"Slow down, Baylee!" Nick called as he moved sluggishly forward, watching as the young child sprinted ahead of him, soft blonde curls flopping in the light breeze that whirled around them. He couldn't understand how the boy could be so full of energy when neither of them had slept much of any the night before. While Baylee awoke every couple of hours begging for his father, Nick had attempted dozing off and on for an hour until he finally gave up and spent the rest of the duration of the night lying on his back in the dark, wondering if he would receive a phone call telling him the inevitable they all feared. Nick thanked God that phone call never rang, but it still didn't ease his nerves as he allowed Baylee out of bed around 6:45 in the morning, knowing it would be pure torture to continue forcing the child to remain in bed once he was fully awake. After fixing a simple breakfast that neither showed an ounce of interest towards, Nick got the both of them showered and cleaned and on a quick route towards the hospital. Now he found himself trying to keep up with the small boy who was overly anxious to see his father as they made their way to the automatic entrance doors.
"C'mon Uncle Nick! I wanna see my daddy!" Baylee screamed back over his shoulder, pressing his body forward as quickly as his tiny legs would carry him. When he realized Nick wasn't moving any faster, he whipped back around and chased back towards his uncle, his light brows set in a deep crease. He reached for Nick's hand and latched on tightly, pulling him forward with urgency."You're too slow, Uncle Nick!"
"So?" Nick challenged, allowing Baylee to pull him along as he gazed up at the towering hospital. He'd always held a major distaste towards hospitals, and avoided them when at all possible. He would have rather been anywhere but where he was at that very moment, given that his best friend wasn't somewhere inside that building possibly dying or already dead. Nick frowned, seeing the sparkle of innocence radiate from Baylee's eyes as the child looked at him, unaware of anything bad that was possibly going on. When Nick thought about it, he was just as much left in the dark about what was going on as Baylee was. Though for Baylee, it was better to leave it that way for the time being.
"It means you are old!" Baylee chided.
"I'm only twenty seven!" Nick argued.
"Well I'm four!" Baylee fired, his nose scrunched upwards as the pair stopped just short of the entrance doors, both hesitating in their own way.
"What does you being four have to do with anything?" Nick asked.
"It means...I'm not old like you!"
"You will be someday."
"I'll still be faster then you!"
Nick sighed, allowing a small crooked smile to form on his lips for the child's sake. "Let's just go inside, alright? We'll find out where your Daddy is hiding at," he suggested, giving a small tug on Baylee's hand and the two of them walked out of the heat and stepped into the air conditioned interior of the building. Nick looked around briefly, noting a few curious stares from innocent bystanders as he walked up to the information desk. A lone old man reading a tattered page of the sports section from the local newspaper glanced up from the paper and smiled softly at Nick and Baylee. "I'm sorry for bothering you, sir, but I was wondering if you could help me?" Nick asked quietly, keeping his tone low in hopes of not drawing any unwanted attention in their direction.
"Well son, that is what I am here for," the man answered, with a broader genuine smile as he lowered the paper and folded his hands atop the counter. "What is it I can help you with?"
Nick opened his mouth to answer, but Baylee pushed into him, standing on the tips of his toes in an effort to see over the surface of the counter top. "My daddy is hiding in here somewhere!" he interrupted, his bottom lip quivering. "I don't know where he's at and I want to find him!"
"My friend was brought in here sometime yesterday afternoon," Nick explained in a near whisper. "We're here to see him, but I haven't the slightest clue what direction to head. I'm not sure what floor he's on or exactly what he was brought in here for."
The man nodded. "And what is your friend's name?"
"Bwian Littwell!" Baylee answered, once more interrupting before Nick could get a single word in. "Do you know where my daddy is hiding, mister?"
"I'm going to check right now," the man answered with a warm smile and slid his chair over to the computer at his right. He tapped the keyboard for several seconds, peering at the screen in concentration, before tapping the glass and sliding back over to Nick and Baylee. "I think I may just know where your daddy is hiding at, kiddo," he said and glanced up at Nick. "The system is showing your friend is currently admitted on the ICU floor. You'll want to take the elevator to your left up to the fifth level. After you step out of the elevator, take an immediate right and you will see a set of double doors. Go through those and you will find the nurses station. They'll be able to help you more there."
"Thank you for your help, Tom," Nick nodded, eyeing the man's name tag wearily. He looked down at Baylee who stared at him expectantly. "C'mon, Bay. Lets go find your dad."
