Monday, September 20, 2010

Time After Time by Michelle Houston

Chapter One


Nicole looked at her reflection in the window, wondering when her green eyes had turned so dull and lifeless, while her doctor droned on, and tried to break the news gently that she was dying. As if there was ever a warm and fuzzy way to tell someone they only have months left to live. For some reason, a line from one of her favorite TV shows ran through her head. Something about people thanking a doctor for telling them they have cancer. Pushing aside thoughts of House, mostly because she would be dead before the next season started, she did her best to focus on the slim hope her doctor was so graciously offering.

“With treatments, we could buy you some time, but we’ll have to be aggressive with it.”

“So, what are you saying? I can stay here, in the hospital half of my time getting poison pumped through my veins, in the hopes that I will live a month or two longer, most of that in pain or throwing up. Or, I can just walk away, and enjoy the time I have left.”

“Nicole, I’m sorry, but we caught it too late. There is no way to completely cure you, but we can prolong what time you have.”

Shaking her head, she waved the doctor away when he moved to pat her shoulder. Feeling the heat of her tears on her cheeks, she swiped at them with the back of her hand, determined to meet this thing head on.

“I’m sorry, doc, but I can’t—I won’t—live out what time I have in pain and misery. I’ll take the few months I have and do the things I always pushed off for some other day. Well, someday is here, damn it!”

She could feel his sympathetic gaze following her as she opened the door and stepped out of the room. Nurses passed her by, their gazes lowered. Frustrated, Nicole tossed her paperwork on the counter and waited for the clerk to hand her back her forms for her insurance.

“I’m sorry, Nicole, I don’t see a scheduled time for your next visit. Let me just call the doctor and ask him when he—”

Nicole cut her off, “Don’t bother. There won’t be another appointment.” Leaning forward, she grabbed her copy of the paperwork from the startled clerk’s hand and walked out, the door swishing closed behind her.



* * * *



She made the ride home mostly on auto-pilot, turning when her mind reminded her to turn, without any real conscious decision. Her mind whirled with thoughts, each clamoring for attention. Pulling out her cell phone, she debated calling for an emergency pow-wow. Julie was curious by nature, but she wasn’t about to attempt to tell her best friend what was going on over the phone. Julie had known she hadn’t been feeling well the last few weeks, but she hadn’t shared the true trauma of the biopsies—the endless testing and retesting, and the waiting—with her. The bonds of friendship went far, but she wasn’t about to drag her vibrant friend down with her, regardless that she would have taken time off of work and sat with her. What she had craved was someone to hold her, when the darkest hours of the night had fallen, and she had lain awake, all too aware of the ticking of the clock. She had raged, had cried, and had been all too tempted to let depression swallow her whole.

Blinking away the tears that threatened to overtake her, she wished for the thousandth time that she had found someone to love, but at the same time she wouldn’t wish the misery of watching a loved one die on anyone.

Maybe it was better that she wasn’t married, or even seeing anyone. This way, she could go off on her travels, and no one would have to sit helpless while she withered away.

Just as she was about to turn into her driveway, a thought came to her. “I’ve always wanted to see Egypt. Then there’s Scotland, and Ireland. Oh, and I want to visit the Virgin Islands, and spend a few days on the beach.”

Driving past her home, she headed back downtown, and turned into the parking lot of Julie’s work. There was something she could do, something that would allow Nicole to tell her what was going on, and let her help without giving her a chance to sink into the depression.

Looking up at the sign for Get-A-Way Travel Agency, she felt some of the shock wearing off. She’d been numb since the results of the biopsy came back, but now she started shivering, suddenly very cold and afraid. She was going to die in four to six months. And it wouldn’t be painless, either. The temptation to run out in front of a bus and just get it over with was overwhelming.

As her gaze unfocused, a fresh flood of tears trickled down her cheeks. Stubbornly brushing them away, she squared her shoulders and climbed out of her car.

She was going to go out like she’d lived, on her own terms.

Giving the door a harder shove than required, she stormed into the subdued lobby, catching the attention of the receptionist. “I need to see Julie Anderson, please.”

