Sequel to Pain of Remembering
"I'm here, Vin. Hold on. Hold on. Just hold on. Ambulance is on its way. It'll be okay; you'll be okay. Keep squeezing my hand, pard." Chris's desperate litany sounded hollow and hoarse to his ears.
Chris Larabee sat on the cold, scuffed linoleum floor holding Vin Tanner's bleeding body in his arms. One hand tightly gripped Vin's as if that force alone could will strength into the young man. His other hand applied pressure to the bullet wound in Vin's side.
Vin's deep blue eyes opened slowly. He stared up at Chris and tried to smile. "Chris?," he heard himself ask but no sound came out. He couldn't voice the questions whirling around his brain ; 'Where am I?, why am I on the floor and why are you upside down, Chris? Where's my Ma?'
Vin knew his Ma had to be nearby. He was just talking to her, wasn't he? When was that? He couldn't remember seeing her but he had heard her clearly enough. He had been telling her about Chris and now Chris was right here, tears running down his face. 'Why are you crying, Chris? I'm okay, really I am.' Vin thought Chris would feel a whole lot better if he could just hear what Vin was thinking.
"Vin, you've been shot. We walked in on a hold-up. You and me. We stopped for coffee. It's Monday. Hell of a way to start the week, pard." Chris tried to smile, couldn't. He was rambling. He knew it but he couldn't stop himself. 'Where was the damn ambulance?'
Vin's eyes drifted close and he tried to find his Ma once more.
+ + + + + + +
The next time he opened his eyes he was on a bed in a curtained-off cubicle looking up at Chris again but now Chris was right-side-up.
"Hey, cowboy," he croaked.
Chris helped Vin with a cup of water.
"You gave me quite a scare there for a while, Vin. All of us. How are you feeling?"
"Don't feel nothin'. Like I'm floatin'. I like it," he managed to say. His tongue felt too big for his mouth. He couldn't tell if he was smiling or not. He couldn't feel his face.
Vin tried to nod. "You and my Ma," he whispered.
Chris smiled. "Yeah, I guess your Ma sent you back to us, Vin."
"Ya think?" Vin saw the Caribbean sea again in the depths of Chris's green eyes. He didn't notice the redness from the tears or the blood-shot veins or the fine lines of tension and worry. Vin only saw the green of the sea.
Chris nodded. "Yeah," he said softly as he brushed back some stray hair off Vin's forehead.
"Told her she'd like you." Vin's eyes were half-closed and he was fighting the fatigue claiming his body. He wanted to say more. He needed to tell Chris it was his voice that he heard calling him, pulling at him to stay alive. Wasn't his Ma sent him back. It was Chris.
"Go back to sleep, cowboy. I'll be here when you wake up."
Vin drifted to his backyard, the backyard he played in when he was little and he suddenly remembered the white sheets his mother would hang up to dry in the Texas sun. And drying they fluttered and flapped cleanly in the wind under the endless blue sky. Vin was lying on the burnt brown grass looking up at the sheets, the patterns they made. Bright white rectangles against the deep blue sky, flapping in the wind, a sound he imagined sails would make on a sailboat on a windy day. He closed his eyes and he was on that sailboat, adrift in the "Carbean" ocean, hearing the snap of the sails in the tropical breeze. He was far away from the hurt, the sadness, the dirt, the poverty. On the sailboat with his Ma everything was new, fresh, clean. He tried to stay there. He looked over the side of the boat and heard a voice calling from the water, deep below the surface.
"Vin, Vin, come on now. Open your eyes. Come on back, pard."
Vin knew that voice and he struggled towards it. He felt a cool hand on his forehead, that same hand sliding down, cupping his cheek briefly before it left. He opened his eyes and yawned.
"There you go, cowboy. You awake for good now?" Chris was standing by the bed.
"You're out of recovery and in a regular room now. The doc says you'll be out of here day after tomorrow. Turns out that bullet just creased your side, didn't even crack a rib. Hell of a lot of blood though, Vin. You were bleeding like a stuck pig. Scared the shit out of me, I gotta tell you. You were in shock and it could have been touch and go if the ambulance hadn't come when it did. You're tough stuff, kid." His light banter was a stark contrast to the fear and worry which had gripped him the past 24 hours. Chris could relax and smile now.
"Thanks for that visual, Chris," Vin whispered. "So, you okay?"
"Couldn't be betternow," Chris said, the relief evident in his voice.
Chris perched on the edge of the bed. "The cops need a statement. You up to that, 'cause if you're not I'll hold them off you until you're ready."
"Nah, it's okay. I'm fine. Just give me a few minutes to get my thoughts in order. They're flyin' around in my head along with sheets and sails."
Chris, looking puzzled, was about to ask what Vin meant but Vin held up his hand. "The drugs talking." He yawned again and stretched and winced when he felt a sharp pain in his side suddenly flare. "Ooooh, not enough drugs, I guess. That smarts. Just a crease, huh. Feels more like a ditch to me, cowboy," Vin said.
"The guys were all here last night and earlier today. You remember any of that, Vin?" Chris handed him a cup of water.
Vin shook his head no. "Sorry, guess I was kinda loopy for a while."
"You remember stopping for coffee at the 7-11 yesterday morning on the way to work? You walked in first "
"Yeah, and I turned to say something funny to you, don't ask me what, and got shot for my troubles. I can't ID the shooter, Chris. I never got a look at him."
"The clerk behind the counter took care of him. Shot him while the bad guy was busy using you for target practice," Chris said.
"Lucky for me he was a lousy shot, huh?," Vin grinned up at Chris.
"I'll go tell the detectives they can come see you now. You okay with that?"
Vin nodded. He reached out and grabbed on to Chris's hand as Chis got off the bed.
"Chris, you ever wonder why things happen like they do? I mean, like getting shot tryin' to buy a cup of coffee or your wife and son killed like that or my Ma .," Vin's voice cracked.
"I don't think anyone has an answer, Vin. You just have to keep on living even though life sucks sometimes. I learned that the hard way. Nothing's easy in this life, Vin, you know that. Like the tee-shirt says, 'shit happens.'
Chris gave Vin's hand a squeeze before he left the younger man's side. He headed for the door.
"Chris," Vin began. He wanted his best friend to know he might not have come back if Chris hadn't been there holding him, pleading with him to hold on, almost forcing him to stay alive. Vin knew deep down how easy it would have been to let go and stay with his Ma, he had been so tempted to do just that. But then Chris would have been alone.
But all he said was, "Thanks, cowboy."
Chris grinned and walked out the door.
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