“Child protective services is for children, not seventeen-year-olds,” I said. I threw my arms in the air.
“I’m not saying we’re going to get CPS involved.” The crabby lady with the pinched lips wrote something on her clipboard. Her bleach blonde hair with gray and ash brown roots accentuated the frumpy blouse, knee-length skirt, and saggy hose. Her nametag was askew and read Martha. Even her name rubbed me the wrong way. “We just need to get your mom’s affairs in order. You’re not legally old enough to inherit a house and a business, not to mention you need a guardian.”
“I take care of myself just fine,” I told her. “And I’ve helped run this business for years.” Why couldn’t anyone understand that?
“That’s not the way things work,” Martha said.
“What’s going to happen if she passes away before I turn eighteen?”
“If you have a guardian, her assets will all go into a trust until you mature, and then you will inherit.”
“It would be tied up in probate and that could last years, especially if someone challenges the inheritance.”
“There’s no one else,” I mumbled. Never had those words felt more true. I had no living relatives that I knew of. It was just me and mom. Sure, I had the twins and Brandon, but they were friends and not much older than me.
Mom had been silent this whole time, and her voice was barely a whisper. “What about Brandon?”
My head whipped toward her and my jaw gaped. “What about him?”
“He could be your guardian,” Mom said.
“Who is Brandon?” Martha wrote something in her files.
“He’s like a brother to Sammy,” Mom explained. “He lives in the apartment above the garage and is our handyman and groundskeeper. He’s like the son I never had.”
“How old is this man?”
“He’s eighteen,” I said, my voice lowering. A lump formed in my throat and I fought to keep my emotions in check. “And he’s more than a brother. He’s my best friend.”
“See, there you go.” Mom’s voice was a little more confident. “He’d be perfect.”
“Perfect…” My heart wrenched. I didn’t want him to be my guardian.
I wanted him to be my forever. I wanted to hold him in my arms and kiss him until I couldn’t see straight. I wanted to spend every day with him, every night with him. I wanted to walk side-by-side and be his equal.
A tear escaped my eye and rolled down my cheek. Still, if I must have a guardian, I couldn’t think of anyone else I’d want. I stood suddenly. “I’ll go ask him.”
“No, just bring him in here.” Mom stopped me. “I want to be the one to ask him.”
“Okay,” I mumbled and left the room.
It didn’t take me long to find Brandon. He was in the garden, tending the flowers and shrubs and weeding, keeping the space beautiful so that when Mom wanted to come out here and sit, she’d be surrounded by the plants she loved.
I snuck up behind him. “Mom wants to see you.”
“You startled me, Sammy.” He put his hand to his heart, brushing soil from his work gloves onto his t-shirt. “What does she want?”
“She wants to ask you something.”
He pulled his gloves off his hands and set them down on the stone bench. He held a hand out in the traditional gesture of, “After you.”
I was tired of this silent tension between us. It would have been better if we’d never had our almost-kiss. I would have been happy to go back to our lighthearted teasing from before. This indifference was driving me crazy.
I led the way along the stone path, up the back-porch steps, and into the coolness of the stately mansion I was about to inherit. I would gladly give it all away if it meant Mom could live. I felt like I was choking.
He entered the room two steps behind me and stopped short when he saw the extra person in the room. He barely acknowledged Martha before pulling a chair right up next to Mom’s bed and lifting her hand gently in his.
“Hi, Mom. How are you feeling?”
“Like I’m dying of cancer. How about you?”
I didn’t like her joke.
“I’m feeling much better than that.” Brandon chuckled.
“I need you to do something for me, Brandon.”
“Anything,” he answered.
“I want you to be Sammy’s named guardian.”
“What? Why?” He pulled back but didn’t release her hand.
“I don’t want the house, and everything else, tied up in probate after I’m gone. I need someone to be in charge of the estate and hold it in trust until Sammy comes of age.”
“Why me?” His voice squeaked.
“You’ve always been like a brother to her. I can’t think of anyone better to be her guardian.”
Brandon stood up suddenly, simultaneously releasing mom’s hand and knocking over his chair. He was shaking and took a step back. His panicked eyes darted between my face and Mom’s and Martha’s. Finally, he found his voice.
“I’m sorry… I can’t be Sammy’s guardian.” With that, he rushed from the room.
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I hope you enjoyed reading my Chapter-a-Day. Let me know how you like it. Tomorrow I'll be featuring another one of my Works-in-Progress! -Julie L. Spencer
“Fine, I’ll ride in the stupid wheelchair.” Mom had been arguing with us for several minutes but there was just no other way. The television had long been muted. Watching another stupid episode of our favorite sitcom was just an excuse to bring her up to the third floor and hang out with us. But what we really wanted was to spend time with her.
“It’s either that or miss my graduation,” I said. “There is no way you’re going to be able to walk all the way from the car to the auditorium and then find a seat.”
“Look on the bright side,” Brandon pointed out. “We’ll get VIP seating.”
“I don’t like to feel handicapped.”
“Are you seriously pouting, Mom?”
“Lots of people are handicapped their whole life,” Brandon said.
“I feel so dependent on everyone all the time. I can hardly walk to the bathroom on my own and I need help getting up and down the stairs.”
