1037. House of Pain

The next several days are kind of a blur in my memory. There was a lot of sitting around, waiting for news. Waiting for the results of various tests. Waiting for a doctor to come talk to us. Waiting to see how she would respond to medicine or treatment.

Waiting to know what to feel.

She was thirsty a lot of the time, that much I remember. And she was asleep a lot, too.

I do remember at one point, when she still wasn’t allowed to drink, and her tongue and mouth were too dry to talk, she waved a hand toward us. You could tell the difference between the wave that meant yes and the wave that meant no. She wanted me to hold her hand. So I stood at the side of her bed and held her hand.

This happened more than once, but later, when she could talk, she would actually call my name. Quietly. Like she didn’t have the strength to call it out. But no matter how softly she said it, I could hear it. We could all be sitting along the wall of her room, in a row of identical chairs, reading newspapers or books or whatever, and she’d wake up from a nap and just say “Daron” and I’d go hold her hand.

One time she almost apologized for it. She patted our clasped hands with her other one and said, “It’s just I feel so much better when you’re holding it.”

“I know what you mean. When I was in the hospital after the explosion, with the bandage over my eye–” I covered my eye with my free hand. “–Ziggy came and held my hand and it was like the second he touched me, I felt better.” I might have been mixing up one hospital visit with another but the sentiment was still true.

“Amazing, isn’t it?” She smiled at me and her lip cracked but she didn’t seem to feel it.

Eventually they cleared her to have a chip of ice every few minutes, so if she wanted one, I’d slip an ice chip into her mouth from a Dixie cup on a rolling table next to me. I could do that with my free hand without letting go of hers.

At some point the nurses showed me I could lower her whole bed and sit next to her instead of standing the whole time.

I remember getting hungry and ignoring it because really, what was hunger compared to what she was feeling? The rest of them went off to find food while I stayed put. When they came back, Remo took my place in the chair by the bed and I went out in the to hallway and wolfed down a burger that Courtney had brought for me in a take-out bag. The reason I remember it is because at the time I don’t think I’d ever had a more delicious burger in my life. Juicy and thick and salty. I truly appreciated it.

One time I couldn’t hold her hand, though, was while she was getting a CT scan, so that’s when Remo and I had it out. You knew that was coming, right?

We were hanging around the outside of the hospital, outside a doorway where people would duck out to smoke, except neither of us smoked. There were some bushes hemmed in by low, slate-topped retaining walls, where you could sit if you didn’t mind sitting on something as hard as a rock (because it was a rock).

The weather had decided to go back to summer-like, at least in this part of the day, and Remo rolled up his sleeves as he paced back and forth. I sat on the wall.

I opened the subject by saying, “Court’s gotta go back. She’s finishing her last semester, you know?”


“Yeah, she applied previous credits or something and she’s done with her requirements, so as long as she finishes her thesis, she’ll get her diploma this May.”

“That’s next month,” Remo said.

“I know. Which is why she’s gotta go.” I really didn’t want her to. I felt kind of like while I was holding Claire’s hand, Court was metaphorically holding my other one. If she left, it’d be just me and Remo, because Flip was about to leave, too.

Which Remo brought up next. “And Flip and his crew are moving on.”

How was I going to tell him I thought he should move on, too? “Yeah, and–”

“Unless Jan shows up, I guess it’ll just be you and me, ki…cking around here.”

He’d almost said “kiddo” but stopped himself in the nick of time. I didn’t even know whether to be annoyed or not. I guess I was already spoiling for a fight. Because I was convinced that Remo shouldn’t stay long, either. “Janine told Court she’ll stop by tomorrow, when the Landon’s with Jake. She’s not sure she wants Landon to see this.”

Remo scowled. “See what, a hospital?”

“I guess. She might wait to bring him until we can move Claire somewhere less… intimidating.” The surgeon had told us the way her recovery was going, she wasn’t going to stay in intensive care much longer, and “God willing” she’d be able to leave the hospital entirely in another week.

