BREATHE: A Billionaire Romance, Part 2

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BREATHE

Part Two

 

Jenn Marlow

Copyright © 2015

All Rights Reserved
. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Chapter 1

 

I could do nothing more than watch him as he lay, buckled, on the kitchen floor with his head against the island. He was sobbing. He was sobbing harder than I had ever seen anyone sob, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I didn’t know what to say.

I only wondered why he was dying, what was wrong with him. I immediately cursed myself for not realizing it sooner. But how could I have known? I hardly knew the man.

“Can I get you a drink of water?” I asked, lamely. I immediately cringed as soon as the words left my mouth. I wasn’t trying to change the subject. I wanted to hear anything he had to say to me, but at the same time, I didn’t know what to do, or what to say, and I thought something was better than nothing.

I was probably wrong.

He laughed despite his tears. “You’re great with comforting,” he said sarcastically.

“I’m not good with emotions,” I said truthfully, giving him a half smile.

“You’re good enough,” he sighed, just before lifting himself up off the floor so that he was standing. I watched him as he slumped over and began lazily walking towards the kitchen’s exit.

“Where are you going?” I asked, worriedly. I didn’t know if the conversation was ending, or what was happening. I didn’t want it to. I wanted him to talk about whatever it was that was happening to him; and whatever he felt he needed to talk about.

His back facing me, he turned his head. “The couch. I feel a little weak.”

I nodded, although I knew he couldn’t see me, and watched as he continued around the corner towards the living room. I sighed before sitting down, softly, into the chair that I had obviously risen from in a fit of anger just moments before. I hadn’t even realized that I was standing, really. 

“I meant for you to come in here too!” I heard him yell, just as I got situated in my seat again.

I cringed, not really knowing what to do. Yet, at the same time, I felt pleased that he wanted me to sit with him, that he needed to talk to someone, and that the “someone” was me. I was also flattered that he felt that he
could
talk to me and proud that he could talk to anyone, given the circumstances.

I jumped off the chair again and made my way towards the living room without another moment’s hesitation. It only took a moment before I rounded the corner and saw him. He still hadn’t made it to the couch, and I wasn’t sure if it was because he was waiting for me to come around the corner before he sat, or if he was so weak that he moved that slowly.

I heard him sigh, solemnly, sadly even, as he finally reached and sat down on his couch. Well, he fell down onto his couch. It was like he was carrying a large and heavy burden atop his shoulders and suddenly let it all go as he lay there, sloppily.

“Pancreatic cancer,” he said and sighed, the sadness obvious in his tone. Immediately, I felt my breath catch in my throat. I was choking on it, but I couldn’t cough, couldn’t breathe, and couldn’t speak. I was frozen, with a harsh razor-sharp feeling in the depth of my throat.

I wondered if he might start crying again. I wouldn’t blame him, but I couldn’t do anything. I had no idea what to say, or how to react. I only looked at him, stared at him even….

“It’s apparently really difficult to diagnose early because the symptoms aren’t apparent until later on.”

He sighed again and leaned his head further back so that he was looking at the ceiling. I felt tears well up in my eyes, and I wasn’t sure if it was because on some level I cared for him, or if I was just that empathetic towards his situation. Regardless, though, I was sad.

“I had been feeling sick; my skin color was off. I wasn’t eating, or drinking really either,” he said. “It spread rapidly.”

He still didn’t look at me. His eyes remained set on the ceiling above him.

“The doc used imaging tests, an ultrasound, and a biopsy,” he continued. I thought it sounded a bit overkill as far as tests were concerned, but I wasn’t a doctor—nor would I ever pretend to be. I had no idea what the proper procedure was. However, he continued, as if reading my mind, “I wanted to be sure… And well, we’re sure. He staged it after that,” he said, his breath growing ragged and a little scattered. I could tell that his resolve had completely crumbled.

And I had no idea why he felt he needed to tell me. Part of me was glad that he did though.

“He used a scope,” he said. “Which, by the way, getting all those tests done was a big pain in the ass.”

I watched him as he wiped tears from his eyes and cleared his throat. I still stood, frozen, waiting for him to finish revealing his horrible situation to me.

“And then he did more imaging tests, and even did a blood test to search for specific proteins or whatever. They’re apparently tumor markers or something. It’s not usually the most reliable, but he did the best he could to narrow it all down. Honestly, I think he just didn’t want to admit it was at the stage that it was.”

“What was it…?” I asked, terrified. I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear the answer.

“Stage four.”

I knew that stage four was the worst. I knew what it meant.

“Surgery isn’t an option?” I asked.

“Not for me. It has spread too much for it to really matter. But on the bright side he recommended a support group!” he yelled, pumping his fist into the air. “A fucking support group! Can you believe that?” he asked, without really expecting a response. He still wasn’t looking at me. I was glad for it, though, because my knees were growing weak, my body shaking, and I was still unable to formulate proper words.

