My heart was hammering out of my chest as we rode the elevator up to the seventh floor. Conflicting emotions battle for dominance in my mind, grief, anger, hatred, all of the above? My heart was starting to hurt. I just wanted to go back home to my kids.
“Madison, babe, you alright?” Noah gently asked beside me, his hand gently brushing against mine.
I scuffed and shook my head. “Not at all.”
“Look, I know it’s not easy but we’re only here as long as you want to be. Not as long as he wants us here, remember that.” I nodded, grateful for Noah’s presence as we continued our slow ascension.
“I just want to hold Emmerson and Adryan,” I admitted, my arms aching for the two newest additions of our family. We’d found two surrogates, Noah’s named Rachel and mine named Jayden, who delivered our beautiful daughter Emmerson and son Adryan respectively. Holding them relaxed me and made me feel whole. Addison and Azealia instantly fell in love with them as well. We’d somehow ended with the perfect boy to girl ratio, a rare but greatly appreciated occurrence. And though they were far too big to carry them like the little babies they were what felt like yesterday, I still enjoyed wrapping my arms around them. I did it with all my kids, much to Addy and Azzy’s disdain, especially because they were about to be teenagers.
“Me too,” Noah confessed. “But we’ll get back to them in due time. I think they need some time away from us in the real world. We spoil them too much.”
I chuckled. “I guess we do,” I agreed as the elevator doors slid open, instantly sucking all playfulness and relaxation out of me like a vacuum.
“It’s going to be okay, Mads,” Noah gently comforted as we stepped out of the elevator ad another family walked in, a man, a woman, and presumably their sleeping son in the mother’s arms. “Do you need a breather before we go in there?”
I shook my head. If I gave myself any leeway I’d never see him and I needed to. For my sake.
Noah nodded in understanding before he took my hand in mine and gave me a reassuring squeeze. As we walked the halls, the sharp odor of cleaning products and other hospital aromas filled my nose reminding me of the day Noah had been in the hospital all those years ago, unconscious and bruised. The memories made me hold onto him tighter. Even though it had happened almost twenty years ago, the memory was still fresh in my head as if it had happened mere moments ago.
I swallowed as we approached his room that had his name written on it. I made a move to open the door, but as soon as I reached for it it opened, causing me to quickly retract my hand as a woman who looked to be in her late thirties backed out of the room, pulling a cart with her that seemingly held untouched food. She jumped a bit when she realized that we were there. “Oh, you gave me a fright! I didn’t see you there,” she said, her voice cherry and light, two things that dead hospitals like the one we were standing in desperately needed. “Well hello you two. Is one of you Madison?”
“That would be me,” I said.
She smiled. “I could tell, you look like him. He’s been talking about seeing you all day. He’s really excited.” I let out a nervous chuckle as she moved her cart out of the doorway and beckoned for us to follow her before she walked in. I looked at Noah who nodded and gave me another reassuring squeeze as if silently reminding me that it was my choice and that he’d stand by me no matter what I chose. I took a deep breath as we walked in behind her just as she said, “Brandon? You have two visitors here to see you.” As soon as we rounded the corner I saw him, though I barely recognized him.
My dad, but he didn’t look like it.
We was sickeningly thin and all of his hair had vacated his head. He looked so weak, like he would break if you shook his hand too hard. Like he would blow away with the slightest gust of wind. My gut wrenched and conflict churned within me, especially as he looked at me with such joy and happiness in his eyes.
It was the first time I’d seen him since the trial. Nearly twenty years ago. And now I was back because of a six letter, two syllable word.
It started in his lungs but quickly spread. I could almost see it destroy him as I stood across from him. They’d called me less than two weeks ago to break the news, but seeing like this...it was unbelievable.
“You came,” he said in shock, his voice scratchy and weak. Unrecognizable like the rest of him.
“Yeah,” was all I could say as I stood at the foot of his bed.
“I see you brought Noah with you too. Hello, son.”
“Hello, Mr. Williams,” Noah said, though there was a tightness in his tone.
My dad smiled, though it seemed pained. “Come over here and give me a hug, Madison. I haven’t seen you in so long. You’ve changed a lot since-” he was cut off my a bout of coughing and sputtering. He grabbed a tissue and spit up into it, causing me to look away not wanting to see him in pain.
After he was done, he cleared his throat and took a deep breath, causing me to finally look back at him. “I guess a hug wouldn’t be the best thing to do right now,” he said with a slight chuckle, causing him to wince as he held his chest. But he tried to cover it up. “Sedersi! Sedersi! Prometto di non essere contagioso (Sit! Sit! I promise I’m not contagious),” he jokingly said with a chuckle as he motioned to the chairs that were right at his bedside.
I cautiously approached and sat down with Noah right next to me, subtly scooting the chairs a bit further from my dad. I still wasn’t really comfortable around him, even after all these years. The last time I was thins close to him he was trying to beat the gay out of me. “How are you feeling?” I softly asked, not knowing what else to say in such a depressing and confusing time such as this.
“I’ve had better days,” he admitted as he looked out the window. “But at least I’m still alive, right?” I respected how he still tried to remain optimistic about his current circumstances, especially because he was virtually going through it alone. After it had gone public what he’d done to us, he’d lost a lot of friends and Noah and I lived over six hours away. He turned back to us. “Where are the kids? I was hoping to meet them.”
