Home > Never Leave Me (Waters of Time #2)

Never Leave Me (Waters of Time #2)
Author: Jody Hedlund

 


1


“I’M DYING, AND WE CAN’T CHANGE THAT.” Even though Ellen Creighton spoke as softly and gently as possible, she could do nothing to soften the harshness of the truth.

In his wheelchair next to the garden bench where she reclined, Harrison Burlington’s shoulders deflated. With his elbows propped against his knees, he jammed his fingers into his dark hair.

The May sun slid behind clouds as if to object to her pronouncement, and shadows crept out to cover the gardens surrounding Chesterfield Park, Harrison’s enormous estate that had been in his family for generations.

Without the warm rays pouring over her, Ellen shivered. Her cashmere sweater over her silk blouse couldn’t hold the chill at bay.

Oh, how she hated hurting Harrison.

She lifted her face, needing a dose of peace, letting the words of the Serenity Prayer whisper through her: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time; enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardships as the pathway to peace.

Focusing on the prayer had always kept her from veering down a dark tunnel and helped her accept the path she was on, no matter how short it might be. But lately, the darkness seemed to be creeping closer no matter how much she tried to avoid it.

She shifted her attention to the dangling wisteria forming an arch over the garden path. The purple hues were stunning against the vibrant green shrubs. She drank in the beauty and breathed in their sweet fragrance. The chip chip chooee of chaffinches serenaded her along with a garden warbler with a mellow song like a low, poignant violin melody.

Harrison released a deep, shuddering sigh.

“I’m sorry.” She laid a hand on his arm.

His fingers wrapped around hers, warm and secure. Just like him. He’d been a constant presence in her life over the past year since her dad and sister Marian had died, and since her genetic disease, VHL, Von Hippel–Lindau syndrome, had stormed back into her body like a marauding army taking siege.

In her twenty-seven years of life, she’d never imagined she’d live longer than the rest of her family. Not after inheriting the deadly VHL from her mom. But she had outlasted everyone. By almost a year.

Now the end loomed within sight. And she was exhausted from fighting against the disease’s invasion. She wanted to lift the white flag, surrender, and cease the battle. Then she could spend her remaining days without the stress of endless doctors’ visits, grueling radiation, and painful surgeries.

“Please, Ellen.” Harrison lifted his head. His green eyes were intense behind his thick glasses, and his features were strained. “Let’s try one more round of radiation.”

His plea was so desperate, how could she say no? So far, she hadn’t been able to deny any of his requests. Not once in the past months as she’d battled renal cell carcinoma brought on by VHL.

She hadn’t resisted when he’d suggested moving to Canterbury after the cancer had forced her to resign from her nursing job at the orphanage in Haiti. She hadn’t resisted when he’d insisted she live at Chesterfield Park after surgeries had failed to keep the cancer from spreading. She hadn’t resisted when he’d pushed for immunotherapy as well as new experimental treatments.

But just this morning, the doctors had received the results of a recent MRI, showing tumors on her spinal cord that were inoperable, and they’d suggested hospice care. She’d easily accepted what she’d known for years—she was dying, and nothing could save her.

All she could do was live each remaining day to the fullest and enjoy the time she had left—her philosophy since watching her mom waste away so thoroughly and painfully, especially the last year battling the disease. Mom’s death had awakened Ellen to the fact that the disease was chasing her too and would one day catch up. Now it finally had.

She squeezed Harrison’s hand and smiled at him. “You know what I’d really like?” In addition to more oxycodone to stave off the burning in her lower back.

Harrison leaned forward as though to soak in her smile and words. “Anything. Whatever you fancy, you’ll have it.”

Harrison had been a young scientist at Mercer when her dad had transferred from the Connecticut Pharmaceutical Research Center to the one in Canterbury. Harrison and her dad formed a friendship, and Harrison had been present in her life ever since.

He’d been at her graduation from Sevenoaks, the private boarding school in Kent she’d attended after Mom died. He’d flown with Dad to Columbia when she’d graduated with her pediatric nursing degree. And he’d spent every holiday and birthday with her family over the passing years. Truthfully, he’d been more present in her life than Dad, who’d always been distracted and busy with trying to find a cure for her disease.

At thirty-nine, Harrison was twelve years her senior. When she was younger, he’d seemed so much older and wiser, almost like a second dad. But in recent years, somehow the age gap had grown smaller and less significant, and he’d become more of a brother than a father figure.

“Your wish is my command, love.” He situated her hand carefully within his, as though she might break if he put even the slightest pressure against her.

She could admit she’d grown frail and much too thin in recent weeks. The pain in her tailbone and back worsened every day. Her once-tanned skin was now pale, her healthy glow gone. She was thankful at least she still had her hair, even if the long blond waves were no longer lustrous. “I want a big juicy cheeseburger, salty French fries, and a chocolate shake.” It was the kind of unhealthy meal she rarely ate. But what was the point of avoiding artery-clogging, cholesterol-inducing food now?

He sat back in his wheelchair, his mouth slightly agape. His hair, usually slicked back into neat submission, was lumpy from where he’d stuck his fingers. His bow tie was askew and his waistcoat uncharacteristically unbuttoned.

She couldn’t remember a time she’d seen Harrison in anything other than a suit coat, waistcoat, and bow tie. He always dressed flawlessly, looking the part of the aristocratic nobleman he was. Now at the sight of him rumpled and ruffled, her smile widened.

He didn’t smile in return. Instead, his brow furrowed, causing his glasses to slide down his nose, revealing even more clearly the anguish swirling in his eyes. “So, you’re planning to give up? Just like that?”

“Harrison, please try to understand.”

“I understand well enough. You’d rather sit back and die than fight to stay alive.”

“I have tried to stay alive.”

“Well, try harder!” He’d never shouted at her before, but his tone was decidedly loud. For the passing of several heartbeats, she could only stare at the frustration and helplessness etched into the lines of his face.

He’d already lost Dad and Marian, had watched them lie in comas and die before his eyes. Now she was all he had left.

Yes, he had a few distant cousins. But he rarely spoke to them. Yes, he had colleagues and childhood friends. But they were nothing more than acquaintances now—no one he was particularly close to. In fact, Ellen guessed he was closer to his butler, Drake, than anyone else.

She grazed the pearl necklace she wore most of the time, the one Marian had given her when she’d lain dying, the same one Mom had given Marian upon her deathbed. Stroking the glossy beads made her feel connected to Marian in a way she couldn’t explain. Even so, Marian’s death had left an empty place, one she hadn’t been able to fill even though she’d tried hard over the past year by keeping busy with her new charity, Serenity House.

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