She’s living for today…
Sophie is dying—probably. An aneurysm at the base of her brain is just waiting to burst, and though she tries to keep her mind off the inevitable by painting away the pain, she simply can’t forget that her days are numbered.
He’s yearning for tomorrow…
Jamison is stuck. His past is a mess he’d rather not revisit, and his present is so dull he can hardly stand it. He takes refuge in his nightly walks where he looks up from the silent New York streets and stares into the window of a tragically beautiful girl painting her masterpiece.
They were made for each other…
A near collision in the dead of night brings them together, and fate means to keep it that way. But when Jamison turns out to be Sophie’s surgeon—the best in the city and her only chance at survival—will she be forced to choose between the love of her life and life itself?
They’re perfect together. But will the curse of the Garner-Willoughby family tear them apart?
**This is a full-length standalone romance with a HEA and no cliff hanger.**
“Do you know why Dr. Bledsoe referred you to me?” the pretty blonde psychologist asked, her eyes glimmering behind her thick-rimmed glasses. She sat so still, so poised in her leather chair with her long legs crossed tightly.
“Yes,” I replied. “Because he told me I was dying, and I smiled.”
“You understand that’s not a common reaction, right?” she asked, her voice annoyingly calm, and her words drawn out.
“Not all smiles mean you’re happy. Smiles can mean lots of things,” I said. I spread myself out across the length of the leather loveseat in her office, kicking my legs over the edge and cupping my hands behind my head in an attempt to settle in. We were going to be there a while and not by my choice.
“Can you tell me more about why you smiled?” she asked carefully. “Or what this smile meant?”
“I’m not suicidal if that’s what you’re implying.”
“I didn’t say you were suicidal.”
“I’m not.” The room was suddenly stuffy, and the air thick. My constant, throbbing headache reminded me of the unruptured aneurysm at the base of my brain dangling like a vine-ripened berry waiting to burst, and that stale, suffocating office in a depressingly gray Manhattan high-rise wasn’t doing me any favors.
I wasn’t suicidal. I may have been a month ago, but not anymore.
I didn’t know why the pills didn’t work. Fourteen blue ones, twelve white ones, and twenty-four brown ones. I took enough to kill a horse, and I woke up two days later warm in my bed feeling like a million bucks. All I’d done was put myself into a light coma. I took it as a sign that I wasn’t supposed to die. Not yet. Not like that.
A month later, the headaches started.
“How do you feel about this aneurysm, Sophie?” she pried. Her pen pressed into the yellow legal pad on her lap as she waited for my response. “You’re not exactly terminal, you know. This is treatable.”
Dr. Bledsoe had referred me to her because she specialized in end-of-life patients. That told me all I needed to know. She helped people come to peace with the fact that they may or may not be dying.
“Twenty-percent chance of being alive a year from now?” I said blankly. “Sounds pretty terminal to me.”
“Those statistics are only relevant if you don’t seek treatment,” she gently reminded me.
“You plan to seek treatment, right?”
“Yeah, but the specialist is booked out a month,” I sighed. “A lot could happen in a month.”
“Can you take me back to when you were first diagnosed?” she asked. Her voice was overly soothing, yet her expression was empty as if she’d asked this question a million times before, and it had gradually lost its meaning.
I’d been having headaches for weeks, and after a while, choking down Tylenol after Tylenol barely put a dent in the throbbing pain. When my vision became blurry, and it interfered with my ability to paint, I forced myself to trek down to the ER in the middle of a December snowstorm at three in the morning.
“Yesterday,” I said. “He told me yesterday.”
“Right,” she said, shifting in her seat. “But let’s talk about how you felt.”
I had an idea something was up when they took me back for a CT scan and made me wait four hours while they consulted with the doctor on call, who then needed to consult with another doctor who wasn’t going to be in until eight. The nurses wouldn’t tell me anything. They’d just looked at me with pity in their eyes as if they knew something I didn’t.
“Shocked. I don’t know,” I said. “Certainly, I didn’t think a headache would turn into a death sentence at twenty-four.”
