Kevin stared at the red tube going from the pole into his arm and knew that he was going to die. At forty-five, he was still young enough to feel that he still had way too much ahead of him to quit now. But then, he sighed, I’ve had a better life than many of others. Still…
His mom’s grey head poked through the doorway. “You decent?”
With a snort, Kevin shook his head. “If you don’t mind the sight of blood flowing into my veins…I’m decent enough.” He peered down at his stained sweatpants and ragged shirt.
Ginger tiptoed into the room, her gaze roaming from side to side. Three other patients sat slumped in a line of chairs in various stages of intravenous feedings…blood, medicine…chicken soup, for all she knew. Swallowing back the ache in her throat at the sight of her son pale and drained, she squared her shoulders. No time to be weak now. Be strong, old woman. Still, her hand shook as she patted her son’s shoulder. “The nurse said you’re almost done, and you can go home as soon as they’ve made sure you’re not going to faint.” She looked around. “They give you crackers or anything?”
“Juice and crackers. Deluxe treatment.” Kevin winced. He didn’t mean to sound so sarcastic, but his back was killing him. Three hours was way too long to sit in a chair.
“Well, I’ve got coupons for the family restaurant next door. I thought we’d grab a bite before we head out into the wilds of—”
“I’m not hungry, Ma. But you can—”
“I’m not hungry either, but that hardly matters, does it? We don’t eat just to make ourselves happy. We eat to stay alive. And you need to stay alive a little longer. Hear me?”
Kevin clenched his jaw. He knew it was absurd to argue with his seventy-eight-year-old mother. She had a long-standing tradition of repeating herself until he gave in. He merely nodded and glanced over as the nurse came in and started to unplug him from the technology that saved his life each week.
After they settled in a red booth and the waitress took their order, Kevin pulled out his phone and scrolled through. There were three messages from his friend Dave at work. He frowned and pushed the redial.
Ginger pointed to the lady’s room and toddled off.
His eyes following his mom’s careful maneuvers around the café, he listened as Dave picked up the call.
“Kevin? That you?”
With a snort, Kevin laughed. “Yeah, what’d think? I was just getting blood, not a new heart or anything.”
“Oh, well, I’ve got news…”
Kevin felt a ripple of fear shoot through him.
David cleared his throat. “Hey, man, you sitting down?”
A headache building between his eyes, Kevin tapped the tabletop in staccato fashion. “In a booth at an overcrowded family diner, if that’s any comfort. What’s going on?”
“I hate to tell you this over the phone, but the news has it all over…”
Kevin’s hand shook and a thousand bees buzzed in his head. “What?”
“Rhonda was in a head-on collision after work today. Five-car pileup. Three dead, two critical, and one kid survived without a scratch. But Rhonda…”
The bees began stinging. Kevin’s whole body trembled, and he wondered if he’d puke his crackers and juice all over the floor.
Dave’s voice rose. “You okay, Kev?”
Kevin dropped his head on his arms, the phone slipping off his ear. He could hear Dave shouting. “Kev? Where are you, man? I’m coming—”
He felt the phone plucked from his weak grasp and his mom’s shaky voice. “Hello? Oh, Dave. Yes, just saw it on the news. So tragic.”
His mom’s voice dropped to bedrock. “I see. Terribly sad. For all of you. Rhonda was a dear girl…woman. Don’t worry. I’ve got Kevin with me. I’ll get him home now. If you want to meet us—”
Silence and then an assenting “Yes, that’s a good idea.”
Kevin had little memory of the drive home or how he got into bed. He only remembered the sensation of falling. And not being able to save himself.
When he opened his eyes, Kevin realized that he had slept through the night and a good part of the next morning. Groggily, he raked his fingers through his hair, shuffled from his rumpled bed to the bathroom, stripped, and took the longest, hottest shower he could stand. He stood naked and grimaced at the pile of dirty laundry on the wet bathroom floor.
He heard Dave’s voice on the other side of the door. “You want something bright or dark?”
Kevin shook his head. “Black as hell, if you can find it.”
As he dried himself, the door opened a crack and a pair of dark blue jeans and a black turtleneck sweater flew through the air and smacked him in the head.
“Best I could do. You have the worst selection of clothes this side of—”
Ginger’s voice piped up. “Oh, leave him alone, Dave. You know how he is. Platypuses have more fashion sense.” She lifted her voice as if he was in Siberia rather than the bathroom. “Breakfast is ready. Better hurry before it gets cold.”
Kevin winced as he pulled on his jeans, mumbling under his breath.
When he sat down at the kitchen counter, a large platter of bacon, eggs, and toast was set in glorious array before his wondering eyes. He couldn’t believe that his stomach rumbled in salubrious joy. Traitorous things…stomachs.
Dave pulled up a stool and perched on Kevin’s right with a large cup of coffee, a faint aroma of cinnamon wafting through the air. His mom bustled about his tiny kitchen like she owned the place.
Dave watched him eat with absorbed interest. Finally, Kevin nodded to his mom. “She can make you a plate—”
“Naw, I already ate.” He glanced at the bustling homemaker. “You ever want to trade moms, just let me know. I’d even pay extra…”
An image of Dave’s fashionable mother as she commanded underlings at city hall sent a shudder through Kevin’s body. Then he remembered the news and dropped his fork. “Oh, God. Rhonda.”
Ginger turned and gripped his hand. “It’s awful, honey. But—”
Nearly leaping from his seat, Kevin felt his pulse racing. “But what? We have to accept what we can’t change? She died mercifully quick—God, I hope so!” A sob struggled to free itself from his throat. “But where is my hope now?”
With tears coursing down his cheeks, Dave took Kevin’s other hand. “Where it’s always been, man. Right here. With us. With Joe, Dan, Kelly, and all the others at work. With the nurses, the doctors, your mom, and…” He swiped the rolling tears away. “Oh, God.”
Ginger lifted her chin. “Listen, if you’d have been at work yesterday, more than likely you’d have been in that car with Rhonda. And you’d probably have died then and there. But instead, you were getting your treatments…ones that save your life one week at a time.”
Ice coursed through Kevin’s body. “But not forever.”
“No. Not forever. Not for you…not for me…” Ginger glanced at Dave. “Not for any of us.”
Kevin sucked in a deep shuddering breath and slumped on the counter. He covered his face with his hands. “So much pain.”
Dave gripped his arm. “But you’re not alone.”
Kevin looked up and met his friend’s honest gaze.
Dave nodded in Ginger’s direction as she returned to the sink. “She needs you. So do I. And everyone at work misses your ugly face.”
As Kevin felt his friend’s hand grip his arm, he could practically feel fresh blood flowing into his veins.
A. K. Frailey is the author of 15 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
Make the most of life’s journey.
For books by A. K. Frailey check out her Amazon Author Page
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