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 emoji 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 9 – Alone


The trip back to Rhiannon's was quiet because she needed to rest her voice and I needed to calm myself so I could drive. The events of the past few days started to seep in and my mind was going in so many different directions. I think the thing that is shocking me the most is how much I've just dropped everything to be there for this woman. Don't get me wrong, that is what a good friend does, but I've never quite been this carefree about leaving my business without a second thought. The Coffee Shop was my pride and joy. Brigit, my first and longest employee, constantly bugs me to take time off or to step away, but I just can't seem to take more than a day here and there. But in the past week, I've just dropped everything more than once. First, was to take coffee to Val and keep her company while waiting for Rhiannon's surgery to be over, then to take breakfast to them the next morning, and now today. Granted, at least I was still in the hospital with the other two instances, but today, I just dropped it in Brigit's hands and walked away.

But that's the thing, I'd do it again and I can't pretend that isn't the case. It is amazing what your mind can hide from you when you allow it. For the past year, I've allowed myself to put Rhiannon into the friend category because I was afraid to make a move. Afraid to put myself out there. Granted, I have my reasons for being cautious with approaching women or pursuing them. And to be honest, none of the women I've dated in the past three to four years have made it past a month or two with me because I refuse to let myself be that vulnerable. But yet, here is this one woman who I'm not in a relationship with, but I'm making her a priority. I'm not sure how I feel about this. I can't change it today, but I think it is something I need to think more on.

We make it Rhiannon's and I help her into the house. We go very slowly and I can tell she's in a lot of pain because she didn't even protest when I grabbed her bag and took her arm to help steady her. I didn't say anything because I know if it was me, I'd feel horrible for needing the help. We make it into the kitchen and Rhiannon sits on a kitchen chair. I want to take my time and look around, but I don't want to make her uncomfortable by having me in her personal space. She looks like she's about to fall over and my heart goes out to how rough her day has been.

“When's the last time you took some pain meds or had any food?” I ask while casually leaning against the chair back to her left.

“Before.” She whispers and looks like she's trying to work up the energy to say more.

“Before leaving for the hospital today?” I ask, wanting to confirm what I think she's trying to say. She gives me a thumbs up. “Did Val get you some easy snack food for when she'd be away?”

“You don't have to babysit me.” Rhiannon is whispering and her voice is broken even while doing that, but I can hear her in the quietness of the room.

“Rhiannon,” I walk over near her and put a hand on her shoulder. My action surprises me, but I don't want to remove my hand and make the moment awkward. “I'm not babysitting you. I'm helping you out and you can't argue with me. Let me do this.” I removed my hand and moved back toward the refrigerator. “Besides, you are actually helping Brigit out since I'm out of her hair this afternoon.” I looked back over my shoulder to see that Rhiannon was grinning really big, but it soon turned into a grimace.

“Ow.” Rhiannon grasped at her throat and her face showed pain.

“Laughing hurts?” She gave me a thumbs up signal while trying to neutralize her expression. “Ice Cream?”

I hoped Val had the cold treat readably available. She gave me another thumbs up and then pointed to the standup freezer next to the refrigerator. I pulled it open and found chocolate, vanilla, and butter pecan available. I picked up all three and turned back around to see which she wanted. She chose Butter Pecan and I got her enough in a bowl that would let her take her pain meds without hurting her stomach. I took the bowl, a large glass of ice water, and went back over to her. She gladly starting eating on the ice cream and chasing it down with some of the water. I was hoping that the coldness would help soothe her overworked vocal cords. I didn't want to make Rhiannon uncomfortable, so I took out my phone to check if I had any messages.

Brigit: Boss, I know you are going to check in, so here is your afternoon update. The shop is fine. Honestly, it is fine. Here are some pictures so you can believe me.

I had two pictures that followed the text. One was a selfie of Brigit drinking a frap while leaning against the back counter while giving me a wink. The next picture was of my other afternoon/evening employee waving hi at the camera with a large smile on her face. I chuckled some and Rhiannon gave me a questioning look.

“Brigit texted me about the shop. And then she sent me some pics. Here.” I handed her my phone to let her see the text and pictures herself. She grinned really big and I was starting to interpret that as her laugh when she couldn't laugh. She then made a gesture to my phone indicating she wanted to reply. I nodded to allow it.

Rhiannon as Astrid: B, this is Rhi. Man do you ever know Astrid! LOL I think your next pic should be of you holding the fire extinguisher at something or someone! *winking smiley*

Brigit: Rhi? Did you steal the phone? Please tell me you fought her for it or something…

Rhiannon as Astrid: Nope. Full permission! LOL

Brigit: Dang! Thanks for the idea! Take care of yourself, R! Oh, and tell/show the boss: Have a good night.

Rhiannon handed me the phone back and motioned for me to read what she said. I glanced through the history and chuckled.

“Remind me to never leave you and Brigit alone with my shop. It will never be the same!” She grinned really big again while finishing the last of her ice cream. I stood and took the bowl from her before she could start to get up. “Please take the pills you need. I know you have a schedule and I don't really know where you are on it.” I then refilled her water glass with lots of ice and then motioned for her to stand up with me. “Do you want the couch or do you want your bed?”

“Couch.” She half whispered, half spoke.

I took our waters and headed to the livingroom that I hoped was through the only other door off the kitchen. Thankfully, it was the livingroom. I did pause a moment to take in the room. You could tell that Rhiannon enjoyed being comfortable. She had a few chairs, but the oversized couch looked so inviting. My goal was to get Rhiannon to lay down and rest. She needed rest and sleep after her crazy day. I could tell that she was growing paler as the afternoon continued. I knew if I could get her to lay down, then the pain meds would help her fall asleep soon. I sat down our drinks on the end table near one end of the couch and promptly slipped off my shoes, and sat into the corner of the couch. I was hoping that Rhiannon would choose the couch too, but if she didn't, then I'd move and insist she take it for comfort. Luckily, she sat down in the middle of the couch, picking up the remotes as she went.

“Watch?” She asked as she sat back against the couch.

“Sure.” She clicked the remote at the TV and I picked up one of the larger throw pillows and propped it against my leg and the couch. “Rhiannon?” She looked over at me with a questioning look. “Will you please lay down?” I patted at the pillow hoping she'd take the hint without me having to be more forward. I knew that she could very well lay down with her head at the other end and I would gladly cradle her feet, but a larger part of me wanted her closer. I wanted her to lay down and be peaceful while I watched over her.

“I'm ok.” She whispered. Of course she was going to be stubborn.

“You aren't okay, Rhiannon.” She scrunched her eyebrows at that statement. “You've had a really big day, please just lay here and rest. For me?” You could tell she was thinking about it, so I just remained silent.

“One Condition.”


“Tell me about Joan.” She smirked as I knew my face showed the shock I felt, which was quickly followed by a blush. I could feel it working into my cheeks.

“Fine.” I said and patted the pillow again.

She toed off her shoes, repositioned the pillow slightly, and then gently lowered herself onto the couch. I could tell she hurt more than she was letting on and I just wanted to make the pain go away. She wiggled a little to get more comfortable and moved her head around on the pillow, but then seemed to sink into comfort. She remained silent for a moment and I couldn't help but take a moment to just take her presence in for a moment. I suddenly felt the same warmth surround me that was around me the morning after Rhiannon's surgery. I could feel myself relaxing a little even though my head kept wondering why I wasn't panicking about being alone with Rhiannon in this setting.

“Well?” She quietly asked while looking back and up at me with a smile across her face.

“You seem to think there is something to tell.” I made the statement, hoping she would maybe believe it.

“Oh, I don't think, I know there is a story there. Spill, Pip! You promised.” I smiled at her and then tried to get the courage to start. Rhiannon's smile began to fade while I was trying to gather my courage. “Astrid,” her voice was barely a whisper and my eyes snapped to hers. “If it is too painful, I'll understand. I don't want to force you to tell me something you aren't ready to share.” Her sincerity struck me as pure beauty. How many people would give a person this out? Most people push you for the story regardless of your comfort level. Just one more thing that makes the woman in front of me more amazing every day.

“No, it isn't really painful. A promise is a promise.” I grinned down at her and then looked out at the wall to settle myself to start the story. “It is true that there isn't much to tell about Joan.” I chuckled a little. “Joan and I met right when I was starting the shop. She was part of a group of nurses that were some of my first customers, but we actually went out on a blind date.” I looked back down and caught Rhiannon's eyes and the slight amusement that shone through. “Anyway, a mutual friend in the hospital set us up on a blind date a few weeks after I opened the shop. When I got to the restaurant to meet, Joan showed up. We chuckled at how funny it was that we see each other every day and yet had to be set up on a blind date. The night went okay.”

“Just okay?” Rhiannon asked quietly.

“I think Joan was trying to impress me because she was nervous.”

“Isn't that the point of a date? Aren't you supposed to put your best foot forward?”

“Well, putting your best foot forward is a lot different than trying to make yourself into something you aren't.” I looked down to see if she understood and she gave me a thumbs up sign and then motioned for me to continue. “Anyway, I felt like on the first date that our interests weren't really similar and I knew our personalities weren't compatible. But, at the end of the night, she drug me toward her car to say goodnight and asked me on a second date. So, I agreed because everyone deserves a second chance.”

“Drug you to her car?” Rhiannon's voice held humor and she was grinning like she was trying not to laugh.

“Yeah. I was just going to say goodbye in front of the restaurant, but apparently, she wanted me to walk her to her car. Instead of asking me, or even escorting me to my car, she grabbed my arm and started leading me toward the parking lot.”

“So, lackluster dinner, awkward goodnight, and you still said yes to the second date?”

“Yeah.” Her lips moved into a smirk and motioned for me to continue. “So, long story short, we went on a total of three dates, and I had to break it to her that we needed to be friends.”

“No.” She whispered and I gave her a questioning look. “You don't get to skim over and I'm going to assume that Joan wasn't happy to be friends.”

“Well, there isn't much to expand upon. She asked me to decide somewhere to go on our second date when she met me in the parking lot of the hospital. So, I drove us to a nearby restaurant for dinner again. I spent half the night upset that she sprung the decision on me like she did and the other half of the night trying to keep my distance.”

“Third?” Rhiannon asked.

“Oh, about two weeks later she cornered me at my car after I had closed the shop. She's lucky I didn't have my mace out or she's have gotten doused.” I heard a choked sound as I chuckled.

“Ow!” Rhiannon's hands instantly grasped at her neck and I could see tears in her eyes as she grimaced. She sat up still holding her neck and I instantly helped her the last few inches. She pointed to her water and I quickly handed it to her. She slowly drank down the cold liquid.

“Is there something else we can do for the pain?”

“Ice,” she paused to take another drink. “Pack.”

I immediately left the livingroom to go back to the kitchen. I opened the freezer and began to search for the ice pack. I found a frozen pack and then turned to the kitchen drawers looking for a towel or something to wrap it in. I returned to the livingroom with both items and sat back down by Rhiannon on the couch. She immediately put the pack to her neck and I could visibly see her relax in relief from the cold. She drank on the ice water some more. She then set the glass down on the coffee table in front of the couch. I took the coaster it was on earlier and moved it under the glass for her. She gave me a smile and I returned it. I leaned back on the couch again to get comfortable. I grabbed the pillow and repositioned it. I patted it gently to get Rhiannon's attention. She turned her shoulders to look in my direction and then glance down at the pillow. She then looked back at me. I could tell she was trying to be tough, so I patted the pillow again to stress that I wanted her to rest. I could see her mind working overtime between whether to give in to laying back down and staying sitting up. I knew if she stayed sitting up she wouldn't rest like she needed to, so I reached up and gently tugged on the sleeve of her t-shirt.

