NaNoWriMo Update: Merit Badge

So, it turns out the official word count thing the NaNo website uses has a history of disagreeing with what Open Office says. Open Office tells me I currently have just over 52K, and NaNo shaved off that count by about 1 or 2K. Either way, it finally accepted my validation so now I can share the badge. Huzzah!

2013-Winner-Facebook-CoverIt’s kind of funny considering even at 50K, Lifeline is just getting warmed up. Part of me thinks, oh no, did I spend so much time with exposition? Did I really need those wordy conversations? What was the point of that scene again…? Will potential readers roll their eyes? Get bored? These little doubts are just that: little. This is a first draft. I fully expect to expand on ideas and trim others. I’m not worried about connecting all the dots at this time. There’s the matter of finishing the story before I sharpen the editing shears. Still, to celebrate this happy event, I thought I’d share a scene with you all. It details how Maria became part of Gabriel’s life. Enjoy, everyone, and remember: YOU CAN DO IT!

***

Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, Philadelphia, 1984…

The room was dimly lit and cold, despite all the blankets the nurse had piled on him. Voices drifted in from the corridor outside, as did ringing telephones, the sound of shoes on the floor, the squeak of a gurney.

Four-year old Gabriel listened to it all without much interest. His body felt heavy, like someone had put weights on him. The needle for the IV drip itched on his hand. The bandage over the inner curve of his left elbow hurt him. Machines beeped along with his heartbeat. He had a vague memory of being scared of the needles. Now they were just minor annoyances.

Every now and then he’d be racked with uncontrollable shivers. He had cried during those initial episodes, but now he didn’t have the strength. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and sleep. His eyelids drifted downward, narrowing his vision of the room. His heartbeat seemed very loud in his ears. Each time he fought to keep his eyes open, the desire to close them was that much stronger. As Gabriel started to give in, he glimpsed a woman standing at the end of his bed. He didn’t know who she was, but it wasn’t the first time he had seen her. She never said a word, either; all she ever did was watch him. Gabriel didn’t feel afraid. In fact, the only times he felt even a little bit better were when she was around.

Their eyes met and held for a moment before his eyes closed, and he exhaled. So tired…

Footsteps in the corridor forced him awake. The girl was gone. The only other person in the room was his mother, who now dozed at his bedside, her hand on his. His father had taken Sophia to the cafeteria for something to eat. Gabriel found himself missing them.

“Mrs. D’Angelo?” sounded a soft voice from the doorway. Gabriel saw his mother wake with a start, quickly glance over. The attending nurse stood there, a tray in her hands. “I’ve brought Gabriel’s dinner.”

Amelia D’Angelo nodded as she rose to her feet. “Thank you. I’ll take it, if you don’t mind,” she said, reaching for the tray.

The nurse handed it over. As Amelia turned away, the woman’s attention went to Gabriel. Her face expressed sympathy. “The poor boy,” she murmured. “My thoughts are with you.”

Amelia paused in arranging the bowl of soup, orange juice and fruit cup on the tray. Her smile was weary. “Thank you.”

After the nurse had gone, Amelia lifted the lid from the soup. “No, hon, you need to eat,” she encouraged when Gabriel shied away from the spoon she held in front of him. “Can’t get strong if you don’t. Come on, Gabriel. One little spoonful for Mommy.”

The smell of the soup turned his stomach, and he shook his head. He saw tears in Amelia’s eyes before she offered it again. Gabriel didn’t like to see her so sad, but he didn’t like the way the soup smelled, either. When he rejected it again, this time with a tiny whimper, Amelia clapped her hand over her mouth to suppress her own whimper.

Gabriel’s father, Michael, strode into the room then, Sophia’s hand in his. Michael was a tall man with a thick, strong build and tough demeanor. But at seeing Amelia he grew alarmed. “Amelia? What is it?”

She made a helpless gesture toward the soup, toward Gabriel, before dropping the cup to cover her face. Michael closed the distance between them to pull her into his arms. Amelia, already not a tall woman, was lost in his embrace.

“Ssh, it’s all right,” he soothed. “You can’t do this now, babe.”

“So when is a good time to do it?” she countered as she pulled away from him. “Michael, he hasn’t eaten in almost a week! My little boy is starving; I have to feed him and he just won’t eat!”

“I know, I know,” Michael replied, pulling her to his chest again. Amelia buried her face in the folds of his shirt. His hands rubbed her back. He spoke to her again, but his words were too soft for Gabriel to understand.

Sophia stepped around their parents to approach his bed. She took his hand in hers, her face betraying her shock at how warm he was.

“Why don’t you wanna eat, Gabby?” she asked.

He turned away from her. The woman was there again, this time standing by the windows. His head seemed to get heavier, and he closed his eyes.

When he woke up again, it was to the sight of his parents in huddled conference with the doctor. Sophia was curled up on the chair, Amelia’s jacket draped over her. Gabriel couldn’t hear what the doctor was saying, but his mother was crying. Michael stood with his arm around her, his face pale at listening to whatever the doctor said. Just about the only thing Gabriel heard was the doctor saying he was sorry.

