"Mm?" She licked her dry, cracked lips and yawned, kicking the blanket off of her lap while she swung her feet around to touch the floor. She rubbed her eyes. "Wait, where am I?"
Greta smiled. "You're still in the waiting room."
"Oh." Jules ran her fingers through her hair, yelping as her fingers hit the knot that had formed around her hair tie. She scanned the room, noting Kevin and Miles sprawled across opposite ends of the sofa. Her pastor stretched out across three chairs. Her eyes flicked back up to Greta who was standing over her. "Why'd you wake me up?"
"The nurse was asking for you. Here, let me untangle your hair real quick." She made fast work, and soon Jules' hair was looking as tame as it ever could with two minutes and an elastic band. "I said I'd send you over to the front desk once you woke up. Talk to the lady with the bright red hair." Greta smiled and waved her off, seeing how impatient she was. "Now go."
"Thank you, Greta." Jules rushed over to the front desk, pasting on a composed smile.
The lady with the bob and cat-eye glasses looked up. "I'm Darlene. How can I help you?"
"My friend said you needed to talk to me?"
Darlene looked down at her papers and sticky notes. She lifted up a purplish-blue clip-board and flipped through the first few pages. "Ah," she fluttered her long, sparkly nails in the air. "You must be Miss Jules Keith?"
"Mhm." Jules nodded. "How is my grandpa doing?"
Jules stood still, nodding numbly once Darlene had finished speaking. She drew in a shuddering breath and nodded one more time. "Okay. But--can I at least look at him right now? I just want to see his face. I promise I won't ask to go in the room with him, or break down crying, or anything like that."
"Well," Darlene hesitated. "I suppose we could let you do that. Here; Carter!"
The young nurse turned in his tracks and walked back over to where Jules stood. "Yes?"
"Could you please take this young lady to room 217B? She would like to just look through the window at her grandfather."
"Yes ma'am. Come right this way, Miss." He smiled patiently and waited for Jules to match her step with his. They walked through the twisting halls in silence. Carter led her carefully around the different nurses' stations. He protected her from the most busy areas. "Here you are, Miss. Would you like to have a minute?"
"Yes please. Thank you."
"Of course." Carter nodded. He stepped across the hall just far enough for her to have privacy, but close enough that he could still keep an eye on her.
Jules turned towards the glass window. She saw Duncan's familiar face shrouded in a hospital gown. His ashen complexion and the different wires and tubes rendering him almost recognizable. "Oh God," she whispered, "Oh God. Be with us all. Help me. Help me to step up and serve where it is necessary. Help me do it joyfully and willingly. Oh Christ, I am so weak. Please bring him back to me. Amen." She wiped her tears away and took a deep breath. After a few minutes, she turned her back on the window. "I'm ready now."
Carter put his hand on her shoulder briefly and looked her in the eye. "Keep your chin up, Miss. With prayers like that he'll be sure to be healed in no time." Jules noticed the tear trickling out of his own eye.
"Thank you, Carter."
He nodded. "Now let's get you back to your friends and family."
"Okay." She smiled.
They walked back down the hallways. When they arrived back in the waiting room, Carter left her with another smile and nod. She found everyone sitting in a drowsy circle, praying quietly. She slipped in next to Kevin and put her hand inside his. Once her pastor had said "amen", everyone looked at her expectantly. She gulped. "Well, he's stable, heart rate and pulse are good. He woke up for a few minutes and communicated with the doctor--"
"Communicated?" Kevin cut in. "What did he say?"
She looked him right in the eye. "He didn't say: he blinked."
It was Miles who spoke up next "What? What do you mean?" He knew the answer before she even spoke.
"Grandad is paralyzed on the left side of his body. He blinked his right eye in response to the doctor to communicate. They feel like his mental capacity hasn't slowed down at this point. We should be able to see him in the morning."
"It is morning," Greta whispered. "It's 4:30."
"In that case we should all rest. Thank you all, again, for being here. This means the world to me." Jules glanced at Kevin. "To us. Thank you."
Greta gave her another hug, and Dave asked how she was feeling.
"Happy that he's still here, tired, worried about how I'll care for him. Resting in the fact that I'm not alone."
Kevin put his arm around her. "I've called Grace, and we've arranged it to where I can stay here an extra week."
"Oh Dad, thank you. I'm so relieved. I was hoping you would, honestly." She put her arms around his neck. "I'm so glad you're here now."
"Me too, Jules. Me too. Now you should get some sleep."
"I'll try, Dad. Goodnight."
She walked back over to the sofa she had dozed off on earlier and sat down, pulling her plush blanket up to her chin and tucking it up under her curled toes.
Greta walked up to her and bent over, whispering. "Would you like to rest your head in my lap? I sleep fine sitting up, and I know you forgot your pillow."
"Aww, are you sure you wouldn't mind?"
"I wouldn't mind at all. Now sit up for a second."
The girls settled in, and Jules let out a long breath. "You're the best friend I've ever had, Greta. You mean so much to me."
