I slid my hand around the nape of his neck and gave it a squeeze. “Me too, honey.”
He lifted my hand from his neck and brought it around to give my knuckles an absentminded kiss. “The night at Jenna and Ed’s wedding was fucking torture.”
Agreed. We’d both taken dates. I’d taken Nicholas just to be particularly annoying and Adam had taken some random girl with him. Although I’d flitted around the wedding acting my cheery self and steadfastly refusing to look Adam’s way, it was one of the most painful experiences of my life.
Adam threaded my fingers through his and rested our hands on his lap. “Here it is.” He held the diary up.
“What?” I frowned, trying to read my writing.
“I’m fast forwarding to my wake up call.”
Monday, December 17th I’m writing this as quickly as I can because I can see Adam is about to rip the pen from my hand and use whatever means at his disposal to bring my attention back to him. Since I like the means he will use I need to get this down. It’s been an utterly exhausting weekend but today I woke up feeling stronger than I have in a while. This morning I woke up to something beautiful, and I swear after the last week I’ve had, I didn’t think that was possible… Focusing on a crack in my ceiling I determinedly attempted to push the fear and desperation back. There was this buried part of me that kept trying to push up and grip my chest from the inside out to pull me to it to whisper desolately, “I’m not ready to die.”
Stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it, stop it, stop… I couldn’t think like that.
But it was what I’d been hiding from for months. When my doctor told me I needed glasses I’d ignored my own instincts and grabbed onto that solution with utter relief.
Still, the headaches kept coming, the exhaustion worsened as the anxiety I kept hidden from everyone built and built.
Ten days ago I’d had a seizure in my kitchen. I was terrified but also strangely relieved as I sat in the hospital and waited for my turn on the MRI—sick to my stomach with fear but relieved that I was going to know once and for all what the hell was wrong with me.
A tumor, though. A brain tumor.
I tried to catch my breath. We’d waited ten days for the results and it was a brain tumor and they wouldn’t tell me anything else. I had twenty four hours of waiting to find out if I had brain cancer or not.
I wanted to handle it graciously, not just for me but for Braden and Mum and Clark and Hannah and Declan. I wanted to handle it graciously for Joss, knowing it would be difficult for her. However, her reaction… A tear slid down my cheek as I thought on her reaction only a few hours ago. I’d watched the panic in her face and then she just… shut down. She just left me. When I needed her the most, she just… left me.
Braden was furious and panicking about me and about her and trying not to. His anxiety was making me worse so I told him to go and speak to Mum and Clark. Understanding I needed just a little time to myself he gave me it.
I couldn’t think of the worst. I wouldn’t be like Joss. I mean, I wanted to be prepared but I wasn’t a pessimist. And surely, I was too young to… You never think something like this will happen to you. It feels like a dream, it’s so surreal, like you’re watching someone else’s life play out in a movie.
My phone rang and I turned my head on my pillow to eye it on my bedside table.
I breathed through the tightness in my chest and reached for the phone. Since I landed in the hospital ten days ago, Adam had reneged on his unspoken promise to stay out of my life.
He called me every day and came by the flat as much as he felt I’d let him get away with it.
Too exhausted to fight him, I did let him get away with it.
“Hullo,” I answered and even I could tell I didn’t sound like myself.
There was a crackle down the line as he let out a heavy sigh. “Braden just called.”
I tensed, hearing the roughness in Adam’s voice, the choked brokenness in his tone.
“God, Ellie,” he groaned as if in agony. “Sweetheart—”
“Don’t.” I shook my head even though he couldn’t see me, and I bit my lip to try and stem the flow of tears. As soon as I felt I could speak without crying, I continued, “We don’t know anything yet.”
“I know I need to come to you. I’ll be there in ten minutes.”
“No, don’t,” my voice was sharp as I sat up, my heart pounding at the thought of having him here to hold me through this. “I don’t want you to.”
I winced at the hurt in his voice. “Please, Adam.”
“I need to. I need to be with you. I love you, Ellie. I’m fucking in love you.”
He was crying.
I’d never heard or seen him cry before. At his tears and outright confession I started to cry too and collapsed back on my pillow, squeezing the phone tight to my ear. Finally I whispered, “Just stay on the line with me, okay.”