“Please?” I asked gently. “You need to rest Rhiannon. If you won't lay here, then let's get you settled into your room so you can rest in bed.”

With that she eased herself down on her side this time and positioned the pillow better for her neck. She still held the ice pack to her throat. I was slightly disappointed that she laid down on her side because now I couldn't look down on her face like I could before. But I was happy that she gave in and laid down at all. I may not know Rhiannon like Val does, but I know her enough to know how stubborn she is and that she doesn't like to admit when she's in pain. I can't imagine this scenario would be any different, plus I'm not Val, so her walls will be up more. I need her to rest and the only way she can do that is to sleep. Without thinking about it, I reached up and gently ran my fingers through her hair. On the second pass, I immediately stopped as I realized that I was doing when her body tensed.

“I'm sorry, Rhiannon.” I put my hand in my lap.

“For?” She whispered.

“I, I didn't mean to do that.” If possible it seemed like she tensed even further and I realized how that might sound. Like I didn't want to touch her, which obviously was quite the opposite. “I, uh, my grandmother used to either play in my hair or rub my head until I'd fall asleep when I was a child. I was just thinking about how you need to rest to help your body heal and, “I paused while trying not to chuckle with nervous laughter. “Well, I think it was just a knee-jerk action. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable.” Her body relaxed a little.

“It's okay. You can.” Even her whispers were getting almost inaudible. I thought she was giving me permission to touch her again, but I didn't want to move in case I misunderstood. Rhiannon moved a little and I jumped a little as her hand grasped mine in my lap. She gently moved my hand back to her head and then gave me a thumbs up sign.

I guess there really isn't any way to misinterpret those actions. I gently ran my fingers through Rhiannon's hair again, only this time consciously. Her hair was soft, but felt a little thicker than other people's hair I had felt. I let my fingers move more along her scalp moving to mix a small scalp massage with my next pass. We both remained completely quiet for the next few moments. I continued my gently movements and I could see Rhiannon slowly relaxing more into the couch. I could feel her weight against the pillow increasing.

“Third date.” Rhiannon whispered breaking the silence as she reached out for her water. She moved up a little to take a drink and my hand fell to her shoulder.

“How about a raincheck. The third date is the best part of the whole story. I don't want to make you laugh.” She moved to look at me the best she could without moving her neck very far. “I promise, Rhiannon. Next time we hang out together, I'll finish my story about Joan. I owe it to you.”

She moved back down to lay on the pillow. I ran my hand from her shoulder over to the back of her neck. I almost gave it a small squeeze to ease her tension, but caught myself before doing it. I didn't want to put any added pressure on her neck as I didn't know if it would aggravate where she had surgery. So, I began at the base of her neck and worked my hands back up through her hair. Only allowing myself to give small massage motions once I was far enough away from her neck. I continued to do this until Rhiannon relaxed into the pillow further and her breathing started to even out. I kept up my motions until I was sure she was asleep, and then I let my hand move back to my lap.

I took a moment to just sit in silence, not letting my brain process anything. All I wanted to concentrate on was how my fingers felt like they were missing something since I had removed them from running through Rhiannon's hair. I usually don't welcome touch from others. It isn't that I don't want to touch someone, it is more that I have never dated anyone, or been around anyone, that I wanted to touch. That I wanted to feel the warmth of their palm against mine, the soft brush of cotton fabric beneath my fingertips as it is pulled taunt across a shoulder, or the soft texture of hair flooding through my fingers. I've never felt comfortable enough with anyone, but if I'm honest, Rhiannon put me at ease from the beginning. I don't know how many times we've met over the past year and I've longed to take her hand or give her a hug. Sometimes I was brave enough to make the contact, but the small touches left me confused for days. So, I tried to limit the contact. Since Val asked me to make a choice of being all in for Rhiannon or walk away, it is like a switch has flipped in me. That very next morning sitting with Rhiannon in the hospital and the gentle first real touches between us stole my breath. I went home that night and found myself craving more. And today, the liberties of taking Rhiannon's hand, or hanging onto her arm. She never pushed me away. She didn't tense all day until tonight on the couch. She never shied away from the touch or tried to remove her hand from me either. Does that mean that she feels something? Does that mean that she wants the touch as much as I do?

Before I can second guess myself I return my hand to Rhiannon's head and gently run the tips of my fingers across her hair and then let my hand come to rest on her shoulder. I can feel her relax into the touch as she sleeps and she seems to breathe even deeper. I knew if I just sat there while she slept, that my mind would start to run in circles and panic would consume me. So, I pulled out my cell phone to check my messages and emails. I needed something to distract me. I soon pulled up my Kindle app and began to read on the book I downloaded last night. I tried to read and I tried to look at Facebook, but nothing could capture my focus for more than a few seconds. So, I leaned my head back against the sofa and stared at the ceiling. The white ceiling blurred after a few minutes and I could feel my eyes feeling heavy.



The next thing I knew there was a weird vibration on the couch and against my hand. I snapped alert and immediately looked down to Rhiannon, who was still asleep on the pillow, but was now shaking in her sleep. At first I thought she was dreaming, but when I ran my hand through her hair to calm her it was damp. I then placed my palm on her forehead and felt she was hot to touch. That is when I could hear the small chattering of her teeth. I glanced around the room and found a small table lamp that was on next to the couch that wasn't on before, but was glad it was on as it allowed me to look at Rhiannon and I could tell she was a little paler than normal.

I gently tried to slide out from beneath the pillow and rested the pillow flat against the couch. I knew I needed to find Tylenol or something for her, but I wasn't sure what other medications she was on and if she was allowed Tylenol. I decided to go back to the kitchen where I knew Rhiannon had all of her meds that I saw earlier. I rounded the corner of the doorway to the kitchen and came to a halt because Val was sitting at the table working on her laptop. Her head jerked up at my arrival into the room and she immediately gave me a smirk, but then she dropped it from her face.

“What's wrong, Astrid?”

“I think Rhiannon has a fever and I didn't know what she was allowed to take.”

“Fever?” Val was instantly on her feet and heading toward me. I backed up to allow her to move past me into the livingroom.

“She's been sweating, she's a little warm, and is chattering her teeth with chills. Is this normal for her post surgery?”

Val leaned over Rhiannon, running the back of her hand over her forehead and touching her shoulder. Rhiannon didn't move or wake up any further than the shaking for her chills. We both stood there looking down on Rhiannon for a moment, like we both were trying to piece together our next actions. Val then walked back over to me.

“Can you wake her up and get her to move to her room?” She spoke softly as if she didn't want to disrupt Rhiannon from her sleep. I nodded to answer her question. “Her room is the only one on the right side down the hall. I'm going to go get my cell to call the after-hours number for Dr. Causte.”

“Val,” I put my hand on her arm to stop her from moving past me. “Did Rhiannon text you at all today?” I hadn't seen her text anything, but I didn't want to assume anything.

“Astrid, you can tell me about your impromptu visit after we figure out how to help Rhi.” She tried to move past me again, but I held onto her arm.

“Val, Rhiannon had some complications today that required her to go to the hospital.” Val immediately turned back to me and looked at me in shock. “She started to have some weird tingle things happening and numbness. Dr. Causte told her to get to the hospital ASAP. Luckily, she came by the shop after her blood draw because they told her not to leave the hospital. So, I accompanied her to Dr. Causte's office. She wanted to contact you, but I begged her not to because you had your VIPs. Anyway, she's dealing with dangerously low calcium levels due to them taking all of her parathyroid, except for the one they tried implanting. She has extra calcium pills to take. I mean more than she was taking previously. We didn't get home until after 2. She last took pills right after we got home and then I got her to relax and go to sleep. I didn't want to leave her until you were back.” She nodded and I could tell she was trying to take everything in.

“When did she come seek you out?”

“Between 10 and 11?”

“How'd she get to the hospital?”

“She called a taxi. It was that or the doctor's office was going to call EMS to pick her up.”

“Okay. Can you get her to her room and I'll call Dr. Causte?” This time I let her walk back to the kitchen as I figured she needed a moment.

I walked back over to Rhiannon and leaned over her. I placed my hand on her shoulder and gently shook her. Her face scrunched into distaste, but she didn't wake up. I knew from the stories she's told me that she is a really light sleeper, so it must be her pain meds or the fever.

“Rhiannon.” I gently spoke her name and shook her shoulder a little harder this time. I was rewarded with her eyes blinking open a little. “Rhiannon, I need you to wake up and sit up.”

“Wha…” she started to say but immediately made a painful sound and grabbed at her throat. She went to move and another painful noise escaped. I offered my hand to her and helped her to a sitting position. She winced again in pain and this time tears leaked out of the corners of her eyes. I immediately handed her the now almost room temp water, but it would be better than nothing. She began to shake harder and her teeth chattered louder. She opened her eyes and looked at me. “Cold,” she mumbled in a whisper.

“Val and I think you have a fever. She's calling Dr. Causte, and I need to get you to bed and under your covers.” She was still grasping at her throat. I gently removed her hands and could tell her throat was swollen, but it didn't look red near the incision. “Val?” I said a little louder so she could hear me in the kitchen. “Let Dr. Causte know her throat is a little swollen, but her incision is not red or angry looking.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks.” Val answered back as heard her phone dialing.

“Okay, Rhiannon. You ready to make the walk to your room?” She looked up at me with her eyes and I just wanted to take her in my arms and hold her as I saw the tears and pain. “Here, I'll help you and then we can get you more comfortable.”

I took her arm and tugged her gently to get her to move upward. She reached out to use me as she tried to steady herself. I put an arm around her waist, pulling her tightly against me with my right arms, while grasping her bicep with my left hand. It wasn't the easiest way to walk, but I could tell Rhiannon was weak, so I wasn't going to loosen my grip on her. We made the short walk to her room and I paused inside the door because it was dark. Rhiannon kept going forward, so I followed, praying I wouldn't trip on anything. We stopped and she reached out to touch something and a lamp suddenly came on in the room. Before she could sit on the bed, I reached back and threw the covers back. I then helped her lower herself to the bed and then onto the pillows. I then helped draw the covers back over her and then perched on the very edge.

“I know you aren't okay, but do I need to get anything else for you?” She snaked a hand out of the covers and gave me a thumbs down sign. I reached back to the covers and motioned for her to put her arm back under. “I know you are cold, but with all of you under the covers, you will get warm faster.” She gave me a small smile and I returned it. I leaned forward and brushed some damp hairs off of her forehead and then leaned back to where I was previously. I didn't know what else to do for her.

Rhiannon was looking me in the eyes and then she mouthed the word ‘Sorry'.

“You have nothing to be sorry about.” I stated, looking directly back into her eyes hoping I could convey that I was telling the truth.

‘Cold.' She mouthed.

“You'll warm up soon, I promise.”

“Okay.” Val stated coming into the room. “Dr. Causte thinks this is your body reacting to all your excitement today and not anything that requires the hospital. So, I brought you some more ice water and more pain meds. Dr. Causte says that the pain pills have enough acetaminophen in them, that they should break any fever you might have. I also brought some ice cream. You need something on your stomach for the pain meds and then we have calcium pills to get down as you are about an hour overdue.

Rhiannon didn't look thrilled, but she obeyed Val.

Chapter 10 – Return to Work




The two weeks to recover from my surgery was filled with doctor appointments and blood tests. I don't think there was a single day to just rest, but I guess that makes you keep going. In those two weeks I felt like I didn't know myself and I felt different. I usually knew my body, but so many different sensations and feelings were surfacing and I wasn't sure about any of it.

