Four year old Baylee Littrell stared down at the pair of dark sunglasses he held in his tiny hands. AJ had said they were magic and promised him that if he felt even the least bit scared, all he would have to do is put them on and he would become invisible, then nothing would be able to hurt him or scare him anymore. Baylee didn't believe him though. AJ just didn't want to hear him cry anymore. But the offering had been enough to turn Baylee's tears from a steady stream into small quiet whimpers. He had every reason to be scared. Kevin had yelled at him then disappeared, Nick was suddenly very upset, AJ hardly said a word, and Howie had left long before to find where Kevin had run off to. But even more traumatizing to the child was still not knowing where his father was and the fact that nobody seemed willing to tell him.
Baylee didn't like the room they had stuck him in. The stark white walls were plain and uncomforting. The chair he sat on was hard and it hurt his bottom. It was nothing like his father's favorite plush recliner at home; the one they would sit in together and read stories before he was tucked into bed at night. Baylee sniffled quietly and brought the sunglasses up to his face, hoping maybe, just maybe his Uncle AJ was right.
Off to his left, Nick let loose of an obnoxious snore; Baylee looked over. The older man hadn't moved an inch since falling asleep on the bench nearly thirty minutes before. Pushing the glasses further up his nose, he looked across the room to his right. AJ stood at the large window, looking out, with his back facing the child's direction. Baylee hated being alone and both of the men in the room were ignoring him. He wanted his daddy and somehow he knew neither would be of any help in helping him find him. Slipping quietly from the chair, Baylee backed towards the door, holding his breath and trying to keep his feet from making any sound against the tiled flooring. He hesitated as AJ cleared his throat roughly, but remained still, never turning. When Baylee felt the heels of his shoes come in contact with the heavy wooden door behind him, he spun around, tugged it open, and slipped silently into the hall.
The hall was even more frightening then the room had been. The space was smaller and he couldn't see a single thing at either end. Tentatively he started to inch down the hall to his right. Numerous doors lined the wall on either side of him, but they all remained closed. Silence was a dense fog that blanketed the hallway and his imagination began to run wild. He could picture monsters of all sorts ready to jump out at him from behind every door and he almost yelped, quickly scurrying along. "Wan' my daddy..." Baylee murmured, tugging at the hem of his t-shirt. He didn't like how there seemed to be no other adults around and that was never a good sign.
At the end of the hall, he found that it split in two opposite directions. He listened carefully, hearing a faint echo of several distinctive voices coming from a spot down the hall to his left. Baylee took off quickly, the soles of his shoes slapping loudly against the shiny tiled flooring. It was only seconds later that he burst into a circular opening and collided directly with a very tall man he didn't recognize.
"Whoa there little guy," the man smiled soothingly and lowered himself to Baylee's level. "Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"I-I dunno..." Baylee stuttered, clearly shaken from the sudden contact.
"Well, where are your mommy and daddy?" the man asked.
"I dunno...my daddy is here somewheres, but I can't find him," Baylee whimpered, and a few stray tears slipped from beneath the rim of the sunglasses and slid down his reddened cherubic cheeks.
"Now, now...there's no reason to cry," the man answered. His eyes were a deep comforting blue, just like Baylee's father's eyes, reminding Baylee of the same look his father would give him whenever he was hurt or upset. "We'll get you taken care of. Can you tell me your name first?"
"B-but Daddy told me to n-never talk to strangers..."
"And your daddy sounds like a very smart man. But if you knew what my name was, I wouldn't be as much of a stranger anymore, now would I?"
"Are you a doctor?"
"I sure am. My name is Dr. Henrich-"
The little boy's ears perked up at the sudden familiar voice that pierced the air. He whipped around and took off running towards three figures that had appeared and were now moving quickly down the hallway. "Nana! Papa!" Baylee cried out and barreled into the three people, throwing his arms around the only woman's legs and begging to be picked up.
