A/N: This story was writing as a challenge response to Some Kind of Wonderful's summer round. It is response to challenge number 24 – Channeling Robert Olen Butler by Megs.The image used for the cover and the story is not mine, but belongs to Flickr user Colville-Andersen.

General Idea: Pick one of the following three photographs and write a story about it. You can incorporate the photo or any aspect of the photo in any way you like - lots of creative liberty to be had. ;]
Photo 3 - photos/16nine/316979344/in/set-72157601005474479/
Requirements:
- Be sure to display the url to the photograph! Remember to be clear about which picture you're choosing, too.
- Must be a one-shot
Optional:
- You can even incorporate more than one photograph. As long as it flows and makes sense, then you've completed the challenge. (:

All At Once

He haunts my dreams day and night. His dark hair, his angular jaw, his everything was a constant visitor in my mind. He will never be forgotten, I could never forget a person like him.

I brushed a strand of dark hair out of my eyes as I looked down at the medical files that were stacked up on my desk. True, I had only been gone for a day, but everything on my desk was now a day behind. So, I sat there at midnight on a Friday night and tried to catch up as the night staff silently walked the halls, trying to finish their jobs before their shifts were up.

Jordan Covington was a sweet kid. His file listed him as a ten year old whose tumor in his brain had returned for the second time. I was supposed to tell his parents the news the following day. I'd been his oncologist since he was seven, overseeing all of his medical procedures and he had earned a special place in my heart.

Tossing my glasses onto the desk, I rubbed my temples to try and get rid of the migraine that was coming on. Jordan was going to die. It was the hardest part of my job, telling the parents the truth that their child, their precious little baby, was not responding to treatments anymore and we had just flat out ran out of things to experiment with. It was like telling my son Bobby that he was going to die.

Now, I was thirty-nine years old. Bobby was now eleven years old, just one year older than Jordan. I wasn't his parents and even I was taking the news hard. I needed to call my mom and ask her how Bobby was behaving, but I knew she was asleep and I didn't want to wake up the entire house.

Ever since the divorce, and me spending more time at the hospital, my son had been staying with my parents more and more. I didn't even know where Ethan had gone. He'd stayed in the city for a month and then left without a trace, and I'd been raising Bobby by myself ever since.

Ethan wasn't the boy that kept haunting my dreams, though. He wasn't even close to being that guy.

"Cassandra, there's someone who's asking for you," Rebecca Smythe said as she knocked on my office door. I looked up and realized that I hadn't made it past Jordan's file. Rebecca smiled understandingly. "Room 302." I nodded and closed up the file, adding it to the pile that was meant for my finished work.

"I'll be right there," I replied. She nodded and left, closing the door softly behind her. Emily Jenkins was the next file, I knew. She was going to receive the good side of being an oncologist tomorrow.

I pushed my chair back from my desk and left the small, dim room and went out into the hallway. The hospital was silent for the time of night. A few TV's played in the rooms of children who couldn't sleep and a handful of parents were sleeping in the waiting room or pacing with cups of caffeine filled beverages. I offered them a soft smile when I passed on my way to room 302.

I paused outside of the room and forced myself to plaster a smile onto my face, to make the weariness and the tiredness fade away for this child who needed some light in his life right now. His parents were in a hotel across the street, so at that moment I was the person who needed to be there for him.

"Hey, Jordan," I said softly as I pushed open the door to his private room. Machines beeped inside of his small room where he lay on the bed. Although his face was drawn in and he was just skin and bones from all the treatments he'd been going through, a smile still appeared onto his face.

"Dr. Sox," he said. I smiled and sat down in the chair next to his bed. "How are their standings?" I took his cold hand into mine.

"They're doing well," I said, not telling him that even though my last name was Sox and I lived in Boston, I didn't follow how the Red Sox were doing.

"Good," he said, closing his eyes.

"Tell you what, Jordan," I said, smoothing his hair, "I'll stay here until you go to sleep, okay? You need to rest up." He nodded, his eyes still closed. "Alright."

I sat back and watched him as his heart beat slowed as he fell asleep, but I didn't leave. I sat there and spent the night with a boy that wouldn't have many more nights left. There wasn't a person with such a cruel heart that would ever leave someone like that. It was a good thing that there weren't any people like that at our hospital.

x.x.x

Seventeen Years Earlier

"We're finally out!" Rhoda squealed, grabbing my arm as we stood in the middle of all the graduates and the falling hats.

"For the summer, we still have another ten years," I replied, laughing. She jumped up and down.