The fact that none of my friends were really asking me how I was doing wasn't helping my foul mood. Val and Astrid asked me multiple times a day how I was feeling and if I needed anything, but the rest of my friends, they would text, but it was to share stupid crap that didn't really mean anything. When I'd share about what was going on with me, I was met with silence. Frustration simmered just under the surface with me. So, I became more withdrawn from my family.

Today is my first day back to work. I know I shouldn't be, but I'm self-conscious about my scar. My lack of comfortability steams from the fact that the surgeon had used a bright purple marker and then put a strip of glue over the area about an inch wide. So, the marker color bled into the rest of the glue, so I had a purple stripe across my throat. Val and Astrid had teased me that I could make up some big story to tell to people that would explain the mark if anyone asked. I laughed and we threw around some farfetched tales and a few memes about pirate attacks. After mentioning my “purple stripe” in my group chat text with friends, I was sent more memes on Pinterest and in the chat that told me that scars are reminders that what didn't kill us makes us stronger. I knew that it was all done in the most supportive intentions, but it didn't do anything but solidify the fact that I had a reason to have a scar.

This all brought back to my mind and the lingering exhaustion from waking with a panic attack earlier in the night. Those were happening more frequently, but I tried to hide them so no one would know. I'd wake up grasping at my neck, chest heaving, and this NEED to claw out this unseen thing attacking me. Of course the minute my fingers touched the glue and pushed into the skin anywhere on my neck the instant pain would clear the cobwebs of blind panic and allow me to understand what was happening. Sometimes, I would catch myself, randomly, during the day start to have the same feelings. To know that this unseen invader was killing my body. It made me feel the same way as when I thought about accidently swallowing a bug and it crawling around my insides. It freaked me out, gave me the hibbie-jibbies, and now induced panic.

I breathed out a large breath and tried to push all those feelings aside. I needed to get ready for work. Val and I argued last night because I wanted to drive myself today, but she still felt I was too tired to drive and work all day. My independence was everything to me. I know I shouldn't feel that with Val as she's been there for everything. But I've had to trust myself for as long as I could remember to keep making myself move forward and survive. I needed the normality of me driving myself to my job. I needed to know that I could do this without help. I know that Val objected out of love and concern, but she finally conceded to my wishes after making me promise that if ANYTHING happened that I'd call her to come pick me up. I'm surprised that she didn't insist on going to sit at my desk with me for the first day. Val always took on a motherly role with me since we were young children, but only during those times when I really needed someone to step into that role.

I laid out my dress slacks and polo that would allow me the option to keep a few buttons open so I wouldn't feel like I was choking. As I showered, without getting my neck wet….yeah that was a challenge, I began to pull my work clothes on one piece at a time. It felt like I was putting on armor and with each piece sliding in place I felt like my work mask slid back into place. Not that my work persona differed widely from my true person, but there were some differences. Like I was quieter than in my home life. I didn't talk about the women I dated or events I did. Most of my coworkers couldn't tell you the first thing about my life outside work. My co-workers knew I was gay and I didn't discourage them from getting to know me. Very few made the effort to get to know the truth, but would rather either assume or believe what someone else assumed. I just let them be as I wouldn't be able to stop what others thought.

As I walked into the building, the feeling that time didn't change hit me. I know I was only gone for two weeks, but it felt like I was returning from a weekend only. I grabbed my seat, clocked in, and began work like usual. Nothing changed, except me as I felt different. I felt anxious and uncomfortable. I sat there and continued to work. Occasionally, someone's morning greeting would interrupt me and I'd whisper out a greeting to the passerby. Of course, this was all followed by questions about how I was doing. By the first hour my voice was gone. I had tried to minimize my talking, but it just wasn't possible. Once I lost my voice completely, people would give me that look like I was broken and leave me be. I was thankful for being left alone, but pissed at the looks and attitude. I wasn't broken. I wasn't something to pity.

At hour four, I felt like all of my energy left me. Oh my god, why was I so tired. I wanted to take a small walk to wake myself up, but a walk to the bathroom and back seemed like a marathon. I began to think that I wasn't going to make it through the day, but I soldiered on. By the time I had eight hours in, I knew the drive home would be a struggle, but I didn't want to give in and call Val to come get me. So, I plopped my bottle of water in the cup holder and began the trek home. I kept telling myself the whole way that the first day was the hardest.

After arriving home, I signed to Val that I didn't have a voice. She asked small questions to make sure I was okay and then I escaped to my room and my bed that was calling my name. I laid down and closed my eyes. The peace was nice. The familiarity of the room comforted me and I felt myself relax. I guess I dosed off as I jerked alert when my phone chimed. I looked to see a text from Astrid.

Astrid: How was your first day back? Did they miss you? How are you feeling?

Yep, that was Astrid. She probably debated what questions were the most important, then couldn't decide, so put them all in. She did this while speaking to her too. It was adorable.

Rhi: Day was okay. I guess they missed me. Most of the team seemed happy to see me back at my desk today. It was a long day .

I laid my cell down on my stomach and then put my arms under my head. I let my mind wander to Astrid. She was a good friend prior to this, but she has really stepped up these past few weeks. Just like the day that I had my calcium scare. She didn't hesitate to leave her business and refused to leave my side the rest of the day. She even stayed after Val got home as she wanted to make sure that I didn't have any more issues. When she wasn't seeing me through my many appointments, or the nights she came over, she texted me.

Astrid: I bet it was a long day. So, what is for dinner?

Rhi: I have no clue. I'm sure I'll find something in the fridge or the pantry. What are you having?

That's the other thing that I really like about Astrid. She seems to read me very well. Normally that bothers me, or scares me, but with her it makes me feel good. She knows when I just want to move on from a subject and will help find a new topic.

Astrid: I was thinking about some fried chicken, coleslaw, green beans, and fried potatoes.

Rhi: Wow! You are outdoing yourself there! You are really going to fix that after such a long day at the shop? *shocked smiley face*

Astrid: You know they have these places that you can drive your car up and they will hand you over a meal. *smiley face with tongue sticking out*

Rhi: Yes. I believe I know of these places. LOL So…how was work today?

Astrid: It was good.

The conversation seemed to lag and I fought to think about what to talk about, but I was too tired to think of anything to ask or topic to start on. Just as I felt myself drifting back off, my phone chimed again.

Astrid: I wanted to text you multiple times today to see how it was going, but I didn't want you to take it the wrong way. Honestly, were you okay today?

Rhi: Honestly?

Astrid: Please.

Rhi: Today was rougher than I anticipated. My voice was gone by the end of the first hour. So, that sucked. The day was tiring. I feel like I could sleep all night. But I got the first day out of the way. Maybe tomorrow will be better.

I don't know what kept allowing me to open up to Astrid. I was used to opening up to Val, but there were limits to what I would tell her. Astrid seemed to sneak more information from me without me realizing until it I'd already shared. Sometimes I worried that I was sharing too much with her. I didn't want to scare her off. I mean I didn't always have the most friends growing up because they didn't want to be around someone like me. Maybe I was too loud, too quiet, too deep, too broody, too friendly, too happy, too fat, too tomboyish…the point is I never knew why people didn't get close to me. I tried to move on from that while at college, but I found the same there as well. Maybe I just wasn't friend material. I always worried about scaring off the few friends that did stick around.

I had figured out that I was gay in high school, but I didn't the courage to come out until I got to college and even then it was a few years in. I constantly worried that someone would figure it out and then all the girls in my school would think that I was ogling them. Or they would think an accidental brush of shoulders or arms while studying would be a come on. I got to the point that I shied away from contact with anyone. I began changing in a small corner that was out of sight of the rest of the room. Then when I was done, I'd hurry from the room, but keep my eyes on the floor. There were some girls in high school that still had issues with me, so if I ever glanced at them for anything, even to acknowledge that they were speaking, then they would call me a freak and tell me to go away.

I didn't want this happening with Astrid. I didn't want her to think anything bad about me because then she'd leave. I didn't want Astrid to leave my life. That revelation shocked me. Maybe my crush on her was more than I thought.

Astrid: It will be. I'll leave you to rest, but we'll chat more later.

Rhi: How did you know I was lying down?

Astrid: Val mentioned that you came home and disappeared into your room. I took a guess that you were resting. But I had to see how things went. Until later, Rhiannon.

I awoke suddenly, my senses on full-alert. I wasn't sure what woke me, but something did. My room was completely dark and I wasn't able to make out anything with my sight, but I heard something. A small scuff against the carpet, almost as if someone was walking in my room. I held my breath and let my senses do the work. Yes, someone was in my room and heading straight towards me. In one fluid move I sat up in bed and turned on the bedside lamp. I was ready to spring to action if needed.

“Rhiannon, it is me.” Astrid's voice carried to me about the same time that I registered who stood bathed in my lamp light. I let my body fall back on the bed, the extra bump against the mattress causing pain in my neck, but I was still tired. “I didn't mean to wake you, well, I did mean to, but not like that.”

“It's okay. I'm just a really light sleeper.” My voice was broken and soft, but at least it was there. I rolled over and perched on the side of the bed trying to clear the cobwebs still hanging on in my brain.

“Val warned me.” She sat down near me. Not enough to let our shoulders brush together, but close enough I could feel the heat radiation off her body. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to frighten you. And thank you for not attacking.” I gave her a confused look. “Val said that you straight out attacked her once when she was trying to sneak in to wake you. So, thank you for not doing that.”

“Oh.” I chuckled at the memory of Val screaming as I sprang into action, grabbing her from the side of the bed, and she ended up pinned to the floor with me sitting atop her with my fist locked and loaded. “Yeah, but I knew someone was supposed to be in the house today. She let herself into my apartment and then snuck up on me.” Astrid chuckled slightly and I knew that Val had told her the whole story. “Besides, Pip, I think you could have taken me today.”

“Oh really?” A glint shone in her eye and I suddenly realized what I had said. Shit, why didn't I think about those words before saying them? Now to cover for myself.

“Totally! You know, I'm fresh from surgery and was sleeping. I think your coffee shop muscles would have been victorious tonight.” She playfully flexed her muscles and laughed.

“The shop gives me more muscles than you think. However, if I could have taken you tonight with these guns, then we need to get food in you pronto.”

“Did Val fix something? Do I need to call in an order? How can I help?” Great, I'm picking up on what Astrid does with all the crazy questions at once.

“No, I brought over your favorite meal.” She stood and turned towards the door. “Come on, let's go feast on some chicken!”

“I just thought you were torturing me earlier with talks of fried chicken. You didn't have to bring food over.” I stood and started to follow her to the kitchen.

“I wanted to celebrate your first day back to work. And a southern celebration isn't proper unless there is fried chicken.”

“A woman after my own heart!”

The rest of the night was spent chowing down on some good southern chicken, a movie, and laughter with all of us. It touched me deeply that Astrid wanted to take more time away from her busy day and celebrate the small accomplishment of returning to work. Even though it took what strength I had remaining that day, I enjoyed every minute of the impromptu celebration.




I glared at my reflection over the sink. I winced at the image as I knew I looked bad. No matter how much I smiled or tried to sound upbeat while talking to my coworkers, I could see lines of fatigue that plagued my eyes and the pale coloring that made me look sick. I was nearing a month back to work and every day was a struggle. Physically, it was hard to make myself get up and go to work every morning. There had been a few mornings that I hurt and felt so bad that I couldn't force myself out of bed. I wasn't sure if there was something seriously wrong, or if my combined mental and physical state were ganging up on me. I had called my Endocrinologist once about the general yucky feelings, the moodiness, extreme fatigue, and the achiness. Of course her office just told me to keep hanging in there that it would all get better. So, they didn't really seem concerned, so I was torn if I should be concerned. The moodiness was a real problem. I could go from bitch to sobbing mess in about half a second. Not having strict control over my emotions was wearing me down physically and emotionally. Every time that I let my emotions slip, I became angry with myself.

