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Bright Side(47) by Kim Holden

Gus ruffles Stella’s hair. “Well, good thing I’m all about fun, kiddo.” He turns and squats. “All aboard, Bright Side.”

I climb on and Keller hands Gus my suitcase. “Thanks, man.”

Gus waves as he takes a few steps backward down the corridor toward security. “Anytime, dude. Anytime.”

When Gus turns my back is to Keller and Stella so I turn my head and watch them fade away. The three of us wave at each other until Gus turns the corner, and they’re gone.

Friday, January 13

(Kate)

I Skype with Keller and Stella every morning and every night. And because classes don’t start up again for another week for him, we also talk several times on the phone throughout the day when he isn’t at work and when I’m not sleeping.

I’m sleeping a lot now. The nurse Audrey hired, Tammy, says that her job is to keep me comfortable. And for me, comfort takes the form of oxycodone. Since I’m fond of not being in excruciating pain, it works out. Being hooked up to oxygen has helped too. Breathing was becoming a real struggle, now it’s a breeze. Turns out that my body loves an adequate amount of oxygen. This nasal cannula is my new favorite thing.

Gus was supposed to go back out on the road last week, Europe. He refused to go. Their tour manager is pissed. Gus has started calling him Fucking Hitler. The rest of the band is standing behind Gus, so there’s not much that can be done except reschedule the shows. I feel guilty that he’s postponing his life, but I’m happy that he’s here with me.

He spends every minute of every day and every night in this room with me. He’s constant, comforting company. We listen to music, or play cards (yes, I cheat—he lets me), or just talk (there’s a lot of reminiscing). And almost every day Franco, Robbie, or Jamie stops by to visit, too. Sometimes they stay for a few minutes; sometimes they stay for an hour. It just depends on how long I can stay awake.

Tammy even lets Gus take me outside onto the deck for some fresh air once a day. He carries me and rolls the carts of all of my new accessories (IV meds and oxygen) out with us. Walking is impossible for me now. Going to the bathroom is even a thing of the past, which I’m really unhappy about. Catheters suck. And pee bags are just gross.

Audrey got home from work about an hour ago. She’s been working from home, but every other day she goes into her office for an hour or two. She’s got a business to run on top of my mess. I don’t know how she does it.

She’s knocking on the door now with a coffee cup in hand, just like she does every day at this time. “Hi sweetie. How’re you doing?”

I smile, because I can’t do anything else when I look at Audrey these days. I always thought she was an angel, and there’s no doubt about it now. “Fabulous.”

She returns the smile and kisses me on the forehead. “Glad to hear it,” she says, before handing me a cup of vegetable broth. “Dinner is served.” She looks at Gus. “Gus, honey, I made you something to eat, too. It’s in the kitchen.”

Gus pats the side of the bed. “I’ll be right back.” He doesn’t like to eat in front of me since I can’t really eat anymore, so he eats in the kitchen by himself. I swear he inhales his food, because he’s gone five minutes, tops.

“Take your time, Gus. I need to talk to Kate for a few minutes.” Her tone is gentle but firm.

He nods and looks at me, raising his eyebrows. “Dude, I think you’re in trouble.”

I laugh. The past few weeks have been easy between us again. Gus looks exhausted and I know he’s not sleeping much, but his sense of humor is back. I love that. He’s let go of some of the stress. And as for me, I feel like a calm stillness has settled over me. I’m as comfortable as I can be, and I feel content. Peaceful, even, in a way I never have before. Maybe it’s the Xanax that Tammy’s added to my IV cocktail. I insisted that I didn’t need it (I haven’t had any issues with anxiety since the panic attack in Grant last month) and although she acknowledged my feelings, she said it might make me more comfortable. I’m all about comfort these days, so I gave it a try. Drugs or not, I’m good. I’m good.

Audrey sits on the edge of my bed next to me and rubs my forearm just like she did when I was small and she was trying to sooth me. She smiles. “You’re looking better this afternoon. You have some color in your cheeks.”

“I feel good today, Audrey. I’m glad it shows. How are you doing?”

“I’m well, sweetheart.” She kisses me on the forehead again. “Don’t you worry about me.”

But I do. I worry about all of them. This must be draining them. “What’s up? Am I in trouble?”

She laughs. “No. There are a few things I need to discuss with you. I don’t think we can put them off any longer. I’m sorry to have to be the one to bring all of this up, but it’s my job as a mother to make sure you’re taken care of.”

“Thank you. So what do we need to talk about?”

