Authors: K.A. Hobbs
“She is. And I am so proud she is my daughter. I refuse to use past tense. She is my daughter.”
I don’t know how long we sit there together. I’m not sure why this doesn’t feel strange. I am holding a stranger in my arms. Not just a stranger, another man., and it doesn’t feel wrong to me. It doesn’t feel anything but right, like his pain is my pain too.
“I’m sorry, Katie. I thought I would be able to talk to you about it without this happening,” he wipes at his face and pulls back, “They tell me it will get easier, I’m yet to see it. I’m not sure I even believe it.”
“I’m not sure I do either.” I whisper tearily.
“It was lovely to meet you, Katie.” Daniel smiles as we say goodbye in the car park.
“It was really lovely to meet you too, Daniel. And you were right about the children, they really are the most amazing little people you’ll ever meet.”
“So I will see you on Thursday? Thursdays are always good fun, the playroom staff put on a party for them. There will be games and party food, it’s the highlight of their week.” he smiles.
“It sounds like a lot of fun,” I smile, “Do I get to wear a party hat?”
“Well,” he leans a little closer like he is going to tell me a secret, “I do.” he whispers.
I laugh out loud, his face breaks into the most gorgeous smile as he laughs too. I unlock my car and Daniel walks around to his car, which just happens to be the one parked next to mine.
“Drive safely, Katie.” he smiles.
“And you, Daniel. I’ll see you on Thursday.”
I watch as he folds himself into the front seat and starts the engine. He looks up before he pulls away and waves. I wave back and smile until he is out of sight, actually, I think I smile long after his car has vanished. I reach into my bag and dial Ginny’s number. For what feels like the first time in months, I’m about to talk to my best friend and I won’t be holding tears back.
“So? How did it go?” her voice comes down the phone and I smile.
“It was incredible. The children are something else, Ginny. They are so brave and so happy. They are an inspiration to everyone they meet.”
“So you’ll be going back?” she asks hopefully.
“Of course I will.”
“Where are you now?”
“I’m still at the hospital, I just said goodbye to Daniel and now I’m about to go home.”
As the word
slips out, the happiness I feel disappears. I’m about to go home. To an empty house. There will be no one there to welcome me back, no one to share my day with. It will be me with only the TV for company.
“Come over, I’m just getting dinner ready and there is plenty for you. Pick up something nice to drink on your way and come and celebrate your day with us.”
I guess some things never change, at Ginny’s words, I find myself holding back tears again.
“Okay.” I all but whisper, trying to keep the tears in.
“You’re okay sweetheart. Come over, we will talk and Aidan can have cuddles with his favourite Auntie.”
“I’m not his Auntie, Ginny.” I laugh.
“No. Not by blood, but he doesn’t have any by blood and I’m his mother, so I say who is his auntie and I say it’s you. Okay? So just get some wine, red please, and get your butt over here because the lasagna is almost ready and I’m starving!”
“Yes, okay. Calm down.” I laugh, wiping away a couple of stray tears.
“Good. I’ll see you in,” I hear her pull the phone away for a second then she is back, “Twenty minutes. That gives you plenty of time to pick up
wine and get over here!”
“See you soon.”
* * *
I pull up outside Ginny’s and she is standing with Aidan on the steps waiting. She walks down the path to my car in her slippers and hands him to me. I wrap my arms around his little body and inhale his baby scent.
“Does anything smell better than him?”
“Sweetheart, if you think that is the best smell in the world, you clearly need to get out more!”
“Baby smell, why don’t they bottle it?”
“The scent you idiot!”
“Charming. Did you bring the wine?
Please tell me you bought the wine?
I reach into the backseat of the car and hand her a bag containing two bottles of red and a box of chocolates so big I think we might need Ryan to help us eat them and that is saying something. Ginny and I can both eat our weight in chocolate.
“Let’s go inside, it’s all ready, table is set, the wine glasses are empty though so we need to fix that.” she winks at me as she turns and walks back up the path.
Ginny and Ryan have a wonderful house. It’s warm and welcoming and full to the brim with love. They were high school sweethearts, much like Richard and I, except they got married right out of college. They didn’t want to wait, they knew they were going to be together forever. I remember their parents being totally against it. Now, twelve years of marriage and one Aidan later, they are more in love now than they were then. As I walk into the kitchen, Aidan in my arms playing with my hair, I spot Ryan standing by the oven putting the salad into a bowl. When he hears our approach he turns and smiles, holding his arms out for a hug. I take Aidan with me and he chuckles as Ryan squeezes us both.
“How are you, Shorty?” he teases.
“We can’t all be giants like you, Ryan.”
“No, if we were all munchkins like
, how would we ever reach the second shelf in the fridge?”
“You’re so mean!” Ginny laughs behind me, “She isn’t that small.”
“Gigi, she has to look up at dwarfs!” he bursts out laughing.
“Oh you must be Funny’s cousin? Not Funny!” I roll my eyes at him, slapping his arm.
“You know I love your small elf, I mean self.” he grins, taking the salad to the table.
“Whatever you say.”
“Come and eat, and bring the bottle opener with you!” Ginny calls making her way to the table too.
Ginny serves everyone lasagna and garlic bread while Ryan pours the wine. Within minutes I’m telling them all about my day, how the children are so brave and facing some awful things yet they still have a smile.
“They all have cancer and you would never know they face one of life's biggest battles by the smiles on their faces.” I tell them.
“Children are braver than most adults, they don’t bitch and moan, they get on with it,” Ryan pipes in, “There was a little boy at school, he was diagnosed when he was six, he came to school every single day that he could and the days he couldn’t he asked his parents for homework.”
Ryan is a headteacher at the local primary school, a job he loves. He still teaches and he practically knows every child in the school’s name. The parents adore him and so do his staff.
