Jude moved closer to the bed, stared down at this girl her son loved. It all seemed so unimportant now, the fight they’d had because of that love. The question of colleges. Jude would do things differently from now on. Honest, God. I’ll be better. Just make Mia and Zach and Lexi okay. “She’s like a part of our family.”
“I know how much she loves you all.”
“We love her, too. Well. I better go back now,” she said at last, stepping back. “We might get word on Mia.”
“I’m praying for all of them,” Eva said.
Jude nodded, wishing she knew how to pray.
“Jude, honey, there’s news.”
Jude awoke with a start. She was slumped in a chair at Zach’s bedside. Somehow she’d managed to fall asleep. She blinked and rubbed her eyes. It made no sense that sunlight was streaming through the window. She could tell that her son was asleep by the even strains of his breathing.
Miles helped her to her feet and led her out into the hallway, where a man in blue scrubs stood waiting for them.
She clung to Miles’s hand.
“I’m Dr. Adams,” the surgeon said, pulling the multicolored cap off his head. He had a shock of gray white hair and a pleated, basset hound face. “I’m so sorry—”
Jude’s knees buckled. She held on to Miles’s strong arm, but suddenly he was shaking, too.
“Injuries too severe … no seatbelt … thrown from the car…” The surgeon kept talking, but Jude couldn’t hear him.
A hospital chaplain moved into her field of vision, dressed in black, a crow coming to pick at bones.
She heard someone screaming, and the sound blocked out everything. She pushed at the chaplain.
It was her. She was the one screaming no, crying.
When people tried to hold her—maybe Miles, maybe the chaplain, she didn’t know who was reaching for her—she pushed free and stumbled aside, crying out her daughter’s name.
She heard Miles behind her, firing questions at the surgeon, getting answers, something about cerebral blood flow and pentobarbital. When she heard him say brain death she threw up and sank to her knees in her own vomit.
Then Miles was beside her, handling her with the kind of gentleness that he usually reserved for his elderly patients. He put an arm around her, hoisted her to her feet and steadied her; she kept collapsing inward.
There were people gathered around, staring at her. Take it back, she thought, looking around at them.
She was making a scene, humiliating herself.
Miles took her into an empty room, where she collapsed onto a plastic chair, bowing forward. It isn’t real. It can’t be. “I was just with her,” she said to Miles, looking up at him through scalding tears.
He sank to his knees in front of her and said nothing. She felt her insides draining away, emptying. Then there was a knock at the door.
How long had they been in here? A minute? An hour?
The chaplain stepped into the room. Beside him, a woman in a cheap blue suit held a clipboard.
“Would you like to see Mia?” the chaplain said.
Jude looked in his blue eyes and saw tears; this stranger was crying for her, and the cold truth settled deep, deep inside her.
“Yes,” Miles said, and it was the first time she even thought of him, of his pain. When she looked at him, she saw that he was crying, too.
They were so fragile. Who had known that? Not her, surely. Until just now, as she reached for her husband’s hand, she’d thought she was a strong woman. Powerful, even. Lucky.
They stood up together and walked down one corridor and then another until they came to the last door on their right. Far from other patients. Of course.
Miles had the strength to open the door, although how, Jude would never know.
The room was brightly lit, which surprised Jude; almost everything in it was stainless steel. And there was noise in here, machines whooshing, thunking. A computer screen showed a heartbeat spiking and falling across a field of black.
“Thank God,” Jude whispered. She’d been wrong. In the roar of I’m sorry, she’d misunderstood. Mia wasn’t gone. She was right here, looking as beautiful as always, her chest rising and falling. “She’s okay.”
Clipboard woman stepped forward. “Actually, she’s not. I’m sorry. It’s called brain death, and I can—”
“Don’t,” Miles said, so harshly the poor woman went pale. “I know why you’re here and how long we have. I’ve spoken with Dr. Adams. We’ll consent. Just leave us alone.”
The woman nodded.
“Consent to what?” Jude looked at Miles. “She looks perfect. A little bruised, but … look how she’s breathing. And her color is good.”
Miles’s eyes filled with tears. “It’s the machines,” he said gently. “Her body is being kept alive, but her mind … our Mia … isn’t in there anymore.”
“Trust me, Jude. You know how much I’d fight for her if … our girl were still here to fight for.”
She didn’t know how to believe him. Everything inside of her was screaming that this wasn’t fair, that it wasn’t right, that a mistake had been made. She started to pull back, shaking her head, but Miles wouldn’t let her go. He pulled her hard against his chest, held her so tightly she couldn’t move.
“She’s gone,” he whispered into her ear.
She screamed out loud, struggling in his arms, saying no no no, and still he held her against him. She cried until her whole body felt limp and empty, and finally he let her go.
