DAY THIRTY-ONE.

“Just one more kiss.”

Jake could still feel the words lingering in the IKEA-showroom of a living room, long after he’d watched her walk down the steps and shut the dense front door behind her. He turned and glanced at the white and wood clock as he made his way toward the kitchen.

3:24am.

This was the earliest that Ella had gone home this past week. They’d seen the sunrise together most days, and had even spent one night in the chairs on her front porch, an unsuspecting Caroline waking them when she came out to enjoy her morning coffee and vinyl.

Jake and Ella had regained their rhythm since that fate-filled night in his backyard… his first “first kiss” in almost a decade. Each morning since, he’d find the light of the Portland summer sun, walk past the chiseled names on the post of the porch, down the steps, and toward the sidewalk. And each morning, she was there, sitting with her mother while the Admiral sang.

Then they’d walk, fingers interlocked, from Ladd Avenue to Elliot… Elliot to Hawthorne… then north on 20th, and a right on Burnside. Each day, their feet would reach the black-hexagon shaped tile, and they’d sit with their drinks, an Americano for him, and a soy latte for her.

Their journals sat between them, a brown worn out Moleskin and a tan hardback notebook. They spent their first hours of the day writing, only pausing to sip their coffee or say hello to usuals they’d been accustomed to sharing this shop with. They’d become regulars at Heart Coffee, and the patrons and baristas of this shop only knew them together… as Jake and Ella.  

From there, they’d hit up Powell’s Books or the little unassuming donut shop on Belmont. It was the PSU Farmer’s Market on Saturdays, and Rontoms on Wednesdays. Most nights, they made it back to the Copeland house in time to join Aaron and Caroline for dinner, the whole family affair of innovating and taste testing in the kitchen.

And from there, it varied. There were nights where they never left the front porch, sipping on Aaron’s whiskey and taking turns picking out the next record. They’d seen two concerts, one at Doug Fir, and the other down the street. They’d taken the bus to Tanner Springs Park, where Jake had stared at the sky and promised to Ella that she’d look back and be grateful for the hard times. They’d shared drinks on moonlit rooftop bars, and in the darkest of dives. And they’d spent more than one night under the stars in Jake’s backyard, a fire and a sweatshirt to keep them warm.

On this night, they’d stayed in, spending their time in the IKEA showroom before calling it a night. The clock clicked to 3:25 by the time Jake made it into the kitchen and opened the cabinet. The unopened bottle of Burnside Bourbon was calling his name, as it had most nights in recent history. He poured a few shots without measuring, and fell in to the chair at the head of the table. And as he’d done most nights this past week, he grabbed the iPhone that had been sitting on this table all day. The screen lit, an incoming text from Ella.

I already miss you. Goodnight.

 Until a few days ago, he and Ella didn’t even have each other’s numbers. There’d been no need. But they’d finally given in, and this felt so foreign. Jake swiped the text away and opened the little eighth note icon titled “Music.” He set down his glass and placed the earbuds in his ears. He was alone in this house, but still he kept this to himself. He took a drink, hit PLAY, and closed his eyes.

One… two… three…”

The other night, dear, as I lay sleeping
I dreamed I held you in my arms
When I awoke, dear, I was mistaken
So I bowed my head and I cried

Jake listened to the all-too familiar voice of Johnny Cash singing the hauntingly ironic words of this most unlikely of children’s songs. Three minutes and 23 seconds passed, and he hit play again… and again. The glass in front of him emptied three or four times, but still Jake sat, waiting again to repeat the dialogue that followed the melody.

“That was a nice short version.”

“Well… Whattya wanna… Let’s uh… Well, if I feel like my song is sung, it don’t care… I don’t care if it’s short. And I feel like my song is sung.”

All this time, from extreme loneliness to holding a beautiful woman in his arms, from the days in this house with only an acoustic guitar and a bottle of bourbon to the seemingly normal life he and Ella now shared, Jake Whitley’s song was still not sung.

He’d tried everything. Perhaps ignoring his previous life completely would make it so. So he tried that. He thought that maybe sending a letter to his ex-wife would do the trick. So he wrote a letter to Kira. Granted, he didn’t send it. And he assumed that moving on, living this new life, maybe that would take away the angst. But no such luck.

He even tried having a heart to heart with Ella.

“If we’re gonna make this work,” he said as they sat at their table drinking their drinks at their coffee shop, “then I need to tell you everything.”

She’d reached her hand across the table and placed it in his.

“You’ve told me everything I need to know.”

