Disclaimer: This belongs to me. I do not give permission for this to be posted elsewhere with any small changes. Any similarity to real people or locations are unintentional, purely coincidental, and may be adapted to the story.


Additional Mentions: The heaviness of the subject may not set well with everyone. However, these moments are needed to build the story and characters along. Cancer is not a fluffy topic, but that is not all this story is about. I promise that as the story progresses, the topics become lighter. I can't promise complete fluff because that isn't life.


Love & Sex: Eventually. If a romantic relationship between two women bothers you, please do not read.


Violence: There is some and it can be graphic. If this bothers you, then please skip those sections. If I need to mark them differently, please let me know. Most of the violence will happen during flashbacks, which are in italics, and at the beginning of the story.


Feedback: I hope you give this story a chance. This is the first time I've posted anything of mine for others to read. I welcome all constructive feedback. Feel free to drop me a line and tell me what works and what doesn't. Thank you for stopping by.

Email: gdsksd33@gmail.com


Other Notes:

Flashbacks are marked with a page break using ***************** before it and after. Also the text will be in italics (all text).


Jumps in time are marked with a solid line break __________________


Text Conversations: I found these difficult to format. If you think they need formatted differently, please let me know. I put the person sending the text in regular text and then the text in italics. I tried to describe emojis used by notating before and after with *.


If other things come up along the way, I will add to this note:


Finding North

By Goddess Kissed



Chapter 6 – Breakfast Delivery



I stared at my orderly desk and felt like it was the world laughing at me. What I saw before me was usually how I kept my life. Everything had a place and I was able to keep everything nice, neat, and orderly. Today was different. Today I felt different. Not bad, not panicked, which both surprised me. After leaving the hospital last night, I went home and replayed the day over and over in my head. I tried to dissect each aspect, every word, and every action. Nope, none of it was my nice, neat, and orderly life, but I also didn't want to change a thing. I remembered Val's initial talk with me and she told me to choose. She wanted me to choose if I wanted to be in Rhiannon's life or if I wanted to walk away given the rough road ahead. Leave Rhiannon? I thought about this all night. Without really having to think about my next actions, I knew that I didn't want to walk away. Walking away was not an option. So, instead, I replayed Rhiannon and I's every interaction that I could remember and tried to understand how she had moved from an acquaintance to something beyond a friend. How I went from exchanging hellos to looking for her within the crowd every day. Then it moved to me craving to see her, to spend time with her, and to know her more. On the other hand, she had plenty of time to ask for my number, to ask me out, to do something to indicate that I was more than a coffee shop owner that she liked to have conversations with occasionally. But I wanted to hold onto every small moment that my instinct told me that she cared for me too, but something was holding her back. Regardless of what her blush, small stutter, and eyes lighting up when we hang out might mean, now is not the time to push for an explanation or for more. Now is the time to show Rhiannon that I'm in her corner, that I'm going to be there. Rhiannon was in the midst of fighting a battle for her life and I wanted to be a source of strength to draw from. I wanted to give her a reason to hold onto hope, to continue reaching for the light that would bring her through this, and help her in whatever way she needed. So, today was the day that I would have to be brave and take my first steps toward a future that I was not certain about. Today I would start by offering my friendship and support to Rhiannon, and I prayed that she wouldn't push me away.


Astrid: How's the patient this morning?


Val: Grumpy.


Astrid: Uh, oh. You okay? Ready for some breakfast?


Val: They ordered her something, but I wouldn't really call it food and her coffee looks like oil in a mud puddle.


I laughed at Val's frankness, but my heart also went out to both of them. Hospital food was never exciting and really shouldn't be consumed if it could be helped. The chime of a new text message interrupted my thoughts.


Val: She's sipping on water and waiting for the doc to show up. She's ready to blow this popsicle stand.


Astrid: How is she, Val?


My nervousness took over and I sprang into action. If they had already delivered breakfast, then they were expecting the doctor soon. I didn't want to miss my chance to see Rhiannon before she left for home. I rushed to the front counter and began to gather items to make a decent breakfast for both Val and Rhiannon. Brigit looked at me like I had lost my mind, but then she turned and started making a few drinks and I finally felt like the grasp of my nerves give way to excitement of being able to bring a little joy to Rhiannon today.


Val: It has been quite a night. We've been up about every 45 min to pee, which hasn't helped her rest. She's frustrated because she can't talk very well. At best she can whisper, but most of the time she sounds like she has laryngitis or is a pubescent boy.


Astrid: I'll be up soon. I'm almost done down here.


“Brigit, I,” I began but Brigit cut me off quickly by holding out a carrying tray with four drinks.

“Astrid, just go.” She smiled and her eyes softened some. “I know you need to go see her. I made two warm coffees and two frappes. I know they didn't actually work on her throat, but the cold might soothe any soreness she has.” She turned to the sandwiches I fixed and began to bag them up and then turned to pick up a larger bag filled with some muffins. “Here. That should get them through the hospital and they can take the left-overs home. I have the shop, Astrid.”


Ten minutes later I stood outside Rhiannon's door and was gathering every brave nerve I could to actually knock on the door. What if Rhiannon didn't want any visitors or if I would make her uncomfortable. Maybe she just wanted to be left alone. The heavy tray in my hands finally pushed me to lightly knock on the door and stick my head around the corner. Val's head immediately whipped up from the back of her chair and her eyes darted to Rhiannon in the hospital bed. She waved me in and I quickly made to sit the tray down on small counter near Val.


I turned to check on Rhiannon, relieved that I had already put down my tray. Rhiannon lie in the bed asleep, her features not quite relaxed, but not quite scrunched. My breath caught because even though she was pale and the hospital gown did nothing for her complexion, she was still beautiful. In that one moment, I wanted to shield her from everything in the world. I wanted to stroke my finger down the small line in her forehead to smooth out the wrinkles in her life. I wanted to see her at peace. My eyes scanned her quickly taking in the IVs in both hands and then I saw a dark line on her throat. I took a step closer to find that there seemed to be a layer or tape or something over the line, but it was also very much an incision. The actual incision only ran about 3 inches, or maybe 4, but it still covered almost all of the front of her neck area. I nervously glanced back to Val hoping my face asked all of the questions that my mouth didn't seem able to say.

“She finally fell asleep shortly after you first texted me.” Val whispered in my ear as she held me in a tight hug hello. “She's had a rough night and I can't wait to get her home so she can actually rest. This is not usually a surgical floor, per the nurse on shift last night. But they took Rhiannon's case because she was mobile and I promised to stay the night. Anyway, the floor has had a lot of traffic and it has been harder for them to get her pain under control. I honestly don't know if it is the length of time between doses, or if Rhi isn't saying anything until she's already hurting so much she can't stand it.” Val looked almost as pale as Rhiannon and I wondered if she had any sleep during the night or if she was running on pure adrenaline and caffeine.

“I'm glad she is finally resting.” I whispered back as my heart ached that Rhiannon was in so much pain. She needed to rest, so her body could heal. “I can't help her pain too much, but I can replace the motor oil they brought to you.” I pulled Val toward the drink tray and bag of food.


“Val?” We both turned quickly at the hoarse whisper from the bed.


“I'm right here Rhi.” Val stepped around me and moved over to Rhiannon's bed.


“Why are they torturing me?” My own throat hurt from hearing Rhiannon trying to talk.


“Torture?” Val glanced at me as if I had the answer to this question. “Rhi, are you in pain?”


“Coffee.” Rhi interrupted Val and I held in my chuckle at the drug-laden ramblings. “I smell coffee. Astrid's coffee.” Her voice dropped in volume the more she used it. “It is torture.” Val chuckled at the pout that came across Rhiannon's face and my heart dropped to my stomach. I was trying to clamp down on the panic trying to rise in my mind that Rhiannon didn't want me in the room.


