Part 3

by Kim Pritekel

For complete disclaimers, see part 1

If you'd like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am, or that I royally suck, feel free at:

Caden's hospital room was getting dark as night began to fall in the city. I closed the drapes, and turned on a bedside lamp. There had been no change in her condition, but doctors were still optimistic. Wasn't sure how or why, but I guess they knew their stuff better than I did.

I sat again, taking Caden's hand, mindful of the I.V. in it.

"Well, earlier today I went shopping. Remember Rhalston's? We used to go there every time we came back to your parent's house?" I chuckled at the memories of the clothing store. Spending hours upon hours trying dozens of outfits on, but buying nothing. Well, me buying nothing. Caden usually whipped out a credit card, and it was off to the races. But what most stuck in my mind was the summer between our sophomore and junior years. The summer we spent at the Lodge estate.

Antonio made us a quick lunch that we took outside to eat in the gazebo out near the stables, watched the horses run as we ate.

"So what do you want to do this summer? Do you plan to go home at all?" Caden eyed me around her meatball sandwich. I shrugged as I chewed.

"I don't know. Maybe."

The truth of it was I knew that Caden would want to go, and I didn't want her to see my family, or the house where I'd grown up. I knew she was mature enough to handle it, and not be disgusted or belittling about it, but all the same, it was just a place I didn't want her to know.

As we sat in the gazebo it began to rain, hard and steady. I watched as the world outside our little sanctuary became blurry and gray as the downpour formed a curtain of water.

"Have you ever wanted to just jump in your car and drive?" I asked, nearly having to shout over the storm.

"Drive where?"

"I don't know," I shrugged. "Anywhere. Just away."

"Oh, no. I couldn't." Caden looked at me, and just for a moment I saw a bit of regret flash through her eyes, but then it was gone. "My family would never have that."

"What does your family have to do with anything?" I was surprised by that statement. "It's your life."

"It is my life, in a way, and my family has everything to do with it." The pleasure from relaxing had left her eyes, and she looked me dead in mine. "Having all this comes with a price, Laurel. You may not have had much growing up, but you did have one of the most precious gifts, freedom."

I never forgot that, even as I sat next to Caden's bed, I could still hear her voice, dead, sad, and resigned. Almost hopeless.

"I'd do anything to see you happy, Caden. And free." I stood, walked to the window, one hand up on the wall, the other on my hip. The world was dark as early evening fell to night, headlights in the parking lot of people coming and going, the flashing red and blues of a far-off ambulance. Or was that a police car? Didn't matter. I hated seeing any sort of emergency vehicle; meant someone was in trouble of some kind.

"You know that entire summer at your house I was so jealous of everything you had had growing up. You had the massive house with the built-in pool, servants, horses. All of it. Anything you could have possibly wanted or needed was yours." I turned to face the bed. "But, now I see what you meant that day in the gazebo. You weren't free, were you? Even now, granted, you were pretty sick when I saw you, but you still look as you did back then. You look like everything you do is for someone else, and not you." I walked over to the bed, sat. "When are you going to live for you, Caden? For your little girl? If I had half a mind, I'd take you back with me." I chuckled at the thought. The Caden that I had known would never agree to such a preposterous idea.

Michael had arrived the next day, his good friend Troy in tow. Troy Shepherd was a strikingly good-looking guy from Upstate New York, and was in business school with Gooper. His easy smile and dark good looks could win their way into anyone's heart. Perhaps even Caden's.

"So, I understand you're pre-med." He said, sitting next to her at dinner that night. She nodded, shyly keeping her eyes to the table.

"Yes. You?"

"What year?"

"Well, second year. Are you going into business as well?"

"I once wanted to be a doctor. In fact, my father is a doctor." He smiled charmingly at Caden. I glared. What an ass. I looked to my friend to see if she was actually going to put up with that shit. She did not look at me, nor did she say anything. I looked to Mike to see that he was also looking at Troy, a strange look on his face, but he said nothing, looking to me instead.

"Laurel, Troy and I are planning to attend a party at a friend's house tomorrow night. Would you two lovely ladies care to join us?" he looked from me to Caden then back to me.

"Oh. Well," I looked at Caden to see if she had any input whatsoever, but she continued to look down at the smooth, shiny surface of the cherry wood. "Caden?" her head shot up, eyes darting to me.

"Yes. That's fine, Michael. We'll go."

