Don't Let Go, page 1
Don’t Let Go
By Konstantina P.
Don’t Let Go
Copyright © 2019 by Konstantina P.
All rights reserved.
First Print Edition: April 2019
Limitless Publishing, LLC
Kailua, HI 96734
Formatting: Limitless Publishing
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to locales, events, business establishments, or actual persons—living or dead—is entirely coincidental.
To the years that tried to beat me down, but only managed to make me stronger.
Table of Contents
Katie was in too much pain to register what was going on around her—the painkillers hadn’t kicked in yet, and her own personal hell had engulfed her in its flames. A fire was climbing through her veins toward her frantic heart, leaving behind scorched ground. Even that was a relief.
At her bedside, Sean was grasping her hand tightly in his, staring at her semiconscious form. He should’ve been accustomed to the oxygen mask covering her youthful face, but every time he found himself in that particular position, his own heart missed a few beats due to deep-rooted terror.
A middle-aged nurse whose scrubs had definitely seen better days appeared at the door, mercifully interrupting his fearful thoughts about the whole mess. “You rang for me?”
The disapproving look on her face didn’t prevent the man from asking after the pale girl lying in the hospital bed.
“What happened?” he rasped.
“Were you the one who found her?”
Sean nodded, his eyes never looking toward the reluctant woman, and the nurse sighed in frustration. Apparently, she was too busy to waste her time talking to a grieving relative. “No one is registered as her emergency contact. Is there someone we need to call?”
“She’s my daughter!” he exclaimed, lifting the girl’s hand to his chest possessively.
“Look, sir,” the hurried woman said, “she refuses any treatment, so a breakdown like that was due to happen. You will be able to take her home in a few days.”
“You stupid, stupid girl,” Sean murmured, combing his fingers through his daughter’s hair. The nurse left them to it, continuing her day unaffected by the drama surrounding the patients in her wing and their families. Working in an environment such as that required thick skin if you wanted to make it home sane every night.
Sean was glad he hadn’t been asked to sign any excessively costly checks this time, at least. God knew Katie’s various hospitalizations had already cost them a fortune. Health care in the States could do with an upgrade. They had earned time, though, and Sean would sell his own kidney for a few more moments with his daughter. What else was family supposed to do?
This particular family had been in and out of hospitals for a year until the day Katie decided enough was enough. The treatments stopped working four months ago, and every expert had told her that any more efforts would simply prolong her life by a couple of months. For Katie, that meant more pain and less living, so she called it quits despite her family’s disapproval. She had things she still wanted to do, and she wasn’t going to do them stuck in a hospital room, watching needles break through her skin. Besides, people hanging lifelessly in the arms of their loved ones wasn’t an encouraging sight. Definitely watching those who didn’t make it as far as her was not an experience she wanted to subject her dad to.
No one had taken the news harder than Sean. It was exceptionally trying for a father to make sure to say “I love you” to his only daughter every single night just in case she didn’t wake up the next morning. Sean in particular was too tired of losing people he cared about—watching from the sidelines as people he was supposed to care for were pulled out of his grip, willingly or not. Inadequacy was not a strong enough word to describe his feelings, and his relationship with Katie gave way to constant battle. Worry for his daughter soon turned to anger at her stubbornness, and arguments about her treatment turned to bitter remarks. Until one day, a month after she received the “it’s over” news, she put a stop to it by walking out the door, determined to make each moment count and not put any more strain on her ties with her only living family.
She hadn’t made it that far. Despite the bravado, she’d known she needed people around her: for emotional support and for practical reasons as well. Moving in with a lifelong friend seemed to solve these two problems and also provide her with the illusion of the independence she was craving.
Katie had met Ryan during sixth grade when he had saved her from a bunch of bullies who had thought it funny that she didn’t have a mom. Ryan had grown up without a father himself, so he knew firsthand how it felt to be accused of not being good enough to keep your family interested in you. Standing up for Katie, he was like an older brother, over-protectiveness and self-assurance included. Even as grown-ups, he kept trying to shield her from life’s hazards. Putting his own life on hold to make sure he was there for her after she was diagnosed hadn’t been an easy decision, but it helped that his fiancé, Michael, was too good-natured to protest and seemed to hold Katie in high regard.
Michael didn’t have a family to call his own apart from Ryan. He had lost his parents’ support when he had come out, and being kicked out of his own house at sixteen had taught him that family didn’t end with blood—or start with it, for that matter. In Michael, Katie had found an ally—someone to support her difficult decisions and be there when they blew up in her face without judgment. The man only wished someone had done that for him.
