Between Sisters Page 52


“Like Diana,” he said into the uncomfortable silence.

Gina came up behind him, touched his shoulder. “I tried to protect you from this. I’m sorry.”

He stared out the window at the backyard designed for children. Once, he and Diana had dreamed of bringing their babies here to play.

“Maybe you’d like to go see Claire.”

“No,” he said so quickly, he knew Gina understood. “My time in hospitals is done.”

“Yeah,” Gina said, “now let’s go watch a funny movie.”

He slipped an arm around his sister and pulled her in close. “I could use a laugh.”

Meghann sat in the chair that had once felt so comfortable and stared at Dr. Bloom.

“It was all bullshit,” she said bitterly. “All my appointments with you. They were just a way for a self-obsessed woman to vent about the mistakes she’d made in her life. Why didn’t you ever tell me that none of it mattered?”

“Because it does matter.”

“No. I was sixteen years old when all that happened. Sixteen. None of it matters—my fear, my guilt, her resentment. Who cares?”

“Why doesn’t it matter anymore?”

Meghann closed her eyes, reaching for a bitterness that had moved on. All she felt was tired, lost. “She’s sick.”

“Oh.” The word was a sigh. “I’m sorry.”

“I’m afraid, Harriet,” Meghann finally admitted. “What if . . . I can’t do it?”

“Do what?”

“Stand by her bed and hold her hand and watch her die? I’m terrified I’ll let her down again.”

“You won’t.”

“How do you know that?”

“Ah, Meghann. The only person you ever let down is yourself. You’ll be there for Claire. You always have been.”

It wasn’t entirely true. She wished it were. She wanted to be the kind of person who could be depended upon.

“If I were ill, there’s no one I’d rather have in my corner, Meghann. You’re so busy swimming in old sorrows that you haven’t bothered to come up for air. You’ve made up with Claire, whether you two have said the words or not. You’re her sister again. Forgive yourself and go forward.”

Meghann let the advice sink in. Then, slowly, she smiled. It was true. This wasn’t the time for fear and regret; she’d spent too many years on that already. These were days that called for hope and, for once, she was going to be strong enough to believe in a happy ending for Claire. No running away from potential heartache. That was the mistake Meg had made in her marriage. She’d feared a broken heart so keenly that she’d never given the whole of her love to Eric.

“Thanks, Harriet,” she said at last. “I could have bought a Mercedes for what you charged me, but you’ve helped.”

Harriet smiled. It surprised Meg, made her realize that she’d never seen her doctor smile before. “You’re welcome.”

Meghann stood up. “So. I’ll see you next week, same time?”

“Of course.”

She walked out of the office, went down the elevator, and emerged into the July sunlight.

Slinging her handbag over her shoulder, she headed for home.

She was almost there when she happened to look up. Across the street, the small park near the Public Market was a hive of activity. College-age kids playing hackey sack, tourists feeding the dive-bombing seagulls, shoppers taking a rest. She wasn’t sure what had caught her eye and made her look.

Then she saw him, standing at the railing. His back was to her, but she recognized his faded jeans and denim shirt. He was probably the only man in downtown Seattle to wear a cowboy hat on a sunny day.

She crossed the street and walked up to him. “Hey, Bobby.”

He didn’t look at her. “Meg.”

“What are you doing out here?”

“She’s sleeping.” Finally, he turned. His eyes were watery, red. “She threw up for almost an hour. Even when there was nothing left to vomit. Don’t worry, I cleaned it up.”

“I wasn’t worried,” Meg said.

“She looks bad today.”

“Some days are worse than others. I bet Nashville looks pretty good about now,” she said, trying to lighten his mood.

“Is that supposed to be funny? My wife is puking and her hair is falling out. You think I’m worried about my career?”

“I’m sorry.” She touched him. “I’ve always been as sensitive as a serial killer.”

He sighed. “No, I’m sorry. I needed someone to yell at.”

“I’ll always give you a reason, don’t worry.”

He smiled, but it was tired and worn. “I’m just . . . scared shitless, that’s all. And I don’t want her to know.”

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“I know.” Meghann smiled up at him. Her sister was lucky to be loved by such a man. For no apparent reason, that made her think of Joe, of the day she’d found him weeping over his divorce. Joe was the kind of man who knew how to love, too. “You’re a good man, Bobby Jack Tom Dick. I was wrong about you.”

He laughed. “And you’re not half the bitch I thought you were.”

Meghann slipped an arm around him. “I’m going to pretend that was a compliment.”

“It was.”

“Good. Now let’s go make Claire smile.”

The days passed slowly; each new morning found Claire a little more tired than the night before. She strove to keep a positive attitude but her health was deteriorating rapidly. She visualized rays of sunlight instead of radiation. She meditated for an hour a day, imagined herself in a beautiful forest or seated beside her beloved river. She ate the macrobiotic diet that Meghann swore would help heal her body.

