This week marks the re-release of the Second Chances series with this reissue of Fix You. This book and series is hands-down the series I’m most proud of. Every single one of these books is special because, to me, they represent real people. You see…in the Second Chances stories, I attempted to write happy endings for some of my dearest girlfriends.
Fix You features a woman who, at only 35, is diagnosed with breast cancer. I had the time I had a friend as well as a cousin both battling the disease. So many parts of this book were based on their own experiences. I’m happy to say both of them beat the beast and are healthy! Chalk up one for a VERY happy ending indeed!
What if love can’t heal all wounds?
Second Chances, book 1
After too many years of secretly loving her best friend, Zoey realizes she’s been shortchanging herself. It’s time to take action. This New Year’s Eve heralds the year she’s going to tell Rob the truth. Even if he is on the road, reaching for musical stardom with his band.
Her plan is derailed when she discovers a lump in her breast—and it’s not “nothing to worry about”. How can she ask Rob to take a chance on love when her future is so uncertain?
Rob has spent his entire life chasing his dream, but the moment he hears Zoey’s voice on the phone, he realizes he’s been running the wrong race. Without a second thought, he books a flight for home, determined to give her everything she needs. A shoulder to cry on, a hand to hold…and nights of intensely emotional, passionate sex.
His biggest challenge, though, is convincing his best friend that he’s in it for the long haul. Because he finally knows what he wants, and it’s not fame and fortune. It’s her—and her love.
How about sneak peek of the first chapter of Fix You?
“Who has the baseball?”
When Zoey heard the voices of boys heading her way, she stepped off the front porch of her family’s new house and drifted toward the sidewalk. Her parents had thought they were doing her a favor, postponing their move to Harrisburg until after school was over. They didn’t want her to have to change schools in the middle of her fourth grade year. At the time, she’d been happy not to have to leave her best friend, Crystal.
Now she realized her parents had made a big mistake. It was the beginning of summer and she was in a strange place with no friends to help her pass the long, boring days until school started again in September.
To add insult to injury, it looked like her mom and dad had managed to buy a house in a neighborhood filled with nothing but boys. After a week of roaming around by herself, Zoey had only spotted one other girl on the street—a four-year-old whiner who was constantly crying for her mother. She hated it here. She was bored. And lonely.
The gang of boys slowed down when they spotted her on the sidewalk. After five days of watching them traipse by her house to the park, she’d decided she wasn’t going to spend today alone.
“Hey,” she said as they drew nearer. There were five of them and they all seemed to be around her age. They had baseball mitts dangling from their hands and one boy was dragging a bat behind him.
“Hey,” the tallest boy in the group said.
“Going to play baseball?”
“Can I come?”
A couple of the boys looked like they wanted to invite her, but once again, it was the tall boy who answered. “No girls allowed.”
“I’m a good pitcher,” she lied. Truth was she hated baseball, but anything was better than the solitude that had plagued her for days.
Apparently she’d chosen the wrong position. “I’m the pitcher,” the tall boy said angrily. “And I told you. No girls. Come on, guys.”
They continued walking toward the park as Zoey’s eyes filled with tears. She batted them away quickly. Boys were jerks.
She walked back toward her front porch, disheartened. She’d exhausted her mother’s list of so-called fun summer activities. She was tired of coloring, watching movies and reading. While her room was unpacked and completely decorated, her parents were still busy painting and fixing up the rest of the house. She’d offered to help several times, but they told her she’d just be in the way and instructed her to go out and make some new friends, play.
Zoey sank onto the top step of the porch and sighed. She hated this stupid town, this stupid house and those stupid boys.
Another boy came running down the street in the direction of the park. Clearly he was late and trying to catch up with the others. Zoey didn’t stir, didn’t bother to wave. What was the point? No girls allowed. The brown-haired boy had almost passed her house when he noticed her and slowed down.
When he turned to look at her, she felt a stirring of hope. Maybe this boy would be nicer than the others. She lifted her hand and waved.
