Maria walked into the store from the parking lot and stepped over to the side, where David was standing and looking out.
“You did it,” she said and smiled. “This is now going to be a reality, all because of you.” She wedged herself in front of him and put her arms around his waist.
“The people did this. I led and influenced where I could,” David said as he looked up at the graying sky. “I just hope the rain holds off.”
“Rain or no rain, this is going to be a weekend that Westville will talk about for a long time,” Maria said as she put her head against David’s chest.
David just nudged her away a little bit to look at her. “As long as Caroline enjoys her birthday tonight, that is all that matters to me. The rest is going to just take care—” David stopped mid-sentence.
Maria looked up at him. “The rest is going to just take care of what?”
David refocused and finished. “—of itself. Excuse me, Maria. I want to head upstairs for a little bit before we start with the birthday.”
David removed Maria’s hands abruptly and hurried off to the apartment, exiting through the back door.
Maria was taken aback and was prepared to follow him when
Caroline came in through the front door and distracted her.
“Look, Mama, Mr. Peter made it back,” Caroline exclaimed as
Peter’s big rig slowly pulled into the parking lot of Charlotte’s Place around the bazaar set up.
David got into the second floor stairwell as his stomach turned.
He leaned hard against the wall and used the banister railing to pull himself along as his vision blurred.
“This is not good,” he said aloud as he turned the corner. He approached the third floor stairwell as he heard someone enter on the first floor.
David made his way up and into his room. He closed the door behind him and fumbled for the lock. He turned it, not knowing whether or not it engaged, as he never used it the whole time he had rented the apartment.
He turned and steadied himself by leaning on the kitchen table as warm blood ran out of his nose. He focused his vision on his large duffle bag that was still neatly folded in the corner of the room on the old wooden chair where it had sat since the day he unpacked it.
Suddenly Maria knocked on the door. “David? Are you in the room?” David heard her, but he couldn’t focus enough to answer. Maria tried the doorknob, but the door was locked. She said something to Charlotte who was in the hall with her and then her voice dissipated.
“David, can you open the door?” Charlotte called out.
David felt like he was going to throw up. He wanted to get over to the sink, but he couldn’t let the table go. His heart was pounding in his chest. “Move,” he said to his own feet, but they wouldn’t budge. Maria raced in through the sliding doors, which were still unlocked.
“Dios mío!” David looked up to see Maria’s horrified look, and he lost all his vision and balance. As he started to black out Maria moved forward and guided as much of his weight as she could bear to keep him from impacting the table or the floor at full, dead drop.
As soon as he was down, she reached over and fumbled for the lock. Charlotte came into the room and then immediately headed back out. Rebecca was half way up the stairs at the time. “Rebecca. Run! Go get Doc right away. Keep Caroline downstairs.”
Rebecca turned immediately and went back down.
Maria propped David’s head into her lap as she sat on the floor trying to clean the blood off his face with her hand as it continued to come out of his nose.
Maria sobbed and began to pray quietly, something she had not done in a long time. “Please help him. He means so much to so many. He means so much to Caroline and I. We have not been the same since he came here. We will not be the same if he cannot get better.”
Maria’s final words resonated loudly in David’s ears and he forced open his eyes. He tried to look up to her, but he really could not focus. The words echoed, “We will not be the same if he cannot get better” as his line of sight spun.
“Don’t … don’t let …”
“Shhhh, amado, Doc is on his way. Just rest. Do not try to talk.”
“Don’t let Caroline see me … like this … on her birthday. Give me a minute and I will be fine.”
Maria cried more. It had been some time since she had seen David like this. So much so, that she had forgotten that he never did follow up to see Doc or go in for the blood work.
“I don’t care if it is my place to say so or not, but on Monday you will go to County for the blood work. Do you understand me?”
“Yes.” David said and he struggled weakly to sit up. Maria pulled him back down easily. Doc came in through the door with Rebecca as Charlotte moved over to make room. “I’m going back down to keep an eye on Caroline. She’s with Peter,” Rebecca said as she headed back down the stairs.
“Stubborn man. He never did come to see me,” Doc said as he huffed. “Did he hit his head at all?”
Maria shook her head. “No. As he began to fall I guided him away from the table and down to the floor.”
“Was he drinking at all today like the episodes over the summer?” Doc asked as he looked to Maria and then Charlotte.