Katie had been spending the last three months of relative freedom hanging on for dear life. On the outside, she looked normal. No one suspected she was hiding blinding bursts of pain or that she was suffering from dizzy spells almost constantly. Those who knew her, though, were tormented by the knowledge of empty bottles of painkillers littering her bathroom’s floor and the sound of her body hitting the ground one time too many.
Through it all, one thing remained constant: Katie was loved. The downside? Although most spent their entire life seeking a connection like those she had around her, people in her position would often see that closeness as a curse. She needed a tutorial or two on how not to feel smothered and how not to hurt others. Unfortunately, the rules of these particular games weren’t written down somewhere, so she had to make do with her own instincts. She
Katie’s childhood bedroom was exactly as she had left it when she had made her great escape. Even before that, nothing had changed in there since she had been a kid and hating everything looking girly. Lots of browns and blues and not an inch covered in anything remotely resembling pink was the everlasting theme that had stopped being comforting a few months ago.
Lying in bed and in an attempt to stop herself from screaming, Katie didn’t pay attention to her father talking under his breath. “I’m fine, you know. You don’t have to fuss over me,” she said, keeping her gaze skyward where the solar system was hanging from the ceiling, planet Saturn’s rings looking about ready to fall off.
“You just got out of the hospital. Give us both a break, will you?” Sean huffed, rearranging the pillows behind her.
“Fine! But I didn’t have to move back in here. My own apartment would have been much more comfortable.” Well, technically, it was Michael and Ryan’s apartment, but it felt more like a home nowadays than the place she grew up in. Her father’s attitude had played a significant role in that.
Sean finally stopped messing around with the covers and sat next to her on the bed, putting his arm around his daughter and drawing her close. “Yeah…but it wouldn’t be easy for me to come and go as I please.”
“I’m just saying,” Katie murmured, “Ryan and Michael could have taken good care of me without you having to take time off work.” She rested her head on his shoulder sleepily and closed her eyes, tiring out with even the smallest movement.
“It’s not the same!” Sean exclaimed, jostling her. “I’m family!”
“They’re family too!” the girl said, getting worked up. All thoughts of sleep flew out the window. “I’ve been sharing a place with them for a while now. I grew up with Ryan, for god’s sake.”
“Can’t you just allow your old man to spoil you for a while?” Sean got up and left the room, but her voice followed him through the open door.
“It’s only going to be for a couple of days. As soon as the dizziness stops, I’m out of here!”
“Whatever!” he yelled back, slamming the door to his own room shut.
The next few days passed in relative silence, considering they tried to avoid talking to each other unless absolutely necessary. Katie was getting her strength back steadily, and it both relieved and irked her father, who was desperate to keep her close. Ashamed as he was of that fact, he didn’t dare utter a word about his plans without backup, so he was thankful when the doorbell rang and Ryan walked in.
“Hey! Look who’s here!”
It was one of the rare days Katie had ventured out of her bedroom. Sitting on the couch reading a book, her legs covered with a red fleece blanket, she was the very picture of tranquility. If only…She turned to greet her friend only to find herself with a mouthful of bleach-blond hair and someone’s arms tightening around her like a vise.
“Ryan! I can’t breathe!” She tried to push him away, but she was no match for his strength.
“Shut up! I was so worried!” Ryan said and forced himself to let go of her. “You heartless, stupid, selfish girl!”
“Nice to see you too! Where’s Michael?” Katie craned her neck to get a look over his shoulder, desperate to avoid the overwhelming display of emotion.
“He’s parking. You—”
“Stop bitching like an old lady,” Ryan got interrupted by his fiancé, who came into the house and sat on Katie’s other side languidly. Michael was a giant of a man, so he was careful not to crowd her, always in tune with her needs. “She needs to rest.” He bent down and kissed Katie’s cheek, dismissing Ryan’s affronted expression. “Nice to see you, baby.”
“Good to see you, too,” the girl said, smiling tenderly at him before her gaze snapped to her father and Ryan. “Finally, some sense entered this house. I was getting desperate.”
“It’s not fucking funny!” Ryan all but screamed. He stood up and started pacing in front of them while Sean took the opportunity to take his place on the couch. “You almost died! Again! What will it take for you to take this seriously?”
