She continues typing away, ignoring my words. I’m sure she’s heard this a thousand times before, but this time is different. This is my brother. This is my identical twin. The only person who has been through everything with me.
“Well, since you’re family, I need you to fill out all of his medical information on this clipboard. Bring it back when you’re done and I’ll go see if they’re allowing him to have visitors,” she says, passing me a stack of papers.
“Allowing visitors?” I shout. “This isn’t a prison! Look, I can fill out this paperwork back there with him. This is my brother we’re talking about. I. NEED. BACK. THERE.”
She ignores my rant and taps the clipboard infuriatingly. Before I can hurl the board across the f**king emergency room, Em squeezes in front of me and grabs it out of my hands.
“I can fill this out. If you could hurry and find out where he is, I would appreciate it.” She smiles easily at the lady and I’m confounded by her calmness.
Em grabs onto my arm and digs her nails in deep. “My goal is to see Jaxon as soon as possible. I think we share a common goal here. I’m also pretty sure your mama taught you that you can catch more flies with honey. Quit being a bastard. If you piss her off and make me have to wait out here one second longer than I have to, so help me God, I will rip you limb from limb,” she growls in a low voice to me and stomps off to fill out my brother’s medical forms.
With nowhere else to go, I begin pacing the tile in front of the door that leads to the patients. If someone would just open this damn door, I could breathe a little easier. I pull out my phone and cringe at all of the missed calls from Cole. I can’t believe I didn’t have this on me. I tried calling him about fifteen times on my way over here, but he never answered.
My brother is somewhere back there hurt or even worse...fuck, I can’t think like that. He’s back there and this f**king metal door is keeping me from seeing if he’s okay. Small hands graze across my lower back and I flinch away from the touch. I’m strung too tight and I can’t handle soft words or pitying looks at the moment. Audrey calls out my name as I walk away in the opposite direction. Away from her. Shit, I can’t think straight.
I lean my forehead against the wall and think about what I can do. Suddenly, the door opens and a nurse comes out. Evidently she’s not new at this because she quickly shuts the door behind her. She glances around the room and does a double take when her eyes land on me. I can see the shock on her face and immediately know that she has to be Jaxon’s nurse.
“Twin,” I hastily spit out. The others quickly come over to join me.
“I can take you back there, but I can’t let you see him yet. There’s an additional waiting room for family members. That’s as close as I can get you. You can wait there for a doctor to give you more information,” she instructs. “Wow, you guys are a big group. I’m technically only allowed to let four of you in.”
“I’ll hang back here,” Lane volunteers. Well, it sure as hell wasn’t going to be me.
“Nice to hear you’re claiming the twin-thing again, Jace. Not such a drag anymore, is it?” Em bites out at me as she pushes past to follow the nurse. Ouch. I’d take everything I said back if I could.
Quickly, we all file in behind her and my eyes dart to each door along the way, seeing if I can catch a glimpse of my brother. We round a second corner at the end of the hall, where I see Cole sitting on the ground with his back against the wall and his face in his hands. My stomach plummets as I pick up my pace toward him.
From behind, I hear Quinn gasp, “Cole.” Even though it was only a whisper, he was still able to hear her voice and his head shoots up to look at us. I hate how f**king stressed he looks and how red his eyes are. What does that mean? How bad is this going to be?
“Wait right here in this room,” the nurse says, pointing to the room next to Cole. “Ah, now there are five of you. I’ll try to let you all stay, but they may send one of you out front.”
“Your mom’s on a flight already,” Cole’s ragged voice announces when we all enter the tiny prison they call a waiting room.
“No it wasn’t. I feel like I’ve been here for ten f**king years already,” he mutters, while frantically running his hands through his hair.
Quinn finally reaches him and wraps her arms around his body, burying her face into his side. He grabs on to her tightly and hides his face in her hair. We all watch as he sucks in a deep breath. Em takes a seat, bouncing her legs uncontrollably while looking at the two of them. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Audrey standing against the wall by the door. And I’m lost in the middle.
“We were running a play. It was the last one before Coach was planning to dismiss us. At the snap, Jax shot down the side and cut to the middle just like he was supposed to. Fisher tossed a perfect spiral and it practically dropped out of thin air into Jaxon’s arms. It was flawless. The only thing wrong was that the defenders were expecting it this time so they ran in front of him. Jax got blocked in, so he ran and tried to leap over them into the end zone. Mid-air someone clipped his legs and he spun at an odd angle headfirst into the ground.” Cole grabs the bridge of his nose and shakes his head back and forth.
“It was awful. The second he hit the ground, his whole body went limp. When I got to him, his eyes were closed. He was breathing but we just couldn’t wake him. Coach broke out the smelling salts but nothing happened.”
The room remains silent as everyone begins to soak in Cole’s story. I’ve seen Jax jump into the end zone more times than I can remember. He’s leapt over defenders’ heads and even done a flip or two to get the touchdown. We’ve all jumped and cheered watching him go to incredible lengths to get those extra points on the scoreboard. Except this time, one wrong hit and he crashes down on his head.
Everyone eventually finds a spot in the room as we sit to wait out the news. Em claims the chair closest to the door. She pulls her feet up and rests her chin on top of her knees. Her eyes never leave the door, almost as if they are trying to will the doctor to enter. Quinn fell asleep in Cole’s lap shortly after we arrived. Cole stretches out across the length of three chairs. Audrey parks herself next to the only window in the room and she gazes outside the entire time. Her bathing suit is still wet and has soaked through her clothes. I catch her shiver slightly.
I alternate between pacing the room and sticking my head out the door, just to remind people that we are still here waiting for any piece of news. No one speaks and no one dares to leave the room. Hours pass, three to be exact, before a man in a white coat enters the waiting area and looks around at everyone.