“No.” He replied matter-of-factly. “I haven’t.”

She looked concerned, but he began anyway.

“Kira and I had an amazing marriage. We met in London at a conference, and I knew in that instant that I would never love another woman the way I love her. I know everybody says this, but when we got married, July 4th, it was sunset… on a roof in downtown Dallas, and I knew for a fact that we were going to be different. Some of our friends had fallen out of love, and most of our friends’ parents and older siblings were already divorced, but that wasn’t gonna be us. And for the first few years, things were easy. I mean, we argued and stuff, like anybody, I guess, but life felt so… so natural. We were a freaking romantic comedy… too good to be true. And then London was born, and I thought, maybe this will be our first bump in the road… but no. My love for Kira only grew as we wrestled through the sleepless nights and frantic days of parenting a newborn. My job was going amazing. I was getting massive raises every year, and more people were showing up every Sunday to hear me sing. I mean, people would drive hours just to be at one of our services. We bought a house, shared a car, and I literally had the best life I could’ve ever imagined.”

Jake paused and took a deep breath before continuing.

“You know the words you say at a wedding… the vows. Well I don’t think people normally understand the gravity of them. At least the movies don’t make it seem that way. But I did. I spoke those words with every ounce of my being. I, Jake, take you, Kira,” he stopped and tried to keep his composure. “… to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

There was no holding back the emotion now.

“But… last year… the worse came… the poorer… the sickness… in a way I’d never imagined. Once, when we were at the hospital, one of god knows how many times we were there, I saw this stupid brochure that said, ‘So what will your marriage look like now?’ But even then, I didn’t picture this. We were Jake and Kira. ‘Till death do us part,’ right?”

Jake stopped and put his face in his hands, only momentarily keeping the tears from escaping and wetting the table between them.

Ella had so many questions. What happened last year? The hospital? There were apparently sides to this story she’d never imagined. She longed to know the details, but she was terrified of what she might find inside them. And so she sat, speechless, watching the man she was falling in love with mourn the loss of his wife… not knowing that she’d spend countless hours staring at the ceiling in the attic, trying to piece together the story of Jake Whitley.  

“Just one more kiss.”

After Ella spoke the words, she crossed the yard and found herself in her bedroom at 3:26am. She hadn’t retired to this room this early all week, and this night was destined to contain a few of those countless hours contemplating Jake’s story. So she rolled over, grabbed one of the journals from the box beneath her bed, hoping to get lost in her own story.

Of all the pages in all the books under Ella’s bed, she happened to open to the beginning of the end. There goes my night, she thought as she threw the book back onto the pile. Ella didn’t need the help of her journal to relive those awful days. In fact, it felt more real now than it did when it happened.  

The bus halted to a stop, jolting Ella from her sleep. It couldn’t be later than 8am. Ella rolled over in her bunk, grasping for her phone or the charging cable attached to it. The light from the screen was almost as jarring as the brakes of the bus. Apparently, her phone had not been asleep alongside her; the notifications were taking up the entire screen.

Oh yeah. Ella remembered the bomb she’d dropped on the entire world last night. She’d exposed the biggest secret of one of America’s golden boys, and she’d not been too nice about it.

There were messages from co-workers, friends, and colleagues. But at the top of the screen sat the name of her boss: Dominic Graham.

Ella… what the hell?

Uh oh. Ella’s stomach sank. Wasn’t this what he wanted… a story that would shock the world? She swiped, hit the little telephone icon, and waited.

“Ella.” He spoke in a tone that let her know that he’d be the one doing the majority of the talking. “You really think you can do whatever you want, don’t you? I wake up, thinking it’s going to be a nice, quiet day, but it’s not even lunchtime, and I have every freaking reporter in the Western hemisphere blowing up my phone, asking me about the biggest story of the damn century. When Stone called me at 7, I didn’t even know what in god’s name he was talking about. I was scrambling to open my laptop, only to see the claim on our site that Riley Martin happens to be a federal level criminal. I looked like an idiot.”

“Oh, I’m sorry… I just…”

“I’m not done,” he cut her off. “So I’m sitting here, getting questioned by Stone while my phone is blowing up in the background, and I’m flying through your article. If it wasn’t the best thing we’ve ever put out, I’d fire you for going behind my back and posting it without approval.”

Ella wasn’t sure whether to continue apologizing, or say “thank you.”

