“Anthony? Anthony, sweetheart, can you hear me?”
Becky’s brown face hovered inches from his own. The relief surging through him was immense, but still not quite strong enough to drown out the crushing pain that barreled through him.
An anvil sat on top of his chest, and every muscle in his body throbbed as if he had just run a marathon. The vise attached to his head kept tightening.
“Becky.” he breathed.
“Thank God, you’re okay.” She leaned forward and kissed him softly, as if she was afraid he might break.
“How long have I been here?” The intense pain grounded him—helped him forget the leaf he’d seen shifting in the breeze.
“Fifteen hours. They took you right back to surgery when you arrived. Thankfully, it went smoothly.”
“I was shot,” he whispered. Knowing a bullet had penetrated his body sobered him. He lacked the strength to even cry.
He glanced around at the generic hospital room, fear and safety tugging at his emotions. “Ben?” he asked.
Becky grabbed his hand “He’s at the neighbor’s house. I’ll call them with an update when the doctor gets in.”
As his Caucasian fingers interlocked with her Hispanic ones, Anthony choked up. He wished Becky could have seen the green outfield from when he had slipped away. He found himself wanting to apologize for so many different things.
“I knew you’d want Janet to know you were here,” Becky said as she squeezed his hand. “I called her right away.”
“I’ve been keeping her up to date. When you came out of surgery two hours ago, she indicated she’d be here sometime tonight.”
Anthony agonized over the many texts he’d received from Janet and how he’d ignored most of them. If he had died after the gunshot, those unanswered texts would be his last impression on his sister.
Pathetic when you considered how she had rallied around when their mother died while he was still in college. No wonder Janet continued to mother him.
He glanced at Becky. She’d been crying and looked very tired. Had she been awake all night?
“You know,” he said, hoping to lift her spirits. “I went to Sam and Ethel’s store to get some ice cream bars. The strawberry ones you enjoyed so well.”
“I figured as much. Much as I like them, they are not worth this.”
“I don’t know about that.” The chuckle that rose from his throat hurt his chest. He swallowed. “You’re worth—”
At a gentle knock on the door, they turned to see a cheerful-looking doctor come into the room carrying a clipboard and a folder.
“Good to see you’re awake. How are you feeling?”
“Sore,” Anthony said. “Tired.”
“You can add lucky to the list.” The doctor moved to the edge of the bed and stood beside Becky. “We were able to remove the bullet and repair the damage. But if that slug had been a half inch lower, the chances of your survival would have been slim to none.”
Anthony clutched Becky’s hand while he searched the doctor’s face. “But I’m going to be okay?”
“You’ll remain sore for a few days, and the injury will itch unbearably while it heals. But yes, outside of keeping you here a while longer for observation, it seems you’re out of the woods.”
The doctor checked the monitors. Then he ran a series of cognitive tests, checked Anthony’s vision, and reflexes.
“Looking good.” The doctor gave a smile of approval. “A nurse will check back in an hour or so. I suggest you get some rest. Right now, it’s the best thing for your body.”
“I’ll try,” Anthony said. “Thanks.”
A very relieved looking Becky smiled at the doctor. “Yes, doctor. Thanks so much.”
“One more thing. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself crying more than usual. Any surgery near the heart seems to affect patient’s emotions.” The doctor turned about and left the room.
Becky’s face scrunched. She heaved deeply and wept into the side of Anthony’s hospital bed. “I thought I had lost you.”
He reached out and stroked her dark hair. “Well you didn’t. “I’m still here, and I’m not planning on going anywhere.”
Again the picture came to him of playing catch on the outfield with his old man. What did it mean? He sensed there was some great power waiting for him on the other side of the grass.
So was it really something to avoid, or not?
Taking the doctor’s advice and resting was easy because Anthony fell asleep with Becky still clinging to the side of the bed, their hands interlocked.
An hour and a half later, when a nurse came into the room to check on him, he roused. The nurse assured him that his vitals were good and he was headed in the right direction.
He lolled his head back on the pillow but now he was wide awake and too anxious to get back to sleep.
Becky had pulled a chair close to the bed and sat beside him quietly.
He studied her face and wondered what it had been like to receive the phone call letting her know her husband of twelve years had been shot.
How much had she seen? Had she caught a glimpse of him before the surgery, soaked in blood while being pushed on a gurney?
He continued to stare at his wife. She was so beautiful the way her long hair framed her face, and. he was overwhelmed by how much he loved her. Ashamed of how badly he had treated her for most of their marriage, he let a few tears slip out. Things were going to change.
A knock sounded at the door, and Anthony expected it was the doctor or a nurse coming to check on him again. Instead, Janet poked her head around the door. At fifty two, along with her short salt and pepper colored hair, the stress and worry on her face made her look eerily like their mother.
“Come on in.” His voice was amazingly weak.
His sister slowly entered the room looking at him as if she didn’t trust her own eyes.
Becky rose from the chair with a smile, and the two women met with a hug at the end of the hospital bed.
Janet looked back at her brother over Becky’s head and frowned. “Oh, Anthony are you really okay?”
“According to the doctors.”
“Am I intruding?” Janet asked, glancing at Becky.
“Of course not.” Becky patted the back of the chair where she’d been sitting. “In fact, why don’t you stay with him for a while? I need to go find some coffee.”
“Coffee sounds good. Could you bring me a cup too?”
With a nod, Becky headed out.
Janet took up the post Becky had previously occupied by the bed. “I don’t even know what to say. You are all the family I have left. I was so terrified.”
“I was a little scared, too,” Anthony admitted with a sheepish laugh.
“I prayed for you the entire way here. I know you don’t buy into that, but I did it anyway.”
Anthony thought of the green outfield and how their father had spoken to him. “Actually, I appreciate it.”
Maybe, the power I felt on the other side of the grass was God. It was a jarring thought. Anthony had always believed in a god of some sort, but he had basically ruled out the God who Janet devoted her life to.
Still what or who had directed him back to the world of the living, using the vision of his deceased father?
Anthony had been borderline rude to Janet every time she’d mentioned her faith. Now, as she sat at his bedside while a bandage covered his surgery wound, he wondered just how she had acquired such faith.
More than that, he wondered how he could get it. But he immediately put the thought at the back of his mind.
“Whether or not it was your praying that did it,” Anthony said offhandedly, “the doctor indicated I was lucky. Half an inch lucky, to be exact.”
“Yeah, I know. Becky told me. Would you mind if I pray over you right now?”
Anthony was a bit taken aback. But what harm could there be? “II guess it would be okay.”
With a smile on her face, Janet took both of his hands in hers. She clasped them tightly and bowed her head.
“Lord, thank you for saving Anthony. Thank you for your grace and your mercy and thank you for—”
Anthony didn’t hear the rest. Out of nowhere, a tremendous flood of grief tore through him, and he wept.
He saw the green outfield again, but this time, his father and his younger self were nowhere to be seen. Instead, it was just him in his current thirty-seven year old body.
Anthony. A soft voice penetrated his mind. I have chosen you. I have work for you to do. But you need to accept and know Me first.
Then just as quickly it was gone. The voice and the outfield. All gone in the blink of an eye.
When the vision faded, he realized he was still crying, and Janet was holding him close.
“Anthony, what’s wrong? Are you okay?”
“What for?” Janet asked.
“I don’t know.” And he didn’t.
He wasn’t sure if the apology was directed at Janet, Becky, or God. Maybe it was intended for all three.
“But II think I need to talk to you.”
He looked at her sheepishly, “God.”