Authors: Brooke Williams
Chloe was there by his side for every moment. I forced her to take a shower in his small bathroom one day, leaving me alone with the boy for a few minutes, but she refused to go home for rest.
The nurses had allowed her to stay on a tiny fold out bed that looked like more torture than comfort. I knew had they not made that accommodation for her, she would have slept in the plastic chair the room held. Or even propped up in the corner.
The day that Ian was finally released with a clean bill of health, I couldn’t have been more excited. I offered my ride services, as always, and even told Chloe I would take the day off to help them settle in at home, but she insisted that I stay at the office. Ian was being released as the first shift of day nurses came on, just as the hospital was waking up.
“You’ve done enough, Jared,” Chloe said. “I’ll have my friend come by and give us a lift. I need to call in that favor anyways for the time my car got taken from me.”
I remembered not long after I had Chloe’s car fixed and I found her without the vehicle. She had said a friend borrowed it and would pick her up after her shift.
I finally gave up and allowed Chloe to call in her favor from her friend. After all, I had pushed myself on her enough and I didn’t want to overstep my place in her life. I did plan, however, to throw Ian an extravagant welcome home party complete with balloons, ice cream and even a couple of new trains the minute I could get away from work that afternoon.
I knew Ian would still be weak for a while and I didn’t want him to overdo it, but I knew Chloe would protect his interests and she would make him rest when the time came. Until that time, I could spoil him and enjoy the fact that he no longer had wires running from his veins.
I was even looking forward to the time when Ian DID have to rest. It would give Chloe and I a chance to talk. Now that Ian was on the road to recovery and had a full, long life ahead of him, I was ready to dive in and have a talk with her.
The right opportunity had not presented itself before and I had let time slip by unnoticed. There was always one excuse or another, but now, it was time. I was obviously getting attached to Ian and I didn’t want to move into his life any further unless I could stay there. Chloe had to understand that and perhaps she was even anxious to have the same talk with me.
As soon as I got off the air that morning, having updated the city on Ian’s health and the fact that he was headed home from the hospital that very morning, I sat through a couple of boring sales meetings and answered all of the emails that were marked “URGENT” and then I sneaked out.
It was early afternoon and the sun was shining above me. I knew if I stayed outside long enough, I would be hot, but coming from the cold studios, the warmth felt marvelous. I squinted up at the sky and found that not even a single cloud was in place. The brilliant blue reminded me of Ian’s eyes and I smiled. He would get to enjoy lots of days like this playing and running outside as soon as he fully recovered.
I made one quick stop to get my supplies: balloons, trains, ice cream, and then I headed straight for the Summerfield Apartments. I hadn’t told Chloe I was coming, but I assumed that she knew. After all, I had come to the hospital every chance I had gotten each day after my shift. She wouldn’t be surprised to see me. But Ian always was. The smile that lit up his face when he saw me seemed to get bigger each time I walked through the door and I couldn’t wait to see that smile again.
I rushed down the small stuffy hallway to apartment 3G, thinking briefly about the idea that someday Chloe and Ian wouldn’t have to live in this place, assuming things worked out between the two of us. Even if they didn’t, she had the money left over from the promo drive lemonade stand. She could buy them a small house of their own and raise Ian somewhere that had a yard for him to enjoy.
I was so caught up in my thoughts that I didn’t even notice the fact that the apartment door was slightly open. When I knocked, it swung open a bit further and I frowned. I had never known Chloe to leave her door unlocked, much less completely open.
“Chloe?” I called as I stepped through the door into the small entryway.
“Someone there?” a man’s voice answered from the back of the apartment and my frown deepened. Chloe’s tattered couch and small kitchen table were gone. The man’s voice echoed through the apartment as if the entire thing were empty.
“Hello?” I called out again, my hands beginning to shake as I set the bag of ice cream, balloons and plastic trains on the kitchen counter.
“Sorry,” an older, stout man with a prominent middle said as he ambled out of the back bedroom. “Didn’t mean to keep you waiting, I was just patching a few holes in the wall. Are you here about the rental? Are you the one who called?”
By this point, I was thoroughly confused. “Rental?” I asked, glancing around the apartment again, wondering if I was even in the right place.
“Oh wait,” the man said, looking me slowly up and down and then taking a long hard look at his wristwatch. “Are you Jones? Jared?”
I nodded, unsure as to what I should say or do. “I have something for you,” he said, reaching deep into his back pocket and extracting a letter-sized envelope. “The woman told me you would be by and that you needed to have this.”
“Chloe?” I asked.
The man shrugged. “She was in a hurry to leave. Barely took the time to move all her things, but she made sure that I got this so I could give it to you.”
“Thank you,” I whispered, wishing the couch was still there so I would have a place to collapse. I was so confused and dismayed that I didn’t know where to turn or what to do.