“I can explain,” she spoke, still laying in the bunk. “I saw Riley and Rebecca with Locker from ID yesterday, and I wanted to stay ahead of…”

“I don’t care,” Dominic spoke without emotion. “I mean, don’t ever do it again. But you did exactly what I asked you to do. And the fact that you stuck it to ID, that’s a bonus! Site traffic is up 54 percent from…”

Dominic’s voice was interrupted by a knock on the door of the bus, which caused more than one obscenity from the sleeping crew. 

Somebody else will get it, Ella thought while trying to catch back up to Dominic’s conversation.

“I knew I was catching gold when I hired you, but good lord…”

The knock came again, followed by the scruff voice from across the hall.

“Geez, take it easy, I’m comin’.”

Dominic was still talking on the other end of the phone when the outline of a man appeared at Ella’s bunk.

“Come on, Copeland. Let’s go.”

“Uh, Dominic, let me call you back.”

Ella clicked the phone and rubbed her eyes, realizing that it was Chandler, Riley’s tour manager, who was standing over her.

“What do you mean?”

“Are you serious?” The light coming from the window made it difficult to see him, but his tone made it evident that he was not happy. “You’re out of here.”

“I don’t understand.”

“What’s not to understand?” He was raising his voice now, causing the rest of the crew to stir from their bunks. “We gave you access to Riley… access that we give no one… and you go and write a crap story that…” He stopped and rubbed his temples. “Why am I even talking to you? Get your stuff and get out.”

Ella was speechless. Looking back, of course she’d get kicked off the tour for what she’d written. But as of that moment, the thought hadn’t even crossed her mind.

“Can I at least say goodbye to Riley?”

“What? You have ten minutes to get off this bus.”

And with that, Chandler turned and stormed through the door.

Ella had heard stories like this before, and in a way, living out her own version of it gave her a sense of accomplishment. She’d angered the subject of a story by exposing the truth, and it was somewhat of a badge of honor.

But that feeling of triumph vanished the moment she stepped onto the gravel. Where was she?

The door closed behind her, and the bus resumed its trek down the highway.

Ella looked around, but there was nothing.

Where were they even headed?

Ella racked her brain, trying to remember where the bus was headed after Nashville. Was it Atlanta? Or was that tomorrow night? An interstate and a handful of cars and semis were the only things that accompanied the rolling terrain.

She pulled the phone from the pocket of her sweatshirt and dialed Dominic.

Little did Ella know that this part of her journey would become the eleventh chapter of a twelve-chapter manuscript that she’d write a month later in the lodge of Mt. Hood’s most popular resort.

The hitchhiking… the loss of cell reception while in the cab of the scariest truck driver Ella had ever met… the night of sleep she missed because of an overbooked flight from Chattanooga back to New York… the relief she felt when she finally reclined in that first-class seat back to JFK… the awkward and satisfying conversation with the flight attendant who recognized her while refilling her drink… “You’re the girl who wrote the Riley Martin story, right?”

Ella badly wanted to crawl in bed by the time she made it back to the city, but Dominic had insisted that she come by the office before taking a couple days off. Still, she ran to her 22nd floor all-white apartment, to shower and change clothes before she headed to In Stereo’s Manhattan headquarters.

Exhaustion was in its latter stages by the time she’d dried her body and put on an outfit that had sat untouched in her closet these last few months. It felt so weird to be home. To say that she was looking forward to sleeping in her own bed would be quite the understatement, but still, she was grieving the loss of whatever it was that she and Riley Martin had shared.

Ella poured a French press and stepped out onto the balcony of her apartment. As she watched the city moving beneath her, an unfamiliar sense of gratification came over her. She’d done it. A couple months before, she’d stood in this exact spot and made a promise to herself, a promise to give it everything she had… a promise to kill it. And she’d accomplished just that. She’d written a story that was making waves all over the country… she’d solidified her place as one who’d over delivered.

Ella left her home and took an Uber back to the office, deciding that today was too special to take the normal train route. She scaled the stairs at the building she’d begun working at a mere five years before, anxious to catch up with the co-workers and friends she hadn’t seen since the Riley Martin tour began.

She glanced at her watch before busting through the double doors and into the bullpen. 3:24pm. Everyone would still be here. It was deadline week, so it would be at least six hours before the less committed decided to call it a night.