“I seriously don’t mind carrying you.” Brandon held out his arm like a bodybuilder, grinning over at me. “I knew these guns would come in handy someday.”
I forced myself to stop staring at his muscles and focus my attention on mom. I looked around our modest living room. “I’m glad for some normalcy. I hate sleeping up here all by myself every night.”
“Yeah right.” Mom pushed my shoulder playfully. “Don’t think for a minute I don’t feel you climb into bed with me every night.”
“You do?” Brandon threw his head back and laughed.
“It’s lonely up here, and kinda scary.”
“Who’s pouting now?” Mom asked.
“If you don’t want me to, I won’t come down anymore.” I pulled at the thread on my old frumpy sweater.
“Nonsense.” Mom held out her arms. “Come here.”
I snuggled into her arms and let her hold me, knowing it wouldn’t be more than a few weeks or months before she wouldn’t be around anymore. I was going to treasure every moment I had with her.
That night I didn’t make any pretense about coming down to her bedroom. I got completely ready for bed and tiptoed downstairs past all the guest rooms on the second floor and climbed into bed with my mommy before she even fell asleep.
“You were right, this was a good idea,” Mom said. “I’m glad you guys talked me into it.”
“She admits I was right. Should I record this moment to memorialize it forever?”
She reached over her shoulder and patted my hand where it rested on the handle of her wheelchair. She’d resigned to using a small Amigo for getting around the lower level of the house and it had made her life a lot easier. But a small wheelchair that folded into the trunk was more practical in the auditorium.
I pushed her forward to where the handicapped accessible area was roped off, and she smiled lightly at the other people around her, probably noting that most people were forty years older than her. I was careful not to point that out.
“She said she’d be entering from the south entrance, so we should have a perfect vantage point from here.” I glanced around at the organized chaos of people finding seats, the concert band members warming up their instruments, the faculty and staff rushing around to make sure everything was perfect.
The twins’ mom came to sit on Mom’s other side. It was a nice gesture considering she had no other reason to be down here besides sitting close to the woman who had been a kindred spirit for years.
“This is it,” Sharon said. “Our baby girls are all grown up.”
“I’m so glad to be here to watch.” Mom reached out to hold her old friend’s hand. “Where are Derrick and the boys?”
“Sitting way up there.” Sharon pointed high in the auditorium to where her husband and sons were settling in on a hard bleacher. “Lucky for us, we get to sit down here in the squishy seats.”
“I know, right?” I reached across the front of Mom’s wheelchair and held out my arm. “By the way, I don’t think we’ve been formally introduced. I’m Brandon.”
“I’ve heard all about you for almost a year.” Sharon chuckled. “I’m surprised none of our girls have been able to convince you to take them on a date yet. Certainly not for lack of trying, or so I’ve heard.”
I felt my face grow warm and I pulled at my collar. “Is it hot in here?”
Sharon and Mom laughed at me and I grinned.
“Your daughters are beautiful and very sweet, but I told Sammy a long time ago there was no way I could possibly date either of them. How would I ever be able to choose?”
“They’re going to have to find identical twins,” Mom said, chuckling.
“That’s what I said.”
“I’m sure when they’re older they’ll figure it out,” Sharon said.
“Oh, they’re starting!” Mom grabbed my hand when the music shifted.
We settled in for the very long processional and turned completely in our chairs, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sammy as she came in the door.
My heart dropped when I saw who was escorting her. Charlie. Really? Could she dig a knife any deeper into my stomach?
The twins were right behind her, escorting each other. Why couldn’t Sammy have chosen a girl to join arms with? Why did she have to choose the guy who was my rival for her affection?
When she came around the corner, we locked eyes and she didn’t look away. Not withstanding she had her hand draped through the crook of Charlie’s arm, I knew she would end up with me by her side someday. I knew it in the way she smiled softly at me and her cheeks turned a lovely shade of pink. She cared about me whether she admitted it or not.
After almost a full thirty seconds, she broke eye contact enough to shift her gaze to the woman by my side, and Mom squeezed my hand.
I could feel her light sobs as her body leaned against mine and her head eventually rested on my shoulder. She made no pretense of wiping her eyes with a tissue as she watched her daughter proceed to her chair.
After several boring speeches and multiple awards for various scholarships and top-ten designations, it was finally time to watch the seniors walk across the stage and receive their diplomas.
More sobs and tears from the woman to my side as Samantha’s name was called. I reached down into Mom’s bag and handed her another tissue, discretely pulling one more out of the packet for myself.
My Sammy was finally a high school graduate. Maybe now she’d consider herself old enough to admit her feelings for me. I’d been patient and would continue to be patient until she was ready.
“Thank you for bringing me here,” Mom said. “It means the world to me.”
“You and Sammy mean the world to me.” We gripped each other’s hands as we watched the recessional and Mom shifted the little bouquet of freshly cut flowers from our garden that rested on her lap. I wondered if I could discretely be the one to hand them to Sammy when the time came.
“Hey, you once mentioned to me that you’d like some help managing the finances here at the bed and breakfast. What can I do to help?”
“Have you ever used QuickBooks?” she asked with raised eyebrows.
“Of course. It’s practically required for my accounting classes.”
“Then you should be able to handle our simple company. I’d have to hire someone to do all the things mom usually does. I may as well hire you.”
“You don’t have to pay me to help out.”
