As the fist rays of dull grey sunlight on an overcast day shone through the window of the master bedroom, Victor was hurriedly getting ready for work.
He left so abruptly, so quickly that he forgot his briefcase in the den where he’d spent the night.
Instead of heading into work like he usually did, he went to Dr. Thorton’s office to discuss his medical situation.
“So the medication didn’t work?” Victor asked as he felt his world tumbling down around him and fought it.
“Alright, what’s next? What do we do now?” Victor asked, trying not to be bitter, or lash out at the doctor. He tried with everything in him to focus on his greatest source of strength-his family.With her voice full of regret, Dr. Thorton quietly, sadly replied, “A triple bypass.”
“What? Okay, are you sure this is the only way?” Victor asked, his voice fearful.
“Yes,” Dr. Thorton replied honestly. “It’s your best chance, Victor, your only chance.”
“Okay, what can we expect here? What can I expect?” Victor asked bravely, automatically.
“Well…” Dr. Thorton began discussing the situation in detail.
“I wish there was.” Dr. Thorton’s heart went out to him as he stood there, looking so stunned and so lost. ‘I wish there was something I could do. If he’d had the surgery when we first found out what was going on, maybe things would be different. Maybe he’d have a better chance now.’
“Okay, so what do we do next? How long before I have the surgery?” Victor asked, determined to overcome this latest setback. ‘I have too many people counting on me. I can’t let them down, I can’t let them down and I won’t!’
“I don’t want to wait any longer. I’ve booked you for surgery this Friday.”
“What? That soon?” Victor asked shocked and a little fearful.
“We don’t have any time to lose, Victor.” Dr. Thorton’s tone was firm, but a note of sympathy also rang out clearly as she spoke.
“Okay, what can I expect post-op?” Victor asked a little unsteadily.
“The operation itself will take several hours. I already explained what’s entailed in the operation itself.”
“Yeah you did,” Victor replied with a shudder as the mental images elicited by her words sent chills down his spine once more and his blood run cold.
“After that, you’ll be in the hospital for at least two to three months,” Dr. Thorton continued, knowing exactly what kind of reaction she’d get.
“Then I’ll assess you and decide whether or not you’re well enough to go home. If you are, you still have a long road ahead of you between recuperation and how closely you’ll have to be monitored, not to mention the changes in your lifestyle and diet.”Victor slumped back onto his chair and scrubbed his hands over his face as he let out a long, pent-up sigh.
“But, after that I can get back to my family, right?” Victor asked, desperately needing reassurance.
“Provided everything goes well, yes,” Dr. Thorton replied, guardedly optimistic.
“And if it doesn’t?” Victor asked, needing to know exactly what he was dealing with.
“Let’s cross that bridge when and if we come to it, alright, Victor?” Dr. Thorton thought to herself more than a little frustrated, ‘The last thing he can afford is to get worked up over what ifs. He needs to stay calm, and I have to make sure he does exactly that!’
“I know what you’ll say, but, Victor, your family needs to know about this. And they need to know now! The time has come for them to be told, before it’s too late; for you and them!” Dr. Thorton was tired of letting Victor do as he pleased and determined to do what was best for her new patient.
Realizing he could no longer put it off, Victor quietly, sadly agreed, “I’ll tell them tonight.” With that, he heart-brokenly left the office.
Surprised and puzzled, she picked up the pillow and blanket laying on the couch and said, “I should have never said what I said to him last night. Why did I do that? Why did I accuse him of cheating on me? I know that he’d never do that, I know he wouldn’t do it! So, why the hell did I do it? Why?” Nikki began to beat herself up as guilt started seeping in. Just as she was about to leave, Nikki noticed the open briefcase Victor had left on the table in front of the couch. “I know he must’ve left in a hurry. But he never forgets his briefcase,” Nikki thought aloud. “Something’s not right!”