"Who cares? New York had better watch out because there are two new students on their way to take over the state."

"Just the oncology ward," I pointed out. She shrugged and pulled me through the crowd of blue and white gowns and out the doors to find our families.

"Is your boyfriend coming?" Rhoda asked as she stood on her tiptoes to find the familiar faces that we both knew.

"Shane?" I asked, looking around, too. "No, he has some . . . business thing." Rhoda looked at me with a pointed look. "What?"

"Business thing?" she asked, placing her hands on her skinny hips. "Shane is a college dropout, what kind of business thing could he have that would make him miss his girlfriend's graduation?" I shrugged, pulling her forward when I found our parents.

"He didn't elaborate and I didn't ask," I replied before our parents showered us in praises and told us that the next ten years would be tough, but we would get through them.

My gaze wondered from them to the street as a motorcycle hummed by. A smile appeared on my face as I recognized the rider. I waved slightly at him and my smile widened when he returned the wave before disappearing around the block. Turning back to Rhoda, I gave her a satisfied look. She shook her head and rolled her eyes, mouthing something at me that I didn't understand.

The rest of that day was parties with classmates and meals with family. When I finally returned to my apartment, I was exhausted and just wanted to fall into bed. Tossing my keys onto the table near the entry way, I flipped on the light switch. The room remained darkened. I sighed, shoving away all the obscenities that wanted to flood out of my mouth as I flipped the switch again and then walked through the apartment, moving into the kitchen to get some candles. I struck a match to light a candle and moved it over the wick when something blew it out.

I spun around when there was a thud farther in the room. Grabbing a knife from the drawer, I moved forward into the next room quietly. In the doorway, my grey tabby cat lay. I closed my eyes and let out a sigh of relief as I realized he'd jumped off the couch and onto the floor. Slumping against the door frame, I closed my eyes and slid down to sit on the floor.

"Cass?" a voice asked. My eyes snapped open and I waved the knife in the direction of the voice. "Watch it!" I clambered to my feet and my eyes focused on the dark haired man in front of me.

"Shane," I breathed. Placing the knife carefully on the floor, I wrapped my arms around him tightly, breathing in the leather smell of his jacket and the sweet smell of his after shave.

"I forgot to pay for the electric," he said sheepishly as he stroked my hair lightly. I shook my head and closed my eyes.

"Don't worry about it," I murmured softly. "It's romantic, actually." Stepping back, I looked into his eyes and kept my arms loosely around him. I couldn't see what color his eyes were in the darkness, but I knew they were a piercing green.

"I'll grab some candles and we can order take out," Shane said, stroking my cheek lightly. I smiled and nodded.

"That'd be great."

He walked away, pulling his cell phone out of his pocket as he did. I turned and picked up the knife in one hand and Max in the other, carrying them both into the kitchen. Placing Max back down, he wound between my legs and I slid the knife back into its place in the drawer. I leaned against the counter as Shane came back, grinning at me. I returned his smile and watched as he pulled the remaining candles out and struck a match, lighting them all.

"How are we going to pay the bills next time?" I heard myself ask. He paused with the match held against the strike mark on the matchbox and looked at me.

"We'll manage," he replied before turning back to the candle.

"That's what we said last time, Shane," I whispered. The thoughts of the electric, rent, cable, and water bills flew through my mind. Even if we scraped up enough money to cover them, there were still the loans I had to pay for college.

"We could always—," Shane started, but I cut him off, shaking my head.

"I'm not asking my parents for money, Shane. I told them when we started living here that we would be self-sufficient and that we wouldn't need their help," I said stubbornly. He looked at me before leaning against the table.

"Fine, then tell me what your plan is," he replied as he crossed his arms over his chest. I sighed, closing my eyes and pinching the bridge of my nose.

"I don't know," I said finally. I heard him blow the air out of his nostrils in frustration.

"You don't know? I thought you had it all figured out when you went on this mission to spend fourteen years trying to get a job," he said coolly. I narrowed my eyes in on him.

"Listen here and you listen close," I replied in a low, cold voice, "at least I'm going to school and trying to get a great job in this terrible city. At least I'm going to finish unlike you."

"Unlike me?" Shane asked, arching his eyebrows. A mockingly smile grew on his face to replace his normal one. "Whose paycheck has been paying for your little endeavors? Hm? Whose paycheck has allowed us to be living in this nice, affordable little apartment?" He shoved off the table and closed the space between us. I pressed up against the counter, not liking the side of him I was seeing. "Don't you dare try and tell me that I'm not trying. I'm the one busting his ass, alright?" I placed my hands on his chest and shoved him away hard.

