The Art of Losing(5)

“No,” he said. I tried not to read too much from the bags under his eyes. I didn’t ask if he’d gone to check on Mike again. I preferred to pretend he no longer existed.

After what felt like days, a doctor I recognized—I think he’d been to our house for dinner—opened the door and motioned for my parents to step out into the hallway. I couldn’t read his expression, but he wasn’t beaming with joy.

I could just see the side of Dad’s face through the glass as the doctor spoke, but Dad betrayed nothing. I clamped a hand over my mouth and gripped my necklace with the other. The pendant was a silver H that Audrey had given me for Christmas the year before. The sharp edges cut into my fingers.

When Dad opened the door, Aunt Tilly and I were already standing.

“She’s resting comfortably,” he said. “They set her arm—the humerus needed a few pins—and they repaired her fractured sternum. Her ribs will just take time. And they were able to relieve some of the intracranial pressure by inserting a shunt to drain some of the fluid from the swelling around her brain.” He took a deep breath. “That’s good news.”

“Is there bad news?” Aunt Tilly asked cautiously.

Dad shook his head. “Even though she has a traumatic brain injury, there was no bleeding.”

He sounded positive, but I could hear the strain and uncertainty. I’d watched enough TV to know that brain injuries are bad news. And he didn’t make a “humerus” pun. He was too stressed even for that.

“So what now?” I asked.

He avoided looking at any of us. Even Mom, who’d followed him through the door and taken Tilly’s hand. She was squeezing so tightly, her knuckles were white with the effort.

“Now they keep an eye on her and wait for her to wake up.”

Aunt Tilly put her hand over her heart and whispered, “When will that be?”

“They’ve given her steroids to try to reduce the swelling in her brain, but Dr. Martinez said she needs to be put into a medically induced coma so that she can heal—” Dad’s composure fractured, and he let out a choked cry. Tears filled his eyes. Mine filled in response. “So I don’t know,” he said softly. “It could be days . . . or weeks . . .”

Or not at all, I finished in my head.

Twelve Years Ago

“Hurry up, Audy!” I yelled, dragging our red plastic wagon down the hallway. Inside, two of our stuffed animals were wrapped in gauze like mummies. “This is an ambulance, and it has to go fast!”

Audrey caught up to me as I reached the stairs.

“Ready?” I asked her.

She nodded, sucking on her bottom lip as she climbed into the wagon. We’d padded the bottom of the staircase with blankets and a few couch cushions to catch the wagon when it landed.

“Okay,” I said from behind. “I’ll make the siren noise while you drive the patients.”

Audrey’s chin started to tremble. “I want to make the siren noise,” she said.

I almost said no, almost insisted that I had to be the one to do the siren, but I didn’t want her to cry and get me in trouble before I’d even done anything wrong. So I told her to hold on to the sides of the wagon.

“Now!” I yelled and gave the wagon a push. Her siren noise quickly morphed into a scream.

Audrey plunged down the stairs without flipping out of the wagon—which was amazing enough—but it was nothing short of a miracle that she didn’t crack her head open on the hardwood floor when she landed. She had a goose egg on her forehead and had scraped one elbow and both knees. The padding we’d arranged had done almost nothing to break her fall.

Her cries were so much worse than they would have been if I hadn’t let her make the siren noise. I should have told her to keep her mouth shut.

Mom came running, her face a wild mask of terror. She scooped Audrey into her arms and started firing off questions: “What hurts and where?”

When Audrey pointed to her head, Mom whisked her into the car, leaving me behind with Dad. He sat me down on the stairs, the scene of the crime.

“Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?” he yelled, looming above me.

I nodded, my lower lip trembling. “I’m sorry,” I whispered.

“You can apologize to your sister,” he said. “You could have killed her.”

Audrey was okay, no concussion or broken bones, but those words—I “could have killed her”—stuck with me. Stuck inside me.

I got grounded for a week with no TV, but I punished myself much more harshly. I slept with Audrey every night until her scabs peeled off to reveal pink skin underneath, and I let her have whatever she wanted—the bigger slice of pizza, the red popsicle, the choice of what to watch on TV.

I gave myself the task of being Audrey’s protector from then on.

Chapter Two

As the sun began to rise, I turned my phone back on and watched as the texts, emails, and even voicemails poured in. Mostly friends wanting to know what was happening, but Mike had also texted me about a dozen times, asking me to call him. And even though I answered none of them, they all made me want to throw my phone out the window. So did the silence when it wasn’t buzzing.

Aunt Tilly was stationed outside Audrey’s room to usher away anyone who came by, probably less politely than Mom would have liked, but none of us had gotten any sleep the night before and I doubted Mom had the energy to argue. Plus, it did the job.

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