“We pay you to be the groundskeeper? What’s the difference?”
“Uh… I don’t know. I guess I hadn’t thought about it that way.”
“Okay then, you’re hired.” Sammy held out her hand to shake on it.
When I clasped her hand in mine, I didn’t let go. It was the first time we had really touched each other since the previous weekend when she had cried on my shoulder at the hospital.
Her breathing sped up as she looked down at our clasped hands and then she slowly pulled her hand from mine. I turned back to the computer, disappointment crushing my heart.
Why did I do that? Ugh! The first time he touched me in almost a week and I pulled my hand away? I would go down in the world as the worst potential-almost-girlfriend. Did he like me? Or didn’t he? Did he want to help out because he felt obligated? Or because he was falling in love with me?
We spent the next couple of hours learning the financial end of running a bed and breakfast. When we were finished, we opened up our content management files, evaluating all the reservations that were booked months in advance. We looked at the marketing files, and the party planning and catering and rules and laws and taxes.
“I think my brain is going to explode.” I rubbed my temples and pushed my chair back from the desk.
“Time for a break.” He moved his chair closer to mine and lowered his gaze. “I need to talk to you about something anyway.”
“I’m not going back to Ferris State in the fall.”
“What? You can’t drop out of college!”
“I’m not dropping out.” His brow creased. “I’m transferring to North Central.”
“But that’s just a community college. Are you going to be able to take the classes you need to finish your major?”
“Every college has business classes,” he reasoned. “I want to be here to help out.”
I wished that he’d said he wanted to be here with me. I didn’t want his pity or his charity. I sat back in my chair, folding my arms across my chest.
“That is, if you don’t mind me living here year-round.”
Mind? I’d love it! But I couldn’t tell him that. He was just here to help run the bed and breakfast, not to be my boyfriend. I shook off my negative thoughts. “Sure, you can live here.”
Did he flinch? Ugh. What did he want me to do? Jump into his lap, wrap my arms around him and ask him to stay forever? Tempting.
“I mean, yeah, I’d love to have you here.” I backtracked.
His eyes met mine and a tiny hint of a smile pulled the corner of his mouth.
I kept reminding myself how young I still was. Maybe if we spent time together, he’d eventually see me as more than a sister and our relationship could develop into something further. One could always hope.
“Slacker, you have returned.” Craig barely looked up from the video game he was playing. “Way to skip like three days of class.”
“I didn’t have class today, man.” I dropped my keys on my desk and flopped onto my bed, kicking my feet up. “I only skipped Monday.”
“She must be even hotter than she looks in pictures for you to stay that long. Did ya get some action.”
“Dude, no!” I threw a pillow at him, barely knocking him enough to falter in his game. “Sammy’s not like that.”
“What else besides sex would keep you gone for that long?” He still hadn’t looked away from the screen.
“Her mom is sick. Like, really sick.” That got Craig’s attention and he paused the game to glance my way.
“Man, I’m sorry. What’s she sick with?”
“Ovarian cancer,” I said, tucking my hands behind my head and staring up at the ceiling.
“Is she gonna, ya know…” Craig didn’t finish his sentence, but he didn’t have to.
“Dude, that sucks.”
“She’s like a mom to me.” My voice caught in my throat. “And Sammy is…”
“Sammy is what?”
“You’ve got it bad.”
“Does she know?”
“I thought she did. We sort of almost kissed and then, she pulls away like she doesn’t want me for more than a friend.”
“I don’t blame her.” Craig’s harsh words startled me out of my stupor. “If I had a dime for every time you’ve said she’s like a sister to you I’d be a rich man.”
“Well she has been like a sister.”
“Yeah right.” He reached out and smacked my shoe, which was still hanging half off the bed. “A sister with benefits.”
“Dude, I told you. We’re not sleeping together.”
“Tell me you wouldn’t if she wanted to.”
“She probably does,” I mumbled under my breath.
“You stupid idiot,” Craig raised his voice. “Go for it.”
“She deserves more than that.” I sighed, a slight smile playing at my mouth.
“What’cha gonna do about this?” He snickered.
“I’m going back up there on Friday after class.”
“Lock her down while you’re up there, will ya?”
“I’ll take it under consideration.” I kicked my shoes off my feet, scooted up onto my pillow and closed my eyes. I let my mind wander, considering how I could help her get through this.
I was reminded of the day she stayed with me the night the twins left her stranded, and how she’d told me she wanted me to help her with the finances. Perfect.
If I can’t show her physically how I feel about her, at least I can be of service in more appropriate ways. I fell asleep with a new hope.
“He said he’d be here.” I looked all through the stands but couldn’t find Brandon. I kept stretching near the starting line. “He promised.”
“Maybe he just didn’t want to leave your mom home alone,” Kat suggested.
“But this is the last regular-season track meet.” I could almost hear the whining in my own voice. Of all the important things in the world, the least of which was my own heartbreak, my almost-sort-of-boyfriend not showing up at a track meet was not high on the hierarchy of needs.
“Sammy!” a guy’s voice called from behind me. Not the guy I wanted to hear, but still important.
“Charlie, you’re feeling better.” We embraced when he got close enough.
“I heard about your mom. Is she going to be okay?”
“No…” I had to stop and clear my throat. Charlie pulled me into his arms and I laid my head on his shoulder. “She’s got cancer.”
