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Author's Chapter Notes:
Flashback. Shane opens up to a friend.
Indicates sign language.
One month earlier…

20 years had passed since her mom had left her. It felt like so much more than that. Since then she’d stayed with several different families, some she’d gotten along with more, some less. She’d lived out on the street and in cars, but never before had she felt as lonely as she did now. It hurt so much more than she’d ever have imagined it would, to know what it’s like to be loved by someone, or to at least think you were, and then have it all pulled away from underneath your feet, than to never have it in the first place. Then again, things were a bit different now.

She parked her car outside of Jodi’s place and grabbed the borrowed book she’d placed in the passenger seat to return it to her friend, hoping she wouldn’t be home so she’d have an excuse to just leave it by her door. No such luck though. She didn’t even get a chance to rethink the explanation she’d give her if she’d have to talk to her, because Jodi must have seen her and was waiting outside her car as she left it.

“Oh, shit!” Shane exclaimed when she noticed her and put the book under her arm so she could sign as she continued. “You startled me.”

“I’m sorry,” Jodi apologized and smiled a little. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just got home. Are you okay?”

Ignoring her question, Shane took out the book and handed it to her, waiting for her to take it before she explained. “I just wanted to return that to you. Thanks for letting me read it.”

Any other day Jodi would have asked her if she’d enjoyed it, but the heartbroken look on Shane’s face along with the smeared makeup and redness in her eyes that was barely visible in the darkness made her decide otherwise. Something had obviously happened, and it seemed bad. Even the fact that Shane had showed up at her home late on a Saturday night just to return a book was a clear indication that something was wrong, and she looked past her friend, through the window of her car and saw everything that was packed inside it.

“Shane,” she said softly and tried to meet her gaze. It was hard, as Shane struggled hard to avoid letting her; she seemed to find something about her boots extremely fascinating at the time. “What happened?”

“I’m leaving,” Shane said with her head still down, and after a moment she realized Jodi wouldn’t have heard, or even seen what she’d just said, so she tilted her head up and repeated it, signing it this time. I’m leaving town. I have to get out of here.

Having no idea what brought on this sudden decision, Jodi shook her head. You don’t look too good. I think you should stay here tonight, and if you really want to go, you can do that tomorrow.

”Jodi, I can’t,” Shane sniffled, taking a few short breaths. I didn’t think I’d see you, I was just going to… Please don’t make this harder for me than it already is, I have to go. She began to shake and soon felt her friend’s arms around her. Feeling Jodi’s hands gently stroking her back, she found herself calming down a little in her embrace.

“You don’t have to go anywhere,” Jodi said softly into her ear. “At least not tonight. Please just come inside with me.” Shane didn’t say anything but Jodi could feel her nodding slightly into her shoulder and she took a step back, smiling encouragingly at her. Shane didn’t return the smile, but it looked like she was at least trying to.

Together they walked inside in silence and Jodi kept a watchful eye on her, wondering what could possibly have gotten her into this state and hoping she’d somehow be able to get her to open up, if only a little. More than ever, Shane looked like she needed someone.

“You look like you could use a drink,” Jodi said softly after she closed the door behind them and Shane had wandered thoughtfully over to the couch, letting her fingers play along the back of it.

“No, thank you,” she mumbled, and once again she had to repeat it in sign for Jodi. Her thoughts were all jumbled and she berated herself for constantly forgetting that her friend couldn’t hear her. I… don’t really drink anymore.

Jodi frowned at her and tilted her head to the side, a confused half smile forming on her lips as she signed her response. Since when? Shane wasn’t exactly known for being a teetotaller unless she’d decided to be overnight, like the time she sworn off sex, but this seemed like something completely different. “I’ve seen you drinking—“ she said thoughtfully but didn’t get to finish her sentence.

