Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Eight

Wil’s tenacious grip on the slide bar slipped, as did her treadless boots on the platform. With all the grace of a surprised, screeching sloth, she tripped, fell, and slid the length of the metal slide. She landed quite solidly on the frosted wood chips and closed her eyes against the cold night sky. Perhaps, if she squeezed her lids tightly enough, Eric and the world would go away. A portal into another world might open beneath her, or a wizard would appear and –

From a distance, she thought she heard running feet. “God; are you okay?” Eric said from quite close, his concern a tad more evident in his tone than his amusement.

Wil cracked one eye open, then the other. He stood over her. What she could see of his features seemed to resolve into an anxious curiosity. His mouth appeared to twitch at the corners, but she couldn’t be sure in the dim lighting of the apartment complex.

That lighting was never luminous, and tended to turn off at important times. Her mother had said the owners were conserving energy; her father said they wanted to conserve money.

As if on cue, the lamp overhead blinked off. Wil, Eric, and the playground were plunged into darkness. Wil attempted an evasive rolling maneuver to rise, and succeeded in smacking her head against the bottom of the slide. The slide reverberated in the chill, empty air like a gong.

Shit, Wil! What -” Eric began, but broke off at the sound of Wil laughing.

She laughed and laughed. Then she cried. She laughed and cried and didn’t know why. Sitting up, she stopped at the shadowy sight of Eric standing nearby. Did he need something? She attempted to stand, and made it upright with minimal wavering. Bits of dirt and pieces of wood clung to her scarf and backside; she brushed at herself accordingly.

Eric was still there when she finished, within the reach of her arm. She’d never realized how tall he was. “What do you want?” she demanded.

He stepped back. “I, er…” His face moved in the dark, seeking an answer from his feet, the playground, and the sky. Finally settling on his gloved hands, he mumbled, “Nothing, I guess.” She watched his shoulders lift as he sighed. He shuffled his feet.

“Wellllll….” Wil couldn’t think of anything to say. She didn’t even know Eric; she just rode in his car because his mom had a vehicle everyone could fit in. None of them liked Mrs. Crandall, either; but, Wil realized, that didn’t necessarily mean Eric was anything like her.

The light a few yards down the sidewalk turned on. Her eyes flicked to it, distracted, then back to Eric. She was able to make out more of Eric’s face. He was staring down at her, and he no longer looked amused. In fact, his expression reminded Wil of someone’s she’d seen recently. She felt a light, fluttering feeling somewhere near her stomach.

“Um,” Eric raised a gloved hand and coughed a bit into it. “So -are you okay, Wil?”

She couldn’t seem to pull her eyes away from his gaze. She nodded.

“Good.” He did the cough again. “Erm. Great.”

“Miiiinaaa!” came an echoing call from down the walkways. The voice sounded like her father’s, not to mention his use of her second-most detested name.

Wil blinked, the spell broken. “I need to go.”

Eric took a turn nodding. Then he smiled a small, shy, simple smile. He looked nice in a smile, even in the semi-dark. Wil smiled in return, then pivoted and ran to her father’s voice and to their building.

Her scarf fluttered behind her, waving goodbye in the night.

 

Continued from Sixty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Seven

“Mina!”

Dr. Winters paused mid-rush, a sound catching her attention. Perhaps someone was paging her? She grasped at her lapel and realized she’d left her radio back in the office. “Just a moment, Tanaka,” she told the eager but often nervous undergraduate. She left him and walked a few paces back. Turning, she added, “I’ll meet you at the lab.”

A few paces more, and the brilliant woman had another thought. She pivoted and walked backwards. “Which lab is it again?”

Thomas Tanaka still stood where they’d parted. He morphed a rising bemusement into a thoughtful twist of his mouth. “A-23, Doctor Winters.”

“Mina!”

She glanced ’round the reflective, night-darkened hallway.

“Wil?”

Wil opened her eyes to see her sweet mother’s face peering over the front seat at her. Wil blinked and realized her father’s face also pointed her way. Her mother’s smiled; his sighed and was tired.

“I was awake,” Wil said. She felt stiff as she sat up and looked around the car. “Where’s Jakob?”

Cynthia coughed slightly. “He went inside already, honey. Said he had homework.”

For a reason Wil couldn’t quite recall, she thought to doubt Jakob’s claims. Some encounter at the hospital brushed against her memory. “Reagan,” she remembered.

