[i]He stood up and touched her forehead with a finger. Her eyes closed and she was transported back to her body.
To Be Concluded…[/i]
The Final Chapter …
Lily slowly opened her eyes and blinked a few times. She lay still looking at the overhead light in the ceiling above her. On her left was a window which was letting sunlight into the room through its venetian blinds. She lifted her head slightly, looking up at the television on the wall in front of her and the broadcast of ESPN which was playing.
She sat up very slowly and looked around the room. She was in a hospital, and the hospital bed she lay in was loaded with flowers and cards at her feet. She tried to shift her legs, but had trouble moving them. Attached to her right arm was an IV. She had heart monitor pads on her chest and her temples. The hospital bracelet on her right wrist read ‘L. Paddington’.
Looking down at the not-so-lovely hospital gown she was wearing, she rested her head back on the pillow and closed her eyes. Relieved she was alive, she had such confusion. No one was in the room and the only noises she heard were the television, the heart monitor next to her and random sounds from the hallway.
Just then, the toilet in her room’s bathroom flushed. Lily looked at the bathroom door and slowly sat up again, feeling the pain of movement. She watched the door intently as the sound of water being run in the bathroom sink was heard, followed by the paper towel dispenser.
Then all at once, the bathroom door opened, and out stepped Zeke. The look of strain on his face told the tale of what he must have been feeling. He looked like he hadn’t slept for days and hadn’t eaten for a while. He walked out of the bathroom and his head slowly turned towards Lily.
Uncertain what reaction to expect from him, Lily found herself trying to hold back excitement so strong that she would have jumped out of the bed and into his arms if she were strong enough. But she just sat there and nervously nibbled her bottom lip.
It took a moment for Zeke to register that she had awakened from her coma-like state. He looked at her blankly and then his face lit up as he briskly walked around to the left side of the bed to embrace her gently, but with enough passion to her know he was happy to see her conscious. From within his hug, she could feel his rapidly beating heart. It pounded with a fervor that startled her.
He released the embrace and she took his face in her hands. Now she could see more clearly that his eyes were stained red. The signs of duress had left marks down his cheeks and down his neck. She ran her fingers through his hair, scraping his scalp as he placed his hand behind her head and kissed her deeply. He lowered her down onto the bed and her head to the pillow as he continued kissing her. She wrapped her arms around him and took his kiss in even deeper.
She had survived, but what had she survived exactly? Her mind was filled with so many questions. She would wait to ask them. Right now, she felt comfortable in his arms. It was as if they hadn’t seen each other in weeks. They remained in that position for several minutes. Neither spoke a word. Words weren’t needed, not yet.
Making a routine check of the room, a nurse walked in and gasped. Zeke sat up to reveal to the nurse that Lily was conscious.
“She woke up?” the nurse asked with a smile.
“I’ll contact her doctor,” the nurse said, quickly exiting the room.
Zeke returned his attention to Lily.
“You look tired?” she remarked, tracing the features on his face. “I have a million questions to ask, but before I do…”
She paused for a moment to clear the lump in her throat. The moment of truth had arrived.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was sick,” Lily said as her eyes welled up, expecting Zeke to tell her off and leave. “I know I should’ve told you and that I should’ve trusted you, but I was so scared. So very scared that you would leave me.”
She began to lose her composure.
“If I could go back and convince myself to have told you earlier, I would,” she struggled to say. “But I can’t, and I’m so sorry I didn’t.”
“Shh, shh, shh,” Zeke whispered quietly as he delicately wiped the tears from her eyes. “It’s okay. I understand why you didn’t tell me. It wasn’t an easy thing to tell someone. You don’t need to feel sorry, and you don’t need to worry about me leaving. I’m not going anywhere.”
He leaned into her, playfully rubbing noses with her. This made her giggle and she laughed. Even with everything that was wrong with her health at that moment, Lily felt so much better to hear him say that.
“So….,” he began as he slid a chair up to the side of her bed. “What are your million questions?”
