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If You Stay, Page 2

Courtney Cole

  “Pax, you fucking asshole. I’m not walking into town, so you’re going to take me. I fucking mean it.”

  I startle, then straighten up to come face-to-face with the owner of the less-than-pleasant words.

  She’s as startled as I am.

  I’ve seen her before. She’s a rough-around-the-edges woman who hangs out all day in a bar on Main Street. Since my shop is only a few blocks away, I’ve seen her walking around. Right now, she’s wearing a tight-tight mini skirt and a shirt that is so low cut, I can practically see her navel. She’s covered in old, faded tattoos and her make-up is smeared. Classy.

  “Who the fuck are you?” she demands as she stomps up to the car. Her brown hair is tousled and tangled. She looks harsh. And then she starts screaming when she sees the guy in the car.

  “Pax!” she screams, as she rushes to him. “Oh my god. Wake up. Wake up! I shouldn’t have left you. Holy fuck, holy fuck.”

  “What’s wrong with him?” I ask her quickly. “I called 9-1-1 because I couldn’t wake him.”

  She yanks her face away from his.

  “You called the police?” she snaps. “Why would you do that?”

  I’m incredulous. Clearly, her way of thinking is much different than my own. Her priorities are definitely in a different place.

  “Because he needs help,” I tell her. “Obviously. An ambulance is on the way.”

  She starts to glare at me again, but the guy in the car, Pax, starts gurgling again. And then he abruptly stops. He is still, his chin buried in his chest which is no longer moving.

  The woman and I look at each other.

  “He’s not breathing!” she cries as she grabs him. “Pax! Wake up!!”

  She’s shaking him so hard now that his teeth are rattling. I grab her arm.

  “That’s not going to help,” I tell her urgently.

  Holy crap. She’s right though, he’s not breathing. My mind is buzzing as I try to figure out what to do and before I can decide on a plan of action, my body is moving with a mind of its own.

  I shove the woman out of the way and pull on Pax’s arm with all of my might. He only comes partway out of the car, dangling half in, half out. He slumps over, his head almost grazing the concrete. His legs are firmly tangled beneath the steering wheel and we are now both covered in his smelly vomit.

  “Help me,” I bark at the motionless woman. She snaps out of her hysteria and between the two of us, we drag the man out of the car and onto the sandy pavement. I kneel beside him and feel for a heartbeat. He’s got one, but it’s faint and thready. And since he’s not breathing, I know it won’t last long.


  I try to remember the details of CPR, fail and then just do the best I can. I pinch his nose closed, tilt his head back and breathe into his mouth. He tastes like ashes, Jack Daniels and vomit. I fight the urge to gag, fail, and dry heave to the side. Then I square my shoulders and give him a couple more breaths.

  I gag again as I pause and listen at his chest.


  He’s still not breathing.

  “Do something,” the woman hisses.

  I tune her out and breathe into Pax’s mouth again.

  And again.

  And again.


  What the hell do I do now? I am past being repulsed at the taste in his mouth. I’m only focused on trying to keep his lungs filled with oxygen, trying to make him take his own breaths. But it’s not working.

  He’s not breathing.

  I am frantic and on the verge of hysteria myself, when I give him two last futile breaths. And then I have to lunge out of the way as he chokes, then coughs, then vomits in a geyser-like fountain of orange puke.

  I quickly shove him onto his side so he doesn’t choke on it.

  By this point, he and I are both completely covered in his vomit. It isn’t pleasant, but at least he’s breathing now. It’s ragged and slow, but he’s breathing. His eyes are still closed, but I can see them moving now, rapidly, behind his eyelids.

  And then he starts convulsing.

  Oh my God. I don’t know what to do.

  “What do we do?” I cry out to the girl behind me.

  I don’t even look at her, I am just focused on the orange foam coming from this guy’s mouth. It billows out and upward, soaking into his nostrils and smearing everywhere as he flails. Bits of it fly off of him in orange flecks and land on my sweater.

  I grab his arm and hold it down. He’s strong, even in this state and it takes all of my weight to keep him immobile. I practically lie across his chest, his arm folded beneath me. After a moment, his convulsions stop and he’s limp. But he’s still breathing. I can hear the rattle of his chest. It seems like every breath he takes is an effort.

