I’ve never understood why the heart always reacts.
A shot of adrenaline is all it takes, triggered by a thought. A word. A memory. And every time the reaction is singular, a fingerprint of a moment.
Sometimes it’s a flutter, a flicker of wings in your chest. Others, it’s a relentless vise that stops the beat, if only for a second. It might be a hot burn, spreading like wildfire in your ribs, or an icy cold space, empty and void.
But the heart always reacts. Even after seven years, just hearing his name inspired any of those reactions or a dozen more. And there was one every single time.
The ticking of the clock
Marring the deafening silence,
Time's footsteps toward an end
Or a beginning.
* * *
- M. White
* * *
I didn't hear the knocking until I closed the door to my nephew's bedroom, and my first thought was that I hoped it wouldn't wake him from his nap. The second was wonder over who it could be as I hurried to the door of my sister's brownstone. But nothing could have prepared me for the turn my life would take when I opened it.
My best friend stood on the steps, her dark hair hanging over her bent shoulders, tears falling from sparkling gray eyes, her mouth gaping in pain as she reached for me, falling into my arms.
"Sophie," I breathed as I held her trembling frame as best I could.
Sobs racked through her, and her hands fisted my sweater. She couldn't speak, so I held her with my mind racing, heart aching with dread, and her father's name echoing in my head. She'd come from the hospital, and she'd brought news. News I didn't know that any of us were prepared for.
"Come inside," I said gently, guiding her into the house, down the stairs, and into my room.
We sat on the edge of my bed, and Sophie hid her face in her hands as her shoulders shook. I turned to her, laying my hand on her back, waiting.
She wiped her cheeks with the flats of her fingers, though tears kept falling as she looked at me with crisp eyes and a trembling chin and said words that would echo in my heart forever.
"The stroke … it was because he's …" she struggled. "He has cancer, Elliot, and … and …" Her thin composure had nearly shattered, her face bending under the weight of the words, and my fingers went numb as my heart split open. "He's dying."
She broke, folding over, and I pulled her into me, wrapping my arms around her, pressing my cheek to her crown as my tears fell, blinding me.
He was more my father than my own. And now … now …
"Wade …" she started, but couldn't finish; the words held too much power.
Even the one she uttered had power over me, the same power it always had. His name. That name I'd heard a thousand times, a thousand ways, and still — even under the shock of the moment — his name crushed my heart, splintering it like broken glass.
"Wade's on the plane," Sophie said, her words uneven. (Again, his name, my heart murmuring fresh pain.) "I can't … he doesn't know. There's no way to tell him what happened, not until his flight lands. He's on the plane, and he doesn't know … doesn't know that Dad only has weeks …" she said as she clutched my sweater. "Weeks. That's all we have left. I don't … I can't …" The words dissolved into sobs.
"Shhh," I soothed, rocking her until she found her voice again.
"I need Wade," she whispered. "I don't know what to do. But he'll know. He always knows."
My heart thumped hard, bumping the broken glass, nicked by sharp edges. "He'll be here soon."
She nodded against my breast. "And Sadie. What will I do about Sadie? She's still at school … I came straight here." She moaned gently. "I don't even know what I'm doing. I didn't even tell my own sister. I should … I should call the school. But how will I tell her? How can I? I can't do this without Wade." The words split and cracked, sending her over the edge again.
There was nothing to say, no words of comfort to offer; it wouldn't be okay, time wouldn't heal her wounds, it wouldn't work itself out. Her father was dying with no warning. A seizure at work the day before sent him to the hospital, and the diagnosis gave him a life sentence. An expiration date.
I had no way of comprehending what was happening to the man who had been like a father to me. My best friend's father. Wade's father.
My heart folded in on itself for a beat. He was coming home. Seven years without a word. Seven years without seeing his face.
It was all too much.
I squeezed my eyes closed and rested my cheek on top of her head.
Her sobbing ebbed, and she pulled away, though her eyes were trained on the ground, barely open.
"I don't know what to do."
My fingers wound together in my lap, squeezing and twisting. "For now, wait for your brother." I couldn't say his name, such a simple thing, still beyond me. "How long will your dad be in the hospital?"
"Two days. He's stable now, speaking, but he can't walk, can't feed himself. He fell asleep and I couldn't … I couldn't be the only one who knew. I needed you. God, what are we going to do, Elliot?"
Her eyes were bright and sparkling behind thick, dark, tear-soaked lashes, her brows stitched together with fear and sadness and grief.
"Have you spoken to hospice yet?"
She shook her head and buried her face in her hands. "We're meeting tonight with a social worker. Dad wants to come home, so we've got to make a plan, figure everything out, but I … I just …"
"What can I do?" I laid a hand on her back.