The hospital isn't too bad. They let me sleep in Brook's room, which is nice because it's air-conditioned--and I get to use her bathroom. It's been forever since I've had an actual shower, and I love it. I think Nurse Debra had to pull a few strings. She also told me that she'll be in contact with my aunt and uncle over in Huntington Woods. I didn't even know I had an aunt and uncle. I'm excited and nervous all at once.
The second day of Brook's hospital stay, when she's still high on painkillers, Landon comes to visit us. He brings flowers--I think he picked them on the way here--but they're a nice addition to the room. Landon's nice in general. Brook, or at least her medications, think he's cute.
"What are the doctors saying?" Landon asks.
Brook shrugs. "They say different things. It depends on if it gets infected, it depends on this, depends on that. The metal that's in my leg right now is just temporary. They've got to put plates and stuff in sometime later this week. I don't know what I'm gonna do when I leave this place, though. Yank's been sharing her dumpster with me, but if I end up in a wheelchair for a few weeks, that'll suck."
Landon gives her an unreasonably cute smile. "I live in a third-story walkup, but I've got a storage unit that's big enough for a couch. It'll at least give you a place to sleep."
"You're the best. Like, I literally think you're the best person I've ever met. And you're cute."
I roll my eyes. Stupid morphine.
Out of the corner of my eye, I catch motion--probably another nurse or doctor. But it's not. It's a man in a gray suit, barely standing in the doorway, staring at Brook. All of a sudden, he turns and leaves, and I follow him. I find him sitting in a chair in the waiting room, shaking.
His face is buried in his hands; he probably can't hear me. I take another step closer. "Sir, is there something wrong?" I ask again.
"That's Brook?" he asks, his voice trembling. "With all the tubes and wires--oh, God--"
"Yeah, that's her. Why?"
The man looks up at me with eyes that are a familiar blue. His hair is dark but graying, and his breast pocket holds a pair of reading glasses, two pens, and a peppermint. "If that's the Brook I think it is," he says, "then she's my daughter."
I blink. I've spent enough time in hospitals, back when my own dad worked here, to know that it's hard for people to see loved ones in a sorry state like that. I'm pretty sure that Brook has wires going literally through her leg at the moment. And the morphine high isn't going to help anything, either.
"I'm sorry you had to find her like this,' I tell him. "She might be banged up, but she's alive, she's stable, she's not dying anytime soon. And I know she'll love to see you."
The man hides his face again, takes a few more breaths to steady himself, then stands and heads back for Brook's room. I follow.
Again, he stands in the doorway, wiping his hands on his dress pants, trying not to panic.
He takes a hesitant step inside, then another, finally arriving at the foot of Brook's bed. He tries to look at her face instead of all the wires going in and out of her leg, and he makes himself smile. Brook stares at him.
"Okay, Landon," she says, "I've been seeing things all day, can you please tell me that there's a guy in here?"
"A guy in a suit?'
She sits up, eyes wide, and her heart rate monitor starts beeping faster. "Daddy?"
Blinking back tears, he takes her into his arms and holds her tight. "I missed you, baby girl."
"How did you know I was here?"
"The Amber Alert finally paid off."
"You...you issued an Amber Alert...Yank, hand me my backpack." I hand her the backpack I retrieved yesterday evening, and she grabs the note in the Ziplock bag. "I thought you got rid of me."
The man takes his reading glasses out of his pocket and examines the note. He reads it once, then twice, then stops trying to hide his tears and lets them fall.
"Brook, that's not your mother's handwriting. She's on her way now, she's so excited to see you. I'm so sorry you believed this."
Brook's eyes grow wide, and she starts to cry. "I'm such an idiot--"
"No, you're not."
"I'm sorry, Dad--"
The man takes her into his arms again, and they cry together. I step into the hallway to give them privacy, and there I see a five-year-old boy with black hair and a crayon drawing in his hand.
"Are you Keiko?" he asks.
I kneel down to his level and look into his eyes. I remember them, and I start to cry when I see them.
It's Isao, my little brother.
M. J. Piazza is a Jesus-loving, dog-walking country girl who just so happens to write books.