C h a p t e r T w o Mike looked up just in time to see a nurse come out room 204, and eagerly he rushed up to her. "Nurse, is he okay? Can I see him?" "I'm sorry, sir, no visitors. He's been put on life support." Mike felt his heart fall at this. "Life support? Does that mean . . ." "We'll have to do some more examinations," the nurse said. "Please, just have a seat and be patient, sir." "Susan, it's all right," a man said, now standing in the doorway. "I'll admit him." "Oh, thank you," Mike said, relieved. He almost pushed his way past the doctor and into the room, where he froze. His friend was lying statue-still in the hospital bed, white appendages holding up his limbs and casts over his legs. Mike looked a long time at this, and then turned to the doctor. "How bad is he?" "Well, I'm honestly surprised he even survived the accident. His legs, back and neck are all broken. His right arm is crushed and his left shoulder has been dislocated. We don't want to risk popping it back for a while because of the shock. He also has severe internal injuries and we've traced internal bleeding to at least two different sources." Mike's breathing almost became gasps. "What does that mean? I mean, he's gonna make it, right? He'll make it?" The doctor gave a heavy sigh, and that was enough for Mike. "Sir, as a doctor, I have an obligation to tell the truth, but let me tell you it's no great blessing. I seriously doubt your friend is going to live." Mike took another long look at Thomas, as if he was already dead. "How long does he have?" "I don't know, but we're planning on performing surgery tomorrow to try and stop the bleeding. I'm very sorry to have to tell you all this." Mike just nodded, and after the doctor left the room he went slowly up to the foot of the bed, looking at Thomas with an oxygen mask attached to his face and his eyes shut as if in a deep trance. "Thomas, you fool," Mike muttered at last. "You fool . . . it wasn't worth this. You have a family, a life . . . what do I have? I don't have anything . . . . . . I guess in the end that thing did kill you." Mike stood there for a long moment, staring at Thomas, and then stormed out of the hospital room. * * * * * * * * * * "We're here, honey," Laura said, making Chris look up from his laptop. "We are?" he asked, suddenly beginning to adjust his sleeves. "Yep," Mark said. "Now remember, Chris, don't be nervous. Just stay calm and be yourself." Chris nodded, took a deep breath, and then stepped out of the limo as the usher opened it for him. His heart stopped when he realized the red carpet lining the steps up to the cathedral was packed at the edges with media. Chris felt his feet tug him back toward the limo, but it had already moved on. Laura and Mark got on either side of him and began to walk, and Chris had no choice but to move with them, his legs dropping like lead with each step. "Who are all these people?" Chris asked. "What are they doing here?"
"They're just media covering the ball," Mark said casually. Chris looked at him to see he was waving and smiling at the people, and feeling the inward look on his own face, he forced himself to break a smile and waved shyly at the cameras. I feel so ridiculous he thought. I'm in high school and afraid of cameras. Thinking this, he put forth a stronger performance, until to his relief they disappeared from the media through the doors. "What are we supposed to do again?" Mark chuckled. "Whatever you want to do, Chris. It's only a ball. Remember, just be yourself. You won't have any fun at all if you can't sit back." Just think of all the girls that'll be there Chris heard his father say. "Please," he said. "What was that?" Mark asked. "Oh . . . nothing." They went through another set of doors and down several different hallways, and as they navigated the cathedral Chris noticed other rich couples were beginning to join them almost in a line, until at last they stopped in a huge white-colored room. In the middle was a large vacant floor where hundreds of richly-dressed people were dancing to a classical band in the back, and all around were tables where other people were eating and talking. Waiters donned in tuxedos walked amongst them, sometimes going from the ground-floor tables to the ones on the higher-set balcony they were now standing on, lining the wall in a crescent-moon shape. "Good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Farmer," an approaching butler welcomed. "Welcome." "We're glad to be here," Laura said. "Do you know if the Terraces have arrived yet?"
