Her little eyelids fluttered, almost unnoticeable amongst the tubes running across her and the mask that seemed to consume her infantile face. The room was almost empty for the first time since she arrived, except the small figure curled up on the couch, which had been a constant. Once more her eyelids fluttered, this time her hand moved, just enough to crumple the sheets. The soft crumple, which so sharply contrasted that of the deep metallic sounds of the room awoke the figure on the couch, just as her eyes attempted to open once more. With a panic that is on match, the figure shot from the couch and called for the nurse, because maybe, just maybe there was hope.
They would be late again, and she would watch all the other mothers toss out their scornful stares, again. But she couldn’t bare to wake her, not sleeping so soundly, the balance beam would have to wait. She would have wake her, but the monsters have been under her bed once again this week. Fifteen minutes later than planned, a little yawn arose from the couch, her little pink nails clenched around her warm hands rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Just as soon a small head of curly hair bounced up the stairs and closed a door. Minutes later, it reemerged with an attempt at a bun, the entangled of curls intertwined around a bright pink hair tie. Attached to the mess of a bun was a little body wearing her favorite pink leotard covered with sequin stars. Just below was a pair of sweatpants that where older than her, tucked into her cow print covered rain boots. The mess of hair ran down the stairs grabbed her bright green rain coat and yelled out louder than a jet plane;
“MOOMMM, we are GOING to be late!”
Coming out from my office, I smile at her gooney outfit and hair (she was undeniably mine) and grab my belongings, getting down to her level I inform her:
“The sleepy fairy sprinkled too much fairy dust on you again! We are already late, but that’s okay this is better weather for a duck not you, my monkey.”
Buckled in her car seat, the rain was pounding against our little Toyota as it puttered down the interstate towards the city. The numbers on the little green dash clock switched from 4:59 to 5:00, now they were late, but just barely, they had just pulled into the gym. Pulling her hood over her head, she grabbed her out of the car and sprinted towards the safety of the looming gray building. When they neared the lobby, she set down her little princess as she shook off the water still clinging to the slick material of her rain jacket. She hung up her bright green raincoat next to the rows of designer ones of her classmates, next she disposed of her cow spotted rain boots which stuck out like a sore thumb next to the rows of pink and purple boots. As she sprinted towards the mats, she stopped, turned and looked at me with her silly grin, then completed the journey towards her peers. The two of us didn’t fit in with everyone else there, but her dad wouldn’t have her go anywhere else and she wouldn't either, it was her gym.
Grabbing my laptop, I reviewed my current case file; a little boy who’s parents had been caught stealing from a local chain store. He had no family in the area, so now I had to decide where to send him while they did jail time. This was the worst part of being a judge, sometimes laws forget about the kids. I’ve re-read his file at least fifty times, he would head into foster care after tomorrows arrangement. Closing the case, I look up to see my curly headed little girl bouncing towards me, the class was done, for today. We dressed as and headed back out the greet the storm, running to our car. It was time to go home, tomorrow was back to work and daycare. Having the day off was a tease at their life, so busy, that what happens when a judge marries a college professor. The rain had eased up now so the drive back full of singing, because we can’t ride in the car without music, that’s the only reason to ride in a car, right? Pulling into the drive way, my little superstar was tuckered out, to say the least.
Inside, she runs to embrace her daddy, because she hasn't seen him in a while. After the two go back and forth with question after question, we finally head up stairs to find the land of sweet dreams. Once she was off I headed down stairs to finish clean up from that day, just as he closed the door to his at home office. By ten, I was satisfied with the house work I got done, knowing it would have to be done all over again. I slid into the queen size bed, still made on the other side from two months back.
******* The nurse rushes in, with the doctor right behind her, they begin to check all the tubes and wires ann beeping monitors. Once done, the nurse gently leads me by the hand over to chair next to her bed.
“Judge Bray, it was a momentary shock to her nervous system, its the medication getting into her system. She’s still unstable but we are doing all we can.” The nurse with the daisies on her scrubs says to me with kind eyes showing her concern. As she turned to leave, I stop her, “Thank you so much, please call me Cam, not judge, not here.”
I hold the small lifeless hand with an IV in my own hand, and see the small white bracelet declaring; HARPER BRAY 06/17/2009 with all sorts of codes. The last time she wore one of these, we couldn't get her to take the darn thing off. As the night turned into day, I sat there holding my dying daughters hand.