“Can I ask why you smiled when you were given your prognosis?” This woman was relentlessly asking the same question fifty different ways as if I wouldn’t notice.
“Do we need to psychoanalyze this?” I asked with an incredulous laugh. “I mean, it was just a smile. It didn’t mean anything.”
“Are you sure about that?”
“I don’t know,” I said, frustrated. It was an ironic smile. Ironic, because just when I’d decided I wanted to live, I was told I might die. But she didn’t need to know about the pills. She’d want to focus on that, and then she’d never believe that I wasn’t suicidal.
“And that’s why I’m here, Sophie,” she said. She re-crossed her long legs and leaned forward, her red lips parting into a faux-empathetic smile. “We’re going to figure this out.”
“No offense, Dr. Strong, but I don’t want to spend my last days on earth sitting on your couch trying to psychoanalyze why I smiled when Dr. Bledsoe gave me my diagnosis. I’m going to fight this thing. I can promise you that. I want to live.”
I wanted to live more than anything.
“When is your appointment with Dr. Garner?” she asked, pen pressed to paper again. The ticking of the wall clock echoed against the tragically plain, off-white walls. Every second in her stuffy office was a second I could have been spending outside living my life and doing the things I loved.
“Not until January. Dr. Bledsoe gave me some meds to take that are supposed to buy me some time until I can get in.”
“Do you have anyone else you can talk to?” she asked. “Parents? Friends? Siblings?”
“Of course,” I lied. I lied so hard. I just hoped she couldn’t see through me—but then again, she read people for a living, so I was probably fucked. I should have said, “Not really. One. Nope.”
My fingers reached up to my neck twisting my necklaces between them as I often did when I thought about my sisters. A thin, gold ballerina charm dangled from one, representing Rossi, and a musical note, representing Nori, hung from the other.
I forced a smile. That suffocating sensation was beginning to wash over me again. I glanced up at the clock. We were only ten minutes into our hour-long session.
“Don’t bottle this up, Sophie,” she said, her voice directing me to turn back toward her. “You can’t go through this alone. Ask for help. Talk about it. Work through it. Embrace it.”
“That’s the plan…” I planned to embrace my life, to live like I was dying. I didn’t want to spend an hour each week in therapy. Those hours were better spent painting, sketching, dancing, singing, anything but sitting around and discussing my feelings.
“Celebrate every single, solitary day,” she said with a smile. “Live every day like it’s your last.”
“I think I’ve seen that on a bumper sticker.”
“It’s cliché, I know.” She laughed.
I sat up on the loveseat, trying to get comfortable again, and glanced over at the clock again. It had only been two more minutes.
“You seem like you want to leave,” Dr. Strong said, setting her legal pad on the edge of her desk. “That’s okay, Sophie. I’m not going to make you stay.”
I sighed, relieved, and reached down to grab my bag off the floor.
“I would like to see you regularly,” she said. “I think I can help you.”
“I don’t know,” I said, not wanting to be rude.
“Will you at least think about it?” she asked, removing her thick-rimmed glasses to reveal blue eyes as dark as the sea. She almost looked sincere. Almost.
I didn’t want to see her in the first place, but that damn Dr. Bledsoe was so fucking persistent. I didn’t know how to tell him no. He’d been rattling off statistics and medical verbiage, and before I realized it, he’d slipped Dr. Strong’s card into my hand. The next thing I knew, his nurse was calling me to tell me they’d scheduled an appointment for me to meet with a shrink.
“Maybe,” I said, antsy to get moving and get the hell out of there. A picture was forming in my mind, and I had to get it on canvas before I burst like the aneurysm in my head. That was how I coped. That was my therapy. Everything on canvas. All the time. Art was my oxygen.
I stood to leave, bypassing the scheduling desk and making a beeline for the elevator bay. I wanted to click my heels and return to my apartment, my sanctuary. I wanted to dip my brush in the prettiest shades of blues and pinks and purples and transform a blank canvas into something extraordinary. I wanted to take every teeny, tiny thought and emotion and get them out of me. They always looked better outside of me than they felt inside of me.