by Patty S.
"Take a deep breath. Now let it out-don't breathe..."
Yeah, easy for you to say.
Alicia sucked in a breath of air and tried to be patient as her breast was released from the modern day torture device. "Are we done?" she asked as she pulled the thin hospital gown closed.
The technician, who didn't look a day over twelve, smiled kindly. "Sorry about that. I saw something on the first picture, and I just wanted to be sure. Give me a sec to take a look, then you can get dressed." The petite redhead bounced to a corner of the room, where a machine was digesting the information taken by the torture device.
Alicia sat down in a cold metal chair and waited.
For the hundredth time, she touched the side of her left breast, still not able to feel the lump there. She had been sure that Kara was crazy when she claimed to have felt it the week before. After all, at twenty-eight years old, Alicia was way too young to have anything wrong with her pert little breasts.
She glanced down at her "girls", for the first time scared that maybe Kara had been right.
The energetic technician returned. "Wonderful shot. You can get dressed now, and I'll have these sent to Doctor Lin."
"Is there a lump?" Alicia hadn't meant to be so blunt, but her patience was long gone.
The technician hesitated just long enough for Alicia to know the truth. "You'll need to talk to your doctor. I could see what looks like a mass, but I can't be certain. She'll have to read them to give you a diagnosis." She started for the door, but turned around. "I'm sorry."
Alicia headed for the changing room, suddenly feeling very vulnerable and very much afraid.
Kara paced the small waiting room, occasionally glancing up at the television. Back and forth, she had practically dug a trench with her constant movement. Back and forth as she worried about her partner and prayed to whatever god was there to listen, that she had been wrong.
It was one of the most perfect days of her life. They spent the afternoon at the mall, where Kara had patiently followed Alicia from store to store. First, she had to buy a new dress for Thanksgiving, which of course meant new white shoes for the uber Imelda Marcos. Then they were off to the music store for the latest Dixie Chicks album. Lucky for Kara, her partner hadn't seen the faces she'd been making as the clerk put the CD in the bag.
Next stop was Spencer's, which happened to be Kara's favorite store in the mall. It was the only one she'd ever really been in besides the ones that sold music, videos and computer games.
Alicia had a gift for finding the most unusual item in the store, and did not disappoint when she produced chocolate covered candy lambs. They were so weird, Kara had bought her two.
Alicia was checking out florescent food coloring when Kara had snuck up behind her and wrapped her arms around the blonde's small body. Her lips sought the soft flesh behind Alicia's ear, making her squeal. For an added measure, Kara had copped a feel of her partner's left breast when she was sure no one was looking.
But it was Kara who had gotten a surprise. Maybe it was the angle, or maybe it was that Alicia was standing, but Kara had felt it. A lump the size of a golf ball. She'd even put Alicia's hand there, despite her protests, to prove she wasn't joking.
They immediately went home, where Kara did another examination, still able to feel the lump quite plainly. It took only a few minutes for the taller woman to convince her partner to schedule a mammogram.
Kara stopped pacing and stared out the office window at the midday sun. God, please let me be wrong.
"You were right," The soft voice startled her. Kara turned to find Alicia slowly walking out of the office. The small blonde came over and grabbed her partner's hand. "I have a 1:45 appointment with Dr. Lin tomorrow."
"Is it...um, well..."
"Malignant?" Alicia offered. "The technician can't tell. And, I might still have to have a biopsy."
Kara wrapped her arms around Alicia and kissed her softly. "I love you."
"I love you, too. Can we go home?"
Alicia rolled the chair back from her desk and got up. She'd been unable to concentrate on work and had come home early. Logging onto the Internet, she was disappointed that none of her favorite bards, on any of the 20 lists she was on, had posted updates to their stories. None of the 100 plus on-line friends were logged into any of the messengers. It was like the world was standing still.
