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Life love and a polar bear tattoo


Life,Love,andaPolarBearTattoo
HeatherWardell
Copyright2009HeatherWardell
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Monday,August1st
IstudiedIan,thehusbandI'dvowedtolove,themanIcouldbarelytalktoany
more.Heheldmygaze,hisjawsetandhiseyesdistantasifhe'dretreated
somewhereinside,somewhereIcouldn'tfollow,somewheresafefromme.The
urgetoknockhisluggageasideandthrowmyselfintohisarmsfloodedme,butI
resisted.Weweren'tlikethatanymore.
"Well,Ishouldgetinthere,"hesaid."Thesecuritycheckwilltakeages."
Inodded."You'resureyouhaveeverything?"
"Ihopeso."Hepausedasifconsideringwhathehadtobring,thensaid,"I'll
missyou,Candice."
"I...I'llmissyoutoo,"Isaid,tearsrisingattherealizationthatwewereboth
embarrassedtoadmittoeventhismuchemotion.Howhadwelosteachotherso

completely?
"Enjoyhavingtimetoyourself."
AsIintendedtouseatleastpartofIan'sfour-weekabsencetodecidewhether
ourmarriagewassalvageable,Ididn'texpectmuchenjoyment."I'lltry,"Isaid,
thenadded,tolightenthemood,"butNinjaprobablywon'tletme."


"Youtellhimwho'sboss,"hesaid,givingmeawrysmile.
"Healreadyknowsheis,"Isaid,attemptingtoreturnhissmile.Andfailing.
"Ian..."Istaredathim,unabletofindthewordstosayhowsorryIwasforhow
wrongourlivestogetherhadbecome,forthegapbetweenusthatIcouldn'tsee
howtobridge.
Hepulledmeascloseashecouldoverthesuitcases,hishandsmoothingover
thebackofmyheadanddownthelengthofmyhair.Ignoringthepeople
bustlingaroundus,knowinghisluggagewouldn'tbestolenfrombetweenus,I
closedmyeyesandbreathedinIan'sscentoffabricsoftenerandlumber.Only
thewifeofacarpenterwouldfindthesmellofwoodsexy.Ian'sarmsaroundme
hadalwaysbeensafety,security,butsincethecaraccidentthere'dbeennosafety
tobefound.
Iangavemeonelastsqueeze,thenpulledbacktolookintomyeyes."Iloveyou,
youknow."
Wehadn'tsaidthatforawhile."Iloveyoutoo."AndIdid.IknewIdid.Ijust
didn'tfeelitanymore.
Hedroppedhisheadandsaid,withoutlookingatme,"Iwish..."thenshrugged.
Hecouldhavebeenwishingforanything,butIknewwhathemeant.I'dbeen
thinkingaboutitallmorning,andapparentlyhehadaswell."Metoo,"Isaid,
forcingthewordsoutpastthesuddenlumpinmythroat.Hehadn'tmentioned
hisparentsformonths."Buttheywerethrilledyoutookontheprojectandthey'd
besohappyforyoutoday.You'redoingagreatthing."
Hestoodstillforamomentthenbentandgatheredthepullstrapsofhissuitcases
intoonehand."EmailmetonightandI'llwritebackassoonasIgetsettled.
Drivecarefully,okay?"
BeforeChristmasEve,thathadbeenjustacasualcomment,athrow-away.After
hisparents'deaths,itmeantalotmore."Iwill.Ipromise."
Heputhishandonmycheekandleanedintokissme.Hismouthonminewas
aswarmandsweetasever,butthesensethathewasonlykissingmebecausehe
knewheshouldmademeuncomfortablyrelievedwhenhepulledaway.


Afterafewstepstowardtheairportentranceheturnedbackandsaid,"Checkthe


glovebox."
"Why?"
"Sometimesthingscrawlinthereandhide."
Iblinked,confused."Inthecar?"
"Mightwanttobewhereit'sairconditioned,"hesaid."Toavoidtheheat.Some
thingsdon'tliketheheat."
"Ah,"Isaid,andwesmiledateachother,almostshyly,thenhedraggedhis
suitcasesbehindhimintotheairport.Hedidn'tlookback.
Oncehewasoutofsight,Ipoppedopenthecar'sglovebox,pickedupthe
plasticbagthattumbledout,andpeeredinsidetoseeasmallwhitefacepeering
backatme.
IblinkedbacktearsasIpulledthebearfromthebag.Ianlikedtoteasemeabout
mypolarbearobsession,butheknewhowattachedIwastothem.Thisonewas
adorable,softandplushywithitsarmsopenasifwaitingforahug.Icouldn't
quitebringmyselftohugitinpublic,butIsettleditintothepassengerseat,
fasteningitsseatbelttightly,tokeepmecompanyasIdrovetowork.
Ididupmyownseatbeltaswell,makingsureitdidn'tcatchonmylacy
cardigan,thefirstthingI'devercrocheted.IanhadbeensoimpressedI'dbeen
abletohandletheintricatestitchesandhelikedmeinblue,soI'dwornittoday
tosaygoodbye.MaybeI'dwearitagainonhisreturn.
BeforeIjoinedthesteadyflowofTorontoairporttraffic,Ishotaquicklookin
theoppositedirectionaswell,makingsurenoneoftheotherdriversweredoing
somethingunexpected.Ianalwaysdidthisextralittlecheckwhiledriving,andit
hadbecomeahabitformetoo,ingrainedbyhisconstantreminders.
MycellphonerangafterI'dbeenonthemoveaminuteortwo,andIscrambled
tofinditinmypursewhilestillkeepingmyeyesontheroad.Couldsomething
havehappenedtoIan?He'dverifiedatleasttentimesthathehadallthe
documentationheneeded,but--


