Don't Let Me Drown

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Luke’s breathing never really returns to normal, just slows down to a functioning speed and trembles in his chest. He stays curled up on the couch, his mother talking barely ten feet away, under her breath as if he can’t hear her then. As if he can’t hear the doubt and worry laced in her words.

He can.

“Maybe this band thing is too much,” he hears her murmur to Jack.

“It’s not too much, it’s his dream. Dreams don’t come easy.”

“It’s just too much for him. Michael seems like a great kid and all, but it doesn’t seem very stable in that house. And that’s not his fault, but Luke’s not in the best condition to deal with stress.”

“Michael overdosed. Of course Luke’s gonna be shaken up. Just let him be.”

“I’m just worried.”

“Aren’t we all? He’s 18, he can handle himself now.”

His mother sighs. “He texts you, right?”

“Yeah. I’m sure he’ll tell me if he needs help. Don’t worry. He’ll be fine.”

There’s a long pause and then Luke feels Jack close, scooping his gangly little brother into his arms like a baby. In his ear, Jack says, “Hey, buddy. I’m gonna take you upstairs to your room, okay?”

When Luke doesn’t protest, Jack starts moving from the living room down the hall. He turns his tear-stained face into the warmth of Jack’s shirt and breathes that in. “Don’t worry, Luke.”

Luke’s glad Jack’s carrying him, even too big for this, but he’s skinny and small in Jack’s arms, shaking and crying silently against his chest, and he’s too worn out to walk on his own. As irritating and overbearing as his brothers can be, they don’t mess with him after panic attacks, and they don’t mess with him when he’s crying.

Jack sets him down on the bed as gently as possible and flips off the light so only the side light lights up the room with a dying glow. He pulls off Luke’s shoes for him and tucks him under the covers with years of practice. He kisses the top of Luke’s messy blond hair before smoothing it out carefully and whispers, “Goodnight, little buddy. You’ll be okay in the morning.”

Luke wonders who’s there to tell Michael that tonight.

---

Michael’s dimly aware of what happens, sliding in and out of consciousness. He registers the doctors all around him, senses the tube in his nose and down his throat, struggles to breathe around it. It feels like suffocating, like the very thing that means to pull him from the brink of death is keeping him there. Everything’s on fire, amplified in his moments of clarity. He passes out again when the pain and drugs overpower him.

He reawakens briefly when they slide the tube back out of his throat, running it up against the walls of his throat, and it hurts, it hurts like hell, it hurts worse than anything he’s ever felt, and he might have whimpered a bit. He can’t breathe with all this piping running through his air passages.

He hears someone ask what his blood level is, but he goes back under before hearing the answer, or perhaps it just doesn’t quite penetrate through his consciousness. He knows there are a lot of questions tossed around the room, but he cares not for the tense medical procedural talk, preferring instead to sink back into the loving arms of the drugged coma.

He remains just below the surface of awareness, as if fighting through to where the water meets the rest of the world. He can see the light of the hospital room, blinding, but he can’t break through. And everything, everything he can imagine, aches and burns.

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