The words fell like concrete in a pool. The breath left his body and he desperately tried to gulp in air. "W... what did you say?" he rasped.
"Lee is in the hospital."
Rick inhaled deeply, trying to still the thoughts that raced around in his head. "An accident?"
"No. He... he has cancer."
"Richard," she spoke his
name softly. "Please, come see him."
Rick rubbed his eyes and nodded.
"I'll be there as soon as I
can." His voice was rough as he continued. "Andrea?"
"He didn't want you to call
me, did he?"
She hesitated. "Not at first.
But I convinced him that he needs to see you before..."
"Thank you." he interrupted
her, not wanting to hear the words.
"You'll come to the house first?
It's close to the hospital, on Glover Lane. Number 1202."
"Yes, I know where that is."
"Then I'll be looking for you soon." she said softly before hanging up.
"Of course he'll stay at the
house." Andi fluffed his pillows then helped him get settled.
"You'll be uncomfortable..."
"I will not! You know very well
how easily I make friends." she reminded him.
"How did he sound?"
"Angry at first."
"Now that's a surprise."
he said sarcastically.
"Once I got around his thorns
and told him, he sounded worried." she continued.
She smiled at him and patted his
cheek. "Don't worry about anything. We'll deal with everything as it happens."
"Be careful around Rick. He
isn't anything like me." Lee warned.
"You mean he isn't stubborn and head-strong?" she asked innocently, laughing as he rolled his eyes at her.
Andi vaguely heard the doorbell ringing
but by the time she realized what it was, it was silent again. Swearing, she
dropped her pen and raced out of her workroom and down the hall. She was halfway
down the stairs when she spotted him peering in the front window. Descending
the remaining stairs, she crossed the foyer and opened the door.
"I do hope you're a peeping
Richard." she said lightly.
He gazed at her uncertainly. "Andrea?"
"Most certainly. Come in."
She stepped back to let him enter. As he set down his two suitcases, she studied
him. He was a few inches taller than Lee and his hair was a dark, rich brown.
His physique and hard-planed face were quite similar to Lee's before the illness
had struck him down. "Would you like some coffee?" she offered.
"Well," he shifted his
weight and looked around.
"Just leave your bags there.
We'll take them up to the guest room after you've had a few minutes to breathe."
She led him into the kitchen.
Rick watched tiredly as she took charge and directed him. "The bathroom?"
"Of course. Right around the
corner." she went to retrieve the whistling kettle.
He returned to the kitchen to find
a cup of black coffee waiting for him. "Thank you."
She nodded. "I imagine you have
all sorts of questions and I'll answer them as best I can." Pausing, she
sipped her coffee. "First of all, would you like to shower or rest before
we get all hot and heavy into conversation?"
"That would be nice."
"Fine, fine. Bring your coffee
and I'll show you to your room." She preceded him into the foyer and hefted
"Andrea, let me take that!"
Rick called as she started up the stairs.
"Nonsense." She was almost
at the top step. "C'mon up."
He followed her to the guest room.
"Clean towels on the chair,
bathroom here." she opened the door. "When you're ready, come on downstairs."
She turned liquid eyes on him. "Thank
you." she responded before leaving.
Rick could still feel her gaze touching his face. She was nothing at all like he expected... not leggy, blond or skinny. And she seemed kind of flighty and really not at all what he could imagine for his brother.
Andi paced the kitchen, stopping
periodically to stare blindly out the window. Normally, the sight of her plants
and trees would soothe and delight her but now, all she could see was the pain
and fear in those chocolate brown eyes.
She whirled around, her hand flying
to her throat. "Oh!"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to
frighten you." he casually crossed the kitchen and placed his empty cup
in the sink. The room was spotless, right down to the sparkling windows.
"It's all right. I was in another
He nodded sagely and went to sit
at the kitchen table. "Can we talk now?"
"Sure. Are you hungry?"
"No, thanks." He folded
his hands on the table and watched as she flitted around the kitchen before
joining him at the table.
"Do you mind if I...?"
she gestured to the banana in her hands.
"Of course not."
Nodding, she began peeling back the
skin. "Okay, shoot."
Rick inhaled deeply before beginning.
"How long has he known?"
"For almost eighteen months."
He cursed under his breath. "He
should have told me!" Pressing his fingers to his eyes, he spoke again.
"How long has he been in the hospital?"
Jumping to his feet, he pushed his
hands through his thick hair. "I would guess he's had a second opinion."
"Several, in fact. They all
came to the same conclusion." She took another bite of the banana.
"Is he... is he in much pain?"
his voice was gravelly.
"It's often difficult to tell."
she said vaguely.
Rick stopped pacing to stare at her.
She was calmly sitting there, eating a damn banana while her husband, his brother,
was in the hospital, dying. "How can you just sit there?!" he hollered
She raised intense green eyes to
his face. "There isn't much I can do. I can be there for him, care for
him, talk to him, but I can't cure him!"
He dropped back into the chair. "I
don't know how you can be so calm."
"I've had a much longer time
to accept this. You only found out thirty-six hours ago. Give yourself time."
She stood and tossed her banana peel
in the garbage. "I'm going to the hospital. Would you like to come?"
He hesitated. "Do you think
She studied him. "Richard..."
"Rick." he inserted.
"Rick," she nodded, reaching
for her purse. "I think you should go when you're ready."
He looked down at his sneakers for
a moment before looking up to find her staring at him expectantly. "Okay,