Violet—Five Months Ago
This can’t be happening. He can’t be leaving me.
My heels click across the hospital floor as I race down the hallway. I’m in such a panic, the words blaring over the PA system hardly register from the blood rushing through my ears in a dull roar.
“Code blue, room four! Code blue, room four!”
I nearly trip over my own feet as I break into a shuffling run, boomeranging for the nearest patient room. I swear my heart is going to explode when I spot the correct door and burst inside to see . . .
“Nana!” I exclaim as I see my grandmother, Angela Russo. She looks up from where she’s hovering like a hen over my grandfather. The scowl on her face highlights the parentheses of wrinkles around her lips, making her worry immediately apparent.
My grandfather, Stefano, looks up at me, his unusually pale face widening into a huge smile. But even with the happiness blooming, I can tell he’s worn out, aged decades in the short time since I last saw him.
“My beautiful little flower, Violet!” he sings, his Italian accent coming through as he holds his arms out to me. “I knew you would come. Come here so I can give you a kiss!”
“Oh, Papa, I was so scared!” I say, rushing into his arms and collapsing into a ball of relief. “I dropped everything and came as soon as I heard.”
Papa looks over at Nana with a triumphant wink of his eye as he rubs my shoulders. “See, Angie? This one loves me the most. Do you see any of our other granddaughters here?”
“That’s because you’ve scared them all away with your crazy stories,” Nana growls, but there’s an undercurrent of affection for the man who is both a thorn in her side and her everything.
Papa laughs and squeezes me with a fierce strength that belies his shrinking frame, raining kisses down upon my forehead. I feel comforted, enveloped in his familiar scent, leather and spicy meats . . . masculine and comforting. For a moment, I forget the direness of the situation as he rocks me back and forth in his arms like I’m a child or the one in need of comfort, though he’s the one in the hospital bed.
But the moment is fleeting as reality slams back into me, and I rise to my feet to ask Nana in a rush of words, “What happened? Is he going to be okay? How long has he been like this?”
“The old fool was working out back in the summer heat after I told him he should take it easy and come inside,” Nana says with a frosty scowl at Papa, but her voice softens as she speaks, revealing how frightened she really is. “I found him lying face down in the dirt.”
“Papa!” I say in admonishment. “You know you’re not supposed to be taking on a heavy workload, doctor’s orders. Why didn’t you listen to Nana?”
Grandpa waves away my worry with a bony hand. “I don’t see what the fuss’s all about. A man has to work, and I’ll do what I need to until the day they put me six feet under. I just tripped and had a little fall, that’s all.” He says it like he believes that to be the truth.
Nana gives me a sour look that says, ‘That’s definitely not what happened.’ “He passed out—” she begins.
“I fell and was getting up before you came squawking like a worried hen, making things worse,” Papa interrupts. “So, I decided to lie back and let you do what you were going to do. You shoulda done the same for me.”
“Nonsense!” Nana snaps. “If I hadn’t found you, who knows what would’ve happened?”
“Nothing.” Papa dismisses Nana with a nonchalant shrug. “I’d be fine, maybe about to pass out from eating some of your overcooked pasta—”
“Why, you old bast—”
“Bah! Hush, woman, you worry too much. I’m more likely to drop dead from all of your hen clucking than I will from a little heat.”
Their bickering is comforting in a twisted way, the camaraderie of being together for decades and knowing which buttons to push to get a rise out of each other but also which ones are entirely off limits.
He pulls a long cigar out from the side of his bed and offers it to her. “Here. Calm yourself and have a stogie.” The shit-eating grin on his face says he knows he’s poking the bear, and I realize he’s giving her something to focus on besides worrying about him. He’s a slick old fox, I’ll give him that.
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