“Talk to me, Linds,” Mark said, leaning close to her ear. He could feel her trembling and knew something was wrong. He couldn’t put his finger on it, but something about the way she was shaking told him it was worse than he could imagine. He cared for her, somehow, and whatever was worrying her was making him terrified.
Lindsay shook him off, his hands falling uselessly to the side as she walked away. She ran her hands through her hair, her fingers locked together at the base of her neck. Tension radiated off her and Mark ached to alleviate it for her.
“I have positive genetic markers for breast cancer, like my mother. I’ve already scheduled a double mastectomy for next month.”
Mark’s heart sunk to his shoes. The overwhelming ache he felt for how heartbroken and hurt she must be killed him. He wanted to wrap his arms around her and take all the pain away, to heal her with just his touch. But he knew he couldn’t do it. Nothing could heal her.
“It’s okay, I know how you feel. I’m not really a woman without breasts and I’m certainly not someone anyone would want to be with. You don’t have to pretend to like me anymore. I understand.”
Anger mixed with pain inside Mark as Lindsay words sunk in. He spun her around, his hands gripping her upper arms as he pulled her tight against his chest. “Don’t you dare put words in my mouth, Lindsay. I never said anything about you not being a real woman, and don’t you ever say that about yourself. Jesus, Lindsay what you’re facing… I can’t even imagine.”
“It’s fine. I mean, I have no choice,” Lindsay said as she pushed free of Mark. The force of her break away from him was enough to make him release her. The feel of her leaving his embrace was like a physical ache, but the pain of her walking away from him was worse.
“Lindsay, what are you talking about? Why are you pushing me away?”
“Look at me Mark!” she hollered, pounding on her chest. “Look at me. In a month these will be gone. I’ll never have them again. I’ll never be able to feed my kids or keep a man interested. You don’t want me. I know we had a connection, or whatever, but I’m not complete. I’m tainted. I -“
“Stop, Linds, just stop. You’re strong. You’re facing something insanely difficult and you’re making a choice to save your life. You’re choosing to alter your physical appearance in a drastic way so you can live. That’s not tainted, that’s brave. That’s the strongest thing I’ve ever heard. It doesn’t make you less of a woman, it makes you more. And I’d never be able to live with myself if I let you walk away over something like that.”
Lindsay stopped and looked up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks, eyes red-rimmed. “How can you say that?”
“Lindsay, I’d be crazy to say I’m not interested in you because you’re choosing your health and well-being over your appearance. It shows your courage and confidence, not a weakness. I’d be lucky to call you a friend, but even more so if I were lucky enough to take you out. Get to know you. Be there for you. I don’t know what is going to come next, but I do know I want to find out with you.”
Lindsay covered her face with her hands and turned away from him. Sobs shook her shoulders and Mark couldn’t stop himself from pulling her back into his arms. She clung to him as he wrapped his arms around her, her face buried in his chest. Lindsay sobbed, her tears soaking through his shirt, but Mark didn’t care. He held her, rubbed her back, and whispered to her until she calmed down.
When her sobs turned to sniffles Mark asked softly if she was okay.
“Are you for real?” she finally managed, her voice muffled by his chest.
“What do you mean?” Mark asked, confused.
Lindsay pushed back and looked up at him. Her eyelashes were shiny with her tears and the red circles around her eyes made her look like she was suffering from an allergic reaction, but Mark had never seen someone as beautiful.
“Are you just saying this or do you mean it?”
Mark gently brushed a lock of hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear and lingering, his fingertips gliding over her jaw. “I’d never say something I didn’t mean, especially to you. And dear God, if you don’t let me kiss you soon, I think I’m going to explode.”
Mark didn’t wait for her to respond. She gasped as his lips came down on hers, allowing him access to her mouth. His tongue swept through, tasting, teasing, learning her. And he took his sweet ass time about it too.
Mark held her close, his arms cradling her in a gentle way that was in complete contrast to the absolutely devouring way he was kissing her. As her tongue became integral to the kiss, he deepened it, tilting her head to suit him and pressing her body tighter against his own. His arousal grew between them and he groaned when she brushed against it.
A throat cleared nearby and startled them both out of their embrace. Mark looked down guiltily into Lindsay’s mother’s smiling face.
“I apologize, but I thought maybe we could head home. You two could continue your, ahem, conversation at your house, Lindsay?”
Lindsay blushed and buried her face in Mark’s chest again. He kissed the top of her head and she nodded against him. “Let’s go, Mom,” Lindsay said. Then she took Mark’s hand, and he happily followed her.