Maggie’s broken body lay under the rubble her tiny form covering the one beneath her. She was vaguely aware of a weight pressing down on her and intense pain through her entire body. She felt movement beneath her and a voice calling her name, Bianca was okay, she had made sure of it. Her eyes closed slowly feeling the rise and fall of Bianca’s chest with each breath she took. She was okay, as long as her friend was okay she could go. She used what little strength she had left in her to squeeze the hand clutched in hers.
“I love you.” She whispered as the sound of far off sirens pierced the otherwise silent night air. She was going to see Frankie now and together they could watch over the woman they loved.
“Over here!” David pulled frantically at the debris. “I’ve got two…” His eyes caught blonde hair and a pair of terrified brown eyes staring at him. “Oh god. Over here damn it somebody get over here and help me!” He dug into the splintered wood and jagged metal never noticing the toll it was taking on his hands.
“David!” Jack hurried to him not wasting any time in diving in beside him.
“Jack it’s Bianca and Maggie.” He never stopped his single minded pursuit.
Jack’s hands faltered for just the briefest of moments before he started pulling at the rubble like a man possessed. “Bianca can you hear me?”
“Uncle Jack.” Her voice was weak and there was too much weight pressing down on her for her to breathe. “Uncle Jack it’s Maggie I don’t think…” Her voice broke and hot tears burst forth. “I don’t think she’s breathing please hurry. Please, you have to hurry she can’t die, you can’t let her die. If she dies I think I’ll die.”
“Jack help me with this.” David readied himself to lift the last piece pinning them in. “On three, one, two, lift.”
They strained against the weight but neither man would give in. They pushed, their feet sliding back, muscles pushed beyond their limits, until finally the final piece of the devastating jigsaw puzzle relented and gave way.
“Maggie.” David scrambled to her. “Maggie can you hear me it’s David. Open your eyes sweetheart.” He rolled her pressing an ear to her chest and feeling for her pulse at the same time. “Jesus don’t you do this Maggie.” He pulled her limp body laying her flat on the floor. “You don’t get to come into our lives, make us love you and then just leave us.” He started chest compressions. “Where are the damn paramedics?!” He titled her head blowing into her mouth.
“Bianca, Bianca are you okay, are you hurt?” Jack helped her sit up.
She was unable to tear her eyes away from where David was trying to save Maggie’s life. Her tiny, broken body lay there unmoving and it terrified her more than anything else she could ever imagine.
“Come on let’s get you outside so they can have a look at you.” He tried to move her.
“No.” She shook her head. “I’m not leaving her, I won’t ever leave her. Where she goes I go.”
“Bianca there’s nothing you can do.” He said gently.
“I can be here, she’ll know I’m here and she’ll come back. She has to.” She added in a whisper. “I refuse to live without her, I can’t because without her I’m lost.”
Jack’s heart broke as he listened to her. His niece, his brother’s daughter, who had already been through so much was being forced to watch the woman he knew she was in love with drift away from her. “Stay right here I’m going to go help David.”
“Bring her back to me Uncle Jack.” She finally turned her eyes to him. “Don’t let her be taken from me too.”
He nodded, kissing her on her crown before moving to David. “How can I help?”
David looked up with despair weighing on his shoulders. “Chest compressions, we don’t stop, we don’t give up no matter who comes in here and tells us there’s nothing we can do.”
“I’m with you.” His hands nearly engulfed the small girl’s chest as he started a steady, rhythmic pace stopping only to let David breathe life into her. “Come on Maggie I know you’re a fighter don’t give up you have too much to live for.”
They stayed hunched over her still form for ten minutes confiscating the paramedic’s equipment from them when they finally arrived on the scene. Neither was going to let anyone else do this. It was their job to protect her, to save her, no one else’s.
“Jack.” David paused leaning down to listen lifting his eyes to the other man. “Oxygen mask quick she’s breathing.” He pulled the elastic around her head situating the mask on her face. “Get her on the backboard we need to get her to the hospital as fast as humanly possible.”
They worked quickly, strapping her down and lifting her from the debris strewn floor.
“David call Anna and have her get the PVPD to escort us I don’t want anyone getting in the way.” He motioned for the paramedics to carry her out. “Bianca come on we need to get you to the hospital too.” He scooped her up into his arms where she buried her head in the crook between his neck and shoulder.
The hospital was chaotic as victims of the blast were wheeled around on gurneys, doctors shouted orders and cries of agony reverberated through the halls. Bianca, whether due to pain or exhaustion or both had passed out not long after she had been placed in the back of a waiting ambulance. When Jack arrived just behind them Erica and Kendall were hot on his heels.
“Jack, Jack where is she, where is Bianca?”
