Ordinary Life

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Chapter 21

By Thursday Emmy knew that zombies were real. She was convinced that she was a walking zombie. Whatever she had was getting worse, but just like those pesky zombies she didn’t want anyone to know.

Stephanie and Brett had slept on the floor next to Tyler who’d been in pain and sick to his stomach all night so she didn’t have the heart to tell them. Instead she let them sleep, grabbed a shake she walked to the bus stop. This morning was freezing. Emmy still hadn’t had a chance to go clothes shopping with Stephanie. Thankfully she’d worn a hoodie and her team jacket. With her hand tucked deep in her pockets she watched from the end of the driveway for the bus.

Just as it turned the corner she heard the front door open behind her. Brett stuck his head out. “Emmy come on back in and I’ll drive you.”

“That’s OK, the bus is already coming.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes sir, go rest.” He nodded, blowing in to his hand he watched from the front door until she climbed onto the bus. In many ways Emmy was so little trouble that in the midst of the chaos swirling around them they found themselves forgetting about her. This morning was one of those times. They’d gotten in late and she was already asleep and then falling asleep on the floor next to Tyler, Emmy had gotten up and quietly gotten ready without even waking them.

He and Stephanie had already called for substitutes and were taking today for the boys again. In all honesty Jake was a lot better. He spent the day playing games in the basement. Tyler was finally comfortable and spent the day sleeping on the couch. Stephanie and Brett slept too.

Emmy made it through the school day and collected everything she would need to make up tomorrow. The team’s first game was at 11:00am so they were going to miss school that day. Each teacher wished her good luck.

By practice Emmy was just ready for bed. Everything hurt all the way to her fingertips. Seeing Stephanie there with an actual smile on her face stiffened her resolve and she gave everything she had at practice.

In the car on the way home coach asked, “So are we ready?”

“As ready as we’ll ever be.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Ok”

“You sure? We’ve missed a few injections and Brett’s picked you up off the bathroom floor twice this week.”

“I’m sure. I’m sorry he had to do that.”

“Emmy you don’t have to be sorry.”

“Ma’am you are going through enough right now. Jake and Tyler need you. I’ll be fine.” Stephanie knew that they’d taken six steps back with her this week. If they could just get through this weekend and state then they’d have a break and time to focus on Emmy and her recovery.

Emmy was avoiding them and trying to make herself as scarce as possible. She was so afraid that her getting sick now would get to be too much. She knew from experience that out of sight was out of mind. With whatever cold she’d picked up on top of the chemo she knew they’d take her back to Dr. Hatcher. Her real fear was that they might just leave her there.

With the guys in such bad shape they didn’t have anything left to worry about her. She had talked to Molly this week at school and knew that her spot at St. Thomas had been filled. This meant she had to hide it until after the tournament and then it wouldn’t matter. The season would be over and she could go to another home like St. Thomas and next season play wherever they sent her to school.

Friday morning she didn’t even hear her alarm. Brett came in and turned it off. “Emmy, hey its time to get going.” It took several tries to wake her. When she did she started coughing. “Sorry. Just got choked.” She willed herself to stop.

“You sure you’re doing OK.”

She put on a smile. “Yes sir ready for today.”

The smile did it. She didn’t smile often so Brett just smiled back. “OK remember white uniforms.”

“Got it.”

“Get dressed and I’ll give you the injection.”

“Thank you sir.” It was such a habit now the sir slipped out before she could stop it. He looked back at her and she dropped her eyes embarrassed. “Sorry.” He shook his head and left her room. Emmy felt even worse today. Her head swam and the aches had made their way all the way to her toes and the pads of her feet. To top it off she was pretty sure she had a fever.

In the kitchen Stephanie was fixing eggs for the boys. “How is she?”

“Who knows? She’s never not woken up with the alarm. But she did smile.”

“Did she want any eggs?”

“I forgot to ask.” He walked back to the bathroom. He heard her getting sick again so he waited. It lasted several minutes and then the coughing began. “Emmy.”

She swallowed hard. “Yes?”

“Steph is fixing some breakfast. Would you like some?”

