A/N: Disclaimer: SM owns Twilight, I sadly do not. The characters herein belong to SM, the plot and ideas are sole property of the author.
Hi everyone! So, this is the first installment of the Cystic Fibrosis Awareness fic I mentioned in the final chapters of Make Me Believe. As you know my daughter lives with Cystic Fibrosis. The month of May is actually CF awareness month but my daughter's birthday is in June so I decided to write this little story & have it post during the month of June in honor of her birthday. The things the characters will deal with in regards to the CF treatments and lifestyle are based solely on my family's experiences and what my daughter goes through. There are many, many ways in which Cystic Fibrosis affects those who live with the disease and the situations are not the same for ALL CF patients.
For more information on Cystic Fibrosis and ways to make donations toward finding a cure for this disease please visit The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation at the following website: www(.)cff(.)org (without the parenthesis of course *wink* )
As always I have to send out a huge thank you to Jessica1971 for her amazing beta work. I've said it many, many times but she is truly a magic worker and I thank her for making me look good. 3
I also must thank CellaCullen for pushing me to write this and thank her so very much for spotlighting Cystic Fibrosis Awareness on her website Twi-hard. MWAH my dear! 3 You can visit Twi-hard at www(.)twihardfic(.)com
On to the story...
Chapter 1 What hurts the most
I slammed the car door and punched the steering with the heel of my palm.
"OW! Damn, damn, damn," I cried, rubbing my hand and wrist.
I felt a tear leak from the corner of my eye and swiped at it in frustration. I refused to let the emotions overwhelm me and took a few deep breaths to try to calm down.
I will not cry over that ass, I thought miserably, knowing it was a lost cause as more tears followed the first.
I shook my head in disgust, at myself and the man I just walked out on. I left Josh sitting at that table gaping like a fish out of water as I left the restaurant.
I really thought that Josh was going to be different.
God, how stupid could one person be?
But Josh wasn't like the other men I had dated in the past, which I guess helped me to ignore the fact that he was really not the exception, but the rule.
"Pfft...yeah, 'cause there have been so many others," I scoffed.
Josh and I met a few months before the first time we went out. He was a pharmaceutical rep and happened to come by the home health agency office while I was in one day. We just sort of hit it off and things went from there.
Josh was a good looking guy, in the whole GQ meets Western Horsemen sort of way. He looked just as at home in a pair of worn out, low slung jeans and a T-shirt as he did a three piece suit.
Josh told me he was okay with Olivia's condition. I was honest with him and laid it all out on the line with what she had to do every day, what our lives were like, and he assured me he was fine with the amount of attention Olivia's medical issues required of me. He made it clear that he understood my priority would always be my daughter and he was okay with that.
Damn it, he even said he expected nothing less of any mother and he would be there in whatever capacity I needed him.
I felt another tear streak down my face and I wiped it away with the back of my hand, releasing a heavy sigh as I put the key in the ignition and started the engine.
Why couldn't he be different?
I mean it was a simple question, really. Right?
There was no reason that we couldn't have made it work, no reason except he had lied and he really couldn't deal with the fact that I had a child. A child that requires a great deal of my time, and not because she's a needy, spoiled rotten brat, but because she's ill.
Olivia got sick, like really sick, a few weeks ago and that's when the 'long business trips' began. Then not being able to reach him by email or phone. And when he did return my calls, it was to my cell when he knew I was unavailable in the field with a patient.
It should have been obvious what was going on sooner, but I guess I just didn't want to see it.
Josh simply couldn't deal with the responsibilities of having a child like Olivia. Truth be told, despite all his pretty words to the contrary, he didn't want a ready-made family.
In some ways, I'm glad that he did it now before Olivia got even more attached to him.
I let the car roll to a stop at the traffic light half a mile from my house, completely lost in my thoughts.
How am I going to explain this to Olivia?
I snorted derisively, knowing there had been damn few men in our lives. This was why I swore off dating for so long after Mike passed.
In the past five years, there had been a grand total of two, including Josh. Two men in my life in five years.
It hurt to know that Olivia would never be able to understand the reasoning behind Josh's disappearing act. She wouldn't understand because there was no way in hell I would tell her the truth - that he simply couldn't handle the fact that we were a package deal. You didn't get one without the other.
