Authors: Marysol James
Tags: #romance, #military, #sex, #contemporary, #fiction
“She’s a personal assistant.”
Dallas paused. “Uh, yeah? So?”
“Well, she’s the personal assistant for Olivia Jameson.”
Dallas’ eyes widened. “Get the fuck out.”
“No lie, man.”
“Olivia Jameson.” Dallas blinked. “Does Emma get to go to the bikini photo shoots and hold Olivia’s phone or something?”
“Yep. She goes to
the photo shoots. She also gets to handle all the shit like hotels and lunch delivery and dry cleaning. She takes care of the woman’s whole life and schedule. Tons of work, sounds like.”
“Uh-huh. So, you going to see her again?”
Dean looked at him. “You’re asking for me or because you want her to introduce you to a hot model?”
“Hey!” Dallas said, indignant. “Both, of course.”
“Well, you’re out of luck, man. She didn’t leave me a number when she disappeared in the middle of the night.”
“Yeah, I know. Sorry about that.”
meet Olivia Jameson.” Dallas looked devastated. “Never, never. So close, but so far.”
“You’ll get over it,” Dean said. “As soon as next weekend and one more redhead, I bet.”
“Acute myeloid leukemia?” Olivia Jameson’s voice was thin. “What is it, exactly, Em?”
Emma swallowed hard. “It’s – it’s bad, Liv.”
“How bad?” Jennifer Sawyer asked. “What are we talking about here?”
Emma looked around at her friends. All three of them were pale with shock but calm and supportive. She knew she wasn’t alone in this.
She picked up a small pile of folders. “I printed out everything you’ll need to know… this material will tell you more than I can.”
Katherine Lawrence managed a grin. “Leave it to you, to prepare instructional and informational materials for us.” She took the folder. “Is it all color-coded, too?”
Emma feigned indignation. “Of course!”
Kat shook her head; her shoulder-length hair was platinum blonde this week and it moved around her face like a wave. “Yeah, figures.”
The women flipped the folders open and glanced through the contents. Liv’s round brown eyes got wider and wider as she read the symptoms. She looked up at Emma.
“So this is why you’ve been feeling short of breath?”
“Yeah.” Emma added milk to her coffee. “AML also explains my dizzy spells and being cold all the time.”
Jenny set down the folder and brushed her long blonde hair back. “OK, Em. Give it to us straight, alright? How bad is bad?”
Emma sighed. She had asked her friends over to her place that morning after seeing that she had missed twenty-four calls from the day before. She knew they were panicked as hell about her not being in touch, and they had appeared at her front door within an hour of her calls. They’d do whatever she needed and wanted. The problem was that she had no idea what that might be.
“OK. In a nutshell, here it is: acute myeloid leukemia pushes out normal blood-making cells in bone marrow and replaces them with leukemia cells. Pretty much everything I’ve been experiencing lately – exhaustion, weight-loss, those weird fevers, all my bruising – is because the cancer has crowded out my healthy blood cells and taken over.”
“Red cells? White ones?” Jenny asked.
“Both. And my blood platelets too, so I’m at risk for excessive bleeding if I cut myself. A small nick with a knife can bleed for ages, for example, since my clotting abilities have been compromised.”
“Fuck.” Liv’s voice was soft.
“What do you do now?” Kat said, her dark green eyes very steady. “Chemo? What?”
“Yeah,” Emma said. “Doctor Fife has me booked in for chemotherapy starting from next week. That’s it for now, besides some oral pills and lots of rest.”
“Your job?” Jenny asked.
Emma shrugged. “I’ll work for as long as I have the energy to stay vertical and listen to my patients talk.”
They looked at her quietly.
“You sure, Em?” Kat said. “You sure you can handle listening to other people’s problems and trauma while you’re dealing with all of this?”
Emma nodded. “I think it’ll help me. It’ll give me something to focus on besides myself. But I will need to tell Doctor Granger about my diagnosis, since I’m going to need lots of time off and we’ll have to make arrangements for my patients. Plus, the HR department will have to fill in a metric ton of paperwork for my medical insurance.” She grinned wryly. “Helen will be
“And what do we do?” Liv said. “Tell us.”
She shrugged. “Just – just be here. That’s it.”
Jenny shook her head. “Not enough for me. When do you have chemo next week?”
“I go to the hospital and get all hooked up on Tuesday. I’ll have to stay for the first few times, then eventually, I may be able to take the chemo with me. It can be done with machines that are small enough to strap around your waist now. In future, I can do chemo at home, I hope.”
