by Missy Wilkinson
Pages: 216 / Words: 62000
PRINT ISBN: 978-1-61040-938-4
Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Contemporary
Age Rating: Edgy Young Adult
Ebook zipped file contains: html, Adobe and Sony optimized pdf, prc,
Also available in print from :- Amazon.com
Outside it’s the fourth of July, sweltering and sparkler-filled. But the hospital room is cold. Dad keeps pulling Mom’s blankets tighter, tucking them around her feet and arms. I don’t know why. It isn’t like she’s going to roll over and shake them off. But I bite my tongue instead of reminding him. He wouldn’t take it well.
The door opens soundlessly. Dr. Ascuitto walks right in. Doesn’t bother to knock or ask if that’s okay. I guess he’s too important to bother. The room feels even colder when he’s standing there in his white coat, like an icy, sterile stethoscope pressed against your heart.
I catch myself tucking Mom’s blankets tighter, too. It’s just good to do something. Or feel like I’m doing something, at least.
“Miles McFarland.” Dr. Ascuitto nods at my dad. He ignores me. I blow a huge pink bubble to show him I don’t like the way he barged in here.
“Lauren has suffered brain death,” Dr. Ascuitto continues. “It’s the irreversible end of all brain activity.”
“People come out of comas all the time,” Dad says. “She’s still with us. I know it.”
“Lauren’s brain is dead. We can keep her vital functions going indefinitely. But Lauren isn’t coming back.” Dr. Ascuitto removes his reading glasses, and smiles in a way that’s supposed to be compassionate. It looks smug and triumphant.
“I don’t know how to say this without sounding cruel.” Dr. Ascuitto seems to savor the words, rolling them in his mouth like jawbreakers. “It’s cruel that Lauren’s life was cut short like this. She was a fine woman—”
“She is a fine woman,” Dad interrupts.
“Kind, noble, and giving, and I know she wanted to be that way in her death. Which is what I came to talk about.”
I should be crying right now. Throwing myself at the doctor’s feet, begging him to do something, like one of those adorable child actors in a Lifetime movie special. But I’m totally numb. I don’t feel anything, except for a zit under my bangs, threatening to erupt.
“What does that mean, exactly?” Dad’s arms are folded stubbornly, as though winning the argument would allow him to drag Mom back to the world of the living.
“Lauren is listed as a donor.”
Dad is thinking. I watch his brown eyes, which are sometimes warm and soft, and sometimes spark with amber fire. Miles. His name is just a few letters away from mild, which describes him most of the time. But its Latin root means soldier.
“Now, the patient also asked that her body be cremated immediately following the organ donation,” Dr. Ascuitto continues.
“Lauren never said anything about that to me,” Dad says. “How will we have a visitation without a body?”
“Some families choose memorial services with a photo or a painting. There are many ways to celebrate a life.”
“Celebrate a life,” Dad says with a bitter rasp. “I guess we have more of these platitudes to look forward to.”
“The patient was under my care for years as a child, when it looked as though she might not get an organ transplant. We have spoken about this possibility. This is what she wanted,” Dr. Ascuitto says.
Dad casts a venomous look at the doctor. “She wanted to stay here with us.”
He’s right. That’s what Mom always said when I asked why we had to move every few years: we were seeking the best medical care to keep her heart and lung transplants from rejecting. It’s why she swallowed handfuls of pills and did breathing treatments each day—well, that and her cystic fibrosis. The pills kept her lungs and heart going, each beat and breath a stitch that sewed her to this world. So I was shocked when it was an aneurysm that ripped her out of it. It happened two days ago, while she was looking up recipes for red, white, and blue cakes. It still doesn’t feel real.
“I don’t understand,” I say. “Mom’s heart and lungs were bad. How is she going to donate them?”
Dr. Ascuitto’s gaze slides over to me slowly, touches me like a snake. “There are many other uses for a body.”
“Find my heart.” Mom’s voice is clear and loud as a bell. But she hasn’t moved. Her eyes are closed.
“What kind of uses?” Dad asks. Didn’t he hear her?
“Gates, listen to me,” Mom continues. Her face, her lips, her body—none of these things are moving. But Dad and Dr. Ascuitto ignore her words, talking about medical donations. I tune them out and move closer to my mom, touching her cool, smooth hand.
“Mom?” I look down at her serene face.
She continues without making a sound. “In a few minutes, my body will belong to the Inazumaya Foundation. When you’re ready, I need you to find my heart. It won’t be easy. But it’s the first step in figuring out who you are, why you’re here, and what it will take to stay alive.”
I nod slightly. Dr. Ascuitto and Dad are absorbed in their conversation. Dad looks wilted, defeated. He’s rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“There’s much more to the universe than you understand and more to your place in it,” Mom tells me. “What you must do is listen and act with courage. I hope you can forgive me. I love you.”
“I love you too,” I whisper, and then this whole thing does feel real, and I realize when my mom is dead, that’s it. I won’t see her face, ever again. I won’t get to touch her hand or tell her about school stuff or get care packages covered in XOXOs from her, like I did at summer camp when I was nine. She’ll just be gone. For the rest of my life.
I feel a hand, leaden on my shoulder. Dad gives me an awkward squeeze.
“Gates, it’s time for us to tell Mom goodbye.”