The 3-hour car ride back to Emerald early that next morning felt long, despite the fact that I couldn’t remember the last time I’d driven it.
Dad usually came up to us for Christmas and birthdays. He’d grown up in Evanston and loved coming to visit. Which was fine with me.
It was hard to put my finger on why I rarely went back home…at least not without sounding like I was an uppity brat.
There was so much intrusion there.
So what are you doing now? When are you getting married? Aren’t you afraid of the crime? Isn’t it terribly expensive? Ever thought about moving home, slowing down?
It felt like an endless barrage of overly intrusive questions.
One thing I adored about the city was blissful anonymity it provided.
Emerald felt…claustrophobic. Ironic for a town of barely 6,000, surrounded by nothing but corn fields and open spaces.
Rafael had been worried when I left, of course. He’d never even been back home with me, despite how long we’d been together, and I didn’t want this type of introduction for him. I’d promised him I would only be gone a day or two at most and would take it as easily as I could.
He was on the cusp of demanding to go with, but it really would’ve been more stress than I could handle…the interrogation level with him around would skyrocket.
So here I was, rolling past the manicured lawns and perfect Victorian homes of quaint little Emerald, my hometown, for the first time in a big handful of years – engaged and pregnant and scared.
I went straight to the hospital first, even though dad’s house was just a few minutes away – pretty much everything in Emerald was only a few minutes away.
Dad looked…gray almost, and so small in his hospital bed. His dark hair had gone more salt and pepper than when I’d last seen him at Christmas. There were tubes and beeping and machines. The smell of bleach and air freshener-fake lavender.
How had he gotten so small?
But at least he was awake.
“My Norey,” he said when I walked in. He lit up when he saw me, the apples of his cheeks gaining color. “How’s my sweet girl?”
My eyes welled up and I laugh-cried. “Dad, who cares about me! How are you?”
I dropped my purse on a small side table next to his bed and leaned in to gently embrace him.
He was laboring to breathe.
“I’ve been better, Norey. I’ve been better.”
I pulled up a padded chair from a corner of the room and scooted it as close to his bed as I could.
He paused a moment, like he had to collect the whole memory before answering.
“Well, I was working late last night,” he began. “You know, closing up shop. And next thing I knew, I felt like I got hit by a Mack truck.”
The machines in the room were intimidating. Even though my dad was a doctor, medicine was an enigma to me.
“This seems pretty serious, dad.”
Another pause. He nodded.
“Well, I suppose it is…” He gazed at me, searching for words. I had to will myself not to cry, holding one of his hands in both of mine, gently – anxiously – squeezing.
“I’ll talk to your doctor,” I said. “We can get you transferred to Northwestern. I can…”
Dad labored to put his other hand on mine to calm me.
“I’m so happy my baby is here. It does my heart good to have you home.” A pang squeezed my heart. I tried to smile. “You’ll stay for a while?” he asked.
I couldn’t meet his eyes, so I stared at his hands and blinked back tears.
“I have to go back to work on Monday, dad,” I said quietly.
He patted my hand and smiled. “Of course you do, honey. I forgot that school had started already, and I know it’s such a busy time for you.” He brought his hand to my cheek.
I wanted to crawl in bed and curl up with him and rewind time just for a moment.
“I’m not going anywhere right now though, dad.”
He smiled and took a deep, relaxing breath, and closed his eyes.
I’d told the truth more than I realized in that moment: I wasn’t going anywhere – and wouldn’t be going anywhere – for much longer than a simple weekend.