“Not at all,” I assure her. “Dylan’s a great kid. I see why Chris is attached to him.”
“Thank you, and yes, they have a special bond. Chris has been a godsend on so many levels.” The elevator door opens and we step inside as she continues: “Did you know he calls Dylan every day, and on top of that, he calls either me or my husband, Sam, to check on us?”
“No, but I’m not surprised. He talks about you guys often.”
The elevator door opens again and we head to the cafeteria. “He’s paid what our insurance hasn’t, and that isn’t a small figure.” There’s a mix of appreciation and sadness in her voice.
“He’d pay whatever it costs to save Dylan,” I say simply.
She stops walking. “No money will save him.” The words tremble from her lips and fade to a whisper. Unshed tears gather like raindrops in her eyes. “He’s going to die.” She grabs my arm, her fingers biting into my arm, her urgency obvious. “And you do know that Chris is going to blame himself, don’t you?”
My throat restricts. “Yes. I know.”
“Don’t let him.”
“I don’t think I can stop him, but I will be there for him.” I say softly, “And for you, too, if you need me. Please put my number in your cell. Call me anytime, Brandy. Ask me for anything.”
Her grip slowly loosens on my arm and we exchange cell numbers. We silently head to the cafeteria, and after a somber silence, remarkably we manage to shift to random chitchat and it’s not long before Brandy and I are in the back of the room watching Chris and Dylan in animated conversation while they scarf down chocolate.
“The doctors don’t like him to have candy,” Brandy whispers, “but how can I deny him the things he enjoys?”
“I wouldn’t deny him anything he wants, either,” I say, my eyes falling on the young boy and shifting to Chris. He’s good with the kids, and I wonder if he’s thought about having his own. I’ve never thought about kids, but after today, I’m not sure I want to be a mother. How can you love this much and have that child stripped away from you? Losing my mother was hard enough. If I lose Chris—
“You love him,” Brandy says softly. “I see it in your face when you look at him.”
My gaze lingers on Chris. “Yes. Yes I do.”
“Good,” she says approvingly as I shift my attention to her. “Sam and I see the pain that man carries around. He needs someone to hold some of it for him.”
This analysis punches me in the chest. Chris has held everything life has burdened him with all on his own since he was a teen. That Brandy sees what he hides beneath his affable exterior speaks volumes about the kind of people she and her husband are. They are living in excruciating pain, but they still see beyond it to worry about Chris. I think about how upset he was on the phone two nights before, and it’s crystal clear to me that he needs me to carry some of his load this weekend. This isn’t the time to share my inner demons with him, and not because I want to put off the dreaded event. Because now is a time for me to be here for him, to show him I love him, even if I don’t dare tell him until I make sure he knows who I really am.
Brandy points to the front of the room. “We’re being summoned.”
I glance up to find Chris and Dylan waving us forward and a few minutes later I have caved to the impossible. I’ve agreed to watch Friday the 13th with Chris and Dylan while Brandy and Sam have agreed to go home and get some much-needed rest.
• • •
Three hours later, Chris and I have curled onto the hospital lounge chair by Dylan’s bed, with Chris’s painting of Freddy and Jason propped on a roller table, when our horror flick finally ends. Dylan hasn’t stopped laughing at my yelps and complaints, and his pleasure is music to my ears. He is such an amazing kid. He deserves to live.
Chris picks up the remote to the DVD player, turns it off, and checks the clock. “It’s eleven o’clock. You better go to sleep, Dylan.”
I grimace. “Sleep for both us, Dylan. I sure won’t be getting any myself.”
Dylan laughs and snuggles down into the bed. “Will you stay until I fall asleep?”
Chris and I share a look and I nod my agreement. “We’re right here, buddy,” Chris assures him and he lowers the lounge chair downward like a bed. I curl up with my back to his front and his arm wraps around me.
Dylan dims the lights with the button on his bed and I close my eyes. I’m exhausted. It’s been an insanely crazy day, full of jagged edges and twists and turns.
“I’m glad you’re here,” Chris whispers in my ear, sending a shiver down my spine.
“Me, too,” Dylan whispers, clearly having overheard.
“Me, too,” I reply to them both. It’s been a day full of jagged edges, twist and turns, and bittersweet discovery.
He is everything I am, and everything I am not. I do not remember where I begin and he ends, or where he ends and I begin. He is my Master. I am his slave. I’m struggling to remember who I was before he was. It’s terrifying to think that I could give myself to him this completely when I know he has not done the same for me. What will I be when he is gone? Do I dare stay and find out the answer is nothing? And what will he do if I tell him I’m leaving?
I jerk awake with one of the final chilling entries in one of Rebecca’s journals spinning in my mind. Sunlight beams into the hospital room, which is empty but for me, and I realize Dylan and Chris are gone.