I should be grateful, I guess, that at least on some level Josh was being honest now, even if he hadn't been in the beginning.
Josh got out of the relationship before things got any more complicated. I guess I needed to give him that, but damn...
I startled as a horn blared and brought me back to the fact I was sitting at the traffic light which had flipped to green and I hadn't moved.
Absently accelerating, I made the turn a short while later into my neighborhood and pulled up beside Rosalie's car in the garage.
Taking a deep breath, I stepped out of the car and made my way into the house.
Mike and I had purchased this house about seven years ago just outside of Atlanta, near his parents, after Mike completed his four year enlistment with the Marine Corps. It was a fixer upper at the time, so we got a steal in the little gem. Mike always said it was a diamond in the rough, and it had been exactly what we were looking for.
Living on a military base for the entire duration of Mike's service, there simply were not words to describe what it felt like to finally have a home in the suburbs with a big back yard that had room for a play set and a tire swing.
The image of Mike standing inside the kitchen shirtless with a tool belt around his waist, hanging the new cabinetry he and his dad made by hand flashed through my mind. I felt the pain stab my chest as the memory tore through my heart, looking over the craftsmanship that reminded me of Mike and how much he loved this house.
Mike was basically a jack of all trades and amazing with the construction stuff. Mike's dad was a general contractor and owned his own construction business, so it had taken no time for the two of them to do the repairs needed and the upgrades we wanted. Mike took such pride in making this place into a real home for our little family.
I felt the breath catch in my throat as I dropped my bag and keys on the breakfast table.
We had only been in the house for a couple of years when we finally got a definitive diagnosis on Olivia's health issue. She had just turned four.
For years we were told her respiratory problems were a severe case of asthma. So to say it was a shock to the system to actually find out it was Cystic Fibrosis would be a gross understatement.
It was all like a horrible nightmare I couldn't wake from as the details of what Olivia's future would entail hit us both like a run-away truck.
The ache in my chest was at times just as intense today as it was those first few days following her diagnosis. The fact that the doctors had no hard and fast prognosis for Olivia's future did nothing to lift the fog that infiltrated my brain, then or now.
The only words of comfort any of them could provide were, 'the healthier she is going into adulthood, the longer her lifespan will be.'
I tried to find the silver lining in the black cloud that hung over us at the time. I looked for the bright side of the information we were provided.
I guess if there was one, it had to be that Olivia's form of gene mutation indicated she suffered from a milder form of Cystic Fibrosis. I snorted at the thought that there was even such a thing when you're talking about something that will eventually steal your child away from you.
I did have to say I was thankful that unlike many in her condition, Olivia's pancreas still functioned, which helped that she wasn't required to take digestive enzymes at every meal and with snacks. So in that way it was a blessing; unfortunately, there were symptoms that Olivia had that weren't necessarily explained or treated with an enzyme.
Olivia had low lung function, which couldn't be explained. Typically the lung function of other CF patients stayed in a range seen with individuals not suffering with the disease. Even with the boat load of inhaled steroids she took every day, she worked with only about eighty percent of the lung function she should have had.
I thought about how I wished the day we found out about Olivia's illness was the worst day of my life. It would be nice to say that discovery was the rock bottom, because the level of devastation from it was enough to cripple me. But, unfortunately, I couldn't say that was the worst day, because there were more cards to be dealt in our hand of fate.
I laughed to myself with absolutely no humor, the memories of those days following Olivia's diagnosis flashed through my mind as I made my way through the kitchen.
Mike had been in the final few months of his Reserves requirement.
I remember sitting on the couch, holding Olivia as she slept soundly in my arms. We had been up most of the previous night because Olivia wasn't feeling well and had a hard time settling down from the steroids the doctor had started.
I remember the overwhelming urge I felt to memorize every feature she had as I watched her sleep. I didn't want to forget anything. I wanted every little part of her burned into my memory.
I barely noticed the sound of the phone as it rang in the background. I didn't move, just continued to rock Olivia in my arms, wanting nothing more than to rewind the last few days.
I wanted to do nothing but go back in time and erase whatever cosmic practical joke was played that had brought this future on my daughter.
