The October night was clear and crisp...its symphony a cacophony of her high heels on the pavement, clicking a staccato beat to the wailing sirens of an approaching ambulance and the hum of the hospital generators. Glancing down at the hand holding his, thankful Molly had given him one last chance, they walked across the parking lot of the hospital. Feeling the soft familiarity of her hand in his, suddenly and without warning, his mind raced back 40 years. He remembered the first time he ever laid eyes on Molly as she stood outside the band hall that September morning of their freshmen year. All of 14 years old...she was a pretty girl with a whispered promise of the beautiful woman she would become. Casting a sideways glance at her, seeing the promise fulfilled, Jack felt ashamed. Penitent, he remembered how foolish and callow he had been three years later at the start of their senior year. That fall he had foolishly let his false sense of male peacockery get the better of him. He made the mistake of cheating more than once, believing it his due as BMOC, forcing her to walk away to salvage her pride. How he had cried that June night when shortly after graduation, she married someone else...his only excuse for losing her being he was too young to know better....or at least that's what Jack told himself for several years afterwards."How is your dad doing?" she asked, her voice breaking his pensive reverie and returning him to the present.
"Dad's doing what the doctors tell him to, but I'm more worried about Mom." he replied. "She's wearing herself out. She won't go home, eats like a bird, and worries constantly. Quite honestly...I can't remember them ever spending a night apart and even though Tim and I offer...she won't leave that stinking hospital."
Stepping into the elevator that would take them to the third floor, he thought about the second chance he had been given, once again feeling the past drag at his mind. Who knew a simple invitation to a high school reunion would provide the opportunity to try and right a wrong. Swallowing his pride, he had called her and was jubilant to learn she was single again. Apologizing for his stupidity 20 years earlier, he asked her to be his date. He remembered the pride he had felt walking into the reunion with her...his high school sweetheart...on his arm. But some how...some way...he had managed to blow it...again. He was struggling, trying to remember what careless thing he had done at the Harvest Moon Ball that caused her to walk out of his life once more, when the door to the elevator opened.
As they stepped out of the elevator and started down the hallway, they were startled to see nurses streaming out of his father's room. Molly motioned for him to run ahead, telling him "I'll catch up."
"What's happening? What's wrong with my father?" he asked breathlessly...needing the answer, but scared to his core of what it would be.
"There appears to be a problem with one of his medications." the nurse replied just as the doctor stepped out of his father's room.
"An experimental medication we were trying with your father caused an adverse reaction akin to Alzheimer's. This sometimes happens in Parkinson's. He was disoriented and hallucinatory with no recognition of his surroundings, but we have given him a sedative and are working to correct the situation. He is stable, but we'll continue to monitor him through the night. Hopefully, Mr. Towns will be back to his normal self by morning." As the doctor started to walk away, he stopped, turned and with a quick nod told Jack "By the way...you've got one helluva mother in that room."
At that moment, Molly joined him and silently took Jack's hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. Puzzled, wanting to know more, but with the need to see his father first and foremost in his mind, they stepped into the room. There would be time to take the doctor to task later, but for the time being...for now...he just needed to see for himself his father was okay.
As they walked into the room, the full portent of what was to be unfolding before their eyes, they could only turn and stare at each other speechless. Unable to believe what he was witnessing, his first thought was "Oh my gosh...this can't be real. This only happens in the movies. In fact, this could be a scene straight out of The Notebook!" It was too surreal to be true. Both his parents lay on the small hospital bed, his father lying on his right side, moaning and shaking while Jack's mother lay beside her husband of oh so many years. Her arms were wrapped tightly around him, holding on for dear life as he kept repeating "Don't let me fall...please don't let me fall!" and her promising back "I never have and I never will."
Molly, tears in her eyes, stopped and softly laid her hand on his mother's back as Jack walked to the other side of the bed to see their faces. His tiny, frail mother, reading the confusion and fear in her son's eyes whispered "He's all right now Jack. He was afraid of falling out of the bed or off a cliff...I'm not sure which. I just thought it might help if he knew I was here, holding him. Please don't fuss at me....your father needs me. Don't fret about me, hon. I'll rest better too, feeling him breathe beside me." Giving him a weary, small smile, she closed her eyes and continued to hold the man she loved with no intention of ever letting go.
Looking across the hospital bed that held 67 years of love unfailing and seeing his own 40 years of missteps, his eyes came to rest on Molly's tear streaked face. As Jack looked at her beautiful face, he fell into silent prayer. "Lord, if it's true the third time's the charm, I only ask for one thing. Please Lord, if it be your will, the next time I feel myself falling...let Molly be the one to hold me."
I am linking this story to The Domestic Fringe Friday Fiction. Take a moment to visit Tricia and read the other original submissions. Please be honest, but kind with your comments and criticism. Don't be afraid...I/we can take it.