"Don't you treat me that way," I said before leaving the kitchen and going to our room, slamming the door and turning the lock.

I closed my eyes and slid down the door, swallowing the lump in my throat. My parents had told me it would be hard, they'd tried to warn me, tried to offer some help. Being the stubborn child I was, I turned it away with the words "I'll prove you wrong". Now, they were proving me wrong. I didn't want to take their money because I didn't want to hear the "I told you so" speech. I didn't want them to tell me I should have been like Rhoda, live at home until I could scrape up the money to move out.

Ignoring Shane's knocking and apologies on the other side of the door, I changed out of the dress I'd worn and pulled on my pajamas, and sat down on the center of the bed, hugging a pillow to my chest. I didn't want to talk to him; I didn't want to hear him apologize for something he was right about. Without him, we would have been even farther into debt than we were at that moment.

I fell asleep on top of the covers, the pillow still hugged to my chest. When I woke up, the apartment was silent other than Max chomping on his food in the kitchen. I slowly walked across the room and unlocked the door before easing it open. Shane's face didn't appear around any corners, the TV wasn't turned to ESPN at full volume, and there was just silence.

Bravely, I drifted out of the bedroom and into the hallway towards the kitchen. I picked the sticky note off the fridge and read Shane's chicken scratch writing, a smile slowly appearing on my face. Went to work, be back later. I'm sorry; we'll do dinner tonight after I get my raise. Love yah.

I smiled and put the note back on the fridge where I found it, noting that the electric was now back on from the hum of it. Opening the cupboard, I searched for caffeine and food, but came up empty handed except for a few cans of soup. I shook my head and went back into the bedroom and threw on a pair of jeans and a hoodie before going to the door. Slipping on my shoes, I grabbed my keys and stepped out into the carpeted hallway. I pulled the door shut behind me and locked it before heading for the stairs.

I paused at the mail boxes, pulling our mail out and quickly flipped through it. The pile included a magazine for Shane, some ads, a bill for the phone, and an envelope from Columbia University. I tucked it back in the middle of the pile and went out to the garage where my car was parked.

x.x.x

The door opened and closed, but I didn't move from the place where I sat frozen at the table, the letter from Columbia in front of me. On the floor beside me sat the groceries that I had bought earlier that day. Shane found me sitting there and I felt his arms wrap around me.

"Honey?" he asked softly. I buried my face in my hands, shaking my head. He pulled up a chair next to me, not noticing the letter yet, and took my hands. "What's wrong?" I squeezed my eyes shut and took a deep breath.

"I got in," I whispered. His face broke out into a smile

"Amazing, you got into BU?" he asked. I shook my head.

"Columbia," I said softly. Shane blinked.

"What?" he asked. I shoved the chair back and moved away from him, wrapping my arms around my stomach.

"Columbia University," I said, angrily putting away the groceries. "All the other schools turned me away, even Boston."

"You're kidding," Shane said, watching me as I put things away.

"I really wish I was, Shane, because it doesn't feel like a joke to me," I said, slamming a can of baked beans onto the counter and looked at him. "I don't have a choice. This is the only school I've gotten into, I have to go." I watched as everything registered in Shane's brain before he stood, moving towards me, but I took a step back. No, I did not want his comfort.

"We'll keep looking," he said exasperatedly. I snorted.

"Yeah, well, in case you haven't noticed, it's June. It's a little late to look elsewhere," I spat out at him.

"Cass, don't," he said softly. Squeezing my eyes shut, I forced myself to calm down and think.

"My parents have a penthouse there," I said finally. He looked at me silently. "You could always stay there."

"I have a job," he stated. I looked at him, wondering why he was trying to make it harder than it needed to be.

"You can surely get the same job in New York," I replied as I leaned against the counter. He gave me a pained look before coming to me, and this time I didn't resist him. Falling into his arms, I buried my face into his chest, feeling the stiff denim of his coat against my cheek. "How are we going to do this?" His hand ran over my hair lightly.

"We'll figure something out," he softly replied.

x.x.x

Six Months Later

I stuffed my hands into my pockets as I walked down the New York sidewalk, passing all the festive decorated store fronts. Christmas was a week away. The thought struck me hard mentally and emotionally as I thought about how I would not be spending the holiday with Shane, who would be stuck in Boston due to work, or so he'd told me at Thanksgiving when he'd last visited.