“Yeah, I know,” Shane said quietly. I’ve been faking it. It seemed like it would be easier that way, not having to answer a bunch of questions every time I had to say no. Since the pain had gotten worse and she’d realized she had to stop, it hadn’t been that hard to hide; if she was getting a drink, she’d order one without any alcohol in it, if she had a beer she could just spit it back into the bottle. The night when she and Jenny got high after Jenny got fired from her own movie, she’d been so out of it that she hadn’t even felt any pain from the few sips of wine that she’d had.

She put her hands down and took a deep breath before she said it, knowing the questions would come this time and there’d be no turning back. I can’t drink alcohol anymore.

Jodi froze and looked terrified at her. Shane seemed serious enough to make it clear that this wasn’t just some whim. “Something’s wrong with your liver.” There could probably be other explanations, but from the way Shane looked at her now, she knew it was the right one.

“Yeah, there is, I don’t know how to say this…” she said, pulling her fingers through her hair. I have… She stopped when she realized she didn’t know how to sign the word she needed, and began to spell it out instead with her heart beating faster and faster for each letter, terrified, yet relieved that she didn’t have to say the word out loud.

C… a… n… c… e… r.

There, she’d said it, and it felt so final, like the death sentence she knew it could be. It was the first time she’d been able to tell someone since she found out and she could feel the tears coming back, unable to stop them. “That’s… that’s why I have to leave,” she said, biting her lip and trying to wipe them away.

“What?” Jodi was there next to her in an instant, and her voice was a lot softer than Shane had expected it to be. When she finally dared to look back up at her, she saw Jodi’s bottom lip trembling before she continued. “When did you find out?”

“Yesterday,” she said quietly, rubbing her nose before attempting to wipe away the tears that slowly trickled down her cheeks. “Uh… Before we went to your…”

“Shane…” She was starting to put the pieces together now. When they’d seen each other briefly the day before she had noticed something wasn’t quite right with her friend, but it hadn’t been the time and place for a deep conversation and she’d decided to leave it alone for the time being. Full of regret even though there was no way she could have known what was going on, she pushed that thought aside so she could at least focus now on what Shane was telling her.

Shane struggled with her signing, realizing she was too distracted to be able to get it right and instead she did her best to speak as clearly as possible. “If they think I’m strong enough to handle it, the surgery’s next week,” she told Jodi and flinched slightly when she felt her hand on her shoulder, regretting it immediately even though she couldn’t help it. “And then they’re going to start with the chemo as soon as possible after that.” She still hadn’t had nearly enough time to get used to and accept what was happening to her and she spoke of her illness as if she was talking about someone else, someone she barely even knew. When she’d calmed down a little after the initial shock of finally sharing her secret with someone, she was quickly starting to shut down and disconnect, reminding herself silently that it was her problem, and hers alone.

“Jodi, I haven’t told anyone else,” she said, relieved that her friend couldn’t hear her voice quivering.

“What?”

Jodi took a step back and stared at her, her eyes wide open in confusion and Shane let out a weary sigh. “Please,” she pleaded, somehow doubting it would do any good. “Please don’t say anything to anyone. Not Bette, not Max, none of them. I’m begging you.”

“But why?” Jodi wasn’t the type to tell her friends’ secrets, and with everything that had gone down when she found out Bette had been cheating on her, she didn’t plan on speaking to anyone in that group of friends unless she had to. Shane’s secret would be safe with her, but she still found it strange that Shane didn’t feel like she could talk to them about something like this. Maybe once the bad news had sunk in it would be easier for her to do it herself.

“I don’t want them to know,” Shane went on. “Please, I don’t want to make them go through this again, not after what happened to Dana. I don’t wanna remind them of that.” She felt that all too familiar stinging feeling go through her body when she mentioned Dana’s name. In the hours since she found out what was wrong with her, the memory of what had happened to one of her closest friends just wouldn’t leave her alone and it had made her more and more certain of the impact the news of her condition would have on her friends.