“Well, there’s a chunk of time between the moment I collapsed on the beach to the moment you walked out of that bathroom that I will need a little help piecing together,” she said. “Where am I, Zeke?”
“You’re in Lancaster General Hospital,” he said.
“And how did I get here?” she asked.
“Oh wow,” he said, pulling up a chair next to the bed and sitting. “You collapsed on the beach and I called 911. The paramedics arrived and took you to a nearby clinic. It was a really bad facility. I’m glad they decided to have you transferred somewhere a little more capable of dealing with the situation. Long story made short, you were air-lifted to Mercy Hospital in Miami, spent five days there and were airlifted to Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia before you were driven by ambulance back here to Lancaster. I tried to get them to take you to Lancaster Regional Hospital, but they brought you here.”
“Have the doctors said what my illness is?” she asked.
“Not yet,” Zeke answered.
“What day is it?” she asked.
“It’s Monday,” he answered.
“How long was I unconscious for?” she asked.
“You collapsed on the beach two weeks ago,” he answered.
Lily looked up at the TV.
“Did your Chiefs win yesterday?” she asked, smiling.
Zeke smiled back at her.
“I knew we’d get to the tough questions sooner or later,” he said with a laugh. “Yes they did. They beat the Steelers in overtime.”
“Hmm,” she said, touching her finger to her lips. “Now I’m not if I’m dreaming or not.”
“Hey, Hey!” Zeke replied with a laugh.
They shared a much needed moment of laughter before they both settled down and the room got quiet. Then Lily’s eyes welled up with tears that started streaming down her cheeks.
“Shh, shh, shh,” he said, gently wiping her tears away. “You’re going to be fine. We’ll get through this together.”
Just then a doctor walked into the room.
“Miss Paddington,” he said, while sitting on the side of her bed and prepping his stethoscope. “I’m Doctor Hope. We’re very glad to see you’ve awakened. How do you feel?”
“Stiff and weak,” she replied as he began to check her vital signs. “What do I have?”
“We believe you have Hodgkin’s disease,” the doctor stated with caution.
“What is that?” she asked.
“It is a form of lymphoma, which is a type of cancer that grows in certain cells of your body,” the doctor began explaining. “It is most commonly found in areas like your lymph nodes, and it impedes your body’s immune system performance.”
“Okay, I’m not a doctor, and I never went to medical school. So explain this to me again with that in mind,” Lily said in frustration.
“You have cancer,” the doctor stated bluntly. “And this cancer makes it easy for you to get sick, very sick. Have you gotten sick recently?”
“I got sick on the cruise ship,” she said, looking at Zeke.
“But she got sick after a dinner she ate. We thought it was food poisoning,” Zeke sad to the doctor.
“It probably was,” the doctor said. “What were her symptoms?”
“She was light-headed, feverish, felt weak and had an upset stomach,” Zeke answered, trying to recall.
“I remember my stomach wasn’t just upset, but it also hurt,” Lily added. “I had diarrhea. I just felt horrible.”
“You felt worse than you should have because your white blood cells were essentially “out of whack” and couldn’t do their job of fighting off the bacteria,” the doctor said. “That’s the effect of Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.”
“How did she get this disease?” Zeke asked.
“No one knows how it’s contracted,” the doctor explained. “It could come from a sickness you had earlier in life.”
“I had cat scratch fever in middle school,” Lily said, nibbling on the end of her finger.
“It’s unlikely that was the cause, but not out of the realm of possibility,” the doctor said. “What’s most important know is the next step … treating it. There are four stages of this disease. You have stage 3…”
“Remember…simple words…,” Lily said before the doctor continued.
“The disease is in the lymph nodes on both sides of your diaphragm which is why you felt pain in your abdomen,” the doctor slowly explained. “It may have also extended into any organ that is adjacent to those lymph nodes and it may have also gotten into your bone marrow. With continued testing, we’ll be able to know for sure.”
“So what’s the treatment?” Zeke asked.
