My mom’s in the hospital. The words rolled repeatedly in my head as I cursed the twenty-five-minute drive while Brandon sped down 131 at speeds that would get us a police escort to the hospital if there were any squad cars between here and there.
She had collapsed in the foyer. They didn’t know what was wrong. They just called for an ambulance. The guests would fend for themselves, they reassured me. Just get to your mom. Just get to your mom.
What’s wrong with my mom? She’d been tired lately. She’d been pushing herself too hard. She’d booked too many guests. She’d made too many meals for too many people. She’d climbed too many flights of stairs. She’d changed too many beds and washed too many towels. She’d dusted too many pieces of antique furniture. She’d pruned too many rose bushes.
That had to be it. There wasn’t really anything wrong. There couldn’t be. She was strong. She was my mom.
I should have been more helpful. I should have offered to do more chores and take on more responsibility. I should have been there for her.
We screeched around corners and barely rolled through stop signs long enough to be sure no cars were coming. Finally, the towering hospital was in view and we found the emergency room entrance. Miraculously there was a parking spot quite close to the door and I rushed inside as fast as I could in heels and holding up the long skirt of my prom dress.
I hurried to the reception desk. “My mom was brought in a little while ago. I need to see her.”
“Calm down, sweetie,” the nice receptionist said. “Why don’t you have a seat and I’ll look up her name in the system.”
I sat in the chair by her desk and Brandon sat beside me, taking my hand gently, his brow creased with worry.
“Her name is Renae Walton,” I told her. The receptionist clicked away at her computer for a moment than looked up at me with a smile.
“She’s in room three of the ER. I’ll take you over there, okay?”
Brandon helped me up and we walked hand-in-hand down the hall and through a swinging door that required her to enter a code in the wall.
“Here you go, sweetie.” The receptionist held open the curtain offering privacy across the front of the little room.
“Mom?” I rushed to her bedside and pulled up the chair nearby. I held her hand as she opened her eyes halfway.
“Hi baby girl,” Mom whispered.
“What happened, Mamma?” I couldn’t hide the shakiness in my voice. I was dangerously close to breaking down in sobs. I needed to be strong for her like she had been strong for me all my life.
“They’re waiting on test results.” Mom looked up and noticed Brandon. “I’m sorry I ruined your date.”
“You didn’t ruin anything,” Brandon said, pulling up another chair and clasping her hand on that side of the bed. “We’re just sorry you’re not feeling well.”
“I’ve had better days,” she admitted then took a deep, exhausted breath.
“Mrs. Walton?” A doctor stepped into the room. When he noticed me and Brandon, he smiled lightly and introduced himself. “Oh good, your family is here. I’m Dr. McCay.”
The doctor reached over and clasped my hand and then Brandon’s.
“What’s wrong with my mom?” I whimpered.
“We’re going to need to run some more tests,” Dr. McCay said, then looked directly at my mom. “I don’t know how much you’ve told your children about your symptoms.”
“Symptoms?” I interrupted. “What symptoms.”
“I haven’t told them anything,” Mom said. She broke eye contact with the doctor and picked at the string of her hospital gown. “I didn’t want them to be worried about me.”
“What symptoms have you been having, Mom?” My voice squeaked.
“Just some bloating and pelvic pain,” Mom said. “And I’ve been really tired lately.”
“You’re overworking yourself, Mamma.” I rubbed the back of her hand with my thumbs as I held it loosely.
“I did a quick pelvic exam and ordered some bloodwork, then sent her in for a CT scan.”
“When those results are back we’ll know more, right?” Brandon’s expression gave me hope.
“Those results are back,” Dr. McCay said. “I found some masses during the exam and her blood indicated a high level of a protein produced by ovarian cancer cells. The CT scan indicated the cancer has spread to the liver and spleen.”
“What are you saying?” Brandon sounded like he was choking.
“Unfortunately, we’re dealing with a rapidly progressing cancer. There are very few symptoms until it’s already too late.”
“Too late?” I gripped the thin blanket covering my frail mother.
“We’ll get her an appointment with an oncologist right away, so they can begin treatment, but you’ll need to make some decisions about the best course of action to keep her comfortable going forward.
“Comfortable?” Brandon stood up and paced the small room, his tuxedo jacket open and tie hanging loosely around his neck. His eyes were red and panicked.
I wanted to go to him and wrap my arms around him, have him hold me and tell me everything would be okay.
Mom. She needed to be my primary concern, not Brandon, not myself. Mom. What could I do to help her?
“We’re going to keep her at minimum overnight for observation and then we’ll run some more tests tomorrow,” Dr. McCay said. “We’ll get an oncologist up to see her first thing tomorrow morning. I’m sorry I don’t have better answers for you.” He patted me on the shoulder, smiled softly at mom, and returned Brandon’s handshake when he reached out.
“Thank you, doctor.” Brandon lifted his chin in bravery. “We appreciate all that you’ve done.”
The doctor slipped out the door and Brandon came to sit across from me again, lifting mom’s frail hand into his.
“How could I have not known that you’ve been sick, Momma?” I gazed into her eyes and brushed a stray lock of hair off her forehead. “How long have you been having symptoms? For that matter, what symptoms have you been having?”
“Nothing much really,” she replied, squeezing my hand gently. “Some abdominal pain and bloating and upset stomach. I thought I was going through early menopause, or that I was overdoing it. Working too hard.”
“If I had known, I would have helped out more.” I tried to keep the tears from my voice.
“Enough about me,” Mom said. “How was prom?”