“I’ll be there on Tuesday.”
“Jenny, you don’t have to…”
Jenny cut her off. “Shut up. I’ll be there and I’ll get you home afterwards.”
“Thanks,” Emma said, tears stinging her eyes. “I’d – I’d be very grateful.”
“And after?” Kat said.
“After the chemo? Won’t you be sick? Vomiting and stuck in bed?”
Emma bit her lip. “Nobody can say… Doctor Fife told me that sometimes the reaction to chemo is worse than at other times. At worst, I could be in bed, puking my guts up for two or three days after. Or I could be totally fine, and able to go about my life like nothing at all is going on.”
“And that’s it? That’s the plan?” Liv said.
“What do you mean?” Emma said.
“For now,” Emma said. “If that doesn’t work, then I have another few rounds with new drugs or combinations. Then we look at stem cell transplants to replenish my bone marrow.”
“What?” Kat said. “A transplant?”
“Hey,” Emma said. “That’s for us to worry about later, OK? Much later. Right now, the course of treatment is chemo and rest. Everything else can wait.”
She didn’t mention that she’d need a number of additional tests to make sure that the cancer wasn’t spreading to her spine or brain, or what it meant if the cancer did actually reach those parts of her body. She also didn’t tell them that AML was a cancer that was known to spread quickly, so treatment had to be aggressive. They’d see all that in their folders, when they got to them.
That’s enough reality for now, for all of us.
They nodded, trying to think of something to say.
“Have you called your parents?” Jenny said.
“Yeah. They’re pretty upset.”
“They’re coming back?”
Emma shook her head. “They can’t, at least not right now. They’re dealing with a serious outbreak of Marburg fever in Angola right now, so they can’t leave the hospital. And frankly, my immune system is shot at the moment, so I can’t risk being exposed to anything they might carry back to me.”
“That sucks, Em,” Kat said. “I wish your parents could be here.”
“I know. But this is the deal – humanitarian doctors are a unique breed. They can’t always drop everything and come.”
“Speaking of dropping everything and coming to you,” Liv said. “Where the hell
you last night? I called about ten times. Were you hiding out here drinking wine? You shouldn’t have been alone to deal with all this, Em.”
“Uh,” she said. “Well. I wasn’t actually alone.”
All three of then set down their cups of coffee, their eyes bright and sharp.
Oh, boy. Here we go.
“Not alone?” Kat said. “So
, pray tell, were you with?”
“Ummm. A guy.”
“Which guy?” Jenny said. “You don’t
“Yeah, well. I still don’t. He was just a – a casual thing.”
“Holy Christ,” Liv said. “You finally had a one-night-stand.”
“You went to Shooter’s, didn’t you?” Kat said. “I know you did!”
“I did,” Emma admitted. “And we went back to his place and spent the night.”
“Emma, that was dangerous,” Jenny reproved in a gentle voice. “Why did you go and get in to bed with some stranger instead of calling us?”
“Duh,” Liv said. “Hot man and mindless wild sex versus three distraught women asking loads of hard questions and gushing sympathy? No contest, Jenny. I’d have done the same thing.”
“It wasn’t a healthy response,” Emma said. “I totally know that and I knew that even when I decided to do it. But it was what I needed, you know? That – that kind of touch.”
“Who was he?” Jenny said.
She shrugged. “Dean.”
“OK, good start. Dean who?”
“Not a clue.”
Jenny blinked. “What does Dean do?”
Emma brightened. “Oh, I know the answer to this one. He owns a tattoo parlour.”
“Oh, my God,” Liv said. “A tattooed man?”
“A tall, muscled tattooed man who has extensive and intensive military training,” Emma corrected her. “Sexy as all get-out, let me assure you.”
They stared at her with a combination of fascination and disbelief.
“Holy crap,” Kat said. “When you decide to go for it, you go for broke, huh?”
“And?” Liv said.
“Jesus Christ, Em!
How was it
She thought about Dean’s mouth on her pussy and her body’s helpless response to him being inside of her and she smiled. Her friends saw the look on her face and they grinned back, unable to help themselves.
“It was amazing,” she said. “I mean,
. The man has skills, ladies.”
“Uh-huh,” Jenny said, kind of dying to ask for more details but holding herself back. Briefly, she thought about bringing up Mark, but decided against it. “So, you going to see him again?”
“Nope. I don’t have any way to contact him. It really was just one night. An escape, you know?”
“Perfect,” Liv said. “Just what you needed.”
