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Hours later, after a small flight and a quick drive, Paul opened the door to his old house. His mother lay sleeping on the couch. The vacuum was out; its cord was strewn out toward the plug. The kitchen, normally full of various things heating or simmering, was quiet and empty. He looked back at his mother, who wore a robe over her nightgown instead of a simple dress or comfortable pair of jeans.
He considered what he should do. The only options seemed to be to wake her up or to get some food ready for when she woke up. He stepped toward her when an idea struck him. He lifted his arm and tapped in a request for delivery food on his PID. Then he quietly rummaged around until he could find a notepad and pencil. He scribbled on one page, trying to think about other areas he might choose to research. That page seemed to only reveal nonsense and a few ideas that couldn’t hold his attention. He turned the page over and started trying to reconcile the formula to his original project. He brought up his PID to go over the formula line by line, but he couldn’t see why the formula wouldn’t balance.
He ran out of space on that page, and went back to brainstorming ideas. Page after page flew by, each repeated the same two things as the first two pages: He had no idea where he wanted to research next, and there wasn’t any way to balance his equations for the project.
His mother stirred. It nearly startled Paul. He’d almost forgotten where he was.
She looked at him, eyes widening with realization. “Why did you wake me up?!”
Paul opened his mouth to answer, but the doorbell rang. He smiled at her. “I sent for some food. I figure whatever had you sleeping on the couch when you knew company was coming meant you needed that rest.”
He stood and handled the delivery person, collecting the food after a perfunctory wave of gratitude for the driver. He turned to find his mother scurrying from her room in a pair of sweats and an overlarge pullover sweater.
Paul set the food on the dinner table as his mother brought out some paper plates and plastic cutlery from the kitchen.
“You have a long day?” Paul asked.
“Well, it was certainly an experience.” She gave a weak smile. “But what about you? How was the trip?”
Paul shrugged. “Same as usual. Glad I found a flight on call, but since it’s not exactly travel season, I think it all worked out well.”
“I’m glad.” She sat down to eat. That’s when he heard her grunt in pain.
Paul was at her side before she could even catch her breath. “What’s wrong?”
She offered another smile and lightly shoved him away. “I’m not made of glass.”
“You’re not answering,” Paul said. She’d never, ever lie to him, but that made the fact that she’d avoided the question all the more concerning.
She looked at him. “Well, I have some news.”
Paul waited as she obviously collected herself.
“I went to the doctor because of some headaches I’ve been having.” She paused. Paul sat there waiting, but she still didn’t speak. He wanted to shout, asking what was wrong, but he couldn’t force himself to speak. After an incredibly long wait, she continued. “They tell me it’s small, and that’s a good thing.”
“What’s small?” Paul’s voice sounded odd as he heard it. “Mom, what’s wrong?”
“I’m not really sure how it happened,” she said. “I mean, I felt fine except for a headache.”
Something strange happened. The anger that Paul always felt under the surface seemed to flare. For an instant, Paul thought he’d explode like some sort of super volcano, but as quickly as if flared, it left. He looked at her and somehow understood how hard it was for her to talk. All he wanted was to help her. All he wanted was to give her whatever he could to make her comfortable.
“Mom.” He wasn’t sure he’d ever sounded so gentle in his life. “What is it?”
A tear fell from her eye. “They found a tumor.”
He meant to take a knee beside her chair, but it was more of a fall. He wrapped an arm around her waist and used his other hand to lightly grip her head and gently place his forehead against hers.
“They say they’re going to go in and take it out.” Words started racing from her mouth. “I’m actually pretty lucky because we caught it before it could affect my speech or motor function. As scary as it all sounds, this could be over in a few days.”
Paul just held her as she explained everything. The food grew cold as he sat there holding her, listening to her describe what happened.
“Thank God they caught it now.” She whispered.
A strange barking laugh exploded from Paul. “Even now.” That volcano that seemed to vanish came back to explode just as quickly as it disappeared.
“Stop!” One shout from his mother, and everything froze. The surging anger fled at the sound of the only time his mother had ever raised her voice to him. His biological father had done terrible things to them both. She cried in sadness when they got the news about Bill. But she’d never done such a thing. “Yes, even now. This personal grudge you have with God is every bit as nonsensical as it is foolhardy.”
Paul stood, opening his mouth to argue.
“It’s can’t be both!” Tears flew more steadily from her eyes. “You can’t hate a God who’d take Bill or me away without first acknowledging he gave them to you in the first place. We’re human, Paul, and we’re all going to die at some point and at some time, and that’s frankly our own fault. So you can hate God, but you have to hate everything he’s done. You can’t choose to look at all the sadness in your life and ignore every good thing. And if you choose to acknowledge a God exists, then even you, the brilliant scientist, have to acknowledge that this being would be powerful enough to do anything, so fighting him is nonsensical, isn’t it?”
She waited. It stunned Paul to realize she actually wanted an answer. “I don’t want him to take you, too.”
He fell to the ground. It was just like that alley. All the strength fled. The anger he used to hide behind everything else fled, and all that was left was the fear. Was he really going to lose everyone?
… to b e continued …