Home > One Call Away

One Call Away
Author: Emily Goodwin









My phone clatters to the ground, and the smiling faces of Hermione and Luna stare up at me from the back of my Harry Potter phone case. I exhale, and as the breath leaves me, so does part of my soul. I close my eyes, refusing to process what I just heard.

Time stops, yet everything is swirling around me at a dizzying rate. Panic rises in my chest, and my knees threaten to buckle. A strangled sob escapes my lips and I pitch forward, catching myself on the counter. Tears burn behind my closed eyelids, and I’m struggling to breathe.

“Sierra? Are you all right?” Mrs. Williams’ voice comes from behind me, sounding miles away as if it’s echoing through a dark and harrowing tunnel. She’s only a few yards to my right, putting a new shipment of children's books away on a display. “Sierra?” she calls again and the floorboards of this little, old bookstore creak beneath her feet. “Honey, what’s wrong?” There’s a bit of panic in her voice, but she does her best to hide it.

“Jake,” I whisper, and the tears start to fall. “Jake…”

Mrs. Williams picks up my phone. There’s a fresh crack down the middle, but I don’t care right now. It’s just a phone. It can be replaced. She carefully puts it to her ear and says something, and then listens to what the liar on the other end has to say.

I want to swat the phone out of her hand. I want it to fall and break into a million pieces on the cold, hard ground. Because none of it is true.

It can’t be true.

Jake can’t leave me.

The blood drains from Mrs. Williams’ face. She nods as she talks, then lowers the phone. “Sierra,” she says softly, voice full of pity. Her hand lands on my back and if I weren’t frozen still, I’d jerk away. I don’t need sympathy. Because that means something is wrong. That means something bad happened.

And nothing did.

Things are good.

I’m good.

Jake’s good.

We’re good.

“I’ll drive you to the hospital.”

The panic is back and everything inside me aches. I need to be there. Now. “The store,” I start, brain going into survival mode. It’s only me and Mrs. Williams running this place, and we have our first customer of the morning in right now, shyly flipping through a dirty romance novel.

“The store can wait,” Mrs. Williams says gently. “We won’t miss too many sales anyway.” She gives me a small smile, eyebrows pinched together with worry. “Come on, honey, grab your purse.”

I blink and realize that tears are streaming down my face like rain. I can’t make them stop. My chest tightens when I turn, and all I can do to keep from coming apart is to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I make it into the little room in the back and take my purse from the hook. There’s no air conditioning back here, and the humidity is high today, normal for late spring in Mississippi. The world spirals around me and the liar’s words echo through my head.

There was an accident.

I’m sorry.

We’ve done all that we can do.

There’s not much time left.

Hurry if you want to say goodbye.

“Sierra?” Mrs. Williams calls. I can hear her keys jingling in rhythm with her limp as she hurries to the back. The weather makes her bad hip hurt. “Come on, honey.”

I look down at my sunshine-yellow ballet flats, tears blurring my vision. Forcing myself to go numb, I follow Mrs. Williams out the back of the store and get in the passenger side of her car.

The fully restored 1971, cherry-red Chevelle that’s detailed to hell with rims so shiny you can see them from space is the last thing you’d expect an eighty-something-year-old woman to be driving. But those who know Mrs. Williams know restoring old cars to perfection was her husband’s hobby that turned into his career. She has a garage full of these things, and she and her son take great care of them.

I stare straight ahead at the dash, not allowing myself to think. Or feel.

But I do.

My mind goes back to how it all began, to that first night I saw Jake at a party in college. He was drunk and had his hands all over some blonde with boobs pushed up to her chin. Yet for some reason, he left her and wanted to talk to me. I thought he was a pig. He asked me out and I told him no.

After a bit of a cat-and-mouse game of him asking me out and me telling him no, things changed when he kissed me on my birthday, and we’ve been together for nearly two years now. I moved back home to Summer Hill after graduating college, working to save for grad school and waiting for Jake to finish his residency and become a doctor.

We’re nearly an hour away from the hospital, and each bump in the road, each mile that passes, makes things feel more real. I curl my fingers into the leather seat beneath me, eyes wide and jaw tense. My heart is beating so fast it hurts, with each beat echoing loudly in my ears.

They’re wrong. Jake is going to be fine. I can’t lose him. I won’t lose him.

Not a word is spoken on the way to the hospital. Mrs. Williams stops at the front and suddenly I can’t move. My fingers won’t work to open the door. My legs are lead and are much too heavy.

“Do you want me to come with you?” she asks.

My jaw begins to tremble and I shake my head. “I don’t know.” I blink and the sight of the large, brick building takes my breath away all over again. Vomit rises in my throat and the panic comes back in a fury. Without another word, I get out of the car and rush to the desk in the ER.

“Hi, how can I help you?” a young girl asks with a smile that slowly disappears from her face when she takes in my desperation.

“Jake. Jake McLeland,” I start, voice trembling. “I got a call that he was…” I can’t finish the sentence. The girl behind the desk nods and types something into the computer. Her face softens more when she reads whatever the file is telling her. She grabs a phone and calls for an attendant to take me to the ICU.

Everyone looks at me with pity. Smiles gently. Talks softly. Like they’re afraid I’ll break at any moment. But if what they say is true, I’m already broken.

The smell hits me first. It’s a typical hospital smell: a mixture of disinfectant, ointments, and blood. I know it doesn’t make sense. There aren’t pools of blood left to fester, yet it’s what I smell. The lighting gets to me next. The waiting area is dark, contrasted by harsh lights in the nurses’ station and over the patients’ beds.

I’m directed to a room at the end of the ICU. Curtains are drawn around the glass walls and it hits me; there’s no need for the nurses to be able to look in on Jake. It’s that moment that defines me, that moment when I know I’ve lost my faith.

And I haven’t even seen Jake yet.

Unsteady, my legs shake. My fingers tremble and I reach up to the cat charm hanging from my necklace, rubbing my thumb over the smooth metal. It’s a nervous habit, but the gesture brings no comfort.

A nurse comes to greet me. Her eyes are gentle, and she explains things to me like it makes sense. Like anything makes sense. I look up at her, wondering how she’s able to do this day after day. How’s she’s able to say things like ‘no brain activity’ and ‘unstable blood pressure’ without breaking down herself.

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