"Great. I was hoping to get a date out of this trip." Troy said, followed by a long roll of laughter. The swinging door opened, and the young maid walked in, carrying a large tray of dished loaded with food. "Alright. I'm starving." He looked the young girl over appreciatively, and smiled at me. I continued to glare.

"What were you thinking?" I muttered, caressing Caden's hand. "Did you know that I fell in love with you that summer?" I snickered, feeling foolish, not for the first time, talking to this woman who was comatose, and basically dead to the world. "Some say that people in comas can hear everything, and other say they can't hear anything. I'm hoping on the last, so you can't get mad at me for anything I say, you got it?" I nodded as if I'd heard the response I'd wanted from her. "Okay. I'll keep talking then." I sat back in my chair, patting Caden's hand as I released it, my hands going behind my head, staring up into the dark ceiling of the room, only a small half-circle of light in the corner emanating from the reading light I had turned on. "You know I sit here and think about that first night that you met Troy, and I could kick myself all over again for not trying to keep you away from that bastard. God, how blind was I." I stretched my legs out, crossing them at the ankles with a sigh. "Such an egotistical, misogynistic ass. Not much has changed, eh Caden?" I smiled at my own small joke. "You know, I think I was still in love with you even after school? You were the first person who ever just saw me for me, and not my background in Southie." I glanced at my friend. "I never did thank you for that, did I? Well, thank you. It always meant so much to me."

His laugh made me cringe. "I'm sorry. Did you say you're from South Boston? You do mean Southie, don't you?" I glared up into that pompous assholes eyes, daring him to say one more thing about my neighborhood. Michael took a step toward us, but Caden reached me first.

"Leave her alone, Troy. She has no reason to be ashamed of where she's from." I was stunned. The first time Caden had dared to say a word against the wonderful, handsome Troy. I wanted to cheer. Troy Shepherd stared down at her for a moment, the disdain not even hidden.

"Well, no wonder I've never seen you around." He smiled at me, then walked away, out of the Lodge house, toward the awaiting limousine Michael had called to take us to the party.

I was so pissed I could have jumped the bastard right there at the front of the house. Sensing this, Caden put a hand on my arm, shaking her head.

"He's not worth it." She said quietly. I took several deep breaths, getting myself under control.

I was not looking forward to the party at all, sure it would be filled with other Troy's. Who needed it? Caden walked out of the house, and I followed, Michael hurrying to my side.

"Don't worry. I'll protect you." He smiled. I looked at him as though he'd grown a third head.

"From what?"

"Well, you look like you're scared to death."

"Well, I don't think that I'd use the word scared, but death fits in nicely." Gooper lightly punched my in the arm, and I grinned. "Just keep him away from me, and Troy and I will get along fine."

I watched Caden step into the limo. She was beautiful in a powder blue spaghetti strap dress that reached the ground. It was elegant, but casual enough for the party at the same time. The small heels she wore helped to shape her normally beautiful legs, even more.

"I couldn't stop staring at you that night." I smiled at the memory. "You were the most beautiful woman at that party. Your brother covered me with compliments, but no. You were definitely the belle of that ball." I yawned, rubbing my eyes like a five year old. "Well, my friend, I better go." I stood from my chair, walked over to the side of the bed, bent down, kissed her forehead. "I'll be back first thing in the morning, okay?" no movement. I sighed. "Good night, Caden."

The drive back to the hotel was a thought-filled one. Sitting with Caden the last couple of days had brought back so many memories that had been so deeply buried, never intending to think about them, or bring them up again. It was beginning to get me to think. I didn't like to think, about the past, anyway. No use in it. Only pain.

As I turned into the parking lot, my cell phone began to ring. Grabbing it from the passenger seat, I clicked it on.

"Hello?" with one hand I maneuvered the Explorer into a space in front of the door to my room.

"Hey. It's Mike."

"Hi there. Missed you today." I cut the engine, and sat behind the wheel to talk.

"Yeah. I felt horrible. I just got so busy today at the office. There was just no way to leave. How is she?"

"Well, no real change, but the doctors say she's doing well. Whatever that means." Michael chuckled on the other end of the line.

"They work in mysterious ways. Would you care to get a bite to eat? I'm just leaving now to head home, but am absolutely famished."

"Sure." I looked longingly at the door ahead of me, just wanting to go in and straight to bed, but he sounded a bit down. "Where do you want to go?"