As she walked over to the table to close the briefcase, Nikki noticed the bottle of pills. Slowly, disbelievingly, she sent an unsteady hand to pick it up. Her jaw dropped in shock as she asked, “What’s he doing with a bottle of prescription pills?” Studying the label, she said to herself, ‘And what kind are they? I don’t recognize the name.’
Quickly, she snatched up the phone and called Casey. “Casey, I need a favour.”
“Sure, what’s up?” Casey asked a little confused.
“I need you to tell me what kind of pills I found.”
“It doesn’t matter!” Nikki snapped impatiently.
“Alright, alright. What’s the name on label?”
Nikki spelled out the name of the prescription and waited impatiently for an answer.
‘Victor, how could you be so stupid to leave prescription heart medication lying around where Nikki can find it?!’ Casey thought to herself fuming and thoroughly disgusted.
“Casey, what’s going on? What kind of pills are they?” Nikki asked impatiently, fearfully.
Having recognized the name immediately, Casey replied, trying to calm Nikki down, “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
“I’ll decide if it’s nothing. What kind of pills are they, Casey?”
“They’re prescription heart medication. Why? Nikki, what’s going on?”
“Thanks…I…I’ll talk to you later,” Nikki stuttered before hanging up and dashing upstairs to get dressed before continuing her search for Victor.
Before continuing her rounds, Casey said a silent prayer she had done the right thing, and another one for her sister. ‘I hope you know what you’re doing, Victor. Most of all, I hope to God you won’t end up breaking my sister’s heart again!’
“What the hell is going on here?” Victor asked angrily.
“Did you forget something at home this morning, darling?” Nikki’s voice dripped with sarcasm and contempt as her eyes burned like fire.
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ll tell you what I’m talking about! You left your briefcase open on the table in the den. What the hell are you doing taking heart medication?! Who was the woman you had your arms wrapped around last night at Gina’s?!”
“What? What are you talking about?” Victor asked, completely confused, infuriating Nikki to no end!
“Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare play dumb with me! Who was she and what the hell are you doing on heart medication?!”
Nikki’s temper was quickly reaching a fevered peak as the fire in her eyes burned hotter and hotter.
Swallowing heard, trying to catch his breath and ignore the tightening in his chest, the sick feeling rising in his stomach, Victor whispered in disbelief, “How, how do you know?”
“It doesn’t matter how I know! I know! Cut the act, Victor! No more stupid games, it’s time for answers! Either you tell me what I want to know right now, or I walk! And I’m dead serious this time! You tell me what I want to know, or it’s over-for good!” The steel edge in her voice told him she was dead serious!
Finally, after getting over the initial shock, as her temper began to rise once again, Nikki snapped angrily, “No, Dr. Cornwell is. She has been for years!”
“The woman you saw me with last night is my doctor. She’s my cardiologist.” Although Victor’s voice was soft, heartbreakingly soft, it was firm and left no room for doubt.
“She’s your what?!” Nikki screeched incensed.
“It’s true. Call Dr. Cornwell if you don’t believe me.” Victor was unusually calm, given the circumstances.
Slowly sitting on the leather couch across from where Victor sat behind his desk, Nikki whispered, her voice small and scared, “I don’t know what to believe. I don’t know what to believe any more.”
Seeing that he was on the brink of losing her, Victor whispered, “It’s true. Please, Nikki, please believe me. You have to believe me!”
“Wrong! I don’t have to do a damn thing!” Nikki bit out scathingly. “Now stop the stupid games and tell me what’s going on!”
“Not here. This isn’t the time or the place.”
“The hell it isn’t!” Nikki shot back hotly.
“It isn’t alright! I don’t want to make this any harder than it already is. Please, my darling, just trust me.”
“Why should I? Why the hell should I? After everything you’ve done, why should I trust you at all?” Nikki asked bitterly, far more hurt than she was willing to admit.
As he considered his words very carefully, silence hung between them. Then, he replied earnestly, “I never meant for this to happen. I never meant for you to get dragged into this.”
