Time was of the essence, Robin kneeled and turned Jon over. His face was blue, and he was not breathing. Robin tried to feel a pulse on his wrist, then his neck. He shook his shoulders frantically.
“Granddaddy!? Granddaddy!?” he called out.
HE CAN’T FUCKING HEAR, YOU IDIOT! A voice screamed in his head.
He jumped up and ran to the secretary desk, then picked up the phone dialing 9-1-1. Seconds ticked away in slow motion like hours as he waited while the receiver rang.
“911 What’s your emergency?” an operator asked.
“My grandfather’s collapsed on the floor, send an ambulance! 111 Wadsworth Avenue, the high-rise bridge apartments between 179th and 178th on Wadsworth! Apartment 16D, D as in David! Hurry goddamnit!”
“Paramedics are on the way sir, please remain calm, describe your grandfather, how old is he, how much does he weigh, does he have a history of heart problems?”
“77-year-old black male, 5’11, 205 pounds, he once had a congestive heart failure scare back in 1987…” his eyes watered, listening to the panic in his voice.
“Okay, stay on the line with me, don’t try to move him,”
Robin cupped the receiver to prevent the operator from hearing him as he moved to the apartment intercom, he pressed the TALK button.
“Hey security! Paramedics are coming! Hold an elevator in the lobby for them!”
He released the button and pressed on the LISTEN button for a reply from the guard stationed downstairs. “Okay, they’re already here, they’re coming up!” came from the speaker.
Robin turned the knob on the metal door, pulled it open, and then turned the lock tumbler to stick out and hold the door ajar. He then rushed back to Jon just as two EMT’s entered the apartment.
“Help him, please!” Robin cried.
“Step back, son!” one of them ordered.
Robin gave way as the technicians examined the elder.
“Got a pulse, pass me the O2 and get the stretcher!”
Please God, don’t take him now, please. Robin pleased to himself.
Please not now…
An hour later Robin was in the waiting area of the Intensive Care Unit at Columbia Presbyterian. Every moment when someone wearing a white jacket or scrubs walked by, he would tense up expecting the worst.
“Don’t die, please don’t die...not now, please…” he whispered.
A short middle-aged white man with thinning black hair walked down from the hallway and called out, “Mister Walker?”
Robin stood up, “Yes?”
The physician approached him, “I’m Doctor Hale Kelsolan, your grandfather is in stable condition…”
“Oh thank you, Jesus!” Robin interrupted.
“...but he’s not out of the woods, yet, young man.” Kelsolan finished.
“I’m sorry, when can I see him?”
“Soon, he’s been placed in a room for observation, but his condition…”
“Go on, I need to hear it, Doctor.” Robin said, taking a deep breath.
“He’s suffering from Pulmonary Edema, fluid is building in his lungs. The oxygen in his blood is at an extremely low rate, we took out 10 ounces of liquid, that’s a little over than a soda can. I have no other way to tell you this, but...he doesn’t have that much time left.”
Robin let what was just said sink in, “H...how much time are we talking here?”
“Depending on his strength, no more than 4 to 6 weeks at the most.”
“Is there anything that you can do?”
He shook his head, “At his age, in his condition, not even a transplant would help. I’m afraid the only thing to do is make good with the time he has left.”
Robin turned away and closed his eyes, the doctor walked back up the hallway. Another hour went by and around midnight Jon was admitted to a room on the third floor. Robin tried to see him, but he was sleeping with no sign of waking up soon, so he went back home.
Walking back in the apartment, Robin was beginning to grasp with the possibility of living alone, his stomach was doing flip-flops. He thanked his lucky stars he didn’t eat any concessions at the Knicks game. It was time to call someone he was in no mood to speak to.
“Um, hey, it’s...it’s me, mom. I don’t know if you even listen to these messages, it’s been months since I’ve heard from you or Raven. It’s probably due to her busy schedule, but um, the reason why I’m calling is…”
Robin cupped the receiver and took a breath and sighed.
