Home > The Next Best Day(4)

The Next Best Day(4)
Author: Sharon Sala

   One student, a fifth-grade girl, died at the scene, and twelve other students had been shot and transported to hospitals. All but two of the surviving wounded were released within a couple of days, and the last two were due to go home tomorrow.

   Only Katie’s condition was unknown. Her tenuous hold on life was still wavering, and she had yet to wake up.

   ***

   Four days later

   The news was traveling fast throughout the hospital.

   Katie McGrath was exhibiting signs of regaining consciousness.

   Lila Reece was all the “next of kin” Katie had, and she was on her way to the hospital for her daily visit when she got the call.

   She cried the rest of the way there out of relief.

   Visiting time was in progress when Lila entered the ICU. She went straight to the nurse’s desk to get the update.

   “Her heart rate is stronger. Her pulse is steady, and all of her vital signs show signs of waking,” the nurse said.

   Lila nodded, too emotional to comment, then hurried to Katie’s bedside. She clasped Katie’s hand and began patting it and rubbing it until she got herself together enough to speak.

   “Hey, Katie, honey… It’s me, Lila. Can you hear me? You have no idea how many people have been praying for you. Your students have been calling me every day, asking for updates. You saved them. They love you so much. We all do. I’m here. Right here. Nothing to be afraid of anymore.”

   ***

   Katie was trying to wake up, but she couldn’t think what to do, or how to move. She heard a familiar voice and was struggling to focus on the words, but they were garbled.

   Then she heard her name. Katie! Someone was calling her. She wanted to respond, but it was too hard, so she slid back into the quiet. But the voice wouldn’t let her go.

   Memories were coming back with the sounds. She’d been running. There was blood. My students! Where are they?

   She moaned, then someone was holding her hand. She tried to grip the fingers, but moving made everything hurt.

   The voice…familiar, but she kept trying to remember what happened.

   We were running. Hide. Hide. Hide.

   ***

   “Her eyelids are fluttering,” Lila said.

   The nurse nodded.

   Lila leaned down near Katie’s ear, speaking quietly.

   “It’s me, Katie. It’s Lila. You were so strong for the little ones. They’re safe, Katie. They’re all safe…and so are you.”

   A tear ran down the side of Katie’s temple.

   Lila’s eyes welled. “You hear me. I know you hear me.”

   It took a few seconds for Lila to realize Katie was squeezing her fingers. Ecstatic, she squeezed back.

   “Yes, Katie, yes, I’m here. I have to leave now, but I’ll be back. You aren’t alone, honey. You are not alone.”

   ***

   Visiting time was over and the floor was still bustling with nurses tending patients and doctors coming and going.

   Katie’s imminent awakening brought her surgeon to the ICU to check her stats, and someone had tipped off the media. They were back out in the hospital parking lot, waiting for her doctor to come out and make a statement regarding her status, because Katie McGrath’s welfare had become the city’s concern.

   Video from the halls of Saguaro Elementary had shown the panic and horror of that day. There were images of teachers and children being shot on the run, and of the shooter coming out of classrooms he’d just shot up.

   Parents were traumatized as they watched their children all running for their lives. And then the blessed relief of the arrival of the police, and the shooter being taken down.

   The first funeral had come and gone, and three other funerals were imminent for victims. The grief and horror in the city were real.

   There was a clip of Katie throwing herself on top of two little boys, and then getting shot in the back, that someone had leaked to the media. It was viewed tens of thousands of times before the administration realized and had it pulled.

   The shooter was unknown to the community—a loner who’d been in Albuquerque only three months, and while the authorities were still investigating, his reason for what he’d done had died with him.

   There were so many people grieving the people who’d died, and others coping with wounded children who were going to suffer lasting trauma to their bodies, and both teachers and children were so traumatized by the incident they didn’t want to go back to school. They all needed good news, and finding out that Katie McGrath might be waking up was it.

   ***

   Katie opened her eyes to a nurse and a doctor standing at her bedside.

   She recognized being in a hospital, but she was confused about why. She hurt. Had she been in a wreck? What had—?

   And then it hit her! The shooting!

   “The boys…the boys…” Her voice drifted off, but the doctor knew what she meant.

   “Your students are safe.”

   Tears rolled down the sides of her face. “Died…saw…” she mumbled, and closed her eyes.

   “Yes, but you’re not one of them. Your wounds were serious, but you’re going to heal, and that’s what matters. A whole lot of people have been praying for you. They are going to be ecstatic that you finally woke up,” he said, and patted her arm.

   The words finally woke up made her realize she’d been unconscious for a time.

   She reached for her mouth. Her lips were dry. The words felt caught in her throat.

   “How long…here?” she asked.

   “Four days out of surgery,” the doctor said. “Welcome back, Katie. Just rest. All you have to do right now is rest and get well, and I have the pleasure of going out to tell the media that you’re awake.”

   ***

   They moved Katie from the ICU to a private room the next day, and Lila was right beside her all the way, quietly celebrating the knowledge that her best friend was still on this earth. As for Katie, she waited until the nurses finally left before she began questioning Lila.

   “Are my kids all okay?”

   “Yes. You saved their lives, Katie,” Lila said.

   Katie sighed. “Who was the shooter? Why did he do it?”

   “A stranger, and as far as I know, his reasons died with him.”

   Katie’s voice was trembling. “I know Coach Lincoln died. He was right beside me when it happened. Who else?”

   Lila’s eyes welled. “Darrin Welsh, the security officer. Our principal, Mrs. Garza. Ellie Warren, who was one of the science teachers, and a little girl named Barbie Thomas—a fifth-grader.”

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