I think my mental and emotional health was worse than the physical symptoms right now. All day at work, every day, people avoided me. My coworkers that were closest to me stopped asking me how I was doing because, let's face it, they had eyes and could see how I was doing. I caught people staring at my neck and then this pity look would take over their features as they met my eyes. I almost like the people that stared at me from a distance and chose to hide that they were staring. But it all still angered me. It was like this huge purple elephant in the room that no one cared to address. There were times that I had to rush to the restroom just to try to keep the tears at bay. I didn't want anyone's pity. Yes, there was no denying that I was sick. I looked sick, I felt sick, I was sick. But, fuck, I'm still human. So, I tried to stay as quiet as possible, I tried to remain at my desk unless it was mandatory that I get out of my chair, and when I did walk around I chose to walk with my head hung. Staring at the floor in front of my feet was a much better sight than pity.

On top of all of this, a war raged within me. Well, honestly several wars were raging, but this one was about it . That horrible c word that I didn't want to acknowledge. Every time that the emotions overcame me, I felt guilty. Every day that I felt like I was going to throw up or that I couldn't force myself to move from my bed, I felt guilty. Every time a coworker threw a look of pity toward me, I felt guilty. Every time I opened my mouth to complain about something I was going through to a friend, I felt guilty. Why you ask. Because I had the good cancer and this was supposed to be a walk in the park. Millions of other people suffer with other kinds of this and are losing their hair, are so sick they live in their restrooms, they lose limbs….you get the drift, they are walking through hell. I'm only walking through a park. Guilt. I wake up from a panic attack almost nightly now and it ends with me sobbing because I can't reach in and remove my attacker. I live every day knowing that my body is under attack from a silent, unseen predator. How the fuck do you deal with that? How am I supposed to be okay with doing nothing? Guilt. Tears. Anger. Guilt. Rage. Guilt. Exhaustion. Guilt. I just want someone to tell me that it's okay. That it is okay for me to have my panic attacks. That it is okay to want to cry because my worst fear came true. That it is okay to just let go, fall apart, and let someone catch me. No, guilt is there. Why should I get to cry over a removed thyroid and a doctor described nothing cancer while someone else is fighting breast cancer or Leukemia? I don't. Plain and simple, I don't have a damn right to feel any of it, except guilt. I allow myself to feel the guilt because I can't stop the other emotions from pouring out.

The other fucked up thing that plagues my mind is I suddenly crave the support of my family. I haven't needed them for years. Hell, they know what is going on, but they haven't ever called to check on me or even thought to see if I made it out of surgery. But, damn I hate myself for saying this, but I just wanted my mom to envelope me in a hug and whisper encouragement to me. It was like that weird need you get as a child that when you fall and scrape your knee, then it doesn't feel better until your mom bandages it. We all know my scrapes never felt better, but it was still something I craved then, and now. Knowing that I wouldn't and really couldn't reach out to my family right now drove home that I'm alone.

I think that is the one thing that no one talks about with cancer. It is a lonely disease. Yes, there are support groups, fund raisers, 5Ks, and even months dedicated to wearing pink. But none of those people know what it is like. Everyone wants to support you and help you, but they don't know anything about it. I helped care for many people with cancer. I even watched people pass from cancer. I saw how it ripped through lives, leaving a path of destruction worse than any F5 tornado could do, but yet I didn't have a clue until now. Now I have a clue and I'm so fucking lonely in my illness. Yes, I have Val. I have Astrid. I have Caitlin, George, Sam, Erik, Rita, T, Elle, Jay, Jazz, Phil, Josh, Jordan, and Kam. Yes, they had all texted at some point, but that didn't fill the loneliness that was in me. No one texted anymore to ask how I was doing. I stopped giving updates or sharing the next steps because I'm sure everyone tired of hearing about it. I know I was tired of it, but I couldn't escape. Everyone wants to support you, but no one does. Even those closest would rather pretend that their friend is just sick, but they'll get over it. Almost like it's the flu. Or if we ignore it, then miraculously, it will cure itself and be over. I craved for someone to hold me tight and tell me to let go. Tell me it was okay to think that my park was really hell. That it was okay to think that my life, in this moment, sucked and I wasn't a bad person for feeling all of my emotions. But instead, I needed to be strong. I needed to bury the pain, the loneliness, and be grateful that I didn't have it worse. Guilt anyone?




“Rhi,” I tried to get her attention from the TV again, but she just raised her eyebrows while intently starting at the picture. “Rhiannon!” That got her attention. “Will you please talk to me?”

“Talk to you about what, Val?” She looked between me and the program again.

“Rhi,” I turned off the TV, which really got her attention. “Will you quit acting like nothing is happening?”

“I don't see what you think the big deal is, Val. You are heading home for a few weeks before I do the radiation crap.”

“I wouldn't go, but Ayden's work is going through a huge project and he needs help with the twins. I guess I could,” Rhi's voice interrupted me.

“Val, you are needed at home. So stop trying to rationalize it.” I just looked at her and felt like she just slapped me or something. Her eyes and face softened as she tried to speak again. “Val, you know I want you here, I'll always want you here, you are my sister and I love you. However, your first priority is Ayden, Alex, and Ryan. You need to go be home for them now. I don't hate you for that.”

“So, you really don't have a problem with me having to go home?” I've tortured myself for over a week trying to figure out how I could please everyone involved and just could not figure out a way. So to hear she really didn't have a problem with me leaving for a few weeks surprised me.

“Val, I told you when you brought this up a few weeks back that I would be fine and that you should go home for a few weeks. You need to be back with the family. I know them coming here a few weekends in the past month has helped, but you need some time with them all without me around.”

“Rhi, you are my family.” She holds a hand up to stop my rant.

“I know I'm your family, but I'm not your husband or your children. You need time with them away from me, away from here.” She stares at me for a while. “Are you really afraid I'll get into that much trouble without you here?”

“No.” I answer honestly. “Or maybe I wish you'd get into trouble with a certain coffee shop owner while I'm not here.” I smirk at her as she instantly looks away from me and blushes.

“Val.” She tries to be threatening with her warning voice, but it doesn't hold much weight when it cracks in the middle of my name and I fight laughing at the situation.

“What? You know I'm telling the truth. Astrid is almost around here as much as I am. When are you going to ask her out?”

“I'm not.” Her voice didn't hold any of the teasing it usually did when we talked about this.


“Val, we've talked about this.”

“No, you've talked and I just chose not to push you any further. Today I want to push. Why?”

“I just can't.” She hung her head and played with the pillow set across her lap. “I just can't ask her out right now.” I remain silent for a few moments to see if she'd actually give me a reason. “Just drop it okay?”

My heart physically aches to see her like this. I've watched the already strong attraction between Rhi and Astrid grow over the past weeks into something that a blind person could feel. Both of them seem to glow when the other is around or if they are talking about each other to someone. It is the cutest thing ever, but if you dare mention it to either of them, they both clam up like this. Well, Rhi more than Astrid. Astrid always says that Rhiannon isn't ready and when she is, then it will happen. I just think they are torturing themselves when they don't have to. There are times I want to lock them in a room until they either know they aren't meant for each other or finally get together. But I can't push either of them more than I have as it is not my life and I'm not in the relationship.

“Okay. I'll let it go, but I won't always.” She visibly relaxed a little. “Just promise me that you will call Astrid if you need help with anything? Or one of the usual gang, whichever is available.”

“Val, I'm not…”

“Not a child or helpless.” I finished her sentence for her. “Yes, I know, so promise me you won't act like a child and ask for help when you need it. I need to hear you say this, Rhi.”

“Yes mother, I will ask for help if I need it. Happy?” She threw another small pillow at me and laughed gently.

“Thank you.” I turned the TV back on and sat back in my chair to relax a little.

Tomorrow, I'd be leaving for approximately two weeks, maybe three. It depended upon when Rhi's Endocrinologist set her up for radiation iodine therapy. We were already told that was the next step by both the Endocrine and Dr. Causte's office. Rhi's final appointment with Dr. Causte was within the next week and he should be releasing her into her Endocrinologist's sole care. I really wanted to be at the appointment, but it wasn't as important as some of her future appointments and Ayden all but begged me to come home for a few weeks due to a big project he was heading up. In his words, he'd almost be living at the office and didn't want to call his parents to take Alex and Ryan. So, we decided that I could come home to help since Rhi was fully released to do what she could. Well, except move furniture or lift anything over fifty pounds. I didn't really worry about her doing either of those things because lifting a gallon of milk still caused her to wince. So, I knew if something came up, she'd either wait until I returned or she'd ask for help.

I jumped a little when my phone vibrated in my pocket. I knew it would either be Ayden or Astrid, so I looked at Rhi to see if she heard the phone. Rhi's full attention was on the TV program again. She fiddled with her phone a little, but wasn't texting on it or anything. So, I slipped my hand down to pull out my cell phone.

Astrid: You packed and ready?

Val: I'm packed. Not sure about ready.

Astrid: Problems with Ayden?

Val: No, nothing like that. Sorry, that sounded wrong.


Astrid: Rhiannon will be fine. I will check on her every day, I'll still come over, and I'll make sure that you come back to her with all the same pieces as when you leave.

Val: Not you too! Am I really that transparent?

Astrid: Only with Rhiannon. Now, aren't you excited to see Alex and Ryan again?


Val: I really miss them and Ayden. I would never complain to Rhi about it, but the distance has been hard.

Astrid: Something tells me that she understands. Plus, there would be a problem if you didn't want to see them again. I know they were just here two weeks ago, but still. Please give them hugs from me again. Oh and tell Ayden hi for me.

Val: I will. You promise to check on her?


Astrid: Yes. Cross my heart….


Val: Thank you, Astrid. I just want to make sure she is okay. She's the only sister I have.


Astrid: You are welcome, but really no thanks is required.


I pause to take in Astrid's words and to realize how close I've become with her over the last few weeks. A buzz sound drew my attention back to Rhi and I saw her grinning excitedly at her phone. Her fingers were flying over her phone and I could tell she was texting someone.

Val: You texting Rhi?


Astrid: Yeah. Why?


Val: Just curious.

Astrid: Val, I know you. There is a reason. What is it?

I look back over at Rhi and see the smile still on her face and her fingers still dancing over her phone. I'm so happy that Astrid makes her happy, makes her smile. I look back down at my text string and contemplate on what I want to say, if anything.

“Val,” Rhi's voice startled me out of my thoughts. “What time are you leaving in the morning?”

“I should get on the road when you are leaving for work. That way I can be home in time to get some errands ran before picking up the kids from pre-school.”

“Okay. Well, I think I'm going to call it a night.” She stood up and started moving toward her room before pausing a step away from me. “Let's have breakfast together in the morning before you leave?”

“Sure.” I get up from my chair and give her a quick hug. “Sweet dreams, Rhi.”

“Night, Val.” She walked down the hall and I heard her room door click shut.

Val: You made her smile. Oh and don't keep her up too late, it is a school night! *winking smiley face*






Val left twenty-four hours ago and the house is too quiet. I did everything I could around the house by ten and was ready to go out of my mind. It is now Saturday and I was looking for something to occupy my brain, but nothing was doing it. Heck, I even tried playing video games for a while, but I just couldn't get into it. I made a grocery list, which was the excuse I needed to get out of the house, but I couldn't come up with a reason why I was parking my car in the hospital parking lot. I passed at least five other coffee shops on my drive to the hospital, so I couldn't even pretend it was the closest location. Who was I kidding, a certain dark haired beauty was the reason I've been so unfocused all morning. Well, I'm already here, I might as well go get my coffee and Astrid fix for the day.

