She awoke slowly to the feel of a cool cloth on her brow and the warm light of his smile. She tried to speak but her voice was little more than a hoarse gasp.
“Easy there, missy. Best try a bit of this to oil the pipes first.” He cradled her neck and eased her upwards toward the flexible straw that protruded from the plastic cup.
She sipped slowly before she tried again at speech, “Have…have you been here all night then, Sam?”
He grinned, widely, before replying. “Well, more on the order of all night and then most of the day. It’s three in the afternoon now.”
“Ohmigod Sam! Have you eaten or slept at all?”
“You let me do the worrying on me an’ you just fixate yo’self on gettin’ better.”
“Oh, my dear devoted Sam. You know there won’t be any getting better for me. You were right there when Dr. Carstairs explained…” Her whispering voice trailed off.
She turned her face away from him so he might not see the tears welling in her eyes. “Why, Sam? Why do you stay with me when it’s all but guaranteed I won’t ever be any better?”
“Well, missy, I –“
“If you’re concerned over where you’ll go or how you’ll get by, you know I told you, years ago, anything I had was yours for the asking.”
He gently gripped her chin in one large hand and turned her to face him. His eyes held a smoldering anger she’d not believed him any longer capable of.
“That the kind of man you think me to be, missy? When did Ole Sam slip so low in your eyes you think he’d cut and run on you? You tell me when, missy?”
“I never meant –“
“I know you wasn’t meanin’ to shame me, but you need to be recollectin’ on how it was we met.”
“But…I don’t like to bring up those times. That’s ancient history now.”
“Ain’t to me, it ain’t to me. It was the 8th Street Mission an’ you was there volunteerin’. I was dirty as a dog, drunk as a skunk, and evil as the day was long.”
Her smile was wan but genuine, “I’ve not forgotten, Sam.”
“You cleaned me up, took me in and showed me what it was to be a man again ‘stead of some sick, used-up animal. No, I won’t forget, missy. I can’t.”
With gentle care he embraced her, his hand stroking the smooth, bald head once covered in luxuriant auburn tresses.
He leaned close and whispered softly, “No, missy. Ole Sam, he won’t never forget an’ won’t never go away. He is yours now and for every breath until your very last, he will be. Now you get you some rest and I promise I’ll go find me a sandwich, eh?”
Knowing it would’ve embarrassed him to hear her actually speak the words, she waited until he was well gone to whisper softly, “I love you too, Sam.”