Iglancedatthephone'sscreenandreliefsweptme."Hi,Lou."
"IfIan'snotgoneyet,Icancallback."
"No,I'mjustleavingtheairport."
"Okay.Wehaveanewclientyouneedtomeet."
"ImethimonFriday,"Isaid,surprisedLoudidn'tremember.
"Notthatone.Thenewnewclient."
"Anotherone?Ithoughtwewerebookedsolid."
"Iknowweare,youknowweare,butRicharddoesn'tseemtobeableto
remember."
"Ah."Therewasnothingmoretobesaid.RichardownedSapphireInterior
Designandwasconstantlyonthehuntfornewclients.Heworkedonlyforthe
mostaffluentandinfluentialclients,Loutookcareofthefirm'srestaurantdesign
work,andIhandledwhateverLouassignedtome.
"Exactly.He'llbehereateleven,soifyoucanmakeitbackbythenit'dbe
great."
Iglancedatthecarsclock.Almostten."Shouldbefine.Closetoit,anyhow."
"Comerighttomyofficewhenyougethere,okay?"
"Willdo."Ihungup,andgavesuchahugesighthatImademyselfalittlelightheaded.I'dbeenhopingforaquietdaywithnosurprises,adaywhereIcouldsit
atmydeskanddoeasytasksandnothavetobecheerfulandenthusiasticfor
somenewclient.
Thedrivetotheoffice,unfortunately,borenosurprises:nomatterwhattimeI
tookthehighwayitwasalwaysinsanelybusyandtodaywasnoexception.My
shouldersgrewtightandpainfulasIdrove,andbythetimeIreachedtheoffice's
parkinglotI'ddevelopedaheadache.Aperfectadditiontotheday.
WhenIpushedthroughtheheavymahoganydoubledoors,theofficewasempty.


Coffeebreaktime.Iwalkedpasttheassistantdesignersdesks,mystepsechoing
onthepolishedwhitemarble,thencaughtaglimpseofmyselfinthemirrored
wallsurroundingRichard'soffice.
I'dleftmyhairdownbecauseIanlikeditloose,itwasfartoooutofcontrolfor
work.Orforanytime,really.Itsweightpulleditstraighttojustpastmychin,
whereitexplodedintowavesthatreachedthemiddleofmyback.Despiteits
lackofcooperation,I'dalwaysthoughtlonghairwasprettierthanshort,soIkept
itinallitsunevendullbrown'glory'.
Mymascarawasstillinplace,butthenIhadn'tcriedwhenIanleft.Iwould
have,ayearago.Ihadn'tletmyselfcryforalongtime,tooafraidImightnotbe
abletostop.ThelipglossI'dputoninthemorningwasgone,though,soIgave
myselfanotherquickslick,grabbingapainkillerfrommypurseatthesame
time.Itookthepilldry,pulledabiggold-coloredclipfrommydeskdrawerand
twistedmyhairup,thentuckedmypurseundermydeskandknockedonLou's
door.
"Comein."
Idid,andstoppedinthedoorwaylikeI'drunintoaglasswall.Ifeltasstunned
asifIhad.Itcouldn'tbe.Itcouldn'tbehim.
Butitwas.
LouwavedmetotheothervisitorchairandIsatdown,strugglingtokeepmy
facecalm.Takinghisownseatbehindhismahoganydesk,Lousaid,"Kegan,
thisismyassistantCandiceWarburton.Candice,thisisKeganUnderwood,our
newestclient."
KeganturnedsharplytowardmewhenLousaid'Warburton',buthejustsmiled
andsaid,"Nicetoseeyouagain,"holdinghishandouttome.Oureyesmetas
weshookhands,andasparklyshockrippledthroughme.Itookbackmyhand
asquicklyasIcould.
Lou'seyesflickedfromKegantomeandbackagain."Youknoweachother,I
takeit?"
Iswallowedhard."It'sbeenafewyears,butyes."


Ten,tobeexact.Tenyearssincehe'drippedmyheartoutandleftmeinpieces.
And,damn,thoseyearshadbeengoodtohim.Helookedolder,ofcourse,butit
suitedhim.Hisface,strongerandmorematurethanIremembered,wastheface
ofamannow,andthatsuitedhim.Hisdarkhair,inasleekbusiness-likecut
insteadofthetousledstylehe'dworninuniversity,hadjustatouchofsilverat
thetemples,andthehintofmaturityandstrengthsuitedhim.Hiseyes,though,
thosegloriousblueeyeswerethesame.They'dalwayssuitedhim.
Myhairwasalotlonger,andI'dputonafewpoundssinceI'dseenhimlast.I
hadn'twornmakeupatallbackthen.DidhethinkIlookedgood?Iforcedthe
thoughtoutofmymind.Hisopinionmeantnothingtome.
Kegansmiled."Smallworld,isn'tit?"Thoseblueeyes,justasmagneticasI
remembered,seemedtobesearchingmysoul.Kegan.Here.Attheworst
possibletime.Isaidnothing,turningawayfromhim.
Lou,riflingthroughafolderstuffedwithpapers,said,"Yup.Small.Look,with
yourdeadline,weneedtogetalotdonetoday.Youcanstayforawhile,
Kegan?"
Henodded,andIsaid,"Whatisthedeadline?"
Myvoicesoundedstrangeandtight,eventomyself,andLoulookedatme."Are
youokay,Candice?"
"I'mfine,"Isaid,draggingmyselftogether.IfKeganrealizedhowhewas
affectingme,he'dgainavictoryIdidn'twanthimtohave."It'sjustbeenarough
weekend."Icouldhavestrangledmyself.
Lousmiledatme."I'msureithas."TurningtoKegan,hesaid,despitemy
begginghimmentallynotto,"Candice'shusbandhasjustleftforaone-month
stayinBangladesh,volunteeringwithacharity.They'llbebuildingatleastone
houseandaone-roomschool,right,Candice?"
IfixedmyeyesonLou'sfacesoIwouldn'thavetoseeKegan's."Yes.That'sthe
plan,anyhow."
"That'swonderful,"Kegansaid."Verynoble."
Hesoundedsincere,butIstillwouldn'tbediscussingIanwithKegan."Yes,I'm


