Authors: Kathryn Thomas
Matt felt sick. It wasn’t just his stomach, which had been in a vice ever since he’d gotten that godawful call from Joe. It was his heart, too. He felt heartsick about leaving Holly, and he felt heartsick about leaving his sister. If anything had happened to her while he was getting here, he knew he would never forgive himself.
Despite his promise to Holly to call her the minute he landed in Texas, Matt didn’t even bother to turn his cell phone back on once he stepped off the plane. He simply couldn’t stand the idea of being reachable at this time. At this time, the only person he should and could be there for was Becky. He only hoped it wouldn’t be too little, too late.
He had rented a car in Austin and was now driving at breakneck speed on the interstate separating him from Cartridge and his sister. When he finally arrived at the hospital’s parking lot, he jumped out of the car almost before it had stopped running.
He rushed into the building, took the elevator up to the oncology department, and all but marched up to the information desk.
“Rebecca Ramirez,” he all but barked in the nurse’s face.
The nurse, a pretty woman in her early thirties, jumped and blinked at him. “Excuse me?”
“Rebecca Ramirez,” Matt repeated through gritted teeth. “Is she here?”
“One moment,” the nurse said. She clicked around on the computer and scanned the screen with huge brown eyes behind pink-rimmed spectacles. It felt like an eternity had passed before she finally looked up at Matt again. “I’m sorry, sir. She isn’t here.”
“What do you mean, she isn’t here?” Matt almost screamed.
The nurse winced. “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to keep your voice down,” she said urgently.
Matt took a deep breath and tried to keep his mounting dread and flaring temper in check. “Look, she’s
to be here. I received a call yesterday that she had been admitted.”
The nurse gave him a sympathetic look. “Let me check again,” she said, clearly more out of politeness than of any real chance that she might have missed a name. Still, she did check. And once again, she shook her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t have any Rebecca Ramirez admitted here.”
“How about Rebecca Smith?” Matt said, hoping that Becky might have registered herself under her husband’s name.
Once again, the nurse checked thoroughly. And once again, her response was a negative one. “No Rebecca Smith, either. I’m sorry.”
Matt was at a loss. He couldn’t have gotten the wrong hospital; Cartridge was a small town and it only had one. “I don’t understand—”
Matt turned around so fast he almost tripped on his own two feet. Becky was standing there, right outside the door of a doctor’s office. Instead of a hospital gown, she wore a pair of blue jeans and a gray T-shirt. Her long black hair was collected in a braid that fell on the side, onto her right shoulder. Her skin was not pale, but glowing. There were no dark circles under her amber eyes.
Matt stared at her with wide eyes. He couldn’t wrap his head around what he was seeing. He was no doctor, of course, but she didn’t look at all like a cancer patient who had taken a turn for the worse.
“Oh my God!” Becky cried happily. She all but flew into her brother’s arms and held him tight. “I am
happy to see you!”
Matt held her back just as strongly. He inhaled deeply, relishing the fruity smell of her freshly shampooed hair. A couple of minutes went by before they finally disentangled from each other’s embrace, but it still felt like way too soon for Matt.
“What are you doing here?” Becky said.
Matt blinked at her. “What do you mean, what am I doing here? I came to see you.”
“Yes, okay. I meant, what are you doing at the hospital?”
Matt stared at her uncomprehendingly. “Again, I came to see
“How did you know I had my checkup today?”
“What? Your checkup?” Matt felt more and more confused with each passing minute. “I don’t understand…”
“Neither do I,” Becky admitted. She led him to a row of chairs a few feet away from the reception desk and pushed him down into one of them, taking a seat next to him. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“I…” Matt opened and closed his mouth a few times. He didn’t get it. He really didn’t get what this was all about. Why was he here? Why had he been called here? “Joe called yesterday,” he said when he could finally find his voice again. “He said you had taken a turn for the worse and that I needed to come quick.”
Becky’s amber eyes widened. “He
taken a turn for the worse, have you?” Matt felt like an idiot for asking.
Becky arched a dark eyebrow at him. “Do I look like I’m on death’s door to you?”
Matt shuddered. “God, don’t even say that…”
Becky cringed and reached out to stroke his arm reassuringly. “Sorry,” she offered. “But I’m fine, really. I had my checkup today, and guess what? I’m actually in remission.”
Matt looked up sharply at that. He didn’t dare to believe his ears. “Come again?”
Becky was beaming. “You heard me.”
“Becky, that’s so wonderful!”
He enveloped his sister in yet another fierce hug. Just as he was doing so, Joe appeared through the floor’s doors. He froze when he saw Matt, and Matt froze when he saw him. He felt his gaze harden, and he pulled away slowly from Becky.
She turned around to see what it was that he was looking at, and she sighed. “Joe, what have you done?” she said.
