“Mr. Shepherd?” I called cautiously into the darkness. “Mr. Shepherd, are you there?” I walked forward carefully. Amy had given me the keys to her house so I could bring her dad to the hospital, but I hadn’t been expecting to find it empty. Then I remembered that Amy had told me her dad would’ve been upstairs in his room. I climbed the stairs slowly, looking for his bedroom. I stopped at one with blue walls and the word JACK written across the door. I’d forgotten about Amy’s little brother, and apparently so had she. I had to let him know what was going on, especially since I couldn’t tell their own father. I knocked gently on the door and walked in, looking around for him. But he wasn’t there. His room looked like it hadn’t been touched in years. There was dust on his nightstand and his bed was made but untouched. I thought maybe he moved out with Amy’s mother – I hadn’t seen her around at all, either – so I just assumed he wasn’t there. I turned my attention to her dad, who I noticed was sitting on a chair in an upstairs den watching television. “Mr. Shepherd? It’s Jacob Benson.” He turned around quickly but grinned when he saw me. “Ja-acob!” he shouted, sounding excited. He reminded me of my nine year old brother. “W-Why are y-you here?” “Amy had an accident,” I said slowly, remembering her wish to keep him in the dark about the way she’d gotten hurt. “She’s in the hospital, but they need you there.” His eyes widened and he stood up quickly. “I-Is she h-hurt?” he asked worriedly. “She’s a little beat up, but she’s going to be okay.” I stared back at him, trying not to show all the emotions I felt, and watched as he scrambled over to me. “T-Then let’s g-g-go,” he replied urgently, pulling me by the sleeve and down the stairs. He stumbled at the door a little bit from walking too fast, but for the most part the walk to the car was quick and painless. I was worried I’d have to force him into my car, him kicking and screaming the entire way. I was lucky. “Are y-you afraid?” he asked after I’d buckled him in and got into the driver’s seat. “No,” I lied. Truth is, I was terrified. But I couldn’t tell him that. “Everything is going to be fine, Mr. Shepherd.” He nodded and stared ahead of him, sighing loudly. I felt guilty lying to him like that, but I was right. I couldn’t tell him I was scared. I couldn’t tell him that the reason Amy was in the hospital was because of me. I couldn’t tell him that everything was my fault. So I let the car ride stay silent until we reached the hospital. A few minutes later we were in her room and Mr. Shepherd was running over to her desperately. “A-A-Amy,” he whispered. “Amy, y-you look b-b-bad!” “Daddy, I’m okay,” she replied through her tears. He stared back at her lovingly, making me want to leave the room. Sure, if I was being honest I would say that I was jealous of how much her dad cared about her – I mean, my dad obviously didn’t give a s*** about me or Mitch or Mom. Yeah, I was jealous. But what bothered me more was how genuinely concerned he was about her. It made me want to kill myself, because now I hadn’t only caused one person’s pain – I’d caused pain for both of them. “W-What happened?” he asked as I pulled a chair next to Amy’s bed for him to sit down on. He was shaking so much I thought he was going to fall. “I fell down the stairs,” Amy whispered. “They need you to tell them it’s okay for them to work on me.” Mr. Shepherd looked at Dr. Allum and said, “D-Do what you h-h-have to do. You h-have my p-permission.” Dr. Allum nodded, handing Mr. Shepherd a clipboard with a piece of paper on it and a pen. “I need you to sign this,” he commanded slowly. Mr. Shepherd took the clipboard and pen delicately, clumsily writing his name at the very top. Dr. Allum smiled awkwardly and accepted the clipboard when Mr. Shepherd handed it back to him. “Great,” he began. “Amy, I’m going to need to fit you for a brace to go around your ribcage, and then write you a prescription for your liver. It should only take around an hour, so you’ll be home before six.” “Thank you,” I replied instinctively. “I mean, for everything.” He looked at me and grinned, happy that someone was actually polite for once. “I’ll be back in a few minutes with a brace.” Amy smiled as Dr. Allum left the room, still somewhat out of it from the pain relievers, and motioned for me to come towards her and her dad. “Daddy?” she said, touching his shoulder gently. “Daddy, you remember Jacob, don’t you?” He looked up at me and grinned, holding his hand out to pat me on the arm. He patted my cast inelegantly, still smiling though it was obvious it was difficult for him to maneuver like that. “O-Of course I r-remember him,” he stuttered. “H-He dro-ove us h-here.” Amy laughed and looked up at me, grinning from ear to ear. “How come you only like Jacob, Daddy? Why didn’t you like any of my other friends?” She stopped for a second and her smile turned to a frown. But she quickly regained her composure and smiled again, just in time for her dad to move his eyes from my face to hers. “B-Because I l-like him,” he answered simply. He grinned at her and then at me, looking blissfully ignorant and happier than I’d ever seen him. Amy chuckled and slowly shook her head, shifting her body so she could look at me better. While she was twisting, though, it was obvious she was in an enormous amount of pain – even with the medicine. She grunted and I saw the tears begin to shape around her eyes. “Are you okay?” I asked softly, feeling stupid right after I’d said it. Of course she wasn’t okay. She’d just been nearly killed, for God’s sake. She nodded, still noticeably in pain, and attempted to smile. It was crooked and lopsided, but I tried to think of it as a form of reassurance that she was going to be alright. “I have the brace,” Dr. Allum called, making his way back into the room loudly. He showed the three of us a white, tube-like fixture that looked incredibly uncomfortable. “The design of this brace is especially interesting,” he began excitedly. “It’s designed to contract and expand with your breathing while still keeping the fractured ribs from moving. You’ll be able to breathe while wearing it. It’s