Authors: Tori Madison
Text copyright © 2014 by Tori Madison
All Rights Reserved
This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written consent and permission of the author except for the use of brief quotes by a reviewer in a book review.
This is a work of fiction; however, some of the experiences related directly to the main character’s breast cancer were drawn from the author’s own experiences. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The author is using a pen name; this is not a personal autobiography.
To my husband and daughters . . .
This book wouldn’t have happened without you and your constant love and support. Let’s not forget doing the dishes, cooking, laundry, driving the girls to dance, and disappearing for hours to give me some quiet time to write. You have stood by my side through it all and never complained. I love you all very much and couldn’t have asked for better co-survivors!
To my special angels in heaven P, J, and L . . .
You told me to “keep living the dream,” and I’m trying on your behalf. I love and miss you every day!
To my breast cancer friends (BCFs) . . .
This group of amazing survivors has played an important part in my life in figuring out who I am “after” cancer. I love and adore each one of you and the impact you have made on my life and the lives of woman all over the world with your positive energy and love!
I AM BEAUTIFUL
’ll get us checked in,” Noah said as he held my hand in the town car that had been hired to take us to the Plaza Hotel in New York City. “Then I need to head down to the conference suites and meet with a few of the partners to discuss the breakout session I’m leading on Saturday.”
“No worries, I could use a little down time actually. No need to rush on my account,” I said as I snuggled into my husband’s side; his dark sandy blonde locks tickled my forehead as I laid my head on his broad shoulder. It was a perfect fit.
We had just arrived in New York for a law conference Noah was to be a panelist for. He was known as the golden boy of his law firm, a bad-ass in the courtroom who was quickly becoming a highly respected attorney in Minneapolis.
“I shouldn’t be too long. We need to be down for dinner by seven o’clock with the partners and their wives. I’ll need a shower before we go,” he said while looking through messages on his phone with his other hand. He could multitask like no other.
Looking out the window, I took in the sights of the city as we drove along Central Park. New York was constantly moving; people were always in motion and minds were constantly going. I saw a gentleman walking briskly while adjusting his tie, which sparked my memory. “What tie are you wearing tonight? I’m not sure what dress I should wear to dinner, and I’d like to coordinate.”
“I was planning to wear my red one. But why don’t you just lay out your dresses on the bed, and I’ll help you decide when I get back.” I could hear the devilish smile in his voice, and it was confirmed when I looked up into the most intense, mischievously lit-up blue eyes.
“Well, you better hurry then. We don’t want to keep the partners waiting, and I’m pretty sure it won’t be a quick selection process,” I replied as my heart rate sped up. Noah was all business on the outside, but I knew what lay underneath that façade. It was the mystery of who he was in college that grabbed my attention, and he was a temptation I couldn’t resist.
Noah was the only child of a very prominent couple in Chicago. While he lived an exceptional childhood and never wanted for anything, expectations were always high. He had been at the top of his class, and failure was not an option. With a judge for a father and a law editor for a mother, he had been raised mostly by nannies and attended a strict Catholic school.
They were less than enthusiastic when Noah announced we were getting married shortly after graduation. “You’re being irresponsible” and “you’ll regret this decision,” were the only acknowledgments they gave us, passed on by way of their assistants.
We pulled up in front of the Plaza and the sheer size and grandeur took my breath away. Noah stepped out of the car first, and I followed close behind. Apparently I followed a little too close, as my left breast bumped up against his elbow as I stepped out.
A sharp pain, followed by a slow burning sensation, startled me. Apparently my breasts were a little more sensitive today since my period was due. It was quickly forgotten as the doormen began greeting us the moment my foot hit the pavement. Noah guided me up the signature red-carpeted steps, through the revolving door, and into the lobby. I felt like royalty.
“Why don’t you take a seat, and I’ll go check us in?” Noah nodded toward the vast sitting area.
I sank into an oversized chair in a most unladylike fashion and blocked out everything around me other than the beauty of the lobby. Surrounded in timeless sophistication, I took notice of several large crystal chandeliers sparkling above and the marble floor below shimmering like a sheet of ice. Leaning my head back against the chair, I gazed up at the gold-framed ceiling. Everything was done to perfection.
As a child, I enjoyed art and design. My adoptive mom, Mary, was a respected artist and floral designer and had several prestigious clients. Her work was on display and featured in several local magazines, so it was safe to say design was a passion of mine after having been surrounded by it growing up.
After working two jobs while Noah was in law school, I was finally able to follow my dreams and enroll in an interior design program. I now worked as a member of the American Society of Interior Designers, I owned my own design firm, and often I traveled with Noah on business trips to look for design inspiration around the country.
“Come on, sleepyhead. Let’s go check out our room; I think you’ll be pleased,” Noah whispered. I must have closed my eyes and was starting to drift off when he approached. Taking my hand, he helped me up and placed a soft kiss on my temple before wrapping his arm around my waist and leading me toward the elevator bank.
We followed the bellman up to the twelfth floor to one of the Rose Suites. Noah nodded for me to enter the room first; he was always the gentleman. It was beautiful with warm gold, crisp white, and soft brown colors. A crystal chandelier glistened above, inviting me in further. I was instantly lost in its beauty.