“You okay?” the man asked, mopping his forehead with a yellowed handkerchief he pulled out of the same back pocket.
“I…” I stuttered. “I guess I need to check this out,” I said, raising the envelope.
“You should do that,” he answered, “it seemed really important to her that you get it.”
Not important enough that she stick around and give it to me herself, I thought, but I simply nodded at the man and watched as he turned around to continue his job of filling holes.
“Stick around if you want,” he said. “The new possible tenant might stop by, but otherwise the place is empty. Take your time.”
I normally would have thanked the man, but instead I sunk to the floor by the kitchen sink, the envelope in my hand and a foreboding feeling in the pit of my stomach. I slid my thumb below the flap and separated the sticky piece from the main part of the envelope. The envelope wasn’t very thick and when I looked inside, there were only four items filling the center.
The first small slip of paper I pulled out was a check made out to the hospital for a significant amount of money. I wasn’t sure what that was about so I set it aside and kept going. The second item was heavier in weight and put an instant smile on my face, even though it remained only for a brief moment. The picture of Ian and I grinning at the camera with the paper plane was one I knew I would always cherish, no matter what the rest of the envelope held.
The third item was another check, this one made out to me in the exact amount of the car repairs I had initially had done on Chloe’s vehicle. I remembered the day she told me that she was going to pay me back, though I insisted she didn’t have to and that I had done what I had done because I wanted to. She had not taken no for an answer and had still said she would get me the money as soon as she could. Apparently, she had meant that and here was the ultimate proof.
I set the check aside as well, knowing that I would never cash it and pulled out the single sheet of yellow legal paper.
The handwriting was small and slanted and it almost looked as if the hand that wrote it was shaking as badly as mine was. Or perhaps she had just been in a hurry.
I finished unfolding the sheet, put my head back against the cabinet, and began to read.
I don’t even know where to start other than to tell you I am so sorry. When Greg came back, at first, I didn’t know what I wanted. But after a few conversations, I began to realize that he was really better and he wanted to try to make it work. He has a job in another state and he can get us on his health care plan. Ian will have a good school and there are plenty of kids in the neighborhood. It will be a good life for him.
I can’t imagine what you must think of me. Know that I never meant for things to work out this way. But Greg is Ian’s father and as many times as he has disappointed us, he deserves another chance.
I have enclosed a check for the car repairs. I know you don’t want it, but please take it as the last favor I will ask of you. I also put in a check for the hospital. If you could get that to them, I would appreciate it. I want there to be a fund in place for other people in our situation. People who need medical attention and can’t afford it. Have the hospital use the money for someone like Ian. Give it to Nurse Nancy. She’ll know what to do as she and I discussed the problem at length.
I also wanted you to have something to help you remember how much you meant to Ian’s life. He has a copy of the picture as well and he put it in his favorite book so he knows where it is at all times. Ian doesn’t remember his father very well and to him, you were like a father figure while Greg was away. You are someone I never want him to forget and I will make sure he knows that it is because of you that he lives on today.
Greg is here with the truck now and I have to go. I don’t know what else to say to you, Jared, other than I am so sorry. I am forever in your debt for what you have done for my son. And I will never forget you. Please forgive me and remember the good times we had together and not how this has ended.
I crumpled the letter into a ball, knowing I would flatten it back out and read it again. I bent my head over my knees and sunk my face into my hands.
She was gone? Ian was gone? Her husband really had come back and he had convinced them to go away with him? When had all of this happened? How had I been so naïve about the entire situation? Why hadn’t I had that talk with her earlier like I had planned?
The questions filled my head, but they were doing no good at all. Suddenly, I had to get out of that apartment. There were too many memories of Ian with his trains and Chloe with her long braid swaying in laughter for me to stay any longer.
I stuffed the checks, picture and letter back into the envelope and rushed past the bag of balloons, melting ice cream and trains that I had placed on the counter. I needed to get to the hallway. Maybe then I could breathe.
The stuffy hallway didn’t feel much better but at least I didn’t have as many memories. Only one, really. The time I had seen the man with the blonde ponytail, flannel shirt, and blue eyes that looked like Ian’s.
Much like the man that I saw walking towards me right at that instant, as casual as could be.
I rushed down the hall, my hair flapping around my face, grabbed the man by the shirt and pulled his nose against mine.
“Where are they?” I shouted. “What have you done?”
I am the first to admit, I wasn’t thinking rationally. Chloe’s letter hadn’t said anything about love or the fact that Greg was the one she really wanted to be with. For all I knew, he was forcing her into it and she felt she had no choice but to go with him. For some reason, he had returned. And I was going to get the answers I needed.
“Hey man,” the guy said, raising his hands in surrender, “chill!”