What would the Garcías do when he walked inside that hospital? He remembered his own rage, his own desire to annihilate an opponent named Jeff Franklin four years earlier, after Franklin had locked Gabe's right arm beneath his left during a clinch and, with a snap, had broken Gabe's elbow so badly that it needed five screws to be an elbow again. What was that next to this?
Leslie stopped just outside the waiting room, crying. Gabe braced himself and walked inside.
Jimmy's dad and brother looked up in shock. For an instant the air sizzled: What are YOU doing here? And then, just as quickly, that was gone, washed away by gratitude, by the realization of what it had taken for Gabe to come. At least it was so for Manuel ST., who opened his arms and hugged Gabe. Manuel Jr.'s stare was difficult to read.
Gabe fumbled for words. "I'm sorry.... You know I didn't...."
His legs felt weak, his mouth dry. Everything seemed so distant and strange, so much farther away than a dream. And then Gabe felt the arm of the father, who had taught his son to box, come around his shoulder and move him through the double doors, toward Jimmy.
Gabe wanted to stop, but he could not. What if they left him alone with Jimmy? If that was what it took to cross the river, forget it, he couldn't do it. He halted, let the father and the brother go ahead, and lowered his eyes. No one close to him had ever died or come this near. Then Gabe lifted his eyes and saw it all in a blur: the blue-green hospital gown, the lips and right cheek grotesquely swollen, the tubes running everywhere, up nostrils, into veins, the head wrapped in a turban of white bandages, the terrible bulge on the left side of the skull. Jimmy looked so small in that bed. "Hijo mío, ¿por qué pasó esto?" murmured the father, stroking his son, trying not to sob. "My son, why did this happen?"
Gabe kept thinking of words to say, but there was a fist inside his throat. And then they were leaving, Gabe making sure not to be left behind, and they were back in the waiting room. The neurons that had been stunned into stillness at Jimmy's bedside were now firing off impulses like bullets: Gabe wanted to stay in Las Vegas and visit Jimmy every day; he wanted to run away and hide; he wanted someone to hold him; he wanted everyone to leave him alone; he wanted to give the Garcías his entire paycheck for the fight, all 300 grand; he wanted to give Jimmy his title belt; he wanted a doctor to tell him that his instincts were wrong, that he hadn't just looked at a young man without a prayer in the world, a dead man.
A TV reporter from the Spanish-language network Telemundo approached him. "If he doesn't make it, I won't box again," Gabe said. He offered the Garcías a ride back to the hotel. A tortured silence fell over them all. When Gabe exited the limo, the fans came at him, right there in front of Jimmy's dad and brother, and they reached out to touch him, singing out their congratulations: Great fight, Gabe! Way to go!
A left hook to the gut for each of them—that's what Gabe felt like dealing out. He nodded and trudged past them to his room.
Jimmy had kids. Two little girls, five-year-old Liseth and two-year-old Paula Andrea, with a third child on the way. Who would make sure they had food and decent clothes all their lives? Gabe lay awake that entire night, listening to 11-month-old Diego breathe in the crib, aching to wake the child, to squeeze that small simplicity against his chest. Maybe at last people would believe him when he told them how near death always was. Maybe at last.