veryproudofhim.Backtowork,though.Thedeadline?"
"Septemberfifteenth,"Kegansaid.
Shocked,Iturnedtohimwithoutmeaningto."Sixweeks?"LouandIusually
spentatleastfourmonthsgettinganewrestaurantplannedandreadytoopen.I
workedwiththeclientsatthebeginningtohelpthemdefinetheirvision,and
Loucreatedthedesignstomakeithappen.
"That'sright,"Lousaid,throwinga'noscaringtheclient'lookinmydirection.
"Keganknowsit'sarushjob,butI'veassuredhimwecanhandleit."Heturned
hisattentionbacktohispapers,andIforcedmyselftolookatKegan.IfIwas
goingtomakeitthroughthis,Ihadtogetusedtothesightofhim.
Oureyesmet,andIwastwenty-oneagain,headoverheelsinloveforthefirst
time,hearinghimtellmewhyIwasn'tgoodenoughforhim,thensomehow
gatheringthestrengthtowalkawayandleavehim.Washethinkingthesame
thing?Probablynot.
Keganshotmeawink,thesamesexylittlewinkthathadalwaysmademeblush
andgiggle.Mycheeksburnedonceagain,butthistimeitwasfromasudden
fury.Nicetry,butit'snotgoingtowork.Iwasnotgoingtobewonover.
Loulookedupandbeganspeakingabouttheschedule,andIfocusedonhimlike
astarvingwomanonanicejuicysteak."Candice,I'vealreadytoldKeganI
won'tbefullyavailablethisweek.You'rehiscontactuntilatleastThursday.
Anythinghewants,you'llmakesurehegets."
Anything?
"Iknewyoushouldn'thavetakenthatjob,"Larissasaid.
Istaredather."Thenwhydidn'tyousaysomethingatthetime?"
"Idid!IsaidifKeganevergotoffhisassandstartedhisrestaurant,youmight
havetoworkwithhim."
"Butweneverthoughtitwouldhappen.AndIan'sbosswasniceenoughtotalk
toLouaboutme.I'dhaveoffendedhimifIhadn'ttakenthejob."


Larissatoyedwiththestemofhermartiniglass."ButonceIanwasn'tworking
forhimanymore,whydidn'tyou..."
MyrumandcokewentdownthewrongwayandIstartedcoughing,tryingtodo
itasquietlyasIcouldtonotannoytheotherdiners.WhenIwasabletospeak
again,Isaid,"Ianonlyleftthatjobafewmonthsago.Ishouldhavequit
workingforLou,afternearlythreeyears,becauseKeganmightshowupone
day?"
Beforeshecouldanswer,Ijumpedinagain."AndIcan'tdoanythingnow
anyhow.Keganwouldknowitwasbecauseofhim.Whydidn'tyousay
somethingwhenIanquithisjob?"
"Idon'ttellyoueverythingIthink,youknow,"Larissasaidwithahintofthe
eight-year-oldgirlshe'dbeenwhenwe'dmetandbecomeinstantbestfriends.I
respondedinkind.
"Youdon't?Butyouneverstoptalking.Whendoyouhavetimetothink
anythingelse?"
Larissadroppedherhandstothesideofherchairandleanedforwardasifabout
togetup."Don'tmakemecomeoverthere."
"Don'tmakemelaugh."Iballedmyhandsintofistsandshookthemather.
Ourpretendfightwasderailedbythearrivalofthewaitresswithourfood.She
wasnew,andhavingalotoftrouble.ShegavemyplatetoLarissa,knocking
overadrinkintheprocess,andhadtogobackthreetimestogetthesalad
dressingandbutter.
"Whoonlybringsonepatofbuttertotwopeople?"Larissasaidafterthe
waitresswasfinallydone.
"Beatsme.Keganwon'tstandforit."
LarissaclosedhereyesasthoughI'dphysicallyhurther."Pleasepleasedon'tlet
himgettoyou."
"Justbecausehetalkedabouthowheexpectshisstafftobehavedoesn'tmean--"


"Candice.Shutup.Youknowwhathe'slike.Youhavetobecareful."
Yes,Idid.Onbothcounts.Isighed."IfIcouldgetoutofit,Iwould.ButLou
didn'tgivememuchchoice."
"Ifyoustayprofessional,anddon'tlethimtryanything,itshouldbeokay."She
didn'tsoundconvinced.
"He'snotgoingtotryanything.Please.Ifhewantedme,hecouldhavekeptme.
No,Idon'tthinkthat'sinthecards."Iemphasizedthelastword,andfocusedmy
eyesonherpurseontheextrachairbetweenus.
Herfacelitup."Ofcourse,whydidn'tIthinkofthat?"Afterafewsecondsof
rummaging,shepulledoutatinycardboardbox.
She'dbeenskepticalabouttarotcardswhenheroldersisterfirstshowedherhow
toreadthem.RachelhadtoldLarissashewouldmeetabeautifulblondmanand
fallinlove,butitwouldn'tlastforever.Threeweekslater,Larissafellhardfora
stunningNordicboyintownforaweekonbusiness.They'dspentnearlythe
entiretimeinthebedroom,andthenHansorKarlorwhatever-his-name-was
returnedtoNorway(Denmark?Sweden?)nevertobeheardfromagain.
Sincethatday,Larissahadbeenthequeenofthetarotcards.She'dalsopredicted
thatIwouldfindtruelove.BeatendownbyKeganandafewtoomanydead-end
relationshipsafterhim,I'dactuallylaughedinherface.She'dbeenright,though:
amonthlaterI'dmetIan.Shereadthecardssooftenformenowthatshekepta
setatmyhouse,andshealwayshadthetravelpackI'dgivenherinherpurse.
Larissaremovedthecardsfromtheirlittleboxandshuffledthemcarefully.They
weresosmallthatonewrongmovewouldsendthemeverywhere.Ithad
happenedbefore,butneverinarestaurant.Iwashalf-hopingshe'dscatterthem
farandwide,butshemaintainedhercontrol.Whenshe'dshuffledthemafew
times,sheheldthemouttome."Thinkaboutwhatyouneedtoknowandcutthe
deck."
AmIgoingtosurviveworkingwithKegan?Iliftedthepileofcardsfromher
hand,divideditintotwostacks,andputthebottomstackontothetopone.I
thoughtmyquestiononemoretimeandreturnedthecards.
"Ijustreadaboutthisoneonline,"Larissasaid,cradlingthecardsinherpalm.


