SERIES: Elements #8
RATING: PG-13, ESF, EMF, EJF, S/M, MalloryPoV
SUMMARY: Sometimes new challenges confront us...Sometimes we confront them.
DISCLAIMERS: I don't own them, please don't sue me.
After his bout with pneumonia, Sam conceded just enough defeat to stay in bed at his apartment after he was out of the hospital for a few days, at least.
I arrived at his apartment at a little before 4 right after school. He was on the phone his daily phone call to his mother. I thought it was sweet that, every day, he called just to let her know how he was doing. It spoke volumes bout the mother-son relationship.
"Hey," I said, entering upon hearing him hang up the phone. "How was your day?"
"Okay...I e-mailed a speech draft to Toby...talked to Josh...Don't worry, I didn't overexert myself."
"Good." I sat on the edge of the bed. "I don't make you slow down just to be bitchy, it's 'cause..." I immediately shut up.
"Just 'cause what?" he asked, picking up on my uneasy tone.
"Nothing happened, what makes you think-"
"Then what's wrong?"
"Nothing." I sighed. "I just meant I'm a little overprotective 'cause when he was diagnosed-"
"You said 'When he was diagnosed.'"
"I meant 'you.'"
"No you didn't."
"Mal," he said quietly. "What happened?"
"I..." He put his hand on my shoulder. "I...I really didn't-...It's really nothing, Sam."
"Who'd you mean before?"
"'When he was diagnosed'..."
"Eric," I murmured, staring at my hands, which were folded in my lap.
I raised my head but couldn't quite meet his gaze. "My late husband."
He blinked at me. "...That would explain a lot..."
"What is *that* supposed to mean?"
"The fact that you didn't completely freak when ya found out, that you've been so great about all this..."
"Experience," I said with a choked, bitter laugh.
"Tell me?" he asked quietly.
I'd never told the story before. Mom and Dad and the First Family knew 'cause they were at the funeral and had had updates throughout the whole ordeal. I honestly wasn't sure if I could tell it all, let alone without Sam flipping out or ME flipping out...
"It's a long story," I said simply.
If it had been anyone else, I would have either said flat-out no or weaseled out of it. But this was Sam, the guy I was in love with, who I trusted, who I was taking care of...So I began the story. I turned and sat Indian-style on the bed so I was facing him without wrenching my back.
"When I was a freshman in high school, I transferred to a different private school system where I didn't know anyone...most of the other kid had gone to the same elementary school and jr. high, and so I was the outcast. The ubiquitous loner. Then a guy came over to me on the third day of school and asked if he could sit next to me at lunch. His name was Eric and he was in the same situation He'd actually gone to University School, which was my old school's male counterpart."
"You went to an all-girl school?"
"Yeah, K-8. Coed high school and college."
"Is that why you switched?"
"Yep Mom's idea. Dad liked the idea of me never meeting boys and never dating. Mom insisted I was a teenager and a 'very responsible young lady', I believe she called it, and that I should go to a coed school and if I met guys I wanted to date, I should be allowed to date them." I smiled faintly at the memory. "So Eric and I started hanging out together and became best friends...It was almost a year and a half before he asked me out. Our first kiss was on New Year's, a couple minutes into 1988...He proposed to me on my 18th birthday and we were married 6 months later, a couple weeks before we started at Boston University."
"Did Leo approve?" He never *could* refer to Dad as 'your dad' or 'your father' Dad, to Sam, was always his boss first.
"Actually, yeah...I mean, he was drunk, but...he actually liked Eric 'cause he was, y'know, a nice guy and from a good family and well-mannered and seemed to have pure enough intentions..." I closed my eyes and could see the wedding perfectly my dress and the flowers and Eric standing there in his tuxedo at the front of the church...
"What happened?" he asked quietly.
"We'd been married about 6 months when he started getting really bad headaches. He got so dizzy he couldn't get out of bed...He went to a doctor who thought it was migraines but then...he passed out in the middle of English class, just...One minute he was sitting next to me, taking notes and wincing and the next he was on the floor...That's when they diagnosed it."
I nodded a little. "...We tried everything chemotherapy, radiation, surgery...nothing helped. He went to school every single day..." I was starting to crumble, and Sam, who was propped up against the head board, held his arms out to me and I curled up against him. "...He died on his 20th birthday" Sam hugged me tightly and I couldn't stop crying. I'd kept it all behind a sort of...wall...for about 10 years and with it all tumbling out...
It had been much less painful not to remember.
He held me tightly while I sobbed against his Duke t-shirt. "...I'm not going anywhere," he whispered.
"...Don't make promises...that you can't keep..."
"I beat it before..."
And suddenly it hit me he truly believed he would be fine in a year or so. Which was, I guess, the best mentality for him to have. It was certainly better for him to believe he'd make it than for him to think pessimistically...
But that's what I'd been thinking?
In the back of my mind, I'd been figuring there was the very, very large chance he wouldn't make it. That, for a second time in a little over ten years, I'd be holding the hand of the man I loved as he lost a battle with cancer.
What kind of way was that to live?
I realized I needed some kind of reassurance, some sort of...story to cling to about living and surviving the only people I'd ever really know who'd had some kind of cancer had been my two grandmothers, Eric, and Josh's father all of whom were dead. "Tel me about when you were a kid?" I asked quietly, picking up my head and looking at him.
He looked surprised for a second. "When I was sick or otherwise?" He knew from the look on my face which one. "I was in the middle of a perfectly normal third grade year. Now, it's no secret that I'm clumsy..." I choked back a giggle. "So when there were bruises on my arms and legs, no one thought anything of it. But I was always tired and when I got cuts they didn't stop bleeding...Mom took me to the doctor and they drew a lot of blood and a couple days later we had to go back to the doctor and dad came too...The doctor used a lot of big words I didn't understand...And Mom started crying and Dad looked like he was having a hard time breathing. So I figured I must be really sick." He looked distant and even a little puzzled as he relieved the story. "Then we got home and my big sister, Karen she's 4 ½ years older than me found out and SHE started crying...And I still didn't get it. Then Karen said something about cancer I knew what *that* was...sort of. I knew Grandpa had died of it. Then a couple days later I had to go back to the hospital and the needles..." He shivered a little. "End of normal life. Right there that week. Maybe people our age can understand that it's not contagious. But not an eight-year-old kid. To them, cancer's like...like AIDS or something that you can catch and it makes people die and it's...it's scary to someone so young. My friends were *afraid* of me. So I stayed in my room and read and wrote and all sorts of things like that. Listened to Gilbert and Sullivan. So I suppose I have that to thank for where I am in my career, but..." he sighed, then was silent for a moment. I hugged him, then he started to speak again. "I've always been one of those people who just...y'know...who plans things a lot and is ultraorganized. I think that's 'cause when I was young, nothing was certain and it was just...crazy. I just wanted to know things'd turn out okay..."
And as he held onto each other and feared that all might slip away, I realized something:
He was just as scared as I was.