Her fists clenched in her lap, Nikki shot back, “You never do! Wait a minute, you never meant for me to get dragged into what? What’s going on?!”
Picking up the phone, Victor called Connie and told her, “I’m heading home for the day. You can too, you deserve the day off.”
“Come on, come on home and I’ll tell you everything. I’ll tell you everything you want to know.”
“Alright, but I want answers Victor! And I’m damn well going to get them!” Nikki warned as she walked with him out the door and out of the building.
Her eyes wide with shock and her skin pale, Nikki whispered faintly, “What?”
“It’s true.” Victor’s voice was so soft, so defeated, she almost didn’t hear him.
As the colour returned to her cheeks and her temper returned to full force, Nikki screamed, “Why didn’t you tell me? I had a right to know!”
“I…” Victor began sheepishly, trying to find the right words to explain what seemed totally inexplicable. “I was protecting you. Or, at least I was trying to protect you. I was trying to be noble and do the right thing for you. For once in my life, I was trying to do what was best for you. And, I needed time to figure things out.”
“And pride had nothing to do with this, I suppose?” Nikki asked sceptically, bitterly.
“NO! IT HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THIS AT ALL! How can you even ask me that?” Victor shot back angrily.
“How can I not? After everything that;s happened in the last little while, how can I not, Victor?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Every time I tried to get you to open up to me about this, you stood right there and lied to me. You out-and-out lied to me time and time again, Victor. So, how do you expect me to believe you now? How am I supposed to just take what you’re telling me at face value? How am I supposed to do that?”
“Nikki, please darling, just calm down.”
“Don’t you dare tell me to calm down! I want answers, you owe me at least that much, Victor!”
“Do you really think I’d lie about something like this? Do you?” Victor challenged hotly, angrily.
“Okay, I want answers! What’s going on here? What exactly is going on here?”
Sitting down on the couch, with Nikki sitting beside him, Victor began to give her the details surrounding his health crisis, one that he’d, for his own noble reasons, kept from her for quite some time. “For starters, there aren’t any more prescriptions I can take at this point. The one you found in my briefcase was the last one we had to try.”
“WHAT? Why am I just hearing about it now? Answer me, damn it!”
“Nikki, please calm down, I’ll explain everything. I’ll answer all your questions, I promise.”
“Alright,” Nikki muttered unimpressed and still very angry.
“They haven’t had any effect either. In fact, that was the last of the experimental drugs that are safe for human testing.” Victor’s voice was cold and detached as he went on. “My only option at this point is to have a triple bypass. Without it I won’t even be around for the twins’ first birthday, maybe not even their birth.” It was that sobering reality that finally broke his resolve and made bitter tears rise in his eyes.
“Nikki, let’s not talk about that now, alright? We don’t know for sure that the bypass won’t work. It could fix everything.” Victor tried to soothe her, shield her from what he knew would tear her apart, break her heart like nothing else could.
“A heart transplant?” Nikki asked softly, almost speechless. The news she’d been dreading, yet somehow knew she would hear finally sunk in and Nikki went ballistic! “I can’t believe what I’m hearing! I can’t believe this! Why didn’t you tell me? Why the hell didn’t you tell me? We’re married, remember? I had a right to know! I have a right to know everything that’s going on with you, especially where your health is concerned! It’s not just about you now, or has that escaped you? This affects more than just you, you know? It affects me too!”
“I know, I know.” Victor’s voice was small and defeated.
“Oh really? You damn well could’ve fooled me!” Nikki exclaimed, her voice dangerously low.
“Do what?” Victor remained defensive.
“Make decisions about what’s best for both of us without deigning to even ask me if it’s what I want, or what I need! Newsflash, Victor-I’m a grown woman and I’m damn sick and tired of being treated like some invalid china doll who has to be protected from every little thing! I don’t need protection! I need to know what I’m dealing with so I can be prepared!”
