“No!” There it was, the stomp into the ground that Max had been waiting for, complete with accompanying flailing of her arms. “She would have told me. I would know.” She buried her fingers in her thick mane of dark hair and just stood there, holding on to it and staring at him until she managed to calm herself down a little.
“She deliberately kept it from you, Jenny, I’m sorry,” he replied, not feeling like he could possibly apologize enough after lashing out at her the way he had. “I wanted to tell you for so long but I promised her I wouldn’t. But you needed to know. I think… I think you might be the only one who can help her now.”
“How?” she asked quietly while a single tear found its way down her cheek. She shrugged hopelessly and raised her hand to wipe it away. “What could I possibly do about that, especially now after everything?”
“We’ve all been trying,” he explained, wanting to put his arms around her to try to comfort her, but he sensed she probably wouldn’t let him. “I mean, Jodi, Tom and me, and it works in some ways. We can make sure she’s never alone if something happens and take her to the hospital and those kinds of things, but it doesn’t change anything. It’s like she doesn’t care anymore when she doesn’t have something to fight for.”
“I don’t understand any of this,” Jenny whispered. “It doesn’t make any sense, I think… I think I have to sit down.” With a little help from Max, she eased herself down on the ground, leaning her back against the wall and not caring if she got her clothes dirty. She kept trying to think, but her thoughts just came crashing into each other and confused her even more. Shane was sick and it was serious, and she hadn’t even told her. She’d have had to know before the thing with Niki and… Oh god. Maybe…
Her train of thought came to a screeching halt and she swallowed, trying to start all over again. Instead she got the feeling that there was something she should remember, something important that could explain all of this if only she knew what it was.
While she sat there racking her brain, Max sat down in front of her and tried to look into her eyes. “Jenny, are you okay?” he asked softly, knowing it was a stupid question but still one he needed to ask. First she shook her head, then nodded before she finally just shrugged as the tears started coming again. “She talks about you,” he began to explain, “every single day, but she doesn’t even know she’s doing it because she’s so out of it.” She looked at him with confusion written all over her face, and he explained. “The chemo does that to her. It makes her forget… Having to explain to her what happened and seeing her reaction over and over again, it’s not…”
“Did she—did she know before she…?”
Jenny couldn’t even finish her sentence, but it wasn’t that hard for Max to figure out that she was talking about Shane and Niki. “Yeah, she knew she was sick before then,” he told her.
“Why would she do that?” she asked, and never before had he heard her sounding so hopeless. “Why didn’t she tell me?”
“Listen, Jenny, the whole thing with Niki…” he started, certain there was no way his words would ever make sense to her, no matter how true they were. “Shane did that intentionally to push you away and make sure you didn’t try to find her when she left.” Jenny opened her mouth to say something, but he held up his hand, silently begging her to let him finish. “She thought that if she tried to tell you, you would have talked her into staying and she didn’t want you to.”
“She hurt you that night because she thought it would be easier for you to hate her for what she did, than to have to watch her die, because she was sure that was gonna happen.”
Jenny sat in silence for a while and stared out in front of her until she finally shook her head and turned back to Max. “That’s bullshit.”
“It wasn’t to her.”
“Does she even believe that herself?” She peered at him through her tears and pursed her lips sceptically. “Does she really expect me to believe that?”
Max shook his head and looked at his watch. “No. She never wanted you to find out about any of this. She’ll hate me when she finds out I told you, but I think it’s for the best. I know that after what she did, you’re probably not even gonna want to talk to her, but she needs you right now. The rest of us… I don’t know, she just keeps trying to push us away.”
“But if it’s like you’re saying, that’s exactly what she did to me.”
“That was different. She did that because she thought it would keep you safe somehow, but we just bug the crap out of her. She acts like she’s sick of having us around because the only person she wants with her isn’t there.”
“Where is she?”
Before Max had a chance to say anything, the door opened and Tina emerged, looking concerned from one to the other. “Hey…” she said softly, stepping outside but holding the door open with one hand. “Is everything all right? You just disappeared so I thought I’d check on you.”
