The next two weeks went fast. Cage finished his last season with the Hurricanes and I passed all my finals. We were going to be going to Tennessee in two days to look at apartments and Cage had to meet with the team and coach. He would start working out with them and practicing with them over the next month.
Although it would be a long time before next season he would be worked hard to get into shape to play college ball on that level. I was prepared for it and I was happy for him. I had never seen him so excited. Apparently excitement made him even more horny which I didn’t think was possible. It was rare that I walked past him that he didn’t have me pressed up against a wall or sprawled out on top of boxes. I loved his enthusiasm and it was hard not to be just as giddy as he was.
Today I was left to pack my things and Cage had gone to get his oil changed and car checked out for the long drive this weekend. I was planning on going to see Daddy tomorrow. I wanted to spend time with him before we left. I would be back again in a month to see him but I was used to seeing him once a week. I was going to miss that.
My phone rang as I taped up another box. Jeremy’s name lit up the screen and I grabbed the phone and quickly answered. Jeremy never called me.
There was a pause on the phone. A knot slowly formed in my stomach.
“Jeremy?” I asked when he didn’t respond.
“Eva. Hey. I. . . You need to come home. We need to talk.”
We need to talk? “What? You’re scaring me Jer. What’s wrong?”
“I, I talked to your dad today. He needs me to take him back to the doctor today. He’s sick, Eva. You need to come home. We should be back by five this evening. Come talk to him.”
Sick? I’d just been to see him last week. He was fine. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked as I moved to grab my purse and keys.
“Eva, I don’t want to talk to you about this over the phone. I’d have come there but your dad needs me with him. Come home and we’ll talk.”
My heart was racing as I locked the apartment door behind me and ran down the stairs toward the parking lot. “Should you call an ambulance?” I asked as a horrible bad scenarios ran through my head. Was he having a heart attack?
“No. He doesn’t need an ambulance. It isn’t that kind of sick. He just needs you, Eva. I’m taking him to the County Hospital for a procedure. He doesn’t want you to know but I found him today bent over and he was. . . He was throwing up. . . He was throwing up blood, Eva.”
It was if my heart stopped. Throwing up blood? That wasn’t normal. Oh God that was so not normal. Tears filled my eyes as started the engine to my Jeep and pulled out onto the road. “When are you leaving for the hospital?” I asked anxiously. I needed to get to my dad. “He needs to go now,” I snapped.
“He’s changing his clothes right now. I’m outside waiting on him then we are headed that way.”
“Go inside with him, Jer. Please. Go inside with him,” I couldn’t keep the sobbing in. “Don’t leave him alone. I’ll meet you at the hospital. Hurry Jeremy. Hurry, please,” I begged.
“Drive careful. I’m going inside to check on him now. I got him, Eva. Just meet us there. We will figure this out. I swear we will.”
Jeremy’s words didn’t ease the fear clawing at me. My daddy, my big strong invincible daddy was throwing up blood. What did that even mean? Why would someone throw up blood?
I couldn’t fall apart. I had to be strong. I had to show him that I believed he was going to fine. If he saw me cry he’d worry about me. He didn’t need to be worrying over me. Swallowing the sob in my throat I took several deep breaths.
I was going to have to tell Cage. He would be looking for me. I dialed his number and waited. It rang twice.
“Hey, baby,” he drawled. The ease and happiness in his voice only made the tears burn my eyes.
“I’m headed to the hospital. Daddy’s sick. Jeremy called me. I have to go,” I managed to get out with only a few small sobs.
“Where are you? I can drive you. You don’t need to be driving upset.” I could tell he was moving. Probably running for his car. I couldn’t wait on him. I loved him for wanting to come with me but I couldn’t wait.
“I’ve already left. I have to get there. I can’t wait. He’s throwing up blood. He,” I hiccupped, “he was going to the doctor today anyway for a procedure. Something is wrong with him and he hasn’t told me. That can’t be good. I can’t lose my daddy, Cage. I can’t.” I was freely sobbing now.
“I know, baby. He’s gonna be okay. We gotta believe he’s gonna be okay. Please pull over and let me come get you. Driving like this is dangerous. I need you to calm down. Okay, please, please calm down and pull over.” The panicked pleading in his voice was hard to ignore. But I had to get to my daddy. I couldn’t do this for him.
I fought back the tears again. “I’m okay. I am. I can’t stop. I can’t I need to get there.”
Cage swore under his breath. “What hospital?”
“County Hospital,” I replied.
“I’m on my way. Be careful. For me and your daddy be careful,” he begged.
“I will. I promise,” I assured him.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too. Always,” I replied then hung up. Gripping the wheel with both hands I focused on getting to the hospital then I started to pray.
* * *
I was pacing the entrance to the hospital when I saw Jeremy’s truck pull into the parking lot. I wasn’t sure if he’d told Daddy I was going to be here or not. Either way he was going to fuss. He didn’t want me to know about this obviously.
