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Ever since that call, I had a bad feeling…this aching, gut, feeling that life, as I knew it, was crashing. My heart pounded, so hard that it felt like it had stopped…now, I know that seems impossible, but I swear it did. Everyone parted, from the hug, but no one could look me, in the eye. The fear that ran through my veins seemed to be the only thing that kept me standing…mainly because I could no longer, even, move. My chest felt constricted, and my mouth had, long since, gone dry. The voices, around me, were jumbled, and I couldn’t make anything out until…

“Leighanne…is in a coma.” Kristin choked, on her words, her voice cracking. “She…she received…” Her tears picked up and her sentence fell short. Looking from one face, to another, none of my fears were relieved. Kevin stared at the ground, his hands shoved in his pockets, and Leigh had her face covered, as she sat back down, and cried.

“Leighanne has severe head trauma.” Howie stepped forward, his eyes meeting mine. “The truck hit them, head on, and…” I watched him take in a deep breath, and I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to see Brian and I had to see him now.

“What about Brian? Where is he? I have to see him!” I pleaded, with Howie, to tell me about my best friend. This accident…I couldn’t stop thinking, about how it was my fault. How I should have stalled a little bit longer. A few precious moments, could have made them later…then they wouldn’t have been in the accident, at all. “Please…I have to know he’s okay! Somebody, just, tell me!”

“What’s severe head trau…ma?” Baylee asked, looking around, confused. I saw Leigh stand, wiping her eyes, and walking to Baylee.

“Come on, Baylee, let’s go for a walk, and talk, okay?” Leigh sniffed, as she took his hand, leading him out, of the room. Now, that’s a bad sign, if I ever did see one.

“Nick…he…Brian, he’s…he’s gone, Nick.” Could I tell you whose voice uttered the words? Hell no. All I know is that they pierced me, like a hot knife, ripping through my ribcage. All I wanted, was for someone to tell me that he was gone…to the vending machine…to see his wife…anywhere, except that dreadful ending that I knew they were implying. He couldn’t be…no…no, he can’t.

“No…” My voice failed me, and it came out as more of a breath than anything else. Tears stung my eyes, as my knees gave out. The arms, that had been surrounding me, earlier, helped me, to a chair. I couldn’t stop my eyes, from spilling over, with painful tears. My best friend…my partner in crime…gone? Ashley knelt, before me, taking my face, in her hands. Her fingers caressed my cheeks, as she sniffed, stifling her own tears.

“He…he died…on the scene, Nick. Baby, I’m so sorry.” I couldn’t, even, look, into those amazing blue eyes that I loved so much. The pain that surged through my body carried me out of the waiting room. I couldn’t believe it…I wouldn’t…I should have stalled…it was, all, my fault! My thoughts were so random, and jumbled, that I couldn’t even piece them together. All I knew was that I had to get out of that room…and fast.

“No…no…no…” My voice grew louder, as my legs carried me down the hall. I had no destination…hell, I didn’t even know which direction I turned. Both my hands covered my head, my fingers entwining, with my hair. My legs soon wore, tired, of running and I found myself sliding down the cold hospital wall…in an unknown hallway…on a completely different wing.

My eyes were glazed over, with tears, so much that I could barely see. Uncontrollable shaking took over my body, and my head fell into my hands. How could he be gone? My breathing was, now, ragged, as my crying increased. I couldn’t control my shaking hands, as I thought over what I had, just, lost.

Brian was my life line, for so much, of my life. When I was young and missing social interaction…he was there, to play video games or basketball. He was there, to help me understand the feelings, in me, when I started crushing on girls. The early years, of touring were great, but he was there when it got, to be, too much. Anytime I needed a friend…someone to talk to…someone to listen…a shoulder to cry on…Brian was always there.

He never scolded me or told me I was dumb. Not once, did he ever roll his eyes, or get annoyed, with my venting. Brian was an understanding man…one you could lean on and turn to, if you ever had a problem. Yeah, sure, I have a ton, of other friends, but no one could compare to my best friend. He was irreplaceable and now I felt like a part, of me, had died.