“Yep. He was a welcome distraction from reality, but now I’ve got to get on with things.” She sighed, a wave of sadness passing over her as she realized that the time had come to just go on and pick up the weight of what she had to do. She had to carry it somehow, so she might as well start now. “I can’t avoid it anymore, guys… I’m in for one hell of a fight.”
Emma glanced at the clock on her desk. It was almost six o’clock on Friday night and she was ready to just go home and get in to the bath. She was exhausted. It amazed her that almost exactly one week ago at this time, she’d been standing in Shooter’s with Dean. Briefly, she wondered where he was and what he was doing right then.
Probably at Shooter’s, picking up some other eager woman. Lucky thing… whoever she is, she’s in for a good time.
There was a knock on her door and she looked up. Helen Carrow was standing in the door and she had a stack of papers clutched in her hand. Emma almost crumpled to the floor when she realized that she had more HR forms to fill in.
“Hi, Helen,” she said, trying to sound welcoming. “Come on in.”
“I need these filled in ASAP,” Helen said brusquely. She put them on the corner of Emma’s desk and backed away. “I need to send them to the insurance provider Monday morning at nine o’clock.”
Emma closed her eyes and prayed for strength. “OK. I’ll bring them home with me over the weekend and drop them on your desk first thing on Monday morning. Alright?”
“Fine.” Helen turned to go, her shoulders tense in her brown blazer. She had never been a particularly nice woman, not to anyone, but Emma was taken aback at just how rude and cold she’d been since Emma had produced her doctor’s note describing her diagnosis. It was like Helen believed that Emma had gotten cancer for the sole purpose of inconveniencing Helen, and increasing her workload.
Thankfully, Helen the exception in the office: every single other person had been nothing but supportive and helpful. Emma’s boss, Dr. Ned Granger, had been shocked and horrified and had immediately offered to farm out her clients so she could take several months off, if needed. She’d gently refused, but had said that time off would be required for chemo and she’d provide him with a schedule as soon as she had it from Doctor Fife. Ned had looked at her a while and then nodded.
“Anything, Emma.” His face had been anxious and worried behind his glasses. “Anything at all. You know you have excellent medical insurance here, and we have more than enough staff on hand to divide up your client list. Take as much time off as you need, and when you’re ready to come back, we’ll hand hours to you as you can handle them. For right now? Just focus on getting well.”
She had smiled at him with tears in her eyes, and he had reached out to take her hand.
“Hey, Emma,” he said softly. “You’re going to be OK.”
Helen left her office now and Emma looked at the papers. God almighty.
of the same questions, and it looked like these forms needed to be updated every month. She sighed and stuffed them in to her purse, resolving to forget about them until absolutely necessary.
Her cell rang and she glanced at the caller ID. Kat. Emma hesitated, then shoved the phone back in her bag. She didn’t feel like talking to anyone right now.
The truth was that it was just one week since she had come clean about her cancer, and Emma was already getting a bit weary of being handled with kid-gloves. Her friends were great – concerned and sweet – but they just couldn’t seem to think about anything except her AML. They jumped to their feet to get things for her, and even when Emma pointed out that she was perfectly fine to walk across a room to refill her coffee cup, they told her to sit still, then they asked her if she was
that coffee was OK to drink when you had cancer. They took turns calling her every day and then again in the evening, checking on her. Emma often caught them looking at her with worry and fear and when she met their eyes, they’d start and chatter about nothing much.
And it wasn’t just her friends, either. All week at work, people had stopped talking when she’d entered a room or walked past. They forced smiles on to their faces, offered jokes, brought her cups of green tea. It was wonderful to be so supported, but already Emma was aware of the fact that to everyone in her life right now, she was the woman with an aggressive form of cancer. Every relationship that she had – both personal and professional – was colored by that fact. She was going to have to figure out how to adjust to this new reality, she knew. But right now, she was too damn tired.
Tomorrow. I’ll be grateful for all the love and concern again tomorrow. Tonight? I want to be alone and quiet. Order Chinese food and watch ‘Legally Blonde’ and paint my toe nails. Not talk about cancer. Pretend that I’m healthy and fine. Just one night off from being the sick girl, that’s all I need.
At Shooter’s, Dean tried to look around casually, but the boys had eyes on him.
Fuck, they’re like goddamned hawks.
“No sign of her?” Jim asked.
Dean took a deep swig of beer and played dumb. “Who?”
They rolled their eyes. Dean had been referring to Emma all week, off and on, and he had insisted that they come back to Shooter’s that night. They knew what he was up to: he wanted another go with her. She must have been quite something, they figured.