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Leaving Stage IV

Leaving Stage IV

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Leaving Stage IV

377 pagine
6 ore
Aug 25, 2012


Just because something can be done, doesn't mean it should be. When Tianne Cantamessa, a recently divorced mother of two, is diagnosed with a lethal brain tumor, she must decide which path to walk on her way to the future. After research, a tour of a cancer ward and initial surgery, Tianne decides the treatment involved for her illness wouldn't outweigh the time it might buy her.

Her decision to forgo treatment isn't popular with her daughters, sixteen year old Piper and six year old Trina. Nor is it popular with her ex-husband or her best friend. In fact, no one around her seems to understand Tianne's belief that sometimes the 'cure' is crueler than the disease.

Piper Cantamessa thought her only worry was being seen as a brainy nerd by her peers. Suddenly life is much more complicated. With her mom dying, an absent father she believes threw them away, and a boyfriend from the wrong side of the moral sphere, it's easy for her to derail. And when the handyman starts making moves on her mom and her pregnant step-mother shows up for an extended visit, Piper begins to wonder if there are any rails at all to guide her.

As Tianne and Piper balance the stages of grief and relationships, they come to realize that family is what you make it and that choices require strength and bravery.

Aug 25, 2012

Informazioni sull'autore

Adriana Arbogast grew up in the northwest United States with four brothers and two parents. She's lived in Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Idaho, California, Connecticut, Virginia and Maryland.For forty-some years she's managed to not be framed and arrested for nefarious acts against fish.Often moody, she can be pacified with Twizzlers.She currently lives in Colorado with one husband, two offspring, one gerbil and one hound dog. She is keeping busy talking to herself and preparing two additional novels for publication.

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Leaving Stage IV - Adriana Arbogast

Leaving Stage IV

By Adriana Arbogast

Copyright 2012 Adriana Arbogast

Smashwords Edition

Published by Adriana Arbogast

Cover art by Eric Tolladay

Smashwords Edition License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

For Mom

Thank you for believing.

Thank you for teaching me strength.

Chapter One


Spaghetti noodles make their way down the wall like a hundred crazed earthworms, slowly sliding, leaving marinara sauce to stain as they go. Across the table, Jared towers, having jumped from the chair as he made the toss of a lifetime. His plate missed me by mere inches.

I should be surprised. Once upon a time I would’ve been. But I’ve since learned his bark is worse than his bite and now he only looks like a child losing a playground riddle.

I don’t freaking believe this! What the hell? His voice booms, but the louder noise in my ears is the sickly sound of pasta rolling off the wall.

I’m only telling you because of the girls, I say as though discussing a certain play date he might have to supervise. He is the father of my two girls but that’s just semantics, really. For years now, Jared has been more of a frightening sperm donor than father. Since the divorce I’d come to realize that’s just who he is. He can’t change that any more than he can his skin color.

Jared’s aqua eyes flash. I should have known you were up to something. What is it you want, Tianne? More money? Because you’re already sucking me dry. Or is this payback because I finally have a woman worthy of me?

Black, curly hair frames my ex’s handsome face, his full lips pucker in a sneer I know like the pattern of my freckles. He is a looker, no doubt about that, but I wonder why I ever loved the man. What had possessed me to marry him, stay married for almost sixteen years and have two children?

I don’t want anything from you. Just thought you should know, I say.

Uh-huh. Well, now I know. So if I walk out of here then I’m an ass. And if I stay then I’m an ass. Right?

Jared is a donkey’s butt simply because he breathes but I decide not to voice that opinion. Above all else, I must stay calm, not feed his attitude.

"What you do is up to you. Do nothing. That’s perfectly fine. As a matter of fact, I can’t think of one thing you possibly could do." I rise, gather plates and dishes from the table and deposit them in the sink.

You made me dinner. An accusation. He stands looking at me, questions in his eyes.

Look around you, Jared. I’m living in the middle of nowhere in a hundred year old house. I cook now. I enjoy doing laundry. I even hang sheets outside in the summer to achieve that dried in the sun smell. My voice reaches a pitch I hadn’t anticipated. You came a long way at my request, so I cooked you dinner. Spaghetti isn’t exactly difficult. And the wall thanks you.

No, he says, shaking his head. Shiny locks of curls swish with his movement. For a split second, I remember what it was like to run fingers through that hair. You want something.

I know what he’s getting at. He can’t say it straight out, because then he’ll look like the jackass he is. I don’t want to say it, because that gives him a way out and though I’d healed a lot since the split, a woman scorned is always a woman scorned.

What is it you think I want? I ask.

You tell me.

