The sound of my phone startles me from sleep. I check the time.
I pick up my phone, checking who on earth is calling me. It’s my mother.
“Hello.” I greet nervously.
“Hugh, honey, Oh thank God you answered.” Her voice is thick with emotion. “Something terrible has happened.”
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
I’m awakened by an urgent knocking. I sit up confused, wondering who it could be at… 5:45 in the morning.
KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK
I jump out of bed and head for the door. As I pass the window I catch sight of Hugh…
What’s he doing here?
…I pause- and Robert and Helen.
I can tell by the looks on their faces it is something serious. My stomach churns as I reach for the doorknob.
A shiver runs through me when I touch the metal.
I don’t want to know
For a moment I consider pretending I’m not here. It is irrational, they know I’m here…but I don’t want to be.
and I was so close…
I hear Helen’s voice as I turn the knob, “Nessie, please, open the door.”
I catch her eyes first, and the look she’s giving me, I know this is bad and I know it is about my parents.
I step back slowly as Hugh moves toward me.
“Hugh…”, his name comes out like a plea.
He clasps my shoulders, “Nessie, you should sit.”
Panic rises in my throat, he won’t look at me. “Hugh, what happened?”, I beg as he guides me to the foyer chair; I sit. “Where are they?”
His eyes dart briefly to mine as he kneels in front of me. I feel Helen’s hand on my shoulder, Robert is holding her other hand, a grave look on his face.
I get it…
I start to feel light-headed.
“Your parents…Nessie…they were in an accident. The plane, it went down…they didn’t survive.”
The room starts to spin.
I finally muster the courage to look at her face. Her eyes are glazed over, her breathing becoming ragged. I have no idea what to do.
My mother reaches out to stroke her hair.
“I’m so sorry, sweetheart” She whispers. “I’m so sorry.”
Nessie’s face begins to contort, her eyes clear, tears spilling over so heavily they just drop straight into her lap. The sight sparks a fury inside me. I would do anything to stop this, anything to protect her from pain, but I am helpless.
A tortured sob escapes from her throat and she leans forward to slide onto the floor. I catch her in an embrace and she clutches to me as if for dear life. She bawls into my shoulder, catching intermittent breaths, her body heaving, and I can’t….I tried to be strong but tears escape from my eyes, running down the bridge of my nose and peppering the back of her shirt.
A few minutes pass, dead silence except for the sound of sniffling and the occasional whimper. I notice now that my parents are no longer in the room and I am thankful for the privacy.
I gently lift her head so I can look at her, with some effort she lifts her eyes to mine and the suffering I see in them constricts my breath. Her lip quivers as fresh tears retrace the lines on her face. I kiss both her cheeks; the sensation is wet, sticky, and salty.
“I love you, Nessie. I love you, I love you” I kiss the corner of her down turned mouth. I want to tell her everything will be ok, but how can I? Her world has just been shattered. The need to reassure her overwhelms me though, I need her to know she is safe.
“You are not alone. Ok? You’re not alone.”
Her eyes scrunch up as a she takes a shaky breath. She looks as if she wants to say something, but instead she purses her lips and shakes her head.
My mother enters the room, “Nessie, how about we move you to your bed?”, she asks gently.
Nessie shifts her eyes toward mom’s direction, then to me, keeping her head low. Like a small child she wipes the back of her hand across her nose, sniffling. Almost imperceptibly, she nods her head.
I stand and help her to her feet as my mom enters the bedroom to prepare the bed. After a couple wary steps Nessie halts, her mouth opens and closes as she tries to speak. Her breathing accelerates as she forces words to form.
“N-n-o…no…no…no” She coughs the word between gasping breaths, her body tense, knees buckling. I try to hold her up, panicking. “Nessie…” I hiss, trying to get her attention.
Suddenly, my dad is by my side. “Son, lower her down gently. ” He says in a controlled voice. “Hold her head.” He directs. I do what he says.
“Nessie, listen to me.” He states loudly, placing one hand on her stomach and using the other to push her hair from her forehead. “Concentrate, slow down. Hear me?”
“Nessie, breathe!” I insist.
She doesn’t respond, just continues to take shallow rasping breaths, one hand gripping my arm. Her eyes roll backward and I hear my dad still speaking.
He shakes his head slightly, “She’s going to…”
She goes limp.
He sighs heavily.”Well, at least she can breathe now.”, he says tenderly, caressing her smooth forehead and I notice his hand shaking. I hear my mom crying.
I cradle Nessie’s head in my lap, her face could almost pass for serene if not for the tear stains.
“Dad” I look at him helplessly, “I don’t know how to make this better.”
His mouth is pressed in a grim line as he places his hand on my shoulder, giving an encouraging squeeze. “She is going to be fine, everything will be fine. Just be there for her. That is all we can do.
Come on, let’s move her.”
Black fades to gray and my nose picks up his familiar and comforting scent.
Light breaks through the gray haze and I feel the warmth of his arms around me. I open my eyes. They feel dry and my lids scrape like sandpaper as I blink, looking around the room.
Hugh feels me move and rouses. “Hey.” He whispers, giving a ghost of a smile.
“Hey.” I respond, pushing my brows together as I remember why he is here.
I lay my head on his chest, feeling slight relief at the tears stinging my parched eyes. “It’s real, isn’t it.”
“Yeah” He confirms quietly, drawing circles on my back with his fingers.
“Tell me.” I want to know what happened to them, where they are, and who else has been affected. They died in a plane crash; I assume there were a lot of casualties.
“Um, well…it was a small plane. Four seater. Just your parents and another couple, the Merrins, they owned the plane.”
The Merrins, I had heard about them. They would take my parents out to many of the really remote areas, or help transport supplies. As far as I know, mom and dad had flown dozens of times with them.
Hugh continued, “All we know is that they were heading toward the airport at Shang Simla to catch their international flight, but something went wrong. Their…they were recovered…and your parents will be returned home.”
His choice of words struck me….will be returned home….
I sit up, “I have to go to the restroom.”
I shove myself off the bed and make my way from the room.
They aren’t coming home, they are being returned.
My pace quickens as I hear the bed creak behind me and Hugh’s voice, “Nes, wait.”
Rushing into the bathroom, I lock the door and crumple into the corner.
Oh, the cruel irony that is my life. Arin and Nellie Lochlan housed orphans, creating an orphan in the process. I guess I should be grateful, really; they treated me just like they treated the kids, visiting on occasion, making sure things were in order. I suppose, in reality, I have hundreds of brothers and sisters.
I chuckle morosely at the absurdity of that thought.
Then I remember my mother being welcomed by the children at the orphanage and I realize the full scope of it. I’ve stolen them. I asked for more, pulled them away from the work they loved, and now…now it all ends. We’ve all lost our parents.
I thrust my hands into my hair and ball them up, pulling at the roots. Why did I have to be so selfish?
“Nessie…”, Hugh says quietly from other side of the door. “Please come out.”
I almost had everything I wanted. And him, he says he loves me and I believe he means it, but how can I know that won’t change? How can I know- when so far everything I reach for crumbles away just before I can touch it?
I get up and head to the sink to run cool water on my fingers, dabbing my eyes to tame the redness. I stop once I glance in the mirror.
What’s the fucking point?
What’s the point when the tears are still streaming, when I am a hopeless case.
He just doesn’t realize it yet, but he will. And when he does I will have lost everything, just for wanting it.