When he finally sees me, he falters a step backward. “Wow, it’s strange to see you after working on Jaxon for so long.”
“I’m sorry. I’m Dr. Graham. You are related to Jaxon Riley, correct?”
“Would you like to step out in the hall to speak?” he questions, while looking at all the eyes peering up at him.
I look down and see Em’s anxious face and shake my head, “They’re all here for him as well. You can say it here.”
“Alright then. Your brother endured what appears to be a mild traumatic brain injury. We ran almost every test possible and I’m optimistic at his outcome. You need to know that he is comatose at the moment. The scans of his brain do show signs of mild swelling, so we need to just give him time to heal. I don’t believe we need to take any drastic measures at the moment.”
“Just give him time? That’s all we can do?” I ask roughly.
“We’ll continue to monitor him closely and let his body do the repairing,” Dr. Graham calmly replies.
“How long could he be in a coma, Doctor?” Em requests from her chair, her hands gripping the armrests tightly.
“Everyone reacts differently to a brain injury, so I’m sorry to say we don’t know at this point. He’s rating average on the GCS...”
“Nice job. Are you in the medical field?” Dr. Graham questions.
“Not anymore. When can we see him?” I ask, not missing the slight gasp Em lets slip. Shit, I forgot I hadn’t told her about dropping Pre-med.
“We need to run a few more tests. His motor skills are responding to pain.” When I flinch, he hastily adds, “That’s a good sign. We’ll make sure he doesn’t have any additional discomfort, but it’s part of assessing his brain activity. I just want you guys to prepare yourselves. Even though a coma simply means he’s unconscious, he could be like this for a few more hours, days, weeks...if it goes further than that, we’ll re-evaluate our options. ”
When no one says anything else, Dr. Graham continues, “He’s breathing on his own and showing pupillary responses to light. Give him time; I have high hopes for him. From what I heard of the fall, it could have been much worse. He doesn’t have any broken bones or damage to his spinal cord. We’ll take this one day at a time. Just be there for him, but make sure you’re still taking care of yourselves.”
He leans over to shake my hand and lets me know he’ll send in a nurse when we can go see Jax. I sink to floor beneath the weight of his words and cover my face with my hands. My brother is in a coma. Unconscious. Comatose.
My heart breaks as I watch Jace’s body gradually slide down the wall. His brother is beyond his best friend, he’s spent almost every moment of his life with him. Seeing as I’ve spent my whole life craving to have just one person slightly care about me, I can’t imagine what even a fraction of his sadness must feel like. But now I’m starting to see why Em tried to push people away from her. You can’t miss what you never had.
I make my way toward Jace slowly and sink down next to him. He doesn’t acknowledge me at all. I know I shouldn’t be hurt by his coldness toward me, but after everything we’ve been through, I would have hoped he’d let me be here for him during hard times. I grab his thigh and he flinches but doesn’t move. I squeeze three times, hoping he’ll know what I mean and that I’m here for him. That I’ll help him any way I can. He doesn’t respond, instead he just lays his head on his knees and breathes in roughly.
The room is silent for a while until Cole’s phone chimes, shaking us all from our individual thoughts. I watch as he pulls it out of his pocket and reads the screen.
“Jace, man, your mom grabbed a taxi. She should be here soon,” he announces.
“We’re pushing our limit of visitors. You should head home, Audrey,” Jace says in a lifeless voice.
“I want to stay with you, babe. I need to be here for you,” I whisper.
“Please, just leave. I don’t want the drama right now. With you being here. With my mom and my brother. I can’t deal with any of it,” he replies coldly.
“Jace, I’m sure it’ll be fine that she’s here,” Em interrupts in a flat tone. She doesn’t even glance in our direction, just continues staring at the closed door.
“While I was playing in the ocean, my brother was riding in an ambulance. To the hospital, Audrey! I’d rather just be with my family right now.”
His words slice through me like a knife, and I feel like I’m bleeding out right here for all of our friends to see. “Playing? Is that what we were doing?” I ask quietly.
“I’m not twisting your words, Jace. I’m repeating them.” I stand up and look down at where he sits on the floor. He’s hurting. I can understand that, but this is just cruel.
Instantly, his arm swings back and he slams his closed fist into the wall behind him. “Leave!” His shout echoes throughout our little waiting room and I jolt a step away from him. Without another glance in his direction, I push through the door and launch myself out into the cold, dim hallway.
“Was that really the best f**king way you could have handled that?” Cole bellows out behind the closed door.
“I can’t believe you just did that,” I hear Quinn stammer.
When there’s no answer, Cole continues, “I had no idea there was something going on between the two of you, but she didn’t deserve that. I don’t even know who the hell you are right now.”
“If Jaxon doesn’t make it through this, I won’t even know who the hell I am!” Jace growls back.
“Shut up, Jace!” I hear Em yell. “Just shut up. Don’t you dare say that again. WHEN Jaxon makes it through this, WHEN. There’s no IF. That’s not an option,” she says in an angry tone. Before she can even finish, I hear a loud thud against the wall and a frustrated groan follows. I decide to leave now before Jace punches holes in every wall of this hospital. As I quickly stride down the hallway, the nurse we met before steps out of a room and props the door open so she can wheel a cart out.
Inside, I can see Jaxon lying on a bed. He has cords, tubes, wires, and machines hooked up to him. He looks perfectly healthy, almost as if he were only taking a nap. Everyone in that waiting room down the hall is anxious to see him and little do they know he’s only two doors away.
Quinn pushes through the door and looks around frantically. When she spots me, she quickly advances in my direction. A second later, Cole pops his head out of the door and calls out to Quinn.