"Youpickoutonecard,anditanswersthequestionallbyitself."
Shespreadthecardsintoafanandwaited.Ilookedatthecards,willingmyself
tochooseagoodone.Somethingwithsweetnessandlight.Somethingabout
gettingajobdoneandthenneverbeingheardfromagain.Ipickedacard.
Larissaturneditover.
"Death."
"I'veneverhadthatonebefore.Kegan'sgoingtokillme?Maybehe'llmakeme
anentrée.RoastCandice."Igiggled.
Larissawasn'tlaughing."Thecarddoesn'tmeanphysicaldeath.Itmeanshuge
changes."
"Likewhat?"Isaid,unnervedbyhersolemnface.
"Theendofanera,atotallynewstart,thelossofalong-termfriendshipor
relationship..."Shetrailedoff,andoureyesmet.
"Iwon'tletithappen,"Isaid.Imeantit,butIcouldn'thelpthinkingofhowI'd
reactedtohishandshake.I'dhavetomakesurehedidn'tgetthechancetotouch
meagain.
"Quit."
Istaredather."Pardon?"
"Quitwork.Gointomorrowandquit."Hervoicewasfullofpassion.Wasmy
cardreallythatbad?
"Ican'tdothat.Louneedsme.Andweneedthemoney.Especiallyif...ifIend
upneedingtreatment."
Shegrimaced."Yeah.Youwon't,butyeah."Weateinuncomfortablesilencefor
afewbitesbeforeshesaid,"Andyoudidn'ttellIanabouthavingtherepeat
test?"
Ishookmyhead.


Shesighed."It'snothing,I'msure,butifitdoescomebackbad,thenwhat?You
callhimandtellhimwhilehe'shalfwayroundtheworld?"
"No,Iwaituntilhegetshomeandtellhim."
"Don'tyouthinkhedeservedtoknow?Youarehiswife.I'msurehe'dhavebeen
thereforyou."
Butthenhemighthaveinsistedoncancellinghistrip,andheneededtogo.
Partlyforthegoodworkhe'dbedoing,butmostlyforhim.Ihadn'tbeenableto
doanythingtohelphimafterhisparentsdied;maybetimealonewoulddo
somethinggoodforhim."He'sgotenoughtoworryabout.Andit'sprobably
nothinganyhow."
Larissaobviouslyhadmoretosay,butshekeptittoherself,andweworked
awayatourfoodwithoutspeaking.Atlast,though,sheputdownherforkwitha
clatter."Okay,Iwasn'tgoingtoask,butIcan'tstopmyself.Howdoeshelook?
Hashechanged?Whatdidyoutalkabout?"
Kegan,foronce,wasthelesseroftwoconversationalevils,andIjumpedatthe
chancetodistractLarissafromthequestionofwhetherIshouldhavetoldIan
aboutmyabnormalPaptestbeforeheleft."Wedidn'ttalkaboutanythingbutthe
restaurant,andhereallyonlytalkedtoLouaboutthatwhileItooknotes.Heleft
afteranhour,butIhavetoseehimtomorrowafternoon."
Shefrowned."Justyou?"
Ipulledmymouthtooneside."Probably.Lou'ssobusy."
"There'snobodyelsewhocandoit?"
Ishookmyhead."Lou'stherestaurantdesigner.Unlesshehiresasecond
assistant,whichRichardwouldneverallowbecauseit'dcutintohisprofits,I'm
it."
Larissadrainedhermartiniglass.Settingitbackdownonthetable,shesaid,
"Well,it'snotlikeyou'deverbestupidenoughtofallforhimagain,soIguess
it'sokay.Andhow'dhelook?"
Ishookmyheadslowlyandsighed."Ithoughthewasgorgeousbefore.Nowhe


looksgorgeousandgrownup."
"Justlikeyou."
Igaveagruntofalaugh."No,sinceI'mneitherofthosethings."
"Saysyou.Iandoesn'tagree."
True.Ioftensuggestedheneededglasses,buthepersistedinsayinghethoughtI
wasbeautiful.Iwantedtobelievehim,butKegan's-"You'rethinkingaboutwhatthatjerksaid,aren'tyou?"
"Howdoyoudothat?Youalwaysknow."
"Yougosortofvacantanddreamylooking.Sowereyou?"
"Kindof.Didyoujustcallmevacant?"
"Getoverit.IfIanthinksyou'rebeautiful,whatdoesitmatterwhetherKegan
said..."Shetrailedoff.
"SaidIwasn't?"
"Hedidn'tcomerightoutandsayit."
"Mightaswellhave."
Larissasighed."'I'vehadasmartgirlandnowIwantabeautifulone',andhe
endsathree-yearrelationship.IfIseehim,I'llshoveaneyelinersidewaysup
his--"
"Larissa!"
"Iwouldn'twasteagoodone.They'reexpensive.I'llbuysomecheapcrappyone
thatI'dneveruseatwork."
"Ohyeah,that'smuchbetter."
WelaughedandIchangedthesubject,askingafterherboyfriendGreg.She
chatteredonabouthim,fiddlingwiththeopalringhe'dgivenherfortheirone-