The Bluesers came down often, separately and together, doing their best to keep Claire’s spirits up. Meg’s friend Elizabeth had even come for a few days, and the visit helped her sister immensely. The hardest times were weekends, when they went to Hayden; Claire tried to pretend that everything was okay for Ali.

In the evenings, though, it was just the three of them—Claire, Meg, and Bobby—in that too-quiet apartment. Mostly, they watched movies together. At first, when Bobby arrived, they’d tried to spend the evening talking or playing cards, but that had proved difficult. Too many dangerous subjects. None of them could mention the future without flinching, without thinking, Will there be a Christmas together? A Thanksgiving? A next summer?? So, by tacit agreement, they’d let the television become their nighttime soundtrack. Claire was grateful; it gave her several hours where she could sit quietly, without having to pretend.

Finally, the radiation ended.

The following morning Claire got up early. She dressed and showered and drank her coffee out on the deck overlooking the Sound. It amazed her that so many people were already up, going about their ordinary lives on this day that would define her future.

“Today’s the day,” Meg said, stepping out onto the deck.

Claire forced a smile. “Yep.”

“Are you okay?”

God, how she’d come to despise that question. “Perfect.”

“Did you sleep last night?” Meg asked, coming up beside her.

“No. You?”

“No.” Meg slipped an arm around her, held her tightly.

Claire tensed, waiting for the pep talk, but her sister said nothing.

Behind them, the glass door opened. “Morning, ladies.” Bobby came up behind Claire, slid his arms around her, and kissed the back of her neck.

They stood there a minute longer, no one speaking, then they turned together and left the condo.

In no time, they were at Swedish Hospital. As they entered the Nuclear Medicine waiting room, Claire noticed the other patients who wore hats and scarves. When their gazes met, a sad understanding passed between them. They were members of a club you didn’t want to join. Claire wished now that she hadn’t bothered with the scarf. Baldness had a boldness to it that she wanted to embrace.

There was no waiting today, not on this day that would answer all the questions. She checked in and went right to the MRI. Within moments, she was pumped full of dye and stuck in the loud machine.

When she was finished, she returned to the waiting room and sat between Meghann and Bobby, who both reached out for her. She held their hands.

Finally, they called her name.

Claire rose.

Bobby steadied her. “I’m right here, babe.”

The three of them began the long hallway-to-hallway walk, ending finally in Dr. Sussman’s office. The plaque on the door read: Chief of Neurology. Dr. McGrail, the chief of radiology, was also there.

“Hello, Claire. Meghann,” Dr. Sussman said. “Bobby.”

“Well?” Meghann demanded.

“The tumor responded to radiation. It’s about twelve percent smaller,” Dr. McGrail reported.

“That’s great,” Meg said.

The doctors exchanged a look. Then Dr. Sussman went to the viewbox, switched it on, and there they were, the gray-and-white pictures of Claire’s brain. And there was the stain. He finally turned to Claire. “The decrease has bought you some time. Unfortunately, the tumor is still inoperable. I’m sorry.”

Sorry.

Claire sat down in the leather chair. She didn’t think her legs would hold her up.

“But it worked,” Meg said. “It worked, right? Maybe a little more radiation. Or a round of chemo. I read that some are crossing the blood-brain barrier now—”

“Enough,” Claire said. She’d meant to say it softly, but her voice was loud. She looked at the neurologist. “How long do I have?”

Dr. Sussman’s voice was gentle. “The survival rates aren’t good, I’m afraid, for a tumor of this size and placement. Some patients live as long as a year. Perhaps a bit longer.”

“And the rest?”

“Six to nine months.”

Claire stared down at her brand-new wedding ring, the one Grandma Myrtle had worn for six decades.

Meghann went to Claire then, dropped to her knees in front of her. “We won’t believe it. The files—”

“Don’t,” she said softly, shaking her head, thinking about Ali. She saw her baby’s eyes, the sunburst smile that was missing the front teeth, heard her say, You can sleep with my wubbie, Mommy, and it ruined her. Tears ran down her cheeks. She felt Bobby beside her, felt the way his fingers were digging into her hard, and she knew he was crying, too. She wiped her eyes, looked up at the doctor. “What’s next?”

Meghann jerked to her feet and began pacing the room, studying the pictures and diplomas on the walls. Claire knew her sister was scared and, thus, angry.

Dr. Sussman pulled a chair around and sat down opposite Claire. “We have some options. None too good, I’m afraid, but—”

“Who is this?” It was Meghann’s voice but she sounded shrill and desperate. She was holding a framed photograph she’d taken off the wall.

Dr. Sussman frowned. “That’s a group of us from medical school.” He turned back to Claire.

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