Katie pinched her nose in frustration, a headache starting to creep in. “We’ve already talked about this and we decided—”
“No, you decided!” Ryan accused.
“Well, it works fine for me. It’s my life that’s at risk here, and you all know that chemo won’t save it.”
Sean took both her hands in his, forcing her to face him. “We are just saying…”
“What, Dad?” She sighed, tired of going around in circles with them. That particular conversation had never left any of them satisfied.
“That maybe we should see another doctor. Get another opinion,” the man pleaded.
“For what? For me to hear one more time that I’m going to die soon? Well, tough! But it is going to happen. I’ve come to terms with it, and the sooner you do too, the better.” She untangled her legs from the blanket and stormed out of the living room. Hiding in her room, she wished that everybody would just leave her alone.
“Well…that went well,” Michael said, letting his body fall back into the couch’s cushions.
“Oh, shut up, Michael,” Ryan spat. “You could help us talk some sense into her instead of just sitting there.”
“And you people need to realize that you have to trust her decision.”
“And what? Just give up on her?” Sean asked.
“Let her deal with this in her own way. She feels that with chemo she will be poisoning herself even more. And besides…you both know she’s right. Every doctor who saw her said the same thing. The treatment won’t save her; it’ll just prolong her life for a few months. And she deserves to live her remaining life with dignity.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m not ready to see my twenty-four-year-old daughter die in the name of dignity. I’m ready to take care of her in any way she needs me to.”
“She doesn’t need you to do that.” Michael started losing his patience with the two bullheaded men in front of him. His fiancé had resorted to the same methods he had saved Katie from once upon a time, and it was extremely off-putting. “My point is, we should consider what she wants. Maybe that’s the best thing for her right now.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Ryan murmured. “But it’s Katie.”
Michael sighed and stood up, putting his hand on the other man’s shoulder. “I know. Come on…let’s go home.”
They left Sean alone, his head between his hands, trying desperately to find a solution before deciding to make one more effort to change his daughter’s mind.
He found Katie sitting on an armchair next to her bedroom’s window. She had her laptop on her lap, typing furiously and trying to swallow the bile rising in her throat.
“I really don’t know where you find the energy for this, but I’m done fighting,” she said without looking up.
“And I really don’t know how you became so stubborn. You must have taken that from your mother.”
She glanced up furiously, and with a quiet kind of anger, she put the laptop on the desk next to her. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” she hissed. “Seriously? You never mention Mom except to spite me!”
“I can’t find any other reason,” Sean said with a shrug. “She left us long ago and now—”
“Now I’m leaving you too. Is that it?” She stood up and turned toward the window, sunrays barely breaking through her thin teal-blue curtain and casting a sickly hue over her face. Despite the fact that the East Coast didn’t get much sun this time of year so far north, she still couldn’t grab the opportunity and bask in it. With all the gloom around her, she felt she’d never feel warm ever again. “It’s not my fault I’m sick, you know. And I don’t enjoy it either.”
“No one is accusing you,” he said and moved t
They didn’t talk for a while after that. Katie kept staring outside the window where it had started raining. The weather seemed to match her mood with all its ups and downs. Desperate for some fresh air, she drew back the curtain and threw the window open, leaning her head on the frame and trying to enjoy the cleanliness the heavy drops were leaving behind.
Am I really selfish? she thought. It will be over soon, but they’ll have to live without me for the rest of their lives. Maybe there is a last thing I can do for them, but who’s there to do one last thing for me? She turned around and found herself staring into her father’s eyes.
“Okay,” she said, nodding slowly. “If that’s how you really feel. Just stop arguing…please. I’m so tired.”
“Get some rest and we’ll talk more tomorrow,” Sean replied in relief, kissing her on the forehead and giving her some much-needed space. She stayed put for a few moments, staring at the door until she started shivering, and turned back to close the window and leave the soothing sound of rain outside.
During the long hours spent in various hospitals’ waiting rooms, Ryan and Michael had picked up an unavoidable habit. Coffee had never been an option at places like that, the watered-down brown liquid coming out from their ages-since-last-cleaned machines making them gag. Some hot water and a tea bag had always seemed the safest option.
That morning, though, nothing was adequate to subdue a jittery Sean. Choosing the bleak—thus not-so-calming—effect of a newspaper article he really was paying no attention to, he let the other two people in his kitchen soothe their nerves with the green beverage while waiting for Katie to wake up. There was a conversation ahead of them that would make or break everything.