Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Three

“You sit, too, Mina,” Rob gruffed, not taking his attention from Dr. Sullivan. Blushing, Wil moved to the couch and sat. She almost missed, but only Jakob’s sigh indicated anyone had noticed.

The doctor, meanwhile, closed her eyes for a second and released her own exhalation. “I see, from your hospital notes, that you were in here just two days ago, Mrs. Winters.” She ran a clean, practical finger down her tablet of notes. “Respiratory infection, wasn’t it?”

“Yes,” Wil’s mother answered.

“And you were discharged with intravenous medications?”

“Yes.”

“Have you been following your regular medication and exercise schedule as well?” Dr. Sullivan’s left eyebrow rose as she looked up at Cynthia for answer.

Cynthia, however, looked down. “Just the medications.” Her thumb stroked Rob’s comforting hand. “Oh! And the lung therapy. Once.”

“Well, that’s to be expected,” her interrogator replied, not unkindly. She scrolled through more notes.

Wil shifted on the plastic couch. She stifled a yawn, studied the painting of a girl over the bed again, and watched the neutral-colored window curtains sway in the room vents’ warm air. Her letter and birth certificate crinkled as she sought a new position for her hands. One look from her father settled them into her lap.

“I see that you were also informed about Cystocaftor, and that you were able to receive a lung transplant over a decade ago.”

“We know all this!” Wil blurted. Jakob snorted in amusement.

Rob was not amused. “Wilhelmina!”

Wil returned to fidgeting with her papers. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

“I realize you want to move on to the main topic at hand,” soothed Dr. Sullivan. “However, Wil -may I call you Wil?”- Wil glanced up to meet the professional woman’s cool, dark eyes and nodded. “Wil, it’s important to be sure we are all on the same page. Also, these points are imperative to discussing the immediate issue.”

Wil blinked from a blank expression.

“They’re important as …things that led to what I am going to talk about,” Dr. Sullivan simplified. She looked around at them all, finishing with and lingering on Cynthia. “Number one big issue: despite the effectiveness most patients are experiencing with the new drug options, I’m afraid that your current state severely limits that efficacy.” Clearing her throat, she said, “Your more advanced age and the state of your complications are the main causes.”

“But,” Rob stammered, “We were told it would guarantee her at least five years.”

The respiratory doctor dropped her gaze to give a slight, negative shake of her head. “No. I’m sorry, Mr. Winters.” She pulled a stray wisp of graying brown hair back with its fellows at the sides of her head; patted her strict bun. “I’ve read over the trials, and the most optimistic bet puts you at two years.”

The silence following her words was filled with a thousand shocked thoughts and at least as many silent denials of what they were suddenly faced with.

“We have two years?” Wil asked in nearly a whisper.

“No, Wil,” Dr. Sullivan’s eyes met Wil’s again. “Probably less.”

“How-” Jakob’s voice was husky. “How long?”

“I’m afraid that is the question everyone wants the answer to.”

“But,” Cynthia spoke up, startling her family. “Surely you have some estimate?” Her clear blue eyes and openly trusting face would have melted a statue.

“Of course.” The doctor folded her hands around her tablet and rested them in her lap. “Depending on how this ‘flu season turns out, I’d give you between three months and a year and a half before serious complications interfere with normal life.”

 

Continued from Sixty-Two.
Keep reading to Sixty-Four.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-Two

Dr. Sullivan didn’t even wait for a response, a welcome. The door closed smartly behind her starched coat and the curtain rings made no more sound than was necessary. Wil even saw the swirling waves of heat from the wall registers keep to their proper paths. Dr. Sullivan strode past them all and stood near the foot of Cynthia’s bed.

Pulling out a tablet and barely glancing at its activated screen, she said, “And how are we feeling today, Mrs. Winters?”

Cynthia sat up a bit against her pillows. Rob’s hand and her IV followed along. “I..” she looked at Rob, Jakob, and lingered on Wil. “I had a little trouble breathing.”

“She had two coughing spells.” Rob said. “Couldn’t seem to stop.” He lifted his chin to meet Dr. Sullivan’s gaze, avoiding his wife’s.

Wil studied the doctor as well. She saw Jakob’s head move upward, from the corner of her eye. The respiratory physician smiled slightly, checked her records a second time, and addressed Cynthia. “Is that true about the coughing, Mrs. Winters?”

The angelic blonde hair on the bleach-white pillow shifted as Cynthia repositioned again. “Yes,” she whispered.

“Would you say these spells are increasing in intensity and/or frequency?”

Cynthia’s blue eyes met Wil’s dark ones, then each looked down at her hands. “Yes.”

Dr. Sullivan cleared her throat. “I’d like to discuss a few more issues with you, Mrs. Winters, Mr. Winters. But, perhaps you’d rather do so more …privately?”

False-down coat rustling told Wil that Jakob moved when she did, though she was the only one to stand. From a dark tunnel of recovering betrayal, a small part inside her found an anchoring emotion: indignation. “No!” she almost shouted.