I sat across from Michael, a coffee cup in my hand, an empty plate in front of me. Both of us had wolfed down our dinners in record time, neither saying a word during. Now, full and content, it was time to talk. Michael sat back in the booth, wiping his mouth with the napkin before tossing it into his own empty plate.

"My mother is quite impressed with you, you know." He said, his half-hooded eyes studying me.

"Oh yeah? Why's that?" I tried to hide my surprise behind my cup. He shrugged, stretching his arm along the length of the top of the booth behind him.

"The way you've stuck this out."

"I'm sure I'm still the unseemly type to her."

"My mother is old money, and that sort of life just doesn't take into consideration different life-styles. It's just not a possibility. In her eyes she raised good, proper kids. Everything and everyone else is just tolerated. And, sometimes not even that."

"No need to apologize or explain her, Michael. I understand more than you think. My father may have been dirt poor in his life, he sure knew how to be pretentious and judgmental. Your mother doesn't bother me anymore."

"That's good. She bothers the hell out of me." Michael took a long swallow of his coffee, grimacing as the hot liquid hit his stomach.

"So I've noticed. I must say, I'm a bit surprised by it. You two were fairly close once upon a time, weren't you?" I poured myself some more coffee from the carafe that waitress had left on the table, stirring in sugar, eyeing him all the while. He sighed, glanced out the window into the dark parking lot, a street light the only illumination at the end of it. After glancing down at his cup, he looked up at me.

"I caught her, Laurel." Confused, I shook my head.

"Caught her?"

"She was in bed with the neighbor's son. A childhood friend of mine." I stared, mouth agape before I closed it to clear my throat.

"I'm so sorry, Michael. When did this happen?"

"My second year of grad school. Came home for the holidays, dad was off on another of his trips, and Caden and Troy hadn't arrived at the house yet. Mother and Damon were right there." I watched as Michael was transported back in time, his eyes staring past me, his jaw clenching and unclenching. "That bastard had always been the thorn in the Middleton family's side."

"I'm sorry you had to see that, Goop."

He shrugged again, the trance broken. He smiled at me, though I knew it held no real emotion behind it.

"What can you do?"

"Does your father know?"

"Nope." He said after sipping from his cup. "I'd never tell him. He's gone. A lot. Always has been, but it's to support his family. At least that's what I keep telling myself. Now I just try and be there for my family now. To hell with the rest. Caden, my wife, and my child coming is all that really matters to me anymore." He smiled in earnest then. "It's always really amazed me just how much your priorities change in life. Out with the old, and in with the new. I just don't want to be a carbon copy of my parents."

I listened, not sure what to say, or if anything was even necessary. I felt that he just needed to talk, vent. If anyone could understand that, it was me.

Four hours later I fell into bed, falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

The grass was so green and beautiful, I felt guilty as we made our way up the hill, our footsteps easy to follow in the plush thickness.

"You sure it's okay for us to be here?"

"Yes. It's fine, for the third time." Caden said, her sandals lightly bumping into each other as she carried them. "God, it's such a beautiful day!" she looked around, shading her eyes with her other hand, then turned to me. "Over there? There are some trees." I nodded, headed in toward the small clump. Caden carried the basket the Antonio had prepared for us, I carried the thermos, and my sketch pad, my pencil behind my ear. We found a good place to set out our blanket, and began eating.

"Antonio is the best chef." Caden moaned as she bit into a piece of fried chicken.

"Yup." I agreed as I licked my fingers. "I'm kinda surprised your dad hasn't fired him yet, actually."

"Why would he do that?" Caden grabbed an ear of corn, and began to butter it generously.

"Well, um," I looked down at the grass, sneaking a shy look at my friend. "Your mom's obvious interest in him."

"Oh. I doubt seriously if my father has even seen it. He's not here very much."

"I guess not. You know in all the times I've been here, I've only seen a glimpse of him." Caden stopped buttering, and set her corn down on the paper plate.

"Yes, I guess that's true." She stood, walked toward the edge of the hill that overlooked her family's estate. I watched her, the way her long hair blew slightly in the summer breeze, her bare arms crossed over her chest, the spaghetti strap tank she wore hugging her back. She closed her eyes a bit, raising her head against the breeze, almost like a breath from nature.

