Editor's note: you can read Part 3 here.
The smell of diesel fuel and exhaust hit Neil’s nose, then gave way to the disinfectant and alcohol smell of the emergency room.
Last time Neil was in an emergency room, his mother was still alive, a cut on her head needing stitches on Christmas Day. They weren’t at this particular emergency room, but something about these waiting rooms made them all the same. Slow, tense places serving as holding pens for the big show behind closed doors. About thirty people sat in clusters of two and three, in straight-backed chairs designed with cheapness not aesthetics in mind. Fear and worry thickened the air.
Melly picked up the handset of an old-fashioned push button phone, the kind of phone his parents had before the ubiquitousness of “cordless” technology. She kept her back to him while she spoke, and he saw her nodding her head.
“They said we should go to the fifth floor waiting area,” she said to him.
Unmarked doors, name badges, long white corridors, the shell-shocked faces of other families, a man with a face like a mouse slowly mopping the floor. A nurse in pink scrubs met them at the elevator.
“You’re here for Mr. Deguerra?” she asked in a matter-of-fact way, clipboard at her side.
“Yes,” Melly said. Neil waited to be asked if he was family, but apparently this nurse wasn’t going to bother.
“He’s in pre-op,” she said. “Why don’t you go in for a few minutes?”
Pre-op sounded to Neil like serious family time. He couldn’t imagine Linus would want him in there -- what if he had important, deathbed kind of things to say to Melly? Surely this would be where they parted ways.
Melly smoothed her hand over her hair and he felt her hand clamp his forearm and squeeze gently. The nurse marched ahead of them down the hall without looking back.
“Please come,” Melly said. “I don’t think I can do this alone.”
The pre-op room was the size of a small theater, divided into twelve compartments by drapes hanging from ceiling tracks. They walked down the well-lit aisle, dark eyes following them from the occupied beds.
Linus laid in the furthest bed, his head propped up and his eyes dull with pain. His hospital gown drooped, exposing his right shoulder, making him seem small and old.
“You came,” he said, his lips lifting into the beginnings of a smile. “Perfect.”
Melly crooked her hand around his, her knuckles pressing into the white sheet. Tears spilt onto his arm.
“No, no,” he said. “No crying, for everything is going to be all right, Melly.”
“You saved my life again,” she said, a sob shuddering through her thin frame.
“You don’t know that,” Linus said. He blinked and refocused, this time on Neil. “Maybe this dude here saved both our lives.”
I didn’t save anyone’s life, Neil thought. If anything, me and Linus surprised the robber and that made him shoot. If we hadn’t walked in, maybe it would have never got violent. Maybe the man would have taken the money and left Melly, shaken but unhurt. Who could say whether our appearance was a good thing or a bad thing? It just was.
“It was nothing, man. Now you’ve got to relax and let the doctors do their work,” Neil said.
“But I need to tell you why I brought you there,” Linus said.
“You wanted me to play for Melly,” Neil said.
“This is going to sound weird,” Linus said. “Because, to be honest, I’ve forgotten your name--”
“Okay, Neil. Well, it’s still going to sound weird, but listen, if I don’t make it out of here, I need you to know this.”
“You’re going to make it out of here,” Melly said.
Neil chimed in. “Definitely.”
“I want you to get Melly pregnant,” Linus said.
“Linus!” Melly dropped his hand and covered her mouth. “Not now.”
Neil had no words to respond. “Err, um...”
“Look, I wasn’t going to spring this on you like this. We were going to warm you up to it. Get to know you. We wanted a musician, and you’re good-looking and you got talent. That’s the truth of it.”
“You’re freaking him out,” Melly said to Linus before turning to Neil.
Her blue eyes pleaded for his understanding. “I didn’t know he was going to do this,” she said. “That’s not why I asked you to come.”
“No, it’s perfect, though, babe, don’t you see that?” Linus said. “He feels the connection. He’s a good man, see?”
Neil shifted his weight and slipped his hand into his pocket. The cool plastic of his phone reminded him of Ray and his invitation, and he wished he were there now blasting a joint, strumming his guitar.
“I don’t have a job,” he said. A stupid thing to say, but all he could think of. Me a father? I can barely make my half of the rent most months.
“We’d take care of the baby,” Linus said. “We just need your sperm. My equipment doesn’t work.”
The nurse in pink scrubs appeared. “We’re going to take you in now, Mr. Deguerra.” She grabbed a handful of the white and blue curtain and yanked it open.
“Think about it,” he said.
“Yeah,” Neil said, thinking that he was sure he’d do little else. What an awkward, unexpected proposal -- a man potentially on his deathbed asking for him to get his wife, girlfriend, whatever, pregnant.
“I love you,” Melly said, holding Linus’s hand again and walking alongside the gurney.
Editor's note: you can read Part 5 here.