I smiled and twisted the cap back on. “Well, it turns out in the town I’m living in the liquor store clerk doesn’t card the young pregnant girl. I suppose he thought if I’m old enough to be pregnant, I should be old enough to drink, but I’m not sure what that says if he thinks I intend to drink it in this state.” I looked down to my round belly.
“You walked right… in and… bought it?” He started coughing again, so I offered him another sip. He winked at me and opened his mouth.
“Stupid, but I had to get you something. You only turn twenty-one once.”
His hand shifted beneath the thick blankets I brought him the last time I came. I dug it out and wrapped it in mine. It was cold, even though they kept the heat cranked up. I clasped him tightly.
“When I die…”
“Listen,” he barked, and for a moment, he sounded like the old Ritchie. His voice came out clear and strong, and I wanted to bottle it up and take it with me so I could listen to it wherever I went.
“When I die, visit me. On my birthday… bring that,” he tipped his head towards the bottle in my lap. “And have a drink. Every birthday so… you can relax for one… day.”
“I don’t know if I’ll ever be ready to go back to Logansville, but when I am, I’ll be there.”
He gently squeezed my hand. “I saved some money… and bought a plot in… Arrow Creek.”
“What? That money was supposed to be for your treatment!” I started trembling. “You have to get that money back. We could do another round right now! I’m going to go get the director and your doctor on the phone.” I tried to get up, but he tugged at my arm.
“They both… know. Look at me, Cam.”
I did. Reluctantly. Knowing what he was about to say hit me like a truck, and it became hard to breathe. Please, God, no. He didn’t.
“I refused treatment–?
“No!” The scream tore out of me like a gunshot and ricocheted around the room. “Why would you do that? Don’t you know I need you?”
“I’m ready to die. I’m not getting… better. It’s been… years.” A cough overcame him, as if the universe was trying to prove his point. Once he caught his breath, he continued. “It’s only a matter of time. You have a new… job. The baby. You can’t spend… your time worrying about… me. I’m ready to go.”
The gravity of the situation became too much, and I collapsed into tears across his body, as if I could use mine to protect him from death.
I couldn’t, and I knew that. Death would rip him straight out from under me, and it was going to happen sooner than I was ready for. Hell, I’d never be ready.
He rubbed my swollen stomach. “You’re going to be a great mom. Your love for… her will help you with your… grief.”
I glared at him. “I love you, but I hate you so much right now. I don’t want to ever say goodbye.” Sobs wracked my body. ‘Goodbye’ was so permanent, and there was nothing good about it.
“Come here.” He opened his frail arms, and I hoisted my enormous belly up the bed and settled into the curve of his armpit. He held me.
It felt wrong. I should’ve held him. I should’ve comforted him, knowing he was right and that his death was on the horizon. But I was scared, and I was selfish. So, I let him hold me while I cried.
When I’d calmed, he dried my tears with the corner of his blanket and kissed the side of my head.
“Just so you know… you stink.”
A laugh bubbled out. “You do, too.”
“Yeah, well, I’m dying… so.”
I sat straight up in the bed and turned around to glare at him. “That’s not even remotely funny.”
“I know. One more drink. You’ve got to go. It’s getting… late. New job tomorrow.”