Redemption Ch. 03bychezshirecat©
One night, a few days after a treatment, I woke up around midnight in pretty bad shape.
After I'd coughed up an insane amount of blood and goo, Annie packed me into her car and drove me straight to the hospital. She called Gavin to let him know. Her voice was shaking with fear as she talked to him and fought not to speed through countless red lights.
It turned out I had a blood clot, which required my first hospital stay overnight. Once they had me in a room, I was so drugged I didn't know which way was up. That's probably why I thought I was dreaming when I first saw my ex-wife Paige crying beside me. She was holding my hand, grasping it tightly, and murmuring some kind of prayer over and over again. I tried to reassure her, to make sure she was OK, but I found myself drifting instead back into darkness.
I knew I wasn't dreaming the next time I saw her. A nurse was standing over me, fiddling with my IV, and I recognized instantly where I was. When I spotted Paige standing nearby, anxiously rubbing her arms with her hands, I took a deep, strained breath and croaked, "What are you doing here?"
She moved forward, cautiously, and said, "Gavin was scared, and he called me. How do you feel?"
I blinked, realized I felt pretty crappy, and said, "Well, I've had better days." I tried to smile to soften that truth.
She came closer and slid her hand into mine. I tried to squeeze back. Everything took so much effort though. "Why didn't you tell me, Drew? Why?" she whispered. Her eyes were hurting. "When we had lunch, you could have told me you had cancer."
"Don't know. Just couldn't bring myself to," I managed before sliding back into the darkness again.
The next time I awoke, Paige seemed to be asleep in the chair beside my bed. Surprisingly, I spotted Annie in another chair, reading a magazine. She came over when I stirred and placed a gentle kiss on my forehead. "Guess I owe you one, kid," I told her.
"Nah. You owe me a million. Seriously, I've never been so scared in my life. Don't. Ever. Do. That. Again."
"Yeah, I'll make sure I don't." I smiled, and it was easier this time. I wasn't so groggy anymore. I felt a little stronger, too. "So am I going to live this time?"
"This time and a long time, pal. You're not getting rid of us that easy," she said and smiled.
"Us?" I questioned, confused. She nodded toward Paige.
"I like her. A lot." She raised her eyebrows, as if that surprised her a little. "She hasn't left your side since they moved you to the room. She's been pretty frantic with worry."
I glanced at Paige, watched her sleeping, curled uncomfortably in the chair, and nodded. I couldn't help but remember the things I'd read in her journal. Despite the fact she'd cheated on me, she'd also seemed to genuinely care for me. "She's got a good heart when it comes right down to it. Always has."
"She does," Annie agreed with a nod. "Good people make bad mistakes every day, Drew. Know what I mean? It's how they redeem themselves that matters in the end."
Redeem themselves? My eyebrows furrowed at the remark. I'd never really thought about it that way. I hadn't exactly given Paige any chances to redeem herself after her affair, but hell, she could have forced the issue if she'd wanted. Maybe all of this was God's way of punishing me for that while giving Paige her chance to repent. I thought about some of the things I'd learned from reading Paige's journals. There were times I hadn't been understanding and possibly even harsh. Maybe God was punishing me for not being a better husband. Who knew? I sucked at all of this God stuff. I sighed and started coughing like crazy. It startled Paige out of her slumber. Annie quickly lifted a cloth to my mouth to catch the mucus I excreted.
"What's wrong?" Paige demanded, scrambling to my side. Her eyes searched Annie's then mine. "Drew?"
"He's fine. He'll be fine," Annie assured us both. She pressed the nurse's call button anyway.
I had a fitful night, unable to sleep until the doctor came in to check on me around five in the morning. He assured me I was responding well to medication and that no other blood clots were evident. I should be able to go home soon.
"You'll have someone staying with you, right?" the young doctor asked.
I looked at Annie, who was looking hard at Paige and vice versa. Annie uncrossed her arms and said, "He won't be alone. Don't worry."
When the doctor left, Annie asked Paige if she could have a private moment alone with me. I had the distinct impression they were planning something together.
"So, I've been offered a chance to travel to Birmingham to work on the Ryder account," Annie began, smiling wryly. "I need to leave tomorrow."
"That's great. That means you're in line for a promotion." I smiled, genuinely glad for her. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine."
"I know."' She suddenly looked very serious. "Paige will be looking after you."
"Paige?" I frowned.
"She offered -- actually, she demanded that she be able to help out," Annie said. "I think it's a great idea. I gave her my key to your apartment and she's going to be staying with you until I get back."
I frowned harder. "I'm so glad you are both making plans about me without my consent," I scoffed. "I'll be fine on my own."
"No, you won't," she insisted in a firm voice.
"Dammit," I swore. "This isn't fair."
"No, probably not, but it is what it is." She turned and went to open the door. "Someday you'll thank me."