“Maybe it would help,” I blurted in a sigh.

“To come to terms with dying?” he snapped, finally looking at me.

“No, to come to terms with being sick.” I found myself walking over to him, but I didn’t know why.

“Is there a difference?” he asked, his voice softening. He shifted his body into a more curled position in the corner of the couch, as I continued my journey towards him. He was looking at me, and I breathed heavily as I walked over to the couch. I couldn’t believe I was getting involved.

I sat down, my hand brushing his thigh, and almost immediately cursed myself for the images that flooded in from the dream I had of him the night before. I sighed, shaking myself of the inappropriate thoughts—it was definitely not the time

“Sometimes, I know it won’t feel like there is, but there is.”

Something I never said, though, was that cancer was something I knew all too much about.

 

Chapter 2

 

It had been weeks since Derek had first told me about his horrible misfortune and ever since then I had watched—with all new prospective—as he continued to go in a downward spiral of illness and mental instability.

Everyone at work seemed to wonder if he was on drugs. I even caught several of them whispering it in hushed tones in the breakroom and in the cubicles next to mine, which was positioned right outside of his office. It was like no one even cared about their job anymore. It was like they didn’t care if he heard.

I didn’t and couldn’t blame them. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought the same.

However, I hated it all. I hated that everyone talked so lowly of him, even though I got the same exact urge. And I knew the truth. Somehow, I felt some major urge to protect him and his good name, but I didn’t think it was my place to tell people the truth.

If he wanted them to know, he would tell them.

But it was hard.

Especially when I knew the reason that his jerkiness had multiplied tenfold.

As I continued shuffling through the masses of unhappy employees, I found myself mere inches away from his office door.

“He looks like he’s on drugs right now!” a man whispered from one of the cubicles.

I rolled my eyes in annoyance, but at the same time I wondered what exactly
was
he doing. He should have known that people would talk. He looked like crap and his demeanor was changing for the worse. What other conclusion would he have thought they would have settled on? Drugs seemed like the only logical choice.

I stormed in without bothering to knock. The sounds of all the angry folks in the office were starting to get to me. What I saw at the other side of the door was a very pale, clammy-looking man behind a mound of papers, a singular pen tightly held in his hand. He looked like he had been through the absolute ringer.

“Are you okay?!” I found myself shouting as I ran over to him. “You look horrible!”

“Thanks,” he grumbled, not looking up at me.

“Why do you look cracked out?” I asked, mimicking all of his employees’ thoughts.

“The drugs that the doc gave me are making me feel loopy and overdosed.”

“Did you call your doctor?” I asked, worried. I knew that sickness, especially as sick as he was at stage four, came with the territory. But I also knew that you were supposed to call your doctor as much as humanly possible if you were at all concerned. And I could tell that Derek was concerned.

“I did.” He leaned against his palms, sweating intensely, but shivering all at the same time. I felt him move in rapid vibrations as I reached out and caressed his shoulder. “He said not to worry.”

But I
was
worrying. He was shaking like a leaf. It was like he was freezing. “Do you need a blanket?” I asked, as I continued to caress his back.

“I’m fine!” he snapped, pulling himself away with what seemed to be as much strength as he could have possibly mustered in that moment.

“Stop acting like a tough guy!” I snapped back, smacking him in the back. Immediately, though, I felt horrible. Because as soon as my hand met his back, he gasped weakly, quickly out of breath.

“Yeah, because it’s clear,” he gasped, “that I’m not.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“You didn’t have to.”

He moved off of his arm and sat up without the need of support from it. “You’re right, though,” he groaned, “I’m not tough right now.”

“On the contrary, I think you’re really tough.” I looked at him, mulling over paper after paper, his pen still gripped tightly. “I mean, you’re at work, and you’re sick. That takes being tough.”

I hoped that I would pep him up, but I still had to ask, “Why
are
you at work?”

He scowled again, finally tossing his pen down onto the stack of papers he had been busy signing. “Where else would I be?”

“Oh, I don’t know”—I shrugged—“maybe at home, resting?”

“I have a company to run.” His response was flat and nonchalant. I could tell that he really thought there was no where else he really should or could have been in that moment. It was like he hadn’t even entertained the thought of staying home; and I knew, knowing Derek Sholts, he probably really hadn’t. His company was everything.

“Besides, if I’m going to die, I’m going to die doing what I love.”

“I understand that, but you’re sick, Derek.”

“It’s Mr. Sholts!” he warned, before realizing his own tone. He sounded like a whiney baby, and I was willing to bet with all that I had that he had heard it and realized it. He seemed embarrassed by his outburst, which in all honesty, was a complete first.