"Caden?" I walked up behind her, not touching her. "Are you okay?" She said nothing, only nodded. "Should I have said that?"

"Why wouldn't you? It is true." She opened her eyes, looking out on the property, the rolling hills, horses' whinnies carried up to us on the breeze. "Do you think I'll make it as a doctor, Laurel?" finally she turned to me, her face swept free of emotion or feeling. I could not read her. I looked up into her eyes, and nodded with a small smile.


"Hmm. I hope so." She sounded so far off, as if she were on a different planet, or as if it were the two faces of Caden. I was puzzled. "Well," she clapped her hands together and turned to me. "Let's begin."

I watched her as she walked back to our blanket, gathered up her half-eaten lunch, and stuffed it all back into the basket.

"You're done, right?" she looked at me expectantly. I wasn't finished, but it seemed important to her for some reason that I be, so I nodded. She cleared my lunch up, too, tossing it into the basket with hers. "Where do you want me to go? I mean, where's the best light?"

I looked at the area, trying to figure out where to position her, where the light and shadow could mix the best. Then I saw it, the perfect spot on a dark green patch of grass. The blades were high and straight, the perfect natural, wild balance with Caden's smooth features, and natural grace. I pointed.

"Right there."

"But it's not near a tree." She looked at me with drawn brows.

"No. I don't want one. That's that spot."

"Okay." She walked toward the small patch, sat, crossing her legs. I walked around her, looking at her from all angles, trying to decide which would be the best way for her to face. Sun in her face, or to the side, then I walked around to face her, the setting sun at her back, creating a halo effect around her.

"Perfect." I nearly whispered, hurrying to a good spot to begin. I brought my hands up to frame her, my eyes trailing down her body. "Lay down." She complied, lying on her back. "No, on your side, facing me. That arm, yeah, that one, on your hip, the other one holding your head up." I looked at her some more, studying the pose, but something was wrong, missing. Apparently Caden could see it on my face. She sat up, looking nervously at me.

"Um, what if I just push one of these straps down a bit? Get a different contrast," her voice trailed off, but her eyes held steady to mine. My eyes trailed to her shoulders, trying to picture in my mind what that would look like. Beautiful. I smiled.

"Okay. If you're sure, that is."

"I wouldn't have offered if I wasn't." her slight laugh was a bit shaky. She reached her hand up to her left shoulder, and gently pushed the strap down to the middle of her arm. I noticed the difference in the skin color from the tan line of a long forgotten bathing suit. She laid back down, the bare shoulder beautiful against the golden rays of the sun. I walked over to her, kneeling down, moving the loose strap to where it looked better, the skin of Caden's shoulder warm against my fingers. I arranged her hands and arms, and took a step back. Still something was missing. "What would you like me to do?" I rubbed my chin, biting my lip, looking at her critically.

"I'm not sure. Something just doesn't look right. I can't quite place it,"

"Maybe the other one?" she leaned up on her forearm, sliding the other strap down, looking at me for guidance. With both sides down I could see the top of her cleavage, and something inside me wanted to sketch more than that, capture that beauty on paper. But, for now the two straps leaving just that little bit to the imagination to entice would do.

"Okay, now lay exactly how I put you before. Oh, yeah. Beautiful." I looked at her, in awe of what could be created with living flesh, then grabbed my pad, began to draw, my fingers racing against the speed of my eye. I had to try and portray her in the most honest way I could.

I walked through the familiar electric doors, making my way into the hospital, the morning nurse smiling at me as she typed on a computer. I smiled back, intent on heading to the elevators when I saw the hospital gift shop to my left. On a whim I made a detour, and walked inside.

Flowers, balloons, teddy bears, and gifts of every type lined the shelves and cabinets. I looked at them all, fingering a fuzzy brown bear, a purple bow tied around his neck. Smiling at his huge, brown eyes, I strolled on, looking at the case of porcelain figurines, ballerinas, animals, a fisherman, and a football hero, number 56. Glancing toward the flowers and plants, I considered it, but they were so common. I wanted something special for Caden. I waited for something to jump out at me. My mind began to race, thinking of little things from our early days. As I turned around, headed toward the stuffed animals again, I stopped, dead in my tracks. There it was.

"I see you have horses. Do you have any other animals? Cats, dogs, fish?"

"No. My mother won't allow it. I'd love to have a dog more than anything. I often threaten her with having a hundred of them in my own house just to drive her crazy." I smiled at the blue eyes filled with mischief.