******* The sun was just starting to rise as the clock on the oven switched to 6:00am, her attention switched from the rising sun towards the muffle footprints coming down the hall. It was much to early to be Harper, she knew who it was and didn't want to deal with him this early, actually she doesn't ever want to talk to him again. He rounded the corner dressed for work, and headed out. He stopped right before the door, turning to her,
“Hey Cam, you know we can’t do this forever, right? Why won’t talk to me, hell, even just look at me?” She kept her back to him, with tears gripping the corners of her tired eyes, finding her voice she returns the only thing she can say; “I know we can’t do this forever Shane, that’s why you need to make your choice, I’ve made mine. Now get out of this house before you ruin it even more.”
Turning, he looks at her once more as he closes the door. He knew had fucked up and now he had outlasted his welcome in his own home, in car on the way into his university, he called the local hotel and booked his new home; he’d go back home over lunch and pack together the last of his belongings. Before she finally changes the lock: god damn, what the hell did do?
At almost seven, she ascended the stair case, carefully opening door covers in glittery drawings she saw her little body curled up against her pink sheets and princess bedding. Before fully awaking her little one, she curled up in bed next to her and inhales the sweet scent that can only be her little girls’. Snuggled together in the early morning sun her mind wanders back two months ago, to the day she finally got her answer.
It was February 13, Harper was excitedly preparing for her school’s Valentine’s Day party, and I was preparing for the sugar high and crash that was bound to occur. Shane was in kitchen on the phone, business he had said. With Harper contently playing with her dolls, I ventured towards the kitchen, hoping to procure a little Valentine’s Day party of our own, after bedtime of course. Just as I was about to turn the into the kitchen, the phone call I heard was most defiantly not any kind of business call he should be involved in. He hadn’t seen her yet, she quickly turned around and returned to playing doll with Harper. Later that night as they were getting ready for bed, she turned to him and the only thing on her mind left her lips, “Is she pretty? Is she young? What a student?” Surprised, he turns looking at her, “What do you know, how told you, how much to you know? I swear it was just all in good fun. Bears, I can explain, please.” “Fuck you, you’re an asshole. How much do I know? I know that you better get out of this house, I know that the little down the hall deserves way fucking better than you for a dad. I know that if you don’t tell me everything right now, you will be homeless and divorced. So man up and tell me what don’t I know.” You know how in movies; there’s that point was the whole movie is based off? This was our version of that point. He sat down in the chair told me the whole story, without sparing me anything. “It started in June, remember that post-semester party I went to? That was the first time, I was so drunk, and maybe a little high but I thought it was nothing.” He went on to retell of more times like this, then finally landed on the woman who has replaced me. It was the dean of the English department, Laura, they’d been together for going on 3 months. By the time he was done it was three in the morning, I left him alone in our bed and went and crawled in with Harper; when I got up the next day he was gone, the bed was made.
******** The sun was starting to rise as another day was etched into history. She hadn’t slept she sat there all night waiting for her to awake. As the nurse entered the room I asked one of a thousand questions I had on my mind. “What happened to the other car?” This nurse was just as kind as all the rest in her answer to my pending question. “I don’t know, Judge and if I did I couldn’t tell you.”
As nine o’clock rolled around, I saw a police officer at the door from the corner of my eye, I turned to face him and he comes to embrace me with Emma close behind him. Her and Jack had been a part of my life since college, they were family, having them here lifted all the weight off of my chest. After our long embrace I beckon them to sit and hoping that Jack could answer my question. “Jack, what happen to the other car?” He looks away from Harper and over to me, “There was a family inside, a man, women and their teenage daughter. The man was highly intoxicated, he survived the accident. The women was a bit bruised up and scared but she is going to be okay. But the little girl was found ten feet from the car, she was killed in the impact.”
“Did I know them, please be honest Jack … Emma please”
“This is the hard part, if you need me to stop please just let me know. The girl was Alexis Lehan, I believe her and Harper went to the same gymnastics school. The women is Laura Lehan I know that you know who she is, but the man, the one that is credited with causing the accident, his name is Shane Bray.”
As soon as Jack said it, I could feel the puke rising in my throat and ran to the bathroom. It couldn’t be, no, there has to be more than one person with that name in this area…
I was 20 when I met Shane, we meet at a school basketball game and had been sitting by each other and we hit it off from there. He was 23 and played baseball, was an honor student amongst so much else. He was my very definition of perfect. He loved my family, had a perfect sense of humor, loved animals and was always up for an adventure. He asked me to marry him four days after I graduated college, we got married two years later and life was great, I had married my best friend. Life was great, we both got the jobs we wanted found the perfect house in the best neighborhood had eco friendly cars, it really couldn't get any better. But it did, we finally got pregnant after trying for two years with our beautiful little girl. Our life had been perfect.