“Chemotherapy drugs, sometimes accompanying radiation therapy are common, but until the tests are complete, she simply needs to rest herself. We’re going to keep her here a few days for observation. When she is released, she will need to go some place where she can receive constant care as it is necessary, around the clock,” the doctor said to Zeke as he then spoke to Lily. “Do you have a place like that where you could go?”
“Yes, she does,” Zeke said, looking at Lily and winking. “I’ll take care of her.”
“Do you understand that you will need to be able to be by her side at all times?” the doctor asked Zeke. “It’s kind of like the white hot attention you have to have to take care of a newborn baby.”
“I think she’ll be okay with me,” Zeke said, smiling ear-to-ear.
“Very well,” the doctor said. “You’re a very lucky girl to have a friend like him, Lily.”
“Yes I am,” Lily agreed.
The doctor began exiting the room.
“Am I going to die from this disease?” she asked the doctor.
“For stage 3, the survival rate is 85%-90%,” the doctor said, turning back to her. “We’ll get you the treatment you need. Rest assured in that. Your condition is fixable.”
The doctor exited the room.
Lily remained in the hospital for the next four days. Zeke showed up every morning and stayed with her until visiting hours ended in the evening. He only left during the day when he absolutely had to. The two of them never ran out of things to talk about.
For Lily, it was as if she had started a new life. No longer did she have a fear of losing him, and her optimism about defeating her cancer was now at an all-time high.
Zeke was also overjoyed that she was doing well, but he still had a question to ask her. The hospital was no place to ask it. So he decided he would wait until he brought her home from the hospital.
On the day she was to leave, Zeke arrived at the crack of dawn. He walked in with a wheelchair and a backpack of clothing over his shoulder. Because of her discharge that morning, Lily had been served breakfast early. She was sitting in bed watching the 6 a.m. episode of ……. SpongeBob Squarepants, of course.
They had removed the IV line from her arm yesterday and she spent the whole day throwing up. Luckily by the evening, her stomach had settled and she was able to sleep soundly.
“How ya feeling?” he asked as he set the backpack at the foot of her bed.
“Like I have cabin fever,” she said before slurping the milk out of her cereal bowl, setting it back down and pushing the breakfast tray away.
“I bet you are at this point,” he said wiping her mouth of milk dribble.
“I don’t know when they’re gonna let me go this morning,” she said. “We might be waiting for a while.”
“I spoke with the nurses last night before I left,” Zeke said. “The doctor cleared you to leave as soon as I arrived today, provided there were no complications overnight. You weren’t being complicated last night were, you?”
“Not that I recall,” she said, blowing off his joke and throwing the covers off her legs. “What do I have to do so we can get out of here?”
“Get dressed in the bathroom,” Zeke said as he helped her out of bed to her feet, grabbed the backpack, and kept her weakened legs standing as he walked her to the bathroom door.
“This works out well, changing in the bathroom,” she said. “I have to pee anyway.”
He slowly guided her into the bathroom and eased her down onto the toilet. He began undoing her hospital gown and slid it off her arms.
“Is it cold outside?” she asked, seeing him pulling a sweatshirt out of the backpack.
“It’s early morning and still a bit chilly,” he said as she raised her hands to the sky so he could slide the sweatshirt down over her head and shoulders.
He knelt at her feet and slid a pair of socks over her feet then a pair of jogging pants over her ankles, sliding them up to her knees until she stood up. He put a pair of slippers on her feet and waited patiently until she finished on the toilet.
“I called the hotel in the Bahamas and asked them to gathering our luggage and belongings. They boxed it all up and it arrived at my apartment yesterday,” Zeke said.
“Did they send it all?” she asked.
“Yeah, every bit of it,” Zeke answered. “I was surprised that we got it all back.”
“We’ll have to send them a thank you note,” she said as a knock was heard at the room door.
Zeke got up and exited the bathroom. Lily finished peeing and began listening.
“Can I help you?” she heard Zeke say.
“Maybe? I’m Lily’s father. Where is my daughter?” she heard another male voice reply.
Lily knew who it was. She grabbed a piece of toilet paper, finished up on the toilet, pulled the jogging pants up into place and tried to stand to her feet.
