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Ben couldn’t help but smile as he heard the giggling and happy voices in the living room. Had it worked? Would this be a beautiful new start for them?
He shifted slightly, wanting so much to turn over. But he had barely been able to roll to his bed after going to the bathroom for some meds. He had barely been able to down the extra pain and nausea pills he knew he would need. He took a sleeping pill too, hoping he might be able to sleep through the pain.
His lungs were filled with razors. His head was a balloon about to burst. His whole body was agony, and a tiredness as heavy as an elephant lay on him.
While he’d been hastily preparing the surprise, the ache had been a train far off in the distance. He could feel it coming. He had known this morning that he might be down for the count for the evening after helping Dre put the food and the tent and everything else together. Not to mention getting the bags from where they had hidden them.
But what was he supposed to do when Dre was having a panic attack, and he knew the boy had been so excited to show his mother the surprise? Those two needed each other, not just for the sake of the moment, but because they could build a real bridge together. He knew he had to finish, for their sake. Even if the train doubled in size, and it started coming twice as fast. But he raced against it as fast as he could, back and forth with the plates of snacks, making sure there were enough cushions in the tent.
It was worth it, he reminded himself, and prayed all of the drugs would kick in soon.
He remembered afternoons like that with his own mother. In his haze, he was unable to keep from recalling the times they’d sat in a makeshift tent in whatever dingy hotel room she’d been able to afford from whatever crappy job she managed to scrounge up. When she was clean, she’d take a pad and pen from the hotel desk and draw a set of playing cards, or snakes and ladders, or tic tac toe.
The last place they’d lived together had been terrible. But life had been good for a few months. He’d been excited to turn seven basically since he’d turned six, because she had promised to let him make a big cake for the two of them, and some chicken nuggets and fries. She’d said it would be a special day, just for the two of them. But three months before the big day, he’d come home to find her bloody body on the floor.
He’d tried to take her hand, but the blood had been so slick that it had slipped right out.
Don’t leave, mommy! Please! I’m so sorry.
She’d opened her big brown eyes, just once, and touched his cheek. But then she’d stared, fixed, and hadn’t moved again. She’d been so still. Her skin so pale. Her dark hair like strings.
At some point, Jennifer walked in with her portable vitals machine. He couldn’t look at her as she started up her usual gossip. He couldn’t move his head. He wasn’t even sure that he was still alive.
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him.”
~ Romans 15:13