Louis checked his watch. Thirty-three minutes he’d been waiting in the hospital lobby. Two more and he’d pester the nurses again. And every five minutes after that until he got what he came for.
He hadn’t managed to sit once during the wait. It was too easy to think when he wasn’t moving. Too easy to dwell on the past. Moving was better for him; it put him in better control of his emotions.
“Excuse me,” he said to the receptionist exactly ninety seconds later.
“Your mother will be out shortly,” the receptionist told him, not bothering to look up from her computer.
“She’s my neighbor,” Louis said, rapping his fingers on her desk “How shortly?”
The woman rolled her eyes away from her computer, not an ounce of patience left in them. “I’ll know when you know, sir. Now you can take a seat while you wait.”
“I’ll stand,” Louis said, turning away from her desk as she rolled her eyes at him again, but he didn’t mind. As far as he was concerned, she could roll her eyes at him a thousand times as long as she did her job.
It was another seven minutes before his neighbor finally rolled through the doors.
“What are you doing here, Louis?” Pam asked as her attendant pushed her across the lobby.
“I’m here to drive you home,” he said, feeling more like a parent than he had in some time.
“I didn’t need you to pick me up,” Pam snapped, her lips curled in a frown. “I’m perfectly capable of calling for a ride.”
“Don’t be stubborn,” Louis snapped back. “I’m here to help you home.”
“You’re here to baby a woman twenty years older than you,” Pam sighed. “And I don’t need babying. I’ll find my own way home, thank you.”
Her attendant glanced back and forth between Pam and Louis, unsure of how to proceed. “We kind of need this chair.”
Pam scoffed, pushing herself up from the wheelchair. “Take it then, I told you I didn’t need it in the first place.”
The attendant bowed his head, avoiding both of their eyes as he escaped down the hallway.
“Please, Pam,” Louis said, some of the fight leaving his voice. “I told Beatrice I would bring you back.”
“Your wife doesn’t care who picks me up, Louis,” Pam said. “You’re the one who treats me like your child.”
Louis visibly flinched at the barb. Pam didn’t know the whole story, but she knew enough to make him hurt.
Pam realized what she’d said too late, recognizing the pain in his eyes. “Fine,” she said, relenting. “You can drive me home.”
Louis nodded, solemn as he lead her to his car. It was a long walk. Too long to spend with someone in complete silence, but that’s exactly what they did.
“Did you tell them about the pills?” Louis asked once they’d gotten in the car.
“Yep,” she said, buckling her seat belt.
Louis eyed her suspiciously. “And?”
“And they’ve assigned me someone to talk to,” Pam said, exasperated. “Not that it’s any of your business.”
Louis bit his lip, swallowing his response as he pulled out of the parking lot. “I’m glad,” he said eventually.
“Good,” she replied. “So now you don’t have to keep checking in on me.”
“I just wanted to make sure you were okay.”
“It’s not your job to make sure I’m okay,” she said. “I hardly know you, Louis. We weren’t friends then, and we aren’t now.”
“Theo was my friend,” Louis snapped, strangling the steering wheel. “That makes you my friend too.”
“No it doesn’t,” Pam said, her voice quiet as she rested her head on the car seat. “I don’t know you. I don’t know Beatrice. And there’s nothing either of you can do to help me through this.”
Suddenly, Louis pulled to the side of the road, throwing on his hazards. “Yes there is,” he said, looking her in the eyes for the first time. “I can remind you that you’re not alone. I can drive you to and from the freaking hospital, and I can fight for you even when you’ve given up on yourself. Because that’s what Theo would do.”
A single tear fell down Pam’s cheek. “You’re not Theo.” She said, her voice raising. “It’s not your job to fight for me. You’re not Theo. You will never be Theo!”
“I know what it’s like to lose someone, Pam. What it’s like to be suddenly stripped of purpose. To lose all direction in life.” Pam’s heart beat faster, her tears falling harder.
“Beatrice still cries every night,” Louis said, tears beginning to well up in his eyes. “Three years later and she cries every night, because time doesn’t change the fact that we can’t hold our daughter. We can’t kiss her and watch her grow up, and no one can change that. But guess what? We can still remember her. And love her.”
“I remember Theo every minute of every day,” Pam whispered through the tears. “I’ve never stopped loving him.”
“And he never stopped loving you,” Louis whispered back. “But you stopped loving you, Pam. And I’m going to keep reminding you that your loved until you remember it yourself.”
Pam smiled through the tears, and in that moment, felt Theo’s love as clearly as if he had never left. “I’m sure you were a great father,” she said once her tears had dried.
Louis managed a weighted smile. “Only because I’ve been able to practice on you. You really bring out my overprotective instincts.”
Pam scoffed. “You don’t need an excuse to be overprotective.”
Louis smiled wide as he pulled back onto the road. “See, you do know me.”
Both of them chuckled at that, a weight lifted from both of their shoulders as they made their way back from the hospital.
“Louis?”
“Yeah,” he said, eyes focused on the road.
“Can you actually bring me somewhere else?”