“What?”

“Jakob’s going to message Reagan,” Wil said, tact and discretion always far from her first impulses.

Her mother choked on a laugh, which set her to coughing. Rob moved over and held his wife from an awkward front seat angle.

“I’m so sorry!” Wil agonized, but was rewarded with a pained expression from her father’s quick glance. Wil’s face crumpled. She pushed at the car door and stumbled out into the eerie mists of winter twilight. Recovering, she ran.

The world was a barren, cold, and heartless place. Mankind had learned to fight against itself and avoid all semblance of connections; embracing only empty, selfish pursuits. Nina Win knew this, yet also knew that there was no other world for her. She walked on, her army regulation boots stomping so loudly against the frigid cement walkways that they sounded from the many desolate buildings nearby.

A twisting, bulky shape rose before her. A playground. Why not? the ex-Marine thought. She clumped over abandoned, frost-crusted wood pieces and up a slippery plastic play slide. There at the top she viewed the crumbling housing complex. Families had lived here once, she knew. Children had played where she stood; happy children. Had the physical equipment she gripped in her creaking gloves not been present, Nina would never have believed those facts.

So intent was she upon her gloomy musings that she failed to remember her training to be vigilant. A dark movement shifted just under her left arm and began moving toward her. Despite rigid protocol to the contrary, she almost screamed.

The darkness resolved to a human shape. He stopped just beneath her vigil.

“Hi,” said Eric Crandall, the shy boy from apartment 5-3.

 

Continued from Sixty-Six.
Keep reading to Sixty-Eight.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Six

Wil began thinking up plans in her head for what else tomorrow might hold. Perhaps, once they were all awake, she could get Jakob to let her play his game with him. Maybe her father would take her practice-driving in the nearby church parking lot. Or she and her mother could…

Dr. Winters studied her screen of notes and frowned. The panning list of backlit research reflected in her serious glasses as she read. Despite copious notes and equations, she and her team had yet to produce a working sample of their proposed formula.

The door of her office opened with a snap. It almost upset her cup of coffee, perched atop the sprawling file cabinet and untouched since she’d made it hours earlier. “Dr. Winters!” the harried undergraduate student who’d just entered said. “Reagan thinks she may have found the error!”

The head of the department continued her scrolling. Her heart had felt to skip a beat upon Tanaka’s entry, but settled under her usual, cool control.

“Doctor?” Thomas Tanaka closed the door more quietly than he’d opened it, and waited.

“So…” Dr. Winters said after a half-minute. “Reagan has found the error?”

“Yes, she-”

Rose Reagan?”

“Well, yeah; the only Reagan on the team…”

His superior looked up. She had a face that could make a lab monkey decide to stop flinging feces and even consider teaching itself sign language. “I see.”

Her subordinate gulped. “Do you… do you want to verify?” Concerned at the icy response, he began speaking more rapidly. “We weren’t sure, either, as she’s not prone to successful tests in general, but were able to produce a solution with her conclusions and tested it on Subject A this morning and many of his symptoms have not been recorded since -”

Dr. Winters gasped. “What?!”

Thomas swallowed again. “I said she’s not prone to success-”

No, no. After that.” She sounded different; excited. “The bit about Subject A.”

He backed up a step at her intensity; he felt the door handle behind his back. “I said that Subject A has not had many of his usual symptoms since this morning.”

“Well, what are you waiting for?” Dr. Winters asked. She walked forward and would have pulled at the handle through him if he’d not had the instinct to open it and scuttle out of her way and into the hall. “This is revolutionary!” she continued, taking off at a brisk pace with a breathless Thomas just behind. “Let’s study Reagan’s results and get started in replicating them for a test run on Subject B. Then, if successful, we’ll be able to present to the board and possibly begin human trials before the end of the year!”

Together, they stalked down the fluorescent-lit hallway.

Thomas began to lose some nervousness in the wake of his superior’s growing excitement. “Yes!” he agreed. “When I first read over our results, we were all really happy. Reagan said, ‘We’ve done it! We’ve finally cured Cystic Fibrosis!'”

Eyes closed, Wil smiled; as they pulled into the covered parking space of their silent and sleeping apartment complex.

 

Continued from Sixty-Five.
Keep reading to Sixty-Seven.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Five

A very somber Winters family walked down the wide hall to the hospital exit, intent on the bleak and cold parking garage beyond. Wil was so absorbed by her thoughts that she bumped right into someone in passing the main reception desk.

