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Nick Donovan's feet became lead weights as he forced them to move down the silent hallway. The smell irritated his nose. His breathing was shallow, his chest constricted. The knot in his stomach pulled tighter.
He spotted the room ahead on his right. His steps slowed. The door stood open, inviting him in. The silence mocked him. Eight years of silence. This was not the ending he had envisioned.
He stepped inside, his breath catching in his chest. Machines buzzed. Tubes dripped liquids into her veins. He swallowed hard, bit his lip. She looked nothing like he remembered. Not that he'd expected her to.
Red welts splattered over her exposed skin. Her closed eyes sat deep in dark sockets. The body that had once been so full of life had become a fragile shell.
Nick forced himself to breathe. Silently he thanked a god he wasn't sure he believed in that she was asleep. Or unconscious. He had no idea how he would handle looking into her eyes.
A nurse stepped in, smiling with obvious surprise. She said, "I see we have a visitor?"
He nodded, not trusting his voice. "Are you family?" the nurse asked.
Nick choked out a reply. "I'm an old friend."
The nurse watched him a moment, then moved to check the machines that were keeping her alive. "She'd be pleased to know someone cared enough to come."
What do you mean?" Nick asked.
"She's had no visitors since she was transferred here."
The nurse smiled sadly. "No one until you."
He looked at her still body. His eyes watered, despite his attempt at control. "Is she in a lot of pain?"
The nurse appeared puzzled. "You do know she's in a coma?"
Nick tried to swallow but the dry lump wouldn't budge from his throat. "No, I didn't know."
The nurse moved away from the bed. "I'm sorry. She's not expected to pull out of it."
He stared at her closed eyelids, shook his head, shivered. The nurse touched his shoulder and said,"But I believe she still knows that you're here. And that would mean a lot to her."
The nurse left the room. Nick stood frozen, the flood of emotions causing physical pain. Finally, he pulled a chair beside her bed. He took her bony hand in his. And he remembered.