“No thank you. I’ll just have another shake.” He closed his eyes. It had been weeks since he’d seen her actually eat anything. He was so glad the chemo was over, but wished the side effects were over also.

“Ok.” He walked back to the kitchen and shook his head when Stephanie looked at him.

“I feel like I haven’t seen her two weeks. Last week she was so sick and now this.” He paused. “I’ve missed several doses of her medicine too. I wonder if it’s taking a toll on her?”

“Last night she was in bed and not on the floor. So I’d say that’s a good thing. In the past by the middle of the next week the nausea seems to have laid a little. Tyler sure didn’t react well to that anesthesia.”

“No and he said he couldn’t image being Emmy and feeling like that all the time.”

“Lets just hope that in a couple months the scans and blood work are clean and we are past all this.”

Emmy emerged from her room. She put on a smile and went for the shakes. Steph watched her, “I noticed we’re getting low. I’ll get some more today. Do you have a favorite flavor?”

“No they are all OK.” Emmy’s voice was a little raspy, from the coughing.

“Your voice sounds funny.”

“Just haven’t used it this morning.” She cleared her throat and sat down with the shake. The boys came up the stairs. Tyler with his arm in a sling and Jake on crutches.

“Emmy, you ready for this?” She smiled and nodded.

They wanted to get there early and scout out the venue and the teams playing before them. If they won they’d play the winner of the 10:00 game. They all loaded up and drove downtown. The tournament was being played in a huge warehouse that was just full of courts. There were six with one main court in the middle. They paid for the boys and all went in. None of the team was there yet. Emmy climbed to the highest bleacher and took a seat. She’d only been up for a couple of hours and she already felt tired. This morning she noticed that when she breathed deep there was a rattle in her chest that hadn’t been there the night before. Breathing deep like that made the need to cough uncontrollable so she tried to just take shallow breaths.

Tyler and Taylor and the Coaches sat down low and watched. The team they’d play next was good. Much like the Titans they were tall. Much taller than their team. All season it seemed like tall teams gave them the most trouble. Emmy hoped that maybe there would be some taller girls for their team, well for her team, wherever she landed next year. It would be nice to be able to drive inside and dish to someone big.

Several other players arrived and came up to sit by Emmy. Everyone was so excited they were all talking. It made Emmy tired just listening to them. The game before ended and Coach motioned for them to come down. They’d all worn their uniforms since there weren’t really locker rooms here. “Everyone go to the restroom now.” Stephanie pointed to the direction. Emmy went just to keep her happy but didn’t need to go.

In the restroom she started coughing again. She coughed so much it made her gag. There was no way that the others didn’t hear her so she just stayed in the stall until they all left. Coming out she washed her hands and went back to the court. Tyler was there waiting with a Gatorade. “Mom said you’d need this.” She took it and thanked him.

Tyler could tell that she didn’t feel good. Normally when she stepped on the court there was this spark that went off in her eyes. It just wasn’t there today.

“Mom, is Emmy feeling OK?”

“I think so why?” Stephanie looked at her warming up with the team.

“She doesn’t look like herself.”

“I think she’s lost some more weight. I know this round was really rough. It’s taken just about everything out of her.” Coach knew that she was explaining away his concern, but at this point there wasn’t much else to do. Emmy did look awful, but she’d looked bad for the past two months. The kid needed a feeling tube, a central line, and about a week in bed. But taking basketball away now might just kill her. Stephanie knew they just needed to get through this weekend and then Emmy could rest and recover without feeling like they’d taken anything away from her.

The clock was down to two minutes when the team came over to the bench clapping. Hands in and “Go Bruins.” The starters all took off their warm-ups and took a seat while the others stood in rows on either side. They were the Home team so they announced the starters on the other team first. They all held hands as they started. The four others were announced first. Then Emmy heard the announcer say “And at guard Number 5, Emmy Taylor.” The crowd all clapped and yelled. Emmy stood and gave fives to the players lined up. Then shook the referees’ hands.

