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Authors: Kimberla Lawson Roby

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BOOK: The Perfect Marriage
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D
errek pressed the four-digit code, disarming the security system, and walked over to the kitchen counter. There, he set down
his briefcase and today’s mail, and removed his blazer. He was glad to be home and ready to enjoy a weekend of rest and football.
He knew they would likely go to church on Sunday, but tomorrow he would spend part of the day in front of the TV watching
the college players and then on Sunday afternoon and evening he’d watch NFL games.

As he loosened his tie, he strolled through the house and walked upstairs. However, when he walked inside the master bedroom,
the phone rang. He stepped closer to the nightstand and shook his head. It was Dixon again. Derrek stared at the lighted display
and decided it was finally time he gave Dixon a piece of his mind.

He grabbed the phone from its base in a huff. “Look, Dixon!”

But all Derrek heard was a dial tone. He’d answered too late, and since it was obvious that Dixon wasn’t going to stop calling
until he spoke to him, he realized setting him straight once and for all was inevitable, and was the only way he wouldn’t
have to hear from his brother again.

Derrek removed his tie, unbuttoned his snow-white dress shirt, and slipped off his pants. He went into the bathroom, turned
on the shower, and tossed a large towel over the top of it. When he stepped inside, the hot, steamy water streamed across
the front of his body. He savored every second of it and didn’t want it to end. Over the last few days, his muscles had felt
a bit tired and sore, but he knew it was only because he hadn’t worked out in a couple of weeks. This was so out of the ordinary
for him, but with his current work schedule, he just hadn’t made time for it.

He stood still, but when he turned around, the phone rang. He wondered if it was his brother again and just thinking about
the possibility of it, quickly ruined the peaceful vibe he was experiencing. Now, Derrek was to the point where he wanted
this to end, and he couldn’t wait to finish his shower, so he could call Dixon back. Enough was enough, and this would be
the last day he’d ever have to deal with him.

Minutes later, Derrek dried his body, swiped deodorant under his arms, and got dressed. He had a taste for burgers and fries,
so he pulled on a pair of jeans and slipped a V-neck cashmere sweater over his head. Denise wasn’t a huge lover of beef, but
he knew Mackenzie would be thrilled because she loved a great, juicy burger as much as he did. But as he went over to the
phone, he realized all of this was the least of his worries because the red voicemail indicator light was flashing. Had Dixon
actually left a message this time? If so, Derrek could only imagine the lame story or apology he’d rattled off, and he almost
dreaded having to listen to it. Still, he dialed into the system and braced himself.

“Uh, D, it’s me…your brother,” he said, calling him by the nickname he’d used for Derrek since they were small boys. “I know
it’s been a long time, man, but I guess I should just begin by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorrier than you could possibly ever
know, and I was wrong. I also know that no matter how many times I apologize, I’ll never be able to make things up to you,
but one thing has never changed: I still love you, man. I’ve always loved you, and I’ve missed you. I’ve wanted to call you,
but whenever I tried to build up the nerve, I lost it. I knew how angry you were, and I just couldn’t take a chance on how
you might react.”

Dixon paused for a couple of seconds, and it was then that Derrek realized how weak his brother sounded.

“The reason I’ve been calling you over the last few days, though, D, is because I’ve been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It’s not good, and I’m in the hospital.”

Derrek dropped down on the edge of the bed. His hand shook uncontrollably. He could barely steady the phone.

“I was hoping to tell you this before now, but can you call me? I really need to talk to you. I really need to hear your voice.”

Derrek pressed the End button and held the phone with both hands.
Pancreatic cancer?
Couldn’t be.
Derrek sat holding the phone for a while longer and finally pushed the Caller ID button until he found Dixon’s number.

“Hello?” Dixon answered shortly thereafter, speaking just above a whisper.

“Hey, how are you?”

“Not good, but I’m so glad you called.”

“I’m sorry to hear the news.”

Derrek waited for Dixon to say something else, but he didn’t. The mere thought of them being on the phone after all this time
was beyond awkward, so Derrek didn’t say anything, either.

“D,” Dixon finally said. “I really am sorry about everything. I’m sorry about all the lies I told over the years, I’m sorry
about never paying you the way I promised, and I’m especially sorry about that five thousand dollars. To be honest, I had
no justification for borrowing that kind of money from you and not paying it back, but D, I was pretty angry and hurt back
then. You never knew this, but right after I borrowed the money, I found out I had prostate cancer. The doctor caught it early,
but I was so upset that I felt like it was only right for me to enjoy the one vacation I’d always wanted to go on. And while
I know it was wrong, I was so angry about my illness, I actually resented you for asking for your money back. I was thinking
like a crazy man, and the way I saw it was that you and your family had the rest of your lives ahead of you, but I might get
cancer again and die in a second.”

Derrek was speechless.

“But I hope you believe me when I say I wasn’t myself. I was acting on a level of insanity, but if I had it to do over again…”

“And how long have you been sick this time?”

“A couple of months…but when my doctor discovered it, I was already at stage four.”

Derrek swallowed hard, tears rolling down his cheeks. “Man, why didn’t you leave a message all those other times you called?”

