In which Bill Hill takes a turn for the worse
After her nap and lunch, Claire thought about her sermon. First Sunday in Lent – the temptation of Jesus. Not her favorite, but she thought maybe this year she would have something to say about trying to do good by being someone you’re not. Then again, there was always the old sermon file.
On Friday Emma went back to school and Claire went back to the office to take care of a few things. She asked Trystene if she had any questions about the Saints, and Trystene answered she was still thinking about it. Claire asked Bill Carr if he was upset that she had told Trystene and Emma about the Saints. Bill said again that he trusted Claire’s judgment on the matter.
Friday night over dinner, Claire told Emma they needed to have another serious conversation.
“I figured I wasn’t going to get off this time.”
“Honey, we have to figure out a way for you to get mad without running away. A lot of people – a lot of people didn’t sleep on Wednesday night, looking for you and worrying about you. I was about to call the police.”
“I know. I just was home thinking about you and you lying to me and Dad leaving us and I just got so mad. I wanted to hurt you the way you hurt me, and I decided I would go try to find Dad. I figured out when the service would end, and then some time so you could talk to everybody and then clean up, and I left when I thought you’d be driving home. I went to church to leave you a note, but then I heard someone and I didn’t want Bill or whoever to see me so I decided to sneak out of the tunnels.”
“How did you get in?”
“Remember when you lost your keys? And you got replacements? Well, I had hid them and I kept them because I figured some day I might use them for something.”
I have completely underestimated the wiliness of my kid, Claire thought.
“Anyway, so I snuck down to the boiler room and I went into the tunnels and then I found that room, and I was hungry so I ate the snack I had brought, and then I decided I was tired and I could get up really early and I fell asleep. And then you found me.”
“Emma, I’m so glad you’re safe but what you did is not okay. There has to be a consequence. I’ve decided you can’t drive without me for two months.”
“Do you want to make it three?”
“What about you? What about your consequence for lying to me?”
Claire stared her daughter down. “Don’t you think I paid my penance last night?”
“Can we be done for now?”
“Do you want to watch The Princess Bride?”
“As you wish.”
Claire and Emma made it through Saturday, and détente was in the air. Sunday morning arrived, and Claire with Emma made it to church, though neither Gladys nor Bill was there to hear that sermon on the temptation of Jesus. Gladys had left Claire a voicemail on her phone at church very early Sunday morning, saying that she and Bill were headed to the ER, and not to stop by before the service but please to include Bill in prayers. Claire did.
During coffee hour (in which there were no Prune Drop cookies) Alice approached Claire.
“How are you doing dear?”
“Better. Thank you again for everything the other night, Alice.”
“It’s my work, Claire. I’m glad everything turned out well. So, do you know what’s going on with Bill?”
“I don’t. Gladys just said they were headed to the ER. I was going to drop Emma off at home and grab a bite then head over to the hospital.”
“I think I won’t go just yet.”
“I think that’s good. If he’s still in the ER things will be busy, and if they admit him, they’ll all be adjusting to that. I probably won’t stay long myself. I will call you tonight.”
“Please give both of them my love, Claire.”
As Claire and Emma headed to the parking lot, Emma asked her mother why they couldn’t go straight to the hospital.
“Honey, I know you love Bill and Gladys, but things might be a little chaotic and if Meri and Junie are there and Bill’s still in the ER, it’s going to be crowded. I’m not going to stay there for very long. And Rex needs to be let out, and I need a bite to eat before heading over.”
Emma said nothing but slumped down and sulked.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Okay,” Claire said, not wanting to talk about it either.
Lunch was a quiet affair, though Rex kept looking hopeful that one of the women would drop a little of their BLT. No such luck.
“Well, I’m headed out to the hospital.”
Claire stopped. She looked Emma straight in the eye. “Listen. I know this is hard. I know you and I still aren’t in a good place. I know you think of Bill and Gladys as honorary grandparents, and I know that Bill dying scares you to death. I get that. But the least you could do is say, ‘tell them I say hi’ or ‘tell them I’m praying for them’ or ‘tell them I love them.’ I’m really not good with, ‘okay, whatever.’ How about you give that another try.”
Emma’s reply was to get up, stomp upstairs, slam her door, and not say a word. “Could you please not run away today?” Claire yelled upstairs.
God give me strength, Claire thought, to mother my daughter and offer hope and peace to a dying man.
Claire went to the check-in desk at the Emergency Room. “Hi, I’m Bill Hill’s pastor. Can I see him?”
The nurse looked down at the chart, then said, “I’ll be right back.” She went down the hall through double doors. Claire waited, trying to get out of herself to make room for some grace. The nurse returned. “He’s in room 7. The family said they would love to see you, but just for a few minutes.”
“Thank you,” Claire said. She headed back down the hall.
Room Seven was really just three curtains and a wall, so there was nowhere to knock.
Claire stuck her head in, making eye contact with Meri. “Is it okay to come in?” she asked.
“Hi, Claire. Yeah, come in.”
Bill had an oxygen mask over his mouth and didn’t speak, but his eyes followed Claire and he nodded his head. Gladys was sitting by his bedside, holding his hand. She saw Claire and stood up, motioning her to take her seat.
“I’m fine, Gladys. You sit.”
“Oh, I need to stretch. Really, take a seat. It will be easier for Bill to hear you that way.”
“So, you’re still here.”
“Yes,” Gladys said. “He was struggling to breathe this morning, and the doctor said to bring him in. They’re going to admit him – they’re just waiting for a room to open up in Oncology.”
Claire read the fear in the faces of the women. Bill didn’t look fearful or anxious, just focused. Maybe he was simply trying to breathe, Claire thought.
