A/N: Thank yous to Team Spiderward for all you do. xx
Disclaimer: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. The NHL owns anything that sounds familiar. I’m here having fun.
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“What was that?” I wonder between pants, attempting to catch my breath.
Edward’s determined and naked plan for distraction this morning obviously entails new positions we’ve never attempted before.
“Was it good for you?” He chuckles, as if he doesn’t already know.
“Good? Try incredible.” I wave my hand toward our spent bodies, or at least mine. “Does whatever that was have a name?”
“It does, but I’m not sure if I should share that with you.”
“Now you’re keeping secrets? What happened to, ‘Doc, I’m an open book. Ask me anything?’ How will I ever be able to request it in the future?” I grin, turn my head in his direction, and find him watching me. “What? Is it called The Baby Maker or something?”
Edward laughs deeply, then reaches for my hand. After lacing our fingers together, he places a gentle kiss on the back of mine.
“You’re so beautiful. I love making you happy.”
“Trying to change the subject, huh?”
“Then what’s it called?” I prompt once more.
His smile widens. “The first is called The Spider.”
“No, it isn’t,” I reply incredulously.
“Yes, it is. James recently bought a . . . positions paperback.”
I chuckle. “Of course he did.”
“He sent me a snap of that page and the other one, The Spider Web. I’m supposed to report back if The Spider is possible because he had his doubts.”
“Oh, it’s possible, but I think I prefer the web one. I love the closeness and intimacy of it. The Spider position certainly hit the right spot for me, which is a plus, but I don’t have your strength or flexibility to hold it for long. So, it helped that you were the one supporting us.”
“Did the pillows help your back?”
“Good.” He brings my hand to his lips, rubbing them back and forth before leaving another kiss. “I enjoy trying new things with you.”
“To distract me?”
He shrugs. “Did it work?”
“At least for a little while.” I release a heavy sigh, staring at the ceiling.
Edward releases my hand, then shifts closer until he’s hovering above me. “What time are you leaving?”
“It’s almost six,” he shares, then presses a kiss against my lips. “I understand why it doesn’t feel like it right now, but it’s going to be okay.”
“I hope so.”
“Do you want me to go with you?” Edward offers. “I can call Coach.”
I shake my head. “No. We’re only meeting with the doctor today, and I don’t want you to get in trouble again because of me. You can’t miss any practices or games. Your team needs you.”
“You’re my team too,” he counters.
“It’s just a lot of driving,” I suggest, knowing deep down that isn’t the true reason for my uneasiness. “I’m not looking forward to it.”
“You and I both know there’s a lot more to this appointment.” Of course, Edward sees right through me. “I can help with the driving, then you wouldn’t have to do it all yourself.”
“Thank you for the offer, but Dad will take over if I need a break. You’re staying. And going to work. We’ll see you tonight for dinner. With your parents.” My stomach churns with that last thought.
“Now, who’s the bossy one?” he teases.
A smile tugs at the corners of my lips. “I’m not bossy. I’m the boss.”
“You’re right,” Edward agrees easily. “And a badass one at that.”
“What happened to Scout and Shadow?” I wonder, pushing my fingers gently through his tousled hair. “They never showed up last night—again.”
He grins. “I think they prefer sleeping with your parents.”
“Or maybe they sense something is wrong and want to offer comfort in any way they can.” I sigh.
“I wouldn’t be surprised. They’re intuitive. Like you.” Edward winks, then sends ticklish shivers through me with a lingering kiss in the crook of my neck, prompting my giggles.
With time dwindling far too quickly this morning, I reluctantly depart the blissful oasis of our bed to get ready for the trip to Houston. It’s almost a four-hour drive one-way, and I’m not beginning this adventure without coffee. Once Edward is dressed, he slips out of our bedroom with a promise to fix my travel mug.
Hoping to get ahead of the morning traffic around Dallas, our early start proves challenging when, barely into the drive, Mom gets my attention from the passenger seat.
“I don’t know what it is. I’m not feeling good,” she admits.
At first, I wonder if it could be anxiety over this appointment because despite my coffee, I don’t feel the greatest either, until another thought occurs to me.
“Did you eat anything this morning?”
“Are you motion sick? Should I pull over?”
“No. I rarely have an issue while riding, but I’m feeling a little nauseous.”
I smile, hoping for a little levity. “My driving isn’t that bad, Mom.”
“Bella, it definitely isn’t you. I can assure you.” She chuckles. “I think I’ll just lean the seat back, try to nap, and keep my eyes closed. That seems to help.”
