There is no place as depressing as a hospital at Christmastime. Since my last visit, shiny silver garland has appeared, draped in the front of the reception desk, and cardboard elves dance across the glass partition. The receptionist sees Mr. Kendrick and me standing there but turns her back to get something off the printer. I knock on the Plexiglas, but the receptionist grabs the papers and disappears around the corner.
“Why don’t you sit down,” I tell Mr. Kendrick. “I’ll get someone to help us.”
The television in the waiting room is blaring the news, and a kid is bawling over something he can’t have. Mr. Kendrick doesn’t look too good. There’s a waxy sheen on his forehead, and his color is gray except where bluish veins stand out along his neck.
A blond nurse, young, wearing scrubs with little kittens all over them slides open the partition. “Is anyone helping you?”
“You are.” I smile. “We were told to check in here. To see Declan Kendrick?”
She pulls out a chair and sits down in front of a computer screen, typing in information. Her mouth turns down. “Declan Kendrick is an ICU patient. There’s a visitor restriction.” Her blues eyes snap up to meet mine. “Only two at a time, family only.”
Declan’s dad swivels in his chair and calls over to the nurse. “It’s just the two of us, miss. His sister and me.” He flashes a smile at me.
We follow the directions to the ICU suite. The troublemaker nurse must be off tonight. A different one hands us shoe covers and leads us to Declan’s room. She walks in, pushes the curtain surrounding his bed back, and writes down some readings off the machines.
Mr. Kendrick stands in the doorway like he’s stuck half in, half out. One hand grasps the doorframe.
“His vitals are much better today.” The nurse’s tone is rehearsed, like she dialed in the chipper voice to encourage the family option. She checks out Mr. Kendrick, and her eyebrows pinch together. He’s starting to look like an opium addict crashing after a high. “Maybe you’d like to sit down. Can I get you some water?”
Mr. Kendrick lurches over to the chair without answering her.
“Water would be great. Thanks,” I tell her, retreating.
A sound like a trapped moose comes out of Declan’s dad. His head drops in his hands.
“He’s better. The nurse said so.” I stand by the chair and stare at the quiet, pale form under the thin blanket. Much too quiet. The machines beep and make sucking noises, and we barely breathe, waiting for something to happen.
“Talk to him,” I whisper.
The nurse steps in long enough to leave a little paper cup of water on the rolling cart near the door.
“Tell him you’re here.”
He shakes his head and sniffs.
“C’mon.” I nudge the arm of the chair, my voice impatient.
Mr. Kendrick leans forward and fishes under the blanket to draw out Declan’s hand. He clasps it in both of his.
“Son.” His eyes follow the tubes snaking along his arm, up to the stand holding a clear bladder of some kind of fluid. “I’m here. I came to see you.”
I nod, willing him to go on.
“To see you get better and take you home.”
Declan is still. There is a sound like a soft hiss of air.
Mr. Kendrick squeezes his hand and drops his forehead to touch it. I hold my breath. I don’t know if he’s crying. I don’t know what to do if he is. He draws in a sharp breath.
I step closer to the bed, touch what I figure is Declan’s calf, and give it a little shake. “C’mon, Declan, you’ve got to get home and take care of Rosie. You know she won’t eat without you.” A strangled laugh bursts past my lips. “You know you’ve got her so spoiled. Stupid bird.” I wipe a tear before it rolls down my face.
Mr. Kendrick scoots the big armchair closer to the bed so it’s touching the side. He kisses Declan’s hand. I sit down on the very bottom of the bed away from any tubes or wires.
Mr. Kendrick releases his hand and sits back. “Well, if you won’t answer us, I take it to mean you’re just waiting to hear a story. What kind of story would you like? A quest? An epic battle?” His eyes search mine out for encouragement.
“A love story.” I wiggle my eyebrows. “He’ll leap out of bed to get away from that.”
A hopeful look ghosts across his face. “A love story it is, then.”
We look at each other, and I force a brave expression to settle over my face. Mr. Kendrick’s bushy brows unclench, and his eyes get soft like a horse that’s relaxed and trusting. I try to act like we’re just sitting around the table at Declan’s house while his dad goes off on some Celtic story rant. Mr. Kendrick clears his throat and shifts in the oversized chair, but we’re both grasping at some bit of normal in this weird place.
“Well, let’s see.” He studies his hands. “A love story that’s not tragic.” He gives a huff of a laugh. “Not many of those in Celtic lore. Um, there’s the one about—no, they both die in the end.”
“How about a story from—”
He holds up a hand and raises one eyebrow. “Don’t worry. I’ve got one.”
I retrieve the water cup and set it on the bedside table.
“According to Celtic legend, when two people are born to cross paths and their hearts are entwined, something magical happens. A third entity comes into being as a spirit companion who watches over the two to help them love each other into fullness. If they choose to turn away from the path of their fated entwined lives, the spirit companion will fade away.”
Declan’s dad lifts his head. “Tinkerbell?”
“She fades and is going to die because no one believes in fairies, remember? The third spirit is like Tinkerbell. It will die because the two people don’t believe they belong together, there’s no love anymore.”
He sips some water. “Powerful emotions—belief, love…”
I feel his eyes on me, but I can’t look up.
“Yes, trust. Very much, trust.” He clears his throat. “This is one of the greatest love stories—the tale of Diarmuid and Grainne. Grainne was the most beautiful woman in Ireland and daughter of the high king. She was courted by all the most eligible princes and chieftains, including Fionn MacCool, who was significantly older than the maid. She agreed to marry him, but during an engagement party, she met and instantly fell in love with one of Fionn’s best warriors, Diarmuid, and ran away. …”
My mind drifts, lulled by the sound of Mr. Kendrick’s voice and the overheated room. The story drones on with magic spells, the lovers running away, vows for revenge, and, of course, the hero becoming mortally wounded.
“As Fionn and his men came upon their long-sought quarry, he found Diarmuid dying in Grainne’s arms. Despairing, Grainne knew she had one chance to save her lover. She implored Fionn to have mercy and save his former friend by curing him with a drink of water brought to him in Fionn’s magic hands. Fionn, full of pride, refuses, but seeing that Grainne’s love for Diarmuid is so strong she’ll never agree to marry him, Fionn is eventually persuaded. A peace between the warring parties is negotiated, and Fionn settles for marrying Grainne’s sister instead, leaving the couple to live happily ever after.”
Mr. Kendrick tilts his head back, staring at the ceiling.
“What? That’s not how it really ends.”
He lifts his head. “You doubt me? The expert?”
“Let’s just say I think you changed the ending.”
He opens his mouth to protest, but a small movement in the bed catches his attention. He stands, leaning over Declan.
A dry whisper comes from deep in the back of Declan’s throat.
“Should I call the nurse?” I ask.
We stare at each other. No one moves.
“Declan. Do you hear me?” Mr.Kendrick’s voice is deep, calming. “Do you want anything?”
Dry lips move. Declan thrashes. A machine spikes a high tone.
“I’m getting the nurse.” When I reach the door, the nurse and another woman rush in. The woman goes to the machine, takes a quick glance, and smiles. Smiles!
My feet are glued to the spot near the door.
She leans over the bed and encircles Declan’s other wrist. She looks across the bed to his dad. “This is good. It looks like he’s coming out of it.”
Declan’s eyes flutter. I see the white, then they close again.
He’s waking up!
I want to push the woman away and be the first person he sees. I want to ask him what happened in the woods that day. I want to ask him to forgive me for being such a jerk and tell him I trust him. Of course I trust him.
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