He stopped and approached her house. “Hi,” he said.
His face was friendly, open, and Zoey liked him instantly. She grinned. “Hi.”
“You’re new here, aren’t you?”
She nodded. “We just moved in last week. I’m Zoey.”
The boy’s smile widened. “I’m Robbie Granger. I live across the street, three houses down that way.” He pointed to a home with deep blue shutters and a wide front porch that resembled the one she was sitting on.
She gestured to the glove in his hand. “You going to play baseball with those other boys?”
He nodded. “Yeah. You wanna come?”
“They told me no girls were allowed.”
Robbie frowned. “Since when?”
Zoey shrugged. “I don’t know. The tall boy just said I couldn’t play.”
“That would be Jeff. He’s a jerk.” Robbie glanced toward the basketball net hanging above her garage. “My best friend, Johnny, used to live here,” he said. “We spent all last summer playing basketball. You shoot hoops?”
Zoey didn’t, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t learn. “A little. There’s a ball in the garage. Johnny’s family must’ve left it behind. You want to play?” she asked hopefully, spying an end to at least one boring day.
Robbie tossed his baseball mitt to the ground. “Sure. I hate baseball.”
She hopped up quickly, dashing into the garage to grab the basketball at the speed of light. She was afraid Robbie would leave if she left him alone for too long.
For a few minutes, she watched him shoot, then she took a couple turns. When it became obvious she’d never played the game in her life, Robbie taught her how to shoot, then they spent the rest of the afternoon playing Horse.
By the time the other boys returned from the park, she and Robbie had formed their own little club of two—boys and girls allowed. Jeff teased Robbie about playing with a girl, but Robbie shrugged off the taunts, not rising to the bait. Zoey knew then and there he was the coolest person she’d ever met.
When the other guys drifted back to their houses, she and Robbie walked to the middle of her front yard and dropped down to sit on the cool green grass. Robbie lay on his back looking at the sky, so Zoey followed suit. He pointed to a cloud that looked like a grizzly bear and she spotted one that looked like a teacup.
“Thanks for teaching me how to play basketball,” she said after several moments of silence.
Zoey knew time was running out on her day with Robbie. The smell of fried chicken wafted from the kitchen and she suspected her mother would call her in soon for dinner. She forced herself to ask her question, the one that had plagued her all day. Part of her was afraid today had been a fluke, or that Robbie was just being nice and his goodwill toward the new girl would evaporate overnight. “You want to do something tomorrow? We could play basketball again.”
“Okay,” he said easily.
Zoey released a relieved breath. “Robbie. Will you promise me something?”
He looked over at her. “Promise you what?”
“Will you promise to be my friend when school starts? You’re the only person I know here in my grade.”
He grinned. “I’m already your friend, silly.”
Zoey’s whole body filled with joy. His words came easily and she didn’t doubt they were true. Still, the memory of feeling so lonely this morning still lingered. She didn’t want to go back there. “Promise me anyway.”
Robbie sat up and crossed his heart. “I promise.”
The rest of the summer passed quickly as she and Robbie filled the hours of each day shooting hoops or acting out scenes from scary movies or swimming at the local pool.
Robbie didn’t break his promise. When school started, they walked there together. He showed her around, escorted her to all their classrooms, introduced her to the other kids, and sat with her at lunch.
* * *
His promise to be her friend had never wavered and Zoey hadn’t felt lonely since that day in her family’s front yard. She opened her eyes, her gaze zeroing in on a previously unnoticed smudge on the ceiling of the apartment she and Robbie had shared for years.
She sighed. She hadn’t thought about her first summer in Harrisburg for years. The reappearance of the memory surprised her, though she supposed it shouldn’t. Her first week in town had introduced her to the concept of being alone.
However, that emotion was nothing to the bone-wracking, terrifying loneliness that consumed her tonight. Robbie had saved her from an eternal summer when she was ten, but she wasn’t sure he could help her this time.