Glancing in the rearview mirror, I meet Dad’s concerned gaze before returning my focus to Mom.
“How about a granola bar? I think I have one in my purse. Or maybe a mint? I believe there is a small tin in the center console. Sometimes they help settle my stomach.”
“Okay.” She nods, opens the lid to the compartment, and locates the container of mints. “I’ll try one of these.”
With the white noise created by the lull of the engine and the tires passing over the open road, a comfortable silence settles between us. I focus on the soft music playing until the sound of Mom’s breathing evens out and light snores fill the space. I clear my throat, getting Dad’s attention.
“How has she been sleeping since you arrived?” I ask softly. “Is the tea helping?”
“Better than at home,” he shares.
“Maybe this is simply more activity in the past few days than she is used to. The travel. The excitement of visiting.”
“She’s nervous about today.”
“I am too.”
His mustache twitches before he admits, “Then it’s unanimous.”
As we put more highway miles behind us, my thoughts shift to Dad and Edward’s conversation I overheard last night. I never returned to the kitchen, but snuck back to the bedroom from the entry, waiting for Edward to finish with his late dinner before calling it a night.
“Dad, can I ask you something?”
“Do you like Edward?”
“He seems okay.”
“But do you like him?”
He holds my gaze in the rearview mirror briefly. “As long as he makes you happy, I like him. How about that?”
“Fair enough.” I nod, reach for my travel mug, and take another sip.
He doesn’t know Edward how I do, but with time, their relationship could grow into something good for both of them. I don’t always share everything with Dad, especially relationship stuff, since typically, it’s Mom who pries it out of me, but maybe a little reassurance could go a long way here.
“I want you to know that he makes me incredibly happy.”
He smiles at my words. “Good.”
We’re both quiet for the remainder of the trip until traffic becomes heavier the closer we get to Houston. Even though Mom is awake and chatty, I’m careful not to miss any turns.
Once I pull into the MD Anderson Main Building entrance, I leave my car with the valet attendant, not wanting Mom to walk any farther than necessary. With about a half an hour to spare before her appointment, I suggest we locate Dr. Sadarangani’s office in the Brain and Spine Center, but Mom hesitates to proceed through the entrance.
“Ma’am, do you need a wheelchair?” the attendant asks when he notices her delay.
“No. I just need a moment to catch my breath.”
Sliding my hand in hers, I squeeze it in support, prompting her nervous smile and watery eyes. She looks at Dad, who nods.
“Worst-case scenario, I can be the four percent,” she says with a tremble in her voice. “Right?”
It takes a moment for me to realize she’s referring to her conversation with Edward that Dad and I overheard outside of her hospital room when he was encouraging her to beat the odds against her.
“You can,” I reassure, sharing a look with Dad. “Whenever you’re ready, Mom. We’re in no rush.”
After a few more deep breaths, she wipes her eyes with a crumpled tissue from her pocket. “I’m already a mess, but okay, let’s go.”
We enter the massive complex of buildings, following the signs, leading us to the elevator, then to the seventh floor. With a brief stop at the reception desk, we confirm our arrival, then shuffle toward a large waiting area. Mom and Dad choose seats, but I’m too antsy, walking around a little before slipping my phone from my purse.
Dad sits stoically in his chair until Mom moves her hand over to rest on his thigh, which softens his demeanor instantly. My father has never been overly affectionate. So, I’m stunned when he wraps his arm around her, then places a delicate kiss on the side of her head.
Returning my attention to my phone, I attempt to read-through a few new emails from Rose, but only scan them briefly before opening my message app. After locating our last conversation, I let Edward know of our arrival. He’s probably still at practice, and he won’t have access to his phone for another few hours, but I tap out a message anyway.
We made it to Houston.
We’re waiting to see the doctor now.
A door opens, getting everyone’s attention before the woman says, “Renée?”
“That’s me.” Mom holds up her hand slightly.
“Great. Dr. Sadarangani is ready for you,” the woman says.
But is Mom ready for him? And when is a doctor ever early for an appointment? This must be the Alice Effect. Or Roy. I’m not sure if this is a good or bad thing. The front of the line for a popular ride at Disney World—yes. A cancer hospital—no.
Am I ready for this? My worries are mounting once again, but there’s no choice. I have to be. For her. And this is why I reached out to Alice—to get us to the front of the line because time isn’t on our side.
Mom’s eyes find mine, and I smile with more confidence than I feel, then abandon texting before sliding my phone back in my purse. As we start down the hallway and pass through a set of double doors, the woman introduces herself.
