Petite Madeleine: Drew's Story (Meadows Shore Book 3) (8 page)

BOOK: Petite Madeleine: Drew's Story (Meadows Shore Book 3)
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Chapter Nine

 

Cassie’s apartment was a just a short ride from the aquarium.

“It’ll only take a few minutes to make coffee.”

“Don’t put the cake away,” he called over his shoulder on the way to the bathroom.

Being near Cassie without having all of her was excruciating, but they were so close he didn’t mind giving her one more pass. That’s what she’d asked for,
one more pass
before taking the relationship to the next level. He knew what that meant
.
It was womanspeak for
next time we’ll have sex
. Wasn’t it?

He shook his head. A guy would’ve said something like
one more pass until I slide all the way home
, or something even more graphic and lewd. Either way, everyone would have known exactly what he meant. There would have been no ambiguity. Hell, no guy would’ve asked for a pass in the first place. If a woman was good enough to have sex with next time, she was good enough to have sex with this time. But women…

He opened the medicine cabinet, hoping to find some mouthwash, but a prescription bottle caught his eye instead.

Tamoxifen. One pill daily.

With a growing sense of unease, he picked up the bottle, searching for clues. He’d heard the name before, Tamoxifen. But where?
Where?
He couldn’t place it at first.
Jay

His stomach
coiled tighter than a boa constrictor in a defensive posture. Jay’s mother had breast cancer when they were in college. She’d been real sick, and the culprits had been chemotherapy and Tamoxifen. Potent drugs with lots of side effects, that’s what he remembered. Maybe he remembered wrong.

His heart was racing, and the blood hammered in his ears.
Please, God, let me be remembering wrong
, he prayed while pulling out his phone to search for answers, hating every blasted second, knowing he should just ask her about the pills.

But in his gut he already knew—knew it’s what she’d been holding back. Anytime his hands got anywhere near her breasts, she jumped back. She wore loose tops around him, nothing form-fitting, except when he surprised her, when she didn’t expect to see him.

He splashed cold water on his face before stalking into the kitchen and slamming the pill bottle on the counter with more force than he should have used.

“When were you going to tell me? Were you ever planning on telling me? Is this why every time I kiss you, even if your eyes are black as coal and you’re barely breathing, you push me away?
Is this why I’ve been taking cold showers for the last two months? Is this why my head’s been so far up my ass I can barely do my job? Is this why I’ve spent countless hours worried that now that you’ve had more sexual experience, I didn’t measure up?”

He lifted the small plastic container and banged it on the counter again. “Is this why?”

Her eyes resembled supermoons,
sans
the light, and her hand shook so much it sent the small pitcher of cream she was holding crashing on the ceramic tile.

“What were you doing in my medicine cabinet?”

“I went to get some mouthwash. I was hoping to kiss you. Hoping that maybe tonight my kiss would get me past first base, or at the least it would stop you from pulling away. But I guess that wasn’t going to happen.”

“You had no right to … and don’t jump to any conclusions about why I’m taking that,” she said, wiping up the mess from the floor.

He reached down, grabbing both her arms, and lifted her up off the floor. “Look at me. Is there any reason people take Tamoxifen except to treat breast cancer? Is there another use for it?”

“Yes.”

“Really? Because that’s not what I read…”

“What you read?”

He ran his hands up and down his thighs. A move used by catchers to wipe the sweat off their hands, or to slow the pace of the game a few seconds. “When I saw the bottle, the name was familiar. It’s what Jay’s mother took when she had breast cancer.”

“And you read about Tamoxifen then?”

“No. I read about it on my phone in your bathroom when I found the bottle.”

“Because you couldn’t trust me enough to ask me about it.”

“No. Because you couldn’t trust me enough to tell me.”

“You had no right—”

“Save it, Cassie. Stop trying to shift the focus to a minor infraction, the one where I invaded your privacy. Let’s get to the crux of the matter. The one where you’ve been lying to me for more than two months. Something you’ve never done before.”

“I didn’t lie to you.”

“Yeah, you did.” And he stomped out, taking his anger and fear with him.

 

* * *

 

She heard the door to her apartment open and slam shut, and she collapsed over the counter, burying her face in her arms, sobbing.

After several minutes, she felt the weight of a hand on her back. When she turned her head, his shadow hovered over her.

“You’re not getting away with this so easily.” He pulled out two chairs from under the kitchen table and led her to one. Then he moved the other chair near, until they were sitting knee to knee, and he took both her hands.

She pulled them away. “I c-can’t,” she stammered.

He grabbed her hands again and used his thumbs to massage her palms. “It’s me, Cassie. I love you. You can tell me anything.”

“Don’t you understand? That’s exactly why I haven’t told you. Why it’s been so hard.” She was alternating between taking in large gulps of air and blurting out short, choppy sentences. “I-I was going to tell you. T-tomorrow after b-breakfast. I-I didn’t want you to find out … like this. I planned on it—but now…”

“If you don’t tell me, I’m going to call my boss and take a leave absence. And then I’m going to follow you everywhere, glued to you like a second skin, until you tell me about the cancer. Until you talk to me about your health.” His voice was shaky too.

She began to hiccup uncontrollably, and he brought her a box of tissues and a glass of water. “Cassie, look at me. Nice, easy breaths. That’s it. A few more, sweetheart.” He held the glass to her lips, “that’s it, small sips.”

When she’d had enough of the water, he placed the glass at his feet, and took her hands. “I’m not leaving until I know what’s going on. You can kick my ass out of here after you talk to me if you’re that put out that I intruded on your privacy. But I am not going anywhere until I know what’s happening with you.”