Annie left town before I was released from the hospital, and I had to rely on my ex-wife to shuttle me home. I repeatedly told her I didn't need her help, but she seemed determined to offer it anyway.
Finally, I said, "Really, Paige, no one expects you to still take care of me."
She had just helped me get settled in my bed. Her eyes glared at me. "Just shut the hell up, Drew. Just shut up about it. I took a vow once for better or worse, in sickness and in health. This is where I belong, and this is where I'm staying."
Something inside me snapped. "You already broke those vows, Paige. A long time ago. Don't try to pretend they still mean something to you now."
Her jaw clenched, but she didn't say a word. I recognized the glint of pain in her eyes and wished I could take it back. Even if I did mean the words. She sighed and looked properly chastised. "It's time for your medicine. You need to get some rest. You're not back to full speed yet."
And that's how it went for the next few days. I was a miserable patient, but Paige proved to be a tolerant, patient nursemaid. No matter how often I snapped at her, she never snapped back again. She simply kept quiet and made sure I had my medicine, food and got plenty of rest.
I felt well enough to return to work almost a week after being released from the hospital. Annie was still out of town, and when she called each day, our conversations grew shorter and shorter. I could tell she was preoccupied with her work account, but I also wondered if she was distancing herself from me because of Paige. Stepping aside, if you will. I decided to discuss that theory with Paige to see if she'd done anything crazy ... like warn Annie away.
Paige had been working from my dining room, which is where I found her that morning, buried up to her eyeballs in research papers. She looked surprised to see me dressed for work.
"Are you sure you're ready for that?" she asked, frowning.
I straightened my tie and nodded. "I have to pay the bills somehow. Besides, I'm feeling almost normal again." I cleared my throat and smiled. "You know I can't ever express how grateful I am for what you've done, and I apologize if I've treated you rudely. You know I've always made a terrible patient." She smiled wryly at this but said nothing. She seemed to be watching me warily, so I continued, "You can go home now, Paige. I'll be fine on my own, and I don't want to be an inconvenience you any longer. I'm sure you miss your bed, your apartment, your privacy. Besides, Annie will be back tomorrow if I need a babysitter."
Her eyes and her smile dimmed. She looked away, focused on her papers. "I'll try to be gone when you get home. Do you mind if I finish what I'm doing first?"
"Of course." Our discussion about Annie could wait. I grabbed my briefcase and headed out the door. "Stay as long as you need." I was halfway to my car when I realized I'd forgotten an important folder. I hurried back to my apartment, opened the door and froze.
Paige had her head buried between her arms that were folded on my table. Sobs wracked her body. Loud, gut-wrenching sobs. Why was she unhappy now? I wondered almost in irritation. She should have been glad to get rid of me. It had to be the guilt again, I decided. I was sure the guilt was her motivation for everything she'd done for me lately.
"Paige?" I asked softly. She jerked up, frantically wiping her eyes. "Is something wrong?" she demanded. "Don't you feel well after all?"
I gestured toward the table. "I forgot something." Instead of gathering the folder, I walked over and placed my hand on her shoulder. "Are you OK?"
She nodded, but I could tell it was just out of politeness. "Oh, you know. Just silly hormones."
I nodded. If that's what she wanted me to think... I began searching beneath her papers for my own. She jumped to her feet and helped me look, mumbling apologetically, "I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have worked here, I just --"
"It's OK," I assured her.
Paige suddenly burst out into sobs, and I didn't have a clue why or what to do to comfort her. Hell. I hated it when women cried. I did the only thing I could think of -- what I'd always done with Paige in the past -- and pulled her into a hug. She clung to me as if I was a life raft and she was lost at sea. I begged her to please tell me what was wrong until finally she mumbled, "I'm so afraid."
"Of what?" I asked.
"You're sending me away again," she said between sniffles. "Is this it? Is this the last time I'll see you?"
I froze. Paige was so upset because I told her she could leave? That didn't make any sense. I'd treated her horribly the past week. I found myself feeling a mixture of irritation and compassion for her. There was no denying the reality that I probably wasn't going to be alive much longer. We both knew that. Was it so important to her that she make up for what she'd done to me before I died? Was that it?
"Paige," I said and tried to pull away. She wouldn't let me get very far. "I'm really confused by your actions here. Maybe..." I hesitated. "Well, maybe we should sit down and have a real heart to heart later. Maybe it's time we did that."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I'd like to have a heart to heart with you. When?"
"Maybe we could have dinner tonight, my treat for all you've done this past week. Say, I can pick you up at your place around seven? While I'm still feeling up to it."
She smiled and nodded. She finally let me go, stepping back and hugging herself. "Do you know where I live?" she asked, and since I had no clue, scribbled down the address for me.
It was hard to get through work as I anticipated the evening ahead. A thought had formed in my mind, and I couldn't seem to shake it loose. I remembered how much Paige had wanted a child -- how she might end up alone when I died -- and wondered if there was some way I could help her remedy that situation, while I still could.