I walked through the steady stream of people heading into the hospital to visit their loved ones. Walking down the hall towards the elevator, few people looked at me. Doctors dashed off to do whatever was important at that time, surgeons talked in hushed voices with nurses, and the receptionist offered me a smile as she spoke on the phone with someone. Ever since moving to New York in August, I'd been volunteering at the Liberty General Hospital. Between my classes for med school, I'd been packed with the jobs that they managed to give me.

I stepped aside as a group of nurses and a doctor pushed a gurney out of the elevator before stepping in and pressing the floor for the pediatric cancer floor. Watching the orange numbers light up, I felt the familiar tingle in my stomach. Yes, there was a mixture of nervousness and sadness for what went on that floor, but also joy. I had made it farther towards my dream than I had ever imagined. Finally, I felt like I was going to make it, that I was alright with what I'd decided to spend my life doing.

"Hello, Cass," the nurse on duty said, smiling at me. A smile grew on my face as I looked at the grey haired, slightly overweight woman, who had taken me under her wing.

"Good morning, Ruby," I replied, walking over to her. "What jobs do you have me doing today?"

"You've been requested, actually," Ruby said, going around the desk and opening a file on the computer. "A Michael Stanburg." A grin broke out on my face.

"Mikey," I replied, nodding. "We bonded about a week ago when I was helping in the activity room." Ruby smiled.

"Alright. Leave your things here and get to work, missy," she said. I stripped off my coat and handed it to her before walking down the hall, pulling my hair back into a ponytail as I looked at the room numbers, careful to get the right one.

Mikey Stanburg was a twelve year old boy with a form of acute myelogenous leukemia. Although he was still thriving and had as much energy as any other kid his age, the doctors said he only had about a month to live. Normally his parents and sister were there, staying by his side and making sure he was kept entertained and was comfortable. They'd probably gone home for the day, I decided after quickly looking at the clock and noting it was about six o'clock. His mother had mentioned something yesterday about needing to catch up on things.

I pushed open the private room and looked at the skinny boy sitting cross legged on the bed, the TV remote in his left hand, a stuffed dog in his other. An IV ran from the hand holding the dog to a drip and I felt my throat tighten up before I quickly reminded myself that not everyone would live. There would be people who died in the end, no matter how hard you tried to save them.

"Hey, bud," I said, putting a smile on my face and walking in. He turned and smiled at me.

"Cassie," he said. Seeing the happiness on his face was what made my days, seeing how happy kids could be even when they fought a terrible disease.

"You been staying out of trouble?" I asked as I walked over to him and sat down in a chair. He shrugged, a sheepish look on his face. "I take that as a no. What'd you do?"

"Took my IV out this morning," he admitted. I clucked my tongue and shook my head.

"It's there for a reason, bud," I replied, leaning forward and resting my elbows on my knees while propping my head on my hands.

"I know," he replied with a sigh. "I don't see why I need it, though, if I'm going to die." I watched as he picked at the tape holding the IV in place as I tried to pick the words I wanted to say.

"That's not a very wise way to think, bud," I said, unsure if he'd been told the news. "Don't you want to be with your mom and dad for as long as possible?" Mikey looked at me, his childlike eyes filled with more sadness and knowledge of this monster than I knew I could ever know.

"I don't want to see them so worried," he stated. I tilted my head slightly, waiting for him to elaborate. "They don't think I see how uncomfortable they are waiting for me to die, they don't think that I hear them talking or that I even heard the doctor tell them the news when I was sleeping. I don't want to hurt them anymore and this seems . . . easier." I reached out and took the TV remote from his hand and replaced it with mine.

"Listen to me, Mikey," I said, squeezing his hand lightly. "You think you're helping them, but your parents are strong, they can handle this. They do not want to lose you any sooner than they have to, they don't want to part with you." I took a deep breath and continued on, knowing from being around him that he could handle it. "Your death will hit your parents hard, Mike. There's no way for death not to hurt, okay? I want you to do me a favor, if not for your parents as well. I want you to promise me that you will do your best to fight this, to behave and do as the doctors tell you. Alright? Can you promise me that?" Mikey looked at me for a moment before giving a brief nod.

"I promise," he said, smiling. I nodded and smiled, too.