“She’s in the bathroom,” Zeke answered. “She’s being discharged this morning and I’ll be taking her home with me.”
“Like Hell you will! Lily, come out here or I’m coming in after you!” she heard her father call to her. “Get your hands off me! Who do you think you are?”
Lily’s face became filled with horror, and she struggled to make her way to the bathroom door.
“I don’t like your tone,” she heard Zeke say. “You will back up, right now, or you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting your decision.”
“I’m her father, for Christ’s sake!” she heard her father scream. “That’s my baby girl in there!”
Those words pierced through Zeke’s ears and went straight to his heart.
“I know,” she heard Zeke say as she finally got to the bathroom door and peeked out. “That’s the very reason I’m stopping you.”
Zeke was standing between the bathroom door and her father. His fists were clenched.
“Lily, who is this guy?” her father said, seeing her at the door.
“He’s my boyfriend, Father,” she responded.
Her father looked back at Zeke with a sneer of disgust.
“Is that so?” her father said, glaring Zeke down.
“Zeke,” Lily said as he glanced back at her. “It’s okay.”
At that moment, her father planted his steel-tipped boot in Zeke’s groin. Zeke dropped to the floor in pain. Her father then planted his boot in Zeke’s stomach several times before walking over to her, grabbing her by the arms and violently planting her back against the wall.
“You have some serious explaining to do,” her father screamed at her. “Where in the Hell have you been and why are in this hospital?”
“I went on a vacation,” she said, in obvious physical pain at this point. “Please let me go. You’re hurting me.”
He father grabbed her face.
“What did you say to me?” her father screamed at her. “Don’t ever talk to me like that again! Now, I am taking you home. You will not spend another minute with this …”
Her father’s sentence was cut off by a fist to the side of his face. He let go of Lily just in time to be tackled into the bathroom door by Zeke. A scuffle began between the two guys. Zeke grabbed her father’s face and planted several fists into his stomach until he dropped to the floor and stopped fighting back.
“Who the Hell do you think you are?” her father said, looking up at Zeke.
“Please allow me to introduce myself,” Zeke said, pausing a moment to recover from the pain he was feeling. “I am Chivalry, and I will accomplish what you never cared to do.”
“You’ll get no help from me,” her father said. “Lily, I disown you. You are no longer my daughter.”
“Father, that’s the greatest Get Well gift you could have given me,” Lily said coldly.
Zeke helped Lily into the wheelchair and he took her out of the hospital. On the way home, Lily didn’t say much. This concerned him a lot. He had just manhandled her father right in front of her and her silence was not making Zeke feel any better.
Zeke pulled into a parking space next to his building. They slowly walked from the car to the front door. They entered the elevator and on the way up, she began to remark how weak she felt. Zeke picked her up into his arms. She wrapped her legs around his waist and her arms around his neck.
The elevator doors opened and he carried her into the living room. Placing her on the couch, he walked into the bathroom for a moment and returned.
“I’m sorry I hit your father,” he said returning from the bathroom and sitting by her side on the couch.
“Why are you sorry?” she asked, running her fingers through his hair.
“Because he’s your father,” he answered.
“He’s my father, but he’ll never be my Daddy. It takes a man with a heart of love and a gentle hand to be my Daddy. And I pick you.” she said with a smile as she touched her finger to the tip of his nose.
“Is that so,” he said, playfully as he removed the slippers and socks from her feet. “And what must your Daddy be able to do?”
“Well, my Daddy must be able to mix my oatmeal just right and make certain that it’s not too hot,” she said as he untied the string at the waist of her jogging pants.
Lily’s heart began to beat faster.
“Uh-huh,” he said, playfully. “And what else must your Daddy be able to do?”
“He must be able to…uh…he must be able to give me kisses and hugs, butterfly noses and Eskimo eyelashes,” she said, struggling to get the words out as he slipped his hands inside the jogging pants around the back to her bottom.
He slowly drew his hands down her bottom and the back of her legs, pulling the jogging pants down to her ankles and removing them. He slowly sat her up and lifted the sweatshirt up and off her body.
