I was in the shower two days later when Jane called. Her message said the news was bad.
“It’s cancer,” she burst out when I called her back. It sounded like she’d been crying.
“Pretty much everywhere.”
I sat down. “What’s the prognosis?”
She blew her nose. “I wouldn’t bet the farm on Steve being around for Christmas.”
Michael and I were shattered.
True, we didn’t know Steve all that well. It wasn’t like he was a close friend. And yet there was something deeply endearing about him. We felt connected. His bad news was, in a very immediate sense, ours.
We tried to think of ways we could help. For starters, we decided to call him and tell him not to worry about our house.
I made the call.
“Jane said you didn’t get great news.”
He laughed with a low, throaty rasp. “Not really.”
“What’s the next step?”
“We’re headed to New York. Sloan-Kettering. Believe it or not, one of my college buddies is a doctor there. He’s already worked out my treatment plan.”
This sounded good. “Steve, that’s great. I’m so glad.”
“Yeah, and we’re going to live in Carnegie Hall.”
I tried to take this in. “I hope you practiced.” It was a lame joke, but I was at a rare loss for words.
“Actually there are apartments in the building, and a friend of a friend who lives there is on sabbatical in Australia. So we’re in.” He paused. “My Sue and me.”
I swallowed hard. “So how are you guys for money?”
He laughed again. “We’re not exactly charity cases, you know.”
I chuckled too. “True, but we owe you around two grand, I think. I’m sending you a check today.”
“You haven’t mentioned your house,” he said at last. “Aren’t you worried about what’s going to happen now that I’m out of commission?”
I tried to sort out my thoughts. “Sure, I guess. But we’re a lot more concerned about what’s going to happen to you.”
“That’s nice, Patrick, but business is business. Here’s my plan.”
In essence, he was turning our project over to his business partner, a local guy named Carl. He gave us Carl’s number.
“He’ll be calling you soon to go over next steps,” he said.
I jotted down the number.
“Steve?” I said.
“Don’t worry about our house. It’s not important.”
“It’s important to you and Michael.”
“Compared to what you’re going through, it’s not important at all.”
Another pause. “Thanks.”
“Can I call you in New York?”
“Sure, same phone number. That would be nice.”
We never heard from Carl. I left five messages for him; Michael left three.
Finally we called Jane. “Do you know this Carl guy?”
“Is he ever going to call us back?”
“Is he working on our house?”
“Not that I can tell.”
“What do we do?”
She sighed dramatically. “Call me, I guess.”