Blinded By Love by Reana Malori
It wasn’t supposed to end this way. The life and memories we’d built together were supposed to last until we were old and gray. Rebecca had been my best friend for most of my life. Since the first day she walked into our 2nd grade classroom. Her blonde ponytail hung low as her face revealed the biggest smile. My hand shot in the air when the teacher asked the class if someone wanted to be Rebecca’s buddy. She was going to be my new best friend. After all, we were wearing the same color that day, so our friendship was destined.
And that friendship, that sisterhood, lasted more than twenty-four years. In all my dreams, we would still be laughing together, causing trouble, and being a family until we were old women with no teeth.
The woman lying in bed with IV lines and tubes sticking out of her body was not the woman I’m used to seeing. Her frail body looked so small in that hospital bed. My nostrils picked up that distinctive odor of antiseptic, bleach, and sickness. My body was primed and ready to run away from it all. Maybe this was all one long-ass nightmare. Wetness trailed down my face as I prayed with every ounce of my soul that my best friend would survive. It didn’t matter what the doctors said. What the hell did they know anyway?
“Stop standing over there sulking,” Rebecca called out to me. “I hear you thinking all the way over here, and I need you to stop.”
Pulling away from the entrance to her bedroom, I shuffled over to the bed. “I don’t sulk.”
Rebecca grinned as she tried to sit up. Jumping in to help, I fluffed the pillow behind her back. “What are you doing? You should be resting.”
“Stop fussing over me, Norah,” she said in a raspy voice. “You are such a worrywart.”
I sighed before sitting down in the chair next to her bed. “I’m not. I just...” I stopped speaking, the tears clogging up my throat. “Rebecca, I can’t lose you,” I whispered.
Leaning her head back, Rebecca closed her eyes and took a deep breath before turning her head to look at me. “I’m not going anywhere. You’ve been my best friend since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. Do you think I’m ever going to leave you?”
Both of us laughed at her grasshopper comment. Although she had moved to Virginia when Rebecca was young, some of the favorite phrases from her southern belle mother still escaped. Of course, that was one of her favorite sayings, along with telling everyone how me and Rebecca were two peas in a pod. She swore God must have sent us down to earth at the same time so we could find each other in this life.
Looking at the pale, almost translucent skin of my best friend, I wondered how the hell I’d ever live without her again. What was I supposed to do now?
“Where’s Lilly? Cade?”
Glancing over my shoulder, I motioned with my thumb. “He took her out for a walk. I swear, he practically ran out of here as soon as I showed up. No words, just a grunt as he passed me by.”
She laughed before her breath left, and her body was wracked with deep coughs. “Don’t make me laugh. It hurts.”
Lifting a glass of water, I placed it against Rebecca’s lips. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be.” She leaned back and took a few deep breaths. “Listen. Don’t worry about Cade. He just…” she paused, “he’s been worried about me. He’s been using all his time and every resource at his disposal. I tried to tell him to stop focusing on what he can’t control and to just make sure Lilly knows how much I love her. I wish I didn’t have to leave him alone.”
I couldn’t help the tears that flowed down my face. The love Rebecca felt for her family could not be denied. Ever since their wedding, more than seven years ago, all I could do was watch Rebecca build a life with the man who’d stolen my friend’s heart.
“I’m not worried about Cade. I’m worried about Lilly. She’s my goddaughter.”
Rebecca nodded before taking a deep breath. “Then you need to be around her more.”
My heart seized at her words. She was asking too much of me. “I can’t, Rebecca.”
“Why? Tell me one good reason why you can’t be around more. In the last few years, I’ve seen you maybe four to six times a year.”
Watching my best friend pause as she gathered her breath and her thoughts, I couldn’t help but think I should be the one lying in that bed. No husband. No children. My life is my job. Yes, I’m close to my family, but it’s not the same.
“Norah? Tell me what’s going on with you.”
There was no way in hell I was going to tell her a damn thing, especially with her fighting for her life. “Nothing’s going on with me. You know how work is for me. I’m always busy.”
Rebecca shook her head. “Nope. You work from home. You’re a consultant and make your own hours. Try again.”
“Why are you pushing so hard on this? You know I see you and Lilly when I can. And no matter how much we see each other, or not, you’re still my best friend and my sister. Nothing will change that.” I needed her to know that I would always love her. Other than my parents, she was the only person who meant a damn to me. Well, her and Lilly. That mini-me version of my best friend held a piece of my heart.
“Norah,” she said in a low voice. “You know why I’m pushing.” She sighed deeply while grabbing my hand in hers. “He’s going to need you.”
There was no reason to ask who she was talking about. We both knew. “I don’t think he’ll agree with you on that. That man can’t even be in the same room as me for more than three minutes.”