I didn't pay any attention to the ringing even after it stopped, knowing Mike was somewhere in the house and had probably grabbed the call. I just held Olivia and rocked. As I remembered it later, I think I knew that things were about to get a whole lot worse.
I turned when I heard Mike's footfalls in the hallway and looked up at him as he entered the room.
The expression on Mike's face when I looked up at him will haunt me for the rest of my days. Even the memory of that hollow look in his crystal blue eyes made my blood run cold and a shiver run down my spine.
His whole body vibrated as he crossed the room and knelt in front of where I sat on the sofa. I remember his eyes clouded over as he told me his unit was being called back for active duty.
My heart literally stopped as his words sank in and what it meant for Olivia and me, for what it meant for Mike.
I don't know how or why, but I knew in that moment as sure as he was kneeling in front of me that he wouldn't come home. He would never smile at me again; he would never hold me or his daughter again. I knew that his daughter would never know what a wonderful man her father truly was, at least not from the first person, but only from memories.
I still don't know how I held it together as Mike explained that he had ten days to report to Fort Benning. The call had informed him that he needed to get his effects in order and be ready to ship out the following week.
The next few days were a complete blur as we prepared for his departure. We weren't really even able to discuss Olivia's diagnosis and what it meant before it was time for him to ship out to Afghanistan for a six month tour.
The emotions were just as fresh as they had been as I kissed Mike one final goodbye. He hugged Olivia and kissed her head before we watched him walk across the tarmac and climb aboard that plane. I knew that was the last time I would ever see my husband alive.
Strange thing about those kinds of premonitions - you're never sure if you should feel relieved or devastated because you were right. Mike never came home, just like I knew he wouldn't.
He was killed by a roadside bomb that tore through the Hum-vee he was riding in during a nighttime mission outside of Kabul two months after he arrived in Afghanistan.
I shook my head, trying to clear the fog clouding my mind. There was no need to dwell on things I could not change. This was my life and there was really nothing to do about it but accept it and move on. There were just times it seemed harder to do than others. It seemed that instead of becoming easier, it became more difficult to do that very thing.
Just like I couldn't make Josh be a different kind of man, I couldn't bring my husband back from the grave. And I couldn't cure our daughter's disease. The only thing I could do was focus on the things I could change.
Olivia's memories of her father were sketchy at best because she was so young when Mike was deployed. Short of seeing a grainy picture and hearing his voice over the phone on the one call he was able to make after arriving in Kabul, Olivia never saw him alive after he shipped out.
I tried so hard to keep his memory strong for Olivia, but I wasn't always sure that I succeeded. I wanted to think that Mike was proud of our little girl, that he looked down on her from heaven and was happy with what I had done.
"Rose," I called, stepping further into the dark house.
Rose's father and my mother married when Rose was five and I was four. We were instantly the best of friends and had been attached at the hip ever since. Our parents still lived in Phoenix, where Phil's business was based.
Rose's mother passed away during childbirth, so Renee was really the only mother she had ever known. My father still lived in Forks, Washington, where he and my mom had been high school sweethearts. My mom had left him when I was just an infant, just packed up and never looked back.
Though Charlie and Renee couldn't stay together, they made sure that they raised me as a team, and my mom made sure I visited my dad during summer vacations and holidays as much as possible.
He remarried as well and had a lovely wife but never had any other children. Olivia and I would fly out to see them a couple times a year, but unfortunately our last trip had been canceled.
Olivia was admitted to the hospital with a MRSA-staph infection and the trip had to be canceled the day before we were set to leave so she could get a two week round of IV antibiotics.
Renee came out and stayed with us until after Mike's death and through his funeral. Really, I don't know how I would have gotten through that period without my mom's help.
It was difficult when she had to return to Phoenix. Her life was there and she couldn't make the move to Georgia because of their responsibilities in Phoenix. And I didn't want to uproot Olivia and take her away from Mike's parents.
The solution came when Rose rearranged her whole life to move to Atlanta. She moved in with Olivia and me and never looked back. Rose repeatedly said there was nothing to hold her in Phoenix other than a job, and mom and dad, which Rose made clear that none of those factors were a sticking point for remaining there.
Honestly, I appreciated and loved her all the more for what she did.
