Chapter 19- A Second Chance
With heavy eyes, a sluggish response from a heart monitor sounds beep near the bed. A sense of confusion surrounds the patient lying in bed when people rush over.
“Huh, what’s going on?” A crackly voice wonders out loud, trying to focus.
A woman’s soft voice answers to try to comfort any qualms.
“It’s going to be okay, son, you’re going to be fine. You’re in the hospital. You’ve been out for a while now.”
Once his eyes finally figure how to adjust to the sight of fluorescent lights, Josh turns his head to see his mother and Pops by his side.
“Mom, Pops, but how? You’re supposed to be dead. Wait, am I in Hell?”
A chuckle from Pops makes him feel more discombobulated.
“Lord, no boy, you’re in the hospital like your mom said. You and the other two hooligans breathed in moxson gas or something or other.”
“No, Punk, they breathed in Carbon Monoxide gas from a fracture in Paula’s kitchen stove. That stuff filled the house and caused you boys to die nearly.” His mother divulges, relieved that her son is awake.
His mind races back to everyone he believes he left behind.
“Wait, Gwen, the kids, I gotta get out of here and down to Carolina.”
Both of his parents are caught off guard by the statement. They stare at each other, trying to figure out what he means.
“Help me up. I have to check on my family!” Josh yells, ready to rip off the cords on his chest and the IV in his arm. His mother runs out to get a nurse to keep him from injuring himself.
“I need a nurse now! My son is up and trying to rip off his stuff!”
A couple of nurses rush into his room to settle him down. When Josh sees them, he freaks out.
“Don’t touch me. I need to get out of here. I need to check on everyone.” He says again, ruthlessly staring down the hospital staff.
“Who are you trying to get ahold of, dear? Maybe we could make a call for you, but first, we need you to calm down.” One of the nurses tells him.
Josh huffs, dropping his hands into his lap.
“My wife, Gwen, and any of our kids!”
Everyone in the room stops dead in their tracks when they realize Josh isn’t kidding.
“Wait, son, you’re only seventeen. How old do you think you are?” His mother asks with her hand over his.
“Old enough, now quit screwing with me and tell me where they all are. I need to check on them!”
The nurse explains what is going on with Josh’s mind.
“I’ve seen this a few times. The trauma from the mind attaches to what he’s dreamed about, and to him, that’s reality. Give him a little while, and it’ll all settle, I promise.” She says to his parents.
“Sweetie, it’s going to be alright. You are only seventeen; I have the paperwork to prove it. No need to be embarrassed, so relax. Is there anything I can do for you?”
Josh thinks on his feet to prove he’s right, and they’re the ones who are crazy.
“Yeah, get Momma C for me if she’s alive since I’m only seventeen! She would know about certain things.”
Susan, Josh’s mother, takes his statement to flip it on its head. Walking out of the room, she goes down to where Momma C sits with James.
“Hey Paula, could I borrow you, please? Josh is awake, but he swears he’s got a family and stuff. Could you try to talk some sense into him?”
Without hesitation, Paula takes off like a bullet from the chair. The news that one of the boys has regained consciousness offers a new sense of hope.
“Josh! Oh, my lands, you’re finally awake!” She screams, wrapping her arms around his neck with tears of joy.
“Momma! Holy hell, you’re alive!” Josh replies when his eyes appear to be the size of quarters.
The initial surprise to see the self-proclaimed adopted mom in the same room begins to bring Josh back into some sort of certainty that it was just a dream.
His mind can’t process every difference all at once. Josh sits there with a thousand-yard stare in his eyes. Pops sits with him in the hospital room while Paula and Susan return to check on James.
“Think he’ll be alright?” Paula wonders out loud with Susan beside her, listening to James’ heartbeat on the monitor.
“I don’t know. He seems to be caught in two worlds. One of the worse things to happen to have a heart split for two, you know?” Susan comments.
Momma C returns to her chair, taking in a deep breath as frustration settles deep.
“Come on, James, wake up!” She pleads with her hands locked in a praying position.
Her prayers are about to come true when a slight groan grows louder from the bed. James starts to speak with a heavy slur to his voice.
“Mom… Justin… Scarlett… I need a drink. Anyone there?” He calls out, which freaks Momma C to the core.
“Yes, son, I’m here! You’re going to be okay; you’re going to be okay!” She squeals on her feet to fill a plastic cup with cool water.
She helps James sit up and holds the cup to his parched dry, cracked lips, allowing him to drink some water.
He starts to cough when he’s had enough.
“Sorry, son, I can’t believe it, you’ve come back to us! Josh woke up a little bit ago. What happened to you boys won’t ever happen again, I promise!”