Greta rubbed Jules' shoulder. "You know I've always thought of you as a sister. I cried when I read the email Pastor Dave sent out, and I never cry. I'm so glad I can be here for you."
"It means a lot, really. I wanted to meet you for coffee earlier this week, but everything happened with Mrs. Ortiz, then my dad showed up, and now here I am. But I guess God knew we needed quality time together under stressed circumstances."
Greta let out a quiet giggle. "It sure does look that way right now. I'm sure we'll have more opportunities to get together in the future. And hopefully they won't be in a hospital. Now, you should get some sleep."
"Okay. Pinch me if I start to snore."
"Oh trust me, I will."
Jules drifted off into a restless sleep with dark images floating in her mind. She dreamed she stood by a graveside, with a black gown and veil on. She was lifting her hand to drop a lone white rose onto the coffin below her, when someone grabbed her from behind. She tried to tear herself away.
"No, let me be! No!"
"Jules, it's okay. It's me."
She opened her eyes and saw Kevin standing over her, and Miles just behind him. He looked concerned.
"Are you okay?"
She shuddered. "I'm fine. What time is it?"
"It's 5:30. Are you sure you're okay? What happened?"
"I was having a bad dream I guess." She felt Greta's arms around her shoulders. Miles cleared his throat and turned away, giving them all a little space.
She held her tighter, and Jules turned to hide her face in Greta's shoulder. "You're shaking. What's wrong, girly?"
Jules broke down sobbing. "I--I dreamed it was a-a-a funeral. I'm so scared, Greta. I don't want to lose him."
"Aww, girly. I'm so sorry. I know this is hard on you. We're all here for you, and we're praying. You'll get to see your Grandad soon, and you'll need to be brave for him. Remember that he's probably scared now, too, dear. And don't lose hope. Okay?"
Jules sat up and started wiping at her eyes.
"Here," Miles handed her a few tissues, "I'm so sorry," he mumbled. "We're still here for you."
"Thank you so much." Jules finished drying her tears. "I know I sound like a broken record, but I really am thankful."
Miles nodded. "I understand. I'm thankful that we could all be here, too."
Kevin sat down across from Jules. Concern clouded his eyes. "We brought you coffee and a breakfast burrito. Are you going to be okay?"
"I think so. Thank you."
"Don't thank me, thank Miles. He's the one who thought of it."
Miles very quickly walked away, mumbling about needing to call his grandfather. Jules laughed.
"I guess he doesn't want any thanks for that. He's so funny. And nice."
"Yes he is. He seems like a good guy."
Greta smiled. "He is a good guy. Aren't very many of those left these days. Speaking of good guys, where did Pastor Dave go?"
"Oh," Kevin set his burrito down. "He had to step out and make a few phone calls. He said he'd be outside for about an hour."
Not long after they had finished breakfast a nurse in gray scrubs and bright pink Nikes appeared. "Is Miss Keith here?"
Jules stood up. "Yes, that would be me."
"You can sit with your grandfather now if you'd like."
"Oh, thank you! Can my dad come with me?"
The nurse shook her head. "I'm afraid not. For now we want to keep him as quiet as possible. Maybe in a couple of hours Mr. Keith will be able to receive a few more visitors."
Jules looked at Kevin.
"It's okay," he said, "you can go now. Tell him I love him, and we're all praying."
"Okay. I'm ready."
"Please follow me."
Jules hurried quietly down the hall behind the nurse. She prayed while she walked, keeping her eyes ahead of her. "Oh Lord, give me the words to encourage him. Help me to be brace. God, please help me to step out of my comfort zone and love him like You love me. Amen."
The nurse turned once they got to room 217B. "Here we are. He's awake right now, Miss. Try to keep things quiet as much as possible."
"Thank you, I will." And Jules stepped into the room. She pulled the chair to where Duncan could see her face clearly before sitting down. She took his right hand and held it between both of her own hands. "Hey there, Trouble."
He squeezed her hand, the right side of his mouth tipping upwards. She squeezed back.
"You know you had us all worried there for a bit. But the doctor says you're gonna be okay. I'm sure I'll have you back home and all to myself in no time. Did you know that we all love you very, very much? Pastor Dave, Miles Stanley, and Greta have all been here with us. They've been praying, bringing food, and just sitting quiet when that was what we needed. Dad's still here, too, and he said to tell you he loves you." Jules felt a tear slip down her cheek. She cleared her throat, and noticed the tears trickling down Duncan's face. She squeezed his hand again. "I love him, Grandad. He is going to stay down here an extra week, just to be with us and to help me keep you out of trouble." She laughed, and she noticed Duncan giving another half-smile. "Dad and the others will come in here and see you just as soon as they can. For now the nurses want me to keep you quiet, though, so I should let you get some rest."
Duncan squeezed her hand again, and made a sound in the back of his throat. The side of his mouth twitched.
"What is it, Grandad? Oh, you want me to sing to you?"
He blinked twice and tried to smile again.
"I think that means yes. I'll sing your favorite hymns."
And so she sang to him, softly, until he fell asleep.