Monday - Cassie time, a bit of a sad one.
The visit with Bev was short as she dropped off to sleep mid-chat. Andrew was asleep also, sprawled in a comfortable armchair in the waiting room. I hesitated when I saw him, sure that he would want to go back in to Bev, but loathe to wake him from what I guessed was much needed rest. There was a tinge of grey to his face that worried me.
However a sixth sense woke him as we came further into the room. He straightened up in the chair, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
“How was she?”
“Pleased to see us, tired. She’s sleeping now.”
Mark went to Andrew and squeezed into the chair beside him. Taking his hand he said nothing, just sat there. Andrew rested his chin on the top of Mark’s head. I could see that he was taking comfort from this human contact, this silent empathy, and marveled again at the wisdom my son was displaying. Nathan would be proud I found myself thinking, but then wondered if it was true. Would Nathan understand what Mark was doing or would he have hurried to fill the silence with meaningless words – probably the latter I decided.
We spent the rest of the long day alternating between visits and giving each other cups of coffee and tea. Even Mark was showing signs of weariness but livened up when Julia came with Emmerson. The bond between him and his sister was as strong as ever. Julia also stayed, giving her support even though she only knew Andrew and Bev slightly. I was not surprised to see Matt come through the waiting room door early in the evening. He looked around at us all, noting that Andrew was absent. Raising an eyebrow in silent question he came to sit beside me, taking my hand in both of his as I brought him up to date on how Bev was.
“She’s spent most of the day sleeping, but when she’s awake she is lucid, and tries to make us all feel better.”
“That sounds like Bev. How is Andrew?”
“He’s so tired, but still smiling. I don’t know how he does it. If that were, well, anyone I loved I would not be so calm.” I hoped he did not notice the hesitation, or if he did that he would write it off as tiredness on my part. Inside, I was in equal parts horrified to realise Matt was the person I couldn’t bear to lose, and that I would even be thinking about myself at this time.
“She’s sleeping more and more as the day goes on. Andrew is sitting with her, holding her hand. She seems so calm and peaceful, as though she’s waiting for something.”
Matt said nothing, just kissed the top of my head and continued to hold my hand. Having him there gave me strength, more than I would have imagined.
“Saffron sent her love and said she will be here in a heartbeat when you need her.”
I nodded. I knew that Saffron was on her own this weekend and that the girls had birthday parties to go to, in different parts of town, so she was busy being a taxi. I knew that she would come when I called – I was still hoping I would not have to make that call.
We all looked up as Andrew came in. He was still calm, still smiling – a sad smile but a smile. He came towards me.
“Cassie, Bev wanted to know if she could see Saffron?” He looked around at us all. “She wants to see all of you, one at a time.”
I didn’t realise I was squeezing Matt’s hand until he squeezed back. A wave of dread had swept over me at Andrew’s words. It sounded so final, and I was not ready for this. Andrew looked at Julia.
“Julia, she asked to see you first.”
Julia’s eyes widened at the request, but she got up and left the room without a word.
There was a small balcony opening off the waiting room, and I went out there to call Saffron.
“Hey chick, how are things there?”
“Not good. Bev asked if she could see you, she wants to see all of us, one by one.” My voice broke as I spoke, but I fought back the tears. Now was not the time for my tears.
“I’m on my way, hang in there Cassie, and tell Bev don’t even think of going anywhere until I arrive. I’ll come straight there and then go get the girls.”
She broke the connection and I turned to go back inside, walking into the solid form of Matt, who had come out without me hearing him. He put his arms around me, while I leaned into the reassuring warmth of his body. Seeing Julia come back in over his shoulder I pulled back, and we both went into the room.
Julia smiled at Emmerson, who was sitting with Mark. “She wants to see both of you together.”
They got up and left, hand in hand. I watched, wishing I could go with them and somehow ease the pain for them. Catching Julia’s eye I saw she was thinking the same thing. She came over to me and hugged me tight. I could feel my eyes widen at this unexpected contact. While we had a civil relationship we had never touched each other. After a heartbeat of surprise I returned the hug.
Pulling back Julia met my eyes. “We are joined by our children, we should become closer. I’d like that, would you?”
My hesitation was minimal, borne of surprise and not reluctance. “Yes Julia, I’d like that very much.”
She smiled, hugged me again, and returned to her seat. I sat down next to Matt, wondering what Bev had said to her.
As we waited Saffron blew into the room like a spring shower, bringing the scent of flowers and life with her. She went straight to Andrew, who had risen at her entrance, giving him one of her trademark engulfing hugs. He looked a little less grey as he smiled at her. Saffron has that effect. She smiled at Julia and exchanged a few words, hugged Matt who had also risen at her entrance, hauled me to my feet and hugged me too, then went to the coffee machine and got busy refreshing all our cups.
Mark and Emmerson returned as she was handing me a steaming cup. Emmerson looked tearful, Mark composed. Julia went to Emmerson, hugging her tight before walking out onto the balcony with her. Mark smiled at me, before looking at Saffron.
He nodded, going over to sit beside Andrew. I watched my composed little son, worrying about when the dam was going to break. Andrew must have caught my thoughts as he met my eyes over Mark’s head before leaning in to hear what Mark was saying. I sipped the hot coffee, trying not to think about anything except how it tasted. It wasn’t too bad really for hospital coffee. Or maybe I had just drunk so much today I had forgotten what good coffee tasted like.
