Liz pressed send, set the cell phone on the arm of her recliner, and snuggled in to watch the Minion movie for the hundredth time. Before she had time to get comfortable, Cameron whimpered the one phrase every mother dreads hearing. “Mommy, I don’t feel so good.” He barely finished his declaration when his recently eaten dessert splattered over both their laps.
Tightening her stomach muscles to avoid the sympathy vomiting, Liz jumped out of the chair and carried her son to the bathroom. In a matter of seconds, her son, who was known for his chirping laughter, cried quietly. His chest heaved, and his shoulders shuddered. “I’m sorry, mommy.”
Liz blinked back her tears. She didn’t think it could get any worse. “It’s okay, sweetie. We’ll get cleaned in no time.”
Cameron’s tearful apologies proved it to be the beginning of a chain of unfortunate sequences. She turned the knob to start the shower and helped Cameron take off his Minion pajamas. Making sure to test the water, Liz held the curtain for him to step in.
And thus began the back and forth of illness and her attempts to relieve Cameron’s discomfort. Somewhere between the cleanups and alternating damp cloths on his forehead to keep Cameron cool, Liz changed into some sweats. All the while, she silently prayed, “Please God, heal my baby.”
It was an irrational fear, and Liz knew it. Still, every time Cameron took ill, Liz feared that life had decided to take him from her, too. When he recovered, she’d attribute her early graying to being overly concerned about her son.
At two a.m. between the Tylenol and the cold compresses, the fever that developed over the hours settled at 99.9. It was high enough for Liz to decide to sleep in the chair beside Cameron’s bed, yet low enough for him to fall asleep.
It was times like this that had Liz bemoaning being a single parent. She was the one to carry the burden of worry. Others would express concern, and that’s where their involvement ended. Liz got it. They had their own lives and their own problems. Still, every once in a while, she wished she had someone to say, “It will be okay. Cameron will be fine in the morning or in a couple of days.” Maybe they’d add, “Kids need to get sick to build up their immunities. It isn’t the end of their world.”
Liz fell asleep thinking she knew the right answers. She just wanted a strong voice to reassure her.
A knock on the front door pulled her from her half-sleep. The grit rubbing against her eyelids finished the job of waking her. Liz stumbled to the door, wondering who would stop by at such an ungodly hour to visit. She cracked the door open, and the coolness from the outside swirled around her. She heard her brother’s voice before she identified who was on her front porch. “Is everything okay over here?”
Liz flipped the switch to turn on the front porch light and opened the door to invite Tom in. She heard about siblings having the ability to sense each other’s distress, but never experienced it. Now that Liz was obviously in the situation, it unsettled and comforted her. Someone felt her pain and cared enough to reach out to her. How appropriate it be her brother. “It’s been rough.” Liz smoothed the side of her hair as though a simple pressing would be enough for it to fall into place.
Tom’s raised right eyebrow followed by his what are you doing smirk forced her to reassess the gesture and smile sheepishly. “I miss mom,” Liz admitted.
If their mother were alive, Liz would have called and asked what to do to make Cameron better. Now, she was forced to rely on recollections of conversations they had before her mother passed and memories Of what her mother did to make her feel better. If she could get Tom to stay with Cameron for a while, Liz would run to the store and buy him new pajamas and a coloring book. That’s what their mother did for them every time they were sick.
“That’s why you’re not answering the phone?” Tom shoved the leather gloves he had taken off into his pockets.
“No.” Liz frowned. “Cameron’s sick, and she would know what to do.” Concern replaced the cynical frown on Tom’s face.
“You don’t think he’s caught the flu that’s been going around? Do you?”
Liz’s stomach sank. An unsettled stomach, followed by a rapid decline in health. All which culminated in a fever that was hard to control. She wanted to cry. “Probably.”
Tom exhaled and shook his head. “I’ll have Molly bring the standard stuff. Crackers, ginger-ale, soup, and snacks for you.”
Liz’s eyes burned, and she blinked back her tears. In the absence of their parents, she and her brother were building on their alliance. When their mother said this would happen, both, in their teenage years scoffed their disbelief. “Maybe on a different planet. “
“You go get cleaned up, and I ’ll make you some coffee.” Tom shrugged off his black down coat and set it on the arm of the couch.
As he headed to the kitchen, he mumbled, “You shouldn’t try to be so independent. It’s a good thing Dirk called. Otherwise, I ’d have never known you needed the help.”
The fresh water from the shower washed away just enough of the previous night’s anxiety for her to realize Tom hadn’t sensed her distress. It was Dirk. The man was three-hundred miles away, yet he found a way to take care of her.