Karl had just finished checking out a customer when his cell phone dinged with a message. He waited until he was in his office in the back before checking his phone. It was from his mom, Judy.
The hair on the back of Karl’s neck raised slightly as he read the simple two-word text. He sat down in the black rolling chair behind his desk before calling his mom. The phone barely had time to ring when she said hello.
“Hey, Mom,” Karl started to say.
“Karl,” his mom’s usual, steady tone sounded shaky. “Your dad had a heart attack.”
Karl slumped in his chair as he heard this. He knew his dad hadn’t been feeling well lately.
“I’ll be there by tonight,” Karl said without hesitation.
He was the middle child of his parent’s three children. Karl and his older brother, Michael both helped run the family chain of bookstores in Upstate New York. Karl worked at the one in Spires. Michael manned the one in Maple. Their dad Peter still ran the original bookstore in Shale.
“Okay, good,” his mom said. “Could you call Michael and tell him? I can’t seem to get ahold of him.”
Karl sighed as he told his mom he would call his brother. He found Michael’s name in his phone and hit the call button, putting it on speaker while he gathered his things. The call went to voicemail.
“Hey, big brother,” Karl said into the phone. “Now isn’t the time to ignore Mom. Dad’s had a heart attack. Call her.”
He ended the call and started toward the front of the store. He didn’t care about the way he had just told Michael about their dad. Michael had some sort of weird grudge toward the family and wouldn’t speak to any of them, not even to their sister Stacy who lived in North Carolina. It wasn’t anything new. Michael had always been like that, his way or no way.
Janice, who managed the store for Karl, was at the front counter working on entering new inventory in the computer.
“Janice,” Karl said as he went around the counter.
“What’s up?” she asked as she continued checking the inventory list.
“I need to go to Shale for a few days. My dad had a heart attack,” Karl told her.
Janice stopped what she was doing.
“Oh my gosh!” she said. “Is Mr. Robertson okay?”
“I’m not sure what his condition is right now, but I’m heading out, so I can get there this evening.”
“Okay, I’ll let everyone here know,” Janice said.
“I appreciate that,” Karl said. “I’ll call you tomorrow, so we can go over a few things for the store.”
“Sure, Karl,” she said, picking up the inventory sheet. “I’ll take care of everything. Keep me posted on your dad.”
Ten minutes later, he was packing in his loft, which was three blocks from the store. Most of the time, he walked to work since he lived so close, but today he found himself thankful for taking his motorcycle to work instead. His phone buzzed in his pocket as he went about grabbing things to throw into his bag. He didn’t know how long he would be gone, but being only a couple of hours away meant he could make quick, short trips back here if necessary.
“Hey,” he said into the phone.
“Hey,” Felicia said on the other side of the phone. “You sound out of breath.”
“I’m kind of in a hurry,” he told her. “I need to get on the road. Dad’s had a heart attack.”
“Oh, Karl,” she said. “I’m so sorry. How long will you be gone?”
“I’m not sure yet, but Janice is going to run the store for me.”
“Okay, dear,” Felicia said. “Just don’t forget about our lunch plans with Mom and Dad on Sunday.”
Karl stopped packing long enough to process what she said.
“Felicia,” he tried to say kindly. “I don’t know that I will be able to make lunch on Sunday. I don’t know how bad Dad is, but he and my mom are a little more important right now.”
“Well, of course, Karl.” He could hear the pouting in her voice, “I just don’t want to stand my parents up.”
“I’m sure they’ll understand. I have to go. I need to get on the road.”
Karl maneuvered his way out of the city twenty minutes later. He had called his mom before leaving to let her know he was on his way. Now, as he settled back into the drive before him, he thought about the conversation he’d had with Felicia. That wasn’t the first time Felicia had appeared to have brushed off something important to him. That behavior irritated him. She hadn’t always been like that. The change in her occurred once they were engaged. All of a sudden, everything had to be her way, and there were constant questions about the business. The Felicia he had dated up to proposing to her, was carefree and kind. The Felicia he had been dealing with since the engagement was aggressive and almost mean. He didn’t like that he was going to have to talk to her about it the next time they were together.
His thoughts then drifted to Michael. He didn’t understand his older brother at all. Michael always acted like the world was out to get him, when in reality, he had always gotten everything he wanted thanks to the family business being so successful.
Michael never seemed to be happy. He was always chasing happiness by trying to keep up with the Jones. He didn’t seem to understand happiness didn’t exist in material things. Even relationships seemed to elude his older brother.
Karl didn’t understand why Michael was like that. Their parents never spoiled any of the kids while they grew up. Both boys and their sister, had to help with the bookstore. Instead of an allowance, they got a paycheck. Karl and Stacy learned the value of earning a dollar and being able to support yourself. Michael always squandered his earning on the next big thing.
Two hours later, Karl parked in the parking lot at the hospital. He realized he didn’t know which room his dad was in and went to the information counter when he walked in to find out. He thanked the lady behind the counter and went to the elevator and pushed the up button. Peter was in the ICU on the third floor.
When he stepped out of the elevator, Karl followed the signs that led him to the ICU unit. Once there, he asked a nurse at the nurses station where he could find Peter Robertson’s room.
“He’s in the second room to your right, but you’ll have to wait to go in,” the nurse told him. “There is someone with him right now.”
Disappointed to have to wait a little bit longer to see his dad, Karl found a chair near his father’s door, so he would know when he could go in. He picked up a magazine from the table beside him and tried to flip through it until he heard the door click open.
“Karl,” his mom Judy said as she walked out the door.
Karl stood up and hugged his mom. When they broke apart, he asked, “How’s he doing?”
“Okay, I guess,” Judy answered. “They assure me he’s only in here until all the tests come back. They’re keeping him sedated until they know exactly what all has happened.”
“Mom,” Karl began. “What did happen?”
“Why don’t you go in and see your father for a minute?” Judy suggested. “Then, when you’ve finished your visit, we can talk.”
Judy sat down in the chair Karl had been sitting in. He knew his mom wasn’t just suggesting what should be done, she was directing what would be done. His mom had always been a strong woman, and the sudden illness of her husband didn’t seem to alter that behavior one bit. If anything, it strengthened it.
Karl went into the room his father was sleeping in. It was hard to see him like that with tubes going into multiple places on his body. Wires were attached to his chest in several places, making the machines beside his bed beep. Karl didn’t like what he saw. The man before him looked pale and weak. The Peter he knew was just as strong and able-bodied as Judy. This Peter looked like he barely had any strength left for anything. Karl couldn’t stand to see his father that way and left the room.
“You weren’t in there very long,” his mother observed.
“It’s hard to see him like that.”
Judy wrapped her arm around her son’s elbow, “I know, dear. Trust me, I know. Let’s go get a coffee.”
It was almost ten o’clock when Michael decided to call their mom. Karl stayed in the living room of his parents’ home while his mom walked into the kitchen as she spoke into the phone. The call lasted all of five minutes.
“That was your brother,” Judy said to Karl as she came back into the living room. “He won’t be able to come down for a while. Apparently, the bookstore is too busy for him to leave right now.”
Karl rolled his eyes inwardly. Michael’s store wasn’t any more profitable than his or their dad’s. Big brother just didn’t want to have to be around family, and coming to see their dad would force him to do just that.
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