Chapter Sixteen: Flashback
Forever Changed

"Hey, Maddy."

Madeleine's eyes flickered open, a smile touching her lips as she recognised her Aunt's features.

"Hi." She murmured, wetting her lips and struggling to bring herself into a more upright position. "Is it visiting time again already? I must've slept right through."

"When I left you yesterday your fever was pretty high. You were quite confused." Regine said softly, slipping her hand into her niece's warm grip and squeezing her fingers reassuringly. "The doctor said that they've kept it down overnight, however, and you do look better. They think they might be winning - are you feeling any better?"

"Limp and washed out." Madeleine admitted. "Tante Regine, I've never had flu quite like this before. I guess Luca and the others were right. I was overdoing the study thing before finals."

She sighed.

"Not that I'd tell him that. I hate hearing 'I told you so'. Especially coming from him. And I had to do something to take my mind off everything. I let too much slide after my break up with Jared - I had to get some work in if I was going to have a shot of meeting Harvard's demands."

"Too much working and worrying, not enough taking care of yourself." Regine scolded gently. "You're not that different from me, you know, in that respect. Before you came here, I did very little but sew and design and spend late nights at work, trying not to think about everything else. Seeing it in you makes me almost ashamed of myself."

"Shutting a guy out of your head is the worst thing." Madeleine sighed, relaxing back on her pillows. "I seem to have no luck. Infuriating as it is, I still love Luca. Even when I was seeing Jared, I was thinking of Luca. I know it sounds really terrible, but it's true. And it didn't help that Luca turned out to be right about Jared, and got to see it. I thought I was moving on. Instead I wind up with a complete jerk off who flees as soon as anything goes wrong."

She bit her lip.

"There'd have been no Harvard for me if I'd wound up pregnant. He's damn lucky I wasn't. Much as Luca is on thin ice right now, at least I know that if it had been him, he wouldn't have changed his cell phone number and quit campus to avoid me. He would at least have stuck by me."

"I think you spend too much thought time on Luca, when you should be focusing on getting well." Regine chided gently. "You gave me quite a scare the other morning, collapsing in the middle of the sitting room with a fever of 102 degrees. The doctors were talking about glandular fever and I feel more than guilty - you hare over here at a moment's notice after three heavy weeks of exams when you should have been relaxing and hanging out with your friends. Stop worrying about things in Connecticut. With Harvard's letter, doesn't that mean that going back there is out of the question? Surely it's Massachussets come the fall?"

"I guess." Madeleine smiled slightly. "Besides, you have nothing to feel guilty for. It's not your fault I feel like death. More likely I picked up a bug on campus, and working so hard made me vulnerable to it. And I wanted to come. I wanted out of Hartford for a while. Luca and Clay are all about the band - they have been for the last year, ever since they graduated. Whenever I've had a free period or a day off there's a message on my cell to meet in this place or that place to run through some sounds. They've gone through seventeen different performance names in the past twelve months. Luca's working as a pizza delivery boy. Clay's an office temp. They have degrees but they're pumping everything into this wretched band project and it's starting to get a little crazy. Now they expect me to do the same as them - get a meaningless job in Hartford, turn my life over to whatever musical whim hits Luca's fancy next. And I don't know if I am that girl, Tante Regine. It doesn't Or guaranteed. It's chasing dreams, but it's not realistic."

"And you like to have your feet firmly on the ground." Regine looked amused. "Well, you're only twenty two. My advice would be, go to Harvard and see where that takes you. You said you wanted to get into politics and all your work in the student union over the last year has obviously impressed the admissions people in Boston. Follow that. See where you end up. Who knows? Luca Ranieri may be just another daydream when you've done there. Two years is a long time...and if you are seriously talking about staying beyond that and going further, it could be four or five years, even."

"Yes, I know." Madeleine admitted. She sighed. "Going back and telling them that's what I want to do, though..."

She bit her lip.

