Gary slides his hands down to grasp Maggie’s, and asks when this happened. She sighs. “I went in this morning for chemo, it was my second round. I started a week ago. Probably got a few months of this ahead of me.” He nods softly and reaches over to give her a hug—it’s awkward given their positions in the car, but the sentiment remains.
“Come on, time to get you home. Do you feel okay for me to drive or do you need to just sit here for a few minutes?”
“I think I’m okay,” she responds, “I just don’t want to mess up your new car more than I already have.”
He chuckles, remembering himself a year earlier. “Maggie. I truly don’t care about that. I did the same to Jon last year, I don’t have any room to judge. If it would make you feel better though, I can text Rome or Gina or someone to bring a plastic bag and some paper towels out. Your call.”
“No, don’t do that. I don’t want everybody else to find out just yet. I wasn’t even going to tell you. I’ll be fine for the drive, just...no bumpy or windy roads, please.”
“Nice and easy, you got it,” he says, squeezing her hand before gently easing the car onto the road and in the direction of Maggie’s apartment. They ride mostly in silence for the 20 minutes it takes to drive into the city and to her place, Gary looking over to steal glances at Maggie to check if she still looks okay and reaching to give her hand a quick squeeze whenever he can.
When they reach Maggie’s apartment, both pause before getting out of the car, not quite knowing what to do. Neither of them really want Gary to stand up, given the vomit that’s been sitting on his lap for the past 20+ minutes, but both are too embarrassed to say something about it. Eventually, Maggie breaks the silence. “I’m gonna go grab you some paper towels.”
She heads up to her apartment, grabs some paper towels and a plastic bag for trash, and walks back down to the car to help Gary clean up. He insists on doing it himself, knowing from experience that dealing with vomit when you already feel nauseous just makes you get sick all over again and trying to spare her from that.
“So,” he says, trying to decide if he should offer to stick around or give her some space.
“Um,” she cuts him off, “do you want to come in? We should…talk. And I have a washer and dryer in my apartment for your pants.”
“I’d like that.” They slowly walk back to Maggie’s apartment, Maggie taking a break at one point on the stairs before continuing up the rest of the way. She’s frustrated, but tries not to show it. She was feeling pretty good earlier in the day when she left the cancer clinic, but all the back-and-forth in the car to the tree place, and the singing at Delilah’s, and now hurrying up and down the stairs at her apartment has wiped her out. Why did she invite Gary to come over, when all she really wants to do is sleep? Gary, for his part, notices her slowing down on the steps so he matches her pace and tries to casually offer his arm out in case she wants some assistance. She doesn’t.
Once inside, Maggie hands him a bath towel and directs him toward the laundry, then heads to the bathroom. He finds a plastic bucket in her laundry room and starts soaking his pants, then wraps the towel around his waist and takes a seat on her couch. After a few minutes he starts to get concerned, and when he walks past the slightly ajar bathroom door he can hear the faint sounds of crying and vomiting.
He lightly taps on the door, “Hey, everything okay?”
“Yeah,” she says through tears, “I’m fine. Just need a minute.”
“Do you need me to get you anything? A glass of water?”
“Mmmm,” she groans, “ okay .”
“Be right back.” He rushes into her kitchen to fill a cup with water, and then walks back to the bathroom. He raps on the door just hard enough for it to swing open, saying “Here, Mags” and setting it down on the floor right next to her. He starts turning to leave the room again and give her some privacy when she groans again, throwing up into the toilet once more and leaning her head against the cold porcelain as she flushes it down. At that, he knows there is no way he can let her struggle in the bathroom alone while he sits on her couch outside the room.
He gets down and sits on the floor behind her, creating a V shape with his legs around her so she can semi-comfortably lean back onto him. “Here, you’re okay. I’ve got you.” She sits there against him for a few minutes, trying to breathe evenly and calm her unsettled head and stomach, but she gets sick again a few minutes later. Even once she is mostly dryheaving and expelling nothing but watery spittle, she still feels incredibly nauseated. Gary has been sitting there the whole time, holding her hair and rubbing her back, and getting up only once just to get her more water.
“Did they give you anti-nausea meds? They might help you feel better.”
“Yeah, I think so. There’s a box of meds next to my desk in my room. There should be a half-used bottle of anti-nausea pills in there from last time. I don’t remember if I filled the new prescription yet.”
“Okay, how about I go get that for you? You’re gonna need to be able to eat something and keep water down so you can stay hydrated.”
She nods softly and whispers “ Okay .” He gets up and heads to her bedroom. When he finds the box labeled “MEDS” he starts digging through it to try and find the anti-nausea pills. The box is filled with a variety of immune boosters, nutritional supplements, medicine to counteract neuropathy, anti-anxiety medication, and other types of pills he can’t immediately identify because he was never on them. He pauses for a moment when he realized what this all means. This is real now—he can see her illness and the side effects of her treatment, in a way that was far less apparent back when he learned she was sick and even when he first saw she had a bruise. Now, she was facing the pain and trauma of cancer treatment once more, and as scary as it was, he was determined to help her through it. He just hadn’t thought about what that might mean for him, and didn’t realize until he saw her large collection of leftover pills how rough the first time around must have been. Seeing this evidence of a difficult battle in recent history, he starts to realize why she was so reluctant to jump back into treatment. Shoved in the back, he finally finds the bottle he was searching for, grabs it triumphantly, throws his pants in the washing machine, and goes into the kitchen to refill Maggie’s glass of water before rejoining her in the bathroom.
