Blurred Lines Page 20

Later, much later, I would bone up on the details.

Lump. Stage Three. Chemo. Radiation. Mastectomy. Prognosis.

All, terrible, terrible words, stemming from that one destructive c-word.

The months that followed were as horrible as you’d expect. I cried. A lot. Even worse, my dad cried. My mom never did, and that almost made the whole thing worse, because she was the one who was sick, and she was so much stronger than any of us.

She lost her hair. She was sick and frail, but never weak in spirit. I went over there at least three times a week to see her, usually more, and even on the worst days she never once failed to greet me with a smile.

I’d wanted to shave my head to be in solidarity with her, but she wouldn’t hear of it. I’d gotten my thick, dark, wavy hair from her, and she’d insisted that I keep mine long so her own hair wouldn’t be a stranger when it came back.

So many evenings we’d sit quietly in the living room with a cup of tea, listening to her favorite female jazz musicians as she’d French braid my hair, me on the floor, her on the couch behind me, wearing one of her brightly colored scarves on her bare scalp.

It got worse before it got better. Grim doctors’ appointments where the prognosis would give us a thread of hope, and not much more. A double mastectomy where she bravely had her own breasts cut away and replaced by something that looked the same, but wasn’t.

And then…

And then my mom got better.

She’s been in remission for five months now, and as full of life as she is, it seems like it’s been years since we got the good news.

Her hair’s still short, but sassily so. Her body’s growing stronger every day. So much so that we’re running a 5K together next month—a breast cancer fundraiser, where she’ll proudly pin a survivor bib onto her shirt.

I couldn’t be more proud.

Anyway, during my mom’s sickness, I always knew that I wasn’t alone, but I tried really hard not to let her sickness be about me. When I cried, it was late at night, when nobody was around. Not Lance, and not even Ben, although Ben knew that I was crying. I knew he knew, because some mornings I would find him asleep against my bedroom door, almost as though he’d set up camp there to guard me in my grief.

I don’t mean to sell Lance short. He was there for me the entire time.

But it was Ben who really got me through that terrible time.

Ben who’d grieved with me, as though my mom and dad were his parents.

I’ve met Ben’s actual parents a handful of times. At parent weekends, for graduation, and so forth. I even stayed at his dad and stepmom’s for a full week one summer when I went out to visit. They were nice.

His mom is nice, too, in a controlling, intense kind of way.

But my parents? My parents are awesome. My house was totally the house where other kids wanted to come over to do homework, and where my volleyball team always wanted to do their slumber parties. Not because they were lax, Do whatever you want, kids! parents, but because they talked to me and my friends like we were people, not children.

And none of my friends benefited quite so much from their coolness as Ben. From the day I took him home my first month of college for a home-cooked meal and to do laundry (dorm laundry rooms are the worst), Ben had taken to my parents, and they to him.

I’m an only child, and though they never once indicated that they wanted more kids, I definitely got the impression that if they had a son, they’d want him to be like Ben.

He never tries to kiss their ass or impress them, and that only impresses them all the more.

And they’d never, ever admit it—again, because they’re cool like that—but I’m pretty sure they preferred Ben to Lance.

Just slightly.

They were never anything less than perfectly nice to Lance when I brought him home for dinner, but my dad’s offbeat humor went over Lance’s head more often than not. And Lance, while well-intentioned, was far too deferential to my mother, who prefers someone who talks straight with her.

So tonight, I bring my parents a treat.

I bring them Ben.

“You sure it’s cool that I’m tagging along?” Ben asks for the twelfth time, as I pull my Prius into my parents’ driveway.

“Actually, no,” I say, giving him a sad look. “Maybe stay in the car?”

“You know what I mean,” he says, grabbing the bottle of wine we brought with us and shoving open the car door. “Usually Lance goes with you to family dinners.”

I pause and look at him in surprise. His tone isn’t quite petulant, but it’s…something, and for the first time I wonder if Ben felt left out when Lance and I started getting serious, and I started taking him over to family dinners.

In college, I always brought Ben with me when I went home, but after graduation, Lance and I started to feel like more of a thing, so I brought him instead. Obviously. He was my boyfriend.

“You know you could have come with us,” I say, shutting the car door.

“Yeah, that would have been awesome. Sitting in the backseat on the way over. Squeezing in a fifth chair at the table.”

“You came over all the time when Mom was sick,” I say.

And he had. I’d never loved my best friend more than when he volunteered—no, insisted—on helping out with some of Mom’s chemo appointments.

“Sure, because Lancelot wasn’t there,” he said, giving me a shit-eating grin.

I pinch his arm as we wipe our feet on the doormat, but the gesture practically breaks a nail because he’s all muscle.

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