"Oi! Pay up!" The door trembled from the force of knocking and some spittle from the landlord's mouth. Penelope Bright curled in the farthest corner of the one-room apartment she shared with her father and waited for the noise to subside. She held her breath, an animal playing dead.

"You better pay up! If your father can drink himself to stupor, you have some money to pay the rent!" Penelope wondered if God existed. She knew that her father was no drunkard and that the pay from the construction was very small. She just wished that the landlord would stop embellishing stories.

She could hear the neighbors shouting at their children to get off the roads before they were roughshod by motorists. Some were lamenting their non-existent pays. Her landlord continued, no doubt some of her nosier neighbors were listening avidly. "If by next week, you don't have the money to pay, some other people will move in. They already paid in advance unlike you folks. I'll be back. Mark my words."

She waited, for how long she did not know, for the landlord to go away. Her muscles protested at her movements but she stretched her limbs and grabbed her things.

She was going to be late for class.

Before she could step out of the apartment, her phone rang. Seeing an unknown caller ID, she suddenly felt nervous.

"Hello?" she croaked.

"Is this Miss Penelope Bright?"


The unknown feminine voice coupled with the no-nonsense tone shook off the remnants of drowsiness. "Look, Miss Bright, your father, Mr Robert Bright was injured—a fractured radius. He is here at the Oaktown Hospital, emergency room." She knew the place. It was near the construction site and she could take a bus from home to reach the place. "He's stable now but still you need to finish some paper works."

After asking other pertinent details, she hung up. A great weight settled on her shoulders. Her father was hurt and she had another bill coming. The cleaning job her friend recommended had been able to shoulder most of their expenses for the last few months until it took a toll on her. The work combined with her studies left her little time to sleep. Besides, she just resigned after being propositioned by the owner of the house she was cleaning. She did not share the details with her parent. He'd go berserk. She was just thankful that the threat of a concentrated acid doused the pervert's lurid fantasies of dominance.

She scanned the string of names on her phone for a possible lifeline.

Unconsciously, her eyes zeroed on one of the names.

Lucinda Rochefort.

She must have been that desperate to actually—to even contemplate on calling upon her. She sighed. She had to assess her father's condition before she surrendered to the edicts of the termagant.

"For the umpteenth time, Pen, I'm fine." Robert Bright tried glaring at his daughter but could not due to the pain. He knew he looked like hell, with bruises on his cheek and arms but this version of him was better than earlier, all bloody and wracked in pain. It was a good thing that he fainted because after waking up, he could barely feel his arm since the doctor shot his senses down with morphine. Unfortunately, since the morphine already worked its chemistry, the pain was now insidiously creeping back into his system. Still, he was lucky that the company shouldered the hospital bill this time but he knew that this would not last and the company would eventually let him go. How on earth were they going to manage? He kept his thoughts to himself when his daughter returned with the food.

He let her fuss over him, putting the food on his lap, smoothing the hospital blanket, plumping the pillows. She sat on the end of the bed, her eyes bearing down on him, her serious gaze reminding him of his deceased wife.

"I think we should contact Lucinda."

"No." He said and speared the food—ugh. It still had no taste. Thankfully, it had a lot of starch to fill up his stomach. Calling that woman was out of the question. They did not need her help. They could make it on their own. He'll show her that he could be the pillar of the house!

"This is really not the time to be stubborn, Pa," she said dryly and held a glass of water. He studied his daughter for a long time. She was thinner than last year. Her hair was unkempt. Her glasses merely emphasized the dark rings around her dark brown eyes. The shirt and pants she wore suffered thousands of washings as evidenced by the faded colors. Her sneakers were barely holding up.

Guilt and regret swamped him—he was not raising her up properly.

He silently ate the food and let the matter drop.

Pride, could he eat pride? Would she be better off if he begged the old woman to take her back?

It was night when she left her father in the care of the nurse. A young female doctor approached her.

"Are you related to Robert Bright?"

Pen nodded and let herself be led to one of the chairs.

"I just want to straighten things out since I want the best for my patient."

Cold clutched her gut as she heard the doctor's words.

"We screened his blood, general procedures, you know." Pen caught the woman's gaze. She braced herself for the next wave of words from the woman. "We found elevated AST and ALT, proteins related to liver cancer."

She was familiar with the said biomarkers. "B-but," she swallowed, fighting for her throat to open up and ask pertinent questions. "These markers, t-they're not conclusive. I-I mean if you have one it d-does not mean that he has cancer—right?" The last was a desperate plea.

The doctor patted her back in a soothing manner. Pen acidly thought that the woman must have done this to a lot of people. It must have been one of those standard operating procedures that doctors follow.

"We need to get an MRI or a CT scan of his liver to confirm."

After the doctor left. Pen mindlessly walked the white corridor that filled her nose with the scent of ozone. In her hand was her phone, with the number of the woman who could help her. Could she actually ask that woman for help? Would that woman even help?

Wanting to clear her head, she went outside the building. The wash of cold night air cooled her heated thoughts. She stared at blue screen of her phone. She swallowed her pride and called her, Lucinda Rochefort. . . her grandmother. After some rings, somebody picked up the call. Hearing the familiar voice, she found herself unconsciously straightening her back, attuned to every reprimand.

"What a surprise, Penelope." Her grandmother's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"We need help, Lucinda." She tried to keep her voice even.

"I thought so."

"I need your money," she started, too nervous to think of a better way of saying things. "Please." She choked on the last word.

"Very well," she said briskly. Pen released the pent-up breath she had been holding. "Come to the office. We'll work it out from there." Penelope knew the place since she had to spend her whole vacation learning the ropes of the place—until she left and stayed with her father.

"What time?"


"Fine by me."

The old woman finished the call. She stood rooted on the spot, cold and trembling and she stayed there for some time until she had silenced her senses screaming at her to run.