“I didn’t think you would call me back, so I just kept hoping that eventually you would pick up and I could talk to you directly.
But today I realized it was probably best that I leave a message because now I know for sure I’m not going to get better.”

“Dixon, I’m so sorry to hear this.”

“It’s life, D.”

“I know but this is a very hard pill to swallow.”

“You can say that again, but there is something I need to know.”

“What is it?”

“Can you somehow find it in your heart to forgive me?”

Tears flowed heavily from Derrek’s eyes. “I forgive you completely.”

“Thank you. I really needed to hear that, and if I can ask you just one final favor, will you come see me?”

“Of course. What hospital are you in?”

“The one we were born in.” He slightly chuckled. “Can you believe that?”

“Wow.”

“Can you come this evening?”

“I’ll be there as soon as Denise and Mac get home.”

“I can’t wait to see all of you. I’d better go now, though.”

“I love you, Dixon.”

“I love you, D. I always will no matter what.”

Derrek set the phone down, sobbing like never before. “Dear…God…What have I done? Please…please…please…I’m begging you…Please
don’t take my brother. Not now.”

Derrek cried for a few minutes, wiped his face with his hands, and then went into the bathroom. He turned on the faucet, ran
a small towel under it, and washed his face with cold water. Then he stood, gazing into the mirror at bloodshot eyes, and
tears welled up in them again. He’d done a terrible thing. Three years ago, he’d written off his brother because of money,
and now he didn’t know whether Dixon had three months to live. What if they never got a chance to spend any real time together?
Derrek was devastated, and just as he wiped his face again, Denise walked into the bathroom. He wanted to tell her what was going
on, but instead, he grabbed her in his arms, squeezing her as tightly as he could, and prayed for God to heal his brother.

E
ven though Derrek worked at a hospital, it was tough having to walk inside this one because being there had nothing to do
with business. He was there to see his terminally ill brother, and he could hardly fathom the whole idea of it. An hour had
passed since Derrek had spoken to Dixon, but he was still very heartbroken, confused, and numb. He was filled with loads of
regret, and no matter how much he tried he couldn’t shake any of it.

Derrek, Denise, and Mackenzie pushed through the revolving door and over to the information desk.

A silver-haired, distinguished-looking gentleman smiled at them. “How may I help you?”

“We’re here to see my brother, Dixon Shaw, but we don’t know the room number.”

“No problem.” The man typed a few keystrokes on his keyboard, looked at the computer screen, and wrote Dixon’s room number
on a small sheet of paper. “He’s on the eighth floor.”

Derrek took the information. “Thank you.”

As they proceeded down the main corridor, no one spoke, and soon they turned left and waited for the elevator. When it arrived,
they stepped inside, and Derrek pressed the eighth-floor button. Thankfully, there were no stops in between, and now they
walked down the long hallway to Dixon’s room. Derrek was a nervous wreck, but suddenly, all he could think about was Dixon
recovering. Maybe he could beat the cancer after all. He’d heard Dixon very clearly when he’d said his cancer was in its final
stage, but he also knew that God could perform an amazing miracle. He knew anything was possible, and he’d certainly met a
number of patients where he worked who’d beaten stage-four illnesses a while ago, and they were still in remission today.
He did know that the overall survival rate for pancreatic cancer was pretty dismal, but he still hoped, wished, and prayed
that his brother’s outcome would be different.

They strolled past the oncology nurses’ station, perusing various room numbers. However, when they stopped in front of Dixon’s
room, Derrek saw an attractive, thirty-something woman with short hair standing outside of it. Dixon’s best friend, Sam, was
there, too, but since the door was closed, Derrek wondered what was going on.

Sam, who after all these years still looked the same, stocky and bald, immediately shook Derrek’s hand and hugged him. “It’s
been a long time, D, and I’m glad you came.” Then he spoke to Denise and Mackenzie. “I also want you guys to meet Dixon’s
fiancée, Nina.”

Denise smiled. “Hi Nina, it’s good to meet you.”

Derrek and Mackenzie said hello, too, and then Derrek asked, “So what’s going on? Why is the door closed?”

Sam seemed as though he hated to answer. “About twenty minutes ago, Dixon complained of some numbness and now they believe
he’s had a stroke. It all happened so fast.”

“I was just on the phone with him.”

Nina folded her arms. “We know. We were in the room with him. As a matter of fact, I was in the room with him every time he
called you. He’s called you almost every day since the doctor admitted him.”

Derrek could tell Nina wasn’t too happy with him, and now he felt worse. He also still worried about what was going on in
Dixon’s room because while he could hear voices, he couldn’t make out any of what they were saying. He wished someone would
come and tell them something. Anything.

After about another five minutes of all of them standing around in total silence, the door opened, and the attending physician
walked out, looking at Sam and Nina. “Let’s walk down to one of the conference rooms, so I can give you an update.”

“This is Dixon’s twin brother, sister-in-law, and niece,” Sam told him.

“I’m Dr. Freemont,” he said, shaking their hands. “Very nice to meet all of you.”

They followed the doctor and after entering the room, they sat around the table.