“Is there anything else your Daddy must be able to do?” Zeke asked as he lifted her body up and placed her gently on his lap.
She cradled up into the fetal position and rested her head on his chest as he began to rock her body back and forth as he patted her bare bottom.
“He needs to treat me like a Princess,” she said as the butterflies started fluttering in her stomach.
The baby feeling had overcome her senses and she was quickly moving into a mindset of “little”.
“Daddy needs to make me happy and keep me warm an’ change me an’ play wit’ me n’ read me stowies,” she said as she gladly entered baby mode, enjoying a feeling she hadn’t felt in several weeks.
“How about…?” Zeke said as he placed her pacifier to her mouth, waiting until she parted her lips and took the nipple in her mouth.
He stood up and began to slowly make his way to the bathroom.
“How about always loving you and never letting you go?” he asked as he carried her into the bathroom.
Lily nodded as she looked in the tub to see it filling up with bubbly water. She locked her eyes on his as he knelt down and lowered her into the warm water. The water touched her bottom and felt wonderful. As he continued to lower her body into the water, she kept her eyes on him. Her bottom and feet touched the bottom of the tub and Zeke leaned her back until she was reclined. He eased her neck and head onto the back edge of the tub where a towel was laying, ready to serve as her pillow.
She relaxed her body in the warm water than enveloped her like a warm pair of pajamas. Zeke prepared a wash cloth and began to bathe her, starting at her feet. She closed her eyes, relishing this treatment. It felt like she had waited an eternity to receive this pampering.
“How about always being kind and always touching her heart?” Zeke asked as he moved up her body with the wash cloth.
Lily whimpered softly. Zeke kept bathing very slowly. A bath was such a wonderful experience for her, and just like every other bath he gave her, this one relaxed her with a mixture of warm water, his soft touch and his soft words. And then he washed her hair. His fingers going across her scalp and the feeling of water rinsing her hair out was the ultimate massage.
He finished bathing her and exited the bathroom for a moment, leaving her to continue to relish the warmth for a little while longer. She could hear him open the door to her nursery and then moving things around in the living room. He wasn’t gone for long before he returned to the bathroom, lifted her out of the bathtub and into a towel. He sat her on his lap and dried her off before continuing with the Daddy list they were creating.
“How about a Daddy who always remembers she is a baby at heart?” Zeke asked as he lifted her into his arms, removing the towel from around her before carrying her into her nursery and placing her on the changing table.
She gazed up at him with elation, feeling nothing but euphoria. He lifted her legs and bottom into the air very gently. She closed her eyes and began daintily sniffing the air, knowing what she would soon smell. The scent of baby powder filled the air. She breathed it in deeply as if she were standing in the middle of field of red roses.
He lowered her bottom and legs back down onto the changing table and onto a diaper. She smiled brightly behind her pacifier. He drew her knees up and parted her legs as he drew the front of the diaper up between her legs. She felt the elastic edging as it snuggled up against the delicate skin of her inner thighs. He wrapped the diaper around her and fastened into place around her waist.
It had been a while since she felt the material of a diaper on her bottom, between her legs, and everywhere else. It was soft as usual and overtook her senses as it always did. He sat her up and lowered her nightie over her head and arms. Letting it flounce down over her body, he lifted her up and carried her over to the rocking chair which was facing the window.
He sat down in the rocking chair, placed her gently across his lap and cradled her body as he removed her pacifier and placed the nipple of a baby bottle to her mouth.
“Open,” he said softly and sweetly as she obediently parted her lips and took the nipple into her mouth to begin drinking from it. “How about a Daddy who finishes the Princess Lily fairy tale?”
Her eyes lit up and she nodded excitedly.