I shrug and gather more dinner things from the table. I don’t want anything from you. Go home to Darva. Darva.The blonde nightmare of every wife.

You’re jealous, Jared says.

Hardly. I hope you and Darva are very happy together. Out of my line of sight and radar because if I had to spend five minutes in a room with that woman I just might poison her.Although, to be fair, she hadn’t taken anything that hadn’t been irreparably broken to begin with.

We are happy. Jared stuffs his hands in the pockets of his khakis. What about the girls?

Ah-ha! And here we are! Finally, we get to the point. They’re fine, Jared. Adjusted really well. You should stick around and see them. They should be home soon. I dart a glance at the clock.

It’s getting dark and the last thing I want is to be driving around these damn country roads in the dark.

As far as excuses go, this is a good one. I had discovered upon moving here a year ago, that the country gets very dark and while the roads converge in town, they wind and twist.

What I meant was what happens to the girls if you …you know.

"You are their father."

I can’t, Tianne. His face takes on a look of pain. Darva and I…well, it wouldn’t work with the girls.

We stand in silence while I fold a dishtowel lengthwise, then the other way. Jared sways slowly; watches the remaining clumps of pasta finally hit the floor.

I know, I finally say, two little words that I have to choke through my throat. Unexpected emotion threatens to close off rational thought.

Jared nods his beautiful curls, shrugs on his leather jacket and leaves.

Watching him walk out is nothing new, but this time it feels different. Rivers well up behind my eyes and sting my throat.

I might be an emotional person.

But I’m blaming it on the tumor.


Two weeks and three days, that’s how long I’ve known and the only person I’ve managed to tell is an ex-husband. Whether that’s something to be proud or ashamed of is hard to say. The porch swing matches the house, old and crooked but comfy. As I rock, the creaking sings to me a tune that comes from ages of sitting on that front porch.

I try not to think of my tour of the cancer ward, the puffy patients at the beginning of their treatment, the emaciated ones at the end. Smiles came from those who had accepted their fate, pained hope from those who hadn’t. Five days I’d spent in that ward, helping with the meal trays, talking with the patients, picking through the thoughts and emotions of the families trying to deal. I’d learned more than I ever wanted to know about cancer, more than I ever cared to know about the treatments, the heartache, and the pain. In the quiet of the night, I try not to think about it. But fail.

The experience might have brought me to my knees, might have taken from me more than I could afford. But I’d still been in denial at that point—those things weren’t going to happen to me. It was no different than research for a novel.

Except it is different.Because I’m the main character.

From within the house come peals of laughter. At sixteen, Piper more often than not acts like six year old Trina is a pain, and the sound of them laughing together flows warm in my heart. Just as quickly, that warmth turns to something else, something greasy, oily and dark. How much laughing will the immediate future bring us?

The sun starts the slide behind the mountains, painting the world orange and pink. Crickets call to each other. Owls will begin conversations of their own. Picturesque, really, this little corner of the world I landed in. Not long ago I’d dreamed of long evenings in the porch swing watching grass grow, waving at the occasional occupant of yet another truck dusting down the road. Now I feel too sad and sick with worry to enjoy the quiet.

Moving to the country had seemed like such a fine idea a year ago when Stacha, my friend from college, had made me fall in love with the place. I figured I’d live the quiet life, start over, and take my writing seriously. But in the process, I had moved my children away from the city they knew, the friends that loved them and dropped them in the country. And let’s not forget, moved them a long day’s drive from their father, for what it was worth.

Loud thumping from the house, more laughter. The prudent thing would be to go find out what they are up to, instead I opt to sit and listen to their delighted squealing.

Standing would be hard anyway. My legs feel weak with the thought of my children, the beautiful girls that they are. In a year, Jared will probably be the only parent they have left, a thought so sad I don’t know what to do with it.

I sip at my hot chocolate, hoping it will help ease the sudden urge I have to heave.


That is one fine piece of man, Stacha says between sips of tea. She stands at my dining room window, looking across the back yard and the person mowing it. You know, she continues, turning to me and taking a seat at the table, Cooper O’Neill doesn’t mow grass for anyone else.

Remove the sly look from your face, Stacha. There’s nothing going on. I stir my tea and stare into the amber liquid, hoping for something in there that might make this easier. Rum would probably do the job.

Well, she glances back through the window, "there should be something going on."

I don’t want to tell her, that’s the big problem. I don’t want to tell anyone. Saying it out loud makes the whole damn thing more real. Jared had been a practice run and I’d done pretty well, all things considered, but I hadn’t expected anything from him.

You should probably just say it, Stacha says.