She sets the papers she’s holding on the nightstand. “You drink your broth. I’ll talk.”

“Okay.” I do as she says, even though I’m getting really tired of vegetable broth. It’s the only thing I can stomach these days.

“You already gave me power of attorney, so I’ll make sure all of your financial affairs are attended to. The deductible on your health insurance is very low. Last year’s deductible was satisfied and you paid everything in full. This year’s bills will be minimal, after your deductible is met everything’s paid one hundred percent. You have enough in your savings to cover it. What other bills do you have?”

I don’t want to share this with Audrey, because I know she’s going to be hurt that I didn’t come to her months ago with it, but it’s my responsibility. “Just Gracie’s burial costs. I’m on a monthly payment plan. The balance is around two thousand dollars. I don’t know if I’ll have enough money left after the medical bills to pay for it.”

She blinks as if she’s confused. “I thought you said Grace’s funeral was paid for. That you had some money left over from the sale of Janice’s home?”

I can’t look at her. “I lied.”

“Oh Kate, why didn’t you say something? I would have been more than happy to cover that.”

I’m still looking at the bedspread instead of her. “That’s why I couldn’t tell you. Gracie was my responsibility. She was my sister. It was my job.”

She shakes her head. “Well, don’t you worry about that. It will be taken care of.” It’s final. “What else?”

“Other than my cell phone, nothing. My car insurance is paid through April.”

“Okay. That brings us to the next item on my list. Your will.” She holds my gaze and tears are filling her eyes. “I’m sorry, Kate. This is hard.”

I pat her leg. “It’s okay, Audrey. I don’t know that a will is necessary though. I don’t really have anything. I gave my car to Keller, though he’s still fighting me on it. And I want Gus to have my violin, my laptop, and the music I’ve written. That about covers it.”

She clears her throat. “Not exactly. There’s something you don’t know about.”

I prop myself up in bed, because she has on her concerned, protective mama bear face. “I spoke to your father last month.”

“You what?” I intend for it to come out much louder than it does, but I feel like the wind’s been knocked out of me.

“Years ago I got his name, address, and phone number from Janice in case I ever needed to contact him on your or Grace’s behalf. I’ve called him only three times: once when Janice died, once when Grace died, and last month when I learned of your illness.”

I hear the words coming out of my mouth, but it feels like someone else’s voice. “What did he say?”

She tilts her head and her eyes soften. I bet she’s trying to figure out how to tell me he’s a heartless bastard. “With Janice he seemed indifferent. The news was received with silence and a thank you for letting him know. With Grace, he seemed sad. I gave him the funeral details. He sent flowers.”

“I never saw them. There wasn’t a card with his name on it.” I’m shocked.

She shakes her head, apologizing. “He sent them anonymously. It was a large bouquet of carnations.”

I laugh humorlessly. “That’s fitting, Gracie hated carnations. She called them smelly, old lady flowers. She liked tulips. Yellow tulips.”

Audrey’s lips tip up into a smile. “I know.”

I’m nervous now. The next phone call was about me. “What did he say about me?”

“Kate, you are such a wonderful person. Your father’s approval or involvement has never mattered—”

“Just tell me, Audrey.”

She sighs. “He said the news was regretful. He said he was sorry he’d never known you. I offered to set up a meeting, to fly him over from England. He refused. I’m sorry, honey.”

I don’t remember my father, so I’ve never really missed him. Until now. Now, I feel cheated. I feel pissed off that he chose another family over us. I clench my teeth and mutter, “He’s a bastard, isn’t he Audrey?”

“I think that’s a good name for him, yes. In fact, I could think of a few others I prefer, but bastard will do.” Audrey rarely curses. She’s mad.

I’d laugh if I wasn’t fuming.

She reaches for an envelope on the nightstand. “He did send you this. I opened it already. I hope you don’t mind. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t anything that would upset you.”

I take the envelope, and my hands are shaking. I’ve gone from angry to scared in a split second. I part the top of the already opened envelope and peer inside. There’s no letter, only a small piece of paper. I pinch it between my thumb and forefinger and slide it out slowly. “A check?”

Audrey nods.

I look at the amount. “Audrey, this is fifty thousand dollars.” I’ve never seen this many zeroes.

Audrey nods again.

I toss it aside on the nightstand. “Fuck him, Audrey.” I’m pissed again. I try not to use that word in front of Audrey because I know she doesn’t like it, but I can’t restrain myself. “Fuck him and his money. Send it back. Tell him I don’t want it.”

She looks stressed, but resigned. “Normally, Kate, I would agree with you. I would commend your dignity and pride and tell him to stuff it. But, I think you should accept it.”

