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I know she’s still here. I can feel her trying to cling on to me with all her life. I don’t care what they say, what the statistics show, what will happen to her in a matter of minutes. Because they’re wrong. They’ve been wrong from the beginning. My sister is strong; she’s tough; she’s unbeatable. Whenever mom or dad says she’s got to go, I know she’ll be back for me. She always is. She’s a go-getter. She never lies to me—ever. There’s no one else in the whole world like her. She’s a hero—a champion. My protector and guardian and inspiration. I love her more than anything life will give me in all of eternity. I know she’ll always be with me—at all times—no matter what.
My sister is here to stay.
“Can we get some oxygen pumping into her lungs?”
The people around me are hurrying with anxiety, squeezing by one another in this tight place. Men and woman are shouting above each other. All the sound is trapped in this rectangular container and I hear it more than once, bouncing off the walls and back into everyone’s ears. They keep putting things into her arm. Now there’s a tube coming from a big mask on her nose, obscuring her pale face. Fog appears on the clear plastic every time she staggers a breath. I hold on to her hand. Her big, strong hand that has held on to my tiny fingers since the day I was born. That hand has gripped mine firmly when I’m scared, when I need help, when I’m desperate. But now I’m more afraid than ever.
And there’s no squeeze this time.
“Three minutes out!” the man from the driver’s seat called out.
I look over at him when he shouted. The sky was dark, the moon full and bright. Out on the road, the ambulance zipped by the stopped cars, passing them all by in a forward moving blur. We kept bobbing about in the back, but everything on the shelves seemed to be secured from falling all over the place. I remained uncomfortably squat next to the gurney. Loud sirens whaled through the night air. I was sure anyone in the state could hear us, and they would get out of the way as soon as possible.
But I can’t hear it. I can’t hear anything. All that resonates in my ears is the sound of Leah’s voice. She’s not talking now, of course. They say she’s too weak to make a sound. But I can feel her trying to tell me something through that muzzle. She can’t. I hold on to her hand, hoping she could hear my thoughts.
“I need some more bandages here!”
Shouts and more shouts. I don’t know what they’re all saying. A woman dressed in white with a serious face is laying down bandages on Leah’s bloody stomach. I saw my sister flinch, and I felt the urge to scream, “You’re hurting her!” but the woman took no notice of me. I know she’s trying to keep my sister alive, doing whatever to save her.
She doesn’t need saving, I reminded myself. She’s going to be fine.
Everyone is moving in slow motion around me as I stare palely at Leah’s face. It’s white as snow. Never have I ever seen her like this. She’s always awake, vigorous and ready to do something awesome. Even though she doesn’t know much, I go on believing every single thing she tells me. Leah makes that face where you can’t not believe her. She’s confident, and her expressions show it. But not now. As of this moment, her face is weak, drained of life and excitement. It’s dull and her mouth is straight as a pencil. Her mouth—always curling into a smirk or a laugh or anything… anything but this.
I feel the truck stop. “Let’s move! I want her up in the ER, stat!” The same woman who placed the thin white cloth on Leah was shouting again. Next thing I know, they’re holding me back as the bed is rolled out of the ambulance. I jump to go along next to Leah, but they keep me in position. What if they don’t let me? What if they prevent me from seeing her?
“Wait! I need to go!” I plead to the man.
He ignores me. Leah’s gurney is gone from sight, disappearing into the automatic doors of the hospital. My heart is really going and I feel my eyes watering. Then, the man hops out and I’m free to leave the cage of claustrophobia.
I’m racing past the hospital doors and running alongside Leah again. There’s more people surrounding her, speeding down the white halls at an aerobic pace. I have a hard time trying to keep up with my short legs. Some of the people around the gurney are pushing, others looking at clipboards. I can feel the pressure of eyes on me, but I don’t dare make contact.
“It’s all right.” said the woman again to the weary doctors. “She came with her. Think she’s the sister.” I listen to her, and from the corner of my eye, I see the doctors nod and take their eyes off of me. They’ve given me permission to be this far. This lady is on my side.
Leah is still. Her eyes are unmoving and closed. Where are we going? The ER. That’s what they said in the ambulance. But where exactly is that? Is it long from here? Will Leah be able to—?
Yes. Of course she will. She always does.
I’m thankful and also frightened to see large red letters above a double, swingy door entrance. We race pass the sign so quickly that I don’t have time to read them. It’s just a red blur and next thing we’re in what must be the Emergency Room.
They roll her bed into place. The room, like everything here, is white and disturbingly clean. The hygienic fumes make me lightheaded and I feel like I might throw up. I manage to hold down dinner. It felt like years ago when Leah and I were heating up some leftovers because mom and dad were out on a date. In reality, it was just less than twenty-minutes previously. That’s not at all possible. Everything is becoming so much slower now.