"Hey, works for me."

"I've always wanted a collie. My very own Lassie to save me."

The plastic brown eyes had a strange depth to them, making them almost appear to be real. The long hair with its brown and white pattern was fluffy and full, just begging to be stroked. I walked over to the collie, running my fingers over the ears, one perked as if listening for the whistle of its owner. The stuffed dog was expensive, as hospital gifts tend to be, but I didn't care. Instinctively I knew Caden would love it.

Doctors and nurses were in the room this morning. I stood just outside the closed door, watching through the window when finally nurse Kelly came out.

"Good morning, Laurel. How are you? Oh, what a cute dog." She smiled at the animal under my arm, then smiled at me.

"What's going on in there?"

"Oh, we had to start up the radiation therapy. Mrs. Lodge signed the papers yesterday to get it going."

"I see." My brows knitted.

"She'll be fine." She patted my shoulder, and walked to the nurses station. I continued to watch through the small window, my heart reaching out to my friend. Why won't you just wake up?

After I finished my drawing, Caden put the straps of her tank back up, and crawled over to me.

"Can I see?"


I had still been surprised that she had agreed to do that, and I felt a bit strange about it. It had affected me in ways I didn't really want to admit to myself. Caden was beautiful, that much anyone could see, but I had felt a closeness to her that had shown me a deeper level to Caden Lodge. A level I hadn't seen before, and I wasn't sure she showed anyone else.

I handed her the pad, closely gauging her reaction. She took the pad, bringing it in close, looking at every detail, her face masking any expression. I hated when she did that.

Finally she handed the pad back to me.

"It's very good." She said quietly. I smiled. "We should get back now."

As the summer went on we continued to spend more and more time with Michael and Troy. Personally I would have preferred to spend time just Caden and I, but I didn't say anything. I figured, her house, her plans.

"Personally I thought it was a wonderful production. The costuming was a bit off, however. But, overall I'd see it again."

"What are you talking about? The costuming made that show." I looked over at Troy who walked along side Caden, a protective, or was that possessive, arm around her shoulders.

"You haven't a clue as to what you're talking about, Laurel, so perhaps you should stop now while you're ahead."

"What did you say to me, you-"

"Okay. Well now that we all know the play was a success, what do you all say to some dinner?" Part of me was glad Michael had intervened, but part of me still wanted to clobber that pompous ass that Troy was.

"Sounds good." Caden looked over at me, her eyes pleading with me. I glared at her. Why didn't she tell her date to shut his trap. I didn't understand it. So I shut my mouth, and just avoided the creep. At least it was Caden who had to deal with him. I sure as hell wasn't about to.

The medical team left Caden's room, leaving us alone. I set the dog on the bedside table, looking at my friend, my eyes stinging as I took in the tubes sticking out of her chest, coming up out of the blanket, running along over the bed, and plugged into a strange looking machine that whirred and clicked. Caden looked like a monster, hoses and tubes connected to her in so many places on her body.

"Oh, Caden." I breathed, sitting next to her, taking her hand. "I can't believe this is happening to you. Please wake up. I would do anything to see those beautiful blue eyes of yours again." She was far too young for this. I wanted to gather her up in my arms, and take off, running down the hall, out the front door, and take her back home to have her wake up in her own bed. Quite the dream.

I gently rubbed her hand, listening as the machine did its job.

"So how is she?" I turned to see Margaret walking into the doorway, looking beautiful as ever, impeccably dressed, not a hair out of place.

"Fine, I guess. They were hooking her up to radiation therapy when I got here."

"Yes, I signed the release forms yesterday." She sat in the chair on the opposite side of the bed, crossing her legs, making sure the slacks she wore were not wrinkled, running her thumb and index finger along the crease. "I won't be staying for long," she ran her heavily ringed fingers over her hair, patting it in places. "I have lunch plans today."

"Well, should be fun." I tried to keep the bitterness out of my voice. How dare she make lunch plans when her daughter laid in a coma in the hospital! I figured it was for the best; any amount of time spent with that woman would likely bring a murder charge against me.

"I made the arrangements so long ago, I just hate to break a date." She readjusted the handbag on her lap nervously. "Laurel?" I glanced at her. She looked at the floor, then at her hands, then finally at me. "Thank you. I'm sure it means a great deal to Caden that you're here." I stared, stunned.

