Charmy could find a beat in anything. It’s why she was such a great percussionist, and it’s why Mr. Luger begged her to join the marching band in eighth grade.
But she couldn’t find a beat in the beep of Aurora’s heart monitor.
Hospitals run on rhythm, but as Charmy rested her head in her hands, she couldn’t find the familiar thread.. For once, instead of tapping on everything, she held Aurora’s hand. She smoothed her sheets. She took walks to the cafeteria and guzzled stale coffee.
Charmy had begged Aurora not to get in the car. She warned Aurora that Mal was no good for her; he just wanted to sleep with her. He just wanted to party. But the last words Aurora said to Charmy haunted her so much that she couldn’t sleep. They rang in every empty silence of the room. “You just don’t want me to be happy.”
Charmy was at the homecoming football game when the news broke. It was just after the marching band’s halftime performance. Her friend and fellow percussionist Tim shook her out of her reverie. “Aurora’s been in an accident,” he said as he waved his phone in front of her face. “It’s all over the news.”
This wasn’t real. Charmy couldn’t process it. Mal’s typically pristine, bright red Mustang mangled like it had been put through a shredder, pinned to the side of a huge tree that seemed otherwise unscathed. The flashing blue and red lights in the darkness. The headline scrolled across the bottom: one teen killed and another seriously injured in drunk driving accident.
Charmy ran in full percussionist gear all the way to the hospital. It didn’t matter that it was homecoming. It didn’t matter that it was ninety-five degrees in the dark. All that mattered was that Charmy got to Aurora as quickly as possible.
There she remained. A full week later, still there every morning before school and every afternoon and evening after, waiting for Aurora to wake up. While the rest of the town mourned their star basketball player and beloved narcissist Mal Jennings, everyone but Charmy forgot about Aurora.
Aurora’s mom came in every day, too. But she had three small children to care for, and the hospital didn’t allow kids under twelve to visit the intensive care unit. Charmy sat alone most of the time, which was fine with her, but sometimes she wished she had someone to talk to.
It was around day three when she talked to Aurora. She’d been scrolling through her phone and found a meme that actually made her smile. Then her eyes cut to Aurora’s blonde hair, or what remained of it after the surgery, and the staples and stitches in her head.
Charmy took a deep breath and spoke into the room, her voice the only other sound besides the beeping heart monitor. “I miss you,” she whispered.
There was no response for the first time in three years since she and Aurora met. “For once you’re not trying to interrupt me.” Charmy tried to imagine Aurora’s huge smile and the mischievous glint in her eyes. It was the look she got when she was trying to get on Charmy’s nerves. “I do have to hand it to you, though. Landing yourself in the hospital was your best prank yet. You got me.” She touched Aurora’s hand. It was warm but still, a snarl of IV lines like barbed vines protruding from it. “You got me. Joke’s over. Ha ha. You can wake up now.”
Aurora wasn’t going to wake up anytime soon. The doctor had said as much. Aurora sustained significant damage to her brain and they had to put her in a coma so she could heal after her surgery. The doctor warned Aurora’s mother that if she woke, she might not even be the same person as before because of all the damage.
Charmy hoped Aurora’s stubborn nature wouldn’t let her lose who she was. It was harder to think of the possibility that when she woke up, she wouldn’t still be her best friend. Either way, she might lose Aurora forever, and she couldn’t handle that.
On day twelve, Charmy found the hospital courtyard. It was a gorgeous, lush garden that patients and visitors used to get a reprieve from the monotony of white walls and sterilization. On that particular morning, the sun had just risen and no one was in the garden. Charmy felt peaceful for the first time since the accident. The scent of flowers mixing with the warm morning air slowed her already racing mind. She breathed in and hoped that peace would last long enough for her to still feel it in Aurora’s room.
People donated flowers in exchange for a name on the plaque, and many were given in memory of someone who passed. Charmy spent an hour examining each, reading the plaques and busying her mind with the simple task of observation.
She kept circling back to one flower in particular. It grew in clusters of white on thick, dark vines, and the pedals were dotted with yellow pistils. She read the plaque: “Damson Merryweather, prunus insititia; flowers that proceed the growth of the Damson plum; dedicated in memory of Merryweather Thomas.”
Charmy knew she shouldn’t, but she wanted to bring it to Aurora’s room. She thought the flowers would help bring life to Aurora, or at least brighten up the cold staleness of the place. So she chose a branch, one small enough to hide, and plucked it from the small tree.
An empty styrofoam cup housed the branch and sat on the windowsill so light could still reach it. She made sure Aurora would see it if her eyes were ever to open.
The merryweather branch became Charmy’s new favorite pastime. Each day, she would check the leaves, add some water, turn it. She knew it would probably die. It had no source of nutrients now that she’d removed it from the tree, but it gave her something to do. It made her feel productive.
One day after the nurses finished bathing Aurora, Charmy spent the afternoon combing her hair and splaying it out in intricate designs on her pillow. She braided pieces together or curled them in spirals. Sometimes she made them into horns or swirls, but in the end she left it out the way Aurora wore it normally–down around her shoulders, straight, with one side tucked behind her ear. Parts of it were shaved off, but Aurora looked more like herself with it like that.
She checked the merryweather. Most of the petals were on the floor, and only four stubborn, beautiful flowers remained. Charmy sighed. it was time. She picked up all the petals, placed them in the cup, and plucked the four remaining flowers from the branch. Then she braided the flowers into Aurora’s hair like a crown.
When she was finished, she looked at her beautiful sleeping friend and cried. She let the sobs come, crying harder than she had since the accident happened, the waves of grief and loss and regret pelting her. The merryweather crown made Aurora look like she was already dead, in her casket, ready to be buried.
Charmy rested her head on Aurora’s arm long after the sobs left her. She just wanted to be near her, to feel the warmth of life in her arm even if she wasn’t really there. Charmy’s forehead pressed against Aurora’s forearm as she closed her eyes and tried to find a beat, a bar of music, anything that might tell her that her best friend wasn’t lost.
“Please wake up,” Charmy said into the beeping void. “I love you, Rora. Please come back.”
Beatless beeping was her only reply, and Charmy dissolved into tears again. She squeezed Aurora’s hand, pressing her wrist to feel her steady pulse. It was there, but it was weak. She couldn’t find the rhythm in it.
Just as she was about to go home for the day, Charmy felt something every percussionist knows well. An increase of tempo. A quickening of the pulse. She focused on the monitor and then looked to Aurora’s opened blue-gray eyes. “Charm,” Aurora rasped, her voice a gravelly whisper. “You’re here.”