Whatever it is that has you gazing into your mug.

And I thought I was being moody and clever.

Stacha laughs, the one that rolls over a person like water. Yeah, well, try again. Let’s see, you call me at eight in the morning on a Tuesday and ask me over for tea.

What’s wrong with that?

Not a thing. She laughs again. Except that you aren’t known to be human at eight a.m. let alone make social calls. Tuesday is a writing day and you cease to exist to the rest of the world on Tuesday. Lastly, my friend, we have never met for a tea party.

Well said. Just like a lawyer.

I am who I am. Stacha grins, pats her short, brown hair with long, slender fingers.

I’m sick. The monster in the closet is now in the room.

Stacha gazes at me for a long, silent moment. There should be something more to say. Anything. But I can’t come up with a single word.

How sick?

I watch the shaggy monster stand behind Stacha, waving humongous arms around her head, swirling doubt and confusion into her chocolate brown eyes before letting in the cold, hard truth.

There’s this little matter of a brain tumor, I say.

Says who?

Dr. Punkyton. His name is actually Parkyton, one of the few doctors in town that knows where to look during a gynecological exam. But he is still a punk, barely out of med school, his ego full of his educational knowledge.

He’s not a specialist. For crying out loud, you’re taking his word for it? Stacha asks.

He did the original diagnosis. The brain docs in Grand Junction confirmed it.


Lips pursed, I shake my head, scared to open my mouth and say the words. Malignant, I whisper.

I’m taking you to Denver.

I don’t think that’s necessary. Denver is at least a six-hour drive, through some crazy mountain highways. Even on a good day, Denver is not my favorite place to be. The traffic, unending miles of concrete, hustle and bustle of the city makes me itch.

Stacha gapes at me, heart-shaped lips slightly askew. Not necessary? Have you lost your damn mind? A couple small town doctors tell you life is over and you’ll just accept that?

Grand Junction is hardly small…

Yeah, it’s hardly big either. Denver has one of the best cancer centers around and we’re going. If anything can be done, they’ll know.

Stacha may have landed in the small town of Reeves but she is far from a country girl. She’d been born and raised in Los Angeles, went to college in Denver and had practiced law there. Of course she wouldn’t take the word of the local doctors. Then again, neither had I. Not in the beginning.

What about the girls?

Stacha shrugs. We’ll take them with us—make a couple days of it. Six Flags is open for another month or so. And Piper is more than capable of keeping an eye on Trina while we’re at the doctor.

Six Flags? Stacha doesn’t have children and at times like this I wonder if her mouth isn’t consulting her brain. Does she know what an undertaking she’s talking about?

My treat. Don’t be an old fuddy-duddy.

The question is why I’m fighting about getting a third opinion. If there could be any other diagnosis shouldn’t I know about it? My heartbreaking stupidity threatens to make me cry.

Stacha’s hand snakes across the table and grabs mine. Together they look humorous—hers tan and brown, mine pink and freckled.

This is going to be okay. She sighs, gazes out the window at Cooper, who is busy scraping grass guts from the bottom of the mower. Now, tell me how Cooper became your slave.

She grins, waiting for some fantastic story.


Cooper O’Neill can be clearly defined as not my idea of handsome. Where Jared is dark and alluring, Cooper is pale and, well, pale. From his skinny, pale legs to his strawberry hair and light blue eyes. Tall, dark and handsome he is not. Even his eyelashes are pale. He has no ass. None. Trousers literally just hang off the angular shape of his narrow hips with nothing to hug on the way down. Not that I pay attention.

Okay, maybe a little.

Maybe a lot.

Because here’s the thing, the man is…something. Something secret and lurking, something that begs you to want it but then asks you not to touch.Cooper is the junior high crush that barely knew I existed but sent me skittering around corners if I caught sight of him down the hall. He is the summer camp counselor that smiled like sunshine but was completely off-limits. In essence, he has this insane schoolgirl effect on me that no amount of words can explain.

The story is short. My father hired Cooper when I bought the house. Right after he had grouched his way through the place, scratching at cracks in the walls and peering into the attic space with such a look of dismay I thought his face might break.

This place is substandard, he had said. You cannot move my granddaughters into this house. My father spat the word house as though saying something distasteful, like cockroach.

Pops, it’s been inspected and found perfectly sound. I stood behind him, off to one side as he picked at loose plaster on the kitchen wall.

It’s falling apart is what it is.

I’ve already closed. For fun, I rattled the house keys in my hand.

Who’s your real estate agent? He should be shot.

She. And the house is fine.

I know you came out of the divorce settlement pretty good, this is the best you could do? He moved from the loose plaster to fixate on the windows, which were new and double-paned.

