Vis­it­ing Time by Linda Mitchel­more

A hos­pi­tal was the last place I thought I’d meet a man!

The People's Friend - - This Week -

CAN I get you a drink?” A man’s voice. There are lots of voices in here, both male and fe­male, and lots of noise as ma­chines buzz and beep. But I know the ques­tion is di­rected at me and I freeze.

It’s a long time since any­one’s asked if they can get me a drink, and I’m wary. That’s how it all be­gan with Ed and me – when I said yes to the of­fer of a drink.

I fell in love pretty fast, moved in with Ed pretty fast, be­came preg­nant with Layla pretty fast.

Then Ed left. Pretty fast. “A drink?” I say, turn­ing to look at him.

I’m sit­ting and he’s stand­ing so I’ve a long way to look up. He’s very tall. And hand­some.

I did no­tice him as I came in, but you don’t like to stare in a place like this.

His hands are rest­ing on the foot of my dad’s hos­pi­tal bed and he’s smil­ing at me.

“If you’d like to know the name of the per­son who’s get­ting you a drink,” he says, “I’m Jon, short for Jonathan.”

“Laura.”

“So, Laura, I can of­fer you cof­fee, tea or hot choco­late, with­out min­i­marsh­mal­lows, I’m afraid.”

“I could get my­self a drink, but I don’t like to leave him.” I nod to­wards my dad.

He’s what the doc­tors now call stable after an emer­gency op­er­a­tion on his pan­creas.

“Then don’t leave him,” Jon says. “I know how that feels.”

He turns to look at the man in the bed op­po­site my dad’s as though afraid he might not be there.

“I’m get­ting my­self a drink, so I thought I’d ask if you’d like one, too.” He smiles at me. “No strings.”

“In that case,” I say with a smile of my own, “I’ll have a cof­fee, please. White. One sugar.”

“Back in a sec,” he says, and is gone.

The sheet slips from my dad’s feet and I reach over to cover them again so he doesn’t get cold.

My touch must have dis­turbed him, be­cause his eyes open.

“Hi, Dad,” I say. “Hello, love,” he says. “Been here long?”

“A lit­tle while.” “Where’s Layla?”

My dad adores his grand­daugh­ter and the feel­ing is mu­tual.

“My friend Car­rie is look­ing after her.”

Jon ar­rives with my drink and I think he might have caught the tail end of our con­ver­sa­tion.

Dad looks sur­prised as he hands me my cof­fee – such an in­ti­mate ges­ture, fetch­ing some­one a drink when you think they need it.

“Layla’s her daugh­ter,” Dad says.

“I’ve got one of those,” Jon says. “Emma. A six-year-old bun­dle of en­ergy.”

Then he turns to me. “I’d bet­ter get back to my dad. See you around, Laura.”

Jon isn’t sit­ting be­side his dad when I en­ter the ward the next day and I’m sur­prised to feel a lit­tle nig­gle of dis­ap­point­ment.

He’s got a daugh­ter, I tell my­self sharply. He’s prob­a­bly got a wife as well. He’s prob­a­bly hav­ing Sun­day lunch with his fam­ily.

“Hello, love,” Dad says. “Why the long face?”

“Sorry,” I say, lean­ing in to kiss his fore­head. “Traf­fic. I can’t stop long to­day as Car­rie’s do­ing a late lunch.”

“It was roast beef in here, but I couldn’t eat it,” Dad says. “The anaes­thetic’s made me feel a bit sick. The pain from the op’s not help­ing.”

“Oh, Dad,” I say.

I think I’m still in shock from the phone call to tell me that Dad had col­lapsed at work. We live an hour’s drive apart, and it was the long­est jour­ney of my life.

“I ex­pect it’ll come back. My ap­petite, I mean. Jock says it took him a cou­ple of days.”

“Jock?”

“Your friend Jon’s dad. In the bed op­po­site.” He jerks his head to­wards Jock who is sleep­ing and snor­ing loudly.

“He’s not my friend,” I re­ply.

“That’s not how it looked from here. Any­way, it wouldn’t hurt you to get out and start mak­ing friends again. The world’s not full of Eds, you know.”

“Dad, don’t med­dle,” I say.

“The lady doth protest too much,” Dad quotes.

I ig­nore the quip and Dad and I chat hap­pily for an hour or so, then it’s al­most time for me to go.

A mo­bile goes off. It’s Jock’s. The ring­ing wakes him and he takes the call.

When he’s fin­ished, he shouts across to our side of the room.

“Jon’s run­ning late, but he’s on his way.”

Was that mes­sage for me, I won­der.

Jock calls for a nurse to wheel him to the bath­room.

“He’s wid­owed,” Dad says when Jock is out of earshot.

“Jock?”

“No, Jon. Jock’s di­vorced.”

“Jon’s wid­owed?” I re­peat, not want­ing to be­lieve it.

“Yep. Four years ago. It was a car ac­ci­dent.”

“You’ve found out an aw­ful lot about one an­other in a short space of time, Dad.” I laugh.

“Yes, well, there’s not a lot to do in here ex­cept talk.”

I won­der what he’s told Jock about me that might have been passed on to Jon.

I’m about to go when Jon comes rush­ing in.

“Hi, Laura,” he says just as I’m reach­ing for my bag. “Oh, you’re go­ing.”

He pulls a mock-sorry face but I get the feel­ing he gen­uinely is.

“Bye,” I say.

“See you to­mor­row, then,” Jon says and hur­ries to his dad’s bed.

