“Help us! Help him!” I screamed again, and could have wept with relief as officers started my way. “You’re going to be okay,” I told Cory. “You’re going to be just fine.”
Cory’s response was to slump against me heavily, his head lolling to the side. His breath had quieted to the barest whisper.
“No! Cory, wake up!”
No response. His eyes were open halfway, glazed with pain, and his mouth worked silently as he struggled weakly to draw breath.
Then I found myself in a sea of legs as S.W.A.T. and medical personnel surrounded us. They took Cory from my clutching arms and bent over him, working frantically. An officer knelt beside me and asked me questions but I hardly heard him. I just watched, horror twisting my heart, as an EMT opened Cory’s shirt and jabbed something into his chest. Blood spurted and Cory gasped, jolting upright, and then sinking back down, his breath deeper now.
I shoved my way through and took his hand in my bloody ones, trying not to stare at the instrument—that looked like a pen casing—jutting from his right pectoral.
“I’m here. I’m right here.”
He smiled faintly and then winced in a soundless scream as they lifted him onto to a gurney. They raised the head so that he was partially upright, while another EMT bent him forward to staunch the wound in his back. Then we were moving. I jogged alongside into the morning sunshine for the first time in four days, and then into an ambulance.
It seemed the blood would never stop flowing. Blood from behind Cory, blood leaking around the tube in his chest. They put an oxygen mask over his mouth and that became stained red as he coughed.
I clutched his hand tightly, so tightly. “Please don’t go,” I whispered. “Please stay with me. Cory, please. Stay…”
He wheezed for breath. It sounded so labored and thick with blood. His dull gaze landed on our entwined hands and his lips curved up ever so slightly, a weak version of his crooked grin.
He held on.
Weakly, struggling, in agony, he held on, drawing upon the great reservoirs of love and bravery I knew he possessed. He held on for his little girl. For his father.
And I liked to think that maybe, if only a little, he held on because I refused to let him go.