Maybe she’s right. “You take it. I’ll sign it over to you. It will help repay you for all you’ve done for me over the years.” This isn’t my anger talking. I sincerely mean it, and she knows it.

“Oh Kate, I couldn’t accept something like that. Gus and I have never lacked financially. We’ve both been very fortunate. Maybe you know someone else who might be able to use the money?”

It doesn’t take me long to come to a decision. I endorse the check and give Audrey specific instructions, and then I write a short thank-you note to my father.

Thomas,

Thank you for Grace. I wish you could have known her. She was the sweetest, most innocent human being.

Though your money reeks of guilt, and it’s against my better judgment to accept it, know that it will be put to good use.

Lastly, I hope you’re good to your wife and children and that you tell them you love them every day. Kids need that. Audrey Hawthorne taught me about the love of a parent to her child. She’s a wonderful woman. I’ve never felt unloved. I hope that puts your mind at ease.

Kate

After the note, and after Audrey leaves the room, I decide to talk to God, which makes me feel a little guilty because I’ve been avoiding him for a long time now. Hey Big Man. I meant what I wrote to Thomas. I don’t know if it’s my place to ask you for this, but whatever. Here goes. Please forgive him. I really do hope that he loves his wife and kids and that they love him. Thank you for blessing me with so many people to love.

Sunday, January 15

(Kate)

Keller’s had flowers delivered to me every four or five days since I’ve been away from him here at Audrey’s. Gus always puts them on the nightstand next to my bed so I can look at them and smell them up close. I’ve always said I don’t do hearts and flowers. I’ve since changed my stance. I’m so pro hearts and flowers now.

Yesterday I received a box in the mail from Keller. It was labeled “Katie’s Dream Vacation” and inside he had packed a travel DVD about Ha Long Bay, two pairs of cheap sunglasses, two small paper drink umbrellas, and a handwritten note of instructions. Following those instructions, Gus and I wore the sunglasses and watched the DVD. Gus sat beside me on my bed drinking a glass of Jack and Coke while I enjoyed my cup of vegetable broth while pretending that it was a pina colada. We garnished our cocktails with the small paper umbrellas. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite as funny as Gus drinking something with a tiny cocktail umbrella in it. It was perfect. The thought that Keller put into this gift was perfect.

Keller, Stella, and I Skyped tonight, like we do every night. He showed me the airline tickets he bought. They cost him a lot of money that I know he doesn’t have. He lost the majority of his scholarship and he has Stella full-time now, so the bills are piling up. He wanted to be here this weekend, but I know I’ll only see him one more time and I feel like I don’t want it to happen too soon or it will be over and then I won’t have anything to look forward to. It will be one more “last time” for me. I want to put off this “last time” as long as I can. So he and Stella are coming to see me Friday evening instead. They’re staying until Sunday afternoon. I can’t wait to see them, smell them, touch them. It’s been two weeks. Two weeks feels like an eternity. Distance sucks. I miss them. I miss him.

Monday, January 16

(Kate)

Hey God, it’s me Kate. I feel like we never really talked about what’s going on except for my angry rant last month, but I want you to know that I’m not mad, you know, about the whole cancer cluster-fuck. It doesn’t change the way I look at my life. I had a good one. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Gracie, Gus, Audrey, Keller, my friends, and my music were a gift from—well you know, you. I get that, so thank you. Each and every one was a blessing. Speaking of which, I’m also here to ask for a solid. Please keep an eye on everyone I love when I’m gone, especially Keller and Gus. As human beings go, they’re my favorites and yes, I’m requesting preferential treatment. Audrey, too. Take that as you will. Thanks in advance. And one more thing. I know I may be over-stepping my bounds here, but I figure you’re used to that with me by now. Don’t think I’m a pussy, but when my time comes, can you take me painlessly, like maybe in my sleep or something? I’m kind of over the whole agony thing, to be honest with you. Plus, I know Gus and Audrey will most likely be with me when it happens and I’d rather not leave them with a traumatic last impression. Oh, and can you let Gracie know I’m coming? You know, if she doesn’t already know. Tell her we’ll sing and dance and read stories and eat Twix bars and watch sunsets. This is probably the last you’ll hear from me until I’m standing on your doorstep banging on the door like some obnoxious long-lost relative. I know you’re secretly looking forward to hanging out with me. Heaven will be a lot less quiet and a lot more fun once I get there. You have been warned. Don’t worry, you’ll love it. Okay. Good night.