“Well, you are smelling Astrid's coffee.”


“You saw Astrid?” Rhiannon interrupted. When she smiled my panic immediately stopped. “I want to go see Astrid.”


“Well,” Val was trying hard not to laugh at Rhiannon and my panic stopped. In its place, I felt happiness. She wanted to see me. That was a good thing. “Astrid is here.”


“Yeah,” Rhiannon whispered her response can closed her eyes again. “I know she's in the hospital. I wish I could go to see her. Can we go when I get discharged?” Her voice broke slightly and I cringed, knowing that all of this talking wasn't good for her throat.


“No, Rhi. Astrid is here. Like in your room.”


It took a moment for Val's words to sink in, but then Rhi jerked awake and made to move in her bed. At the same time Val and I sprang forward to stop Rhiannon's movements before she could hurt herself, but at the same time she winced in pain and fell back into the bed. Her hands shot to her necks about the same time as both Val and I had our hands on her shoulders. She kept her eyes closed and I could tell she was trying to fight through the pain and calm herself. Val was murmuring calming noises in hushed tones near Rhiannon's ear. I kept my hand lightly on Rhiannon's shoulder for comfort, but it didn't really register that I had my hand on her. Well, not until her breath evened out and she opened her eyes staring right at me. I found it hard to breathe being so close to those like brown eyes that seemed to pierce into my soul.


“Hi.” Rhiannon whispered, staring into my eyes while she smiled and a faint blush colored her checks for a moment.


“Hi.” I said a little more breathy than I planned.


Once I realized that my hand remained on her shoulder, I gave it one last small squeeze and then let my hand drop as I finished standing up. I took a small step down so she could see me better, while Val gently helped Rhiannon to sit up more comfortably. Rhiannon then began to run her hands over her gown and through her hair, trying to make sure she was presentable. She then rearranged the sheet to make sure it covered her. I wanted to giggle at her actions because it was classic Rhiannon. This was her nervous tick that I noticed after our second meeting and each time it became more adorable than the last time. Part of me felt bad that my visit was a surprise to her, but part of me was really glad that I got to see it. At least now I know that she wants me around her.


“Thanks for coming.” Rhiannon whispered quietly to me.


“Well,” I flashed her a big smile. “Val said they were serving you mud puddles filled with motor oil instead of coffee. So, I didn't want to imagine what they were trying to pass off as food.” Rhiannon's face went from confusion to understanding quickly. Her eyes were glancing around the room until they landed on the tray of drinks and bag near Val. Her face broke into even a bigger smile. “Since I just happened to have finished a big sheet of mixed pastries for the shop and I just happened to have access to real coffee, I decided to swoop in to save the day.”

Rhiannon turned her head back to look at me and the happiness on her face froze me in place. Rhiannon's smile was one of her best features because she smiled with everything she is instead of containing it to only her lips. But today, the happiness seemed to radiate off of her and it froze me. I wanted to look away for a moment to compose myself or to stop the intensity, but I couldn't look away and I felt like I couldn't breathe again. I lost myself in the space between her eyes and mine and would have remained lost if it wasn't for Val clearing her throat. It broke my trance enough that I glanced in her direction. I could already feel the heat burning up from my neck to my cheeks without seeing her holding back a chuckle.

“Astrid, do you mind to stay with Rhi for a moment? The nurses keep asking me to come to the nurse's station to sign some kind of papers for Rhi.” She started walking to the door before I could answer. “I will be back in a little bit.” She grabbed a drink and a pastry as she exited the room without another word, but pulling the door shut behind her.


I stared after Val trying to overcome my earlier embarrassment of losing myself in Rhiannon's smile. I needed to show Rhiannon that I'm here to be her friend and to show her that I'm in her corner, not scare her off by showing how much I like her. Now is not the time start down that road. With that I sprang into action by wheeling the tray of drinks and bag of food over toward Rhiannon. I adjusted it to be on her level.


“I brought a mix of things. Brigit made the drinks and insisted that you might want both something warm and cold to help soothe your throat. So, here are your usual hot and cold drinks. Then I brought an assortment of pastries and muffins for you to choose from.” I glanced up from the treats to find that Rhiannon was watching me intently. Knowing that she was paying such close attention to me made my hands still immediately as I tried to chase away the nervousness that seemed to spike within me. “Is there anything specific you'd like to try this morning or do you just want your usual blueberry muffin?”


“Usual.” Her voice sounded even more strained and cracked a few times on the simple word.


I took the Frappe out of the drink holder, unwrapped the straw, and placed the drink out on the wheeled tray next to Rhiannon. Then I took a blueberry muffin, peeled off the paper, and l laid the muffin on a paper napkin next to the Frappe. I then pushed the tray as close to Rhiannon's side of the bed as possible. She reached out to break apart the muffin into the pieces she preferred to eat the baked good and grasp the Frappe, but the gasp that escaped my mouth made both of us freeze our actions. Rhiannon's wrists were both wrapped in white gauze and deep bruising was present below the dressings. I quickly scooted the tray over and gently grasped her hand that was near the muffin. I gently turned her hand over, supporting it on her forearm with one hand while gently running my fingertips over the bruising below her bandage and even above the bandage into her palm. I then took the other hand away from her Frappe and inspected it in the same way. I glanced up to find Rhiannon staring down at her wrists with such sadness that fear overtook me.


“Rhiannon?” My voice was barely a whisper and I searched her face hoping it could tell me answers to the questions I didn't want to ask. These wounds and bandages wasn't something that I expected with her surgery and Val hadn't said that anything else had happened.


She tried to speak, but her voice wasn't there. She used the hand I didn't have ahold of and took a few sips of the Frappe sitting next to her. “Battle wounds.” She barely got the words out, but then gave me a small smile. I looked back down at the hand I was still holding and knew I needed to let it go, but part of me didn't want to. These new bruises brought back my urge to protect this woman before me. I began to sit her hand back down so I could let it go, but before I could Rhiannon flipped my hand over and gently pulled on my hand. “Sit?”


The only chair in the room was half across the room. I turned away from Rhiannon to retrieve the chair, but Rhiannon tightened her hold on my hand even more. I whipped my eyes back around to meet her gaze. I barely contained my surprise at seeing her so unsure and timid. I'd never seen Rhiannon anything other than the confident woman that brought smiles to everyone around her. She then dropped my hand, scooted over, and moved her legs up to sit Indian-style. She patted a place near me on her bed and I slowly lowered myself to sit on her hospital bed. Everything seemed different between us, which is crazy because we often sat close to each other during our coffee conversations at the shop. This still felt different.


I went to speak, but my voice shook a little, so I covered it by clearing my throat. “Thanks.” I readjusted myself slightly to fit on the bed better while still being able to face Rhiannon. “I hope you don't mind that I wanted to visit.” I smiled a little and tucked my hair behind my ear because I as fidgety. Rhiannon tapped me on my knee to get my attention and gave me a questioning look. “I'm sorry. Val said you were having lot of problems with talking and that you were in some pain.” I nervously moved a little to get up. “I should let you rest.”


Rhiannon placed her hand on the same knee that she tapped because it was closest to her. This paused my motions, but I was scared to look back up at her. I was scared that she's wave at me and I wouldn't have a reason to stay, but then part of me worried that I'd find her staring at me with her soft, light brown eyes that seemed to melt me on the spot. Over the past few months we had reached this same atmosphere on several occasions. However, one of us would always need to leave or help a customer, which helped clear the air. It was a feeling I both craved and feared. I then felt her remove her hand from my knee only to feel it on my forearm that was resting on my leg.


“Pip?” The distinct sound of her lips making the popping sound that she always did while saying my nickname is what alerted me that she spoke and helped me to find the courage to meet her eyes again. She pointed to herself, “happy.” She then pointed to me and said, “here” while pointing down at the bed. I was confused for a moment, but then understood she was trying to minimizer her words to save her throat.