It didn’t matter if he could or not. She needed him. Wanted him here. Desperately.
She remembered her determination for a second chance on New Year’s Eve. She’d silently vowed this would be the year she told Robbie how she truly felt for him. So much for that. There was no way she could come clean now. No way she could heap her disaster on him. Not now when he was finally on the path to finding true happiness. How could she drag him away from that? Thrust him into what was certain to be months of pain and misery.
The answer choked her. Jesus. She couldn’t, but how could she do this alone? She wasn’t strong enough. Her stomach clenched and the lonesomeness wafted over her again, the pain so overwhelming she felt lightheaded.
His voice. I just need to hear his voice.
Before she could think about her actions, she picked up her cell phone from the coffee table. When it began to ring, she considered disconnecting the call, but fear kept her hanging on.
“Zoey? What’s up?”
She regretted dialing the number the moment she heard Robbie’s voice. “Not much,” she lied. “Just, um, wondering how things are going.”
Robbie was silent for a moment. She didn’t call him to chitchat thirty minutes before a show unless it was an emergency. And in twenty-five years of friendship, she’d never had that kind of an emergency.
“Everything is fine, Zoey. How are things there?”
Things were completely and utterly horrible. Instead, she said, “Fine.”
“Are you sure?”
Tears clouded her vision. Shit. She’d been okay all damn day. Hadn’t cried a single tear. Hearing Robbie’s concerned voice exposed the cracks in the dam. “Yep.” The word came out loud, awkward.
“I have to go on stage in a few minutes.”
She knew that. Christ. Robbie was living his dream. His band, Express Train, was opening for The Traffic, one of the biggest rock bands in the country. She’d been selfish to call.
“I just wanted to say—” She paused, her mind filling in the real words: I have cancer. She cleared her throat. “I wanted to say break a leg.”
He chuckled. “I’ll do my best.”
She dropped her phone to the carpeted floor and closed her eyes to avoid the onslaught. The action was useless. There was no stopping the inevitable. Tears escaped, flowing slowly and steadily for several minutes before giving way to huge, soul-wracking sobs.
So much for the run-of-the mill baseline mammogram.
Her baseline was fucked.
She was fucked.
She’d been surprised when the doctor’s office called and asked her to come in, but she’d dismissed it. It was her first mammogram. Maybe they wanted to explain it to her. Instead, the doctor had shown her the pictures, pointed out a shadow—an area of concern, he called it—and scheduled a biopsy for the next day. For the last three days, she’d held her breath waiting for the call.
It came this morning. The results were obvious when, once again, the girl who’d never been sick a day in her life was asked to come in. Even worse, the doctor had suggested she bring a friend or family member with her. Christ, could he have been any more transparent?
She’d gone alone. Her parents—both retired—were living it up in Florida and Robbie was on the road. She’d considered and dismissed asking Josie or Laura to go with her, but she was afraid of how she’d react when she got the news. She didn’t want to fall apart in front of them.
She wasn’t sure she was ready to share this news with anyone yet. Zoey needed time to wrap her own head around it.
Cancer. I have cancer.
She reached for the box of tissues on the end table and blew her nose. Shit. She was sick and she was crying. The world really was going to come to an end. Everything was wrong, off-kilter, screwed up. Her hand balled into a fist and pure anger drove it into the couch cushion several times.
“What the fuck?” Her words filled the empty room with venom, despair. “What the fuck!”
She didn’t smoke, didn’t eat that much junk food, limited her alcohol to wine night with the girls and an occasional beer or two on weekends when Robbie was home. Sure, she sort of sucked at exercising regularly, but she wasn’t a total couch potato. The doctor had suggested she check into her family’s medical history to see if cancer was common, but what good would that do her? She already had the fucking disease.
Zoey tried to catch her breath, but her lungs wouldn’t capture the air. There was a two-ton weight on her chest, threatening to crush her. The flood of tears wouldn’t stop. Soon she was too tired to even try to get a grip on her emotions.