She briefly turned on CNN, wondering if she was missing something, but at 11:30 in the morning nothing was happening except a bit of chatter about the crisis in Iraq...should we, shouldn't we, yadda yadda. Alicia knew she should feel at least something toward the situation. After all, if they went to war, her brother would be going along with thousands of other reservists. But today, she couldn't muster the energy to care.
She wandered around the study for a bit, checking out their impressive collection of lesbian fiction, but unable to decide on a story to read. Too much angst, not enough angst, too much sex (was there such a thing?), not enough sex, not enough detailed sex. Frustrated, she went back to the computer and sat down again.
Yahoo alerted her to an email message, which she eagerly clicked on. She could now buy five CD's for the price of one at CD Now.com. Oh boy. A glance at the clock told her she'd wasted exactly ten minutes.
She reached for her candy dish, winced when the action caused her pain, but still grabbed a handful of jelly beans, picking out only the yellow ones and putting the rest back. She leaned back in the chair and stared up at the ceiling. The doctor had warned her that her breast would be sore for a few days. She briefly wondered if the doctor had ever had a foot long needle shoved into one of her girls before. Alicia gently rubbed the spot where the needle had made entry, her eyes going to the phone.
It startled her when it rang, and she nearly fell out of the chair. Gathering her composure quickly, she snatched the handset and answered. "Hello?"
"Hi, baby." Kara's voice immediately soothed her. "Feeling any better?"
"Not really. I'm bored, anxious, nervous, scared, and whiney. Are you coming home soon?"
Kara chuckled softly, trying to lighten her partner's mood. "I'm on my way. I got a half-day of comp time approved and left a little while ago. I just made a quick stop at Graeter's and will be home in about ten minutes."
Alicia couldn't help the smile that spread across her face. "Graeter's? Ah, I knew I loved you for a reason. Did you get my usual?"
"Of course! Two scoops of double chocolate chip. Or, death-by-chocolate." Kara winced at that last comment, hoping Alicia hadn't been paying attention. "I love you, baby. I'll be home in a few."
Alicia held tightly to Kara's hand as they sat in the plush chairs of Dr. Lin's office, waiting for the doctor to finish reviewing Alicia's chart. Neither woman spoke, but both tensed when the Asian woman looked up at them.
"Alicia, the mass we found in your left breast is malignant." The doctor waited a moment as the young women digested that bit of information. "Right now, you have a few options. We could reduce the size with radiation treatments, but I'm not convinced we can get rid of it completely. There is also the chance that it has metastasized."
"Metastasized?" Kara asked.
"It could have traveled through her body already. Most likely, it would be in the lymph nodes." Again, the doctor paused. This was always the hardest part. "If it is in the lymph nodes..."
"How can we tell?" Alicia finally found her voice, though she was squeezing Kara's hand so hard her fingers were white. "How do we know if it's spreading?"
"We would have to remove a lymph node to test it." The doctor raised her left arm and pointed just under her armpit. "From here."
Kara started to comment, but Alicia hushed her with a tug on her hand. "You said there are options other than radiation."
"Yes. You could have a mastectomy. It's the surest way I have of getting all of it. And we could remove a lymph node for testing at the same time."
"Would you have to take both breasts?" Alicia's voice was suddenly small, barely audible.
"No." Doctor Lin sighed, wishing she could make this easier. "Your right breast is healthy." She passed a business card to Alicia. "This is the name and number of a plastic surgeon. Make an appointment with him. He can be there when I remove the breast and begin work on a new one for you, if you want. He's the best reconstructive surgeon I know."
"So you're recommending the mastectomy?" Kara asked, shifting the chairs so she could put her arm around Alicia. "There's really no other option, is there?"
"Not really. The radiation will make Alicia very sick and weak and may not get the job done. A mastectomy is cleaner. She's young and will recover quickly."
With Kara's help, Alicia found the strength to stand on shaking legs. "Thanks, Doctor Lin. I appreciate your honesty. Can I call you tomorrow? With Thanksgiving coming up soon, I just don't know when or what time..." Alicia's voice faded into a choked whisper.