Adam cleared his throat, his voice breaking as he replied, “Anything, baby.”
I sighed and snuggled deeper against my phone. “We don’t know anything,” I repeated.
“It could be nothing,” he added.
“Whatever it is, I’m going to fight.”
“I’ll fight with you.”
“Ssh,” I hushed him softly. “No promises. Not like this.”
“I’m done wasting time, Els.”
I smiled sadly, too weary to go there. “Just waste a little more time for me. Please.”
He was a silent a while and then he replied quietly, “Only a little, baby. Only a little.”
*** Adam’s phone bill would be ridiculous but I doubted he cared. He stayed on the phone with me for two hours and we hardly spoke. I just listened to him breathe as he listened to me breathe. We finally hung up when Braden returned, but Adam refused to let me say the words goodbye and it was the first time I heard undiluted fear in his voice when he begged me not to say that word.
It was a lot. It was huge. But it was one thing for him to admit to me again that he loved me and an entirely different thing for him to admit that to Braden. I needed to get through this crisis before I could deal with me and Adam.
I watched television with Braden for a while, snuggled up into his side as he stroked my hair soothingly. Mum and Clark had gotten into a huge fight with him because they wanted to come to me but Braden insisted there was nothing they could do right now and while I was stuck in limbo it would be best if I had peace and quiet and didn’t have to worry about how they were coping with this. I appreciated it but I also gave them a quick call so they could hear my voice and I could ask them to take me to my appointment the next day. They were okay at first but then suddenly Clark had to say a quick goodbye when Mum started to sob.
Of course that set me off for a while, and then I calmed, and then as it got darker outside and the evening began to pass, the fear over what I’d hear tomorrow hit me.
Braden laid me back on my bed and curled my hand around a mug of hot water and whiskey. He sat on my bed as I drank it and he watched me until my eyes finally fluttered closed.
They slammed open at the sound of my bedroom floor creaking. I was curled up in a ball on my bed in the dark, and through the moonlight spilling in through the large window I saw Joss standing at the bottom of my bed.
Surprised that she had come to me but still gripped by hurt at her defection earlier, I just gazed at her with round eyes.
At a breathy gasp, my eyes grew wider as I realized Joss was crying. Joss was crying.
Joss. I knew she’d run earlier because of the baggage she carried around about her family’s deaths. I’d known that on some level that fear had sent her running from me, but actually witnessing her tears, I realized it all meant that she cared about me. She was frightened of losing me.
The tears slipped down my cheeks and moved Joss to action. She crawled up onto my bed and as she settled in beside me I turned on my back. Joss immediately rested her head on my shoulder and shifted closer to me. She took my hand and held it between both of hers.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
“It’s okay,” I promised her and meant it. “You came back.”
“I love you, Ellie Carmichael. You’re going to get through this.”
I’d won the love and affection of someone as lost as Jocelyn Butler? For me that was a whole lot of light in a whole lot of dark and it overwhelmed me. I tried to swallow past an answering sob as I whispered the truth back to her, “I love you too, Joss.”
*** Braden had woken us up that morning and he’d made us breakfast. Even with the appointment with the neurosurgeon looming over me that afternoon, I could tell something had gone horribly wrong with Joss and Braden. Upon asking them, I discovered they’d broken up and attempted not to feel guilty. I failed.
They’d clearly broken up because of me… because of Joss’s reaction to what was happening to me. Hearing Braden’s deadly cool voice with her and seeing the flinch of pain in Joss’s face, I wanted to intervene, I wanted to fix what I had inadvertently helped break, but they wouldn’t have it and I was ushered out of the room and into a shower.
At one point I heard their escalated voices over the spill of water and then a plate crashing followed by more shouting. Worried, I switched off the shower and clambered out but the voices had quieted to a murmur. Still, I hurried getting dried and pulled on a bathrobe, ready to put myself between them if need be.
Instead as I walked quietly down the hall I heard Braden confessing that he loved her and that he wasn’t going to stop fighting for her. He promised her in his way that he would be relentless. The romantic in me almost passed out on the spot.
“You’re insane,” Joss hissed back.
“No,” I disagreed, coming to a stop in the kitchen doorway, giving them a smile. “He’s fighting for what he wants.”
“He’s not the only one.”