Including Leah’s heart rate.
Once she’s hooked up to the beeping monitor, the line makes fewer and fewer jolts. I’m breathing hard, my legs ready to give way. I rush over to Leah’s side and take her hand in mine again. There’s life in it, barely, but it’s slipping away. Now I’m the one who’s gripping tightly. Not for encouragement. From fear. But I know she’ll pull through. She always does.
The doctors, now wearing blue masks and scrubs, are running in every direction, pulling silver utensils from glass cabinets and hurrying to gather back to Leah. The sight of them scares me. For a moment, I was afraid that they would ask me to leave. They would force me away from my dying sister. They don’t. They simply walk around me like I don’t exist.
Are they going to perform surgery? I look down at Leah. Her whole body is pale except for the blood stained, soaking wet shirt. They can’t. It will kill her! I frantically dart my panic-stricken eyes at them. I’m afraid that they actually might consider it. But they think otherwise.
I take a sigh of relief when they pull the masks off. She’s not going into surgery. That means I can stay with her.
That also means Leah’s too weak. Too weak for what? Something tells me it’s not just surgery.
Then a horrible, heart dropping feeling consumes me, drowning me into doubt. She’s too weak for surgery. I see the doctors slowing down. They don’t look like they’re in it anymore, like they can’t do anything.
DO SOMETHING! I shout in my mind. But they can’t hear me. Most are leaving now. They’ve given up. She’s long gone already.
I look at Leah. Her face is paler than ever. I know she can hear me. It’s not possible, but something is telling me that she knows I’m here, that she’s aware I’ve been standing by her side this whole time. She feels my hand. This time comforting her. But there’s no way I can tell. Too, took weak.
Too weak to live.
The room is empty now. Everyone but my sister and I are gone. For some reason, everything is louder. My hearing is sharper. And I don’t want it to be. Because the only sound is her heart monitor’s beeping.
Leah’s heart rate is dropping…dropping…lower and lower the line goes. I can’t bear to watch it anymore. My chest is heaving and hers isn’t moving the slightest. I’m afraid that she’s dead already.
“Leah,” I whisper. “Leah, please say something.” my throat is hoarse and I choke out the words.
I was right. She could hear me.
“Mmm?” She moans softly. Her eyes are glued shut, her lips sealed, but the sound definitely came from her. She gave every ounce of life she has to muster into saying that one syllable.
I hold her hand more tightly than ever. I feel I may just cut off her circulation, but I don’t take any consideration to it. My eyes are surveying her face. She knows I’m here.
“Tell me about your best memory.”
“You—mean—other—than—getting—shot?” she chokes. Every word is followed by a deep inhalation.
I make a weird noise, halfway between a chortle and a whimper. I nod. Though she can’t see it, the movement transferred from my head to my arm and into her palm. Then she tells me what I knew would be but also kills me.
I want to cry full out now. She can’t do it. There’s nothing left. Still managing to say, “That’s okay,” I get the hiccups and can’t find anymore words.
“You—you never lie to me.” I don’t know what I’m saying now. Leah didn’t have the strength to say anything else, so what am I doing? “You—you always tell the truth.”
I never thought I would see it again. Leah’s lips curl into a faint smile for half a second, then they collapse back into a line.
Now I’m fighting to get my words out. “So can you promise me you’ll be by my side? Forever?”
I feel a little shutter in her arm. Yes, she’s trying to say.
My tears spill. I heaving next to me sister’s limp body, afraid of what might happen in the next minute, the next second. The monitor’s beeps are becoming longer and longer; the line is growing thinner and thinner. What if I really do lose her? Will she break her promise?
My sister is strong; she’s tough; she’s unbeatable. Not even death will conquer her. I know it won’t. My sister is my hero. She’s my guardian angel on earth, standing by my side, holding my little fingers since I was born. She won’t leave me. Not now; not ever.
But before anything, I want to say something that’s been prying on my mind. “I love you.” She’s never said it too me. Probably because she’s older and cooler. But she will this time. She’ll follow on queue for anything she knows is important to me. Like those words. Like this.
I wait for her response. I don’t think much, just wait. I just want to hear her say four words in return. She’ll say them. I know she will. She’s a fighter and a winner. She dominates the Earth. I might even see a full smile on that face, see the life return and the beautiful brown eyes open once again. My sister is a champion. She never lies to me. She’ll win this battle, and come out on top saying it.
But there is no response. Instead, the only sound is a never-ending beep. The only sight is a thin green line on the monitor.
I sit next to my sister’s limp body. There’s no squeeze in her hand. All life is drained from her.
And for as long as I wander the lonely earth, I never got to hear her say it.