“No,” Charlotte said. “As a matter of fact, when he was helping earlier today with the tents on Packer, the volunteers kept passing him a beer and he would open it and set it down. Now that I am thinking about it, he never drank it. He eventually would toss it into the barrel with the cans without having any.”
David struggled more and more to focus as Doc shined the light into his eyes to watch his dilation. “One side?” Doc whispered out loud.
David aggressively attempted to get up. “Maria, please let me go.”
Startled by David’s uncharacteristic response, Doc backed up at the same time Maria released him.
David rolled off and forced himself onto his hands and knees.
Everyone in the room was paralyzed. They all wanted to help him, but no one wanted to touch him.
The warm blood coming out of David’s nose slowed and finally stopped dripping after a moment. He very slowly raised his right hand onto the seat of one of the kitchen chairs to steady himself and tried to press up off the furniture to stand. Maria reached over finally to help him. When he didn’t respond aggressively, Doc also helped.
David stood all the way up and leaned on the back of the kitchen chair. Maria got up under his right arm and supported him.
Doc looked at him sternly. “County. Monday. No bullshit.”
“Yes, sir. I am out of excuses,” David said weakly.
Doc leaned in and very quietly whispered, “You may be out of options. And time.”
Charlotte looked at Doc, who tipped his head to motion her out of the room. Maria helped David over to sit down. She then walked over to get a clean towel and soaked it with hot water.
“David, please, please go with Doc Monday. Something is seriously wrong.”
David heard her but didn’t answer. I am too close to them and I needed to leave. I wanted to see this through. This was my last chance to make a difference, he thought and he looked at his now blood stained T-shirt.
Maria cleaned off his face with the towel. She still had tears in her eyes.
“I am sorry that I upset you,” David said as he touched her hand softly.
“You upset me because you do not take care of yourself and you do not let me do it either,” she said loudly as her accent crept into her response. David attempted to speak, but she cut him off. “You should eat a little better. I try to have you come to eat with us, but you sometimes excuse yourself. I do not push because it is not my place. But then I want to come up and make sure you are okay and you have fallen asleep on the couch. I do not wake you, but I should and make you sit until the bed is pulled out and properly set.”
Maria began to get more worked up and upset. David caught a pause and was going to say something but was unsure if she was mad or upset so he said nothing at first.
“I know you come up and try to take care of me. I appreciate it. I don’t thank you enough, so thank you for it.”
“I do not want to be thanked with the words,” she responded as she finished cleaning him up and put the towel down on the table with some force. “I want to be thanked with respect. For yourself. You are not alone anymore. As much as you may still wish to be. When you are hurt, Caroline is hurt. I am hurt. We love you. If you want to do the right thing, it is not a thank you that we need. We need you to do for yourself that which you do for others.”
“And that is?”
“Everything and anything. You do, selflessly, for everyone. Do something for yourself. Go to the doctor.”
“I have had a long life of being selfish …” he began until Maria cut him off.
“Which I know very little about. I have accepted that you have put that life behind you. I know only the man you are today. If you say you were once selfish then I ask you to be that way just a little bit for perhaps a week so that you might tend to your own needs,” Maria scolded as she turned around and sobbed loudly.
David stood, took his bloody shirt off and tossed it on the floor. He then stood behind Maria and put his arms around her.
“Please tell me that we are important enough to you that you will take care of yourself.”
David paused for a minute and responded with, “I will do what needs to be done.”
Maria spun around in place and looked into David’s face. “Do you love me?”
David said nothing but continued to look right at her.
“I see it in everything you do, but you never say it. There are women who would be glad to never hear the words but instead receive all that you have given to my daughter and me. I need to hear it, I am sorry. I do not want to mistake the kindness you have for everyone as more than it is for us unless it is in fact more. As I said before, I only know the man you are now.” Maria paused for a moment and just stared into his eyes.
The words sat at the edge of David’s mouth. He knew what he felt. He knew he had shown her. He knew that if he said it, it could never be unsaid.
His mind fought with his heart. His past fought with his present.
He could taste the future in the back of his throat. One stray tear got away from him.
“I do,” he said as his voice trembled just slightly. “I do love you.”
“But?” Maria asked immediately.
“There are no buts. Not today.”
Maria closed her eyes and laid her head on his bare chest for just a moment as David digested what he just admitted to her.
“I need to get a clean shirt and we need to get downstairs. I am not going to let this episode ruin Caroline’s birthday.”