Time passed and Saffron returned. She looked at Matt who got up without a word. As he left the room Saffron announced that she would go and get the girls, earning a smile from Andrew.
“Bev wanted to talk to your girls, thank you Saffron.”
Saffron left too, and I went out onto the balcony, staring into the shadows and trying to find strength. A touch on my shoulder roused me from my thoughts. Turning, I saw Matt, who kissed me on the forehead before saying, “It’s your turn. Don’t worry, it will be ok.”
I smiled at him, gathered my courage and went to see Bev.
She looked just the same when I went in, there was even a little colour in her cheeks. She smiled at me, patting the coverlet beside her.
“Come sit next to me here Cassie. My voice is running out after all this talking.”
“Do you want to rest? I can come back later if you want.”
“No, love. This is a wonderful time for me, being able to say what I want to the people I love and them not being able to argue with me. There’s something to be said for dying you know.”
She grinned at me, a cheeky grin that made me smile in return. The tears that had been threatening dried up, my tense muscles relaxed. I took her hand, marveling at the soft texture of the paper thin skin.
“You are so special to me Cassie, like a daughter. We weren’t blessed with children, but you and Saffron feel like my own. All of you feel like my family. I am truly blessed.”
“You’re our family Bev, we all love you.”
She smiled. “I know, and I love you all. But, it’s time for me to leave you. I know that you will take care of Andrew. The silly old fool has no idea how lonely he is going to be. I know that you and Saffron will keep him busy. Get him involved in both your lives, have him over to your houses, take him on the coffee runs, get him out and about. He’s been looking after me for so long, he needs to relax and enjoy his life now and not feel sad. I don’t want any of you to feel sad.”
“Bev, of course we will be sad, how can we not?”
She freed her hand and patted my cheek. “Well of course you will be sad, but don’t grieve for too long Cassie, and don’t let Andrew lock himself away. He and Mark will help each other, you feel that?”
I stared at her, realizing she was right. “Yes, they have a special bond. Like a grandfather and grandchild.”
She smiled. “They will help each other. And you Cassie. You have come a long way since the first day I met you. I’ve seen you grow and become your own person. I’ve seen you become a strong, independent woman. I’ve seen how it is with you and Matt. And, I’ve become impatient for you both to get on with things. Life is short Cassie, you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. You only have today, this moment. Make the most of it, accept love when it presents itself and don’t be afraid. You and Matt are so right for each other, you complement each other, you enrich each other. Don’t run away from it Cassie, promise me you won’t run away from it. And remember, you can’t break a promise made to a dying woman.”
She winked, making me smile and banishing the tears that threatened again.
“Just take the first step Cassie, the rest will follow. Believe in yourself as much as I believe in you.”
“I’ll try Bev, I promise.”
“Well, I’ve told Matt that he needs to marry you, quickly. I’ve told Saffron how I want the wedding to be, so really you have no choice.” She winked again, and smiled her cheeky smile. I blinked at her audacity, but could do nothing but smile back.
“I’m getting tired now lovely girl. I think Saffron was going to get her girls, I wanted to talk to them quickly, and then I want to spend some quiet time with Andrew. Remember Cassie, love is the only thing that matters. Take it from me, I know.”
I kissed her soft cheek, then her forehead. Reaching up she hugged me as tightly as her weakened body would allow and I hugged her back carefully, willing some of my strength to transfer to her.
“I love you Bev.”
“I love you too Cassie, and I will never leave you, not completely. Look for me, when you see a bird in your garden that will be me. When you feel a touch on your forehead that will be me. And when you are pushed into Matt’s arms, that will be me too!”
I laughed, and Bev laughed with me. Then I slipped off the bed, kissed her hand, and walked out. It was the hardest thing I had ever done, to leave that room.
Going into the waiting room I saw Saffron had arrived back with the girls. I looked at her and she nodded, walking out with them both. She touched my shoulder on the way past, a gentle touch that lingered after she had left the room. I went to sit on the other side of Andrew, who took my hand.
“How’s she doing?”
“Bright and bushy tailed, giving us all orders I believe.”
He chuckled. “That’s my girl.”
“She said once she’s talked to the girls she would like to spend some quiet time with you.”
“Good, she can get some rest.”
I felt at a loose end once Andrew had left, waiting for something I didn’t want to name. Deciding that the kids needed to eat Saffron shepherded us down to the coffee shop and ordered food for us all. My initial protests were squashed when she told the nurse on duty where we would be should Andrew need us.
Food did help, too much coffee and no food was not the best way to deal with waiting. We went for a walk in the gardens at the back of the hospital after eating, needing fresh air and a bit of exercise, the kids especially. When Saffron offered to take them home with her for the night I agreed, while Julia said that Emmerson could go with them or back home with her, whichever she preferred. I knew that Mark and Emmerson wanted to wait, but felt that it had already been such a long day for them, for all of us really.
We headed back up to the waiting room so that they could gather up their things. I turned to Matt.
“You should go too, you have work tomorrow.”
He shook his head. “I’m not leaving, so don’t try to get me to go.”
I opened my mouth to argue when Andrew came in. The hollow look in his eyes made his words redundant. “She’s gone.”