yearanniversaryafewmonthsago,whichshenevertookoff,andIlistenedand
gavetheappropriateresponses.TheshadowofKeganseemedtohangintheair
overourtable,though,andforonceIwasgladtoleave.
Justbeforesheheadedtothesubwaystation,Larissasaid,"Callmewhenever
youwant."
"Iknow,Ido--"
"No,Imeananytime.Ifyouneedme,ifhe'sdoinganything..."
Angerspilledthroughme.Iwasn'tcompletelyincompetent.Icouldhandleafew
daysofworkingwithKegan.Iforcedmyselftorelax;Larissaonlywantedto
help.
"Iwill.Thanks."
Shegavemeasadsmileandsetoff.Iwalkedtomycar,thinkingthroughthe
eventsoftheday.Keganhadbeenbackinmylifebarelyaday,andtheDeath
cardwasalreadymakingitspresenceknown.
AsIunlockedthefrontdoor,jugglingmypurse,workbag,andnewpolarbear,I
couldhearNinjahowlingforhisdinner.Imanagedtogetinsidewithout
steppingonhim,andputmybagsandshoesinthehallcloset.Thebearfounda
homeonthecoffeetableinthelivingroom.Itwouldeventuallyjointherestof
mybears,clusteredmostlyinourbedroomandthecomputerroom,butfornow,
itwasacomfortandIwanteditfrontandcenter.
IgaveNinjaascoopofhisinsanelyexpensivecatfood,satdownonthecouch,
andpickedupthebear.IstrokeditssoftfurandwishedIhadIantherewithme
insteadofthebear.We'dneverbeenapartthislongbefore,andIwasjuststarting
torealizehowweirditwouldbewithouthim.
Ihadn'tthoughtaboutKeganmuchsinceIanandIhadbeenmarried.Thefirst
yearofourmarriagehadbeensoblissfulthatthere'dbeennoroominmymind
foranyonebutIan,andwe'dhadsomuchpaininourlivessinceIan'sparents
hadbeenkilledthatwe'dbarelyhadroomforeachother.Pain,andguilt,atleast
onmypart.Ididn'tknowifhefeltguilty,butthen,hehadnoreasonto.And
now,withmytestresult...


Iwasgoingtobeallright.Lotsofwomengotonebadtestresultanditdidn't
meananything,didn'tmeancancer.ButIwasstillterrified.Ifeltsoalone.Only
Larissaknew,andsuddenlyIdidwishI'dtoldIan.Iclungtothebear,butit
didn'thelp.
Afteraminuteorso,IwipedawaythefewtearsI'dletfallandpulledmyself
together.Ineededsleep,butfirstIhadtoemailIan.Sincetherewerealotof
peopleatthecampsharingonecomputer,hewouldn'tbeabletogetonlinevery
often,sowe'dagreedtoonlyemailonceaday.
Writinganemaildescribingthisparticulardaywasatoughtask.Iwouldonly
seeKeganafewtimesbeforeLoutookovertheproject,andhewasn'tinterested
inmeanyhow.Theredidn'tseemtobemuchpointinpossiblyupsettingIanover
somethingsotrivial.Itrieddoingitbothways,butneitherseemedright,soI
decidednottotellhim.
To:ianw@buildaid.com
From:ninjacatrocks@hotmail.com
Subject:Greetings
Hey!Ihopeeverythingisgoingwellandyougetsettledinnicely.Ihaveto
figureouthowtogettheweatherreportssoI'llknowwhatit'slikeoutthere.
Notmuchgoingonhere.IhaddinnerwithLarissa.Wehaveanewclientat
work.It'sarushjob,soatleastI'llbebusywhileyou'regone.
Ninjasays,"Meow."Translateasyouseefit.Iassumeitmeans,"Where's
Daddy?WhodoIsitonforhourswhilewewatchfootball?"Oritmighthave
hadsomethingtodowithfood.Youknowhowheis.
Writebackwhenyougetachance.
Candice
Ire-readtheemail.ItallseemedfineuntilIgottotheend.Weneverput'love'or
'hugsandkisses'oranythinglikethatinouremails,butwithhimsofaraway,I
feltlikeIshould.Not'hugsandkisses',Ianwouldlaughhimselfsick,but...


Iwentbackandput'love'justabovemyname,thenstaredatit.Itcouldn'thurt.
Emailsent,Imademyselfacupofteaandrelaxedonthecouchforawhile
workingonmycurrentcrochetproject,alacyskirtinvariousshadesofrich
blue,andwatchingtelevision,keepingmymindsafelyoccupiedwith
inconsequentials.Iwenttobedearlierthanusual,feelingIneededmyrest.
Tomorrowpromisedtobe...interesting.
Tuesday,August2nd
Iamstandingonanicefloe.Iturnmyheadfromsidetoside,butseenothing
butwaterstuddedwithchunksofvibrantlyblueglacialice.Ilookbackovermy
shoulder,butthereisnobodythere.Istandalone,proudandmajestic,asthesky
darkenstoblack.
Iraisemyheadandgazeatabeautifulbrightstarinthevelvetsky.Afteralong
moment,Iturnandpadawayinsearchoffood,stoppingonlywhenastrangely
mournfulbellbeginstoring.
Andring.Andring.Myeyesstillclosed,Iscrabbledaroundonthebedsidetable
andeventuallylaidmyhandonthecordlessphone.
Isaidsomethingthatwasmeanttobehello.
"Areyouabouttoleave?"
"No,I'mapolarbear,"Imumbled,slidingbackintosleep,backintothedreamI
hadeveryfewdays.
"Candice,whatonearthareyoutalkingabout?"
Iforcedmyeyesopenandsatup."Pardon?"
"Veryfunny,dear.Nowlisten,IknowyouhavetoleaveinaminutesoI'llkeep
thisshort."
Myalarmclockwasblinking12:00.Theremusthavebeenapowerfailure
overnight."Mom,"Isaid,interruptingwhatevershewasonabout,"whattimeis
it?"