The woman quickly obliged and pulled the child up into her arms, hugging him tightly. "Oh sweetheart...what are you doing out here all alone?" she questioned softly, smoothing the soft blonde curls atop his head. She removed the sunglasses from his face to look deep into his charismatic eyes.
"I was trying to find Daddy!" Baylee sniffled. "But I can't find him, Nana! ...And Uncle Kevin yelled at me!"
"Mr. and Mrs. Littrell I presume?" Dr. Henrich asked as he moved tentatively towards them.
Harold stepped forward, offering his hand for a friendly shake. "I'm Harold Littrell and this is my wife Jackie."
"Good," Dr. Henrich responded with a tight nod. He gave a short glance in Kevin's direction before returning his attention back to the Littrells. "Mr. Richardson informed me yesterday that the two of you would be arriving sometime this morning. I'm Dr. Henrich, your son's primary physician."
"How is our son doing?" Harold asked, wrapping his arm tightly around Jackie's waist.
"Well, that is what I wish to speak with you about in private if I could borrow the two of you for a few moments."
"Certainly," Harold agreed and turned to his wife and grandchild. He pressed a light kiss against Baylee's warm forehead and looked to Kevin. "Would you mind taking Baylee to the waiting room? I don't believe it would be in his best interest to-"
"No, Nana! I wanna stay with you and Papa!" Baylee cried out suddenly the moment Kevin's hands tried to pry his small frame from his grandmother's grasp. He screamed out in utter agony, fearful of being torn away and seperated once more from someone who made him feel safe and loved. He was scared of being abandoned all over again. "No! Stay with Nana and Papa! Wanna find Daddy!"
"Soon, Bubba. Soon," Harold whispered, aiding his nephew in removing the child from Jackie's arms, who was left standing there with unshed tears in her soulful eyes.
"Nana! Papa! No!"
"Mr. and Mrs. Littrell...? If you'll follow me this way?" Dr. Henrich interrupted, suggesting the direction with a motion of his head. Harold gripped his wife's hand and they stepped after Dr. Henrich, into his wake, away from the echoing screams of their distraught grandchild.
Jackie Littrell held a hand to her chest and a hand to her abdomen as she followed a few short steps behind Dr. Henrich. Her eyes remained trained soley on the floor before her, her vision misty from the tears that wouldn't stop falling. Her whole body felt numb, although distinctively she could feel her soul aching worse then she could have ever imagined. The hall they were traveling on the ICU floor seemed never ending. They had already passed countless doors, all of which she wondered if her ailing son was hidden behind one of them. But they hadn't stopped yet, causing Jackie's heart to pound against her ribcage. Her head swam with thoughts and unimaginable horrors. She was having a hard time comprehending the words Dr. Henrich had spoken to her and her husband minutes ago in the small conference room. It seemed she wasn't the only one in that room who was having a hard time understanding everything the doctor had explained to them. Harold had grown eerily silent, his facial features withdrawn and his eyes dark, vacant of the spark that always held her attention and attracted her love.
Her youngest son, her baby was dying. She reviewed the information in her head with each numb step she took, fumbling inch by inch. His heart was failing and would continue to fail until it stopped working all together, unless by some miracle they could find a donor. But upon those very words, Dr. Henrich's face had fallen solomn and grim. He didn't even have to say it; they all knew what the chances of such a thing happening were. It was a miracle they needed and Jackie began to pray, but the light in her heart seemed to grow dim as each second passed and brought her closer to seeing her son.
Dr. Henrich stopped abruptly and turned to face the torn woman. He took a deep breath and rested a gentle hand on her upper left arm, knowing the torment going through her mind. He had seen it countless times over his medical career and had experienced it personally on several occasions in his lifetime. As much as he tried to avoid becoming attached to his patients and their families, he knew well enough when it was appropriate to sympathize. "This is your son's room," he spoke softly,"I must apologize though, Mrs. Littrell. Brian is unaware of anything that I have told you and your husband. The anesthesia used during the surgery was strong and I suspect he is still feeling the effects of that, on top of recovering from the massive heart attack he experienced yesterday. I have been unsuccessful so far in catching him in a conscious state. He may or may not be conscious when you go in to see him, which I recommend not to be taken discouragingly. I just wanted to make sure you were well aware of this. Right now I am going to make several rounds I have yet to get to, then I will stop back around and we'll see about me sitting down with you, your husband, and your son to discuss our options."