Even Dr. Sullivan looked at Wil in surprise, though the stern-faced woman kept her peace. Instead, Cynthia spoke. “We just determined to not keep any more secrets,” she explained to the doctor.

If she wondered at how many secrets they could possibly have entertained recently, Dr. Sullivan chose to move past that revelation. “I see,” she said. “Are you certain? Many patients feel the information to be…” she searched the suspended ceiling tiles for the right word.

Deadly, thought Wil.

“-emotionally stressful for family members,” Dr. Sullivan finished.

Rob’s hand found a stronger hold on Cynthia’s fingers. “We’re sure.”

Wil’s focus shifted to her father. She thought back to the letter she’d just read, from a woman who claimed to have birthed her. Dependable, Guinevere Greene had called Rob, after crossing out boring. His deep-voiced response to the impersonal doctor echoed in Wil’s mind and his strong, determined profile sat before her. “You’re wrong,” she whispered to the phantom letter-writer, “He’s even more than ‘dependable.'”

Rob gave his daughter a confused expression, then turned back to Dr. Sullivan.

“In that case,” Dr. Sullivan said, “I’d better take a seat.” Her eyes roved the room till they caught sight of another plastic and metal chair resting by the cream-patterned curtain. She pulled the chair over and perched on its edge. “We will need a few minutes, and I want everyone to be clear about what I discuss with you.”

 

Continued from Sixty-One.
Keep reading to Sixty-Three.

Wilhelmina Winters, Sixty-One

“So,” Jakob began. They all turned to look at him; he fumbled a bit as he read their expressions: Rob’s warning, Cynthia’s trust, and Wil’s emptiness. He cleared his throat, in a way that sounded surprisingly like Rob’s. Cynthia smiled slightly. Jakob looked at his hands.

“So,” he said again, “We’re all adopted.” He tried a laugh; glanced at the picture on the wall. He sighed, looked back down, then remembered how to grin his characteristic smirk. “Who knew?” He joked.

“We’re so very sorry this all came out this way,” Cynthia said. “You know that we wouldn’t have sprung it on you. We’ve always told you about Jakob, for example. Wil’s mother was adamant that she never be told -even threatening lawsuits against Rob..!” She faltered a bit and glanced at Rob to be sure she wasn’t saying too much.

Rob’s head jerked up when she brought up the legal issues, but then he shrugged. “It doesn’t seem to matter now,” he admitted. He ran his right hand along his jaw, and glanced nervously at Wil. Wil felt lost.

“I, uh,” he began, and paused at her blank look. He swallowed. “I won’t keep any more secrets from you.” He looked at his work boots, and scuffed the floor with their toes. “There really aren’t any more, anyway.”

“Rob,” his wife said, and held her right hand out to him. He took it, and caressed it carefully around the tube taped to the top. “You did the best you could. You’ve taken care of everything.” He sought her face and she smiled at him.

Wil watched her parents distractedly, from a distant plane devoid of sensations. She read their expressions, and felt a slight stirring inside. Their love touched her distantly, like a comforting fire through thick glass. It began to permeate the fog and speak to her reasoning.

“Wil,” her mother beckoned -the one who had been her mother for as long as she knew. Wil stood and walked to the bed. Kneeling beside it, she lay her head at Cynthia’s side. Slowly and fondly, her mother stroked the dark brown hairs and pale face.

They all seemed to be listening outside the room; to the nearby physiotherapy, perhaps. Their actual thoughts, however, were simultaneously within and beyond the thin, neutral-colored walls.

Wil felt broken apart when she first understood the truth. She was still unsure where life would go from here. Would she meet this woman who not only gave her up, but demanded Wil never learn of her? Who does that to her child?

Wil looked up at Cynthia: sweet, understanding, patient Cynthia who had never had an easy life but almost always looked for the positive in it. They had all worked to keep Cynthia as long as they could, knowing Goodbye stood lurking around the corner.

This was the woman who deserved to be her mother, Wil decided: the one who stuck around and loved her. Wil had never even guessed she was not Cynthia’s, assuming lack of resemblance in looks and behavior to be a random genetic mix. In fact, Wil had always felt Cynthia treated Jakob well also, though his parentage had never been kept from them. Wil turned to Jakob, and caught a similar sentiment in his face.

Jakob, realizing Wil was scrutinizing him, scrunched up his features. She laughed.

“When we get home,” Cynthia declared, “We’re telling you all we know.” She smiled her full, exultant smile. Her family reciprocated. They could never resist.

“It’s a good thing it’s the weekend,” Wil said.

Just then, they heard a knock on the door. “Come in,” Rob gruffed.

A click, a small creak, then the usual clink of the curtain sliding to the side; and a woman in a white overcoat and an air of confidence walked fully into the room. She smiled professionally. “Hello. I am Dr. Sullivan, the respiratory physician on call today. You must be the Winters family.”

 

Continued from Sixty.
Keep reading to Sixty-Two.