Ally and Jonathan have been married for ten years. They share a close relationship with Jonathan’s cousin Tim, whom Ally dated when they were both teenagers. Tim, now a grieving widower, is present when they receive the news that Jonathan has a highly malignant inoperable brain tumor. While they minister to Jonathan, Ally and Tim recognize that there is chemistry – still – between them. Unable to help themselves, they act on their carnal attraction. Just as guilt consumes them, Jonathan enters the mix, presenting Tim with an unorthodox proposition….
Wendy gives an overview of the book:
All the mirth and frivolity ceased, though, with the knock on the door. Ally, Tim, and Jonathan exchanged glances. Ally’s heart beat so hard in her chest that she could’ve sworn that Tim and Jonathan heard it. Jonathan calmly put his fork down and reassuringly squeezed Ally’s forearm. “Come in,” he called.
The door opened. Nicky Benjamin, in the usual green scrubs and white coat, came in. A tall, deathly pale white man with washed-out brown eyes and a full head of salt-and-pepper hair came in with Nicky. He wore the same doctor’s uniform as Nicky and carried a metal chart and an enormous brown envelope. Ally recognized him as Gordon Pepperman.
Ally also recognized the looks on their faces. She could remember wearing the same expression when having to tell loved ones that a family member had died on the table. Instinctively, she reached for Jonathan’s hand and clasped her fingers tight between his.
“Morning,” Nicky said, a bit too sunny for it to be real. “That breakfast looks delicious, Jonathan.”
Jonathan was cool and collected. He pushed Tim forward. “My cousin, Tim Lamb,” he announced. “He brought it for me.”“It’s from Mr. T’s,” Tim said.
“It’s nice to have caring family,” Gordon Pepperman piped up in his posh, middle-class British accent.
Ally wanted to scream. Enough about the fucking fish! “So, what’s the prognosis?” she asked with a tight smile.
Nicky took the hint, realizing, apparently, that he should get to the point. “Yes, the prognosis,” he repeated. “Well, Jonathan, Ally, just to recap here, last night, we x-rayed Jonathan’s brain when you came in last night. I consulted with Gordon here. We read the x-rays.”
Gordon handed Nicky an x-ray film from the massive envelope in his hand. Nicky turned on the wall-mounted light board and clipped the film to the lit screen. “If you look really closely…”
They all did. “There’s a shadow on the x-ray,” Ally murmured.“Precisely,” Gordon said. “But it’s undefined. So we did a full neurological workup on Jonathan… the CT scan, the MRI that made you a little claustrophobic – sorry about that, Jonathan – everything.”
Again, Gordon the Magician produced a 17-by-14-inch MRI film of Jonathan’s brain and showed it to Ally and Jonathan on the light board. She saw the large mass that looked so radically different from the rest of the brain tissue depicted on the film. Her heart sank. Her fears were realized in that moment. Immediately, she thought of her babies, waiting for their father to come home. Don’t cry, Ally. Don’t you cry…
Again, Jonathan rose to the occasion. He laced his fingers tighter within hers. “So, I have a brain tumor,” he concluded.
Tim put his hand on Jonathan’s shoulder and gave it a tight squeeze. Nicky and Gordon nodded. “It’s a primary tumor, meaning that it hasn’t spread to your brain from another part of your body, so that’s a positive,” Gordon announced.
“Well, thank heaven for that,” Ally said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
Jonathan shook her hand in his grasp. “Don’t shoot the messenger, Reina.”
Nicky picked up where Gordon left off. “It’s a large glioblastoma multiforme, a grade four tumor. In your case, it’s a tumor of the frontal lobe, deep in the cerebrum. If it’s untreated, you’ll notice changes in your mood and personality. Unfortunately, it’s encroaching on the temporal lobe, which explains why your coordination’s been affected. The intracranial pressure caused by the tumor explains the headaches, the vomiting, the blurred vision.”
Jonathan wiped his mouth with his napkin and looked away, like he was taking it all in. Finally, he asked, “So, when do we operate?”
Gordon and Nicky exchanged glances, and Ally’s heart sank further. “Umm… like we said, Jonathan, the tumor’s deep in the cerebrum…” Nicky began.
Gordon cut to the chase. Thank God for the Brits. “The tumor’s inoperable, Jonathan.”
Ally’s knees went weak. She plopped down next to Jonathan on the bed. What a cruel irony. The pioneering surgeon had a health issue for which surgery was not an option.
Jonathan was still in clinical, analytical mode. “So, what are the treatment options, if surgery isn’t one of them?” he asked.
“First, we’d give you some Dilantin to stop the seizures, then put you on a course of steroids to reduce the swelling around the tumor,” Gordon explained. “That would also reduce the some of the intracranial pressure.”
“What steroid? Decadron?” Jonathan asked.
Gordon nodded. “Next, we’ll begin a course of radiation and chemotherapy that should shrink the tumor. We hope.”
You hope?! Ally strafed Gordon with a withering stare, and he looked away sheepishly.
Tim found his voice from somewhere in the depths of his own painful experiences. “Worst case scenario – what if the treatment doesn’t work?” he asked.
Nicky and Gordon exchanged glances yet again. Ally had had enough. “Please, talk to us,” she begged. “What if the steroids and radiation and chemotherapy don’t work?”
Gordon delivered the coup de grace. “If the treatment doesn’t work, Jonathan would slowly lose his ability to speak. He wouldn’t be able to walk or write. With this highly malignant tumor, such degeneration could occur in as little as three months.”
Ally turned to Jonathan. This can’t be happening. They had a life together… children, a mortgage, ten years under their belts. They were Ally and Jonathan. She’d spent all of her life looking for him. She’d be damned if she was going to lose him now. Medicine offered options, and she was going to exhaust all of them before she listened to the voices of doom and surrendered hope. She held her face in his hands. “I love you,” she said. “We can beat this. We’re gonna do it together. Okay?”
He nodded, then leaned in and kissed her forehead. “Okay,” he agreed.
Just like that, everyone else in the room – Tim, Nicky, Gordon – melted away, and it was just them, committed to being together forever, like they’d promised each other ten years ago.
Wendy Coakley-Thompson is the author of Writing While Black, Triptych, Back to Life (2004 Romantic Times Award nominee) , and What You Won’t Do For Love (optioned for cable television). She is also a contributing editor of...