Sleeping with her wouldn't solve anything. We hadn't had a child when we were younger, and I knew the chemo had possibly made me sterile now. Adoption? I'd never wanted to consider it before, but Paige obviously had. Would they let a single woman adopt? Maybe I could help Paige find a new husband, a man to father her baby. I knew some decent guys I could probably set her up with.
I was surprised at how much that thought suddenly hurt me again. Paige with another man still wasn't something I could handle, so I shut down the idea before it could take hold and wound me further.
It didn't help my sanity that Paige looked incredibly beautiful when I picked her up. I didn't like the emotions she roused in me, nor the memories of times when we were happy together. I took her to a nice restaurant, and we made small talk for a while. Finally, I told her, "There's something I want to ask you, Paige."
She looked wary. "OK."
"Why didn't you stay with Alan after I filed for divorce?" I'd read her journals and knew she'd written that she regretted her affair and felt she'd never loved Alan the way she'd always loved me, but she obviously had felt some love for the other man. Her journals up until now claimed she hadn't dated at all since our divorce. Why?
She tensed, but didn't look away. "Because I still loved you."
I took a deep breath and nodded. "And you've been staying with me -- why? Because you feel guilty and want to make up for what happened? Is that it?"
Her eyebrows pulled together. She looked sort of irritated now. "That's ridiculous," she said. "I mean, of course I'll always feel guilty for what happened between us, but that's not why I've stayed with you." Paige reached for my hand across the table. "I stayed because you needed me, and I love you. I've always loved you, Drew, even when it might not have seemed like it. I suppose some foolish part of me hoped that I could prove to you how much I still cared and you'd give me a second chance. I know you have Annie now, but..." She looked away and let the sentence hang between us.
I accepted her hand, grateful she'd confirmed some of my suspicions, and asked, "Did you tell Annie that? Is that why she's been staying away?"
Paige looked offended. "Of course not. She ... well, as much as I wanted to hate her, she's pretty wonderful, and she really cares about you."
I considered my words carefully. "Paige, you know I might die from this. In fact, I'm pretty certain I will."
Her eyes teared up. "Why? Has the doctor told you that?"
"Not in so many words, but he's told me it's a possibility." I squeezed her hand. "That's why it's important to me to let you know that...well, I forgive you. For everything. And I want you to be happy. If you still have a chance, any chance at all with Alan, then I want you to know I give my blessing. When all is said and done, I just want you to be happy, and it's not like we're still married."
She looked grateful, then shocked, and then angry all at once. "Alan?" She shook her head and pulled her hand free from mine. "Why do you keep mentioning him? Drew, don't you think if I'd wanted to be with Alan instead of you, I could have been with him these past two years?"
I had to admit it was true. Maybe guilt wasn't her motivating factor in all of this. Maybe...maybe she did still love me after all.
"Then I'm afraid I don't understand, Paige. Are you saying you've been hoping all this time that I'd take you back?"
She still looked angry, but at least she seemed to appreciate that I was only trying to understand her feelings, not judge her for them. "I suppose ... yes, I have been praying you'd take me back someday. I only stayed away because, like you said, I only wanted you to be happy. I'd just hoped you'd realize you were happier with me than without me. But you never called. You never tracked me down. Stupid of me, huh?"
"No, not stupid," I told her. "Not stupid at all. In fact, the reality is, I was happier with you than without you, but how could I have known, after what you did, that the same was true for you?"
She raised her hand to her face. "Oh, I made such a mess of everything." Wiping away her tears, she told me, "I've been miserable without you, Drew. The happiest days of my life were when we were married. I'm sorry if you ever doubted that, but I can't blame you if you did. I've thought a lot about how I'd feel if you'd cheated on me, and I think I would have reacted the same. Well, I might have killed you, your slut and then myself, but I would have been absolutely devastated. That's why I never begged you to take me back, because I understood how you must have felt." She glanced at me now. "Is it too late, Drew? Is there really no hope left for us?"
I shook my head sadly. "I don't think there is, Paige. If I were to survive this cancer, maybe, but..." We both knew my chances of survival were slim to none.
"Is that the only reason?" Her eyes begged for an affirmation. "Don't you realize I want to be with you, even if you're dying, which I refuse to accept, by the way. You're too strong to let this beat you, Drew."
I sighed. If only it were that simple.
She reached for my hand again. "Drew, I want to stay with you. I suppose it doesn't have to be the way it once was -- I mean, as husband and wife -- but I'd really love it if you let me move back in with you. Then, when you beat this cancer, you can decide if .... Well, you know what I'd like to see happen."
Was I crazy for even considering letting her back into my life in that way? I squeezed her hand, and nodded. Yes, I was crazy. I accepted that now.
"OK, Paige, you can stay with me, but no promises for the future. Understand?"
She nodded, and I smiled. The only problem was, what the hell did I do about Annie?