Brian's parents were in the kitchen. His mom was using a brush to paint a honey glaze over the ham, leaning over the open oven in an apron and slippers. His dad was picking at the green beans that were sizzling in the pan on the stove. His mom stood up, swatted his dad's hand, and closed the oven door. She adjusted a timer, then turned to her son. "Of course you can, Baby Duck," she said, pulling off the oven mitts she'd had on.
His dad had sat down in a chair at the kitchen table, and Brian pulled one out for his mom. "It's kind of..." he looked at her and he could feel his heart breaking already. "You need to sit."
Both their eyes softened and his mom's became fearful. "Brian, honey, what is it?" she hadn't sat yet. She was taking off the apron.
"Please, come sit down," he said quietly.
She put the apron down and came over, sitting slowly, hesitantly, knowing once she'd sat she was going to hear something irreversible and horrible. "What's the matter?" his dad asked, sitting forward in his seat.
Brian couldn't sit. He started wringing his hands. "G'Lord, I didn't want to tell y'all over the phone, you know?" he asked, pacing. "I wanted you to hear it from me, not Kevin or a doctor--"
"A doctor?" his dad's eyes narrowed, "What doctor?"
His mother started to stand up, "It's not your heart? Oh my Baby Duck, not again?"
Brian took her hand and made her sit back down again. He looked at her hand, it was older than he'd ever remembered it being. The skin hung loose, and there were wrinkles that he'd never seen before. It had been too long since he'd been home to Kentucky. He looked into her eyes. "It's not my heart, mum."
Somehow the words brought no relief to the tension.
"What is it, son?" his dad asked.
It was the moment of truth. Brian took a deep, shaking breath. "I have leukemia," he said quietly.
Both of his parents were speechless, staring at him with horrified, shocked expressions. "That's cancer," his mother mumbled after a moment, "My baby's got cancer." She looked at her husband.
Brian's dad leaned forward and laid his hand on her back and started rubbing to soothe her. "How long have you known, son?"
"The night we cancelled the tour."
His mother cupped her face with her hands, "But you're getting treatment, right? They're helping you. You can beat it?"
Brian turned and walked to the counter, leaning against it for support. "I... opted to forego treatment..." he said.
His mother burst into sobs, his father took a long shaking breath. The family was not a stranger to these words, Brian's uncle had once said them as well. They knew what opting out of treatment for cancer meant.
"Not my Baby Duck," Jackie cried, "Please not my Baby Duck. Lord, why my baby?"
Brian closed his eyes, his heart swelling in his chest. "I saw a doctor in Colorado," he said quietly, "And I haven't...told anyone this...but he said -" Brian paused. "He said the prognosis is..." he took a deep breath, "It's bad, ma."
"How long?" his father asked, his jaw set boldly. His arms were around his wife protectively as she fell apart.
"Couple months," Brian answered. He hadn't told Nick or Amanda or anyone what the doctor had said that night. But when he refused the treatment again, when he walked away, he'd known it was to two or three months.
He'd lost three somewhere along the way to Boulder. Probably in the rapids, getting sick had worn his body down. He'd been feeling worse and worse since, and he'd been coughing and throwing up blood - something else that he hadn't told anyone, though he was fairly certain that Amanda knew. It hurts all the time.
His mother stood up, and wrapped her arms around him in a bone-crushing hug. "Oh my baby," she muttered into his shoulder, burying her face against him. His dad joined them, standing beside them, and tucking his long arms around them both. "My baby, my baby..."