CHAPTER 20

Leighton

My arm is curled around Sam, my hand playing with his hair. It’s just me and him on his first night in his new bed in August’s home.

This morning, he was released from the hospital with a lot of fanfare. His room’s corridor was lined with nurses and doctors who wanted to give him a fond farewell. They even threw confetti and gifted him a big stuffed teddy bear dressed in a Children’s Hospital lab coat.

Sam sat in the backseat with my dad, his face practically pressed against the glass as he took everything in, while August drove us to his house. It was Sam’s first time outside in thirty-four days.

At August’s, he explored every nook and cranny. Was appropriately amazed and humbled by his new bedroom, which we’d decorated with, yet again, more Star Wars linens and Bronco’s posters. With it only being a three-bedroom house, it relegated my father to sleeping on the pull-out sofa in the basement man cave, but he didn’t mind.

After we had pizza for lunch, per Sam’s request, he, my dad, and August spent the afternoon in the man cave watching football. I checked in on them once to see Sam had fallen asleep on the couch, his head on his dad’s lap. This was made even more adorable by the fact August and my dad were passed out, too. Perhaps the excitement of the day was just too much.

I stayed upstairs reading a book, then made a pot roast for dinner. It was the first time we’d all sat down together around a real table for a meal. And despite the fact we’re just visitors in August’s home, and our future is very undefined, it felt very much like a unified family coming together.

Now Sam’s ready for bed. August and my dad had stopped in to wish him a good night in his new bed, but left us alone. Without the need to appear manly to his dad and grandfather, Sam is content to snuggle against me for some good old-fashioned “mom comfort”. We did this in the hospital, too, but this feels way better. No IV tubing to get in the way or monitors beeping. No bustle of nurses or other aides coming in to check vitals. No harsh fluorescent lights or antiseptic smells.

Just Sam and me, falling right back into our nightly routine before he drifts off to sleep.

“Want to know something?” Sam asks as he snuggles closer. His voice is sated and dreamy.

“What’s that?” I murmur, still stroking his hair.

“Today has been the best day of my life,” he announces.

I pull slightly away from him, tucking my chin in to peer down. He lifts his face to return my stare.

“Really?” I ask.

He grins. “Yeah… getting out of the hospital, coming to my new home, and hanging with my new dad. It’s like a whole new life, and I love it.”

My throat constricts as my eyes mist. I pull Sam into me, pressing my lips against his head. “I’m happy for you, kiddo,” I say earnestly, but I wonder how much of his best day ever is rooted in reality. I’ve been viewing this as a temporary stop until Sam gets a little stronger. I still haven’t decided if we’re staying in Vegas or Denver.

“Tell me a story, Mom,” Sam says sleepily. It’s our tradition each night. When he was younger, I would read him a book, but we transitioned into me making up stories. Apparently, I have some talent at spinning tales.

I can tell by the tone of his voice that no matter what story I concoct, Sam isn’t going to last long. He’s exhausted.

But I let my mind roam until an idea pops into my head. As with all stories, I start at the beginning, “Once upon a time…”


It takes less than a minute for Sam to drop off into a deep sleep. This is not surprising given the kid is in a weakened condition from being in the hospital for over a month, having chemo and a stem cell transplant, and then, on top of that, having the best day of his entire life. I stand at the doorway, watching him sleep peacefully and feeling so incredibly blessed.

I head into the living room. My dad sits on the couch, watching some documentary on Yellowstone Park. August is in the kitchen, unloading the dishwasher. He glances at me as I walk past since the living room and kitchen bleed into each other, flashes a smile, and continues pulling plates from the rack.

Plopping on the couch, I pull my socked feet up under me and lean back with a sigh. I’m exhausted, too.

“He asleep?” my dad asks, turning the volume on the TV down.

“Yup,” I reply with a smile, lifting up slightly so August can see me over the back of the couch. “And you two will be happy to know Sam claimed this was the best day of his entire life.”

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