“...th...there was an incident with granddaddy. He’s fine, for now, but he’s been admitted to the hospital and will be there for a few days. The...the doctors are saying, that...that he doesn’t have much time left. We’ve had some scares before, I know, but I...I..I think this could be it, mom. So please, give me a call when you get this, I think you might need to fly home from wherever you are at this moment, okay? So, bye.”
He hung up the phone. Using a calling card for long-distance rates just to leave a message was so annoying to him. His mother used an automated answering service, and rarely returned his calls. The last time he physically spoke to her was a five-minute conversation around Thanksgiving.
Robin looked at the clock, it was two fifteen in the morning, he had no idea how he was going to function while going to class and work on four hours of sleep. After a night like tonight, sleep wasn’t even an option.
Lakeshia was still walking on air despite laying in her bed with her eyes closed. She kept reliving the moment in her head, the warm embrace they shared. How strong his arms were. The souvenir tee-shirt was draped down her bare chest. Her mind began to slip away into a dreamlike state, fantasizing about Robin lying next to her.
His fingers traced up and down her entire body, giving her the chills, it felt so real to her. She started to moan, becoming aroused. The cloth of the shirt brushed against her nipples as they suddenly perked to life. Her thighs began to rub together and after a moment she began to spasm and jerk violently. She opened her eyes as her body went limp. She had no idea what just happened, but something felt...wrong.
Lakeshia sat up and gasped as she looked down and noticed her sheets were damp. She turned on the lights and leaped out of her bed, still grasping the shirt. After examining the bed, she took off the sheets and went out of her room to the linen closet.
At eight o’clock in the morning, the door to Augustus’ office opened. The visitor crept inside and went to the supply closet. Gloved hands carefully opened the closet and slowly removed the box with the fake memo supplies. Without making another sound, the visitor left the branch and locked the door.
Sonyai was working the returns side of the circulation desk when Robin walked in. He appeared to be distraught about something. She followed him inside the clerical office.
“Walker, what’s wrong?” she asked.
He debated about disclosing his personal crisis, “Um, it’s nothing, just didn’t get that much sleep last night.”
She turned and closed the door behind her, then looked back at him. “Look,” she began, “We haven’t known each other long enough to share anything personal, but something is obviously troubling you.”
He looked at his supervisor for a moment, then rolled his eyes and sighed, “My grandfather went to the hospital last night, he’s sick.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. You have my condolences.”
Yeah, right. he thought, “Um, thanks.” he said instead, “I was wondering if I could work a straight shift with no break...so I can leave early and check on him?”
She raised an eyebrow, “To work without a break, even for part-time clerks would be against the law…”
Robin just stared back at her, she could see how exhausted he was.
“However, I’m willing to, ahem, make an exception this 1 time.”
He nodded, “Thank you, Miss...Thank you, Sonyai.”
She reached up and extended her hand to his shoulder, “My, I never noticed how tall you are.”
That brought a smile to his face, “I’m not tall, you’re just short.” he joked.
She scoffed as they both returned to the circulation desk.
Tanya was working the shelves at four o’clock when Lakeshia shuffled quickly towards her, “Um, can I talk to you for a sec?” she asked with a shaky voice.
Lakeshia pulled her arm as they went upstairs to the auditorium. When they arrived, she turned and looked at Tanya frantically…
“Something happened last night!”
“Geez, what? Another wet dream? What is with you?”
“I...I...was sleeping last night, th...thinking about Robin and he gave me this Knicks shirt as a souvenir and...and...and I was holding it while I was asleep, and it reminded me of him...and…”
“Knicks shirt? Souvenir?! When was this? Never mind, what happened next?”
“I felt something...something...funny.”
Tanya narrowed her eyes, “Between your…” she whispered.
“And your bed got…”
She nodded faster.
They said in unison, “IT.”
Tanya sighed, “What did you do?”
“I changed the sheets in the middle of the night and slept on the floor,” she started to cry and grabbed Tanya, “Oh my God, I was so scared! I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what was happening, I thought I was…”
Lakeshia wiped her nose and mumbled, “Mmmhmm…”
Tanya sighed, “It’s okay, Leelee, it’s a perfectly normal reaction for your body….we’ll get to that chapter in the book. But you gotta tell me how you got that Knicks shirt.”