I waited on them to get to the door before stepping forward to greet them. Daddy’s pinched frown at seeing me wasn’t one of surprise. Jeremy had told him I was going to be here. Good.
“Stubborn boy wasn’t supposed to call you. I was gonna talk to you before you left. I just wanted to wait until you had your new life ahead of you before and were ready to move on before I explained all this,” Daddy said. His voice still sounded as strong and rumbly as always. My fear eased some at the reminder he was alive and he didn’t look like he had been throwing up. Except the circles under his eyes weren’t normal and the pale color of his skin wasn’t that noticeable but it was there.
“I can’t believe you were waiting to tell me you were sick. I could have been the one to take you to the hospital. You don’t have to be sick alone,” I said walking up to him and wrapping my arms around his waist to hug him. I needed to smell his aftershave and the feel his strong body. All the thoughts that had played out in my head on the way here had messed with me. I was afraid I was losing him. But he was here and we were going to get him fixed.
“We need to get him to the third floor. His appointment is in ten minutes,” Jeremy said. It was the first time he’d spoken since they’d gotten here. The haunted look in his eyes bothered me. He knew something. Or maybe I was imagining it. I grabbed Daddy’s hand and we walked to the elevator.
“I was coming over tomorrow and I was leaving on the next day. Were you gonna wait until tomorrow to tell me? That was a bad plan,” I informed him pressing the three when we got into the elevator. I didn’t look at Jeremy. The look in his eyes was scaring me. I couldn’t look at him. I had to focus on how my dad was alive. He was fine.
“I didn’t want you to have time to back out of leaving. It’s what you want. I think it’s what is best for you right now.”
My dad thought me running off to another state with Cage York was what was best for me. Did he have a fever? Was this a bad case of pneumonia?
Before I could ask him about that the door opened and we walked out of the elevator. The first thing I saw was a woman standing there with a bandanna around her head. She was bald. I could tell that much. She didn’t even have eyebrows. Her skin was a sickly color but she smiled at me when our eyes met then she walked past me and got in the elevator. I followed Daddy but I could feel Jeremy’s eyes on me. I wasn’t going to look at him. Even if he wanted me to. Then a couple came by us and this man was bald too but he wasn’t covering his head. He was also in a wheel chair and I realized his leg was missing. Glancing up I saw the lady pushing his wheel chair toward the elevator. Two bald people. . . I stopped. I didn’t look to see where Dad was going. Instead I slowly scanned my surroundings. They were all the same. Each one of them. Maybe they were all in different stages but they all had a sickly pallor to their skin. And they were all bald. I reached over and grabbed the closest thing I could find. It was Jeremy’s arm.
At some point he’d walked over to me. He had expected me to figure it out. He had known where we were going. It was hard to take deep breaths. Everything started to get blurry. Jeremy’s arm came around me and he was talking to me. I didn’t understand what he was saying but from the tone of his voice he was trying to ease my mind. That wasn’t possible. I knew where we were. I knew why my daddy had been throwing up blood. The cool hard plastic of a chair touched my back as Jeremy eased me down into the seat.
“Breathe, Eva. Take slow even breaths,” he encouraged. I understood that. So that’s what I did. I focused on breathing. I didn’t think about where we were.
“He’s gonna need you to be strong. When he isn’t around you can scream and cry and let it all out. Completely break down and I’ll be there to help you but when he’s around you gotta be strong. You hear me, Eva. He needs that from you,” Jeremy’s words confirmed my worst fear.
I lifted my eyes and looked at Jeremy’s worried face. “How bad is it?” I asked.
The sorrow etched in his face answered for him. “You need to let him talk to you. But right now get it together. He’s going to need you to be strong.”
I looked around and my eyes were once again focused. “Where is he?” I asked.
The nurse saw your face when you realized where we were. She saw me take you and she got your dad’s attention while I dealt with you but he’s gonna realize you’re gone any minute. You gotta be strong here. For him.”
He was right. I had to keep it together. I didn’t know everything. People were cured from this all the time. I didn’t even know the specifics. I was cracking without even talking to my dad about it. He was perfectly fine. He had his hair. Why that made me feel better I don’t know but it did.
“Eva?” Dad’s voice snapped me out of my thoughts and I stood up and hurried back around the corner to see his worried expression as his eyes found me.
“I’m right here, Daddy,” I said, walking over to him.
“Do you want to go into the room and speak with the doctor with me? If you don’t want to then you don’t have to but he can explain it better than I can.”
I nodded wondering if I needed Jeremy with me in case I started to melt down again. Daddy didn’t mention Jeremy going in with us. This was just us then. I could be strong for him. My phone started ringing in my purse. I handed it to Jeremy.
“That’s Cage. He’s probably here. Could you talk to him and bring him up here to wait with you?”
Jeremy nodded and took my purse and walked back to the waiting area where he’d taken me earlier. I would have Cage when I came out of this room. He’d be here and he’d make everything okay.