I like the house. Why don’t you tell me what this is really about? I had an inkling that his distaste was not so much for the house but the circumstance. Divorce was not an option in our family tree. I was the first to dare try it. And then I’d had the gall to choose a small town in Colorado instead of moving closer to my parents. I’d already heard it from my mom. But my father, he was a tough cookie. Not one to put it all out there, but rather to find fault with everything else.

This house is the problem, Tianney. The place is coming apart. Who the hell knows what lurks in these walls, not to mention the cellar. Do you think this is responsible? Leaving your children fatherless and moving them to live with the livestock?

Number one, we had no livestock. Number two, my girls weren’t any more fatherless than they had been with me married. Both things I knew it was not necessary to point out to my father. He wasn’t waiting for an answer, having already made his way across the kitchen and out the back door.

I gave us both a minute. I don’t know what he did with his minute,but mine was spent breathing deeply.

I had held my tongue, he had held his and three days later, Cooper O’Neill had shown up on my doorstep for the first time, toolbox in hand, and hired by my dad. He hadn’t looked like a handyman. He hadn’t talked like a handyman, but he worked like one and if I don’t find a project for him soon, he’s going to run out of things to do. And I’d miss him.

I can hardly talk to the man. When he’s around I feel as tongue twisted as a twelve year old. Good Lord.

I avoid direct contact. And he matches my aloofness. Whatever arrangement Cooper has with my father stays between them.


All I’m saying, Piper explains, is that he probably likes you.

Trina sits at the table, legs swinging, and eating Alpha-Bits cereal. Does not. He’s a pain in the ass.

Trina Jayne Cantamessa! Watch your language, I say, entering the room.

My youngest daughter jumps at the sound of my voice and drops her spoon in the bowl of cereal, sending sugared milk and soggy letters splattering all around her. Piper laughs, goes back to packing her lunch.

Don’t encourage her, I warn Piper, tapping her on the head on my way to the fridge.

Hey, Mom, want some coffee? Piper asks.

I make the worst possible scrunched up face.

With lima beans! Trina squeals.

I pretend to gag.

Trina giggles. Piper says, Well don’t say I didn’t ask.

Day at the Cantamessa house has officially begun.

Who’s a pain in the hiney? I ask, taking a seat across from Trina with an unbuttered, untoasted bagel in hand.

Joey. He tries to sit next to me all the time and tells everyone I smell funny.

Hmmm. Everyone?

Trina nods with round eyes. Everyone.

"Are you sure? Everyone?"

She nods more emphatically this time.

That’s funny, because I haven’t heard that you smell funny. Piper, I half turn in the chair to face my oldest daughter, have you heard this?

Not before now, Piper says.

You’d think we’d be the first to know, since she lives here and all. My. My.

Maybe you should smell her, Piper says.

Maybe I should. What a fine idea! I bound around the table to stick my nose in Trina’s armpits and sniff like I’m a rabid dog.

Stop it. She giggles. Mommy, stop it.

I stand and throw an exaggerated shrug at Piper. Smells fine to me. Kind of like soap.

So, Mom, can I take the car today? Piper asks.

At this, I start laughing.

You’ve hardly let me drive since I got my license! Other kids get to drive to school. The bus sucks.

I know. It’s terrible. Other kids have cell phones and cars and unlimited Internet access and your mom is so mean she just won’t let you be like everyone else, I say.

Please stop trying to be funny. This is not funny. Riding the bus is anything but funny. Piper does a little foot stomp, the one she perfected at the age of two and never seemed to grow out of. I hate it and she knows I hate it.

"What if the house catches on fire? What if I catch on fire and have to drive myself to the ER?" I joke.

Call 911, Trina says in an all too serious voice.

What if a tornado comes through and my only chance of survival is to escape by car?

The cellar would be much better, Mommy, Trina says.

Can you just for a minute be serious? Piper’s pink, glossed lips pout.

"I could catch on fire you know. And a tornado could happen." I send her a pouty look right back.

About the time Piper comes to realize this conversation is, once again, in vain, I realize that of the emergency scenarios I just made up, Mommy with a brain tumor seizure hadn’t been one of them. And that is the one most likely. Which makes the whole thing a lot less funny.

Piper gets the keys to the car.


A phone in the study was a stupid idea. When I put it in there, I knew that, which is why I turned the ringer off. Except that doesn’t stop the handset display from lighting up an eerie orange glow every time it should be ringing. And since I’d had the intelligence to place said phone right next to my computer monitor, I can’t help but be distracted by its unringingness.