“I’m so sorry.” His voice cooed in a soothing way. He pulled back and smoothed down the scraggly threads of hair that had fallen out of my ponytail. “Seriously, Girlfriend. You are going to run this race today for her. Okay?”
“Okay,” I squeaked. “Thanks, Charlie.”
“So, change of subject, tell me all about prom! I heard your date looked scrumptious and that your eye makeup was on pointe!”
“Where did you hear that?” I pushed his shoulder.
“I have my sources,” he teased. “I’m kidding. I totally saw pictures on Instagram. Your dress was a-maz-ing!”
“I have to agree with you there.”
“And, please tell me you agree that your date was yum-my.” He raised an eyebrow.
“I’m totally in love with him, Charlie.” I bit my lower lip.
“Ooh, tell me everything!”
Just then the announcer came over the loudspeaker to tell the girls to get in line for the four-by-eight. My attention was drawn away and I regained focus.
“We’ll talk later,” Charlie said. “One more hug for good luck.” He pulled me into his arms once again and then I skipped over to join the twins and Lisa for our relay. I felt much better after talking to Charlie.
“Who the heck is that?”
“That’s Charlie,” Renae answered, leaning against the fence near the entrance of the stadium. She didn’t want to walk too far but insisted she not use a wheelchair, so we stayed near the gate. “He’s the guy Sammy was planning to go to prom with.”
“Guess he’s feeling better,” I said through clenched teeth. I reminded myself that I had to step aside and let her make her own choices. If that pretty-boy was who she wanted instead of me, whatever.
“Oh look, they’re lining up.” Renae stood taller to see better.
Sammy was second in the lineup this time. That was weird. Maybe the coach thought she wasn’t running well enough because of the drama from the past few days. Maybe she was being punished for missing school the day before. Whatever the reason, shaking things up this close to State finals wasn’t a good idea.
Kat started the relay strong and had a great leg, not quite her personal best, but faster than all the other teams. Sammy was next. I ground my nails into my palms, and my breathing increased.
“Oh my gosh, can she keep up that pace?” Renae asked. “She’s going way too fast.”
“She can do it, Mom…” I hope. She could do it. Her legs had wheels. She was flying around the track. I silently willed her to have the strength. I knew better than to call out her name and distract her, so I kept my encouragement internal. Go Sammy!
I didn’t catch the numbers close enough to tell if she had beat her own PR, but I would have laid wagers that she had. Lisa was next. She did well. She’d improved since last spring. Krystal was their anchor, but it wouldn’t have mattered. They were already so far ahead the other teams were competing with each other for second place.
I reached my arms around Renae and practically lifted her off the ground in a hug. “They did it!”
“That’s my girl!” Renae called out. “Go Samantha!”
Hearing her mother calling out her given name caught Sammy’s attention and she turned in our direction. I saw her mouth the words, My mom’s here. She and Lisa and the twins took off in a cool down run straight toward us.
We couldn’t get over the fence from where we were standing so all we could do was wait for them to get to us.
“Nice job, ladies!” I called when they got closer.
“Thanks,” Krystal and Kat spoke as one.
“Did you PR?” Renae asked.
“Yes!” All four girls called out almost in unison.
“Sammy, you were flying.” Renae reached for her daughter across the fence and they embraced. They both leaned away so they could look at each other. “What was your time?”
“No flippin’ way,” I said.
“Hey, don’t doubt me. I had a great personal trainer.”
“You trained me well, Yoda.” She pushed my shoulder.
“I’m seriously really proud of you,” I said. Her gaze was too intense. I had to look away. “What about the rest of you?”
“Two-fourteen,” Kat said.
“Two-fifteen.” Krystal pulled Lisa closer to me. “But this girl is our real winner today. She broke her previous PR by four second!”
“Two-seventeen.” Lisa spoke quietly and blushed from the praise and attention.
“That’s still really fast,” I told her. “You guys are going to kick butt at State finals.”
“We’ve got to get through Regionals first,” Krystal said.
“I don’t think you’re going to have a problem.” Renae patted her daughter’s face. Sammy turned her attention to me.
“Thank you for bringing my mom.” Sammy’s eyes held mine and her heart shone through her eyes.
If I hadn’t just seen her hugging a different guy, I would have sworn she was in love with me. Whatever. I’d take her love any way she was willing to give it, and if gratefulness was all she could give, I’d take it.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come,” she said.
“I promised I would.” I shoved my hands in the pockets of my new jeans. That reminded me of our shopping trip two days before when I’d promised myself I’d take a step back if I wasn’t the guy she wanted to date. I looked over her shoulder. “I see Charlie’s feeling better.”
“Yes, I’m so glad he made it to the track meet. We need him in the pole vault.”
“I’m glad you have him back.” I cleared my throat and shuffled my foot, kicking the fence in the process.
“Hey, do you want to meet him?” The excitement in her voice made me want to scream but I kept my cool.
“No, I actually gotta get going back to campus tonight, so we’re in a bit of a hurry.” I put my hand on Renae’s elbow as if to imply it was time to leave.
“I thought you were staying one more night.” Sammy’s brow’s creased.
“Yeah, I was.” I stammered with my words. “I forgot I gotta meet with one of my professors before class in the morning, so ya know…”
“Well I’m glad you came,” she said. “And thanks again for bringing my mom.”
