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The love of a Dying Man (Chapter Two: Fighter)
The drive down to the hospital was excruciatingly long and quiet. Outside the car window everything was covered in a clean, pasty blanket of snow. The trees that once flourished with green leaves now stood bare and life less. Everything was lifeless, dead. I tried to push the word “dead” out of my mind; it was something I preferred to not think about until I absolutely had to. The occasional drumming of Luke’s fingers on the steering wheel made me feel more anxious than I was before. I began to chew on my lip as we came to a rest at a red light. And for the first time I looked at Luke, a trail of tears running down his face. He sniffled a few times before looking at me for the first time since we had gotten in the car.
“You know you hear about this kind of stuff happening to other people, but you never think it’s going to happen to you or someone you know. I never thought it would happen to coach.” He said his fingers griping the steering wheel harder. The light turned green and we were a block closer to the hospital. “After all these years of playing football and basketball for coach I guess I grew up believing the man was invincible. And you know after my dad became that sorry drunk mess and left, I guess coach felt the need to step in and become my alternative father-figure. By that time coach’s son had grown up and was off to college, I suppose he felt lonely and by taking me under his wing he felt like he was needed again.” He said his eyes trailing off into some unknown past that he could only see.
Another block closer to the hospital, two more blocks and we would be there. “We had something special, Jess. It’s hard to explain but it was like there was this unspoken bond we had with each other. I mean at first I thought coach was just a nice guy all around, and don’t get me wrong he was. After all these years I realized why coach kept me after practice, why he was such a hard ass on me. He was doing it because he wanted me to be the best; he wanted to see me get a college scholarship.” He laughed under his breath as we sat in the turning lane waiting to pull into the hospital parking lot. We parked in the last available parking space, he shut the car off and we got out. We began walking hand and hand, even pace, and in silence expect the constant sound of the cars driving through the melted snow slush. He stopped, his fingers slipped through mine. I turned around to see what the matter was. He stood there looking down at his hands.
“Hey what’s the matter?” I asked as I interlaced my fingers with his. He pulled back and just stared at me. He shook his head in disgust.
“Jessica, it’s my fault. It’s my fault. I’m the reason he’s in there, I’m the one who did this to him. Don’t you see? He was so worried about me for all these years. He always put me first, no matter what it took. He got so busy worrying about me, he forgot about himself. Jessica I did this to him! I did this! If it hadn’t been for me, he wouldn’t be in there right now. He’d be in his office getting ready for the big game tonight! Jess I can’t go in there. I just can’t.” he shook his head and let go of my hand making his way back to the car. I stood there for a minute unsure as of what to do. I ran after him my shoes squishing and sloshing in the melted snow.
“Luke, wait!” I said jumping over a pot hole filled with brown disgusting runoff water.
“You just can’t leave, you just can’t!” I was unable to catch up with him until we returned to the car. “You said yourself, we are the only people remotely close to family that he has. Luke, you didn’t do this, it wasn’t your fault, just come with me, he needs us. Luke this might be the only chances you get to see him before….before he gets really bad. And if he really means as much as you say he does to you, you will get out of that car and come with me. Luke please.” I pleaded with him. He sat there for awhile, and at first I would have thought that he hadn’t heard a word that I had said. But then after awhile he threw his black North Face jacket back on and got out of the car. He leaned up against the car facing me, hands in his pockets. He held his arms out, a pitiful crooked smile on his face. I rolled my eyes and gave a weak smile back and walked into his warm embrace. He hugged me like he would never let me go, he hugged me like never before and I liked the way it felt. Flesh against flesh, and warmth against warmth. He ran his hand through my hair and put his mouth close to my ear so he could act like a young High school boy whispering a secret to a young High school girl.
“I love you, Jessica” He whispered in my ear and then pulled away to see my reaction.
“I love you too, Luke.” I smiled; I took his hand and started to pull for the hospital.
“Come on, we have to go.” I said.
“I know we do.” He said.
We only had to ask for directions three times before we finally made our way down to the West wing of the hospital. As we got off the elevator, a large, pale skinned, unpleasant woman with fire orange hair, and name tag pinned to her scrubs was sitting behind the check in desk reading a Peoples magazine.
“Can I help you?” the nurse asked throwing her magazine down in disgust.
“Yes um... Sharon.” Luke leaned over to sneak a peek at the name tag she was wearing. “We are here to see Mr. Derek Anderson.” Luke said through the tiny whole cut into the glass. She glanced at him then at me.
