“Like what?” Lauren asked.

“My music. Playing my guitar.”

“That’s a hobby, not a job.” Lauren frowned. She was one negative Nancy.

“Mom. You do know that I work at a piano bar for a living, right?” Alyssa mentioned.

“Oh, honey.” Lauren frowned. “You work at a diner, a furniture store, and play a piano in dirty bars at night. That’s not really something you want to be broadcasting to the world as some kind of accomplishment.”

Still a bitch, I see.

“I think music is really important,” Kellan said, chiming in. “It’s fun. The gigs I’ve been getting pay good money, too. It’s something I love. And life is too short to not do what you love.”

“Here, here!” I mocked, drinking more wine. “That’s why I drink so much wine,” I smirked, winking at Lauren, loving how uncomfortable I made her.

“You’ll see the show tomorrow. My friend’s having me play at his restaurant.”

“What? You said we were going to the theatre tomorrow,” Lauren said, turning to Erika.

“No…I said we were going to a show,” her daughter replied. The two were so much alike it was almost impossible to see how Alyssa fit into that equation.

“No worries, really. It will all be fun. Plus, after the show, we can swing by the reception hall for the wedding next month,” Kellan explained.

“What?” Lauren questioned.

Erika started coughing harshly, trying to clear her throat. “Anyone want more wine?”

“What do you mean the wedding is next month?”

“You didn’t tell her?” Kellan asked, frowning at his fiancée.

“Tell me what?” Lauren asked.

“I forgot,” Erika replied. Wow. I felt like I was watching a bad sitcom unfold in front of me. “We moved the wedding up to next month. But don’t worry! You don’t have to do anything but show up.”

“No. The wedding is next year. I thought we were waiting until you finished your master’s degree, Erika. Plus, I’m the one paying for the wedding. Didn’t you think I had a right to know this? We already made down payments on the reception hall! And now you’re saying you found a new location?”

“We’ll pay you back the down payment. It was a last minute change.”

“Last minute change? Give me a reason. One good reason why we have to rush this. There are so many things to figure out. Flowers, cake, the food. Dresses, invitations, everything. There isn’t enough time.” Lauren kept whining.

“We don’t need all of that stuff, Mom. We are just going to keep it simple.”

Every now and then I’d catch Alyssa staring my way, and she’d look away quickly. Every now and then she’d catch me staring her way, and I’d look away quickly. I hardly wanted to pay attention to the conversation happening at the table. I was much more interested in watching Alyssa and me try to avoid one another.

“You’ve been planning your dream wedding since you were five, Erika Rose. And now you just don’t care about those details? No. We had a plan. We are sticking to the plan. Plus, Kellan doesn’t even have a job right now!”

“He has a gig tonight,” I jumped into the conversation with a smirk. Alyssa laughed. I died from the sound. Why did she have to be so beautiful? I was really hoping I’d come back to town and she’d look and smell like a skunk.

No luck there.

“I just don’t understand the rush. You should hold off until next year like we had planned,” her mom offered. “We should stick to the plan.”

“Plans change, Mom. It’s fine.”

“Tell me why. Why now? This is such a radical change. Don’t you think you should be more focused on the fact that Kellan is unemployed? How are you even going to make ends meet for this house? Huh? Have you thought about any of this? The property taxes on a home this size in this neighborhood have to be high. I told you both not to buy a place this big, but you wouldn’t listen. What’s the plan?” Her mom kept asking her again and again. I felt bad for Erika. Her face was red and her nerves were rocked.

“I love him! I love him, Mom. What does it matter if we get married today or years from now? I want to be with him.”

“It’s not logical. You’re sounding very much like your sister, Erika.”

Alyssa blew a small breath from her lips. “I’m right here, Mom.”

“Well, it’s true. You were always the wild flame that I couldn’t extinguish. You were all over the place, you still are, Alyssa. But Erika, you’re the tame one. You’re the one with a good head on your shoulders. But now you’re acting as if you have no sense.”

I watched Alyssa’s eyes water over, but she bit her tongue. I went to snap at Lauren for talking about her in such a way, but I paused when I saw Alyssa slightly shake her head at me not to.

What did I care anyway? It wasn’t my job to fight her battles.

Erika opened her mouth to speak, but Kellan’s words came out first, silencing the room. “I have cancer.”




My heart dropped into my stomach, and I felt acid climbing up my throat as he kept talking. “We’ve been dealing with this news for a while, unsure how to handle telling you all. I already had surgery to remove a tumor, and I’ll be starting my first chemo treatment soon, but—”

“I’m sorry. Slow down. Back up. What?” I interrupted him. My blood was boiling, and I felt myself on the verge of a breakdown. My fingers dug into the side of my chair, as my body started to shake. What the hell was he talking about? Kellan didn’t have cancer. Kellan was healthy. He was always healthy. He was the only one in our family who wasn’t a mess. He couldn’t be sick. “Are you fucking kidding me?”



Alyssa’s eyes saddened by the news, and she almost reached out to take my hand, but I shook my head. He went to speak, but I stood up, uninterested in him explaining. I didn’t want him to say any-fucking-thing else, because his words were currently toxic and they were poisoning my soul. I needed air. Lots of air. I headed for the patio door, and stepped outside. The cool air rushed at my steaming face, and I let out a pained breath. My hands gripped the railing as I stared out into the darkened sky, taking deep breaths, trying my best to not fall apart.