“Yeah, no problem.” I turned to Renae. “You ready?”
Renae took a moment to give each of the girls hugs and wish them congratulations again, then we stepped away from the fence.
“Will you come back on Friday?” Sammy called to me.
“I said I would.” Geesh, did I sound snippy? Ugh. What I wanted to do was rush back over to the fence, grab Sammy in my arms and kiss her until she forgot Charlie’s name. But I didn’t. I gave her a soft smile of regret and turned to follow her mom to the parking lot.
I’ve never skipped school before. If you told me a few months ago that the first time I’d skip school was to bring my mom home from the hospital I would have laughed.
My mom is invincible. My mom is my rock. She will always be here for me. She will watch me get married and spoil my babies and make them cookies and teach them how to fold a fitted sheet, and teach them how to prepare a guest room, and how to prune the rosebushes.
My mom is not that frail woman in the wheelchair near the door to the hospital, holding my hand, patiently waiting for Brandon to bring the car around.
My mom doesn’t have cancer.
My mom is not dying.
My mom would never leave me.
If I kept repeating these things maybe they would be true.
Brandon pulled the car into the circular area set aside just for the purpose of dropping off and picking up patients.
My mom wasn’t going to be a patient at this hospital anymore because they were sending her home to die.
The nurse unlatched the brake on the wheelchair and pushed my mom toward the car where Brandon had come around to open the front passenger door. He helped her get settled as I climbed into the backseat and tried to keep my emotions in check.
I had learned over the past few days that crying was the opposite of helpful. It just made me exhausted, made my sinuses painful and stuffy, and my eyes red and puffy. So why did I keep crying at the least opportune time? Stupid, stupid, stupid.
“How are you feeling?” Brandon asked once he’d gotten behind the wheel. “Do you need anything?”
“Yes, I would like a chocolate shake, please.” Mom smiled over at him, always in good spirits. “From McDonald’s.”
“Coming right up,” Brandon said, pulling into traffic. He glanced in the rearview mirror. “You want anything?”
“I’m not hungry.” My automatic response the past few days, although when someone placed food in front of me, I usually managed to eat.
“Fish sandwich and French fries it is, then.” He said it so definitively as if he just knew me well enough to assume that’s what I’d want. Just the thought of it made my mouth water. But in reality I was in training and greasy food would not help me win medals at my track meet the next day.
“Not on the approved list of fueling options, and you know it.” I tried to hide a smile. “My personal trainer would know what would not help me beat the twins in the 800 tomorrow afternoon.”
“Point well taken.” He rubbed his chin in mock consideration. “Southwest chicken salad without the disgusting lime glaze and the dressing on the side.”
“That’s more like it.” I nodded, and he winked at me through the rearview mirror. I wanted so badly for that wink to mean he liked me as more than a friend or a sister. I felt my cheeks grow warm and I fidgeted with the hem of my shirt.
He pulled into the McDonald’s drive through and ordered my salad, my mom’s shake, and a Big Mac with a large fry for himself. He handed my mom her shake and passed me the bag with all the food.
I knew he’d never approve of eating in his Mustang, but I snatched a fry and shoved one in his mouth, then reached over the seat and held one in front of his face like a worm over a baby bird. He didn’t even swerve when he leaned forward to grasp it with his teeth.
Life was easy and free for a few minutes of driving along the curve of the bay, the breeze blowing in the open windows and my mom sipping a chocolate shake with a content smile.
Brandon pulled up to the front door and parked so that Mom wouldn’t have to walk any further than she had to. She could get around just fine for now, but we were moving her to the formal bedroom on the main floor of the house. It was a room we usually saved for times when we were overbooked or when we had a request for handicapped accessibility or main floor accommodations. It was going to be booked solid for the next few months, longer if I could help it.
I carried the food in one hand and took Mom’s elbow with my other. Brandon was on her other side, almost holding her up. She clasped her chocolate shake in her hands like a little girl holding her sippy cup.
“Would you two quit fussing over me?” she asked. “I’m fine.” I noticed she didn’t shake off our assistance even as she protested. We got her up the stairs and into the main foyer with little difficulty and she didn’t really seem winded.
“Want to go see your new bedroom?” Brandon’s cheerful countenance wasn’t even fake. He actually was excited to show her how he’d moved almost everything from her upstairs bedroom down to the main level.
I’d helped organize everything in a way that Mom would find acceptable and would also be accessible. We wanted to keep her life as normal as possible for as long as possible. There would be no hospital beds moved in unless absolutely necessary.
A nurse was scheduled to come later in the afternoon to start the process of regular monitoring and we’d be hiring a housekeeping service for a few hours a day, and a cook to prepare breakfast each morning. Mom would be allowed to help in the kitchen for as long as she felt up to it, and the twins and I would be assisting with the housekeeping. We would make it work. We didn’t have a choice.
All he’s done since the day I met him was to treat me like a sister. And now he wants me to forgive him for constantly sending me mixed signals? Whatever. I was sick of it. I wanted so much more than that.
If all I was to him was a sister, then he should treat me like a sister all the time and not flirt with me one minute and call me ‘family’ the next minute. Ugh!