>Soon his interest waned, and Gabriel again looked toward the windows. A steady stream of snow was falling, adding to the piles on the windowsill. The drifting flakes went in and out of focus, as did his surroundings. The light seemed to darken more. Gabriel felt like he was sinking into the bed. He closed his eyes, briefly, opened them again to find the woman standing at his bedside. She gazed down at him, her face sad. It reminded him of the way his mother looked. But when she was washed out by a glowing light, Gabriel turned toward the doorway.

He could still make out his parents’ silhouettes, Sophia on the chair. Bright light expanded into the room, bringing with it warmth. Gabriel felt the heaviness, the ill feeling, his wariness, lift. Suddenly he was able to sit upright, and without feeling dizzy. As he took a moment to absorb this, he was dimly aware of his mother turning, her mouth dropping open in dismay. Sophia was startled from sleep; when she turned toward Gabriel, her face paled. He thought he heard them both say his name. But the want to see that light, follow where it was going, was too much. Gabriel pushed the covers away and slid off the bed. His bare feet touched the floor, softly.

The light receded from the room, beckoning him onward. Gabriel stepped around his parents and the doctor, unconcerned. Hospital workers passed him by in the corridor, their bodies like blurs. All sound was muted. Gabriel kept on going, not sure where he was headed but knowing the destination on some deep, subconscious level. The light was concentrated the most at the far end of the hall. Gabriel drew closer, his hand extended.

That was when he saw the woman again. She appeared directly in front of the light. Instead of looking sad, she smiled kindly at him, knelt to his level.

“Hello, Gabriel,” she greeted. She had a soft, whisper-like voice. It soothed him.

Gabriel found his voice in the first time for what felt like forever. “Hello. Who are you?”

“My name is Maria.” She extended her hand for him. “I’m here to help you.”

“You gonna take me there?” he asked, pointing at the column of light behind them.

Maria shook her head. “No. I’m going to help you. Where do you want to go, more than anything?”

>Gabriel paused. Suddenly he thought about his bedroom at the house, his toys, watching his favorite programs, listening to his mother read him stories. Sensations that had been deadened inside him now roared back to life. He felt tears enter his eyes.

“I wanna go home,” he murmured, a catch in his throat. “I don’t like it here anymore. I wanna go home,” he repeated, and bowed his head.

Gentle hands took hold of his face. Maria’s smile was full of emotion as she gazed at him. She wiped the tears from his cheeks with her thumbs, just like his mother did.

“Don’t cry, Gabriel,” she requested softly. “I’ll take you home.”

He sniffed, nodded, then stepped closer to her and wrapped his arms around her neck. She felt warm, and smelled like flowers. He nuzzled against her.

Maria folded him into her arms, then stood up. Gabriel laid his head on her shoulder, one hand gripping the folds of the front of her dress. She continued to whisper words of encouragement as she walked away from the bright light. Gabriel listened to her, finding comfort and contentment in the sound of her voice. He felt sleepy, but it wasn’t like his want to sleep before. There wasn’t any heaviness to this feeling. It was like he wasn’t sick anymore.

Maria stepped into the hospital room. Roused from a light doze, Gabriel panicked a bit, sent a look of appeal at her.

Maria smiled down at him. “It’s all right, Gabriel.” She approached the bed then, lowered him onto the pillows. Her hand brushed back the hair from his brow, rested at his cheek. “You’re safe now.”

Gabriel grabbed her hand before she drew it away. “Don’t go. I’m scared.”

At this, she smiled again. “Don’t be afraid. I’m not leaving you, Gabriel. When you wake up, I’ll still be here.”

He searched her face, saw the tenderness in her eyes, her smile. Some strong, unknown emotion settled into his heart, filling him with warmth. Courage. His fingers tightened over hers. He wasn’t afraid anymore.

Maria leaned over to press a kiss to his forehead. Another surge coursed through him then, casting away all remaining ill feelings. Rather than feel like he was sinking into the bed, it was as if he were being raised. Maria continued to smile at him, her hand warm at his cheek. His vision, slightly unfocused before, now sharpened, and Amelia’s face appeared over Maria’s. Michael and Sophia, along with a nurse and doctor, were suddenly there, too.

Gabriel furrowed his brow. “Mama?”

She was sobbing as she took him in her arms. “Gabriel! Oh thank God, Gabriel!” Her arms held him so tightly it hurt. “I thought we’d lost you. Thank God, thank God!”

Gabriel held onto his mother, confused by what she was saying. Sophia climbed onto the bed then, crawled over to hug his other side.

“Gabby! I knew you wouldn’t go away! I knew it!”

Michael stood over them, his face pale with shock, his eyes red-rimmed. “I can’t believe it,” he murmured, then, his poise breaking, he pushed past his wife and daughter to draw Gabriel into a rough embrace.

As his family sat around him, sobbing and thanking God over and over, Gabriel desperately looked for Maria. She stood at the end of the bed, her hands clasped in front of her, a tender smile on her face.

“You’re home now, Gabriel,” she said in her soft, whisper voice. “And I’ll be here too. I promise you.”

>Relieved more than he could properly understand, Gabriel clung to his father and wept.

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