ingenious, really.” He grinned, looking around at us for some form of excitement, and was disappointed when he realized that we weren’t as astonished by it as he was. He sighed dejectedly and walked closer to Amy, mumbling, “It’s better than what we used to have.” Amy attempted to smile again out of sympathy for the doctor. He was obviously exhausted and in need of sleep. “It sounds great,” she replied relatively enthusiastically, Dr. Allum’s mood immediately brightening. He grinned and motioned for me to help him prop Amy up. “I know it’s going to hurt,” he told her while we positioned pillows around her strategically, “but it’s a onetime experience, Amy. You’ll be able to sleep with it and it’s water-proof, so you’ll never have to take it off until your ribs are healed. Now your dad, boyfriend, and I are going to leave so the nurses can help you put it on. We’ll be back when you’re finished.” I saw Amy’s face register confusion at the word ‘boyfriend’ and laughed as her cheeks reddened slightly. I didn’t have the energy to explain that I was just her English partner, so I just let him go on thinking that. I was pretty sure Amy would’ve said something if she hadn’t been in so much pain. The three of us – Mr. Shepherd, Dr. Allum, and I – all left the room quickly so they could help her with the splint. I was more than ready to take both of them home and then get something to eat. I was starving. A few minutes later we were back in the room and a normally-clothed Amy was standing beside me. “Just check out at the desk and you’ll be free to go,” Dr. Allum said, gently ushering us out of the room and towards the exit where the desk was. “There you can make a follow-up appointment with your regular doctor.” We thanked him and left to the desk, Amy wobbling unsteadily as she walked. I had to support her more than a few times and she smiled at me awkwardly. I knew she was embarrassed to have to rely on someone so much. I tried to act like it was no big deal. “Name and insurer, please,” the nurse – different from the one I’d talked to before, unfortunately – demanded uninterestedly, looking around like she was bored. “Amy Shepherd, Blue Cross.” She pulled out her wallet from her pocket and gave the nurse her insurance card. We waited for a few minutes while the nurse entered all the information into the computer, and eventually she gave Amy back her card and began printing something. “This is your receipt,” she said, handing Amy a few pieces of papers. “Stapled to it are a few things you need to know about your injury, a doctor’s note for your school, and a prescription for a pain reliever. There is also a phone number to call to make an appointment with your regular physician. You don’t have a co-pay, so you’re free to go.” She waved her hand slightly, chewing her gum loudly. She obviously didn’t give a damn about any of the patients she met, so it wasn’t really hard for us to leave without much conversation. I helped Amy into the front seat of my car when her dad politely requested to sit in the back. He said he wanted her near the airbag. As we were pulling out of the parking lot, my stomach made a ridiculously loud noise that got everyone’s attention. Both Amy and Mr. Shepherd laughed hysterically while I groaned internally. Why did it have to be so damn loud? “Are you hungry, Jacob?” Amy asked, still laughing at my expense. “Yeah,” I mumbled. “I’m starving.” She grinned and looked back at her dad, asking, “Daddy, is it okay if Jacob stays for dinner tonight?” to which he responded with an excited, “Y-Yes!” Before I knew it, we were at her house and she was struggling to cook lasagna. I had to help her with the pan because she couldn’t bend over to reach it, and I had to help her pull out the lasagna because she couldn’t maneuver her body enough to open the drawer in the fridge. Soon it became me cooking dinner and her telling me what to do. “I-It sm-smells good,” her dad called from the living room where he was watching something on the television. Amy laughed and shouted, “Thanks, Daddy,” back to him. For some reason I found myself laughing whenever she did. It was infectious. Soon after that we were eating beef lasagna around a dining table big enough for a family of six. I think the biggest thing I remember about that night was the way Amy interacted with her dad. She was always hovering around him, sitting next to him, helping him cut his food when he couldn’t even though she could barely do it herself. She took care of him like a mother took care of her child. It was obvious she would’ve done anything for him. She loved him. After dinner, I did the dishes while Amy took her dad upstairs to his bed. He was yawning the entire time during dinner, and we could both tell that today had been a long day for him. It had been a long day for the both of us, too, but somehow we still managed to stay awake. Once I nearly dozed off while scrubbing a plate. After that I decided that I needed to go home. It was only nine o’clock, but something inside me made it feel closer to eleven. I also wanted to see Mom and Mitch before they went to bed, so when I found the opportunity to say goodnight, I took it. Amy surprised me with what she said as she held the door open for me so I could get out. “Jake,” she whispered, trying to be quiet because her dad’s room was right above us and she didn’t want to disturb him. “I just want to thank you, for everything you’ve done today. I didn’t realize how much I needed you.” I stared at her, dumbfounded, while she smiled a small smile and leaned in to kiss me delicately on the cheek. “You’re not who I thought you were, Jacob. You have no idea how happy I am about that.” She smiled tiredly and shut the door, leaving me to stand there silently. Amy Shepherd just kissed me, I said in my head, feeling my cheek with the tips of my fingers. It was burning up but smooth, like heated rocks. Throughout the entire time I stood there like an idiot, I found myself grinning stupidly. My heart was beating at a hundred miles an hour as I walked back to my car and I was sure something was wrong with me. I mean, she’d just kissed me on the cheek. Why was I happy about it?