Brandon and I locked eyes across the bed. I wasn’t sure if we were ready to tell Mom about our almost-kiss, probably real kiss if I wanted to get my hopes up. Was he ready to tell her that we were falling in love? Or was this a bad time for such admissions?
“It was great,” Brandon said, breaking eye contact and turning his attention back to my mom. “Everyone was very welcoming. The twins introduced me to their dates, both of whom were my age, which was cool. I wasn’t the only college guy there.” Brandon subtly winked at me.
“I was just so thankful to have the chance to go,” I said. “Brandon was a real lifesaver.”
“He’s always been so good to us.” Mom reached up and patted Brandon on the cheek like she was a little old lady talking to her grandson. Her condition made her look much older than her 45 years. Why hadn’t I noticed that before? There were dark circles under her eyes and she was much thinner than she used to be. She was weak.
“Mom, why don’t we let you get a little bit of rest while we wait for them to get you transferred to a room upstairs.”
“I’m not sleepy. I want to spend as much time with you as I can while you’re here. I’m sure after they move me I’ll be tired. You two need to go home and get some sleep too. I feel so bad that you’re sitting here in a hospital room in that pretty gown, instead of dancing the night away.”
“We had a little bit of time on the dance floor before we got the call that you were sick,” Brandon said.
“Besides, it was the dinner that was so much fun because we had all our friends surrounding us, and the guys were talking about the big regionals track meet next week, and we got to see each other’s dresses. It was a lot of fun.” I got choked up again, so I had to stop talking.
“I think half the track team was at our table for dinner,” Brandon picked up where I had to stop.
Mercifully, a nurse opened the curtain and announced she was going to prep mom to take her upstairs to her room.
Brandon ducked out like a gentleman, so I could help Mom collect her things and get situated in the wheelchair they’d provided. Once we got rolling, he and I tucked ourselves behind while the nurse pushed the chair.
Brandon took my hand in his and leaned close. “How are you holding up?”
“I’m okay,” I lied then swallowed hard.
He kissed the top of my head and pulled me a little closer. I was so thankful to have him there with me.
“You two look beautiful, by the way,” the nurse said, turning her head slightly and smiling back at us. “How long have you been dating?”
“Oh, they’re not really dating,” Mom said. “Brandon’s more like a big brother to Sammy, isn’t that right?”
“Uh…” Brandon hesitated. The nurse looked down at our intertwined hands.
I’m pretty sure my jaw dropped, and I shook my head, hoping the nurse and Brandon both got the hint. Now was not the time to add more stress to my mom’s day by worrying about a budding relationship between her daughter and one of her employees.
“Well, either way, you two look beautiful tonight.” The nurse picked up my cue and I took a deep breath.
“Sammy sure does,” Brandon said. “I’m just wearing a penguin suit.”
“Oh, you should tell her the story about how quickly you were able to get a tux.” Mom didn’t pause to let him tell the story himself. “Sammy’s real date had to cancel at the last minute because he got the stomach bug and so Brandon drove all the way up from college, calling tux shops along the way as he drove. It was a miracle he got here in time. He’s such a good friend.”
Friend, yeah, that’s what Brandon was. A good friend. I really tried not to snort, but one slipped out. That got us all laughing and Mom couldn’t figure out why.
The elevator opened at the end of the hallway and Brandon held the door as the nurse backed Mom into the elevator. It was a quick ride to the fourth floor and then down two hallways to a shared room near the nurse’s station. The lady in the other bed was sleeping so Brandon and I stood outside the door while the nurse got Mom settled. He held me in his arms leaning against the wall in the hallway and neither of us said a word.
The nurse gave us just a moment to come in and whisper some goodbyes to my mom before she turned off the lights and ushered us out. We stepped far enough away from the door, so we could talk quietly out of Mom’s earshot.
“We’ll be back first thing tomorrow morning,” Brandon said, taking lead as if this was his mom instead of mine. I appreciated it so much since I could barely speak. “Is there anything else you need from us tonight?”
“Is your father in the picture?” the nurse asked. “Or is she remarried? Is there an adult who is legally old enough to make decisions on her behalf?”
“My father died when I was very young.” My lip started to quiver. I wasn’t sure how much longer I could hold myself together.
“Okay, sweetie.” She stepped closer and put her arm around my shoulder. “We won’t worry about that tonight. You go home and get some rest, okay?”
“Okay,” I squeaked.
“Thank you for everything.” Brandon reached out and shook the nurse’s hand, then led me away toward the elevator.
I stumbled along in shock, cursing whoever designed high heeled shoes and wishing I could throw them through the window at the end of the hall. Brandon was my lifeline. He quite literally held me up as we left the hospital and walked to his car.
Once I was seated in his mustang, I couldn’t hold it in any longer. The tears and sobs let loose from inside me and I clung to Brandon. He didn’t say a word. He just let me cry. I’m pretty sure he cried too, but I was too caught up in my own grief to let that register in my mind.
I have no idea how many minutes we sat there in his car, crying and sniffling, and wiping our eyes with tissues, but we finally got up the strength to start the twenty-minute drive home. I didn’t make it very far before my head rested on Brandon’s shoulder as he drove. I don’t remember much until we were in front of the bed and breakfast that was my home. He slipped the shoes from my feet and carried me into the house.
Brandon is strong, or I dreamt that he carried me up two flights of stairs. I awoke in my bed, wrapped in his arms, when the birds outside announced the rising of the sun. The reality of the events from the night before caused me to turn to him again, and he held me again, while I cried, again.
Running To You
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