“Watch it-!” an angry girl’s voice began, then stopped. Wil stopped as well, her mind slowly catching up with her ears and eyes. “Oh, hey, Wil!” the injured girl said. “Long time no see!”

Wil blinked. It was Reagan. Not sure whether she should acknowledge their friendship or not, Wil decided on copying Reagan’s casual tone. “Hi… um… Reagan. Nice to see you, too.”

Reagan laughed outright. “Yeah.” She could barely suppress a wry smile. “Well, guess I’ll see you at carpool!” And she left, more laughter echoing behind her.

Shaking her head, Wil began walking to the exit once more. She stumbled into her stepbrother this time. “Watch it, Wil,” he grumbled. Surprised at the lack of insult, she glanced up to his face. Jakob was not looking down. He was staring off in the direction of Wil’s carpool companion, his expression one that Wil could not remember seeing before.

Reagan rounded the corner out of sight, and Jakob returned to the present to find Wil staring at him. “Real smooth, Wheels,” he said, shortening his favorite nickname for her due to their parents’ proximity. He slouched out the sliding doors.

“Wil.” She looked to see her mother smiling in an encouraging way. Cynthia held out a welcoming hand. Wil clumped forward to take it and relished the soft, loving, comfortable connection. Her father led her mother led Wil behind her sullen stepbrother and out into the dark winter evening.

Ice cloud crystals hung for seconds before their warm exhalations as they walked. The harsh, cold air cut through their coats and scarves and filled their lungs with frigid breaths. Cynthia began coughing with the strain; they huddled round her and moved more quickly to the car.

Jakob was waiting, leaning against the rusted blue hood of the car. Once Rob unlocked it, Jakob opened Wil’s door for her and half-bowed. Not to be outdone, Wil curtsied. She wobbled to a stand. Jakob pretended to shut the door, so she climbed inside.

Rob turned the key in the ignition and was rewarded with a low *chhh-chhhh-chhhhk*. He tried again, to no result. The third time, he offered it some verbal support. The fourth time, he remembered to give the old sedan encouragement from the gas pedal. At last, it clunked to life. They all relaxed to a shivering relief as the air slowly warmed up.

Rob put the car into reverse. He backed out, straightened, and headed for home. Cynthia turned to smile warmly at Jakob and Wil in the backseat.

“What do you say we all sleep in tomorrow?”

Wil thought that was a great idea.

 

Continued from Sixty-Four.
Keep reading to Sixty-Six.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Four

Here we are again, Wil mouthed to her friend. The pale, dark-haired girl in the waiting room window spoke the same words, without sound. Wil shifted on the floor. Crinkling paper noises from her left fist warned her to be careful in her movements; she glanced at them and remembered.

Returning to her friend, she whispered, “I’m adopted.” Her friend frowned and furrowed her brow in confusion.

How is that possible? she replied.

They shrugged.

Wil extracted the birth certificate and read through its official type once more. A few, lingering last-hopes evaporated from her imagination as she found each line filled out with correct name, date, father, location, and features. “I was a small baby,” she said.

They nodded, seriously.

“Of course you were, Minnie Mouse,” Jakob called, from his slouched recline a few feet away. He moved deeper into his chair and adjusted his feet on the table.

Wil and her friend shared a look. What did he know?

“You were a preemie.”

They blinked. Wil turned away from the window wall. “A what?

“Preemie, dummy.” He rubbed his back inside his slouch. “Means you were early. Rob told me.” Closing his eyes, he tilted his head against the chair back. “Said you were lucky to be born and that he didn’t even know.”

She shared a stupefied look with her friend. Thinking over this new information, she asked, “How did he know?”

“‘Bout you?”

Wil nodded. “Yeah.”

Jakob groaned and tried to crouch into a side-lay within the small seat. From a yawn, he answered, “Not sure.”

A few more seconds told Wil her brother -her stepbrother- was unlikely to tell her more. The conversation had already run longer than any of his had in the last five years. She was about to resume the more satisfying exchange at the dark glass before her when Jakob stirred enough to add, “Ask Rob.”

Her friend tilted her head, considering. Not a bad idea, she told Wil.

