"It's growing?" Beau repeated, his eyes wide with shock.
Dr. Turner nodded, turning back to Beau's latest brain scans. "I'm afraid so."
"But I've been taking the injections just like you told me to do it. I haven't missed a single one."
"I believe you. These things sometimes have a mind of their own. The injection was experimental; there was no guarantee."
Owen took a deep breath. "So what do we do next?"
Dr. Turner pursed her lips and studied the scans. In her mind, there was only one option left. She knew, though, that Beau had struck a deal with his parents after she found the cyst, and convincing him to move forward was going to be difficult. Still, she wanted Beau to live, and she wanted him to remember who he was and who his family and friends were. She could only hope that Beau wanted those things just as much as she did.
"I would like to operate."
The silence in the room was palpable. Both Owen and Beau looked at her like they had just had an auditory hallucination.
"Yes, I did say before that the cyst was too large to operate on, and that there was a risk of it bursting. That risk is still very present, but I'd like to try a different sort of procedure. I'll drain the cyst first, and then go in a remove the sac so that it doesn't fill again."
"Would that give me a better chance of retaining my memory?" Beau asked.
"The risks are still the same, if not greater. The drain could leak, it could cause brain swelling. We may have to remove some brain matter with the sac. I can't promise that you'll retain or regain memory, just like before."
"What do you want to do, son?"
Beau let out a deep breath. Things seemed to be going so well. He and Absidee had made amends a couple of weeks before and their relationship was going great. Spending time with her was helping him remember, and Michael had graciously agreed to let Beau come in a couple of days a week and work with Absidee behind the parts counter. He felt like he was improving, but here Dr. Turner was telling him that he was in fact getting worse.
"What kind of recovery time am I looking at?"
"Weeks, possibly months. Chances are you'll need some occupational therapy to re-train your brain to remember things once the cyst is no longer causing a threat. Your memory won't be the same right away. It won't be the easiest of recoveries or an instant fix."
"All right," Beau nodded. "I want to think about it."
Dr. Turner pursed her lips again. "Fair enough. In the meantime, I want you to keep up with the injections. Keep up at the Clemens's store; that may be therapeutic in itself."
"Thanks, I'll do that," Beau replied, rising from his chair. Owen stood along with him.
"Beau, don't take too long," Dr. Turner cautioned. "If it bursts before we get to it …"
"I know," Beau nodded. "I know."
Evelyn shook her head. "We can't let him wait, Owen. We will lose our son if he waits to have that surgery!"
"Evie," Owen whispered, pulling his wife to his chest. "The decision is Beau's. We told him that if he continued with the treatment once we found out about the cyst, any further treatments would be his decision. We can't go back on that now; he'd resent us forever."
"I just thought that maybe Absidee would make him see how worthwhile it is to keep trying."
Owen kissed the top of her head. "Beau's been trying for a long time. He's been trying long before Absidee came into the picture. If he's tired of trying, then we have to accept that and enjoy the time we have left with him."
"Don't say that," Evelyn cried. "I don't even want to think about losing him."
"If he decides not to have the surgery, then we are going to lose him," Owen told her, feeling the tears well up in his own eyes. "But I promise you, Evie, I'm going to do everything I can to encourage him to have the operation. And, if he decides not to have the operation, I will not leave your side for one minute until you feel like you're okay again."
Evelyn kissed him through her tears. If she had to go through this at all, she couldn't ask for a better husband than Owen.
Absidee smiled up at the sky as the sun set, completely content to have Beau laying on the blanket next to her. The baby monitor was nearby so that she could hear if Mac woke from his nap. The grass had just seemed too inviting to waste the night on the porch.
"Fourth of July in a couple days," Beau mentioned. He was on his side, using his hand to prop his head up so he could see her.
She nodded and closed her eyes. "Yes, it is. Do you and your parents have plans?"
Beau faltered. He had a vague inkling that his mother had mentioned something about the holiday, but he couldn't remember for sure.
"We don't really do much anymore," Absidee continued when she noted the confused look on his face. "The track usually has a big to-do, but we stopped going a few years back when Grandpa first got too sick to go out. Dad's not much for the holiday crowds anyway. You should see him at Christmas."
He chuckled, although her mention of Christmas reminded him that he needed to talk to her about his doctor's appointment earlier that day. He had to tell her that if he chose to not have the surgery, his mind could be gone by Christmas. He could be gone.
But when he opened his mouth, he just couldn't bring himself to say the words and break her heart. She looked so peaceful, and he couldn't ruin it. Not then. Not when he was he was leaning towards not having the operation. When he made a decision, then he would tell her. For now, he would do what he thought was best and tell her at least some of what he had found out earlier.
"I went to see Dr. Turner today."
"Oh that's right, I can't believe I forgot to ask you about it," Absidee said, sitting up and pulling her knees to her chest. "And?"
Beau shrugged. "I have to keep up with the injections. The cyst is getting bigger."
"Getting bigger?" Absidee asked. "Well … doesn't that mean the injections aren't working?"
