Tears streamed down Nick’s face as he looked down at the floor and clenched his large hands between his legs.
“You promised me, Nick,” Heath sobbed. “You promised me you would do it.”
“I know I did, Heath,” Nick said through tears as his voice trembled with emotion. “But I can’t. I just can’t do it.”
“You’ve got to, Nick,” Heath begged, tears running down the side of his face. “Can’t you see I can’t go on like this?”
“You’ve got ta go on Heath!” Nick begged him. “You can’t give up now! Not when there’s still a chance!”
“There is no chance, Nick! You know that!” Heath pleaded. “Please don’t make me spend another day like this. I, I just can’t spend another day this way.”
“Heath, please….” Nick moaned. “Please, wait until next week when….”
“No!” Heath yelled. “Not another week! Not another day! Not another second! It’s been eight months, Nick and nothin’s changed! I’m gettin’ worse, I’m not gettin’ better!” He coughed through sobs and Nick quickly jumped up from his chair and lifted Heath’s blond head to keep him from choking. The coughing attack lasted a few moments and Nick sobbed the entire time, holding his brother, supporting him, loving him and hoping and praying desperately that Heath wouldn’t make him keep the promise he’d made to him eight months ago.
Looking up at his older brother through tears that wouldn’t stop flowing, Heath said, “I’m beggin’ ya Nick. Please, please let it end. I can’t take it anymore.”
“Tomorrow,” Nick promised through tears as he sat on the edge of the bed and placed Heath’s head in his lap. “I’ll do it tomorrow.”
“You said that yesterday,” Heath said, his voice trembling and catching in his throat. “And the day before, and the day before that.”
“I know, I know,” Nick whispered in desperation, trying to appease his suffering, younger brother. “But I promise ya Heath, just give it one more day and I’ll….”
“No,” Heath said stubbornly, his tears dropping down on Nick’s thigh. “Today,” he demanded. “Right now.”
“Heath I, I just can’t,” Nick moaned, as more sobs overtook him and he began to rock back and forth as he cradled Heath’s head.
“You’ve got ta do this for me Nick,” Heath begged. “I’m dead already, don’t ya understand that?”
“Not ta me you’re not!” Nick cried through sobs. “You’ll never be dead ta me!” He broke down and sobbed harder, holding Heath tightly, afraid to let him go.
“I’ve tried,” Heath pleaded. “Don’t ya know how hard I’ve tried? For eight months I’ve been fightin’ a losin’ battle and I’m tired, Nick. I just can’t fight no more. Please let me rest now. Please don’t make me fight no more.”
“You’ve got ta fight, Heath!” Nick begged. “Please, just a little longer.” Easing Heath’s head up from his lap, he sank down to the floor on his knees and lowered his brother’s head gently on the pillow as he took his hand in his.
“Just a little while longer Heath, and I promise ya I’ll….”
“You’ve been promisin’ me everyday for the last eight months and you ain’t kept your promise yet!” Heath yelled, as another sob tore through him.
Nick moaned in agony as he gripped his brother’s hand tighter. “I’ve tried Heath,” he cried. “God knows I’ve tried. But I can’t do it.”
Heath stared up at the ceiling as tears streamed down the side of his face. “I love you Nick,” he said softly. “And I swear ta God, I don’t want ta leave ya. But you’ve got ta let me go. You’ve got ta see how hard this is for me, for you and for the rest of the family. Every time I look in Mother’s eyes, I see another part of her soul has died because of this. Audra can’t even hear my name anymore without burstin’ inta tears and Jarrod has lost his last three cases because he’s more concerned about me than he is his clients. And look at you Nick. You used ta be so full of life, so full of fire and passion and now you’re just a hollow shell of your former self. Every day that I lay here, a little bit more of all of ya dies. Don’t let that be my legacy to ya Nick. Don’t make the family remember me like this. Let them remember me as I was and let me take with me, memories of the way you all once were. We used ta be so happy Nick, all of us. Let those be my last memories of ya and let those be your last memories of me.”
He tried to continue but the sobs he’d been holding in, broke free and he wept. He wept for his family and what this had done to them. He wept because whenever he looked in their eyes, he saw sorrow and despair and the same hopelessness he’d been feeling for the last eight months. He wept because every day that he lived, was one more day that they died. Every day that he lay there, was one more day of pain and hopelessness for them and hurting his family by staying alive caused him more agony than any heartbreak he’d ever known.
Choking back another sob, he said, “I’m dead already Nick….”
“No….no….no…..,” Nick moaned in agony, shaking his head back and forth as tears ran down his face. He grabbed Heath and held him tightly, refusing to let him go.
“It’s true,” Heath said, looking down at his brother’s dark head, which was now lying on his heaving chest.
“I just need ya ta make it official big brother,” Heath pleaded. “I just need ya ta keep your promise. I’m tired Nick,” he said weakly. “I’m so tired. Please don’t make me suffer any more.”
Nick’s heaving sobs tore Heath’s heart out and he wanted to reach out and stroke his brother’s dark head and tell him that it was alright, but he couldn’t and it wasn’t. He couldn’t weaken now. If he did, Nick would use his weakness as an excuse to put it off another day and he couldn’t live through this another day. He had to stay strong in order to make Nick keep his promise.
“Go and get it,” Heath said softly.
“I can’t,” Nick sobbed.
“Yes ya can, big brother,” Heath told him. “Go on and get it, please.”
