The soft ticking of the grandfather clock was the only audible noise in the grand living room, aside from my heart thumping against my chest. Similar hued eyes darted around, never quite meeting another pair. I shifted uncomfortably on the posh white couch, tugging at the hem of my lavender dress. I had grown up in this house; it was the only home I had ever known, but suddenly, everything about the place and the people in it seemed so foreign.

Not once in my seventeen years had something like this occurred. I saw Dad shift his weight on his feet anxiously from the corner of my eyes, but I didn't dare to outright stare at him. The Gallaghers did not have family meetings. There had never been anything earth shattering to discuss, nothing that couldn’t be brought up over dinner or in passing conversations. Beside me, Aven was inspecting her perfectly manicured nails, looking bored to tears. Dad cleared his throat, Mom bit down on her glossed rose lips, and Aven and I both glanced up at the noise.

“There’s something we need to talk about,” Dad started, taking pauses between words.

I could feel my heart thudding faster in my chest. My father had always excelled at speaking, and often told me that there was no excuse for losing eye contact. Yet there he stood, his eyes focused on the Persian rug. I could feel my whole body start to tremble in fear as I inspected him closer; he was always strong, and at over six feet, fearless. However, standing in front of us right now, he looked broken and small. That alone shook me to the very core.

“Well obviously,” Aven snipped, her gaze returning to the gleaming burgundy polish. I sent her a quick look and resisted the urge to tug her shiny raven hair right out of her head.

“Aven Elizabeth, your father is talking,” our mother scolded quietly. Aven slid down against the couch a bit, her turquoise eyes meeting the Mom's steely ones.

“Sorry, Mom. Sorry Dad,” she whispered, sinking further into the snowy cushions.

Seeing Aven squirm was always entertaining for me, as awful as that makes me sound. Usually I would have laughed or cherished the moment, but the silence had enveloped us again, and Mom and Dad weren't meeting our gazes; I felt sick to my stomach. Our parents looked at each other, each taking a deep breath. Mom nodded, giving a half-smile to Dad before turning to us, her daughters.

“Girls, a few weeks ago, I was at the doctor’s office. We didn’t say anything because we didn’t want to worry you.”

“Mom, what’s going on?” I squeaked, my voice noticeably shaking. Nothing good could follow that sentence she had just uttered, but that didn't stop me from hoping otherwise. Mom ran a hand through her loose chocolate bob, grabbing onto Dad's hand for support.

“I love you all so much,” she said gently, her soprano voice cracking. She looked up at the high ceiling, dim light from the chandelier casting across her face. Her soft gray eyes looked blurred as water gathered in them. I couldn't do this. Even Aven and her normally ice cold attitude seemed to notice.

“Mom…” Aven murmured, her eyes widening, her voice pleading for everything to stop. She looked exactly how I felt. For once in my life, Aven and I were on the same page. This little accomplishment was overshadowed by the tension which stuck us to our seats.

My whole body felt as if the world had slowed except for me; as if I was caught in the middle of some demented nightmare. The only motion I could manage was folding my fists and grasping the cotton material of my dress even harder than before.

“The doctor’s found cancerous cells. I-I have cancer.”

As the words tumbled out of her lips, I felt all of the air sucked right out of my small frame. It was as though someone had hit me head on with a semi, and I was left gasping for oxygen.


The word had come out of her mouth with such a weight it seemed to knock us all down to our knees. This couldn't be happening. Not to my mother. Not to our family. We might not have been perfect, but to me, we were something good. What had we done to deserve this?

“How serious is it?”

Aven’s voice was calm and collected; the exact opposite of what I was feeling. We couldn't stay on the same page for more than a few moments, naturally. I don't know what she was thinking or how she was doing it, but I couldn't watch her look so relaxed while our world was crumbling around us.

All I could do was watch our parents, my eyes prickling with hot, salty tears. Mom and Dad glanced at each other before glancing down at their feet, and my heart stopped. That simple action gave away everything they wouldn’t say to us, and I heard it loud and clear. I wished more than almost anything that I hadn't.

“Nothing is for sure. The doctors are doing everything they can. I start treatment tomorrow.”

Silence crept back into the too-big room. For once in her life, not even Aven had anything to say. My erratic heartbeat pulsed echoed around in my head, and my breathing hitched in my throat. I focused my eyes on the gleaming glass coffee table, my hands cupping my knees in a vain attempt to stop the shaking. Reflected off of the table's surface, I saw my father pull my mother close, kissing her forehead. I could see his lips forming words, but I couldn’t hear anything over the watery thud of my own heart.

“Hey, come here kiddo,” Mom beckoned, giving a weak smile to me. I silently obliged, feeling lifeless as I walked the short distance. It seemed to take hours to close the gap.