Shortly after she arrived at the Hammer the night before, she’d ended up getting into a heated discussion with Phyllis and she’d found out about a few things she wished she hadn’t. But learning how Bette and Alice really saw her – as someone who couldn’t be faithful to anyone to save her life, someone who’d only end up making Molly unhappy - hadn’t made her change her mind, but only convinced her that the decision she’d made was the right one. She couldn’t stay in their lives anymore, she’d caused the people around her too much pain already. She couldn’t stick around only to remind them of the painful loss they’d all suffered when Dana passed away. She had no right.

“Jenny doesn’t know?”

The sound of Jodi’s voice caused her to flinch again and snap out of her reverie, the gloomy thoughts seemed to evaporate only to be replaced by new ones that hurt even more. No, and she’s not going to, she signed, shaking her head. I did something, something bad.

They sat down on the couch and Shane began to explain what had happened with her, Niki and Jenny only hours before and she told her how she’d broken up with Molly, leaving out the details of her conversation with Phyllis, at least for now. Jodi stared at her in a state of shock at first as she listened to the story. She let her take her time and didn’t push even when Shane’s voice trailed off and she sat in silence for a while, something that happened more than once.

She’s not going to want to talk to me again after that, and that’s the way it has to be, Shane signed and paused to rake her hands through her hair, pulling it in the back of her neck and squeezing her eyes shut. “I don’t want her to have to deal with this, and she wouldn’t let me do it alone.” Of course she wouldn’t. Jenny would have done everything in her power to get her better, she’d have fought to the end and it would have destroyed her and she couldn’t let that happen to her. She kept telling herself she’d done the right thing, but she still missed her best friend like someone had stabbed a knife into her chest, cut her heart out and left a big gaping hole in its place. Nothing seemed to matter anymore. She couldn’t even see a point in trying to fight for a life without Jenny in it but that was her problem, not Jenny’s.

“She would be right. You shouldn’t go through this alone.” Jodi spoke softly and placed one of her hands on her friend’s back, rubbing it gently. What Shane had told her was finally starting to sink in and while she was still shocked and scared for her, she did all she could to put her own feelings aside so she could just be there for her. She didn’t want her to think of her as yet another person she’d have to hide from and lie to. “You can’t. Shane, you’re going to need people around you. Where were you gonna go?”

“I don’t know!” Shane said, exasperated, and looked at Jodi with tear-filled eyes. Away from everything. Anywhere but home.

Jodi offered a pale smile, but behind it she could feel her heart sinking. She’d never seen Shane so hopeless before and she obviously wasn’t thinking clearly. ‘You always think with your heart instead of your head,’ she thought, her own eyes tearing up again as she gently brushed a drop off of Shane’s cheek with her finger. “I think you should stay here. I’ll do everything I can to help you if you just let me.”

Shane shook her head, looking at Jodi like a deer in headlights. I can’t make you do that. Horrified when she realized how much she’d told her even though she’d been set on keeping everything to herself, she felt guilt come washing over her for all the problems she’d loaded onto her friend. That wasn’t why she’d come to see her and it was obviously time for her to go before she made it worse. She made a move to get up from the couch but Jodi placed her hand on her thigh, a gesture that caused her to exhale slowly and sink back down onto it.

You’re not making me do anything, Jodi signed, looking stubbornly at her and she was about to continue when Shane started shaking her head.

Jodi, when I said I didn’t want my friends to see me like that, that includes you. I never meant to tell you about any of this.

But you did tell me, Jodi pointed out, hoping she’d somehow be able to convince her to stay. And that means some part of you wanted to, or at least understood that you needed to. She slowly moved closer to her, looking at her intently until Shane finally met her gaze and then continued out loud. “You can’t do this all by yourself, and I’m not gonna let you. We’ll figure this out somehow. Come here, we’ll figure this out.”

Jodi held out her arms and Shane allowed herself to relax into her friend’s embrace again. She finally fell apart and her violent sobs caused her whole body to shake. Jodi whispered soothing words into her ear and continued to stroke her back, allowing her to let out all that she’d been keeping inside and for the first time in what felt like a lifetime, Shane didn’t feel alone.

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