By Trish Hubschman
Jason had no money or health insurance. He lost his house. His wife left him. He had stage 3 pancreatic cancer. But, despite all that, he found Jen.
They met at the chemo clinic where they both received treatments. They sat next to each other in the waiting room, constantly chatting. Eventually, they had their treatments. Together, holding hands. Until a few years ago, Jason was the vice-president of Farrow Industries. His wife, Theresa, had been happy. He was making a lot of money. They had a beautiful house in Greenwich, Connecticut. Both drove expensive cars. Theresa had a Cadillac. Jason drove a BMW. The kids went to the best private schools and good colleges. Then, on a routine doctor’s visit, he was diagnosed with hypertension and told that if he didn’t slow down, he was be a prime candidate for a stroke.
“I couldn’t be a part-time vice-president at Farrow,” he explained to Jen. “The only choice I could see was to take an early retirement.”
She understood. “That was the best thing for you to do,” she agreed.
Jason wasn’t so sure. If he had continued working, maybe he would have spared his family so much hardship. “I discussed it with Theresa. I wanted to start my own business,” he said. “I did – Happy Gym – but with this illness coming on so unexpectedly, it’s been an even harder road.”
She understood that too. “But if I know you, Jason Spencer, you won’t give up until Happy Gym is a success.”
He chuckled. He had invested a large portion of his and Theresa’s joint savings into the gym. She hadn’t been too thrilled about it. He had a partner too, Mitch lewis. Theresa had left him the day the cancer diagnosis had been given to them. Jen was a widow. She had loved and taken care of her husband, Richard. For the life of her, Jen couldn’t see how Theresa Spencer could leave her husband when he became ill. “Theresa did what she felt was best,” Jen said. Jason turned to her and smiled, his eyes glittering. “What?” she finally said after a long pause. Jason continued to gaze at Jen. She got flustered and began fussing with her hair. In their present situation, with both receiving chemotherapy treatments, her actions were almost funny. “I must look like an absolute horror-story right now, Jason,” she said.
He shook his head. “No, you don’t. You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known and the most incredible.”
Jen blushed beat-red and Jason chuckled. “How can you say such a thing?” she teased, but her smile was bright. The doctor came into the room. Jason and Jen looked at him.
“The two of you would astound any medical professional,” the doctor said. “If I could get all my patients to team up like this and have such a bright attitude when coming to this place, I’d be out of work.” He raised his eyes toward the ceiling. Everybody laughed. He disconnected Jen’s IV bag. “Maybe we should get a minister in here. I bet it would be the first wedding ceremony at a chemotherapy clinic.” More chuckling followed.
Jason piped up. “Can’t. Wife hasn’t been good enough to divorce me yet but she’s working on it. These things take time. His tone was light. The doctor went around to Jason’s bed and disconnected him too.
When they were both dressed and ready to rejoin their regular lives, Jen asked about Jason’s kids. “Allyson is twenty-four and has her own life in California, Dan is twenty-one and still has one more year at Princeton. “Kids don’t have the time for me right now, someday, I guess.” Neither of them said it, but by the time Allyson and Dan woke up, Jason might not be here.
“Need a ride?” Jen offered, taking her car keys out of her huge purse.
“Nope,” he said. “I’ve got my own car and I feel okay so far. Got to get over to the gym. Mitch’s been doing more than his share and I’ve got to pitch in whenever I can.” Happy Gym was open seven days a week. Jason had chemotherapy twice a week.”
Ten minutes later, he raced into the gym. Mitch was at the counter. There were a few people using the equipment. Jason scowled. “Is this place ever going to come alive?” he snapped. “Now, get out of here, Mitch, I’ll take over.”
Mitch didn’t move. “How are you feeling?” Mitch asked.
Jason looked at his partner surprised. “Not bad, I guess. Why are you still here?”
Mitch chuckled. He held his hands up in surrender. “I’m leaving, I’m leaving, but I have a message to give you. Guess who’s coming in to visit you later?”
Jason squinted. “Well, Jen is going to stop in later. She’s the lady from chemo,” he explained. “I’m looking forward to finally showing her this place.” He waved his hand around the gym.
Mitch shook his head. “Hope no sparks fly when your new female friend meets your old wife,” Mitch dropped the bomb. Jason’s eyes widened.
“Theresa’s coming here? Why?” He slapped his hand to his forehead. “Knowing her, she’s probably got a stack of bills to hand me. I can’t afford what I’m paying now.” Jason looked around the room, as if trying to find an escape route. “Maybe I should sell you this place,” he said.
Smiling, Mitch shook his head. “I’d consider taking it off your hands, Jas, but it’d have to be at a cut rate.”
Jason scowled. “Traitor!”
Jen arrived first, shortly after five. They kissed,
And then Jen looked around at the gym. “This is fantastic.”
He took her arm and showed her the steam room
and whirlpool. “We want to install an indoor pool, but right now, it isn’t feasible,” he explained. “We would need to rent more space and have to get permits.”
Jason and Jen were sharing a glass of juice and
Giggling when Theresa came in. “Nice to see your in such good spirits, Jason,” Theresa said.
