Day 4. I’m just going to keep following this story and see where it leads. The love interest, Ryan, and his friend’s wife Mandy had a casual encounter with the “Sanctimommy” at the mall. Mandy is queasy and needs to get home ASAP. Here goes:
As we left the mall, Mandy didn’t look so good. I put the beautiful stranger’s face out of my mind temporarily. About one mile from Mandy’s house, I had to pull over to the side of the road. Mandy scrambled out of the car just in time. I cringed as she retched in the ditch. After a few minutes, she opened the door and slid back into the passenger seat. I offered her a bottle of water and pulled back onto the road.
“How’s Eleanor?” Mandy asked, rolling down the window. She opened the bottle and guzzled it down like she hadn’t had a drink in weeks. “I’m sorry I haven’t been able to visit her.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I shrugged, struggling for nonchalance. I didn’t think my mother even remembered my visits, let alone anyone else’s. My grip on the steering wheel tightened. “Just take care of yourself.”
Mandy smiled slightly, reminding me of the first time I saw her. The pretty blond who lived down the hall from me in college. There had been a time when I was interested, but once Jake came into our lives, I didn’t have a chance. I couldn’t believe that was more than a decade ago. “Great advice. So, when are you going to follow it yourself?”
“What do you mean?” I pulled into her driveway and parked the car. A glance in the rearview mirror told me that Nicky was sound asleep. Of course.
Mandy made no move to get out of the car. She unbuckled her seatbelt and turned to face me. “Do you want me to be blunt?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.
I rolled my eyes. This wasn’t good. She wanted to “talk” and I really wasn’t in the mood for it. “When are you anything else but blunt?”
“Well, it saves time, doesn’t it?” Mandy grinned, looking more like her usual self. That sickly green pallor had left her face. “You look terrible.”
“Yeah? Well, so do you,” I shot back. It was a lie. She looked tired, but just as pretty as always.
“I’m pregnant,” she smirked, unperturbed by my comment. It amused her to get under my skin. “I have an excuse. What’s yours?”
“My mother is dying,” I snapped, whipping my head around to stare at her. “Is that enough of an excuse for you?” Guiltily, I glanced in the rearview mirror. Thankfully, Nicky’s eyes remained shut. He was blissfully unaware of my outburst.
Mandy’s eyes softened. “I know, honey. I know,” she said, putting a hand on my arm. “This is the first time I’ve heard you say that. I’m so sorry. So unbelievably sorry.”
“The doctors told me that I should consider hospice care,” I closed my eyes and leaned forward, resting my head on the steering wheel. My chest tightened, as waves of reality washed over me.
“Oh, God, Ryan,” Mandy whispered, and put a hand on my back. The sympathy in her voice hit me like a brick wall. I choked back a sob. “But she’s had pneumonia before. She’ll pull through it again.”
I shook my head. “The doctors don’t think so. And even if she does, they think that she’ll just keep getting it over and over again. It’s like this downward spiral into hell for her.” That’s what it felt like for me to watch her. Pure hell.
Mandy threw her hands up. She looked about as helpless as I felt. “I don’t even know what to say. Is there anything I can do for you and your mom?”
I sat upright, slightly embarrassed by my outburst. Mandy had enough to deal with. I didn’t need to dump my emotional garbage into her lap. “No,” I said, controlling my voice. “There’s nothing anyone can do.” Since she was watching me like a hawk, I managed a small smile. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. “But thank you.” I turned my head to glance at the back seat. “Do you want me to get Nicky into the house?”
Once I helped Mandy get Nicky into his room and assured her that I would give her an update later that evening, I took off. After about thirty minutes of mindless driving, I pulled into the parking lot at the local university. I grabbed my briefcase and walked into the business school building.
There was a knock on my office door. “Come in,” I called out.
“Hi, Professor Douglas. I have a question about the case study.” One of my students plopped down into the chair in front of my desk and pulled a fat binder out of her backpack. I pushed my mother and the beautiful stranger from the mall out of my thoughts. Office hours had begun.