Ella Copeland was not prepared for what awaited her on the other side of the glass doors of her workplace. In the shower that afternoon, she’d felt a tinge of anxiety, wondering if her friends at In Stereo would be pissed that she’d usurped the normal authority of posting articles. But that anxiety dissipated the moment that the first intern in the bullpen noticed her presence. Before thirty seconds had passed, the entire office was standing, staring at Ella, applauding, and cheering for the writer who had just been kicked off one of music’s biggest tours. Ella looked around at her colleagues and friends, not knowing how to respond to this gesture. Kristina was there, her hands cupped around her mouth, screaming for her friend. Ella’s eyes continued to scan the room. They rested on Dominic, leaning against his door, his hands continuing to clasp together, with an enormous smile on his face.

 

// TAKE A BREAK HERE //

 

There were so many memories that accompanied that smell in the attic, but the smell itself was almost neutral. It was hard to explain, but in her best moments, that scent took Ella to some of the greatest days of her life. But when she was down, it was a reminder of the pain, heartbreak, and frustration that seemed to occupy way too much of her 29 years.

Today, however, was filled with the former. Life was good. Sure, she didn’t have a job, and didn’t even have a prospect. But she was in the most serious relationship of her life, despite the fact that she didn’t even know if she and Jake were officially dating. She’d been in his arms last night, and the night before that, and the night before that. And in spite of all that seemed to be going wrong, life felt right.

On this particular morning, the sun was shining, the summer birds were singing, and from her open attic window, Ella could hear the songs of City and Colour coming from the Admiral on the porch below. She ran down the stairs, skipping the second step from the top as her feet moved quickly toward the main level. There was, as there’d been each morning this past month, a French press awaiting her in the kitchen. So she grabbed a mug, poured a cup, and made her way onto the porch where her mother sat, each morning, with that same welcoming smile.

Caroline met her with the same greeting as she had most mornings, the simple, carefree welcome of one for whose affection Ella did not have to work. Ella fell into her normal chair, sipping her coffee as she unlocked her phone. Out of habit, she clicked the little icon that featured an envelope and swiped down to refresh the email that had remained silent these past four weeks.

In fact, everything had seemed so normal on this morning that Ella was surprised to find a new message in her inbox. The tiny blue dot next to the name of the sender felt foreign, but still Ella knew what to do.

In the midst of everything that had happened in the days since she returned from Mount Hood, Ella had almost forgotten that she’d spent an afternoon crafting query letters concerning her manuscript.

The message that confronted her now was from none other than Simon Monaghan, the former editor-in-chief of ID Magazine, the journalist that high-school Ella had traveled to hear speak, the legend. The subject line was simply a reply to her original message: “How I Almost Destroyed In Stereo Magazine: Ella Copeland’s Side of the Story Manuscript.”

Ella glanced over at Jake’s house, another staple of each morning this past week, before clicking on the message and reading one of her hero’s words.

Dear Ella,

Thank you for writing. It’s great to hear from you. I was very troubled when I heard about what happened between you and In Stereo, and I became even more confused after speaking with Dominic. So when you wrote, I was anxious to read your account of the events surrounding your departure from In Stereo. I consumed your entire manuscript in one evening. Riveting.

As always, your writing is phenomenal, captivating, and written with such a strong voice. My initial thought was to send it to my most trusted contacts in the industry, knowing that you’d be in good hands, and that I’d be doing a favor to whichever publishing house ended up producing your book.

My only hesitation, however, is with your current reputation in the industry. I called around a bit, and your name has very little trust attached to it. After the magnitude of the debacle that you put your previous employer through, it’s only natural that the list of those jumping to publish your next work is minimal.

I know this may be difficult to swallow, but please do not lose heart. I’ve seen this happen countless times during my decades in this industry. And more times than not, minds do change. I would say that this change just takes time, but that would be disingenuous. Usually, this shift in perspective is the result of fresh, new work that is unrelated to the previous disaster.

I suppose what I’m attempting to say is this: keep working. The world is ready for your side of the story, but you have an industry to prove your credibility to first. So keep writing, and keep releasing. Your time will come, my dear. I have no doubt about that.

All the best,

Simon Monaghan

Ella read the entire message twice, hanging on to every word of the man she’d met inside the Crif Dogs on St. Marks in New York City five years earlier. For a moment, Ella wondered if she should be taking the advice of the man who half a decade ago had inadvertently led her down a path that ended up in the loss of her career and moving back in to her parents’ attic. But that moment passed quickly. Her eyes found the screen of her phone again.

Usually, this shift in perspective is the result of fresh, new work that is unrelated to the previous disaster.

Ella stood and began pacing the porch.

“Everything ok, dear?” Caroline was looking up from her book, their normal morning routine broken by the back and forth of her daughter’s feet.