“You’re not dealing with a damn thing! I’m dealing with this! I’m dealing with knowing that unless there’s some big miracle, I may very well not make it! There’s only a fifty to sixty percent chance that this bypass will work, given how long I waited to have the surgery. And, there’s only a forty to fifty percent chance that I’ll be able to have the transplant if the bypass doesn’t work. If all that’s true, and I don’t make it; if I die, I’ll have to leave you and our children, leave behind a life that means more to me than I can put into words! I’m dealing with all that, Nikki, not you!” Victor snapped angrily, outraged at how quickly his life was spiralling out of control, slipping through his fingers and how he was powerless to stop it.
“What? Where do you get that garbage? We’re in this together, remember?” Nikki asked stubbornly, hurt.
“Nikki, come on, this isn’t your problem, it’s mine!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” It was Nikki’s turn to get defensive.
“This doesn’t have to affect you, or your life. You can go on with it, focus on the twins and the wonderful life you’re going to have with them. That’s what you need to do now. Forget about me, you need to forget about me. For your own sake.”
“What? Don’t you dare do that! Don’t you tell me what I need!” Nikki warned angrily.
“It’s true. You have an amazing life ahead of you. Embrace it, live it to the fullest.”
Nikki had listened to everything he had to say and now, as heartbreaking silence passed between them, they were both fighting back bitter, angry and heartbroken tears.
“You do?” Victor asked softly.
“Yes. That doesn’t mean I like it, or the way you handled things.”
“I didn’t think so,” Victor replied with a sad, tired half smile. “I’m sorry, I…”
Shaking her head, Nikki repeated softly, yet firmly before kissing him passionately, “You don’t have to explain, I understand.”
Her eyes locked on his as she slowly approached him.
As he stood there, drinking in the sight of her, he felt a bittersweet pain work its way into his soul knowing that there was a good chance he’d never be able to do this again, never to be able to be with her like this again. ‘How do I deal with this, how do I just blindly accept this? How do I forget all that we’ve shared when all I want, all I’ve ever wanted is her? More importantly, how do I do what’s best for Nikki when all I want is just forget about everything else. Everything except the feel of her in my arms, the smile on her face, the feel of her skin, the sweet taste of her lips. How do I just forget it all when that’s all I want to focus on. That’s what I need right now. That’s all I need. But, I need to put her needs first. I need to put her needs first!’
Forgetting all but the sweet taste of her lips and how much, how badly he needed to quell the searing pain surging through him, Victor pulled her to him and fused her lips to his. Then, remembering the repercussions of what he was doing, and what they would do to his wife, he abruptly tore himself away and turned his back on her.
“What’s wrong?” Nikki asked a little confused and hurt.
“Nikki, we can’t do this.”
“Why not? Can you tell me this isn’t what you want, what you need?” The passion in her voice, burning inside her and shining in her eyes couldn’t be ignored.
“No, I can’t, but…”
Silently, deliberately, she walked over to him and touched his cheek.
Unable to help it, his eyes met hers, and what he saw there tore at him like nothing he’d ever experienced before. The unconditional love and total devotion he saw there broke his heart. ‘Nikki doesn’t deserve this. She deserves better, she deserves more.’ Trying valiantly one last time to get through to her, he said, “Nikki, we can’t do this. It wouldn’t be right. It would just…”
Shaking her head slowly and firmly, Nikki placed her fingertips over his lips and whispered, “Don’t do this. Don’t push me away like this, not now.”
“I’m not, I just don’t think it’s wise to…”
“This wouldn’t be right. No matter how much both of us want to, we just can’t do this. We can’t let our emotions cloud our judgement. We have to do what’s best, what’s right. That’s all there is to it.”
“That’s all there is to it,” Nikki repeated bitter and stunned. “Victor, what’s going on with you, I don’t understand this at all.”