“I’m Gloria, one of Dr. Sadarangani’s nurses.” I recognize her name as the one Alice mentioned previously. “He’s waiting for you in his office.”
I glance at Dad, who stares straight ahead until Gloria leads us to an open door, then waves us inside. The man sitting at the desk looks up at our arrival and smiles.
“Hello, you must be Renée.” Pushing away from his spot, he stands, then walks around with his hand outstretched toward Mom.
“I’m Dr. Sadarangani.” His eyes shift to Dad, then to me. “Who did you bring with you today?”
“This is Charlie and our daughter, Bella.” I’m relieved she recalled our names since that hasn’t always been the case.
On the surface, Dr. Sadarangani is a fit man who is a little shorter than Dad, with salt and pepper hair and dark, expressive eyes. While he doesn’t exude the same charisma as when I met Roy, his warm, welcoming expression puts me at ease immediately.
“Wonderful.” He waves toward the two chairs on the opposite side of his desk. “Gloria, will you grab another chair for us?”
“Sure, can I get anyone water or a coffee?” Gloria asks.
Mom smiles. “Water would be great.”
“Coffee. Black. Please.”
“Coffee would be wonderful. Cream and sugar, if you have it.”
Gloria nods. “We do. I’ll be right back with that chair.”
Dad nods toward the chair next to the windows. “Bella, go ahead. I’ll take the one she brings.”
Within a few moments, Gloria returns, sliding another chair into the room, then hands Mom a bottle of water. Once we readjust our chairs and help Mom settle between us, another woman arrives with our coffees and all the small talk fades quickly.
Dr. Sadarangani directs his attention to Mom. “Renée, how was your trip here? You flew from Seattle, then drove from Dallas, correct?”
“That’s right.” Mom looks over at me, patting my arm lightly. “Bella lives there. So, we’re staying with her.”
“Good. Tell me about the flight? Your surgeon cleared you to travel, but that doesn’t mean you will go unaffected by the pressure changes. Did you have a headache or any dizziness?” he prompts, but other than fatigue and the nausea earlier, she hasn’t complained.
Dad and I say simultaneously.
“I didn’t want to worry either of you.”
Dr. Sadarangani nods and jots a few notes. “Pain or swelling around your surgical site?”
“What about traveling today?”
“I was nauseous at the beginning,” Mom replies. “But I napped a little and that helped.”
“Mostly nervous.” She gives him a hesitant smile.
“Okay, we will step into an exam room shortly, as I would like to examine your incision site.” He glances at the papers spread out in front of him. “I’ve studied everything sent to me from your doctor’s initial findings in Jacksonville after the seizure and from your surgeon’s notes in Seattle. Your doctor was unable to complete the removal surgically due to concerns for losing vital functions, like speech and movement.
“According to the records, your surgeon recommended you begin radiation and chemotherapy together. This is the standard method for continued treatment we follow since they produce the best possible outcome with tumors of this nature. But after receiving the biopsy results, before taking that next step, someone wanted a new opinion. Who was that?”
I shift in my seat, sitting a little taller. “Me. Dad. Both of us.”
“Renée, how do you feel about those next steps?”
Mom blows out a steady breath. “I wish they weren’t necessary, but I have to wonder if there are any other options. Maybe alternative treatments.”
Dr. Sadarangani nods, then leans back in his desk chair, which creaks with the weight of his movements. “Grade four glioblastoma brain tumors like yours are the most common we find, and unfortunately, they’re aggressive. I just want to be clear that I would have proceeded exactly as your doctor in Seattle recommended with one exception—but let me back up a bit.
“Brain tumors of this nature develop sporadically, which means that your children or—do you have any grandchildren?” he asks Mom.
When she doesn’t answer, I chuckle and clarify, “No, she doesn’t, and I’m an only child.”
“Okay, I’ll add that note, too. It means that neither your daughter nor her children will have any greater risk than anyone else.”
Mom smiles with relief. “Oh, thank goodness. I’ve been worried about that.”
“In general, brain tumors are difficult to treat. The cells in the human body have specific tasks and have what we call programmed cell death. Cancer cells have characteristics that allow them to prevent or escape that death,” he explains. “Your tumor contains a protein called survivin. It not only helps cancer cells grow, but grow faster. This brings us back to the exception. With your case, I would recommend—in addition to our standard treatment plan—a clinical trial. Are you familiar with those?”
“No.” Mom shakes her head.