“I'm happy I am here too.” I smiled at her and she returned it. This brought me hope that we'd move on from the awkwardness.


“Why question?” She took a few more small sips on the Frappe and breathed out a sigh as the cool liquid hit her throat. Shit! Of course, Rhiannon wouldn't let something like that go without digging further.


“Oh, um,” I paused trying to decide how to move forward. Maybe I needed to just let it go, let my questions go unanswered for now. No, I needed to know something for her to know that I was going to be there for her. ““Val came by yesterday and told me about everything. I wasn't sure you'd want me here since you hadn't said anything to me.” There it was out there. My insecurities over why she hadn't told me about the cancer, about the surgery, or anything.


“Oh.” She leaned back slightly at my words and her hand slid off my arm. I immediately missed her hand and regretted my words. And there it was, there was my answer. I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes and I was scared that if I didn't leave I wouldn't be able to stop them.


“Well, I guess I should get back to the shop.” I began to twist to remove myself from her bed.


“Stay?” It was one whispered word, but it stopped me. I looked back at her and found her eyes reflecting my own uncertainty. I didn't say anything, but sat back down and resumed my earlier position. She took a few more sips of her drink before trying to speak. “I owe you an apology.”


“No, you…”


“Please.” Rhiannon interrupted my protest and looked at me with pleading eyes. She took a few more sips, closed her eyes, and then reopened her eyes landing them back into mine with such sincerity. “I wanted to tell you, but I didn't know how.” More sips of Frappe and she looked down at the bed that lay between us. “I was afraid.” She took more sips of her drink. “So little time together to fill it with something so dark.” Her few words shot straight into my heart and I hurt for her all over again. She still hadn't looked at me again, but remained staring at the bed.

I knew that it was time to put myself out there. I took a deep breath and gently moved closer to her on the bed. I then shakily moved my hand to gently rub over her forearm. “Rhiannon, I can't begin to know what this is like for you.” She still hadn't attempted to raise her eyes to me, so I moved my hand from her forearm to place my index and middle fingertips under her chin. I didn't want to put any force on her chin as I didn't want to hurt her, but I wanted her to see the truth in my words, so I needed her to look at me. Once her eyes met mine, they seemed to be searching mine with such worry that I wanted to gather the woman in my arms and hold her close to me. I settled for making sure she knew I meant what I was about to say. “I am here, Rhiannon. I am here for you and you can count on me.” Her shoulders relaxed slightly and it gave me the courage to continue. I removed my hand from her chin and grasped her hand this time. Holding it between both of mine. “I want to be here Rhiannon, but I want something beyond the coffee shop chats. Don't get me wrong, I love our chats, but I want more.” Her brow furrowed slightly, so I rushed on before she could say anything else. “I want to be a part of your life. I don't want to hear about something like this from someone else again. I want to be here for you.” I stopped because nothing seemed to be coming out right.


I felt Rhiannon's other hand close over mine and I was surprised to see a tear slip down her cheek. She mouthed, “thank you”, but no sound came out of her mouth. I moved my hand from under our clasped hands to gently wipe away the stray tear and smiled at her while meeting her eyes again. “I want you in my life too.” She whispered those words and my heart soared. I just nodded, placed my hand back with our other clasped hands, and let the happiness spread throughout my whole body. She wants me in her life!


Chapter 7 – Going Home




I concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other as we slowly walked from the car to the house. If I kept track of what leg needed to move next, it kept my mind off of the throbbing in my chest, neck, and head. It also helped me concentrate on not collapsing in exhaustion. Right foot. Left foot. Step up with my right foot. Step up with my left foot. Every time I would wobble, Val's grip on my waist and arm would tighten while she'd stop all movement while telling me she has me. Normally, I would tell her that I could do it myself and push her away, but her closeness was a comfort today. I know that she stopped me from eating a mouthful of concrete on at least two occasions since we left the hospital. I knew when I was more rested I would hate that I needed her so much, but right now I was grateful that she was standing next to me.


“You want to go straight to bed?” Val asked as she hung onto me with one arm while unlocking the door with the other.


“No.” I tried to talk loud enough for Val to hear me, but I had over-used my voice for the day. Val had to ask me to repeat myself and lean almost right up to my face to hear me. I didn't dare shake my head. No one told me how sore I'd be after surgery. I mean, I knew I'd be sore as I've had surgery before, but I wasn't this kind of sore. Any movement of my head sent pain exploding through my chest and neck.


“Okay.” We stepped into the front door and paused again while Val closed and locked the door. “Want to sit with me at the table and we'll go over this medication schedule?” I gave her a thumbs up signal to let her know I was okay with that.


Another thing that no one spoke about prior to the surgery was my medication schedule. The surgeon mentioned that I'd have to take a few supplements of calcium and magnesium to help my body replace what it couldn't produce, but he didn't talk about the quantity. Most people were told to chew on tums for the calcium and it was enough. Nope, not me. They tried tums in the hospital, but my body wasn't absorbing enough calcium, so they switched me to calcium supplements. However, they had to be a special brand that didn't have any added vitamins. The hospital provided me enough supplements to get through the first day, but strongly suggested we find some as soon as we could. They handed me the bottle of pills and my eyes bugged out at the quantity. I asked to clarify that these were for the first day and the nurse confirmed it again.


I asked if it was normal to have to take this amount of pills and was told that it was for someone that had difficulties like mine. You see, my surgeon told me before releasing me that he had never seen a thyroid behave like mine and he'd been doing these surgeries for over twenty years. You got to love when you can stump a seasoned surgeon. My surgery had lasted about three times as long as it should because my thyroid, for lack of better wording, melted in my neck. So, my surgeon had to scrape every surface to get as many thyroid cells out of my body as possible. During this mess, he thought he had left one parathyroid, but found that he had removed all of them. So, he took the only salvageable parathyroid, chopped it up, and then implanted it into my neck tissue. Dr. Causte is uncertain if it will regenerate, but he hopes it will. He also told me that I'd be stuck with little to no voice for quite a while. I guess he had to do extensive scraping on my vocal chords, so I was lucky to be speaking at all.


Val handed me a sheet of paper, the instructions from my doctor, and an ink pen. She smiled at me and left me to my job. Now I had to figure out how to schedule all my meds. The thyroid medication that I'd now be on for life had a warning on the label, and the pharmacist stressed, I could not take calcium supplements within 4 hours before or after the medication. Also, I had to take this medication fasting. However, I had to take the calcium supplements every 4 hours and it required me to eat a small snack to help my stomach not become irritated. Then I had to fit in the magnesium pills, pain medication, and anti-inflammatories. So, the two weeks that I was allotted to have off to recover from surgery was really a grace period to get a routine down for meds. Sneaky bastards.


I finished the list and then I began to count pills. Forty-eight pills every day! Nope, that can't be right. I recounted. Forty-eight fucking pills every twenty-four hours!! I laid my forehead into my hands and scrubbed at my face. The words came back to me, “This will be a walk in the park.” Yeah, maybe a drug-infested park to meet your dealer. Ugh! So, they take an organ from my body that is very important in many systems to make my body run right, then they give me forty-eight pills to take every day, but then say that this is easy. Okay, I can do this. Do I like it? No. Do I have a choice? Nope. So, I'll cowgirl up and do what has to be done


“Holy shit!” Val's voice next to me startled me because I hadn't heard her come back to the kitchen. “Is that your pill schedule?” I barely nodded. “Is that the total pill number?” I slightly nod again as the movement puts pressure on my incision, but my voice is almost all the way gone. “Rhi!” I turn and smile at her because she is voicing the outrage that is running through my mind. She takes a deep breath and plops into the chair next to me. “Okay. We can do this. Let's finish this list and I'll go hit every drug and health store in the state to find everything you need.” Yep, that's the Val I know. I leaned over and touched my forehead with her temple. The leaning made pressure build in my neck and head, but I needed her to know how grateful I was to her.





