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Roaring Lions

The waves crashed against the Pier as the sunset over the Pacific. The wind blew, and the sea lions sang the last song of the day. The seagulls fished their food around the green garbage cans. The black trumpeter with his colorful hat played, and the lights flickered on. People zoomed by the lost children that held their hands on the red benches with their red cheeks and matching shorts. The carousel circled around and around as they glanced from side to side.

The boy with his blue eyes held the hand of his sister as he continued to scan the sea of strangers that laughed too loud and ate colorful candies.

“She will come back to us soon.” He said, stretching his neck to try and peek over the crowd.

His sister, with tears in her eyes, nodded as her big green eyes looked up to him.

He wore his favorite red baseball cap, the one with the roaring lions and the one his father gave to him last time he saw him. His father said it was an early Christmas present. It was a cold and foggy morning, over the hills of the City. The buses zoomed by with white smoke trailing them. 
His mother wore her red scarf and a red hoodie as they rode in silence. Jared smoked the side windows with his warm breath and traced his signature over the cold glass. That was what he was learning in the third grade. It fascinated him how the script lettering flowed so nicely.  His sister, Yvonne, watched her favorite cartoon on her iPad with her big pink headphones covering her ears as she drunk the last of her milk. She claimed that she was no longer a baby now that she was in the second grade, but at times Jared teased, but that morning he felt already drained and like crying. 

Since his mother told him earlier that morning that he would need to be strong when they visited his father, she explained briefly that machines were connected to his father and that he needed to be strong for his sister. With watery eyes, she hugged him, and he felt a nod in his throat.

Of course, he had not been that blind as his mother tough he was. He had already noticed the constant coughing and paleness that is father showed the last time they visited.  He let Yvonne laugh as he stared off into the distance. When they arrived at the hospital, the place was already filled with the familiar aroma of roasted coffee and sickness that haunted the halls.  St. Mercy hospital staff and patients patrolled the corridors with drained faces and tired bodies.  Jared and Yvonne held to their mother hand one on each side. They were following the yellow line this time. Last time it was green.  Like the lines of life, some of them extended long across the many halls and corridors. The yellow was shorter, but a little bit longer than the red one.

 Jared scanned the glassed windows as nurses performed the morning checks like drones. Bald men in spotted gowns walked around the corridors with their small machines hooked to their arms.  Jared noticed as Yvonne continued to get closer to his mother. Of course, he pretended to be healthy, but he felt afraid when some of the bald men coughed. Their bonny spines shook in unnatural ways.  His mother took a deep breath, and Jared could feel his mother hand hold his a little tighter.

It was room 405. The curtains were still behind the long glass windows.  The opened door revealed Jared's grandmother, Clarissa; she looked up from her prayer book. She smiled at them with her tired face. Her long gray hair hung in a long braid. Her familiar aroma penetrated Jared's nose as she hugged each of them. Lilies. Not just any lilies but lilies in spring, as she explained to Yvonne one afternoon when she asked her why she smelled so sweet. As they entered the room, they were greeted first by his father half-awake in his inclined bed with his eyes closed. 

Monitors and other machines hooked to his chest, and arms beeped in unison.  His father opened his eyes and smiled under his oxygen mask.

Yvonne ran to hug him, and her father let out a sigh.  Jared noticed the blue eyes of his father that were dimmer, and he looked pale as a ghost.

His mother told his sister to be careful with the wires around the bed. He took off his oxygen mask and asked them if they had any breakfast already. They nodded. He joked that it was too bad, he had jelly and toasted bread coming soon.

Yvonne said that she could have some. Soon he asked them how school was going and wherever there were any more rats in the attic.  Yvonne always spoke first, saying that she now could do additions and subtractions and that they would have a field-trip after Christmas break.  Jared said he now had a signature, and his mother handed him a small notebook for him to demonstrate. He was about to tell his father about how Oliver, the cat they got from the animal shelter, kept the rats away when his father began coughing over and over. 

