The Absence of Intellect – Sixteen

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Even two weeks after he’d been let go from Apogee, Hunter was having a hard time dealing with the fact that for the first time in decades he didn’t have a job. After Emily left in the mornings, he spent the day reading the news and coming up with ideas for dinner. He’d read somewhere that doing puzzles was good for managing the progression of dementia, so he walked down to the grocery store and bought a book of crossword puzzles. He was on his fourth one when his phone rang and he snatched it off the coffee table, eager to talk to whoever was on the other end of the line.

“Hello?”

“Hi, Dad!” Robin’s chipper voice made him smile as soon as he heard it. “What are you up to?”

“Nothing much,” he replied, setting aside his book and pencil. “As a matter of fact, I was just doing a crossword puzzle.”

“That’s great,” Robin said. “I’m glad you took my advice for a change. They’re supposed to help fight dementia.” It struck Hunter that his daughter was probably where he’d heard about the puzzles and he smiled. Things were sticking, just not the ones he expected.

“I’ve got some bad news for you then,” Hunter said. “I’ve already got dementia. What’s going on with you, Rob?”

“I know it’s short notice, but I’m in the city for a couple of days and I thought we could have dinner or something. Go to a movie. What time do you get off work today?” Wherever she was sounded busy and he wondered where she was. He listened more closely to try and figure it out, snapping back to the conversation only when Robin spoke up. “Dad?”

“Sorry,” he said, rubbing his forehead. “What did you ask?”

“What time you got off work,” Robin said patiently. “I’ll come over and pick you up from the house.” Hunter’s stomach dropped. He’d completely forgotten to call Robin and tell her he’d been fired. “Emily too. I really like her, she’s perfect for you.”

“I’m actually at home already,” Hunter said, feeling slightly numb. He didn’t want to tell her over the phone. It was a conversation he’d much rather have face to face, and he supposed tonight was as good a time as any. “Why don’t you come on over?”

“I’m headed into a meeting right now, it’ll be a couple of hours. Start thinking about where you want to go for dinner. On me.” She didn’t give Hunter time to protest before she spoke again. “I’ll see you tonight, Dad. Love you.”

“Love you too, sweetie.” She hung up and Hunter exhaled slowly and sank back against the couch. As much as he wanted to see his daughter, he didn’t want to have to tell her that the father she’d looked up to all her life had been thrown out of the company he helped create. He tried to think of a good way to tell her but nothing came to mind, and he was still sitting on the couch when the front door opened. “Robin?”

“No, it’s me,” Emily called. He turned on the couch to see her coming toward him with her computer bag over her shoulder. She leaned down and kissed him. “Are you expecting Robin?”

“She’s in town for couple of days and wanted to come by,” he said as she put her bag on the loveseat. “She’s coming after her meeting to take us to dinner.”

“That’s nice of her,” Emily said. “I won’t change, then.” She kicked off her shoes and sat on the couch beside Hunter, pulling her legs up and leaning her head on his shoulder. “You haven’t told her yet, have you?”

“No,” Hunter said, putting an arm around her. “I’d like to say I’ve been afraid to, or haven’t found the right words, but the truth is that I just didn’t remember to do it.” He sighed. “I guess that treatment isn’t working as well as we hoped.”

“It can’t reverse the damage that’s already been done,” Emily said. “It can only slow things down.” She was quiet for a moment, then looked up at him. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more for you, you know. Maybe if I’d worked just a little harder on it or been able to devote more time to it—”

“It’s not your fault,” Hunter said, cutting her off. He pulled her closer and rubbed her shoulder comfortingly. “This thing was going to get me whether you developed that…that treatment or not.” He closed his eyes. One more thing lost in the ocean of his mind.

“Have you given any thought as to what you’re going to do now?” Rather than correct him, Emily had gently changed the subject and he loved her for it.

“I don’t know,” Hunter replied, looking down at her. “I don’t know what exactly I could do. I can’t think of many places that would want to hire someone they’d have to retrain every couple of days. Besides, Apogee gave me two years’ salary as a going away benefit. That plus my savings should keep me afloat until I have to go into a home.”

“I think they call it assisted living now,” Emily said. “And that’s a long way off. Now that I’m not spending money on Melissa’s hospital bills I have more than enough to take care of us.” She sat up straight suddenly. “Hey, I know what you could do! You could open a restaurant!”

“You can’t be serious.”

“No, I am! You said yourself you can still cook if you follow a recipe, and you’re really good at it. Plus you have experience with hiring and management, and it would be no big deal to hire an accountant for the money stuff. I think if you opened a little restaurant, it’d do great.” Emily sounded far more exciting than he did about the idea but her enthusiasm was infectious. “Of course, I’d help out however I could so we could keep it going as long as possible.”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Hunter said. “After I lose it completely, I want you and Robin to be my beneficiaries. Even if you end up with someone else, the hope you’ve given me for the future means more to me than you’ll ever know.”