"I don't know. Dr. Turner said this cyst is really rare anyway and it kind of has a mind of its own. We just have to keep taking it one day at a time."
She bit her lip. "They're optimistic though, right? I mean, you're not going to just not wake up one day or something?"
Beau reached out his hand to caress her cheek. "Sidee, you're the reason I get up every morning. As long as I have you, that'll never happen."
Absidee grinned and leaned in to kiss him. "You're the best."
He would never get over how wonderful it was to finally be able to kiss her whenever he wanted without concern that she would turn away or otherwise deny him. He could hold her close and make sure she felt as treasured as she deserved. Under those delightful feelings, however, was always the fear that he would forget how wonderful it was one day, or forget her altogether. When Beau thought about it like that, it seemed so easy to say yes to the surgery. But hadn't he been through enough already?
Hasn't she? his mind shot back at him. Beau wrapped his arms around her as the kiss continued so that his thoughts wouldn't be portrayed all over his face. Absidee would be all right, he was sure of it. Look at how well she had transitioned to Mac's disease. It isn't the same, he admonished himself. And you know it.
Absidee gave him one final peck before laying back on the blanket again and smiling up at him. That smile had become his whole world in the last couple of months, and he knew he'd be a fool to give it up. Somehow, he just couldn't give up his foolish notion not to have the surgery.
"You know, Sidee, even if we can get rid of the cyst, my memory might never be the same."
Absidee shrugged. "That's okay. I'll remember for you. I'm in this, Beau, and you can't scare me away."
"I would never try to scare you away," Beau chuckled. "But I just want you to know what you're getting into."
"I know," she stated sternly. "Beau, I live it every day. You think my grandfather's good days he remembers everything and he's back to his old self? You've been around him, and you know that even on his best days, he's still mostly gone. He hasn't remembered me for a few weeks now, and I just have to deal with that. If your memory wasn't all there, then fine. If it gets worse, then fine. I don't want your memory or your brain or anything like that. I just want you, Beau, as long as you want me."
All he could was kiss her again. Yes, this was why he loved Absidee; she accepted him for who he was, cyst and all. It gave him hope that if he decided to opt out of the surgery, she would stay around until he wasn't there anymore.
As soon as Beau returned home, Owen questioned him about how Absidee had taken the news that he needed the operation and that it was going to be risky.
Beau shrugged. "She's taking it one day at a time, just like the rest of us."
"Did she encourage you to have the surgery?" Owen asked.
"She just told me she was going to be around as long as I wanted her to be."
Owen nodded. "Well, that's good. I guess now that she knows the truth, she's finally getting around the harder part."
"I guess so. I'm kind of tired, so I'm going to bed. Sidee's going to pick me up in the morning and we'll go to the store together."
"Okay. Night, son."
Beau peeked into the office to tell his mother goodnight, then went to his room and closed the door behind him. He sat on the bed and sighed. He'd told himself he wasn't going to hide the truth from anyone anymore, but it hadn't taken long to do that. Absidee was not going to be impressed when she found out that he was keeping all the information from her, and he couldn't imagine his parents would be very proud of him for once again not telling her the whole truth.
He stripped down to his boxers and turned off the lights, then laid back on the bed, staring at the dark ceiling. It was all going to come out eventually - if he hadn't learned that lesson by now, then he never would. Still, he just couldn't bring himself to break Absidee's heart at all, let alone telling her that he didn't want to keep trying to fix this thing, with or without her. He realized in that moment that he had made a decision, which meant he needed to tell Absidee, his parents, and Dr. Turner, soon.
Or he could do what he'd always done and just keep it to himself until he couldn't anymore. He didn't know which would hurt the people closest to him more, but in the end, it seemed like giving them hope for as long as they could have it was the right thing to do.
Absidee sat at the supper table with her father and Mac in a relatively good mood. Julie finally had a day off, so it was just the three of them.
"Dad, you know, I've been thinking. Since Grandpa got sick, we haven't done too much for Fourth of July. I know it's not a super important holiday, but maybe this year we could have something small here?"
"What did you have in mind?" Michael asked.
"Well, of course I'd like to spend some time with Beau that day. I was thinking the three of us could have his family over here. Maybe cook out, have a few fireworks. Nothing too fancy or big."
Michael nodded. "I think that sounds all right. I wouldn't mind catching up with Owen a little bit. Things must be getting pretty serious between you and Beau; how's all of his medical stuff?"
"Well," Absidee replied. "The cyst is still growing, even though he's on the injections. I think the doctor upped his dose or something. They need to get the size down before they can operate though."
"How's his memory?"
"Honestly, Dad, I don't notice too often that he's forgotten things. It's some sort of anomaly, apparently, that when he's with me or remembering things about me, his brain works a little harder."
Michael smiled. "That's not surprising."
Absidee smiled too, and went back to her supper. When they were done, she cleaned up the kitchen and Michae put Mac to bed.
"He's down for the night, I think."
"Thanks, Dad. I'll see you in a couple days, then."
