Not that her daughter putting an adult-sized bib on her was normal.

Carly secured the bib, protecting her mother’s gown, and her bed coverings. “Do you want me to get you out of bed to eat or do you want to eat here?”

She always gave her mother the choice. Getting out of the bed tired her out tremendously, but on the occasions her mother wanted to get out of the bed for her meal, she always seemed to eat a little more.

Plus, Carly wanted her out of the bed as much as possible. The more her mother felt like getting up, the better.

Today wasn’t going to be one of those occasions, though, as her mother shook her head. “T-Too t-tired.”

Which was how her mother felt most of the time. Still, between Joyce and Carly, they always got her out of bed at least once and put her in her wheelchair. On pretty days, they’d go for a short walk. Others they’d just push her into the living room to watch television or sit to talk to Carly or her caregiver.

Removing the food for the feeding tube, Carly put the bed tray over her mother’s lap. Then, she put the small dish of thickened fruit on the tray, along with a special spoon that was supposed to help prevent food from spilling due to her tremor. It helped a little.

Her mother stared at the food for a few moments, then, seeming to will herself to do so, she slowly and shakily scooped up a bite and made it to her mouth.

Not on the first try, but she did get some of the puréed food there.

Carly wiped the dribble of food away from her mother’s chin. “That was great, Mom. I know it’s a lot of effort, but it makes me happy that you’re eating.”

Her mother didn’t say anything, just slowly proceeded to take a few more bites. Carly cleaned spills in between each bite because she couldn’t stand to see her mother, who’d always prided herself on her neat appearance, with globs of food stuck to her face.

After five or six bites, her mother dropped the spoon onto the tray.

“Full already?” Carly kept her smile in place. “Can’t you try just one more?”

Her nursing experience had taught her that the more ‘normal’ things her mother did, the better her prognosis.

Which was why she or Joyce brushed and styled her mother’s hair daily, why they put lipstick on her, why they kept her in pretty nightgowns Carly had picked up at the local second-hand store.

Expression tired, her mother shook her head.

Wishing she could have gotten her to eat more, Carly flushed the tube, administered the meal, then flushed the tube again. Then, she sat, talking to her mother, mostly about the more interesting insurance claims. Carly didn’t reveal any personal information, just whatever the incident was that had triggered the claim. Some of the more interesting ones would get a smile from her mother, but her mother rarely spoke during the chit-chat.

“Wh-what’s th-that sm-smell?”

Yeah, Carly was smelling it, too. Wonderful, mouth-watering smells drifting their way from the kitchen.

She’d gotten so wrapped up in her mother she’d completely forgotten about Stone.

How could she have forgotten the hunk in her kitchen?

First biting the inside of her cheek, she met her mother’s curious gaze and then shrugged as if her next words were no big deal.

“I…uh… I have a friend over for dinner.”


DESPITE CARLY’S ATTEMPT at nonchalance, her mother wasn’t buying it.

No wonder. Carly hadn’t had company, not counting Joyce and a few home-health nurses, in years. Not since Tony.

Her mother’s eyes widened.

“A man,” she added, because she knew what her mother’s next question was going to be. “But don’t get any ideas because we’re just friends.”

The former fatigue on her mother’s face lifted significantly. “H-help m-me in—in my wh-wheelchair.”

Her mother wanted to get out of bed a second time that day? Carly’s heart swelled with joy. And maybe a little anxiety. She knew why her mother wanted out of bed.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Carly repositioned the hospital bed to where it would be easiest to use the lift. She positioned everything just so to make that transition as smooth as possible, then assisted her mother into the chair.

“Maybe you’ll want to eat with us,” Carly suggested, slipping soft, fuzzy house shoes onto her mother’s socked feet. “Seeing how much food he brought, I’m sure there is going to be plenty.”

“Wh-who is h-he?”

“A surgeon at the hospital. He moved here about a month ago. I told you about him when we were talking the other night. Remember?” Carly kept her voice light, cheerful, but hopefully not overly so. After her mother’s comment about a grandchild, she didn’t want her pulling Stone into that equation. “He’s a great guy. Everyone likes him.”