52-Week Writing Challenge: Week 33
This is part of a scene from the upcoming Family Matters, book 2 of In the Best Interest of the Child. Olivia Chandler is at the bedside of Willis Benson, her lifelong protector, as he lay dying. Her fear of abandonment threatens to overwhelm her until Willis reminds her of one important detail.
“How long has he known?”
“July?” Thoughts and images raced through Olivia’s mind. She’d spent time with Willis on five or six occasions in the last four months. And never suspected a thing.
“No one knows. Two weeks… two hours. Any answer would be a guess.”
“That’s unacceptable. His condition must tell them something. Who is this doctor? Maybe we should get a-”
“Dad signed a DNR.”
Ian became a blur to Olivia. Dizziness and nausea gripped her, Heat enveloped her body as sudden fatigue caught hold and dragged her toward the floor.
Ian was the only reason Olivia didn’t fall. He held on and propped her against the wall.
Ian spoke to her but Olivia heard no words. Her jumbled thoughts were of Willis Benson, the man in the brown suit she met as a ten-year-old. The only constant in her life since that fateful day when everything changed.
Ben Chandler planned well for his daughter’s future. But it was Willis Benson who fought for Olivia… and her mother. He risked his own job future and status in the firm to carry out Ben’s wishes.
When Olivia turned eighteen and took partial control of her inheritance, Willis was at her side. He answered Olivia’s questions and gave mild guidance, but Willis insisted she make her own decisions.
Years later when Olivia refused to visit her mother ever again, Willis accepted it and continued to stand by her.
Now Olivia needed to accept the fact if… no, when Willis suffered another cardiac episode or seizure, no life-saving measures would be taken.
He would die… and leave her.
With a sense of urgency, Olivia attempted to break Ian’s hold on her.
“I have to see him, Ian! Please let me see him! Let me… say goodbye.”
With a simple nod, Ian took Olivia by the hand and returned to his father’s room.
Malcolm Benson had his chair pulled close to the bed as he clasped one of Willis’ big hands between his own. Not as tall as Ian or their father, Malcolm had more brawn. He rose from his seat and pulled Olivia into a one-arm hug while still holding his father’s hand.
“Hey, pretty lady. He’s been asking for you.”
“I’m sorry. I was in court… it ran long… delays…-”
“It doesn’t matter. You’re here now.”
Olivia smiled and stepped past Malcolm to greet her lifelong protector and surrogate father and was shocked by Willis’ appearance.
She and Willis spoke at least once every week by phone, and several times by text, but six weeks had passed since their last face-face meeting. It was hard for Olivia to reconcile the lively, robust Willis Benson from late summer with the pale, gaunt figure before her. He was twenty-five pounds lighter… at least. Drawn skin over his neck and jawline gave the older attorney a skeletal look.
Olivia’s jaws ached to hold onto the smile which masked her breaking heart. However, when she looked into the dying man’s eyes, her soul calmed. Life was leaving his body, but the piercing blue eyes of Willis Benson reflected all the wisdom and wit Olivia admired and loved for so many years.
She stopped him with a gentle touch to his lips.
“Don’t try to speak, Willie-B. I just want to be here with you.”
He placed his hand over hers and squeezed.
“When have I ever passed up a chance to talk? You do know I’m an attorney, right?”
Olivia laughed even as her tears flowed down her face.
“Why, Willie-B? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“For the same reason I didn’t tell the boys. You all would have put your lives on hold, waiting on me hand and foot, trying to make my last days good ones. My dear, I haven’t had a good day since I lost my Sarah.”
He winced, new pain breaking through, defying the powerful IV drug cocktail started only moments before.
“It’s my time, Livvie. But I go knowing you and the boys will be okay. I’m proud of the men my sons have become. And I’m proud of you… just as proud as your father would be.”
“But there had to be times when-”
Willis cut her off.
“Yes, honey. There were days I was sure I’d be dead before sundown. But with rest and medication, I went on. It wasn’t my time yet. But it is now.”
“Why didn’t you choose to fight it? The Mayo Clinic is a short car ride away, or we could have gone anyplace in the world to help you fight for your life.”
Willis closed his eyes but continued to speak.
“It was not a rash decision, my dear. I gave the matter serious thought.”
He opened his eyes and regarded Olivia warmly.
“I’m… not a young man. My cancer is one of… the most aggressive. In the end, my dear, I may have gotten what? An extra two? Three years? And the treatments would have taken their toll making me an invalid needing constant care.”
Olivia clutched the dying man’s frail hand.
“Don’t be afraid, Livvie. I’m not. It hasn’t been easy… these last few months, but for me, it was the best decision. To go on my own terms… not surrendering. Pain has been the worst part of this journey. But, I knew that’s how it would end for me. Please… try not to judge me too harshly.”
Olivia shook her head, almost in a frantic state. “No, Willie-B. I would never do that. You’re the last person on the planet I would judge.”
She tried to calm herself. Reaching out, she caressed his sunken cheek, his skin cool to the touch. “Just rest now. Save your strength. We can talk more in a little while.”
With effort, Willis raised his hand and covered hers.
“This is our time to talk, Livvie. This… is what my strength is for.”
Willis went on before Olivia could speak.
“You must make a decision about… your mother, Livvie.”