"Let me know what I need to bring." He hugged his daughter. "You're going to be okay, Sid. I know there's a lot going on with your grandfather and Beau, but I think you've got a good handle on it."
She kissed his cheek and thanked him, then sent him on his way so she too could get to bed. She had to admit though, that she agreed with her father. It seemed like things were going to be just fine.
The day was perfect. The sun was shining, but a nice breeze made the day not so hot. Absidee and her father set up a table on the back porch for the food and drinks, and even Mac had a smile on his face Absidee hadn't seen since he stopped recognizing anyone.
Beau arrived with his parents and smiled at the pretty blue sundress Absidee had donned for the day, and the red ribbon tied in her hair. She met him in the driveway, and he swept her up in a hug.
"You look beautiful, Sidee."
She kissed him sweetly. "Why, thank you. How are you feeling today?"
He looked down at her, his heart feeling as though it would beat out of his chest. "I've never been better."
Absidee giggled and led him around back. "Dad's still grilling, but food should be ready soon. And he got some stuff we can shoot off."
Once in the backyard, Evelyn asked Absidee if there was anything she could help with. Absidee still needed to slice the vegetables for the hamburgers, and Evelyn was happy to help. While the men talked motocross, the women disappeared inside.
"I wanted to tell you, you're handling Beau's situation quite beautifully," Evelyn remarked. "Obviously we've only had the opposite to deal with, but it's nice to see him with a girl as supportive as you are. Especially if he decides not to have the surgery."
Absidee's head snapped up so fast, the knife slipped and sliced across her finger. She cursed under breath as she ran for the sink, running lukewarm water over the wound.
"Are you all right?" Evelyn asked, pressing a towel against the cut to stop the bleeding.
"Yes. I'm sorry for cursing, by the way."
"It's all right," Evelyn assured her. "What happened?"
Absidee sighed. "Beau didn't tell me he was considering not having the operation."
Evelyn's features softened. "Oh, Absidee, I'm sorry. If I had known -"
"No, it's not your fault. Will you help me bandage this up?"
Evelyn followed her to the bathroom and between the two of them, they were able to get her finger bandaged. Absidee sat on the counter, and Evelyn stood next to her.
"Don't be upset with him. He just doesn't want you to panic, I think."
Absidee nodded. "I know. I just thought we were past him hiding things from me. Don't tell him that I know anything, all right? This is supposed to be a good day. I'll talk to him about it another time."
Evelyn nodded. "All right. I promise not to say anything."
Absidee nodded too, and practiced putting on her happy face as they went back to the kitchen to finish their task. Beau noticed her finger as soon as she walked outside with the plate of vegetables, and frowned as he examined it for himself.
"You can't see under the bandage, you know," Absidee smirked. "I just slipped with the knife. I should have been paying more attention."
Beau kissed her finger. "As long as you're all right. Hungry?"
Absidee nodded and handed him a plate. It was taking everything in her not to confront him then and there about what he'd hidden from her, but it just wasn't the time. She would do as she told Evelyn: have a good day today and talk to him about it another time.
Absidee broke out the blanket for her and Beau again while their parents and Mac sat on the porch in lawn chairs to watch the neighborhood fireworks' show. Beau laid close to her and put an arm over her abdomen, kissing her cheek.
"You okay, Sidee?"
"Yeah, fine. Why?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. You seem like you're in a good mood, but something still seems off."
"Oh," Absidee answered. "I'm just tired. Grandpa was up and down a lot last night."
Beau nodded. "I see. Well, we'll try and get you to bed early tonight."
"Thanks," Absidee smiled. "Have you enjoyed your day?"
"I'm with you, Sidee. I always enjoy my day with you."
She smiled up at him, and the first fireworks started going off. Absidee awed over them; it was always her favorite part of the day, something she looked forward to every year.
Beau watched her and smiled. He couldn't imagine anything different than this, or being any happier. Maybe as time went on with Absidee … but the truth was, he was running out of time. Opting out of the surgery meant he didn't have much time left. He needed to tell her, but this wasn't the time. Maybe it was the time, he thought, to come out with another confession though. He squeezed her hand and brought it to his mouth, kissing the back of her hand softly.
"I love you, Sidee."
It was a good thing she wasn't cutting vegetables because that came as more of a shock than the news of Beau not having the operation. She looked up at him, not sure entirely what to reply.
"You don't have to say anything back," Beau assured her. "I just wanted it to be special when I told you. Living with this cyst isn't easy, but I know I wouldn't be able to get through it without you. You're my best friend, and you offered that friendship without asking questions. Everything you've ever done for me has been without question and unconditional. I know I don't have a lot to give you in return, except for the fact that I love you."
Her eyes watered and she pulled him down to kiss her. She didn't have it in her just then to tell him that she loved him too; she couldn't say it when she knew he was hiding something from her. She had never asked questions before but now she needed them. Beau loved her, but how long would he remember he felt that way if he didn't take the operation? How long before his mind went completely? Even worse, how long until that cyst got too big and killed him?
Her heart was bursting and breaking all at the same time.