“Okay, sweetheart. I missed you.”
There are moments of lucidity for her, and then there are times like this when she doesn’t make any sense.
“I didn’t go anywhere,” I kindly remind her, but my words fall on deaf ears. Each day, even hour, she’s slipping away from me, and there isn’t anything I can do about it.
“Hey.” The sound of Stella’s voice grabs my attention. She rushes in and pulls me into her arms. “How’s Mom?”
I shrug. I don’t know how to answer a question like that anymore. I can’t say she’s doing well, because the cancer is eating her body up. Where’s the positive in that?
“You’ve been crying?”
“Cooper came by,” I say, which doesn’t seem to surprise her. “You told him where I was?”
She nods and pulls me over to the cot that I’ve been sleeping on. “He came to work, Ains. He was asking for you.”
“You had no right.”
She blanches at my words. “So ignoring him was the way to go? The man came to your office to see you, thinking you’d be there. Why didn’
t you just tell him what was going on?”
I turn my gaze back to my mother and shrug. “I don’t want his pity or to hear about what his mother went through. Our situations are different.”
“And what if he didn’t do that? What if he just held you and let you cry on his shoulder?”
“He can’t. Baseball comes first, it always will, and I don’t want to burden him with this. It’s for the best. I need to focus on my mother and prepare myself for what I’m about to face alone.”
“Just because you don’t have a father or a stepfather to lean on doesn’t make you alone. I’m here. I’ve always been here, and I’m not going anywhere.”
I go back to my orange chair and rest my head next to my mother’s leg. Every day I notice subtle changes in her, and each one brings her closer to the end. Her breathing is no longer what I’d consider normal, and I find myself comparing my intakes of air to hers. Her skin is no longer white but bluish in color, and her eyes are lifeless.
“Let me sit with Mom for awhile. You go freshen up, maybe call Cooper.”
“Cooper and I are done, Stella. I told him today that things are over.”
“Why would you do that?”
I stand to face her with tears in my eyes. “Because he’s leaving in a few weeks and he’ll want to see me as much as possible. I’m not leaving this hospital while she’s here,” I say, pointing to my mom. “So what’s the point, huh? Should I lead him on so when I want to get laid I can go over to his place?”
“Ainsley.” She reaches for me, but I bat her arm away.
“You don’t get it, Stella. My mother is dying, and Cooper doesn’t fit in my world. He never did. I should’ve stayed away from him like Mom warned me, but I didn’t, and now here I am paying the price.”
“Do you really think this is your fault?”
I look back at my mom, a shell of the woman she used to be, and nod. “It is.”
Stella scoffs and throws her hands up in the air. The silence between us is tense, and if we speak, words will have been exchanged that neither of us will forget.
“Go take a walk. I’ll stay with your mom.”
Stella doesn’t wait for me to agree. She takes the orange chair and sits down, instantly putting her hand on my mom’s.
I hesitate for a moment, wondering if I should go or stay here in case something happens. What if my mother needs me again and I’m not here?
When Stella picks up the book that is sitting on the foot of my mother’s bed and starts reading it aloud, I know she’s in good hands. Stella isn’t going to let anything bad happen to her, and if something goes wrong, she’ll have me paged.