My eyes quickly scanned The Coffee Shop's counter and the only person behind the counter was Brigit. I stopped and quickly scanned the seating area around the shop and didn't see Astrid anywhere. I slowly approach the counter and hopped into line. I kept watch out for Astrid and worried that something is wrong with her.

“Rhi!” Brigit greets me as my turn at the counter comes.

“B! What's up?”

“Not much. How are you doing? You look better than you did the last time that I saw you.” I thought back to the day I came in with the low calcium. It's hard to believe that this is the first time Brigit has been working when I've stopped by since that day.

“I'm better than then!” I laugh with Brigit. “How have you been? It's been a while since I've seen you hanging around here.”

“Well, you know, I'm a slacker. Or hasn't the boss told you that?” We both laugh again. “Speaking of the boss, have you stolen any more phones lately?” With that Brigit throws me a smirk and I can tell my skin flushes with a blush as I can feel the tips of my ears burn.

“B, I told you, full permission. Plus, where were the fire extinguisher pictures? I was waiting for them all evening and not even one.”

“Some of us want to continue to have a job.” We laugh again. “But if you promise to take the heat, I'll send one next time.”

“B, I have your back, you know that! But I don't think I have the pull you think I do.”

“Rhiannon MacReynolds, are you harassing this poor woman? You know Brigit, you can call security when individuals like this come around.” I jump and turn at the voice that started behind me, but moved to my side at the counter.

“Pip, you know I'm only giving this fine worker a taste of what she's dishing out.” I wink at her and can't help the full smile that comes to my lips. She dips her head slightly and a full smile graces her lips as well.

As she lifts her head to meet my eyes, she bites on her bottom lip and my breath stops at how adorable and incredibly sexy she looks in that moment. I can't take my eyes away from her beautiful chocolate brown eyes. Her smile is showing in her eyes and it makes me smile even bigger. I step forward slightly because suddenly I want nothing more than to feel this woman in my arms. She answers my movement by stepping up to me and sliding her arms around my neck. I slip my arms around her waist and pull her into me and into a full hug.

“It's so good to see you.” She whispers in my ear while still holding onto me.

“Same here.” I say gently and move to let her go, but she holds onto my neck a little longer. Then she's slowly sliding away from me and my body instantly misses her and her warmth. She trails one hand down my arm and gently grasps my fingers as if, just maybe, she doesn't want the contact to end either.

“Are you okay?” She asks quietly while still being near me and searching my eyes as if looking for any small lie I might tell. This woman knows me so well and because of that, I want nothing more than to be completely open with her.

“I'm fine. I was restless, so I figured since I needed to go to the grocery store, then I'd stop by to get my fix today as well.” She looked next to me on the counter and then returned her eyes to me with her brow furrowed.

“Did you not order yet?”

“No. I wasn't sure I wanted a drink.” I surprised myself with that statement. It was the boldest statement that I had made to Astrid in person and I didn't want to lead her on, but damn , she was my fix. As the meaning of my words made sense to her, she drew her bottom lip back between her teeth and a blush started to creep up her neck.

“Brigit?” She leaned against the counter to look past me.

“Yeah, boss?” I heard Brigit answer.

“Can you fix four white chocolate mochas with raspberry syrup with skim and deliver them to us?” She straightened back up and looked back at me and tightened her hand in mine.

“Sure thing, boss.”

“I have a couple of people I'd like you to meet.” She was searching my eyes again.

“Okay.” I looked immediately around us, but didn't see anyone.

She turned away from me and gently tugged on my hand so I'd follow her. I took a moment to fully look at Astrid. She was wearing her normal jeans that both looked comfortable, but hugged her in all the right spots. And I won't lie, they did wonderful things to her backside, but most of her jeans did. She was then wearing a teal polo, which I assumed had the shop's logo on the front, but I hadn't noticed earlier. My eyes then trailed to our linked hands and how Astrid had laced our fingers together at some point. That sight seemed to almost do more to me than seeing Astrid's body before me. I took a moment to just feel the heat from her hand and the gentleness of her touch. Suddenly, Astrid stopped and I quickly moved my other hand to touch her hip to make sure I didn't mow her over. My body forgot how to breathe as she leaned back into me slightly. Before I could react, the contact was gone and she was letting go of my hand to let her hand rest on my bicep.

“Rhiannon, I'd like you to meet my parents.”

Her words shot through me and I could feel the color drain from my face. Parents? I'm sitting here loving the feel of this woman against me in front of her parents? Wow, what a first impression! Get it together Rhi! My gaze immediately shot forward and into the waiting eyes of people I've only seen in photos before. Both of them are wearing knowing smiles and I know they've also read me like an open book. Shit!

“Mrs. Connor,” I leaned forward slightly and offered my right hand. She obliged and took my hand in a heart shake. “Mr. Connor,” I offered the same hand to him. He grasped my hand with a stronger grip and squeezed enough to let me know that he was Astrid's father, but I've never been one to be intimidated by a strong hand shake, so I tightened my squeeze slightly while maintaining eye contact and wearing a smile. His smile got bigger and he released my hand. “It is an honor to meet both of you.”

“Mom, Dad, this is Rhiannon.” Astrid finished her introductions.

“Rhiannon, it is so nice to finally meet you. We've heard so much about you.” Her mom offered the nice words and looked between me and her daughter. Then she looked back to me and her eyes changed to one of concern. “How are you feeling, dear? Here, please, have a seat.” She moved to scoot a chair out near me and motioned for me to sit.

“Well, Pip, I now know you come by it honest.” I turned my attention to a completely blushing Astrid and the entire group chuckled at my comparison between mother and daughter.

I moved to pull out the seat to my left, motioning to Astrid to please sit. Then turned to Mrs. Connor and thanked her for my seat. The four of us sat down and then Brigit was there delivering four identical drinks. Astrid and I both muttered thank you to Brigit as she sat down each drink in front of us, flashed me a knowing smile and walked away. I looked back to the table to see Mrs. Connor still waiting for a response from me.

“Thank you for asking, Mrs. Connor. I am feeling well.” I decided to try to take the spotlight off of me. “I hope you both are well and enjoying your visit.”

“First of all, please call me Emily. Sven and I decided that if we wanted to see Astrid anytime soon, then we needed to come for a visit. So, here we are.” She threw a smirk toward Astrid and I knew there was more to the reason than Emily was saying. I looked to Astrid as well and there was almost panic in her eyes and that worried me.

“What mom is trying to say,” Astrid turned her eyes from her mother to land on mine. “They wanted to be nosey, so they showed up here this morning. Unannounced.” She punctuated the last word and turned back to her parents with a smile.

“Astrid, honey, what is this drink? It is absolutely wonderful!” Her father cut the tension while taking another sip of the frappe sitting in front of him.

“Oh, it is a new flavor I'm trying out to see if I want to put it on the menu.” She smiled at her father. “I'm glad you are enjoying it.”

After that the conversation stayed on very neutral topics that had all of us laughing and talking like old friends. As the conversation flowed around me, I kept coming back to the drink sitting in front of me. Last week, I stopped by to say hi to Astrid after my weekly calcium blood test at the hospital and we began to talk coffee.



“So, mixing coffees is as much of an art as mixing cocktails in a bar?” I asked while listening to Astrid geek out on mixing the perfect coffee.


“Possibly more of an art than mixing cocktails.” She raised an eyebrow in a challenge.


“Why more?”


“Because my customer's all are either sober or have a hangover. Meaning, they aren't drunk, so they demand a better taste.” I laughed but then nodded in agreement. “Here let me show you what I mean. Choose a syrup flavor.”


She thrust a list into my hands and leaned over across the counter to look at the list with me. I read through the list three times and found many syrup flavors that sounded really good. The usual names of caramel, marshmallow, chocolate, vanilla, and vanilla bean all sounded nice, but my eyes kept coming back to land on raspberry. I tried to understand why because I'm not a particular raspberry lover, so I decided to go with my gut and choose it. So I pointed out my flavor, turned the paper back toward Astrid with my finger on it and her eyes got really wide and you could see the excitement of the moment wash over her.


“Excellent choice. Give me a moment.” She rushed back toward the coffee and blender section of the shop.

I loved seeing Astrid in her element. She truly loved the business of coffee and it showed in every drink that she delivered to a customer. Some of us geek out on superheroes, others on TV shows, some on fashion, some on science, and even others on sports. Astrid's geek out was coffee and I loved seeing her purely in her element in this very moment. I was glad that the shop was in a lull because I didn't want to share this moment with anyone else around. Soon she returned, sitting two small cups in front of me. One a coffee and the other a frappe.


“You really don't want me to sleep tonight, do you?” I chuckled as she bounced slightly on her feet while waiting for me to take a drink.


“I used decaf, so you are safe. Just taste them.” With that she scooted the coffee toward me as to encourage me to hurry.


I grabbed the cup and took a smell first and was instantly hooked by a rich coffee smell laced with a hint of fresh raspberry. The smell was intoxicating. I gingerly took a sip and moaned before I could contain it. I instantly blushed and Astrid giggled a little. I took a larger sip to feel the flavors burst over my tongue. I wanted to drink the whole cup without pausing, but knew there was another drink to try. I picked up the frappe and took a sip from the straw and the same flavors burst forth, but with a small difference between the hot and cold taste. Both were intoxicating, addictive, and I wanted more.


“Good?” Astrid's voice broke through to me, but didn't take away from my moment of savoring the drinks.


“Exquisite.” I whispered. My eyes snapped back to hers as she stood there grinning. “What is this called?”


“Nothing. I just made it for you. Think I should put it on the menu?”


“Yes.” I said without hesitation and a little more forceful that I wanted.


“Then name it. It's yours to name.”


“The Pip.” I said without thinking.


She smiled shyly at me and I was trying to think of anything to break the awkwardness I felt by speaking so freely. I hadn't even thought of it, but this was Astrid in coffee form. The flavors melding of something so complex into something that grabbed ahold of all of you and wouldn't let go. It was everything she had already shown me and promised me of so much more. It was the more that made me feel awkward. It was something I knew I craved, something my soul asked for with every meeting, every text, every phone conversation, but something my mind refused to allow to happen. I looked up to see Astrid staring at me, biting on her bottom lip and her brow furrowed like she could hear my inner struggle. My heart broke and soared at the look. Soared with the possibility of what the lip bite could mean, but broke at the same moment with the confusion still upon her face. I instantly wished I hadn't spoken so freely because I feel like I'm sending so many mixed signals.


“Rhiannon,” her voice was soft and she place a hand over mind that were gripped together tightly on the counter. It was at that moment that a customer showed up at the counter. “Give me a moment.”


“Actually, I need to get going.” I said hurriedly. “Um, thanks for the drinks.”


“Be safe and I'll talk to you later.” She said as she patted my hands before she broke the contact.


“Definitely.” I then rushed away from the counter, cursing at myself and my damn mouth the whole drive home.


“Rhiannon?” I heard Astrid's concerned voice at the same time felt her grip my forearm with a little shake. I was staring at the frappe in my hands, with my thumb absently moving over the writing on the cup. There written in black sharpie were the words, “The Pip”. My eyes snapped up to Astrid. She looked from my eyes back to where my thumb was on my cup. She wasn't able to completely hide the shock of the name on the cup and her eyes shot back to mine. “Are you okay?” Her voice was soft and she trailed her hand down my arm closer to my wrist.

