When she woke up, Chase wasn’t there.
Her mind stirred as she remembered the events of last night, remembered how she had stood in front of her entire school and told them all the unspoken thoughts she had been thinking for months.
She tried to brush away her feeling of unease.
Why had she let herself fall asleep?
Why hadn’t she asked Chase what was wrong?
Her parents chose that day to visit her, the both of them, they seemed subdued and asked her how here evening had went, she told them but she didn’t feel the glowing happiness she had felt overnight, she felt lost.
They left quietly, her mother kissing her on the cheek as she went.
The minutes dragged by and raced all at once, her desperation to see Chase building until it was almost unbearable, she needed him to explain. She needed to prepare herself for what was happening, even if there was nothing she could do, she needed Chase with her, holding her, telling her not to be scared, where was he?
Night fell and Chase still hadn’t come, she didn’t eat, she just lay in bed staring at the ceiling.
She got up and sat in her chair, paced the room, stuck her head out into the hall when there was a crazy rush of phone calls and nurses running up and down the corridor.
But no Chase.
When Dr Levi walked into her room it was around 10 p.m, she was bordering on hysterical. It took a moment to recognise him, since he was in plain clothes instead of his usual doctors coat.
“Florence” he took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes “Sorry to disturb you, but I was in the clinic this evening and thought I’d pop my head in and apologise for missing our session today”
She tried to keep her tone calm
“It’s okay, I figure I can just chat to Chase tonight anyway, is he here yet?”
Levi seemed taken aback “Oh Florence.. I’m... I’m awfully sorry Chase” he cleared his throat
“Chase won’t be in tonight, ah, would you like me to arrange someone else to visit you?”
“No where’s Chase, he seemed ill last night, is there something going on?”
Levi rubbed his face like he’d just woken up from a bad dream “He’s... Florence, I’m sorry but I have to get going, I’ll be in to see you in the morning”
She stated panicking, shaking her head “Wait, I can’t, I need to speak to Chase! Is he at work at all? Is he home? Where is he? Can I at least call him on the phone? Please. I promise he’d want to take my call”
He shook his head.
“Not tonight Florence”
And he left her all alone, like he couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
She was breathless.
She hadn’t even considered that he wouldn’t come back to her today, that he wouldn’t explain everything to her today.
Because he wouldn’t do that.
Where was he?
She cried herself to sleep that night.
Florence woke up mid-morning to a knock on her door, a moment later Macie came into her room. She looked like she’d been crying.
“You have a visitor she said”
“Who?” Florence sat up suddenly hoping it was Chase.
“Denise” Macie replied “She said she’s a friend of the family, she needs to talk to you”
Denise was a waitress at the Diner and a close family friend, but what was she doing here?
Her shoulders dropped “Okay”
Denise was sitting on one of the lounges, when Florence entered the room she stood up and clutched her in a warm embrace.
“How are you?”
“Actually I’m good” Florence confessed “I didn’t agree with Mum and Dad sending me here at first but in the end, coming here was exactly what I needed”
It had brought her to Chase after all.
She nodded, encouraged “That’s great honey”
“So tell me about this place?”
“Well it used to feel like a prison, but now I feel safe here, at ease”
“Let me guess you weren’t exactly co operative to start?”
Florence choked out a laugh “Kind of, but Levi is okay”
“And then Chase has been helping me out in the evenings”
Denise’s eyes dropped nervously.
“Denise are you okay?” she asked.
“Yes, honey I just... have you spent alot of time with Chase?” she asked.
Florence swallowed, not wanting to get him into trouble “Yeah, he,um... he’s been a big help. I guess he’s the reason I realised I needed to get better” she finished, her stomach doing weird somersaults.
“Florence, did Chase tell you much about himself? I mean, did he tell you...” she seemed to be at a loss.
Florence stared back at her blankly, horror growing in the pit of her stomach.
“What?” she said urgently “Did he tell me what?”
“He... I... Oh, Florence, maybe we should go and get Dr Levi to explain this. Hang on” she stood up quickly and walked out of the room.
Florence sat there waiting feeling like the world was moving faster than she could keep up.
When Levi came in with Denise, the first thing she noticed was that he was still in plain clothes and looked uncharacteristically dishevelled and unshaven.
“Florence, hello, how are you today?”
She didn’t answer.
“I.. I’m afraid we”
Dr Levi was crying, things must be bad if Dr Levi was crying, she was now in full panicking mode, her breaths shallow and uneven.
“Florence, I know you grew close to Chase in your first few days here and I imagine you’ve been wondering why he hasn’t been to visit you all of last week, apart from yesterday, he wanted to take you to your school the day before yesterday”
She cut him off, shaking her head “What do you mean last week? He was here and I saw him Monday night and..” she trailed off.
Levi gave her an odd look “How often did you see Chase exactly?”
“I... I’ve seen him every night except for the weekend, Why?”
She felt like she was going to throw up, and the look on Levi’s face did nothing to alleviate her fears.
He dropped his head leaning over his knees “He obviously cared for you greatly”
“What are you... what do you mean he cared for me?” she shouted urgently “Where is he!”
“Florence did Chase ever mention to you that he lived here, at the clinic?”
She shook her head “No, why would he live here?”
“He stayed on one of the floors so he could be monitored, Chase was sick Florence” he said the words like they caused him intense pain, but it was nothing compared to the roaring inferno raging in her own stomach.
“What are you...” she couldn’t speak
“Chase was very unwell, to be honest, I thought he’d told you.He had Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage four. He tried everything: radiation, chemo. But when the bone marrow transplant failed, treatment became ... impossible. He insisted that he keep working and we ... I let him, thinking it would be good for him. In return he agreed to stay upstairs instead of at his apartment by himself so we could at least monitor him and try to make things more comfortable. Last week he ... he took a turn and was ordered to rest. He was also told to stop all work-related activities. No one knew he was sneaking down here to see you.”
“No” she muttered “No, no, no!”
This was Chase’s secret.
Her hands shook but she couldn’t feel them, she couldn’t feel anything, she had to get to him.
“Where is he? I have to see him!” she dropped to the floor feeling the world spin round and round and round.
“I’m sorry, Florence. The cancer had spread into his bones and lungs. Chase passed away on Monday in his bed. The doctors said it was remarkably peaceful, no sign of any pain. They said his body held on for longer than anyone had expected, longer than anyone believed possible, but in the end it just shut down.”
She watched the tears streaming down Levi’s face. Denise was crying too.
She couldn’t breathe.
All his words played back to her, all the things she’d been too blind to see, too selfish to see.
She didn’t realise that she was the one making the awful animalistic noise, thrashing about. She felt so removed from everything - as if she was watching it all unfold from distant hell as her heart broke in to pieces that would never be mended.
But it was her, and the needles came and went. Eventually the screaming stopped and her eyes were forced to close, two words repeating over and over in her tortured mind.