"I understand," Jackie whispered.
"Just try to remain strong, Mrs. Littrell." And with that, Dr. Henrich offered a sympathetic smile and hurried away, flipping open a seperate patient's chart that he had been holding amidst a pile in his hands the entire time.
Jackie drew in a deep breath and reached out to place an unsteady grip on the door handle. She closed her eyes, exhaling, and twisted the handle down. Hearing it click, she pressed forward and stepped into the room. The door squealed shut quietly behind her as Jackie paused briefly to stare at the sight ahead of her. It was a sight unlike any she had ever been faced with, and one she had hoped to never have to see, at least when it came to one of her sons. "Oh Brian..." she murmured, moving forward and taking a seat in the chair that had already been placed beside his bed.
His face was so ghastly pale that it sickened her very core. The trauma his body had experienced was all too evident in his fragile appearance.
Jackie watched her son's chest rise and fall with each labored breath he took and the way he seemed to be engulfed within the bed he lay in. It was like seeing her son in the same state he had been in with the close brush with death he had had as a child so many years before. Tears stung at the corners of her eyes as she reached out to grasp her son's hand, shivering at the coldness of his skin. Jackie gave it a tight squeeze. He was so cold to the touch and it worried her. It seemed the ashen tone of his skin seemed to get worse by the minute and all she could think of was the fact that he looked as if he were already no longer living. The only thing that convinced her otherwise was seeing his chest continue to rise and fall and the heart monitor beeping steadily, although there was a slight fluctuation with every few beats.
Jackie sighed and moved her other hand up to rest against her son's cheek. It felt nearly as cold as his hand did and was rather clammy to the touch. However the moment hand and cheek came in contact, a soft moan escaped his lips. It was so quiet and nearly inaudiable, that Jackie almost didn't hear it. "M-Mom?" Brian whispered, his eyes fluttering lightly under their lids. He slowly cocked his head to the side and Jackie found herself staring into the set of baby blues she had fallen in love with from the first time she had held him in her arms. Although now, his orbs were only a shadow of their former light, clouded over and confused.
"Hey sweetheart," Jackie replied with a warm smile.
Brian offered a lopsided smile in return and leaned his cheek further into his mother's touch. "Hi..." he mustered, closing his eyes for a brief moment before looking back at his mother again. "What...what are you doing here?" he asked softly.
"Howie called your father and I yesterday and said you had collapsed and were in the hospital," Jackie explained to her son as she smoothed the sweaty hair away from his forehead.
"It's just the flu and exhaustion..." Brian mumbled. "I think Howie may have exaggerated a little. You didn't have to fly all the way out here to see me. I'm a big boy..."
Jackie smiled, noting the attempt at humor in her son's voice. It sounded so weak though and her smile didn't last long. Instead it was quickly replaced with a frown of concern. "You could have been brought in 'cause you scraped your knee and needed stitches and I probably would have still flown out to see you. It's called a mother's concern."
"Is Dad here too?"
"He is... He's in the waiting room with your son right now. Baylee was terribly upset when we arrived. We actually found him at the nurses' station by himself. He was talking to your doctor and trying to find out where you were..."
"Knew Kev shouldn't have trusted Nick to watch him."
"Now don't be so quick to pass judgement," Jackie chided her son lightly, even though it was far less then heartfelt. "Baylee is very imaginative and creative. He reminds me all too well of a certain little boy I once raised."
Brian fell silent, pondering his mother's statement. "Touche," he replied with a smirk. "I want to see Baylee."
"And he wants to see you," Jackie agreed softly. "Your father will bring him in to see you a little later."
"Is he ok?"
