Sustain, p.13
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       Sustain, p.13

           Tijan
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  leaving me in the tank top I’d been wearing underneath. Balling it up in my fist, I started to press down on one of the larger wounds. I wanted it to soak up some of the blood, but it wasn’t enough. Braden realized what I was doing and disappeared for a moment. He returned with a pile of towels, and both of us started to absorb the blood, being gentle as we did so nothing could get infected. When the paramedics got there, they stopped in shock. Two piles of bloodied towels were on either side of us, and we were covered in it, too.

  One asked, “Are you two hurt, too?”

  I shook my head and gestured to Luke, choking out in a hoarse whisper, “Him. Help him.”

  Only him. Always him.

  We were pushed backwards so they could work on Luke, and it seemed like ages before they loaded him into the ambulance. As they did, one said to Braden, “We have room for one person. Whoever it is, decide now.”

  Braden turned to me, but I waved him ahead. I said, “You go.”

  Instant confusion crossed his face. “What?”

  “Go! I mean it.”

  The paramedic climbed inside and reached out to close the door. He yelled out, “Decide now, buddy!”

  “Go!” I yelled again.

  Braden shook his head, but leaped inside the ambulance. The door slammed shut right behind him, and my body jerked from the force of the door. As they took off, I felt my heart break.

  Luke’s voice brought me back to the present. With his shoulder lifted to help cradle the phone pressed to his ear, he said, “Lots of blood loss. She’s pale. Uh, her pulse seems okay, but I couldn’t find it that well.” He paused. “Yeah, she’s breathing.” He looked at me. “Bri, an ambulance is coming. Can you give them information?” He held the phone to me, but I was still seeing his body, not hers. “Bri!”

  No. It was my mom. My mom’s body was in the bed, not Luke’s. It wasn’t him. I grabbed the phone, shoving the haunted memories away. “Yes.” The phone operator asked me more questions, and I answered what I could, but as I did, I was aware of Luke’s gaze. He had gone back to my mom’s side, feeling for her pulse, but his eyes weren’t missing a beat from me either. He knew something was wrong with me, but I couldn’t let him know. Shame hung over me in a dark cloud, and I turned away, clutching the phone as I focused on whatever the operator was asking me.

  Help my mom. That was my main focus right now. Help her, like I hadn’t been able to help Luke.

  “Bri—Bri!” Luke snapped his fingers in front of me.

  “What?”

  He pointed to the hallway. “Grab some towels. I’m going to go and make sure they find the right house—”

  I grabbed his arm, stopping him. “No.” I couldn’t be here. “I’ll go. You stay here with her. I need to call Braden.”

  “Okay. Yeah.” Luke nodded in a rushed motion. “That’s fine. Go.”

  After grabbing some towels for him, I hurried outside. The street was eerily calm. It was in the middle of the night, and only the one streetlight lit up the block. I flipped on our outside lights and dialed Braden’s number, as I went to the end of our block.

  A girl answered, but his voice came on a second later.

  “Braden!”

  “Whad?” He was slurring.

  I asked, “You’re drunk?”

  “Why?”

  “Is that girl drunk, too? What happened to Kelly?”

  “Come on. Don’t start on me.”

  “Where are you?” The phone was sliding out of my hands. They were so sweaty. “Are you at the bar?”

  “What? No. I left an hour ago. Where ar—”

  “It’s Mom.”

  He stopped. I heard movement from his end, and his voice was suddenly clearer, “What?”

  “It’s Mom. We checked on her, and she was bleeding. She’s uncon—”

  “What?!”

  “Luke called 911. They’re coming to the house now.”

  “Shit! I’m on my way.”

  Flickers of red and white lights started to appear around the corner, and they grew brighter and brighter until the ambulance slowed enough to turn down our street. I gripped the phone tighter and hurried out. “Don’t. They’re here. Go to the hospital. If you’re drunk and the girl’s drunk, call a cab.”

  “Bri, do I—”

  I hung up and waved both of my arms in the air. “Over here! Here!”

  Everything went fast after that. They pulled into the driveway, and not much was said between the paramedics and me. One had already gone inside to assess Mom. She radioed within seconds for the gurney, and the rest of the paramedics went inside with it. A younger male followed behind them with a bag and clipboard.

  I stayed outside and bent my head down, my hands braced on my knees. Then I breathed. I just breathed.

  “Hey.” I looked up to see Luke headed toward me.

  The paramedics bypassed us with the stretcher my mom was strapped to. When she was loaded into the ambulance, one of the paramedics asked, “Anyone riding with us?”