“They’re at Nona’s house. They don’t know you exist, and frankly for the time being, I think that’s for the best,” I said, though it caused guilt to settle into my heart. On one hand, he was already being beaten down by the monster that was eating away at him from the inside and I didn’t want to add onto that suffering, but on the other hand, I still hadn’t forgiven him for what he’d done. Was he sorry? Did he regret it? Did he care?
A look of hurt flashed across his eyes as he looked away. “I understand. You’re right, it probably is for the best.” Silence hung heavy in the air and I felt the familiar tung of tears behind my eyes, but I quickly blinked them away. He sighed before he turned to us, his eyes bouncing from me to Noah then landed back on me once again. “So, uh, you two are married now, huh?”
“Yep, almost fifteen years,” Noah reported after I hadn’t responded.
“Crazy how time flies,” my father said as he shook his head. “How was the wedding? How are the kids? What do you two do now a days in, where do you live, NYC?”
“Wow. I’d always wanted to live there since I was young but…” as he spoke a sudden anger filled my chest. How could he be so casual as if this weren’t his first time seeing us since what he’d done to us? Like his actions could’ve cost Noah his life or either of us serious health problems? Like what he did was okay? “Are the Broadway shows really good? I’ve heard-”
“Are you serious right now?” I found myself asking, my voice shaking with anger and emotion.
Noah placed a hand on my shoulder. “Madison, calm down-”
“You’ve been out for almost five years and not once did you try to contact me, and you can’t say that you didn’t know my number because how else would the hospital have my number for your emergency contact? And not once have you apologized for trying to ‘cleanse’ us or whatever bs excuse you tried to present in court, and now you want to act like that never happened? Like it was okay?” By the time I was done, I was breathing heavily and tears were pooling in my eyes once again. Noah held me tighter, though he made no move to say anything. He knew I needed this. “I have trust issues because of you, dad. It’s hard for me to let people in because I’m afraid they’ll stab me in the back like you did. I can’t afford that, especially not now that I have four beautiful children, because unlike you, I don’t purposefully hurt my children or put them in danger.
“But you know what? It honestly sucks having my kids constantly ask about their grandparents on my side because I can’t tell them anything. I don’t bring you up. You know what sucks more though? Seeing that the pricks who hurt Noah tried harder to contact him to say they’re sorry than my own father who only reached out to me for what? To pay your medical bills? To make me feel sorry? To mess with me? What do you want from me, dad? I mean, you’re obviously not sorry for hurting us or tearing this family apart. So tell me, what do you what?” By the end my voice was broken and tears were slowly falling down my face.
“Baby, it’s okay,” Noah gently said. “We can go if you want. Just please, breathe.”
I shook my head. “I want to know why he wanted us here. I want him to see what he’s done and try to explain it away.”
My father looked like he was at a loss for words. He opened his mouth to say something but closed it again and shook his head. “Look boys, I know that my time is coming, sooner rather than later and I just want to make things right,” he softly said before he looked up at us, his eyes jumping between the two of us. “I know that what I did was wrong. I’ve been reminded of it everyday since I got out. At the time I honestly thought…” he trailed before shaking his head again. “It doesn’t matter what I thought. What matters is that I hurt you. Both of you. More than I could’ve imagined and for that I am deeply sorry.
“You know, I did a lot of soul searching when I saw locked up, and I tried to answer that question myself: what do I want from you two? I could never find an answer other than wanting to spread my hate in a way that I knew you’d feel. I was just so distracted and confused...but I didn’t take the time to understand and that was my mistake.” He looked out the window out into the gray sky. “Look, I’m not trying to make you two feel sorry for me or anything like that because I deserve to be here. I’ve already asked the Lord’s forgiveness, but I really need yours. I don’t want to spend my last moments here wishing that I’d reached out to my son to fix what I’d broken. I know it’ll be a process, I don’t expect you to suddenly forgive me or anything, but I’d like it if you’re willing to try with me. Help me understand and that I can have my son back.”
So many things we’re fighting for dominance in my head. Could I trust him? Was he really really being truthful? Could I allow him back into my life? Did he really believe what he was saying?
It was all too much.
“I...I don’t know. This is too much,” I made out as I stood up, and Noah instantly followed my actions. “I-I don’t know, I just need time,” I rushed out as I began walking toward the door. “I’ll be back,” I said over my shoulder before I hurried out of the room and into the hallway, shutting the door behind me as a strangled sob escaped my lips. Instantly, Noah’s arms were around me in a hug and I started letting out loud ugly sobs as I held him tightly. He just held me and let me cry. “I don’t know what to do, Noah,” I sobbed into his shoulder.
“Shh, shh, baby,” he gently cooed. “It’s okay to not know what to do right now. È ok (it is okay). Let it out.”
We stood there for a few more minutes until I composed myself and straightened up. “Are you okay?” Noah gently asked.
I shook my head.
“It’s okay,” he said as he moved some stray hair from my face. “Take as much time as you need.”
“I need to get out of here before I have a panic attack,” I honestly said. “Maybe even some ice cream to calm my nerves.” Though it sounded like I was being juvenile, I was being 100% serious.
Noah grinned as he took my hand in his. “Okay, But you better not tell the kids or they’ll be mad we got some without them.”
Despite my distressed state, I found myself giving him a small smile. “Deal.”