It's amazing how empowering it is to have someone on your side, someone cheering for you and giving counsel or courage when you falter. It's like a breath of air, right when your vision starts to fade from the lack of oxygen, or a hug when your heart hurts so badly it feels like it could crumble if that hug wasn't there to hold it together. I never knew how alone I'd always been until I'd met the Morgans.
Jeremy felt it too, maybe even more than I did. He had to leave the farm and come back for his first senior semester at the university, but I often saw him talking on his phone to Will or Jon. Sometimes, when he was walking me back to the dorms, one or the other of us would turn on speaker phone and we'd both talk to the Morgans, as though they were our family, and we were their kids, away from home. It was weird, and yet normal at the same time. As though the world should have been like that all along, but somehow it all went wrong.
Wrong is the way life had gone for Mike Stavonovitch. I knew his last name now, and his parents, Rob and Kay, and his uncle Frank. Mike had come to live in Albuquerque, or depending on your point of view, to die in Albuquerque.
I went to visit him twice a week, to talk to him about how he was feeling.
“Hi Molly,” Kay greeted me, opening the dark wooden door to let me into the hall. Mike's uncle Frank was single and pretty well-off. He lived in the northeast on the slopes of the Sandia mountains and commuted to INTEL every day, where he worked as a metallurgical engineer. He had only been home once since I'd been coming to visit Mike. I followed Kay down the hall, and up a flight of carpeted stairs.
“He's feeling down today,” Kay whispered. “I'm glad you came. I think he's better though. Don't you?”
I hesitated, not wanting to give hope where there was none. It did seem as though Mike had more energy lately. He'd certainly outlived the doctor's expectations.
“Are you still doing the sodium bicarbonate protocol?” I asked, side-stepping her question.
“Yes, and at his last appointment the doctor said his kidneys are still functioning after all. He thinks maybe the doctor in Nebraska was preemptive in putting Mike on dialysis. In any case, it looks like he'll be able to go off of dialysis soon. I do think it's making the difference. He isn't as yellow as he was last week either.”
Kay stopped by an open door and announced softly, “Mike, Molly is here.”
“Come in,” Mike answered, and his tone sounded firm, even though his voice was weak.
When I stepped through the door I stopped in surprise. Mike did look better. The dark hollows under his eyes weren't quite as dark as I remembered them, and like Kay said, he didn't appear quite so yellow anymore.
“The glutathione precursors are helping my liver,” he told me abruptly. “And my kidneys don't hurt anymore.”
I said nothing, but I walked over to the bed and looked at Mike more closely. His eyes met mine and I saw they were clear. His mouth curved into a smile but it did not reach his eyes.
“So you're depressed you might not die after all?” I asked lightly, looking through the notebook in which Kay was keeping daily records.
Mike did not answer me, so I looked up again, to see his expression. He didn't say anything, but his eyes darted toward his mother, and she excused herself politely, to go get some tea.
“What is it, Mike?” I asked, when Kay was gone. He didn't say anything at first, he just sighed and rolled his head back and forth on his pillows. I waited for him to work it out.
“I think since I'm feeling better, I'm thinking about what I have to live for,” he said, looking away from me and out of the window. “As long as I was going to die, I could just lay here and enjoy the attention while I had it, you know?” He glanced at me, and I just waited, sensing there was more to come.
“Your attention,” he added, and his right cheek twitched nervously.
Oh crap, I thought. Mike's in love with me. Gosh darn it. What do I say now?
“I know there's somebody you're waiting for. I think it's one of those Morgan guys,” Mike said, while I was still searching for a response.
“Jake's only fifteen. Will is—” I broke off, realizing I had given myself away. In spite of his grim humor, Mike smiled.
“So it's Will Morgan,” he sighed, resuming his melancholy window gazing. “Now I have a name for my mortal enemy.”
I tried not to laugh at his melodrama, but Mike relieved me by laughing at himself. He was always good natured, even in the worst of it.
“He's probably a really nice guy,” Mike said, mostly to himself. “I'm sure of it, actually. He's the one that sent me that walking stick, isn't he?”
I nodded, still at a loss for words. Will had carved a cedar walking stick for Mike and sent it with Jeremy. The rest of the family had sent notes and small items as well. Mike knew the Morgans had emailed Kay any research they came across about glyphosate toxicity and related natural treatments. It was Meg Morgan that had discovered the sodium bicarbonate therapy that seemed to be making so much difference.
“I don't know what to say,” I replied at last, smiling ruefully at Mike.
“I don't either,” he said. “Let's talk about something else. I'm tired of moping.”
So we played chess and I talked about how the other case studies were going. Many of the farmers that volunteered for testing had similar health issues to Mike and his family. Some of them had children with terrible birth defects and life-threatening conditions. Separated from one another, most had never attributed their ill luck to GM crops.
