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Книга Third Degree. Страница 70

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His face moved out from behind the monitor. The frankness in it chilled her. “You have a lot of experience with cancer patients?”

“I realize you see more than I-”

“Laurel, I might as well have pancreatic cancer, okay? The worst thing is, people start treating you like you’re dead long before you die. If you’re a salesman, you make customers uncomfortable. Your boss smiles to your face, but he’s already looking for somebody to replace you. People say they support you, but it’s bullshit. Remember that actor who played Spenser: For Hire on TV? Robert Urich? He got synovial sarcoma about ten years ago. He went public and told the world he was going to beat it. What did the network do? Canceled his series. He lived five more years. If you’re a doctor, it’s worse. You scare the hell out of patients. Nobody wants to be reminded of his mortality. They look at a guy like me, midthirties, perfect physical shape…dying of cancer? Patients don’t want to see that. They don’t want to believe it can happen. I don’t blame them. I didn’t want to believe it either. But I did, finally. And I didn’t intend to be treated like a dead man for my last few months of life. I’ll be dead soon enough.”

She tried to imagine herself in his situation, knowing he would soon lose everything, even his children. But Warren was right; there was simply no way she could. “I can understand you keeping it from your patients. Even from Kyle. But why didn’t you tell me at least? Just me? You know I would have kept it secret. I could have helped you with everything. Getting to the treatments…anything you needed.”

His head disappeared again. “I thought about it. But what could you do besides feel sorry for me and worry about the future? I wasn’t going to endure the former, and I intended to spend every minute I had left on earth making sure you never had to do the latter. You see? What’s the point?”

Laurel felt like knotting a piece of cord and whipping herself until she bled.

Warren got up and came around the desk. He stopped in the squared-off arch between the great room and the study. She rarely saw him unshaven, and the dark growth of beard gave him a desperate aura. He looked like a distant cousin of himself, someone she had met once long ago and then forgotten.

“Marriages go through hell when one partner is dying,” he said. “People leave each other during illnesses like this. They get divorced. They have sexual problems, and not in the way you’d think. Sometimes the sick partner wants sex, but the other person just can’t stomach it. They can’t be intimate with this deathlike figure that used to be the person they lusted after. We all have strong feelings of repulsion against death and illness. I didn’t want you thinking about any of that until you absolutely had to.” He squeezed his fingers into fists. “And I meant to keep that day from coming, too.”

“How?”

His gaze was unblinking. “Think about it.”

She felt lost. She hadn’t yet learned the rules of logic for the world where death was both inexorable and imminent. “I don’t know.”

“You asked me why I got the gun.”

Her stomach turned over. “Oh, God. Warren, you wouldn’t.”

“You think I want my son’s last memory of his father to be a hairless skeleton shitting himself in the bed? A shell of a man who can’t talk or remember anything or even feed himself? No, thank you.”

“Don’t talk like that. Please.”

“Why not? You want to pretend it wouldn’t end that way?”

“I can’t believe you’ve been dealing with this alone.”

“Everybody deals with this alone. Sometimes there are just people around, that’s all. Nobody can really help you.”

“I think you’re wrong,” she insisted, hoping her faith wasn’t absurdly naive. “You have to be willing to let someone help you.”

An expression of boyish shyness came over his features. “Well…I’m not that way.”

“I know. But maybe it’s time to change. Just a little.”

“I can’t. I have to deal with this myself.”

“Is that what you’re doing now? Look at me, Warren. This is crazy.

“No, it’s not. I simply didn’t foresee your betrayal. I should have, I see that now. But I was preoccupied. Isn’t it funny? I’ve been spending my last months on earth trying to provide for someone who stopped loving me a long time ago.”

“That’s not true.”

His eyes found hers again, and they were devoid of all illusion. “Isn’t it?”

“I’ve always loved you, Warren! I just wanted you to really let me in, to let me love you, and you couldn’t. I don’t think it’s your fault. It’s just…I think your father wanted to make you tough, and he did such a good job that you can’t be soft, you can’t be vulnerable at all. And when you armor yourself like that, there’s no way love can get in.”

“Or out. Right?”

She nodded sadly.

“And now?”

She hung her head, searching for words to explain what she felt. “I don’t know. Now we need to pull together to try to beat this thing somehow.”

He laughed as though amazed. “You can’t quit, can you? You can’t stop pretending that the world is different than it is.”

“Where there’s life, there’s hope. Corny maybe, but I believe that. And you’re a fighter, God knows.”

He drew his hand across his throat like a knife. “No one beats this, Laurel. It would take a miracle. And there are people on earth a lot more deserving of miracles than I am. What end would it serve, anyway? You’re in love with someone else.”

She stared back, unable to lie anymore. “I don’t know. I feel like the whole world has been pulled inside out. I didn’t know how things really were.”

“So now that you know I’m dying, you love me again?”

What could she say to that?

Warren cocked his head as though listening to some faint sound beyond her hearing. “It’s too late. I understand that now. For a while, some options remain open, but then they close. If you don’t act while a door is open, it can shut forever. That’s how life is. If you have a dream when you’re young, you’d better act on it then, or the chance will be gone. You’ll never run a world-record sprint at thirty-five. You don’t become a rock star or a pro baseball player at forty-five.”

“We’re not talking about childhood dreams!” she cried, suddenly angry. “We’re talking about a marriage! Two beautiful children!”

“That’s right. We’re talking about family. Trust, remember?”

Even as she watched him with hope in her heart, his face hardened into a mask of merciless judgment.

“You can’t step back into that sacred circle after you’ve left it to fornicate with another man.” He raised his arm and pointed at her like some Puritan judge. “You carried his seed into this house. The house that I built to protect you and our children. You carried that man into this house inside your body. And you reveled in it! Didn’t you?

“No.”

Warren stepped closer to the sofa, his hand delving into his pocket. “Don’t lie. We’re through with lies. Admit what you did.”

“I didn’t do that.”

“You made him wear a condom?”

“I didn’t cheat on you!”

“Liar!” Another step closer. “You make me sick!”

She glanced past him at Beth’s sleeping form, searching for the strength to keep lying. It could only be a mercy now. “I never betrayed you, Warren. I’ve had a hundred chances, but I never did.”

He raised his hand high as if to strike her. “LIAR! WHORE!”

She shut her eyes and waited for the blow.

“Get up!”

“I can’t. My feet are taped together.”

“Get up, damn you! Get your-”

“Mama? What’s the matter?”

Beth’s tiny voice stopped Warren’s roar the way a toddler running into the street stops a truck. She was standing in the arch between the study and the great room, her little arms folded protectively across her chest. Wild-eyed, Warren whirled and glared down at her, and she began to whimper. Laurel tried to get up, but he reached back and shoved her down again. Then he screamed like a man going mad.

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