“Yeah,” Max replied immediately, and Jenny nodded and sniffled a little.
“Yeah, we’re okay,” she said and tried to smile at her friend but she didn’t think it turned out quite right. “Could you just give us a sec? We just…”
“Of course,” Tina said quickly.
“…need a moment,” Jenny continued quietly and looked up at Max as Tina closed the door behind her again. “Max, where is she?” she repeated, begging him silently to answer her this time. “I need to see her.”
He reached out his hand to help her up off the ground and she gratefully accepted it and stood up on unsteady legs. “She’s probably still at the hospital,” he told her, “Jodi and Tom took her there this morning and it usually takes a few hours.”
“Can we go there?” she asked, looking hopefully at her roommate who just shook his head.
“No, we can’t just walk in there when she’s getting the chemo,” he said, but when he saw the devastated look on her face, he continued. “Anyone who’s gonna be in the room with her has to get tested before they go in there to make sure that they’re okay, because if someone has something as simple as a cold, it could kill her. But if she’s not too sick later tonight, I’ll take you over to Jodi’s, if you want.”
Quietly pondering, Jenny stood in front of him, playing absentmindedly with the hem of her jacket. So Shane was staying with Jodi. She probably had this whole time, and she hadn’t known anything about it. She’d known nothing at all about everything that was going on in Shane’s life and it made it all feel like none of it was really happening. Maybe now just wasn’t the time to try to get it all to make sense.
“She really has cancer?” she asked him finally, her voice barely more than a whisper, and he nodded, emotionally exhausted and unable to say anything else about it. Instead he just wrapped his arms around her and held her, and when she began shaking in quiet sobs, he could no longer hold his own back either.
A couple of hours later, Max and Jenny returned home. When they’d finally been able to stop crying and Jenny had gone to the ladies room to do something about her makeup, she had returned to their table and explained to their friends that they had to go but without mentioning anything about Shane or what happened.
Once that was taken care of, Max drove to the hospital, not to go and see Shane but to get Jenny tested to make sure that once she did, she wouldn’t risk giving her a cold or something even worse. Max got tested too, because even though he did it regularly, he figured it didn’t hurt to make sure he was okay for Shane’s sake.
“The chemo shuts down her immune system completely,” he’d explained to her again, “so if one of us is about to come down with something and we don’t even know it yet, she might catch it and it could get really bad.” He hadn’t meant to scare her, and even though she’d looked a bit freaked out by his words, she needed to know the risk was there, though the whole time Jenny had been very determined about seeing Shane and seemed prepared to do just about anything it took to do that.
Now that they were home, it was starting to seem like the bad news had really begun to sink in and she didn’t say much, just took Sounder’s leash and got him ready to go out for a walk.
“Are you gonna be okay?” Max asked her carefully, trying to meet her gaze but she kept her eyes on her Pomeranian who seemed more than happy to have her home again and jumped around her feet while he waited for her to open the door.
Jenny nodded slowly when she placed her hand on the door handle. “Yeah, I just—I just need to think,” she said and nodded again, pursing her lips before she finally looked at him. Her eyes were still a bit red from all the crying and he could relate; he’d had his fair share of that the last month.
“Okay. I’ll be out in the studio if you need me or anything. I’m really sorry about all this.”
“Don’t be,” she said quietly. “It’s not your fault. I’m glad you finally told me.” She didn’t wait for a response, but just opened the door and took off with her dog. Jenny needed to be alone for a while, and she needed to do something. It felt like someone had pressed pause on her life and the only thing that could get it started again was getting to see Shane, finding out what was really going on with her, and getting some answers. She didn’t even know what she expected, or if Shane would even agree to talk to her. Something must have happened in the first place that had made her push her away like she did. It had to.
She’d always thought Shane knew her better than anyone and it cut her deeper than her razorblade ever could have, knowing that her best friend had chosen not to have her around anymore at the one time when she could possibly have been able to do something to help her in return for all she’d done for her in the past. The Shane she knew could never have done something like that.
