A Brother’s Watch
by Jane L
Dixie McCall pulled the white starched cap from her head as she stepped out of the elevator. Her work shift over, she longed for the familiar living room with its over-stuffed chair and an opportunity to kick off her white shoes and relax. It had been a long day. But getting comfortable at home would have to wait a little longer. She had an important stop to make first.
Moving quietly down the corridor and past the Fourth Floor Nurses Station, she was grateful to find the cubicle empty. It wasn’t that Dixie couldn’t explain her presence; it was just easier not to. Playing favorites wasn’t something the head nurse approved of, but she couldn’t help where her heart took her.
The door to Room 408 was closed, no sounds emanating from within. Dix sighed in relief, taking the quiet as a good sign. Hopefully the patient was asleep, and his visitor gone home for the night. Pushing the door open slowly, she took one step before stopping to stare. Multiple options rushed through her mind, but only two real choices presented themselves. Turn around to quietly slip away, or step forward and send the visitor packing. As she fought a quick mental battle over which option would be best served, Dixie took in the slumped shoulders with head tipped forward. From her vantage point, it was clear that the man had been here awhile. Elbows on the arms of his chair, hands held together with his chin resting on the tips of his fingers, the paramedic was the epitome of misery. Three steps from door to his chair, Dixie’s touch was gentle when she put a hand on his arm.
“What are you still doing here?”
Weary eyes looked up at her, the expression noncommittal.
“Dr. Brackett told you that it will take a few weeks, but he’ll be fine.”
“You were supposed to go home.”
“Couldn’t leave.” The tired voice repeated.
Dixie stared at the sleeping form on the bed, eyes taking in the tubes and wires that ran from body to machine.
“Numbers look good.”
“Yeah. He seems to be resting easier now.”
“Rough one, huh?”
“He’s going to be okay.”
Dixie squeezed the man’s shoulder, shaking her head at the ragged countenance.
“You’re not going to do him any good wearing yourself out. You need to go home and get some rest yourself.”
The fact that there was no answer only increased the nurse’s concern. But instead of resorting to her firm voice and tough demands, she sensed that the young man wasn’t trying to be difficult, and could use a friend. Quietly pulling up the other vinyl chair, she sat next to the paramedic and leaning over, looked into his face. She stayed there until he turned his gaze from his sleeping partner to the worried nurse.
“I almost lost him.”
“I know. Captain Stanley told us what happened. But you managed to hold him until help arrived.”
“No. I mean, I almost . . lost him.”
Realization slowly dawned, and Dixie found her eyes slipping away from his steady gaze.
“Don’t know if I can do this.”
Dixie waited, but there was no more, just the deep breathing of someone struggling to control their emotions.
“You being his partner makes all the difference. Being there, watching out for each other. You’re partners for a reason. You need each other. And you’re good for each other.”
“We’ve been lucky. But what if-.”
“What if it goes wrong?”
“Yeah. If I lose him . . it’s not just losing a partner. I’d be losing . .my brother.”
“I know you feel that way. All of you guys are close, especially you two. But-.”
“You don’t understand, Dix. It’s not just that he’s like a brother. He is . . my brother. My family. My only family.”
Dixie put an arm around tense shoulders. But almost immediately, the tension seemed to melt away and the tight muscles were suddenly quivering. The nurse wanted to wipe her eyes, but held on instead. It was several minutes before she could manage a gentle rebuke.
“He’s not your only family, Johnny. And you’re not going to lose him. Roy’s going to be okay.”
“That’s all any of us have. Today. We can’t control the future any more than we can change the past. But your being there, being Roy’s partner . . it could make the difference. Don’t give up. He needs you as much as you need him.”
Johnny’s head dropped low, hands coming up to clasp the back of his neck.
“You know I’m right. And things will look better in the morning.”
The slight nod of his head was enough of an answer for tonight.
Dixie patted Johnny’s arm once more before pushing herself from the hard chair and scooting it back into place. Then standing behind her friend, she patiently waited, giving him time to process her words, get control. He had just started to rise when from somewhere near the door, a faint sound caught her attention, followed by a familiar voice.
“What’s going on in here?”
The two turned in unison to face the door, eyes widening as the doctor joined them.
“I thought you two would be home, asleep by now.”
“What about you, Kel? I know for a fact that your shift ended an hour ago.”
“Yes, well . . “
The doctor eyed them suspiciously as he stepped around the hospital bed to check on his patient.
“Everything okay here?”
After assuring himself that they were right, Dr. Brackett whispered across the bed.
“Numbers look better. He’ll be here for a few days, but Roy’s going to be all right.”
“That’s what I was just telling Johnny.”
“Well, then. Did you also tell him that visiting hours are over?”
“We were just talking, Doc.”
“Okay, but how about talking tomorrow. You need some rest.”
“I can rest here in this chair. I want to be here when he wakes up."
Before Kel could answer, a slight rustling caught their attention just as a blanketed knee moved slightly on the bed. The voice that reached their ears was like music to the gathered friends.
“Time to . . go home . . .”
“No, Roy.” Dix whispered, gently touching Roy’s arm. “You’re at Rampart and need to stay awhile longer.”
“Not me . . you. Go home.”
Johnny’s grin flashed from ear to ear.
“You’re sure you don’t want some company?”
“Plenty . . tomorrow. Joanne. You. Guys. . you.”
Kel winked at Dixie behind Johnny’s back, and she knew her suspicions were well-founded. He’d been listening at the door.
“Okay, partner. If you’re sure. Guess I could go home for little while. But I’ll be back in the morning.”
Dixie’s soft laughter followed Roy’s last word as his eyes closed and breathing deepened.
“He’s really going to be all right, isn’t he, Doc?”
“Yes, Johnny. He’s going to be fine. Just like I told you three hours ago. Now go home. Both of you.”
Dixie slipped her arm through Johnny’s and gently turned him towards the door.
“You know how cranky doctors can be, don’t you? I think we’d better go. Besides, you need some sleep. Your family’s going to be depending on you.”
Johnny didn’t answer, but his quick glance back towards a sleeping Roy seemed to say it all.
Two steps from the bed, Dixie could’ve sworn she heard a quiet “night, brother.” The problem was, she wasn’t sure which one of her friends uttered the words.
Then again, it didn’t really matter.
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