His damned niece.
He got up two hours before Denice every morning, so they couldn't talk about Freddie, or about work, or their inevitable divorce. Getting up that early, rising with that little sleep, made it feel like the avoidance postponed inevitabilities. He took his one cup of coffee in Freddie's doorway, watching the underdeveloped chest inflate under the instruction of tubes. He always left before the boy woke. He did so for many reasons, but mostly for one.
He took forty minutes in the parking lot, leaning on the steering wheel, exercising his breathing. Music, self-help books, even pot didn't steady his nerves as much as gathering his will over time. The gradual tick towards work.
He cancelled all his company e-mails accounts, refused any physical mail at the office, and kept his phone off until he walked out the building's doors. No one overheard a single sentence, and when they asked, his sentence was always, "Fine, Denice thinks he'll be a ball star," followed by an annoyed exhalation that always shut the conversation down.
And it worked. For weeks it constructed the silence on the topic that he needed, and then his God-damned niece had to fuck it up. A grown woman would have known that not answering her e-mails meant to leave him alone. She had to call his department and ask how he was doing with his son's cancer. That call spread like Freddie's disease, through the body of his workplace, though his co-workers and superiors, atrophying his morning in the parking lot, corrupting it into therapy sessions and office-mates dropping by to ask how the kid was. It made everyone feel at liberty to prod inside his wounds. He never asked anyone to deal with it. They told him to, and they controlled his family's health insurance.