  I am on the verge of crying, simply from not knowing what to do, when I see red and blue lights flashing against his car.

  I exhale a breath of relief. Help has arrived.

  Thank God.

  “Run over and bring them here,” I tell the girl. I turn, only to find her gone.

  What the hell?

  I peer into the darkness and see her running away, up and over the nearest sand dune. Apparently, she doesn’t want to be here when the authorities arrive.


  It takes the paramedics only a minute or so to leap from their ambulance and begin administering help to the prone man in front of me.

  I’m not sure what to do, so I shrink back to the periphery and limply wait. I watch as they shove a breathing tube down his throat. And then I watch as they do chest compressions, which can only mean one thing.

  His heart stopped.

  At that realization, mine feels like it stops as well.

  I don’t know why. I don’t even know him. But being thrown into this intense situation makes me feel connected to him. It’s a stupid notion, but I can’t help feeling it. Even though the only thing I really know about him is his name.


  I can hear the sickening sound of his bones cracking and bending while the paramedics thrust hard against his chest, trying to force his heart into beating again. It makes me cringe and I look away, trying to tune it out. It’s at this moment, while my eyes are squeezed shut, that a police officer approaches me and asks me some questions.

  Do I know him?

  What was I doing here?

  How did I find him?

  Was he alone?


  The cop’s monotone runs together and I answer as best as I can.

  By the time he is done, the EMTs are loading Pax into the ambulance. They run to the front and jump in, their tires squealing as they lurch from the parking lot and onto the road leading to town. Their siren and lights are on.

  That’s got to be a good thing.

  That means he is still alive.


  I’m frozen in place and shaky as I stare at the car, as I watch the policeman search through it. He puts some items into plastic baggies and shakes his head.

  “I don’t know why I bother. His dad will get him off, just like he did last time.”

  The cop is muttering and I’m not sure if he’s talking to me or to himself. So I ask.

  He smiles grimly. “Either of us, I guess. The situation is just frustrating. Here’s a kid who could have the world on a string, but he seems to be dead set on fucking himself up. Pardon my language, miss. But he needs to land himself in jail or rehab, in order to straighten himself out. But he comes from money and his father is some big shot attorney in Chicago, so he always gets a pass. One of these times, though, someone’s gonna take him away in a body bag. He’s just lucky that you found him in time tonight or today would have been the day.”


  I picture the orange foam that erupted from his mouth as Pax had convulsed on the rough pavement in front of me and I’m not so sure that I’d use that word. Whatever he is, lucky doesn’t seem to be it

  I’m shaken now as I head to my car and drop onto the seat. I am covered in vomit and my mouth tastes like an ashtray from the seediest bar in the world. I grab a bottle of water and gulp at it, swishing it around inside my mouth and then spitting it out on the ground.

  What the hell just happened? I had come here to get some shots of the beautiful, tranquil full moon and had ended up saving someone’s life.

  Unless he dies.

  And in that case, then I guess I ended up doing nothing at all…except acquiring a horrible taste of someone else’s vomit in my mouth and seeing images that I am sure will haunt my dreams for some time to come.

  I take another shaky drink of water and turn the key in my ignition.

  I hope he doesn’t die.

  I really do.

  Chapter Three


  I feel the light threatening to seep into my closed eyelids, so I squeeze them tighter. I’m not quite ready to wake up yet. Fuck you, world. You can wait.

  Stubbornly refusing to open my eyes, I reach for my vial, which should be next to me on the nightstand along with a pack of smokes, a lighter and razor blade.

  My fingers grope awkwardly, but the bed stand isn’t where it should be.

  Muttering under my breath, I decide that if my fucking housekeeper keeps moving shit, I’m going to fire her.

  But as my consciousness returns, bit by bit, I realize that I’m not where I should be, either. The bed beneath me is hard and small and it crinkles like plastic when I move.

  What the fuck?

  I open my eyes to find that I’m in what seems to be a hospital room. I have an IV needle taped to my hand and I’m wearing a thin hospital gown. There is a blanket folded over my feet and there are plastic guardrails on the bed.




  I gaze around quickly and find that I’m alone. The walls are bare and white, but for a dry-erase board that has Your nurse today is Susan scrawled across it and a clock that is ticking away the time. Tick, tick, tick. The noise is annoying. Its black hands tell me that it is 3:07.