“Girls this is it. We’ve played all year for this. Leave it all out there. Without a win today there is no tomorrow. Bruins on 3.” Coach grabbed Emmy as they walked onto the floor. She pulled her into a hug. “No matter what. I couldn’t be more proud of you.” Emmy shook her head and Stephanie noticed how warm she felt. The referee blew the whistle and everyone took their positions.

Emmy got the tip and they quickly scored. Stephanie looked at Brett and smiled. Two steals and a ten second count later the other coach called a time out. Sitting down Emmy took a deep breath and started coughing. “You OK?”

“I’m good.” Emmy lied. She was sweating and yet had goosebumps all over her arms.

“Great start girls. Keep it up. Keep pressure on the guards and we’ll keep the back line out of it.” This team had one huge girl at center, but the guards were shaky. Coach knew that if they couldn’t get the ball to her, she wouldn’t be a factor.

Emmy and Rachel kept the pressure on the guards. The big girl was getting frustrated and it was showing on defense. She picked up a couple of quick fouls. The fouls left her sitting on the bench for much of the second quarter.

Half time and Emmy found herself hacking again. She knew that it was getting harder and harder to catch her breath. Hoping it was just two weeks of not going her hardest at practice she didn’t say anything. Brett kept looking at her when she coughed.

The second half started and the other team had the ball. Emmy waited for their guard to cross half court and she attacked. Coach wanted the first few minutes to break them. So they played really hard. Emmy stole the ball and ran down the court for a layup.

This time her pressure made the point guard make a bad pass that Sophie stole. Emmy blazed back down the court with her. A 2-on-1 and Sophie passed her the ball drawing the defender Emmy passed it back to her for the lay in. Sophie smiled and gave her a high five. The next time down Sophie’s girl brought the ball and she made a pitiful pass that Emmy stole.

Running full speed down the floor Emmy made the layup and then went down. At first everyone thought maybe she turned her ankle, but she didn’t move. Stephanie looked at Brett and then back to Emmy who still lay motionless. Brett was the fist to move. Running down to her he rolled her over.

Her eyes were closed and her lips were turning blue. “Call an ambulance she’s not breathing.” Leaning down he could hear that she was trying to breath. There were EMT’s right there on site and they were there in seconds. They assessed her while they tried to find out what happened. One of the EMT’s listened to her chest. “Her chest is full of fluid. We’ve got to bag her and go.” Brett and Stephanie were standing beside them as they placed the tube down her throat on one of them attached a bag to assist Emmy. He grabbed Stephanie by the shoulders. “You finish this out. I’ll ride with her.”

She started to object. “There’s nothing we can do. Those girls are going to need you.” She looked at the bench where all the players had linked arms and gone down on one knee. She nodded. “I’ll text you as soon as I know anything.”

“Are her parents here?” One of the EMT’s asked and they raised the gurney.

“I’m her father.” It felt good saying that.

“OK you ride with us.” And with that they were gone. Stephanie stood there watching long after they were gone. One of the officials approached, “Coach, we’ll give you a few minutes.”

Thanks. She slowly turned and walked back to the bench. She joined them on one knee. Maisy was the first to speak “Coach is Emmy going to be OK?” She was near the point of tears. “I don’t know sweetie. Brett’s with her and he’ll let us know as soon as they know something.” She paused and looked around the circle at every pair of eyes. “You know what Emmy would want us to do right?” They all nodded. “Emmy would want us to go back out there and finish this. She gave us a ten-point lead. Now all we have to do is hold it. Maisy you go check in.” The referee came over “you all ready.” “Yes, sir.” Coach answered. “Bruins on 3” This Bruins was the loudest coach had ever heard. Coach was pretty sure that the fans in the stands had joined in.

She tossed her phone to the other assistant. “Rick keep an eye on this and if it’s Brett tell me right away.”

___________________________

In the ambulance Emmy continued to decline. Thankfully the hospital was only a five-minute drive. The EMT driving radioed ahead and told them of the situation. Brett tried to explain Emmy’s health situation. He heard the driver tell the hospital to alert Dr. Hatcher.

They pulled up at the emergency room of the children’s hospital and in moments Emmy was gone. Brett stood there unsure what to do so he just stared at the doors they’d taken her behind. Others needed to get through so he turned and leaned against the wall. Time passed and he just stood there. There was a waiting room off to the right where he’d sat for a few minutes Monday evening while the nurse went to find out about the boys. Today he couldn’t make himself move to go sit.