"Alright, now. What game do you have to make me lose at?" I asked. His smile broke out into a grin as he reached into his nightstand draw and pulled out a board game.

x.x.x

I could hear the phone ringing somewhere in my parent's penthouse I'd been staying in since I'd moved to New York, but the problem was I had no idea where I had put the phone. After searching the entire house, I finally found it under the paper I'd started for my class. Unfortunately, the phone had stopped ringing, so I walked over to the hook and listened to the message that was left.

"Hey, hon," a deep voice said on the other line. A smile spread across my face as I listened as Shane continued on with his message. "I just wanted to make sure that we were still good to go with New Year's. I know that I won't be there for Christmas, but I can do New Year's. We'll do the ball dropping and everything, alright? So, call me back and let me know. Love yah." I stood there, smiling even after the final click.

New Year's was just fourteen days away. I did a mini happy dance on my way to the kitchen. There were only fourteen more days until I could see the man that I loved. Even if I would be alone in a penthouse in New York for Christmas, the fact that Shane would be there for New Year's made it even out a little.

I had just grabbed a bottle of wine and a bag of chips when my cell phone rang. It was a weird sound since my parents had bought it for my birthday and it took a moment for me to realize that I should answer it. Sprinting from the kitchen, I clambered over the couch and grabbed the piece of plastic off the coffee table and pressed it to my ear.

"Hello?" I asked. A scream erupted from the other end, causing me to wince and hold the phone away from my ear. "Everything okay?"

"Oh my, oh my, Cass, you will never believe what just happened!" Rhoda squealed on the other line. I rolled my eyes and sunk down into the leather couch.

"I don't know, can you give me a hint?" I asked, smiling.

"Shut up! Robert just proposed to me, like, three minutes ago," she gushed. I smiled and supported my phone with my shoulder as I opened the chips.

"That's amazing."

"You'll come back for the wedding, right? We're thinking sometime in June or July, a summery wedding, you know? I want you to be my maid of honor," she squealed. I stopped mid chip. Maid of honor?

"Isn't it a bit early to decide that? I mean, he did just propose to you," I pointed out. She huffed into the phone and I could imagine her doing her famous eye roll.

"You're my best friend, Cass, of course I want you to be my maid of honor," she replied. I bit my lip, silent for a moment.

"Fine, I'll be your maid of honor," I said with a sigh.

"Great, terrific. Oh, he's coming back. Talk to you later," she said giddily before hanging up the phone with a final click. I sat there, listening to the dial tone in the empty house.

x.x.x

It was a cold, rainy day that Michael Stanburg was buried. There was to be no black, his mother had ordered, but there were several grays and blues. I stood in a white dress, watching the preacher as he spoke everything there was to say about Mikey's life. He was a good kid, I agreed with that. He was one of those kids that the world would ache to lose later in life, later whenever everything had gone bad, they would wish that Mikey hadn't died.

Whenever I'd gone to the hospital a week earlier, I'd been stopped by Ruby at the receptionist desk. Overnight, Mikey had taken a turn for the worst. He'd spiked a fever and had lost consciousness. It was only a few hours later that his body began to shut down. Mikey, a boy who had been bright eyed and perky when I'd played board games with him that night, had died at 5:54 A.M. after a long battle with cancer.

Now, his mother leaned on his father, tears as streamed down her face to mix with the rain drops. The preacher was finished speaking, but no one moved. They were all saying one last goodbye to Mikey; a boy who had only lived for twelve years, but went through so much more than anyone goes through in their life. I dabbed at my eyes with a tissue before making the first move.

My heels sank down into the soft ground as I walked over to Mrs. Standburg. Her eyes softened as she looked at me and a sob escaped her lips. Silently, I took her into my arms and let her cling to me as she sobbed into my neck. Over her shoulder, Ruby and her husband stood together, a ways away from the funeral procession. Ruby gave me a slight smile and a nod before she and her husband turned and walked away.

"Thank you for everything, Cassandra. We really appreciate how much time you spent with him on his last day when we couldn't be there," his father said as his wife stepped back to join him. I nodded, giving him a slight smile.

"I was glad to do it," I said softly, squeezing both of their hands. "If you need anything, call me. I'll do anything that I can to help you guys."

"You've done plenty, hon. Take care of yourself, now," Mrs. Standburg told me. I nodded, dropping my head before turning and walking away without another word.

x.x.x

Christmas Day

"Look at that tree, Robbie!" Rhoda said, clutching Robert's arm as we stood outside a store front. They'd showed up that morning and surprised me, claiming that being alone on Christmas just wasn't right.