“But how can they get up every single morning and be so brave when I find it hard to get out of bed and I’m not ill.” I sigh, picking at a lettuce leaf.
“Because they aren’t scared of death yet. Death isn’t something children are aware of, it isn’t part of their world, so they have nothing to fear.”
“They are in hospital though, with doctors and nurses poking and prodding and making them hurt, yet they are so happy. I’m just floored by it all, I really am.”
“And this Daniel guy, who is he?” Ginny asks.
“How do you know about Daniel?”
“You said on the phone you just said goodbye to Daniel, whoever Daniel is.” she leans over and fills her glass with more wine, I cover the rim of mine. I have to drive home.
“He is a volunteer too. He..” I hesitate, not sure I should be sharing such personal details about a man I just met today.
“He?” Ginny prompts.
“He lost his daughter six months ago.”
“Oh my God.” Ginny whispers covering her mouth with her hand.
“His daughter, Poppy, was at the very ward he volunteers at.”
“That takes some courage,” Ryan says, “I’m not sure I could do that.”
“He is consumed by grief and quite rightly so. But he volunteers there, three times a week. He knows the children and he knows the staff and he has this…” I close my eyes, remembering the warmth I felt in his presence, “This warmth around him.”
“A warmth?” Ginny’s voice sounds interested.
“Yes, like, I just stepped close to him and there was this sudden feeling of warmth around me. I can’t explain it. But it was there.” I look at my two friends and they have smiles on their faces.
“He sounds…” Ryan begins.
“Special.” Ginny finishes for him.
“I don’t know what he is, I’ve only just met him. But I do know, that for the first time since Richard died, I smiled today, and it was a genuine smile. And you know what else?” I look at them again, a smile tugging the corners of my lips.
“What sweetie?” Ginny reaches over and takes my hand.
“I had a good day. The first good day I’ve had in months and the tears today haven’t been from sadness, they’ve been from kindness and admiration for the amazing people I met today. They weren’t
me. They weren’t
I wipe at my eyes and smile, even these tears aren’t sad tears. They are the result of feeling like I am finally turning a corner, that there is light and warmth coming.
“That makes me so happy, Kate,” Ginny squeezes my hand, “So very happy.”
“It’s great to see you smile again, Shorty.” Ryan coughs.
“I think my face forgot how to smile for a while there. I’m glad it’s remembered.” I grin tearily.
We open the chocolates and sit on the sofa chatting and drinking coffee. When it gets to eleven I know I should leave to go home, but after spending the evening surrounded by warmth and love, the thought of going back to my empty house seems even less appealing than normal. I take one last look at the clock then go to get up. Ginny’s hand stops me.
“Stay. It’s late, it’s cold outside and I don’t want you spending the night alone. The guest room is ready for you. Like it always is. And I have pyjamas you can wear. I’m not working tomorrow, spend the day with us. Or don’t, just please don’t go home tonight.”
“How do you do that?”
“Know what I’m feeling and thinking without me having to say it?”
“It’s called, I’ve been your friend since we were at primary school. I know you better than you know yourself.” she smiles.
“Are you going to stay? Or are you going gnome, I mean home.” Ryan laughs, looking up from his pile of papers he has been working on at the coffee table, “Sorry, I’ll stop with the short jokes.”
“You’re really not funny,” I scowl at him, “If it’s okay with you both to stay?”
“When is it ever,
okay?” he rolls his eyes and takes off his glasses, “I do have to work tomorrow. So I’m going to turn in. Don’t rush up.” he leans down and kisses Ginny on the forehead and my heart clenches.
How many times had Richard kissed me the same way? How many times had he gone to bed leaving Ginny and I downstairs to talk? I wish now, I’d joined him every single time. I wish I hadn’t stayed downstairs for one more glass of wine and more chatting, because now, Ginny is here and he isn’t and the time I missed out on seems so precious and I’d wasted it.
“Where did you go?” Ginny asks, waving her hand in front of my face.
“I know that look, you went somewhere sad. What is it, Katie?”
“I was just thinking of the times Richard had said goodnight to me in the same way Ryan just did. And how I wish I’d joined him.”
“No one knows what the future has in store, sweetie. We base our decisions on what we think is right at the time.”
“It doesn’t make it any easier though.” I shrug my shoulders.
“Of course it doesn’t. But life isn’t easy. Life is a challenge. We do what we can to make it easier. We lean on our friends when it’s tough.”
“God, I’ve leaned on you both so much lately.” I lay my head back and close my eyes.
“And we wouldn’t have it any other way, you know that. We are your family.”
Ginny and Ryan are my family, especially now Richard is gone. I have no one. My parents are gone and I have no siblings. So without Ginny and Ryan, I am alone. They are the ones who helped me pick up the pieces after the accident. They are the ones the hospital called to tell them what had happened. It was been Ginny who bought me home to their house when I was discharged, and it was Ginny who helped me arrange the funeral, actually I think she did arrange it, I was fit for nothing those first few weeks.
“You look tired and today is bound to have taken it out of you. Why don’t you go to bed, get some rest. I’ll see you in the morning.”
“I think I will. Thank you, lovely.”
“Sleep well, beautiful. Tomorrow is another day. You’re doing great.”
Ginny gives me a hug and I walk up the stairs to the guest bedroom. The room is so familiar to me, I spent weeks here. Weeks trying to stop the aching in my chest, trying to fight the struggle that was every breath. But I did it. I’m doing it. One day at a time. It isn’t easy, it is the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do, but every day when I wake up I remind myself that life is for living, that Richard’s life had been taken away from him. That I owe it to him to make the most of it, to live and not just exist.
I am doing okay.
But I can do better.
And I will.