On Second Thought(9)

By: Kristan Higgins

She was great out in public and took her appearance very seriously—expensive blond hair, glaring white teeth, a perfect size four, five foot two, abs of steel. At book signings and whenever confronted with a fan, she’d morph into a smiley, warm, wonderful person who never minded taking photos.

With us—with me, I should say—she remained brittle. Which was okay. She had her reasons, and she’d never been cruel or angry toward me. Just resigned. She got her man back, but with the stiff price tag in the form of a toddler.

“Oh, honey, this is gorgeous,” said Eric’s mom, Judy, pouncing on me with a hug. “You’re so wonderful, you know that? And look at you! So beautiful!”

“Thanks, Judy!”

“Candy, how are you? Isn’t this a special day?”

“It is.” My stepmother forced a smile, then backed away. Judy and I exchanged a look. We’d gossip about everything tomorrow. Tomorrow, when I’d be engaged.

“I love your dress. Perfect for tonight!” she said.

So she knew. Excellent. “Well,” I said, feigning innocence, “white for a clean start.”

She pressed her lips together so as not to blurt out the news. Her eyes filled with tears. “I don’t know what he’d do without you, Ainsley,” she said. “You’re a treasure.”

“Oh, Judy,” I said, my voice husky. I gave her a hug, and my sister aimed her camera at us. Kate did take the best pictures.

“Where’s my second-best girl?” Eric’s dad asked, joining us. “You look beautiful, darling. Both of you do.”

The Fishers were the best. “You’re a daughter to us,” his mother had been saying for the past decade. They had the kind of marriage I wanted—affectionate, open, happy and fun. My boyfriend had great role models, that was for sure. We went on vacation with them every year, and we always had a great time, a fact that befuddled my friends.

Judy and I would go crazy planning the wedding. It could be Jewish, since that would be important to them, and would win me even more points as best daughter-in-law ever. We’d have the canopy and the breaking of the glass and the fun dance with the chairs...

I looked over at my honey. He stood next to the huge montage of pictures of himself he’d put up. Eric before cancer, a little chubby. Going into the hospital for surgery. Lying in the recovery room afterward. Hooked up to an IV bag. (He asked me to take all these, for the record.) Just after he shaved his head. Wearing his Fuck You, Cancer T-shirt, sitting in his favorite chair, seven prescription bottles next to him.

He met my eyes and smiled, then clinked a fork on his champagne glass.

Oh, God, it was time. I looked around, my heart revved up and my toes clenched in the red shoes. Jonathan and Candy were talking in a corner. The frat boys were doing shots. Rachelle was taking a picture of Kate and Nathan, calling them Kate and Nate, and asking Kate about camera settings.

“Folks, if I could have your attention for a minute,” Eric said. I swallowed hard. Everyone quieted and gathered around, ripples of laughter and conversation fluttering out. I hoped Kate would get a picture of the big moment. Oh, man, I was nervous! All these years waiting, and I was shaking!

“Folks,” Eric said again, “I just want to thank you all for coming to this party. As of noon today, I am officially cancer free!”

A cheer went up, and glasses were raised, and I felt tears slipping down my cheeks.

“It’s been a long, hard road,” he said, “and I wouldn’t be here without all of you. So this party is for you, all my friends and family who stood by me in this dark time. To life!”

“To life!” we all chorused back.

“L’chaim!” Aaron said. So Fiddler on the Roof! I loved that musical!

“And if you’ll indulge me here,” Eric continued, “there are a few people I need to thank specially. My parents, of course, the best people in the whole world. I love you, Mom and Dad. More than I could ever say.”

Judy sobbed happily, and Aaron wiped his eyes. “Love you, too, son,” he managed.

“My awesome team at St. Luke’s, Dr. Benson, Dr. Ramal, Dr. Williams, and all the incredible nurses and staff at the infusion center.” A round of applause followed, though none of the team had been able to make the party.

“My workmates, who were so great while I went through this ordeal.”

The Wall Streeters gave themselves a rowdy cheer, and Blake shouted, “I’d give my left nut to be half the man you are!”

Eric pretended to smile; he hated that joke. He went on to thank his boss, his assistant, the receptionist.