Mike wanted to know what response Dr. Meir and I had had to our recent research, which had been published in a small scientific periodical.
“Actually, we've just gotten veiled criticism so far,” I admitted. “Since we haven't published any conclusions yet, there's not much they can say. Our second piece has the results of all the test subjects, and I'm betting we'll get some heat over that. Some things we didn't even think to look for at first have come up too. Like, how many of them have food allergies, asthma, and chronic congestion. Dr. Meir says our next project will be to test a group of organic farmers the same way.”
Mike chuckled with anticipation. “Make sure to bring me a copy as soon as you get it,” he said. “Have any of our classmates read your first article?”
I shook my head. “Are you kidding? I doubt anyone at our university, including professors, has read it.”
“You should get extra copies and hand them out,” Mike suggested. “Dave and Leon would read it if you handed it to them. Have you seen them lately?”
Our talk turned to classmates, and soon it was time for me to go. When I said goodbye, Mike reached out and squeezed my hand briefly.
“Don't worry about me,” he said. “I'm just up and down right now, and that's the way it is. You live your life. . . and I'll live mine.” Mike's smile was genuine.
“You do that,” I answered, smiling back. “See you in a few days.”
Once I was back in the car, I dialed the Morgan farm immediately. Jake answered the phone, breathless from his sprint out to the truck where the phone was kept.
“Mike is better!” I announced, the joy of that realization just beginning to really hit me.
“He's better?” Jake asked. “Really?”
I heard Jake shout away from the phone, as he walked toward the house, “Hey guys—it's Molly. Mike is better!”
Then Jake passed the phone to Meg, who questioned me for details. I read her the notes that Kay had taken, which I had copied into a notebook of my own, along with my own observations.
“Thank God!” Meg Morgan breathed into the phone. “Oh, Molly. This is good news.”
“He's not out of the woods yet,” I answered. “He could still get worse and die.”
“He could also live,” Meg answered. “We'll keep praying. Thank you for calling, Molly. Do you want to talk to Will? He's here.”
I hesitated for a moment. Will and I had never talked privately, just over the speaker phone with everybody there. Why would Meg assume I would want to talk to Will and not Ramona or Susanna? But even while I searched for an answer, I heard Will's voice greeting me over the distance.
“Congratulations, Molly. That is some good news.”
“Oh. Thanks,” I said. My voice sounded timid in my own ears. I sat up and collected myself and added, “How are you, Will?”
“Good. Good. Just working, doing the regular stuff, you know,” Will answered easily. The sounds of the rest of the Morgan's voices faded into the distance as he moved away from them with the phone.
“How about you?” he asked. I took a deep breath, gripping the steering wheel with my free hand even though the car was still parked outside the Stavonovitch house.
“Oh, good here, too. We're about to publish part two of our research. I'm kind of nervous about it, I guess.” I paused, trying to keep myself from talking too much.
“All hell could break loose,” Will agreed on the other end of the line. I thought I could hear worry in his voice. “We'll be praying for you and Dr. Meir.”
“We've been really careful and thorough,” I answered, as if that would solve everything. “And the doctor we're working with has a good rep, too.”
Will didn't answer this, and there was silence on the line. I bit my lip and winced.
Had I said the wrong thing?
“If you need anything, be sure to call us, Molly. We can come—I can come and get you if there's any trouble.”
“Why would there be trouble?” I asked, feeling my fingertips tingle with alarm.
“There shouldn't be,” Will answered immediately, and his voice was reassuring. “I'm just saying. . . that's all. So I guess you're going to graduate in a few months.”
“I guess so,” I answered, quietly.
“I just—I said, ‘yeah, I guess so',” I repeated with more volume this time. Will didn't answer and I was afraid the conversation was fizzling out.
“How's your house coming?” I asked abruptly.
“It's about done,” Will answered, and his voice sounded glad. “I'm putting in the kitchen. The snow has kept me from hauling in supplies to build the barn, so I've just been working on the inside of the house, fixing it up. It's looking good.”
“And your grass?”
“Oh my gosh, it's coming up right under the snow. I still move the cows around because the soil hasn't frozen yet. Hey, are you coming with Jeremy for Christmas?”
“I might be able to come for a few days,” I answered, trying to restrain my eagerness.
“Good. Well, that's only a couple of months from now, so we'll see you then, okay?” Will's voice seemed to get further away. I thought I recognized the faint sound of the truck door opening. He was taking the phone back to the phone jack, and filling the time with polite conversation. The hope that had filled me with helium-like joy suddenly left me with a whoosh.
“Okay. Say hi to the girls for me. See you later, Will.”
“Take care, Molly. 'Bye.”