My brain refused, to accept it, but my heart could feel his absence. As my tears started to run dry, I thought of my little buddy. Jumping up, I started to race, back to the waiting room. Even though I couldn’t remember the directions I had taken, earlier, I was still finding my way, back, without a problem. Had anyone told him, yet? How could I be so selfish, to not think about how he was taking this? Brian may have been my best friend, and a major part of my life…and my life will, surely, never be the same, without him, but Baylee…he had lost a parent! My heart ached, as I saw the waiting room, come into view.

“Nick!” Ashley stepped, out the door, and made her way, towards me. Her arms wrapped around me, hugging me tightly. “How are you holding up, baby?” She pulled away, to look at my face and swollen eyes.

“Not well. Has anyone told Baylee…about…his dad, yet?” I choked, on my words, tears threatening to return. Hearing the door open, I see AJ and Baylee walking out. Baylee ran, my way, as soon as he spotted me.

“He knows that his mom is sick.” Ashley was discrete, with her answer, now that Baylee was standing there. I wasn’t surprised. How do you tell an eight year old that they will never see their parents again? And who would, want to, volunteer, to do such a thing?

“Hey.” I turned to AJ’s voice, and was immediately pulled into another hug. You know…I really didn’t mind the over abundance, of hugs, today. Hell…I needed them.

“NICK….NICK! Do you know where my dad is?” Baylee looked, at me, with hopeful eyes. He was clinging to my waist, as he continued his plea. “Where’s my dad? Why won’t they tell me? Is he sick, like mom?” I looked down, at him, not sure what I was supposed to say. What words, could anyone possibly find, to tell a child that their father had died?

“Uh, guys…I’m…I’m gonna take Bay, for a walk, alright?” I swallowed the, ever growing, lump, that was settled in my throat. How I was going to do it, I wasn’t sure, but I felt that I was the best one, to break the news, to him.

“Nick…are you sure you’re going to be okay? You want me to come, too?” AJ’s voice was soaked, with concern. My eyes met his, and I knew he was worried about my emotional state. AJ knew how hard this had hit me and that I wasn’t handling it well. There was no doubt that he questioned if I could emotionally handle the loaded task, of breaking the news, of his father’s death, to Baylee.

“We’ll be okay. Thanks, J.” My nose still sniffed, and my eyes weren’t completely dry, as I gave him a brotherly hug. He patted my shoulder, giving me a reassuring smile ant then he headed, back, into the waiting room, with everyone else. I was now left standing with Baylee by my side, and Ashley still standing before me.

“I love you, Nick.” She whispered, as her hand gently touched my cheek. Before turning, back, to the waiting room, she gave me a soft kiss. I watched her leave, and then rested a hand, on Baylee’s shoulder. Our pace was slow, as we headed down the hall, toward the elevators. Not a word was said, as we stepped into the open doors. He had to know that I didn’t have good news, for him, but I doubt that he could, even begin to, imagine how bad it really was.

My heart raced, as we reached the lobby. My mind churned, looking for the words I would use, to tell him. How could I tell him, without him finding out that it was my fault? I couldn’t bare the thought, of losing him, too…but I couldn’t help, but to think that he would reject me, after learning I had practically killed his father, myself. Maybe I could find a way, for him not to figure out that tiny detail.

“Baylee…” I bit my lip, as we found a bench, in an outside patient area. There were no cameras, to worry about, and only a few, scarce, patients. A soft breeze surrounded us, in the heat of the, early, June weather. It was nearing 4 o’clock, and the sun was still shining, brightly. It seemed, to me, like storm clouds should be covering the sky, to reflect the horrible sate that I found myself in. Where were the symbolic cracks of thunder and the harsh showers, of rain…the blustery winds and flashes, of lightening?

“Will you tell me where he is, Nick? I know something’s wrong, because no one will tell me.” The poor boy’s voice was low, and it wavered, with the uncertainty that he had to be feeling, at that moment.

“Do you remember what you were taught, about heaven?” I didn’t know, of any other way, to start this conversation. This had to be the, single, most difficult, conversation that I would ever have to start. Sure, there have been difficult conversations, and situations, throughout my life…but never anything, remotely, close to the one at hand.

“Of course. There are streets of gold and pearly gates…and everyone is happy, because they get to be with Jesus. We’ve talked about it, in Sunday school.” Baylee looked up, at me, with growing curiosity. I wondered if he was starting to get any clue, as to where this talk was leading. There was no sign that he was catching on, but I hoped that I wouldn’t have to utter the exact words.