I climbed out of the car and hopped up the back-porch steps into the house. He didn’t follow me.
“Kat? Krystal? Are you here?” I knew they were. Their VW Bug was out back. Plus, they’d promised. And they never broke a promise.
“In here,” Krystal called from the library. I found them with feet propped up and paperback books in their hands.
“How many times are you going to read the Twilight series?” I asked with mock seriousness. I knew what they’d say.
“I don’t understand the question,” Kat said.
“I don’t understand the obsession,” I answered, plopping down on one of the overstuffed chairs and grabbing Breaking Dawn from the corner table. It was my favorite book in the series. The story where Bella and Edward finally got married.
“Yeah, right.” Krystal didn’t look up, knowing I was just as obsessed as they were.
All three of us had read the whole series at least twenty times. We just kept multiple copies lying on the tables here in the library for those lazy hours when we waited for guests to arrive.
The only sound in the quiet old house was the mechanical ticking of the grandfather clock and the occasional page turn. None of us heard Brandon come into the room until he was suddenly there, leaning against the frame of the entryway.
“Team Jacob or Team Edward?” He startled us with his straight-faced question, but we all answered as one.
“Team Edward.” The implied ‘duh’ at the end of our collective declaration hung in the air.
Brandon came all the way into the room and grabbed a copy of New Moon. “I’m Team Jacob, myself. All that motorcycle riding, and cool cars.”
I couldn’t tell if he was joking. “You’ve read the Twilight series?”
“I thought it was required reading in Junior High?” He raised his eyebrows in mock seriousness.
“Well, I guess some of us never grow up,” Kat said, sticking her nose in the air.
“Yeah, so be quiet if you’re going to be in here.” Krystal cleared her throat and held her book up higher, purposely turning a page as if to imply the conversation was over.
“Sor-ry.” Brandon grinned and winked at me then settled in, turning to page one of New Moon.
It was weird to sit and do something completely normal on the day when I found out my mom was dying. Escaping into Bella’s world helped me face my own. I was grateful to have my friends. The four of us enjoyed a peaceful Sunday afternoon waiting for our guests, and for the next phase of our lives. Tomorrow we’d have to go back to school…
“You know what you need?” Brandon turned his head from the road to glance over at me in the passenger seat. I shrugged. “Retail therapy.”
“What are you doing?” I asked.
Brandon had made an unexpected turn into the Walmart parking lot, pulled into an empty spot and put the car in park. “We’re going shopping. I need clothes.”
“You’re shopping for clothes at Walmart?” I opened the passenger door and met him around the back of the car. I didn’t want to set a precedence that he should be chivalrous when what he really wanted was me to be his sister.
“Yes, and you’re going to help me pick them out,” he said. “I’m not wearing the same clothes three days in a row. Plus, I need some soap that doesn’t smell like roses.”
“What’s wrong with roses?” I crossed my arms in mock horror. “You smell roses all day every day in the summer.”
“They’re wonderful in the yard, and you smell beautiful, but I want to smell like a man.” He came up behind me and wrapped his arm around my shoulder as we walked into the building.
I loved having his arm around me even though I wanted to complain that he was confusing me with his mixed signals. I let him hold me until we got to where the carts were stored, and he released me to grab a cart.
He took charge and steered straight to the underwear and grabbed a bag of boxer shorts and then a bag of socks.
It hadn’t occurred to me that he probably had to wear yesterday’s boxers when he got out of the shower this morning. Poor guy. I was so caught up in my own grief I hadn’t considered how this was affecting him.
Next, he perused the jeans and seemed to know exactly what brand and size he needed. He then grabbed a couple of basic solid-colored t-shirts, a pair of sweats, and a hooded sweatshirt.
“Feel better?” I raised my eyebrows.
“I will when I get these on my body,” he said. “Next stop, deodorant.”
“Laugh it up, I used yours this morning.”
“That’s so gross.”
“What would be gross is if I didn’t use any at all. You wouldn’t want me to sleep with you if I stopped using deodorant.”
He thought he was being funny, but I pulled away, even more confused. Sleep with me? Why couldn’t he make up his mind? Was I his sister or his girlfriend?
“I’m kidding,” he said, raising his hands in surrender. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean anything by that. I’ll sleep in my own bed tonight. I promise.”
Darn it. I shouldn’t have reacted that way. Now he thought I didn’t want him with me. I did. I definitely did. I wanted him with me every night from now until eternity. But he didn’t like me that way. I cleared my throat. “Let’s go buy you some deodorant.”
I turned and walked in the direction of the pharmacy department.
Ugh! Just when things were progressing. Why did I have to say that? Now she thinks I’m presumptuous. I promised myself I wouldn’t push Sammy into any type of physical relationship. She deserved better than that.
I followed her, pushing my cart and racking my brains how to deal with this. I was in love with her, but I’d never considered her feelings. Maybe she wasn’t in love with me. We’d had a great date, but I was just her backup date. Maybe she really liked this guy, Charlie. I needed to take a step back and be out of the way.
We didn’t speak again as I picked out the correct deodorant, shampoo, soap, shaving cream, and a nice razor. That night I’d be sleeping out in my apartment above the garage. All I wanted was to sleep with Sammy, but it wasn’t meant to be.