“Erica, sweetheart.” He pulled her into his arms kissing the top of her head. “She’s been taken to an exam room she seems to be fine, she was alert and talking but I think it was all too much for her and she lost consciousness in the ambulance. They’re running tests to make sure and aside from some bumps, bruises, and cuts they don’t think she’s seriously injured. But Erica you need to know, if it weren’t for Maggie that might not have been the case and she’s in critical condition. Bianca is going to need you, she’s going to need all of us if…” He just shook his head not even wanting to think about the possibility.
“Where is she, I need to see my baby. Kendall.” She held her hand out to her eldest daughter.
Kendall wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m right behind you.” She took the shaking hand in her own squeezing it tightly. “Who’s with Maggie?” She questioned Jack.
“David and Anna are in the waiting room. They had to take Maggie into emergency surgery and it may be a while before we know anything.”
Erica and Kendall spent the next six hours beside Bianca’s bedside waiting for her to wake up as Jack went back and forth keeping them updated on Maggie’s condition. Finally at six a.m. he entered the room rubbing at his face.
“They’ve taken Maggie to ICU.” He pulled a chair up to sit next to Erica. “There were a lot of internal injuries and trauma to the head and they can’t say for certain whether she’ll ever regain consciousness. She went without air for too long and even if she does wake up there may be permanent damage. If she wakes up she may not be the same Maggie.”
“Oh god.” Kendall covered her mouth to stifle a sob.
“Jack we can’t tell Bianca that it’ll destroy her.” She shook her head as a tear traced its way down her cheek. “I was only looking out for her when I told Bianca that Maggie could never be what she wanted but that doesn’t mean I don’t approve of her. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t know just how much my daughter loves her.”
“David you need to get some sleep.” Anna placed her hands on his shoulders gently her eyes straying to the array of machines keeping Maggie alive.
“I can’t leave her I don’t want her here by herself and if something happens…” He sighed closing his eyes. “If something happens I need to be here.”
“Then I’m staying with you.” She bent wrapping her arms around his shoulders.
“No Anna you should go home and sleep in a real bed. You have important work…”
“She’s my family too David and I love her just as much as you.”
“And Bianca.” He added. “I keep thinking that maybe if Maggie hears her voice she’ll come back.”
“Then she should be up here with her. I’m sure you can pull some strings and make that happen and honestly I don’t think anyone will protest very much. I think in this case hospital policy will be out the window. Why don’t you go and make the arrangements and I’ll go down and talk to them.”
“Thank you Anna I don’t know what I would do without you.” He stood kissing her. “Can you stay with her and I’ll take care of everything myself?”
“Of course I won’t leave her side.” She watched him leave rubbing at the back of his neck. “Okay Maggie we need to have a talk.” She seated herself in David’s vacant chair. “Now while I commend you for what you did I really hope dying for her isn’t how you prove how much you love her. For that to work you have to come back so she can tell you she feels the same. I told you once that the heart wants what it wants but you were too busy listening to your head. So I’m ordering you to open your eyes so you can get your happily ever after.”
She waited sighing when the steady beeps and hum of the machines remained unchanged. “You won’t listen to me that’s fine.” She took a gauzed covered hand between her own. “But I know you and I know you’ll listen to her. You can’t tell Bianca no, you never could and if she tells you to come back you will because you won’t break her heart.”
She thought she heard a voice but it was so far away that it could’ve been the wind whispering through the trees. She turned her face into the warm breeze smiling. Something was different, she didn’t feel any pain, as if it had been taken from her and replaced with an incredible sense of peace.
“Amazing isn’t it?”
She turned her head to the voice beside her. “I’ve never felt anything like it.” Her smile grew wider. “I’ve missed you Frankie.”
“I’ve missed you too.” She wrapped her arms around her sister hugging her fiercely. “But I have to tell you I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon.”
“Me either.” Her face fell. “I stayed until I knew she was okay, until I heard her heart beating in her chest and then I…” She shook her head. “I didn’t want to go but I couldn’t fight it, I didn’t want to leave her.” Tears cascaded down her cheeks.
“It’s okay M.” She pulled her sobbing sister into her arms. “It’ll all be okay.”
“It won’t.” she squeezed tighter. “It won’t because I’m not with her.”
“You went and made the same mistake I did, you didn’t tell her how you felt because you thought you had time.”
“I should’ve told her, I knew and I should’ve told her and now it’s too late, she’ll never know.”
“Did you hear that?” She pulled away from Frankie wiping her eyes.
“Come on there’s something I want you to see.” She led her, hand in hand to a large fountain. “Look.” She pointed into the still water.
“Bianca?” She turned questioning eyes to her sister. “What is this?”