“Well…” Lakeshia remembered promising Robin to keep their “date-that-was-not-a-date” a secret. “You can’t tell anyone, not even Miss Yi...but I went to a Knicks game with Robin...and his friends. He had an extra ticket and we went just as friends.”
Tanya arched an eyebrow, “Uh-huh.”
Lakeshia looked down sheepishly, “Thank you for...helping me with this, Tee.”
“Don’t thank me yet because...speaking of the book…”
She wiped her face and looked up at her.
“Did you know it’s overdue and they sent ME a notice in the mail?” she asked.
“What? I thought I had a few more days,”
“No, and what’s worse, my moms opened it and she’s furious!”
At that same moment, miles north at the Seabrooke home, Quinton Seabrooke was playing with his remote control car, buzzing it around the living room. He then turned it towards the hallway and it bounced off the wall into Lakeshia’s room.
“Aaaack!” he cried out, if she found his car in her room again she would get mom and dad to take it away from him. He quickly ducked inside and searched for his toy. After checking the closet and the dresser, he looked under her bed and found the car. It was next to a book that he pulled out and read the cover.
His eyes went wide and screamed out, “MOOOMMMMMMM!”
It was nearly closing time and Robin was holding his own against a line of patrons checking out materials when Sonyai approached him.
“I’ve closed the cash register, go ahead, give your grandfather my best.” she ordered.
She nodded and they switched places, Robin then retrieved his book bag and rushed out the door. Across the floor, Angie Trueblood stood up from the information desk and joined the senior clerk checking out books.
“We should look for the box.” she whispered.
Sonyai nodded, “Once the pages leave.”
The room went silent as the last of the patrons departed, with Alex and Tanya leaving behind them. Sonyai turned out the lights in the clerical office, then walked over to join Angie in front of Augustus’ office. Sonyai looked at Angie as she slipped into a pair of gloves.
“Aren’t you being a bit TOO paranoid?” she asked, “We’ve touched his door several times already.”
The Information Assistant didn’t reply and slowly opened the door.
They walked in and Sonyai turned on the desk lamp so they could see. Angie walked to the supply closet, opened the door and felt around inside where she left the box previously. While she searched, Sonyai looked upon the desk and remembered the friendly discussions she had with the head librarian’s predecessor.
“Shit!” Angie hissed.
“What? What is it?” Sonyai asked, snapped back from her memory.
“What do you MEAN it’s gone?”
She stepped back, “I mean, it’s not here!”
Sonyai stepped forward and opened both doors, searching the closet, “Where did you see it?”
“It was right here on the 4th shelf next to the reserve postcards.” Angie replied pointing, “I put it back and left it right here.”
She stepped back and slammed her fist on the desk in disgust, then turned back to Angie, “Do you think someone tipped him off?”
“No, I placed it there carefully, there’s no way he would know it was disturbed.”
“He must have moved it somewhere else, look around…”
They searched the room and his desk carefully, when they didn’t find anything Angie said, “Maybe it’s upstairs? The staff room? Or even…”
“Forget it!” Sonyai interrupted, “This was just a waste of time…” she stepped from around the door and headed to the door.
Angie was a step behind when Sonyai opened the door and froze after stepping outside, she was about to say something while almost bumping into her, but then gasped as Zelda stood in the middle of the floor staring back at them. All three looked like a deer in headlights, obviously not expecting to see each other at this hour.
“I...accidentally left my purse in my desk…”
“Uhhh…” Sonyai uttered as her eyes darted in every direction.
“What were you two doing in there?” Zelda asked.
“I...I...I, um…” Angie stammered.
“Miss Trueblood was just...showing me the uh, new pencils Augustus ordered!”
Angie nodded and exclaimed, “Yes! Th...those pencils were nice, weren't they?”
“Yes, yes they were, he did an excellent job with those supply acquisitions...well, we were just closing for the evening, I’ll leave you to it, then. Have a...nice evening.” Sonyai quickly walked past Zelda to the exit as Angie looked at Zelda sheepishly.