I can’t go in to see Dad un­til evening vis­it­ing on Mon­day be­cause I have to work.

“I’m do­ing well,” Dad tells me. “I could go home in a cou­ple of days. They just need to sort some sort of care pack­age for me un­til I can get back to work.”

“Oh, Dad, I wish I lived nearer.” A pang of guilt that I moved away to live with Ed grabs me, but I’m re­luc­tant to move back be­cause Layla’s set­tled and I’ve got a good job.

“Who knows what the fu­ture might bring?” Dad says.

He glances over at Jock’s bed, but I see there’s no Jon sit­ting be­side it.

About an hour later, it’s al­most the end of vis­it­ing time and still no Jon.

I’m just go­ing out of the ward door to the cor­ri­dor as Jon comes rush­ing in.

“Ah, Laura,” he says, beam­ing at me. He’s flushed and glow­ing like he’s just come from the gym. “All those stairs! Bet­ter than any work­out at the gym!”

He laughs as though he’s just read my mind.

“Any­way, we must stop meet­ing like this.”

He touches me lightly on the shoul­der.

“I hope they let me in. I’ve cut it a bit fine but Emma threw a com­plete melt­down be­cause she wants to see Gran­dad and I don’t think it’s ap­pro­pri­ate at the mo­ment.”

“Same for me with Layla,” I say.

Jon is go­ing from foot to foot as though he knows he needs to go but he wants to stay and talk to me.

I can’t tell you how good that makes me feel – and how wary, after Ed.

“Take care, Laura. It’s very wet out there. It was slip­pery on Ry­der’s Hill.”

Then he’s gone, but his words have warmed me like a cash­mere shawl wrapped around my heart. He cares.

Jock’s not too good on Tues­day. The cur­tains are around his bed when I go in for evening vis­it­ing.

“Jon’s been here most of the day,” are Dad’s first words to me.

“Oh?”

“But they think it’s just a blip and he’ll rally quickly.” “Gosh, I hope so.”

I can hear voices from be­hind the cur­tains around Jock’s bed and one of them is Jon’s. He steps out from the cur­tains and a doc­tor fol­lows him.

They go off some­where and Jon doesn’t no­tice me. I don’t like to call after him and say I hope ev­ery­thing will be all right for his dad, al­though I do hope that.

Dad and I chat for a bit, then I go to fetch my­self a cof­fee from the day room, half hop­ing Jon will be there. He isn’t.

When I get back on the ward, Dad tells me Jon came back but has gone home now. Jock is sleep­ing peace­fully, the med­i­ca­tion do­ing its stuff.

“He said to say hello to you, Laura. You’re ships that pass in the night, you two.”

That Wed­nes­day is one of those days at work. And Layla’s be­gin­ning to get anx­ious that she can’t see her gran­dad and that I’m not at home all the time as I usu­ally am.

Even though Car­rie looks after her as well as I do, it’s not the same. The traf­fic was bad tonight, too – an evening foot­ball match some­where, so it said on the ra­dio.

“You’ll never guess what?” Dad says, beam­ing at me as I hurry to­wards his bed.

“What?”

“My sis­ter’s com­ing to stay for a cou­ple of weeks to look after me un­til I get my strength up to go back to work.”

“Re­ally? Aunt Brid­get?” Brid­get – a ma­ture model – lives a very busy and glam­orous life­style. We rarely see her, al­though she e-mails and texts a lot.

I love her loads. And right at this mo­ment I am to­tally grate­ful that she’s do­ing this.

“I’ve only got the one sis­ter.”

“So, when can you go home?” I ask.

“To­mor­row. Brid­get’s com­ing to fetch me.”

“That’s great,” I say, but I know my voice is a bit flat be­cause it means I won’t be able to see Jon any more.

“Once more with feel­ing, love.” Dad laughs.

“It hasn’t got any­thing to do with that hand­some chap who vis­its my pal over there, has it?” he whis­pers with a jerk of his head to­wards Jock’s bed.

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You’re blush­ing. You never could tell a fib.”

I glance across at Jock and he’s sit­ting up in bed, grin­ning at me.

Some sort of mir­a­cle has hap­pened since yes­ter­day and he’s over his blip, I’m pleased to see.

“Jon will be here in a minute,” he shouts across. “He said to hang on if you can, Laura.”

I can. And I will.

And then there he is. “Oh, good. You’re still here, Laura,” he says. “The good news is that Dad can go home to­mor­row,” he goes on.

“He’s go­ing to stay with Mum for a cou­ple of weeks. Well, Mum and my step­dad.”

I wasn’t ex­pect­ing that. But isn’t it great that fam­i­lies – even frac­tured ones – can work to­gether when the chips are down?

We spend the rest of vis­it­ing time chat­ting and laugh­ing, the four of us. We dis­cover we all like jazz and crime nov­els, amongst a lot of other things.

Then it’s time for Jon and me to leave. To­gether, for once.

We say good­night to our re­spec­tive dads.

“Well, Laura, we’re def­i­nitely go­ing to have to stop meet­ing like this now,” Jon says in the foyer as we are leav­ing. “This is good­bye one last time.”

Is it? I can’t bear that thought, and the tone of Jon’s voice tells me he doesn’t like it much ei­ther.

This isn’t the sort of place I ever imag­ined I might meet some­one I want to get to know bet­ter, but it’s how it’s hap­pened for me.

“Does it have to be?” I ask. “Can I get you a drink?”

“Oh, yes, Laura,” Jon says, tak­ing my arm and link­ing it through his. “You most def­i­nitely can.” ■

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