“Clinical cancer trials are classified into four different phases when we are testing new drugs or treatments and procedures. The first looks into if the drug works, which is phase zero. Once its effectiveness is determined, we move to phase one and propose treatment plans to determine if those are safe with a small sample of patients. If we see success, then we expand to a larger group to determine if the treatment works, which is phase two. From there, we hope to determine in phase three if what we’ve found is any better than what’s already out there. Then, finally, we enter phase four, where we hope to understand what else we need to know before it can be widely used.
“Currently, we have a particular clinical trial here at Anderson with ongoing enrollment that I would recommend for you, and from everything I read in your records, you meet the eligibility criteria. At this point, we’re in phase two of a new vaccine—the first of its kind—engineered immunotherapy to stimulate a patient’s immune system, controlling cancer cell growth and recurrence. The results are promising.”
“What kind of numbers are we talking about?” I wonder.
“Prior to your mother’s craniotomy, the standard expectation for brain tumors is thirty-five percent. After learning more about her tumor, those numbers drop dramatically to four, possibly five percent. In this trial, we’re finding that the survival rate from the first immunization jumps to seventy percent, then at twelve months, it’s closer to ninety percent.”
“Wow,” Dad says.
“There are still risks and we’re expanding the sample size currently, but the results we’re seeing are encouraging.” Dr. Sadarangani smiles reassuringly. “If you choose to move forward with us, we would begin six weeks of photon based radiation therapy, called IMRT, and chemotherapy—temozolomide, known as TMZ. Daily sessions of IMRT in small doses would last five to fifteen minutes every weekday. You’ll rest on the weekends. Common side effects include mouth sores, malnutrition, weight loss, and skin redness or blistering. Hair loss is not a side effect of the chemotherapy, but it is for radiation therapy, which always grows back.
“At the conclusion of the six weeks, we would see you every two weeks to continue administering vaccine doses. We have patients in the trial who have been receiving this treatment for eighteen months, and currently, they return every ten to twelve weeks with . . . clear MRI scans.”
“It’s gone?” Mom asks hopefully.
“Charlie.” She looks over at Dad and places her hand over her heart.
He reaches for her other hand, holding it gently. “I heard him.”
Dr. Sadarangani continues. “The most important thing to remember is don’t give up hope. You’re not simply another statistic. You’re unique. You’re you. What works for someone may not work for you and vice versa. But I believe we have the right solution for you. Treatment is scary, terrifying at times. It weakens the most active and fit person. I recommend an integrative approach. Use a physical therapist. Focus on nutrition. Ask for help with pain management. Our patients pursue a variety of worthwhile options: acupuncture, music therapy, massage, yoga, and exercise.”
I’m already nodding my agreement, knowing we’ll do anything and everything possible for her, but it sounds as if I need to make arrangements with Alice for them to stay here in Houston. Before I mentally get too far into the planning process, I realize I need to understand the timeline and confirm that Mom is willing.
“If this is a path Mom pursues, how soon do you recommend beginning treatment?”
“Ideally, immediately, but considering your mother’s initial hesitation, she should take a little time to consider those next steps. Gloria will give you a packet full of information to take with you today about our plan for chemotherapy, radiation, and the clinical trial, including all the risks. Study them closely, and if you have any other questions, call me.” Dr. Sadarangani holds out a card I accept with a handwritten phone number. “Directly.”
“But as I mentioned before, I would like to do my own assessment. Give me a minute to check with Gloria and I’ll find out which exam room she has waiting for us.”
Once he departs the office, Dad and I share a few knowing looks before I start.
“So, Mom, what do you think? Do you like him?”
She releases a heavy sigh. “He seems nice.”
“He’s another doctor.” Dad shrugs. “The clinical trial sounds promising.”
I’m positive he’s concerned about the risks, but the main one we’re hoping to avoid is losing Mom. After setting my coffee mug on the edge of the desk, I return my attention to Mom.
“How do you feel about beginning radiation and chemotherapy next?”
Mom takes a moment to consider my question until she sniffs, then looks up at me with tears in her eyes. “I’m scared.”
“I understand, and we’ll be here every step of the way,” I vow.
“You have your new practice and all of those people depend on you.” Mom stares down at her shaking hands. “I understand you’re busy. You can’t promise me that.”
“Yes, I can. I’ll be here whenever you need me. I’m the boss now,” I remind her with a smile she soon shares. “My friend, Alice, who made today’s visit possible, lives outside of Houston on their ranch. She offered us the option for you both to stay with her if you pursue treatment here. I promise I’ll come visit every weekend.”