“What, what happened?”
“You boys were nearly killed from a crack in the gas line from the stove. I’ve contacted the insurance company and a contractor to fix everything in the house—no more gas lines. I’ve had it all converted to all-electric. If I hadn’t had come home, you’d be dead.” Momma C explains guilty over the entire situation.
James stirs in place, given that his eyes haven’t come into focus. He hears what his mother says, but his brain can’t follow along. In his mind, he remembers a joke and begins to laugh for a minute.
“It’s no joke. You boys could’ve been killed!” She shakes James to help him snap back to reality.
He can’t help but laugh until he begins to gasp for air. James then rocks back and forth with everything sink in his mind feeling the air land on his back from an open gown.
“I’m sorry, mom, I don’t know what came over me, but when can I go home?”
“Soon, they’re going to test your blood and stuff again and make damn good and sure that you can handle going home. The last one to wake up is Justin.” She reveals with a grip over James’ hand, praying silently for the relief that things have finally turned around for the better.
Within hours of James regaining his whereabouts, there’s a loud cry of joy out in the hallway. Mr. and Mrs. Adamson dance to the sight of Justin opening his eyes.
“He’s awake. He’s awake. God willing, they have all come back to us. Hallelujah and praise be to his name!” They scream as Paula, Susan, and Pops all stand in the hallway to celebrate the occasion.
Hours go by when doctors examine all three boys by blood tests and give them breathing treatments to help expand their lungs to aid their recovery. The 24-hour monitoring begins when Justin wakes up, but no one leaves their sides.
In Josh’s mind, they’ve all been granted a rare second chance. He’s convinced in his own twisted way that they lived through everything his dream concocted but grasps that if he talks about it that he’ll be left behind in the hospital deemed clinically insane.
The trio complete their examinations, but the day they’re released, things left unsettled become resolved in a hurry.
“Ready to go home, son?” Josh’s mother asks him when she gives him a fresh change of clothes.
“Not with you! I’m going home to Momma C’s. You and I ain’t living under the same roof!” Josh admits with the attitude making its grand return.
She’s caught off guard by the choice he’s made. Then an unsuspected comment comes from Pops when he speaks on Josh’s behalf.
“You did throw him out, and well, he’s heading for eighteen, so no point to drag him home for him just to move out again.”
The agony flips like a ton of bricks tumbling all over her.
“But nothing dear you handed him a choice. I know I was there when you slapped him. Now, you told him if he couldn’t respect your wishes that he should go.” Pops brings up the flashback of that night in Susan’s mind.
She leaves the room nearly in tears, and before Pops takes off after her, He has a little surprise for Josh.
“Here, son! Since you look a lot better, I thought these could perk you up.”
In mid-air, Josh takes notice it’s his keys coming at him. Once he snatches them in his hand, he’s in a world of surprise.
“No, your car isn’t outside; it’s still at Paula’s, but once you get a couple of days at home, then take ’er out for a spin. Someone special has been waiting for you. From what I hear, she’s called Paula almost every day to check on you.” Pops teases, giving his step-son a wink before he disappears.
The excitement fills the air when all three boys get to walk out of their rooms to head home. They exchange a nod with each other as a signal to show they’re going to be alright in the long run.
“Woah yeah, baby, we’re back!” Justin calls out with his hands cupped over his mouth.
“Oh yeah, we are back bitches!” James yells, striking a pose in a cocky fashion.
Josh is the last one to get the hospital staff’s attention, who has watched over them for the nine days.
“The Troublesome Trio is back, and we’re back to raise some hell!” He announces with a fist in the air as the other two follow with their hands in the air.
Momma C hears them from around the corner and makes her presence known with a comment when she gathers the boys to head to the house.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah fellas, come on, you still have chores to do and grass to mow and rooms to clean.”
Her statement deflates their spirits giving the hospital staff a good snicker. Before they even take their first steps towards freedom, the boys each exchange a ‘bro hug’ then follow Momma C to the elevator.
“Glad to be taking you boys home. Justin, your parents will stop by after church to visit. I’ve managed to keep the three of you together with the excuse you do better as a team than being left alone.” She explains.
Josh stands there in the rear of the others, silent. His mind races through everything from the last moments he saw Nikki. His mind is still caught on the wild dream about their lives. He tries to separate each event to get a firm grip on reality.
Once the automatic doors open and the fresh air sweeps between the boys. They inhale the late morning air and walk to the Jeep to make their triumphant return home.
