“It’s all going to be ok, mom is just... A little sick... But the doctors are going to make her better.”
I stare up at my father, confused as to why mom had to sleep in the hospital instead of coming home with us.
“Does she have to stay here?” I tug on my dad’s jacket.
“Just tonight, why don’t you go give her a hug?” He gently nudges me into her room.
Walking in I see her sleeping, a needle in her hand connected to a tube. I don’t understand, it doesn’t make sense.
“Mom?” I whisper as I grasp her hand, “Mommy?”
The machine next to her beeps, a high pitched beep. Slowly the beep starts echoing, and soon it starts slowing down.
“Mom?” I shake her as the beeps getting farther and farther apart, “Mom!”
I scream as one long tone comes from the machine.
Shooting up in my bed, I wake up and I swear I can still hear the god-awful beeping in my ears. I shiver in my sweat-soaked clothes and sheets. My hair is damp. I shove the blankets away in panic, I don’t feel awake, I still hear the beeping.
I can feel my heart pounding in my chest. Forcing myself out of the bed I dig for my phone, pulling it out desperately dialing Jordan’s number with shaking hands. I yank off my sweaty clothes while it rings, causing goosebumps to cover my now exposed body. I hear Jordan’s voicemail and start sobbing as I hang up. I can’t tell if I’m shaking from nerves or from being cold anymore. Squeezing my phone in my hand I urge it to ring, I urge there to be a call from Jordan. It’s silent. Looking at the time it’s one in the morning, of course he didn’t pick up.
I crawl back into bed, burying my face in the pillow. The pillow becomes moist as I cry, my face starts to itch from the hot, salty water but I don’t care. I don’t stop crying until I’m completely out of tears, I don’t move until my alarm goes off. I’ve been awake, crying for almost six hours.
I take a minute to remember it’s Friday. That’s both great and awful, while I’m happy the school week is pretty much done, I know that means my dad won’t hold out much longer. Things are about to get bad again, how bad they become is yet to be seen, though.
I slump out of the bed again, this time I feel like I’m wadding through waist-deep mud. I pull down a comfortable shirt and some jeans. My phone rings as I force my leg through the pants. Collapsing onto the bed I pick up the phone.
“Hello?” I yawn.
“Hey,” Jordan sounds worried, “Are you ok? I’m sorry, I was asleep when you called. I promise, had I heard my phone ringing I would have answered.”
“It’s fine, really, I’m sorry I called you so late,” I drag my hand down my face, feeling myself sink back into the bed.
“A girl doesn’t call a guy after midnight unless something is wrong or they want sex. I’m not betting on the latter. You sound completely exhausted, what’s wrong?”
“Bad dreams, it’s nothing,” I stare at the pile of pajamas on the floor.
“Did you get any sleep?”
“No,” I groan.
I hear him sigh, “Alright, here’s what we’re going to do, you are going to put on the comfiest clothes you have, grab a blanket and your backpack and meet me in front of your house.”
“Why? What are we doing?”
“We’re ditching today, I’ll make sure someone picks up your homework for the weekend and you and I will drive around so you can sleep.”
“Jordan,” I whine, “If I wanted to stay home I would just climb into bed again.”
“Like you’re not in bed already, look I would let you just stay home but your dad is getting worse. I don’t want you home all day with him if he has a drink today. Get your backpack, a blanket, and clothes for work. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“Fine,” I frump.
“I love you too,” He chuckles and hangs up.
Moving like an elderly tortoise, I gather up everything he said to. I shove my clothes for work into my backpack, along with my homework I finished and my phone charger. I send Jordan a text when I have everything and sit and wait. I took advantage of mom’s stuff being out and found her old flannel pants, they’re warm and soft and in much better shape than my own, them with my stretched black sweater and I could fall asleep standing up. I feel like a little warm fuzzball!
When Jordan arrives, I slip on my flats and drag myself through the house. Passing my dad’s office, I see him tossing and turning furiously. I debate going back into my room for more clothes and stuff. I decide I don’t have the energy and if he does get drunk, my running and hiding will only make him angrier.
Opening the door, I’m pleased to see Jordan waiting with McDonald’s pancakes. Warm food sounds so amazing right now.
“For my sleeping beauty,” He puts the plastic container in my hand and takes my bag. I see a hash brown with the pancake and melt.
“Thank you,” I sigh. He ushers me into the car with a smile.
He turns on the radio while I eat, pulling us away from my house. I feel my limbs get heavy and my stomach get full. Sleep will not be avoided much longer.
“So the only person I could get ahold of to get your homework was Dominic unfortunately. I’ve had his number for years and prayed I’d never need it, but whatever, if dealing with that prick means you get to rest, then I’d do it a hundred times.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” I mumble as I reach for the hand he has resting on his leg.
“Yeah but I wanted to. Close your eyes Rhea, get some sleep. If you need anything let me know,” He turns up the radio as I pull up the blanket.
I let out a long yawn before closing my eyes and drifting off to sleep.