“Nikki, if…” his voice trailed off as he searched for the right words to explain himself and how he saw the situation without hurting her unnecessarily. Carefully, he continued. “It would be so easy to just give in, to give into what we’re both feeling right now. It would be so easy to do that, to use it as an escape from what’s really going on, what the real issue is. But, if we do that, it’ll only end up hurting us in the end. I don’t want that, I don’t want that for you. You deserve so much better, so much more. It would just be a mistake.”
“A mistake? A mistake?! How dare you? How dare you say that?! Where do you get off?” Nikki snapped, lashing out.
“Nikki, please, that’s not what I mean. It’s not like that.”
With her back turned to him, Nikki fought searing rage coursing through her. ‘Why is this happening? Why now, just when I need him the most, when he needs me the most?’
“Please, please what? You want me to just agree with you on this? To shut my feelings off like some light switch, is that it? Sorry, darling, it doesn’t work that way! Not for me, at least.” She ended on a bitter, pointed note.
“You think this is easy for me? You think it’s what I want? Do you?” Victor shouted angrily, bitterly.
“Isn’t it? Isn’t it, Victor?” Nikki persisted angrily, her voice dripping with pain and bitter rage.
“NO! You know it isn’t! damn it, Nikki, you know it isn’t! If it were I would’ve left a long time ago! I couldn’t no matter how hard I tried, or how much part of me knew it was the right thing to do, that it was what was best for you, I couldn’t do it!”
In the space of seconds, all was forgotten, rendered completely insignificant next to the burning need raging through both of them. Throwing caution to the wind and completely ignoring propriety and what was right and wrong, Victor finally gave in to the searing need inside him. Although he was nearly blinded by it, he vowed to give her what she needed, one last loving, sweet and tender moment between them before her life changed forever. It was with sweet, sweet love from deep within him that he brought his lips to hers once again.
“What? Of course. Why would you even ask me that?”
“I…” Victor stopped to collect his thoughts and make sure he was wording things just right before continuing. “I don’t want you to wake up tomorrow morning, or any other morning for that matter and realize that you made a mistake, that you did something you shouldn’t have because we were both too caught up in the moment, because we got carried away or because I pushed you into it.”
Nikki’s jaw dropped as he finished. “I need to know you’re sure about this.”
“Victor…” Nikki’s voice trailed off as she tried to make sense of what she was hearing, tried to figure out what would make him question what was happening between them at that moment.
“I’m serious, I need to do what’s best for you, nothing else matters.”
“Obviously I haven’t gotten through to you yet. There is no way I’d regret anything that we do! You hear me?”
“Nikki, that didn’t come out right. I only meant that you need to do what’s right for you and I need to respect that, whatever it may be.”
“Alright, it’s obvious I’m not getting through to you. So, let me set the record straight, once and for all. All I want, all I’ve ever wanted is you. Only you,” Nikki whispered passionately, emotionally as she kissed him with everything in her once more.
As they looked into each other’s eyes, both were reminded of why they fell in love with each other so long ago.
Victor closed his eyes and tried to lock everything into him, everything including the bittersweet feelings tumbling inside him.
As passion soared and hearts pounded both realized that, no matter how much turmoil they would have to deal with in the coming months or how much their lives would change, one thing never ever would-their love for each other.
“Nikki.” He breathed her name softly, so softly and tenderly it made her smile. Her clothes joined his in a forgotten heap on the floor.
Everywhere his hands moved, teasing, enticing and lingering brought new waves of pleasure and passion, setting off fires within her she hadn’t felt in years, ones she hadn’t been aware were there to be kindled. Now he fanned them with an unrestrained passion so intense and all-encompassing that it rendered all else insignificant.
When it was over, they lay wrapped up in each other, their hearts beating together almost as if they were one.
As she lay there, listening to the sound of his soft, contented breathing, Nikki realized that, in more ways than one, it was true, they were one; mind, body and soul. Strangely enough, despite all that they would be dealing with and all that she’d learned only a few short hours ago, Nikki knew with everything in her nothing ever would, ever could change that!