The last month Jenny had done everything she possibly could to make herself hate her but without the least bit of success. It made it a little easier to pretend and try to convince the rest of the world she never wanted to see, speak of, or even think of Shane McCutcheon again. But the truth was that not a minute had passed since then when she hadn’t thought about her and missed her. She’d cried herself to sleep countless nights, trying to understand what went wrong but there was no one there to give her the answers she needed.
Now after Max fell apart and let it out, she finally knew and had a chance to at least try to put the pieces together. The reason why Shane was gone was worse than she’d ever imagined, but now that he’d told her, she might be able to help somehow.
When her dog had done what he needed to, she went back inside and took out the vacuum; she needed something to do and she was too distraught to write so cleaning seemed like a suitable way to pass the time until they could go over to Jodi’s. She started going through the rooms, followed by Sounder who loved the vacuum and seemed to think it was a friend of his and treated it as such, until she got to Shane’s room and froze by the closed door.
Turning off the vacuum, she took a deep breath before she put her hand on the doorknob – she’d barely gone into Shane’s room unless she had to since she disappeared because she just didn’t feel like she had any right to. She kept it clean, that was all, but even then it was hard for her to see the room without her, and most of her things, in it.
The night of the wrap party, after Jenny had caught Shane with Niki, it had taken hours before she finally managed to go back home. She hadn’t known what Shane planned on doing, but she’d been certain she couldn’t face her and she’d wanted to avoid the house for as long as possible. Once she did get back, she’d found the door to Shane’s room wide open and the room itself nearly empty, void of all the things Shane used on a daily basis.
As she opened the door, she closed her eyes without thinking about it, bracing herself before facing the emptiness behind it. ‘She doesn’t live here anymore,’ she thought as if she still couldn’t believe it and stepped into the room with Sounder in tow. Was she ever going to stay there again? Jenny had tried to keep the room clean for her if she would suddenly decide to come back, and there was hardly any dust or dirt there at all. She wanted it to remain as spotless as it would have been if Shane had still lived here and it seemed more important now than ever.
Bending down to turn the vacuum on again, she did her best to clear her mind of all thoughts and focus on the task at hand so she could get out of there as soon as possible. She clenched her jaws together as she made her way through the room and then told Sounder to come down from Shane’s bed where he’d laid down to sleep, and follow her out. He reluctantly did as he was told, barking when he walked through the door.
“You miss her too,” Jenny whispered, fighting back the tears that had threatened to fall for quite some time now. Sounder had always loved Shane and it must be weird for him too to not have her around anymore.
As if in a daze, she walked into the kitchen just as Max entered through the backdoor.
“You’re cleaning?” he asked, arching an eyebrow when he saw her lethargically pulling the vacuum after her over to the table to sit down. Jenny wasn’t exactly known for an interest in housekeeping and it wasn’t what he’d expected to see when he walked in.
Sighing wearily with a slow nod, she leaned back in her chair and faced him. “Yeah, I just… I just started doing it, but I guess maybe – maybe it’s because I want it to be clean enough if she wants to come back. Come home.” Her own words embarrassed her and she couldn’t bear looking at him, couldn’t let him see that she still hoped things could be what they used to be. She was so used to pretending she never wanted to see Shane again, and it was hard for her to suddenly start showing how she really felt about everything that had happened. She didn’t want anyone to see her as a victim, even though she knew that was the last thing Shane would have wanted to make her out to be.
“It wouldn’t be easy,” Max said softly and took her hand that rested limply on the tablecloth. He knew from his own experience that even if Shane, when she was healthy, had been one of the sweetest and most gentle people he’d ever known, being near her and trying to take care of her when she was sick could be a real challenge for everyone involved. He knew she didn’t mean to be like that and he still had strong conviction that it would be different for Jenny. Shane would want her around, deep down at least, he was sure of that. “But if you think you could do it,” he continued after clearing his throat, “and if that’s what she wants, then I’ll do whatever you need me to do. And I’m sure Tom and Jodi would still help out.”
“Thank you, Max,” she said and managed a small smile.
“But yeah…” He bit down on his bottom lip because he knew what he was about to start was a conversation they would need to have sooner or later that day. Even if he doubted it would be a problem, he’d still known Jenny for a few years and it was better to be safe than sorry. “Look, Jenny, before we go over there, you have to promise something.”