I reached down and grabbed Daddy’s hand as we walked into the room the nurse directed us to. I didn’t let go of his hand as we walked over to sit down in the two chairs sitting beside each other against the wall. We were in an examination room. Were they going to give him a treatment today? Was he taking something that would make this all go away?
“I want you to listen to what the doctor has to say. Then I want you to listen to me. Can you do that, Eva? ‘Cause what you’re gonna hear ain’t gonna be easy, baby girl. It’s gonna be tough. I need you to be tougher.”
I managed a nod although I wasn’t sure I could be tough. Not with this. Daddy reached down and took my hand and held it between both of his. I always thought my daddy had the biggest hands. He could beat anything. Noting was bigger than him. But this was.
“We’re gonna be okay, me and you. We always are,” he told me.
We sat there and waited together without saying anything else. I leaned my head on his shoulder and we just waited.
The elevator door opened on the third floor and Jeremy was standing there holding Eva’s purse waiting on me. I didn’t have to ask to know this was bad. The look on his face said it all. Damn, this was gonna break Eva. She loved her daddy.
“Where is she?” I asked looking around. Instead of seeing Eva I saw several Chemo patients. My stomach twisted. Oh fuck. This was not good. “Oh, no, man. Please tell me this ain’t what I think it is,” I said looking back at Jeremy.
“No. It’s actually worse,” he replied.
“How the hell is it worse?” The ache in my heart and need to go find Eva and hold her was overwhelming. I needed to sit down. “Is she with him?”
“Yeah. She went back with her dad to see the doctor. He’ll tell her everything and I’m gonna warn you now she’s gonna be a mess. A complete mess.”
“He’s on the chemo floor. They can beat this shit these days. Can’t they? I mean I hear about it all the time.” He had to beat this. Eva wouldn’t be able to bear it if he didn’t.
“He isn’t taking treatments. He refuses to. He found out two months ago,” Jeremy’s words sliced through me. Holy fuck! What was the man thinking? He was gonna kill Eva.
“Why? Why won’t he try and beat this? His gonna kill her.”
“He was only promised maybe six more months with the treatments. It’s too far gone. He said he don’t wanna spend his last days sick from the treatments. He wants to spend it at home not in a hospital.”
This couldn’t be happening. Not this. Eva wasn’t strong enough to handle this. Didn’t God have a f**king limit on how much loss one person could take. She’d lost her momma then she’d lost Josh. It wasn’t fair dammit. I couldn’t sit here I stood up and walked over to the window. I had to calm down. I was furious at the f**king universe and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about that.
“Why her? Why does she always gotta lose someone?” I swore and slammed my hand down on the window seal.
“It sucks. She’s been dealt too much shit. I lost Josh. I can’t imagine losing my parents, too.”
She wouldn’t be leaving with me now. No. . . neither of us would be leaving. I couldn’t leave her to deal with this alone. She needed me and I needed her.
“I won’t leave her side. She’s not losing me,” I said more to myself than anyone else.
“Good. She’s gonna need you.”
“She’s got me. Always.”
“Eva doesn’t deal well with grief. Just remember that. No matter how hard it gets remember that. Josh was with her when she lost her mom. He and I both were. She was a kid but she lost herself for awhile. Josh reminded her how to live. When she lost Josh I thought I’d never get her back. I went through the motions and stayed by her side but she was lost. . . until you came. You helped her find life again. I figure you’re the only one who can pull her through this. I wasn’t enough with Josh but you were.”
“Nothing she does will push me away,” I swore.
We stood there in silence. My thoughts on Eva and what she would face over the next few months. My heart breaking for her with every second that ticked by. Hurting for myself was one thing. Hurting for Eva was deeper. The pain was harder. I didn’t want her to hurt.
“Cage.” Eva’s voice was broken as I spun around to look at her. The tears streaking down her face as she looked at me hopelessly tore my heart out. I took three long strides until I could grab her and pull her into my arms.
“I’m here, baby.”
She began to sob pitifully in my arms. “Take me to Daddy’s. Jeremy will bring him home once they’re done with his examination. I need time to cry where he can’t see me.”
I looked over her head at Jeremy and he nodded. “Take her. I’ll text when we’re heaed home.”
“Thanks,” I said, then took her purse from his outstretched hand and held her as we walked to the elevator.
She didn’t say anything until we were both inside her Jeep. She turned her stricken face toward me. “I’m gonna lose my daddy,” she whispered then her tears began to fall again. I reached over and grabbed her hand and held it.
There were no words that I could say right now to make this okay for her.
* * *
When we pulled into the driveway of her dad’s house I got a text from Jeremy that they were leaving the hospital. She had an hour to pull herself together before her dad got home. She had silently sobbed on our drive here.
I got out of the car and walked around and opened her door then took her hand and pulled her out. She was pitiful. It was tearing me up. I kept my hand wrapped around her shoulders as I led her to the house. Once we got inside I took her to the living room and sat down on the sofa and pulled her into my lap.
“Cry, scream, hit me, do whatever you need to. Just get it out,” I told her.
And she did.