I paid for my supplies and kept my face stoic. How could I have read this all wrong? She almost kissed me a few hours ago while sitting on my lap. I mean seriously almost kissed me. Lips almost touching. And now? She treated me like an enemy.
We drove back to the bed and breakfast in silence. Gone was the teasing and holding hands. She stared out the passenger window as I steered, peeking over at her every few minutes, wondering how I was going to fix this.
I parked in my typical spot near the garage and turned off the car. Neither of us moved. I fumbled with my car keys and she kept her hands in her lap.
“Sammy, I’m sorry.” I turned to face her, and my brows pulled together.
“I get it.” She held up her hand to stop me. “If that’s all I am to you, that’s okay. I’ll just deal with it.”
How could she think that? I’d been a perfect gentleman since the day I met her. I never came on to her or took advantage of her. I’d never done anything to compromise her. I wouldn’t do that to her. But how could I get her to see that?
I would just have to continue to treat her like a lady and hope she’ll eventually forgive me.
“It’s almost warm enough to put the top down,” Brandon said, hanging his arm out the car window on the way to the hospital in Petoskey. “You should have perfect weather for your track meet on Tuesday.”
“Mom won’t be there,” I said. “Nothing about it will be perfect.”
“I’ll come.” Brandon shifted his gaze away from the road to glance at me.
“You’re going to stay that long?” I asked.
“I don’t have class on Tuesday, and I’ll skip tomorrow.” He shrugged. “I have to go back for my classes on Wednesday and Thursday, but I’ve only got one 8:00 a.m. class on Friday morning and then I’ll drive right back up here.”
“Really? You’d do that for me?”
“We’re a family, right Sis?” He winked and punched me lightly on the arm.
Yeah… family. We were back to the ‘love ya like a sister’ role. I knew this couldn’t last. I forced my gaze out the passenger window. I had to remind myself that Brandon was here and was helping me. I appreciated any bit of love I could get right now, even if he only thought of me as his sister. I forced myself to choke back my tears and turned to smile at him. “Yeah, we’re a family.”
We pulled into the hospital parking lot with a little less urgency than the night before. We knew where to find my mom, and we’d hopefully get some answers today.
Mom was sitting in a chair by the window when we got to her room.
“Well, you look a little better,” Brandon said.
“Hi Mamma, how are you feeling?” I walked all the way into the room and pulled up an extra chair next to her. Her smile told me everything I needed to know. It didn’t reach her eyes. She was going to tell me she was feeling better even if she wasn’t. She was going to lie to keep me from hurting. I braced myself.
“Much better,” she said, and squeezed my hand. She reached out her other hand for Brandon’s. He crouched down next to her, so she didn’t have to crane her neck. “You’re still here? Don’t you have to get back to college?”
“I don’t have to be back until Wednesday.” He was lying but I wasn’t going to call him out. I was going to treasure every moment I had with both him and my mom, however few there were. “Did your roommate get released?”
I glanced up at the other bed, which was now empty. Mom nodded, and I couldn’t help asking. “Did the doctors say if they were going to release you today?”
“They ran a bunch of tests this morning, and the oncologist should be here soon.”
“I’m glad we got here in time.” Brandon stood and stretched his legs, shaking out the stiffness from crouching.
He sat on the edge of the extra bed and he and I regaled Mom with all the events from the morning, minus us sleeping in the same bed and him taking a shower in my bathroom.
Mom was brought to tears, as I had been, about how our house guests had stepped up to the plate and cleaned their own bedding and made their own breakfast.
She was also impressed by how the twins had stayed to help welcome the arriving guests this afternoon and how everyone was working to hold things together while she focused on healing.
A knock on the doorframe halted our conversation and a beautiful dark-haired woman came walking in the door with a file in her hands. “Mrs. Walton? I’m Dr. Avula. How are you feeling?”
“I’m much better today,” Mom said, standing from her chair to shake the doctor’s hand.
“Oh, no need to get up. I’ll come to you.” The doctor shook Mom’s hand then leaned against the extra bed next to Brandon. She reached over and shook his hand, and then mine. She had a soft smile that helped me relax. “It must feel good to be out of bed.”
“It does, thank you.”
“If we send you home tomorrow, will you promise not to overdo it?”
“I promise.” Mom reached for my hand and I grasped it.
“There are a lot of details we’ll need to work out, and you’re probably not going to like any of the options.” Dr. Avula’s smile shifted to sympathetic. I didn’t like that smile quite as well.
“Are you the oncologist?” Brandon asked. His eyes were wide, and his forehead raised.
“I am.” She nodded to him and then turned back to mom. “I’ve looked over your test results and scans…”
“And?” I held my breath, waiting for her to answer.
“Things don’t look good.” The doctor pressed her lips together and then gave Mom her full attention again. “You’ve been sick for a while, haven’t you?”
Mom raised her chin and straightened her back. “I’m just fine, thank you.”
Dr. Avula fidgeted with the file in her hands and took a long breath. “Can I be frank, Mrs. Walton?”
“Please, call me Renae.”
“Okay, Renae. Do you want the bad news or the worse news?”
Mom shifted her gaze out the window again. The doctor didn’t wait for her to answer.
“Your cancer has metastasized, which means it has spread from your ovaries to other parts of your body.”
“I know what metastasized means,” Mom snapped at her.
“Mom, she’s just trying to help.” I squeezed her hand gently.