She shifted around in her seat until she sat up straight, waiting somewhat nervously for what was about to come. ”What?”
“You can’t yell at her or cause some kind of scene,” he started, trying to make his voice as soft as possible in attempt to not sound like he was accusing her of anything because that wasn’t how he meant it. But he still had all the things Jenny had said about their former roommate fresh in his memory. “Or tell her all the things you’ve been saying to everyone else since she left,” he added. “She’s not strong enough to handle that right now, so if that’s a part of why you’re so anxious to see her, then…”
“Max,” she interrupted him and shook her head slowly. “It’s not. That’s not… She’s my friend.”
“I know that.”
“No, no, I know,” she said quietly. “I don’t mean it like that. I mean…” She paused when she realized she wasn’t even sure of what she meant. “When I found her with Niki she kept saying that, and maybe she really meant it. You know? Maybe she actually thought what she did was the right thing to do.”
Max tried to hold back a short dry laugh but it still escaped his lips. He couldn’t help it; with all that he’d said already he thought it should be obvious. “Jenny, she wouldn’t have done it for any other reason. She wanted to do what was best, best for everyone. It made sense to her at the time.”
Jenny didn’t say anything for a while; instead she sat in silence, wondering if the last thing Max had said meant that Shane regretted it now and whether or not she knew she’d made the wrong decision when she left her. Only Shane could answer that question. “I need to see her,” she said after a moment, “even if it’s just for a short while. If she wants me to go, I’ll leave.” It wasn’t a question for permission, Max had already promised they would go; it was more of a case of Jenny Schecter thinking out loud.
“I don’t think she will. But you know she had chemo today and she won’t have a lot of energy. She usually doesn’t.”
“It’s just… so strange,” she whispered and looked into his eyes. “You’ve known this whole time and you didn’t say anything to anyone of us.”
He looked down at his hands that lay folded in his lap and when he replied his voice was even more quiet than usual. “I’m sorry about that but… She asked me not to say anything and I promised her I wouldn’t. I still wouldn’t have if I hadn’t thought there was no other way.”
“But why would she do that?” she sounded so hurt and vulnerable that it immediately made him feel a million times worse. “What was so wrong about me knowing that—that she had to lie and hurt me the way she did? I want to understand but I can’t.”
“I think you should talk to her about that.”
“Why?” Jenny prodded. “You don’t know anything about it?”
“No, I do know,” he started, not knowing how to phrase it properly, “but I think the whole story is something you need to hear from her. Not tonight, but if you guys can talk like civilized people, she’ll tell you eventually. She’ll explain everything, just give her some time.”
“Okay,” she nodded and Max got up and grabbed a water bottle from the fridge.
“I’m gonna go and call Tom and see how things are going, and I’ll let them know I told you,” he said. “If you need me for anything, you know where I am. Oh, and Jenny?”
“There’s one more thing. When we go and see her, it’ll be right after she comes home from the hospital and the chemo tends to make her act a bit… I don’t know, different sometimes. If she says something weird, don’t take it personal and start fighting with her no matter how bad it might sound, she might not even know she’s saying it, or that it’s you she’s talking to.”
“Okay,” Jenny repeated and said bye to Max, waiting until he was gone before she allowed herself to freak out about what she’d just learned. It was probably not the best thing to do, but she’d kept catching herself comparing Dana and Shane, and it scared her that from the few things she knew about Shane’s situation, it seemed more serious than Dana’s had been – and Dana wasn’t with them anymore.
Max hadn’t wanted to say too much about her condition, he’d just assured her that everyone involved was doing all they could to make her better, and he’d said she should try to not worry too much about it if she could avoid it. The most important thing for her to do, was to just be there for her and she’d learn the rest along the way. She thought she was beginning to fully understand that now. All the anger and hurt she’d felt the last month was going to have to take a backseat right now, because compared to Shane’s health her own hurt feelings didn’t matter anymore. As long as Shane was still breathing, she could deal with the rest later.