“You did the right thing, Ben,” Dad said after he and Mom returned from their brief foray into town.
“She’ll be back,” Mom added. The confidence in her voice was absolute.
I made a noncommittal noise. Did I do the right thing? Would she be back? Or did I just lose Ella forever? God, the look on her face when she walked out the door.
Mom pulled a white paper bag from her purse and handed it to me. “Here you go, Benny.”
“Thanks for picking these up,” I said.
They were my new meds. Brian and I agreed it was best to raise my dosages for the short term and then see how things stood after a month. At this point, I welcomed the increase. Staying down here in the kitchen with my parents instead of climbing back into bed was taking all of my willpower. I needed outside help to take some of the edge off of all of these emotions.
A soft whining echoed from the front of the house, providing a welcome distraction.
Dad turned toward it.
“I got it,” I told him.
Ella had done the right thing bringing the puppies back. They would give me something to focus on. When Mom and Dad eventually went home, I’d be forced to get up, to let them out, to feed them, and to train them if I was going to live up to being the responsible dog owner that I promised Ella I would be.
Doodle waited for me by the front door. I shoved my feet into my boots and pulled it open. It was snowing again, another dense, inexorable blanket of white flakes falling from low-lying clouds. The snowbanks on either side of my driveway were already four-feet-high. At this rate, it’d be July before they melted.
Doodle didn’t go very far, dropping his little butt down just to the side of the porch stairs so he could pee. The second he finished, he bounded back up them and sped past me into the warmth of the house before I could catch him. Little puddles of melting snow marked his paw prints. I sighed, grabbed a towel, and wiped up after him.
“Gonna be a hell of a storm,” Dad said when I re-entered the kitchen. He frowned down at his phone, forehead creased.
“What’s the predicted snowfall?” I asked.
“Twenty-eight inches,” Dad answered.
Good, this was good. There was prep work to do for the storm. I could spend today focusing on that instead of my diagnosis or the stricken look of heartbreak on Ella’s face when she’d walked out of the door.
“I’m gonna eat real quick,” I told my parents. “And then, Dad, did you want to help me stack some more bags of pellets near the stove in the basement? After that, Mom, we could use your help to salt the porch steps and the walkway so they don’t freeze, then haul in some more wood for the fireplaces and check on the generator. We lose power up here a lot.”
Mom nodded in response.
“Sure thing,” Dad answered. He looked excited. This would be their first snowstorm since my rookie year in the USFL. They’d come out to watch me lose my first playoff game and had to reschedule their flight home after we’d been pummeled by heavy snow and winds the next day.
I went to the freezer and pulled it open. There was enough tupperware stacked inside of it to feed a football team.
“Try the lasagna,” Mom said from behind me. “Top shelf.”
I pulled it free and set it on the island. I had lost weight. My muscle tone was deteriorating as my body cannibalized itself. I needed these calories, but since coming home from Boston, food held little appeal and tasted like ash on my tongue.
I heated the container up and tucked into the lasagna. Maybe it was the fact that Ella had made this and it was all that was left of her in this house, or maybe I was finally starting to come out of the depressive fugue I’d been in, but for the first time since my diagnosis, food tasted…well, not good, but like food again. There was the sharpness of the cheese, the tang of salt, the sweetness of the tomatoes, the subtle bite of spices. I cleared my plate and then reheated a second serving. If I was going to be on my feet all day, I needed the fuel.
I turned to Dad when I was done. “You ready?”
“Let’s do this,” he said with a grin.
Copyright © 2019 by Navessa Allen
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.