Eggs sizzled in the pan and the toaster popped, the smell of toasted bread and bacon filled the kitchen. Cindy flipped the eggs, trying to keep the yolks from breaking.
Her mom shuffled in. “Hey, baby.”
Cindy put the spatula on the counter and hugged her mom.
“Hey, Mama.” She touched the bags under her mom’s eyes. “When did you come home?”
Her mom grabbed a cup and poured the coffee, sitting at the table and drinking it black.
“Your daddy kicked me out around two. He made me come home to sleep.”
Cindy glanced at the clock. “You should go back to bed. It’s only eight.”
She sipped and shook her head. “I need to get back up there.” Tears spilled down her cheeks. “I don’t have much time left with him and I don’t want to waste it sleeping.”
Cindy’s breath caught in her throat.
“Don’t say that, Mama. Daddy’s going to get better.” She sat in the chair next to her mom.
Her mom reached out and held her hand. “No, he’s not. You need to come to terms with that, Cindy.”
Hot tears fell and Cindy shook her head.
“I need you to be strong, you’ll need to help your brothers.” Her mom squeezed her hand tight and Cindy met her gaze. “Please, can you do that for me?”
She couldn’t accept her daddy dying. “Mama, I can’t. He’s got to get better.”
Mama’s face scrunched and Cindy looked away. She returned to the eggs and slid them onto a plate. “Here, I made breakfast for everyone. Eat something before you go back.” She handed her a plate filled with food.
“Thank you.” Her mom picked up her fork and pushed the eggs around her plate.
Elijah came in carrying a bleary-eyed Benny. They both rubbed their eyes and sniffed.
“Thanks, Mama. You didn’t have to make breakfast.” Elijah sat Benny in a chair and hugged her.
“I didn’t.” She gestured to Cindy with her fork. “Cindy did. I’m just here for a few minutes then I’m going back to the hospital.”
Elijah and Cindy shared a glance. “Thanks,” he said.
“No problem.” She bit into a slice of toast. “Are the other two up yet?”
“Yeah, they’re in the bathroom.” Elijah fixed a plate for Benny and then himself.
Mama sighed. “I need to go. Can you guys watch the boys today?”
“Well,” Cindy glanced at Elijah. “Uhm, Mike and I kind of have plans. If that’s okay, Mama.” Her stomach squirmed, she didn’t want to dump the kids on Elijah, but she wanted to spend time with Mike.
Elijah chewed his eggs, shaking his head. “How about we split the day? You can take care of them this afternoon.”
Mama glanced at her. “What are you and Mike doing?”
“I don’t know. Just hanging out.” She turned to clean up the counter so her mom couldn’t see her blush.
“Well, you better hang out some place public, or at least not alone.” She chuckled. “Just because I gave this the okay doesn’t mean I won’t keep an eye on you.”
Cindy said, “Don’t worry, Mama. Elijah is doing that for you.”
He grunted. “I got this, Mama.”
“Good, Daddy will be glad to hear that you’re looking out for your sister.” Her lip quivered and tears gathered in her eyes.
Benny looked at Mama, his eyes wide.
Cindy knelt next to him and smiled. “Hey, why don’t you go get Gabe and Josh and tell them to hurry up?”
“Okay, save my eggs.” He hopped off his seat and ran to the back of the house yelling,
“Breakfast is ready, hurry up or I’ll eat all the bacon!”
Cindy hugged Mama, patting her back.
Mama wiped her eyes and exhaled a shuddering breath. “Sorry, I shouldn’t cry in front of them.”
“It’s okay,” Elijah said. “Don’t worry about them.”
“Don’t cry, Mama. Daddy will be okay.”
“No.” Her mom pushed her back, holding her by the shoulders with an angry glare on her face. “Your Daddy is dying. He isn’t going to get better, and he isn’t going to be okay. I need you to understand that.”
Elijah stared wide-eyed between them.
Cindy glanced at his face. “You believe that, too?”
Tears pooled in his eyes and he nodded.
“Well, you’re both wrong.” Cindy jumped out of her seat. “He’s going to get better and everything will be back to normal.”
She ran to her room and slammed the door. Sitting on the edge of her bed, she held her head.
“Please, daddy. You have to get better.”
She changed her clothes and put on her running shoes. Craving an escape, she bolted through the hall and out the front door. If the rhythm of her feet on the pavement wasn’t enough
to erase her anger, she knew who would—Mike. And as the sweat mixed with her tears, his face entered her mind and she could finally breathe.
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