Read the excerpt from The Fall in Love Checklist:
My mother said nothing should stop my wedding, not even a pair of misbehaving breasts.
It’s funny the things you remember when coming out of anesthesia.
So, it’s done.
My breasts are gone. The girls. My boobs. Chopped off for misbehaving.
Farewell, dear friends. Goodbye. Adios amigas. Ciao. Auf wiedersehen. Adieu. I imagine they’ll be chucked out with the rest of the surgical unit’s biohazards: gallstones, colon polyps, cellulite. My grandfather got to keep his old pacemaker, do you think they ever let you keep your breast tissue?
I try to open my eyes, but the harsh light hurts and the room spins. I close them again.
There’s beeping and distant voices. The sounds of a hospital running. The fluorescent light shines through my closed eyelids.
I drift back into a warm sleep.
Sometime later, I wake up again. Try to open my eyes. Can’t.
Still, I smile. I did it. I made it through the mastectomy. It’s going to be okay. My throat tightens and I swallow down the urge to cry. It’s all going to be alright now. The doctors said it was confined to the breasts, and now that my breasts are gone, everything’s going to go back to normal. It’ll be okay.
It will, I tell myself. My chest tightens. It will.
I fight down my doubts. In the last weeks, since my diagnosis, fear and doubt have sprouted like weeds in July. I can’t stop them from growing. Weeds will always grow. But I can smother and cut them out like a ruthless gardener.
Everything is going to be okay. It is.
I drift back into that groggy dizzy state.
I dream about my fiancé. Shawn. He should be here soon. And my mother. But not my father. He didn’t want to see me like this. That’s alright. I don’t want him to see me like this either.
But it’ll be alright. It’s gone now. Gone.
The dry hospital air tickles my nose. I’m cold beneath the scratchy thin blanket. I stretch my sluggish arms and legs. My chest hurts. I flinch and hold still. The cocktail of pain medication and anesthesia takes over again, and I float back into numbness.
Shawn will be here soon.
The overhead lights send little stars sparkling through my eyelids and I drift into a nice dream about my wedding. The sparks of the fluorescent are the twinkle lights lining the aisle. The machine beeping is the trilling of a harp. The sharp medicinal scent is the perfume of roses. I pull in a breath.
My dream wedding is three months away. I’ll be better by then.
I’ll wear the strapless ivory silk mermaid gown. There are freshwater pearls sewn in the bodice and the train. Shawn will stand at the altar, waiting for me. We’ll be married. Start our lives. I’ll have everything I’ve ever wanted. A perfect family and home. Shawn as the head of The Boreman Group, and me as his wife. Everything I could ever want.
I pull out of my wedding fantasy. The grogginess of anesthesia is still thick. My thoughts feel like molasses. Sticky and sweet.
I hear someone shift next to me.
“Shawn?” My voice cracks and I don’t know if I managed to say his name or not. I reach up and try to feel my chest. Ouch. I flinch. There are bandages. Ice packs. The IV pinches the back of my hand. I flop my wrist back to the hospital bed.
Suddenly, I feel his presence, a warm maleness. I squint my eyes. He’s there, sitting on a metal folding chair. He’s partially blocked by a curtain. It’s a tight space. My vision’s fuzzy. My brain’s moving too slow. But, I know one thing…
“I love you,” I say.
I do. We’re perfect for each other. His business pedigree and my social standing check all the boxes. Our relationship is built on affinity and respect. The perfect combination. I’m not interested in five husbands, like my mother. One will do. And Shawn fits. He’s solid. Reliable. Efficient. He wants a wife who can be an elegant hostess and an asset to his business. I check his boxes too.
I got The Diagnosis two weeks ago. Those weeds of fear whispered that everything would change. That I wouldn’t survive. That Shawn would leave me. But Shawn told me he’d be here for it all. That nothing would change. Another mark in his favor. I don’t want anything to change.
“Tell me you love me,” I say. I need to hear it.
I reach. Grab for his hand.
When I find it, I nestle my palm in his. Pull him toward me.
His warm, strong grip reassures me. I sigh in pleasure.
He’ll tell me he loves me now.
I squeeze his hand.
The long pause makes my skin itch.
“Please,” I say.
Then he clears his throat.
My heart thumps. I swallow in trepidation. Something’s wrong. Although my foggy mind can’t quite grasp what.
“Is it awful?” I ask.
“No,” he says.
I hang onto that word and squeeze his hand. The room spins like a wobbling top near to falling over.
“I thought I might not wake up,” I say. Although, it’s not so scary now that I’m holding his hand.
His breath hitches and I hear the metal chair scrape the tiles as he scoots closer.
His thumb gently strokes the back of my hand. His touch vibrates over my body.
“Did they say they got it all?” I ask. Then I chide myself. Of course they got it all. We’re going to get married. Everything’s okay.
“I don’t know,” he says.
There’s something odd in his voice.
I tumble back into a floating mist. I brush my loose hand over the air above my chest. It feels suspended in jelly. I move my hand up and down. No breasts. No boobs. Ding dong the boobs are gone. I giggle and shake my head. It feels wobbly on my neck.
His thumb, rubbing my other hand, is doing something to my insides. I want to press up against him.
“You feel so good.”
I hear a sharp voice across the room. Not Shawn.
Did I say that out loud? My mother would’ve been mortified. I should be mortified. I’m not. What’s in these drugs? Who else is in this room?
Shawn clears his throat. I’ve made him uncomfortable.
Was my mother here? A thought bubbles up. What had she said yesterday? Oh, right.
“Do you still think I’m beautiful? My mother said you might not.”
I hear a low growl. Shawn never growls. Never.
“Honey, you’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”
My body warms. I try to scoot closer to his deep voice. I want to feel the low rumble of it down to my toes. I imagine his voice licking over my skin. I like this version of Shawn.
“She said you might get scared off. That some men run.”
Another low growl. I think he’s angry at my words. His hand tenses in mine.
“Some men are fools. I’ve never been a fool.”
“I’m going to marry you. I’d marry you tomorrow if I could.” Suddenly, a swell of emotion rushes through me. I want to marry this man more than anything in the world. There’s a desperate urgency there that I’ve never felt before. Blame it on the drugs, the mastectomy, whatever, it’s there.
He drags his free hand across my forehead and pushes my hair away from my face.
A warm fuzziness settles over me, but a niggle of foreboding is there too. I run my fingers over his hand. The back is covered in a light dusting of hair. And his finger pads have calluses. A slow chill slides down my spine.
Shawn has smooth hands and no calluses. None.
Plus, in no way does Shawn have a southern drawl. Or a low rumbly growl. And he has never in his life called me honey.
I slit open my eyes. The room tilts and rolls and the bright light momentarily blinds me. I blink. The man holding my hand slowly comes into focus.
He has dark brown wavy hair. A five o’clock shadow. Deep-set gray eyes. A full bottom lip with a kissable dent in the middle. He’s wearing a flannel and jeans with steel-tipped boots. And he’s looking at me intently. Holding my hand. Like he’s used to taking what he wants and never letting go. You can tell a lot about someone in the way they hold your hand. His grip is firm and confident. Reassuring. Possessive.
Nothing like the casual, loose hold of my fiancé.
Because he’s not my fiancé.
He’s not Shawn.
–The Fall in Love Checklist: A Novel by Romance Writer Sarah Ready