This story is by Jan Sims and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jonnie Sayers stood at the window, drinking coffee and watching her children play in the yard. An envelope lay unopened on the table beside her. She was hesitant to see the contents, but she tore open the flap. A folded sheet of paper and a news clipping fell to the table. She grasped the note and read, “My father had a heart attack last week. I wanted to inform you of his death.”
“Nathan Bradshaw, 74, deceased. Survivors include his wife, June; a son, Robert; and a daughter, Barbara Frances Avery.”
The page contained more information, but Jonnie stopped reading. Three years ago, Nathan Bradshaw changed her life when he consented to be a stem cell donor for her son.
Jonnie closed her eyes and reflected on those days when Bobby was critically ill.
Her son’s oncologist entered the room with a grim expression on his face.
“Mr. and Mrs. Sayers, I’m sorry. The blood tests are complete, but the registry doesn’t have a stem cell match. It’s unnecessary to keep Bobby in the hospital. We’ll continue out-patient chemo. Take your son home, love him, and pray for a miracle.”
Jonnie collapsed in Bill’s arms and sobbed as he said, “Thank you, Doctor, for all you’ve done.”
They made the trip home in silence. Bobby slept, and they were too tired to carry on a conversation. When they arrived, Bill carried the exhausted child to his room. To keep from screaming, Jonnie searched for something to cook for supper.
“What are we going to do? Bobby can’t die,” she cried as Bill entered the kitchen.
“Jonnie, we’re not in charge here. We have to pray for a miracle. I hate feeling helpless as much as you do.”
Tossing and turning as she tried to sleep, Jonnie remembered her mother’s last letter. There was one avenue they hadn’t explored. She slipped from her bed, careful not to disturb Bill. In her cedar chest, she found a silver box filled with papers. Jonnie closed the bedroom door and carried the box to the kitchen table. She sifted through the documents and cards as she searched for the letter.
As a teenager, Jonnie often thought her father didn’t love her. Before her death, her mom sent her an explanation.
“My dearest Jonnie,”
“This letter will be painful, but you deserve to know the truth. Mark is not your biological father. I was young, and it was a crazy time with kids doing foolish things before they went off to war. I dated a soldier for a short time, and a month after he deployed to Vietnam, I discovered I was pregnant. I turned to Mark, my dearest friend…”
Jonnie knew most of the contents by heart, so she hurriedly scanned the remaining pages. She needed a means of contacting her biological father. As she read, she discovered a name, a city, and a few pertinent facts and felt a glimmer of hope.
She discussed her findings with Bill at breakfast.
“He may be dead! He may refuse to talk to me! At least it’s another possibility to find a donor. Should I contact him?”
Bill held her close. “I don’t want to see you hurt, but it’s your decision. Bobby’s illness drains both of us, but I go to the office. You’re with him every minute.”
Bill left for work, and Jonnie checked on Bobby for the hundredth time since they came home. He was sleeping peacefully, so Jonnie began an internet search. She had so little information – Santa Barbara, Nathan Bradshaw, in his early 70s. She was ready to stop her search when she found a telephone listing. With trembling fingers, she dialed the number.
A man answered on the fourth ring. “Bradshaw’s residence.”
Jonnie tried to control the quaking in her voice, “May I speak to Nathan Bradshaw?”
“This is he. May I help you?”
“Mr. Bradshaw, please don’t disconnect! I know this will come as a shock, but I believe I am your daughter. My family desperately needs your help.”
“Daughter–what on earth gives you that idea?” Bradshaw laughed and continued. “I won’t give you money if that’s what you want.”
“I don’t need or want money! Just listen for a moment! My son has cancer. My mother wrote me a letter before she died and told me about you. She thought I deserved to know the truth. Her name was Bernice Williams. She said you dated for a while before you deployed for Vietnam. After you left, she discovered she was pregnant. She married the man I thought was my dad.”
“I didn’t know you existed until right before she died. I read that you wanted to name a son Robert; you wanted to name a girl Barbara Frances. I have a photo of a blond man in uniform…”
“Young woman, I admit those facts are true, but I can’t fathom why it matters to either of us now.”
“That’s the point, Mr. Bradshaw! It’s not about us! My son is dying, and he needs a stem cell transplant. We felt hopeless when we came home from the hospital, but then I remembered the letter. As a blood relative, you might be a donor match. You may be his only chance. He’s only four.”
“What do you need from me, Mrs. ________?”
“Sayers, Jonnie Sayers. To see if you are a donor match, we only need a simple blood test.”
“Give me time to consider your request. I’ll speak to my son and my physician. Let me see if we can keep this quiet; my wife is recovering from a stroke, and I won’t upset her. Give me your contact information, and I’ll get back to you if I decide I can help.”
Jonnie was distraught when the call ended because Bradshaw made no promises. It helped that Bobby was still on the donor registry. As long as Bobby was alive, she had hope.
The conversation faded from her mind. Bobby’s chemo and its side effects consumed her until the phone rang one late summer morning.
“Mrs. Sayers, my name is Robert Bradshaw. You spoke to my father, or rather our father, a few weeks ago. After getting past the shock, the two of us agree to test, but we must do it in private. My father explained that my mother is very sick, and can never know about this. I’ll fly to Dallas Monday and call to set up a meeting. Will that be convenient?”
“I’ll meet anywhere! You can’t understand what this means to us.”
“You mentioned a letter and photograph. Please bring copies with you.”
Jonnie met Robert Bradshaw at a coffee shop. It was strange to meet an adult half-brother for the first time, but he seemed kind. The meeting was brief and unemotional. They were two strangers who weren’t likely to meet again.
“Mrs. Sayers, tell me about your son.”
“Bobby is four and developed leukemia two years ago. We have tried every treatment except bone marrow transplant. Mr. Bradshaw, we don’t have any other options to save our son.”
“Do you have other children?”
“No, we don’t. You can’t imagine how much attention a child with cancer requires. On good days, we entertain a four-year-old who doesn’t understand why he can’t play with other kids, while on bad days, we spend our time in hospital rooms. Chemo makes our son so sick we wonder if he will make it through the next few hours. Our lives revolve around Bobby’s blood counts. My husband and I fall into bed, exhausted. We don’t have room in our lives for another child.”
“My father and I will arrange for the blood tests. I hope one of us can help. My wife and I have a young child; I would want someone to help if we were in your position.”
A few weeks later, the phone rang again.
“We have a donor match!” Doctor Patrick exclaimed. “We still have to complete a few medical workups, but it looks like you have your miracle.”
Jonnie looked out the window at her two sons. Bobby, who was in remission, was pushing two-year-old Nathan in the swing. She thanked God daily for blessing them with another son, who was Bradshaw’s namesake.
Nathan Bradshaw saved Bobby’s life; she would always be grateful. She wished the Bradshaws could have known the boys, but she kept her promise. They had no contact with the Bradshaw family after meeting Robert.
Jonnie returned to the table and looked at the obituary once more. She placed it and the note in the envelope to go in the box of letters. Someday, she needed to explain the miracle that took place to her children. But today was not the day.
Nathan Bradshaw was never a father to her in a genuine sense of the word. But he gave her life twice. He deserved to be remembered.