"Sure, but no later than tomorrow. I'd like to get the surgery scheduled right away. We don't want to risk waiting too long."
"She'll call," Kara promised, then practically carried her partner out of the office.
Alicia stood at the window, watching the early winter snowfall. The solid white was slowly brightened as the sunrise sent muted light across the horizon. She leaned her head against the windowpane and stared at her flower garden, suddenly wanting it to be spring again so she could see her assortment of roses, tulips, lilies, and carnations. The rainbow of colors always had a soothing effect on her.
She sighed, misting up the window with her warm breath. She was idly drawing bunny ears in the mist when a pair of long arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her back against the one thing in the world that gave her strength. Alicia rested her head against Kara's shoulder. "Sorry if I woke you."
"S'okay. I wasn't really asleep." Kara placed a kiss on Alicia's head, then rested her cheek against soft blonde hair. "Cute bunny. Gonna draw some Easter grass for him? Maybe he'll bring us some colored eggs."
Alicia laughed softly. "Maybe. If I'm even here next Easter."
Kara stiffened, turning her partner around so that even in the dim morning light, she could look her in the eyes. Alicia's head was down, but Kara cupped her face in one hand, tilting her head back up until green eyes met blue. They held each other's gaze for what felt like an eternity, before Kara spoke. "Do not talk like that, baby. You'll be here."
"You don't know that, Kara." Alicia's voice broke, right along with her heart. Her partner, her best friend, could be her tower of strength, but Alicia knew damn well that if she died, Kara would never be able to cope. Alicia had been handed a death warrant and in effect, so had Kara. "You don't even know that I'll make it to Thanksgiving next week. The doctor said-"
"The doctor said that a mastectomy would take care of it. She said she's pretty certain she can get all of the cancer at one time. The lumpectomy is only a precaution." Kara leaned forward and gently kissed Alicia's cheeks, tasting the saltiness of her tears. "I love you, Alicia, and I promise you I won't let anything happen to you."
"You can't say that!" Alicia tried to pull away, but felt herself being pulled against her partner's body again, strong arms holding her still. "You can't promise me that Kara! You don't have any control of this!"
"That's where you're wrong, love." Kara held the shaking body of her soulmate, doing what she could to comfort her through the sobs that racked her small frame. "I can love you with all I have and I can pray and I can be positive and I can protect you. I can do whatever is asked of me to care for you." Kara placed small kisses along the top of Alicia's head. "I'll never leave you. I can promise you that."
Kara pulled a chair up next to the bed, leaning her arms on the edge and letting her fingers idly brush back Alicia's hair from her face. It had been several hours since her surgery and the small blonde was resting comfortably. She'd awakened for a few minutes in the recovery room--just long enough to see Kara there, smile, and go back to sleep. Kara reached for Alicia's right hand and brushed her lips across her knuckles.
Alicia's left arm was still taped up with the IV that dripped fluid and occasionally a painkiller, into her system. There was a large, bulky bandage covering the left side of her chest and a small drainage tube snaking out from underneath. A plastic bag hung alongside the bed, catching the red fluid as it drained from Alicia's wounds.
"I love you, baby." Kara whispered, holding back her own tears.
"I love you, too." Alicia slowly opened her eyes to gaze up into the pale blue orbs that she had fallen in love with nearly ten years ago. "You look like hell."
"Thanks." Kara chuckled, then leaned forward for a soft kiss. "And you look beautiful."
"Liar." her voice cracked and Kara quickly offered her a straw and some cold water. "Thanks."
"You're welcome. Hey, you got some flowers." Kara directed Alicia's attention to a basket full of an assortment of flowers, all spring colored. The basket was framed by tiny yellow bows. "I wonder who that's from?"
