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A Father's Reward


Josh Groft

Jacob felt a chill despite the warm, heavy air as he entered the hospital room, but he ignored it. He felt her gaze and, as he turned, saw black eyes glaring from beneath a furrowed brow. He smirked, unafraid. He watched her scowl deepen as he sat across the bed from her, the bed that contained their father. 

Jacob spoke first. "Hello Kara," he said calmly. "Where's mother?"

"At home," she replied coldly. "And hopefully asleep." Jacob nodded.

"I got your letter." Jacob said after a moment. Kara nodded and dropped her gaze in a silence that hung unbroken until their father stirred. Kara was immediately beside him but Jacob stayed seated.

Samuel woke slowly, seeing Kara first, smiling. "Am I dead already?" her father joked. "I wake to find an angel standing above me!" He chuckled, and Kara squeezed his hand.

"Hello father." Samuel tilted his head to see the source of the somehow familiar voice, Jacob.

"Well, this is quite an occasion! The whole family is here to watch me die!" His humor disturbed Kara, but if it affected Jacob, he didn't let it show.

Jacob stood and walked slowly to the bed.

"I didn't come to watch you die," Jacob said solemnly. Samuel chuckled again.

"Well that's good I suppose! But if not, why didn't you come visit long ago? I certainly could've been a better host!" Jest lined Samuel's voice. His son recognized the humor but kept quiet. "No matter, no matter," his father continued. "I'm just glad you're here."

"At least someone's glad he showed up," Kara muttered. 

Jacob raised an eyebrow and smirked at her. "What's that supposed to mean?" 

She shrugged. "I can't say I'm happy you came," she answered simply. Samuel tilted a pleading glance her way.

She cleared her throat and mumbled, "Sorry," before Jacob could respond. Kara turned around to pull her chair closer to the bed, as Jacob chuckled at his weak sibling. Kara sat again and Jacob smiled at her, a Cheshire grin. She ignored him and turned to her father.

"Are you feeling better, Dad?"

"Well," grunted her father, propping himself on his elbows, "As well as a dying man can feel I guess." 

"You're not dying, Dad," Kara said, shaking her head. He smiled at her and turned to Jacob again.

"It really is nice to see you Jacob. What brought you?"

Jacob pulled his chair close to the bedside. "Kara and mother wrote me. They said the cancer is no longer treatable." He shrugged nonchalantly. "So I came."

Kara growled. "I'm surprised you found your conscience long enough to get on a plane." Her father suppressed a grimace and put his hand on hers.

Jacob smiled sardonically. "I don't need a lesson in life from you, sister dear. How much do you earn in a year?" He began counting his fingers mockingly.

Kara forced herself to restrain a rebuttal as Jacob chuckled quietly.

"Well..." Samuel paused, pondering. "Jacob, remember when you were little? Your mother made me pack you kids' lunches." Jacob nodded. He continued, "I was just thinking about those little notes I wrote on your napkins every day." Kara smiled at the memory. Art was Samuel's hobby, and calligraphy was his favorite meandering. "It's been more than twenty years since I've written calligraphy."

Jacob shrugged. "I have better looking fonts on my computer." Kara's jaw dropped at the remark. Her father only made a pondering face. "Anyway, I'm only here until tomorrow. Business and all."

Samuel smiled. "Ye of little time. You've done well for yourself, Jacob. It's too bad you can't stay home a bit longer." He sighed regretfully. "No time to waste, I suppose. What would you like to talk about?"

Jacob opened his mouth to speak but stopped himself. His jaw worked convulsively as he pondered. "I don't know," he answered simply. Then, after a small pause, he scoffed. "Why should I be here? I should be back at the office. This is a waste of time!"

Kara shot out of her chair. "That's a hell of a way to talk to your father!"

"Father! What did I learn from him? How to calculate a week's pay on minimum wage."

"You ungrateful bastard!" Kara screamed. "You had a great childhood! You were fed, you had a nice home, and you had a bed to sleep in! You were loved! What the hell does that count for?!?"

Silence followed, broken a moment later by Jacob's quiet chuckling. With that, Samuel's son stood and left. His sister's sobs were the last thing he heard before the door closed behind him.

"I'm sorry, Daddy," Kara wept.

"It's okay," he consoled her. "He's his own man."

She was incredulous. "You're not mad at him?"

Her father shrugged. "No."

Kara gawked at her father. She sighed and sat in her chair again, drifting to sleep with thoughts of childhood days.

Jacob sat in the bar and contemplated over a glass of scotch. He hadn't touched a drop. "Why did I come back here?" he murmured to himself.

Around midnight, he abandoned his barstool.

Twenty minutes later Jacob found himself sitting alone on a park bench, moonlight illuminating the cool night. Weariness took hold as painfully happy memories flooded him.

He remembered the wiffle ball games with his parents and sister in this park and greeting his father when he arrived home from work. He remembered helping Mom and Kara make chocolate chip cookies for his class, and sneaking the chips from the bag into his mouth, thinking Mom hadn't seen him. He remembered Christmas at the old house, and emptying his stocking on that winter morning each year, Sparky his dog, and the time he fell out of the apple tree in the front yard, breaking his arm. 

It'd been almost fifteen years since he'd returned home. The job didn't allow much spare time, but he knew that was an excuse. He hadn't wanted to come back. The money in the city, his success... he'd despised his family for being so provincial and mundane. Jacob had earned his keep, right? Everything he had he achieved by himself and for himself. His family had given him nothing! "Except love," he whispered.

Grief washed over him like a slow-rolling wave. He wanted to go back to the hospital; he needed to talk to his father! But the hospital would not open for visitors until morning. "Morning will be soon enough," he told himself.

Jacob woke on the same park bench. Frantically realizing where he was, he checked his watch. 9:00 AM. He hailed a cab.

Jacob braced himself as he entered his father's room. To his dismay, Samuel was not there. Kara and his mother were seated, holding hands, and sobbing.

"Where's Dad?" he asked, still trying to not show his concern. Kara looked at him.

"He's... gone, Jacob," Kara answered slowly.

"Gone? As in..."

"Yes." The thought took a moment to sink in. "Jacob," Kara said after some silence. "Dad said to give this to you when you came back." She held a napkin out to him. Jacob unfolded the napkin and read his father's beautifully familiar script.

Jacob, My son, if you're reading this, I've passed on. I'm glad you came back -- I knew you would. There's not much to say -- I don't think I need to say anything. You know what I'm feeling, as I know what you're feeling. No apology necessary. I'll see you in due time.

All my love.


Jacob looked to Kara and whispered, "He knew… how did he know?"

"He was your father," Kara answered, smiling for the first time that day.

The deep simplicity of his father's message took hold and a single tear trickled down Jacob's cheek. His sister put a hand on his shoulder and he smiled sadly, but with genuine caring. "I'm sorry," he murmured. She nodded slowly, placed her head on his shoulder, and wept.

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