Howie allowed his eyes to wander around the bare waiting room, his body slumping in the uncomfortable hard back chair he sat in. A small tv mounted in the corner wall to his right played a repeating weather report on low volume. More high temperatures were due to come their way in the next several days and that's all he had heard. He'd stopped paying attention long before. Exhaustion was wreaking havoc on every nerve in his body, yet he still wouldn't allow himself the sleep he knew he needed. He wasn't sure he could sleep even if he tried. His mind was running on over drive as he kept going over Kevin's words as if they were the first time he had heard them. He didn't want to believe a single thing his friend had said, but the conviction in Kevin's voice had been too strong and the tears too obvious. Howie knew Kevin would never dream of fabricating such a horrible tale about someone they all cared about so much, especially when it was Kevin's own cousin.
Kevin had voluntarily become a mute since returning to the waiting room the previous night. Visiting hours has since passed, leaving niether Howie nor AJ the chance to see their ailing friend. They were left waiting to suffer through out the night, wondering what all could happen in the hours to pass. Kevin refused to say a further word. Brian's condition seemed to have affected him more then any of them could understand. Then again, how could it not affect any of them. Their friend was dying and it seemed there was not a thing any one of them could do about it.
"I'm going down to the cafeteria for something to eat," AJ spoke, breaking the silence like a hammer slamming down on a sheet of glass. He frowned as Howie visibly jumped in his seat and glanced in his direction. "You want me to bring you anything back, D?"
"No, I'll be fine," Howie answered, watching as AJ launched himself from his seat. He could see past the line of defenses AJ was attempting to put up. His friend wasn't hungry, Howie knew this much because none of them could stomach anything at the moment. AJ was doing what he always did in rough situations, which was running off alone to collect whatever emotions he was losing grasp of. Howie doubted AJ would return with any item of food or drink.
"You want anything, Kev?" AJ called, however Kevin remained as silent and still as he had been since the last time he had spoken a single word. He lay sprawled out on the only padded bench in the room, his hands linked atop his stomach and his eyes closed to portray sleep. They knew he wasn't sleeping, though. AJ sighed and left the room without a further word.
He stepped out into the empty hall, only to find himself hit with a wave of silence that sent shivers down the entire length of his spine. He looked in both directions before finally moving to his left. He didn't care where he ended up at at that moment. Anywhere but sitting aimlessly back in that room seemed better, and more comforting. AJ hated sitting still when he was troubled. Not keeping himself busy only intesified the situation and made the emotions that accompanied feel even heavier. There was no room to breathe and he was feeling rather suffocated. He needed out. Where he went right then, he couldn't have cared less.
AJ stopped short a step, hearing the shrill child's voice call out to him, halting him in his path. He slowly turned, just in time to keep himself steady as Brian's son came barreling into him at full force. AJ felt himself taken aback as Baylee latched his arms around his legs tightly, so much so that at any other time, he might have cried out had he not already been physically numb from all of the emotions tumbling through every inch of his body. "Hey kiddo," he finally replied, pulling himself from a silent stupor to keep from traumatizing the child further by not saying a word. "Nick."
Nick finally walked up to him, his eyes narrowed as he watched AJ lower himself to Baylee's level and the two embraced. "I really hate to say it, considering the present situation, but you know what? To put it lightly, I am slightly ticked off that nobody bothered to call me last night," he answered in an uneven tone as he crossed his arms over his chest.
"We're sorry, Nick, but you have to understand-" AJ began to reply.
"You're sorry?" Nick hissed. "I was worried sick last night! And how can I understand a single thing, AJ? Because you guys never even called!"
AJ forced himself to stand, carefully keeping a tight hold on Baylee in his arms. He stared at Nick, his vision blurring ever so slightly as an uncomfortable rush of tears pooled into the corners of his eyes. He could see the question shining in the blonde's eyes, and the desperation in his demeanor to know what was going on with their brother. "It's his heart, Nicky..." he whispered, hugging Baylee tighter. The child seemed to just cling to him.
"Uncle AJ...I wanna see my daddy," Baylee murmured.
"I know you do, Ace. I promise you will be able to soon."
"What do mean it's his heart, AJ?" Nick demanded, his voice waivering. He hated the way AJ's dark eyes were glossing over, causing a sickening feeling to dive deep into the pit of his stomach and his intestines to twist into painfully tight knots. As much as he felt he already knew, he wasn't so sure he wanted to hear the answer anymore.
"Kevin knows more about it then I do," AJ lied, looking away for a moment. He glanced back at Nick. "He spoke with the doctor and he saw Brian. B's not doing good, Nicky...that's all I know."
"W-well...where's Kevin a-and Howie?" Nick stuttered.
"Waiting-room," AJ answered shortly and silently motioned for Nick to follow him, all the while wondering what lay ahead in the day for them and to where it would lead.