"Uh, that one is from your sister, Kim." Kara reached into her jacket pocket and pulled out a small black box. "I was hunting around for something to give you, but I just couldn't think of anything that you'd want or that anyone else would think to send you. Kim got tired of me pacing and sent me to the mall to get those flowers for her so they'd be here when you woke up."
"Honey, you're babbling." Alicia smiled at her chagrined lover. "Just tell me."
"Well, I went into this jewelry store and...well, this isn't the romantic evening I had pictured in my mind, but..." Kara opened the box to reveal a single karat diamond ring framed with a dozen emeralds. "I thought it would match your eyes."
Words failed her as Alicia reached for the gold ring, sliding it on her right finger, because the left hand was still too swollen. "It's perfect."
"Not as perfect as you," Kara whispered, leaning close enough that Alicia could feel her breath against her lips. "Marry me."
Alicia moved up so that she could taste the lips before her. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she again fought for the right words to say.
"Shh." Kara kissed her again, taking her time to savor the moment. "You don't have to answer me right now. Just know that I love you more than life itself and that if you'll have me, I will spend the rest of that life by your side."
"But what if-"
"There are no 'what ifs', Alicia. Only the here and now. Doctor Lin got all the cancer, and she's pretty sure the lymph nodes are going to test negative. What matters right now is that I love you and you're going to be okay."
Alicia pulled Kara's face even closer. "Yes."
Alicia smiled, "Yes, I'll marry you. I'd be crazy not to. Kara, you complete me. Without you, I could never have made it."
"Well, I did have a little help," she replied sheepishly.
"Oh really?" Alicia pulled back, trying to read her partner's expression. "What kind of help?"
"The pup kind." Kara reached over and picked up a notebook from the nightstand. "Right here. I've kept this with me since the day we found out you were sick. It has been with us at every doctor's appointment, pre-surgery testing, during the surgery, I kept it right at my side. It was with me when I visited you in recovery, and I put it by your bed when you made it in here."
"What did you do?"
"Well, since I know for a fact that you lurk and hardly ever keep up with the pup list-"
"I do not lurk! And I keep up...most of the time."
Kara laughed. "You skim for Missy's name, look for the latest updates and only post the occasionally, 'Wow Missy, that was a cool update.' You forget who you're talking to, love."
Alicia laughed as well. "Okay. Busted. So, tell me what you did. Even though I have a feeling I already know."
"You should. I asked for pup power for you." Kara took Alicia's hand. "I asked for it the night we got back from finding out the cancer was real." She held up the thick notebook. "And every one of these are responses to my post. Just over 200 emails from around the world."
"Wow. I don't know what to say."
"You don't have to say anything, baby."
"Read me your post." Alicia scooted back to get more comfortable. "Please, let me hear it."
Slightly embarrassed, Kara opened the notebook. "I kept it as page one." She eyed her partner, who was smiling, and cleared her throat.
"Fellow pups, I have a small request. Today, my partner, Alicia, was diagnosed with breast cancer. We aren't sure yet if it has spread, but it looks like a mastectomy is going to be our best option. I am doing my damndest to stay strong for her, but I'm beginning to fall apart. Alicia is my life, my soulmate, my best friend, my only family. I just don't think I can make it without her.
"I went to church tonight for the first time in many years.
"I baked her a ham for dinner, which is her favorite meal, but she didn't even touch it. I've never seen her this despondent before. I have no idea what to do.
"I've seen pup power work before. Please, send what positive thoughts you can to Alicia.
Kara looked up to find Alicia crying again. She wiped the tears from her lover's cheeks and smiled. "My email box exploded that night and over the next few days I spent many sleepless night answering, on and off list, all the good wishes from our pup friends."
"It really does work, huh?" Alicia touched the notebook reverently. "Read them to me?"
"Sure." Kara opened the book again, turning to the first page. "The first one is from Missy..."
Alicia smiled and closed her eyes, letting the outpourings of love fill her heart and ease her mind. It was the best Thanksgiving she'd ever had.
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