“Listen… I know you’re sleeping with Tim.” Sharon’s matter of fact tone was fortified by her unblinking stare.
Patty sat dazed, her calm exterior belying the tachycardia going on underneath her skin. She wanted to deny, defend, deflect but instead, chose to drop her gaze in admission.
“Don’t…” Sharon reached across the table to her best friend. “I don’t care. Honestly. Our marriage was over years ago. I guess I AM a little shocked that you’d start a relationship with him, knowing what you know, but… it is what it is….”
“Sharon…” tears made Patty’s eyes seem bigger, “…I don’t know how it happened. He came to me right after you got Michaela’s diagnosis. He was hurting and I just felt so powerless to help and… and… I’m so sorry. This is the last thing you need, right now.”
A feeling of calm came over Sharon as she realized this was exactly the turn of events she needed.
“Don’t worry about me Pats, in a weird sort of way, I honestly believe this will help. I’ve had to deal with my own guilt of not being there for him through all of this. Now I know, it’s not my job. Michaela is his entire world, it nearly broke him when we found out her heart is no good. I love his devotion to her, but I don’t love him… now I can move on. So… I guess I should say… thank you?”
“But who’s going to be there for YOU, Sharon? I want to be… but I’m realistic. I’m worried about you…” Patty knew her betrayal would effectively kill her longest and closest friendship but she didn’t expect the pain to run so deep.
“I’ll be fine, I promise. I’ve come to terms with it. He’s welcome to stay… Michaela doesn’t have long - I want her to have both of us, together. I just ask that you keep it from her. Your presence in our home won’t be new to her, but please, keep your relationship out of sight. As far as she will know - mommy’s best friend is visiting… plain and simple.”
“I promise, this is the best for all involved.” Sharon stood to get back to her daughter. Her heart feeling a hope that it hadn’t known since the diagnosis. As she walked away she offered a simple, seemingly spontaneous, suggestion, “Tim needs a distraction… other than you, of course…” as much as the situation benefited her, she couldn’t help but take the swipe. “…he needs to get back to the weights. He won’t listen to me when I suggest it.”
Patty nodded just enough to free the tears from their barrier and they slipped down her face.
It was ten days later when the friends, had another, unplanned, tête-à-tête.
“Sharon, I just don’t know what to do… Michaela looks so weak. You don’t sleep. Please let me help you.” Patty always loved her friend more than any other being on Earth, but now her guilt was eating her alive and she was fraught with desire to do something for the girl who taught her how to use a tampon, for the woman who spent dozens of hours proofreading her 'History of the Internet' dissertation.
Sharon’s dark, defeated eyes spoke volumes. “I don’t need anything, just for my daughter to be well. I just keep asking myself, ‘why her? she’s innocent and beautiful and she loves so deeply and purely and she’ never hurt anybody and I can’t figure out why God won’t just take me… I’ve asked so many times, I’ve BEGGED ‘please take me instead’ but every day I wake up and can walk a marathon and breathe easily and my baby can’t even get out of bed and I wonder why… WHYYYYYYYYYY.” The grief was all-consuming, and took over her soul. Patty held her friend until the tears gave way to exhaustion.
“Let me get you some water…” it was insignificant but gave her a sense of duty.
Sharon gave a slight nod of thanks, then gathered herself. “I should have prepared myself… I should be handling it better… I’m just so lost….”
Patty sat the glass of water in front of her friend just as Sharon reached for it, their hands brushed and they looked at each other with the fondness of 27 years of history. “How could you ever prepare for this, Shar? It’s the most unfair, horrific thing that can happen. You can’t handle it any other way…”
Sharon sighed with resignation. “The doctors say she only has a six-week window for transplant. They aren’t hopeful. I’m trying to stay positive but….” she trailed off and settled her mind on the only thing keeping her sane, the only mission that mattered. “Tim has been so good for her. He keeps her happy. It’s a strange feeling - being completely detached from him as a husband yet adoring him as a father. I’m glad you were able to get him back to the weight room, he needs it…”
Patty was still uncomfortable talking about Tim but it seemed to give her friend a respite and that was paramount. She nodded her head in agreement, “He does seem like he’s mentally stronger…”
Sharon wondered aloud, “I wonder if he’s called Scott?” She seemed to remember who she was sitting with, “You remember his friend that we tried to hook you up with? They like to lift together. Scott is way more into it… but he always seemed to be good for Tim.”
“He mentioned lifting with Scott but then, for some reason, acted like it wasn’t a good idea.” Patty scoured her mind, looking for what had led her to believe Tim wasn’t too keen on contacting Scott, unable to put it into words, she left it at raised eyebrows and a shrug. Then,
“Scott pushes him… but it’s probably what he needs.”
They were both lost in thought when Sharon continued, “he’s been having headaches, I suggested acetaminophen… I’m not sure he’s taking it. It works better when he takes it around the clock. Considering the circumstances, he needs to keep the headaches at bay and the only way to do that right now is taking the acetaminophen regularly.”
Patty nodded her understanding of this new-found responsibility.
A week later Sharon got (predictable) confirmation that Tim had contacted Scott. Supplements were now taking over her counter and her refrigerator. The first time, years prior, she saw the laundry detergent bottle on the counter, the detergent replaced by syringes and angry outbursts, was the symbolic crack in their marital foundation. Today, the sight had an altogether different affect.
Twelve days had passed since the supplements (in all shapes and sizes) had reemerged in their world. It was nearly impossible for Sharon to hold back her anger while watching Tim get stronger as her - their - baby grew weaker by the minute. But… it was imperative to keep her composure. Especially, now.
Sharon’s thoughts were interrupted by a loud noise coming from the basement. Tim had set up a bedroom down there; Sharon wanted him to stay for Michaela’s sake, but there had to be boundaries. She stood at the top of the stairs and shouted, “Everything ok down there?”
