Summary: "Man wonders and God decides When to kill the Prince of Tides"
As he rushed home from work, he attempted dulling the sharp pain that stabbed his side by bracing his arm tightly against it. The nausea that was welling up inside his head and stomach would not be silenced, however. In that moment, he regretted leaving the apartment at all that morning. He had fought with himself over it in the shower for at least half an hour, finally deciding that his refusal to leave would only end up instilling more panic in her than comfort.
All was normal when he entered the apartment. The living room was alive with the hum of the television; stacks of papers and clean-but-yet-to-be-folded-and-put-away clothes were draped over the sofa. He loosened the tie from around his neck, dropped his briefcase on the nearest chair, and contemplated approaching the bedroom.
What would he say to her? She didn't even know that he had seen her. For all he knew, this was something that had been happening for months and she had no intent of ever filling him in. And for all she knew, he was just as ignorantly content with this as he had been 24 hours ago. My, how things change so. He got up and made his way to the bedroom door.
When he stepped inside, he nearly gasped aloud at the battered woman who sat on the edge of the bed. Of course, she was not literally bruised nor cut, but there was something in her demeanor that was...broken. Her cheeks were puffy and the circles around underneath her eyes were pronounced, suggesting that she had been crying for quite some time. Her clothes were wrinkled and fit her loosely- he had not noticed until just now exactly how much weight she had been losing lately. He staggered slowly to the bed, afraid to make any sudden movements. She did not even acknowledge his presence. She knew.
He sat beside her on the bed, shifting the mattress with his weight. Still, she did not look at him. Her eyes remained fixed to the frail hands folded neatly in her lap. With a hiccupy breath that barely bore a word at all, she spoke softly.
"How was your day?"
It broke his heart to see that she was still trying to pretend. She knows me better than that, he thought. He slid a hand into one of hers and brought it back to his lap.
"Rachel...What's going on?" God, please don't let it be what I think it is, he prayed silently to a God he was not even sure existed. He was not ignorant to the sciences of the human body, at least for the most part- he knew what the implications of her nosebleed could mean. He held his breath until she answered.
"It hasn't been happening for that long. It COULD mean several things-"
"That's not what I asked."
He hated to be short with her, but this was killing him a little more every second that she was keeping this from him. It was all he had thought about all day. He needed the truth and he needed it now. He squeezed her hand to encourage her continuation.
"It's what you think it is."
His breath caught in his throat and it took every bit of strength he had not to choke on it. Otherwise, his face remained emotionless. He just starred straight ahead with the same intensity in which she starred into her lap.
"Are you sure?"
"Yes. I went to the doctor when it first started happening, about a week ago. It's-"
"Stop." He couldn't hear it. He knew damn well what it was- that didn't mean she had to say it and make the harsh reality that much more real. It was like taking that next step to actually pull back the curtain and look around the bathroom while in the shower after seeing Psycho- the act in itself meant acceptance that it might be real, and that was something he simply could not face. Her alarm at his abrupt interruption of her explanation was evident on her face. She was not mad at him. That didn't stop him from being infuriated with himself. As much as he didn't need this, it wasn't happening to him- not directly, anyway.
"I'm sorry. I just...I can't. Not right now." She nodded. She couldn't either. Not right now- maybe not ever.
"Have you taken a shower?" She shook her head in response.
"Well, I'm going to take one. Do you want to come with me?" It wasn't really a question. He knew she would. She always did. It was one of the invariable certainties about her that meshed so perfectly with all of her meandering, paradoxes.
She let him wash her hair and her face. She knew he loved doing it and, truth be told, she was just too damn tired to do it for herself. He kissed away the drops around her eyes and lashes, but attempted nothing more. She didn't know if that made her feel disappointed or relieved. All she wanted was to collapse in bed before it would be morning again and she would have to do this all over.
When they exited the shower, she dried off with the towel he handed her and absently dropped it to the floor before climbing into bed, stark naked. She watched him behind half-closed lids as he wrapped the towel around his waste and moved about the room, looking for clothes for both himself and her. He pulled the towel from around his waste and replaced it with boxers and a white T-shirt. She was barely aware of him bundling her up in his oversized button-up shirt from that day and wrapping his arms around her before she drifted off to sleep. All she could think about was the undeniable and it haunted her dreams, as it did his.
She had cancer.
(Note: Woohoo. Betcha didn't see that one coming, did ya? As you can probably already tell, this will NOT be a light piece. I cannot even consolingly promise a happy ending, so stop reading now if you can't handle such stories. Just as a disclaimer, in case my previous one was not straightforward enough, the poem and phrase "Prince of Tides" belongs exclusively to Pat Conroy. It ain't mind, kiddies, I'm just borrowing it. Anyway, I'd love some feedback and reviews.)