Nick lifted his head slowly and looked down into his brother’s teary eyes. “I love you Heath,” he said.
“I know ya do Nick,” Heath said, fighting back another sob that threatened to overtake him. “I love you too. That’s why ya gotta do this for me. Please,” he begged.
Nick gave his hand another squeeze and looked loving down at his younger brother. Rising slowly, he staggered to his feet and walked out the door. He started to turn and look back at Heath again, but if he did, he knew he would never be able to leave the room and keep his promise. Forcing himself out the door, he walked down the hall to his own room and entered it. His gun was in it’s holster, hanging from the foot of the bedpost. Walking over to it, he gently lifted it from it’s leather casing and ran his hand over the cool, hand crafted steel. The gun, a Smith and Wesson which he had had tailor made for himself, was his pride and joy and he treasured it, but he knew he’d never use it again after this. In fact, he knew he’d never even look at it again after this. After he kept his promise to Heath, he had every intention of riding down to the river and throwing that gun into it. For, he knew he’d never want to lay eyes on it again after today.
“Why couldn’t it have been me?” he asked himself through tears. “Why couldn’t I have been the one who fell that day?” Even after eight months, he was still asking himself the same question over and over each day. ‘Why Heath? Why did it have ta happen ta him?’ Nick had been right beside his brother at the time, riding Coco and Heath had been on Charger, and when that mountain lion had come from out of nowhere, startling them, their horses had reared up and Nick had clutched the pommel tightly, just in time to keep from falling off. But when Charger had reared up on his hind legs, Heath had fallen from the saddle as Nick had drawn his gun and fired at the large cat. He had missed and the mountain lion had gotten away and Nick had quickly dismounted and turned to help Heath. He knew right away that something was wrong. Heath was conscious and laying there unmoving with his head at such a precarious angle to the rest of his body that Nick had known right away that his neck was broken. “No! Heath, NO!” Nick had cried as he had rushed over to his brother. “Oh God, Heath!”
“I, I can’t move, Nick,” Heath had said to him, his clear blue eyes filling with terror. Nick had rode quickly to town for Dr. Merar and with the help of the sheriff and his deputies, they had moved Heath to the back of a wagon where they had tied him down to keep him from injuring himself any further. After examining him thoroughly, Dr. Merar had to admit that Heath’s injuries were too extensive for him to handle and over the next eight months, Heath had seen twelve different “specialists” who dealt with spinal cord and neck injuries. They all told him the same thing, he would probably live a long life with the proper care, but he would never be able to move anything below his neck again. The family had at first held out hope that the doctors were wrong, but after a while, when their prayers and hopes went unanswered and Heath remained unable to move, the hopelessness of his injury sank in and the family finally began to accept the fact that Heath would be bedridden for the rest of his life. They began to make arrangements and modifications for him to stay at home where they would care for him from now on. The doctors all suggested that he be placed in a sanitarium and Nick all forcefully removed them from the premises whenever they did so.
Just days after his injury, Heath knew in his heart that it was hopeless and he had begged and pleaded with Nick until he had finally made Nick promise that he wouldn’t let him go on this way. He knew in the beginning that Nick had only promised to shut him up and had no intentions of going through with it, but he also knew that Nick was the one person in the world who could not only see his suffering, but who could feel it. Nick knew his pain and his heart and he knew his big brother wouldn’t want him to go on suffering this way. He knew he had to convince Nick that he had to let him go, that he had to keep the promise he’d made to him eight months ago. He had to be strong for both of them. For, if he left it up to Nick, he would linger on this way for years and Heath knew he couldn’t do that. He couldn’t bear to put his family through that and his own state of mind was so over wrought that he couldn’t bear to put himself through it either. He was asking too much of Nick, more than he had a right to, but he knew that Nick was the one person in the world who would see him through this. Nick had given up working the ranch, only going out a couple of hours each week so that he could be by Heath’s side and Heath couldn’t allow him to do that anymore. He had taken so much away from him, from all of them in the last eight months, needing their constant care around the clock and he knew it was too much for him to ask of them, regardless of the fact that they did it willingly because they loved him. His constant care and daily needs were too hard for him and more importantly, they were too hard for them. He wanted them to live, to laugh again and to go on with their lives as they had in the past and as long as he lay there, he knew that they never would. Victoria hadn’t been to one social event in eight months and Audra had turned away all suitors since his injury. After losing several cases in court, Jarrod had finally turned his practice over to his colleague so that he could be by Heath’s side in case he needed anything during the day or night.
“I can’t do this to them anymore,” Heath said, quietly to himself as tears ran down his face. “I can’t ask them ta stop livin’ just ‘cause I have to. I don’t want them ta remember me like this. I want them ta remember me as I was and not as some helpless invalid who stole their lives away from them.” Closing his eyes, he said a silent prayer as he heard Nick enter the room. He looked up at his brother, who was standing in the doorway with tears streaming down his face. Heath looked down and saw that Nick was gripping the Smith and Wesson tightly in his hand. Looking back up at Nick, Heath said softly, “I’m ready big brother.”
His breath catching in his throat, Nick said, “I love you Heath,” as a sob tore through him.
“I love you too, Nick,” Heath said, choking back tears.
Stepping into the room, Nick closed the door softly behind him and in agony and with a broken heart that he knew would never mend, he quietly walked over to his brother’s bed.