“My morning must be catching up with me.” I chuckled lightly and looked around the table. Both her parents were focused on her hand on my arm. “I'm sorry, but I think I'll excuse myself and allow you two to catch up with Pip.” Her mom looked from where Astrid's hand rested near my wrist to my eyes and I couldn't read the look that she gave me. I could feel panic climbing up my body and I had to leave before it consumed me. I stood suddenly, almost knocking over my chair. With my action both Astrid and Emily stood and both reached for an arm to grip.

“Are you okay, dear?” Emily asked me.

“Let me walk you out.” Astrid made the statement in a voice that I knew not to question.

“It was so nice to meet you, Emily. Please don't worry, I am fine, just a little tired. Nothing a nap won't cure, or finishing this drink.” The three chuckled at me and the tension at the table broke a little. I offered my hand to Emily and she took it again, but held onto it for a couple of seconds longer. This made me look back to her and it seemed like she was searching me for an answer to a question she hadn't asked. I then moved to shake Mr. Connor's hand. He gave me a nod and a smile.

I turned to Astrid and the concern was evident in her look at me. I could feel the panic level rise again as I knew she wouldn't let me brush her off with an ‘I'm fine' statement. I gave her a polite smile and motioned for her to walk in front of me. As she passed in front of me, I placed my hand on her lower back before I could think to guide her through the maze of chairs on the way to the door. I pulled my hand back when I realized what I had done and cursed at myself for not being able to think today. I just needed air. I just needed a moment.

As we neared the door to leave, I slowed my pace. As much as I needed to leave, I knew that reaching those doors meant facing Astrid. Facing her was something my body craved and dreaded all at the same time. As my war raged on in full force, Astrid reached the door and stood to the side waiting for me to walk over to her. I didn't change my pace and soon arrived to the side of the door. I finally raised my head from staring at the floor and met her eyes. Her chocolate eyes flicked between both my eyes with concern.

“Come on.” She reached out, grabbing my hand, and pulling me outside. Once we were outside she continued to pull me to the side where a little alcove was built inside the wall of the hospital to provide shelter from the wind. There we stopped and faced me again. “Rhiannon?”

“Yeah?” I asked quietly

“Are you okay?”

“I'm just,” she tugged on my hand which stopped my practiced ‘I'm just tired' line.

“Yes, you may be tired, but there's something else going on.” She paused and I knew she was waiting for me to explain myself. I could feel my walls climbing higher and my stubbornness kicking in as I fought to spill the feelings and panic I had felt. Astrid suddenly moved closer and threw her arms around my shoulders, pulling me down and into her. She moved the last few inches until she was fully against me and my arms moved to circle her waist to keep my balance and not topple us both over. “Rhiannon, don't shut me out.” Her voice was quiet in my ear.

“I, I, I'm not.” I stuttered out quietly to her as I could feel my body wanting to relax in her embrace. I could smell the light floral, or maybe it was fruity, scent that I had come to associate with Astrid. It was very feminine, but was wrapped into a richer, deeper smell like coffee grounds mixed with something. The memory of the coffee drink came to mind and suddenly I could taste what I was smelling. “I'm trying not to.” With those words my body gave in to her and sunk into her embrace.

“When you are ready, we can talk about it okay?” Damn, this woman knows me so well.

“Yeah.” I state quietly.

“Now, are you okay to drive home?” I went to release her hug, but she held me tight so I couldn't move.

“I need to go to the store, then I'll head home.” She finally let me out of the tight embrace, but kept her hands on my shoulders to keep me close to her.

“Why don't you just go home to rest? We can go to store tomorrow together. Okay?”

“Your parents are here, so you should spend time with them while you can.” She shouldn't be taking time away to spend it with me doing something as trivial as grocery shopping.

“Then we'll go Monday. I know Val stocked you up on things before she left, so you should be able to go a couple of days before you need to go. Okay?”

“Okay.” I think she could say she was going to sacrifice me to appease the gods at this moment and I'd willingly allow it. How did Astrid get so close to me so quick?

“Will you let me know you get home okay?”


“Okay. Drive safe, Rhiannon. I'll check in with you later.” She reached back up to hug me again. Then she grazed my cheek with her lips as she pulled away. She moved away from me, walking backwards toward the door back into the hospital.

Shit. I'm such a goner. I shook my head and walked back to my car trying to rid my brain of the memory of Astrid against me. How does that woman always know exactly how to reach me in every situation? The only person that can match how well they can read me or know what I need is Val. Yep, totally and utterly gone. But I can't be gone. I leaned my head against my arms that were circling my steering wheel. How did Astrid get so close so quick? I need to step back. I don't want to step back. I want to take a leap. I just want to take the lunge and take a chance on the two of us. I can't.

I sit back in my seat with force and exhale loudly. I can't give in. I can't just be with her like I want. She deserves better. I wipe the tears from my face and start my drive home. I know I'm going to need to have a sit down talk with Astrid and outline that I want to, but can't right now. Fuck! Fuck you cancer and how you're screwing with my life! I quickly wipe away the tears that escape and continue my way home.

Chapter 11 – Control Lost & Gained




I got home and threw myself down onto the couch, groaning when the rough impact jarred my neck. Note to self, don't throw myself onto furniture yet. I let out a loud sigh, half aggravated groan into the room and tossed my arm over my eyes. Why did I have to go see Astrid this morning? Why couldn't I just go run my errands and come home like I needed to do? Okay, I'm not stupid, I knew why. It is the same reason I was so anxious this morning while trying to decide what I needed to do and why I just happened to drive all the way to the hospital for a coffee. It's for the same reason that it felt so good to see that smile and to hear her give me a hard time. It's for the same reason that I didn't want to let her go when she hugged me and why I felt at peace while she held my hand. And yet, it all has to stop. Immediate sadness came over me. I threw a pillow across the room and fought back the burning tears that were threatening to spill over.

Rhi: I've fucked up.


Val: What did you hurt? Need me to drive back? What's going on?


Rhi: No, I'm physically okay.


Val: What did you do?

Rhi: I'm an idiot, that's what's wrong!


Val: Want me to call, so we can talk?


Rhi: No. I don't want to talk. I just want the world to swallow me whole. I want to go back to sleep, wake up and make it be morning again. Why am I such an idiot?


Val: Well, that is quite the open ended question and I'm not taking the bait. Spill. Now.


Rhi: I went to see Astrid today.


Val: And?


Rhi: Things got awkward.


I groaned allowed as my cell phone began to ring a few minutes later. This was not a good sign that Val wanted to talk. I just wanted to text. Texting was easier for me. Easier for me to put things down and agonize over what I wanted to say.

“Hi.” I said picking up the ringing phone.

“You are more annoying than Alex and Ryan!” Val all but screamed in the phone.

“That's not nice to say about your kids, Val.” Deflection. Maybe it would work?

“This is not about my kids and by the way, they are four!” She took a breath. “Spill.”

“What do you want to know?”

“Spill.” Another breath. “Now.” That came out through clenched teeth. Yep, best come clean. I could only imagine the look on her face. It may sound mean, but sometimes she had to push me. I pushed all the buttons to get her to this point, so now it was time for her to push some of her own.

“Fine. But you need to chill.”

“Rhiannon Alexandria MacReynolds.” Her tone was flat and so motherly.

“Fine, fine, fine. I'll spill!” I said quickly to pacify her before she began on me again. I threw my arm back over my eyes and tried to sort it out enough to tell her what happened. “So, I went to see Astrid today. Well, no, I got in the car to go to the store, but ended up at the hospital and walking into the Coffee Shop. Anyway, when I got there Astrid wasn't there, so I was going to leave, but Brigit and I started talking. Well, then Astrid showed up and she seemed surprised to see me. Then she introduced me to her parents. We sat and talked until Brigit brought out drinks. We talked some more and then I needed to leave.” I stopped and waited for her response.

“Rhi, honey, I need you to expand some. Where did you mess up?” She spoke softly and it made me breathe easier. “Will you help me walk through it again?”

“I guess so. I'm not sure what you aren't getting.” Why couldn't she how monumental of a disaster the day had been?

“Okay. So you wanted to go to the store, but you ended up at the Coffee Shop. Were you okay with showing up there?”

“Yeah. Kind of. Well, it sort of made me nervous that I drove there for a cup of coffee when I had several places closer.

“Okay. And then you found out Astrid wasn't there, and so you spoke with Brigit?”


“Did she say something to upset you?”

“No. She teased me about stealing Astrid's phone the night I had a low calcium.”

“Okay. So, then Astrid showed up. Isn't that what you wanted, to see her?”


“Okay. Was she angry you were there?”

“I don't think so.” I paused and thought about it again. She didn't seem upset. I remembered her smile, how she leaned in to hug me, how her hand ran from my shoulder to my hand and how it felt to have her fingers interlacing with mine. “No,” I tried to contain my smile. “She wasn't mad that I was there.”

“Was she happy to see you?” If I wasn't listening close, I would have missed the question.

“Yeah, she was Val. She greeted me by razzing me. Then she immediately moved to hug me, but then she didn't remove her hand. She held my hand again.” I felt embarrassed by admitting all of this to Val. I wasn't very comfortable with public displays of affection and talking about them, even with Val, was really hard. I always felt like someone was laughing at me or something.

“She's reached for your hand before. Was today different?”

“Yeah, she wouldn't let go of it. Well, not until we go to the table that her parents were sitting at. Then she let go of it after introducing me to them.”

“Wow, so you met the parents? How was that?”

“Not like you are thinking.” We both chuckled. “They actually seem really nice. Her mom talked more than her father, but he didn't just sit there, he was engaged in the conversation. And you would have loved to see how much of her mother Astrid takes after. It was kind of surreal in a way.”

“So, why did you need to leave?”

“It all became too much.”

“What became too much?”

“Remember me telling you about the drink we made?”


“She's putting it on the menu.”

“Oh.” I didn't know what to say next. I didn't know if I needed to explain anything else or if she understood. “How did she tell you?”

“Well, she didn't actually tell me. She ordered some fraps from Brigit to have delivered to her parents' table when they were done. Instead of bringing the drink that Astrid ordered, Brigit brought out the new drink.”

“Well, her parents loved the drink and asked about it. Astrid just told them that it was a new drink she was thinking of putting on the menu.”

“Did she change the name?”

“No.” Was that the problem? Was that what spooked me? Did it bother me that she was putting a drink on the menu that I named after her?

“How do you feel about the drink being on her menu?” And there was the million dollar question.

“I should have never named it.” I regret my outburst. I regret that I spoke without thinking about what it would reveal about the moment, about Astrid herself.

“Rhi, we've talked about this. She knows you like her. Hell, anyone that sees you to in the same room knows that you both like each other! So, maybe her putting this on the menu is her just returning your favor. You slipped and named the drink. So she's putting this really intimate thing about herself that exists only between you two, and putting it out there for the world. Maybe this is her slip.”

Val has a point. I hadn't thought of that. Plus, my cup seemed to be the only one with anything written on it. I had tried to look at all of the cups, trying to see if the name was on any of them. Did I freak out for nothing? Shouldn't I have given her a chance to explain or to tell me the story? Oh no, I messed up big time, but not in the way I thought.

“Rhi, what's wrong? I can feel your brain spinning from over here.”

“I panicked.” I whispered as I felt tears burning my eyes again.


“Val, I panicked. I panicked about the drink.” I was still whispering.

“Oh, honey. What did you do?”

“I ran.”

“What do you mean?”

“I panicked and I ran.” I was ashamed that I panicked.

“And she let you leave?”

“No. Well, eventually.”

“Which is it?”

