You knew another meeting was inevitable.
"He's slipped into a coma. The cancer has metastasized, Mrs. Connolly. It seems our efforts to control it haven't worked. Once it gets into the lymph nodes, it's virtually unstoppable," Dr. Lipton placed his hand on my shoulder in a futile attempt to console me. "It's only a matter of time before his body shuts down completely." I shrugged away from his touch.
"So that's it?" I asked as I looked down at the immaculate white tiled floor outside Matt's hospital room. "You've done everything you can do?" He nodded slowly.
"If we had detected it sooner, he may have had a chance. But the onset was so sudden, I-" I turned and headed into the hospital room. My once brawny, larger than life husband lay in his bed, an insipid husk of the man I fell madly in love with. His golden locks of hair had fallen out months ago, due to the intense chemotherapy, leaving him almost unrecognizable.
When he found out about the cancer, I had tried to mentally prepare myself for the worst. However, no imaginary scenario remotely compared to the reality of it.
"Hey, Matty." I whispered, sweeping a hand across his hairless scalp. "I need you to fight, babe. Jere and Joce need you to fight." His eyelids quivered, but never gave way to those deep brown irises. "Matt, please. I can't do this without you. I won't." My eyes burned with unshed tears "You have to fight, Matt. Fight!" I screamed, shaking his broad shoulders and letting the searing liquid roll down my face like tiny waterfalls. The steady beeping from his life monitor became stagnant before finally giving way to a flat line.
"Matty, no! No!" I shrieked before collapsing onto his motionless chest. After months of watching him waste away, it was over. He was gone.
I jolted up in my bed; rapid breathing wracked my sweat-coated body. My nightmares have been becoming less frequent, along with the hope that it was just a dream and my husband would still be lying next to me, mouth hung open and snoring. No such luck.
Through the darkness, my alarm clock glared at me with angry neon green numbers displaying the time. 5:32 am. It would be at least an hour before I needed to drag my son out of bed, which was quite a task in itself.
After failed attempts to fall back asleep, I admitted defeat and rolled out of bed. My bare feet smacked against the wooden floor of our small home as I made my way to the kitchen. Pancakes sound good right about now.
I threw together some batter, adding blueberries, and cooked up stack after stack of the breakfast staple.
"Mommy?" I turned to see my daughter clad in her Little Mermaid nightgown.
"Yes, love?" She shuffled over and stood on her tiptoes to get a good look at the stove before smiling ear to ear.
"Are those blueberry pancakes?" She asked, rubbing her stomach.
"You know they are." She hummed her approval and hopped over to the kitchen table. I think I just made her day.
I prepared her plate and sat it down in front of her.
"Syrup?" I held up a container of Eggo Syrup.
"I can do it." She took the sticky bottle and thanked me. I smiled. Her independence was admirable, considering her brother couldn't even wake up on his own. Speaking of which...it's about that time again...
"Wish me luck." Jocelyn gave me a thumbs up before beginning to cut her pancakes. I headed up the steps to Jeremy's room. His door creaked in protest as I pushed it open, revealing a darkened mess.
"Jere?" I called out softly, hoping in vain it would wake him. "Jeremy?" The teenager stirred, groaned, and burrowed further into his mattress. "C'mon, sweetness, it's time to get up." I tiptoed closer to his bed before sitting down on his sheets. "I made pancakes. I suggest you get up now before the human disposal gets to them." This didn't seem to faze him. "You're going to miss the bus." I offered lamely, knowing he wouldn't mind.
"Ya know," I grinned before getting up and heading for the door. "if you miss the bus, I'll have to drive you to school. And wouldn't it be a shame if your friends were to see me plant and big, wet kiss on your face before saying 'have a wonderful day, my wittle Jere-Bear.'" I cooed at him. His unruly head of dark curls popped out from under the sea of blankets.
"You wouldn't." I arched an eyebrow at the adolescent.
"I have the perfect shade of red lipstick for just such an occasion." He breathed heavily before rolling out of bed.
"You win, I'm up." Flawless Victory!
With Jeremy and Jocelyn at school, I headed to the bakery for another day of work. The bell alerting every entrance treated me no differently as I opened the glass door. The fresh aroma of baked goods danced through the air, overwhelming my senses immediately. Jonas was already hard at work, having most of the popular pastries on display awaiting our breakfast crowd.
"Morning, Jonas." I called out before going into the office to set down my purse.
"Hey Charlie." Came his reply. Jonas was my little brother and partner in crime and in business. He took over most of the manager responsibilities when Matt passed away. If it weren't for him, our little brainchild would be a fucking Starbucks. It was a quaint, almost charming little store. Various posters boosting local and classic bands decorated the walls, covering every inch of cement. The hardwood floor was worn in some places, but never diverted from its overall charisma. Small, round, brightly colored tables took up most of the floor space along with their matching chairs. Our counters also doubled as our displays, showcasing our homemade doughnuts, croissants, cinnamon buns, muffins, and danishes. As the day progresses, we would add cookies, cakes, brownies, and any other special requests.
