Beep. Beep. Beep.
Slowly I blink my eyes open, and the first thing that registers is pain. Then confusion. Where am I? My vision is fuzzy, but the more I blink, everything begins to come into focus. Sterile white walls. The smell of antiseptic. I’m in a hospital, but why?
“Jace? Oh, honey, thank God.”
My mom comes rushing across the room to me, her eyes red and swollen, tissues clutched in her hand. Bending over, she kisses my cheek, and I weakly reach up to pat her back.
“We’ve been so worried.” Dad comes into the room behind her, concern etched into his face.
“What’s going on?” I croak out, my throat as dry as the Sahara.
“You don’t remember?” Dad asks as my mom reaches over for the call button attached to my bed. My head is throbbing, and I look down the bed to find my leg done up in a white cast, my right arm in the same state.
A nurse in hot pink scrubs walks into the room, a cheery smile plastered on her face.
“Mr. Miller, glad to see you awake. How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” I tell her. “My head is killing me. Can I have some water?”
“Absolutely. The doctor will be in shortly to go over your injuries and treatment. Take small sips at first. We don’t need you upsetting your stomach.” The nurse brings over a small pitcher of water with a plastic cup, setting them down on a small table she wheels over to me. Mom helps me with filling it and hands it over.
Sitting on the edge of the bed, Mom starts to cry, and I set my cup down. “Mom, please don’t cry. I’m okay.”
“Honey, the accident….”
“I was in an accident?”
“We got the call that your car was involved in a head-on collision. Drunk driver fell asleep at the wheel, and your car flipped three times. Driver is in custody.”
“That’s not all. We need to talk, Jace.” Dad comes to sit on the other side of me, and I can see him struggling with his emotions. But he’s unable to continue, because a moment later, my door bangs open and Drew comes running in, his eyes red and glassy.
“Hey, bro,” I begin, but he rushes over and drops down on his knees next to my bed, resting his head next to me on the bed. His shoulders shake with his cries, and Mom reaches over to rub his back.
“I’m fine, Drew. It’s okay.”
“Sorry, but I’ve been on the road for hours, and when I got here, they wouldn’t tell me anything. I forgot my cell, so I’ve been in the dark the whole time.” Drew wipes his face with his sleeve and takes a heaving breath. “I’m so glad you’re okay, Jace. You have no idea.”
“Is my car totaled?” I ask. My brain is still foggy, and I can’t seem to conjure up any memory of what happened.
“Yes. Sorry, son. But that’s not what we need to talk about,” Dad says, but Mom stops him and leans forward to hold my good hand.
“Baby, the accident. You weren’t alone.”
Scrunching my eyes shut, I feel a stab in my stomach, thinking back to what happened earlier in the day. Pool. Bryan and Casey. Coming home for break.
“Bry…,” I begin, and Mom starts to cry again.
“Casey didn’t have on his seatbelt and was thrown from the car, Jace. He was dead before they got there. Bryan was in serious condition, and they rushed him into emergency surgery, but he didn’t make it. I’m so sorry, Jace. I am so sorry.”
“No. You’re wrong.”
“Jace, she’s not wrong. We’re so sorry. We loved Bryan and Casey like our own,” Dad starts, but I use my good hand to push against Mom, needing her away from me. She tries to calm me down, but even drugged up in a hospital bed, I’m still stronger than her, or maybe she’s just not trying to fight me.
“Get out. You’re wrong. This is some fucked-up nightmare, and I want you the hell out,” I bite out, my tone laced with anger. Despite that, my eyes burn with tears.
“No! Get out. You’re a fucking liar.”
“Jace, do not speak to your mother that way. I’m sorry, but you have no right to hurt her,” Dad demands, but I raise my hand and point to the door.
“Get. The fuck. Out!”
My head throbs, but I ignore it, fighting like hell not to lose control. My mother is my rock, and I love her like crazy, but right now I can’t have her in here. Even though deep down, I know she’s telling me the truth.
“We’ll be right outside, Jace. We aren’t leaving you, baby. I love you, and I know how much you’re hurting, but we’re here.”
Mom backs out of the room with Dad holding her, his eyes filled with tears.
“Jace? You okay?” Drew asks, having moved into a chair next to me.
“She pisses me off,” I mumble. My bottom lip trembles, and I bite down to quell the emotion threatening.
“She’s worried about you, man. We all are.”
“Well, I’m fine.”
Drew and I lapse into silence, and the longer it goes on, the more reality begins to hit me.
My two best friends, dead. And me alive. How is this fair?
Tears begin to silently fall down my cheeks, but I don’t bother hiding them. “Tell me it’s not true. Please, Drew.”
The bed shifts and my little brother lies down next to me, resting the side of his head against mine. He reaches for my hand and squeezes tight.
“I’m so fucking sorry, Jace.” His voice is raspy with tears, and my chest hitches.
Leaning my head down, I break, sobbing against him. He doesn’t say anything, just shoulders my pain, and in that moment, my entire world changes.
Long after my tears dry up, we sit in silence. My heart aches with the emptiness of my loss.
“You still got me, Jace,” Drew whispers quietly. “You still have a best friend.”
“Love you, Drew.”
My eyelids begin to grow heavy, and even though I know I should get more pain medicine, I feel myself drifting to sleep. I hope for empty dreams, because I know when I wake up, I’ll still be in a nightmare.
I’ll still be alive.
They’ll still be dead.
I’ll still be empty.