Kevin felt like one of the worst people on earth at that moment. He still couldn't keep the image of Baylee's look of contempt towards him from being burned into his mind as the child came bursting into the waiting room with AJ and Nick in tow, immediately hurrying over to Kevin's side and demanding words. Baylee had pestered him for his attention and begged to see his father until Kevin could ignore him not a minute more. Finally he opened his eyes to see Baylee's troubled expression and snapped. He had told the child to quiet down and not be so bothersome, which had struck the small boy with confusion until finally Baylee broke into a wail of sobs that nobody else in the room seemed to be able to tame. Taken aback by his own stupidity and lack of sympathy towards everyone else who was affected by all that was going on, Kevin stood up and silently excused himself from the room, ignoring the icy glares of disappointment both Howie and AJ shot in his direction.
It wasn't that he was incapable of soothing the child and calming his worst fears, Kevin just didn't believe that he would have enough emotional strength for the both of them. Kevin didn't know where to turn. This had all come about unexpectedly and left him unable to know just how to react. His mind was tearing him in all mental directions. His whole body ached and he felt so emotionally drained, that he wanted to just stopping walking and lay on the ground at that very spot. He wanted to curl into a tight ball, ignore the world, and hope that maybe, just maybe, all the pain would go away. He'd already tried to refuse believing it was happening at all. Failing at convincing himself made him hurt all that much more.
He'd walked aimlessly throughout the halls of the ICU floor for over an hour after abandoning his friends in the waiting room. He wanted to be alone, yet he had no idea exactly what he was doing. Kevin felt like he was going absolutely insane as he made multiple circles around the floor and finally found himself stepping out of the elevator and into the hospital lobby on the main floor. It remained partially deserted, considering the hour was still early. Even so, Kevin kept his sight focused downward towards the floor and hurried out through the automatic revolving doors.
The blazing sun hit his face like an uncountable number of microscopic needles poking at his skin. He could already feel beads of perspiration forming along the hairline of his forehead, but he ignored the intense heat and trudged along the light grey paved sidewalk. It was a wonder that nobody had spotted him in recognition, because Kevin knew word traveled fast when it came to everything that was happening. The fact that things still remained quiet at least allowed his mind to stay troubled single handedly with the problem at bay.
Feeling the breath slowly escaping his lungs and his legs feeling heavier with each new step he took, Kevin collapsed upon a small wooden bench and lowered his head into his hands with a stiffled sob of despair. "Your cousin is dying, Mr. Richardson. His heart is failing." Dr. Henrich's voice echoed in his ears. It wasn't possible, he tried to reason. Brian was completely healthy. He lived, for the most part, a healthy lifestyle. He had become health conscious when it came to what he chose to eat and his activities on a day to day basis. He kept fit. Brian was healthy and that's what Kevin kept trying to reason in his mind. His heart wasn't supposed to be failing. The doctors were supposed to have fixed his heart years ago when he had to have that surgery. It was meant to be a guarantee. So how could they have been so terribly wrong? How could nobody have known? Kevin let the trembles roll through his body and his foot to tap nervously against the pavement once again.
Deep in thought, he never heard the double set of approaching foot steps until a strong hand gripped his shoulder, and a soothing, familiar voice sliced through the warm morning air. "Kevin?"
Kevin looked up to find his uncle towering over him, his kind eyes downcast and his mouth set in a deep frown. "Uncle Harold," Kevin mustered quietly. He looked to Harold's left and saw Jackie Littrell clutching to her husband's side, tears of concern sparkling in her bright eyes.
"What are you doing out here all alone?" Harold questioned, holding out his hand to help Kevin stand. He pulled his nephew in for a tight embrace.
"I needed the fresh air," Kevin answered, his voice barely projecting.
Jackie pulled Kevin from Harold arms and offered her own warm hug, although seeing the worry and exhaustion in both their eyes made Kevin even more sick to his stomach. "How is my son?" she whispered, her voice faltering. Neither knew the extent to which their son had fallen ill. Howie didn't know when they had placed the call. But mothers always seemed to have an instinct when it came to their child's well being and Jackie seemed to know at that instant that something was terribly wrong.
Kevin felt the breath catch in his throat. "Aunt Jackie..."
"How bad is it? Howie wasn't able to tell us much when he called. Just said my baby had collapsed and was rushed to the hospital," Jackie rambled, grasping her husband's hand as she let go of Kevin.
"He...he's not doing so well..." Kevin forced himself to answer.
"What is it, Kevin?" Harold pressed.
"I-It's his heart."