Jemma gave her a clouded look. Shar patted her shoulder as she began to eat, trying to ignore the girl’s shiver at being touched.
“But you’re fine now. Remember that.”
For the trip to Lincoln, they equipped Jemma with a pillow and blan-
ket and Shar with a box of snacks. Though this wasn’t the greatest rea-
son for a road trip, it still made her miss when Lloyd was alive and the
kids were young and they would zoom down the interstate singing rock
’n’ roll songs and eating Boston Baked Beans, Charleston Chews, and
Chex Mix. Shar ate a bag of pretzels and sang along to Joan Jett and the
Bangles the way she and her daughter used to and thought of the drives
when Jemma would go on and on about her friends and school and the
books she was reading and the boys she liked, and Shar wouldn’t really
listen to the details, but she got the gist: the girl was OK.
Shar hated the city—all the rude people and the traffic and the way it
made her feel inconsequential. She kept a tight grip on the steering wheel
and stayed in the slow lane until they reached the Holiday Inn. They ate at
the Denny’s across the street, where Jemma got in a few bites of pie before
she fell asleep at the table. Avoiding the other customers’ eyes, Shar shook
her awake and walked her out of the restaurant like she was a small child,
her hair sticking to the cherry filling smeared across her cheek.
The next morning, Shar roused Jemma early with a splash of water
and a Cher song on TV turned up so loud the person in the room next
to theirs banged on the wall. They laughed, and Shar imagined they were
on a back-to-school shopping trip like they used to talk about doing. But
instead she drove toward the tall, plain hospital building and nervously
spiraled up the already busy parking garage in the gray dawn.
She moistened her lips with a cup of coffee from the hotel. “Well, here
As they walked in, a few sick-looking people were being wheeled
around in chairs. It smelled like when Lloyd died. She hadn’t been in
a hospital since then. Her stomach surged, and she jogged to the bath-
room, barely making it in time.
When she came out, slightly shaky, Jemma studied her face with concern, then led the way to the elevator and paused to read signs as she
guided them through the winding hallways of the eighth floor to the
Jemma and Shar filled out the medical forms—more forms than Shar
had ever seen, more forms even than Lloyd’s care had required—then