“Like this,” he said, lighting the pipe he took a hit and held it in his lungs before blowing out the smoke. Then, he passed the pipe over to Grace who did the same, looking to King for reassurance. When she exhaled, she started having a coughing fit. King held her arm while she laughed and coughed at the same time.
“Will I do that every time?” she asked when she was finally able to manage a sentence.
“No, just the first few times.” King assured her with a small smile.
“Good. I hate coughing,” Grace said.
“Are you sure there isn’t anything else you need?” He asked.
“I’m an old lady, and a dying one at that, and you still come over to fix my house and take care of me like I’m still going to be around in six months. You do too much already.”
“Don’t talk like that,” King scolded, pinching the bridge of his nose. Grace reached out, took King’s hands in her own, and held them on her lap.
“You are the closest thing to a son I ever had,” she confessed.
King looked to the floor. “You’ve always been more of a mother to me than…her.”
Grace’s face grew serious. “I’m only sorry I didn’t kill that bitch myself.”
It was on those words that I lost my footing and came tumbling forward into the room, landing on my hands and knees in front of the bed.
“Is she always this graceful?” Grace asked.
King kissed Grace on the top of her head and turned off the lights. I gave her a sad little wave as he ushered me from the room, closing the door behind us. He turned off all the lights in the house and locked the back sliding door. Just as we reached the front of the house, King stopped and reached into his pocket, then placed something on the edge of the table on the hall. I fell a few steps behind so I could inspect what it was he’d left for Grace. When I saw it, my breath caught in my throat.
It was a tiny white ceramic rabbit.
“We have another stop to make,” King declared, punching out a text on his phone with his thumb as we got back into the truck.
I looked at him, really looked at him as if I were seeing him for the first time. What I saw was a man who when you stripped away the intimidation and constant mood swings was someone who was taking care of a woman he loved in her final days. The man who I’d started out believing was a monster was capable of love.
“Why were you showing Grace how to smoke pot?” I asked.
“She puts up a good front, but Grace is in a lot of pain.” King winced. “All the medications they give her are a bunch of bullshit. It’s all supposed to make her comfortable, but she gets really sick from most of it.”
“What does she have?”
“Some fucking bullshit aggressive cancer.” King’s hands tightened around the wheel until his knuckles turned white.
“Does she really only have six months?”
King looked uncomfortable, but, I felt like after meeting Grace and bonding with her I needed to know more about her condition.
He propped his elbow up on the ledge of the open drivers side window, thoughtfully resting his jaw on the back of his hand. “They say six months, but I’ve been told to take that and divide it in half because they usually exaggerate when they tell you how much time you have left.”
“Who told you that?”
We spent nearly twenty minutes in silence as we rode to our next stop, which was another residential neighborhood, This time when King parked and I grabbed the door handle, he stopped me with his forearm across my chest.
“What?” I asked.
“We aren’t getting out.”
Killing the engine, he leaned back in his seat. I opened my mouth to ask why, but the dark look in his eyes said that he wasn’t up for conversation. I folded my arms over my chest, waiting for the reason why we were there to produce itself.
After a few minutes, there it was. A light. Not from the house we were parked in front of but the one behind it. From where we sat, we had a perfect view of the back of the house and the illuminated sunroom. A tall woman with short black hair was sorting through some toys on the ground, when a small blonde girl came bounding into the sunroom.
King sat up straight.
We may have been a hundred feet or so away from the house, but I instantly recognized the girl prancing around in her PJ’s.
“That’s the girl from your picture, right? Is she your sister? Do you want to go say hi? I’ll wait here if you want me to.”