She looked over to the opposite end of the couch, picturing him there the way he’d been the weekend before. It had been so comfortable—her on her laptop, him half watching the basketball game and half reading through the pile of medical journal articles in his lap; not talking, just being together. Sometimes she would read part of her city council presentation out loud and he would help her wordsmith it, or ask her questions that made her realize she was using too much jargon and needed to simplify. She hadn’t realized how helpful he could be.
Periodically, one of them would get up to fetch drinks or snacks for both of them. They’d share a quick kiss as they both settled back in to work . . . well, okay, sometimes the kisses hadn’t been so quick, but only sometimes. She’d worried that he’d been bored, but then if he’d been bored, he wouldn’t want her to go down there for 4th of July weekend, right?
She picked up her phone to text him but put it back down. It wasn’t like she couldn’t text him at all—they’d been texting each other plenty for the past few days—but in the maudlin mood she was in, she’d probably say, Drew, I miss you, I wish I was seeing you this weekend, I’m counting the days until I see you next. Which . . . that was all true, but some things she didn’t need to share with him. Or anyone else.
At Drew’s sister Angela’s party on Saturday night, Drew kept thinking about how much more fun it would be if Alexa was there with him. He tried to shake that thought off. He wasn’t drinking, because he was on call; that was probably why he was so irritable.
But his irritation washed away when his phone buzzed in his pocket. He grinned at the text from her: a picture of a pile of doughnuts, arranged and stacked like a wedding cake.
Look at what they had at the community meeting!
He walked into the hallway to text her back.
They obviously don’t know you that well. None of them have sprinkles.
After two more texts, he gave up on the party and disappeared out the back door to get to his car. He called her before his car was out of park.
“Hey!” she said, that warm sound of laughter in her voice. Was she laughing because of his texts, or was she out with other people?
“Hey! How was the meeting other than the doughnuts?”
He heard noise and chatter in the background. When she said a muffled, “Be right back,” the noise receded. So she was with other people.
Not that she wasn’t allowed to go out when he wasn’t there, but he’d sort of pictured her sitting home on the couch missing him.
“It went really well, I think! I hope we have lots of parents and teachers on our side. Getting drinks with Theo and some others from work now.”
“That’s great. How many people were there?”
She gushed for a few more minutes about the meeting, before he heard a muffled voice saying, “Alexa! Another margarita?”
“Sounds like you should go,” he didn’t want to say but said anyway.
She laughed again, clearly in a great mood.
“Probably, otherwise they’ll drink all of the tequila without me. Talk to you later?”
“Yeah, talk to you later.”
Why wasn’t he there with her and stupid Theo and her great mood right now? He should be there, to see that laughter on her face in person, to hug her after a good night, to throw his arm around her when she was relaxed and tipsy after a few margaritas and the high that comes from a job well done.
He was almost relieved to get a call from the hospital a few minutes later to get his mind off her.
Alexa woke up with a smile on her face on Sunday morning, after the meeting at the church on Saturday night and Drew’s unexpected phone call. They almost never called each other—they mostly communicated via text or occasionally email. Maybe he’d missed her that weekend like she’d missed him?
But the smile got wiped off her face on Sunday afternoon. There was another community meeting in the Berkeley Hills about her program, and everyone there hated it. Well, they all pretended to like it, with all sorts of platitudes about how it would be a great thing if programs like this one worked, and how they cared so much about troubled children, and how great it was that the mayor had come up with such a creative plan.
The problem was that all of those sentences had a great big BUT in the middle of them: but how do we know this would work; but these kids would be out on the street and still in school; but they’d influence other kids in school and turn them to a life of crime; but shouldn’t we put city resources into programs for young children so we could make sure they stayed on the right track in the first place; and on and on and on.
She’d prepared for this, of course. And the mayor had a list of talking points with answers to all of those questions. But she still felt deflated when she left.
She wished, not for the first time, that this program wasn’t so important to her. That she didn’t have so much of her own history and identity and absolution and vindication tied up in this one effort. She wished that this was just a regular run-of-the-mill project, like the playgrounds or the bike lanes or the farmers’ market expansions, not one where, if this effort failed, she would feel like she’d failed her whole family.
She wanted to go home and call Drew and spill all of this out to him. She almost did, especially after his out-of-the-blue call from the night before.
But though they’d talked about a lot in the past month and a half, they hadn’t gotten that personal. She didn’t know if they had that kind of relationship yet. Or if they would ever. What if he checked out after she spilled her guts to him? Could she handle that?
Probably not. And that was the problem. She wanted him waiting for her when she got home; she wanted to talk to him about everything she was feeling; she wanted him to listen, to ask her questions, to reassure her, to tuck her into his chest and wrap his arms around her. But she knew none of those things were going to happen. She had to remember that.
She tried to push those wants down into the depths of her brain and stopped for ice cream on the way home instead.
Tuesday afternoon, Drew had a follow-up appointment with Jack. Only Abby was with him this time, and after he exchanged fist bumps with Jack, she turned to him.
“So how’s your . . . friend Alexa?”
He felt like he should shut down a question like this from a patient’s mom, but he was too happy to talk about Alexa to someone who wouldn’t make fun of him later that he couldn’t.
“She’s great. I’m sure she’ll want me to say hi to you for her.” He knew that her real question was whether “friend” was the right word to define Alexa, but he avoided answering that. “How did Jack do with the MRI yesterday? I know you were worried.”
She patted Jack on the head. “He handled it with flying colors. Thanks for asking.”
Drew smiled at Jack. “Good job, Jacky, staying in that machine like you did. Most kids your age couldn’t manage that.” He turned back to Abby. “I don’t have his results yet, but they should have been here by now. Let me go check on that.”
He found the report in his office. Read it once, then again. He ran across the hospital to find Dr. Montgomery and had him look at it, too. He sat down in his office with his eyes closed for a moment before he forced himself to walk back into the exam room.
Abby looked up from her book with a smile on her face when she saw him, but her smile dropped away. Thank God Jack had fallen asleep on the table.
“What is it?”
He sat down next to her and took a deep breath.
“Dr. Nichols, what is it?”
Shit, he just had to tell her. Why was doing this part of his job still so hard?
“Abby. I’m so sorry I kept you waiting, but I wanted to double-check a few things with another doctor here. We won’t know for sure without additional testing, but there’s a mass in one of Jack’s lymph nodes. Initial indications are that it’s cancer.”
Abby went very still. She closed her book without marking the page and stared at him without a word.
He shouldn’t have spit it out like that; he should have done a better job of leading up to the C word. Telling parents bad news was the worst part of his job.
“I’ve already called our best pediatric oncologist for a consult, so if you can bring him back in Thursday morning, we can start doing more testing and, if necessary, come up with a plan.”