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They said that hearing was the last sense to go.
His hadn’t gone. Yet.
But the light was getting brighter. He could see it, could see shapes in the distance—people—silhouetted in front of it. He tried to move closer.
“Hold him still, damn it!” The harsh voice came from a long way away.
“I’m trying! I’m trying!” That voice, too, barely penetrated his consciousness.
“C’mon! He’s losin’ a lot of blood. Must’ve taken three bullets at least. Hurry up!”
“I’m moving as fast as I can!”
“Well, move faster! We don’t get him there soon, he won’t make it.”
The light grew brighter, then dimmed. The voices muttered on, the noises grew harsher. He could hear metal on metal. Clanking. Jostling.
“Here. Just shove the door open. Give me that!”
“He’s bleeding all over the place!”
“Press down, damn it!”
The light was brighter again. The faces clearer.
He could make out features. He could see his father.
Was that his father? That young, smiling man? It was, Charlie was sure of it. God, it had been years! He’d been six when his dad died, and his vague childhood memories of his father had not been of a happy man.
But he was happy now—with Charlie’s mother, both of them smiling, their arms around each other and around Lucy, too. His mom had died when he was ten and his sister five years later.
Luce, damn it, how could you have got yourself killed like that?
Charlie moved closer into the light and tried to call out.
“We’re losin’ him!”
“I know! I know! Come on!”
Charlie barely heard the voices now. They didn’t matter. Lucy mattered. He was trying to reach Lucy.
He had so much to tell her—about everything that had happened since she’d gone—about Joanna, her teacher, who hadn’t let him slip through the cracks, who had kicked his butt, determined not to let him die in the streets the way his sister had; about Chase, Joanna’s husband, who had taught him how to be a man.
But before he could speak, he saw more faces.
He saw Chase and Joanna. He saw their children, Emerson, Alex, and Annie, who had become like little brothers and sister to him.
Whoa. Wait a sec. They weren’t dead! None of them.
Charlie looked around, puzzled.
He scanned the faces. He saw his best friend Herbert from grammar school and DeShayne and Lopez, the guys he had hung with in high school, all still alive and kicking as far as he knew. He saw Gaby, his agent, who he’d spoken to last week, and his old friends, Miles and Susan Cavanaugh, and their sons.
His gaze swept over them all. And moved quickly on. Searching now.
He was looking for one face.
Where was she? If all the people who’d ever mattered in his life were here, where was she? Where was Cait?
He called her name. No one replied.
Everyone—his father, his mother, his sister, his friends—all stood silent and looked back at him blankly.
He reached them now, and the light was all around him. But he barely noticed. Instead of greeting his family, instead of throwing his arms around them in the joy of reunion, he pushed past them, wildly looking around.
But all he got was silence. Emptiness.
She wasn’t here.
He was going to die, and she wasn’t going to be a part of his eternity?
Of course she wasn’t, Charlie realized, looking around as the light faded and his hopes dimmed.
How could she be when he hadn’t let her be a part of his life?
End of Excerpt