Kirsten tried to relax on the couch. The truth was, she was scared. Fear had been a daily feeling for her now, a coldness that kept her core numbed and her nerves taut. She'd stayed in the hospital a few days longer than they'd thought because of her reaction to the chemo. She'd vomited for most of the day, dropping her hydration level to a low that had nurses scrambling and doctors looking worried about. The first bout of chemo had needed to be had been the worst, had made her feel itchy in her own skin. She was over the hill for this week, though, and had only the prescription to take. Two pills at breakfast. The only problem with that was that somehow, along with most of the tissue out of her breast, her appetite had disappeared as well. She had to force herself to choke down half a mouthful of toast, and that was only so Sandy would look less worried. He was gone now, was at the airport picking up the boys. For once, she was by herself with no one asking her if she needed anything, how she was feeling, if she could eat anymore. Not that she didn't love Sandy being near her, but sometimes his hovering got too much and she just wanted to sit in peace, try to let her mind clear. Unfortunately, her thoughts kept going back to the boys. How they'd react. If they'd be angry that she hadn't told them sooner. If they'd know something was wrong as soon as they saw her. She could guess the answer to the last question was probably an affirmative; she'd lost almost more weight than her body could afford to be without, and she knew her eyes and hair were dull, even from the few days of chemo she'd been through already. Julie's reaction at the hospital had been enough; she'd entered the hospital room with all the gusto Julie Cooper could manage, but had paused inside the threshold. Kirsten had nodded to herself as she'd seen the surprise and instant, overlapping sadness in her eyes. But true to form, Julie had composed herself and carried on as if nothing was wrong, depositing the flowers she'd brought, complete with vase, on the bedside table, settling herself beside Kirsten and chatting about inane things until she stopped, a hand going to Kirsten's hair.
"Kiks, please tell me you'll be okay." Julie's eyes misted temporarily until she blinked the tears back. Kirsten smiled a little. Most of her life she'd been adept at telling people what they wanted to hear and after Suriak, she'd honed that skill. Now, she nodded up at Julie.
"I'll be fine."
Kirsten wondered whether she'd be able to lie to the boys so easily. The truth was, she wasn't sure whether she'd be fine. She hoped so, but no one had said anything about her growing old enough to tell her grandkids embarrassing stories about their fathers.
After she came out of hospital, and got away from the anaesthetic she began to remember what had been mostly a blur to her while she was there. Sandy and his bruised knuckles. He still hadn't told her exactly what had happened. The woman with the needles and bright red hair. And the Doctor, who had told her that it wasn't an all clear. Still, she was trying to remain optimistic. As long as the chemo worked, as long as the blood tests kept coming back clear, as long as she could hold on to life with both hands, there was a chance.
"Honey, we're home." Sandy's voice came down the hallway and, gingerly, Kirsten pushed herself to her feet. She was definitely moving slower, but she didn't know whether it was just the soreness she still felt from the operation, or whether it was the fatigue that had slowly settled into her bones. Kirsten ran her hands through her hair awkwardly, wincing as the stitches at her lymph nodes pulled on the skin. She needed to go back and get them taken out sometime over the next few days.
"Hey guys." Kirsten stepped into the hallway, pasting an intentionally over-bright smile on her face. Sandy kept walking towards her, smiling back, but Ryan and Seth's steps both faltered as they took in her pale skin, the cheekbones that stuck out too far, the blue eyes that didn't look as animated as they once had. Immediately, Kirsten was glad she hadn't told the boys, hadn't had them rush home while she was still in hospital, or just after she got out of the hospital. She knew Sandy was smiling because today was a good day. She wasn't curled up in the bathroom, ready to throw up or lying motionless in bed, unable to do anything but stare at the ceiling and listen to Sandy talk about his day. She wouldn't have wanted the boys to see her like that, as she'd seen her own mother. Of course, her mother had only undergone chemo for a few months, until she'd decided to die on her own terms, sick only from within, not from the chemicals the doctors were putting into her, hoping, but not really thinking they'd get a result.
"How was the flight?" Kirsten accepted a kiss from Sandy and walked slowly towards Ryan and Seth. She knew there were already question brewing beneath their equally ruffled brows, but she didn't want to answer them until she could have a moment of idle chitchat with them, some precious time without them knowing exactly how sick she was, or had been.
Ryan shot a glance at Seth and, after realising there was, strangely, no answer forthcoming there, he cleared his throat, dug around for a reply.
"Good, it was… Good." He nodded and Kirsten looked to Seth, who was still struggling.
"The flight was fine what's wrong with you?" In one breath Seth answered the question and issued his own. Kirsten sighed. She knew one of them would get to the point, and she'd assumed it would be Seth since Ryan would be too polite to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
"Guys, you'd better come sit down." Sandy's voice echoed down from the table, where he'd set out three cups of coffee, and a cup of tea for Kirsten since the doctor had advised her against caffeine. Shepherding them, Kirsten put an arm around Ryan's shoulders, but had to settle for squeezing Seth's hand as she could reach that far up without pain from the stitches.
Kirsten waited until everyone was settled, and two fearfully questioning faces were turned towards her. She licked her lips nervously, wondering exactly how to tell them. She'd been told about her mother by her father, who'd demanded that she get herself back there now to look after her. The words had been delivered sans compassion, and she didn't want to do that to Ryan and Seth.
Sandy's hand caught hers under the table, and she looked over at him, shaking her head slightly to let him know that it would have to be her who would speak. Looking back towards her sons, Kirsten started to speak.
I know. It's been a long time between drinks at the fountain. Real life has been amazingly hectic for a while. Yes, I have a life, and yes I like to use it. To all those who have persevered and come back, thanks guys! Suggestions welcome for the next chapter; just what does Kirsten say?