I had to say, though, Rhoda had picked her fiancé well. Robert was a fresh out of college accountant that had took a big step into his father's business back in Boston. Now, they lived in a townhouse in the heart of the city, after she'd decided to attend Boston University for the rest of her education.

He was a handsome man, too. His blonde hair was a clump of curls on top of his head. In college, he'd played on the first string football team as a linebacker. Next to him, Rhoda looked like a little toy doll.

"Yeah, it's like every other one, hon," Robert said, rolling his eyes at me. I smiled slightly as Rhoda hooked her arms through both of ours.

"I know, but . . . it's just so . . .," she trailed off, and I could see that she was fighting to think of the word.

"Perfect," I said for her. She smiled and nodded. "You say that every time."

"Well, truthfully," Rhoda said, looking sheepishly, "ever since this guy proposed to me, everything's changed."

My thoughts immediately drifted to Mikey's funeral the previous day, about how hard it would to bury your child the day before Christmas. Every year, they would be reminded of the fact that he died right before the holiday and that was for sure to be a downer for the season. I added a mental note to go by their house later that day, just to see how they were getting along.

"Wouldn't it suck to have to go to work on Christmas?" Rhoda asked softly. I followed her gaze and stopped, having not realized that we'd walked the same route I walked almost every day. Liberty General Hospital stood in front of us as parents and personnel exited and entered the building.

"Come with me," I said suddenly, dashing across the road and leaving them to hurry and catch up.

I led them to the elevator and pressed the button, watching as the floor numbers increased until the elevator came to a stop and the doors slid open.

"Hey, Ruby," I said, pausing at the desk. Ruby looked up at me, surprised.

"Cassandra, I didn't expect to see you until Thursday," she said, putting her pen down.

"Neither did I," I admitted. "Are they still in the activity room?" Ruby nodded.

"Yes, and there's some special visitors in there that might be glad to see you," she said softly. I bit my lip and nodded. I already had a hunch about who it was.

"What are we doing here?" Rhoda hissed as we walked down the hall. Robert said something to her that I couldn't hear, but I didn't answer anyways.

The activity room held several excited children, running around as the volunteers tried to control them. The Stanburg's sat at a small table, helping with the crafts. Parents littered the room, smiling at their children even though they couldn't be home for the holidays.

"This is why people want to work on holidays," I said, turning to look at Rhoda. "It's the fact that you need to try your hardest to make the kids happy, or to make any patient happy. It's the time when you have an emergency or lose a patient that makes it hard." I took her arm and made her look at the Standburg's. "They buried their twelve year old child son yesterday." She opened her mouth and then closed it. "So, no, I wasn't going to be alone on Christmas. I was going to have them."

x.x.x

One day before New Year's

The wind whistled through the tunnel as I stood there with other strangers around me. As much as I didn't want to admit it, there were butterflies in my stomach as the train pulled up and came to a halt. I watched as people trailed out of the cars and stood on my tiptoes, trying to spot the familiar dark haired boy. I bit my lip nervously, hoping that he hadn't changed his mind at last minute and decided not to come without telling me.

I pulled my coat closer to me and walked down the platform a little farther. Just as I was about to turn around and give up, one last figure emerged from the car. His dark hair was spiked up in his usual style, his jean jacket was open to reveal a black t-shirt, and his jeans, I noticed, were the same one's that I'd bought for him for his birthday.

A grin broke out on my face and I half walked, half ran over to him. He dropped his duffel bag to the ground and cupped my head gently in his hands, bringing his lips down to meet mine. Resting my hands against his chest, I closed my eyes and sighed softly. He was there, in New York with me. There were people milling around us, but I stood there with him, our lips interlocked and paid no attention.

He finally broke away and stood there, looking at me with a smile on his face.

"Hey," he said softly.

"Hi," I whispered in response. He wrapped his arms around me and held me close. Breathing in, I took in his familiar scent and closed my eyes, relaxing in his arms.

x.x.x

I watched Shane from the kitchen as he paced in front of the living room, whispering angrily onto his phone. He had been helping me wash the dishes that had piled up in the sink, but had slipped away whenever his phone had rang. Every time that I looked at him and met his eyes, he would quickly look away, something flashing across his face that was gone before I could read what it was. Guilt? Shame? Anger? I wasn't sure.

I turned away and scrubbed furiously at a pan with the scratcher. My mother would have yelled at me, had she been there, and lecture me about what pans you used the scratcher on, but I didn't care at that moment. I was lost in my thoughts, trying to figure out what exactly Shane was hiding from me. One particular thought kept sneaking in, but I pushed it away, telling myself that it was impossible and that he would never do something like that to me. The question about rather or not I believed that to be true followed.

