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Authors: Kimberla Lawson Roby

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BOOK: The Perfect Marriage
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T
he longest hour in history had passed and since there had been no noticeable change, Derrek sat sobbing like a five-year-old.
Denise had never seen him so upset, and she could barely stand it. So much so that she did all she could not to burst into
tears herself. When Derrek’s grandfather and grandmother had passed a couple of years apart, Denise had witnessed Derrek crying
then, too, but this was different. The news about his brother was tearing him in two, and she’d never seen him suffer so intensely—not
even when he’d broken down and given graphic details about his parents and their drug using. He’d shed tears, but again, it
hadn’t been anything compared to what she was witnessing now.

It was too much for her because when Derrek hurt, she hurt. It was also difficult knowing what she knew because of her nursing
background. She’d seen lots of cancer and stroke patients, both when she’d worked at the hospital and now at the nursing home,
and unless God decided differently, she knew her brother-in-law was in fact going to die. She also knew it would happen in
twenty-four hours or less just the way Dr. Freemont had mentioned, but she didn’t dare admit that to Derrek. She could tell
that, on the one hand, he knew what the truth was, but on the other, he wanted to believe there was a chance of survival.
He was hoping he and Dixon would have another opportunity at brotherhood. Denise hoped that, too, because the last thing she
wanted was to lose her brother-in-law, but it was her medical experience that forced her to accept reality. Sometimes she
hated that, but it was just the way things were.

Denise sat for as long as she could, but when her nerves couldn’t take all the tears and sad faces anymore, she got up and
strode down to the restroom. Once inside, she hurried into the middle stall, quickly pulled out a bottle of water she’d taken
from the refrigerator just before leaving home and then popped a couple of Vicodin. She washed them down with three large
swigs, placed the bottle back in her purse and leaned her head against the wall. Her stomach was empty, so she knew she’d
be feeling a lot better about things very soon and would be much better equipped to be there for her husband the way he needed
her to.

She leaned her entire body against the wall with her eyes closed. She didn’t want to leave the stall just yet, but she also
didn’t want to appear to be gone too long. So, she opened the door. When, she did, however, Nina entered the restroom. She
and Denise locked eyes but didn’t say anything. Denise wasn’t sure what to do next but then realized it was best that she
at least wash her hands, making it seem that she really was in there for the right reason. Nina went into a different stall,
but when she came out Denise started to leave, until Nina stopped her.

“I want to apologize for the way I spoke to your husband. I didn’t mean any of what I said, but it just seems that ever since
Dixon was diagnosed I’ve been looking for someone to blame. I know it’s not right, but when I saw Derrek, I lost it.”

“We all grieve differently, and I understand.”

Nina leaned her body against the vanity top. “I think I took my anger out on your husband because Dixon would always say that
as soon as he made things right with him, we could get married. It never made any sense to me, but that’s how he felt.”

“Gosh, I had no idea. I’m sorry to hear that.”

“He wanted to repay him, and he wanted him to be at our ceremony…but now it’s too late for any of that.”

Denise hugged her.

“This has been the toughest three months of my life,” Nina said, “and none of it seems real.”

“How did Dixon know something was wrong? What made him go to the doctor?”

“At first he started losing weight, and then he seemed so tired all the time. But when he started having major digestive problems,
that’s when he made an appointment.”

“That’s the thing about pancreatic cancer,” Denise said, “it can progress and spread well before a person has any symptoms.”

“When we found out it was stage four, I thought I would die. I just didn’t want to believe it. I still don’t.”

“It’s hard for me, too. So very sad and very shocking.”

“The other thing is that by the time he was diagnosed, the cancer had already spread to his stomach and bones.”

Denise shook her head, totally at a loss for words.

Nina washed her hands. “I’m really glad Derrek finally called Dixon back because it really made his day. When they hung up,
the first thing he said was, ‘My brother forgives me, and he’s coming to see me.’”

“I’m glad, too.”