"It'snearlyeightthirty.Don'ttellmeyou'rejustgettingup."
Allright."No,ofcoursenot.Idohavetogetgoing,though.Whatwereyou
saying?"Irifledthroughmycloset,organizedbycolor,andfoundaskirtanda
short-sleevedsweater,thenbegantodresswhilepinchingthephonebetweenmy
earandshoulder.
"IjustwantedtomakesureyouwerestillcomingtodinnerthisSunday."
"Still?"
Shegaveasigh."Youremember,Candice.Iinvitedyoulastweek."
Shehadn't."Oh,right.Sure,Icanstillcome."
"Yourfatherwillbesopleased.Well,seeyouthen."
Andshewasgone,leavingmewithyetanotherthingtoworryabout.Ilovedher
butIwasn'talwayssureIlikedmymothermuch.Andshecertainlydidn'tlike
Ian.Maybethingswouldgobettersincehewasn'there.Maybe.
Notimetoobsess,though.Ihadtogettotheoffice.Loudidn'tlikemetoshow
uplaterthannine,andasmycommutewasnearlytwentyminutes,Ihadtogeta
moveon.Inlessthanfiveminutes,Ithrewmyhairbackintoafrenchtwist,
slappedonalittlemakeup,andputonmyfavoritesilverearrings.ThenI
grabbedagranolabarinthekitchen,tossedsomefoodinNinja'sdirection,and
speed-walkeddowntheroadtothesubwaystation.
Crammedintothesubwaycarwiththeothercommuters,likesomanywelldressedsardinesinatin,IwonderedforthemillionthtimewhetherI'ddonethe
rightthingnottellingmymotheraboutmytestresult.Ifitdidturnouttobe
cancer,she'dbefuriousthatshehadn'tknownrightfromthestart.
Thedoctorhadn'twantedtocommitherselfonewayortheother."Testresults
likethiscanbefalsepositives,Candice,butthere'snoguarantee.Ifitiscervical
cancer,thefasterwetreatitthebetter."
SoI'dputmyfeetbackinthestirrups,andshe'ddoneanothertestandpromised
tophonemewhenshehadtheresults."IexpectthembyAugusttwelfth,soif
youdon'thearfrommebythefifteenthgivemeacall."


Iswungbetweenthinkingitwasnobigdealanduttercertaintythatmydeath
wasimminent.WhenI'dtoldLarissa,she'dbeencomforting,inherownway.
"Onlythegooddieyoung.YouandI'llbehereforever."
Ihadn'tevenconsideredtellinganyoneatwork.Ifitwasnothing,Ididn'twant
tohavemycoworkerscontemplatingmycervix,andifitwasn'tnothing,there'd
betimelatertotellifIneededto.IwassureI'dmadetherightdecisionthere.
NottellingIanIwasn'tquitesosureabout.
Iarrivedattheofficeaboutfifteensecondsbeforenine.Alittlesweatyandout
ofbreath,butatleastIwasthereandontime.Ipushedopentheofficedoor,
quiteproudofmyself.AndIhadafewhoursbeforeI'dhavetoface-"Goodmorning,"Kegansaid.HewassittingbesideRichard'scuteyoung
assistantAllyson,wholookedlikeChristmashadcomeearly.
Istaredathim.Whywashehere?We'dagreedontheafternoon,athis
restaurant.Hispresenceinmyofficefeltallwrong,intimidatingand
uncomfortable,eventhoughhehadeveryrighttobethere.
"I'mfine,thanks,andyou?"Kegansaid,raisinganeyebrow,asmileplaying
overhismouth.
"Mr.Underwoodisheretoseeyou,Candice,"Allysonsaid,givingmean
incredulouslook.
"Didn'tItellyoutocallmeKegan?"HeandAllysonlockedeyes,andshesaid,
"I'msorry,Kegan,"pullingherlongperfectlystraightblondehairoverher
shoulderandflashinghimabrightsmile.
"That'sbetter,"hesaid,smilingbackather.Turningtome,hesaid,"Takeyour
time,goandcheckyouremailorwhateveryouneedtodo.Ineedtotalkto
Richardforasecondoncehe'soffthephone,soI'lljustsithereandbugAllyson
untilthen."
"You'reaclient,notabug,"shesaid,soundingmoresincerethanI'deverheard
her."I'mhappytotakecareofyou."
Nodoubt."Thanks,"Imuttered,goingtomydeskandtryingtopullmyself


together.Istartedupmycomputerandfoughttheurgetoruntothebathroom
andfindoutjusthowbadIlooked.
Kegan,naturally,lookedfantastic.Hisdeepbluedressshirtmatchedhiseyes,
hispalegreytiewastheperfectaccent,andhishairwassleekwithoutbeing
overdone.Eveninuniversityhe'dalwaysbeenjustthatfractionbettergroomed
thaneveryoneelse,clean-shaveneverymorningwithjustahintofstubblebythe
evening,andneverwithoutatouchofcologne.Somehow,withouteverseeming
likehe'dtriedtoohard,healwayslookedgood.
KeganandAllysoncontinuedtheirconversationwhileIdideverythingbutstick
myfingersinmyearstostopmyselftryingtolistentothem.Icouldn'thearthe
words,butbothofthemhadlowcaressingtonesintheirvoicesthatmademe
feelsick.
Istraightenedmyweddingringsanddraggedmymindbacktowork.IfAllyson
wasfoolenoughtobeinterestedinKegan,itwasherproblem.Iwasmarried,I
hadtaskstofinish,Kegandidn'tmattertomeanymore.Iduginmybagformy
notebookandbeganplacingKegan'sfurnitureorders.
Evenwithmyeyesfixedonmycomputerscreen,Iknewwhenhearrivedatmy
desk.Theairaroundmeseemedtochange,becomingelectric.Ididn'tturnto
him.Ididn'twanttogivehimthesatisfaction.
"Candy."Hisvoicewasbarelyaboveawhisper,butIjumpedanyhow.Mostly
fordramaticeffect,butalittlebitbecausehisbreathhadtickledmyear,sending
ashudderthroughme.WhywasIstillsoresponsivetohim?Ididn'twanttobe.
"Sorry,"hesaid,sittingdownuninvitedinmyextrachair."How'reyoudoing?"
"Fine,thanks.Justplacingyourorders."Iturnedmyattentiontothescreen,then
lookedbackathim."Didyouwantmeforsomething?"
Hiseyesflickeredandmycheeksgrewwarmdespitemyeffortstocontrol
myself.Keganhadawayofturningeventhemostinnocuouscommentintoan
outrageousinnuendo.Itdidn'tflustermesomuchwhenweweredating;of
course,backthenIcouldactonit.
"Ithoughtwecouldgototherestaurantthismorning."


