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Amanda was silent the entire ride back to the lodge, staring at the back of Brian's head. Brian was acting like nothing had happened, like they were just riding along on the bus like it was any other night and they hadn't just been at the hospital. When they got to the lodge, she busied herself getting drinks for the deck out of the fridge while Brian was getting the stuff he'd brought out to spend the night in the bus.

The moment Nick's heels had crossed the door, Amanda closed the fridge and looked at Brian. "Why did you do that?" she asked.

"I had to," he answered.

Amanda fumed, "You put me into a really shitty position. Not to mention what you're doing to yourself."

Brian looked at her, his Bible and journal in his hand, and frowned. "I thought you of all people would understand," he said, almost accusingly.

Amanda raised an eyebrow, "Why would I understand you running away from the hospital?"

Brian answered, "You know what the treatments and stuff look like for this..." he sighed, "Once you start it, you can't stop them without doing serious damage to your prognosis, and there's no promise you'll live through the treatments to begin with. And on top of it, they're a cycle, an unending cycle..." he shook his head, "I want better than that."

She sighed, frustrated, "But if it could help you live longer..."

"Quality, not quantity," he stated simply, shrugging.

"But you've got a wife and kid to think about," she snapped.

Brian blinked in surprise. "You think I'm not aware of that?" he asked.

Amanda shook her head, "You aren't acting it. You're talking about going skydiving with Nick, and you should be in that hospital back there. They didn't discharge you, did they? You probably didn't even see a doctor."

"I saw a doctor," Brian replied. "And he gave me anti-nausea medication. I just opted out of sticking around to hear the run down of what treatment options I've got again and hearing the whole speech about how I really need to reconsider the choices I'm making..." he shook his head, "Leighanne and I have talked about this, all of it, extensively, and we've agreed, together on this choice to forego the treatment. As if any of that is your business."

"Don't you think Baylee needs a father?" Amanda asked. The question sounded colder than she'd intended it to, and she regretted asking it the moment the words had passed her lips.

Brian's eyes glazed. His square jaw set and she could tell he was gritting his teeth. "I think Baylee needs memories of his father playing baseball with him and teaching him how to fish... not laying in a hospital bed without any hair." Brian shoved past Amanda, sending her against the fridge, and stepped off the bus, the anger radiating behind him as he went.

Amanda sighed. She'd crossed the line and she knew it, but then again Brian had done a very crazy, very dangerous thing that was quite literally risking his life. She felt frustrated because on many levels she thought Brian was being stupid and selfish for leaving the hospital, for not calling Baylee and Leighanne to him. But on other levels, on the ones where she imagined what she herself would do, she completely understood him.

As he had told her when he confessed the illness to begin with, he wanted to die living, not live dying.

Well, he was certainly going to do that.



Luckily it was 3:00 in the morning, because Brian didn't think he could've faked being fine for Nick much longer. After they'd taken a few to unwind in the cool air of the deck, Brian excused himself, saying he was exhausted, and crawled up the ladder to the loft. He collapsed into the bed and hugged his knees to his chest. He'd pulled the trash bin close, just in case he needed it - which he was sure he would - and sipped warm, flat ginger ale slowly from the bottle Nick had left by the night stand earlier.

On the inside, he felt anger. He was angry with Amanda for arguing with him about his choice to walk away from the treatment, and angry that Nick was so gullible that he'd fallen for it without question. He felt mad at the doctors for seeing that he had leukemia to begin with, and angry at his own body for getting it. But most of all, for the first time in his life, Brian was really, really angry with God.

It was a strange feeling, being angry with God. It was like being angry at an invisible friend, an anger that's kind of hard to vent. He stared at the Bible laying on his night stand, and wondered why the hell a God that claimed to love him so much would make him go through this illness, would rob Baylee of a father. And he was angry, too, because God was powerful enough that he could turn off the leukemia like a light switch, and it would be gone... Just as Christ healed thousands in Israel, he could heal Brian, too, couldn't he?

Why would he allow me to live through my heart problems twice, thought Brian, just to take me now? Somewhere deep inside of him a voice whispered, you always knew you were on borrowed time after that second surgery... you had things that needed to be accomplished, and then God was going to take you. You knew that, so why are you complaining now that it is happening?

Because now it didn't seem fair. Being angry seemed fair.

But as angry as he was with God, Brian was also painfully aware that it was now more than ever that he needed him.

Stupid love-hate relationships.



"Nick?" Amanda was sitting next to him in bed. He was wearing only his boxer shorts, sprawled across the top of the blankets, his lean body was perfect in every way imaginable.

"Yeah?" he asked, looking up.

"I don't think we should go to Omaha, I think you were right. We should go to Brian's mom's next."

Nick looked surprised, and sat up. "Why not? Brian even said he'd do the jump," Nick frowned. "Is this 'cos you're scared of skydiving, baby?" he asked, his eyebrows puckering in concern.

"No," Amanda said, only half lying, "I just don't think Brian's ... as well as he's letting on."

"He seems fine to me," Nick shrugged.

Amanda shook her head, "Maybe you don't see it because you don't want him to be sick," she said, "But I really don't think he's as good as he's saying."

"I'll ask Bri what he wants to do in the morning," Nick answered, yawning and rolling over.

Amanda sighed, frustrated, and laid down, too, curling into his back. She rested a cheek against his skin. "He's not going to tell you if he's not feeling well," she said, "He doesn't want you to worry about him."

Nick frowned into the darkness, even though Amanda couldn't see him. "Brian wouldn't lie to me," he answered flatly.

"How do you know?" Amanda asked, "He might be lying." He is lying, she thought, You stupid boy.

Nick's breathing was deepening as he was falling asleep. "Because Brian knows how much I hate liars," he said.

Amanda's heart sped up, but for reasons beyond the conversation they were currently having. "But if he lied and is sorry," she said, "It's different. Right?"

"It doesn't matter why someone lies," Nick answered, voice thickening, "Once someone lies, there's no way to believe them again. You know? 'Cos you always spend the rest of your time looking at them, wondering what the truth is."

Amanda felt tears spring to her eyes. "You don't give second chances?" she mumbled.

Luckily Nick was half asleep and didn't realize that she was no longer talking about Brian. He reached behind him and wrapped his arm around her, shifting positions a little, and yawning. "Liars don't usually deserve second chances," he murmured, the words smooshing together as his lips melded into the pillow, and his eyes slid shut.

Within seconds, he was snoring, and Amanda was sobbing silently.
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