A few minutes later, Shane walked over and silently took the scratcher from me before he wrapped his arms around me and pulled me to his chest. I knew what he was going to say. He was sorry, he thought he had more time, he was needed at work. I'd heard it all before, it had been one of his excuses for not coming to Christmas.

"Cass—," he started, but I shook my head, cutting him off.

"Don't, just don't," I said and pushed him away.

"You don't even know what I was going to say!" he protested. I wrapped my arms around my waist and turned to face him.

"Tell me what you were going to say, then," I told him as I swallowed the lump in my throat. He ran a hand through his dark hair and sighed softly.

"Fine, you want to know what I was going to say?" Shane asked, anger clearly written on his face. I stared him the eye, refusing to believe anything that my mind was telling me until he said it. "I was going to say that you need to stop being such a freaking worry wart. How are you ever going to be a doctor if you worry over every little thing?" I stared him down silently, waiting until he was finished. "I came here because I wanted to be with you, but I could just feel the worry coming off you even though you never said anything. Do you not trust me or something?"

"What's her name?" I asked softly. He stared at me.

"What?" he asked. I closed my eyes briefly before opening them again and putting a mask onto my face.

"What. Is. Her. Name?" I said coldly. "Do I need to repeat myself or not?" He stared at me like a deer in the headlights. "What? You think I didn't know? I didn't believe it until now, either, until I saw that look on your face. I'm going to ask you again and I want an answer, Shane. What is her name?"

"Mallory," he said like a small child that was being scolded by its parents.

"I was ready to marry you, Shane, once I finished schooling. Now all I want is you out of my house," I said numbly. "I'll get you a hotel, but after tomorrow, I want you out of this city and out of my life. I loved you. I loved you so much that I turned away any help from my parents just so you could keep your . . . your muscularity or whatever and pay the bills! But, you didn't do that. You worked all the time, and you never did make enough money selling those drugs. Yes, I know what you were selling. We weren't together for such a short period of time that I wasn't able to figure it out."

"Why didn't you say something, then?" Shane asked. I turned my back on him. "You were the one who didn't want to take money from your parents.

"Because I didn't want to believe you to be the worthless man I knew you were," I said even though I didn't believe it at all. I swallowed the lump in my throat. "I wanted us to be able to make it on our own, Shane! That was why I didn't take any money from my parents!" I closed my eyes briefly. "Just go, Shane. Please."

"I still love you," he said softly before he gathered up his things and left.

I stood there, rooted to the floor, long after Shane had gone. All along I had known that this could happen, that I being in New York and him in Boston could make something like this happen. It had been a thought that was hidden away deep within my brain, but it had still been there.

Forcing my feet to move, I climbed into bed and picked up the phone. I dialed Rhoda's number as I pulled the covers up around me, staring at the wall while the scent of Shane still lingered in the room.

"Hello?" Rhoda's voice asked sleepily on the phone.

"Rhoda," I said softly.

"Cass? Do you realize what time it is?" Rhoda groaned. I swallowed hard and closed my eyes, not saying anything. "Cass, what's wrong?"

"Shane and I broke up," I managed to say, choking back the tears that threatened to spill out of my eyes.

"What happened?" she asked, sounding more awake now. Before I knew it, the story spilled from my lips and she remained silent the entire time, just listening to me until I had finished. "I'm going to come up, okay? As soon as it starts to get daylight out, I'll be on the road, alright?" I tried to tell her that she didn't need to come up, but she wouldn't listen to me. "You can't be alone in New York much longer, Cass."

x.x.x

Seventeen Years Later

I woke up in my chair with a stiff neck after being woken up by someone shaking my shoulder. Glancing around, I finally located the dark haired man standing a couple feet away from the chair next to his son's bed. It all rushed back to me, staying in Jordan's room, everything.

"Come out into the hallway with me," he whispered. I glanced once more at the child asleep in the bed before I stood and followed him out into the hallway. "It means a lot to me and my wife that you stayed with him like that. We hate to leave him here all alone."

"Jordan's a special kid," I replied as I leaned against the wall. The hospital was beginning to get busy again with nurses doing the morning rounds and visitors coming in. Jordan's father leaned against the wall next to me and we stood there in silence, watching the bustle around us.

"I need to know what's going to happen to him, Cass," he said as he put his hands into his pockets. "I want to be prepared for when my wife gets here, you know? I . . . I don't think that I can find out in front of them." I nodded. I understood, there had been so many other parents like him.

