The door slid shut again, leaving them alone in the heavy silence.
Somber now, Tony hit her with that intense gaze of his, so earnest she could almost hear the snap of her heart as it broke in two. “We’ll deal with it. Whatever it is—it can’t be that bad.”
If only that were true. She couldn’t speak.
“Talia? You’re scaring me right now. It’s not that bad, right? You’re not married, are you?”
Married. That would be so much simpler. “No.”
“In hiding? An escaped criminal? Is that it?”
Talia opened her mouth, forcing each word out, because she knew that each syllable was a nail in the coffin of their fledgling relationship.
“I—I’ve…had some health issues.”
He nodded grimly. “I knew it. I’m going to get you checked out—”
God, this was hard.
She shook her head. “I already know what’s wrong.”
Now he was the one who couldn’t seem to get the words out.
Just say it, Talia. “I have Hodgkin’s lymphoma.”
Tony went utterly still, all expression draining out of his face. She stared into his eyes, but he no longer seemed to be there, inside his body.
“Hodgkin’s—?” he echoed softly.
“—Lymphoma. They used to call it Hodgkin’s disease. Cancer, Tony. I have cancer.”
Tony backed up a step, leaning into the wall for support. The color leached away from his skin, giving him a greenish tinge. “You have—”
Blinking hard now, nostrils flaring, he fought a mighty internal war of some sort and seemed to master his emotions. He swallowed, and when he spoke again, his voice was firmer.
“What, ah…where are you with your, ah, treatment?”
“I’ve had chemotherapy. Radiation. And surgery.”
His brows contracted. “Surgery?”
Without a word, she unbuttoned her shirt, revealing the puckered scar that ran between her collarbones.
She knew how it looked, but seeing the dawning comprehension on his face made it a million times worse.
“Jesus,” he whispered. “How did I miss that last night?”
“We were busy with other body parts last night, weren’t we?”
The joke did nothing to lighten the mood.
“So when you stopped writing to me—?” Tony wondered. “And all your dark paintings?”
“Right. I’d just been diagnosed. I didn’t know what was going to happen, and I didn’t think it was fair to encourage you when I was still seeing Paul.”
The mention of the name did something to Tony, and a bucketload of what might have been anger replaced the glazed look in his eyes.
“He said that he loved me and he could handle anything.” Bitterness made her voice harder than she would have liked. “And he hung in there, too. Up until my hair started falling out.”
Reaching up, she pulled off her wig, deciding that she might as well hit him with everything at once. It was a relief, actually. The air felt cool against her scalp, and her hair was beginning to grow back. But it was taking forever, and she only had a scant half inch of silky curls at the moment.
And of course he’d had his hands on her head last night.
“I don’t care about your hair,” Tony told her.
Ah. Funny. Where had she heard that before?
Still, Tony was a different man from Paul. Maybe Tony actually thought he meant it. Maybe he did mean it.
His mouth worked, producing no sounds. He was so busy editing his words that he couldn’t get anything out. She couldn’t blame him. The process of dumping a sick woman could be pretty tricky, as she knew from painful experience.
“What’s, ah, what’s the doctor saying?”
That almost got a smile out of her. Really, he should’ve been a diplomat. He had the chops for it.
“What’s my prognosis? I don’t really know at the moment. I’m going to have another round of tests and scans soon. I’ll know better then.”
Tony’s face contorted, but she felt the hurt. His pained expression exactly matched what she was feeling in the center of her scarred chest.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”