Dad shakes his head. “We appreciate the generous offer, but we aren’t going to impose on anyone, especially someone we don’t know.”
“Alice reassured me you wouldn’t be imposing. They have guest cottages at their ranch that would allow you to be close to the hospital while coming and going whenever you please. You can keep my car. I don’t believe daily driving between Dallas and Houston would be good for Mom.”
Mom’s eyes find mine. “He said immediately. I’m not ready to begin—”
“Renée?” Dr. Sadarangani interrupts, standing in the doorway. “We have a room ready. Let’s take a closer look at how you’re doing.”
Mom nods, but makes no move to get up. She leans close to Dad, setting her head on his shoulder. After they share a brief kiss, she whispers something in his ear.
His eyes widen, and he stutters briefly. “Are-are you sure?”
“Yes.” Mom smiles warmly before kissing him again, brushing away a few tears, then leaves the office with the doctor.
While I’m curious about whatever she shared, I blow out a steady breath and glance at Dad, wanting to hear his opinion about everything we’ve covered here without Mom present.
“Tell me, what do you really think?”
It takes a moment for him to collect his thoughts, then he clears his throat. “Um . . . we’re not going back to Forks. I suspected as much.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Yeah. Call Leah for me. We should get things started and have her list the house. I’m going to sell it. I don’t want to waste any time that we manage to borrow for your mom. We should be here with you. And Edward.”
“Are you sure?”
“You talked with Mom about moving here?” I ask.
His mustache twitches slightly. “I mentioned it and you know your mother.”
I smile. “She’s excited.”
“Dad, will you do me a favor?”
“Will you stay with Alice for me?” I request. “I’ll feel better knowing you’re both here with her. It sounds as if it would only be for a short period of time. Then you could come back and live in my townhouse indefinitely or until you find something of your own.”
“That doesn’t sound like a favor for you.”
I reach out and cover his hand with mine, squeezing lightly. “I promise you, for my peace of mind, it is.”
“Then I need to ask one of my own.”
“Your mother . . . she said . . . um.”
“What is it? What did she say?” I prompt.
“Fancy? What are you talking about?” I wonder.
“Yeah.” He chuckles nervously before sharing the last words I expected him to say. “We’re getting married.”
“You’re getting married?” I repeat. “Her divorce is finalized?”
“Yes, to both. I visited with my buddy, Harold, before we left,” Dad explains.
“Well, he’s Judge Greene now. Because of the nature of . . . your mother’s illness, we have a court waiver for the typical thirty-day waiting period following a divorce, but I looked into it and I believe Texas has a seventy-two hour waiting period after filing for a marriage license. Harold said he would make a call if we needed that waived, too.”
I shake my head, full of disbelief. “You’re getting married here?”
“I’m not going to risk putting her on a plane again. So, yeah. In Dallas, I guess, if we can do it before she begins treatment, that would probably be best. Or here in Houston, if not. Something small. It doesn’t have to be complicated, Bella. Just us. You and Edward. At the courthouse, I don’t care where. She said she’s ready, but I don’t want her to stress over a single detail. She deserves at least a new dress. Something special—bridal. Maybe some flowers would be nice, but unnecessary. I brought my suit. We don’t need much. I just need her.”
“Oh, Dad. You’re blowing my mind right now. I-I can’t believe this is happening.” I wipe away the tears that I feel trail down my cheeks with the back of my hand. “Are you going to propose again?”
“No. I proposed on Christmas morning,” Dad states, but at the time, I thought it was simply an idea, not necessarily a proposal. “It took a little while to get her answer, but now that she’s ready, what more is there to discuss? Life is short. We’ve been here before. I told you I’m ready for this—now more than ever.”
“Wow. Okay. I’ll reach out to my friend, Al. He can probably help arrange anything we need. We were planning to have dinner with him and his husband this week, anyway. They’re excited to meet you both. Um . . . I’ll need to double-check Edward’s schedule. He’s leaving on Friday for another road trip and will be back next Wednesday.”
My mind shifts into overdrive with the possibilities, then Dad’s shaky voice breaks through my thoughts.
“Bella, if she doesn’t make it through the treatment—”
“Hey, let’s not think like that. She’s going to fight through this, and we’re going to do everything within our power to keep her happy and comfortable. You heard the doctor. We can’t give up hope.”
“Why do I have a feeling that’s about to be tested in ways neither of us has ever imagined?”