She kept her head down while tears streamed down her face, raining onto her lap.

 

* * *

 

“Cassie—please.”

“I … h-had … breast … cancer,” she choked out between sobs. “It’s gone … for now.”

His heart shattered into a million pieces. He’d known what she was going to say, but desperately hoped he was mistaken. “More, Cass. I need more.” His voice was so raw he barely recognized it.

“I don’t know what else to say.”

“There’s plenty more to say. Cassie, for some reason you need to hold this in, to keep it from me. I’ve given you plenty of reason not to trust that I can handle bad news. Maybe that’s why you haven’t told me. But you need to forget about the scared, confused kid at Brown. He grew up. He’s a man now.”

“I don’t want to forget. Those were the happiest days of my life. I loved that kid.” She traced her finger down his cheek. “I never stopped loving him,” she wept.

He closed his eyes, struggling to control his breathing, hoping to regain control of his emotions. His eyes were stinging. When he finally opened them, he held her hand against his face. “Do you think you can love the man he’s become?”

“I already do.”

He pulled her head near his, resting his forehead against hers.

“Then tell me, Cassie. Tell me because I need to know, and tell me because you want—need—to be able to talk to me about anything.”

She picked up the glass of water and took a few more sips, dawdling like a child avoiding bedtime. Finally, when he couldn’t stand it anymore, he took the glass from her hands and set it on the table.

“Talk to me.”

“The week after graduation I had a routine doctor’s visit before starting my job. The doctor noticed a small lump in my left breast. She wasn’t too worried about it, but ran some tests to be sure.”

She stopped for a minute and grasped his hands tighter, digging her nails in.

“The pathology came back positive. I had Stage IB, invasive breast cancer. It was hormonal receptor positive, an aggressive strain, but not the most aggressive. We met with several doctors, from all over the country, for recommendations. That’s when I bumped into Cole, at Boston General.”

“My brother Cole?”

She nodded, and his body stiffened.

“He knew about this?”

She nodded again. “I begged him not to tell you.”

His head fell back and he growled like a wounded animal, a low, dangerous growl that made her jump.

“Most of the doctors recommended breast-sparing surgery, with radiation and Tamoxifen. A few thought chemotherapy, post-surgery, might be warranted. But one of the doctors we met with, a world-renowned breast cancer specialist, told us that a mastectomy provided the best odds for long-term survival. After that, my parents couldn’t even discuss a lumpectomy rationally, they were so fixated on a mastectomy as the best course of treatment. So that’s what I did. I had a skin-sparing, nipple-sparing mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery. That’s how I spent the first year after graduation.”

He pulled her onto his lap. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you. So sorry you had to go through this without me.”

“I had a lot of support. My parents, Reece, a counselor, a support group. It was an awful time in my life, but I’ve been in complete remission, cancer-free for almost seven years.
And I’ve got about three years left with the Tamoxifen.”

“Seven years. If you’re cancer-free for five years, doesn’t that mean you’re cured? I remember Jay saying that.”

She shook her head. “That’s popular lore. A few doctors still tell their patients that, but it’s misleading. Once you’ve had cancer you’re never really cured. It’s impossible to know if every cancerous cell was removed, or killed by the treatment, an errant cell can lay dormant for a long time. There’s always a risk it can come back. But the longer you go without a recurrence, the less chance it will come back.

He nodded, trying to process all the new information while his heart lay in pieces at his feet.

“Cassie, what does skin-sparing surgery mean?”

She explained the clinical details of her treatment in a detached voice, like they were someone else’s breasts. It was probably the only way she could have the conversation.

“You seem so healthy.”

“I am. If it weren’t for the scars and the Tamoxifen, my life would be almost normal.”

“Almost?”

“I’ve moved past the worst of it all—the surgeries, the pain, most of the treatment, and the constant fear of reoccurrence. I found something I love to do, and made a new life for myself in Baltimore, where no one knows about the cancer, where no one gives me pitying looks and treats me like I’m dying.”

She sighed. “I’d gotten more comfortable with my body—at least it wasn’t a huge issue anymore. But since you came back into my life, I’ve been spending a lot of time feeling sorry for myself. Wanting things to be back the way they were, forgetting to count my blessings, forgetting how lucky I am. So very lucky, Drew.”

She looked at him with big brown eyes washed out from all the tears. “Young women usually have very aggressive cancers, and the odds of long-term survival can be grim. And the side effects of the Tamoxifen haven’t been too bad for me. But there are no promises, no guarantees about the future.”

She was shivering. He could feel the goose bumps on her arms, and he wrapped her tighter trying to warm her with his shaky hands. “What side effects does the Tamoxifen have?”

“Not tonight. Please don’t make me tell you that tonight.”

He gently pulled her head against his chest, stroking her hair in attempt to soothe them both.

 

* * *

 

She could feel his shoulders heaving, and knew if she pulled away, she’d see his tears. It made her cry freely, a river of tears she thought she’d already cried out, tears for losing him, tears for the past they shared, and tears for the future she yearned for, but doubted they’d ever have.

After a little while, he stood and carried her toward the bedroom.

“What are you doing?”

“I want to hold you tonight, all night. I need to Cassie, and you need it too.” He slid off her sandals, and kicked off his shoes and lay down next to her, curling his body around her, probably hoping to shield her from any more pain.

“I’m still listening,” he said, “but I don’t want any space between us while we talk.”

“That’s all for tonight. I promise I’ll tell you more tomorrow.” Her voice sounded weak and hoarse.

BOOK: Petite Madeleine: Drew's Story (Meadows Shore Book 3)
2.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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