A chilling and ominous silence hovered over the clique of friends gathered in Justin’s living room. Occasionally, a cough or someone clearing their throat or blowing their nose interrupted the
deathlike quietness. The air of sympathy, which had gripped Elizabeth’s close acquaintances upon learning she had cancer, soon gave way to fear—what had happened to her could as well happen to any
From the bathroom, Justin quickly dressed and descended the narrow, winding wooden staircase snaking through the upper lounge leading to the sitting room. At the bottom landing he finished
buttoning his shirt and marched to the guests gathered in his house. Unlike the chatter and laughter of the past, especially during barbeques, he walked into utter despondency. He slumped onto a
couch next to his wife and adjusted the cuffs of his shirt.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “Only a month to live!”
“You don’t say so!” Martha screwed up her eyes.
“Yes, a month to live,” replied Justin, handing Martha a magazine on the celebrated cancer survivor, Maurine. He’d tucked a finger on the page he wanted her to read: Eating right is the best way to
prevent cancer. You should eat food like medicine or else you’ll eat medicine like food.
Martha raised her brows. “Definitely food’s important, but that’s not all there is to cancer.” She passed the magazine to Dan. Despite the somber mood, the two wouldn’t help but engage in small
talk in hushed tones. Justin’s long suspicion was coming true, there was no way Martha would fiddle with Dan’s hands for such a long time if they weren’t seeing each other.
Shameless woman. Couldn’t she respect herself and behave decently at such a moment of grief?
“Good lord, the disease hides only to show when it’s too late to do anything about it,” he said. Katelyn cringed, and he realized he’d been insensitive. He quickly added. “But like Maurine,
Elizabeth will conquer cancer.”
“Why so much ignorance on healthy living?” asked Dan, flipping through the magazine.
“It’s because of the prevalence of consumerism culture and a false notion of civilization. Consumerism has seen companies compete to produce junk food to satisfy the ever-growing demand as
people have converted eating into a pastime. Many consider themselves civilized by shunning natural foods for harmful processed junk.”
Martha released her hold from Dan’s hand. “Come to think of it, long ago, it’d take eight months to grow a chicken. Nowadays, it only takes twenty-six days before it’s on the plate. The process
must require a lot of artificial hormones. This is what’s killing us. But instead of questioning such, we clap in praise of what civilization has achieved.”
“With the current state of affairs, only vegetarians are safe,” said Dan.
Justin shook his head. “Not necessarily. Some leafy vegetables you see in the city have been grown with harmful fertilizers.”
Martha said, “Oh no, human beings have turned so barbaric for the love of money.”
Besides being his sister-in-law, Justin liked Elizabeth as a dear friend. She’d been ailing probably for years and in hindsight, he reckoned she’d changed of late. She became thin, lost color and
gasped for breath as she talked.
Though he’d assured his wife and those present Elizabeth would defeat cancer, deep down he knew her end was near. Statistics weren’t in her favor—very few survived cancer at her stage, and it often
He pictured Ambrose’s life after his wife’s demise. For sure, he would marry again—probably Connie, Justin’s PA. Ambrose had always loved her. But would she agree to marry a widower and take care
of children who were not her own?
Justin leaned forward, interlaced his fingers and sighed. He hated the surrounding falsity. Instead of the long clichés on how Elizabeth would beat cancer, when he could see in everyone’s eyes they
knew she was dying. Why not be honest and speak of death? Why not prepare Elizabeth for the inevitable? But he lacked the courage. It would be uncourteous. He’d dampen everyone’s spirit.
“She’ll leave her bed again,” said Dan, propagating the pretense Justin loathed. “She’ll beat it.”
“But what really is the matter with her?” asked Annie, who’d just arrived.
“Cervical cancer.” Martha sat her daughter next to Fred as she always did. “But she’ll get better.”
Justin underwent a mix of emotions. He would be scared, realizing he may at any moment be in Elizabeth’s position. But, given it was her, he again became complacent - at least it was she who was
suffering and not himself.
He thought of the insincere acts of propriety before them—visit their sick friend and lie to her she’ll be fine when they knew she would die, give Ambrose false hope…
Katelyn pulled out a handkerchief and wiped her eyes. “She’s in so much pain.”
“Is she?” asked Fred, not looking at Katelyn but feasting his eyes on Annie.
“Oh, awfully! She keeps groaning. It’s unendurable. Oh, what she’s suffered!”
Annie grabbed a tissue. “Can’t they give her anything for the pain?”
“Of course, the morphine’s working well for the physical pain. But when she thinks of her kids… growing up without her, she grits her teeth and groans. It’s painful to watch,” said Katelyn.
Elizabeth’s suffering, the way the cancer chewed her down from a plumb, pretty woman, weighed Justin down. How she’d changed; in his mind, he saw her swollen side, parched lips between protruding
cheekbones and remembered her cold and bony hands when he’d held them. He feared for himself. A month of frightful suffering and then death! Why? This might happen to him too, at any time. A cold
chill ran up his spine. He couldn’t let depression get a hold of him when he had many things going for him: His family, business empire… He forced himself to think of whiskey, women… and lo!