They were all interrupted by a click, a creak, and a cheery, “Well, here we are!” Nurse Bea entered the waiting room, and then turned to hold the door for Rob. Just behind him came Cynthia.

Jakob stopped pretending to sleep and Wil waved goodbye to the window. Both rose and walked to their favorite mother.

“They’re releasing you?!” Wil asked. Jakob snickered and put his hands in his coat pockets.

Nurse Bea laughed outright. As expected, hers was the sort that came from deep in her stomach and affected her entire body upon its release. A moment of breathlessness later and she wiped her eyes. “That’s right, darlin’.” She smiled, though she already had been, and wagged a stern finger to Wil. “Now, you jus’ make sure you take care o’ your mom. She’s an angel.”

Wil’s pleasant return smile slipped off her face.

“Thanks, Nurse Bea,” Cynthia enthused; her smile radiating as usual. Supported by Rob and trailed by her anxious children, she walked out the waiting room doors.

If Wil had not been so preoccupied, she’d have caught the sparkling tear on the cheek of Nurse Bea.

 

Continued from Sixty-Three.
Keep reading to Sixty-Five.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Three

“You sit, too, Mina,” Rob gruffed, not taking his attention from Dr. Sullivan. Blushing, Wil moved to the couch and sat. She almost missed, but only Jakob’s sigh indicated anyone had noticed.

The doctor, meanwhile, closed her eyes for a second and released her own exhalation. “I see, from your hospital notes, that you were in here just two days ago, Mrs. Winters.” She ran a clean, practical finger down her tablet of notes. “Respiratory infection, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Wil’s mother answered.

“And you were discharged with intravenous medications?”

“Yes.”

“Have you been following your regular medication and exercise schedule as well?” Dr. Sullivan’s left eyebrow rose as she looked up at Cynthia for answer.

Cynthia, however, looked down. “Just the medications.” Her thumb stroked Rob’s comforting hand. “Oh! And the lung therapy. Once.”

“Well, that’s to be expected,” her interrogator replied, not unkindly. She scrolled through more notes.

Wil shifted on the plastic couch. She stifled a yawn, studied the painting of a girl over the bed again, and watched the neutral-colored window curtains sway in the room vents’ warm air. Her letter and birth certificate crinkled as she sought a new position for her hands. One look from her father settled them into her lap.

“I see that you were also informed about Cystocaftor, and that you were able to receive a lung transplant over a decade ago.”

“We know all this!” Wil blurted. Jakob snorted in amusement.

Rob was not amused. “Wilhelmina!”

Wil returned to fidgeting with her papers. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

“I realize you want to move on to the main topic at hand,” soothed Dr. Sullivan. “However, Wil -may I call you Wil?”- Wil glanced up to meet the professional woman’s cool, dark eyes and nodded. “Wil, it’s important to be sure we are all on the same page. Also, these points are imperative to discussing the immediate issue.”

Wil blinked from a blank expression.

“They’re important as …things that led to what I am going to talk about,” Dr. Sullivan simplified. She looked around at them all, finishing with and lingering on Cynthia. “Number one big issue: despite the effectiveness most patients are experiencing with the new drug options, I’m afraid that your current state severely limits that efficacy.” Clearing her throat, she said, “Your more advanced age and the state of your complications are the main causes.”

“But,” Rob stammered, “We were told it would guarantee her at least five years.”

The respiratory doctor dropped her gaze to give a slight, negative shake of her head. “No. I’m sorry, Mr. Winters.” She pulled a stray wisp of graying brown hair back with its fellows at the sides of her head; patted her strict bun. “I’ve read over the trials, and the most optimistic bet puts you at two years.”

The silence following her words was filled with a thousand shocked thoughts and at least as many silent denials of what they were suddenly faced with.

“We have two years?” Wil asked in nearly a whisper.

“No, Wil,” Dr. Sullivan’s eyes met Wil’s again. “Probably less.”

“How-” Jakob’s voice was husky. “How long?”

“I’m afraid that is the question everyone wants the answer to.”

“But,” Cynthia spoke up, startling her family. “Surely you have some estimate?” Her clear blue eyes and openly trusting face would have melted a statue.

“Of course.” The doctor folded her hands around her tablet and rested them in her lap. “Depending on how this ‘flu season turns out, I’d give you between three months and a year and a half before serious complications interfere with normal life.”

