I stand in the wings, watching E sing her last song of the night in Madison Square Garden. I’m so proud of her. I know this night is special to her, and that she’s pulling off the performance of a lifetime. I have so much respect for her, for the journey she had to take to get here.
The last two weeks have been eye-opening. I’ve never spent so much time with a woman before, and I’m at the point where I can’t imagine my life without her. Waking up to her face after a night of intense passion, watching her fall asleep after an intimate conversation, is new for me.
She’s under my skin. She’s in my blood.
I never want it to end.
What that meant, I didn’t know. But I did know that I was comfortable and 100 percent satisfied. She was mine, and I was hers. I didn’t care who knew it, and that was the part that shocked the shit out of me the most. I had never been more vulnerable in my life. I would have never allowed such a thing before, but with E, it was inevitable.
I watch her move across the stage, her eyes closed in passion as she belts out the lyrics of one of my favorite songs of hers. A song about things she hates. A song that she tells me I inspired her to write. It’s her standing up for herself. Her letting herself be vulnerable about her past and what happened to her. I’m more turned on than I should be.
But emotion comes with a price. As the days pass and the stalker—now possibly a murderer—continues to walk free, my worry grows. The chase is consuming me. How is this person able to get away with so much? Get away with murder? If something ever happened to her…I shake my head. I can’t think of it. It would destroy me.
She was the only person I’d ever been able to open up to, and since I had, I felt stronger than ever before. Funny how that works. I’m also beginning to feel comfortable in my own skin. If someone took that away, if someone took her away—
I’d die before letting it happen.
My phone rings, and I look down to see an unknown number. I pick it up anyway.
“This is he.”
“This is Dr. Shannon. Your father was admitted to the hospital this afternoon. He had a seizure.”
My pulse gallops. “Is he OK?”
A sigh comes over the line, and then a pause. My heart seems to disconnect and sink into my stomach like a bowling ball. And then the doctor says, “He’s conscious but…the cancer is…the cancer has…I think you should come to the hospital as soon as possible, Mr. Cannon.”
I put a hand against the wall to steady myself. “Is he going to be OK?”
Another sigh. “In complete disclosure, I’d be surprised if he made it through the night. I’m so sorry.”
I think I answered her after that. Said I’d be there right away, but I’m not sure.
Sheer sadness warps my system, nearly knocking me off my feet, and all the guilt I’ve been battling with E comes rushing back in like a freight train.
I never told him I was sorry.
Lost in a haze of disbelief, I don’t even notice when the show hits its halfway point. E’s five-minute break. I don’t even notice when she appears at my side until she gently shakes me. “X. X, what’s wrong?”
I look into her eyes, feeling too scared to speak, but knowing I have to get the words out. I have to tell her. “It’s my father.”
Her face drains of color. “What? What happened, X? Is he OK?”
“The doctor doesn’t think he’s going to make it through the night.”
She gasps, her hand flying to her mouth. “Oh…oh my God…where is he?”
“Stamford Hospital. I…I have to go.”
She nods, her head moving rapidly, her hands holding my arms. Tears fill her eyes, and to my utter shock, she reaches up to wipe a tear from my face. “Of course you do. Leave right now. I’ll be fine.”
Her words break through the black cloud and make my heart pound. “No. No, I can’t leave you.” Fear lances up my spine, making me dizzy. I could lose them both.
Joe and Big come over, looking worried. I think they ask what’s wrong. I think E responds, but I’m too lost to keep up with the conversation.
“Hey,” Joe says firmly, putting a hand on my shoulder. “We got this. Go see your father.”
“I’ll leave right after the show,” E tells me then. “I’ll come to the hospital. I want to be with you. It’s only an hour away. Leave now.”
My emotions are at war inside me. I’d just vowed to myself that I wouldn’t leave her. If something happened to her while I was gone, I’d never forgive myself. I couldn’t live with that type of guilt for a second time. But my father—thinking of him lying there and leaving this earth without ever hearing an apology from my lips absolutely guts me.
“Nothing is going to happen to her,” Big assures me. “You need to go say goodbye to your father.”
“Please,” E begs. “Please don’t stay on my account. Maybe I can leave the show now—”
“No,” I tell her. “Don’t do that. Finish it out, and I’ll see you afterward.” There’s no way I was letting her walk out on what might be the biggest show of her life.
It was only a couple of more hours.
I repeat that in my head as I look at Joe and Big. “I’m trusting you.” I try to infuse the fear of God and the devil in them with my stare, and I think it works. They both nod profusely.
“We’ve got the whole team watching her; she’s going to be fine.”
I search my pockets for my keys. He might not make it through the night. I inhale deeply before pulling E into my arms. I have no words.
“I’ll see you soon,” she says, holding me tight. “I’ll come right there after the show.”
I nod, feeling the desperate pull to get to my car quickly. “Call me if you need me. I mean it.”
Everyone agrees, and with one last look at E, I take off down the hallway and out to my SUV.
I’m pretty sure I break the law on my way to the hospital, because the hour-long drive takes me about forty minutes. Thank God there isn’t any traffic. I barely even remember the ride, as I was being assaulted by images and memories of my father. He was such a patient, kind, and understanding man. Everything good I had inside me was because of him. And I hadn’t even given him the courtesy of an apology for fucking killing his wife. The love of his life.
I break down. Or at least I’m sure I do, because when I park the car, my face is sticky with tears. Jumping out of the car, I run into the emergency room and stop the first nurse I find. It takes about ten minutes for me to get to his room.
He’s awake, but seeing him lying there, tubes everywhere, wrecks me. I walk slowly over to the bed, get to my knees, and press my forehead into his hand.
“Xavier,” he says, his voice hoarse. “You made it.”
I can’t waste another minute. “Dad, I’m so, so fucking sorry about Mom. I ruined your life. I didn’t mean to. I was young and didn’t know what I was doing.” My voice hitches, and I fight to catch my breath. I can barely see out of my watery eyes, but I look up at him anyway. “And it’s not OK. I’ve lived my life without ever telling you what was in my heart. I love you, Dad. I love you so much. And I’m so sorry.”
He smiles, resting a hand on top of my head. “My, that girl is good for you.”
“I’m so happy to see you happy,” he croaks. “To see you open up to someone. Finally.” He pauses to cough, and I rush to get him some water. “But Xavier,” he continues a few moments later, “I’ve always known how you felt. You may not have told me in words, but you told me in actions. And I want you to know I’ve never blamed you—not once—for what happened with your mother. Her issues were no one else’s but her own. It’s not your fault. I’m sorry I didn’t do more to relieve you of that guilt.”
I wipe a stray tear from his eye. “No, no. Please don’t do that. Don’t put this on yourself. You’ve done nothing wrong. You’re the best…you’ve been the best…”
“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me,” he chokes out. “Not your mother. I loved her, yes, but you were the true love of my life. And I thanked my lucky stars every day that you walked away from that crash. I wouldn’t have been able to go on without you.”
Hearing those words, words I had longed to hear for a lifetime…it was like cold water for a dying man. But God, I didn’t want to let him go. “You can fight this, Pops! You can hold on. It doesn’t have to be the end.”
He smiles sadly, rubbing a hand over my scalp. “Take care of that girl. Let her into your heart. Tell her I think she’s perfect for you, and that I said thank-you.”
I think I nod, but I’m unable to form any more words. I climb into the bed like a little boy, and wrap my arms around him.
About twenty minutes later, I say my final goodbye .