  Luke waved him off. “Go ahead. We’ll be right behind you guys.” He faced me and asked, “You ready to go?”

  I nodded, raking a hand over my face. “Uh, yeah.” I looked at the front door.

  Luke said, “I already locked up.” He had my keys in his hand, and he pointed to my car. “I’ll drive. You’re too scatterbrained right now. Did you call Braden?”

  Luke got behind the steering wheel. I got into the passenger side. “He’s going to meet us at the hospital.”

  “He was sober?”

  I shrugged. I didn’t care. “He’ll get there.” Braden always pulled through. Unlike yourself, my own inner thought laughed at me, remembering Braden’s words.

  Luke wasn’t my mom.

  This wasn’t my fault.

  My jaw firmed, and I shoved the memories back down, once and for all. I had to be there for her, not paralyzed with fear. This wasn’t my fault, I reminded myself again.

  “Bri? You okay?”

  “What?”

  “You’re acting weird. You checked out before. What’s going on with you?”

  His eyes were warm with concern, and there was no judgment. Pain sliced through my chest. Of all people, he was the only one who had the right to judge me. Feeling more tears, I swallowed over a damn lump in my throat and moved my head up and down. “I’m fine. It’s just…” Did I tell him? Was now the time?

  “It’s your mom. I get it.” Luke gave me a crooked grin, the streetlights flashing over his face.

  Yeah. My mom.

  This wasn’t the time.

  “Bri?”

  “Sorry.” My mom. “Yes, it’s my mom.”

  He reached over and took my hand in his. “She’ll be fine.” Our fingers interlaced, and he squeezed my hand. “The paramedics didn’t seem too worked up. I’m sure she’ll be fine. Your mom is a badass. She’s tough as nails.”

  I clasped onto his hand with both of mine and just held onto him. When we got there and found her room, the doctor met us at the door. He held us back, shooing us to the side as my mom was wheeled right back into the hallway.

  I pointed at her bed. “That’s my mom. Where’s she going?”

  The doctor nodded once. “Surgery. We need to go in there and find out what’s wrong. It will be a few hours.” I wanted to ask him questions, but it wouldn’t have mattered. He wasn’t listening. The doctor hurried after them, and they all disappeared behind another set of doors.

  “Bri!”

  Braden was hurrying for us, a girl in tow behind him. His hair was disheveled. He had one hand twisted in it, and his other hand was dragging the girl behind him, but she didn’t seem to mind. They were both barely dressed. My brother looked like he had just pulled on his shirt. It was sticking to the top of his chest, and his jeans were sagging low on his hips, still unbuttoned at the top. The girl looked slightly better. Her skinny jeans were glued to her. She only had one of her sandals on her feet. She was gripping the other in her free hand, and her shirt, a
large flowing top, slipped off one of her shoulders. She tugged it back up, but it fell right off again. Her hair, like my brother’s, was a mess. Bleached blonde and sticking in the air. She was trying to calm it down, but with her shoe in her hand, it was becoming more of a mess.

  They both reeked of alcohol and smoke. I didn’t want to ask who drove. They were there; that’s all I cared about.

  “Mom?” Braden pressed, his eyes wide and urgent.

  Luke answered for me, still holding my hand. “She’s in surgery. The doctor told Bri it’d be a few hours.”

  “A few hours?” Braden looked in pain. He cursed. “I need coffee. Now.”

  “There’s a coffee machine in the cafeteria,” a nurse mentioned as she breezed past us.

  “Okay. Well, we’ll go down there. Bri,” Braden said, “you want coffee?”

  I nodded. “Yes, please.”

  He tugged the girl with him, heading down the hallway. “We’ll be back. Hopefully more sober.” As they started forward, the girl glanced back over her shoulder and gave Luke a tiny smile.

  I almost went after her. The sight of her smile had me gritting my teeth and wanting to use her sandal against her head.

  “Easy,” Luke murmured, holding me back.

  I rolled my eyes. “I know. I know, but seriously, she’s with him. They just screwed, and she’s giving you the look?” I sneered at her even though she wasn’t looking at him anymore. “Girls like her make the whole Girl Power thing go up in smoke.”

  Luke laughed. “You usually handle those girls better. You stressed about your mom?”

  Among other things, I thought. “Yeah.”

  “She’ll be okay. I’m sure of it.”

  “I hope so.”

  “Come on, let’s find out what room she’ll be admitted to when she gets out of surgery.”

  “Yeah. Okay.”

  We were showed to the room Mom would be brought back to, and coffee was delivered to us. It was an hour later, with Luke sitting in the chair beside me humming a new song and playing with my fingers, when we got our first visitor.