“She knew I was panicking. She immediately started to walk me out of the lobby area.”

“Was she mad?”

“I don't think so. I don't know.”

“Okay. Well, what did she do after walking you out?”

“She hugged me.”

“Well, that doesn't sound so bad.”

“It wasn't.” I suddenly was remembering the way she smelled and felt. In the same moment, I remembered how I felt being held to her. How it felt to have her arms cradling my shoulders with such softness, but enough firmness that I knew I shouldn't fight her and that I was safe. How in that small moment, all my walls fell and I felt so lost, but found at the same time.

“What else happened?”

“She told me not to shut her out.” I whispered the words as I was still lost in the feeling of the moment we had shared.

“Are you okay?” Val's voice asked me cautiously.

“Yeah.” I took a moment to gather my thoughts. “Val, I was such an idiot. I never let her explain. I just panicked. And she took the time to make sure I just didn't run away. I'm so stupid. I'm such a bad friend.”

“Something tells me she'll forgive you.”

“Not helping.” I was not amused by her sarcasm. “I need to talk to her.”

“Yep. And I'm glad you realize this on your own, so I don't have to explain it to you.” She laughed a little at that one.

“You are such a great help, Val!” I said with as much sarcasm as possible.

“Glad to be of service.” She gave me a moment of silence. “You off the ledge now?”

“Yeah.” I paused again. Once again, Val helped me talk it out. “Val, I, uh.”

“Rhi, please don't.” She interrupted me. “We both know that I'm going to call you in a panic in the next few days because one of my mini-chiefs is hiding so well that I will panic. And of course, only Aunt Rhi will know how to find him or her. So, please don't thank me. However, I love you and I don't mind hearing that back.”

“You know I love you! And I'll be here for your panicked call.”

We both chuckled and then said our goodbyes. Looks like I'm going to need to make a house call tomorrow, or a phone call tonight. I just know that Astrid's parents are in town and I don't want to interrupt her time with them. Maybe my apology can wait until Monday. Yeah, Monday sounds good.







I can't get Rhiannon off my mind. I keep playing our conversation from earlier over and over in my head. I keep wondering what I needed to do differently. I got so scared when she realized the drink Brigit served to the table was the one she created and named. I almost asked Brigit to take them back as it wasn't what I asked her to make, but I honestly the harm in serving the new drink either. Rhiannon panicked. I never thought Rhiannon was someone that shied away or became scared of the idea of something beyond friendship. We haven't really discussed our friendship in the past month, but I know she doesn't want anything beyond for a while. Hell, I can't really blame her. I can't imagine fighting cancer and going through all the changes her body is going through on top of trying to figure out what I'm feeling toward a friend. And I know I'd be terrified that I'd mess something up and lose a friend. I know that Rhiannon has a group of friends here local, but I haven't met any of them. She will occasionally mention that someone texted or check on her, but it is a rare occurrence. No, I understand why she may panic about the drink and what it could imply.

“Astrid,” a hand touching my back and made me jump in surprise as my name followed the touch. I gripped the counter in front of the sink tighter and tried to slow my racing heart. “Oh, I'm sorry dear, I didn't mean to startle you. I tried to get your attention since I came into the kitchen, but you just kept staring at the dish water.” I turned to my mom with a smile.

“I'm sorry, mom.” I took the towel she offered me and turned to face her, resting my hip against the counter. “I was just lost in thought.”

“I'm going to guess it is thoughts of a certain tall, tan, beauty.” My mom smiled at me and I could feel the blush creeping its way up my neck. “You can't even deny it, dear. Your blush answers for you.” She pulls me in closer to her and into a hug. “You know, I won't lie, I thought for sure you were going to tell me that you had a new girlfriend today.”

“Mom,” I pull away from the hug so I could look at her in the eyes. “I've told you before, we are just friends.”

“Yes, you've said.” She shifted to put her arm around my shoulders and began to steer me out of the kitchen and toward the den. “Come, sit, and talk to us.” I started to interrupt her, but she talked over me. “Your Dad and I want to know more about your life, the shop, and Rhiannon.”

“I've already told you about all of those topics.” I said while giving in and sitting beside my mother on the couch.

“Okay, so we have specific questions we want to ask.” Dad chimed in while entering the room and joining us on the couch while taking a seat on the other side of me.

My parents are very liberal and I grew up in an atmosphere that allowed me to really explore who I was and what I wanted to do. They were never shocked by anything I did as a child. Once I got into my teen years, I tried to shock them a few times, but they didn't even bat an eye at my behavior or choices. I guess this was a blessing as I went to college and came back with my first girlfriend. They never cared about the gender, but how the person treated me. We often had these little sessions on the couch as I grew up. It meant they wanted answers to some tough questions, but still wanted me to know that I am loved. I'm very grateful for my parents.

“Okay, I give in. What questions do you two have?” I asked while trying to get comfy.

“Your shop seems to be going very well and it looks like you have a very capable staff.” Dad started the conversation and I rolled my eyes. I knew the first few questions were going to be easy and general. They always were.

“That isn't what you really want to say, but I'll let you ease into it.” I smiled at my dad, so he'd know that I was only teasing him slightly. “But to answer your question, yes, my business is going well. I am fortunate to have very little turn-over and that the employees I do have are very good at their jobs. I have a few that are ready for more responsibility and a few that have stepped up without really having to be asked. It is a blessing and I'm trying hard to make sure that it continues.”

“Are you taking time to live life away from the shop?” My dad asks this question as well.

“You do see that I have a house that I sleep in every night. I don't understand what you really want here.” I look between the two and just wish they'd ask me what they really want to know. I know it is coming and I still worry about them actually asking the questions. I know they want to know about Rhiannon. I've talked too much about it at times and not enough other times. My parents know me. It is a blessing and a curse.

“We worry that you are spending your entire days at the shop. We know how you pour yourself into your work. We want to make sure that you are taking time to live life and have fun.” My mom says.

“Life is more than just work.” Dad put in his two cents.

“I'm taking the time that I can.” I see them both grimace a little. “No, I mean, I'm living my life. I'm not at work 24/7 and I'm taking out time for a life away from the shop.” They exchange a look over me and I hate when they do this silent communication thing. “I swear!” I say with a little more conviction.

“Okay, we believe you. For now.” My father says and pulls me to him by my shoulders and I allow him to give me a half hug. I lay my head on his shoulder for a moment and allow myself to enjoy his closeness. As a child, I loved to lean against my father and just let his strength soak into me. He was always a very solid man, but was so gentle and kind. He was never like the other fathers in our neighborhood. I'd watch my friends' fathers and how they treated their daughters. They always kept them at arm's length. My father, never did that with me. My parents were my best friends growing up and we still remain very close to this day.

“Tell us about Rhiannon.” My mom asks quietly as she takes my hands in hers. I sit up from my father's shoulder so I can have the serious conversation they've been wanting to have since this morning at the shop.

“I've told you about her some.” My mom nods to acknowledge this is the truth. “What more do you want to know about her.”

“Hun, we don't want to ambush you or make you think you have no privacy. We just want to make sure you are going into this with your eyes open.” My father chimes in quietly while putting his arm across the back of the couch so I can lean back against him.

“I am.” There's silence after my statement.

“You love her?” Mom asks still keeping her voice soft.

“Wow, you sure don't start easy!” I exclaim with a laugh, but it is just a ploy to allow myself to think before I answer. I quietly respond, “I don't know.”

“What confuses you?” Mom replies.

“Everything. Nothing.” I pull my hands back into my lap and begin to play with my cuticles and nails. It's my tale that I'm nervous.

“Astrid, love is confusing in a normal circumstance. I can't imagine how your emotions are all over the place right now.” Dad pulls his arm back around my shoulders, but moves closer to me instead of drawing me to him.

I nod to confirm because I don't trust my voice at this moment. I can feel my parents' love radiating around me. I haven't been this confuse since college when I thought I wanted to marry one of my girlfriends. I ran home to my parents and they let me stew for three days. Finally, they sat me down on the couch, much like tonight, and we had a heart to heart chat. They never raise their voice, they never pressure me to answer, but they always seem to say the right things. They ask the questions that I refuse to ask myself and they let me talk things out until it is clearer in my head.

“I told you Val gave me a choice.” They both nodded. “I never questioned my answer or why she told me to choose. It was one of those things that I just knew without a doubt that I wanted to be in Rhiannon's life.” My mom took a breath and I knew what she was going to ask, so I answered it before she could. “I still don't doubt that decision.”

“Then what is confusing?”

I sat there knowing that I already knew the answer. I knew what confused me and what the answers were. I knew that there really wasn't any other question but when. When things would progress with Rhiannon. I knew I was supposed to be in her life and I knew I belonged as more than a friend. I just didn't know when I'd have that opportunity. I am an inpatient person with a lot of things in my life, but I know that I have to be patient with this. I can't hurry her. I can't hurry us. But it hurts to hold back with her. It hurts to not hold her hand or to share our first kiss. It hurts to think that she could not want any of that with me. It confuses me because I'm not in control of anything in this situation.

“Hun?” Dad squeezes me a little to regain my attention back to mom's question.

“I'm not in control.” I pause as those words echo inside my head and inside my heart. “I'm not confused about anything that I feel about or toward Rhiannon. I just, I hate that I don't have any control over any of this. And I know that's selfish. I mean, I know how bad I feel about not having control, but then I think about how much control was taken from her. It hurts to know, and see, what she's going through and no one has any kind of control over it. Her illness has all of the control for all of us and we are just along for the ride.” The more I talked, the more my tears came to the surface. I didn't want to cry. I had held it all back for so long because in this story, I wasn't the one that should be crying. Rhiannon should be the basket case and I should be there to comfort her.

“Astrid, dear, control isn't lost.” My mom reached up to wipe a few of my tears away that escaped. “You have all the control because you can control how much you are there for her. No one can take that control away from you. You hang onto what control you do have and eventually she'll beat this. Eventually, the two of you can control the situation again.” Mom wiped another tear and my dad kissed my temple. They allowed me a few moments to collect myself and reign back in my emotions. “Now,” my mom said through her exhale. “We want to spend more time with her. We want to make sure she deserves your affections.”

“Hear us out,” dad interrupted me before I could begin to protest. “You are an adult and you can date, see, and socialize with whomever you choose. But this woman, she has captured your heart. We want to get to know her, just a little more. I'm sure she is worthy of your love, or you wouldn't be falling for her, but we want to get to know her ourselves.”

“I think what your dad is trying to say is that we just want to know her more than hearing about her through you. Neither of us want to overstep, you know we aren't like that. We understand the situation is delicate at best. We want Rhiannon to get to know us as well because we are part of your life.” Leave it to my mom to tie the pretty bow around the package and smooth all the rough edges.

I know that my parents don't mean anything by wanting to know more about Rhiannon. I've felt it coming. First I'd accidently let her name slip when we were just meeting at the shop and getting to know each other. But when I started spending more time with her and Val, their names came up a lot. At first my mom had thought that Val was Rhiannon's new girlfriend she was bringing around, but I quickly set the relationship straight. I'm sure that raised even more alerts for my parents to know that Rhiannon meant more to me than I was letting on. But as parents go, they aren't ones for elaborate threats or warnings about hurting their daughter. They've never been that way. I know that their curiosity is genuine.

“Honey, we are going to turn in for the night as it has been a long day. You think about what we've said and just let us know.” Mom patted my leg as she made to get off the couch. She then leaned over me and pressed a kiss to the top of my head. My father repeated the gesture before they both disappeared from the room.