“If you wanna know the truth, I believe that’s why he held on for as long as he did this week.”

Denise and Nina finally left the restroom. They chatted all the way back to the waiting area where Derrek, Mackenzie, and
Sam sat quietly.

Nina took a seat next to Derrek. “I’m sorry for everything I said. This has been a very difficult time for me, but I had no
right speaking to you the way I did.”

“No, I’m the one who’s sorry, so please don’t worry about it.”

Denise sat on the other side of Derrek and rested her hand on his thigh. “So, are the nurses still in with Dixon?”

“Yes, but we should be able to go back in very soon.”

Denise turned to her daughter. “Mac, honey, how are you holding up?”

“I’m fine, Mom. Just a little hungry.”

“I’m sure the cafeteria is closed, but we can always drive over to one of the fast-food restaurants across the street. I also
need to call Mom and Dad to let them know what’s going on.”

Both of them stood, and Denise continued, “Can we bring anything back for you guys?”

“No,” they all replied.

“Okay, well, we won’t be long.”

Denise and Mackenzie walked around the corner to the elevator, but when the doors opened, Denise couldn’t believe her eyes.
She had only seen her father-in-law three times since marrying Derrek, but she knew it was him. His salt-and-pepper hair looked
as though it hadn’t been combed in a few days, his jean outfit didn’t seem to have been washed recently, and one of his tennis
shoes had a hole in it. Denise was sure this was the reason he looked at them and then quickly looked away as if he were ashamed.
Still, he recognized Denise and spoke to her.

“It’s good to see you, daughter-in-law.”

“It’s good to see you, too, Dad.” She called him that because this was what he’d asked her to do the first time she’d met
him. Derrek, of course, hadn’t liked it.

Mr. Shaw glanced over at Mackenzie again. “Is this my beautiful granddaughter?”

“Yes,” Denise said, smiling.

“Hi, Grandpa.”

Denise was very proud of her daughter for treating her grandfather with the utmost respect, even though she barely knew him.
She did worry, however, how Derrek might react because there was just no telling.

“Everyone is in the waiting area,” she told him, “so we’ll walk back around there with you.”

Denise and Mackenzie followed him, and as soon as Sam saw Mr. Shaw he walked over to him. It was clear they’d seen each other
recently.

“How’s it going, Mr. Shaw?”

“As well as can be expected I guess. How’s Dixon?”

“Not too good.”

Mr. Shaw’s face turned grim. Still he walked over to Nina. “You hangin’ in there?”

“I’m trying to, Dad.”

Denise was a little shocked to hear Nina calling him Dad, too, and this could only mean one thing: Dixon had made contact
with his father at some point after he and Derrek had stopped speaking. For years, neither of them would have anything to
do with their parents because whenever they saw them, they usually asked for drug money, but apparently Dixon had undergone
a change of heart.

There was silence but then Mr. Shaw faced Derrek, who was still sitting down. “Hi, son.”

Derrek stared at him blankly but then looked away. Mr. Shaw must have known it wasn’t a good idea to press the issue because
he then said to Sam, “Are they allowing Dixon to have visitors?”

“Yes, but the nurses were in there. We can go check to see if it’s okay to go in, though.”

As Sam and Mr. Shaw went on their way, Denise looked at her husband who pretended his long-lost father didn’t exist. Derrek
watched the HD TV mounted on the wall, acting as if nothing had happened.

“Honey, why don’t you ride with Mac and me to get something to eat? I think it would be good to get some fresh air.”

“No, I wanna go back in to see Dixon as soon as I can.”

Denise agreed with him wholeheartedly and didn’t think it was a good idea for him to leave the hospital, either, but she also
feared what he might say to his father if he approached Derrek again. Mackenzie must have sensed her concern. “Mom, we don’t
have to go if you don’t want to. I can get some chips and a soda.”

“Sweetie, are you sure?”

“Yes,” she whispered. “I don’t think we should leave Daddy right now.”

