I walked into the Orangegate Assisted Living foyer to a smiling Susan. “Your mother is in therapy right now. She just started her session and probably won’t finish for another half-hour.”
After nodding my head, I walked to Mom’s room and sat in one of her spare seats. My knees bounced as I waited for the minutes to go by. This place kind of creeped me out. I had spent too many nights in the hospital feeling so overwhelmed and anxious for me to ever really like a place like this. So, I decided to pass the time by cleaning up.
I organized Mom’s feminine products, put a new bar of soap in the shower--not that she could use it by herself, wiped down the counters, and finally grabbed the bedsheets to make the bed. But when I saw the dark stains in the middle of the sheets, I stopped and pulled back the blankets.
My eyes widened. What the hell was this? One of the stains looked fresh, while the other looked as if it had been there for days.I ripped back all the blankets and shook my head, eyes filling with tears. How could they do this to her? Why hadn’t she complained?
I stormed out of the room and marched down the hall to Susan. “Why doesn’t my mother have fresh sheets? You let her sit in his own shit? Don’t help her to the bathroom when she needs to go?”
Susan’s eyes widened, and she looked at some of the other patients’ families. “What are you talking about?”
“There are stains on her sheets.”
She stood up, cheeks flushing, and pulled me to Mom’s room. When she saw them, she held her hand to her chest, drawing in a deep breath. “I’m so sorry. We’ll get someone to fix it as soon as possible. We’ve been short staffed lately. It won’t happen again.”
I stared at her and shook my head. “That’s not an excuse. It shouldn’t have happened at all.” My jaw twitched. “I brought my mother here for you all to assist her, not for you to leave her when she needs help.”
“Mia,” Susan placed her hands on my shoulders, trying to relax me. “I’m so sorry. This doesn’t happen here, ever. I don’t know why it happened today.”
Another nurse appeared at the door, wheeling Mom into the room. “Mia!” she said, but when she saw me, she furrowed her brows. “What’s going on here?”
I took a deep breath and grabbed the handle to Mom’s wheelchair to wheel her out to the garden. “Nothing. They’re just cleaning up.” The sun hit my face, and I pushed her toward the garden, inhaling the scent of the tulips. I didn’t want to bring up the stains to Mom because she wouldn’t say a word about it--because she knew that if she went somewhere else they’d probably treat her worse--and because I didn’t want to embarrass her.
She had been through so much shit this last year; I didn’t want to add to it.
So, I pushed her around, talking every so often about Mason and work and the party. Anything she wanted to know about I chatted to her about it. But… all I could think about was that I needed to work more hours. I needed more money. I needed to find her somewhere else as soon as possible.
And the worst part about this whole thing… was that I had no place to keep her until then. Mason’s apartment was one-bedroom and not handicap accessible. I didn’t have as much money as I needed for an apartment or for a nurse that I trusted to work at home with us.
Things were looking bad. So damn bad. My heart ached.
After an hour in the sun together, I brought Mom back to her freshly clean room. The sheets were changed, the mattress turned, a fresh air freshener plugged into the wall. I helped give Mom a bath, then put her into bed, making sure she was comfortable before I left.
She grabbed my hand, squeezing it tightly, and pulled me down to place a kiss on my forehead. “I love you, Mia.” Her words were softer than usual today, and they almost made me cry. “I know you’re working hard for me, and I’m sorry that I’m putting you through all this trouble.”
I pushed some hair out of her face. “Mom, don’t be sorry. I’d do anything for you.”
She smiled at me, grasping my chin in her hand. “You look tired. When you get home, take a nap.”
I smiled one last time at her, kissed her on the forehead, pulled her into a tight hug, then got on the bus and left, promising myself that I would get her out of there as soon as possible. I dialed my boss’s number and hurried to Mason’s apartment, clicking the elevator buttons.
My boss, Sal, answered on the first ring. “Hello?”
“How do you work this damn thing?” he said, voice distant.
“Sal, can you hear me?”
“Hello! Mia, is that you?”
“Yes,” I said, sighing. “I need to work more hours. I need the money. Can you put me on whenever someone drops a shift?”
“What?” Sal said again. He was about eighty years old, could barely hear, but it was the best job I had in a long time. “You have too many hours?”
“No, Sal,” I said loudly. “I want more hours. Did anyone drop any shifts?”
“Oh, yeah. Marcie just dropped one for later today!” he said, sounding happy. “Come on down. I was going to call you anyway.”
I thanked the gods--whichever one it was this time--and got changed into my uniform to bartend by the river. Sunday nights were usually slow, but the job paid well. He gave me more than a minimum wage plus tips. So, I tried to go any time that I wasn’t at school.
Like usual, when I got to the bar it was dead. There were a few stragglers, hanging around the tables in the back and a few regulars at the bar. I threw my hair into a high ponytail, ready for whatever shit I had to deal with tonight.
But, then, halfway through my shift, the one man I didn’t want to see walked right through the doors and smirked at me.
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