“I know you’re going to shut down when… when this is done, but you have to promise me you won’t do that. You’re so damn scared of losing people that you keep them at a distance, and I hate that for you,” she says, her eyes pleading with mine.

The fury I have at the cancer takes over and spills onto my words. “I hate that I have to lose someone in all of this. I fucking hate that cancer has the power to rip you from my life… from your life.” I stop talking, wanting to take back everything I let fall out. And then I expel the breath trapped in my lungs and explode. “Fuck!” I push up off my knees and pace the room, rubbing the back of my neck.

My thoughts are a fucked up mess of chaos and I can’t think straight. A headache begins to pound through my head and my mouth goes dry. I need to get the fuck out of here but I refuse to do that to Claudia.

Her coughing breaks through my consciousness and I turn to see if she’s okay. What began as a few coughs turns into a coughing fit and she fights to get her breath back so I sit next to her on the bed and rub her back, whispering, “Shhh, shhh,” over and over as if it will help. As if it will make a fucking difference when I know nothing will make a difference.

“You’ve been an amazing brother,” she whispers once her coughing resides.

And there it is.

My mother’s voice cuts through my sleep and I slowly open my eyes. When I come to, the pain radiating down my neck and back makes itself known and I mutter an obscenity as I straighten. “What time is it?” I ask.

“You’ve been snoring for the last hour so I didn’t want to wake you,” Claudia says.

I shift my gaze to her. She’s sitting up, but doesn’t look any better than she did yesterday. In fact, she looks worse if anything. Frowning, I enquire, “How are you feeling?”

She shrugs and avoids my eyes. “I’m okay,” she murmurs, but I’m not buying it. However, I choose not to pursue it with her; if this is how she wants to cope with what’s happening, I can’t fault her. I’d want to avoid it, too.

Mum nudges my foot and I switch my attention back to her. “You should go home for awhile. I’m going to stay until lunch and then your father is coming for the afternoon.”

I nod as I stand and stretch. “Yeah, I’ve gotta touch base with the boys and Tom.”

“Van and I decided to put it on hold for the moment.”

Her brows rise. “Are you two getting along any better?”

I pick up the keys for Presley’s car and shove my phone in my pocket, getting ready to leave. “I don’t know. He gets this and is being supportive, so I guess so, but who knows what’s going on in that head of his.”

She tries to laugh but it turns into a cough. Her hand moves to her chest while she coughs and then she says, “There’s too much going on in that head of his. That’s the problem.”

“Yeah, you’re right.” I step forward so I can place a kiss on her forehead. “I’ll see you later, Princess.”

A smile graces her lips and she nods. Waving me away, she says, “I’ll be here.”

I leave them and make my way outside, calling Tom on the way.

He answers almost straight away. “How’s Claudia?” His obvious concern means a lot to me.

“Not good, Tom. Did Van fill you in?” I hope so because I really don’t want to go through it with him.

“Yeah, and he told me you want to put everything on hold. I think it’s a good idea.”

“And the label? Are they on board with it?” At this point, I’m not sure I could care if they aren’t.

He takes a moment to respond. “They’re not happy, but I’ve made it clear to them you need this time so they’re running with it at the moment.”

“It’s what I do, Jett. It’s why you pay me the big bucks, right?”

I love that he’s trying to lighten the mood; I need it this morning after my conversation with Claudia last night. That conversation still sits heavy in my gut, and I keep replaying it in my mind. “Seriously, though, I’d be lost without you. I hope to God you never stop working with us.” I pause for a moment, a thought coming to me. “Actually, how are things between you and Van?”

“I don’t hold grudges, you know that. Fuck, not in this industry with all the drama and shit that goes on. We spoke and I made it clear to him that if he does it again, it’ll be either him or me walking away, so I’m fairly confident that won’t happen again. But, he’s not happy, Jett, and I don’t think it’s got much to do with the band even though it’s you guys he’s taking it out on. So, I’m hoping this time off might do him some good.” His thoughts echo my own.

I arrive at Presley’s car and end the call with a promise to keep him in the loop. I’m relieved he spoke to Van and hope like hell Van doesn’t step out of line with Tom again; we can’t afford to lose either of them.

Nearly half an hour later I arrive at Presley’s apartment after sitting in rush hour traffic for longer than I cared to. She answers her door wearing a tiny scrap of material that most would probably call a dress, and on any other woman, I would agree, but on Presley, I wouldn’t even call it a dress.