“I’m not recommending chemotherapy as an option,” Dr. Avula said, very straightforward that time.
“Why not?” Brandon’s brow creased, and his voice raised.
“It would not postpone the inevitable and would only make her miserable. I would suggest she enjoy the time she has.”
“Are you saying my mom’s going to die?” I already knew what the doctor’s answer would be, but I needed to hear it confirmed.
Instead, her silence spoke on her behalf.
“Oh phooey,” Mom said, tears welling in her eyes. “We’re all going to die eventually. Right?” She waved a hand in the air, dismissing the negativity. I appreciated her optimism, but like the doctor had said, it wouldn’t postpone the inevitable.
“It’s good that you have your adult children close by.” Dr. Avula smiled at me and then Brandon. “Will one of you be able to stay with your mom for a while to help out? Or should we arrange for some outside assistance?”
“I’m only seventeen.”
“I’m not her son.” Brandon and I spoke almost at the same time.
“Oh…” Dr. Avula opened the chart and made a note with her pen then clicked it closed and tucked it into her pocket. “I’ll arrange for some help right away, then. Let’s keep you improving today, and we’ll see if we can get you released tomorrow or the next day.”
The doctor stood and reached a hand out to all of us again. I felt numb shaking her hand and couldn’t say a word. Thankfully, Brandon could.
“Thank you for everything,” he said.
She smiled that sympathetic smile again and left us to a quiet room.
“Well… that was fun,” Mom said with a smile.
“Mom! This isn’t fun at all. She basically just said you’re going to die soon!”
“Just think, if I don’t have to have chemo, I won’t lose my hair.” She patted her rumpled curls and spoke with a straight face but then winked at Brandon.
“And you won’t have to wear one of those pink scarfs around your head,” he added, and winked back at her.
“Nah, pink is for breast cancer anyway. What color do you think goes with ovarian cancer?” She rubbed her chin like she was trying to think.
I was horrified. “Mom, this isn’t funny.”
“Oh, lighten up, Sammy.” Mom pushed my knee playfully. “Live a little!” She tried to hold in laughter but ended up snorting.
That made Brandon laugh, and he reached over to give her a high-five.
I felt my lip quiver and then I lost it. My tears were accompanied by sobs that wracked my whole body. Brandon came over and knelt in front of my chair, pulling me into his arms.
“Nobody’s invincible, Samantha.” Mom squeezed my hand again.
“But I’m not ready for you to die.” I choked on the words through my sobs.
“Well, that makes two of us.” Mom looked out the window and pursed her lips. “Unfortunately, no on asked our opinion first.”
“I would have said, ‘No!’ if they’d asked.” That made me snicker even through the tears and Mom turned back to me and grinned.
“Me too!” She snorted then reached her arms out. I pulled away from Brandon and practically climbed on her lap, sobbing onto her shoulder. She just held me and held me until I’d cried all my tears onto her hospital gown. She seemed to understand that I needed my momma right then.
Ugh! Would I ever get a moment alone with this guy? Why did they have to walk in the room?
“Good news,” Kat said. “We’ve only got two couples arriving this afternoon, and a few of our guests from last night have already stripped all the sheets, started the laundry, and cleaned the kitchen.”
“Seriously?” My heart warmed.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you that they had offered to help with that,” Brandon said, his mouth half full of bagel again.
“When did you talk to them?” I turned back to him.
“When they were making us breakfast.”
I sank into a chair and covered my face with my hands, breaking into tears again for what felt like the millionth time since the night before.
“Hey, sweetie. It’s gonna be okay.” Krystal wrapped her arms around me and Kat knelt at my feet.
“We’re here with you,” Kat said. “We’re going to stay with you for as long as you need us.”
“You’re the best friends I could ever ask for.” I tried to stop crying, but their outpouring of love for me was overpowering. “What would I do without you?”
“You don’t have to find out,” Krystal said.
“Yeah,” Kat piped in. “The three of us girls can run this place until your mom gets back on her feet. She’s been training us for this our whole lives.”
“That’s the thing, though. She’s not going to get back on her feet,” I said. “She’s dying. My momma is dying.” I broke into tears again.
The twins held me and let me cry. I couldn’t stop crying, just like I couldn’t stop crying last night and this morning while Brandon held me.
Where was Brandon? I lifted my head to find his gaze and felt whole when he smiled lightly back. It didn’t stop the tears, but it gave me a feeling of peace having him there. I wanted him to hold me again, but I didn’t want to ruin this moment with my best friends.
I forced myself to choke back sobs and calm down. Kat handed me a tissue and I blew my nose, then grabbed another and wiped my eyes. I took a deep breath and heaved my shoulders, shaking off the tears and stress. I could do this. I had to be strong.
The girls were still kneeling next to my chair and I leaned down to hug them both at the same time.
“I have to go up to the hospital now,” I said. “Will you guys stay here in case our guests arrive?”
“Of course,” Krystal said.
“They’re not scheduled to arrive until after dinner anyway, so don’t worry about a thing.”
“Go be with your mom,” Kat said. “We’ll be here when you get back.”
“Thanks, guys.” We gave each other one more three-way hug and then Brandon held out his hand, inviting me to come with him.
Running To You
Click here to read the next chapter in my work-in-progress!