“He wants you to know that he knows you’re scared. He’s worried about you. He doesn’t want you to suffer alone. He feels as if you’ve shut him out, and he turned to me with some thin, crazy hope that you’d hear my plea when you wouldn’t—or couldn’t—hear his.”
The silence seemed to swell and press against her eardrums. Anger at Seth’s betrayal of her trust mingled with a profound sense of shame. She wanted to hide . . . to run. Yet she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Everett again. She felt like she stood at the edge of a cliff while a terrifying monster quickly approached from behind, her heartbeat racing as if she truly believed it was taking its last beats.
“I won’t let you go through this alone,” he said. “I will not. Even if you decided you just want to be friends instead of lovers, even if we hear that your cancer has returned and you have to go through another round of treatment, even if it reoccurs five times or ten times.”
A shudder of emotion went through her. She’d never felt so naked, so exposed. She covered her face in her hands, but Everett gently removed them, kissing her cheek and then her clenched eyelids. Bitter tears escaped, scattering down her cheek. He pressed closer against her, his body absorbing her anguish.
“I will be here. Right here.” He firmed his hold on the side of her body and shook her slightly for emphasis. “I’ve fallen in love with you, Joy. No one and nothing will keep me from you if you need me. Not thousands of miles, or some cow like Nurse Shanoy, not God himself. But the thing of it is,” he added in a low, pressured whisper, “you have to say you need me. There’s no sin in needing another human being. Not when that person wants more than anything to be at your side, offering support, offering love.”
She shook, trying to
keep the avalanche of emotion from free-falling out of control, straining so hard to contain it—to keep herself safe. It’d been so long, though, that she’d held it down. She didn’t know until that moment how hard she’d worked to protect herself from feeling.
Everett came down over her, his lips pressed against the swell of her left breast, both of his arms encircling her.
“It’s okay,” he whispered gruffly, his breath warm next to her skin. “Don’t fight it. I’ve got you.”
Everything hurt. She couldn’t stand the pressure a moment longer. An anguished cry erupted from her throat, the harbinger to a rush of terror, confusion, helplessness and love.
She couldn’t stand the thought of Everett suffering because of her.
“I wouldn’t want it for you.” Caught in a ruthless, grinding grip of emotion, she only distantly realized what she’d said.
“I wouldn’t want you to suffer,” he said with calm deliberation. “Who would ever want that for someone they care about? We can’t choose our fates, though. We can only choose how we respond to them. I would choose to be with you. I want to celebrate your existence, Joy. Every day that’s available to me, I want it. I’ll cherish it.”
She felt like she wanted to howl as the tidal wave of emotion rushed over her. She wept and shuddered for—she didn’t know for how long. When her sobs finally slowed, Everett still held her fast, his cheek against her breast, his hands moving soothingly at her waist and back. She felt like a hollow, spent vessel.
Everett lifted his head.
“Here, drink some water,” he said quietly, and she took the glass he offered, swallowing the cool fluid between hiccups.
“Oh my God,” she rasped, spilling water on her chest for the second time. “I just realized I didn’t say—I already got the results. Everett, the biopsy came back negative for cancer,” she said, her words coming with the rapidity of machine gun fire.
She heard him breathing in the silence that followed. “I’m so sorry,” she moaned. “I was so caught up in everything . . . shocked you were here . . . Oh, Jesus . . . I should have said sooner.”
He made a sort of choking sound and suddenly his arms were around her again. Joy held up the water, trying to keep it from spilling on him while he hugged the daylights out of her.
“Dr. Chen says I have a really bad virus, and that’s all. No cancer whatsoever,” she managed to get out through Everett’s tight squeeze.
“I’m so glad,” he muttered.
She laughed. “Everett, I can’t breathe.”
He released her immediately. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she said, smiling. His hand touched her chin. Her fingers skimmed his lips. He was smiling, but she couldn’t see it. Why hadn’t they turned on the light? Suddenly, she wanted nothing more than to drink in the sight of his face. She leaned over and switched on the bedside lamp. She immediately put both of her hands on his jaw.
For a stretched moment, they just stared at each other, both of them smiling. She had the strangest impression their hearts were joined, both of them pounding and near to bursting, they were so full. She studied every detail of his face. How could she have ever thought it was the property of an adoring public? The face of the man she saw right now with the expression of indescribable desire and love in his eyes—that face was hers, and hers alone.
Slowly, realization dawned on her. He must have noticed her incredulous expression.
“Oh, Everett—you didn’t,” she cried. She removed his cap; her eyes sprung wide. She touched the smooth skin of his skull, needing another sense to back up her eyes. Every bit of his blond, tousled, movie-star hair—gone.
“I shaved at the hotel,” he said matter-of-factly.
“Why?” she gasped.