A smile lit up Rebecca’s face. “Stop it. You know I’m right. He’s going to need you, and Lilly will need her aunt Norah more than ever. So, I need you to promise me you’ll take care of them. Both of them.”
I could do nothing but shake my head as the tears flowed. “I can’t. Don’t ask me to do that. You’re gonna fight this. All you need is a bit more time,” I said, squeezing her hand tighter than I probably should. “You sound like you’re giving up, which I know you’re not going to do. You have to stay with me. You can’t leave us.”
Eyes closing, Rebecca’s words were slower as she began to fall asleep. “The fight isn’t over yet, but I’m tired, Norah. No matter what happens, you’re my sister. I trust you more than anything. I know you’ll take care of them.”
Fuck cancer in its rotten, life-taking ass.
Those were the only words I could think of as we stood in the rain while Rebecca’s coffin was lowered into the ground. There were so many people here—her work colleagues, family, friends, and neighbors. Everyone loved Rebecca, but no one loved her like I did. We’d experienced our entire life together. Puberty. Acne. Our first bra. First boyfriends. First heartbreaks. College.
Everything. Good, bad, and in between. Every pivotal moment of their lives was spent with each other. When Rebecca married Cade, there was no reason to think things would be different. But if I were honest with myself, I knew from the start how this would play out. The moment Cade and Rebecca became a serious couple, things would change. There would be no other choice.
Cade and Lilly were sitting next to me. The little girl sat between us as she cried into her father’s chest. My instinct was to reach over and pull the small child into my arms, but I resisted. Cade’s grip on Lilly was tight, as if he’d never let her go. I couldn’t blame him. He’d just lost his wife and the mother of his child. Glancing up at him, the expression on his face stopped me cold. He looked straight ahead, but I could see the tears welling in his eyes.
When Rebecca had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, it had thrown everyone for a loop. Most of all, her husband. From the date of diagnosis until the day she passed away in his arms, it had been just over one year. She’d gotten a late-stage diagnosis, and by then, none of the treatments worked. Chemotherapy. Alternative medicine. Everything. Nothing. After all they’d tried, it was all for nothing. Rebecca was still gone. Cade was without a wife. Lilly no longer had a mother.
I was without my best friend. My sister. The only person who understood me.
What was I supposed to do now?
It was time for me to go home. I’d been coming back and forth to Falls Church to visit Rebecca for the past year. Shortly after Rebecca’s wedding, I’d moved to Baltimore. It was the best decision for everyone. Especially me.
My heart squeezed with pain and guilt at what I’d done.
I hadn’t been there for my best friend because of something I could never admit to her, no matter how much it pained me to stay away. There was no other choice. The alternative was not an option.
“Let’s go,” Cade said.
I jerked at his words, my mind coming back to the present situation. Unfortunately, I’d been so lost in my thoughts, I’d failed to realize that Rebecca’s casket was in the ground, and the crowd had begun to disperse.
“I’m sorry,” I said, looking into his hazel eyes. “What was that?”
“Food’s back at the house. People will expect us there.” As I continued to stare at him, he shook his head and picked up his daughter in his arms. “Are you coming or what?”
His words were a harsh reminder that he could barely stand being around me. Good. That was for the best. Maybe I could go home now and not be around Cade anymore. My heart was already broken, and my friend was no longer here. I could plan to see Lilly on the weekends, kind of like joint custody.
With one last lingering look at the gravesite, I made my way over to the car waiting for me on the street.
“I’m sorry, Rebecca. I’ll miss you so much, but I can’t stay here. Not with him. I’ll take care of Lilly as best I can, but….” I paused to take a deep breath, “I need to stay away from your husband. If I don’t, I’m going to do something foolish, and I could never betray you like that.”
With one last lingering look, I made my way over to Cade and Lilly. Once there, I reached for Lilly. Cade handed her over, and we climbed into the black limousine. Cradling Lilly’s head on my shoulder, I sat in the far corner of the vehicle waiting for Cade to slide his tall form into the car. As we rode in silence, I couldn’t help looking over at the man sitting next to me.
Cade wasn’t a pretty man, but his looks could captivate a room. Short, dark hair covered his head, and his thick dark beard was neat and trimmed. The dark suit fit his form like a second skin. Everything about Cade screamed power. From the first moment I laid eyes on him more than eight years ago, I had been drawn to him.
That hadn’t changed over the years, which made me the worst kind of person.
No matter how much I tried to fight it, I was in love with the man sitting next to me. How could I do this to Rebecca?
With that thought, I knew it was time for me to leave. I needed to get away from this city and far away from Cade.