Two minutes later…
“Jesus FUCKING Christ!”
“That’s bad, man. That’s REALLY bad.”
“Okay…careful now! We’re gonna lift him onto the stretcher on the count of three.”
“Alright, let’s move. The fire’s spreading this way.”
“You’re gonna be okay, Eric. Ya hear me?”
“You’re gonna be okay.”
Five minutes later…
“We gotta stay here and take care of this. You gonna stay with him until we can get there?”
“Yeah. I ain’t leavin’ until he wakes up and tells me to get the fuck out.”
“You sure you’re alright?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. None of…none of that’s my blood.”
“Asshole saved my life, that’s what happened. And now that he’s marryin’ Sook, it’s gonna be the talk around the Thanksgiving Day table for-fuckin’-ever.”
“Are you gonna call her?”
“Yeah…and once I tell her the reason why he’s all banged up…well…if you need me, I’ll be in the bed recuperating next to him.”
“Shut the door, Dawson! We gotta go!”
Eight minutes later…
“Not only do we have a police escort, but that’s the third intersection we’ve gone through where your buddies are blocking the traffic with their patrol cars.”
“And they’ll be blocking the rest of them all the way to the hospital.”
“What gives? We’ve never gotten that kind of treatment before.”
“He saved ME. That’s what gives. He’s one of ours now.”
“That street goes both ways, you know. I heard you were trying to get him out of there when they found you. You could’ve left him and just saved yourself.”
“Bullshit. He’s my family now and you don’t leave family to fend for themselves.”
Thirteen minutes later…
“You can’t come in here! Someone will be out to let you know what’s going on.”
“Eric! You’re gonna be okay! They’re gonna fix you up real good! You better take good care of him!”
“Get an OR prepped and I want a CT scan and an x-ray of his upper torso. I need to see what we’re dealing with here.”
“The trauma was due to a blast, is that right? No bleeding from the ears, but I want to see his lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and spinal cord. Air-filled organs and fluid filled cavities. The force of the blast would’ve made everything shift. Get someone to check out his friend who came in with him. He was covered in blood. He may have been hit by it too.”
“Don’t take off the oxygen tank yet. It’s holding the rod in place. I don’t want it to shift. Cut his clothes off around the tank.”
Eighteen minutes later…
“Will you look at that. He sure is a lucky son of a bitch. I couldn’t have placed that rod any better.”
“There’s some slight swelling around his brain, but not much.”
“Okay people, let’s get him into surgery. He’s gotta lottery ticket to buy, while his streak is still hot.”
Ten hours later…
“Please God…don’t let him die…”
Why would I be dying?
Twelve hours later…
“Don’t let him die…don’t let him die…”
Christ…I hated it when she cried.
Eighteen hours later…
“I love you so much, Eric…SO so much…”
I love you too. Please stop crying.
Twenty-four hours later…
“Please wake up, baby…please wake up…”
Why couldn’t she tell?
Twenty-six hours later…
“Don’t you die on me, Eric…I mean it….”
Well, at least she wasn’t sobbing anymore.
In fact, she sounded pissed enough to kill me, if I did die.
As convoluted as the thought was, I knew Sookie was stubborn enough to figure out a way to do it.
Thirty hours later…
“I can’t live without you, honey…I just can’t…”
God…not with the sobbing again.
Thirty-four hours later…
“You can’t leave me…not now…not ever…”
Not even the Jaws of Life could pry me from you now.
But thinking of the Jaws of Life made me wonder…
Was I late for work?
It felt like I should be at work…
Thirty-six hours later…
“It’s time to wake up now, Eric…”
I’m awake, Sookie. Just pry my eyelids open and you’ll see.
“ERIC…open your eyes…”
Thirty-eight hours later…
“Shouldn’t he be awake by now? It shouldn’t be taking this long…”
What shouldn’t be taking this long, again?
Come to think of it…where was I?