“Yeah… I’m uh… not feeling great… a little pain and nausea. I’m good though. Is Michaela’s nurse here by any chance?” Tim did not sound well.
“No, remember you told her to take a few days off after we agreed you’d take leave from work.” Sharon started down the stairs.
“Oh… yeah. That was a good idea, Shar. I’m glad you talked me into it. I’m happiest when I’m with our girl…” Tim was sitting on his bed, not looking great. “I hate to ask you but I don’t want Pats to see me like this, would you get me four acetaminophen from the cabinet over there?”
“Four?” Sharon’s concern was palpable.
“Yeah, all I could find in our medicine cabinet was a big bulk bottle of 250mg, so I've stayed within the 1000mg per dose guidelines but I’ve actually been taking it a little more often than I should…" he was barely able to hold up his hand, "I know 4,000mg per day is the max. You’re a pharmacist… you don’t want to know these things… but that light you installed in the kitchen has been giving me headaches.” Sharon started to apologize as Tim shook his head, “and I just couldn’t bring myself to say anything after Patty told me that you explained to her how much it helps you with organizing Michey’s medicine. I figured an extra dose of acetaminophen here and there wouldn’t hurt. I'm taking at most four pills, 6 times a day."
Sharon handed him the 4 tablets and offered a nearby glass of grapefruit juice. It looked like he’d gone through nearly a gallon today. Patty had been all ears as Sharon explained the health benefits of grapefruit juice, Patty had clearly imparted this knowledge to her boyfriend.
Tim reclined on his bed, clutching his side as he leaned into his pillows, clearly in pain.
“Do you need one of your sleeping pills, Tim? Maybe some rest will help.” Tim nodded with his eyes closed. Sharon was already at his bottles.
He was gritting his teeth to speak through the pain, “Pats told me how you raved about the pills, how rested you felt when you took them. It made sense when she suggested them. But I guess I should really thank you. Uhm… Sharon, I really think I might need to go to the hospital.”
“Let the acetaminophen do its job and rest a little, if you wake up still feeling bad, then we’ll call.” Tim was asleep before Sharon completed her sentence.
She used her forefinger and thumb to look at his eyes, one at a time, already yellow where once was white.
Her work was swift. Once in the kitchen, she donned gloves then moved the steroid bottle back to its usual spot in the refrigerator, taking the replica vial from its place and putting it in her pocket with a snide, "ain't it amazing what you can find on the Dark Web? Thank you Patricia Husband-Screwer, doctoral candidate". She twisted the cap of the detergent bottle and pulled out the syringes with purple caps, then nestled them next to the vial in her pocket. She unearthed a valid bottle of acetaminophen 250mg from the bag of kitty liter in the pantry and quietly switched it with the bottle she had just dosed him from.
Tim’s phone rang, as if on cue. She rushed to answer it, even though she was confident it wouldn’t rouse her husband. Sharon saw it was Patty and started for the stairs. “Hey Pats, Tim is up with Michaela, can I have him call you in a bit?”
“Abosultely Shar. I’m glad he’s there for her. I felt terribly guilty leaving town now, but when my mom called asking me to come, I just couldn’t say no. I almost get the feeling that she was trying to take care of me by asking me to come. I dunno… like somebody called her and told her I needed to get away… I know that’s crazy, never mind, ignore me… Anyway, how are things there? I should be home in a few days.”
Sharon made sure to not sound rushed or bothered. A typical rundown of Michaela’s failing health, some tears, and allowing Patty to end the call… all carried out to perfection.
Sharon checked on her baby girl, she was sleeping, looking so weak that Sharon nearly collapsed. “It won’t be long now, Peanut. Mommy is fixing everything.”
Sharon went to the back yard with a hammer, 3 pairs of chemo gloves, a gown and mask. She destroyed the vial that had, at one time, held Hepatitis C and the syringes that delivered the lethal doses. The timing of the new syringe delivery at the pharmacy was a bit of serendipity that made it easy to pull out only the Hep C-laden injectors. She mentally thanked her ordering tech for her love of purple. Sharon then crushed the pills Tim had been taking - 650mg acetaminophen - and squirted the liver-toxic particles into her driveway then calmly watched as they wash down the street.
Next, she went to check on Tim, she listened to his heart and was pleased at its strength. His skin was already beginning to yellow.
The excessive intake of the grapefruit juice would keep the sleeping pill and acetaminophen in his system longer - each serving their own purpose in her plan. The longer Tim slept, the more damage the acetaminophen could cause in his hepatitis-infected liver…
“Tim’s showering,” followed by, “oh he laid down with Michaela” followed by, “his phone is charging up here in the kitchen, I’m not sure what he’s doing…” were all very believable and very successful attempts at keeping Pats at bay.
After 22 hours she made the call. “I need an ambulance, my husband is not well. He’s been drinking quite a bit… I guess because… our daughter is sick and I know he’s been taking acetaminophen more than he should… I’m worried. He looks yellow…”
She had practiced being distraught. She had practiced for this very moment for weeks. Sheer elation disguised as distress with a glimmer of hope was tough but she was up to the task.
She grimly signed the paperwork that would allow her dead husband’s heart to be placed in her daughter’s body, then sat down to cry. The tears were real, they were secretly happy tears but they were real and that’s all that mattered to the people around her.
She wasn’t sure exactly when Patty emerged at her side, but she leaned into her. Patty, dealing with her own devastation, apologized for not being a better support system, not being available, when Sharon needed her. Sharon grabbed her friend’s arm and assured her, “I depended on you more than you know and you were always where I needed you to be, when I need you to be there. Thank you, my friend.”