I sat there starting at the wall for a while, trying to stop my mind from thinking about anything. I could feel my subconscious mind battling itself on what we should do, but I already knew in my heart what I wanted to do. But sitting here volleying ideas back and forth in my head is not helping my situation or my anxiousness. I flung myself up off the couch and made my last rounds around the house, making sure all the doors were locked, lights off, nightlights on, and alarm set. When I was satisfied the house was safe, then I grabbed a bottle of water from the fridge and meandered toward my bedroom.

After closing the door after me, I flung myself down across the bed while also sitting my bottle of water on the side table. Today seemed to be on auto play in my head. I was second guessing every move, every word, every look made between Rhiannon and I today. The fact that her text after getting home today was simply a ‘ hey, I'm home.' I had tried not to contact her for the rest of the day when the follow-ups to my response remained one word answers. Maybe I shouldn't have pulled her to me today, so she couldn't escape. Honestly, I did it on instinct alone. I know that there have been some times that Val has tried to get Rhiannon to open up or believe her, so she always makes physical contact in those moments. When I asked Val about it late one night, she simply said that words don't mean as much as an action. I get that mentality. A physical touch can convey a truth that words could never carry. I needed her to know that I wasn't leaving. I needed her to know that I'd always be here for her. I needed to know she wasn't running. Shit! When did I become a physical person? When did I start trusting touch over words? If I'm honest, it started when I met her. She's been the only person that I wanted to get closer to, wanted to touch more, wanted to emphasize my meaning by a simple placed hand, wanted to hug hello and goodbye, wanted to feel her skin beneath my lips. Damn! I have it bad and I have to get this under control.

I picked up my phone to check if I have any missed calls or messages, but didn't find any. Before I realized what I was doing, I had opened my thread with Rhiannon and began typing.

Astrid: I j ust wanted to check on you. I hope you are doing okay and that you got some rest.

Yeah, that is believable. I am supposed to be checking on her for Val, but she's going to know this isn't for Val. If Val wants to know how she is, she'll call or text Rhiannon herself. I waited for a while, but did not get a reply from Rhiannon. I had to at least know if she was okay. Time to check in with Val.

Astrid: Have you heard from Rhiannon today?

Val's response came almost instantly.

Val: Maybe. Have you?

Astrid: By that answer, you know I have. Is she okay? Did I mess up?

I could feel tears burning my eyes again and furiously rubbed them to try to hold back the emotions. Why did I have to step over that line today? Sure, Rhiannon and I were getting closer, but my hug today was the most intimate thing we had shared thus far. And now I ruined it. Shit! Fuck! Why!?!?!? I'm such an idiot!

Val: Our girl is fine. She might be living in her head a little right this moment, but it might do her some good to visit there for a bit. Are you okay?


Astrid: Just reliving the day and probably over thinking everything. She told you everything?

Val: Yep. Right down to the drink she named for you and the vice-grip hug you gave. I applaud you and your efforts. *Smiling Emoji* Way to make our girl take notice! *Clapping hand emoji*


Astrid: I think I messed up today, V! I don't even know why I pulled the hug stunt. It just felt right. It felt like she was running and I didn't want her to just walk away.

Val: Okay. I JUST left. How'd you two get into so much drama in such a short amount of time? Sheesh! *Smiley with a tongue sticking out emoji* Now, first, you did not mess up. Your instincts were right because she was running. Just talk to her. Tell her what you are thinking, what you are feeling. Okay, maybe not everything that I know you are thinking/feeling, but enough she gets an idea where things stands.

Just talk to her. God she makes it sound so easy! I wish I could just tell her where I stand with everything. When Val asked me to choose to go all in or walk away, I knew she didn't mean for anything more than as a friend. My head knew that I was walking into the situation to stay as a friend and to be there as a friend. But my heart walked in open to all possibilities and hoping for more. I may have not known that was what my heart was doing on the first day, but I knew shortly after. Things with Rhiannon have always been easy for me. I remember having this feeling of arriving home when I started spending time together.

Astrid: Thanks Val. So how are things there? Sorry to have jumped into my drama today. LOL How are Alex and Ryan? Have you seen Ayden yet?


Val: No worries dear. I figured you'd be reaching out eventually. Alex and Ryan are currently playing with their Legos. They were excited I was home for all of 10 min before doing their own thing. Ayden was home last night, but has been at the office all day. He said he'd be late tonight. So it begins! LOL


Astrid: Well, you can't say you don't get any time to yourself then. LOL Give the kids a hug and take a bubble bath or something after they are in bed. Take some time to pamper yourself. You deserve it!!!


What am I going to do? Maybe I need to just let Rhiannon deal with her own head for the rest of the weekend. But if I do that, I'm scared that she'll get really lost up there. Is that wrong of me to think about that? I feel like if I let this wait until next week that we will slip back into acquaintances. I don't think I can take that chance. Maybe it is wrong, or selfish to feel like this, but she's become so much more than the person I used to have conversations with once in a while at the shop and everyday it seems that the connection grows. I don't want to lose that. I only have one more option. I opened our text string and hit the call button. Maybe she was already asleep or not with her phone, but I needed to try.

“Hello.” Relief flooded me at hearing her voice. She answered the phone! She could have just as easily of hit ignore.

“Hey, Rhiannon. It's Astrid.”

“I wondered why my phone was flashing your name.” Humor, that is a good sign. I chuckled.

“So funny!” I paused to listen at her own chuckled and the sound warmed my heart. “Are you feeling better tonight?” I cringed at asking that so quickly.

“You could have just texted me about that, but yeah, I got some sleep and I feel better.”

“I texted earlier, but I didn't hear from you. I just wanted to make sure you were okay before turning in for the night.”

“Turning in before 10. Wow, Pip. You are showing your age there.” She chuckled again with me. “And for the record, I just got back to my phone. Sorry, I didn't text you back. But, I'm doing okay.”

“Well, I'm glad that you weren't ignoring me.” I tried to keep my tone light, but there was truth in my words.

“Actually, I'm the one that is lucky you aren't ignoring me.

“Why should I be ignoring you?” I wasn't sure how to approach this, but I guess here we go. “Do you want to talk about it?” I asked quietly and I am sure that it sounded as unsure as I felt.

“Want to, not really.” Her voice was really quiet. “But, I think we need to.”

“I agree. We do need to talk about it.” I took a moment to gather my courage, but she beat me to it.

“Are you really putting the drink on the menu?”

“Before we begin. Can we both agree to tell the absolute truth, regardless if we think it is what the other wants to hear or if we are scared to say it?” I was shocked by my own courage.

“I'm always truthful with you, Astrid.” I was struggling to find the right way to counter those words from her. “I'm sorry. You are right. I'll give you the absolute truth. I promise.”

“Thank you.” I all but whispered as I was surprised that I didn't need to twist her arm more. “I promise too.” I took a deep breath. “Yes, I am really going to put the drink on the menu.”


“Wow,” I breathed out. “Nothing like jumping right in.” I chuckled slightly as I tried to organize my thoughts to answer the question.

“If you don't want to get into it, then I'll understand.” Rhiannon gave me the out I wanted, but I knew I couldn't take it. If I had any hope of her being honest with me, then I needed to be honest with her.

“No. I want to answer. I was just trying to think of how to say it and have it make sense.” I took a steadying breath and breathed out slowly, collecting my courage. “There are several reasons, actually. From a business aspect, I think the drink will sell and be popular. You made a great drink.” She chuckled with me. “From a personal perspective, well, that is where it gets more confusing. I, uh, well…..part of me wanted to add it because it is a drink that you created.” I pulled in another nervous breath. “And another part of me loved that I could put something so personal on display and no one would know the history of it.”

“Where you going to talk to me about it?” She mumbled something else beneath her breath, but I didn't catch what she said. “Shit, I'm sorry, Astrid. I'm out of line on this one.” I interrupted her before she could continue.

“Of course I was going to discuss it with you first. How are you out of line by wanting to know that?”

“It's your shop, Astrid. You don't need to run anything by me. I'm sorry.”

“Rhiannon,” my heart was breaking. “Do you really think that I would publically put something so personal on display without talking with you? I waited for a while and didn't get a response. I was starting to get a little upset that she could think that little of me. “I thought you knew me better than that.” More silence. “Well, let me set the record straight.” My voice was a little more forceful than I wanted, but it really did hurt that she could think I'd be that insensitive. “I was going to talk to you before I put it on the menu. I ran the drink by Brigit to get her opinion on the taste. Yes, before you ask, I did tell her the story behind it because I have that kind of relationship with Brigit, but you already know that. You heard the order I put in with her, so she brought those over on her own. I didn't know that she was going to do that, so I apologize for her behavior. I've already spoken to her about it.” I took a breath trying to calm myself again. “Does that answer what you wanted to know?”

“I'm sorry.” Her voice is barely a whisper and it instantly stopped the anger within.

“Did you really think that I would have done something like that?”

“I, uh.”

“You promised, Rhiannon. Just tell me the truth.”

“No.” Her answer was confident. “No, I honestly didn't think that you would do something like that.”

“Then why did you panic today?”

“I, uh, I shouldn't have panicked. I'm sorry about that.” I knew she was trying to just skim the outer edges of the truth.

“You are entitled to your feelings, Rhiannon.” I wanted to coax it all out of her. I knew that she was warring with her emotions. How could she not be? After texting with Val earlier, I knew that Rhiannon was struggling with something. I just needed her to open up about it and let me in. “It is okay to panic. I'm just trying to understand why you panicked.”

“It was too much.” I could barely hear her.

“What was too much?”

“Everything, Astrid. Me, you, your parents, the drink. It just all hit.” I remained silent, hoping she'd continue. “This isn't coming out right. I think everything just overwhelmed me when everything started clicking. I, uh, I need to ask you something.”


“Um, do you, uh, what are we doing?” The last part was rushed and took a minute for me to understand.

“We are getting to know each other.”

“We've been doing that for a while.” It was a statement, but I knew where Rhiannon's mind was going. Mine was already there, had been all day.

“Rhiannon, I won't lie to you and I think we've been dancing around this for a while. I want to see where we can go.”

“Astrid,” Rhiannon started to say something, but I interrupted her again.

“Just let me finish, please. This is hard for me and I need to get through it.” I was met with silence. “I want us to be more. But I know that isn't an option right now. I think we are dancing around this thing for no reason. If I'm reading you right, you are right there with me. But the timing is wrong right now. You need to concentrate on you and getting better. And I want to concentrate on being there for you in whatever capacity you allow. So, yes, I understand why you panicked today. I'm sorry if I overstepped any lines with you as that was not my intention.”

“Thank you.” Her voice sounded like she was crying or fighting it. I just remained silent as I wasn't sure what I should say next. We had been dancing around this for over a month and it needed to be laid out on the table and discussed. Rhiannon didn't need any further stress in her life right now and I needed to know where her lines were drawn so I didn't make her uncomfortable. “Thank you for understanding that I can't give you more right now.”

“But you want more?” I held my breath hoping her next words wouldn't break my heart.

“Gods yes!” Her exclamation made both of us laugh softly.

“Well, at least we are on the same page. Right now we concentrate on what we need to and when you feel ready, then we can see if there is a more.”

“That sounds like a plan.”

“Do you feel better now?”

“Yes. You?”

“Yes.” I paused for a moment, not sure how my next question would go over. “Rhiannon, I want to ask something from you.”

“Uh, oh, okay.”

“Will you promise not to push me away? I know that everyone's immediate future is kind of unknown, but I want you to know that I'm going to be there. I want to be there for you, even if it is never more than a friend. I know that you keep a lot to yourself, but I don't want you to hide from me and I don't want you trying to push me away.”

“I'll try.”

To be continued

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