No," the still-shocked boy replied. "What is the most recent personal event you can recall?"
I racked my brain. The most recent thing I recalled felt like it happened forever ago. I had gone with my group of friends to the ice cream shop in town, soaking up the mildly good weather before it descended to what Florida knew as winter. Jenna almost didn't come because she was going through one of her moods, but we literally dragged her out of the house so we could go have some fun. We had truly enjoyed ourselves, laughing and occasionally making a scene. I recalled that I spilled ice cream on my shirt, and a boy that looked just like the one before me had a good laugh before helping me get it cleaned up.
It suddenly struck me. I knew this person; he was my best friend, no less! "Xavier! I—I remember now. The ice cream shop, spilling the ice cream . . ."
"Thank goodness," he smiled, but then his grin dropped. "Wait, the ice cream shop is the most recent thing you can remember?"
Thinking about the ice cream shop memory alerted me to someone I hadn't noticed before in the memory that I didn't recognize. With brown hair and dark green eyes, he was like a boy version of Jenna. In the most recent memory I had of him, Jenna was teasing him and he was smirking as the tops of his ears turned red.
"Todd!" I exclaimed. "I remember him now!"
The more I thought about my situation, the more I became confused over one thing. "Hold on a minute. Why am I in the hospital? What happened?"
Xavier's expression turned worried and uneasy. "I don't think you should be concerned about that right now. I mean, you just woke up after a week of sleep—"
"Xavier. I need to know this, please. It's going to drive me crazy until I find out."
He took a deep breath. "There was . . . I guess you could kind of call it a terrorist attack, but no 'terrorist' like you would think. I mean, it would technically fit the definition of—oh, for God's sake, what am I doing? What I'm trying to say is, someone planted and set off two bombs, one in each wing of the school. It's bad. The school is pretty much gone, nothing more than a huge pile of ash and debris."
I was in shock. "How many people died?" Though I wasn't sure I actually wanted to know the answer to that.
"I'm not sure," he said, "but I know it won't be a small number."
"Did any of our friends get hurt?" I asked. It would really be too much to hope for all of them getting out alive, but I had to believe we were all going to be okay. The alternative was unthinkable.
"None of us have died . . . yet." Xavier looked like he regretted saying that the second it came out of his mouth.
"What do you mean, 'yet'?" I demanded, starting to feel a little queasy.
The next thing Xavier said came out in a bit of a rush. "I went to go check on Todd in the library before the first bomb went off. He looked kind of tormented, so I asked him what was wrong. As soon as he saw me, his eyes went wide and he yanked me over to the wall, standing in front like he was shielding me from something. Then, the bomb went off in the other corner of the library, and Todd received a pretty good portion of the blow. There was a small statue a few feet away between us and the bomb, but Todd still got a lot of damage. He's just barely alive, and even though the doctors have done numerous surgeries on him in the past week, it doesn't appear he will make it."
My face went pale as I suddenly remembered the entire thing and also came to the realization that Todd, one of my best friends, was on his deathbed. I nearly went paralyzed, my eyes went wide, and I started shaking my head back and forth.
"He's been asking for you," Xavier added. "Right now he's conscious, but that might not last for long. Doctors are saying he could be dead by tomorrow."
"No," I cried, putting my head in my hands and beginning to sob. Todd was one of the happiest, most amazing guys I knew. Why him? How could he possibly be meant to die?
I pondered this as the doctor came in with my mother on her heels. Maybe Todd was one of those people that would beat the odds and just go through an experience like this to come out a better person on the other side. Todd would be fine, it was simply impossible for this to turn out any other way. I couldn't imagine any of our friends being the same, the world being the same, if one of us in the group wasn't in it. We were inseparable.
I remembered once when we were little Todd went missing. Jenna and Xavier were ten, David and I were nine, Bekka was eight, and Todd was only seven. We had been playing in Jenna's backyard, completely ignoring Todd (who had been a pest to us back then). The five of us went inside, not bothering to keep tabs on the seven-year-old who proceeded to run out of the yard after we had gone inside. It took all of our parents an hour to find him in the park, where he had curled up on the platform of the highest tower of the play set. He gave everyone quite a scare back then, too, and many times after that, even once we became friends with him and he stopped being a pest. This would be just like all those times—Todd would sneak out of this rough patch like everything else.
"Honey, did you hear what Dr. Green said?" my mom asked.
"No," I mumbled, breaking out of my self-reassurance.
"I asked if you would like to know about your injuries," a female middle-aged doctor stated.
"Yeah, sure," I told her. But it wasn't so much my injuries I was concerned about.