Jason scowled. He introduced the two women
Jen held out her hand and tried to be polite. Theresa was
cordial. “What brings you here, Theresa?” Jason asked.
She handed him a bunch of folded papers. “Just
some paperwork for you to look over and sign, financial stuff, nothing to take too seriously.”
He would be the judge of that. “Let me drop these in my office so I don’t lose them,” he said, not particulary caring if he did. He excused hime and went off.
Theresa turned to Jen. “So, you’re his new girlfriend?” she accused. “You are aware that Jason’s dying from pancreatic cancer? There’s nothing you can get from him?”
Jen flinched but forced a smile. “I hear he’s doing
very well with the chemo treatments and he looks wonderful, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he lives another twenty years.”
Theresa’s lips twitched but she caught her composure. “Of course, we can only hope,” she replied. As the two women stared at each other, Theresa sighed heavily. “Oh, you must think I’m a terrible wife.” It wasn’t a question. “You couldn’t possibly understand,” Theresa went on. “It’s not that I don’t care about Jason, I do, of course. We’ve been married for more than twenty-five years. But because of him, I have to dig our family out. He’s left us strapped financially.”
Jen’s eyebrow shot up. “By getting sick?”
Theresa shook her head. “No, by retiring. If he had stayed at Farrow, we would have had health coverage and a weekly salary coming in. His actions were selfish. Now I have to pick up the pieces.”
Jen wanted to ask how she was doing that but Jason
came out of his office then. “I’ll read them over when I get a chance,” he told Theresa. “Now, if there’s nothing else, Theresa, I’m giving Jen a tour.”
Theresa sniffed. “Are you throwing me out?”
He smiled broadly. Theresa turned with a huff and left. Jason looked at jen. “When my divorce becomes final, will you be the new Mrs. Spencer?”
She laughed. “You’re not asking me that on rebound,
are you?” she teased.
In answer, he pulled her close and kissed her full on the lips. It felt nice to both of them. “I’ve got a bed in the back room. I’ve been living here since Theresa threw me out. We can go back there and I can profess my love for you even more. That is, if I can still get him to work.”
She giggled and wrapped her arms around his neck. “Be careful what you wish for. I might just take you up on that offer.” He growled into her ear. “Do I have your promise too that you’re going to keep fighting this cancer and beat it?” she asked.
“Scouts honor,” he said. “And do you promise that
we can fool around soon?”
She couldn’t stop giggling. “Scouts honor.”
Jen was able to keep her promise and they had a wonderful time in the back room that night after the gym was closed. It worked beautifully and they were both thrilled by that. Jason was happier than ever and fully determined to keep his end of the bargain. He continued the treatments and fought harder than ever but as the weeks and months passed his condition deteriorated. They all knew it. Jason begged them to do surgery but the doctor felt Jason wasn’t strong enough. Jen never left his side. He never read the papers Theresa had left him and, in fact, signed the gym over to Mitch. He wasn’t ready to give up totally and admit he was dying. “This is just for precautionary purposes,” he told his partner. “So Theresa can’t get her hands on it in case something happens.”
He didn’t want to leave Jen but he was tired. “Don’t tell Theresa anything. It’s not that I’m trying to hurt her, Jen, but she was in my past, I only want you now.” He gazed longingly at her. “That is, if you want to be here with me.”
She was fighting back tears. “I don’t want to be anywhere else but here, Jason.” She held him for a long, long time. He told her he loved her and that the last few months with her had been the happiest he ever had. She told him she loved him too and that someday they would be together. Her cancer had gone into remission. She knew that soon she would have to live without another great love.
He still tried to keep his sense of humor. “Do you think Richard would mind?”
She swatted him playfully. “I’m sure he’d be willing to share.” Richard was her past. Jason was her present.
“I don’t think I’m divorced yet,” he noted warily, falling in and out of lucidness.
“Shh, sweetie, don’t worry about such things right now,” she told him.
He tried to lift his head off the pillow. It was a strain. “Have to. What does that mean? You’re not my wife?”
Tears were spilling down her cheeks. “No, but I’m the woman who loves you very much.”
“That’s good,” he said, letting out a ragged breath. He dropped his head down on the pillow. “Just make sure Theresa gets the hospital bills.”
Jen shook her head astounded. “You’re incredible,” she whispered, laying her head down on his chest. He was breathing evenly. He was asleep. She fell asleep too. Sometime very late in the night, she was awakened by a gentle nudging at her shoulder. Her eyes popped open, then filled with tears. Jason was gone.
“It’s time to go Mrs. Spencer,” a soft nurse’s voice said. “We’ll take care of your husband.”
Jen nodded. She planted kiss after kiss on Jason’s cold cheeks. Slowly, she got to her feet and allowed the nurse to lead her from the room. Theresa Spencer sat in a chair outside Jason’s door. The two women’s eyes met. In a way, they were sharing something. Neither spoke for a long time. “He’s gone,” Jen finally said. “Jason was a good man. He deserves a nice funeral. If you need any help making the arrangements, give me a call.” Before Theresa could respond, Jen turned on her heel and walked off down the hall.
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