Gold curtains framed the large windows and beaux arts–inspired décor carried the classic feel of years gone by. The refined style carried throughout the room. A large king-size bed was covered in white and gold Italian linens and an ornate desk sat in front of the window overlooking Central Park. It was a designer’s dream.
“Thank you,” I heard Noah say to the bellman as he exited the room with what I was sure was a hefty tip. Noah never did anything small, a trait he got from his very proper and often pretentious father. He walked over and wrapped his arms tightly around my waist. “I hope you like it. The front desk offered us an upgrade.”
“It’s stunning. Thank you.” I laid my head back against his shoulder, feeling his muscles flex as he tightened his hold. “I’m going to take a shower and relax for a bit while you’re downstairs.”
He gave me a kiss on the top of my head before letting me go. “Sounds like a good plan. I should get down to the conference floor, but I’ll be back in a few hours. Enjoy . . .” Noah reached for his briefcase, gave me another kiss—this time on the lips—and left.
Once the door to our suite closed behind Noah, I grabbed my cosmetic bag and hurried into the bathroom to turn on the shower to let it warm up. This wasn’t your average bathroom. The tile work was magnificent, with gold leaf designs on the floor and walls. The 24-carat gold–plated faucets were a work of art in and of themselves, not to mention the smooth marble vanity.
I placed my things on the vanity, stripped off my clothes, and stepped into the shower, letting the hot water cascade across my muscles. I grabbed the shampoo and began to work up a thick lather. I’d been feeling a bit sluggish lately, and it was nice to have a break from the office. I had been working around the clock on a major remodeling project; it had finally just wrapped up.
After rinsing my hair, I reached for the shower gel and started to wash my body when I recalled the pain I’d felt earlier. Breast self-exams were important, but regretfully, I forgot more times than I remembered. Moving my hand to my left breast, I instantly found the tender spot again. I still couldn’t believe how it had caught my attention like it did.
The area felt hard, like a misshapen marble—a small but very sensitive marble. Someone once told me that if a lump was painful it wasn’t cancer, so I dismissed it as such. I would call my doctor when I returned home, just to be safe. I had a history of fibroids, and I was sure it was another one. Why should I panic when it was most likely nothing?
Stepping out of the shower, I quickly dried off and wrapped myself in the fluffy robe that hung on the back of the door. I have a thing for robes, and this one looked amazing. It was a rich cream color, and when I pulled it on, I felt like I was wrapped in one of those soft newborn baby blankets.
I pulled a brush through my long brown hair and let it air dry while I studied my face in the mirror. My skin still had a touch of a golden tan from the summer sun and didn’t need much makeup. I chose to apply a neutral shadow and mascara to my dark chocolate brown eyes and then swiped a layer of pink tinted gloss on my full lips and was done. Simple and elegant was my style, and, thankfully, it didn’t take much to achieve it. I wasn’t a woman who fussed over my looks.
Settling into one of the gold-upholstered chairs, I checked my phone and noticed that I had a missed call from my best friend, Jen.
Our Friday gossip sessions had been a tradition since before I got married ten years ago, and it would be a travesty to miss that conversation.
Jen and I had been best friends since junior high. We supported each other through breakups, bad grades, and, as we got older, the curve balls that life had thrown at each of us. Every brunette needs a blonde friend, and she was mine.
“What’s up, love?” Jen asked in the singsong way that always made me smile.
“I should be asking you that question,” I shot back at her, “What happened to you Monday night? One minute we were celebrating a Vikings touchdown and the next you were flirting with Mr. Panty-Dropper at the end of the bar. Then you mysteriously disappeared. Did you seriously think I wouldn’t notice, or better yet, know what you were doing? When are you going to get off the singles train and join the real world?”
“Never—it’s too much fun. By the way, I’m still pissed that you got off it before it even left the station. ‘Oh Noah’ this and ‘Oh Noah’ that. He had you whipped from the moment you saw him,” she made a gagging sound, which made me laugh.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah . . . I know, don’t dish it if you can’t take it. So, what do you have for me? I need some down-and-dirty gossip, so spill.”
After thirty amazing minutes of naughty stories, giggles, and gasps, I noticed the time. I needed to start getting ready for dinner. Before I hung up, I briefly mentioned to her that I had bumped my breast and it was really tender.
“What the hell, Victoria! You choose to bring this up now? Please tell me you called the hotel staff and asked them to find a physician right the fuck now!” she snapped.
I took a deep breath. “I’m thirty-two years old, and it’s probably just that I’m getting my period or another fibroid. You know I have a history of them, and that is most likely what it is. Don’t get your panties in a bunch. I’ll call when I get home on Monday.”
“If you aren’t going to get it checked there, I’m scheduling an appointment for you on Tuesday. This isn’t something to mess around with; quit acting like it’s nothing. I don’t care how old you are or if your period makes your boobs mysteriously produce a lump, you’re getting this shit checked out immediately. That’s final and not up for discussion.”