Chapter 1, continued….
Cassie and Scott listened to the NPR Christmas Eve special as they made their way back to the church. The same music filled the rooms of the small converted house of worship. They emptied the coins into the plastic tub that held the seasons donations. It looked like it had been a good year -- the public was generous. They emptied the rear of the station wagon, replacing the bell ringing stations with two large bags of gifts that would soon brighten up this Christmas Eve for the less fortunate.
They once again joined hands as the car moved forward. Cassie started humming along with the classic Elvis Christmas hit " Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me" and they then both started singing along. Magic did seem to fill the air.
Four years prior, give or take a month, Danny Petros was sitting in a waiting room looking up at the clock and wondering when his mother would be finished with her appointment. He was hungry -- his stomach growled to remind him.
Danny was in his mid-twenties and just under six foot with dark hair and skin -- he was a full blooded Greek and a good son to his parents, George and Georgia Petros. They had been married just shy of fifty years when his father died suddenly of a massive heart attack. His mother, a strong Greek woman, had never learned (nor wanted) to drive. Danny stepped up after his father’s death and became his mother’s driver. He devoted one day each week to attend to his mother’s needs.
Danny’s stomach rumbled again and he wondered why this routine doctor’s visit was taking so long when his mother finally returned to the front office waiting room. Georgia, just shy of sixty, had a classic greek look - short and robust with a dark mediterranean complexion and salt and pepper hair. She looked very pale and thin as she walked into the room and she had a hopeless look on her face, like the one she wore the day George had died. As Danny looked at his mother from across the room he realized her weight loss wasn’t due to one of her fad diets and he sensed that something was seriously wrong.
He didn’t speak until they were in the privacy of the car. “What the hell is going on, Ma?”
“I’m sick. I’ve got stomach cancer.” Georgia replied.
“No. We have to fight this.” Danny. “I can’t lose you too Ma.”
“I will. For you. But no chemo. It sounds terrible.” she said quietly “And Danny, when it's time you have to let me go.”
Danny softly repeated “No, you can’t die. I don't want you to die. I can’t let you die.”
They both sat in silence. Then Georgia reached in her purse and handed the prescription to her only child. The cracking of the crisp paper cut through silence of the car. They pulled into the Save Rite and made their way to the drop off prescription window.
Ernie, the tall lean pharmacist, greeted Georgia and took the prescriptions without looking up. As he pulled them into reading position he turned a pale white. He shifted his lower extremities and braced his body weight against the lower counter shelving. Ernie cleared his throat. “This will take a few minutes Mrs. P. why don’t you take care of your other shopping and stop back by when you’re done.” He said this casually as if he was filling a ibuprofen prescription. He didn’t look up -- he just couldn't.
Finally Ernie’s courage overcame his emotion. He needed to talk to Danny privately - his mind raced as he looked for way to slyly get his attention. Ernie called out, giving his best dramatic performance in years, “Hey Danny! I didn’t see you out there. I finally have that supplement information for you.”
Danny’s mind was overloaded and spinning. All this was happening so fast but his mind felt slow and heavy. After a beat, he caught on and told his Mom to go ahead and start her shopping. He would catch up with her in a few minutes.
Ernie started bluntly “Danny, I’m so sorry. You have a very sick women on your hands.”
“She says she has stomach cancer. How sick is she?” Danny replied.
“I’m no doctor but these drugs are only prescribed for terminally ill patients.” Ernie shifted uncomfortably as he waited for Danny’s reaction.
“How much time does she have?” Danny asked matter of factly.
“I’m sorry. I really don't know. I have already said more than I should.” Ernie said gently. “Danny, do you know what you’re up against? These medications are really expensive and some are not covered by your mother’s insurance.”
“I don't care the cost. I will take care of it. I will get the money to pay for them.” Danny asserted.
Ernie reached out to Danny and put his arm on his shoulder. “Your credit is good here Danny.”
“No, but thank you Ernie. In my family we always pay our own way.” Danny shifted on his heels and said “Just fill them. I’ll run to the bank for the money.”