Denise hugged her daughter, and Mackenzie strolled around to the elevator. Then Denise sat next to Derrek, praying he wouldn’t
make a scene before the night was over. She hoped with all her might that her father-in-law would leave the hospital as soon
as he visited Dixon.

W
ith weary eyes, Derrek relaxed farther into his chair, resting his head against the wall. What a day. What a truly depressing
and dreadful experience, not to mention he had more regrets than most people could combine in a lifetime. He’d been thinking
about a number of things he could have handled differently, but the one that stuck in his mind the most was the fact that
he’d literally ended his relationship with his brother over money—a worldly possession that should never supersede family.
Yes, Dixon had been wrong for taking advantage of him the way he had for so many years, and Derrek doubted anyone would be
okay with loaning five thousand dollars to a family member and then have them make no attempt to pay it back, but Derrek still
wished he’d forgiven him before today. He wished he’d tried to work things out with Dixon from the very beginning. Although,
that was the thing about hoping, wishing, and praying after the fact—it was usually too late in most cases, and Dixon’s terminal
diagnosis had proven that.

But Derrek knew he could go on and on with his coulda-shoulda-woulda philosophy, yet it would never change anything. It would
never alter reality or the future, and now he had to figure out a way to live with it.

Then, adding insult to injury, his no-good father had shown up. Derrek couldn’t remember the last time he’d seen him, but
what he did know was that it hadn’t been long enough. He despised everything about the man, and he also wondered how he’d
known Dixon was ill, let alone in the hospital. Maybe Dixon had found a way to get in touch with him once he’d learned about
his cancer, but either way, Derrek wanted nothing to do with him. Not today, not tomorrow, not twenty years from now, and
his feeling was the same regarding his mother. He’d heard a year ago that she was living in some awful housing complex and
that she slept with multiple men per week for drugs, and he would never subject his daughter to that kind of grandmother.
Denise didn’t agree with him and thought he should at least try to get his parents into rehab, but Derrek didn’t see why he
should have to be responsible for parents who hadn’t cared about him. It didn’t make any sense, and he refused to consider
it.

Derrek looked at Denise and grabbed her hand.

She smiled at him. “Do you wanna go see Dixon again?”

“Not while my father is in there.” He spoke matter-of-factly and for whatever reason, the thought of his father standing over
Dixon playing the loving, doting father to his dying son pissed Derrek off. It also took everything in him not to storm down
the hallway and ask him the question of the hour: why? Derrek knew he and Dixon had come a long way since the age of eight
and that God had blessed them to do okay in life, but the little boy in Derrek still wanted answers. The grown man he was
today wanted to know how any father could leave and forsake his own twin boys like it was nothing—like he hadn’t had any obligations
to either of them. Didn’t he know that every child needed and wanted to feel loved? Hadn’t anyone told him that every son
desperately needed his father?

The whole idea of what his father and mother had done made Derrek ill, and it was going to take every ounce of restraint he
could muster not to attack his father when he returned to that waiting area. It would take all the Christian values his grandparents
had instilled in him not to go completely off on his father like a common enemy. He also knew this wasn’t the place or time
for family drama. He certainly didn’t want to say or do anything that would disappoint or hurt Denise or Mackenzie.

When another twenty minutes passed, Sam and Mr. Shaw walked back into the waiting area.

Nina stood right away. “Are there any changes?”

Sam paused but then said, “His blood pressure has dropped a tad lower.”

Nina looked at Derrek. “You wanna go in next?”

“No, you go ahead.” Truthfully, Derrek did want to go see his brother now, but he also felt it was only right that Nina have
as much time with Dixon as possible. After all, she’d been the one who had been there for him well before his diagnosis, and
he could tell how hurt she was. It was clear how much she loved Dixon.

When Nina left, Mr. Shaw stood with his hands in his pockets, seemingly feeling out of place, but then said, “Son, can I talk
to you for a minute?”

Derrek scowled at him and said nothing. He was so enraged, he was shocked no one saw smoke oozing from the top of his head.