The sight of Emmy’s face as it went ashen was something he didn’t think he could ever get out of his mind. “Brett.” He’d buried his face in his hands and they had to say it again. “Brett. Brett Miles.” He finally realized that someone was talking to him and he looked up. It was Holly’s wonderful face. But her face was worried and her eyes full of tears. He couldn’t take it. Brett Miles, the six foot five boys high school basketball assistant coach sank down the wall as sobs wracked his body.

“Hey.” Holly was there her hand around his shoulder. “Hey, remember she’s a fighter.”

“Its bad, Holly its really bad.”

“But she’s in the right place. They are the best there is.”

“Holly we missed it. The boys were in a car wreck on Monday and we weren’t paying attention.”

“Brett this isn’t on you all. This is the price these kids pay for getting rid of the disease. Emmy isn’t the first to be in this situation.”

He looked up and wiped his eyes suddenly aware that they were sitting on the floor in the Emergency room.

“They’ve taken her up to surgery. The space around her lungs is full of fluid and that’s why she couldn’t breathe. The EMT’s were there quick so there shouldn’t be any permanent damage. The key now it to treat what ever is causing the fluid. We’ve got to get her body to fight. And we’ve got to pray she’s got fight left in her.”

Brett smiled, “if anyone has fight left its my little girl.” Holly nodded.

_______________________________

At the gym the buzzer sounded and there was no cheering. Since it was a newer school this was the first time that the Bruins had ever progressed past the first round and normally cheers would have erupted in the stands and on the floor but the players and fans were stoked but more worried about Emmy. Stephanie hadn’t gotten a text so she told the girls to go over to the corner with their parents and she’d try to find out something.

She called and Brett told her everything that Holly had told him. She fought back the tears and then turned to address the crowd that had assembled, which included the team, their parents, her sons and the referees.

“OK guys Emmy’s season is finished. It should probably have been finished a couple of weeks ago but she pushed and we gave in. For the past six months she’s been getting chemotherapy. Last Friday was her final dose. The biggest side effect of the chemo is that it wipes out the patient’s own immune system. So the common cold feels like the flu and the flu like Ebola.” The players and parents were in shock.

“Brett said that the doctors think she has some kind of virus. It may be the flu, since that’s going around like crazy or something else. With the boys’ accident this week Brett and I have been distracted and like most of her life Emmy fell though the cracks. We should have noticed this days ago.”

“I’m going to head over there. I will update you all as often as I can. I need the girls to go home and rest. I know this is mind-blowing right now. It is for me and I’ve been dealing with it for three months. Tomorrow we play Wrightsville. They won this morning and they are good. We will need each and every one of you at your best. Rest, rehydrate and eat tonight and I’ll see you tomorrow. Our game is at 11:00 again so everyone be here at 10:30.” Almost all of the players came up and hugged her asking her to give Emmy their love. She turned to see Jake and Tyler near tears too. “Rick, I need a big favor.”

“Anything Stephanie.”

“Can you take these two home?”

“Sure”

“No mom we are going with you.”

“Absolutely not. You two are recovering yourselves. Dad said they weren’t even letting him in yet and you all aren’t going to sit in the waiting room all day. Go home with Rick. Rest, and I’ll call as soon as I know more.” They nodded. Tyler knew that his shoulder was already starting to throb.

“Stephanie you go. I’ve got them and all the equipment.” Stephanie hugged and thanked him then ran for the parking lot.

______________________________________________________________

Inside the hospital Stephanie followed Brett’s directions perfectly and found him still sitting in the waiting room outside the ICU. She ran into his arms and just about knocked him down. “We can’t lose her.”

“I know, I know.” She’d held it together this long but in the strength of his arms she allowed herself to lose it. They heard the door whoosh open and Stephanie pulled away and wiped her face.

