This story is by Eve Schofield and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I leaned against my truck, taking in the view. I couldn’t count the trees surrounding me, no matter how hard I tried. As of a few hours ago, I was now the owner of a few thousand of them. Six whole acres. In a way, the endless forest was a lot like the crowded city I’d just left behind. Under the red-orange leaves, little critters were living their lives, unbeknownst to anyone above.
I shook my head, extracting my phone from the many layers of clothes I’d put over my back pocket. To my surprise, it was Sarah calling. I hadn’t spoken to her since the day I moved out. With the tap of a button, her voice filled the air.
“Hello?” She was on the verge of tears.
“What’s up, sis?” I pressed the phone to my ear.
She cleared her throat. “It’s, um, it’s about Mom.”
I folded my arms. “What happened?”
“I’m at the hospital. Sh-She collapsed, and I—“ Sarah broke off, sobbing.
“How is she?”
“They think—Well, maybe. I-I don’t know. They won’t let me see her yet.”
“Okay. Okay. I’ll be there in ten, twenty minutes tops.” I jumped into my truck, leaving a swirl of leaves in my wake.
She let out a shaky breath. “S-see you then.”
“See you then.”
I hung up, pulling onto the highway. Once again, I was going back. I’d tried so hard to leave that life behind, but it wasn’t up to me. No matter if I was twenty miles away or two hundred, my family needed me. Needed the person I didn’t want to be. Not any more. Not after what they’d done. Still, family’s family. I had a duty to fulfill.
Before I knew it, I was surrounded once again by the smoke and smog of the city. No time to marvel at the all too familiar skyscrapers. No time for the autumn-covered buildings. I shoved a handful of change into the parking meter, and started down the street. I had to get to the hospital. People jumped out of my way as I sprinted down the block, putting my every ounce of energy into getting there. No time, no time. I fumbled with my cell, getting Sarah back on the phone.
“Hey. Where are you?” She asked.
I panted. “Lobby. What… floor?”
“I-I’m still in the waiting room. Second floor.”
“Okay. She’s going to be okay.” With a shaking hand, I punched the elevator’s button. I lurched upwards, not even caring about the nausea that threatened my stomach. I was used to it by now. Elevators did not bode well for me, no matter how hard I tried.
As soon as the doors opened, Sarah came flying into my arms.
I let her entangle me in a hug, stepping out of the elevator.
“Jared.” She tightened her grip.
“Sarah.” I wrapped my arms around her. “How is she?”
She separated from me. “She’ll need surgery, but she’s going to be okay.”
“That’s great!” I grinned. “Have you seen her yet?”
“The doctor should be—“
“Miss Johnson?” A doctor strode up behind us.
Sarah turned around. “Yes?”
“Your mother is ready to see you now.” The doctor tucked his chart under one arm.
I jumped in front of her. “I-I’m her son. I mean, brother. I mean—“
“We’re siblings. Sort of.” She took me by the arm.
He looked between us, and nodded. “Follow me.” He led us past pristine white walls, around nurses rushing this way and that. He led us through the chaos, until we reached her room.
There she laid. Barely conscious. Mother, Mama, or sometimes Claire. Right now, she looked like none of those people. There was an oxygen tube in her nose, and scary amounts of plastic sticking out of her arm.
“David?” She reached towards me.
I took her hand. “No, Mom. It’s me, Jared. Remember?”
“I do remember.” Her eyes lit up. “Oh, you look so much like your father.”
“Yeah, can’t be helped.” I glanced away.
She leaned forward. “That’s a good thing! David was a wonderful man.
I looked towards Sarah, but she wouldn’t meet my eyes. “David’s not, um, not my dad.”
Mom’s gaze dropped. “I forgot again.”
“No, no, it’s okay. You’re doing great.”
“I can’t help it, you know. I’m getting old.”
“I-I know.” I blinked back tears. “It’s okay. You’re going to be okay.”
“No, I won’t. I’m never okay, David.” She waved around the room. “Don’t you see? I’m sick!”
The doctor shuffled his papers. “We need to take her in soon.”
I took a deep breath, letting go of her wrinkled hand.
Sarah stepped up to Mom’s side, stroking her face. Neither of them spoke a word, but the silence said everything.
Mom clasped her hands, eyes watering.
Sarah planted a kiss on her forehead. She turned to Doctor Thompson, giving a nod of approval. “Good luck.”
“Good luck to you, too.” The doctor waved us out.
I sat next to Sarah, letting her squeeze the feeling out of my hand.
“J-Jared?” She curled up beside me.
“She’s going to be okay. She has to be.”
She swallowed. “I’m scared.”
“Hey, hey, hey.” I turned to meet her eyes. “Me too, but I need to believe in something. I need to know—“
“Something needs to go right.” Her gaze drifted to the window. “When David died, Mom got worse. It’s been a-a downward spiral.”
I nodded. “Ever since Dad left.”
“Mom loved him, even with David in the picture. When he was gone, she…”
“She changed.” I sat back, watching as leaves danced through the air outside. “I don’t blame her. She really loved him.”
“This is all my fault.” Sarah sobbed. “If Mom hadn’t had me, none of this would’ve ever happened.”
I rubbed her back. “It’s not your fault. She loved two guys. That’s what tore everything apart.”
We sat in silence for a moment, just watching the many lives around us. So many strangers, completely oblivious to our situation. Each of them just living their own lives. Maybe things are going pretty great, or maybe you’ll be gone tomorrow. Who’s a stranger to care? We all start off that way, until love brings us together. Creates bonds that last. Makes people who you can call more than a stranger.
Sarah wrapped an arm around me. “Th-thanks for doing this. Coming back, I mean.”
She snorted. “This is very much a problem. Our entire lives have been a problem. When you finally got away, you had to come running right back again.”
“I may not like her for what she did, but she’s still—I mean, family has to stick together.”
“Yeah. Mom’s still Mom.”
I was about to speak again, but the doctor reappeared from the hallway.
He strode up to us, straightening his ever-present clipboard. “Your mother is out of surgery now. Would you like to see her?”
I jumped up. “Yeah, of course!”
“Right this way.” He turned back down the narrow hallway, back down the path we’d taken just a few hours earlier. Out of that stuffy waiting room.
When I stepped through the door, Mom looked up. She looked even worse than before, with a scary amount of bandages around her head.
“Hello, you… three?” She smiled through her anesthesia-induced haze.
“Hi, Mom.” I sat on the edge of her bed. “How are you feeling?”
“I just had surgery.” Her brow furrowed. “Brain surgery.”
I brushed the hair from her face. “Yeah, you did.”
She patted my hand. “You’re nice to visit me like this.”
“Oh, it’s nothing.” I bit my lip.
Her smile turned into a frown. “Something’s wrong.”
“This wasn’t your fault!”
I looked away. “No, not this. Everything but this. I-I did this to myself.”
She shook her head. “You can’t blame yourself for what I did.”
“Every day since I left. Every day, I’ve thought about you. About him. I-I’m the one who made a mess of it, I’m the one who should be sorry. For so long, I was so-so angry.”
She shook her head. “I don’t blame you. You had every right to be.”
“I want to set things right. I want to m-make amends.” I wiped my eyes. “I want to be able to call you Mom.”
“Oh, sweetie.” She wrapped her arms around me. “You’ll always be my son. My family.”
I hugged her back. “You’ll always be my mom.”
“I love you, Jared. I really do.”
I smiled. “Well, I love you too.”
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