“Yeah.” The word came out harsher than Ella intended, but she didn’t notice. She was searching her brain for industry contacts or story subjects that could quickly get her back in the good graces of those who might publish her work.

Outside of the week on Mount Hood writing her manuscript, Ella hadn’t even considered the idea of working again as a journalist. In fact, the reality of 34E had been so jarring that she had all but closed the door completely.

But now, the wheels were spinning. Maybe she could freelance the coverage of a summer festival, or perhaps she could find quick work doing a feature on a band she already knew. These thoughts were moving full steam ahead as Ella moved back and forth on the creaky porch. But her feet, and her thought process, screeched to a halt when she remembered one name: Riley Martin. No magazine was going to hire her to cover a festival, and no band or artist would let her within 50 feet.

Your name has very little trust attached to it.

Hopeless. How could Ella “write and release” in order to regain credibility if no one would hire her or release her writing based on her lack of credibility? It all felt so incredibly hopeless.

She took a deep breath and took in the beauty that is Ladd Avenue in the morning. During the more difficult days in New York, Ella would daydream about this porch… the distinct sound of the Admiral… the way the wind moved softly through the green of the trees. And somehow, allowing her mind to spend a few minutes remembering this scene always seemed to give the spark that she needed.

But now she was on the porch, actually on the porch, and the spark was yet to be found. Ella sat back down next to her mother, and thoughtlessly began scrolling through her phone. First her contacts, but that was too painful; each number was a reminder of the life she’d screwed up. Then social media, but opening Facebook for the first time since it all went down was far too overwhelming. She closed the app and reloaded her email… nothing. So she reread Simon Monaghan’s words once more… fresh, new work… unrelated to the previous disaster.

The only thing “new” in Ella’s life was the boy who was still asleep next door.

That’s it!

Ella had her spark. Ella jumped from her chair, ran in the house, up the stairs, and into the attic. She grabbed the laptop from her desk and plopped down on her bed. Again she grabbed her phone, this time opening the camera roll.

There it was… the video… Jake in his backyard, singing his heart out. She’d thought it before, that she should introduced the world to the magnificence that was Jake Whitley, yet she’d never known how. But now, as she watched the video transfer from her iPhone to her MacBook, she knew that this was the way.

It had been so long since Ella hadn’t been writing for someone else that she didn’t quite know where to post the song. Before In Stereo, it had been the PSU student paper, and before that, it had been her blog, Do You Hear It?

That was it!

Sure, she hadn’t posted anything on the site in over seven years, but it had quite the following back in the day.

So she found the login page and typed her email and the password she used for everything. The page refreshed, this time sporting a bright red message that said, “Incorrect Password. 3 more attempts until lockout.” So she tried her backup password, the one she used when forced to abandon her go-to, but no luck. Ella thought back to her college days, wondering what she might’ve typed on this site. A third try… still nothing. She’d locked herself out of the account, an 800 number on the page in front of her the only way to retrieve her site.

Then another idea crept its way into Ella’s head. Surely In Stereo had deleted her account, or at least removed her password, right? A few clicks of the keyboard told her they had. Of course. Ella removed her email address from the box titled “Username,” and on a whim let the middle finger of her right hand rest on the letter “K.”

Autocomplete did the rest. And with two clicks, Ella was back inside In Stereo’s website. Kristina, the magazine’s art director, must have logged in to Ella’s computer a hundred times, and the machine had done the rest. Thank you, Steve Jobs.

Ella stopped for a moment and calculated her next move. How pissed was Dominic Graham going to be when he realized that Ella Copeland had come back from the dead and posted on his site? Was it worth it? Ella thought again of Simon Monaghan’s words: your name has very little trust attached to it. Was this going to make it worse? Or could Ella spin this to her favor? Was this move going to give the illusion that Dominic trusted her again?

In the heat of the moment, Ella decided to take the risk, hoping the latter outweighed the former. She uploaded the video, and contemplated her next move.

The title had to grab the reader. A random song by a random guy would not make any waves, even if it was posted by the most controversial journalist in the music industry.

What Heartbreak Sounds Like: Texas Church Songwriter Hiding Out in Portland, A Premiere by Ella Copeland.

The mouse scrolled over the “Publish Now” button, a button that Ella had only used one other time in her career. She glanced at Jake’s house, pressed her finger against the rectangle at the base of her computer, and watched the video go live.