Emma came running into the bathroom after me and held me as a heaved and sobbed on the cold bathroom floor. We sat there on the cold floor until the walls stopped spinning, I had to get back to my little girl, she needed her mommy and I, well I needed her. With Emma holding me we walked back to Harper’s room where Jack had was sitting by her bed reading her the book that had been given to me by a nurse. I lifted my head up as the tears were still streaming down my face, my eyes red from crying my skin yellowed from this stress and in a barely audible quivering voice I asked,
“Shane Shane B b ray, like the the one that um, ya ya know…”
I couldn’t finish the sentence as starting falling to a heap before Emma caught me and brought me to the couch. She sat with me as I started to sob and sob again, Jack walked over and took my other hand and as gently as he could told me,
“It was him; it was Harper’s dad. He’s okay, a little scratched up but his fine. He’s sitting in the Colisa County Jail for now, he’ll be there until there is a trial or he makes bail.” “Wait why is he in jail, wasn’t this just and accident? Jack, please tell me.”
“I, I can’t because the case is open but if I leave the room to grab us some coffee and Emma chooses to tell you then so be it.”
Jack gave the three of us a soft smile and headed out the door. As Emma turned to me and gave me her “mom” look, I could see she had been crying more than just today too. I nodded at her, I had to know why or how this had happened and why my ex husband was sitting in jail. She knows what is was I had wanted to know.
“They were coming home from a party that night celebrating their engagement, he was drunk, really drunk and he blew the stop light going seventy-five miles an hour. It just happened to be the same time you had both been coming across the intersection.”
“What an idiot, what a fucking moron. His daughter is lying in hospital bed dying, he soon to be daughter is dead and his fiancée is, well…actually, how is she?
“She’s doing okay, she got a rough concussion and a broken leg but she’ll be just fine. So we need to talk about some legal things here okay, not right now if you don’t want to. This is a lot to process, love. Let me know what you need, I’ve gotta head home and pick up Christine but if you need anything please let me know hon.”
The news had paralyzed me; all I could do was nod to Emma after she hugged me to leave. I returned to the chair next to my daughter and held her hand, I had started to drift off when it seemed like every alarm in the room went off and a hoard of nurses came rushing in and I was rushed out as the little lifeless figure was wheeled down the hall towards the unknown. That same nurse with daisies came and walked me back into my room and explained that Harper was experience a high level of brain swelling and they were going to release the pressure. She led me back into the room and told me it would be a bit of a wait and that they would come get me as soon as they had any news.
I sat back down on the couch against the wall and missed the soft beeping machines telling me that my daughter was still alive, even if barely. There was a knock at the door and I looked up to see my sister, her eyes filled with tears. I got up and she ran across the room and hugged me as we both broke down and cried. After we stopped crying enough to speak she informed me that Emma and Jack had filled her on the details. She looked at me as I was still in the outfit that the hospital had given me after the accident and hadn’t slept in two days. I hadn't even thought about what I looked like, but it must have been baby because Lena called Emma and asked her to come get me around 9 and take me home to shower change. Being cared for by my older sister put me slightly at ease knowing that she would take care of me. As I began to drift off to sleep on her shoulder I whispered that none of the Bray family is allowed to see Harper.
Three hours later I woke up with a jolt as I realized that nobody had told me anything about Harper. I looked over to Lena and she shook her head towards me.
“They haven’t come back yet, but no news is good new right?”
Just as I was about to tell her that the only good news would to be at the gym with Harper working on her back flip, then our nurse with the daisy scrubs, who I realized name was Carrie came in the room.
“Judge Bray, I mean Cam. They completed the surgery to release the pressure from Harper’s brain it was successful, they are just about to bring her down. Now I know this isn’t my place but you really should go home for a little while, change, eat something, sleep a little. Your sister is going to stay here with Harper and she will be good for the night she’s still in her coma, but if you don't take care of you, you can’t take the best care of Harper. We will do that for you right now.”
As soon as she finished saying this, Emma walked in the door telling the nurse that she was taking me home for the night as soon as Harper was settled back in, fifteen minutes later they wheeled her back in attached to more and more cords than when she left. I attached myself to the bed, wanting nothing more than to curl up next to her like I do when she has a bad dream. Because that’s all I wish this was, a really really bad dream that I’d wake up get Harper ready and return to my courtroom. But it wasn’t this is reality, as Lena and Emma pulled me from her bed and Emma took me out the door to home.
