Chapter Thirty Four
Their little, yellow taxi drove at break-neck speeds along Winnipeg's busiest streets. It swerved in and out of lanes, accelerated through yellow lights that might've been red and slammed hard, veering around corners. The driver chattered away excitedly, glancing behind him at his solemn, miserable passenger. In the trunk, his bags could be heard bumping around.
Steven, who'd asked the taxi driver to quickly take him to Concordia Hospital from Winnipeg International Airport, held onto the car door for dear life. Drops of sweat ran down his face, while he prayed to a god he didn't believe in.
He'd just gotten the text from his grandma when he was stepping outside of the airport. Bags in tow, greeted by a warmer, yet still cool Winnipeg wind, he heard his phone chirping in his pocket. Taking it out, he immediately answered when he saw who the caller was.
"Oh thank God, Steven! Why weren't you answering before?" Her voice was laced in fear and anxiety. Being a calmer woman, he knew that if she was this distressed, something horrible had taken place.
He immediately thought of his father and blanched.
"I was on a plane, sorry." He paused, gulping nervously. "Is he?"
"Alive. He's still alive, Steven. But it isn't looking good, the seizures are just getting worse; everyone's here." On her end of the line, he heard muted and hushed voices. A sob echoed in the room she was in. Someone spoke his name. "Are you in Winnipeg? You need to get over here as soon as possible."
Breathing a sigh of relief, he said he would get there as soon as he could. Was it great news? No. Still, Steven had been wondering if he would get one last time to say goodbye to the man who'd raised him. Squeezing his eyes, he fought off the tears that desperately wanted to escape their confines.
Once he'd gotten a taxi, he asked the man to drive as fast as he could to Concordia Hospital. At first, he'd been reluctant, saying that he would do his best, but he couldn't go too fast. Steven explained the situation, handed him more money.
Sighing, the driver refused the money, nodded his head and told him to strap in.
Then they were racing through Winnipeg, going from one end of the city to another.
Steven glanced out the window, watching skyscrapers, businesses, restaurants and houses fly past.
"Did you hear about what happened in Transcona?" The driver was shaking his head. "Aye, what is this world coming to? I wouldn't be surprised if it had taken place in the North End or Downtown, but in that district? Doesn't make sense."
Steven perked up at the mention of Transcona, where he lived. The small, outlying district of Winnipeg had been his home for his entire life. It was a sleepier, yet growing suburban area that had once been completely set apart from the city. However, as the city and Transcona grew, they had merged into one.
"Someone was stabbed, I believe the victim might've survived, though I can't really recall. Shook the entire community. She was quite young too, and her murderer a very disturbed young man. Still, can you believe that someone would do that there?"
Steven only frowned. "What was the victim's name?"
"Withheld." His dark eyes stared at Steven's through the rear-view mirror, then filled with a knowing look. "Ah, you live in Transcona, don't you?"
"Yes." Steven took out his phone, wondering if the victim could possibly be her. Though he'd only received one text from Cerise since their kiss that fateful morning, he was sure her silence was born out of anger, not the fact that she was unable to reply.
To be sure, he sent her a quick text, asking if everything was alright.
Tucking his phone away, he heard his driver continue talking, his voice excited and quick. He didn't have the energy or will to continue listening, instead, he stared out the window, lost in thought.
Drake rubbed his red, swollen eyes, while he sat in the hospital's waiting room. Beside him, Cerise's mom sat down, her face buried in her hands. Her father, wearing the same haggard, miserable expression they all wore, paced back and forth.
They'd been waiting since the previous night and all of the day.
Drake glanced at the clock on the white, glaring wall, seeing that it was nearly seven o'clock in the PM. Resting back in the hard, plastic chair, he tried not to think about the events that had taken place last night. Especially Cerise's final words to him, which had played in his mind nearly a million times now.
Sighing, he excused himself and went over to one of the drink machines. His throat, dry and scratchy from not having drunk something that whole day, rejoiced when he bought a can of Iced Tea. Opening the cool, chilling can, he tipped nearly half of its contents down his throat, chugging it desperately.
A doctor entered the waiting room, glancing at Drake, before honing in on the weary couple. In a quiet, yet firm tone, he heard the words he'd been dreading to hear all day. The can of Iced Tea fell from his grip, landing on the floor and spilling out onto the shiny, blue tiles.
Cerise's mother began to weep, while her husband put his arm around her, holding her close. Drake only stood close by, unable to comprehend that his greatest fears had been realized.
The doctor's words rang through his head: "Severely injured… critical condition… nothing more… strong will to live… not enough… doesn't look good… I'm so sorry." The doctor's pained, grey eyes met Drake's, saying much more then practiced words could ever convey.
Taking a seat on the cool, uncomforting plastic chair, Drake wept.
Softly at first, then it turned into a full-throated groan as he knew the one woman he'd ever loved was taken from his life. Taken, not because she'd been a victim, but instead, his savior. It should've been him who'd taken that knife to his chest-it should've been him.