“Mom, any chance we can throw a welcome home party soon? I mean, we did have a chance to die, ya know.” James brings up hinting at his desire.
“We’ll see, son. First, I want to let the contractors finish up the remodel, which is not even half-way done. If you want, we can throw it at Timmy’s place, and yes, you can invite your little girlfriends.” She teases the idea with plans already in place.
Parked near the main entrance, the four of them climb into the Jeep. Windows down, music turned low on the way home, they enjoy the sights and sounds a little more that day.
Their senses are a bit sharper, but when the moment of truth arrives when the Jeep parks in the driveway, all three boys slightly tremble before they walk inside.
“Now or never…” Justin says, taking the lead behind Momma C.
They walk inside to a construction crew continuing to replace the drywall and install new flooring in the kitchen.
“I’m gonna head back to my room,” Josh states, making his way up the two steps to the hallway, then down to the end door and slowly creaks it open.
Immediately he shuts the door and falls to his knees to see under the bed for the bottle that started the argument between him and Nikki.
Under the bed, it brings back the memory of that night to come flooding back like a wild river.
Even the hole in the wall remains behind the door where he slammed his fist into it after Nikki left that night. Nikki refused to accept the fact that Josh was innocent when he blew up. He remembers the promise he made to it give up drinking or lose her.
“There’s the damn thing that caused me to lose control.” He says to himself, reaching for the bottle.
Josh twists the bottle in his hand. His rebelliousness begins to return with a firm grip on the bottle. His determination turns to repair the damage done that night and win Nikki’s heart back.
In that instant, though, something clicks in his mind that breaks his heart all over again.
“She’s nearly an hour away; I can’t ask her to put her life on hold for me.”
He realizes that even using the interstate is a hell of a haul, and weekends run short.
A new mindset slams over him, but it won’t take long before he gets some much-needed advice when a knock comes from his door.
“Who is it?”
“It’s me kiddo, can I come in?” Momma Cline asks with a softness to her voice.
“Yeah, I need to talk to you…” He replies, standing there with the bottle in his hand.
He prepares for one severe and lengthy lecture. Josh locks eyes with Momma C after she notices the empty liquor bottle in his hand. After a disappointing exhale, she motions for him to take a seat on the bed while she shuts the door to lean against it.
Both wait for the other to kick off the conversation, but Josh doesn’t want to say the wrong thing, and Momma C gives him a glare of dissatisfaction.
The awkward silence breaks when Josh begins to speak but stops before he can form a complete sentence.
“It’s not what… I mean, it’s not… This is why… Ah, shit, Momma I…” He grunts in frustration tightening his grip on the neck of the bottle.
“That’s why she left, ain’t it, kid? Nikki thought you had been drinking, and that’s why everything between you both is the way that it is. I knew something was wrong with the tone of her voice when she first called.”
They stare at each other without knowing which way to turn the conversation. Double disappointment crawls over the bedroom and creates a void that feels like it runs a mile long between them.
“I’m sorry… I wasn’t drinking though, I chose her, but she won’t believe me.” Josh blurts out, releasing the bottle as it hits the floor.
“I believe you; I can see it in your eyes. All I can tell you to do is talk to her when she calls. She’s actually called damn near every day to see how you’re doing. She’s willing to listen by now; I’d wager.”
Still able to sense the elephant in the room, Josh dips his head slightly, allowing the lady who took him in to pick up on the sadness.
“What else is it, son?”
“It hit me a little bit ago. It’s nearly forty-five minutes each way, you know, just to see each other. And well, it’s not fair to ask her to put her life on hold to live for just the weekends.” He explains as a crack forms in his heart, deciding they can’t make it work.
“Now that’s malarkey if I ever did hear it! Something you don’t know is that that girl stayed awake over you for seventy-two hours straight. She laid in that bed with you. She talked to you, whispered things in your ear, read to you, and even did some light singing. She loves you like nothing I have ever seen or had in my life. When she passed out on your shoulder, you reacted, and we thought you were coming out of it then.” She tells him.
“For Christs’ sake, she barely slept! Her parents had to come down to drive her home. She cried, she held your hand, and she played with your hair telling you to wake up!”
She pauses her lecture to let it sink in and think over an idea quickly.
“You love this girl, and yeah, granted, you do have a weekend job. I will make you a deal if y’all don’t end up calling it quits. I’ll let her stay here with her parents’ approval on one condition.”
Momma C waits to give Josh time to pull his head up to meet her at eye level. He’s about to have his socks blown off with what she suggests.
“Granted, I quit my job from driving over the road. I have an interview to be a substitute bus driver for the schools. Also, I’ll be switching up from towing to a dispatcher’s job. The party days are done, young man.”