Thirty-nine hours later…
“Wake up, baby…wake up…”
“Eric? Can you hear me? Baby, squeeze my hand if you can hear me…”
I thought I’d squeezed her hand, but it sounded like she was sobbing again, so maybe not?
Forty-two hours later…
“He should be awake by now…it shouldn’t be taking this long…”
Was she talking to me?
But she’d said he, didn’t she?
So who else was in the room?
Where were we again?
Forty-eight hours later…
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
You’re PRAYING now?
Something must be really wrong.
But I couldn’t really be dying.
Fifty hours later…
Please, doll…just stop crying.
If only my stupid arms would work, then I could hug her.
I’d even settle for my eyelids fluttering open.
Then I could guilt her into turning off the waterworks.
I wasn’t above it because I really hated it when she cried.
Fifty hours and five minutes later…
“I love you…”
“I love you too…”
“ERIC?” she shouted and in the next moment I felt her hand holding mine in a death grip, when my eyes finally did flutter open.
And seeing her red swollen eyes staring back at me, I wanted to hug her and at the same time hit whoever had made her cry.
And I would.
Just as soon as I recovered from…
Being hit by a semi?
At least, that’s what it felt like.
“What happened?” I asked, with my voice sounding nothing like my own. It was dry and scratchy, but I forced myself to ask, “Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital,” she explained, with her tone a lot softer than before.
But the tears were still leaking from her eyes, so I reached for her face with my free hand to wipe them away and pleaded, “Please stop crying. I hate it when you cry.”
“Yeah, well you should’ve thought about that before getting yourself impaled by a piece of rebar,” she huffed, with no real heat in her voice, and then warned, “Don’t do it again.”
My head was swimming and everything felt foggy, but in a way like the fog was lifting instead of descending.
I couldn’t decide which one I would prefer more.
I was exhausted, which was stupid since I’d obviously just woken up.
“How long was I out?”
“Two days,” she replied, with a hitch in her breath and more tears streaming down her face.
“Two days?” I repeated, while automatically wiping the tears from her face.
Nothing was making any sense.
And not remembering how or why I’d ended up in the hospital for the last two days, I asked again, “What happened?”
“My brother was dropped on his head as a baby,” she growled. “That’s what happened.”
Images filtered into my head in snippets.
The softball game.
Me lying on top of him.
That image didn’t make any sense whatsoever.
There was only one Stackhouse I would be on top of.
Those images weren’t exactly helping any either, so I repeated, “What happened?”
“My douchebag brother ran into a burning chemical plant, with nothing more than good intentions, blind stupidity, and a Saint Michael medallion hanging around his neck,” she bit out.
A few more images filtered through my head with her words, but they all fell away again hearing someone else say, “I said I was sorry.”
“You’re sorry, alright,” she snarled, turning to face the voice coming from somewhere behind her.
And by doing so, I was able to see for the first time that we weren’t alone.
Not even close.
Because not only was her brother in the room with us, but so were her parents, her Gran, Tray and Amelia, and Jake.
And through the open door, I could make out Hoyt Fortenberry and a group of guys.
Both red and blue.
But it was seeing the entire Stackhouse clan that reminded me of something else.
Reaching blindly for her left hand, I held it up and saw she wasn’t wearing her engagement ring.
But before I could freak out, apologize, or beg her to reconsider, Sookie seemingly produced it out of thin air and smiled down at me saying, “I was waiting for you to wake up, so you could put it on for me.”
And then her eyes produced even more tears when she added, “For the last time.”
“You’re going to dehydrate,” I frowned, wiping the tears away yet again before taking the ring from her fingers and slipping it onto the ring finger of her left hand.
For the last time, apparently.
“Does this mean…?” I asked in a whisper, with my words trailing off as I chanced a peek up at her parents.
But before she could respond, her father walked closer to the bed, with an intimidating stare as he said, “Does this mean that you dropped the ball by not asking me for my baby girl’s hand in marriage first?”
“Daddy!” Sookie hissed.
My mouth opened, not sure what I could or would say.
