‘I don’t want to stay there,’ Mhairi’s small voice pipes from the backseat.
‘I know, sweetheart.’
What else could I tell her? She is only six and can’t really comprehend what’s going on. I throw a quick glance in the rear mirror. She is close to tears and I have to swallow hard. ‘Everything will be alright.’ I repeat the sentence several times in my head.
‘But…’ Her voice trails off and I stay silent. We have talked about this so often already, we both know the course of the conversation by heart.
Cancer. I let the word roll around my mouth until it loses its meaning. Why? Why now? It was the cause of all our troubles, the root of all this. I let down the sun visor and put my glasses on, as the early morning sun rose over the trees.
Maybe we should never have left home, maybe we should have waited. We have been waiting for months, I tell myself firmly. But it was hard explaining that to a child who is so full of hope. I blink again and am glad I am wearing my glasses, now that Mhairi is watching me closely with her stern look.
Her dad has been absent since Christmas and I know his job doesn’t allow him to be with us, even to talk to us, but how can I make her understand? That her dad is on an undercover mission and any hint to his real life could cost him his.
‘What if daddy comes back while we are away?’ Mhairi chimes in again. I have heard this question so often.
‘Then he will wait for us. We left him a message, remember?’ Mhairi stares out of the window again, she is not happy with it, she would have never left our little farm, but would still be sitting there on the steps of the porch waiting for Iain.
‘Look! There it is, isn’t it a beautiful building? So many trees and a big park!’ I try to change the subject, but nothing could cheer Mhairi up right now.
When we finally find a parking spot, I grab our bags from the boot and open the door for Mhairi. She eyes the luggage in my hand.
‘What’s in there? You said we wouldn’t be long!’
‘We won’t! But it’s a long way and I thought it would be a bit more…chilled, if we could stay…for a bit…’ I trail off, knowing I have lost. Instantly Mhairi starts whining like a little baby. I feel all my patience drain from my body and close my eyes for a moment. It’s been a hard time for me too. And without wanting to I feel tears run down my cheeks.
Somehow that seems to startle Mhairi so much that I have enough time to get her out of the car and onto the pavement in front of the hospital. She crosses her arms in front of her body and stomps after me the whole way. It takes us nearly twenty minutes to get inside and to the right department.
When I reach the desk and give our details to the nurse, I turn around to call Mhairi. I haven’t heard her snort for a while and am wondering what might have calmed her. To my surprise she is standing right behind me, her face an expression of pure joy. Her mouth is rounded as if a scream was stuck right behind her tongue, and her eyes are widened. I turn to see what she is looking at, and at the same moment Mhairi dashes forward. She jumps into the arms of the man waiting for her at the end of the corridor.
Iain, oh thank god. All the tension immediately seems to drain from me and I slump together. He picks up Mhairi as if she was weighing nothing and comes towards me. He puts his arm around my waist in the way he always does and pulls me close. He rests his forehead against mine as I don’t have the strength to look up. I know I’d cry.
After a few minutes I draw from him, as I suddenly feel everybody’s attention on us. I throw back my hair, take a deep breath and smile at him. It’s okay now, everything will be alright.
‘What’s the deal? Why are you here? Your message was a bit cryptic.’
‘How could you be here before us?’ But he simply smiles and I think of his bike and fall silent. Of course, he must have been worried sick that Mhairi was injured and it’s an emergency and rushed here. ‘Don’t worry, it’s nothing really. Mhairi was just diagnosed with cancer a few weeks ago, but we didn’t want to leave home without you. I tried to avoid the drama, but as we had no idea when you’d return I thought we’d quickly get her treated and be back before you even noticed we were gone. But your timing is unbeatable, as always.’ I smile at him and he puts Mhairi down to finally kiss me.
‘I’ve missed you so much and when I read your message…’ He trails off and shakes his head. I grab his hand and he looks at me again. Immediately a smile reappears on his face. ‘I’m glad it’s nothing serious.’ I nod. We’ll spend a few days in the city, a little weekend trip to celebrate our reunion, I think. We can be lucky we’re together. And we can be lucky that cancer isn’t a threat anymore. It can be cured and easily. You get medication and rest for a few days, as if you’re having the flu. We can be really lucky.