Kevin’s eyes were round and glassy and Baylee clearly noticed the remainder of tears in there. He’d seen Kevin cry before, although whenever Kevin saw him, he always pretended like nothing was wrong. It was so stupid, really, because everything was wrong. Grandma did it too, and uncle Harry. And Grandpa seemed to be made out of stone often, unmoving in his chair with an empty look that was more than terrifying. And nobody would talk to Baylee. Whenever they went to the hospital, he asked if he could come with, but they wouldn’t let him. Said that there were no children allowed where Dad was. That was crap. Baylee wasn’t a child; he was thirteen. And it was his Dad. If anyone would be allowed to go, it was him. And then, suddenly, he’d been allowed to go. And it was a mistake. He felt everything inside him tightening with fear when he thought about it. It had been so terrible, so horrifying, he wished they had still told him no.
That wasn’t his Dad. It had to have been a mistake of some kind. It didn’t even look like him. Sure, the eyes were similar, and Baylee thought he’d recognized the tiny scar on his father’s arm, but he couldn’t let himself believe that it was really him. The man had been skinny to the point where you could see the bones move under his skin, his face had been hollow and his eyes had lain deeply sunken in their sockets. He hadn’t smiled at him, like he’d always done no matter what. He hadn’t even known Baylee was there. His skin the same color as the sheets and his breathing coming in pained and labored gasps. It was absolutely horrible. Baylee was ashamed to admit he’d cried as soon as he saw the man. He hadn’t been expecting that, although Kevin had told him to be prepared, had explained what Dad would look like, Baylee had told himself that after all, it was still his Dad. And his Dad was awesome. Forever.
But that wasn’t his Dad. It couldn’t be. He hadn’t smiled at him. He couldn’t see him. Blind as a bat.
Baylee shivered and looked away. He’d spend about half an hour in the hallway to try calm himself and give himself the courage to go back. He’d wanted to cry, scream and run. But he went back. His Dad wouldn’t want him to cry, scream and run, so he went back.
But this wasn’t his Dad. It was an imposter. This was the tumour that had taken over. And Baylee hated that tumour with all his might. He’d always hated it. It was ruining everything. It had driven his mother away, and was destroying his father part by part, agonizingly slowly. Crushing him, defeating him and ultimately claiming his being. Baylee felt sick. He’d never thought it would get this bad. He’d thought that as long as Dad took his meds, he would get better, or at least not worse. Cause he’d been stable for a long while. The tumour didn’t go away, but it didn’t grow that much either. Sure, Dad was completely out of it sometimes and forgot people’s names (even Baylee’s once), but Baylee was okay with that. Dad didn’t do it on purpose, it was just what happened. Baylee had never thought that anything in the entire world could ever demolish his father like this. That anything could be this cruel, this unforgiving. Not to his Dad. Nothing could destroy his Dad, that’s what he’d believed.
And this wasn’t his Dad. His Dad bounced around when he was happy, or nervous, or even when he was tired. His Dad made the same stupid jokes over and over again and seemed to enjoy it himself every single time. His Dad smiled at Baylee whenever he saw him, unless he was pissed at him for leaving his socks in the living room.
His Dad would always tell him everything was going to be alright, even when it clearly wasn’t. Baylee felt his lower lip start to quiver against his will when he thought about the possibility that his father might not bounce around again, that he wouldn’t make any of his stupid jokes again. How Baylee longed to hear those from him one more time. But the worst thing, the very, very worst thing, was that Dad might never smile at him again. That he would never say that it was going to be alright again.
“Dad?” Baylee suddenly broke through the solemn silence in the suffocating room. He couldn’t take it. He couldn’t. He wanted his father back. Not this man that everyone kept referring to as his father. He wanted his father to see him, to talk to him, to smile at him and sing. Sing like only he could. Sing him awake, awake from this bad dream that seemed to go on forever and ever. Maybe, if he closed his eyes real tight, maybe then he would really wake up. And Dad would be there.
Dad would smile and sing and they’d be happy and Baylee would never leave his socks or shoes or any other piece of clothing on the living room floor. He would make his bed and clean his room and walk the dogs. He would help mom with dinner and Dad in the backyard. He would try to not fail math and he would actually do his best on his assignments. He would forgive Mom for cheating and they would all go on like nothing bad had ever happened. He would just forget about this small, shaking man in the large hospital bed. It hadn’t happened, surely. It was all a big joke.
Because this wasn’t his Dad. He didn’t even react when Baylee had called him. Baylee felt the sobs coming back and started to panic. Kevin’s large and heavy hand landed on his narrow shoulder and he noticed Kevin was shaking as well. Still, his father’s cousin forced a tiny smile on his lips as he looked at him. “It’s alright, Baylee,” he said and Baylee glared at him.
Kevin was not allowed to say that. Those were his Dad’s words. “You can talk to him. He’ll appreciate that.”
Reluctantly, Baylee turned his eyes back to the man on the bed. He had stopped shaking and his eyes were closed. Looking back at Kevin, who gave him a quiet nod of his head, he swallowed nervously, shuffling closer to the man on the bed.
“Daddy, look out!” Baylee cried out as he came thundering down the hill on his stepping scooter, fast approaching his father’s legs and not seeing a way to avoid collision. Dad turned around and jumped away in record speed.
“Baylee!” Mom yelled in an accusing voice from the sideway.
Baylee put his hands on the brakes and turned around with large eyes, trying to see if Dad would be mad as well. Dad was sitting on the pavement with his hands behind him and Baylee could see the bloody palms from where he’d fallen on them. He cowered a little, contemplating if he should run over and apologize or stay safely away and avoid confrontation. He’d made his dad fall and scrape his hand and he was deeply sorry for that. He abandoned the stupid scooter immediately, letting it fall gracelessly on the stones and went over to his father.
“I’m sorry!” he cried, his feet thundering over the ground as he reached his father. His mother scowled him thoroughly as his Dad got to his feet with a groan.
“You should have a siren on that thing,” Dad mumbled, rubbing his wounded hand off on his pants. “You could kill someone.”
“I’m sorry,” Baylee said again, feeling a sob invade his throat as he looked fearfully at the damage done.
“It’s alright,” Dad said with a smile, fishing Baylee up off the ground and throwing him in the air. “I’m superdad!”
“Yay!” Baylee cheered, the fear already forgotten. He loved it when Dad picked him up and caught him like this. He’d always catch him.
“Wow, you are getting far too big for this nonsense,” Dad mumbled when he set him back on the ground.
“Again?” Baylee asked, his eyes large and pleading.
“No,” Dad shook his head. “Come on, pick up that scooter. We’re going home.”
Baylee wished they could just go home as he bit his lip. All of them could just go home and it would be fine. “Dad?” he whispered, not knowing what else to say. What could he ever say in a moment like this? What could he ever say to this person that looked slightly like his Dad, but couldn’t be him in any way?
He swallowed thickly and closed his eyes, wondering that if he’d talk to him, his Dad would open his eyes and look at him and see him. If his Dad would know his name or even recognize him. If his Dad, who had always been his Dad, would smile at him and hug him and say it was going to be alright.
But Baylee didn’t know what to say. How could he even? How could any words ever come out of his mouth? He was afraid he would break his father with any spoken word.
It would hurt him. Everything would hurt him at this point. And Baylee couldn’t do that. He couldn’t speak, even if Kevin said he could. He didn’t know what to say. Yet, somehow, deep down, he knew the words exactly. And they seemed to roll out of his mouth on their own accord, like they weren’t really his to begin with.
“I love you, Dad. It’s gonna be alright.”