His mother put the oxygen mask over his father's face, but his father told them to keep going. Yvonne told how she was teaching Oliver how to hunt with the little plastic mouse she hung from a broken fishing pole.  They laughed when his mother said that soon they would have two cats in the house.

Since Yvonne for a few days insisted that she wanted to have her milk on a little bowl like the cat. Breakfast arrived; his father just had the orange juice, and Yvonne spread the jelly over the toasted bread. After a few more stories about Oliver and the rats, the room fell silent.  His father closed his eyes, and his mother took them out for a walk around the little garden. People in wheelchairs with white robes and bald heads starred off into the distance.  The cold breeze flew in now and then.  The sun broke a little bit the coldness, but misty mouth spoke in whispers.  A few birds sang at a distance, over the fence where the big park spread in the center of the City.

 When they returned to his father's room, a nurse was left with a tray, and she smiled. Jared guessed that this nurse had just begun her shift. He noticed more nurses in colorful scrubs with a beat to their steps. They were walking with their back straight and a big smile when they greeted the patient around the corridors and the rooms—saying their names out loud while they asked them questions.  The air felt fresher as the sun penetrated the rooms of the sick.

There were a few other surprises, too, when they entered the room. Jared's favorite aunt, Helen, was there with her gray squared uniform skirt and a dark blue sweater that matched her intense blue eyes.  She was in the eleventh grade, and her black hair hung loose to the shoulders. She smiled when she saw Jared and Yvonne. She hugged him deeply. The aroma of jasmine flowers penetrated his nose.  Next to her was her friend, Isabella Cotterill, with her sharp face and reddish hair that was adorned with some gold chains.  Helen and Isabella sometimes made Jared blush in the rainy summer afternoons when the lights were off, and the dim light had him cuddled between them when they watched the scary movies under the light blanket.  Isabella shot him a teasing smile, and he felt his blood run from his head to his toes.  They laughed, and his father opened his eyes, smiling.  When Jared finally dared to look around, he found a bunch of wrapped presents on the couch where his grandmother slept some nights. Yvonne was there in an instant tracing the red wrappings with her hands, and the devious smile formed in her mouth as she tried to read the names.

Jared wondered whose birthday it was. He tried to remember the birthdays of those around the room. His birthday was far off on March 14th, and Yvonne's had just passed November 22nd, and his mother and father's birthdays were off in May and June. Then Yvonne smiled when she found one that had her name. Jared raised a questioning eyebrow. Jared's mother told Yvonne to leave those presents there. Yvonne reluctantly obeyed. The room grew silent, and as the grown-ups shot glances between them. 

Jared's mother invited him to sit next to her, and Yvonne sat up straight next to her mother, with one hand still on the large red package that bore her name. Jared's mother took a deep breath and, Jared's grandmother put a warm hand over Jared's shoulder.  His mother began by asking Yvonne if she would like to have an early Christmas. Yvonne asked why, but her mother just said that it would be fun.  Helen said that he had a big cake back home and the maids had prepared a big sandwich party as Yvonne liked.  Yvonne just looked around the room, confused.  Jared felt numb as he read under the mask the women around the room tried to present to Yvonne. Jared felt Yvonne's sharp nails penetrate his hand.  Tears began rolling down her face as she starred off at a distance. Jared's mother hugs her close, and Jared's grandmother hugged him close as his warm tears rolled down the warm belly of his grandmother. He felt her taking deep breaths as her belly moved up and out. He held tight. His aunt Helen knelt beside him and ran her finger through his messy brown hair. His father cleared his throat, and Jared looked at him between his sobs and reddish eyes.

They walked towards Jared's father, and they saw tears rolling down his squeezed pale eyes.  The room fell silent, and it feels like an eternity. Until Jared's grandmother broke the silence and saying there was no time for tears and that it was time to open some presents.  Everything became almost a blur for Jared after that fake laughs erupted as the presents rolled, and little by little, Jared felt a weigh being lift out of his chest. As each gift got more and more ridiculous, the women around the room were wearing funny plumed hats with different colors, and of course, they put some moving cat ears on top of Yvonne's head that moved with remote control. Jared laughed so hard that he felt his ribs hurt as his grandmother said she had peed a little from laughing so much. She ran to the bathroom after that.

