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By Alana Church
Artwork by Moira Nelligar
Copyright 2017 Alana Church
~~ All characters in this book are over 18. ~~
It was late at night. The hospital was quiet. Visiting hours were long over. In the small room in the ICU, a pale figure moved a hand.
“Come over here,” Dorothy Sparks whispered. “I want to talk to you. Both of you.”
Kathryn swallowed her tears as she moved closer to her mother's hospital bed. She sat down in the cheap plastic chair, her father doing the same beside her. Every agonizing moment of the last six months was reflected in his hazel eyes.
Even now, with the cancer in its terminal stage, Kathryn could barely believe that the thin figure lying on the bed was her mother. It seemed impossible that the lively, vivacious woman who had been the center of her life for seventeen years had been reduced to this empty shell, holding on to her life through sheer willpower, grit, and determination.
“Dry your eyes, Scarecrow,” Dorothy whispered, her voice gaining a little of its former strength as she used her husband's nickname. “This isn't the end of the world. This happens every day.”
“Not to you. Not to me,” her father said.
A shoulder shifted in the barest hint of a shrug. “I've made my peace with it. You'll have to as well. I'm too tired to spend my last few days screaming at God.” She sighed, sagging back into the mattress. The florescent lights gleamed on the bare skin of her skull, made bald by the harsh radiation treatments. She met Kathryn's eyes. “I want you to take care of him, understand me, Kathryn Jane? Make sure he eats, wears clean clothes, wipes his butt after he poops, that sort of thing. You know he can't be trusted to look after himself.”
Even through her grief, Kathryn had to fight back a watery giggle. It would take more than ovarian cancer to destroy her mother's ribald sense of humor. “Yes, Mom.”
“Good.” She closed her eyes. “And Kevin, you're going to have to trust Katie. I know you think all boys are after one thing-”
“That's because they are,” her father growled. “I know. I was one of them once.”
“-But she's not an idiot. When she makes her choice and lets you know she's found the man she wants to spend her life with, respect that decision.” One eye cracked open, piercingly bright. “Do you hear me?”
He nodded. “Yes.”
“What? No argument? You're starting to lose it, old man.” One corner of her mouth twitched in a ghostly smile. “I don't have any deep words of wisdom. All I want is for you to be good to each other and take care of each other. Since it seems God has other plans for me.
“I love you. You know that, right? I love both of you so much.”
“We know it, Dorothy.” Tears were trickling down her father's face, but he made no move to wipe them away.
“Good,” she sighed. “That's good.” Her hand crept across the bedsheet. The two leaned forward to clasp it. “Why don't you read to me for a little while? I'm...a little tired right now.”
Kathryn nodded and picked up the book on the nightstand. It was old and battered, showing the signs of years of love. She opened the well-thumbed pages to where they had left off the previous evening.
“'The cyclone had set Dorothy and her house down gently – very gently, for a cyclone – in a land of marvelous beauty. There were lovely patches of green sward all about, with stately trees bearing rich and luscious fruits...'”
As Kathryn read the old, familiar story, her mother smiled. The lines of pain faded away, leaving her face lovely and serene.
Seven months later...
“Lame.” Kathryn deleted an e-mail from her inbox.
“Lame.” Another one deleted.
“Mecha-lame,” she said, clicking the delete button.
One from her school.
“Hella lame,” she stated, sending it into e-mail oblivion.
“What's lame?” her father said, wandering into the living room, a mug of hot chocolate in his hands. He was wearing his usual weekend outfit of jeans, a faded sweatshirt, and loafers.
“Just cleaning out my inbox, Dad. I didn't realize there were so many Nigerian princes who needed my help in the whole world.”
Her father chuckled, then turned his head to the living room window as a gust of wind hit the house. It had been bucketing down rain all day, and as the afternoon drew to a close, the wind was picking up as well, the leafless trees swaying back and forth.
“Nasty out there,” he commented.
“Which is why I'm staying inside,” she replied, burrowing deeper into the couch. She pulled a corner of her mother's crocheted afghan over her feet. “When is spring going to get here?”
“This is Chicago, Katie. It might arrive by May, if we're lucky.”
“When I graduate, I am so moving to Florida,” she grumbled as another burst of wind made the house groan.
He cocked an eyebrow at her. “Really? God's waiting room? Nothing to do but wait for the next hurricane to blow you to kingdom come? I didn't think you were that silly, kid.”
“I-” her retort was interrupted as her eye caught something falling past the window. “What the heck was that?”
Kevin walked over and peered outside. “Ah, crap. We're losing shingles off the roof.” He growled deep in his throat. “I knew I shouldn't have let those three stooges do it. But your mom thought they could handle the job. Shows what an idiot I was.”
Kathryn smiled to herself. Her cousins Dave, Alan, and Matt might not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they were decent, hardworking people. And throwing a job their way had helped their nascent roofing business. “Come on, Dad. Aren't you being a little hard on them?”
“Not as much as I'm going to be,” he said, shrugging into a heavy denim jacket. “Especially if I can't get those shingles back where they belong.”
She sat bolt upright on the couch. “You're not going out there now, are you?”
He grimaced. “Unless you can think of a better way to keep the rain from coming in, I'm going to have to.”
“But...can't you wait until it stops?”