She glanced at her clipboard like she forgot which patient she was talking to. "Both of your legs were crushed from about mid-thigh, your fingers are all badly burnt, and you got struck in the head pretty hard from what I was told was flying shrapnel. Though it was quite the concussion, we aren't sure why you were practically comatose for a week, or how you stayed awake for as long as you did under the rubble." She smiled. "You are truly a mystery. How are you feeling?"
Though I wasn't on the verge of incoherency, my brain was still a little muddled. I could tell I wasn't completely aware by the way I handled the news of Todd's deteriorating condition—if I was 100% in my right mind, I would be crying my eyes out. "I'm okay."
"Doctor," Xavier interrupted, "can AJ go see an ICU patient? He was a victim of the bombing, and he doesn't have a lot of time left. He's been asking for her. Of course, only if she feels up to it, and we'll take a nurse with us to monitor her."
"I don't think that would be a good idea," Dr. Green says, her tone becoming a little snippy like she was offended he would even ask such a thing. "We still aren't sure what exactly is going on with AJ, and reactions to concussions like the one she experienced can be a bit unpredictable. Also, she needs to stay hooked up to certain machines at all times, so it's not like she can just get in a wheelchair and go wherever she pleases."
"I'm fine," I butted in angrily. "But my friend isn't. He is getting closer to death as we speak, and this is the last chance I have to see him. I might not even make it to his funeral if I stay here longer than half the week." My voice started to raise and get louder as I was talking. I still only half believed Todd was going to die, and most of the emotion in my voice came from the frustration I had at the doctor.
"You need to calm down," Dr. Green ordered me. She then turned to Xavier and my mom. "Maybe it would be best if you left for a while."
My mom looked at her in shock for a second. "Are you serious? How did we make her upset or angry in any way? All we did was ask permission for her to see her dying friend, and frankly, I don't see why she can't. She won't be moving around a lot, she can stay hooked up to most of her machines, and if it gets too traumatic for her, we can make her leave. Plus, as Xavier already mentioned, we'll bring a nurse with us."
Dr. Green began to get a little frustrated. "I've already explained to you why it's just not a good idea to let her go. I cannot comprehend why this is so difficult for you people to understand—it is simply too risky."
"All we are trying to do is—"
"She is not going!" Dr. Green snapped at Xavier. I couldn't believe how unprofessional she was being.
"I would like a second opinion," my mom said coolly, unhappy with the doctor for lashing out like that.
Dr. Green turned and quickly left the room. After she was gone, Mom sank onto my bed.
"Wow, Mom," I remarked, truly astonished at how such a quiet, gentle person could be so straightforward and blunt. "I didn't know you had it in you."
"Neither did I," Mom sighed. "I hate that I made her so mad. Maybe I was just being difficult."
"Of course not," Xavier responded. "It was a little weird how she immediately shot down our idea without really thinking about it. Plus, her bedside manner was pretty terrible. I've seen more rude patients in my own family that doctors have dealt with calmly for extended periods of time without losing their cool."
Within minutes, a doctor looking a little older than Dr. Green walked in. I hoped he was a better doctor than she was, even if he told me I couldn't go see Todd.
"Hello," he greeted my mom, shaking her hand and smiling pleasantly. "My name is Dr. Jacobs. What seems to be the problem here?"
My mom explained the situation to Dr. Jacobs, including Dr. Green's outburst. Xavier wasn't happy about her glossing over that part, so he explained more in-depth what had happened. Dr. Jacobs frowned after he was done.
"Well, I don't really see a problem with AJ going to visit for a very short period of time," he said, stressing the "very" a little bit. "As long as she stays hooked up to an IV and an oxygen tank and has a nurse with her at all times, I think we can make a small arrangement. As for Dr. Green, the hospital has been receiving complaints for her less-than-adequate bedside manner. I don't foresee her holding a job here for much longer."
"Thank you so much, Doctor," my mom told him. "When can she see him?"
"I'll just check with Todd's doctor and have a nurse in here to make sure everything is still going smoothly and get AJ ready to go, and then things will be all set."
I smiled on the outside, but on the inside, I was terrified. Visiting people in the hospital had always been hard for me, and I had never visited somebody in critical condition before. The closest thing I had been to something like this was when I was nine and my older cousin had been in a bad car accident. The sight of her all bandaged up with tubes everywhere, bruises and minor burns dotting her body, was enough to send me running to the bathroom to throw up. This was going to be difficult, but I had to do it.
It was time for me to see for myself how bad Todd really was.
A/N (Phoenix): We're back! It's a couple days late, but my computer was acting up on Friday night and I was gone all day Saturday (I literally didn't get back to my house until 11 at night). I hope you like it! Read and review!