“Um, I guess you can lock up now...after you get...um, your purse.”
“Yes, I supposed I can.” Zelda said skeptically.
Without another word, Angie also walked past the librarian and left the branch.
Robin made it back to Presbyterian by seven, he got off the elevator on the third floor and signed in. Jon was sitting up slurping on chicken broth in bed when Robin stepped through the doorway. The sight of his grandfather still alive and eating brought him to tears. Then he remembered what the doctor said and put on a brave face.
“Hey.” he signed with his right hand while wiping a tear on his glove.
Jon greeted him with a weak smile, “Too tired to sign…” he said, his voice hoarse.
He took his hand and slowly said, “It’s okay.” so he could read his lips.
“W..what did they say?” Jon asked.
Robin changed the subject, “I um, called mom….left a message,”
Jon shook his head, “She won’t come. Call your aunt instead.” then looked down defeated.
Robin didn’t even think of Aunt Regina, he nodded and made a mental note to call her when he got home. His hand felt cold and clammy. “Look, fuck what these doctors said, put it out of your head right now, we...granddaddy, hey, look at me…” he barked and clapped his hands.
He lifted his head as they faced each other.
“...We will get through this...okay?” There was a fierce look of determination in his eyes as the young man assured the elder.
Jon looked down again and simply nodded.
A nurse came in to check on Jon.
He stood up from the bed and asked her, “When can he go home?”
She looked at him, “I know he looks fine, but we just want to watch him for two or three more days at the most.”
Robin clenched his jaw, “Fine, but he is NOT dying here, okay? When that time comes, he will be home surrounded by his family and loved ones.”
He stepped out of the room for some air while the nurse resumed her examination, out of sight in the hallway, he leaned against the wall and lightly hit the back of his head against it.
“I heard what you said back there.”
Robin turned his head to see Dr. Kelsolan standing next to him.
“Sorry, don’t mean to sound ungrateful…” Robin said with a sigh.
“It’s alright, we hear it all the time. You’re at stage 1, now.”
He tilted his forward, “Um, video games have taught me that the 1st stage is usually the tutorial and the easiest stage, THIS does not feel easy!”
“I’m talking about the 5 stages...of dealing with the death of a loved one.”
He stared at him quietly, waiting for him to continue.
“Denial, we have a natural fear of dying so when we are faced with it up close we refuse to accept it or we just don’t believe it...until it’s too late.”
“I am at peace with what will happen, but I know my grandfather, and he’s a fighter, okay? There have been times when he’s knocked on death’s door, but he’s still here. When he’s strong enough, he will walk out of here. That’s a promise.”
He went back inside as Kelsolan shook his head.
“Sex!? The joy of Sex!?...What in the hell is Lakeshia doing reading books about the joy of sex!?” Rudy Seabrooke yelled.
“Calm down,” Jennifer Seabrooke pleaded, “I suspected this would happen, we should have had ‘The Talk’ with her, but you kept putting it off. And then pulling her out of that class in school,”
“So you saying this is my fault, Jen? Is that what you’re saying?”
“No, I’m not saying that it’s just, we have to deal with this now.”
The phone rang and Jennifer answered it, “Hello?”
“Yes, my name is Cynthia Brown, my daughter Tanya works with your daughter after school in the library, I found her name and number in my daughter’s address book. Am I speaking to Lakeshia’s parents?”
“Good evening, Mrs. Brown, I’m Jennifer Seabrooke, Lakeshia’s mother, you’ve called at a pretty convenient time. I believe we need to get our 2 children together...and have ourselves a conversation.”
Tanya was at the Webster Branch again Tuesday after school watching Andrew working the floor. He was checking on the pages, briefing each one. When he was done, the Senior Clerk walked straight towards where she was sitting with her face behind a newspaper.
“Tanya?” he said as he stood in front of her.
She lowered the paper and looked up at him.
“I wanted to tell you, but you didn’t give me a chance.”
“I...I trusted you, Andy...I…” she rolled her eyes and held in the tears, “I loved you...and you broke my heart.”
He looked down, “I’m sorry.”