Josh nods whiles she continues with the long, drawn-out lecture.
“But I am willing to do this because I’ve seen how good you are with her. You can bunk in the basement with Justin if he’s here, and she can sleep in your room because there will be no more hanky-panky under this roof. If y’all can manage to work things out, then I can work with that. Granted, it’s only for her. No other girl is going to come into my house and end up pregnant to screw up your lives.”
Josh agrees to the terms in less than a second, but it’s in his head that he still battles with Nikki possibly coming back.
“Absolutely, Momma, thank you!” He says, getting to his feet giving her a warm hug.
“You ain’t had it easy, kid, I know that. Though that’s no excuse, I want to see you happy, and well, I’ll do what I can.”
Josh shows his appreciation with his next statement.
“You’re the mom I wish I had.”
The sentimental words from him bring a tear to her eye as they still embrace in a hug.
Momma C returns against the door with questions ready from the doctors in case the boys have concerns.
“Hey sweetheart, do you have any questions or anything you want to talk about from everything that happened?”
Josh sits there to reflect over his memories imprinted from the self-created universe.
“Um, yes, I can’t figure out who Erin is from my dream. In my world, she was the mother of one of my kids.”
It’s an easy explanation for Momma Cline to break down. She shifts her weight just a bit, feeling her feet begin to ache.
“She was your first nurse, but she was about to go on maturity leave. Which that answers my question of how well you could hear during this whole ordeal. Also, if you’re wondering, Sharon was my cousin that came to visit but stayed with me to keep an eye on y’all.”
Josh sits there with his next question ready to fire.
“What about Sharon?” Momma C asks, “What did she do?”
“She was a psychiatrist,” Josh reveals.
A look of gloom crawls across Josh’s face.
“It’s going to sound weird, but I was a total screw up with my kids in my dreams. They went on to have success without me around.
Paula doesn’t waste time settling the issue.
“Your mind created a world based on who you were before this accident. You became who you were inside your mind. Obviously, you have a bit of heavy guilt somewhere. You’re going to be a great father one day, and you have such a huge heart when you decide to show it.”
A vast silence fills the room until one of them breaks the quiet cycle.
“Enough of this mushy nonsense, we have a party to plan, and you boys were waved from finals given the circumstances of your health. Oh, one more thing, son.” Momma Cline pauses when she realizes none of the boys had not mentioned meeting Alex before they nearly died. “There’s a new kid next door that just moved in too. He and his mother arrived around the time y’all came down sick. Go on over and make him feel welcome here.”
With a simple nod and a grateful gleam in his eyes, Josh opens the door to meet up with his friends. He leads the way to introduce themselves to the new kid in town.
They knock on the door, and a male around their age answers. Alex was informed of what happened. His mother enlightened him not to be surprised if his new friends suffered from slight amnesia.
“Hi, can I help ya guys?” The short stalky young man with sandy brown hair and brown eyes wonders seeing the trio stand on the other side of the screen door.
“Yeah, welcome to Lesage. I’m Joshua Bradshaw, this is James Cline, and Justin Adamson we’re your neighbors.” Josh introduces already guessing the name of the new neighbor.
“Oh, well, hi guys, I’m Alexander Myers, but everyone calls me Alex.” He says, giving his introduction.
Alex steps out to exchange a handshake with his friendly neighbor as they take time to get to know him a little bit better.
“Hey, nice ride, what is it?” Justin questions when he points to Alex’s Honda Prelude.
“It was my mom’s, but when she took a teaching job here, they gave her a bonus for relocating, so now it’s mine.”
Josh lays out an open invitation to the new kid.
“Come roll with us some time downtown at the strip, meet some new peeps, and chillax with us.”
“Thanks, man, I’d like that, but uh, if ya don’t mind, I have like a ton of stuff to do before my mom gets back. I’ll head over and hit you up later, and we’ll chill!”
“Cool man, if you all need anything, just pound on the door, and we’ll see if we can help.” James offers before Alex goes back into the house and shuts the door.
The boys stroll over to their rides and look at each other.
“Neglected cars, boys, they need a little elbow greasy love,” Justin mentions going towards the hose to spray them down.
“I’ll get the sponges and suds!” Josh calls out when Justin soaks James with the hose.
The boys have fun carrying on while Momma C watches from the window as things begin to fall back in place like they never changed.
The simple fact that the three of them battled for their lives and came back gives her peace to see they were given a rarity in the form of a second chance to make their lives better. She takes a seat to stare out the window and laugh as the boys return a bit of normalcy to their lives.