Author's Note: We're in the homestretch now…Thank you all for the lovely reviews and your patience – I certainly never meant to take months in between updates! Please leave a review….(hides)…
He returned home, not knowing precisely how he got there. It wasn't until he was safely behind his door for several minutes that a feeling, any feeling at all had managed to penetrate the numbness. His anger shot up, fierce and instant after being denied for so long, and he grabbed the first thing to hand and launched it as hard as he could against the far wall. The dull thud of the book connecting with the floor made him instantly penitent; it had been one of Ruth's books, not the Ovid thankfully, but an old and equally loved George Eliot volume. Finding the book unscathed, he held it close to his chest, slid to the floor, and sobbed.
Just when things were starting to go well. Not well, exactly, but better than I deserved or expected. He was enjoying being a grandfather, and Laura and Ben loved nothing more than curling up with "Papa" and reading a story or drawing pictures. His was a bittersweet joy: every day he spent with his grandchildren often underlined his guilt over his inadequacy as a parent. I'm dying slowly, but not slowly enough to see them through. His thoughts went to Graham and their awkward and tentative rapprochement. They had finally gotten to the point where they could talk without shouting at each other. I am finally getting to know my son for the first time in his adult life, and I have a bloody lung cancer. He almost laughed at the irony of it all. It would have to be the lungs, of course. The most virulent tumour was in the same area where a shard of glass had ripped through another lung and taken another life from him. The doctors were predictably optimistic, but their hope was transparently false. Even with his unpractised eye, Harry could tell from the scan that the spidery mass was already well-entrenched.
For a split second, he seriously considered not telling her. At the best of times, Catherine could overwhelm, and he desperately wanted to avoid becoming a burden. She was a wife and mother of two energetic young children, and had her filmmaking career to consider as well. But then he thought of her inevitable and probably irrevocable anger once the truth could no longer be hidden, and he relented reluctantly. So one sunny Sunday afternoon, while the kids were playing in the garden, he told her as succinctly and without bitterness as best he could.
"And how are you feeling?" she asked after a long silence.
"I feel fine….really," he added the latter after her skeptical eyebrow. She looked so much like Jane sometimes it was unnerving.
"How long have you known?" He was a little hurt, although not entirely surprised that she (rightly so) thought he would hide something from her.
"Just a few days…I needed to think." She nodded gravely.
"Oh, Catey, it's okay," and he pulled her into a hug and offered her the same platitudes that he heard from his doctors a few days before.
The treatments, although aggressive, were doing little to abate the cancer's progress, and even the doctors after some time were forced to admit, to themselves at least, that things were not going as well as they had hoped. Harry, for his part, endured the pain and fatigue with little complaint, although there were times, late in the evening when he was alone, when he wondered if a bullet or bomb would not have been preferable to this long, protracted goodbye. He wanted to live, for his family, if not for himself. He was not bitter, having been prepared for death one way or another for most of his adult life. After a lifetime of never believing in any kind of afterlife, he unexpectedly found himself hoping for one nonetheless.
"He's being so selfish!"
"No, he's not."
His voice is quiet and calm, and reminds her instantly of her father when he's at his most stubborn, and his attitude is making her even more angry. For the past hour, she's been alternately crying and shouting, and Graham has said very little during her railing.
"He's giving up," she sniffs.
"No, he being realistic." She looks appalled.
"Even if he changes his mind and goes through this next round of radiation, he gets, what? Six more months, maybe? In the meantime, he's so weak he can barely piss by himself. Hardly a great existence, is it?" She brushes back a tear, and he continues relentlessly.
"Do you remember anything of either of our grandfathers? I don't. One was always abroad somewhere, and the other was just a little ill old man who didn't know who we were. He just wants to be there for the kids, give them some good memories of him while he still can." They are silent for a moment, and then the smallest of smiles crosses her lips.
"You just defended him."
"Yeah, well, stranger things have happened, right?" and he smiles just little, too.
They are having tea, ostensibly watching the match on television but neither is really paying much attention. The younger Pearce surreptitiously looks at his father. He's happy to notice that he's not quite as pale and he's put some weight back on, although it seems as if his breathing is a bit more laboured.
"Are you going to take that job in York?" How the devil did he know about that?
"It's a good opportunity."
It is a good opportunity, and Graham is seriously considering taking it, but he also doesn't want to leave London just yet. He's hoping he can convince them to delay just a bit longer. Graham's face tells him all he needs to know. I don't want to leave while you're dying. The elder Pearce pats his son's shoulder in reassurance, although it's not clear to either of them that who needs the reassurance more.
"I have something for you," Harry says and darts into the office quicker than Graham would have supposed. Since the diagnosis, there has been very little talk about arrangements. As far as Harry is concerned, there's not much to talk about anyway. The house and its contents can be sold, and he's already arranged for Ruth's things to go back to her mother, if she wants them. A few sensitive papers, left over from his Service days and kept for the protection of his family, will be disposed of by Malcolm when the time comes. Everything else will be split evenly between his children. Graham is surprised when his father places a small box before him. Inside, a beautiful and elegant sapphire and diamond ring winks up at him. He's by far from expert, but Graham knows this is probably worth a few thousand pounds, at the very least.
"I don't know what to say….shouldn't this go to Catherine…or Laura?"
"No. They'll get all of my mother's jewelry and no doubt more from your mother as well. This is for you, to give to your wife, whenever you find her. Just promise me you'll not be an idiot like I was and let her get away."
They talk easier afterwards, of lots of things, sharing a pizza and yelling at the football, the young man content in the knowledge that his father trusts him, the former drug addict, with probably more money than he's ever had at any one time in his life. When he does leave later that evening, the two men embrace for a long time.