As the first rays of bright golden sunlight crept into the master bedroom, bringing with them the sweet smell of spring flowers, Victor slowly awoke and looked around the room. As bittersweet memories of last night washed over him, he looked down at Nikki whose head lay on his shoulder as she slept soundly, contentedly. Gingerly, he lifted her head from his shoulder to the pillow beside him and silently, slowly climbed out of bed careful not to wake her.
A half hour later, he was dressed and had his bags packed. As he took one last look at her, Victor realized he couldn’t do it. ‘I can’t just leave without at least trying to explain why,’ he thought to himself as he got out a small pile of papers and a pen and began to write.
By the time you read this, I’‘ll be gone. I left not because I don’t love you, but because I do. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but if I stayed I’d only end up hurting you and that’s the last thing I want. I’ll do whatever I have to do to avoid that. I only want what’s best for you, and that just isn’t me anymore. For your own sake, it’s time you let me go. It’s time we let each other go. That’s the way it has to be. If there were some way I could change things I would, I’d do it in a heartbeat, but I can’t. Things are the way they are and there’s no changing them; no going back.
In spite of everything that’s happened, I don’t regret a single moment of the life we’ve shared, the life I’ve been lucky enough to share with you. Whatever else you have to doubt, please my darling, please don’t ever doubt that. You’ve given me so much, more than I ever could’ve imagined, more than I ever dared to dream of. If I could change things, if I could stay, I would. I’d do it without any hesitation. But, I can’t, nor can I fool myself into thinking there’s any chance for us now. No matter how much I want to, I just can’t stay here. I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine, I promise. When this is all over and I’m out of the hospital and back on my feet, I’ll come back home. If you decide you don’t want me, that’s fine, it’s your call. But, I can’t stay here knowing there’s a good chance that if I do I’‘ll only end up hurting you. I couldn’t stand that, I’ve hurt you far too much already. So, though it’s hard, maybe impossible for you to understand and much, much harder for me to do than you’ll ever know, I have to go. Please believe me, it’s the best thing for both of us.
One thing will never change, no matter what else does, what else has to. I love you, I always have, I always will, with all my heart and everything in me.
Before walking out of the room, he stopped for a few moments to watch her sleep, knowing this may very well be the last time he’d ever see her he bent down to kiss he lips softly, lovingly and tenderly as he felt a tear fall down his cheek. Nikki smiled and murmured contentedly. With his heart breaking, he left the room, closing the door silently behind him.
Walking downstairs and into the living room, he noticed the fresh red roses in the vase as he walked past the piano. He put his bags by the door and walked back to it. Gently plucking out one of the roses, he brought it to his nose and breathed its scent in, savouring it and the feeling of being home, one last time. Then, he headed back upstairs.
As he entered the bedroom, he was relieved to find her still asleep. He placed the note he’d carefully, painstakingly written on the pillow beside her, along with the rose he’d taken from downstairs. Then, he sat on the edge of the bed and, as a single heartbroken tear fell from his eyes, he kissed her softly, sweetly on the lips and touched her cheek before walking back out into the hall and closing the door silently behind him.
Once downstairs, he took one last, heartbroken look around before shuffling out the door and to his car.
“Okay, thanks anyway. I’m sure he’s at work.”
When she called Connie though, she was surprised by what Connie told her. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Newman, he’s not here. And, from what he told me he won’t be in at all today.”
“Okay, thank you, Connie.”Ready to strangle him, Nikki phoned his cell phone. “Damn it, Victor, where are you?!” Nikki exclaimed angrily as she slammed down the phone when she heard his voice mail come on.
“Maybe the kids know where I can find him.”
“Mom, what’s up?” Vicki asked, surprised to be getting a phone call from her mother.
“Is Nicholas with you?”
“Good. Listen, have either of you seen your father today? Have you heard from him?”
“No, Mom what’s going on?” Vicki asked, starting to get worried.