“You haven’t quite made it to the other side yet. There are certain circumstances where we’re allowed to choose our path, you have a bond with her that’s keeping you tethered to the world. Ultimately you’ll have to decide, let go or go back.”
She turned her eyes down to look at the scene playing out in the waters of the fountain.
“Maggie, I really hope you can hear me.” She took a small, delicate hand in her own. “Thank you for saving my life. What you did was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen anyone do and you really are a hero, you’re my hero, my white knight riding in gallantly to save the day.” Her eyes dropped to stare at their hands. “You can’t leave me.” She whispered. “Without you I don’t know how to put one foot in front of the other and the thought of having to go on without you, it takes my breath away and I feel like I’m dying. I should’ve told you this a long time ago but you’re my everything. You’re the reason I smile and laugh, you’re the reason why I think this world is full of amazing possibilities because it gave me you. But now it’s trying to take you away from me so you have to fight, you have to fight to come back to me. I need you Maggie I can’t do this without you by my side.”
She lay her head on their clasped hands letting the tears fall.
“Frankie?” she looked up to find her sister crying. “Did you have this choice?”
She picked her eyes up from the scene a small smile on her lips. “I did.”
“Then why, why did you choose to stay when you could’ve gone back to her?”
“Because I saw something else when I came here.” She reached out taking the hand that matched hers perfectly. “I didn’t go back because what I saw was that my death would bring the two of you together. I saw the future you would have, full of such love and joy and laughter and I couldn’t take that away from you, I couldn’t keep being selfish. Being here, it makes you see things without fear or hate, without pain and anger. It was all stripped away and what I was left with was choosing myself or you.” She shrugged. “I chose you because I know you would’ve done the same thing. We grew up in the same house, with the same abuse, but you didn’t let it eat away at you. You were always the stronger one, the one more capable of unconditional love.”
“But I’m not.” She said quietly averting her gaze.
“Aren’t you?” She squeezed Maggie’s hand ducking her head to catch her downturned eyes. “This place, it’s special. When you’re here you’re still connected to the world you left, to the one’s you left and if you listen, really listen you can hear them and I heard you. In that moment when you knew Bianca’s life was in danger, when you realized it was going to be her or you, the only thing you thought was it was going to be her. She was going to be the one to survive this and there wasn’t a single doubt in your mind about sacrificing your life for hers. If that had been me I’m not sure I would’ve made the same decision. That’s why I chose to stay here, because I knew you would love her like I couldn’t. That’s your life down there Maggie.” She pointed into the fountain. “That’s your future. That incredible, loving, beautiful girl…who am I kidding that woman is waiting for you.”
“But I’ve caused her so much pain Frankie.” She whispered.
“No.” She shook her head. “This, this is causing her pain, not having you by her side in life, not growing old with you, that’s pain. Always wondering what could’ve been and never being able to hear you laugh or see you smile, or hold you in her arms, that’s pain. You heard her say it yourself, she needs you, you’re her everything. Do you know what I would’ve given to be somebody’s everything?”
“You could’ve been.”
“No, I couldn’t. I wasn’t meant to stay with her, I truly believe that I was put on earth for one reason and one reason only, to help you find each other. That was my job, yours is to spend a lifetime loving her and if you stay here I died for nothing. Make my death mean something Maggie, go back and tell her you love her and then spend the rest of your years showing her just how much.”
She again turned her eyes back into the pool of water letting Frankie’s words really sink into the depths of her soul.
“Bianca?” David pushed through the door quietly.
“David, hi.” She picked her head up with a faint smile. “I must’ve fallen asleep.”
“It’s been a week and you’ve barely left her side maybe you should go home and get some real rest.”
“I could say the same thing to you. You aren’t leaving her and neither am I. When she wakes up I’m going to be right here holding her hand, it’s where I have to be, where I need to be.”
“Bianca.” He sighed sadly. “She may never…”
“No.” She shook her head. “Don’t say it because I refuse to believe it, she’s going to wake up, she’s going to open those beautiful brown eyes and I’m going to make sure the first thing she sees when she does is me. I’m not leaving her and there’s nothing anyone can say that will ever make me.”
He smiled at her fierce determination. “She’s incredibly lucky to have someone who loves her so much and I know that when she comes back it won’t be for any of us, she’s going to come back for you.”
“She hasn’t left my side in a week? Have I really been here that long? I feel like I just got here.”
“There’s no time here Maggie, if you stay you’ll always feel like you just got here. You’ll watch as time passes for her, she’ll fall in love, have children, watch them grow and have children of their own, her hair will start to gray, laugh lines will grow deeper, and one day you’ll see her again. For you it’ll be instantaneous, for her it’ll be years of her life not spent with you. She’ll live every single one of those years day by day but you won’t experience that passage of time, there won’t be that heartbreak, or yearning to hold her, not like she’ll have.”