I wake up hours later, even though it only felt like a few seconds. Jordan is stopped at a red light and is on his phone. I feel my stomach rumble, I look at the clock, it’s one thirty. Lunch was an hour ago at school.
I let out a groan as I adjust in the seat. Jordan notices and smiles at me.
“Hey, how are you feeling?” He asks, putting away his phone.
“Hungry, tired,” I yawn and shudder when the warm blanket drops, “Cold.”
He pulls the blanket back over me, “There’s one problem solved. We can stop to get you food, what do you want?”
“I want... Chicken nuggets,” I sound like a toddler, but I don’t care as I snuggle into the blanket.
“Chicken nuggets it is then.”
We wait until the light turns green and then turn onto a busy street lined with fast food. He pulls up to a Jack-in-the-Box and parks.
“I’ll be right back, close your eyes and before you know it I’ll be back with food,” He grabs his wallet and places a light kiss on my forehead.
I pout and sink into my seat as I watch him walk into the restaurant. He left the car running, the radio is turned down but I can still hear the commercials and music playing. I pull out my phone, I debate calling home, to see if my dad is ok. Even if he is still sober, he probably wouldn’t pick up, it would cause him to panic.
I start dozing again when Jordan comes back to the car. He puts a bag on the dashboard and a soda in the cup holder.
“Chicken nuggets for the lady, with an added bonus of curly fries,” He hands me the bag and I feel the smile spread on my face.
I pull out the warm food, I can feel the grease on my fingers. My mouth starts watering. My stomach greets the warmth and stops rumbling. I let out a deep sigh after a few bites.
“So...” Jordan draws out the word, “Do you want to talk about last night?”
“What about it?” I feel knots form in my stomach.
“All of it. You’re dad, you, your nightmare, calling me at one in the morning, not getting any sleep... Take your pick.”
“It’s not a big deal,” I suck on a curly fry, my stomach suddenly too mad for me to eat.
“Yes it is. You were terrified last night, it took you an hour to stop crying. You were silent the whole night. You had a nightmare bad enough to keep you awake the rest of the night. That’s not good, it’s not something to ignore.”
“It’s just hard hearing him like that, it’s hard thinking that he physically can’t admit she’s gone. It’s hard having to admit she’s gone.”
“I can only imagine,” His hand reaches out to take mine, “If you want to talk about it, I’m here for you, always.”
I glance up at him, weighing my thoughts. I open my mouth and speak before I can chicken out.
“I keep watching her die. When he gets like that, I’ll have nightmares of watching her die.”
He looks over at me stunned, “Oh Rhea... I’m so sorry.”
I shrug my shoulders, “I watched her die for over a year and didn’t know it, none of us did.”
“What do you mean?”
“She didn’t know she had cancer until it was in the end stages. By the time she found out, it was all Hail Mary’s and praying for miracles. By the time she was diagnosed, it had progressed to the point where all we could do was make her comfortable. We watched her die and we didn’t even know it.”
“That’s not your fault though,” He pulls the car over, “You couldn’t have known.”
I feel tears well up in my eyes, “It doesn’t change anything. It doesn’t change that I’ll never see her again, that she could have had a chance but didn’t.”
He sighs, “Rhea... Do you think your mom would want you thinking this way? Blaming yourself for something that was far beyond the control of a ten year old? Beyond the control of anyone? It’s not your fault she got sick, it’s no ones fault, but it happened. I know if it were me I wouldn’t want my family blaming themselves or thinking about the ‘what ifs’.”
I bite my lip to hide the quivering, “I just... I miss her...”
“I know honey,” He pets my hair slowly, “I know. And I’ll bet she misses you too. It’ll get better in time.”
He turns back to the steering wheel and pulls back onto the road. We stay quiet, the only communication happens when he gently urges me to eat. I feel myself start dozing off to sleep but I can’t quite get there no matter how hard I try.
Every time I close my eyes I hear the awful sound of my mother’s heart monitor flatlining. I force my eyes to stay open as long as I can. I can feel Jordan look over at me every now and again.
Glancing over I see him pull out his phone and plug it into a cord in the car. His eyes dart between the screen and the road. He only puts it down when music starts playing. I don’t recognize it at first, not until the lyrics come on.
“I can’t fight this feeling any longer, and yet I’m still afraid to let it flow. What started out as friendship, has grown stronger. I only wish I had the strength to let it show. I tell myself that I can’t hold out forever. I said there is no reason for my fear, ’cause I feel so secure when we’re together. You give my life direction, you make everything so clear,” I look over at Jordan and smile, he starts singing along, ”And even as I wander, I’m keeping you in sight. You’re a candle in the window, on a cold, dark winter’s night. And I’m getting closer than I ever thought I might! And I can’t fight this feeling anymore! I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for!" I feel his energy radiating, I start singing with him, feeling myself let go, ”It’s time to bring this ship into the shore, and throw away the oars, forever! ’Cause I can’t fight this feeling anymore! I’ve forgotten what I started fighting for! And if I have to crawl upon the floor, come crashing through your door! Baby, I can’t fight this feeling anymore!”