I listened to the door close behind Val and the silence that filled the house. Val had helped me back to my bed, so I could lay down. I had forced down some Jello, took all my pills, and then decided I was too tired to do anything else. So, Val helped me to change into lounge clothes. That is when we discovered that every t-shirt I used to sleep in seemed to feel too tight against my throat and upon laying down I couldn't breathe. So, Val grabbed a pair of scissors and suddenly I had a V-neck t-shirt.


Now, I'm waiting for the pain meds to kick in so the throbbing in my neck will subside. Val left the tv remotes, a big glass of ice water with a straw, the landline phone, and my cell phone all laid out on the bed next to me and on the bedside table. Before she agreed to leave me alone, she made me demonstrate that I could reach every single thing she laid out, and that I was able to pull up the comforter if I got chilled. Most would think that I'd be annoyed at how much Val has been stuck to me since I awoke from surgery, but honestly, it has comforted me. I know that I'm not in this alone. I know that she is playing mama bear because she's as worried about everything as I am. So, I let her because it will only bring comfort to both of us.


While waiting for the pain meds, I begin to rethink about my day. I still can't believe that Astrid brought me breakfast this morning. I could kick myself for not having told her about all of this, but I just couldn't find the words during our last meeting prior to surgery. Things felt different with her today than other days. We've shared many coffee, chats, and even hugs over the last year. But today the connection seemed deeper and I liked it. Val had questioned me about our alone time this morning after she returned to find me holding onto Astrid's hand. Of course, both of us had dropped the touch as soon as the door opened, but Val had seen and smirked at the startled looks on both our faces. I could follow the blush rising on Astrid's neck and knew my ears were probably a dark red. I tried to recap the conversation in the most general way possible without going into too many details. I already knew that Val thought I needed to make a move on Astrid through our conversations before surgery. She had reiterated this opinion after hearing the watered-down version of this morning's events.


I didn't mention that Astrid specifically asked to be included in my life beyond the coffee shop. In the past year, I analyzed almost every conversation with Astrid trying to find any indication that she wanted to deepen the friendship, but every time I came back with even more mixed signals. So, I maintained what she would allow. I would offer deeper stories about my life hoping that it would eventually lead to her offering her number, but she never did. I still remember the flash of jealousy that came over her face when she thought I had hickeys, but really it was bruising from my biopsy. However, the look came and went so fast that I convinced myself that I was misreading things.


Even today she didn't say she wanted to be in my life in any certain capacity, but at least she wanted to be in my life. I really want to ask her out. To take that leap and make her know that I think about her more than one should think about a friend. But, now is not the time to even think like that. She wouldn't want me now that she knows what I'm going through. Who wants to accept a date invitation from the cancer chick? I can't waste energy wishing for what can't be. I need that extra energy to heal, to fight, and to live.


Then why can't I get her out of my head. I can still feel her hand on mine. How her skin felt under my fingers. I've never been as daring as I was today with her. I've never just reached out and touched someone before. I've always held back because I always fear that she will think I'm hitting on her, that she won't like that idea, and then I'll lose a friendship over something as simple as a touch of my hand to her arm. This isn't necessarily the same with Astrid, but I hold most of my female friends at a distance because I never want them to question my actions or if a hug means more than a hug. Yes, having my guard up so much is tiring, but a necessity. So, why was my guard down with Astrid? I wanted to reach out to her. Hell, if I'm honest, I needed to reach out to her. Something about crossing that line provided me with comfort, but I shouldn't have crossed the line. No, Astrid didn't run today and she hadn't jerked her hand out of my grasp. Was she okay with today?

I groped the bed next to me trying to find my cell. I quickly went to the contacts and chose Astrid's name. Man, I was lucky she insisted on entering her number in my phone before leaving today. I smiled back thinking about the whole situation.






“Where is your phone?” Astrid asked looking around the room searching for my phone.


“Val.” I said quietly.


Val quickly located my phone in her bag and handed it to Astrid with a smile. Astrid fiddled with the phone for a moment before a frown came over her face. She then handed the phone back to Val, which resulted in Val punching at my screen and handing the cell back to Astrid. I wasn't sure which I should be more worried about, that Val had cracked my security code, or that Astrid had open access to my cell.


Astrid still sat on my bed and I took a moment to just take her in. She was intently typing something on my phone with her thumbs, but she was gently biting her lip in concentration. She paused her typing to tuck some hair behind her ear. The motion in itself seemed like a nervous twitch for her as I had seen her do this many times during our coffee chats. A small part of me was happy that she seemed a little self-conscious or nervous. Then at least I was not alone.


“Here.” She held my cell phone out to me. I gently reached out to take it from her hand. “My number is now in your phone. I suggest that you use it.”


She then made a quick excuse that she needed to get back to the shop, bid us both goodbye, and quickly retreated. I couldn't erase the smile off my face and couldn't quite remove my eyes from the open screen on my cell. She entered her contact info under Astrid “Pip” Connor and she had starred her information as a favorite.






Rhi: Hey! I just wanted to say hi and thank you again for this morning. I hope your day is going well.


I reread the text probably five times before I pressed the send key. Too late to take it back now. But, she did tell me to use her number. Val even mentioned that the two of them texted over the last few days, so surely she wouldn't be upset. My phone's text notification rang out and stopped me from worrying further.


Astrid: Hi. Who is this?


Rhi: Do you have many people texting you and thanking you for their mornings?


I quickly hit send before I could rethink the text or think about how many different ways it could be inappropriate.


Astrid: Wouldn't you like to know!?! *winking smiley face* How are you feeling?


I could see the blush rising up her face in my mind.


Rhi: Are you still trying to figure out who this is or do you always ask one how they feel after they thank you for their morning?


My smile couldn't get any bigger as I tried not to chuckle at my own joking as laughing really seemed to make things hurt worse.

Astrid: Again, wouldn't you like to know!?! *evil smiley face*


Astrid: Let me try a different approach. How are you feeling this afternoon, Rhiannon?


I could think of many responses to her questions, but I'll behave. Knowing Astrid, her blush was probably already to her ears.


Rhi: Val put me to bed and now I'm waiting for the pain pills to kick in.


Astrid: So…..do pain pills make you loopy?


Rhi: Not usually. Why?


Astrid: Just checking on what version of Rhiannon I'm talking with and how much of this you'd remember later.


Rhi: Oh, I'll remember! But seriously, thank you for this morning. I'm really glad that you came to see me. The fact that you brought my favorite breakfast was an added bonus. The Frappe helped to soothe the throat the rest of the morning. Thank you for saving the day.


Astrid: That's me…Super Pip to the rescue! LOL *laughing smiley* Is Val whipping up something fantastic for your dinner?


Rhi: No. Val is out searching for a specific calcium supplement that I have to take.


Astrid: You are alone?


Rhi: Yep.


Astrid: So, this is probably overstepping the line or invading your personal space, but do you need me to come over until Val gets back? I don't think you are supposed to be left alone for the first 24 hours after surgery!


Awwww. She cares about me! That thought brought another smile to my face and I felt my eyes start burning with tiredness.


Rhi: No. I'm fine. I am getting sleepier and I promised I wouldn't get out of bed until she got back. Plus, I have my phone if I need any help.


My phone stayed silent for a few minutes after that text and I worried the conversation was over. I scrolled back through the messages and realized I hadn't fully addressed her earlier statement.


Rhi: And for the record….you are always welcome in my home. You didn't overstep or invade my personal space. Thank you for thinking of me and making sure I'm okay.


I could feel my eyes drooping, but I wanted to send one last text.