“Okay,” he started as she curled up and rested against his chest, looking up at him with adoring eyes. “Lily looked at the sun rising as she was led to the courtyard in the center of the kingdom. Today she would be forced to marry Prince Mortimer the Horrible. A wooden structure had been built in the center of the courtyard it had a rope hanging from it. It was on this wooden platform that Malcolm would be hung. Princess Lily saw Malcolm being led up onto the platform. Mortimer stood next to her father, the King, and smiled at the events unfolding. Malcolm’s head was placed inside the rope which had been looped on the end to hanging him. The executioner readied himself to pull the trap door lever.”
Lily’s eyes had turned from excited to worried. She clenched her bottle tightly and drank from it rapidly as she listened.
“As the King was about to order Malcolm to be hung, a trumpet sounded from the guard who was standing watch on the castle wall. This trumpet was only used when an enemy was approaching. The King ordered all the guards to their battle station, but the enemy army broke through the castle door and began attacking. The King looked at Mortimer and told him to do something. Mortimer dropped his sword and ran away screaming,” Zeke said, quickly returning the story to something that didn’t upset her. “Malcolm removed the rope from his neck jumped off the wooden platform, ran up to the King picked up Mortimer’s sword and began battling the incoming enemy soldiers. He did this all, mind you, while his hands were tied together with rope.”
Lily eyes grew happy again as she listened.
“Malcolm fought bravery, killing many enemy soldiers and leading the charge that saved the Kingdom of Infantilum from certain doom,” Zeke said. “Seeing Malcolm’s bravery, the King released him, allowed him to marry Princess Lily. Years later, Malcolm and Lily became King and Queen of Infantilum and they lived happily ever after.”
Lily clapped at the conclusion as she finished her bottle. Zeke set the bottle on the window sill.
“Are you tired at all?” he asked her as he stood up and carried her into the living room.
“A little,” she said as she looked at the living room couch.
Zeke had set up the entire living room as a BabyGirl Wonderland, complete with everything that she would need to be changed, entertained, and taken care of. The couch had been made up into a make-shift crib, loaded with blankets and stuffed animals and toys.
Zeke placed her on the couch in the middle of the stuffed animals. He knelt next to her and quickly asked her the burning question that had been agonizing him for weeks.
“Lily,” he said. “Will you marry me?”
He produced a ring box from his pocket. Lily cupped her hands over her mouth as she instantly began crying.
“Yes, of course,” she said. “Will you marry me?”
Zeke paused for a moment to rationalize her question.
“I think that’s the way it works,” he said embracing her.
This embrace lasted for a very long time.
“For the rest of your life, you will live with happiness. For better or worse doesn’t apply to us. I won’t ever let worse happen,” he said. “Now you’ll have a Daddy who loves you and treats you like the bundle of love that you are.”
She pulled him up onto the couch with her and crawled up onto his lap, curling up tightly against him. He slipped the ring on the ring finger of her left hand. She held her left hand up and spread her fingers out as she stared at the ring. She smiled.
“How do you feel?” he asked.
“I feel like I’ve finally found a place where I belong,” she said. “Like I’m in a situation filled with answers to my wishes. Every question has been asked. Every part of my heart and soul has been explored. For the first time in my life, I feel complete.”
“There’s still one question left,” Zeke said.
“Really?” she asked. “What is it?”
“What did you wish for when you threw that coin in the wishing well in the cave?” he asked.
She smiled, leaned her head up against his chest and looked up at him.
“I wished for your happiness,” she said. “For as happy as you have made me, I want you to be just as happy. And then I prayed that your happiness would lead to your very own Happily Ever After. I tossed the coin in the well, hoping that your Happily Ever After included me.”
“Well,” Zeke started to reply. “I think your wish and your prayer and everything you hoped for has come true.”
She nestled up against his body and closed her eyes. Soon she was asleep. Zeke sat there, rocking her gently, and the lifetime they would enjoy together.
Fear not. There is still one more Zeke and Lily story to be told. It’s called “Zeke and Lily: Once Upon a Beginning”, and it is the story of the day they met. It’s the prequel to the other two Zeke and Lily stories. I’m writing it now.
So in chronological order, the stories are:
Zeke and Lily - Once Upon A Beginning
Zeke and Lily - Overnight
Zeke and Lily - Making a Memory