 

Continued from Sixty-Two.
Keep reading to Sixty-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Two

Dr. Sullivan didn’t even wait for a response, a welcome. The door closed smartly behind her starched coat and the curtain rings made no more sound than was necessary. Wil even saw the swirling waves of heat from the wall registers keep to their proper paths. Dr. Sullivan strode past them all and stood near the foot of Cynthia’s bed.

Pulling out a tablet and barely glancing at its activated screen, she said, “And how are we feeling today, Mrs. Winters?”

Cynthia sat up a bit against her pillows. Rob’s hand and her IV followed along. “I..” she looked at Rob, Jakob, and lingered on Wil. “I had a little trouble breathing.”

“She had two coughing spells.” Rob said. “Couldn’t seem to stop.” He lifted his chin to meet Dr. Sullivan’s gaze, avoiding his wife’s.

Wil studied the doctor as well. She saw Jakob’s head move upward, from the corner of her eye. The respiratory physician smiled slightly, checked her records a second time, and addressed Cynthia. “Is that true about the coughing, Mrs. Winters?”

The angelic blonde hair on the bleach-white pillow shifted as Cynthia repositioned again. “Yes,” she whispered.

“Would you say these spells are increasing in intensity and/or frequency?”

Cynthia’s blue eyes met Wil’s dark ones, then each looked down at her hands. “Yes.”

Dr. Sullivan cleared her throat. “I’d like to discuss a few more issues with you, Mrs. Winters, Mr. Winters. But, perhaps you’d rather do so more …privately?”

False-down coat rustling told Wil that Jakob moved when she did, though she was the only one to stand. From a dark tunnel of recovering betrayal, a small part inside her found an anchoring emotion: indignation. “No!” she almost shouted.

Even Dr. Sullivan looked at Wil in surprise, though the stern-faced woman kept her peace. Instead, Cynthia spoke. “We just determined to not keep any more secrets,” she explained to the doctor.

If she wondered at how many secrets they could possibly have entertained recently, Dr. Sullivan chose to move past that revelation. “I see,” she said. “Are you certain? Many patients feel the information to be…” she searched the suspended ceiling tiles for the right word.

Deadly, thought Wil.

“-emotionally stressful for family members,” Dr. Sullivan finished.

Rob’s hand found a stronger hold on Cynthia’s fingers. “We’re sure.”

Wil’s focus shifted to her father. She thought back to the letter she’d just read, from a woman who claimed to have birthed her. Dependable, Guinevere Greene had called Rob, after crossing out boring. His deep-voiced response to the impersonal doctor echoed in Wil’s mind and his strong, determined profile sat before her. “You’re wrong,” she whispered to the phantom letter-writer, “He’s even more than ‘dependable.'”

Rob gave his daughter a confused expression, then turned back to Dr. Sullivan.

“In that case,” Dr. Sullivan said, “I’d better take a seat.” Her eyes roved the room till they caught sight of another plastic and metal chair resting by the cream-patterned curtain. She pulled the chair over and perched on its edge. “We will need a few minutes, and I want everyone to be clear about what I discuss with you.”

 

Continued from Sixty-One.
Keep reading to Sixty-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-One

“So,” Jakob began. They all turned to look at him; he fumbled a bit as he read their expressions: Rob’s warning, Cynthia’s trust, and Wil’s emptiness. He cleared his throat, in a way that sounded surprisingly like Rob’s. Cynthia smiled slightly. Jakob looked at his hands.

“So,” he said again, “We’re all adopted.” He tried a laugh; glanced at the picture on the wall. He sighed, looked back down, then remembered how to grin his characteristic smirk. “Who knew?” He joked.

“We’re so very sorry this all came out this way,” Cynthia said. “You know that we wouldn’t have sprung it on you. We’ve always told you about Jakob, for example. Wil’s mother was adamant that she never be told -even threatening lawsuits against Rob..!” She faltered a bit and glanced at Rob to be sure she wasn’t saying too much.

Rob’s head jerked up when she brought up the legal issues, but then he shrugged. “It doesn’t seem to matter now,” he admitted. He ran his right hand along his jaw, and glanced nervously at Wil. Wil felt lost.

“I, uh,” he began, and paused at her blank look. He swallowed. “I won’t keep any more secrets from you.” He looked at his work boots, and scuffed the floor with their toes. “There really aren’t any more, anyway.”

