Thomas entered the hospital room to find Joshua seated by his mother’s bedside. His worried expression made Thomas’ heart beat faster. Reverend Mother lay in bed slumbering fitfully and covered in a sheen of sweat. She didn’t awake when he entered.
“What’s going on man,” asked Thomas.
“She has a fever due to an infection. They’re treating it with antibiotics. If that doesn’t bring down her fever then they may have to go back in and remove her gallbladder. It doesn’t make any sense. She was fine yesterday.”
“Don’t tell me she was right.”
“Right about what Thomas?”
“Oh, it’s probably just a coincidence. She called me last night all upset, saying my girlfriend came to see her and…”
“And what Thomas?”
“I’m telling you Joshua, they had given her some pain medication and she sounded a little loopy. I wouldn’t put too much stock in what she said.”
“Spit it out Thomas. What else did she say?”
“She said that she was sleeping, she felt a sharp pain in her stomach and opened her eyes to see Nicole standing over her. Said she thought Nicole had something in her hand but she couldn’t be sure. She warned her off of checking into her past.”
“What? Why the hell did that woman come all the way here to confront my mother face to face in her sick bed? You should have said something to me last night! They might have been able to give her some antibiotics before the infection worsened.”
“You can’t honestly believe Nicole would do something to your mother.”
“Are you serious? Wasn’t you who told me that people suspected her of doing in her patients when she was a nurse? Why else would she visit my mother? She could have called her on the phone and confronted her about checking into her past. How did she find out about that anyway? Did you tell her?”
“She already knew all about it yesterday when she confronted me.”
“How the hell would she know about it if you didn’t let something slip? Who else would have told her?”
“I’m not stupid Joshua, I never told her what I was up to. That would have defeated the whole purpose. Look, I’m not saying that I believe Nicole did something but if it’ll make you feel better I’ll ask her about it.”
“Just stay the hell out of it Thomas! You’ve done enough already. We don’t need crazy any more riled up than she already is. Clearly, you have no control over your woman.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“Did you or did you not come crying to me for help with Nicole?”
“Crying? C’mon Josh don’t do that.”
“Don’t do what?”
“Don’t exaggerate like that.”
“You and I both know I am not exaggerating. You need to stop minimizing the situation. That woman has been more than you could handle from day one. How long ago did mom ask you to dig up something on Nicole?”
“That’s not fair Josh, it takes time to get close enough to someone for them to let their guard down. That’s the only way you can see what they’re really like and what they get up to.”
“You’ve been with the woman for two years!”
“See what I mean about exaggerating? We didn’t start dating until recently and ma didn’t ask me to start digging around in Nicole’s past until a few months ago. If she did murder someone, do you really think that’s something she would bring up in casual conversation? It’s the kind of thing you take to your grave and it’s not something that I could just bring up out of the blue and start grilling her.”
“Whatever man, all I know is that mom asked you to help her out and now she’s laying here gravely ill.”
“Don’t you dare put that on me Joshua! I just told you that I did not tell Nicole about ma asking me to dig up stuff from her past.”
“Well, if it wasn’t you then who else even knew about it?”
Rachel came striding into the hospital room and the confrontation stopped as abruptly as it had begun. She felt the tension in the room and paused inside the doorway looking from one to the other. Thomas mumbled something about returning later and hastily took his leave. The last thing he wanted to deal with was Rachel weighing in on their disagreement with some nasty dig. Joshua sighed audibly and turned away from his sister. She had a gift for showing up at the worst possible moment. Wonder how long she was outside listening in on our argument. I’m sure she got a kick out of hearing us get into it. Rachel had been laying low since her tantrum the other night. For that, everyone was grateful. Joshua still wasn’t quite sure what if anything he should say to her. He wasn’t in the mood to sit there and try to think of something to say to her. Joshua got up and offered her his seat.
“I’m going to take a little break with Richard and Harriet down in the cafeteria.”
Rachel didn’t appear to hear him. She was standing at the end of the bed, staring at their mother with a stricken expression on her face. Joshua shook his head disgustedly. Oh, now she’s all concerned about mom. I don’t buy it. She wouldn’t have shown her ass like she did the other night if she cared so much about mom. Couldn’t even wait until mom got discharged before pitching a hissy fit. Just had to make herself the center of attention. Joshua strode out of the room, headed outside for a smoke. Rachel stood riveted to the same spot after he left, unable to move because she didn’t trust her legs not to give out on her. She had been full of impotent rage when she called Nicole and told her about Reverend Mother’s plan. Rachel wanted to hurt her mother by throwing a monkey wrench into her plans and robbing her of the loan she wanted so badly for her church expansion project. But this…this was something else. Rachel hadn’t taken Joshua’s talk about Nicole being a murderess seriously. There were always haters in the world spreading rumors about people. It didn’t mean any of it was true. Besides, Rachel had seen Nicole countless times at parties and never got any weird vibes from her.
Rachel had arrived fifteen minutes ago and heard Joshua arguing with Thomas. Old habits died hard and she paused outside the room within earshot, taking vindictive pleasure in listening to the two of them go at it. The smirk slid off of her face when Thomas said her mother had felt pain in her stomach and awakened to find Nicole standing over her. Rachel suddenly recalled how sympathetic Nicole had been over the phone. It felt so nice to talk to someone who wasn’t judging her that before she knew it, she began venting about her mother. Rachel bit her lip. Just thinking about how carried away she had gotten with the griping made her cringe. Could Nicole have done something to mama? Is this my fault? I didn’t mean it when I said I hated mama and wished she were dead…well, maybe I thought I meant it at the time. I was just so hurt and so very angry that it felt good just to say it out loud. Surely, Nicole knew that I didn’t really mean it…didn’t she? It seemed like she realized it at the time but now, I’m not so sure. We don’t know one another that well. Oh my God! If mama dies, it will be on my head!
Rachel suddenly felt weak at the knees and moved to sit down before her shaky legs pitched her onto the floor. What if her husband and child never returned? Rachel would be alone in the world without her mother, the one person she could confide in and depend on. Like it or not, she needed her now more than ever. Reverend Mother muttered in her sleep and Rachel jumped as though someone had jabbed her with a hot poker. The guilt she felt was crushing. What if Nicole comes back to finish what she started? I’ve got to do something to make things right. What do I do? What the hell do it do? I…I can’t deal with this roller coaster of emotions. It’s too much. I need something to block out some of this pain. Just for a little while.
Rachel had no one to embrace her, so she attempted to comfort herself by wrapping her own arms around herself. She found rocking back and forth somewhat soothing. The thought of having to go and talk to Nicole after making such a fool of herself over the phone didn’t make her feel any better, but it had to be face-to-face. She needed to make sure Nicole understood that her mother was to be left alone. Rachel desperately wanted a little snort or smoke of something to take the edge off but had no money. She cast her mind cast about, desperate for a solution. All at once, she remembered seeing an old prescription bottle with her mother’s name on it in her room.