“You’ll make yourself sick like that,” Marka chided.
“I’ve eaten under worse conditions. Don’t worry about my digestion.” He pounded his chest a moment, burping loudly. “Sorry.”
“You shouldn’t eat that fast.”
“I know. Don’t usually.” He turned into the hospital parking lot, slurping down the last of his drink. He popped a piece of gum into his mouth and parked.
The ICU was a new addition since the last time Frank had been to the hospital. He asked for directions at the front desk and an volunteer showed them the right route on a map. Frank nodded his thanks, leaving the map.
“Don’t you need it?”
“Got it,” he replied, tapping his temple. “Perfect visual memory and I’m very good with maps.” He led Marka with unerring accuracy through the rabbit warren of the hospital. They arrived at the ICU, by a back way, in record time.
“I can’t allow Dr. Ventimiglia back there,” the nurse said. “Family only. I really shouldn’t let you.”
“I’m medical designee, but I’m also his great-nephew. You can call and confirm with his mother. She’s in the nursing home at Sheltering Oaks.”
“I’m going to trust you, Mr. Atherton,” she cautioned. “You have five minutes.”
“Thanks.” He squeezed Marka’s hand and went down the hall to Ralph’s room.
Ralph Penwarren looked like the Goodyear Blimp with a slow leak. His pudgy body seemed flat and deflated. In braces, pins and casts, he was hardly recognizable as a human being.
Frank approached the bed quietly, hands in pockets. “Ralph? You awake?”
“Frankie?” Penwarren’s voice was harsh and raspy. “Water,” he begged.
The obligatory pitcher of ice water sat next to the bed. Frank poured him a glassful and held the straw to dry lips. Ralph drank gratefully, thanking him with his eyes.
“It’s really you, Frankie?”
“Yeah. What happened, Ralph?”
“I don’t know why I’m here, Frank. Where am I?”
“You’re in the hospital, Ralph. You had a bad fall.”
“You were there. . . .”
“I found you and called the ambulance.”
“You stayed with me. . . .”
“That’s what family does, Ralph.”
“Why does Dad love you more? You’re not even really his. . . . Why does he love you more?”
“Ralphie, tell me what happened that night. The night you fell.”
“Don’t know. . . .” He sighed heavily. “Got past that stupid guard. Had to meet him. . . . But he was mad. And I fell.”
“Who? Who was mad? How did you fall? Did he push you?”
“Mabel hates me,” Ralph said. “She loves you too cause of her precious Tommy. Not even Dad’s son and he loves you more. . . .”
The nurse came in a minute later. “Mr. Atherton, it’s time to go.”
“Yeah, okay. If he needs anything, call me, please?” He made sure she had his numbers.
“Tell Mabel I’m sorry. . . .”
“What for, Ralph?”
“Mr. Atherton. . . .”
Ralph’s even breathing told Frank he’d gone back to sleep. The conversation was incoherent in places, but Ralph had let something important slip. He was there at the top of that stairway to meet someone. All Frank knew was that he was meeting a man. It wasn’t much, but it was something. He joined Marka and they went back to her car.
“Did he tell you anything?”
“Not much. He was there to meet someone, that’s all I got out of it. He thought I was Frankie.”
“Not surprising. If you look as much like him as Mabel says, it would be terribly confusing. Especially with the same name. I’m a little confused myself.”
Before opening her door, he pulled her to him, pressing his hips against hers.
“Well, let me remind you of something. There’s only one guy here who’s crazy for you and that’s me. So let there be no confusion on that point.” He rubbed against her so she could feel his desire.
“No confusion on that point, Frank,” she said breathlessly.
“Good. I want it clear in your mind who’s in bed with you, giving you multiple orgasms on demand.”
“Try and stop me.” He kissed her almost fiercely.
“I wouldn’t dare,” she replied quite a long time later.
© Dellani Oakes