"Yes, ma'am, they came in not too long before you did. They're sitting just over there." Laura and Mark looked down the balcony, and Mark nodded when he saw them. "Yes, I see them. Thank you. Chris, the Terraces have been our dear friends for years. You want to come meet them?" "Uh . . . . . . . . . . . . ." Chris groaned. "Come on," Laura said, squeezing his hand. Chris looked at this almost apprehensively. "Just be . . . Chris." Chris died with his parents Chris thought as he followed them to a table. Around it sat three men and two women, as well as a young girl Chris figured was his age, dressed in a sparkling purple dress with a frilly skirt stopping at her knees and thin, decorative straps draping over her shoulders. "Ah," the youngest man - Chris figured Mark's age - said, getting up. "I figured you'd be coming, Mark. It's great to see you again. Laura, nice to see you." Chris felt a lump form in his throat. He was next. "And who's this young lad?" the man said, extending his hand. Be yourself Chris thought, like a blaring alarm. "I'm Chris. Chris Wallace," he said, shaking the man's hand firmly. "Oh," the man said. "So you're the-." "Yes," Mark interrupted quickly. "Yes, this is the Chris." "Well, young man, it's a pleasure to meet you at last," the man said, continuing the handshake. "I'm Edward Terrace, and this is my father, Gregory." The older man beside Edward stood and shook Chris's hand. "Pleasure to meet you," he said. "Same here," Chris said. "This is my brother," Edward said, going behind his father to the next man. "Keenan." Chris shook his hand and exchanged pleasantries, as well as with Edward's wife Karen and Gregory's wife Lucille. "And this, of course," Edward said, finally walking around Chris to the young girl, "is my lovely daughter, Grace." "Nice to meet you," Chris said, offering his hand, but as the girl turned his heart seemed to stop. Her shoulder-length blonde hair flew behind her head as she looked at him, and her sparkling blue eyes met his in what seemed to be a monumental moment. "My pleasure . . . indeed," she said, slowly parting her hand from his. "Well, now that we're all introduced," Edward said, sitting back down. "We saved you seats, so take them." Mark and Laura nodded, and Chris took the seat between Mark and Grace. "So how are things going with the theme park, Edward?" Mark asked. "Oh, it's all running quite smoothly. We brought in another four million in the last couple of months, and we're expecting a very heavy summer season this year. I'm actually planning on an extension of it . . ." "So where are you from?" Grace asked. Chris turned to face her fully. "Well, I was born and raised in the modest area of the city," he said. "Down near the mall." "Oh," Grace said. "So this is your first time being rich?" Chris chuckled. "Yeah, I guess you could say that." Grace smiled. "So, your father owns a theme park?" Chris asked. "Oh, yes. He built it several years ago and it's very popular. It's the Terrace Park, about 20 miles south of here or so in downtown." "That's all his?" Chris asked, remembering his visit there as a child. "Yeah. This extension he wants to do is being advertised all over the city." "I have seen a few of those, I think," Chris said. The classical music from the band changed abruptly, and at this Karen perked up. "Honey, that's our song," she said. Edward brightened, and stood up. "Excuse me, everyone," he said, and went around and took his wife by the hand, leading her down the balcony and the steps to the dance floor. "Do you want to dance, Gregory?" Lucille asked. "If my son can do it, what makes you think I can't?" he asked, and with his wife he followed Edward and Karen down the steps. Chris looked at his foster parents as Mark extended his hand to Laura. "Care for the honor, Mrs. Wallace?" he asked. "I would indeed," she said, and they also left, leaving Chris and Grace alone at the table. Chris suddenly felt awkward, certain Grace expected him to do the exact same thing. What are you sittin' there for, son? his father seemed to ask. Take that girl's hand. You haven't danced before in your life, anyway. "So how could I do it now?" Chris asked. "What?" Grace asked. "Oh . . . ." Chris paused. "I, well, I was just thinking of my parents." Grace cast her eyes down at this. Fool Chris thought. This is a great place to talk about dead people. "But anyway," he said quickly, "what were you saying about your father's theme park?" "Do you think about them a lot?" Grace asked, ignoring this. Chris paused, unsure of whether he wanted to explore it here. "Not, a whole lot," he managed to say, but Grace gave him such a sincere look with her eyes his attempt at inner strength collapsed. "Yeah," he said. "A whole lot. I think about them almost every day, in fact." "I don't blame you," she said. "Look," Chris interjected before she could go on. "I don't really want to talk about it." "I don't blame you for that, either." Chris tried to sit up straight in his seat, adjusting his sleeves habitually now. "Why are you so nervous?" she asked. Chris tried to sit up straighter, now sorely wishing the table wasn't so empty. "I'm not nervous," he lied. Grace laid her hand gently on top of his, and this gave Chris a sudden, strange wave of calm. He looked down at her small hand, and then up at her face. "Chris," she said sincerely. Chris sighed. "You need to relax," she said calmly. "There's nothing to be nervous about here. Just think of it as a high school prom." At this, Chris only became more nervous. "Come on," Grace said. "Let's dance." "What?" Chris asked. "Let's dance. It'll make you feel better, trust me." Chris shook his head. "Oh, I don't even know how." "Then that's even better," she said, "because the first dance is always the best. And I can teach you as we go. This song isn't too bad." Chris still hesitated. "I don't know," he said. Grace stood and pulled Chris to his feet. "You are going to dance with me, Mr. Wallace," she said, "and afterward you're going to feel a whole lot better." She led him off, and Chris followed her, feeling like he was being led into some dark, forbidden jungle he always saw in the movies. When they at last reached the dance, Grace turned to face him. "Now, put your arm around me." "What?" "Put your arm around me, like this," she said, pulling his arm. Chris held it in the air for a moment, and then tentatively laid it against her. "Now hold my hand out like this," she said, taking his hand and holding it out to the side. "And now we dance. Just watch my feet, and I'll take it slowly to start." Chris looked down, watching her sparkling purple shoes, and tried his best to move his feet with them. After a moment, he caught on, and Grace slowly took it up to everyone else's speed. "Are my feet really that pretty?" she asked with a laugh. Chris looked up, his cheeks red. "Oh, well . . . well, I wouldn't say just one part of you is pretty." Grace smiled, her eyes twinkling. "See? You're already less nervous." Chris slowly broke a smile, and he held Grace's gaze as they continued revolving about the dance floor with the rest of the crowd, the classical song switching to a new phrase. "Well, look at that, Laura," Chris heard Mark say as they came beside them. "Our son's dancing and the ball has barely even begun." Fresh nervousness hit Chris, and he stumbled for a second. Grace kept him on his feet. "You can't let one couple throw you off when you're in the middle of hundreds, can you?" This calmed Chris down again, and he shook his head. "How do you do that?" he asked. "What?" Grace asked. "Mention everything I'm nervous about and yet make me calmer." Grace smiled. "It's not me, Chris," she said. "You're just starting to relax. Don't you feel better?" Chris broke his first true smile since losing his parents. "Yeah," he said.