But he ignored it and Sookie swatting at him, as he went on to answer his own question by emphatically stating, “Yes.”
Sookie’s hand rose up again, like she was about to swat him for a second time. But he reached out without even glancing her way and covered her entire face with his hand.
I couldn’t be sure which one of us snorted.
Her from the suddenly dampened air flow or me from the ridiculous sight of it all.
But it was me.
I knew it when my chest throbbed from the exertion.
Sookie’s hands went back and forth, trying to dislodge his hand from her face and smacking at his ribs in turn, with unintelligible mutterings coming through her lips.
I was pretty sure I heard the words ‘fuck’ and ‘ass’ though.
And I was pretty sure he heard them too, but he ignored it, with a soft smile forming on his face, while he looked down at me and said, “But I blame her for that.”
Then gesturing between Jason and Sookie, he added, “Apparently I raised both a dumb shit and a chicken shit.”
“I said I was sorry!” Jason chimed in, sounding more incensed than apologetic.
“I’m talkin’ about ya not to ya, boy,” he admonished, but the smile hadn’t left his face.
Not that Jason could see that.
So it was only more amusing when he winked at me and barked out, “Now make yourself useful and go get me a cup a coffee. You can handle that, right? Remember now…where there’s smoke?”
“There’s fire,” he replied sullenly.
“And what are you gonna do if you run across that again?”
“Leave it to the professionals,” he grumbled.
“Looky there,” he smiled wider. “There’s hope for you yet!”
But as soon as Jason left the room, he leaned closer and stage whispered, “There’s no hope for him.”
“There might not be much hope left for Sookie either,” I replied with a small smile. “If she doesn’t get any oxygen soon, she’s going to have brain damage.”
She’d been struggling to remove his hand from her face the entire time he’d been talking, with him intermittently dodging her attempted blows to his lower half.
“Good thing she’s short,” he chuckled, moving his hips out of her reach yet again. “Gives her a shorter reach.”
“I camf ear you,” she snarled.
Which I was pretty sure was Sookie speak for ‘I can hear you.’
“You should fear me,” he replied and released his hold on her, by pushing her head back and then leaning down to get in her face to say, “But you’re giving natural blonds a bad rap for thinking you should be too afraid to tell your own family about who you were dating. He’s a fireman. Not Jeffrey Dahmer.”
“Jeffrey Dahmer would not have been okay, Sweetheart,” Sookie’s mother chimed in from the other side of the room. “Family dinners would’ve just been too awkward.”
Sookie was making her pissed off face again, but her shoulders dropped in defeat and she rolled her eyes, before looking back at me and smiling as she said, “As you can see, I worried for nothing.”
I supposed I could have been upset over having to hide our relationship for so long.
And if it weren’t for my epiphany that morning in our hotel room on the Paradise Coast, I might have been.
But it had gotten us to where we were now, so I couldn’t be upset about any of it.
Sookie had chosen me, with the belief her family would disown her for it.
How could I be upset, when it just so happened that she was wrong about their reaction to the news?
“Normally this is where I would be cleaning my revolver, while asking you what your intentions were with my daughter,” her dad said, drawing my attention back to him, as he stared me down.
But all traces of his playful amusement disappeared, with him sounding much more sincere when he said, “But even if she wasn’t already wearing a ring on her hand that tells me you’re an honorable man, you put your own life at risk to save my son’s life.”
Reaching down, he took my right hand into his own and held it to form a handshake, while he said, “Thank you. And welcome to the family, son.”
“Thanks and you’re welcome?”
And in reply to his questioning expression – I gathered, from my questioning response – I looked back at Sookie and asked, “What did I do?”
I still only had snippets of my memory, so I really had no idea of what he was thanking me for.
And I really didn’t see what was so funny about my question, but the entire room erupted into laughter that spilled out into the hallway.
But seeing them all – red and blue alike – laughing together at some joke I wasn’t in on, I decided that was okay too.
Because – in this one instance – it looked like karma was finally on my side.