He retakes his spot behind her, rubs her back and pulls her slightly toward him, shakes out two pills into her hand, and gives her the cup of water. She downs the pills in one try, and then takes a few small sips of water. He scooches back a bit so he can lean against the wall, and she leans back on him. He reaches to the side and grabs an unused bath towel he had pulled out of her cabinet earlier, and wraps both it and his arms around her. And there they sit, waiting for the meds to kick in and Maggie to feel steady enough to stand up and relocate to the couch. After about half an hour, she does, so he helps her to her feet and then quickly cleans the toilet while she brushes her teeth and washes her face. He runs to the laundry room to move his pants to the dryer, then heads to the couch to sit with Maggie.
“You feeling a bit better now?”
“Yeah, not as nauseous anymore. Thank you. I’m sorry about…”
“Stop. I’m just glad I was here so you didn’t have to deal with it alone tonight.” He looks her in the eyes and slowly nods, with a look of both compassion and determination. He means what he is saying. They sit together for a few minutes, and as they do Gary starts wondering just how much longer she wants him to stick around before leaving and giving her some privacy.
He is about to mutter something about going to check on whether his pants are done, when Maggie speaks up. “So. I wanted to talk about it and tell you why I changed my mind. I want you to understand.”
“Okay,” he says, “I’m listening.”
And she starts talking. She talks about how difficult, physically and emotionally, her initial diagnosis and treatment was, for both herself and her parents. She had just finished her PhD program and was starting to work as a clinical psychologist in Chicago, but then she had to cut back on seeing patients when she got sick. She tells him about her brother Chad--realizing that Rome and Delilah now know, but she hadn’t talked to Gary about it yet. Her mom had spent years grieving the loss of Chad and had been tough to get along with in those intervening years. And her dad, who had always been somewhat overprotective and had turned more so after Chad’s death, dealt with Maggie’s illness by remaining by her side constantly. She told Gary about how she had initially been excited when her oncologist said that radiation and surgery would be her primary forms of treatment, with just a few rounds of chemo, because it meant she wouldn’t lose all of her hair. But the radiation gave her a painful rash and mouth sores and likely affected her fertility, and what she was initially told would be a simple lumpectomy turned into a bilateral mastectomy when they kept finding more cancer. And by the end of the journey, all she wanted was to leave the overbearing yoke of her parents. She and her boyfriend in Chicago had been dating since part-way through their time in grad school, but in a way it was out of convenience—she never even told him about her brother, because she didn’t know how to admit her feelings and wasn’t ready to make things quite that real. So as soon as she found a job in a different city, she left. And it just happened that she was getting ready to leave for Boston right as she got the news that she had relapsed. She accelerated the moving timeline and walked away from her Chicago life, vowing to save her parents and herself from going through another round of hope and heartbreak, and still not feeling safe and secure in the world enough to want to let anybody else in. So when she met Gary and his friends she really was planning to just have fun for a few weeks while keeping things light. But circumstances were heavy, and her human desire for connection during personal turmoil got the best of her. She made friendships that felt meaningful, and she wasn’t sure how she could pull away from them—or if she wanted to anymore. And somewhere along the way, se decided that if she could have a future, maybe it could be fun. She still wasn’t convinced that it would happen and didn’t want to get her hopes up, but feeling the love from these people made her willing to try. And so, she was doing it.
By the end of the story, Maggie has tears in her eyes. Gary is holding onto her hands and gently smiling at her. “I’m glad you’re trying,” he says.
“Yeah,” she sighs and shrugs her shoulders, “We’ll see.”
He rubs her back, motions to the bath towel still wrapped around his waist, and stands up. “I’m gonna check if my pants are done...can I get you anything?”
“No, I’m fine. Don’t want to give my stomach anything else to reject tonight.”
He nods knowingly and heads into the laundry room to retrieve his pants. “Huzzah! Good as new!” he announces as he pulls them on and returns to the living room to see that Maggie has laid down on the couch and is already quickly falling asleep. “Hey, Maggie?” he says when he sees her, and she quickly opens her eyes to look at him. “You need sleep, so I’m gonna head out and give you some privacy. Do you need anything before I go?”
“Gary, I’ll be fine tonight. I’m just tired now. I can take care of myself.”
“I know, just checking.”
“But actually, tomorrow…”
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“Well, I do have some prescriptions to fill and I have to pick up a few other things, so if you feel like running errands and maybe getting some food after?”
“I’d love to keep you company on your errands, Dr. Bloom. I do have to drop Eddie off for his big tour tomorrow morning. I know Rome and Regina and Katherine and Theo were going to surprise him to send him off, if you want to meet me there or get a ride with Rome and Gina, then we can go on an adventure once he leaves?”
“Okay, I can do that.”
“It’s a date. I’ll see you tomorrow morning Bloom. Try to get some sleep in that big bed of yours, it’s pretty comfortable,” he says as he winks at her, trying to bring a touch of levity back to their night.
And then he leaves her apartment, closing the door behind himself and heading back to his car. As relieved and excited as he is that she is trying , after just one night he is already starting to realize how tough it will be to be the primary support system for somebody going through cancer treatment who he just met a few months ago. Gary sends a silent thank you to Jon for the way he somehow knew when to be serious and when to be funny while helping him through it last year, and hopes he can figure out how honor his friend and do the same.