Undisputed

By: A.S. Teague

For Allison-



Without you, there would be no Breccan or Sidney and definitely no Rebecca.



Without you, I’d never have known how to make a teaser or what an em dash is (let’s be honest––I still don’t know how to make a teaser.)



Without you, this book would have never been started, much less completed.



Without you, I’d still be dreaming instead of doing.



Thank you. The words aren’t nearly enough, but they are all I have to offer. Well, that and wine.





“It looks like there’s been some damage to the kidney. It’s only functioning at about twenty percent. He needs to start dialysis until we can find a donor. Have you been tested to see if you’re a match?” the middle-aged doctor asks, leaning across his massive desk, hope in his eyes.

Glancing around the room, I take note of the medical books and papers that litter his desk. It’s warmly decorated in earth tones and quite a few framed degrees hang on the wall behind his desk. But it’s the rather large portrait of a landscape opposite us that catches my attention. Standing tall in the middle of a field of wildflowers is a beautiful tree in full bloom. I’m sure the portrait is supposed to be serene and peaceful, but to me, it just looks sad, the tree standing there all alone. No one is around to see the beauty of the flowers and the strength of the branches that reach toward the sky.

I wonder how it ended up there, just the one tree. Was it planted and intended to spend its days lonely, surrounded by nothing but grass and flowers? Or maybe it was a seed that had been blown from a forest just on the edge on the picture, right out of sight. I assume that the tree wouldn’t want to be alone, but perhaps that’s wrong too. Maybe it enjoys the solitude. Maybe the tree is happy that it has nothing surrounding it and drowning out the sun it has so clearly thrived under.

It makes no difference as to how or why it ended up there all by itself. All that matters is that it perfectly reflects how I feel in this very moment.

Alone.

“Yes!” Abby rushes out. “When he was born, we went ahead and got tested in case this day ever came. No one in the family was.” She looks toward me.

I quickly avert my gaze, not wanting her to see the fear in my eyes.

“I don’t understand. Everything has been functioning just fine. He had his annual check just a few months ago. How could he go from being okay to needing dialysis in such a short time?” Her eyes dart between the doctor and me, desperate for an answer.

I reach across hard, wooden armrests to take her hand in mine. She grasps my hand in hers and squeezes my fingers to the point of pain. I try not to let her see my grimace and turn my attention back to Doctor Barnes.

He shakes his head. “It looks like his kidney was damaged somehow. Possibly playing sports. Didn’t you say that he started having these symptoms after a particularly grueling football game? Children born with renal agenesis are really discouraged from doing anything strenuous that could damage the one remaining kidney. I know that it’s hard to tell your son no when he seems like any other normal child. But, unfortunately, this is why we advise against it.”

I know he isn’t trying to be condescending, but it’s still a punch in the gut to hear that all of this could possibly have been prevented. I’m suddenly angry at Abby. Angrier with her than I have ever been. I jerk my hand out of her grasp and glare at her.

Surely she knew that Connor wasn’t supposed to be playing sports, but she let him anyway. It is just another example of how irresponsible she is, and I have to bite my tongue to keep from lashing out at her. Abby loves Connor and I love her, but the fact that she spends more time interviewing politicians in foreign countries than she does raising her own son frustrates me.

Watching the scene play out in front of me feels as though I’m watching a movie. This can’t be real. This can’t be my life. My chest hurts, and a stray tear falls from my eyes, but my mind is running in a million different directions at once and I can’t process what is being said. Numbness is the only word I can think of to describe how I am feeling as I listen to the words coming out of the doctor’s mouth, and even that doesn’t do justice to the emptiness in my chest and the rock in my gut.

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