"She wouldn't have wanted this," Ellen said.
Gary sat next to his wife's hospital bed, head in his hands, fingers entwined in his thick blond hair, itching to yank it out.
"Gary, you have to sign the form." Ellen's hand was gently touching his shoulder. He could barely hear the raspy voice of his mother-in-law over the drumming of machines and the soft beep of the monitor.
Gary stood up and walked out of the room without saying a word.
He wasn't ready to let her go. What did it all mean, if he let her life slip away before any of Casey's dreams had been met? They had only been married seven years, though they had known each other all their lives. They had never been to Europe, never opened the bakery she wanted, never even had kids yet.
She was only twenty-eight years old, for crissakes!
He understood what the doctors explained. That her head had struck the dashboard in such a way that left her brain swollen and bleeding. By the time they got her to the ER, the scans showed little activity. If she ever made it out of the coma, she would essentially be a vegetable.
Still, there was always hope. Wasn't there?
He remembered the day Casey got the job driving the elementary school bus. She was so excited. Her pale, freckled skin flushed from the August sun as she breezed through the kitchen of their apartment with a bag of groceries.
"The best part is it fits well into my class schedule and it won't interfere with my job at the restaurant," she told Gary as she put the butter and the sugar on the counter. "I get to be around kids all day, and honey, I met some of them. They are such little angels." Then she pulled out a cookie sheet and said, "Peanut butter kiss -- your favorite. I'm making a batch for the kids tomorrow."
Casey made a batch of cookies every day for the next three months for her "little angels".
Gary wondered if they missed her now, if the kids asked about Miss Casey, as they called her. If they knew that her actions that day -- swerving to avoid the jack-knifed semi before hitting the oak tree -- saved their lives.
"Have you seen my magic bracelets?"
The small voice seemed to come from nowhere and Gary was embarrassed that he jumped.
The little girl next to him was wearing a Wonder Woman costume. She had flame-red hair and heavy eyes.
Gary looked around, searching for a parent, not recognizing this wing of the hospital. He hadn't realized he had wandered that far off.
"No, sweetie, I haven't."
The little girl frowned. She couldn't have been more than eight years old. "I need my magic bracelets," she said, looking up at Gary as if he were wearing a cape himself and could summon super-powers at will.
Gary knelt down. "I'll help you look, okay?"
The little girl nodded.
"What's your name?"
"Okay, Diana, where did you last see your magic bracelets?"
Diana cocked her head and fumbled with her cape.
"Well." Gary glanced around. Still no parent, but he spotted a drinking fountain and a vending machine near the waiting room. "Did you get a drink of water?"
"Go to the bathroom?"
Then the little girl's eyes lit up and she said, "I got to ride on the elevator."
"Well, that's a start."
Gary and Diana walked towards the elevator. He wasn't crazy about watching out for a strange kid. Her parents were probably worried sick and they probably wouldn't be too thrilled if he took their daughter on the elevator.
"Diana, maybe we should call a nurse. Maybe she knows where your magic bracelets are."
"No!" Diana screamed, tears threatening to fall. "You have to help, because I need them for my Mommy and only the Queen and the Princess can touch them or they lose their powers!" She grabbed his hand.
Heads turned their way and Gary gave an uncomfortable smile to patients and hospital personnel.
They continued walking towards the elevator when a bulky man rushed from the chapel situated across the hall.
"Diana! You scared me to death." He hurried towards them and hugged the little girl. He stood to face Gary.
"Hi. I'm sorry about that. She's quick, this one."
"That's okay. You have a beautiful daughter," Gary said, glancing at Diana.
"Oh, she's not mine. She's my sister's kid." The man said. Then to Diana he said, "Hey munchkin, you left your bracelets at the alter."
Diana smacked her forehead and ran into the chapel.
The man stared after his niece and said, "It breaks my heart, watching her try to stay strong."
"Is her mother ill?" Gary asked.
"It's her heart. She's always had trouble, but it's getting worse. She needs a transplant." The man ran his hand over his face. "My sister is everything to Diana. I don't know what she'll do without her."
Diana smiled as she pushed open the chapel doors and flashed her magic bracelets.
In that moment, Gary knew exactly how to make all his wife's dreams come true.