Jake let the guitar ring out, the song from the Moleskin fading into the air. The words he’d just sung were weighing heavy in the room:

I would trade all of my days to take the pain away

Jake replayed the melody in his head. And that’s when it hit him. Had he really left the hospital? Had he seriously penned the words to this song in the waiting room, gotten in his car, and left them there? Jake had certainly meant the words that had come from his mouth, yet his actions were speaking something entirely different. Maybe it was the smell of that ICU waiting room… maybe it was the brochure he’d picked up in that ICU waiting room… maybe it was the words that were burned in his mind from that brochure in the ICU waiting room: “So what will your marriage look like now?”

It was as if he was snapped out of hypnosis or something far more powerful. Jake looked around the empty house, suddenly sickened by the fact that he’d abandoned his family for the sake of a song. He took one last look around the living room. The void that permeated the space was more than he could handle, so he grabbed his keys, shut the door behind him, and headed back to the hospital.

Jake hadn’t remembered driving home. In fact, as he pulled out of his driveway and began the trek out of his neighborhood, he couldn’t remember the name of the hospital he was heading back to, or the route to get there. While the drive from the hospital to their little house on the south side of Dallas had been a blur, the drive back to the hospital was more reminiscent of a crawl.

Every instance of the dotted yellow line in the highway seemed to inch by, as if Jake could make out each individual sliver and missed paint spot in the asphalt. The words of the doctor were repeating, loud and slow, over last month’s mix tape that Kira had left in the CD player.

“Bilateral Wilms Tumor.”

Jake could still see the horror on his wife’s face as the doctor spoke. For Dr. Andrews, this sort of talk was commonplace. He was more than used to using big words that those on the other side of the room had never heard… used to following those words with much smaller, more everyday phrases.

On this day, his eyes didn’t even leave the x-ray film as he spoke. “Essentially, what we’re looking at here… is kidney cancer.”

Dr. Andrews didn’t seem to notice the way that the air was sucked from the room in that moment. He didn’t react to Kira, lying in the hospital bed, sobbing. And he didn’t even lift his eyes when Jake fell into the pleather seat of the room’s only chair.

In the moment, Jake hadn’t comprehended all the words that had come from Dr. Andrews’ mouth. So now, in the car, inching his way back to the hospital, he was trying to make sense of it all.

Stage five… anaplastic… both sides…

As he let the conversation roll in his head, he tried to calm himself. Maybe the doctor seemed so disinterested because it wasn’t that big of a deal. Maybe there would be a couple months of treatment, a few hard nights, and then they’d look back on this whole thing like a distant memory.

But then that brochure… those words that had caused a grown man to abandon his family in a hospital room and all but black out on the drive home.

So What Will Your Marriage Look Like Now?

Jake pressed his foot even harder on the gas. He had to get back to her. He glanced down at his phone. She hadn’t called or sent a text. All he could see was his wife, laying in that hospital bed, her fear running down her cheeks and onto her shirt.

“I, Jake, take you, Kira, to be my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”

In sickness and in health…

He knew that these words were going to be put to the test. He had no idea what the following months would hold, but there was a determination in him that he’d never known.

To love and to cherish, till death do us part.

Jake Whitley had no idea that in less than a year, he’d be drinking himself to sleep every night, writing songs about her that weren’t quite sung… no idea that the woman who was now 15 minutes away in an ICU room would be a 30-hour car ride away in 12 months time. 

Jake pulled in to the hospital, much like he’d done four years ago; the day that London was born. Oh how different this felt.

His feet found the tile floor of the ICU, where he stopped, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath before entering Room 414.

“Jake.” Kira was sitting up now, on the edge of the bed, and she appeared stronger than she had when he had left. “This is Melissa. She’s a social worker.”

Jake looked across the room, where a kind-eyed 40-something sat with lips pursed.

“Hi Jake. I’m Melissa. I’m so sorry to hear about what you’re going through.”

Jake looked at the bed, and his eyes welled up with tears. The social worker was the first person, outside of Dr. Andrews, that he’d heard speak of this.

“Cancer is always a scary word,” Melissa continued. “And I want to let you know that I’m here to help in any way that I can. Families dealing with a diagnosis like this will have a lot of questions, so you can call my office day or night.”
“Thank you.” Kira took a business card from Melissa, who spoke again.

“How is she feeling?”

All three of them turned their attention to the bed. Jake’s shoulders shook and Kira buried her face into her hands.

“I’m so sorry,” Melissa said again.

The room sat silent for a few moments while the social worker allowed them to feel their feelings.

“Cancer is always tragic,” she finally broke the hush, “but in an elderly person, there has been much life lived. But a four year old…"