“You’re a hero, Laura, and one day I hope to become like you,” I said softly.
“You’ve already done far more than I could do for your dad,” she replied softly, sadly.
And suddenly I knew that she knew what I had done to get the money for Dad, but there was no condemnation there. Only sadness that we had both been brought to this level, by a medical system that was the cause of two out of three bankruptcies in America. There was no more to say and we walked quietly down the dark narrow corridor towards the kitchen. The sounds from the television grew louder.
Dad was in a wheelchair, which immensely surprised me. Although his grey and thinning head was facing the television, the slight slant of his neck told me that he was probably asleep. It seemed like just a while ago, I’d heard Laura speaking to him, but this quick knockout was nothing new to me. He had always been able to fall asleep at the drop of a hat, and I had always been like that too until I took on the responsibility of his hospital bills.
I gently tugged Laura back out into the corridor. “Why is he in a wheelchair?” I whispered.
“He slipped,” she replied with a sigh.
My heart slammed into the walls of my chest. “What? When? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“What’s it to you?” my father’s weak but annoyed voice rang out across the kitchen.
Laura nudged me with her fingers, and smiled. “Go on. You haven’t been around for a week, and he’s missed you. So much.”
“What the hell are you whispering about behind my back, woman?” he called out again.
Laura rolled her eyes. “You called me a piranha last night,” Laura shot back at him. “Why the hell wouldn’t I whisper behind your back today?” Then she gave me a gentle push into the kitchen.
“Hey big guy,” I said as I rounded the wheelchair and came face to face with him. I definitely wasn’t ready to see how much weight he had lost in just a week. He looked frail, the disease was quickly sucking the life out of him and I felt despair inside me if we were ever going to beat this. The feeling made me choke up.
He watched me, ever able to read what was going on inside me. “You’re going to choke up at seeing me when you’ve abandoned me for a week?”
“I didn’t abandon you!” I said quietly. “I’ve been busy. You know I would never do that on purpose.”
He was quiet for a while with me refusing to meet his gaze. “I know that,” he said finally. “And that’s why I’ve been so worried.”
“Oh, Dad,” I whispered as the dam in my chest broke.
I turned away and a quiet stream of pain ran down my face. He waited till I was back under control and his silence allowed me to attain that state faster than if he or Laura had fussed over me. I wiped my eyes with my hands and turned back to face him.
He held out his hand to me and I hurried over, knelt down in front of him and, desperately clutched his bony hand. The skin on his palms had become as soft as a woman’s. He regarded me closely.
“You’ve lost weight,” he said.
“So have you,” I replied.
“I have cancer, what’s your excuse?”
I smiled, it was wobbly, but it was a smile. “I’ve been worried sick out of my mind about you having cancer.”
“Then why didn’t you come see me? And don’t give me that cock and bull story about being too busy. I’m fighting for my life and I know you. Nothing would have kept you away unless...”
He gazed at me, hoping he would see something in my eyes, but I kept my eyes blank.
“Unless it’s to do with me. To do with getting more money for me. Is that it? Are you trying to raise more money for me?”
I let a smile spread on to my face. “Yes, I was and good news. I’ve found someone who is prepared to help.” I hoped with all my heart that it would stop there.
He frowned and shook his head. “You’re lying to me about something. You haven’t done something illegal, have you?”
I groaned. “Of course not.”
“If you don’t tell me the truth right now I’m not going to use any more of the money,” he threatened.
“I’m not joking with you.”
“I’m not lying to you, Dad. I’m really not. I didn’t steal, or kill, or commit any crimes for it. I would never do that. I got lucky and found someone to lend me the money.”
He stared into my eyes for a while longer. “Who is this generous soul?”
“If you get better soon, I’ll introduce you. How about that?”
He nodded slowly.
“How did you fall?” I asked.