“We only allow family in, are you two Mr. Anderson’s family?” Nurse Sharon grumbled, her fingers rapidly typing on the computer. She glanced back up at us still waiting for an answer. “Well are you or not?” she asked. We had figured they would ask us this question but we never really prepared to answer it. I stepped in front of Luke.
“Yes, we are his children. I’m sorry you see my brother.” I grabbed Luke’s arm and squeezed. “Well, he’s still having a hard time coming to terms with what is happening to our father. So can we go see him now?” I asked. Nurse Sharon looked from me and then Luke. “Your brother looks like he’s going to be sick, are you sure he’s okay?” she asked. I looked at Luke; now that she had mention Luke did seem really pale. Thinking quick on my feet I stepped on his foot, not hard but hard enough to make him look at me. His eyes squinted at me as if to say “What did you do that for?” I nodded to the nurse.
“Luke you feeling okay?” I asked grabbing his arm a little harder. He got the hint.
“Yeah I’m feeling fine, the cold weather does this to me sometimes.” He said looking at the nurse trying to flash a toothy smile at her.
“Okay then, write your names down and I will give you the number of his room.” She said. My plan had worked, we were in. I wrote our names down on the sheet of paper making sure to put Mr. Anderson’s last name instead of our own. The nurse gave it one last check, and slipped the room number under the glass window.
“If you take a right down this first hallway, then another right, and a left his room should be at the very end of the hallway, you can’t miss it, its right outside the big window.”
“Thank-you.” I said as I pulled Luke’s jacket and opened the door.
We followed the nurse’s directions and we soon found ourselves outside room 475.
“You ready for this I asked?” my hand reaching for the door handle.
“As ready as I’ll always be.” Luke said looking out the window. “Wait!” he said making me jump back as I started to turn the handle. “What?!” I asked half scared to death.
“Have I told you I love you yet?” he asked in a kidding voice. I laughed softly. “I don’t think you did.” I whispered as I fell into him. “Well just so you know, I do love you very much.” He put his chin on top of my head. “More than you will ever know.” And then like magic we kissed. After the sparks had flown between us, and the moment became nothing more than a sweet memory. I reluctantly pulled away from him. My placed my hand back on the handle, took a breath, looked at Luke one more time then opened the door. The room was bare with the exception of the bed and the man laying in it, the rocking chair near the window and the two extra cots the nurse had promised me. We stood in the door way before gently closing the door behind us.
Luke wrapped his arm around my waste and moved towards the bed. The closer we got the more I realized how sick he actually was. He was so emaciated that every part of him pop out, his veins, his bones, everything. His face was the worst though, sunken in, dark circles hung around his eyes. He was lifeless. He never even heard us come into the room let alone that we were standing right next to his bed. He laid in the bed facing the window, watching the snowflakes drift down below, it was still early in the morning the sun just starting to rise, setting the clouds on fire with the brilliant shades of orange, pink, and yellow. We just stood there for awhile just looking at the man that we would lose all too soon. Luke cleared his throat. When Mr. Anderson didn’t move Luke let go of me and went to sit beside him on the bed. Mr. Anderson still wasn’t acknowledging him.
“Coach.” Mr. Anderson jumped, almost like he was unaware of having company. He looked at the young man that sat beside him. He managed a weak smile, and shook his head in disbelief. “Hey Luke, well this was one thing that I hadn’t planned on.” Coach said trying to make a joke out of it. “It’s not funny.” Luke’s eyebrows came together in furry. “Coach I know what’s wrong, why didn’t you tell me?” Luke stood up and walked to the window. He placed his hand on the cold window, looking down on the rest of the world. “You lied to me coach, you told me a month ago you were fine, coach you’re not fine!” Luke spun around on his heal facing him. Mr. Anderson hung his head low in defeat and knew he had to tell Luke the truth. “Okay, I will tell you.” I pulled a chair up beside his bed. He was surprised to see me. “What are you doing here?’ he asked grimacing a little bit as he tried to sit straight up. “The same reason as Luke.” I said crossing my arms raising my eyebrows.
“Oh I see.” He said wringing his hands. He tried to change the subject, but Luke and I wouldn’t let it go down that road. “Coach.” Luke said walking towards the bed. “You lied to me; you have… you have cancer.” Luke said disappointed. Coach looked down at him and sighed. “Luke I didn’t lie, I hoped that I would get better, those are two different things. When your senior year came around I asked the doctor’s to stop giving me so much medication.” He said staring out the window.
