Deeper(6)

By: Jennifer Michael


Without thought, I take her hand, and Aria directs me back to the bed. I sit, my eyes fixed on the floor. Everything just shuts down. My mind goes blank, and my body barely functions. I sit and wait for my next direction.

“Rylan, I’ll be right back. Stay here, and I’ll come right back for you.” Aria’s words barely register.

I sit—not because she told me to, but because I’m not sure I can do anything else. Mom follows Aria out of my bedroom.

Then, I’m alone. Alone in the bedroom I grew up in. The room Dad would come into and check on me late at night, a place that has always been safe and comforting. It doesn’t feel like either right now. It doesn’t feel like anything.

Numbness has taken over the pain that I wished away. This emptiness is so much worse.

I attempt to rid myself of the nothingness.

I stand, and robotically, my feet move, leaving my bedroom. I take the stairs slowly, averting my eyes from the kitchen. I can’t bear not to see him sitting at the table, waiting for me. Aria’s mom’s voice comes from that direction, and I know that’s where they all are.

Once down the stairs, I turn and face a closed door. One foot moves over the other, and I continue forward. My hand twists the doorknob, and once the latch clicks, I can’t move fast enough. I need to be closer to him. I need my dad. Quietly, I shut the door behind me and take a deep breath. The smell that hits me is all wrong as I continue closer with fresh tears cascading over the dried wakes of tears already lost. I reach the side of the bed and see his face.

He’s my dad, the man who has taken care of me my entire life. He’s my home.

I sit next to him on the bed, and my hands shake as I reach for his. He looks peaceful, like he’s only sleeping, but never once in my life have I woken up before him.

Sirens wail in the distance, getting closer.

“Daddy?”

He doesn’t stir like I expect him to.

“It’s me, Rylan.”

Nothing. Not one movement of his chest or flutter of his eyes. It’s then that I notice how stiff his hand is in mine. He isn’t asleep, despite how peaceful he looks.

“I don’t know how to live in my world without you. Please don’t leave me.” But, deep down, I know he’s already gone.

The sirens grow louder as the bedroom door opens, and without looking, I know it’s Aria. Best friends have that sort of ability.

Her presence and strength fill the room as her hand grips my shoulder. “Come on. We have to go, Rylan.”

She urges me away from Dad, and my heart breaks into a million and one pieces. I can’t leave him. This can’t be the last time I see his face. This can’t be my last moment with him. I can’t let him go.

Clinging to his hand, I ask my dad for something he can’t give me. It’s rare that he doesn’t give me something I want, but this is beyond his control. “Please wake up, Dad. Please!” My voice rises in pitch and volume. “Get up! I need you to wake up. Don’t leave me. You can’t be gone. This can’t be happening.”

Aria can’t hold back her emotion any longer, and she shudders in a breath before a whimper leaves her lips.

“Please, Daddy, wake up!”

His hand is cold and lifeless in mine, and I hold it tighter, trying to warm it up like he used to do for me when I was little and it was cold out.

Red and blue lights flash outside my parents’ bedroom window.

“Rylan, please don’t do this to yourself. We need to go,” she begs while attempting to pull me away.

“Wait!”

Her struggle against me stops, and I straighten my back for the finality that’s coming. I lean down and kiss Dad’s forehead. His skin feels strange against my lips.

“Good-bye,” I whisper.

Aria rushes me from the house, and I let her drag me along, not caring where we are going or that I’m barefoot and in my pajamas. My mind shuts down to protect itself from reality. It’s easier to simply follow Aria’s directions. EMTs rush by me on our way out, and a flutter of hope soars through me that maybe they’ll be able to save him. Dad was the picture of perfect health. He bugged me yesterday about going on his eight-mile run with him. I was too busy with my homework.