Please don’t leave me,” I plead as I take Brad’s hand into mine.
It’s late and the interior of the SUV is dark, almost pitch black. Brad’s driving one-handed now as we head to the airport to pick up our youngest son, Kellin, who is coming home after spending the past four days in North Carolina visiting his eldest brother.
I turn Brad’s hand over and pull his wrist to my face, kissing it as I breathe the scent of him in. Oh, how I love his sweet musky smell. It’s one of the first things I noticed about him when we met. Brad tells me that he feels the same about mine and has told me so hundreds of times.
I pull his hand closer to my face and brush it against my cheek so that I feel the texture of his skin. Tears leak out of the corners of my eyes as I squeeze them shut. Taking a deep breath I rein in the crying, however, I don’t release his hand but clutch it closer and look at it as if I have never seen it before. Staring at the smooth skin of the back of his hand, I visually traced the pale blue outline of his veins. The realization hits me that I have held this hand for nearly thirty-three years. I know its curves and planes better than my own.
His hands have a boyish quality to them. They are small for a man, and the skin is supple. They look youthful, not toughened by year’s of hard labor or gnarled by arthritis.
The watch I bought Brad a couple of Christmases ago slops up and down his wrist from his recent weight loss.
The wristband is too loose, I think, something will need to be done about that.
I glance at the dashboard’s clock and notice that it’s nearly 11 p.m. Kellin’s plane will be landing soon.
The road glistens a slick shiny black in the glow of our headlights as snow flurries streak past our vehicle’s windows. The city snow removal truck passes and spray us with a fan of salt. Brad glances at me briefly before turning his attention back to stare at the road ahead of us. The car’s dashboard lights his face. His eyes narrows with a concerned, serious look, maybe even with a bit of sadness. I can’t tell for sure.
“I will do everything in my power to stay here with you, but I can’t make any promises,” he says.
Brad finds a spot near the main entrance in the airport’s nearly empty garage and parks the vehicle. He drove this latest company car home just a couple of weeks ago. That first night he insisted I follow him out to the garage so that he could show me the new car’s latest features.His eyes beamed with pride as he pointed out the SUV’s capabilities.
A sharp wind cuts right through me with a gust of bitter cold as I exit the passenger’s side door. I wrap my coat tighter around me, trying to block the worst of the freezing temperatures. Stepping up to Brad’s side, I grab his hand once again as we walk through the airport entrance. I clamp down on my emotions, turn off my tears, and find a false calmness to steady my jangling nerves. Then I draw deep within me to find an excited energy with which to greet my son. Fear and grief tug at me, but I maintain a tight grip on those feeling and push them to the back recesses of my mind.
Like slipping on a mask I put on a happy smile as I see Kellin’s sloping gait as he walks down the ramp towards us. There’s slight smiles on his face as he looks down and studies the floor before he looks up and makes eye contact with me. I make my eyes warm and bright with gladness as I prepare to greet him.
“Welcome home! You made it. How was your flight?” Brad and I say simultaneously, talking over top of one another. Our voices sound high-pitched and too tinny to my ears; our words come out in a rush.
Brad and I take turns giving Kellin a big hug. I see Kellin look around at the other people being greeted before stepping back out of our embrace in embarrassment. Brad, taking the cue from his son, picks up Kellin’s backpack and slings it over his shoulder.
We walk with a brisk pace toward the exit sign. No one mentions the events of the past few days. For a few moments we pretend life is normal and nothing’s changed. To those around us I bet we look like a happy family who’s just been reunited after a holiday break; all full of big, bright smiles.
Probably those around us have no idea that it’s a lie. One I need right now because the truth is too new and too bitter to swallow. Yet inside of me I am screaming.
Everything is changing. Everything is coming to an end. Everything I have dreamed of and worked for will soon be over.
Brad is dying.