“Son, I know I don’t deserve any of your time, but I’d really like to talk to you.”

Derrek tried but couldn’t hold his tongue any longer. “Fine. Let’s step outside.”

“Honey, maybe you should go and spend a little more time with your brother first,” Denise quickly added. “Then we can all
walk out together.”

“No, I’m gonna deal with this now.”

Derrek headed around the corner and over to the elevator, never looking back at Denise. His father followed, but they didn’t
say a word while they waited, nor when they stepped inside the elevator, and not when they arrived on the main floor, either.

It was after they walked through the lobby and went outside to the parking lot that things got ugly.

“So what is it that you wanna talk about?” Derrek spat.

“Son, I just wanna apologize for everything. Your mother and I never did right by you boys, and I’m very sorry. Sorrier than
you’ll ever believe.”

“That’s the most pathetic thing I’ve ever heard. You know why? Because there’s not a thing you could say that will make up
for the way you treated us.”

“Son, what about forgiveness? What about the fact that everyone makes mistakes, even you.”

“Excuse me?”

“I’m just saying, nobody’s perfect.”

“You’re a real piece of work, you know that? You bring your useless behind over to this hospital, acting like Father of the
Year, and now you think you have the right to make comparisons? You’re nothing like me! You’re a no-good, deadbeat, drug addict
who only cares about his next fix. And anyway…why are you even here?”

“Because Dixon asked me. He hired an investigator to find me when he found out he was sick.”

Derrek laughed like a crazy man. “And I’m sure you couldn’t wait to come a runnin’, could you? I’ll bet you were foaming at
the mouth thinking how Dixon might just be leaving you a little money.”

Mr. Shaw slowly shook his head. “Dear God, no. I’m here because I love my son. I love both of you boys.”

“You must think I’m crazy.”

“No, I don’t think anything like that. I know you don’t want to hear it, but no matter what happened…no matter how long I’ve
been away, I never stopped loving either one of you.”

“You’re such a liar, and not even a good one.”

“Son, what I did is in the past. I’ll never be able to change that, but I’m trying my best to explain things now. Those drugs
messed up everything, and I just couldn’t see how to pull my way out.”

Derrek rolled his eyes. “That’s a bunch of crap, too, but let me ask you this. Even if
you
couldn’t help getting caught up with drugs, why on earth did you have to drag our mother into it? Why couldn’t you just leave
her out of it?”

“Son, there’s so much you don’t know.”

“I know enough.”

“You really don’t, so let’s just leave it at that.”

“We had a wonderful mother and had you not gotten her strung out, her life would have turned out so differently. You ruined
her,” he yelled. “You ruined all of us.”

A few people had already strolled by them, but the man and woman passing now, peered at them strangely. Derrek was sorry to
be acting this way in public, but he needed to speak his mind.

“Like I said, there’s a lot you don’t know.”

Derrek threw his hands in the air. “Why do you keep saying that? Why are you trying to act as though you’re not to blame for
everything? Why won’t you just tell the truth?”

Mr. Shaw raised his voice, too, for the first time. “You want the truth? Well, here it is: your wonderful mother is the one
who strung
me
out!”

“What? So now you’re going to lie on our mother just to make yourself look good? You’re sick.”

“Think whatever you want, but as God is my witness, I never touched one drug until your mother introduced me to them.”

“Like I said…you’re a liar and not even a good one. Now why don’t you get the hell out of here?”

“Being angry with me, son, won’t change the truth. And I just hope you can eventually forgive me.”

“You know what? I came out here like you wanted, but now I’m finished with you for good. You hear me? I’m done, and as far
as I’m concerned you’re dead. You no longer exist.”

“Son, please—” He started to say but Derrek’s phone rang. It was Denise calling.

“Honey, Dixon’s blood pressure has dropped pretty low, so it won’t be long now.”

Derrek held the phone, speechless. Then his heart dropped.

BOOK: The Perfect Marriage
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