“Hunter, I’m not—”

“Hi, guys!” The front door opened again and Robin came in with a smile. She went straight to Hunter, who stood up to hug her. “It’s so good to see you again, Dad.” Emily got off the couch and smiled at her. “Emily, it’s nice to see you too.” She hugged Emily just as tightly as her father, then pointed at the ceiling. “I’m going to go put my bag in my room, then we’re going to dinner, so I hope you two were discussing where we’re going.” She went up the stairs, leaving Emily and Hunter looking at one another.

“This discussion isn’t over,” Emily said, and Hunter sighed. He was beginning to wish he hadn’t said anything about it. Even though he didn’t really know what he was going to say, he started to open his mouth anyway, only to be interrupted by Robin coming down the stairs.

“I’m exhausted after the trip and that meeting,” she said. “I had no idea a meeting could actually last for three hours. I’m going to make myself a drink before we go if that’s okay with you.” Emily grinned at her.

“That sounds like a fantastic idea,” she said. “I’ll come with you. My day was kind of a long one too.” Hunter started to join them but both women looked at him pointedly.

“You are not invited,” his daughter said. “You might drink with your meds while I’m not here but this time I’m being the parent.” She linked her arm through Emily’s and marched her into the kitchen while Hunter sat on the arm of the couch. Robin was definitely her mother’s child, and his curiosity about what they were talking about overwhelmed him. He went to the kitchen and stood just outside the doorway. “I swear, I worry about him as much as I would a toddler sometimes.”

“Tell me about it,” Emily said. “He’s pretty much the same as he used to be, though, so unless he’s having a bad day I don’t interfere. I’m sure it’s different for you because he’s your dad.” Hunter heard the clink of ice being dropped into glasses.

“Yeah,” Robin said, and the refrigerator door closed. “Speaking of, how are things going for you two? Romantically, I mean, not dementia-wise.” Emily sighed heavily and Hunter’s heart sped up. He wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what Emily was about to say but he couldn’t make himself move.

“They’re great, actually,” she said. “I was always jealous of my sister for finding such an amazing man who was so perfect for her. They complemented one another so well, you know? Hunter’s like that for me. It’s like I didn’t even know I was missing something until I met him.” Her words made Hunter’s eyes well up with tears and he took off his glasses so he could wipe them away before Emily and Robin came back in.

“You really love him, then,” Robin said, a smile in her voice.

“I do,” Emily said. “No matter what happens in the future, I want to be there for him. I just wish I could convince him of that.” The ice in her glass clinked together as she took a drink. “I don’t think he believes me and I don’t know what to say to make him understand.”

Hunter went back to the couch before they came out of the kitchen and sat on the arm again just as they entered with their glasses. They both looked like they had screwdrivers and he raised an eyebrow at Robin.

“You’re out of orange juice,” she said. “Sorry.”

“I’ll go get some more now,” Hunter said, standing up. “Otherwise I’ll forget to do it and be mad at myself when we have breakfast.” He looked at Emily. “Is there anything else we need?” She shook her head and sipped her drink.

“Not that I can think of. Do you want me to drive you?”

“I’ll be fine,” Hunter said. “I’m just going to the grocery store, it’s right down the street. If I get lost, I can just use my GPS to get back.” He didn’t give his daughter time to weigh in on his decision, going to the door and grabbing his keys from the bowl as he did. The door had barely closed before he remembered that he’d forgotten something, and when he opened it again Emily was standing there. “I forgot to kiss you.”

“I know,” she said. “But I knew you’d remember before you got out of the driveway.” Hunter smiled and leaned down to kiss her goodbye, trying to put a little more meaning into it than usual. If Emily noticed anything was different, she didn’t say so, and Hunter went out to his car. Emily watched him from the doorway until he was gone, and in his rearview mirror he saw Robin doing the same at the living room window.

On his way to the grocery store, Hunter thought about what he had overheard. He knew Emily loved him, there had never been any doubt in his mind about that, he just didn’t understand why she would be willing to stay and watch Alzheimer’s make him slowly become debilitated before finally dying. Watching her sister waste away had taken a toll on her and he couldn’t imagine her wanting to go through it again. If he was being honest with himself, he didn’t want her to have to do it. He wanted her to remember him as he had been, intelligent and confident, instead of what he would surely become. Emily wasn’t going to give up easily, she’d proved that in her years of care of Melissa. In his heart he did believe that she would stay with him, but his unreliable mind kept saying the opposite.

Hunter looked around and was surprised to find he was in a parking space. He didn’t remember the drive to the grocery store but he was incredibly relieved that he’d gotten there safely. It was only about half a mile from his house to the store so it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to ask Emily or Robin to walk down and drive him home, but he was determined to stay as independent as possible for as long as possible. He took his keys out of the ignition and got out.

When he stepped into the store, there was a young man refilling the stand that held the tourist brochures just inside the door. Hunter hadn’t remembered them being there before and stopped for a moment to look them over. There were brochures advertising all the usual Chicago tourist destinations. The tower, the bean, both zoos, and the aquarium were all represented, but one in particular caught his eye. He reached out and took it, his smile growing wider by the second. An idea was starting to form in his mind and he tucked the brochure into his pocket. Tomorrow was going to be much more interesting than today had been, provided he could remember to go through with his plan.

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