Home > Back Check (Boston Rebels #2)

Back Check (Boston Rebels #2)
Author: R.J. Scott


Chapter One




The box arrived on a Tuesday.

Coincidentally, the same day I received the worst news in a phone call from the oncologist, and right about the moment I lost the last of my hope that we would ever find a donor to match Sophie.

“The HLA markers came back at six or less in all the potential donors,” Dr. Carmichael said in her quiet, supportive tone. “I’m so sorry, Isaac.”

“Then we use one of the people that match six? At this point, surely that’s all we can do?” We needed a donor, but we couldn’t find one. Without a donor, Sophie couldn’t have the chemo. Without the chemo, she’d die. It was a simple chain of events, but we were stuck on part one.

Sophie fussed in my arms, wriggled, and butted my shoulder as she tried to fight sleep. We’d been up all night, watching kids shows and singing nursery rhymes. My eyes scratched with exhaustion and my throat was sore from a hundred iterations of “Wheels on the Bus.”

“I wish it was. Having the best possible match means less risk of Sophie’s body rejecting the new stem cells or her new immune cells reacting against her other body cells. It would be disingenuous of me to suggest that taking a chance on a mismatched transplant would be right for Sophie at the present time.”

“But we’ve run out of options. Tell me what else we can do.”

“We’ll keep searching.”

“I read a transplant from a relative whose tissue was a half-match to Sophie. What about me?”

“A haploidentical transplant you mean? I’m sorry, you’re not a match for that,” she reminded me gently. “And I’m guessing you still haven’t tracked down her biological father?”

I’d tried. I went to the bar where my sister had worked, which was staffed by people who lasted a few months and drifted away and were mostly from the University of Tampa Campus, covering peak times of the year. They remembered my sister, recalled that Ashley was vivacious, a little wild, beautiful, funny, but not one of them knew anything below the surface. She hadn’t left any kind of footprint at the college or the bar or the hundreds of places in between that could help me track down Sophie’s sperm donor. The fact I couldn’t control this situation was driving me insane, and the baby daddy situation was yet another thing I’d never gotten out of my sister, and never would, as she’d died the day Sophie was born.

Despite becoming an uncle, then a single parent, in one terrifying twenty-four-hour period, I got through it and came out the other side, grieving, but wholly focused on Sophie and what she needed. I didn’t even think twice about putting everything on hold for the tiny scrap of a thing who searched for her momma, but was left with me. That had been two years ago. Sophie had just passed her second birthday, and I had the photos to prove that she was a physical presence in my life—a beautiful smiling angel with dark hazel eyes and fine blonde hair that was nothing like her mom’s or mine. I couldn’t bear to think that these might be the last photos I’d ever have of her with a cake.

We’d tried everything, every database, every resource, and I knew Doc Carmichael was the best oncologist for Sophie. Every cent I had went to Sophie’s care, but I felt helpless because I couldn’t do anything. I was out of money and losing hope. I wished I could heal her just with the force of my love, but miracles like that didn’t happen.

Sophie murmured against my neck. She was running a temperature, but not a normal one from teething or a mild fever that new parents expect. This was from a poison inside my daughter’s blood, and it was slowly gripping her and pulling her away from me, minute by agonizing minute. Some days, when I looked into her eyes, I saw nothing but a bright future for her, with all the possibilities of what she could be someday, there for her to take. Then the shadows would fall in my own eyes and all I could see was pain and loss. Now, I don’t know if I can live without her. I’d lost everyone close to me—my parents to Hurricane Wilma, my grandparents who’d faded from old age, and then Ashley herself.

It was just Sophie and me now.

And I was losing her too.

“I wouldn’t even know how to narrow it down,” I said in defeat. “Aside from erecting a sign on every corner and asking if some random guy knew my sister, I have no way of knowing anything at all.”

Dr. Carmichael made a noise that sounded as if she was sucking her teeth. She never once mentioned that my sister’s wild days had left us backed into a corner—she was nothing but supportive—but even I wanted to bury my face in my hands and scream at Ashley’s life choices. If we knew the sperm donor then we’d be able to move onto an alternative solution, but we didn’t, and Sophie was dying.

“As for good news, her last results were encouraging…”

I didn’t even listen. I’d heard the hope in her voice before about good results that implied Sophie would make it through this, when I knew in black and white terms that she wouldn’t.

Neither would I.

“… so, I’ll see you for your appointment on Friday and stay strong, Isaac. Give Sophie a kiss for me.”

She wrapped up the conversation, with the kiss line, and I wondered if it was something that all pediatric oncologists learned in college. Send them a kiss, connect the parent to the child after delivering bad news, always sound positive.

“I will, thank you, doctor.”

The call ended at the same moment the doorbell rang, leaving me no time to dwell in the isolation of my hallway when someone needed me. Albeit the postman, who was probably dropping off a parcel meant for one of my neighbors, which happened often, as I was the only one in the vicinity who worked from home.

“One for you, Mr. Miller,” the postal worker announced with a grin and handed me a battered box wound with enough tape to start a shop. He scanned the parcel and asked me to sign, then I shut the door and rattled the box to work out what someone had sent. It certainly wasn’t a professional wrapping job, so I didn’t imagine it was merch from any of my clients.

I carried it and Sophie through to the kitchen. Sophie was now sleeping on my shoulder, her tiny hands twisted in my shirt, and thankfully, she seemed cooler than earlier. I placed her into the rocker, which was locked into a permanent position in the breakfast nook, then gave the parcel another shake.

Graphic designer killed in exploding parcel incident.

Sophie murmured in her sleep, her eyes opening briefly, as she searched the room for me.

“Dadda,” she whined, arching against the belt that held her secure, and then fisted her hands when I didn’t lift her out fast enough. I’d gone to her immediately, all thoughts of parcels and bombs and life just gone in that instant she needed me. I bet any nanny worth their salt would tell me I shouldn’t carry her with me, but this was Sophie and my time with her might be limited. I wanted every snuggle and moment of love I could get. She pushed one hand into my hair and stared at me with an expression that meant this could go one of two ways. She could start to cry because she was exhausted, in pain, or just generally crabby, or she could melt in my arms and cling to me.

“Hey, baby girl,” I whispered against her neck. She smelled so good, and she loved me and needed me so much. The grief welled up from me so fast it took my breath away.

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