Behind our counters were the registers, two giant convection ovens and a few large mixers. As our business grew, so did our equipment. Mass production was now easier than when we first opened 11 years ago.
"Did you write up the specials yet?" I asked as I restrained my curls in a bun and placed my usual grayish pink Hurley "military style" hat over it.
"Nah. Besides, your handwriting is cuter than mine." I grinned and slipped on my white apron. True
The bell rang again, causing both of us the look up from the tasks at hand. Melinda, our resident "Goth girl" had arrived, black hair precisely coiffed to appear un-coiffed and dark make up overwhelming her delicate features. A ring hung from the flap of skin between her nostrils, giving her that "toro, toro!" look. Despite her undead, "I sacrifice animals" facade, she was quite a nice kid.
"Good morning, everyone." She greeted brightly.
"Morning." We replied in unison, which was slightly unnerving to everyone involved.
As expected, the morning rush came in, swarming our counters, devouring our food. Jonas and I continued to bake while Melinda handled the money exchange. We were a well-oiled machine. Around 11:40am, it started to slow down, as it usually did. By then, I was no doubt lightly coated in flour, sugar, and a multitude of other delicious ingredients. Neat, I wasn't.
"Charlotte?" I looked up from kneading the dough of what would eventually be pumpkin bread to see my Orange Boy from the supermarket.
"Hey Patrick." I grinned and wiped my hands on my apron before approaching the counter.
"I didn't know you worked here." He said, clearly astonished.
"Work here? I co-own this place." He chuckled.
"Wow. That's a coincidence. I was sent to check it out." I placed my elbows on the glass countertop and leaned slightly.
"Really? How about, in honor of our coincidence, I'll round up some samples and you can take them home." He shook his head.
"No, really, it's OK. I'd rather be a paying customer." The male watched nervously as I collected a little of everything in a white paper bag.
"Fine. Be that way," I said, putting my sack of confections on the counter. "We'll discuss this over lunch." He cocked his head to the side, probably wondering how we got from point A to point C. I was starting to wonder myself. Are you...no, you couldn't be...you better not be flirting, Charlotte Michelle Connolly.
I flung my apron off and attempted to brush any baking remnants from my white tank top and what my son affectionately called "camo shants."
"I'm heading to Santiago's, you guys want anything?" I asked my co-workers. Melinda looked up from a cake she was intently icing. She gawked at my newest acquaintance, who didn't seem to notice. The slightly taller female dropped her spatula, grabbed my arm and led me to the office.
"Charlie, do you have any idea who that guy is?" She hissed, frantically looking around for anyone who might be eavesdropping. What is her problem?
"I met him the other day. He seems nice enough. Incredibly clumsy, but nice. Now unless he's a serial killer or something, keep it to yourself." She grinned and patted me on the back.
"OK. Have fun." And that was that. I threw my purse over my shoulder, snatched up my bag of goodies and headed out.
"There's this amazing Italian place down the street. Their stromboli is to die for." I chattered on while Patrick obediently walked along beside me. It was a Mom and Pop store, much like mine, adding to its appeal.
"Eh, Charlie!" Sal, a small, gray haired Italian man greeted me warmly.
"I brought you a little gift." I held up my carrier and plopped it down on his counter.
"You're a saint." He beamed and happily accepted his treats. "The usual?" I nodded and took a seat in a nearby booth.
"Come here often?" My lunch date asked with a slight grin.
"All the time. We have a little bartering system set up. I think I'm getting the better deal though." He nodded and folded his arms over the table.
"What made you open a bakery?" He questioned, tilting his head in curiosity.
"Well, I met this guy named Matt. We started dating and completely fell in love. I was 18 when I found out I was pregnant." I monitored his face closely, searching for any change of expression. He simply nodded, his lips curling upward ever so slightly. "Well, Matt came from a very strict Irish Catholic family, so marriage was really our only option. Prior to that, my mother did everything for me and my brother and sister. I had no idea how to do laundry or even how to cook. And here I was suddenly married and living with a man who expected me to do those things. So I stocked up on cookbooks. I started off slow, making chocolate chip cookies and brownies. Soon I was whipping up tiramisu, rugelach, and chocolate espresso cheesecake. I had notebook after notebook of recipes. So after my son was born, Matt and I opened up our shop and named it after our baby." He raised his eyebrows at me.
"Wow," he whispered in awe. "Is Matt the guy who was behind the counter?" I shook my head, feeling a lump welling up in my throat.
"Nah, that's my brother Jonas. Matt passed away about a year and a half ago." His grin fell.
"Aw, Charlie, I'm sorry. I'm such an asshole. I didn't mean to-" I shook my head.
"It's OK, you didn't know." Sal approached with a steaming stromboli on a tray.
"Here ya go, Kids. On the house." He winked at me and left.
"So what do you do, when you're not knocking over orange displays in local supermarkets?" The same blush rose to his cherubic face.
"I'm in a band." He said simply before biting into a piece of stromboli. I nodded, doing the same.
"You any good?" He smirked slightly.
"We're alright. It pays the rent."