Falling to his knees, he pleaded with whoever was the writer of history to go back, scribble out his past sentences and write them anew. Cerise couldn't die. How could she? What wrong had she done? What madness could ever dictate this happening?
"It should've been me!" Drake lifted his face to the harsh, bright ceiling and collapsed onto the tiled floor. Shamelessly, unconcerned with how pitiful he now appeared, he pressed his face against the chilled floor. Tears ran down his face, pooling on the ground.
For the first time in his life, he regretted that someone had loved him back.
Steven was too late.
By the time he'd raced through the hospital hallways, up the elevator and to his father's room, his family was already leaving.
He jogged down the hall, his eyes widening when he saw his grandmother step out of the room. Tears were running down her wrinkled, gaunt countenance. On wobbly legs, she put her coat over her frail shoulders, her husband coming behind her. The two hugged. Then wept.
Their son had passed away.
Steven approached them, knowing full well what had happened, but unable to reconcile that fact with how he was feeling. Inside, there was still a flicker of hope lit inside of him. The tiny flame continued to warm him from the inside out. His father wouldn't pass away before saying his final goodbyes.
More of his family poured out into the hall. His uncle, dry faced and hugging his mom, was the first to see Steven. His eyes fell, filled with disappointment and pain. Pushing through the crowd of relatives, he walked up to Steven, his frown growing.
"Steven, I'm so sorry." Standing there, he took his nephew in his arms, holding him tightly. "You can still see him, if you want. But-well, he passed away ten minutes ago. I'm so sorry, Steven. He… asked for you."
Steven pushed himself backwards, away from his uncle. "He asked for me?"
His uncle's eyes began to water.
Other relatives were now staring at Steven, all their expressions covered in the same sorrow that his uncle had communicated. His grandmother was the first to speak up, her downcast eyes unable to meet Steven's. "You can still see him." Shuffling towards Steven, she gave him a flimsy, weak hug.
Saying nothing in return to the numerous words from his family, he pushed through them, past the doorway and into the bright, yet awfully dark hospital room. This time, his father was the only patient inside. Two nurses stood around the bed, waiting for the family to file out before preparing his father's body for that final, eternal rest.
Backing away from the bed, the nurses kept silent as Steven focused in on his father.
Lying in the hospital bed, still covered in sheets and blankets, he imagined that his eyes would flicker open. He would pull the sheets off, staring at his son with a loving, sorrowful gaze. A chuckle would escape his lips, he'd comment on the austerity of the room, and then wrap his arms around his son.
Steven would return the hug, telling him that he was so sorry for coming late. Then he'd help his father out of the bed, removing the tubes and machines from his body. He would grab for him his coat and shoes. They'd plan on going out for supper, probably a steakhouse, and then perhaps go see a movie. Afterwards they'd go to a café, and just talk for hours. Steven would tell him all about the dreams, his father would understand, and tell him he did the right thing.
Steven would say he finally learned how to forgive his mother's murderer. With a smile, he would say he no longer felt hate or revenge.
His father would nod his head, saying how proud he was of his son.
They'd sip their beverages. Eat their pastries. Drive home. Go back to life. Steven wouldn't dream anymore, his father would fight off the last remnants of his cancer. He would apologize to Cerise. Hang out with Leanne and Jasper. Treasure life more, since he now knew how fleeting and short it was.
However, no such thing happened.
His father didn't stir from his sleep. Instead, his lifeless corpse lay on the hospital bed, unmoving when Steven knelt beside him, taking his cold, stiff hand in his own.
Tears came to his eyes, falling down his face, while he shook his head, clamping his jaw shut.
"No… no… no! Goddamn it! You're supposed to be alive! NO!" He let go of his father's hand, felt a reassuring hand on his back. One of the nurses was behind him, telling him that everything was alright. His father's suffering was over; he was now finally at peace, no longer in pain.
Steven didn't have the strength to respond to that.
"I'm so sorry, Dad… I'm so sorry. I just wish I could've said goodbye." He laid his head on his chest, wishing more then anything that his father would stroke his hair, telling him that it was fine.
Only, he knew his father would never speak again.
There would be no comforting words from his mouth.
He was gone.
For now, and always, would he only live on in his memories. Steven let go of his father's hand, forcing himself to leave his father's bedside.
"Thanks for everything." A last tear rolled down his face, he let it fall down and splash on the ground below. At the doorway, family members came back into the room, gathering around the hospital bed.
Steven opened his mouth, singing in a broken, shattered voice his father's favorite hymn. The words flowed into the room, swirling around in a beautiful tune.
His uncle met Steven's eyes, he smiled, nodded his head. Opening his mouth, he too began to sing along. Others added their voices, filling the grief-stricken room with song. The nurses at the side of the room stood with their hands clasped in front, eyes filled with tears.
By the chorus, the entire family was singing, Steven leading them at the top of his lungs. His voice strong, yet his entire body shaking.
As the song ended, Steven knew that his father had listened to every word.
And he was smiling.
As he sung along.