Beauty and the Mustache(10)

By: Penny Reid

“Sandra….” I covered my eyes with my hand and sighed. “You are not flying down here.”

“Yes. I am flying down there.”

“So am I!” I heard Elizabeth’s voice from the other end. Elizabeth was also in my knitting group and was an emergency department physician. She worked with both Sandra and me at the hospital in Chicago.

Their threat to fly down to Tennessee sobered me, and I gathered a series of calming breaths before responding. “She’s at the hospital in Knoxville. They’re releasing her to home hospice tomorrow.”

I related the rest of the facts surrounding my mother’s sudden hospital admission, how she hadn’t told anyone she was sick, how she’d ignored all the signs and symptoms until it was too late. Reciting the details calmed me. By the time I was finished, the tears had receded.

“Oh, honey.” Sandra’s impossibly kind and empathetic voice soothed me from the other end of the line.

“Tell her I found tickets,” Elizabeth said in the background. “We can leave first thing tomorrow.”

A disbelieving laugh tumbled from my lips. “You can’t just drop everything and rush down here.”

“Yes, we can. We’ll see you tomorrow.” I heard Sandra say, “I want the aisle seat.” It was muffled, as if she’d covered the phone with her hand.

I heard a rustle and then Elizabeth’s voice was in my ear. She’d obviously commandeered the phone from Sandra. “Honey, listen. Sandra and I will be there tomorrow. Just text Sandra your home address. Don’t worry about anything. We’ll stay in a hotel and help you get your mother settled. Where are you going now? Is anyone there with you? One of your brothers?”

“No. I’m on my way back to the house now to tell them the news.”

Elizabeth tsked softly. “Oh, my dear friend, I wish we were already there. We would huddle hug and get drunk.”

“Me too,” I admitted, grateful that there were people in the world who loved me. I didn’t have the strength to argue against their generous offer, so I simply said, “Thank you.”

“No need for thanks. We’ll see you soon.”

I nodded, and my eyes watered again as I clicked off the call, but I blinked the wetness away. I needed to pull myself together. I needed to tell six boys that their momma was dying, and I had no idea how they were going to take the news.

After eight years with barely any contact, my brothers were basically strangers.


“Death is a very dull, dreary affair, and my advice to you is to have nothing whatsoever to do with it.”

— W. Somerset Maugham

I imagined that this was what Snow White must’ve felt like when she woke up in the presence of the seven dwarves.

Seven hovering beards.

Seven sets of bewildered eyes.

Seven inquisitive expressions—partly suspicious, partly amused.

The fainting was my fault.

I drove home from the hospital in a daze. I walked to the front porch. Jethro came out of the house trailed by several others. I glanced over his shoulder. The world went black.

I should have known better. I was a nurse for hootenanny’s sake! Two hours of sleep, no food, intense levels of stress; no wonder I passed out. I was lucky to have made it home without crashing my car. I’d never been in a position of forgetting to eat before.

Now I was laid out on the couch in my momma’s house surrounded by a sea of beards. I heard the roosters in the back crowing up a fuss.

My brothers’ expressions were varying degrees of anxious and curious. At last, my eyes settled on the measured, silvery blue stare of a stranger. My brain told me that this stranger’s name was Drew Runous, that he was a pillaging Viking highlander laird, and that earlier in the day he’d mentally pictured me getting my rub on.

Drew was sitting next to where I lay on the couch, leaning over me, one arm braced to the side and his hand at my temple.

That’s when the fuzzy-headedness began to retreat.

“What are you doing here?” I asked him groggily, placing my hand to my forehead as I tried to sit upright.

“Don’t do that.” He pushed my shoulders back to the couch. The hand at my temple moved to my wrist, his index and middle finger pressing against my pulse point. “You fainted. You need to take it slow.”

“Listen to him, Ash. He’s a doctor.” I recognized the voice of my third brother. I turned to see sweet and anomalous Cletus just as he brushed a strand of hair from my face. He gazed at me with kind hazel eyes. “It’s good to see you, baby sister.”

I gave him a small smile. I hadn’t seen him in eight years. An unexpected wave of nostalgia rushed over me. I ignored the tears stinging my eyes and responded, “You too, big brother.”

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