Jackie smiled. Even though her son was extremely weak and couldn't hide that fact even if he tried, he was still more concerned about everyone else but himself, especially when it came to the well being of his own child. "Naturally he's upset...but you know how he loves his papa."
"Of course...when papa is around...it's like 'Daddy who?'" Brian smirked and rested his eyes closed once more. He sighed and trembled visibly, tugging weakly at the blankets to find more warmth.
Jackie frowned. "What's wrong sweetheart?"
"Well, just try to rest right now and I will go find you more blankets. Then when your doctor comes in, you can get something to take care of the pain," Jackie told him quietly, watching his breathing even out the slightest. She wasn't even sure if he had heard a single word she had just said; he was already sleeping again. But she leaned up and placed a gentle kiss upon his forehead. "Just be here when I get back..." she whispered, then turned to leave the room.
"Papa?" Baylee murmured quietly, burrowing himself further into his grandfather's arms. He sighed with content when Harold tightened his embrace in return. Glancing upward to meet his grandfather's stare, Baylee's lips curled into a tiny pout. His brows furled in a sad concentration. "Why is Daddy hiding from me? 'Cause he's mad?"
Harold's heart sank low in his chest as the child's words echoed in his ears. He hugged Baylee tighter, only imagining how difficult it was for the child to try to understand what was happening to his father. "No Bubba, your daddy could never be mad at you. And he's not hiding," Harold explained softly, smoothing the child's curls. "He's just napping. His doctor told him to-"
"'Cause he fo'got to take his nap yeserday?" Baylee interrupted.
Harold chuckled. "Maybe because he forgot to take his nap yesterday. But Bubba, your daddy isn't feeling too well right now."
Baylee's mouth formed a small 'o'. "He's got sickies in his tummy?"
"Lots of sickies. Not in his tummy though. Your daddy has sickies in his heart."
"Oh..." Baylee frowned, trying to ponder what his grandfather was saying. "He gots a heart ache?"
"He sure does."
"Doctor gonna fix daddy's heart ache?"
"The doctor is going to try to."
"Good," Baylee murmured and rested his head against Harold's shoulder.
Harold let loose an uneven breath and allowed his eyes to wander around the waiting room. It was all too quiet and the atmosphere was far too dense. Nobody had found much of a reason to spark conversation. He himself didn't see the need to talk because the same thought was going through each of their minds and speaking it aloud made it feel that much more real and threatening. Although at the same time Harold assumed it would be too far off to guess they were all in their own denial. He was having a hard enough time comprehending what Dr. Henrich has said. How could it possibly be that his son was to die because of a problem they had all thought had been fixed so many years before? Why now of all times was it able to come back to haunt them all? "Has anyone been to get ahold of Leighanne?" he blurted suddenly and looked to the other men in the room.
"Howie attempted to yesterday," Kevin answered before the other had a chance to say a single word. "He got no answer."
"Bri said she's been hard to get ahold of the past few days because they're wrapping up the filming," Howie added with a tired shrug. He had already tried calling Brian's wife again that morning, but came out with the same results.
"She needs to be informed of what's going on," Harold stated, more so to himself then anyone else. "Brian is going to want her to be here-"
Before Harold could get a further word in, he was abruptly interrupted as the door to the room was slowly opened and the form of Jackie Littrell stepped through the threshold, her hands rung together and her disturbed eyes trained on the floor as she slowly walked. She looked up the moment the door shut behind her and the tears she had been crying were instantly evident. "Jackie?" Harold called out, sitting straight up in his seat and preparing to stand if the need arose. When he received not a single word in return, he gently placed his sleeping grandson into Kevin's arms and sprang to his feet. He hurried to his wife's side and pulled her into his arms. "What is it?" he asked.
"Oh Herald..." Jackie trembled, burrying her face into the crook of her husband's neck. "He looks so bad..."
Harold couldn't find the words to say as his wife tearfully trembled within his embrace. Instead, he tightened his hold, closed his eyes and began to pray.