Rhi: Oh, and I am totally getting you a cape for Super Pip! Well, I think my pills are finally kickin' in. Have a good night. Bye for now. *Smiley face*


Astrid: Sleep well, Rhiannon.


I felt my eyelids growing heavier, but I just kept smiling. Astrid was willing to stop everything and come hang out with me, just so I wouldn't be alone. She is so nice! Maybe I would get the other answers from her eventually. Maybe I am curious who else thanks her for their mornings. Maybe I really didn't want to know. Astrid stayed pretty tight-lipped about whom she dated or even if she dated. That subject just never seemed to come up in our chats and I never felt comfortable enough to ask. I knew she wasn't in a steady relationship as Val had hinted that Astrid was available. Why should I even be concerned with this? Now is NOT the time to be thinking about these things.



Chapter 8 – Calcium Tingles



What the fuck is happening? I'm fully aware of my surroundings and something isn't right. I slowly start a mental check on my body. Why the hell can't I feel my face?!? Okay, just breathe. In. Out. In. Why is my arms, hands, and entire chest tingling and numb? What the hell!!! I can feel the full blown panic rising within me and know I have to pull it together. I reach up with my hands to touch on my face, but can't feel anything. I can't feel my fingers grazing my face! I start tapping my fingers up my face toward my eyes and suddenly I feel the ripple of the muscles jerking in my left check. I have feeling!!! Breathe out. Breathe in. Man, this is the oddest sensation. I tap my fingers along my check again just to feel the jerking of the muscles. I can still twitch, then I'm still alive. I take another moment to just lie there and take in this feeling trying to calm my breathing. I know something is wrong, but somewhere within me I know it will be fine.

I slowly get out of bed, wincing as the pain shoots through my neck area with the effort of moving. Don't let anyone tell you that you never use your neck muscles. I swear your neck muscles help you blink! Did you know that you flex your neck muscles when you pee, get up from lying or sitting down, eat, drink, sleep, swallow, nod or shake your head, laugh….yeah, you get the point. My cell phone starts to play a tune from Mario Brothers and flash. I want to hang my head in disgust and scream in frustration, but both would just make me more frustrated. That's my calcium alarm. Time to go take pills and get food. You know what else hurts your neck? Swallowing horse pills! I'm so tired of pills and I've barely started with them. I slide my finger across my phone to silence the alarm.

The house is quiet today, too quiet. You would think that I would enjoy some quiet time and that it would be needed to heal, but the silence only reminds me that Val isn't here today. Val's company, the one that promised her she could work remotely, decided they needed her to personally kiss some VIP client's ass today. So, she was out catering to some clients instead of being here with me. Am I angry about it? I'm kind of pissed that her company could be that heartless, but I'm not mad at Val. She either has to kiss ass or hit the unemployment line. Regardless how needy I feel, I could never hold her back from doing what her job needed her to do. She still has to bring home the bacon to her family, so I just have to put my big girl panties on and deal with it today. But I miss the comfort of the low murmur of the tv and the click-clacking of her laptop keys as she does whatever she does for her job.

I grab a bottle of water out of the fridge and plop down at the table. Ouch! Maybe I shouldn't have plopped because that hurts the neck too. I may not be able to feel the neck right now, but it sure can hurt. I pull over my medicine schedule and start to collect the required pills for this time of the day. I also pick out a granola bar from the basket of snacks that Val prepared and sat in the middle of the table next to the basket of my pill bottles. While grazing on the granola bar and scheduled pills I open a folder that has the name of my hospital on it as I don't remember seeing it before. I began to take things out of the side pockets and flip through it. A paper catches my eye because it is printed on neon green paper and is titled “When to Call Your Doctor”. Interesting. I read through the list of items and then read through them again, silently checking them off in my mind. Tingles in face and/or arms/hands, check. Numbness in face and/or arms/hands, check. Feeling cold, check. A twitching of check muscles when tapped, um, check. I continue to read and find that these are symptoms of low calcium. Great!

I finish taking my pills and pull out my cell phone to call my doctor. This should be fun, since I'm able to get out about 3 words before my voice cracks and goes to a whisper. Luckily the nurse seems to understand I can't talk very loud and is very patient with me on the phone. I answer all of her questions, relay my medicine schedule to her, and even perform a few test things on myself that she walks me through. Yep, the nurse is all but a little panicked and instructs me to leave for the hospital immediately for blood work. I explain that I'll have to find a ride, so it could be a bit. The nurse tells me that I need to come in ASAP and not wait. She follows this with the threat of calling the EMS on my behalf if needed. Yeah, I'll pass on that. I tell her that I'll find a way into the hospital, but it may take a few minutes.

Who the hell is available on a Tuesday morning at 10 AM. No one, that's who. Everyone I know is at work and no one really has the freedom to just leave for the day. Frustrated doesn't even begin to cover it. I've sent a few texts off to a few friends that I think might be able to swing a ride at least to the hospital if they take an early lunch, but they've all replied that they can't get out of work today. I can't fault them, but it sours my already vulnerable mood. I keep hearing the words, “If you need anything, let me know” and the words sound just as hollow to me at this moment as they did when they were uttered. I can feel the loneliness settling in around me and I don't like how smothered I feel. I lay my head down on my arms and just let the feeling wrap around me for a minute.

I have known loneliness. I have known despair. I have known depression in my life. But this was a different feeling. This was like a pure blackness of hate, guilt, lonely mass that circled around me. It had started yesterday and just keeps coming around. I want to cry, I want to scream, and I just want to surround myself with lots of people. I don't want to feel like this. I know many people go through depression after surgery, but this wasn't any type of depression I had ever encountered. This couldn't be fought by a good cry, a substance to numb your mind, or even a sharp blade drawn over my skin. I didn't know what could battle this, but I had to figure it out. Fuck this feeling! Fuck cancer! Fuck depression! Fuck this feeling vulnerable shit! How could I forget rule number one in life? No one is going to take care of you, so take care of yourself. I had to get myself ready, call a cab, and get to the hospital.






Now I find myself in a cab on the way to the hospital. I know I should reach out to Val, but I also know that she'd immediately tell her high profile clients that she had more important things to take care of, and then leave. So, instead, I left her a note taped to the TV screen so she couldn't miss it when she got to the house. This way she won't panic when I don't answer her sing-song greetings upon her entering the house and I don't have to disturb her at work. I threw a pair of sleep clothes into a back pack, along with the remaining pills for today, and my kindle. I hope that they don't want to keep me.

I pull at the neck of my t-shirt and I wish that I had my sleep shirt on. The one that has a new V cut in the neck. Everything feels so swollen in my neck area, but the mirror and my hands confirm that my neck is a normal size. My incision is about three inches long across my neck, but it feels like I'm split open from ear to ear. Every shirt I own makes me feel like I'm choking. I got so frustrated after coming home that I had scissors out doing my own alteration jobs on the necklines of a couple of my sleep shirts. Val physically removed the scissors from me and told me that the least I could do was cut a straight line to make the shirt's lines look better. We had a small argument about how I didn't really give two shits about how my shirt looked as long as I could breath, but my voice left me half-way through the argument and whispering your side of an argument just doesn't have the same affect.

I don't know how many times I wished Val and I had taken the American Sign Language courses we talked about doing years ago. Those skills would have come in handy in the past few days. Instead, Val and I worked out our own sign language. It usually involved a lot of pointing and movements that some might consider interpretive dance. Regardless, we were making due and neither of us had kicked the other to the curb yet. It was also nice because Val had pressed a few times for me to talk about the surgery or asked questions about Astrid, but I often whispered that it hurt to talk at that point. This gave me a little longer for me to actually form thoughts about either topic. I keep thinking that my recoup time will begin and my mind will slow enough for me to think about everything, but it hasn't happened.