She moved woodenly to her daughter’s bedside.
Mia was surrounded by machines and wires and needles and IVs. She looked healthy enough to wake up any second and say Hola, Madre.
“Hey, Poppet,” Jude said, hating the way her brittle voice cracked on the familiar nickname. “She needs her Daisy Doggy. Why didn’t we bring him?”
Miles came up beside her. “Hey, baby girl,” he said, and he broke.
Jude wanted to comfort him, but she couldn’t.
“The last thing I said to her was that I didn’t forgive her. Oh my God, Miles—”
“Don’t,” he said simply.
If Miles hadn’t been beside her, holding her up, she would have collapsed beside this girl who seemed to be sleeping so peacefully. Jude remembered how it had felt to carry her, to imagine and love her before she’d ever even seen her, how she used to talk to them, her unborn twins, swimming in her swollen belly like a pair of tiny fish, coiled together, always together …
Zach would be alone now. An only child.
How would they tell him this?
* * *
The world felt Bubble Wrapped and far away. Jude didn’t focus on anything except her daughter. In the next hour, calls were made to friends and family. Miles did all the talking. Words came at Jude, words that had had no meaning before. Organs. Heart. Corneas. Skin. Save people’s lives. She nodded and signed and looked at no one and said nothing. People pushed at her, jostled her as they ran tests on Mia. More than once Jude snapped at someone and told them to be careful with her daughter. It was all she could do now. She reminded them that Mia was ticklish, that she sang off-key and hummed all the time, that she hated to be cold.
No one seemed to listen. They looked impossibly sad and lowered their voices to whispers. At some point the chaplain sidled up to her, pulled her away from the bed, and tried to comfort her with rote words. She elbowed him hard and rushed back to Mia. “I’m here, Poppet,” she said. “You’re not alone.”
She stood there as long as they let her, perfectly still, whispering words of love and telling stories and trying to remember every single thing about Mia.
Finally—and she had no idea when it was, or how long she’d been there—Miles came up to her.
“Jude?” he said, and she had the idea that he’d said it more than once, maybe even yelled it.
She tore her gaze away from Mia and turned to her husband.
Behind Mia stood a team of people in surgical scrubs. She caught sight of someone holding a red and white cooler.
“They have to take her now, Jude,” he said, peeling her fingers from the bed rail.
She stared at him through hot tears. “I’m not ready.”
He said nothing. What was there to say? Who could ever be ready for a thing like this?
“You’re going with her?” she said, pressing a hand over his heart, feeling it beat.
“I’ll be in the viewing area.” His voice broke. “She won’t be alone.”
“I want to sit outside the OR,” she said, even though she really wanted to run away.
She turned again, leaned down and kissed her daughter’s plump pink lips. “I love you, Poppet.” She pulled the blanket up to Mia’s neck. It was an instinctive gesture, a mother’s caress. Finally, she drew back, shaking, and let Miles pull her away from the bed. In a moment, Mia would be really gone …
They were wheeling her daughter out of the room when Jude remembered what they’d forgotten. How had they forgotten?
“Wait!” she screamed.
Miles looked at her. “What?”
“Zach,” was all she could say.
* * *
Lexi can hear Mia talking, laughing … saying something about part of your world …
She mumbled, “Huh?” to her best friend and reached over for Mia, but there was no one beside her. Lexi woke slowly, blinking. Something was wrong. Where was she?
She tried to sit up and felt a sharp pain in her chest. It hurt so badly she cried out.
“Alexa?” Eva got up. She’d been in a chair by the window, reading.
“Where am I?” Lexi asked, frowning.
Eva moved closer. “The hospital.”
The two words stopped time. Lexi remembered everything in a rush of images: the car’s white hood hurtling forward; the tree, burned white by the headlights; Mia’s screaming; smoke; the sound of shattering glass …
“We crashed,” she whispered, turning to look at her aunt. One look in Eva’s sorrow-filled eyes and she knew it was bad. Lexi threw back the covers and started to get out of bed.
Eva grabbed her good wrist and held firm. “Don’t, Lexi. You’ve got a broken rib and a fractured arm. Just be still.”
“I need to see Zach and Mia—”
“She’s gone, Lexi.”
Lexi sagged with relief. “Thank God. When did she leave? And how’s Zach?”
“Mia died, Lexi. I’m sorry.”
Lexi couldn’t seem to comprehend the words. How could it be? She felt Mia beside her, leaning close, whispering, don’t let me be alone. I might do something stupid. It had been a moment ago, a second. Can I sit with you? “No,” she whispered. “Don’t say that…”
Eva shook her head, and there it was, wrapped in the silence like some sleeping snake that had just been poked. The truth lashed out.
The car. The crash. Dead.