"You're welcome."

"Well," with that, she stood and headed for the door. "I should be back in tomorrow. You know where to call should there be any change." Without another glance at me, she was gone.

"She's one strange lady, Caden."

I paced back and forth in Caden's bedroom, my hands fisted at my sides, my tempter just under explode mode. Caden sat on her bed, watching me, back and forth, back and forth. It was almost comical, as if she were watching a tennis match. But I was in no mood to laugh.

"Laurel, it really wasn't that big of a deal." Her voice was small, timid. I clenched my jaw, stopping only long enough to look at her before I continued my path of rage.

"Not a big deal? That guy has no respect for women, Caden! And he sure as hell has no respect for you!" I walked over to her, kneeling in front of her, taking her hands in my own. "Caden, listen, that guy almost crossed a line tonight that you just don't cross." I looked at her with pleading eyes.

"He stopped." She said weakly.

"Yeah, but after how much pleading from you? Why did you leave me and Michael?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. I trusted him. I really didn't think he'd try anything." She lowered her head, her chin nearly touching her chest.

"Why don't you just get rid of the bastard?"

"My parents like him."


"Caden! Are you okay?" Michael burst into the room, hurrying over to the bed, taking his sister into his arms. "Did he hurt you? Are you alright?"

"I'm fine."

Watching brother console sister, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I knew Troy was staying in the guest house, not wanting to drive home after all he'd drank, I ran from the room, my mind narrow, only thinking of one thing.

The night air was warm and sticky as I ran across the expansive yard, the lights of the small bungalow coming into view. Breathing hard, I finally reached the place, bringing my fist up to bang on the hard door, not caring about the pain that shot up my hand.

"Open up, you son of a bitch!" the door swung open, and Troy stood there, blocking most of the light with his large frame. He stood in just the pants he'd been wearing, his chest and feet bare.

"Yes?" he looked down at me, irritation marking his voice.

"Why don't you pick on someone your own size, you bustard! I'm going to tell you something, you piece of shit. Your family name, your money, your lineage means shit to me, and so do you. You got that? So I have nothing to lose, here." I took a step closer, my face nearly kissing his neck. I looked up into his hard eyes, so filled with contempt for me. "You ever touch Caden like that again without her consent, I'll cut your fucking dick off. You got it?" he grinned, his handsome face contorting into a picture of disgust.

"Who are you to tell me anything, you white trash little bitch. The only reason Caden has a thing to do with you is because she feels sorry for you, and her brother just wants a good piece of ass." His smirk widened with my intake of breath. "Your kind is usually pretty easy."

"You are such a low creature, Troy. You're not even worth my spit." I looked him over, everything I felt about him showing clearly on my face and in my eyes. "You're noting but a worthless, spoiled little rich boy." I turned away then, not wanting to waste another breath on him.

As I walked back to the house, I thought about what he had said. Lying piece of shit. He mattered not to me.

"Are you okay?" Michael asked as I entered the house.

"You keep that bastard away from me." I growled as I headed up the stairs.

"Why did you marry him." I shook my head to clear it. Bad memory. The next day Troy had been asked to leave by Michael. I had often wondered how Caden and Troy had gotten back together the following summer, when she had gotten pregnant. Had he forced himself yet again, or had she finally relented? All questions that part of me wanted to ask, but didn't want to know the answers to. Almost like imagining your parents having sex. As far as I'm concerned, mine only did it twice, once for Phillip, and once for me.

"You look so serious. What's on your mind?" I turned to see Michael and Annie standing in the doorway.

"Hi there. Hey, Annie. How are you?"

"Quite well. And yourself?" I grinned.

"I'm fine."

"Would you like to sit down?" the girl walked further into the room, perching herself on the end of Caden's bed. She wore jeans with little flowers on the back pockets, and a long sleeve blouse.

"It's getting chilly out there." Michael said, removing his suit jacket, folding it neatly over the top of the chair. "Winter is definitely on the way. Oh," he grabbed the jacket, and took a white envelope out of the inside breast pocket. "Troy gave this to me for Caden." He set it on the bedside table next to the collie I'd bought.

"That was nice of him." I forced a smile, the recent memories gave me such a bitter taste in my mouth that I knew Annie shouldn't hear, and Michael wouldn't understand.

"What's all this?" he looked at his sister, and all the tubes coming from her, pointed to the two in her chest.

