He chose her.
He chose someone else.
I gave him the chance at closure only for it to backfire on me.
Josephine Faulkner inhaled a deep breath and prayed that it extinguished the fire in her chest. Instead, it gave it life. It was the oxygen that fire needed to turn into an inferno.
The disappointment she felt in herself barrelled through her veins, determined for her never to forget the fact she trusted him with her once guarded heart. Only for Maxwell Sheridan to ruin it.
She loved him.
Completely and utterly loved him.
He was her La Vie En Rose.
When life handed her the very worst, he made it the very best …
Until he didn’t.
Until he told her that he had to leave with Andrea.
The pain in his eyes couldn’t match the pain she felt.
He had no idea how betrayed and hurt she felt.
He had no idea what horrible timing he had.
Josie could have told him the truth.
It might have made him stay.
Made him pick her.
But she refused.
All her life, she was the second choice.
She wouldn’t be this time.
She wouldn’t let Max stay.
She wouldn’t let Max have her heart or love.
He had been her La Vie En Rose.
But not anymore.
And never again.
La Vie En Rose.
He had said that to her.
That she was his La Vie En Rose.
Pain infiltrated her heart when he had, and she had pushed away from his once loving embrace and slapped him across the face.
He had no idea.
He had no idea how much he insulted her with one sentence.
Maxwell Sheridan had no idea how much he had broken her heart and belief in him with a lie.
One damn lie that she would never—even with the last breath she was capable of making—believe to be the truth.
Max had been the one person in her life who she believed could never disappoint her.
But he was just another notch.
Her love for him had become the biggest disappointment of her life.
She had expected disappointment from her father.
But with Max, she never thought he could hurt her so deeply.
He left her standing outside her building to collect her heart’s broken pieces off the ground as he walked away.
Just like her father had done many times before.
And just like her mother had.
Her warm, loving mother had left her.
Her once beaming mother was now on life support after her cancer had claimed her lungs and other vital organs. Her cancer had been terminal for two weeks. Josie assumed she was going to tell her today when they went to lunch together. Emily Faulkner’s neighbour had discovered her door left open on his way to work and found her collapsed in the hallway. He had called 000, and she was rushed to the ER. That was when Josie had been notified.
Dr Frederickson had pulled her aside and told her the news.
Her mother’s cancer was terminal.
Her organs were shutting down.
She was on life support.
He had said more, but the moment she heard ‘terminal,’ everything in her lost its strength, and she fell to her knees, sobbing.
Her mother was hooked up to machines to keep her breathing.
To keep her alive.
She had little time left.
Josie wiped her tears away as she stroked her mother’s cold hand.
After Dr Frederickson had told her the news, he sent her home to get some rest. Little did she know that when she arrived back at her apartment, Maxwell Sheridan would obliterate any other remaining functioning part of her.
Josephine Faulkner had everything before it was all taken away from her.
Her mother was dying.
The love of her life had left her.
Now, she was empty inside.
Suddenly, a knock on the intensive care room door had Josie glancing over her shoulder to find her mother’s doctor with a tight smile on his face.
“Good afternoon, Josie,” he greeted in a careful tone that she appreciated.
Josie didn’t bother to get out of the visitor’s seat as she grasped her mother’s hand a little tighter, hoping she felt it. “Hello, Doc.”
The doctor made his way to her side and set his clipboard on her mother’s bed. Settling his hand on Josie’s shoulder, he asked, “Did you sleep?”
She shook her head. “I showered and then drove back here. I sat in my car for a while.”
I also got my heart broken by Maxwell Sheridan.
But Dr Frederickson didn’t need to know that. And he didn’t have to know how close she was to screaming that it wasn’t fair.
It wasn’t fair that she gave Max her love, only for him to throw it in her face.
It wasn’t fair that her mother was on life support when Josie was the one who had all but given up on life.
She’d trade places with her mother.
Any day of the week, she would.
Because Josie was so tired.
So tired of life and its unfairness.
Tired of disappointment.
Tired of never being someone’s first choice.
Tired of knowing what pain felt like when it consumed you.
Josephine Faulkner was tired.
“You know it’s a decision you don’t have to make right now,” Dr Frederickson said.
Tears filled her eyes and then dragged down her cheeks as quickly as she blinked. “I know,” she whispered.
“I’m here for you, Josie,” he assured.
And she believed him.
After everything she had been through in the past year and a half, Dr Frederickson was one of only a few who never gave her false hope. And when he gave her bad news, he stayed to comfort her. He never left. He never gave her that sick feeling of being so vulnerable. He always ensured she was never alone.
“Dr Frederickson,” Josie said as she took her eyes off her pale mother and faced the doctor. Her lip trembled, and she found it difficult to speak. Josie let go of her mother and covered the doctor’s hand on her shoulder. “I don’t know what to do.”
The doctor bent his knees and removed his hand from her shoulder. Then he grasped her hand in his, and his lips pressed into that tight, reassuring smile that she appreciated. It wasn’t one of false hope. One that told her that her mother would suddenly be cancer-free and Josie could have a chance to tell her mother how sorry she was for all the selfish things she had done. Selfish things like hurting her when all Josie wanted to do was hurt her absent father.