“Rob,” his wife said, and held her right hand out to him. He took it, and caressed it carefully around the tube taped to the top. “You did the best you could. You’ve taken care of everything.” He sought her face and she smiled at him.

Wil watched her parents distractedly, from a distant plane devoid of sensations. She read their expressions, and felt a slight stirring inside. Their love touched her distantly, like a comforting fire through thick glass. It began to permeate the fog and speak to her reasoning.

“Wil,” her mother beckoned -the one who had been her mother for as long as she knew. Wil stood and walked to the bed. Kneeling beside it, she lay her head at Cynthia’s side. Slowly and fondly, her mother stroked the dark brown hairs and pale face.

They all seemed to be listening outside the room; to the nearby physiotherapy, perhaps. Their actual thoughts, however, were simultaneously within and beyond the thin, neutral-colored walls.

Wil felt broken apart when she first understood the truth. She was still unsure where life would go from here. Would she meet this woman who not only gave her up, but demanded Wil never learn of her? Who does that to her child?

Wil looked up at Cynthia: sweet, understanding, patient Cynthia who had never had an easy life but almost always looked for the positive in it. They had all worked to keep Cynthia as long as they could, knowing Goodbye stood lurking around the corner.

This was the woman who deserved to be her mother, Wil decided: the one who stuck around and loved her. Wil had never even guessed she was not Cynthia’s, assuming lack of resemblance in looks and behavior to be a random genetic mix. In fact, Wil had always felt Cynthia treated Jakob well also, though his parentage had never been kept from them. Wil turned to Jakob, and caught a similar sentiment in his face.

Jakob, realizing Wil was scrutinizing him, scrunched up his features. She laughed.

“When we get home,” Cynthia declared, “We’re telling you all we know.” She smiled her full, exultant smile. Her family reciprocated. They could never resist.

“It’s a good thing it’s the weekend,” Wil said.

Just then, they heard a knock on the door. “Come in,” Rob gruffed.

A click, a small creak, then the usual clink of the curtain sliding to the side; and a woman in a white overcoat and an air of confidence walked fully into the room. She smiled professionally. “Hello. I am Dr. Sullivan, the respiratory physician on call today. You must be the Winters family.”

 

Continued from Sixty.
Keep reading to Sixty-Two.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty

“Let’s all sit down,” Rob suggested, as much as a suggestion was from his direct way of speaking. He coughed a bit before preparing to talk more and guided Wil to a seat on the plasticine couch. He then moved to his usual plastic and metal guest chair. His family turned and looked up at him expectantly.

Rob rubbed his face. “Wil,” he said, “Read your other letter. I need to talk to Jakob.” Jakob looked surprised and glanced up from his arms-on-knees slouch at Wil, Cynthia, and Rob. Wil was about to ask what he needed to say to Jakob, but Rob held up his hand. The same hand bent to gesture at her papers and he gave her a pointed look.

Wil looked down at the second part of her mail that she hadn’t read yet, a note folded haphazardly. It was the same way Wil often put things into envelopes: folding first; then realizing it wouldn’t fit, trying to crease the pages in various ways, and finally stuffing it in. Finding an edge, she opened the letter and spread it out on her lap.

To a background of deep voices occasionally rumbling inaudible words, Wil read the following:

Darling Wilhelmina,

How are you? I hope you are well. I also hope this letter does not shock you terribly. I don’t even know where to begin, so I will just start writing what comes to mind. Hopefully, you will understand.

I didn’t mean to have you. I mean, I was happy thrilled that you were born but I was not intending for that to happen.

I met Rob Winters your father when we were both young, at some party or something. Yes, a party. He was so very serious, but he asked me out on a date. Perhaps you are too young to be told about this sort of thing, but sometimes adults go on dates and end up drinking doing some things and then you find you’ve slept with them at their house even though you didn’t really like them that much. I find this happens a lot with me, but, well, let’s talk about you again, Dear.

That’s it, Wilhelmina: I had you. When you were first growing inside me, I thought about adoption. You know, finding one of those cute smiling couples who really want a child and can’t. But I knew you would be special. I even tried to keep you for a while after you were born but realized I couldn’t.

I gave you to your father -dear old boring dependable Rob, and told him that you were not to be told about me. I didn’t want to stress you out, you see.

The thing is, now I am older and I think I could meet you.

Maybe you don’t want to. -I know! Let’s think about this for a while. I’ll send another letter in a while and maybe you’ll want to talk then.

