Home > A Place in the Sun(13)

A Place in the Sun(13)
R.S. Grey

Seemingly overnight, our vernacular turned clinical: osteosarcoma, metastases, clinical trials, treatment plans, survival rates. Allie’s life hung in the balance of cold statistics, and we clung to that limbo. When her oncologist told us to not lose hope, explaining that there are better survival rates for young women, I had to bite my tongue.

What about survival rates for someone’s wife?

What about survival rates for the future mother of my children?

What about survival rates for the person I can’t live without?

What are those survival rates?

They scheduled surgery to remove the tumor on her knee, but further scans showed metastases in her lungs, stage III. They started Allie on aggressive chemotherapy while she was still recovering from the tumor removal. Those weeks were utter crap. Her hair fell out. The radiation did a number on her body. If she wasn’t sleeping, she was throwing up. If she wasn’t throwing up, she was crying and asking me why this was happening to her.

Toward the end of chemotherapy, things started to look better. Allie was handling treatments well. She was up and walking around, going through physio for her knee.

We started to talk about our life post cancer. P.C. How we would live, where we would visit, how big our family should be.

“P.C. I’m going to hike every single day,” she said over lunch in the hospital one day.

“P.C. we are going to make love every single day.”

“Luca,” she hissed, blushing.

I couldn’t recall the last time we’d slept together. It’d been months. She’d grown shy in the bedroom, less confident now that radiation had added pounds onto her once slender body. She hardly ever let me see her without a scarf on, and when I insisted that the baldness, the pounds, the patchy radiated skin didn’t matter to me, that I’d love her forever, she’d smile and press a kiss to my cheek, promising intimacy soon.

I reached across the table and gripped her hand. “I love you, you know that?”

Her thumb brushed across my knuckles. “I know.”

Two months later, during a follow-up CT scan, they found the worst case scenario: the tumors had spread to Allie’s hips, and just like that, we added another term to our vernacular: life expectancy.

One year.

Allie could expect to wake up 365 more times.

There was never any question of where Allie would spend her final days. Growing up, I’d spent my summers in Vernazza, visiting my grandmother and my cousin, Massimo. Allie had never been, but I’d told her about it. My grandmother’s crumbling villa had been passed down to me after her death and that afternoon, after the final CT scan, Allie dragged a suitcase out of our guest room, declaring that she was foregoing further treatment and would like to spend the last year of her life in Vernazza. She wanted every last sunset to be in the golden light.

GIANLUCA WAS A widower. Katerina and Massimo had walked me through a short version of his story after dinner. I’d sat in silence and listened, but really, I was being selfish. Incredibly selfish. Because deep down, in the center of my soul, I was thinking of how it was such a bloody shame. I was in Vernazza to have a laugh, meet a few blokes, and loll about on the beach. I wanted to have a proper holiday fling with lots of sex and maybe some flippant promises of love. I was in no way looking to mend a broken heart. It wasn’t fair, really. Gianluca was the nicest-looking man I’d seen in the last decade and he was unavailable, moping about for a wife he’d lost five years earlier.

I know it seems so callous to think of his situation as anything but heartbreaking. It wasn’t that I didn’t feel for him or that I didn’t understand everything he’d suffered through with Allie. God, untimely death is the saddest thing of all time. Unfortunately, I’d experienced it firsthand. I’d lost my father when I was a young girl and my eldest brother a few years later. Heart failure and a car crash. Both sudden. Both devastating. Two deaths in a family of five had nearly crippled us. My mother fell into life as a widow. My brother, Fred, took over the family title and all the responsibilities that came with running the estate, and I settled into the only role I knew: the court jester, the clown, the only bit of light in our family during those tough few years. I was there through my mother’s heartache; I’d endured the dates and the silly setups because it took my mother’s mind off the real troubles of her life to see me get tarted up for an evening out. I’d joked and I’d forced her smiles through all the hard times because she needed to be reminded that life marches on even when we desperately wish it wouldn’t.

A few years back, my brother had met Andie, the love of his life. They had three children now and my mother doted on them whenever she got the chance. With so many good things going for our family, I finally felt as though I could pack away my jester hat. They didn’t need me anymore, which was why I didn’t feel bad up and leaving London for an adventure of my own.

And then as fate would have it, upon my first day in Vernazza…WHAM. I met Gianluca. The widower.

See?

What tragic luck.

The next morning, I lazed in bed, thinking over the story of Allie. It should have made it easy to subdue my silly crush on Gianluca. Normal women would run for the hills, but it only intrigued me more. I’d never had a man love me like that. In some grim way, the depth of his despair over losing another woman became an advertisement for the quality of his love. I felt guilty for thinking that, but not guilty enough to stop.

Oh god, I needed to get out of my head and definitely stop thinking about Gianluca. After all, the bloke thought I was named Gigi! Ha. I’d file the papers to change my name before correcting him.

I pushed off my covers and decided on a whim that I’d head to Monterosso al Mare for the day. The sun was already high in the sky, warming everything it touched. I strung on a red bikini and tossed my beach supplies into a straw bag: sun cream, my floppy hat, and my worn paperback. I tugged on a loose cover-up and slipped into sandals before locking up my room and flying down the stairs.

Chiara wasn’t manning the desk, so I headed out to the station. I hadn’t been back on a train since the first day I arrived. Monterosso al Mare was the northernmost village in Cinque Terre and only one stop over, so fortunately, the five-minute journey didn’t cause my small breakfast to make an encore appearance.

I stepped off the platform and followed the string of tourists heading toward the sea. Unlike Vernazza, Monterosso had a proper beach that stretched on for a few miles. It was early, but the beach was starting to fill fast. I paid to reserve an umbrella and chair in the first row and plopped myself there, lathering on sun cream as I watched a group of children run into the surf, squealing as waves crashed against their legs and running back onto the pebbled beach as fast as possible.

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