“Greg,” Seth breathed, standing once he saw his colleague exiting Sophia’s room sometime later. “How is she?” Chris had recognized him, probably from some get-together. Work friends that Seth had often had pool parties or cocktail parties or just cook-outs.
The doctor blinked at Seth a couple of times and exhaled slowly. “Fractured clavicle, probably from the seatbelt. A couple of ribs show fractures as well. She has a few rather superficial cuts that required sutures. Internal hemorrhaging was a major concern, but it’s stopped.”
Seth released a breath and Chris stood, glancing from one doctor to the other. “What’s that mean, then?” he asked.
“That she’s going to be okay.” Seth answered hollowly.
Chris felt himself melting at the reassurance that he would not have to bury his teenage daughter. Greg nodded and glanced at his clipboard before looking back up at the two men. “We’re going to keep her overnight for observation, just to make sure there’s no brain injuries. Then we’ll go from there.”
Greg placed his hand on Seth’s shoulder. “As a friend? Go get some rest. She’s going to be fine here with us, okay?” he grinned at Chris and then turned to the next emergency. This, Chris thought, was what Seth had to deal with, night after night. All the time.
When they left the hospital, it was the darkest part of the night, dawn barely getting ready to rise into the sky. They both made their ways over to their respective cars in complete and utter silence, yet, just when Seth began to veer away, parked on the other side of the lot, Chris broke it.
“Seth,” he whispered as he neared his car, keys in hand and not facing him. But he heard Chris at least, because he stopped. “Please. I know what I did was wrong. More…wrong than I can even…express. And I can’t tell you how sorry I am but I wish you would come home now. Especially with all this happening.”
Seth was silent and hesitated just long enough for Chris’s hopes to inflate all over again. Then, he unlocked his car, opened the door and turned to him, avoiding eye contact. “I’ll be over tomorrow to check on Sophia.” And the door closed. As an afterthought, Seth rolled down the window, still not looking at Chris. “They had to cut her clothes off when she was brought in. Bring her some tomorrow.” Then he watched, empty, as Seth’s car backed out and drove off.
Chris didn’t leave the hospital immediately. For a long time, he sat there in his car and thought about everything. How close was he to losing his daughter? How close had he been to losing nearly everything he cared about in the past few months? Yet, he was reckless. He was careless. He deserved to lose everything, but dragging his kids into it was just too far.
* * *
Sophia heard her dads talking. It must’ve been a dream, or Heaven or limbo because they weren’t fighting. They were just talking. Voices too low to make out a conversation but loud enough to distinguish tones. It was nice and peaceful in that little dream world of hers. Nothing to bother her, nothing that was hurting her. Just plain and simple peace and her fathers talking like nothing was wrong like everything was okay.
She wanted to stay in that little world forever, but she felt as though she was waking up although she tried to keep her eyes shut. Exhaling slowly, she let her eyelids creep up to reveal that her fathers were in fact just talking. Seth was looking at her and perked at the sight of her open eyes, alerting Chris. They both grinned, gripping her hands tightly.
“Hey, princess.” Chris said, relieved.
“How are you feeling?”
Sophia tried to sit up and then realized that she was too tired to and laid back down. She bit her bottom lip and shrugged. “I feel okay.”
The two exchanged glances. “Do you remember anything?”
She said no although that wasn’t the complete truth. She remembered the crash vaguely, as though it was a mosaic. All the pieces, fragmented, and placed together in haphazard ways. There was the fight with Jace and Ethan. The alcohol in her cup. Her frantic cries of wanting to go home. Ethan stepping on the gas. The crash. Romeo and Juliet. The blood running from Ethan’s head. The dead look in his eye. The blackness that covered her like an old blanket.
“There…there was an accident. A car accident.” Seth said gently.
“I was with Ethan,” she said, her voice raspy from underuse and the oxygen tube they had shoved down it when she was lifted into the ambulance.
Again, they both shared a glance with each other. Chris rubbed his thumb over the top of her left hand. Seth squeezed her right. They both looked as though they wanted to tell her something but feared her reaction. Or simply just saying it out loud. “Yes, honey. You were with him.”
She was about to tell them that it was it. That it was over. That, no matter if he was a quadriplegic and never able to hurt her again, that she would break it off. She wanted help this time and she wanted to be rid of him for good. Before she lost her courage again and succumbed to his whim and desire.
The words never escaped her. Instead, she asked, “How is he?” and was unable to mask the panic in her tone. Seth swallowed, glanced over at Chris who shifted in his seat.
“Sweetheart, he…” Chris started then looked at Seth, presumably for support. “He…didn’t make it. I’m sorry.” He forced out.
It took a few moments for Sophia to register what that meant. Gone. Dead. Didn’t make it. Passed away. There were a lot of words, a lot of phrases for it. But Sophia could think of a word everyone had seemingly missed. A word not normally associated with the death of a supposed loved one, of a supposed boyfriend. She turned her face and closed her eyes, letting that small tear trickle down slowly. Not one of sadness, although she would deny it if she was asked. The one thought echoed through her mind.
“You shouldn’t say things like that to her,” Seth whispered lowly just after they stepped out of her hospital room, telling them she was tired. Chris rounded on him, brows furrowed and mouth agape in surprise.
“What are you talking about?”
“You telling her you were sorry about Ethan’s death.”
“I am sorry about his death,” Chris shot back venomously, trotting down the hospital corridor after Seth. At his words, Seth stopped, slowly turning back to Chris, shaking his head.
“After what he did to her-”
“He’s somebody’s son.” Chris snapped back. “Imagine if it had been Sophia.”
“It almost was.” Seth nearly yelled before dropping his voice, afraid someone would overhear, and continuing. “Because of him.”
Chris, furious, was about to rebut. That it had been an accident. That’s all it was. And yes, obviously Chris did not like Ethan and Sophia’s relationship, but it could’ve been any one of her friends in the car with her that night. It just so happened to be Ethan. However, Seth stopped him before he even got a chance to get the thoughts out.
“The police said there weren’t any skid marks found at the scene.” He said hollowly, studying Chris’s face for the realization. “He didn’t even brake, Chris.” Seth whispered.
Chris was blinking up at Seth rapidly, not knowing what to say. He felt everything uproot inside of him. It swelled, burst and turned to relief that Sophia was, in fact, going to be okay. No permanent -damage. Except maybe psychological.
“What are you sa-”
“I’m saying that it was no accident. Ethan was trying to kill the both of them. Together. In some sort of murder-suicide thing.” Seth relented. He took in the look on Chris’s face before he turned away altogether and set off back down the hallway.
“Please come home, Seth.” Chris called, just a tad louder than he had intended to. “For the kids’ sake. It’s been nearly two months and…” he stopped, trying hard not to cry at Seth’s distance from him, at the apprehensive look on his face. “And they miss you.” He conveniently left out that he too also missed him, because he surely knew that Seth wasn’t going to come back for him. The only way that he would is if it were solely for the kids.
Seth didn’t say anything which made the dead weight of Chris’s heart sink lower in his chest, the sound of his footsteps echoing in his mind.