“It will be just a moment, if you’ll have a seat. Who should I say is here?”

“Tell her it’s Nicole Jeffries, and that it’s important.”

Sitting still in the chair, very aware of the minutes of her life tickling away, Nicole had to fight the urge to just get up and walk to her friend’s office. She was rising to do just that when the receptionist motioned her over. “She’ll see you now.”

When Nicole popped her head around the corner and knocked against the doorframe, her friend looked up and stood. “Nikki!” she exclaimed. “It’s good to see you.”

“You, too, Jules. Look, I need a favor. I want to book a trip and I need to do it today.”

“Okay, hon, have a seat.” Waving a perfectly manicured hand at one of the two overstuffed chairs facing her desk, she reclaimed her seat. “Where do you want to go?”


“I thought that I would start with Scotland and go from there, hitting the truly breathtaking spots.”

“Wow. Um, I don’t know what to say; this is kind of out of the blue, hon. When do you want to set this up for? Next summer?”

Nicole shook her head, trying to fight to urge to laugh hysterically as her mind taunted her with the reminder that there wouldn’t be a next summer for her.

“I want to leave this weekend, and I want the trip to take three months, with hotels and everything booked in advance. You can work on the details for the later spots after I get to Scotland.”

“Okay, what’s going on?” The concern in Julie’s voice was her undoing.

Nicole took a deep breath and tried to put her thoughts into words. She didn’t want to break down. She was determined that she make it through the coming conversation with at least some of her dignity intact.

“You uh, you know that I went to the doctor a few weeks ago.”

Her friend nodded.

“Well, it wasn’t a vitamin deficiency like I told you. They suspected cancer. Today, they confirmed it.”

Julie chocked on a sob, her hand pressed hard against her mouth. “When do you start chemo?”

Looking into her friend’s eyes as she answered was the hardest thing Nicole had had to do. “I don’t. They uh, they can’t do anything for me. It’s too far spread. I’ve got less than half a year.”

Mentally hearing sand trickling through an hourglass, Nicole had to fight the urge to continue talking, to get it all out and said. Her friend needed a moment to process the bombshell she had dropped in their laps, and she was going to give it to them.

“There’s no hope?” Julie’s voice broke as she spoke. Reaching out, Nicole covered her friend’s hand that was working to shred a piece of paper sitting on her desk and squeezed tight.

“None.”

“What are you going to do? Do you have any plans made?”

Nicole bit back a hysterical giggle, and as she laid out her plans, they held onto each other. Nicole knew that for Julie, holding her hand was her only way of controlling things. In the blonde’s mind, if she clasped tight enough and willed it so, maybe, just maybe, she could make things change.

Julie nodded with her as she outlined where she wanted to go. “As I said, I want to start with Scotland, hop a plane to England and Ireland, then over to France, down to Italy, and finally stopping in Egypt. From there I want to catch a flight to Japan and end my trip in the Virgin Islands, or some other exotic locale.”

Typical of her nature, Julie jumped in wholeheartedly. “I’ll need your credit cards. I say let’s go for the gold. Five star hotels, first class flights, the works.”

Nicole nodded, her throat too tight to talk. She loved this woman, like the sister she never had. And yet, in many ways they were closer.

“You had better keep in touch, and if you start—” Julie’s voice cracked and dropped off. She took a deep breath and continued, “If you start to feel weak, you call me, and I’ll catch the next flight out. I don’t know if you will be back before… before…”

Looking at the sister of her heart, Nicole nodded. “If I know it’s coming, I won’t try to face it alone, okay?”

“Okay. Are you sure you want to go alone? I could take some time off and we could go together.”

As tempting as the idea was, and as frightening as the thought of traveling to several foreign countries alone was, Nicole didn’t think she could handle Julie watching her, wondering every day how much longer she had.

“I’m sure. I think it will be better this way. But, I’ll send you lots of hokey postcards and souvenirs.”

“You’d better.” Julie paused to wipe a tear away, then turned her focus back to her computer screen. “S’okay. Let’s get that credit card number and get some reservations made.”