"Radiation therapy." I said quietly.

"Good lord. Hadn't she gone though enough." He sighed unhappily. "Well, so how are you?" he smiled. "When exactly do you get here?"

"As soon as I'm allowed." I smiled back. "Your mother came in a bit earlier."

"How long did she stay?" his voice was low, cold.

"A few minutes. She had a previous lunch to go to."

"Yes. I'm sure she did." He stared out the window across from him for a moment, fingering his chin, looking to be in deep thought. "Troy and I had a long conversation this morning." His eyes found mine. "He wants to file." He suddenly stood, digging in the front pocket of his pants. "Annie, honey, why don't you go and get us all a cold soda? I saw a machine near the elevators as we came in."

"Okay. I figured my cue to leave was coming." I grinned, watching the girl take the money, and walking out the door.

"She's one smart girl." Michael said, also watching her.

"Just like her mother."

"Just like her mother." He agreed. "Anyway, I really think it's for the best. Troy hasn't been a husband for some time. Caden hasn't been happy for many years."

"Why did she marry him, Michael? From what I remember of him, he was quite the bastard."

"Still is. Money, Laurel. Makes the world go round, don't you know." He smiled ruefully. "Gets the best of us."

"Did it get Caden?"

"Nope. My father. You have to understand, he wanted what was best for her, and at the time Troy seemed to be it. He had money, was going somewhere, and of course, Annie."

"She had such a future, Michael. Would have made a wonderful doctor." He nodded.

"I know. She still talks about it off and on. I think she'd love nothing more than to be a doctor still."

"Okay, I wasn't sure what everyone wanted, so I guess." Annie handed me a can of Pepsi with a smile, and Michael his can of Pepsi, popping open her own can of Sprite.

"Thank you, hon." Michael slapped his hands on his knees. "Well, I promised Annie I'd bring her by, but I have to get going." He stood. "Come on, Annie." The girl looked at her mom sadly, then started walking toward the door.

"Wait, Michael, if you want, you can leave her here. Let her spend some time with Caden." Why was I putting myself through this on purpose? I had never been one for babysitting, or for kids, for that matter. Annie's face lit up immediately.

"Please, Uncle Mike? I want to stay." She walked over to him, taking his large hand, needing both of hers to wrap around it. He looked down at her, then at Caden, finally at me, and sighed.

"Are you sure, Laurel?"

"Sure." I tried to give him a reassuring smile, which of course he saw right through. With a small smile, he nodded.

"Okay. I'll pick you up on my lunch break, you got that?"

"Thank you!" Annie wrapped thin arms around Michaels waist, and grinned up at him. "I love you, Uncle Mike."

"I love you, too. Behave."

"Of course. What else would I do?" Gooper grinned at the bewildered look on his nieces face, and with a wave to me, walked out the door. Well. Now what to do to entertain a nine year old.

Annie made herself comfortable in the chair that her uncle had just deserted. She tapped her heels against the wooden legs, and stared at all the tubes protruding from her mother's body.

"Does that hurt her?" she asked, scrunching her nose.

"I don't know. I don't think so."

"I hope not. Do you like baseball, Laurel?" I looked at her, slightly surprised by the abrupt change of topic.

"Well, I guess."

"Did you know that the first ever baseball game was played in Hoboken, New Jersey?"

"Nope." I smiled, finding her delighted grin absolutely charming.

"Did you know that the Stature of Liberty is really in New Jersey?"

"No, hon, it's in New York."

"Nope." She said, shaking her head vigorously. "Ellis Island is part of Jersey. I'm just full of useless information, aren't I?" she grinned.

"Well, at least you're interesting." She looked at me, cocking her head to the side.

"Did you and my mom know each other when you were my age?"

"Nope. We met in college." I smiled again at the memory. "We were roommates."

"I want to go to college. I want to be a doctor." I smiled warmly at that. Caden would absolutely love that.

"And I'm sure you will make an absolutely wonderful doctor, Annie."

"Tell me a story about my mom when she was younger."

I looked at this young girl before me, so much like her mother in her curiosity, and looks, yet with the spunk and strength that her mother never possessed.

"Well, let me think for a moment." I sat forward in my chair, my legs spread, can of soda held in my hands dangling between as I stared into the past.

