Joel noticed, or felt, rather, a movement to his right. He moved his eyes in that direction and recognized Darnell, the nurse he liked the most, as he entered the room.

“How’s it going today?” the big man asked, their little joke.

If Joel could have laughed, he would have. How’s it going, indeed? You try laying here in the burn unit after your wife torches the house with you in it and then ask ‘How’s it’s going?’ It’s going like shit; that’s how it’s going.

Darnell busied himself checking Joel’s vital signs, talking all the time. “It’s a real nice day out there today. Tomorrow’s the Fourth of July, and I’m taking my wife and kids to the fireworks. Of course, we have to stay in the car because of the COVID thing, but that’s okay. It’ll be good to be together.”

Joel had heard all about Darnell and his family. And, truth be told, he was envious. His wife Sally and he had started drifting apart ten years into their 25-year marriage. By the final year, he’d had a casual fling, or two, or three, and Sally had taken to drinking more and more wine. What Joel didn’t know was that Sally’s depression had been slowly worsening over the years, especially after their only child, Allison, or Allie, as everyone called her, had left home. That had been five years ago and Sally’s mental health had gone downhill from there. He’d been so blind to his wife’s needs that he’d hadn’t even noticed.

Six weeks ago, she had taken a load of sleeping pills, disconnected the gas line in the basement, and gone to sleep. Joel had already passed out from his nightly tumbler of Jack Daniels and hadn’t a clue what was going on until he woke up in the burn unit at Hennepin County Medical and they told him about the fire. And the explosion. And that Sally was dead.

According to tests like the Baux Score, he shouldn’t even be alive. Right. Lucky him.

Back in the present, Darnell had quit talking about the upcoming holiday and was chatting aimlessly. Joel had almost drifted off to asleep when something the nurse said caught his attention. He focused his eyes on Darnell and frantically blinked.

“Oh, hi there,” Darnell said, his eyes crinkling into a smile above his protective mask. “So you’re still with us?” Joel blinked again. He appreciated the nurses’ attempt at humor; it helped him feel less like a victim and a little more human, if being burnt to a crisp and looking like a grilled bratwurst could be described as human. He couldn’t talk. A morphine drip kept the pain at bay, but just barely. In Joel’s opinion, it was not a life worth living. He could check out any time as far as he was concerned, and damn the hospital for keeping him alive.

He stared at Darnell, trying to communicate. What were you saying? Something about a visitor?

“Yeah, I hear you’ve got a visitor coming today. He looked at the clock on the wall. “Should be here any minute.”

Who, goddamnit? The few friends and co-workers that had bothered to visit in the first weeks after the fire had dwindled off to nothing. Who could it be?

“Well, since you asked,” Darnell said, eyes crinkling at his joke. “I’ll tell you. It’s your daughter. Allie, I think they told me her name was.”

Oh, my, god. Allie! He hadn’t seen her since a rather stilted luncheon they’d had a couple of years ago. He remembered it well. She’d screamed at him for how poorly he’d treated Sally over all those years. It ended badly when she’d stormed out, saying, “I never want to see you again!”

Now she was coming to see him! He was beside himself with joy.

But he was also tired and drifted off. When he awoke, he sensed a presence in the room. He shifted his eyes to the right toward the door and looked. Oh my God. There she was! Allie.

She moved until she was standing beside the bed. “Hello, Daddy,” she said.

He wanted to say “hi” back to her. He wanted to hold her and tell her he loved her and missed her. He wanted to reminisce with her about going for walks when she was a little girl and he, her daddy, told her about the natural world and nature and the life cycle of butterflies. He wanted to talk with her about how much fun they’d had planting vegetables in the little garden plot they’d dug together. He just wanted to be with her.

“I’ve missed you so much,” she said.

I’ve missed you, too, honey. I’ve missed not talking to you about your job at the coffee shop and your friends and who your current boyfriend is and what your plans are for the future.

“I brought a book to read to you, Daddy. Would you like that?”

Would I? Of course, I would. What’s the title? Oh, I don’t care. Please, sit with me and read.

“Okay. I’ve brought one of your favorites.”

She started reading and at the first words Joel thought his heart would burst with joy. Oh, thank you, sweetheart. I love this one. Thank you so much.

An hour later, Allie stopped reading. Her father’s eyes were closed. He’s probably sleeping, she thought. Darnell came in as she was preparing to leave.

“How’s he doing?” she asked.

“Oh, you know. Has his good days, but mostly they’re bad. He’s in lots of pain. On a heavy dose of morphine.”

A thick silence developed between them. Both of them knew the big question that lay unspoken. Finally, Allie asked, “So what are his chances? Will he make it?”

Darnell was a compassionate man. But he was also a nurse and realistic. “The chances? Based on his age and the amount of skin burned, not good, I’m afraid.” He watched tears form in Allie’s eyes and hurried to add, “You being here will help, though. In fact, it might help a lot.”

“You think?”

“I do.”

“Thank you,” she said. “Thanks for caring.”

“And remember,” Darnell added looking at Joel with fondness and then back to Allie, “miracles can occur.”

“You’re very kind.”

“You coming back tomorrow?”

“Yes. Definitely. My father and I were close, especially when I was young. We just drifted apart. I want to spend as much time with him now as I can.”

“That’s good,” Darnell said. “That’s really good.”

“See you tomorrow.”

“I’ll walk you out.”

Joel watch the two of them leave and blinked back a tear. He’d heard every word they’d said, and the only thing he remembered, the only words of any significance to him where the ones Allie had spoken at the end: “I want to spend as much time with him as I can.”

He might be dying and that couldn’t be helped. But for now, there was tomorrow. And as far as Joel was concerned, tomorrow couldn’t come soon enough.