By the time we arrive back at the little yellow house I am completely caught up on Sam's life. Why wasn't he living in Birdsboro? His father's job got relocated to the city. How was his Dad, and little brother, John? Dad was fine, getting older, but was still able to work on his cars. (Sam's Dad had always had a thing for restoring old cars) John was a freshman in high school, but braver than a senior. He already had one for a girlfriend.
I remember that Sam's Mom died when he was little- two years old, I think. So when my Dad left he knew how it felt to lose a parent. That was the second reason why Sam and I became best friends.
Then it's his turn to ask the questions.
"So, how's your mom?" He casually asks as we walk through the kitchen door. Heat flushes my face, but I have to remind myself that he doesn't know. It's not his fault.
"She is in rehab." I keep walking through the kitchen into the living room, where the linen closet is. I know he stopped when I said that, but I ignore it, like this is the usual reaction.
"Why?" he asks softly, carefully, as if to not set me off. I was never very good at controlling my emotions, and he remembers that.
"Well, for her drinking problem. There wasn't exactly one time...a lot of DUI's started to pile up and then I made her go." He is still silent, but I go on making him a bed on the couch. The fabric still stinks of smoke and it reminds me of Aunt Sandra. I walk back into the kitchen to check the answering machine. No messages.
Sam is just standing there, watching me awkwardly, like he is not sure how to proceed.
Then he asks, "So you're living with Sandra now?". I nod.
"She's like my second mom, anyway." I decide not to tell him about calling my mom from the hospital. Now's not the time.
By dinnertime I have spaghetti on the stove and Sam is helping to make salads. The TV is on and I can hear the newscaster from here, talking about a snowstorm traveling up the east coast. Then, the phone rings.
I answer to hear a cheery sounding woman on the other end.
"Is this Ada Laney?"
"Yeah," I answer, confused. Then, like a strike of lightning, recognition hits me. "Is this the hospital?" The woman chuckles softly, humoring me.
"That is correct. I was calling about your aunt, Sandra Rogers. She is conscious and asking for you. May I patch you through?"
"Yes, please!" I say excitedly, causing Sam to look at me questioningly. I mouth "Sandra" to him. He nods and continues slicing tomatoes.
There is a full minute of happy music from the other end, obviously meant to calm and reassure the person on the line. But it just makes me anxious. What is taking so long?
Finally, finally, I hear her voice. At least, I think it's her voice.
"Ada?" It's rough and crackly, but still hers.
"Aunt Sandra, I'm so glad you called! How are you? Are you feeling better? Can I come get you yet?" The questions come out sounding more desperate than I would have liked. I don't want her to think I'm dying without her...I just miss her like crazy.
She laughs, or coughs, I'm not sure.
"I'm fine, Ada honey. I feel great, just a sore throat. That's why I sound like I'm growling at you," she tries to laugh again. I laugh with her, wanting her to see that I'm okay now that she's okay. "But you can't come get me yet, right?" And I hear a shuffle and a soft murmur, which I take to be coming from a doctor. "Right," she confirms.
"Why not?" I ask before I can stop myself. Why did I ask that? She probably doesn't want to talk about it! And I probably don't want to know!
"I inhaled a lot of smoke, honey. And...and they want to run some tests." Tests about what? I wonder, but don't say out loud.
My voice is quiet. "Oh, okay. Then I'll come and visit you tomorrow?" More shuffling, more quiet answers. A feeling of anger picks at my heart, because this hospital is feeling more and more like a prison each minute. She has to ask permission if her own niece can come see her?
I fill out my voice. "I'm going to come tomorrow. And Sam is too." It will help if I have someone intimidating with me. And also to steady me if I have any repeats of my last visit.
"Yes, yes that's fine, dear." She pauses. "Who is Sam?"
"He's just a friend, Aunt Sandra. You know, from Birdsboro? We ran into each other today and he needs a place to stay for a while. So I invited him to stay with us." I think for a second before adding, "If that is alright with you."
"Well, I suppose..." she trails off, her breathing becoming labored.
"Aunt Sandra?" Only more breathing. "Aunt Sandra!" I practically shout into the receiver. My heart is racing now- what had just happened? She's at a hospital, what could have possibly happened?!
"Ms. Laney?" A deep voice answers the phone.
I shout again. "What happened to her?"
He sighs like he's been dealing with these sort of things all day. Who knows? Maybe he had, but I didn't like it. "No need to yell, miss. The nurses gave your aunt some medication and she fell asleep. You may visit her tomorrow."
My heart regains a normal speed. "Okay."
"Have a nice day, Ms. Laney."