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It’s been nearly three weeks since Mom’s accident—and the leaves are more yellow than green but the heat still refuses to let go—when my phone rings just as I’m on my way back to my office after a long, infuriating meeting. I don’t recognize the number but accept the call. “Oren Walker.”
“Oren. Hi. It’s Pete. Pete Higgins. Your mom’s next-door neighbor.”
“Oh, hey!” I would be lying if I said I haven’t thought about him these last few weeks. In the shower, before bed, while having my morning coffee. He’s hot enough to set fire to my pants, but that’s only part of the appeal. Mom hasn’t stopped talking about him since her accident; about how gentle he was when he helped her. How considerate and thoughtful and nice he was when she was hurt and scared, and in the days that have followed.
Of course, I noticed all his good sides myself, those few minutes we spent together, and he hasn’t been far from my thoughts whenever I’ve had a free moment.
“I’m sorry to disturb you at work,” Pete says.
“No problem. I just got out of a meeting with some very upset people and could use a friendly voice right now.” I close my office door behind me and throw myself onto my chair. “What can I do for you, Pete?”
“Nothing urgent. I just needed to tell you something.”
“Shoot.” I lean back and close my eyes, rubbing my temples with my thumb and index finger, trying to fend off the threatening headache.
“I just wanted to let you know that I interfered with your mom earlier. She was on her way to the grocery store. On foot, with her crutches, and I managed to catch her when she hobbled past my house.”
I groan. “Oh my god, her stubbornness is unprecedented.”
“Yeah, I hear you, man. I had to sweet talk her forever before I managed to convince her to go back home. The thing that persuaded her was when I lied and told her I was on my way to the store myself so I could pick up whatever it was she needed.”
“I don’t understand. I bought everything on her list the day before yesterday.”
“Nuh-uh. You forgot the chocolate chips. She couldn’t bake cookies for the church bake sale on Sunday. It was a class one disaster and I’m surprised she didn’t call 911.”
I groan again. “I can’t believe her,” I grumble. “I’ve told her, again and again, to call me whenever she needs anything. I bring my phone everywhere. To bed. To meetings. To the fucking bathroom when I take a shit, so I won’t miss her call.”
My rant is interrupted by a boisterous laughter.
“Gaah, I’m sorry. That was way more information than you needed.” My face heats and I slap myself on the forehead. Good job, Oren. Way to seem like a crazed lunatic in front of the nice man!
“Nah, it’s fine.”
“No, I’m sorry. That was highly inappropriate. Mom would be so ashamed of me. It’s no excuse, but I’ve had a long day.”
I rub my temples harder. “I just don’t understand why she won’t call me.”
“Listen. She’s fiercely proud of you and all the hard work you’ve done to get where you are. She told me she doesn’t want to be a bother.”
“I know that. I told her. But she insists that you are busy and stressed and don’t need more on your plate right now,” he says.
“But she’s my mom.”
“Yeah. But take it from me, as a parent. When you’ve spent the biggest part of your life loving and protecting your kids, you can’t just turn it off. It’s instinct. We want to be the strong, invincible protector we’ve always been and it’s hard to accept that the situation might be reversed.”
“Oh.” That makes a lot of sense; I’ve never thought about it like that. “Thanks. That was a lot more helpful than you probably realize.”
He laughs. “Yay! Who woulda thought? Me doling out parenting advice!”
“You’re better than you give yourself credit for.”