Seeing my parents sitting by my bed quietly only surprises me for a moment before I remember James's decision. My mom's blonde hair is in a tight French braid down her back and her eyes show none of the remorse that they held only a couple of days before. My dad is nervously wringing his hands, but he is trying to avoid looking at my sleeping form.
"Mom, dad," I begin to say, but an old-fashioned ring tone interrupts me.
Dad fishes in his jean's pocket for his cell phone and I see the slightly visible vein on his forehead that is a sign of a headache that he must be experiencing.
"I thought you turned that off in here," mom snaps and I flinch, remembering their all-too familiar fights. "God, you're daughter is in here and you can't even take time off from work."
Dad ignores mom and frowns down at the number.
"What is it?" mom says, the angry undertone of her voice slowly fading. "What's going on?"
"The number," dad surveys it once more before answering it. "Hello?"
I watch dad's face go from confusion to shock, then to fearful as he stutters that they'll be right there to whoever is speaking to him.
"Yes, of course," he says quietly, his face paler than I had ever seen it before. He stands up and ends the call. "We have to go."
"Why?" mom is standing up now, her attention fully away from me. "Who was that?"
Dad looks back at my bed once more before muttering, "This wasn't right Victoria."
I close my eyes and inhale a heavy breath. "James."
He grabs mom's hand and starts pulling her towards the door. "It's James," he says finally, echoing my thoughts. "He's been in an accident. They have him in the Intensive Care Unit."
Mom instantly goes slack and I watch in horror as dad easily leads her out of my room and down towards the ICU.
Moments later, I am following my parents past crying families and coughing children. I try in vain to not look at the elderly people wheezing or overprotective fathers arguing at the counter for assistance. As we pass these scenes of distress, we meet a tall, dark haired female doctor standing at the entrance of the ICU seemingly waiting for us.
"Mr and Mrs Fragil?" her voice is thick with an English accent. When my parents both nod, she smiles grimly at them. "This way please."
"I never knew he would do this," I say bleakly. "I never thought he blamed himself."
Mom's face is blotchy and the tears are falling silently as my dad guides her by her elbow. I never thought I would see my parents like this.
The signs around us are disturbingly blood red and I can see various ghostly faces staring back at me, some mumbling amongst each other. A little boy with fiery red hair stands in front of us and he looks up into the ceiling before disappearing. Soon after in a room nearby, the loud crying of a woman can be heard.
This is the dead-end, the last stop for those unwilling to die.
"So, I must warn you," the doctor instructs as we stop in front of two large double doors. "He is in a critical state."
"Oh my god," my mom manages before bursting into heart-wrenching tears.
"Wait," dad takes over, putting a hand up as if trying to stop the doctor in her steps. "What do you mean? How serious was this accident?"
"Unfortunately, we just brought him in so we aren't exactly sure yet," she sighs. "But we did find high levels of alcohol in his blood and he has some severe internal injuries so, I am sincerely sorry, but at this point it could go either way."
I don't stay around to see my parents collapse. Instead, I walk through the emergency room double doors. There are multiple doctors wearing scrubs and face masks working on the body of my brother. He is so bruised and cut up that I barely recognize him. His blond hair is tinted a haunting red from the cut on his forehead and his chest is very slowly rising up and down.
"We gotta work faster guys," a man says to the crowd of medical staff. "We're losing him here."
I close my eyes and let the pain overtake me as the sound of his heart flat-lining on one of the machines fills the room like a heavy curtain. "Crap," another doctor says, "let's go, let's go."
"Vic?" His voice shocks my eyes open and I look beside me. My brother is standing there, confused, but obviously happy to see me. "You're okay?"
I shake my head slowly, amazed at what I'm seeing. "I don't know," I look back down at my dying brother. "But I know that you're not."
"Are you dead?" he asks, almost eagerly.
"No," I bite my lower lip and try to not see my brother's ghostly self. "But I don't think I'm exactly alive either."
My brother places his hand on me and his touch sends a storm of sadness through me. "I want to stay with you, the world out there isn't the same Vic."
"I can't go back."
"You can't stay here," I gulp. "You'll die."
"But you're not dead!"
I clench my teeth at his anger. "Not yet, at least."
He removes his hand and I look over at him. His brow is furrowed and his mouth is set into a rigid line. "Why is it like this? Why did you hate us so much?"
I scoff at him, realizing what he is saying. "I didn't hate any of you," he looks at me with disbelief in his blue eyes. "I didn't. I hated myself."
"Why? You were perfect."
"No James, I wasn't."
"Right," he says, not meeting my gaze. "You know, you left me alone with mom, Leah and dad. Do you know how bad that is?"
He laughs without any humour. "You know, the usual," he finally meets my eyes and I can see the annoyance in them. "They pretend like nothing is wrong and eventually they'll think that nothing will be wrong."
Just then the doors open and mom enters frantically, followed by dad whose face shows his inner distress. They watch with fear as the doctors arrange themselves around James to start their resuscitation routine.
I watch them use the machines that I'd seen so many times in t.v shows and films. The doctors' voices become blurred as they charge up their equipment. My mom's cries fall into the background as dad yanks her from the room.
"You can't stay here," I tell James, whose frozen in place watching the doctors working so frantically around him. "You have to go back."
"I can't leave you here," he mumbles.
"Clear!" one of the doctors yells loudly and presses his electrified equipment against my brother's bloody chest. His back arches from the energy that revs through his body.
"Yes you can," I explain. "I have to be here until it's time for me to go."
He smiles weakly. "Where would you go?"
"Well," I shrug. "That depends."
He studies me slowly and I can see that his eyes are becoming glassy. "I miss you."
"I know," I say softly. "I've seen you when you visit. I miss you too."
He lets out a shudder as the doctors hit him again with the electricity. "I guess I should go back."
"Yeah, they need you right now."
"Will I see you again?"
I look down at my bare feet, wondering the same thing. "I don't know, maybe."
"Clear!" the doctor shouts once more and after a body jolting surge of electricity the heart monitor finally catches a beat.
"That's me then," my brother says sadly. "I'll see you when I see you."
I watch him slowly fade and suddenly remember something. "James!" he looks at me quizzically, his body slowly growing more faint. "It wasn't your fault."
He smiles at me and disappears, leaving me alone once more.