"Come with me to my office," I said and pushed off the wall. Starting down the hall, I didn't look back to see if he was following because I knew he would be. I held the door open for him and then shut it as he sat down in the chair across from my desk. The entire way to my desk, I wondered how I managed to stay composed in times like these.

"You need to tell me before I go crazy," he said, fidgeting in the chair.

"Mr. Covington," I began, clasping my hands together and resting my chin on my hands, "your son has stopped responding to treatments. Right now, I recommend that you take him home and try to make him comfortable. It'd be in your best interests if you would allow for me to make arrangements for a nurse to come in and keep him comfortable."

"Wait . . . you're saying that he's . . . he's going to die?" Mr. Covington asked, staring at me. I dropped my gaze as I let the news sink it. "No, he's only ten years old, he can't die yet."

"I'm sorry, Mr. Covington. I truly wish that there was something else to do for him, but we've just ran out of things to experiment with. What your son would need right now is a miracle and, sadly, there just isn't one," I told him softly as I slid my gaze back to him. He ran a hand over his face, letting out his breath.

"How long?" he said so quietly that I hardly heard what he said.

"A few weeks, possibly a couple of months," I told him. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.

"How . . . How do I tell my wife?" he asked.

"I can do that if you want me to," I said, standing and moving to sit in the chair next to his. "Look, Mr. Covington, I find your son to be an extremely special kid and I believe that if he didn't have this terrible disease that he could do amazing things, he could be an amazing person." I swallowed hard as I continued. "I will take care of everything for you and your family, okay? You won't have anything to worry about."

Mr. Covington nodded, staring at the ground. "Thanks, Cass."

"What I'm going to say isn't me speaking as your doctor, it's as your friend," I told him. He glanced up at me. "If there is anything you need at all, just call me, alright? I'll be there in a heartbeat." He nodded again.

"I'll remember that," he said. I nodded, biting my lip and we sat there in silence until it was time to tell his wife the news.

x.x.x

The day of Jordan Covington's funeral was the nicest day that we'd had that spring. The sun was shining, birds were flying across the bright blue sky, and everything was fitting for a boy like Jordan. I stood next to his parents as the preacher spoke about Jordan. He hadn't even known him, I thought, he hadn't even known what an amazing kid he was. I swallowed back the tears the threatened to spill from my eyes, knowing I was there as a backbone to the Covington's.

I stayed behind after Jordan was laid to rest and stared at the dirt pile, thinking that life wasn't fair. Wrapping my arms around myself, I didn't notice the footsteps or the man standing next to me until he cleared his throat. I closed my eyes for a moment before I opened them and turned to face him. The vision of a blue jean jacket, blue jeans, and the spiked hair filled my head. I thought about how softly he'd cupped my cheeks as he'd kissed me in the train station, not caring who had seen.

"Shane," I said softly as I looked at him. He stuffed his hands into his dress pant pockets and looked at the dirt pile I'd been staring at previously.

"Jordan loved you, you know," he said to me. "He loved you almost as much as I did."

"Shane . . . you have Mallory," I reminded him. Shane Covington looked at me and nodded.

"I know, I know that I have Mallory and I know that I messed things up all those years ago," he replied. "I just wanted you to know that you aren't alone and that I haven't stopped caring for you." I watched as he walked down the path to where his wife waited for him, wiping tears from her eyes as she leaned against the car.

Shane Covington was the man who haunted my dreams day and night. He was the man that I had fallen in love with—and hard at that. He was my best friend and a guy that, at one point, I had seen myself spending the rest of my life with him. One mistake had ruined that and maybe if he hadn't made that mistake, he wouldn't have buried his only child that very day. Even though I hated myself for it, I was still in love with him.

I knelt and placed a tulip onto the mound of dirt on Jordan's grave. Jordan had been lucky to have had a father like Shane, who had eventually got out of the drug selling business and gone on to college to get a degree in pharmacy. He had turned his life around and that had been why I'd been reluctant to tell him that I was leaving for New York the next day to be away from my past that kept sneaking in. Rhoda and her family owned a house in Brooklyn and my son and I were staying with them until we were able to find a place to stay permanently since my parents were going to need their penthouse.

I felt like I was closing another chapter of my book when I walked away from the cemetery. It was time to start over and be happy, leave everything that had happened to me in the past. Ethan was going to be forgotten, but knew that Shane wouldn't be. I could never forget Shane Covington.