When I enter the lab at the hospital, the tech immediately guides me to the collection room and seems very anxious that I am just now arriving. I'm guessing that Dr. Causte's office called down here to leave explicit instructions on how to handle me when I arrived. Knowing how the nurse sounded when I spoke with her last and the way the tech's hands were fumbling with the packages, I was on the verge of wanting to panic. I could feel it rising within me, but I immediately put a cap on the flood of feelings. I kept telling myself that there wasn't a reason to panic. If they thought my situation was life threatening, I wouldn't be going to the lab for blood work, but instructed to go to ER to be monitored while they tested my blood. I took a deep breath and found my center and reached out to ground myself. Thanking the gods and goddesses that it happened quickly and the peace of a good grounding washed through my body. When I looked back to the tech she was still fumbling with the tubes, labels, and what kit to use. I began a conversation that produced the laughter that I was hoping for and the tech seemed to physically relax. We continued the easy conversation through the remainder of the blood draw. Once the tech finished, she stressed that I was not to leave the hospital as I needed to wait for the office to call me with the results and further instructions.

I found the main waiting room at the entrance of the hospital and found a seat. I took a moment to reflect on the morning and what was happening. I don't mind blood draws. Don't get me wrong, it isn't like I'm volunteering for them, but there are much worse things in the world than having someone take a few vials of blood. But, I didn't like that I was back at the hospital. I could feel tiredness washing over my body and it bothered me. I was used to going strong until I decided that I was tired, but my body was constantly tired since my surgery. Just taking a shower seemed like work. I leaned forward in my seat, placing my elbows on my knees, and letting my face fall into my hands. I closed my eyes and welcomed the darkness that seemed to shut off my brain for a minute. I tried to block the sounds of other people around me and the fact I was sitting in a hospital waiting room.

Wait! I'm at the hospital! Astrid is at the hospital! WHY did I not realize this? I sprang up from my seated position and had to pause as my equilibrium fought to catch up with my body. I grabbed my bag, slung it upon my back, winced in pain as the action pulled at my neck, and headed off toward The Coffee Shop. Maybe I'd get the chance to have a small conversation with Astrid. We had texted back and forth since she came to visit me in the hospital. She offered to come see me every day since then, but I just needed time to myself. Val seemed to sense that I've needed some time to myself. She's tried to not pry and she's tried to give me room to work through my feelings. Prior to my surgery, I could pretend that all of this was happening to someone else. That I couldn't have POSSIBLY heard the doctor right. I don't know if it was denial or just a haze that I walked around in, but I can't remember much between my diagnosis and the surgery. I remember feeling disbelief and pain. I remember feeling like a sudden burden on everyone I love. Monica reminded me of that. She had the courage to voice what others refused to acknowledge. Knowing my diagnosis was a sentence for a friend, or family member, just as much as it was to me. Since Monica's outburst, I was more careful about how much I opened up to anyone, even Val. Monica never apologized and I hadn't reached out to her or Kam. I just couldn't. I knew where they stood, and I wanted to apologize, but I really didn't feel like I could. Okay, part of me wanted to apologize for unknowingly bringing them into my issues, but the other part of me refused to apologize for having cancer. I hadn't asked for it and I sure as hell didn't sign up for this shit. But it was my shit.

My strides slowed as ran back over this. Why was I bringing Astrid into this? Was me showing up at her shop unwillingly dragging her into my hell? She specifically came to my hospital room to tell me that she wanted to be here for me. Was that her knowingly putting herself into my life, regardless of what was there? She knew about the cancer before she came to my room, thanks to Val. There were moments prior to my surgery that I thought I should tell her, that I wanted to tell her. But of all the people I had in my life, I didn't want to see the same look in her eyes that I saw in other people's eyes when they found out. I don't think I could deal with seeing the sympathy there. But, that wasn't any of the emotions I saw in her eyes when she visited me in the hospital and none of her texts had taken that tone since my surgery. These thoughts plagued me each night. The more I enjoyed the texts sent to me from Astrid, the more I looked forward to hearing from her, the guiltier I felt. The more confused I get. The more my brain and heart war with each other. Val stays quiet about this as well.

I paused when I reached the intersection that opened into the seating area at The Coffee Shop. I first scanned the counter area and found a smile spreading across my face as my eyes immediately landed on Astrid. She was talking and laughing with some customers at the counter as she helped complete orders. As usual there were a few people in line and the majority of the seating area was full. I wanted to immediately go to the counter and speak to Astrid, but something held me back. I quickly walked into the seating area and found an empty table near the back. This way, I wouldn't be as noticeable and it would allow me to wait until the small rush passed. I settled into my seat, sitting my bag in a spare chair. My eyes immediately settled back on Astrid. Even before I met the woman, she captivated my attention. I love to people watch. I know that sounds like I'm a creeper, but the action of people watching put me at ease and made me more comfortable.

Have you ever stopped and just watched those around you. Most people never pay attention to those around, which I feel is a horrible side-effect of the technical world. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE my gadgets, but I also believe that we must connect human to human. Do you know how many people never make eye contact? How many people never really see another person even though they glance at each other in passing? But, when I stop to people watch, I get to see that there is still people interaction in the world and humanity still lives. No, it isn't as out and open anymore, but it lives in almost every unobserved action that I have the blessing to witness when I pause to just watch. It shows in the business man leaving the hospital, but stops to help a woman struggling to get a stroller over the curb to the sidewalk. Or the thank you mumbled when someone blesses another for sneezing. Or the shock when another person says hello and smiles at another in passing, but it sparks the surprised recipient to turn around and return the action to another unsuspecting ‘victim'. Or when I am in a park and witness men, and sometimes women, step off of the sidewalk, remove their shoes and socks, and sink their toes into the plush grass. It isn't merely that moment that their toes hit the grass, but when the person's shoulders become more relaxed, the deep breath that follows, and when they angle their head toward the sun with their eyes closed. It is THAT moment that you see the person that lies beneath the business persona. It is in that moment that you can glimpse all of the emotions, the calm that suddenly appears to chase away the chaos, and the pure joy of living in that moment. THAT moment is what fuels my love of the human race and reiterates that we aren't as lost as everyone thinks.

When I first started stopping in this seating area, Astrid caught my attention almost immediately. I could tell instantly that she guarded herself completely. I could see it in how she interacted with her staff, but also with her customers. But the true her shined through the cracks in the walls she built against the world. I could see it in every customer that she helped to a seat, every time she smiled and laughed at someone's jokes, every time she thought no one was looking and would rest against the back counter and stare off into space. After our first interaction, it seemed like more of her began to come out from around the constructed walls and she just became more and more beautiful.

Now when I look at her, I have to take a moment to recollect my brain as everything just pauses in awe of her. Today, she looks more relaxed than normal. She seems more open to those around her and her smile isn't leaving her face. I want to be the reason she's smiling. I want to be the one that makes her look this happy and seem this relaxed. Wait….what am I saying. No, I can't think like this. But I want to think this. Before I can talk myself out of it, I have my cell phone out and sending her a text.

Rhi: Morning. I hope your day is going well.

I watched, waiting to see if she'd answer. I often wondered if she was out at the counter, or back in her office when she texted me during the day. With as flirty as some of her texts had been, I couldn't imagine her standing out here in front of everyone typing such things to me. Astrid reached to the back pocket of her faded jeans and pulled out her cell phone. Her smile got wider and something in me enjoyed that small reaction. She quickly said something to the other people at the counter and walked back toward her office. So, she goes to her office to text with me?

Astrid: Morning, Rhiannon! What kind of trouble are you up to? Keeping Val inline?

I chuckled at the thought of anyone keeping Val inline.

Rhi: No one can keep Val inline! Haven't you met her? But she ditched me today. She's such a bad friend! *angry face* *winking smiley*

Astrid: She finally got sick of your crap, huh?