  How long have I been here? I see a plastic sack with my name written on it in black marker propped in a nearby chair and my boots sitting on the floor below it.

  That’s it.

  I’m alone in a hospital room and I have no memory of how I got here.

  It’s disorienting.

  I focus, trying to remain calm as I attempt to recall the last place I remember being.

  A swirly, foggy memory emerges; a crashing sound, a moonlit night. Sand. Stars.

  The beach. I was at the beach with that bar whore, Jill. She’s always willing to do anything for a few snorts of coke. And since I was in the mood for a blow job, I called her up. I don’t really remember much else, though.

  I have a few hazy memories of Jill walking away. I think she was yelling.

  And that’s it.

  And now I’m here.


  I groan. As I do, a nurse bustles through the door in faded blue scrubs, wearing a tired expression and a stethoscope wrapped around her neck. She must be Susan. And Susan’s eyes glimmer for a moment when she sees me conscious.

  “Mr. Tate,” she says with interest. “You’re awake.”

  “And you’re a genius,” I sigh tiredly, resting back against the pillows. I should feel ashamed of being a dick to her but I don’t. I only feel tired and sore. I tug on my IV. The tape pulls at the hair on my arm. “Can you take this thing out? It stings.”

  Susan’s tired eyes house amusement now, a notion that pisses me off.

  “Do you find something funny?” I snap.

  She shakes her head now, rolling her eyes.

  “Nope. There’s nothing funny about a twenty-four year old kid who tries to off himself. I find it interesting that you would complain about the sting of an IV that is feeding you, but you didn’t care much about the sting in your nose when you overdosed.”

  I stare at her as harshly as I can, although it’s hard to make an impact when I’m wearing a see-through hospital gown tied in the back.

  “I didn’t try to off myself,” I growl. “Fuck that. If I wanted to kill myself, I would have done it a long time ago. Only pussies kill themselves. And I’m not a fucking pussy. Who are you to judge me? You don’t know me.”

  I’m pissed off now, at her judgmental face and her misconceptions. Some bitch in worn out cotton scrubs making fifteen bucks an hour seriously thinks she can tell me what’s what?

  “Please don’t swear at me, Mr. Tate,” the bitchy nurse says pleasantly as she pokes at the button on my IV machine. “I’m only here to help. I’m not judging you. I’ve actually seen far worse. I’ll call your doctor and tell him that you’re awake. And in the meantime, your father left something for you.”

  She walks to the little particle-board dresser that sits across from the bed and picks up a folded piece of paper, bringing it to me. When she hands it to me and her dry fingers brush mine, her eyes change from annoyance to sympathy. Neither sentiment is welcome.

  I grab the paper, crunching it in my hand.

  “How long have I been here?” I ask.

  I’m calmer now, more polite. She’s right. She’s here to help, or at least, she’s paid to take care of me. It’s probably to my benefit not to piss her off. The fate of my painkillers rests in her hands.

  The nurse glances at the whiteboard. “Looks like four days.”

  “Four days?” I’m astounded. “I’ve been out of it for four days? What the hell?”

  She stares at me, a stern expression settling over her plain features.

  “You were in really bad shape, Mr. Tate. Very bad. You should consider yourself lucky. Your heart stopped twice and CPR was performed. You’ve been heavily sedated to allow your system to return to normal after all of the stresses of the overdose. You might notice some tracheal tenderness and some soreness around your ribcage. You had a breathing tube and several of your ribs were cracked during CPR efforts.”

  I stare at her dumbly.

  “I died?”

  She nods. “Apparently. But you’re not dead now. You’ve been given a gift, Mr. Tate. You should think on that. I’m going to go call your doctor.”

  She turns on her heel and leaves, her white tennis shoes squeaking on the floor.

  I’m completely stunned.

  I fucking died.

  And now that she has brought it to my attention, my ribs do hurt. Fucking A. I groan as pain shoots through my midsection. And then I remember the crumpled up note in my hand. I look at it, at the bold, scrawling handwriting.

  My father’s handwriting.


  I almost couldn’t help you this time. I called in my last favor. The next time you mess up, you’ll be serving time.