"Wasn'titsupposedtobethisafternoon?"
LoucameoutofhisofficejustasKegansaid,"Ithinkwedidsaythisafternoon,
butIwasheretoseeRichardandIthoughtwecouldgetanearlystart."BeforeI
couldspeak,headdedtoLou,"Youdon'tmind,doyou?"
"Notatall,"Lousaid,andtheybothlookedatme.Ididn'twanttogo,didn't
wanttogiveKeganthesatisfactionofchangingthescheduleonme,butIhadno
choice.
"LetmejustfinishthisorderandI'llbeready,"Isaid.KegansatbesidemeasI
finishedenteringtheorder,makingmesouncomfortablethatIflubbedseveral
numbersandhadtofixthem.Atlastitwasdone.Ipickedupmybagandstuffed
thenotebookintoit.KeganheadedbacktothefrontoftheofficeandAllyson's
desk.Ifollowed.
WhenIreachedAllyson,shesmiledatme."Weshouldgoforlunchsometime
thisweek.Wehaven'thadtimetochatforages."
Allysonhadneverexpressedevenahintofinterestinchattingwithme."Um,
sure.When'sgoodforyou?"
"Thursday?"BeforeIcouldanswer,sheturnedtoKegan."You'rewelcometo
cometoo,ofcourse."
Awaveofdizzinesshitme,butKegansaid,"Ihaveotherplans,unfortunately.
Maybeanothertime?"
"Thatwouldbegreat,"Allysonsaid.Sheblinkedsuddenlyandablushlitupher
face,andIknewhe'dbroughtouttheever-effectivewinkagain.Ialsoknewshe
andIwouldn'tbehavinglunchonThursday.
"Weshouldgo,Candy,"Kegansaid.Allysonlookedupatme,startled.
IturnedtoKegan."IgobyCandicenow."
"I'lltrytoremember,"hesaid,andmovedontoopenthedoorforme.Myeyes
metAllyson's,andshemouthed,"Lucky!"atme.Icrossedmyeyesatherand
lefttheoffice.


ThetaxiwasfartoosmalltoholdeverythingIwasfeeling.Kegan'sshirtsleeves
wererolleduptohiselbows,andIcouldseethedarkhairsonhistannedskin.
Hestillworethesamecologne,andmemoriesofouryearstogethersweptmeas
Ibreatheditin.Howmanytimeshadheheldme,kissedme,madelovetome,
withthatwarmrichscentswirlingaroundme?Ididn'tknow,buttheywereall
comingbacktomenow.
Iforcedthethoughtsfrommymindandresolvedtobreatheonlythroughmy
mouthtokeepthemfromwaftingbacktomeonhiscologne.
"CandyTaylor.Howthehellareyou?"
Iturnedtolookathim."Idon'tuseeitherofthosenamesanymore,butI'mfine,
thanks,"Isaid,feelinganythingbut."Tellmeabouttherestaurant."
Ignoringme,hesaid,"You'remarried,Itakeit?"
Inodded."Nearlytwoyearsnow."
"Ihopeit'sgoingwell."Hesoundedlikehemeantit,butIdidn'ttrusthim.
"Everything'sgreat."Ithadbeen,anyhow.Ourfirstyearofmarriagehadbeen
idyllic.Evenmymother'ssubtle(andoccasionallynotsosubtle)disapprovalof
Ianhadn'tdentedourhappiness.Butafterthat-"Doesyourmotherlikehim?"
"Shedoes,"Ilied.
Heshookhisheadandgavemeawrysmile."Luckyguy.Sheneverlikedme."
"Yeah,right.Shelovedyou."
OfallthewordsIcouldhavechosen,Ihadtopick'love'.Itseemedtohangin
theairaboveus.
"Didshe?Ididn'tknowthat,"hesaidafteramoment."She'ssuregoodathiding
it."
She'dlovedthatKeganwasgoingtobealawyer,lovedhowpolishedand


outgoinghewas.QuietIan,andhiscarpentrycareerwhichhadmeanthedidn't
needtogotocollegeoruniversity,hadbeenashock.Shestilltalkedabout
Keganonaregularbasis,butIdidn'tfeeltheneedtopassalongthatparticular
pieceofinformation.
"Andyourdadlikeshim,"Keganwenton,"becausehelikeseveryone."
Icouldn'thelpsmiling."Verytrue."
"Whatdohisparentsthinkofyou?"
"Theylikedme."
Assoonasthewordscameout,Irealizedhe'dpickuponthepasttense.Sure
enough,heraisedaneyebrow."Liked?"
"TheywerekilledinacaraccidentChristmasEve.Goingouttogetalastminutepresentfor...well,forme.Drunkdriver."
"Candy,youpoorthing.I'msosorry,"hesaid,andthesympathy,andthe
beautifullackofblame,inhisvoicebroughtunexpectedtearstomyeyes.
Horrified,Ibitmylip.IwouldnotcryinfrontofKegan.I'dratherbitemylip
cleanthrough.Iwasn'tusuallysoeasilyupset,butthelastfewweekshadtakena
lotoutofme."Thanks.It'sbeenhardtodealwith.Theyweregreat.Reallynice
people."Istaredatthebackofthetaxidriver'sslightlyscruffyhead,fightingfor
control.
Outofthecornerofmyeye,IsawKeganreachtotouchmyhand,buthe
stoppedinchesawaythenpulledhishandbackandclearedhisthroat."Do...you
don'thaveto,butdoyouwanttohearaboutmyrestaurantnow?"
Ipulledinadeepshudderingbreathandletitoutslowly."Goodidea."Work
wouldhelp.Anythingthatkeptmefromthinkingaboutanypartofmypast
wouldhelp.
Hehandedmeablueprint."Howmuchdoyouknowaboutthesethings?"
"Afairbit,"Isaid,feelingmyemotionsbegintorecedeasIfocusedonthetask
athand."ThreeyearswithLouhastaughtmealot."