Rhi: Ouch!

I love that Astrid could match my humor and knew when I was joking around.

Astrid: Poor baby! *bandaid pic* Need me to kiss your ego and make it feel better?

She had only gotten this blatant a few times in the past few days and this is when I became more conflicted. Everything in me wanted to flirt and egg her on, but the other part of me wanted to get us back on track.

Rhi: My ego is fine, but there are a few other things you could kiss. *winking smiley*

I drew in a breath and held it while I pressed send. I guess my flirty side won today.

Astrid: Oh really?

I exhaled as my smile got bigger. For a year I've wondered what it would be like to feel and taste Astrid's lips. They always look so soft and just enough thickness that would allow the kiss to deepen, but not progress to open mouth. In my mind, her lips are perfect. My thoughts are drawn back to my phone as it buzzes again.

Astrid: Cat got your tongue? So…how are you feeling today? And do NOT say fine! I want the truth.

Her words hit me like a slap to the face. Buck up, Rhiannon. You don't have any business thinking about kissing Astrid right now. She deserves more than a sick person trying to start a relationship.

Rhi: Honestly, I've had better days. I really wish that Val wasn't busy today.

Astrid: Sounds like you could use a friend?

Rhi: Maybe. Still want to kiss my booboo? You might make it feel better. *winking smiley*

Astrid: Maybe. Is there anything I can do to help brighten your day?

Rhi: You could smile again for me.

Suddenly, I just need to see her again. I want to be sitting across from her and talk to her. I miss our conversations that we normally have and I haven't gotten to do that for about two months now. Well, except for our talk in my hospital room, but that doesn't count. Knowing that she's only about fifty yards from me and I can't see her bothers me and makes all the walls between us seem more intrusive than they should feel.

Astrid: Again?

Rhi: Yeah, again. You could smile like you did when I sent the first text.

I waited, hoping she'd put it all together. I kept staring at my phone, but kept glancing back up to where she'd return from her office. I couldn't contain my smile as I saw her head poke around the corner of the door. Soon, the rest of her followed her head, but she stood half in the door and half out. Her eyes were darting around the room looking for me. I stood, which caught her attention. The brows that were gathered in confusion previously eased as her lips lifted in a smile. She began moving toward me, weaving through the tables. Her beauty stuns me. Don't get me wrong, she looked good earlier behind the counter in her faded blue jeans and darker blue polo, but when Astrid's eyes locked on mine and she smiles like THAT, it stuns me every time. It's like everything that she is comes through in that one look.

“Is this the smile you wanted?” She asked when she was almost to me and I knew I was blushing.

“Yes.” My words are barely audible to me, so I hope she hears it. Before I can think any further I say, “It's a beautiful smile.”

She's suddenly directly in front of me and I am uncomfortable. This is the first time we've seen each other since she visited me in the hospital. Do we hug? Do we just sit down? Do we just stand here and stare at each other? She steps closer to me and opens her arms. Her eyes scan mine as if she's looking for hesitation or maybe something else. I smile even bigger and step into her arms. She wraps her arms around my waist, while I envelope her shoulders. I can feel her cheek graze my ear and I tense slightly, but she squeezes me a little tighter and leans her head closer to me. I relax into the hug. I start to let loose after the respectable few seconds, but she pulls me back in for a few minutes longer. When she does let go of my waist, she doesn't step back or move away from me, so we stand almost toe to toe by the table.

She launches into motion by grabbing my bag from the chair where it rests. I want to protest, but the look in her eyes stops me. She then reaches out and grabs my hand. I want to question her, but she's searching my face again for a reaction, so I just give her a small smile. She tugs on my hand and begins leading me back through the occupied tables and through the door that will lead us to her office. Occasionally, she glances back at me with a small smile on her lips, but always turns away with a small blush on her cheeks. My heart is soaring and I can't help the smile that pierces across my face with a fierceness of my happiness erupting from within my deepest self. I have to remind myself to breathe and keep checking my feet because I don't want to trip. As soon as we enter the door, she releases my hand and I'm shocked by the sudden coldness that spreads across my skin. She motions me to a small couch against a wall in her office, while she turns and gently closes the office door.

“So, what's going on?” She joined me on the couch and I just look at her. “Why are you here without Val?”

“Well, Val is….”

“No.” She interrupts me. “I know what Val is doing. What is going on, Rhiannon? Why are you at the hospital?” She takes a breath and she suddenly had a panicked look on her face. “Did you drive?”

“No. I didn't drive.” I can't help but smile. She's concerned. “I had to come in for some blood tests.”

“I'm guessing these weren't scheduled tests or Val would have recruited someone to be here with you or told her VIPs to kiss her ass.” I nod and look away from her serious expression as the weight of everything of the day washes back over me.

Just when I think I can forget for one moment what I'm going through or fighting, it raises its ugly head and draws me right back into the reality of my situation. Suddenly, I don't want to be on this couch. I don't want to be sitting less than a foot from Astrid. Suddenly, I'd rather be at home, in my room, by myself. It's the only place that I can escape this reality for a few minutes. When I can stand, sit, or lie down with absolute stillness. In those moments, I'm just Rhiannon. In those moments, I don't have cancer. I didn't just go through major surgery. I don't have to think of myself as sick or fragile. In those moments I can just exist and allow my hopes and dreams to skirt on the edges of my consciousness. In those moments, I know I have a future.

The feel of Astrid's hand on my shoulder forces me to break from my own thoughts. “Rhiannon, please tell me what's going on. I want to know and to help if I can.”

I paused for only a minute while my heart and head warred with each other. My head won and I began to explain everything going on. I told her about my symptoms, the phone calls, the instructions. I explained everything slowly and kept watching her reactions to know if I needed to stop or end my discussion. Not everyone did well with detailed medical stuff. She didn't hang on my every word, but she was absorbing the information. Before she could respond to anything I said, my phone began to ring. The caller ID was for Dr. Causte's office. I showed her the ID and then I took the call. I listened intently to the nurse, only mildly panicking due to the nurses slightly frantic voice telling me that I needed to come up to their office immediately because my calcium levels are dangerously low. They also requested that I call someone to come be with me as they did not feel it was safe for me to remain by myself until my levels came up. I thanked the nurse and told her I'd be up in a few moments. As I ended the call, I looked up to find Astrid watching my every move. I relayed the call to her.

“I need to call Val, and then I'll have to leave for their office.” I dreaded this call. Val was going to rush to my side, make sure I was okay, and then she would murder me for not calling her sooner. I know her and this isn't going to go well. Plus, having to call someone to “sit” with me makes me feel even weaker. I mentally cram those feelings aside, or maybe shove them back where they came from. I need to focus on the task at hand. I can feel later. This damn surgery seems to make those feelings keep coming out of left field and they are harder to shove back down when needed. My emotions over the past week are all over the place.

“You don't need to call, Val.” Astrid put her hand over my phone and gently took it from my hand. “Give me a moment. I'll be right back.”

She left the office with my phone in her hand and I just watched her walk away. I never let my phone out of my sight. The thing seemed to be glued to me or at least in the same room as me. I've actually chased Val before to get my phone back when she's taken it from me. Maybe I didn't protest because her actions shocked me? Regardless, I need to head to the doctor's office so I can find out what we need to do in order to magically raise my calcium levels. I've almost gathered all my things by the time that Astrid came back into the room.

“Okay.” She quickly crosses to her desk and talks while she is opening and closing drawers in her desk. “I have the shop covered for this evening. I really do need to give Brigit a raise soon. She could run this place without me.” She crosses back to me as she clips her sunglasses to her shirt, her keys to a belt loop, and what I assume is a wallet into her pocket. She grabs my bag strap from my shoulder, removing it from my grasp. “Val doesn't have to know anything until she gets home tonight.”