Control was pointless. She gave in. Lying on the couch, she let the tears stream until exhaustion finally won and she slept.
* * *
Rob unlocked the door to the townhouse he’d shared with Zoey for a decade and a half. His band mates gave him shit about living with a gorgeous woman and not sleeping with her, but he wasn’t about to screw things up with his best friend. Zoey was more than an opportunity for sex. She was…everything to him.
As soon as he entered the house, he took a deep breath and sighed. He was home. A grin crossed his lips as he tried to determine the scent. Zoey was a candle addict, burning them constantly. This month’s flavor smelled like cinnamon. She often paired her scents with the time of the year—pumpkin spice in the fall, balsam and cedar over the holidays, beachy smells in the summer. He grumbled whenever she lit one, claiming he felt like he was living in a chick’s place. Truth was he liked the candles. They were one more thing that made their house feel like a home.
He glanced at the clock in the hallway. It was three a.m. Rob hadn’t been able to concentrate during tonight’s show, Zoey’s unusual phone call tugging on his conscience. As soon as the band walked off the stage, Rob got a taxi straight to the airport and hopped on the first flight home. Luckily he’d only been a state away. The up-and-down flight got him here in good time.
Chip, Express Train’s drummer, had gone ballistic when he’d said he was leaving, but he couldn’t ignore the voice that told him something was seriously wrong. He assured the guys he only needed to make sure Zoey was okay and that he’d meet them at the next venue in two days.
Mercifully the tour was winding down. Rob was sick of buses, the road, takeout food and all the crazy after-parties. More than a few times he’d recalled the saying Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. He’d wanted to be a musician since the day he turned thirteen and got his first guitar, but now that Express Train was on the cusp of something big, he was second guessing that choice. Life on the road sucked.
There was a light on in the living room, so Rob passed the stairs and walked toward it. It was way too late for Zoey to still be awake, but it was unlike her to leave a light on. She was the queen of energy conservation.
He saw her the second he entered the room. She was fully dressed and sound asleep on the couch. She was surrounded by tissues. Fuck. He’d been right to come home. Zoey didn’t cry, but her puffy eyes betrayed she’d been doing quite a lot of that tonight.
His first thought was perhaps she’d suffered a broken heart, but she wasn’t dating anyone. Hadn’t had a steady boyfriend in over a year, ever since she finally made a clean break from Drake the Prick. Jesus, he hoped that abusive asshole hadn’t made his way back. Last time Zoey had seen her ex-boyfriend, Drake had given her a black eye. Rob had repaid the favor, only instead of one black eye, he’d left Drake with two, as well as a broken nose and four loose teeth. If Drake had come back—
Then Rob’s breath caught as he considered something even worse. Her parents weren’t exactly old—both of them only in their mid-sixties—but if something had happened to one of them, Zoey would be desolate, devastated. Her dad had been diagnosed with high blood pressure recently and Rob recalled Zoey worrying that her old man would die of a heart attack like her grandfather had. But why wouldn’t she have told him that on the phone?
He walked over and knelt in front of her. Her face was pale.
“Zoey,” he whispered, gently pushing her dark brown hair away from her eyes. He didn’t like seeing her so tired, so frail-looking. A surge of protectiveness rose up inside him. “Zoey. Wake up, baby. I’m home.” God. He must be tired. Where had that term of endearment come from?
Her eyelids lifted slowly. “Robbie?”
He grinned. She was the only person on the planet who still called him by his childhood nickname. The second he hit high school, he’d instructed his teachers and friends to call him Rob. Zoey was the only one who couldn’t make the switch. She’d told him he would always be Robbie to her. He liked the idea, so he didn’t pick a fight about it.
She sat up slowly. “What are you doing here?”
He shrugged, then claimed the warm spot next to her on the couch. “I was worried about you.” He gestured to the tissues scattered on the floor and coffee table. “What happened?”
Her response was worse than words. She quite simply fell apart.
