Embrace is a published short-story in the anthology, This Beautiful Escape, Volume One.
Copyright: I am the owner of this short story and am uploading it on Tablo under a pen.
"I feel my heart ache, but I've forgotten what that feeling means."
― Chuck Palahniuk
The monotonous beeping sounds of the machines gave me a headache, as I stood in the hospital room looking down at my grandmother. She had been admitted to the hospital after fainting a couple of hours ago and hadn't woken up yet. The cause was still unknown; the doctors took some blood samples for tests and walked away, no one was telling me anything. They explained to me that my grandma was old and that these things happened. I understood that, but fainting the way she did and not waking up? That was definitely unusual and needless to say, I was worried.
This incident occurred around ten last night when I had just returned home from a friend's house party. The lights were off, which was strange because grandma always kept them on. I'd called out to her several times but was only greeted by silence.
The upstairs rooms were empty so I'd quickly run down the stairs. My eyes peeped into the kitchen and that's when I saw her, lying motionlessly on the floor.
The high I was on washed away as fear set in my bones and all the blood drained from my face. Dread came over me and guilt settled in for going out. If I had stayed home as grandma had instructed, maybe this wouldn't have happened.
I'd rushed towards her, picked up her head, and placed it on my lap. Her cold skin sent shivers down my spine and my body shook with terror at the thought of losing my grandmother. With trembling fingers, I'd grabbed a glass of water and sprinkled some of it on her face.
There wasn't even a slightest movement in her body. I remember letting out a garbled grunt of frustration. My heart thrashed against my ribcage and everything in my surroundings faded away until all I could hear was my beating heart.
Time froze in that moment and there was only one thought that played in my mind.
I cannot lose her, she is my only family.
I cannot lose her...
In my messed up state, reality somehow caught up and slapped me back to my senses. If it hadn't been for the vibration of my phone, I would have sat there glued to that spot for God knows how long. I quickly called 911 and hoped they would come as soon as possible.
Holding up and remaining calm was essential; my grandma's safety was priority.
Tears threatened to spill. My body slumped down on the visitor's chair. My hands covered my face. My elbows dug into my thighs. I took a deep breath in an attempt to calm my thumping heart. It felt like it was going to jump out of my chest. It hurt so much. I didn't know how to drive away this feeling. Gulping down the lump that formed at the back of my throat, I squeezed my eyes shut.
What will I do if she leaves me?
My mind started to take me to dark places on its own accord. I couldn't stop it from pulling me into my past as I took a trip down memory lane.
Six years ago. I can never forget what happened that night. It's as if it happened only yesterday. The knot in my stomach grew as flashes of that horrible night appeared.
The screeching of car tires made my head pound so hard that I wanted to scream. I could see my dad driving the car while mom was sitting beside him. He took a sharp turn to...to save...
The sudden placement of a hand on my shoulder startled me. As a reflex, my feet slam to the ground, causing the chair to topple over. My hands grabbed my chest at a last ditched attempt to calm my alarmed self.
Flashbacks had always been exhausting and, at times they'd triggered panic attacks but this time, thankfully, there were none.
"I am so sorry, please forgive me. I didn't mean to startle you," the doctor in front of me gushed as he kneeled down to pick up the chair.
He brushed his unkempt hair from his forehead and straightened up as he looked at me; it was indeed Dr. Cooper. His clothes were disheveled and I wondered what he was doing here at two in the morning.
I stared at him in disbelief, trying to catch my breath. His presence could only mean bad news.
"Hey, let's talk." He said, as he nervously motioned his hands towards the door and gave a side glance towards grandma.
Dr. Lance Cooper had always been of the shy type. It was quite hard to comprehend considering he was a psychiatrist. Even though he got all squirmy, if you stared at him for long, he was damn good at his job. I've heard people say it was easy to warm up to him but I never felt that when we had sessions together.
After my parents had passed, it was mandatory for me to visit a psychiatrist, though Granny thought the same since I had stopped talking to everyone and slowly pushed them away. When I started being distant from Granny too, she got worried and told this to Dr. Cooper. Since then, he had been calling me quite frequently for sessions.
Just the thought of my parents squeezed my heart. The memory to date caused pain, a pain that I had not yet shared with anyone. I couldn't, it was difficult to think of them while descending into a fragile state.
