Changeup, Chapter 9

He'd driven all night. He'd been worried about falling asleep at the wheel, but it ended up not being lack of sleep that left his eyes tired and dry.

His mom was waiting as he pulled into the driveway. The lawn where he'd tossed the ball with Dad every evening of every summer was overgrown.

She fell into his arms. He held her up, both of them crying with no tears left to fall.

"I'm sorry, Mom. I'm so sorry."

He helped her up the steps and through the door. He eased her down onto the couch and sat down in the armchair next to her.

"It was so quick, Joe. He was fine, then he was sick, then it was...over."

"I know. We didn't see it coming."

"He did, Joe. He's known for a year. It was the cancer. He never told me about it."

Joe sat for a moment in stunned silence. After a while, it sank in and no longer surprised him.

"That's how Dad was, Mom. Never wanted to worry anybody. Thought it was his job to watch out for everyone, not the other way around."

"So foolish! But the doctor said it would have been too late anyway."

"Then it was his choice."

"Not his choice to make!"

Joe didn't know what to say to that. He sat with his hand on Mom's arm for a moment while she choked back angry sobs.

Then they sat in silence, two survivors holding on after the storm.

After a few minutes, Joe quietly got up and headed to the kitchen. He started a pot of coffee and put a few dishes in the washer while it brewed.

He placed the mugs on the table in front of them, steam rushing to disappear a few inches above the rim.

"Joe, I have some things for you."

Joe looked at the banker's box Mom was handing him. The box had 'JOE' written on the side in neat black Sharpie. He recognized Dad's writing immediately. He hadn't noticed the box earlier. Mom must have retrieved it while he was in the kitchen. He glanced at her quizzically.

"A few things he wanted you to have, Joe. He's kept this box for years. Said he'd give it to you when your were ready."

Joe blew dust off the lid and stared at it for a moment.

"I guess that's now, Joe."

What's inside?