Dr. Freemont closed the door and sighed. “I wish I had better news, but Dixon has definitely had a stroke. He’s completely
paralyzed on his left side, and he can no longer speak. He mumbled a couple of times, but that’s about as much as he can do.”

Tears seeped from Nina’s eyes, and Denise and Mackenzie wiped their faces, too.

“I’m truly very sorry,” Dr. Freemont continued. “But based on the noticeable decrease in his heart rate and blood pressure,
he may have twenty-four hours at the most.”

Derrek’s hands shook worse than they had when he’d been listening to Dixon’s voice message. “Isn’t there anything that can
be done?”

“No, unfortunately not. We finished the last possible round of chemo last month, and in terms of life support, Dixon signed
a do-not-resuscitate order when he was admitted.”

Derrek broke into a cold sweat and struggled to breathe. Denise wrapped her arm around him.

Dr. Freemont patted Derrek on the shoulder. “I’m really sorry about your brother.” Then he turned to Nina and Sam. “I’m sorry
to have to share this kind of news with all of you.”

Sam blinked back tears. “We appreciate everything you’ve tried to do.”

“I wish we could have done more. Our job now, though, is to make Dixon as comfortable as possible and once the nurses get
him a little more situated, you can go in to see him.”

They all thanked Dr. Freemont, and he left the room.

Nina slid her chair back, stood up and tossed Derrek a dirty look. “This is all your fault.”

Derrek quickly noticed all the shocked faces but said, “Excuse me?”

Sam got to his feet. “Nina, please. This isn’t the time for this.”

“No, I think it’s the perfect time because if Dixon hadn’t been so hurt and worried about trying to make amends with his brother,
he wouldn’t have deteriorated so quickly.” She stared at Sam and then snarled her nose at Derrek. “He talked about you all
the time over these last three years and that irritated me enough, but then when he came to the hospital last week, all he
thought about was trying to contact you.”

“I know, and I can’t apologize enough. I’m very sorry.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, too. Sorry you ever showed up here,” she said, leaving the room.

Sam seemed embarrassed. “D, she’s only lashing out at you because of how hurt she is.”

“I understand,” Derrek said, but deep down a mountain of guilt gnawed at his heart and consumed his soul. This just couldn’t
be happening, he thought, resting his elbows onto the table and laying his face inside the palm of his hands.

Sam touched his shoulder. “Everything is going to be okay. I should go check on Nina, though.”

When Sam left, Derrek turned toward Denise. “Can you believe this? Can you believe I let this thing happen? I mean, my brother
is dying, baby.”

Denise pulled him closer. “Honey, I’m sorry.”

Mackenzie leaned her head against his shoulder. “I’m sorry, too, Daddy. I’m sorry for all of us.”

  

A half hour passed, and Derrek, Denise, and Mackenzie finally walked in to see Dixon. Nina looked over at the three of them,
kissed Dixon on the cheek and brushed by them on her way out. Sam patted Dixon’s leg and left the room as well, and Derrek
walked up to the bed. Dixon had lost a lot of weight, his skin was pale, and his hair was gone, but Derrek still recognized
his brother. He still saw his own features, and it was amazing how none of that had changed.

Denise went to the other side of the bed and kissed Dixon on the forehead. “How are you, brother-in-law? It’s so good to see
you, and we all love you so very much.”

“We really, really do, Uncle Dixon.” Mackenzie reached for his right hand, and Dixon squeezed it. He also grunted several
words, but since he couldn’t open his mouth, they couldn’t understand him. This whole scene was killing Derrek. His spirit
broke completely.

Denise smiled at her brother-in-law and kissed him again. “Dixon, Mac and I are going to be right outside, okay?”

Dixon tried to speak again, and now Derrek knew that not only could he hear them, he understood what they were saying.

“We’ll be in the waiting area,” Denise told her husband and embraced her daughter as they went into the hallway.

Derrek grabbed his brother’s hand. “Dixon, if you can hear me squeeze my hand.”

Dixon squeezed it.

“Gosh, I have so much I wanna say, but mostly I want you to know how sorry I am for letting money come between us. I wasn’t
happy about what you did, but now if it would mean making you well, I would give you every dime I have. I would do anything,
Dixon, you hear me?”

Dixon squeezed his hand.

“I also need to know that you forgive me. If you do, Dixon, please squeeze my hand again.”

Dixon clutched his hand but longer this time.

“We’ve been through so much together. Good times and bad, but I’m glad you’re my brother. We had a hard life early on, but
Grandma and Grandpa turned everything around for us. We went from starving to eating three home-cooked meals a day. We went
from not having our own school supplies to having enough to share with others. Remember?”

Dixon squeezed his hand, and tears rolled down Derrek’s face.

“Oh God, please save my brother, please give us just a little more time together. I’m begging You.”

Derrek held his eyes closed tight but when he opened them, he saw a single tear flowing down each side of Dixon’s face.

“I love you, man. I always have, I always will, and that will never change.”

Dixon mumbled a few words in the back of his throat, squeezed Derrek’s hand and tears flowed onto his pillow.

Derrek squeezed Dixon’s hand, too, praying this was nothing more than a cruel nightmare.

BOOK: The Perfect Marriage
9.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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