Pushing those thoughts away, I concentrated on the present, turned, and gave Granny one last look before nodding at Dr. Cooper. He opened the door and closed it behind him once we were standing in the hall.
My eyes searched his face for a tell but it remained blank.
"Imogen, please sit."
My head shook. "No, not until you tell me what's wrong!"
"Imogen, please. You-"
"Just tell me what it is, Dr. Cooper. I am not a kid anymore and can handle what you have to say," I kept my voice firm while talking.
The look on his face was not good. He sighed and ran his fingers through his blonde hair and those blue eyes of his locked with my brown ones. He was serious when he told me to sit down. I should have listened because what he was about to say made my world crumble.
"Your grandma's condition doesn't look too good. She is too weak to go on. The doctors are still conducting tests, but I wanted to make sure you are prepared for whatever happens."
"No...this cannot be happening again," I whispered to myself.
My knees gave way, but Dr. Cooper was there to hold me. He helped me to one of the benches and made me sit. He was there by my side until I could no longer take it. The only person keeping me going was my grandma; she was all I had.
I didn't realize tears were wildly falling from my eyes until Dr. Cooper handed me a handkerchief. I murmured a thank you but looked away.
Why was life so hard? Why couldn't anything nice happen when I needed it the most?
"Imogen, I'd like to have a session with you tomorrow. It is advisable that you come in. I know this time is hard, and you think life is unfair, but you need to be strong, okay? For your grandma."
"Okay," I nodded, subconsciously agreeing to have a session with him.
I didn't know how it would be for me tomorrow, since I never really spoke to him about most of my feelings. I wasn't sure if I was ready to talk to him about Granny, and especially not about what happened six years ago.
"I'm not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I'm not sure that I want to wake up."
― Gayle Forman
Dr. Cooper had forced me to go home last night. I was reluctant at first because leaving grandma alone like that didn't sit well with me, but he assured me time and again that the hospital staff would take good care of her, and that I needn't worry about her.
With a heavy heart, I had left the hospital in hopes that my grandmother would be alright. When I got home, all I could think about was how I'd found my grandmother's cold, barely alive body on the kitchen floor.
The flashbacks almost triggered a panic attack but somehow I was able to take control of it. I took deep breaths as Dr. Cooper had taught me and though the aftershocks still made my body tremble, my legs took me to my room without stumbling and I got into bed with my clothes still on. The entire night I tossed and turned and when I couldn't take it anymore, I went for an early jog. Skipping breakfast and eager to meet Granny, I left home at eight.
When I arrived at the hospital, the clinical smell hit my nostrils, creating a burning sensation, and I scowled. This smell always made me feel nauseated and reminded me of what I went through six years ago today. Being here on this day was a bold move for me. Even if I wanted to curl up and stay in bed, I couldn't. My grandma needed me today and abandoning her in this situation, when she helped me these years, would be inconsiderate.
Walking towards the elevator, I passed through the emergency ward and saw a few patients waiting outside. My gaze fell upon a little girl who sat on one of the benches. Her head hung low and by the looks of her, it seemed as if she had been crying for a while now. I stopped in my tracks and made my way towards her. She reminded me of myself when I sat in the same exact spot that night. I was so lost then, that I had given up on life.
I looked around and found no one besides the girl. Frowning, I crouched down and gently placed my hand on her knee. My gesture startled her and she backed away further into her seat.
"Hey, don't be scared, okay? My name is Imogen. What's your name?"
I spoke to her as calmly as I could; I didn't want to scare her any more than she already was. Striking up a small conversation and maybe distracting her would be a good thing, or so I thought. Kids got distracted easily, didn't they?
Shifting from my position and standing up, I shuffled to the seat beside her. Facing her, I took a minute to take in her current state. Her blonde hair was completely disheveled and smeared with mud and her blue dress was torn in places, though it appeared to be keeping her warm.
When she looked up at me, her hazel eyes glistened with tears and you could see that some had already left their trail on her cheeks. She was beyond terrified with whatever situation she was in. What could've possibly happened to leave this little girl so lost?
My heart went out to her. I once again tried talking to her hoping that this time she would talk to me. "Where are your parents, honey?"
At the mention of her parents, her lips visibly trembled and she started sobbing. Big fat tears roll down her cheeks and I just wanted to hug her.
