Home > The Last Letter(5)

The Last Letter(5)
Rebecca Yarros

It was almost midnight. We’d been here since just after noon, and both the kids were fast asleep. Maisie was curled in on herself, dwarfed by the size of the hospital bed, a few leads sending her vitals to the monitors. Thank God they’d turned off the incessant beeping. Just seeing the beautiful rhythm of her heart was enough for me.

Colt was stretched out on the couch, his head in my lap, his breathing deep and even. Although Ada had offered to take him home, he’d refused, especially while Maisie had a death grip on his hand. They never could stand to be separated for long. I ran my fingers over his blond hair, the same nearly white shade as Maisie’s. How similar their features looked. How different their little souls were.

A soft click sounded as the door opened only enough for a doctor to poke his head in.

“Mrs. MacKenzie?”

I put up one finger, and the doctor nodded, backing away and closing the door softly.

As quietly as I could, I moved Colt off my lap, replacing my warmth with a pillow and my jacket over his little body.

“Is it time to go?” he asked, snuggling deeper into the couch.

“No, bud. I need to talk to the doctor. You stay here and watch over Maisie, okay?”

Slowly, glazed-over blue eyes opened to meet mine. He was still more than half asleep.

“I’ve got this.”

“I know you do.” I grazed his temple with my fingers.

With sure steps and very unsure fingers, I got the door open and shut behind me without waking Maisie.

“Mrs. MacKenzie?”

I scanned the guy’s badge. Doctor Taylor.

“Actually, I’m not married.”

He blinked rapidly and then nodded. “Right. Of course. My apologies.”

“What do you know?” I pulled the sides of my sweater together, like the wool could function as some kind of armor.

“Let’s go down the hall. The nurses are right here, so the kids are fine,” he assured me, already leading me to a glass-walled area that looked to serve as a conference room.

There were two other doctors waiting.

Doctor Taylor pointed me to a seat, and I took it. The men in the room looked serious, their smiles not reaching their eyes, and the guy on the right couldn’t seem to stop clicking his pen.

“So, Ms. MacKenzie,” Doctor Taylor began. “We ran some blood tests on Margaret, as well as drained some fluid from her hip earlier, where we found infection.”

I shifted in my seat. Infection…that was easy.

“So antibiotics?”

“Not exactly.” Doctor Taylor’s eyes shot up toward the door, and I glanced over to see a woman in her midforties leaning against the doorframe. She was classically beautiful, her dark skin as flawless as her French twist updo. I was suddenly very aware of my state of dishevelment but managed to keep my hands off my no-longer-cute messy bun.

“Dr. Hughes?”

“Just observing. I saw the girl’s chart when I came on shift.”

Dr. Taylor nodded, took a deep breath, and turned his attention back to me.

“Okay, if she has an infection in her hip, that would explain the leg pain and the fever, right?” I folded my arms across my stomach.

“It could, yes. But we’ve found an anomaly in her blood work. Her white counts are alarmingly elevated.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, this is Dr. Branson, and he’s from ortho. He’ll help us with Margaret’s hip. And this…” Dr. Taylor swallowed. “This is Dr. Anderson. He’s from oncology.”

Oncology?

My gaze swung to meet the aging doctor’s, but my mouth wouldn’t open. Not until he said the words his specialty had been called in for.

“Ms. MacKenzie, your daughter’s tests indicate that she may have leukemia…”

His mouth continued to move. I saw it take shape, watched the animations of his facial features, but I didn’t hear anything. It was like he’d turned into Charlie Brown’s teacher and everything was coming through a filter of a million gallons of water.

And I was drowning.

Leukemia. Cancer.

“Stop. Wait.” I put my hands out. “I’ve had her at the pediatrician at least three times in the last six weeks. They told me there was nothing, and now you’re saying it’s leukemia? That’s not possible! I did everything.”

“I know. Your pediatrician didn’t know what to look for, and we’re not even certain it is leukemia. We’ll need to take a bone marrow sample to confirm or rule it out.”

Which doctor said that? Branson? No, he was ortho, right?

It was the cancer doctor. Because my baby needed to be tested for cancer. She was just down the hall and had no clue that a group of people were sentencing her to hell for a crime she’d never committed. Colt… God, what was I going to tell him?

I felt a hand squeeze mine and looked over, my head on autopilot, to see Dr. Hughes in the seat next to me. “Can we call someone? Maybe Maisie’s dad? Your family?”

Maisie’s dad had never so much as bothered to see her.

My parents had been dead fourteen years.

Ryan was half a world away doing God-knew-what.

Ada and Larry were no doubt asleep in the main house of Solitude.

“No. There’s no one.”

I was on my own.