Caller ID displays Jared’s name and number for the fourth time in as many hours. The answering machine downstairs implores callers to leave a message. I am quite certain Jared isn’t heeding the advice. Which is why he keeps calling. I give the phone a steely glare until it stops glowing and try to go back to my work.

Whatever momentum I’d had is gone. The words on the screen taunt me—ask me why I don’t just answer the phone. They laugh as they point out every flaw the last four hours have wrought. My plot meanders, my main character is completely unlikable and a supporting character has just gone off and done something I hadn’t planned.

I don’t want to talk to Jared, don’t really care what he does or doesn’t have to say and for some stupid reason, I thought divorcing him gave me the right to not have to talk to him. Then again, maybe he wants to see his daughters, in which case, I should call him back. The chances of this are slim, in a year and a half this has been the case only once and that was so he could tell them he and Darva were getting married.

Damn, damn, damn.

I punch in his number.

It’s about time, Jared greets me. I love my caller ID, greatest thing ever invented. But I’m sad that everyone else has it, too.

Hello, Jared. And how is your day? The sarcasm is hard to keep out of my tone. I find I don’t really care.

I need to touch bases with you.

Consider me touched. I stand, stretch and yawn. Creating even the crappiest of storylines is tiring.

Look, I meant what I said. The other night, when I said…well, I meant it.

Oh Great Sphinx, I’m just not up for riddles at the moment. Or ever again.Say what you mean.

Whatever you need to do to get well, do it. I can’t take the girls.

A sudden pain pinches behind my eye. Jared, I can’t do this right now.

I can’t take the kids. If something happens to you…well, nothing can happen to you. Is that clear?

God is the one you should be having this conversation with. I roll a pen in my hands. Gold and silver, the pen is beautiful, a present last Christmas from my girls.

Give me a break, Jared says.


Darva’s pregnant.

This has me sitting. What?

We’re pregnant, three months along.

You had a vasectomy, I remind him. Sneaked off and got one without consulting me first, right after Trina came into the world.

It reversed itself.


It happens.

No, it does not, I say.

I assure you, it does.

Has Darva been stepping out on Jared? I find this thought delightful and have to hold down a giggle. Have to choke on it, actually. So, what you’re saying is you can’t take care of your first two children because Darva’s having one? Is that what you’re telling me?

"Darva isn’t having one. We are."

I eject from my chair and pace the room. You’re kidding me.

I assure you, I am not.

Jared, why are you always assuring me of something?

What are you talking about?

Nothing.Never mind.

You’ll have to find treatment. You do remember that you’re still covered under my insurance?

Oh yes, indeedy, I remember. One of the few things I insisted on in the settlement was health coverage for five years, at which time I hope to be able to afford it myself. The plus side being that Jared pays heavily for a premium that includes someone who isn’t a spouse or dependent.

Now would be a good time to use it, he adds without waiting for my response.

I thought I already explained this. I massage my temples, tenting my palm across my eyes. The room suddenly seems too bright, my eyes too big.

And I already explained my take on it, Jared says.But you’ve never been one to make the right decisions. So I’m calling to make sure that this time you do. Get treatment.

If I agree, will you go away?

For now.

I agree then. Go away. I push the End button, severing our connection.

I leave the phone face down on the bookshelf behind my computer desk. If someone calls, I won’t have to know about it. Then I spend the next hour pacing the small room I call an office, trying to turn the thoughts in my head into useful dialogue before finally give up on being able to write anything. From the second floor window, I can see the gravel pass way that runs between the house and what might have once been lovingly called a barn. The little road ends about twenty feet behind the house at a cottage that might have once been called charming. Both structures are now called unsafe for habitation.

When I’d first looked at the house, I’d had big plans to renovate the cottage and using it as an office space. That seems unlikely anymore. My stomach feels hollow with the thought, my head light and tingly.

Things were just not supposed to work out this way.


Chapter Two


If my mom makes one more embarrassing comment, I’m going to die. Just curl up in the fetal position and die. She knows she’s embarrassing me and doing it anyway. The sun is too hot, the line too long and moving too slowly. Any excitement I had about riding the fastest, tallest coaster in the park is being overshadowed by Mom and her big mouth. Trina isn’t helping. If she laughs any harder she’s going to pass out.

Ahead of us stands the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in my life. There isn’t a whole lot to choose from in Reeves by way of guys, but the one in front of me is cuter than anyone I’ve ever seen. He is tanned golden brown with smooth legs and messy, short hair the color of baked cinnamon. When his attention is elsewhere, I notice his eyes are a deep ocean blue. And when he smiles at one of his friends, it lights his whole face.

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