Looking toward the door she saw Holly. “Steph.” She hugged her tight and then sat them down. “She’s holding her own. They’ve almost got her all set up and you all can come back.” She paused and took a deep breath. “When you get to see her…” She paused and they knew it was bad. “Guys she looks bad. They went ahead and placed the feeding tube, which you’ll see running through her nose. She’s on a ventilator. There are tubes in her chest on both sides draining the fluid that just keeps building up.” She looked at both of them. “This is about as bad as it gets.” Stephanie sat down. “But listen the good news is there’s nowhere to go but up from here.” She squeezed Stephanie and Brett’s hands. “I’ve got to run back upstairs and check on my patients. Dr. Hatcher was in there with her a few minutes ago. He’ll come out and get you once they get her settled and feel she ’s stable enough.”

“So her condition now?”

“She’s critical, but guys this kid isn’t going to give up. Not when she’s finally found you.” Holly left and Stephanie put her face in her hands.

Brett put his arm around her shoulders.

Twenty minutes later the door opened again and a nurse came out. “The family of Emmy Taylor?” They both jumped up.

“Is she OK?”

“She’s out of surgery and they’ve placed her in ICU. Dr. Hatcher is in there now and would like to talk with you.” They followed her. ICU was a series of rooms around a central nurses station. The nurse walked all the way to the back and the corner before they saw Dr. Hatcher through the glass of a room. As they stepped inside Stephanie couldn’t help but gasp “Oh God.”

Dr. Hatcher put his arm around her. “It looks bad, but she’s fighting.” He talked them through all the tubes and machines. The amount of information was overwhelming. “We are monitoring it all out there. Even the smallest change and the nurses will know.”

“Dr. Hatcher what happened?”

“She finally ran into something she couldn’t overpower. We’ve taken blood samples and samples of the fluid we’ve removed. The lab is testing it and we should know soon what we are dealing with. I’m afraid it’s viral. Which is worse because it won’t respond to antibiotics. With a bacterial infection we can pump her full of antibiotics and in a couple days we would see an improvement. With a virus we have to just let it run its course and help her fight through it.”

Brett hadn’t spoke. “Doctor Hatcher, are we going to lose her?”

“Right now that’s up to her. She’s experiencing the absolute worst of chemotherapy. We’ve pumped her full of lethal chemicals for six months now and this winter has been an absolutely killer winter in terms of viruses. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if she had the flu. The shot this year was a total mismatch to the strain we are actually seeing. The Enterovirus 68 that has taken several children this season and is also a possibility.”

“So what do we do now?”

“We have already started a broad spectrum antibiotic just in case the lab proves me wrong. Beyond that, medically we treat the symptoms. And emotionally, we talk to her, we hold her hand. She’s got to have a reason to fight. Emmy has never had that before. Right now she needs you.”

A machine beeped and they all looked at the little body being kept alive by every machine imaginable. Dr. Hatcher smiled. “That was pain medicine. Nothing alarming.”

Stephanie spoke next. “Can we stay with her?”

“Yes. She needs you right now.”

“Dr. Hatcher was this our fault? You asked us to keep an eye on her and with the boys’ accident we didn’t.”

“No, and its important that no matter what happens here that you never blame yourselves. Emmy is here for several reasons none of which are you. Emmy is laying there because of cancer and the drugs we pumped in her to try and rid her of that awful disease. Emmy is here because of her past and the fact that she’d never tell you if something was wrong.”

“When you say no matter what happens here, what do you mean?”

“I’m not going to lie to you and say everything is going to be fine. Emmy is fighting for her life.” Stephanie turned to Brett and buried her face in his chest. “This is a fight she can win. I know her body looks so broken right now but most of the time it’s a kid’s spirit that pulls them through this. We will do everything we can.” His phone buzzed. “They need me back upstairs. I’ll be watching for the lab results. The nurses out there are keeping an eye on her and I know Holly will be down again. If you need anything you have my number.”

Brett put out a hand and Dr. Hatcher shook it. “Thank you so much for everything.”

In the room alone with Emmy for the first time Stephanie couldn’t resist rubbing her forehead. She put her face down close and whispered in her ear. “You fight my girl. I need you. You can’t leave me with all these boys.” Steph kissed her on the forehead. “She’s so hot.” Brett felt her forehead.