“I can’t do that to her Frankie.” She closed her eyes against the pain. “I can’t stay here, I have to go back, I need to go back.”
“I knew you would.” She spoke quietly.
“How do I do it?”
“Close your eyes and think of her, the smell of her perfume, the sound of her laugh, the feel of her in your arms.”
“Frankie, I love you.”
“I love you too Maggie.”
Her voice faded away, like sound lost in the wind, there and gone again in a heartbeat.
She could hear the steady sound of whirring and beeps where Frankie’s voice had just been. She struggled to open her eyes, the machines responding to her efforts with an increase in their sounds. She could see light, dim and dreary, not like the soft white luminescence of…she wasn’t even sure of where exactly she had gone. She felt a hand stir in hers, squeezing and when she turned her head there was a small smile on her lips. She would gladly take the dim and dreary hospital if it meant she was going to spend her life with Bianca.
“Hey.” Her voice was barely a whisper, her throat dry from, how long had she been in the hospital now? “Bianca, wake up.” She shook the hand in hers gently. “Sleeping beauty it’s time to open your eyes.”
“Hmm.” She breathed not wanting to wake up from the dream she was having. She had been given her miracle and Maggie had come back to her.
“I’d wake you up with a kiss but I can’t move with all of these tubes so you’re going to have to come up here to me.” She carefully extricated her hand moving it to stroke the soft skin of Bianca’s cheek. “Do you have any idea how much I love you? I came back just for you.”
“I told her you would.” David spoke quietly from his chair in the corner of the room. He moved his hand to wipe away tears. “I knew out of everyone she’s the one you wouldn’t leave.” He stood moving to her bedside leaning down to kiss her forehead. “Welcome back to the land of the living.”
“How long have I been here?”
“About three weeks now.”
“It’s been that long?”
“Yeah and she hasn’t left your side except when we told her she smelled.” He smiled at Maggie’s raspy chuckle. “How about some water?”
“Oh please yes.” She took the straw between her lips pulling in the cool liquid. “Water is officially my favorite thing ever.” She turned her eyes to the still sleeping brunette. “Okay maybe my second favorite thing ever.” She moved a lock of dark hair away from a heart shaped face. “David?” Her fingers traced the jagged line along her temple.
“You took the brunt of the impact but she still suffered some injuries. There’s going to be a small scar.”
“Doesn’t matter, she’ll still be the most beautiful woman I know. I love her David, so much that my heart hurts.”
He watched her watching Bianca with reverent eyes. “I know you do and I know she loves you just as much.” He moved around the bed to kneel beside Bianca. “Hey it’s time to wake up somebody wants to say hi.” He rubbed her shoulder gently coaxing her to wakefulness.
“David?” Her eyes fluttered open to find David’s face. “What’s going on, do I smell again?” A smile played on her lips freezing in an instant when a soft, raspy chuckle floated to her ears. She closed her eyes again her heart constricting in her chest. She tried to speak but it was taking all of her effort to keep the sob from ripping its way out of her throat. She felt the hand she had been holding for weeks squeeze hers and she was lost. She was up and in Maggie’s arms instantly. “I don’t want this to be a dream, please don’t let this be a dream.”
“It’s not a dream I promise.” She wrapped her arms tightly around the brunette letting her own tears fall.
“I’ll be right outside.” David quietly vacated the room leaving them alone.
“I’m here and I’m never leaving you, I love you Bianca and I will love you for as long as you let me.” She loosened her hold to bring them face to face. “Tell me you believe me, tell me you know just how much I love.”
She nodded her head. “I do, because that’s how much I love you.”
“Then let’s not waste this second chance, no more lost moments, just us loving each other forever.”
“I love you Maggie.” She rested her forehead against Maggie’s closing her eyes, her voice just a whisper. “I love you.”
“Please don’t ever stop.” Her eyes fluttered closed as lips brushed hers, a promise of forever. “I’ll never stop loving you, you’re my everything.”
Frankie smiled through her tears. “I promise you Maggie this is the best decision you’ll ever make and there won’t be day where you’ll ever regret it.” She swirled a finger through the water the image disappearing in the ripples. “Take care of each other and be happy you both deserve it.” She drifted away from the fountain knowing that it was going to be a very long time before they would see each other again. Three children, nine grandchildren, twenty great grandchildren and sixty seven anniversary parties full of laughter, joy and all the love two people could have for each other awaited them, side by side, hand in hand, together, until they were called home to spend an eternity loving each other.