She stood up, “Yeah, you damn sure are!” she grabbed her book bag and stormed out of the branch. It was her day off so she took the train home. When she walked in, her mother was waiting for her.
“Drop your books, we’re going downtown.” she ordered.
Janelle knocked on the door and Evelyn opened it. She walked into the apartment and took a seat on the couch.
“Avery went around the corner to the store, he’ll be right back. Would you like some water?” Evelyn offered.
“Yes, thank you.”
She came back with two glasses, “It’s hot as hell today and it ain’t even the summer yet.”
They sat quietly, sipping their drinks.
“We barely spoke last time because I was upset…”
“More like you were angry,” Janelle interjected.
Evelyn paused at the child’s interruption. She blinked hard and then put on a tight smile, “Yes, I suppose I was...as I was saying, we barely spoke, but now that this is happening I would like some details.”
Janelle smiled back, “Of course, what would like to know?”
“Why aren't you in school, now?”
“I finished early, earning my 40 credits as of February. I’m just waiting for the graduation ceremony as a formality.”
“So, you could start college now if you wanted to, possibly in May?” Evelyn asked.
“That...is possible, but I haven’t applied to any schools yet, I’m taking a year off to be there for the baby.”
The mother nodded, “I see.” she took another sip, “Um, when are you due?”
“I’m 4 months, due the 2nd week of October.” Janelle replied.
“Have you thought of any names?”
“I want to be surprised so I don’t know the sex yet, I haven’t discussed it with Avery.”
The door unlocked and opened with Avery stepping inside. The two women turned to face him, a smile grew across his face, “Janelle!” he greeted. She stood up and the youngsters embraced.
“School hasn’t been the same without you...everyone’s wondering why you left, they haven’t figured out you got all your credits, they don’t think you’re...you know, but rumors are all over the place.”
She sighed, “Great, wait till they see me in June with my stomach sticking out.”
“Well, don’t worry about them, how are you? How’s the baby?” he asked.
“She smiled, I have a treat for you.” she reached into her back pocket and pulled out the sonogram printout.
His hands began to tremble as she gave it to him, from the couch Evelyn stared with a wild wide-eyed glance.
“I...I can’t…” he squinted, “Wha…”
She moved closer to help him, “I know it’s weird, but here’s the head…” she pointed. “That’s the body, and the legs…”
“Wow, is it a boy or girl?” he asked with a grin.
“I...don’t know, I want it to be a surprise.”
He looked at the printout quietly, “Our baby…” he whispered. He looked up, “I...I wanna see...I wanna go to one of your appointments.” then turned to his mother who looked back and nodded.
“Okay.” Evelyn agreed.
“I’ll...talk to Miss Yi and give you the address.”
They hugged again and he kissed her on her forehead, “I love you.” he whispered.
“I love you, too.” she whispered back.
Evelyn cleared her throat, then took a sip of her water. The teens broke the embrace, she looked down while he scratched the back of his head.
“Um, I should go.” Janelle said.
Janelle craned her head to Evelyn, “Thank you for the water, Miss Brooks.”
“Take care, child. Take care.”
Avery walked her to the door, “I’ll be there.” he whispered to her before she left.
Lakeshia and Derrick arrived in front of their building at six thirty. After parking the car the siblings exited the vehicle and walked up the steps inside to their apartment. She jogged down the hallway on their floor and Derrick tossed her the house keys. She unlocked the door and walked in...to see her parents and her brother Quinton, who were joined by Tanya and her mother, whom she met only once.
All eyes were on her as she stood frozen in the doorway. Only Quinton was smiling, and her mother was holding up the Joy of Sex book in front of her.
“Sorry.” Tanya mouthed to her with a frightened look.
Derrick closed the door and walked past her. He then grabbed Quinton by the wrist, dragging him to their bedroom as he protested furiously.
“Wha...wh...what is going on?” she stammered.
“Have a seat,” Rudy ordered, “And we’ll all find out.”
She swallowed hard and stepped forward.
The group dispersed as Lakeshia and Tanya sat next to each other on the couch. The parents all sat on chairs from the dining room table. Jennifer placed the book down on the coffee table between them.