“She is. I’m sure they have given her something.” They both pulled chairs up to the bed and sat holding her hands. It was so weird sitting there listening to all the machines beep and the ventilator clicking and whooshing each time it gave Emmy a breath.

“Did you send the boys home?”

“Yes, Rick took them. We need to call them and let them know how she’s doing.” Stephanie was glad that they were at home resting and not here seeing her like this. It was breaking her heart enough for all of them.

“I’ll step out here and give them a call. I need to stretch my legs.” As Brett left the room he caught glimpses in the other rooms surrounding Emmy’s. Inside each one was another child clinging to life and a parent, or parents, whose hearts’ were breaking. Brett certainly hadn’t seen himself here three months ago. In fact three months ago life was pretty easy. But as much as he didn’t want to be here he couldn’t imagine Emmy here doing this alone.

He could just see her lying in that bed like she was but without anyone whispering fight in her ear. Without the reassurance of someone holding her hand, or Stephanie’s reassuring touch as she rubbed her forehead. He could see her just giving up and leaving this world without anyone but the machines knowing she was gone.

No, Emmy coming into their lives definitely made them harder but he couldn’t imagine life without her now.

He walked through the doors leading out of the ICU area and was immediately hit with sound. He hadn’t noticed how quiet it had been in there. Other than the machines, which seemed to be present in every room, there was very little sound. There were only small TV’s, which no one seemed to have on, and everyone, nurses and doctors included spoke in hushed voices.

On the phone Brett got Taylor on the first ring. “Hello”

“How are you guys doing?”

“We are fine Dad. How’s Emmy?”

Brett paused not quite sure what to say. “Well they’ve got her in ICU?”

“Dad that’s not good.”

“No it is good. They think she’s caught something like the flu and with all the chemotherapy her body is having a hard time fighting it.”

“Did you get to talk to her?”

“No she’s unconscious still. They had to drain the fluid off her lungs and put in a ventilator to help her breath so we won’t get to talk to her until they take that out.”

“What about eating? Dad she really needs to eat.”

“They took care of that. Since she won’t be able to play anymore this season they went ahead a put in a feeding tube. So she’ll be getting the nutrients she needs even while she’s asleep.”

“That’s good.”

“It’s important for her to know that we are there so someone will stay with her the whole time she’s here.”

“Absolutely. I can take a turn too.”

“Not yet, but we’ll see. Right now they are only letting us in the room with her. They don’t want her catching anything else. I’m going to try to send Mom home tonight to sleep. I’m not sure if she will, but I’d really like someone with you all.”

“What about the game tomorrow?”

“Mom’s going to have to go and reassure the team. I’ll stay with Emmy.”

“Dad the team doesn’t have a chance without her.”

“We’ll see. Maybe they will step it up and surprise us. I have to say it would be easier for your Mom if they lost. It would take one thing off her plate and let her focus on Emmy for a little while.”

“We need to make sure that Mom, and you, take care of yourselves too. You all have been running all out since Monday.”

“We will. You guys rest and find something to eat. No leaving the house and no one comes over. Got it?”

“Got it! Tell Emmy we love her.”

“I will.” Brett hit end on his phone and sat down in one of the waiting room chairs. It was a little after 1:00pm and the sun was shining brightly through the hospital windows. In the midst of a cold spell the warmth the sun offered was nice a reminder of God’s provision. Even though it had been a long time since they’d been to church Brett knew that God was still listening. He offered up a prayer for Emmy.

Praying made him wish his Mother were here. She was a true prayer warrior and she’d have known exactly was to say and do to reassure he and Stephanie.

He remembered coming home to see his Mom right after they had found out she was pregnant with Jake. She had been so scared and both of her parents had been gone for a little over a year.

They had gone home for Christmas that year and Brett’s mother, Rose, had fallen in love with Stephanie. So much that throughout the next few months she called her, at school to check on her. Brett was pretty sure that she called Stephanie more than she called him.