Joe walked over. He was biting his bottom lip guiltily. “I had to. I’m sorry, Matt. I never wanted to lie to you, but it was the only way.”
“The only way to do what?” Becky asked.
“To make him come back.”
Matt stood with ominous, deliberate movements. “You better have a damn good explanation for this, Joe.”
Becky also got up quickly. She all but stepped in between the two men. “Not here,” she hissed under her breath. “Let’s go home.”
“I’m in a rental,” Matt said, keeping his eyes trained on Joe’s features. “I’ll follow you.”
Matt was fuming by the time he stepped into Becky and Joe’s house. He strode past the hallway and into the living room, and he rounded on Joe as soon as the front door had been shut behind all of them.
“What the fuck is the meaning of this?” he exploded.
It was all he could do not to physically hurt the guy. In fact, it took all of his restraint not to grab the man’s collar and push him into the nearest wall.
Joe had the good grace to look embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I had to do it.”
supposed to mean?”
“Joe, seriously,” Becky said, in a calmer but stern voice. “What possessed you?”
“You,” Joe snapped. “
Becky blinked, taken aback. “Me?”
“Yes. You. Your wellbeing.”
Matt looked at his sister in utter confusion. “What’s he talking about?”
Becky shook his head. “I’ve no idea.”
“Aren’t you doing well?” Matt asked.
“But she could do better,” Joe said.
Becky huffed in exasperation. “Joe, I’m in remission,” she finally blurted out. “Dr. Parker told me today.”
Joe stared at her. It was all too clear that he was trying to wrap his mind around what he had just heard. He let out a sob, and he marched up to his wife and kissed her passionately.
Becky melted against him for a few moments, and then she gently pushed him away. “Joe, I don’t understand,” she said. “Why have you called Matt?”
Joe hesitated. “Because his being away was worrying you. I didn’t want you to worry about him anymore. I was afraid that the stress might make you sick again.”
Becky sighed, her tense features softening. “Oh, Joe…” She shook his head. “That was very sweet of you, but it was also very stupid. I’m fine. And Matt needs to do his own thing right now.”
“Matt needs to learn how to be a brother,” Joe snapped.
Becky’s eyes widened. “Joe!”
“No,” Matt said. All the anger had gone out of him as Joe’s explanation for his actions hit him like a punch in the gut. “He’s right. I’ve been selfish. It’s just…I can’t be of support to anybody if I don’t sort myself out first.” He looked at Becky, willing his sister to understand.
As always, she did. She smiled gently and nodded. “I understand,” she said. “I told you when we spoke on the phone shortly after you left, Matt. I
“I don’t,” Joe admitted quietly. “But I guess I could,” he said after a moment. “I’m sorry, Matt. I panicked.”
Matt nodded. “I understand,” he said, and he really did. When he thought about it, he supposed that, if roles were reversed, he might have done something very similar. “And I’m sorry.”
An uncomfortable but not tense silence fell upon them.
Then Becky cleared her throat. “Are you staying for a bit?” she asked.
Matt nodded. “Maybe for a few days,” he said. He figured he owed them at least that. “If you’ll have me.”
“Of course,” his sister said immediately. “How about we all go out for lunch and bury the hatchet?” she suggested after a moment.
“I’d like that,” Joe admitted. “Matt?”
Matt smiled. He didn’t always understand his brother in law, but he could tell he loved his sister with every fiber of his being—and that was more than enough for Matt to like him. “Sure,” he said. “I just need to make a phone call.”
“Holly?” Becky winked.
If Matt were a blusher, he would have flushed right then and there. He had written a few letters to his sister, a habit he had picked up during his time on war zones, and he had told her all about Holly. He cleared his throat in embarrassment. “Yes.”
Becky grinned. “Go ahead. We’ll wait for you.”
Matt nodded gruffly and disappeared into the kitchen, seeking privacy. He dug his cell phone out of his jacket and hit the speed dial for Holly. He was surprised when he got her voicemail. Could she be mad enough at him to dodge his calls? He sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. He could feel the beginnings of a headache coming on.
“Holly, it’s me,” he spoke after the beeping tone. “I’m sorry I haven’t called when I said I would. Things have been…well,
’ve been pretty out of sorts. But everything is fine. It was a false alarm. Becky is okay. In fact, she’s in remission.” He found himself smiling from ear to ear as he said the words; speaking them out loud made them real, and it made him giddy with happiness and relief. “I’m going to stay here for a few days, spend some time with her and Joe. Call me when you get this, all right? I’m sorry I went MIA on you.” He hesitated. “I love you. Bye.”
He disconnected the call and put the phone back in his pocket with a sigh. He really had not meant to make Holly mad. It was just that he needed to deal with the situation on his own, away from the rest of the world—even from her. He hoped Holly could understand that, although he had his doubts. She wasn’t like him. She wasn’t a loner. She wasn’t used to counting only on herself.