I had never ridden a horse in my entire life, nor had I ever had any real need to do so, yet there I sat, a two ton wild beast between my legs. Caden had given me a bit of instruction before we'd left the stables, but not enough to do any real good. I was still scared to death.

"Come on, Laurel. Keep up!" she yelled back to me, her horse trotting along at a leisurely pace, mine about to keel over dead, I thought.

"How do I do that?" I yelled back, holding on for dear life as the horse lurched forward a bit, then nearly stopped, bowing its head. I squeezed my legs a bit tighter, trying not to slide off. Caden turned her horse, Wild Fire back, and walked over to me and Heffer. The name should have told me everything. She clicked her tongue, making the horse raise it's head.

"Come on, Heffer. Let's go, girl." She looked at me, I could see the amusement in her eyes. "You've got to kick her, Laurel, or she'll never do what you want."

"Why on earth did you put me on a horst that is as old as God?" I asked as I kicked the stupid horse, to no avail.

"Because she's gentle." She clicked her own horse into action. "Come on! I'll raise you to the stream!"

"You've got it." I grumbled, kicking my horse for all that I was worth until I started to worry I'd hurt the damn thing. "Yah!" I yelled in desperation. Hey, it worked in all the movies. "Shit!" Heffer took off at breakneck speed, leaving me to do everything I could to not break mine.

Annie held her stomach as she giggled, me watching.

"Are you about done?" I asked with a grin. The girl tried to sober up, wiping her eyes.

"I can't believe that when you were as old as nearly twenty you had never ridden a horse before."

"Are you kidding me? By time I was nearly twenty, I had never even seen a horse in real life. Where I came from, kid, there weren't any horses."

"That is too funny. What did mommy do?"

"She kicked my behind, is what she did. Heffer and I never even made it to the stream. He headed off in an entirely different direction. Your mom had to come and save me." This, of course, sent Annie into another fit of giggles. As I watched her, I tried to imagine a younger Caden holding Annie as a baby. What did she think? How did she react when she gave birth, and saw her little girl for the first time? Was she happy? Worried? I smiled, this life that had come from Caden's body, from a simple act between two people. I saw kids everyday on the streets, or other friends of mine back in San Diego, but it had never really hit me until I went back to Boston. Never hit me that the child was truly an extension of their parents, a human being created by another.

"You have your mother's laugh." I said, my voice quiet. Annie became a bit more serious, looking at me, then a slow smile spread across her face.

"Really? I do?" I nodded, folding my arms across my chest.


"Good. I love my mother's laugh." Annie stood from her chair, and walked the few steps to the bed, looking down at Caden. "I wish she'd wake up. I miss her so much." She leaned over, and gently kissed her mother on the forehead.

"I do, too."

Not long after, the nurse came in to unhook Caden from the machine. I watched as she pulled the tubes from her chest, and felt sick to my stomach. One tube was nearly a foot long, the other six inches. All that had been inside her body. My god.

"She did well." The nurse said as she wheeled the machine out of the room. "I'll be back in the morning to start another session."

"How often will she have to have this done?" I asked, glancing back into the room.

"For five days, once a month." The nurse smiled, and was gone. Annie and I made our way back in, walking to the bed, both of us drawn. Caden's breathing seemed to be a bit different, a little faster. I drew my brows, concerned.

"Is she okay?" Annie whispered, looking up at me with huge blue eyes.

"I think so." I looked a bit closer, taking Caden's pale hand in my own. I looked down in shock when I felt a bit of a squeeze around my fingers. Was that from her? I looked at her face, looking for any sign of movement or life. I was not disappointed. Her eyes beneath their lids moved slightly from side to side, the stilled. My heart was pounding in my chest, holding my breath. Then her eyes opened, just the tiniest bit. Annie and I looked at each other.

"Is she waking up?"

"I don't know." We both watched in breathless silence. Caden's lids fluttered shut, then opened a little wider until she was looking up at the ceiling. She groaned almost inaudibly, and began to look around.

"Mommy?" Caden looked in the direction of the voice, and a weak smile turned the corner of her mouth.

"Hey, baby." She whispered, her voice horse, lips chapped. I hurried out of the room, ran to the nurses station, spouting that Caden had woken up, and ran back to the room. Caden's eyes left her daughter, and turned to me. She smiled again. "Hey."

"Hey, you. How are you?"


"I don't see why. You've only been sleeping for the last three days." She smiled again, closing her eyes.

Part 4

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