“It’s okay, Josie. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. It’s normal to feel the way you do.”
She nodded as the tears continued to fall. Although she had the doctor’s support, she had never felt more alone. She wished Max was here now. But he wasn’t. Not after he told her he was leaving with Andrea. This was the time she needed him the most, and he had let her down.
Disappointed her the way her father had many times before.
But Max’s disappointment was far worse.
Especially since he had promised never to disappoint her.
And he had.
A lie had been committed against her.
“But …” She inhaled a shaky breath. “But I kill her if I make that decision.”
The doctor shook his head. “You’re turning off your mother’s life support, Josie. It’s not an easy decision.”
She let out a painful sob. “If I keep her on it, I’m causing her more pain, right? Prolonging the dy-dying process?”
“Your mother’s cancer has spread to her lungs and other parts of her body.”
“And it’s incurable? No chemo will get rid of it?”
Dr Frederickson squeezed her hand. “Unfortunately not, Josie. Your mother’s cancer is terminal. She refused to undergo another round of chemo. Instead, she wished to live her life at home.”
“How long was she given?”
“A month, maybe two.”
Josie pulled her hand free from the doctor’s and covered her face with her palms. She sobbed as guilt and grief consumed her. Her mother was given months to live. She had been sent home a few weeks ago. All this time Josie spent concentrating on useless things like assignments and work should have been spent living the best days with her mother.
After several ugly sobs, she wiped her cheeks and took a deep breath. Then she asked, “And your professional medical advice?”
He didn’t falter as he said, “It’s in your mother’s best interests that we withdraw life support.”
The doctor’s advice was to stop the pain.
To stop her mother’s suffering.
Josie’s eyelids fell closed as tears ran down her cheeks.
She knew in her heart the doctor was right.
But she needed more time.
More seconds with her mother.
Even though she knew her mother had left her that morning.
“Josie,” a soft, feminine voice whispered.
But she ignored it.
In the darkness, she was safe from feeling.
Safe from all the hurt that terrorised her.
“Josie,” the voice called again.
It was familiar.
A voice of comfort.
Blinking her eyes open, Josie lifted her head from the mattress to find her best friend, Stella Weller, standing next to her with a bouquet of tulips in her hands and a sad smile on her face. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get here sooner.”
Josie ran her palms over her face and let out a sigh. “It’s okay, Stella.”
Her best friend walked to the bed and kissed Emily’s forehead. “Hey, Em.”
Josie blinked the forming tears away. She couldn’t cry. Not in front of Stella. She had done all her crying with Dr Frederickson. After some time, he had stopped talking and allowed her to have someone be with her. Comfort her. She was sure that most people on life support had a room full of people by their side, but not Emily Faulkner. Josie’s mother was loved by so many, but when she revealed she had cancer to Josie, she announced that no one besides her daughter would know. She wasn’t happy when Stella had found out, but her mother understood Josie’s need to have someone know.
Stella set the flowers on the table and gazed at Emily. She stared at the breathing apparatus in her mouth, then she lifted her eyes to find Josie. “How are you?”
“Okay,” she replied in a small voice as she brushed her brunette hair behind her ear.
“What did the doctor say?”
Josie swallowed hard and then dug her teeth into her lip as if it would rid her of her pain. Then, after a long moment of silence, she said, “Her cancer’s terminal. Her organs are shutting down. Dr Frederickson said that I have a choice to make about …” She closed her mouth, not wanting to say it out loud.
Tears rolled down Stella’s cheeks. She knew. Josie didn’t have to vocalise it for her best friend to understand. “I can see it on your face … You’ve made a decision.”
She nodded. “But I want more time to be sure of my decision, you know.”
“I know, Josie.”
Josie glanced over at her mother. In the hours she had sat by the hospital bed, her mother hadn’t moved. Not a single stir. “She’s my mother, Stella,” Josie cried. “She raised me when my dad walked away. Besides you, she’s the only person who has loved me and put me first.”
“That’s not true.”
Josie’s chin dipped as her heart painfully clenched. That small box she had mentally put Max and her love for him in quickly exploded, and the crippling pain of him leaving wounded her once again.
Deep slices were made all over.
It had been hours since he walked away.
Since he left her.
Since he threw her love in her face and betrayed her heart.
She shook her head and then lifted her gaze at Stella. “There is no Max.”
Her best friend flinched. “What?”
“Max is going to Boston.”
“Why?” Stella asked in disbelief.
Why, why, why?
The same question she had asked herself when she stood under the scalding hot water this morning and sobbed.
Maxwell Sheridan ruined her in the very worst way.
He caused doubt in her.
Questioned her worthiness.
Cheapened her love.
And caused her heart to weep in ways it had never done before.
She swallowed the large lump in her throat and then licked her dry lips. “To go after the love he’s always wanted the most.”
It was the truth.
Andrea was who he loved more.
Who he loved the most.
And Josie Faulkner was a notch Maxwell Sheridan had screwed into obliteration.