She wound her arms around me tightly and comfortingly, rested her cheek against mocha locks identical to her own, and held me close. I held on for dear life, for the first time realizing how tiny and fragile my mother seemed. I felt warm tears falling from my mother’s eyes onto my forehead. I squeezed my eyelids shut at the sensation, pursed her lips, and willed myself not to cry. Mom needed someone to stay strong. She shouldn’t have to worry about comforting everyone else when this evil disease causing the whole affair was attacking her body.

“It’s gonna be okay, Mom,” I whispered softy with all the energy I possessed, offering the best smile I could as we broke apart.

Mom nodded, wiping her crystal tears off her pallid cheeks. She attempted to mirror my pathetic smile, and the whole sight of her broke my heart even more. The back of my mind screamed at me, one word echoing through the pain.


“I have to go meet some people,” Aven announced, pushing herself off the couch.

I felt my jaw drop immediately. I wasn't Aven's biggest fan by far, and my opinions of her were nothing short of harsh. Yet this, it appalled me. While my older sister had a heart of stone when it came to most of the world, our parents, especially Mom, were her soft spot. How could she just get up and leave like this when everything was so, so wrong?

“Aven, I don’t think—“ Dad started, but Mom held up her hand, stopping him.

“Have fun, sweetheart. I love you,” she said, offering a shaky grin. Aven wrapped her arms loosely around her before heading to the French doors.

“Love you too, Mom.”

The heels of her stilettos clacked against the hardwood, and I regained her composure. I couldn't let her do this. It was one thing to verbally attack me or push me around, but Mom, our mother, was a whole new story. She deserved something from the daughters she loved with her whole being. She deserved a hell of a lot more than us.

“I’ll be right back. She left her phone,” I said lamely, rushing furiously after my sister. I reached her as she was in the foyer, and my fingers wrapped tightly around her thin bicep. She stopped in her tracks and I knew I was dead meat, but it didn't matter. Not now.

“What do you want,” she snapped, jerking out of my hold in a swift, easy motion.

“Do you even have a heart? A conscious?” I seethed, gritting down on my teeth. The whole time I attempted to keep my voice low so it wouldn't break through the walls. I didn’t want to worry our parents over a confrontation.

“Of course I do," she replied, as if it were the stupidest thing I had ever said in my life.

“Then why the hell are you leaving? Mom needs us right now!”

Aven narrowed her eyes, and they glinted hard and cold like ice. The smallest hint of vulnerability slipped onto her features, and I could see the depression on her cheek as she gnawed on it. Still, I didn't waver.

“You think I don’t know that? What help am I to her or anyone else if I’m a wreck myself? I need to think about this!” she retorted, turning again to leave. I didn't grab her this time, but my words had just the same effect.

“You’re abandoning her. You think we all aren’t a mess right now? It doesn’t matter, Aven. She’s what matters right now!”

Within moments, Aven’s face was inches from mine. I could feel her breath hot against my face as she leaned down to make our eyes level. Under normal circumstances I would have been cowering by this point, but I didn't even flinch now.

“You need to shut up right now, unless you want to put even more hospital bills on their shoulders. Listen, kid, I’m going, and you’re shutting up. Don’t be such a drama queen, okay? And don't ever say anything like that to me again."

My mouth clenched shut as I watched the door close behind Aven’s retreating figure. I heard the car engine start, and the blood boiled under her skin. Who had I been trying to kid? I would never be able to win against Aven.

I attempted to compose myself before walking back into the living room. I quickly checked my eyes and face in a mirror in the hallway. Once I was sure my face wasn't too badly flushed or my eyes too watery, I continued to walk. As my shoes padded softly and silently through the archway, I froze in my tracks.

My mom sat on the couch, her face buried in my dad's shoulder. Sobs shook her entire body violently. Dad's face was hidden in her hair, and his arms wrapped protectively around her. I inched backwards and flew up the stairs. I knew I was never supposed to see that.

My parents were breaking down. I had never in my life seen either of them cry like that. Hell, I don't think I've ever seen my father cry aside from at my grandmother's funeral, and I've seen my mom cry only a handful of times more than that. They weren’t supposed to be falling apart. Our family didn’t have flaws, not huge ones like this. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

The staircase leading to the upstairs balcony was too much for me. My legs wobbled too badly, and eventually, I stopped trying to make them cooperate. I perched myself a little more than halfway up the stairs. I leaned my head against the mahogany banister, and in the quiet loneliness, the truth sank in deeper. I could still see my parents past the archway on the couch, still hear their cries. They didn’t see me there, and as hot salty tears ran down my cheeks, I vowed to myself they would never see me break down. I would be strong for them through this, even if it meant falling apart alone on the staircase.
♠ ♠ ♠
Feedback is always appreciated and welcome, especially with chapters as emotional as this.

xxxo, Sara