“Are you getting the money?”
“About that Megan, I don’t want you putting yourself out. I am looking for some part-time work and I’m sure everything will be fine. You need to take care of you.”
“No, Mom. You’re retired. And there’s enough coming that it will take care of the house payments and hire someone full time to come take care of Daddy. Please Mom, just accept it. Take care of you and Daddy with it. It’s not hurting me at all to send it.”
I heard my poor mother sob and I couldn’t help but choke back tears myself. I knew right then why I had agreed to this whole contract in the first place. The reasons were on the other end of the phone. It was just a messy accident that the contract came with a difficult man who I was falling for.
“Now, enough about the money,” I said wiping my eyes. “I want to hear more about you and Daddy. Are the exercises the doctor recommended helping? Are you getting out into the garden at all?”
My mother muffled what sounded like a tissue and let me have my way in changing the subject.
“The petunias are blooming nicely. And we do the exercises. Some days they seem to help, but others…not so much. He’s trying though. It’s hard, honey. One moment he’s making sense, the next he’s confused or talking about past events like it’s present time. The doctor said that it’s just how this progresses.”
“Any luck finding a nurse?”
“We’ve interviewed a few. Still nothing permanent yet.”
I nodded even though I knew she couldn’t see me. Dementia was degenerative. Sooner or later my father would lose the bulk of his mind. Every day it got worse, our only hope was to slow the process.
“Can I talk to him?”
“Of course! He’d love to hear your voice. I’ll put it on speaker, okay?”
I waited a minute then heard my dad’s voice. “Hello?”
“Hi, Daddy! How are you?”
“Judy dear, I’m—” he trailed off and I heard my mother murmur.
“No, I’m Judy. Megan is on the phone.”
“Yes, Leo. Megan. Your daughter.”
Hearing my parents’ discussion tore my heart out. My mother was trying to be quiet so I couldn’t hear. I palmed my mouth and squeezed my eyes shut to keep from sobbing.
“D-Daddy?” I tried again. “Daddy, it’s Megan.”
“Meg-Pie!” A sigh of relief burst through my chest. “I miss you, kiddo. How’s school going?”
“Megan graduated college a while ago. She’s in New York now,” my mom clarified.
“It’s okay, Mom,” I said. “I’m doing great, Daddy. How are you?”
“Oh well, you know, doing alright. Damn knee hurts. I talked to Herb yesterday about getting this doctor bill put on workman’s comp since I hurt it on the job last week.”
My mother didn’t try to correct him this time and I didn’t either. My father hadn’t worked in almost eight years and his old boss Herb died before he left the company.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I hope you feel better.”
“Enough about this old man, how are you Meg-Pie? Getting good grades?”
“That’s my girl.”
I laughed and tears rolled down my cheeks.
“I’ve got to get his dinner going,” my mom said. “But you call us and keep us posted and I really don’t want—”
“Mom, please, just take it. I’m going to keep sending it. Every week. Please.”
She took a deep breath. “Thank you, honey.”
“I love you, Mom.”
“Oh, I love you too.”
We hung up and the only thing I could do was drop my cell on the bed next to me, throw my face into my palms and cry.
Something warm and smooth skated across my cheek. I opened my eyes and saw Preston staring down at me, the back of his finger tracing along my cheekbone. I must have fallen asleep after hanging up with my mom.
I sat up and my old bed creaked a little.
“I locked the door…” I murmured, still sleepy and dazed.
“Yeah, I had a key made,” he said, and sat next to me.
“What’s mine is yours,” I mumbled.
Too exhausted to fight. My stomach kind of hurt and my eyes felt puffy and my body ached as though I had been sleeping in a cave. Cold and alone. Because I had been.
Heat radiated from Preston and he smelled so good. I wanted to curl up in his arms but there was still a dark cloud between us. After the last several weeks I felt like we had made progress, and now this setback felt like it put an eternity between us.
“How did you find me?”
His thumb trailed along my cheekbone. “You’ve been crying.”
I ran the back of my hand over my eye.
“When you weren’t anywhere at the hotel,” he murmured, “I figured this would be the next place you’d go.”
I guess I wasn’t that hard to track down.
“I’m tired, Preston.” He nodded. “But I’m not sorry about arrangement. I’m confused and you drive me kind of crazy, but I’m not sorry. I haven’t lied to you. I can’t handle being treated the way you treated me.”
He sat on the bed next to me and faced me. “I know.” His jaw clenched like he was going to say more. So I stayed quiet, hoping he would. Finally he looked me in the eye. “I wasn’t prepared for what Darlene did. But it’s no excuse for what I said to you.”
“Thank you,” I whispered.
He cupped my face. “I’ve been honest with you too.”
“I know you have, you’ve just been vague.”
He nodded and looked away. His green eyes were haunted and I wanted to reach out and hug him. There was so much behind every expression.
I loved my parents dearly. Losing one of them would crush my world. I was losing my father in a sense and it was slowly wrecking me. But to go through what Preston did, see his mother the way he had…I don’t know how he coped. He probably didn’t even have a chance to process the loss before he was thrown into a situation where he was the “bastard son.” It must have been terrible.
“I won’t force you to share details if you don’t want to.” I grabbed his free hand and squeezed.
“I grew up a certain way,” he said, and glanced down at our woven hands. “I know better than to trust someone completely, especially with something important, something that could weaken you. It’s just unwise.”