When You're With Me, I'm Smiling
by Cate Carlyle
To Annie, food is love. Her Instagram baking account is taking off at the same time her Gran is losing her mind, her fitness obsessed BF is driving her away and Jess, her extra BFF, is fighting for his life...or is he just giving up? Add swoon worthy Miles Godfrey to the mix and it is all Annie can do to keep her own mental health in check and all the balls in the air.
Grab a cupcake and a tissue! Funny, intense, sweet and heart breaking, When You’re With Me, I’m Smiling will bring all the feels.
BUY THE BOOK
I struggled to make out Jess's form under the worn turquoise blanket. Now a shell of a person, he barely left an outline. His chestnut curls were long gone. A new beanie of soft grey wool embroidered with orange skulls, clearly not hospital issue, covered his bare head. The skulls exactly matched the orange lacy liners of the muffins I’d brought for him. Funny, the useless little things you notice in extreme situations.
An IV ran down into each arm. The machine at the head of the bed tracked his heart rate and blood pressure, filling the room with a constant low hum.
I ran a hand over my newly shorn head. A surprise for Jess. We’d be Bald Buddies if—no, when—he woke up. The surgery to remove the tumour two months earlier had gone well, but the latest radiation and chemotherapy treatments he was suffering through were a bitch. Jess couldn’t keep anything down and nearly every hair on his body had disappeared, but he was rocking some awesome headwear lately. I could imagine him saying, “When life gives you lemons Annie, slap on a kick-ass hat and fake it ‘til you feel it.”
I sat in the green vinyl chair beside Jess's bed and placed my hand on his bird-like arm, nestled under the blankets. I picked at the moon shaped scar on the back of my left hand—a grease splatter from my first and only attempt at deep frying donuts—and struggled to find my voice in the still room.
“I love you, Jess,” I whispered, not wanting to disturb whomever was behind the curtain on the other side of the room. I fought against slow salty tears. “We will beat this together, you and I. No worries.”
Jess stirred and mumbled something unintelligible.
“Jess, you okay? I’m here. It’s me, Annie.”
He opened one blue eye and looked right through me.
“I’m here, Jess.” I leaned forward and forced a smile I wasn’t feeling. “What are you trying to say?”
He slowly smacked his lips, swallowing away the dryness in his mouth to get the words out.
“Pr... promise me, Annie?” he mumbled.
“Anything, Jess,” I whispered, eager to escape the uselessness I was feeling.
“When I say so, let me go,” he breathed. It seemed to take all of his limited energy to get that one sentence out. A Herculean effort. He took another big breath then continued, “I have a pile of pain pills I’ve been saving. Help me leave when I’ve had enough.”
This was not what I had been expecting to hear, and a promise I didn’t know if I could ever keep.
“Oh Jess, I can’t do that. I need you!”
“I need you more,” he replied, fully awake now, both eyes drilling into me. “You are the only one I trust with my life. I want to keep on living my way or not at all.” Two tears trickled down his face as his lashless lids lowered again. “Promise, Annie? I know you keep your word.”
“Shit, Jess,” I replied through clenched teeth, my hand now gripping the blanket. “You’re so extra.”
“I mean it. It can only be you. You have never let me down. I need you to help if I can’t do it myself. I want my last moments to be with you, if it comes to that.”
Images of Jess dying alone flashed before me. But Jess would get better, damn it! Cancer didn’t know who it was messing with.
“Give me your word,” he implored. He lifted his head off the pillow. “I need to know there’s a way out.”
“I can’t, Jess. I’m not that strong.”
Now he was getting agitated. The beeps on the machine were getting faster and louder.
“You are stronger than you know, Annie. Remember my Grammie’s last days? Living on machines, a body with no Grammie? I can’t have that. I won’t.”
I did remember. And I remembered thinking how wrong it was.
“Alright, alright, I promise,” I sighed, convinced I would never have to follow through.
“Thank you, Annie. Love you,” he whispered as his eyelids first fluttered, then closed.
I let go of his arm and leaned back in the chair. The weight of what I had agreed to settled onto my chest. Everyone makes promises: a promise to clean your room; to come home before curfew; to pay back money; to love, honour, and cherish till death do you part. I couldn’t let Jess suffer, but was I willing to help him die?