Please?

Sincerely Love Yours
-Guinevere Greene

P.S.
Just in case, my cell phone number is XXX-XXX-XXXX. -G.G.

Wil stared at her birth mother’s curvy letters, allowing an elephant’s worth of information and emotion to sink into her mind. From a distance she admired the extravagant, looping signature, the fancy words, the tone.

She looked up. Rob and Jakob had finished; Jakob’s expression looking a bit stunned but trying not to. Cynthia lay calmly, looking at her with concern.

For once, Wil felt nothing.

 

Continued from Fifty-Nine.
Keep reading to Sixty-One.

Want to start at the very beginning? It’s a very good place to start.

Wilhelmina Winters, Fifty-Nine

A few minutes later, the Winters sat together in Cynthia’s neutral-toned hospital room. This one had a different print hanging on the wall over the bed, a nice one of a girl with two braids standing among a garden of flowers. Its life and color stood out against the stark sage-beige theme that otherwise permeated the chilly room, and drew Wil’s interest at once.

Cynthia sat resting where she had for their last visit, and many before that for her entire life: propped up in the bed with IV and oxygen tubes dripping life into a body that seemed to repel it. Wil looked down from the picture of springtime to the face of her favorite person. Her mother’s misty blonde hair reminded Wil of a halo, even against the ugly bedspread of green sheets and paper pillows. Wil began to cry.

“Oh, Wil,” her mother began, opening clear blue eyes of concern. “It’s all right.” Wil cried harder, knowing otherwise. Rob and Jakob shifted uncomfortably; trying to find distraction in the tan walls, off-white window shade, or interlocking squares of cream and blue-green printed uniformly across the door curtain.

Cynthia offered her left arm to Wil, and Wil hurried to it. She tried to hug her mother gently, to not weep so deeply. Self-control seemed futile. They had talked about death, given it a name, and said it was coming. The moment she’d seen her mother laying there and thought of angels, Wil felt how very close Death actually walked. His form stood near enough that his cold shadow made her shiver; his voice whispered from the corners of their lives of imminent loss and despair.

“That’s enough, Wil,” Rob said sternly. He came around the bed and pulled Wil gently but firmly from Cynthia’s arm. Wil collapsed on him, instead. His rough face melted from surprise to a quiet pleasure. He shied from emotion, overwhelmed at his daughter’s level of expression; receiving it only when caught off-guard as Wil had done.

“I..” Wil choked, “I’m trying.” She lifted her wet face from her father’s chest, sniffed loudly, and breathed raggedly. “I just … it’s so… I didn’t want to actually lose Mom!” Wil concluded in a slight wail, and dropped her face back onto Rob. He patted her back, a bit awkwardly, trying to ignore Jakob’s sigh.

Turning to give him a reprimanding look, Rob was surprised to see that his stepson was sighing because there were tears streaming down his cheeks as well. He hadn’t seen Jakob cry in public for a decade. Rob adopted Jakob after the baby years, and often thought the boy just didn’t cry. He looked over at Cynthia, and was not surprised to see her smiling his favorite, sweet smile through her own tears.

Despite the oxygen, Cynthia began another coughing fit. Three sad faces -two stained with tears- immediately lifted to look at her. She raised a hand of reassurance as she coughed, and they relaxed slightly.

Incessant beeping began from behind the bed. Wil realized that her mother was on monitoring equipment, and that the erratic oxygen levels induced by coughing had set it off.

Cynthia finished in a few seconds that lasted forever. The machine quieted. In the absence of noise, Wil heard thumping from a neighboring room or two receiving treatment, then picked out approaching footsteps. The door opened and Nurse Bea rushed in, clinking the door curtain to the side. She looked nearly as out of breath as Wil’s mother, though much more cheery.

“Ah,” Nurse Bea breathed in relief, “I see it’s stopped now.” She looked around at the somber assembly, and her expression became more bittersweet. “Don’t y’all worry for now.” She met Rob’s and Cynthia’s eyes. “The doctor will be in in a few minutes. She’s just finishin’ up on down the hall. I’ll leave you to it till then and you just holler if that ole machine acts up in the meantime.”

Leaving them with a parting smile and wave, she slid the separator back, left the room, and quietly pulled the door closed behind her.

 

Continued from Fifty-Eight.
Keep reading to Sixty.