The scans began in the morning. I pulled a small notebook from my purse and began to jot down notes of what the doctors said, what tests were being run. I couldn’t seem to absorb it all. Or perhaps the enormity of it was simply too much to take in.

“Another test?” Colt asked, squeezing my hand as the doctors drew more blood from Maisie.

“Yep.” I forced a smile, but it didn’t fool him.

“We just need to see what’s going on with your sister, little man,” Dr. Anderson said from where he stood perched at Maisie’s bedside.

“You’ve already looked in her bones. What else do you want?” Colt snapped.

“Colt, why don’t we go grab some ice cream?” Ada asked from the corner. She’d arrived early this morning, determined that I not be alone.

I could have been in a room with a dozen people I knew—I still would have been alone.

“Come on, we’ll grab some for Maisie, too.” She held out her hand, and I nodded to Colt.

“Go ahead. We’re not going anywhere for a while.”

Colt looked to Maisie, who smiled. “Strawberry.”

He nodded, taking his duty with all seriousness, then gave Dr. Anderson another glare for good measure before leaving with Ada.

I held Maisie’s hand while they finished the draw. Then I curled up next to her on the bed and switched on cartoons, holding her small body against mine.

“Am I sick?” She looked up at me without fear or expectation.

“Yeah, baby. I think you might be. But it’s too early to worry, okay?”

She nodded and focused back on whatever show Disney Junior was airing.

“Then it’s good that I’m in a hospital. They make you better in hospitals.”

I kissed her forehead. “That, they do.”

“It’s not leukemia,” Dr. Anderson told me as we stood in the hallway later that night.

“It’s not?” Relief raced through me, the physical feeling palpable, like blood returning to a limb too long asleep.

“No. We don’t know what it is, though.”

“It could still be cancer?”

“It could. We’re not finding anything other than the elevated white counts, though.”

“But you’re going to keep looking.”

He nodded, but the sheen of certainty he’d had in his eyes when he’d thought it was leukemia was gone. He didn’t know what we were dealing with, and he obviously didn’t want to tell me that.

Day three and four passed with more tests. Less certainty.

Colt grew restless but refused to leave his sister’s side, and I didn’t have the heart to make him go. They’d never been separated for more than a day in their lives. I wasn’t sure they knew how to survive as individuals when they thought of themselves collectively.

Ada brought clean clothes, took Colt for walks, kept me up to date on the business. How odd it was that my obsession with Solitude had been my number three priority behind Colt and Maisie for the last five years, but at this moment felt utterly unimportant.

Days blended together, and my fingers were damn near raw from the internet searching I’d done since Dr. Anderson dropped the C word. Of course they’d told me to stay off the net.

Yeah, right.

I couldn’t remember a damn thing they said half the time. No matter how hard I tried to concentrate, it was as if my brain had shields up and was only taking in what it thought I could handle. Using the internet filled in the gaps that my memory and my notebook couldn’t.

On the fifth day, we gathered in the conference room once again, but this time I had Ada next to me.

“We still don’t know what’s causing it. We’ve tested for all the usual culprits, and they’ve come back negative.”

“Why doesn’t that sound like a good thing?” Ada asked. “You’re saying you haven’t found cancer, but you sound disappointed.”

“Because there’s something there. They just can’t find it,” I said, my voice turning sharp. “The same as Dr. Franklin. Maisie said she hurt, and she was sent home with a diagnosis of growing pains. Then they called it psychosomatic. Now you’re telling me that her blood says one thing, her bones say another, and you’re just out of ideas.”

The men had the good sense to look embarrassed. They should be. They’d gone to years and years of school for this very moment, and they were failing.

“Well, what are you going to do? Because there has to be something. You’re not going to send my little girl home.”

Dr. Anderson opened his mouth, and I knew from the set of his face, the next excuse was coming.

“Oh, hell no,” I snapped before he could get a word out. “We’re not leaving here until you give me a diagnosis. Do you understand me? You will not wash your hands of her, or me. You will not treat her as a mystery you simply couldn’t solve. I didn’t go to medical school, but I can tell you that she’s sick. Her blood work says it. Her hip says it. You did go to medical school, so figure. It. Out.”

Silence roared louder than any excuse they could have given me.

“Ms. MacKenzie.” Dr. Hughes appeared, taking a seat next to Dr. Anderson. “I’m so sorry I haven’t been here, but I split my time between this hospital and Denver Children’s and just returned this morning. I’ve seen your daughter’s test results, and I think I might have one more thing we can test for. It’s incredibly rare, especially in a child this old. And if it is what I think it might be, then we need to act quickly.” A clipboard appeared in front of me with yet another consent. “One signature is all I need.”

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