Claire turned to Bill. “I’m sorry you’re here but I hope you’re getting some relief. I’m going to say a prayer and go, but all you need to do is call me and I’ll come back.” She turned to Meri and Junie and Gladys. “Is there anything in particular you want me to pray for?”
“Hope,” Junie said.
“Comfort,” Meri said.
“Peace,” Gladys said.
“It sounds like a Christmas carol,” Claire said, hoping the stab at humor would break a little of the tension. The three women smiled, and their shoulders went down a tiny bit. Claire stood up and put her hand on Bill’s shoulder. Gladys took her hand and Bill’s; Meri sat on the bed, and Junie held Bill’s other hand.
“Gracious and loving God,” Claire began.
“Mr. Hill,” the nurse interrupted. She looked around the room. “Oh, I’m sorry.”
“I’ll be just a minute,” Claire said.
“Can I join you? It’s been a morning, and I could use a prayer,” said the nurse, moving to the end of the bed.
“Gracious and loving God….”
When Claire got home, she sat in the car for a minute, willing herself not get mad at Emma. She went in and was greeted by Rex, who had run down from Emma’s room. “Em? I’m home.” No answer.
Claire sighed and changed into her jeans and a sweater. She went upstairs. Emma was lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling. “Can I come in?”
Claire sat down on the bed. Emma had been crying. “So they’re going to admit Bill. He was having trouble breathing. I think the tumor is pressing down on his lungs.”
Emma said nothing, but Claire saw her eyes well up with tears. Claire took her hand, and the two sat there in silence for a while. Rex jumped up, and curled up against Emma.
“Mom, I just want to be alone right now.”
“Okay. I’ll be downstairs.”
Claire called Alice and let her know about Bill. “How are you doing, Claire?” Alice asked.
“I’m okay. I love Gladys and Bill, but Bill’s pretty sick. It’s really hard on Emma, so that makes it hard for me in a different way.”
“Well, if there’s anything I can do for you, or Glad and Bill, just let me know.”
“Thanks, Alice. You’ve done so much already.”
Claire looked around. The living room was in desperate need of a vacuum and dust rag. Just as she was getting out the cleaning supplies, the phone rang. Please don’t let it be the hospital, she prayed.
It wasn’t. It was Martha.
“What, do you have mental telepathy now? How did you know I needed to talk to you right this very minutes?”
“Another bad day?”
“Not terrible, just a lot of little things. I’m still tired from the other night. Bill Hill’s dying, and Emma doesn’t know what to do with her sadness, and she’s still more than a little mad at me. I did a Lent throwdown and challenged everyone to live with more honesty, and then you lying Saints came to my rescue. And now Trystene and Emma know about you guys. My house is a mess and I’ve had cheese and crackers and a glass of wine for dinner twice this week. I have no social life. But my dog loves me, so there’s that.”
“Sounds like I need to come right over and throw you a big pity party.”
“Listen, I’ve got to go. I know I just called but – I’ll call you back.”
“Okay. Love you.”
Claire went back to the vacuum cleaner and the dust rag. She plumped up the couch pillows and refolded the afghan. She recycled the old magazines and gave the bathroom a quick wipe down. Five-thirty. Better check the fridge to see what there might be for dinner. And then she heard a knock on the door. There stood Martha.
“Martha! Oh my God! Why didn’t you tell me you were in town? I thought you weren’t coming for a couple of weeks! What are you doing here?”
“Surprise! I am here to throw you a pity party. Now where’s that girl of yours?”
“She’s upstairs and she’s all yours.”
Martha headed upstairs and when Claire heard Emma’s squeal, she knew everything would be alright. She peeked in the grocery bag Martha had brought. Take out from Cinghiale. She had the best friend alive.
Martha and Emma came down the stairs, both with grins on their faces. Emma gave her mother a quick hug. “I’m sorry I was such a pill.”
“That’s okay. We get to be pills to each other sometimes. Okay, so Martha, you brought enough food to feed an army.”
Martha stammered, which was completely out of character. “Well, about that….”
Martha had been in town since Friday, it turned out. Visiting Toledo. Staying with Toledo. Rekindling things with Toledo.
“So, the end of that story is that he’s coming over at 6:30 to join us for dinner.”
“Aunt Martha, I can’t believe Toledo Vader was your fiancé. And now you’re dating him again? Are you going to get married? Oh my God, is that for real?”
“For real, Ems. Definitely for real.”
The four had a grand time, though Rex was still wary of Toledo. He greeted the guest at the door with a growl, and ran protectively around the women until Claire finally filled the Kong with peanut butter and banished the dog to the kitchen.
Toledo and Martha laughed easily with each other, and the affection they had for each other was the kind that expanded and didn’t shut out. Emma was mesmerized by Toledo’s stories, and Claire felt both joy and envy.
At ten, Claire kicked Martha and Toledo out. “I’ve had a long day without the usual Sunday nap and Emma’s still got homework to do. Out you two.”
“Goodnight, Claire, goodnight, Emma. Please thank Rex for not biting my ankles.”
“Goodnight, sweetie. I’m in town all week, so I promise we’ll get together again. Goodnight, Ems. Go do your homework. Love you both.”
Emma went upstairs to finish her homework. Claire checked her email. One from Gladys.
I’m wondering if you can come by the hospital at 11 tomorrow. We’re going to meet with the oncologist and someone from palliative care to talk about hospice. Meri and Junie won’t be there, but Bill and I talked and it would really help us to have you there. I’m going home tonight but won’t answer the phone. Just email me a yes or no.
I could use some of that medicine of your grace right now, Claire prayed.