His father wore some mouse ears and joked between his coughs if Yvonne was going to have him for dinner. Yvonne just meowed and moved her nose like a cat. Another set of laughs erupted.  Some of the nurses came to silence them a little, but they left laughing themselves at the rich array of hats.  

The laughing stopped, and Jared's father took something out from his blankets, a squared box. He told him it was for it was a gift for just men. The women around the room pretended to look annoyed.  Jared untied the bow, and a pair of red baseball caps along with a baseball glove rested inside. He took out the hats at once and put it on over.  It fit perfectly, and Jared helped his father put on the other one, and for good measure, he put the mouse ears on top of the red cap of the roaring lion. He told Jared to look inside the glove, and inside he found a Lifetime member Card for the home games of the Roaring Lions games. It had his name on it, Jared Grandville, the card was all gold with a pair of Lions carved out of the laser. He traced his fingers over the lions. Tears rolled again down his face.  His father asked him to get closer and told him that in life, one needs to smile even if it seems like it is going to swallow us in one moment and that he was now a man. With his golden card and he joked that perhaps he could take one of his many girlfriends to some of the games since it allowed him to bring another two guests with the card. Helen and Isabella at once, said that he better not forget about them. He began to blush at once.

Yvonne got something that made her confused. She seemed angry until they explained to her it was permission for her to build a large house for Oliver. His father joked that the attic was no place for a fat cat like Oliver. At once, Helen and Isabella began to tell her ideas of how to make it and decorate it. A large portion of the backyard was going to it. Overall, Yvonne was so excited that she wanted to go to the animal shelter and perhaps get more cats and why not a few rabbits and birds. It was all fun and games until her mother told her that she would need to clean up all the mess.

Clarissa, Jared's grandmother, got a ring that, when she saw it, tears began rolling down her cheeks again.  It was a long lost ring that her mother had lost on her way from England many years ago. It had a big rock, apparently a rare diamond. Jared forgot the name. Helen got a collection of old records that smelled funny. Tears rolled down her face as she kissed Jared's father's forehead.  Even Isabella got a pendant a golden eagle holding a snaked covered with small diamonds.

Finally, it came to Jared’s mother’s turn. But, first, Jared’s father asked her to come closer and whispered something that made her blush. Then, under his pillow, Jared’s father produced a small key with their initials. S & C. Shane and Charlie. Tears rolled down her mother’s eyes and clasped her trembling hands on top of Jared’s father. He smiled, and more tears rolled down his eyes between his coughs. More nurses arrived, and each of them got a big red rose from Jared’s mother. They looked confused, but they accepted them with a smile. As the minutes slipped by, the room grew silent. Jared inspected his membership card over and his red cap between his fingers.

 A priest arrived. Jared knew the priest. Father Jorge, with his strong jaw and gray hair. Jared felt chills run up and down his body as the family interlocked their hands, and with their eyes closed, they prayed for Jared's father.  A silent prayer followed. Jared still felt numb as to what to pray for something unavoidable. He decided to give thanks for this fantastic day and for God to give his father mercy in the last moments of his life.  Big sighs spread around the room. As evening descended, his father closed his eyes and dozed off. They said their goodbye when he opened his eyes, and the smell of dinner plates penetrated the halls of St. Mercy.  Jared felt as if he had been washed from the inside as he saw the last sun rays descend over the emptying parking lot.

“There she comes!” Yvonne said, jumping to her feet at once.

Jared grabbed his candy bags and ran after Yvonne as she reached her mother. Jared dropped the bags as soon as he saw the tall man with the green eyes and a brown jacket smile at him with a red baseball cap, and he felt his knees give way under him. As the traffic of people zoomed by like an avalanche of bodies that ignored the kneeling boy.