Going home Steph was so afraid that his Mother was going to be mad, and so disappointed in them. They found the complete opposite. Brett had secretly told his Mom before they came home and his Mom already had a plan. She gave Brett the engagement ring his father and given her and on the very first evening they’d been there Brett had driven her out to the big tree she’d taken Emmy and proposed. After she said yes they went to his Mother.

Brett never told Stephanie that she’d already known. Rose was wonderful. She sat down on the couch beside Steph and took both of her hands in her own. “You are going to make a wonderful mother.” With tears in Stephanie’s eyes Rose tilted her head up and kissed her on the forehead, much like she’s kissed Emmy just now.

Rose and Stephanie rode into town the next day and picked out a dress. Within a month they were having a wedding on the farm. It was mostly just Brett’s family and some friends from college. Three of her college teammates were her bridesmaids. Rose walked Stephanie down the isle. The entire day was perfect.

After the ceremony and reception they left on their honeymoon. As two kids just out of college money was a big issue. They drove down to the mountains in Tennessee and just spent a week in a cabin. It was small and nothing fancy but it was one of the greatest weeks of their lives.

When they returned Brett started his job recruiting. He had gotten a degree in education, but the opportunity to continue working in sports, near Stephanie, and with Rick was too good to pass up. Stephanie headed back to school to finish up her Masters degree. She needed six more hours to finish. Brett was two years older, but Stephanie was an academic powerhouse. Even playing for the team she managed to take at least one extra class each semester. She had gotten her undergraduate degree in three years and her masters in a year and a half. In the end she’d gotten everything but that last six hours done under her scholarship.

Brett couldn’t help but think how lucky they’d been. His life had been pretty easy up to this point. He’d lost his father but it was after he had taught him what it was to be a man, a husband and a father. When his father had died his brother was old enough to just take over with the farm. His Dad had been a founding partner at the local bank and had put more than enough money away for his mother.

His childhood had been great; in college he’d found the woman of his dreams. Thankfully she felt the same way about him. After nearly 18 years of marriage he and Stephanie were still totally in love. The boys were healthy, this week not withstanding, and just as important they were good kids.

Now life had thrown them a curveball. For the first time Brett was watching the suffering of a child firsthand. He was experiencing true fear. The fear that he may not get to see that little girl, his little girl, in her room again. That he might not see those beautiful blue eyes light up with a smile. Fear of the look on his sons’ faces if something happened to her.

The buzzing of his phone drew him from his worst-case scenario. He looked down and saw Kim’s number. “Hello.”

“Brett tell me she’s OK.” Wiping tears from his eyes with his sleeve he was shocked that anyone knew.

“How did you hear?”

“There was a story on the newspaper website about the state tournament and a little blurb about one of the Bruins players being rushed to the hospital but the team holding on and advancing. There was photo of Stephanie down on the knees with the team. I didn’t see you or Emmy, so I just knew it was her.”

“Kim, Emmy has cancer.”

“Oh Brett.”

“We’ve known about the cancer since before she came to live with us.” He explained the situation and how bad things looked. Kim had grown up in a Catholic orphanage and if anyone knew how Emmy felt, minus the cancer, it was Kim. In many ways Brett wished he’d gotten Kim and Emmy together to see if she would open up to her.

“Brett I’m on my way up. I should be there by 7.” Brett thought he’d heard the sound of a car starting while they were talking.

“Kim I appreciate that, but it’s not necessary. They are only letting us in to see her now.”

“I’m not just coming for Emmy. The boys are going to need someone around and you and Stephanie are going to need a break at some point.”

“You don’t know how much we appreciate that.”

“Brett in the 26 years I’ve known your family I’ve learned that this is what family does. Its time to show Emmy what having a family is like. I’ll call you when I get to your house.”

“Thanks again. I’ll call the boys and let them know to expect you.”

He called Jake again who was genuinely excited that she was coming. Brett warned him to go downstairs and clean up his room and help Tyler out too.

Brett found himself trying to think of anything else to do other than go back in the room. He didn’t know how much longer he was going to hold it together. Since the moment she’d gone down at the game Brett wanted to pull her up into his arms and just hold her, wrapping his arms around her to protect her from the world.

