I avoided Mr. Bryne the next morning by waking up super early and making an excuse that I felt sick, so sick I had to go back home to Mason’s immediately. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see him, it was that I knew if I did see him… I’d feel even more guilty.
I hopped out of Mason’s Benz which was parked outside of Orangegate Assisted Living, and grabbed his hand, walking toward the entrance. While there were a lot of shitty things about Mason, this was his most redeeming quality. He cared for Mom and Mom cared for him.
The sliding automatic doors opened, and Mason led the way into the building. Susan, the receptionist, smiled at us when we walked into the room. “Your mother is waiting in her room,” she said.
I wrote Mason’s and my name on two name tags and signed into the facility. Mom had lived here since her brain aneurysm three years ago. She refused to let me drop out of college to take care of her back home, telling me that I should live my life, get a job and an education, be free and independent--even if it was just for four years.
When I put the pen down, Susan grabbed my hand. “She’s not doing good today. Physical therapy was hard for her and… and she needs a good smile.”
Mason grabbed my hand and pulled me down the hallway toward Mom’s room. The light in her room was off, and but her television was on, playing reruns of Full House. Mason knocked on the door and pulled me into the room, turning the light on. “Ms. Stevenson?”
“Mason, is that you?” she asked, squinting. She laid in the bed, her brown hair looking like it hadn’t been brushed all weekend, her bright blue eyes wide in delight.
I sighed and closed the door behind us, grabbing her hairbrush from the counter. “Mom, are they taking care of you here?” I asked, brows furrowed together.
She maneuvered herself into a sitting position with her arms and plastered a smile on her face, giving me that look she always did right before she told me… “It’s fine, Sweetheart. They’re treating me great.”
Mason took the brush from me and gestured to Mom to sit up even more. He sat behind her, glancing at me. I could tell by the look on his face that he actually agreed with me for once that they weren’t taking good enough care of her. He pushed the brush through her hair carefully. “I can find you a place that treats you better, Ms. S.”
Mom laughed, and I almost rolled my eyes. Jeez, they got along better than we got along. She smiled weakly at the ground. “Don’t be silly. You’ve done too much for me and Mia. This…” She gestured to the room around us. “... and having Mia stay with you while I’m here… it’s more than I could ask for.”
I frowned, wrapping my arms around my body and staring at the ground. A wave of guilt washed over me, thinking about what I had done this past weekend with Mr. Bryne. If Mom found out about it… Hell, if she found out that Mason and I had been… fighting---and I say that lightly because it wasn’t really fighting, more like annoying the living daylight out of each other--she wouldn’t be happy. She’d worry, and I didn’t need her worrying at all.
I needed her to get better because I was in the midst of saving up enough money to get an apartment of my own, so I could care for her. I grabbed her wheelchair from the corner of the room and brought it to her bed. “How about some time outside?”
“After you’re done with your hair,” Mason said, cutting in before Mom had a chance to even speak. He narrowed his eyes at me from behind Mom’s back, and I waited patiently for him to finish brushing her hair even though he had already got out all the knots.
When he finished, I grabbed the brush from him and watched him lift Mom and place her into the chair. We walked outside in the sun, talking about the sun and the garden and all the memories of when I was younger. It was what we talked about every day. That was until Mom brought up my girls’ weekend.
I glanced at the very beautiful concrete sidewalks, avoiding all eye contact with Mason. Don’t think of Mr. Bryne. Don’t mention Mr. Bryne. Act as if Mr. Bryne didn’t exist, Mia.
“I went into the pool.” I fiddled with the ends of my sleeves. Mom and Mason didn’t say anything for a long time, and I felt like I needed to fill the silence with something. “Mr. Bryne was there too.”
When the words left my mouth, I nearly slapped a hand over my forehead. Mom’s lips curled into a smile in the sun, and she sat back in her seat, closing her eyes. “How is he?” she asked. “I hope he’s doing well. I haven’t seen him since you went off to college.”
“He’s doing… well.” Really goddamn well.
“Good,” she said. We walked around for a few more minutes until a nurse called for Mom to come back inside because she had another rehabilitation session. “I have a speech session in a few minutes.”
Mason wheeled her back into the building, and a nurse grabbed the handles of her wheelchair from him. I pulled Mom into a tight hug and smiled. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to stop by tomorrow.”
“Please do,” she said. “But, if you’re busy… stay home and relax.” She pulled Mason into a hug next, and then they disappeared down the hall with a nurse. I frowned at her departing figure, wishing that I could still live with her, wishing that Dad didn’t leave her without any money, that her and I were back in the old house, creating a new life together. But just like Dad… that house and our old life were gone.
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