“God have mercy! How dreadfully, horribly hard it is, to watch her.” Katelyn stood. “Excuse me.”
Martha followed her to the stairs.
Alarmed, Justin too followed them, but kept a small distance.
Shaken by sobs, Katelyn reclined on the staircase but Martha helped her to the upper lounge. “Take heart… It’ll be fine,” she said, sitting beside her on the Moroccan couch.
“Mum, are you okay?” Olivia ran an arm around her mother’s neck.
Three days ago, Justin had agreed to Katelyn’s decision to move Gisela from the main house to the DSQ. She’d told Justin Gisela was so shy around Justin and thought doing so would help Gisela
acclimatize quickly to her new environment. Katelyn even suggested he take her out for lunch more often so she gets used to him. But when Justin hesitated, she’d pointed out how she understood his
conservative nature and asked him to take Olivia along.
Olivia was helping Gisela select the portraits to hang in the DSQ before Katelyn and Martha came in. Though both girls achieved first-class honors, Elizabeth’s sickness shrouded celebration of
“I’ll be fine, honey,” said Katelyn, rubbing Olivia’s hands. “Sorry, I’m dampening your mood instead of celebrating your success… I’m so proud of you girls.”
Justin regretted pursuing them when he heard Katelyn speak. She was fine. He stepped forward. “Hey, everything okay?”
Gisela dropped her gaze.
“Do you like Mary the Queen of Scotland or princess Diana?” asked Olivia, for the third time, holding out the portraits for Gisela to choose.
Gisela jerked up, rousing herself. “Oh, yes.”
“Oh, Hun… the sooner you exorcise the demon Gisela sees in you the better,” said Katelyn. She turned to Martha. “She fears him like crazy.”
Martha shrugged. “Oh, really! I didn’t know Justin to be a monster.”
Justin saw the suspicion in Martha’s piercing gaze as she glanced between him and Gisela. He hated her for this. She would soon poison his wife and plant crazy ideas in her head.
“Oh, sorry. I should go.” He turned to Katelyn. “I’ll be downstairs in case you need anything.”
She asked, “What time are we going to the hospital?”
“I’m ready whenever you guys are,” said Justin, heading for the stairs.
The girls continued arranging the items to be moved to the DSQ. Gisela rolled up a woolen carpet and tucked it under her arm. Swinging a Ziploc bag containing knickknacks, she rushed to the stairs,
her breasts bouncing in time with each step.
“Oh, careful… you shouldn’t carry anything heavy,” said Katelyn, narrowing her eyes to the bump on Gisela’s tummy.
“Yes, ma’am,” said Gisela.
Olivia lifted a bag containing bedsheets, then looked over the railing at Gisela, who’d reached the bottom already. “Wait for me.”
“I got this,” said Justin, taking the bag from Olivia. “This’s heavy for you.”
“Thanks, Dad,” said Olivia. “Let me help Gisela with some luggage.”
Gisela turned and her eyes met with Justin’s. Her emotions were not easily hidden on her innocent face. Embarrassment was evident in the crease of her lovely brow and the down-curve of her full
lips. But her eyes, her eyes showed her joy. As he peered into them, Justin knew there was a part of his soul she’d taken. He loved her. Something radiated from within that rendered her
irresistible. Jeez, her high cheekbones, soft curves… He wouldn’t stop reminiscing over the night he’d spent in her dorm.
It wasn’t difficult for him to understand why Katelyn wanted to adopt her. There was no denying it. Olivia was an average student, and she only managed a first-class thanks to Gisela.
Olivia’s voice roused him. “Dad, please hurry.”
“Go ahead. I’ll join you shortly.”
In the DSQ, Justin burned to be alone with Gisela and for a while, couldn’t figure out how. They were almost done arranging stuff and time was running out for him.
He felt his pockets. “My wallet. Olivia, honey, can you see if I left it with your mum?”
“Sure,” said Olivia, walking out.
He waited until his daughter was gone. “Hey, you okay?”
Gisela sighed. “Yeah.”
“Do you like your room?”
He moved closer. “I’m glad you like it here. I want you to be happy.” He looked down. “Has he started kicking?”
Gisela faced him. “I feel terrible about what I’ve done to Katelyn.”
“How about the baby?”
“Don’t worry about the baby. Ken believes it’s his and will take care of us.”
Justin swallowed hard, his ego wounded.
So she’s been having sex with him!
He thought again of her naked body pressed to his. Her long, slender legs, curvy hips, firm bosom, full lips. Blood rushed between his legs. Then just as quickly, imagining Ken and her together...
He felt crushed.
“Damn it.” He cursed, cracking his knuckles.
Ken will take care of the baby… Whose baby? His own flesh and blood? Over his dead body.
There was no way he would allow that hopeless pot addict to raise his child. Whatever the consequences, he’d be the one to raise his boy and not Ken.
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