After a few minutes alone a nurse came in. “Sorry her temperature is ticking back up. I’m just going to start her on an alternating dose of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.” Brett and Stephanie stepped back and let her go to work. The nurse pulled an injection from her coat pocket, checked the label and injected it into her IV. She noted the dose on her chart in the computer. Checking her over, she pulled the gown back that had been laid over Emmy. Underneath were more wires and tubes. A central line had been placed in her chest that lead to a large bag of IV fluids. Little white stickers were on her chest with wires leading to a heart monitor. There was also a sticker with a red light, attached to her finger. Dr. Hatcher had explained that this was monitoring the level of oxygen in her blood. Then there were the tubes running out of the side of her chest. The nurse carefully checked these tubes for more drainage. Then she lovingly placed the gown back around her while adjusting all her electronics.

Brett asked, as she was finishing up. “How bad is the fever?’

“105.2 right now, but its not responding very well to the medication. So we will try using both kinds.” She looked up and noticed that her IV bag was running low. “I’m going to go get another bag of fluid. Rehydrating her will help with the fever also.” As the nurse left they resumed their positions. Despite all the jostling Emmy showed no sign of waking or any movement. The nurse was back and they started to move. “You all are just fine. I’m just going to switch these out. You keep holding those sweet hands.” She slid around behind Stephanie and changed out the bags noting the switch on Emmy’s chart in the computer. “You can talk to her too. She should be able to hear you. All the anesthesia will have worn off by now. She’s sedated but can still hear you.”

After she finished and left the room they both looked across the bed at each other. Neither one knew what to say. “Emmy the girls played great after you left. They held on and we won by four. We play Wrightsville tomorrow. It’s going to be a tough game without you there sweetie. We’ve got to get you healthy for next season. I can’t tell you how excited I am to see what kind of player you can be when you are 100%. Brett and the boys are ready to work on getting the boys back in shape to play and they can’t wait for you to join them.” Stephanie felt the lump growing in her throat and she didn’t want Emmy to hear her voice waver so she stopped and Brett took over.

“Kim called and wanted to check on you. She saw something about the tournament on the news and wanted to tell you to fight. All the kids wanted to see you again for Christmas.”

Christmas. It hit him and Stephanie like a ton of bricks. Christmas was in 6 days. With the boys and now this they hadn’t really done much shopping. In fact they hadn’t gotten anything for Emmy yet. They knew that she needed so much they weren’t even sure where to start.

They really wanted to get her a phone. Everyone on the team had one. They really didn’t think that she’d accept it. Brett had suggested just giving her Jake’s old one. It was still in good shape and she’d come more to taking that. Stephanie didn’t really want to make her first gift a hand me down.

“Maybe we should talk to Kim about that surprise we talked about.” Stephanie was cryptic because if Emmy really could hear them she didn’t want to ruin it.

“That’s a great idea.”

Kim’s childhood had been rough. Her mother died in childbirth and her father simply never got over it. He didn’t know how to live without her. He fell into alcohol and before her fifth birthday they found themselves homeless. By the time she was eight her father gave up. Suicide seemed like the only option to him. At the time it seemed like the only way to give Kim more. There was no way he could have know the hardship and pain that Kim found growing up in the foster system.

As an older kid the system was unforgiving. Adoptive parents wanted babies, not eight-year-old girls. She went from foster home to foster home much like Emmy. When she was young group homes and orphanages were much more common. Kim was in and out of five different homes before she finally found stability in a Catholic Orphanage run by three nuns. Within the first week there Kim learned that the jokes about Catholic schools were all true. The rules were strict and punishments harsh. But the stability was welcomed and the love abundant. Those three nuns shaped Kim into the woman that David fell in love with.

At 16 she’d met his brother David at school and it was love at first sight. When his parents found out about her home situation they were cautious and warned David that she might not be the one for him. He insisted though and invited her to have dinner with his family.

One dinner was all it took to show Rose and Henry how wrong they’d been about her. One dinner and they were in love with her too.

David went to work with his father, at the bank the day he graduated from high school. Then the day she turned 18, and aged out of the system, he married Kim. They lived in the small house on his parents’ property and Kim learned the meaning of family.

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