“Catherine, wait,” I called, tucking my wallet into the back pocket of my navy slacks. I glanced down to Hannah, who was cooing in her infant car seat and enjoying the ride as I carefully jogged out of the cardiologist’s office.
“Buckle up, Travis!” Catherine snapped, her voice high and agitated.
“Why can’t I ride with Dad?” he whined, slamming his door.
Turning sideways, I shuffled between the parked cars, reaching them as she put it in gear. Quickly, I patted the hood of her car before she had the chance to back out.
She jumped, and her chocolate-brown gaze swung to me.
Lifting Hannah in the air, I clipped at the windshield, “Forgetting someone?”
Her eyes flashed wide, and her mouth formed the word, “Shit.” After putting the car back into park, she swung her door open and climbed out. “I thought you had her.”
“I did have her. But I have to go back to work.”
She stomped over and took the baby carrier from my hand before going back to the car, snatching her car door open, and loading her inside.
“Dad! Can I ride home with you?” Travis yelled through the open door.
I bent low so I could see him. “Sorry, bud. I have to get back to work.”
His face fell and a pang of guilt hit my stomach.
“How about, when I get home, we play some video games?” I offered as a substitution.
His face lit. “Okay!”
Our conversation was cut off when Catherine suddenly slammed the door. She reached for the handle on the driver’s side, but I caught her arm.
“Are you going to be pissed all day?”
She angled her head back to look at me, attitude etched on her face. “Yeah, Porter. It’s safe to assume I’m going to be pissed all day.”
I groaned. “Christ, Catherine. He doesn’t agree with your plan. I’m thinking we should listen to him. After all, he is the doctor.”
Her glare turned murderous. “And he’s my son!”
No one wanted to hear that their child needed a heart transplant, but we’d known that day was coming. Travis was four when I’d entered the picture and he’d already been diagnosed. Catherine had told me then that, with the right medications and treatments, he’d get better. But one trip through Dr. Google and I had known she was wrong. Dilated Cardiomyopathy wasn’t something that could be cured.
Treated? Yes. Managed? Yes. Fixed? Only with a transplant.
But, for four years, she’d convinced herself otherwise. She’d spent countless hours scouring the internet, looking for information on Travis’s condition. She binged on success stories and failures of children with a similar condition to the point of obsession. Just that morning, she’d presented the cardiologist a proposed treatment plan, complete with drug names and dosages that she believed would cure our son. It had not gone over well when I hadn’t backed her up.
“You have no idea how much it’s going to hurt to lose him. I’m going to die right along with him. I can’t…” She trailed off when her chin began to quiver, and she nervously glanced over her shoulder to where Travis was sitting in the back seat.
“Hey,” I breathed, wrapping her in a hug. “It’s going to be okay.”
“Is it?” she croaked.
“Yeah. It is,” I lied.
“I don’t think so.” Her shoulders shook as she broke down in my arms.
It was rare for Catherine to show that side of her emotions. But, then again, she hadn’t been sleeping well since Hannah was born. While my baby girl was healthy as a horse and slept like a dream, Catherine woke up numerous times a night to check on her. I’d spent a small fortune on at least a dozen different monitors and booties that supposedly triggered an alarm if the child stopped breathing, but nothing could quell Catherine’s fears.
I hadn’t thought much of it in the beginning, but the older Hannah got, the worse Catherine got too. Any time I woke up in the middle of the night, Catherine was always awake, staring into the baby’s bassinet, her hand resting on her chest as if she were waiting for it to stop moving. She’d smile and play it off, saying that she liked to watch her sleep, but I knew it was more. Though, any time I tried to talk to her about it, she’d brush me off and make an excuse to change the subject.
“What if he dies before they find a donor?” she whispered into my neck.
My arm tensed around her. “Catherine, honey. He doesn’t even need the transplant yet. We still have options.”
Her breath shuddered. “I can’t lose him again, Porter.”
“Nobody is losing him,” I whispered adamantly. “I swear on my life Travis isn’t going anywhere. Let’s listen to the doctors and try to be optimistic before we worry about a transplant.”
“You don’t understand,” she cried. “If anything happens to him—”
I leaned away to catch her gaze. “Nothing is going to happen to him. You have to stop acting like the transplant is a death sentence. It could save his life.”
“It could also kill him. And then where would that leave me?”
Her. That was where all of these conversations went. How would his death affect her? Forget about the rest of us. Hell, forget about Travis actually losing his life.
It was always about Catherine.
Frustrated, I blew a ragged breath out and released her. “We’re all going to be fine.” Looking over her shoulder, I found Travis’s dark gaze aimed at us, so I shot him a placating smile and added a wink to sell it. Then I whispered to Catherine, “You need to get it together. He’s watching us. We can’t expect him to be strong if we’re breaking down.”
“Oh, God forbid he learn that his mother is imperfect.”
Grinding my teeth, I bit out, “That is not what I meant. No one is saying you have to be perfect.”
“I need to go,” she snipped, snatching the car door open.
Fuck. Now, she was pissed again and upset.
I didn’t dare say anything else as she climbed inside. I’d already set her off; there was no point exacerbating it.
Digging my keys out of my pocket, I walked to my car, the heavy weight of guilt settling over me. I hated that she was hurting, but it was virtually impossible to deal with her when she got like that.
Our relationship had changed so drastically over the years. I told myself that it was to be expected in marriage. Especially when you threw in the stresses of a sick child, an unplanned pregnancy, and then the exhaustion of having a new baby.