Hiding to Protect
By Venus Wright
“I went to go pick up milk. I need it for tonight’s casserole.” My heart pounded in my ears and a cold sweat joined my feverish body.
“Oh. Why didn’t you just say that?”
Without realizing I’d been tense, my entire body relaxed. I don’t think Joni actually wanted to know the answer, she had already turned back to the television playing Bob’s Burgers before I could respond.
I watched her for a second to make sure she was fully engaged by the actions on screen before walking to the kitchen. Sniffling, I slid the milk into the void in the door, a space that clearly held our previous jug. I peeked behind me to the illuminated living room before taking the Leukeran out of my jacket’s inner pocket and putting it in the back left corner of the fridge’s bottom shelf. Joni would never look behind the baking powder, I honestly doubted if she knew it was there in the first place.
I really had no reason to be so secretive, as if Joni may pop out of nowhere with question upon question. In addition, as if any of her questions would be malicious or misunderstood. Joni and I had been friends since we started college together four years ago, and, now seniors, we had grown closer than sisters. She had never snooped into my life more than anyone else’s best friend, and we knew every detail of each other’s lives and beings. Yet here I was closing the fridge and walking back to the living room with caution, in my own apartment.
I took my purple jacket off my shoulders, hanging it on a hook on the wall next to our front door. I felt around my neck at the long, knitted green scarf, making sure it was adjusted to cover the sides of my neck. As I walked to the opposite side of the couch and sat down, Joni shot a look at me.
“Well someone’s feeling social,” she smiled, “Don’t you wanna take off your scarf? You might get hot.”
I felt a pang in my chest. “No, it’s comfy.”
Joni studied me with her eyes for a moment before speaking, “Are you alright, June? You’ve been weird lately, like, right now, you’re always complaining about being hot but you’re wearing a knitted scarf inside.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but nothing came out. I couldn’t lie to her anymore, she’d be finding out the truth soon enough. But how would I even begin? “Joni, I’m sorry I haven’t been myself and I know I’ve been in my room a lot lately, and I haven’t been going to work, well, I’ve been working from home, which I didn’t tell you about that until now even though I could’ve just told you weeks ago. I’m not depressed like you thought, and I don’t have COVID, but I have cancer instead! Oh, and I’ve been hiding all of this from you even though we trust each other more than anyone. Love you!”
No. There was no good or even decent way to break it to her without coming across as some dishonest bitch that isn’t upfront with what’s going on in her life, not even with her best friend.
“June? You good? You’re sweating, honey.”
Joni put her hand on my knee like my mother would, that made me smile.
I have to say it eventually. I decided to go with the only words my mind could form.
I started my words slowly, “Joni, I’m sorry I’ve been acting differently, I really miss you and,” tears formed in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
I did my best to take a deep breath next to a silent Joni who merely rubbed her thumb back and forth against my right knee. I smiled again; she was so good to me. There wouldn’t be an easy way to do this, I had to just say it.
“Joni, I have cancer.”
Her thumb stopped moving but her hand tightened around my knee ever so slightly.
I continued, “That’s why I’ve been in my room so much, I feel like shit more often than not. I didn’t know how to tell you, and honestly I don’t know that I wanted to tell you and, I don’t know, make it real.”
I looked over to Joni who sat staring at me, tears streaming down her face. I couldn’t stop my own tears from flowing after that. I lay my hand overtop hers on my knee.
“I’m on medication for it, so they’re treating it and it is curable. I’m going to be okay, it’s not like I’m gonna die or anything. I just didn’t know how to tell you, I’m really, really sorry. I didn’t want to scare you.”
Joni smiled ever so softly and let out a light, friendly giggle. “Don’t apologize. Just don’t, you don’t need to. You can tell me anything and everything, June, and I’m going to be here beside you. I’ll do anything you need, help with anything you need, until you get better, and I’m so, so glad you’re gonna be okay. I don’t know what I’d do without you. And you don’t need to hide anything from me, I’m sorry you felt like you had to.”
I grasped her hand and squeezed it with a pressed-lip smile, “Thank you for understanding. Seriously. I love you so much. I won’t hide anything from you, pinky promise.”
I lifted my hand from hers with my pinky outstretched. She smiled and lifted hers, interlocking our two digits. We kissed the thumbs of our knuckles and released the grip. “I love you so much, June.”