They wouldn’t let him go in with her. Not while they went over the details of the procedure. “Are you family?” the nurse asked.
“No he’s not,” she said, emphatically.
“I probably don’t want to hear how they do it anyway,” he thought. Still kind of felt wrong to sit out in the reception area like a big idiot. Playing on his phone. Scrolling through his instagram feed. “I just need things to get back to normal.“
She didn’t say a word on the way to the clinic. Just got in the truck, closed all the vents on her side, and chewed her fingernails as she stared out the window, shoulders slumped with the weight of the world. Wasn’t like he could say anything that would make her feel better. What? Should he have played her favorite song and told her everything was going to be ok? What a joke.
When she walks out from the consultation room, she looks like she just stole something. Hiding her hands in the sleeves of her hoodie, eyes bouncing from her feet to the exit door, and back. He stands up when she gets close. “They can do it tomorrow,” she says. “We’ll have to stay over night.”
“We passed a motel on the way here,” he says, trying to be helpful. “I think it’s just a few miles back.”
The truck smells like the Black Ice air freshener dangling beneath his rearview mirror. It’s six miles to the motel. “Do you want to get something to eat?” he asks. She shakes her head, pulling her knees up under her arms. The cab of the truck feels huge and empty. The foot or two of black leather between them might as well be the Grand Canyon.
“I’m gonna stop and get something,” he says, his stomach in knots, but starving all the same.
“Ok,” she says, emotionless.
She listens to the beeping of the machines as she watches his little chest rise and fall with shallow breath. She can’t remember the last time she blinked. The room smells like it was bathed in hand sanitizer. The rosary beads are sweaty between her fingers. The doctor said that the worst was behind them, but she can’t make herself leave his bedside. She came so close to losing him. To losing her world.
A soft knock and the door opens with caution. She recognizes the surgeon as he walks in. “Hi,” he says with a quick wave. “I don’t mean to bother you, or…”
“It’s no bother,” she says smiling and dabbing the corners of her eyes with the back of her thumbs. It’ll probably take a week to erase the remnants of all the tears. “You can come by anytime.”
He steps the rest of the way in the room. “I just wanted to give him this.” He holds up a brand new leather baseball glove. Tan and black. “I don’t know if it’s the kind of thing a twelve-year-old is into or anything…”
“That’s so kind,” she says, ignoring the forced awkwardness of the moment. “He’ll love it, but you really didn’t need to give us anything. You’ve already done more than enough.”
“Well…” he starts. “I know what it’s like. You know. To grow up in the hardest neighborhood. I don’t know what kind of trouble he’s gotten himself into-
“He’s a good kid.” She catches the flare of anger before it turns into something bad. The doctor means well, even if he has the social grace of a teenager. “It’s been tough, just the two of us. But no matter how many times we get knocked down, we’ve always managed to fight our way back to our feet. We’re blessed.”
His smile is genuine and surprisingly warm. “You two aren’t originally from here are you?” he asks acknowledging her accent.
“No honey, I’m from the south.”
The motel room smells like smoke. Two double beds with dingy comforters, a TV, a bathroom, and a piece of threadbare rust carpet. There’s a rattle in the AC unit that he pretends to fix the moment they enter. She ignores him, goes straight for the bathroom.
He pulls the comforter back on the bed nearest the door, kicks his shoes off, and throws the truck keys on the nightstand before sitting down. The remote is one of those weird environmentally friendly ones that feels like its made of paper. He flips through the channels, waiting for her to come out. Wondering if they are going to talk about tomorrow. Secretly hoping that they won’t.
He should try and comfort her. Ask what she’s feeling. Or maybe that’s just him being stupid. That’s just his father in him. Telling him to man up.
He’ll do it anyway. He’ll ask if she’s ok. That’ll give them the chance to talk about it. The burger and fries do a somersault in his stomach. He turns the TV down low.
She comes out of the bathroom. “I’m pretty tired. I’ll probably just go to bed.” She doesn’t give him the chance to say anything. She lays down on top of the dingy comforter on the other bed. Back turned to him. He flips the channels for nearly another half hour before drawing the blackout curtains and going to sleep.
When he wakes up, her bed is empty. The comforter shows the wrinkled imprint of where she had been. There’s a note on the nightstand where he put his truck keys last night. The keys aren’t there. He picks up the note, then throws it away angrily before storming out of the room. He stains his socks on the warm pavement of the parking lot. His truck is gone. “I’m sorry,” the note said.