It helped to alleviate some of the feelings of how my drama had adversely affected Rosalie's life when she met Emmett several months ago.
Emmett was head of the orthopedic department at Scottish Rite. He was extremely easy on the eyes, but behind all that good ol' boy charm there was a really sharp mind and an easy sense of humor. There wasn't anything I could find not to like about him. He seemed to be exactly what Rosalie needed and was a huge improvement from the class act assholes she had dated in the past.
"In here," Rose's voice wafted from the family room.
I followed the sound to find Rosalie on the sofa with Olivia's head lying in her lap. The credits from a movie were rolling on the wide screen.
"She okay?" I asked, propping a hip on the back of the sofa as I looked down at my sleeping child lying in Rosalie's lap.
"Yeah, I think so. She had a pretty nasty bout of coughing that woke her up about an hour ago, so we watched some Goblet of Fire andshe did a couple of treatments. She finally nodded off again," Rose looked at the clock on the DVD player, "about ten minutes ago."
Rosalie ran her fingers through Olivia's tangle of blond curls and smiled softly.
It still shocked me at times that Olivia had such light hair coloring. The blond, almost white, hair took my breath away with how much it resembled Mike's.
Honestly if it weren't for the dark brown eyes that were the exact shade of mine and the fact that the twenty-six hours of labor were still fresh in my memory, I would swear the kid wasn't even mine.
"So," Rosalie started as I joined her on the sofa, placing Olivia's feet in my lap. "You going to tell me why you're wearing that look on your face?"
"What look?" I asked, knowing exactly what Rosalie was looking for but really not wanting to get in to it.
"Don't give me that," Rose said, a sharp look crossing her face. "You know exactly what look I'm talking about. What happened?"
"Nothing, Rosalie," I said, standing to pick Olivia up under the guise of putting her to bed.
It struck me as I lifted my baby into my arms just how small Olivia truly was, even at almost ten years old, I could still carry her with little difficulty.
I heard Rosalie's frustrated huff as I made my way down the hall toward Olivia's room.
Thankfully, the angel didn't wake as I shifted her and pulled the sheet back to lay her on the pillow. Tucking the comforter around her tiny shoulders, I bent to press a kiss to her temple. Resting my forehead against the side of Olivia's soft curls, I took a deep breath and inhaled the strawberry shampoo Olivia loved so much.
The anger boiled through my body at a near uncontrollable level and I fought it with everything in me. The same recurrent questions bounced around inside my head as I ran a hand over my baby's hair, smoothing it over the deep purple pillow.
Why? Why had Mike died and left me with all this? Why was Olivia suffering with such a disease? Why couldn't I just get over the loneliness and let it all go? Let him go?
I felt the sob rip through my chest and I sucked in a breath, trying to hold it together, bending to quickly kiss Olivia once more before I stood to make my way back out to the hallway.
There were moments when the loneliness was almost overwhelming. The fear that I couldn't hold it all together for both of us gripped me until I felt almost crushed under the weight.
I wrapped my arms around my middle as I felt the tremble shake my body; I felt chilled to my very bones.
I closed my eyes and fought the tears building behind my lids, swallowing hard to dislodge the lump clogging my throat.
Rosalie was in much the same spot I left her a short time ago, only now she was armed with a half gallon of Haagen-Daz and two spoons.
"Thought you looked like you were in serious need of some Haagen-Daz therapy," Rose said, quirking an eyebrow and holding out a spoon to me. I snorted and rolled my eyes as I took the spoon and fell into the cushion of the sofa beside Rosalie.
"You would be mightily correct in that assessment, sister."
Rosalie snickered and shook her head as she dug into the chocolate deliciousness and placed a monster spoonful of the decadent confection in her mouth, moaning loudly.
"Spill," she mumbled around the mouthful of ice cream.
I nodded, taking a large spoonful of my own, humming with delight as the cold cream melted on my tongue.
Closing my eyes, I dropped my head on the back of the sofa and took a deep breath before launching into the details of yet another failed attempt at having any type of romantic relationship with someone who wasn't Olivia's father.
Thanks for reading. I hope over the course of this story you will gain an understanding of the life of someone living with Cystic Fibrosis. Along the way I hope you also enjoy the story itself.
Until next time...