Determinedly, Leighton lifts her chin. “August… Sam is sick. He has leukemia, and he needs a bone marrow transplant. He’s on the donor list, but he’s not doing well. I came here in the hopes you might be a match. So, yes, I do need something, but it’s not your money. I need you to help me save our son’s life.”
August has every right to be pissed. Yes, I’ve been constrained by rules that could have brought serious danger to my family if I’d broken them, but I’ll never deny he had the right to know his son and be a father for these last nine years.
I still stand firm in my decision to stay hidden—to protect my dad and Sam. The government told us in no uncertain terms… if we left the WITSEC program, we were on our own. If we breached the confidentiality of the program, we were out. Even though my dad had testified years ago, resulting in a conviction, we have to stay hidden because we are still very much in danger. The mob ties my dad had were deep and widespread. The minute he turned state’s witness, he became the enemy of many. Those people wouldn’t think twice about killing him, his daughter, and his grandson.
But how can August ever understand when all he cares about is the knowledge he missed out on nine years of his kid’s life?
To give him credit, August seems to be in control of himself now. Informing him that he’s a father was life altering, so I understand his fury and rage. Adding that Sam has leukemia knocked the wind out of him, and I feel terrible for having to relay this devastating news out of the blue.
After he pulled himself together, he motioned for me to sit at the kitchen table so we could talk. He offered coffee again, but I declined. I’m jittery enough without caffeine, despite how exhausted I am from the long trip here.
There’s so much I’d love to explain about the last ten years—about why I couldn’t reach out to him. I hope I can someday make him understand, but, right now, this is about Sam.
While August sips at his coffee, I explain about Sam’s acute myeloid leukemia diagnosis. The discovery was devastating to me since Sam is my entire world. Once my life was uprooted, my identity stripped and a new one handed to me to keep me safe, I learned how to become almost invisible. I avoid friendships and lovers. I go to work and come home, keeping my head down. Sam isn’t allowed to go on sleepovers, and I’m constantly looking over my shoulder. It’s the way my life is now, and I accept that.
But I simply can’t accept Sam’s diagnosis.
“His doctors recommend a stem cell transplant with chemotherapy. His donor must have human leukocyte antigens, which decreases the chance of something called graft vs. host disease. It’s where donor cells sometimes attack the recipient’s cells.”
“I’m assuming you’re not a match?” August asks.
Nodding, I confirm his assumption. “My dad isn’t, either, so I broke the rules to find you. I want you to get tested. If you match, I want you to donate your stem cells to Sam.”
I can’t be more blunt than that. He asked what I wanted, and what I want is his blood for my child.
It’s not until now that I have any doubts. The man I knew ten years ago would have given his life for me or a child of our making. But ten years is a long time, and August is obviously a different man.
He’s full of anger and hurt right now.
Will he take that out on me by putting Sam in jeopardy? Will he deny something to his child to hurt me?
“Of course I’ll donate,” he says softly, studying his coffee cup before meeting my gaze. His eyes are filled with fear. “But what if I’m not a match?”
“He’s on the donor registry.” I try to sound hopeful, but I know I’m failing. “But, truthfully, only about thirty percent of family members will be a match. You’re Sam’s last chance before we’ll have to rely on the registry. Then, we can only pray a match will come up in time.”
“So how quickly can we move on this?”
All at once, my entire body deflates with just that one question. It means he’s all in. He’s committed to helping Sam, despite how angry he is with me. The exhaustion from this trip, along with the stress of being found and the fear of August turning me away, permeates every single cell in my body. I want to lay my head down on the table, weep with relief, then curl up and go to sleep.
But August needs answers, and I’m the only one who can give them.
“First, you’ll need to take a blood test to determine if you have the antigen to be a match,” I explain. I’ve not only talked to multiple doctors about Sam’s options, but I’ve also done tons of research on my own to make sure August’s donation is our best shot. I had to know before I left the safety of WITSEC. “If you’re a match, it will take about five days to get your blood ready. You’ll have daily injections to increase your white blood cells. At around roughly the same time you start that, Sam will be admitted to the hospital where he’ll get five-to-seven days of chemotherapy. Your stem cells will be harvested straight from your blood, then given to Sam through a transplant catheter.”