This story is by Bethany Heston and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I woke to the steady beeping of a heart monitor, and the sound of a familiar, hushed voice. I opened my eyes and glanced around me. Grace must have come while I was asleep. I dreaded her being here, I didn’t want anyone here, not now.
My discouraged gaze drifted to the medical bed I was sitting next to. I watched the still breathing body. I listened to the steady beeping, thinking of past towel fights and backyard camping. Tears formed in my eyes as my sister, coming up from behind, laid her hand on my shoulder. I turned around and, standing up, hugged her.
“What do we do?” I whispered, my voice so dry that a murmur was all I could manage.
Grace shook her head, “We pray, that’s all we can do.”
My head rested on her shoulder, but I could still look at Joshua.
“I don’t want to lose My brother.”
I felt Grace’s breath catch. I didn’t care, Grace didn’t understand.
“I don’t either Natasha, but we don’t know we’ll lose him.”
I choked. I despised those kid gloves of hers. Grace was more than a decade older, but Josh, Josh was twenty, and only three years older. We grew up together. By the time I was six, Grace had left for college, and now she’s married with kids. Me and Josh would go to the old bridge after school. He would beat up anyone picking on me saying, “Only I can tease my sister!” Josh wasn’t just my brother. And now…
I shuddered, taking a shaky breath, “The doctors said…”
Grace cut me off, “Nat, forget that. They’ve been wrong before, and they may be wrong again.”
My pulse quickened. I wanted to believe my sister, but I couldn’t, not after being treated like glass for two years.
I let go of the hug and sat back down. Tears openly ran down my cheeks. She was here to support me, but I didn’t want her. I stifled a sob as Grace sat down beside me. She didn’t say anything; she just sat there. I wanted to run away, but Joshua would want me here.
I took a deep breath and stared Grace in the eye,
“Honest answer, do you think he’ll make it?”
She avoided my stare, her gaze drifting. Sighing, she found my eyes again.
“Natasha, I’ll give you an honest answer, but we’ve had this talk before. Are you sure you can handle it?”
My breath caught, I knew it. It wasn’t that she didn’t understand. She didn’t care!
I bit my tongue as my heart filled with rage, loneliness, and betrayal.
“You Don’t Care About Him!” I screamed, rising out of my seat.
Grace’s face was filled with astonishment.
“Natasha! That’s Not True! He’s My Brother Too!”
I felt my face contort
I hated Grace.
“Then Why Haven’t You Been Here! YOU Wanted To Take Him Off Life Support! I AM The One Who’s Been Here Every Day For Two Years!”
Grace took a breath and stared at the floor, unable to meet my confronting glare.
“Natasha, I have a family, and a job, I can’t drop everything to sit by his bed for hours every day.”
Tears formed in my eyes. My voice had calmed, but it was still shaky as I demanded, “Why?”
Grace closed her eyes, took a breath, and met my drilling stare. “Because I Have Let Go.”
I knew it was coming, but it was still a gut punch. I stumbled back into my seat, unable to believe what I heard.
Grace, sighing, closed her eyes before leveling the final blow.
“Natasha, we have to let him go. The insurance is fighting me because of life-support expenses. The doctor said he wouldn’t make it Natasha. That’s the reality you Have to accept.”
My face felt like stone. I could hardly comprehend what Grace said.
I was so disgusted I felt vomit rising when I heard rapid beeping. My head jerked toward the monitor. Fear froze my heart. I fell to the ground when I saw Joshua, his back arched. I couldn’t believe it, none of it. It must be a dream, no, a nightmare.
Two nurses burst through the door, preparing a syringe, yelling for the doctor.
Time froze, and the realization hit me.
I stared at my family. Josh, Grace, why weren’t my parents here? I closed my eyes and bit my tongue.
I threw my head back and screamed at the ceiling.
“WHY WASN’T IT ME! WHY DID IT HAVE TO BE JOSH!”
Everything was frozen except for one tear, rolling slowly, down my face.
I sobbed, my stomach contorting. I was gripping the floor like it was Joshua.
I felt like I was about to pass out. I slowly got up, stumbling, turning to leave, I could feel the vomit rising. Suddenly a jolt of light fixed me in place. A pure white angel, with long flowing hair, stood in front of me. His piercing blue eyes staring into my soul, “Natasha, what’s wrong?”
I blinked, wondering if I was delirious, “Joshua. I can’t…He can’t…I need him.”
My throat throbbed from screaming, and I could hardly stand.
The angel gazed into my eyes. This was it, the conversation I’ve dreaded, the one I’ve been avoiding.
The angel spoke, his voice calm and innocent. “Why not?”
I let out the breath I didn’t know I was holding. Something compelled me to speak, “I can’t lose him.” My voice sounded strangled.
The angel sat there and, his head cocked to the side, gently probed, “Why?”
I clenched my fist, desperately scouring the room for help, “Because he’s my brother.”
The angel kept digging, “So, you’ll see him again in Heaven, why does it matter how long he stays here?”
I pulled my hair and began hyperventilating. “Because…IT JUST DOES!”
I screamed, a sob escaping.
My temper began to rise, and my pulse quickened. The tear fell faster, it was sliding along my nose.
“When the tear hits the floor time will run out. I suggest you answer my question now.”
My eyes met the angel’s, but I could only see moments with Josh.
When he was oh so stubborn. When he teased me. Every hug. Every laugh. Every tear. There are no memories without Joshua, no life without Joshua. He was more than my brother. He was my protector, my teacher… my friend.
I bit my lip so hard it began to bleed.
“I don’t know,” I whispered, not able to manage anything else.
I collapsed to my knees. I felt hopeless. Defeated. Alone…so alone!
Yes, I lived with Grace. I saw her every day, and I still felt alone. Grace was never there for me.
The angel peered into my soul.
“You do know, but you’re refusing to acknowledge it. You’re afraid he’ll die if you do. Or worse, you’re afraid he’ll live and discover you gave up on him.”
The tear trickled past my nose. I froze. The angel’s question echoed through my brain, “Why does it matter?”
That echo felt like a knife twisting into my gut, over and over.
I didn’t say anything. The tear reached my bottom lip. I was searching my heart and soul. It was like when you forget a name, it’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t grasp it.
The tear reached my chin. I closed my eyes. The tear almost falling to the ground, I whispered, “I don’t know who I am without him.”
The doctors were trying to inject a serum into Joshua. I was on the floor, Grace was staring into my eyes, worried.
“Nat? Natasha! Are you okay?”
I blinked and tried to focus on her, “What happened?”
“You passed out.”
I stood up. My eyes fearfully turned toward Joshua. I rejected what I saw. I was staring at Joshua’s arched body, praying, begging, longing, for him to live. My tear hit the floor.
I lifted my gaze to see the angel taking Joshua’s spirit up to Heaven. My throat was swelling. My eyes had run dry. I whispered before losing my voice completely, “Good Bye, Joshua.”
The monitor flatlined. His body collapsed.
Grace stood there. Tears running down her face. I looked at her and truly saw my sister for the first time since The Accident. Maybe she did understand, just maybe, she did care.
I hated to, but Grace was right, I had to let go.
To discover who I was, I had to let go.
I will Never forget you, Joshua. I will tell your stories forever…that’s the best way to remember, to tell stories…right?
I will always remember you.
I will always love you, Joshua, my brother, my friend, my co-pilot.