  I sat upright, pulling my hand from Luke’s. “What are you doing here?”

  It was Elijah.

  Luke sat up with me, but threw me a frown. I flushed. I don’t know why I had acted like I was doing something wrong. Then I asked again, “Eli, what are you doing here?”

  “Uh.” His gaze was trained on Luke. “I’m here for Skeet.”

  “Me?”

  “Luke?” I asked.

  “Yeah. Uh…” Elijah glanced around the empty hospital room. “I heard you were here. Can I talk to you outside?” He stepped out right away, and Luke followed, sending me another confused look.

  It wasn’t long before he poked his head back in. “I have to go do something. Stay put. I’ll be back.”

  “Wha…wait!”

  But it was too late. Again. They both hurried down the hallway. I darted for the doorway and watched them disappear around a corner, turning down the hallway that led to the hospital’s main entrance.

  My alarm went off. Wherever they were going, it wasn’t good.

  “I forgot your coffee, so I went back.” Braden came inside the room with a proud smile on his face. “Here you go.”

  He looked more sober. His hair wasn’t messed up anymore. It looked like he had wet it so it wasn’t sticking up, and his clothes had been righted. His shirt was even tucked inside his jeans. I looked past him, but didn’t see the girl that had been with him. As I took the coffee from his hand, I asked, “You ditched the girl?”

  He grimaced. “All she wanted to talk about was Luke. The girls have it bad for him. Seriously.” Then he realized whom he was talking to. “Were you two holding hands earlier?”

  Change of subject. Now. I coughed. “The doctor hasn’t come in yet, but a nurse just did. She said the surgery’s done. He should be here soon.”

  “Oh, good.” He slid a distracted hand through his hair, upending it again as he glanced around the room. His hand dropped back to his side. “Where’s Luke?” He winked at me. “Or are you going to change the subject from that question, too?”

  I clutched my coffee tighter. “Elijah came and got him.”

  “Elijah?”

  “Yeah.” I cringed. “I have no clue where they went. Neither shared. They took off right away.”

  “Shit.” Braden grunted, hopping onto the bed and dangling his feet off the end. He pulled out his phone, texting as he said, “I’ll figure it out. They’ll tell me.” After a few minutes, he shrugged and placed his phone beside him. “Maybe not. Sorry.” His phone lit up. “Huh?”

  “Who is it?”

  “Kelly from the bar.” He answered the phone, “Hello?” After another moment of silence, he asked, “For real?” Then hung up the phone and shook his head.

  “What is it?”

  “Something’s going down with Emerson. Elijah was in there asking for him.”

  “Isn’t the bar closed? It’s almost four.”

  “Yeah. That’s the thing.” He shook his head. “She said he was in earlier, and just now, she was heading home when she saw Elijah’s truck run a red. She was at the stoplight, and she thought she saw Luke in there with him.”

  My mind was made up. I stood and grabbed the keys. “Which way were they headed?”

  “What are you doing? What about Mom?”

  “You stay. You’re good at that. I’m not.” I started for the door. “Which way, Braden?”

  He hesitated.

  I barked out, “I’m going anyway. It would help if you gave me a general direction.”

  He let out a sigh. “South on Broadway. She was at the 117th stoplight.”

  That was all I needed. I hurried for the lobby, but braked as I saw the doctor heading past me. Grabbing his arm, I asked, “My mom?”

  He stared at me for a moment before recognition sparked in his eyes. “Oh. Your mom is stable. She had a miscarriage, and some of the fetus was still attached to her uterus. She passed out because she’s anemic. She’s sleeping now, but they’re taking her to her room. We want to watch her for a day, at least, maybe two to make sure everything’s passed this time.”

  She’d be fine. That was all I needed. “My brother’s in there. Can you tell him this same news?” I didn’t wait for a response; I was already jogging back to the lobby. It didn’t take me long to get to the parking lot and into my car. Then I headed for Broadway. Zooming past the 117th stoplight, I kept going straight. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but if Emerson was involved, a party or a fight was my best guess.

  It was Kelly’s car that I saw first. Pulling up behind it, I got out, pocketed my phone and keys, and walked up to her driver’s seat. She was still inside; her hands clutched the wheel as she leaned forward. Her eyes were big, almost bulging out, and she was biting down hard on her lip.

  I tapped her window.

  She let out a scream, jumping back in the seat. When she saw me, she immediately swallowed her cries. Rolling down her window, she cursed at me. “You gave me the biggest heart attack, I swear.” Then she noticed the dried blood still on my clothes. “What are you doing here?”

  “What are you doing here?”

 
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