Rob reached for her, pulling her into his arms as she cried. “Shhh. It’s okay. Whatever it is, it’ll be okay. We’ll fix it.”
His words, rather than comfort her, seemed to open the floodgate even more. She clung to his shirt, loud sobs wracking her small frame. He held her tighter, each cry slashing through him more sharply than a machete. Twenty-five years of friendship and he could count on one hand the number of times she’d cried in front of him. His heart raced as his mind whirled over what could have happened. Jesus. Whatever it was, it was bad. Really fucking bad.
He tightened his arms around her, desperate for a way to calm her. “You’re killing me, baby. Please. Please tell me what’s wrong.”
She shook her head against his chest.
He cupped her face, forcing her to look at him. “Say it, Zoey. Fast. Like ripping off a Band-Aid.”
“If I say it out loud, then it’s true.”
He wiped the tears away from her cheeks. “It’s true one way or the other. Tell me and we’ll take care of it together.”
“I have cancer.”
His mind had raced over a hundred possibilities since Zoey collapsed in his arms. That one had never come to him. “I don’t understand.”
Stupid words. He knew what she’d said, but Zoey was young, healthy. It didn’t make any sense.
“I had a mammogram. They found a lump.”
Hope reared its head. “That doesn’t mean it’s cancer. Lots of women find—”
“They did a biopsy. It’s cancer.”
Rob struggled to take a breath and fought down a wave of nausea. It felt like he’d been punched in the gut. He had a new appreciation for the concept of his life passing before his eyes, as images of the past twenty-plus years whirled through his mind. “When did you find out?”
“I’ve known about the lump for a few days. I got the biopsy results today.”
She’d been dealing with this for days? Rob was horrified that she’d already done so much alone. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“Jesus, Zoey. You called me after the fact and even then, you just told me to break a leg.”
She rubbed her eyes wearily. They were swollen and red from crying. Rob hated seeing her so upset.
“I called you as soon as I knew something for sure. But when I heard your voice…” She rested her head against the back of the couch. She was exhausted. “I couldn’t ruin your chance. You’re finally there, Robbie. On stage in front of huge audiences. All your hard work has paid off. It’s your time.”
He didn’t want any of that. As he looked at Zoey, the priorities he’d always set for himself fell away, leaving just one. One thing that mattered to him.
She was right. It was his time. But not in the way she thought. For years, he’d avoided the truth, ignored feelings that had always existed as he chased the spotlight. He’d been a fool.
“Did you call your parents?”
She shook her head. “They’re in Florida. I thought about calling them, but I—” she licked her lips, “—I just wanted you.”
Tears accompanied her admission. He pulled her into his arms again. “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere.”
She sniffled and he suspected she was fighting hard not to fall apart again. “But the band—”
“Can do without me. There are only three more scheduled concerts. I’ll get Jeff to fill in for me on lead guitar. He’ll flip at the chance. After that, we’re finished for a while. I was going to come home and write some new music.”
“If it’s only three more shows, you should go do them.”
“No. I’m home. I’m not going anywhere until you’re better.”
“That could be awhile.”
His jaw tensed at the thought of what she was facing. “I’m staying.”
She wiped her face as more tears fell. “God, I promised myself I wouldn’t cry anymore after tonight. I fucking hate feeling like this.”
He smiled and kissed her on the forehead. “It’s still tonight. Get all the tears out now because tomorrow we’re going on a positive thoughts diet. Both of us.”
She released a light laugh that turned to a choked sob. “I don’t know if I can do that.”
“You can. You will. You’re young, strong. We’re going to get through this, I promise. We’ll do it together.”
She clung to him, neither of them speaking anymore. What was left to say? Her tears were quieter now, but he knew she still shed them even though he couldn’t see the face she’d buried against his chest. The only noise in the room was her quiet sniffles, but soon that sound was replaced by her soft, even breathing. She’d finally fallen asleep.
It was only then that Rob allowed his own tears to fall.