"He'sagreatguy,"heagreed,andthenhefrowned."Look,Candy,Ican'tquite
figureoutwhatyou'redoingthere.Youendedupgettingyourpsychology
degree,Iassume?"
Inodded.
"Andyou'reworkingatadesignfirm?"
Inoddedagain."Allyoucanreallydowithapsychdegreeisgradschool,andI
didn'twantto.Iwasdoingsecretarialworkwithanagency,justforthemoney.
Ian'sbossdidsomeconstructionononeofLou'sjobsbackwhenweweredating,
andLouhappenedtotellhimheneededanassistant.HeknewIwaslookingfor
ajobandsuggestedme,andI'vebeenthereeversince."
"Anyplanstomoveup?"
Ipushedbackastraystrandofhairthathadescapedfrommyclip."Therereally
isn'tanywheretogounlessIbecomeadesignermyself."
"Wouldyoulikethat?"
"I'vethoughtaboutit.IguessI'mjustnotsurewhatIwanttobewhenIgrow
up,"Isaid,tryingtomakeajokeoutofit.EveryoneelseIknewseemedtohave
acareer.Ihadajob.Icouldseethedifferencebetweenthetwo,butIdidn't
knowhowtogetfromwhereIwastothere.
Wantingtogetoffthesubject,Isaid,"Iknowyoualwayswantedtodothe
restaurantthing,buthow'dyougetoutoflawschool?"
"Igraduated."
"Youactuallywent?"Keganhadhatedtheverythoughtofit,buthisparentshad
beeninsistentthathego.Neitherofthemhadanyeducationpasthighschool,
andtheironlysonwasgoingtodobetterthantheyhad.Regardlessofwhathe
wanted.
"Went,focusedoncommerciallaw,workedinrestaurantseverychanceIgot."
"Areyourparentshappywithwhatyou'redoingnow?"


Heranahandthroughhishair."Let'stalkabouttheplans,okay?"
Igotthehint.
IfollowedKeganintotherestaurant,stoppingjustinsidethedoorforalook
around.Theplacewasashambles,withworkersandequipmentandmaterials
everywhere.Theoldrestauranthadbeenallthickcarpetandhushedlighting;he
wasrippingeverythingawayandpunchingskylightsintothevaultedceiling.
Keganstoodbesideme.HeseemedtallerthanIremembered,ormaybeitwas
justthathewasafewinchestallerthanIan.Eitherway,Ifeltsmallbesidehim.
"Whatdoyouthink?"
"Thoseskylightsaregoingtobeamazing,"Isaid.
Hissmilelituphisface."Ithinksotoo.Well,let'sgettowork.IthoughtI'd
showyouaround,makesureyouknowwhatIwant,andthenyoucantellme
whatIcanhave."
"Youcanhavewhateveryouwant,"Isaidwithoutthinking,andthenfeltthe
bloodfloodingmycheeks.
HeraisedhiseyebrowsandgavemethesexiestsmileI'deverseen."Good.Glad
tohearit."
Otherthanthat,hewasallbusiness.Wewalkedthrougheveryinchofthe
restaurant,heexplainedwhathewasenvisioning,andImadecopiousnotes.I
usuallyhadtopryaclient'sideasoutonetinyfragmentatatime,butKeganhad
obviouslybeenplanningthisforalongtime.
"I'vealreadyorderedtilesforthefrontfoyer.Granite."
Hereachedintoacardboardboxonthehalf-demolishedbarwewereusingasa
deskandhandedmeasmallsquare.Thegranitewasarichblue-greywithsilver
flakesburieddeepinside.Itilteditandthelightcaughttheflakes,makingthem
seemalive.
Kegansaid,"That'swhyIpickedit.Ididthesamethinganditjustseemed
perfect."


Thetilewasbeautiful,butIdidn'tlikethatwewereseeingthingsthesameway.
"CanIgivethistoLou?"
"That'swhyIgaveittoyou,"Kegansaid,flashingmethekindofsmilethat
oncemadememelt.Iremainedresolutelyfrozen.
Wecarriedonfornearlytwohours.Theworkersoccasionallyaskedhim
questionsaboutthedemolitionproject,andhealwaysknewexactlywhatshould
beremovedandwhatsaved.Iwasimpressedwithhisfocusandclarity,even
thoughIdidn'twanttobeimpressedwithanythingabouthim.
Justafternoon,Kegansentseveraloftheworkersouttobringbackpizza.
Everyonegatheredinthemiddleoftheroom,sittingoncratesortheirtoolboxes,
andchattedastheyate.NotknowinganyonebutKegan,andbarelyknowing
himanymore,Ijustsatandlistened.KeganhadmadesureIwassittingbeside
him,buthewasn'tpayinganyattentiontome,busyinsteadwithafewworkers.
Thewomanbesidemecalled,"How'syourmotherdoing?"acrossthegroupata
youngman.
"Notsogreat,"hesaid.
Thewomanshookherhead."There'snothingtheycando?"
"Theredoesn'tseemtobe.Theysayitwon'tbelongnow."
Shemadeasympatheticnoise."That'ssotragic."Turningtome,shesaid,"She
wentinforaroutinecheckup,andafewtestscamebackstrange.Turnsoutshe's
gotcancernearlyeverywhere."
IneededtohearthatstoryevenlessthanIneededtohaveKeganbackinmy
life.Goosebumpsroseonmyarmsasthestorysankintomymind.Thatcould
beme.
"That'sterrible,"Imanagedtogetout.Shenoddedandwentbacktoherpizza.I
tried,buthadlostmyappetite.AsIgotuptothrowoutmyleftovers,Isaw
Keganturnandlookatme.Ilookedaway.
Wecontinuedworkingafterlunch,andmylistofthingstodo,investigate,or


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