Minutes passed by and her sobs turned into cries. The people sitting in the waiting room stared at us and started whispering to one another. I started to get all squirmy. Being in the spotlight never sat well with me and having their gazes directed towards me made me want to hide.
I began to get nervous with each passing second; I didn't know how to handle this, maybe I should have just walked past her. All those thoughts vanished as I peered down at her. Before taking her little hand in my big one, I thought about it for several minutes. I had no clue how she'd react to my touch this time. When I cautiously placed my hand above hers, she surprisingly didn't flinch from the touch. Instead, she held onto it and after a while, pulled me down to her level. I wondered what she was doing but she only pulled me closer so that she could wrap her arms around my neck.
I was taken aback by her gesture. Warmth and empathy filled my heart as I picked her up and placed her little body on my lap. Wrapping my arms around her, I made sure that she felt safe.
She hugged me tightly and cried into my chest. I swallowed my tears and tried to soothe her by trying to talk to her. It all reminded me of my past, how scared I was back then.
"Mommy told me that she would come back..." she tried to speak in between her sobs. Her chest heaved as the little girl gasped for air.
"How many times have I told you to stay put and not bother the people around you?!"
Before I even had the chance to finish my sentence, a nurse came by and took the girl from my arms. The girl struggled against the nurse's hold and tried to grab my hand but the nurse only pulled her further away from me.
Anger filled me and I quickly stood up, taking a menacing step towards the nurse, I warned her.
"Let the girl go. This is no way to treat a child!"
My voice grew in octaves and I didn't care what the people around me thought. The nurse's actions were rough and could've caused pain to the girl. How dare she!
"I am sorry miss, but I'll have to take her now. Thea's parents-"
"You know, I don't give a damn about your reason. Let the child go now, apologize to her, and we'll be good. Otherwise, I'll be forced to write a complaint against you to the Dean and that will be your ticket out of this hospital!"
Thea flailed her arms and tried to break free. Seeing her like that only increased my concern for her. I glared at the nurse and her body visibly stiffened. Satisfied with the reaction, I grabbed the nurse's hand and helped Thea out of her hold.
"Thea, that's a pretty name," I whispered, scooping up the little girl in my arms.
She buried her face in the crook of my neck and hugged me tightly. Her grip was strong enough to choke me, but I didn't say anything, it was alright, I could handle it.
"Ma'am, please...," the nurse's voice was laced with urgency and that got my attention. I know I went a bit far with my temper but she was wrong on her part.
My lips formed a hard line and I gave her a nod.
"Thea's parents have been in an accident and sadly, they didn't make it. We had to call Child Protective Services," she explained, pleading with her eyes.
I swallowed the lump that had formed in the back of my throat. It was happening all over again. Thea's situation was reflecting my own past and I couldn't take it. Today, six years ago, I had lost my parents in an accident as well and hearing about this girl's parents only worsened my condition. It was too much to take in.
Thea needed someone to be at her side, someone strong, but she was all alone. The question was, could I be strong enough for this little girl until her relatives arrived?
I frowned. "Why the Child Protective Services though? Didn't you call her relatives? And-"
The conversation was cut short when Dr. Cooper stepped in. I hadn't even realized that he was standing in the same room.
"Imogen, can I have a word with you?"
I pursed my lips and nodded. I walked towards him with Thea in my arms, but he shook his head at the kid. Getting the message and gently placing her on her feet, I turned away, but she stopped me by tugging my hoodie.
"Hey, kid. Stay here for a minute, okay? I'll be right back." I kissed her forehead.
Thea blinked several times before carefully nodding at me.
"Why are you creating a fuss so early this morning?"
"Sue me for helping out a kid who is being treated disrespectfully, Dr. Cooper!" I scoffed.
"Call me Lance, please. Listen, Imogen, please calm down. I am sure we can talk calmly and figure something out, okay?" He requested.
Ignoring Dr. Cooper, I looked back at Thea and the nurse. Something had been bothering me since she'd stepped into my personal space, taking Thea away.
"Why did the hospital have to call Child Protective Services, Lance?" I whispered, but made sure to coldly speak his name.
Dr. Cooper heard me and sighed as he stood behind me. I bent down and held Thea's hand. Looking up, I glared at the nurse, again. She seemed worried and looked anywhere but at me.
Lance cleared his throat and motioned for us to follow him. The nurse gave me a stink eye before following him to his office. I shrugged, shook my head, and followed suit.