“Sorry,” he muttered beneath his breath, just barely loud enough for me to hear. “It’s just that I’ve built this company—”

“No one denies what you’ve done with this company,
Mr. Sholts.

“I don’t mean that.” He looked up at me. “It’s just that it’s all that I have.”

And immediately my heart broke for him.

“Maybe you should get friends,” I joked, nudging him slightly, as I sat down on the plush ottoman he kept near his desk at all times.

“Who needs friends when I have you?” He wiggled his brows suggestively. I couldn’t help but laugh in return. But I was definitely blushing on the inside.

“Maybe you should get real friends instead of employees.” I rolled my eyes. “You shouldn’t have to pay friends, and trust me, I wouldn’t be here without payment.”

I smiled at him, and suddenly my heart lifted when he smiled in return.

“So you’re a friend-prostitute?” he asked, lamely.

I scoffed. “Don’t go there.” I was warning him, but at the same time, I found the comedy in it. And the moment made me realize that there probably was more to him than I had thought. Maybe he did have a sense of humor. Maybe he could be like a real person.

“In all seriousness,” he whispered, leaning closer to me, “you really are the closest thing that I have to a friend.”

I felt my heart falter and fall to the depths of my stomach. I felt bad for him. I pitied him. That was terrible. He really didn’t have any friends, and I hated it for him.

“Don’t feel bad for me,” he laughed. “I don’t feel bad about that.”

My brow twisted in curiosity. How could he not feel bad about that? How could he not care about that? How could it possibly be ok that I was the closest thing to a friend? I hated the man most of the time.

“You’re my employee, that’s true,” he continued, “but you’re also one of the only genuine people left in New York—or possibly even the world.”

I smiled, truly touched at the sincerity in his words. It was strange hearing him be sincere. It was strange, indeed. But the good vibe and moments of jest didn’t last long. All of a sudden he began coughing, gagging with intensity before his head popped to the side of his desk—just in front of me—and his mouth aimed above the trash can.

I watched, horrified, as he began vomiting almost uncontrollably into the can.

I looked away, disgusted, but I held his shoulders as a way of letting him know not to worry about it offending me. It didn’t offend me. It was gross, sure. But I knew that this sort of illness came with the territory of his disease.

I wasn’t sure if he was going through chemo or not, but I assumed as much, as I watched him heave every ounce of his being into the trashcan below.

He coughed a couple of last times before pulling his head back up. His watering eyes shifted to me, as he pulled away to sit properly in his desk again. And sadly his were eyes of nothing but shame. He hated being vulnerable, I knew that…but he also seemed completely embarrassed by what had just transpired.

He cleared his throat, before pulling a hanky out of his suit’s front pocket and wiping his mouth.

“Well, before the interruption, I was going to ask you to go on a date with me.” He smiled, weakly.

“No, Derek, we’ve been over this.”

“Please?” Was he really begging me? I sighed, there was something sad in the way that he was asking. It made me feel horrible to say no again. But I did.

I had to. I couldn’t go on a date with him.

The situation was dropped though, without much protest on my part. We continued to sit, and I worked in his office—and I pretended it was just so that we could talk in closer proximity without me having to traipse in and out of his office. But in reality, I wanted to check on him. I wanted to be there in case anything happened.

“So I heard your lunch went well with Mr. Darango.” He finally broke the silence, speaking over his heightened mound of paperwork. And when I looked up from my own papers, I was pleasantly surprised how much better he was looking.

“It did,” I answered. Truthfully, I was a little upset that he hadn’t said anything sooner.

“I apologize that I didn’t say ‘thank you’.” He smiled, looking up from his papers.

“That’s fine,” I answered, feeling better that he had apologized. “You had enough on your plate.”

“Will you go out to dinner with me to celebrate?”

“As business partners, or are you asking me out again?” I asked nonchalantly, looking back down at my paperwork.

“Business partners?” he scoffed. “We’re
not
business partners.”

And then he realized how incredibly douchey he sounded with that correction and coughed loudly before laughing with nervous fervor.

“What I mean is…I’m asking for a date.” He was scattered with his words, clearly embarrassed that he had just pointed out that we weren’t on equal footing in the company. As if I didn’t know it already. But there was also something else in his words; there seemed to be a tinge of sadness in his voice. It was a level of vulnerability I didn’t know he possessed.

I groaned audibly. I didn’t want to tell him yes, but at the same time, how could I not?

“Don’t use your sickness as an advantage,” I warned. I felt that was exactly what he was doing, and I didn’t care how cruel I sounded in the process.

“I just want to finally date someone with class,” he said pleasantly. But the pleasantry was soon demolished when he added, “Before I die.”

“You
are
using your illness to your advantage!”

“Perhaps,” he smirked.

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