Of course, that was only the news relating to her intestinal surgery and not her cancer, but I guess one thing at a time? That’s certainly how Remo was taking it. As if the surgery was just a side trip on her road to overall recovery.

I wasn’t so optimistic. I finally decided on a tactic: “When do you have to leave?” I asked him.

He looked annoyed with me for asking. “I don’t have to leave. I’m off the road, remember?”

Fine. Leave it to me to spit it all out. “Yeah, but you’ve got a wife and family waiting for you at home.”

The annoyed look intensified, the crags around his eyes deepening. “Melissa and the baby are mine to worry about, not yours, Daron.”

“And Claire’s mine to worry about, not yours,” I shot back.

“Oh, is this a territory thing? You’re the man of the family now?”

“What, no! Don’t be ridiculous.”

“I’m not the one being ridiculous.” He stood in front of me with his arms folded. “And you shouldn’t have to do this alone.”

“Do what? Hold her hand? I’m fine, Reem.”

He resumed pacing. “You gotta sleep. You gotta eat. She’s not out of the woods.”

Oh, boy. “Reem, she’s not going to get ‘out of the woods.’ Even if she recovers completely from the surgery… her tumor’s not responding to the chemo. What they found–”

“You’re not a doctor,” he spat. Then more calmly: “Let’s wait until we hear from the oncologist before we start writing her off, all right?”

“I’m not writing her off! I’m just saying, think about it.” I was losing what calm I had, but I tried to keep things rational. “Are you just going to hang around here until she dies? What’s Mel think about all this?”

“You know what? It’s none of your business what Mel thinks. Or what Mel and I decided.”

“You decided something?” I got to my feet, feeling dire and dreadful. “Reem, what did you say to her?”

“I told you, none of your business.”

Shit, I thought. Had Remo dumped her so he could be here? “Your kid is my godson, I think that’s makes it my business, doesn’t it?”

“And he’s my son-son, I think I get a much bigger say in his upbringing, don’t you think? Not to mention the relationship with his mother?”

“So you still have one?” Hope flared. I was on a complete emotional rollercoaster and it wasn’t even my own relationship we were discussing. “A relationship, I mean.”

“Yes, we do! Daron, what the fuck is wrong with you!”

“I ask myself that question regularly.” My hands were shaking. “Look. Mel hates the fact that you are here. I know it.”

“Yes, yes she does. But she accepts it. She accepts that she can’t change the past or my feelings about Claire. She finally understands that our marriage doesn’t erase the past. It changes my future, with her.”

“And the present?”

“I’m here with Mel’s blessing. You know what she told me? She told me she wants me to be here, now. Because she said it’s a blessing that she gets this chance to prove to me that she’s not a petty gold digger. Because who else but a petty gold digger would insist their husband stay away from helping out an old friend.”

“I don’t need he–”

“Not you, Daron. Claire.”

“Oh.” My adrenaline was still racing and I really wasn’t sure why. Stress overall, I guess. “Mel really said that?”

“In front of our couples counselor and everything,” he said, putting his hands on my shoulders. His touch calmed me like a cowboy calming a nervous horse. “Daron, honestly, you’ve got enough to worry about. Please let me take care of my own partnership. If you really want me to leave, you know I will. But I don’t think you’re thinking straight.”

I took a couple of deep breaths. “I just worry.”

“I know. But you really…” He looked concerned. “Is it because of all the strife between Digger and Claire?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know, the whole thing about kids of divorced parents feeling responsible for fixing their parents’ relationship and all that.”

“Shit.” Was that it? His words made it sound like that was something everyone knew about, but I’d never paid attention to it before, I guess, which made hearing it now sound unfortunately very new and very possibly true. “You think I’m trying to fix things between you and Mel because I couldn’t fix things between Digger and Claire?”

“Seems like a better explanation than just you’re a busybody who can’t leave well enough alone?”

My heart was still beating too hard, but I could feel my anxiety level slowly ebbing. “Speaking of busybodies who can’t leave well enough alone, Claire should be out soon.”

He patted me on the shoulder. “Yeah. You ready to go back inside?”

I wasn’t, not really, but I said yes.

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