“Explain yourself, young lady.” Lakeshia’s mother said coldly.
She didn’t know where to begin, she dared not look to Tanya for help because her mother looked just as furious as hers.
“I...I’ve been having these...feelings…” she began. “And I didn’t know what to do, so I asked Tanya for help…”
Cynthia Brown flinched at the mention of her daughter while Rudy stole a quick glance at her.
“Why didn’t you come to us?” Jennifer asked.
Lakeshia shrugged her shoulders and looked down embarrassed.
“Tanya,” Cynthia started, “Why did you use your card to check out the book?”
“I can answer that, Miss Brown.” Jennifer explained.
“We have restrictions on her library card.” Rudy interrupted, “We tried to prevent this exact thing from happening.”
“Then what about school?” Cynthia asked, “I mean, I know she just turned 15, but I remember having sex-ed my freshman year in high school.”
Jennifer turned to Rudy, who thought for a moment and then nodded. “We...pulled Lakeshia out of her sexual education class…”
“MOM!” Lakeshia stood up and yelled.
“...for religious reasons.” she finished.
Lakeshia sat back down on the couch and covered her face with her hands. Tanya finally moved, turning to give her a questionable look.
Cynthia grimaced, “Huh?”
“My wife and I are practicing Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
Lakeshia sighed as Tanya whispered, “Whoa.”
Rudy continued, “We raise our children to respect the ideals of others, but when it comes to certain subjects, we shelter them from several aspects that public education could possibly misconstrue.”
Jennifer approached Lakeshia and kneeled to look at her face-to-face, “Honey, you know to ask us about anything...your father and I are always available to talk.”
Rudy pulled out his wallet, “How many days overdue is this...book?” he asked.
Cynthia looked at Tanya who looked up at Rudy, “If returned tomorrow the fine will be .45, Mr. Seabrooke, sir.”
He put his wallet back and took out some change. After counting two quarters, he handed them to Tanya. “Please return this book tomorrow, and we would appreciate it if you not borrow any other books on my daughter’s behalf.”
Cynthia stood up and stepped in front of Rudy, taking the coins out of his hands, “I’ll see to it that she doesn’t, sir!” She turned to her daughter and tilted her head to leave. Tanya stood up and grabbed the book, then walked to her side. The two girls exchanged looks, then Cynthia led Tanya to the door. Without a word, they let themselves out.
“Did you have to tell them, Mom?” Lakeshia whined, “She was my only…”
Rudy pointed to her, “You stay the hell away from her at that library, you hear?” he scolded. “Go to your room! Now!”
She quickly ran to the hallway and into her room.
Downstairs after exiting the building Cynthia said, “Fucking weirdos with their pamphlets, handing out shit! Tanya, you stay the fuck away from her or you will NOT be working at that library anymore!” she threw the quarters out to the street. “You pay for that fine yourself! You hear me?”
“Yes mama!” she answered.
“This all because of that damn date she had with that boy!” Rudy barked, he pointed and Jennifer “I told you she was too young, reading sex books, we have to nip this in the bud, Jen!”
“Did it ever occur to you that she reached out to this girl because she knew you’d react like this? She’s not 6-years-old anymore!”
“She’s not 16, either! The boys were right, when Derrick was her age we made sure he didn’t fall into temptation…”
“This is different, Rudy. We have to accept that she is going to discover herself. Remember the incident with her stuffing her bra with tissue paper?”
“Oh geez, Jen…” he cringed, “Must we go over that again?”
“All I’m saying is we can’t keep her locked in her room like Rapunzel in a tower, we have to talk to her about everything, from condoms to STD’s…”
“Jennifer!” he gasped.
“Rudy it’s the 90’s….things are a lot different than it was for us back in the day.”
He shook his head, “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Well, let’s hope it’s for the last time.”
“Hope? We ain’t having any more kids, woman. 3 is enough.”
She smiled and traced her finger down his nose, “I dunno sweetie, 4 has a nice round number feel to it.”
Rudy chuckled, “There you go, getting my blood pressure up!”