“Wait, wha…” I'm trying to understand what she means.

“Rhiannon,” she interrupts me. “You need someone with you. Doctor's orders. I'm available. I want to help you with this, so please let me.”

She doesn't wait for an answer. Instead, she grabs my hand again and is tugging me forward toward the office door. We walk out past the counter. Astrid said something to Brigit. Brigit looked from me to Astrid, and then to our joined hands. Brigit threw a smile to Astrid and then myself as we began our way through the hospital. I let Astrid lead me through the hospital as I tried to catch up with what was happening. Astrid just walked away from her business to help me? How is she able to do this? Won't that hurt her business? Why would she want to take me to this appointment instead of letting me call Val? But part of me kept screaming to just roll with it and not question anything. I decided that I'd listen to that voice today.

Astrid held onto my hand through the entire hallway to the elevator. She let me set the pace for our stroll and I was grateful that I wasn't having to rush to keep up with her. It felt nice to just click with someone other than Val. We patiently waited for the elevator without saying a word. However, while we stood there in silence, I glanced over at her and flashed a smile. She quickly returned it and I swear a slight blush graced her neck.

“Rhiannon?” Astrid quietly broke the silence once we were in the elevator.

“Yeah?” I whispered back

“Is this,” she tightened her hold on my hand for emphasis, “okay?” I looked up into her eyes in that moment and could see hesitation and almost fear flashing back at me.

“Yeah, this is okay.” I could see her visually relax and it felt good to know that I wasn't the only one second guessing my every move. “Are you sure about coming with me today?”

“I volunteered.”

“I know, but,” I dropped off my question and looked away from her. How do you ask someone if they are okay with a doctor's appointment? Some people fainted at the mention of blood. While others never had an issue. Although, she didn't shy away from the previous explanation.

“Hey,” she started to say something, but the elevator announced its arrival to the floor we needed. She led me off the elevator and into the hall outside the doctor's office and over to one side away from anyone else in the area. “Rhiannon, I volunteered to help. Do you remember me visiting you in the hospital after your surgery?” I nodded. “I believe I told you then that I was available if you needed anyone to do anything. Do you remember the numerous text messages we've shared in the past few days?” I nodded again. “Then you should know I'm okay with this. I'm okay with helping you. Okay with a doctor's office. Rhiannon, I work in a hospital, so I'm not squeamish with all of this stuff.” I glanced up to her eyes, expecting to see some degree of lying, but instead found sincerity.

“Thank you.” I whispered and immediately looked down. I could feel the tears starting and I didn't want her to see.

Astrid grasped my hand again and lead me into the office. We arrived at the front desk and Astrid took over talking for me. She glanced at me and I gave her a small smile, hoping she'd understand that I appreciated her talking for me. Once Astrid gave my name, you could see recognition of the name upon the front desk associate's face and I again wondered how low my calcium levels were. It seemed like everyone knew I was coming in. We were told to go wait by another door and a nurse would be out soon. We didn't even make it to the door before a nurse opened it and asked us to follow her. Part of me wanted to have Astrid wait in the waiting room, but her grip on my hand told me that she would argue if I asked. We were soon shown into a room and the nurse started talking rapidly as she gathered supplies.

“Rhiannon, I'm glad you acted so quickly today when you began to have symptoms.” She smiled at me, glanced toward Astrid, and then seemed surprised to see the Coffee shop owner with me. “Astrid.” It was just the one word but it sounded and felt like more.

“Morning, Joan. How are you doing?” Astrid smiled at the nurse, but remained close to me.

“I'm well. I hope you are.” Joan answered as she moved closer to me. “I didn't realize that you knew Rhiannon. For patient confidentiality reasons, I have to ask, Rhiannon are you okay with Astrid being in the room with you?” I looked from Joan to Astrid trying to figure out what I was missing.

“Yes.” I answered in a barely there whisper and Joan's lips settled into a thin line and Astrid looked down and away for a moment. It finally hit me like a Mack truck. There is a story here and I'll have to ask Astrid about it later.

“Rhiannon, I need to place this blood pressure cuff on your arm and pump up the pressure. This may hurt a little bit, but it is needed to see how your hand reacts with the pressure. In patients with severe calcium deficiency, the hands react. Just bear with me as I know it isn't the most comfortable feeling.” I gave her the thumbs up sign. She began attaching the blood pressure cuff to my bicep of my left arm and I felt Astrid take my right hand back into hers. I gave Astrid a small smile and then turned my attention back to Joan.

Joan kept pumping on the blood pressure cuff inflator and I thought my arm was going to explode. My left hand turned in on itself and then retracted toward my bicep. Joan didn't lie, this was not pleasant at all. With my grimace, I felt Astrid move her other hand to my forearm. Soon the cuff made a loud pop sound and I could start to feel my muscles begin to relax in my hand and forearm of my left arm. I almost sighed in relief.

“Just as we thought. You have a severe calcium deficit. Dr. Causte will be in shortly to discuss your blood work and the next steps.” With that Joan left the room. Oh, there is definitely a story here. I smiled knowing that I would put Astrid on the spot later.

“You okay?” Astrid asked quietly. She released my hand and arm, so I used my right hand to rub on the left hand and arm trying to hurry the feeling back into the areas.

I gave Astrid a thumbs up and both of us looked toward the door as a solid knock sounded.

“Rhiannon.” Dr. Causte came in holding out his hand to me. He then smiled toward Astrid. “Astrid, it is good to see you again.”

“You as well, Dr. Causte.” I looked over at Astrid and wondered how many people she knew that worked at the hospital.

“Well, Astrid, we have to keep this young lady out of the hospital.” He chuckled as he turned his attention back to me. “Rhiannon, sounds like you gave the staff a little bit of a scare today.”

“Sorry.” I whispered and wished my voice wasn't so weak now.

“I'm going to guess that you were a little concerned yourself or you wouldn't have called.” He rolled over right in front of me. “Okay, let's check your muscle spasms.” He then began to tap on different parts of my cheek. I could instantly feel the ripples take over. “You see how her muscles spasms when I tapped her cheeks, Astrid?”

“Yes.” Astrid answered leaning closer and I was surprised that he included her in the visit.

“You will want to check this on her occasionally. Sometimes her hands, face, and chest will tingle, but this ripples or spasms occur, you know her calcium is low and she needs to take another round of her calcium pills regardless if she just took them. Understand?”

“Yes, sir. I will also tell Val about it.”

“Good.” He turned his attention back to me. “Okay, so your blood work wasn't good, but I doubt that is news to you. So, how are we going to boost your calcium levels? You get to swallow more pills.” He spent a few more minutes explaining my new medicine requirements regarding calcium pills. Then he wrote it out and handed the paper to Astrid. “I'll need you to come in for weekly calcium draws until I tell you that you can stop. Any questions?” I shook my head slightly to indicate no.

“Um,” Astrid spoke up, but then stopped. “I'm sorry if I am overstepping, but I know Val will want confirmation that this is due to the parathyroid issue you spoke about after surgery.”

“Yes. Since Rhiannon doesn't have a functioning parathyroid at this moment, her body cannot regulate calcium or produce it. I hope that her need for calcium will decrease once the parathyroid regenerates. However, that could be a few months.” Astrid nodded and I was shocked that she knew about the parathyroid issue. I guess her and Val were talking more than I realized. “Okay, kiddo. Hang out here and Joan will be back with some more pills for you to take. If you have any other issues, please let us know.” I gave him a thumbs up and he left the room after gently, but firmly clasping my shoulder.

Soon Joan came back into the room with a foil packet of pills and a bottle of water. Maybe I imagined it, but I thought I saw a look of satisfaction on her face that I'd be in some pain while taking the pills she laid out. Yep, I'm definitely going to have ask Astrid about Joan.

To be continued


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