Harper was four when she started gymnastics, just little things nothing major but I was so scared that she’d get hurt. She had been bouncing all around the furniture in the house and had so much energy that Shane and thought it would be a great place for her to channel all of her energy. We were right at only seven she was competing against the girl’s divisions above her, she was a natural at it and it was her life. Her room showed that with her medal and trophies around the room and a life size poster of her in her uniform from nationals. This was the view as I stood in Harper’s room with her pajamas from the last night we had been here pressed to my face. Emma had offered to stay with me, but she needed to be home with Christine and Jack. She dropped me off with some take out Chinese and ate with me then left with some protest, but I told her that I needed some time to grieve alone to have it all make sense in my head. I’d carefully showered and gently cleaned around my stitches on my head, gotten my old pajamas on and grabbed Harper and my snuggles blanket wrapped in it I wandered this old house. In a daze I ended up curled up in Harper’s bed asleep, wishing she was there to hold.
Although I didn't think it was possible, I slept like a rock that night. I woke up the next morning though and remembered everything, breaking down into tears once more when I saw Emma at my door. We headed up to the hospital once more to go see my baby girl and Lena. As we walked through the sliding glass door that hospital smell hit my nose and I wanted to run, I wanted to sprint to my little girl’s room, I willed the elevator to move faster so I could hold my baby. When the doors opened I sprinted directly to her room where Lena was waiting with that night’s report. Learning that her condition hadn’t changed, I settled back in the seat besides Harper’s bed and took her hand. I had told Lena to go home to get some rest, she had already done so much. I turned my focus back over to my daughter, there was a light scraping on the floor than Emma took my hand in her own. We sat there in silence for quite awhile as the nurses came in and out of Harper’s room, each giving me a sympathetic look. We had decided to get up and take a walk down to the cafe because Harper was still asleep and everything had stayed the same.
We headed down to the cafe, the feature was grilled cheese with chicken and dumpling soup. Reaching into my purse to pay, I grabbed the ear of a ratty stuffed bunny, Harper’s favorite. I needed to get back to my daughter, now.
I walked back into the room, so unlike her own. Wishing that this was all a nightmare, that I would wake up and walk down the hall and she her fast asleep under the glow-in-the dark stars she had to have. As I sat there holding her bunny and her hand I regret not buying her that new leotard with the unicorn on it or that ice cream the other day after school. That maybe doing those things for her would have stopped this from happening, maybe we would have stayed at the gym longer that night so she could show off her leo to the older girls. Just maybe. But none of that mattered now, all that mattered was being her with her so that when she got better we could do everything she wanted.
As the three of us sat in silence, except for the beeping machines. I began to think of all the things I wanted to say to Shane in the courtroom. Harper’s machines began to beep like crazy as her hand fell from mine. The nurses run in pushing me away from the bed, Emma and I stood in the corner as the team tried to help Harper.
On a Monday morning, I played out Harper’s favorite outfit complete with her shoes and big pink bow. She loved this dress so much she’s had it in almost every size. I place it in her travel bag and gave it to Emma as we loaded in the car, it was almost time to go. I ran up stairs to her room one to grab her bunny, it belonged with Harper. I got in the front seat and felt like I was going to loose it yet again, I had never picked out a casket before, but never a child’s casket.
I’ll never forgot the sound of Harper’s heart monitor going flat, the kind nurse in the cartoon scrubs tearing up as she told me that Harper had lost her brave battle. I don’t remember much from that the days after, I know that Emma had never left my side. I remember the tears never ever stopping. I slept in her bed that week surrounded by everything that smelt like her, I cried so harder I couldn't breathe. Emma planned the entire funeral with minor details from me, like Harper’s favorite flower.
When I saw my little girl lying in the pearl pink casket, I lost it. I couldn’t stand, breathe or even think but I had to as all of our friends and family came with hugs and so much love. When Harper’s cheer and gymnastics team walked in the door all wearing copies of her favorite hair bow, I lost it. I don’t remember the rest of the funeral or the trial, it was all tears.
It’s been six months now, I go to visit Harper at least once a week. I’ve moved out our house and into an apartment downtown, by myself for the first time since I was eighteen. I had family dinner with Jack and Emma each week and played with their little girl. Because of the accident, I felt impartial and stepped down from my position as judge and returned to being a lawyer. At the gym that Harper had called home, I ran a scholarship for young girls who can’t afford the program and gear in her name. They had a plaque with Harper’s team headshot hanging in the gym and her favorite quote. This is my life now; it’s not easy. I miss Harper everyday, it’s never going to be easy but each day it becomes easier to breathe. But I will keep trying, its what Harper always did so now so will I.
“Today is going to be better than yesterday, because today is brand new”