“What do your mom and dad think, about heaven?” I pressed on, wanting him to center himself, in the thoughts, of heaven. What child doesn’t want to believe that they will see their parents again, someday? Heaven provided the hope, of seeing them, once again. Even I was told, as a child, that my loved ones went to heaven, when they passed. I leaned my elbows, on my knees, looking over, at him.

“Mom says that angels are everywhere, and that no one goes hungry, or has any pain. Heaven is where people go, when they die, if they believe in Jesus. Dad always tells me that someday, I’ll get to go, to heaven, because Jesus died, for me.” His fingers twisted, over each other, and I knew he was growing more, and more, nervous. I had to get, to the point…beating around the bush wasn’t helping him, at all.

“Baylee…when…when people die…” My head dropped, into my hands, as the words caught in my throat. I couldn’t do this. I thought I could, but there was no way. There was no way that I could tell my little buddy those horrible words. Tears pricked my eyes, and I struggled not to let them fall.

“Nick?” Glancing, at him, I saw his eyes were tearing. When I found out, about Brian’s fate, I thought my heart had shattered, into a million pieces. Well…if that were so, each one, of those little pieces, was, now, breaking into a million more, tiny, fragments. If you had asked me, to explain the feelings that coursed, through my body, it wouldn’t have come out as anything more than a jumbled mess.

“Well…you know there was an accident and that’s what made your mom sick. Your dad…he um…” There was that lump, again. I swear it was cutting off the oxygen, to the rest, of my body. I couldn’t breathe, as a tear escaped down my cheek, and my body felt numb. Just tell him, Nick. Damnit! My hands were shaking, again, as my palms went clammy. Every inch, of me, felt a pain that I wasn’t used to feeling…it was a different kind of pain…a kind of pain that I wouldn’t wish, upon my worst enemy.

“Is…is my dad…” Baylee’s voice cracked, as he turned his gaze, to the grass. He was putting it together, but I had to finish it, for him. I had to tell him where his father was. Drawing in a deep breath, I prepared myself. This was it. I had to say those nasty words that I didn’t want to face…a phrase that I would give anything, to change. My heart pounded, so hard, that I wouldn’t have been surprised, if Baylee could hear it. Tears were settling, in the corners, of my eyes, threatening to stream, down my cheeks.

“Your dad…he…he went to see Jesus, today.” As soon as the words left my mouth, we were, both, in tears…tears that flowed strongly. Not only was it hard, for me, to face Brian’s death, but the sobs, from the boy, next to me, tore me apart. My chest tightened, as I wrapped my arms around the, now, shaking boy. Is it possible to die, from grief? I only ask, because I felt like I was dying, at that moment. My world was, indeed, crashing…and now Baylee’s was, too.

“But…but…my dad is…supposed to be here…for me!” His wails pierced me, giving my skin goose bumps, and sending more pain, through my veins. I didn’t know how to begin consoling him. Were there even words that could accomplish that task? If there are…I knew I wouldn’t be able to find them.

“I know, Bay…I know…” I rocked, back and forth, gently, with him clinging to my side…his arms wrapped, around my waist. My fingers stroked, over his, messy, blond curls, trying to offer any kind, of comfort. His breathing was ragged, as was mine, and his tears soaked my shirt.

“I want my dad!” His voice was strained, and full of so many emotions…I could relate to almost every one, of them. There was a ripping sense, of loss, and a new void that would never be filled, again. Life can be so cruel and unfair…to make a little boy continue on, without his father.

“I’m so sorry, Bay.” I hugged him tighter, not wanting to let him go. I wasn’t sure if he really needed me…but I know that, at that moment, I needed him. How long we sat there, was a mystery, to me. I do know that our tears had run dry, before we even thought, about moving. He stayed in my arms, and I continued to hold on, to him, even after our tears had reduced, to sniffles.

When we, finally, stood, I wiped his tears stains, with my thumbs. Running my fingers through his curls, I made them presentable, again. Using my sleeve, I wiped away my own tear stains, before we took each others hand. We silently began the journey, back to the waiting room.
Chapter End Notes:
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