Coach took a breath grimacing in pain as he did so. “Because I wanted to be here for it, I mean really be here, just not half way. I wanted to live my life like a real person, Luke. I wanted to be there for you. And for awhile I thought that by taking a break from all the treatments and medicine that I would somehow get better. So I went on living life, enjoying what little time I had left. A person can only go on truly living for so long Luke.” He hesitated for awhile, the beeping of the monitor filling the empty spaces in the air.
“Luke, look at me.” Mr. Anderson said. Luke did as he was told and picked his head up. Mr. Anderson struggled to find words. Finding the right words Mr. Anderson spoke. “Luke the reason I didn’t tell you that I have….cancer is because that’s not what I wanted this time to be about. I wanted it to be about you, Luke. It’s always been about you Luke, that’s the way I’ve always wanted it.
Luke’s hands balled up into fists at his side. “Yeah and if it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be in here! You would be getting ready for the big game tonight! If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t be…” he paused not wanting to let the word pass his lips. He looked down, breathing hard, trying to “suck it up” as he would say. It was quiet for what seemed like eternity. Tears in my eyes too, he looked at me and gave a weak smile. “It’s alright to cry Jessica. Trust me I have had my fair share of them as well.” He reached for a few tissues on his bed stand. I dabbed at my eyes “No it’s not okay.” I said looking at him. He nodded agreeing with me. He chewed on his bottom lip for awhile before looking down at Luke. “Look at me.” He said. “This is not your fault, don’t you think that for a second. Sometimes these things just happen. I’m just sorry you had to find out this way.” He was cut short by the quick knock at the door.
A young man wearing a white long jacket came in; his hair was black and short. His misty blue eyes under his half moon wire rimmed glasses sparkled. He was tall and as thin as a stick. Like nurse Sharon he was wearing a name tag, DR. Harris. He stopped mid stride when he saw Luke and I, and the smile disappeared.
“Oh Mr. Anderson I didn’t know you had company I could come back later if you would like.” He said putting his hands inside his pockets. He looked from Luke then to me.
Mr. Anderson shook his head. “No it’s fine we were just talking. This is Luke, and this is Jessica. Guys this is Dr. Harris he’s the one that’s been taking care of me. We stood up from our chairs and shook hands with the doctor. Only when Luke shook his hand, he pulled Dr. Harris close enough that he could whisper in his ear. “Could we talk to you in private?” Luke asked. The doctor pulled away and shook his head moving towards the door. “Coach we will be right back.” Luke said as we followed the doctor out the door into the hallway.
“So what did you want to ask?” Harris asked grabbing the clipboard off the wall examining it.
“Well, we were wondering how bad his condition really is.” Luke said.
“I was afraid you were going to ask that.” Harris took a deep breath. “We found a malignant tumor in his leg the first time. We treated it and we thought it had went away, but a week ago he came in complaining of the same pain only this time it was in his lower abdomen. You have to understand the thing is with malignant tumors are that they get into the blood stream and spread to other parts of the body. People with malignant tumors hardly ever beat the odds and survive. Once they spread they are almost impossible to stop. But there are a few occasions where a person can beat it. In the time I’ve had Mr. Anderson as a patient; I know he must have to be a fighter, he wants’ to beat the odds. He’s refusing to give up. Sometimes if a person has something to live for, that makes them fight even more. And by the way he talks about you two; I’d say that you are exactly what he needs to get through this. I haven’t given up on him yet, and I don’t think you should either. Not yet anyways.” He stopped taking a deep long breath checking his pager every once in awhile.
“Okay so this might not be that bad after all.” Luke said, looking from me to the doctor a small smile on his face. The first smile I’d seen all day.
“Now, I didn’t say he was going to be make it through this. There is always the possibility of Mr. Anderson getting worse as well. Cancer can go one of two ways. The patient can get better within weeks, or the patient can go south and get worse within hours. But right now his vitals are showing improvement. And if something does go wrong we will be ready. No matter what happens though, I promise you this, we will do everything in our power to keep him comfortable. And I’ll promise you this as well, if his time does come, you will get to say goodbye, I promise. And just so you know I mean what I say, and when I make promise, I make sure to keep it. Please excuse me I need to finish my rounds for the morning. If you need anything at all, just tell the nurse to page me.” Doctor Harris smiled, shook our hands one more time and walked back down the hall.
“Doctor Harris?” Luke called out.
Dr. Harris spun on his heal, his white jacket flapping behind him. “Yes?” he asked.
Luke took a big breath. “Thank – you.”
Dr. Harris smiled “You’re welcome.”