"I haven't told him I got accepted to Harvard. I haven't told anyone, except you." She admitted. "I only got the letter at the last minute before I left for here, so I didn't even have a chance to let Mom know about it, either. I was going to call her, only then I got sick and it's been totally out of my mind. Part of me wants to just hide out here until the semester begins in Boston...but that's being a coward. I just don't know if I can face him and tell him his band isn't as important to me as it is to him. He's got so many ideas surrounding it - he's dragging his kid sister into the mix, and her friend is apparently some kind of writing genius, so already he's branching out. Probably he doesn't need me...but he still did ask me to stay. I guess that's what's holding me back, if I'm honest. Maybe that's the real reason I'm sick. I'm worrying about making the right choice. If I go to Harvard, that's like saying goodbye to Luca and my chances with him forever. And while I know going there is the right choice...the sensible choice...I can't help being in love with Luca. And wondering if, if I stayed, things could work out differently."

She closed her eyes.

"I'm babbling. Blame the fever."

"I still think you should put it all on one side until you've kicked this virus." Regine said firmly. "If worrying about your future is what's put you in the hospital, ma cherie, then it's time to stop thinking about it. Focus on your health and nothing else. You've got the whole summer, and you know that you're more than welcome to stay with me as long as you need to. I won't try and influence your decision - I think there are already too many people in your life doing that. There's no pressure in California. It's only June. Take your time."

"Yes, I know." Madeleine's eyes opened and she cast her aunt a smile. "Thank you. In truth, I haven't slept at all well recently. Not since everything blew up with Jared, and then finals, and then coming here and fretting about what to do. I've been tired and achey and if you ask me, fighting off this bug for a while now. I haven't felt quite myself for a while, but I had too much other stuff to focus on to worry about getting sick. It would be nice to just put everything on ice for a month or two, relax and kick back. I guess I deserve it. I got some pretty good scores."

"You did, and you should." Regine nodded her head.

"I am sorry I came here and dropped this on you, though." Madeleine looked rueful. "You have enough on your mind."

"Honestly, the distraction has been good for me." Regine said lightly. "You've brought my mind away from Russell's death, and I'm glad of it. In truth, I'd also be glad of the company. At least for a while. The house is empty...especially now I know he won't come back this time."

Madeleine nodded her head.

"Then I'll stay a while." She agreed. "At least till I'm feeling one hundred percent and ready to cope with whatever choices I have to make."

"May I interrupt?"

At that moment the doctor pushed open the door of the little side ward, casting aunt and niece a smile. "Well, you seemed to be sleeping quite peacefully when I checked in on you earlier, Madeleine - I think you're finally on the mend. You've given us a few scary days with that fever, but we're pretty sure we've got it under control. If you go on like this, we'll be cutting you loose before you know it."

"Good." Madeleine looked content. "I don't really like offence."

"I would be worried if a patient did like spending their time in hospital." The doctor smiled, but there was something in his eyes that made Regine's brows knot together.

"Dr Peterson, what is it?" She asked softly. "This is all good news, isn't it? Maddy can go home?"

"Well, she can leave the hospital soon. I wouldn't recommend flying interstate for a week or two." The doctor said simply.

"She's going to stay with me a while longer." Regine assured him. "If that's the problem, then it's not one at all. She's more than welcome. I used to see my nieces all the time when they were small, but it's been a good eight years since I last had quality time with either of them. It's been nice to have her...and I promise, I won't let her overstretch herself. I'll make sure she behaves."

"That's good." The doctor offered another smile, but again it did not completely reach his eyes. He turned his attention to the patient.

"Madeleine, you know that we took quite a few tests from you when you were admitted - do you remember?"

"Vaguely...I remember a lot of pin pricks." Madeleine nodded slightly. "Did you figure out what's up with me, then? I mean, Tante Regine said you thought it could be glandular that right?"

"No, my dear. It's not glandular fever. We've ruled that out completely." The doctor pursed his lips, sitting down in the chair beside the bed. "Listen to me very carefully. Most of the tests have come back negative. We've eradicated pretty much every other viral infection that it could be, based on your symptoms. There is one test we haven't had a definitive result back on yet. But...during testing, our lab boys did pick up on a particularly distinctive antibody in your blood stream."

"Antibody?" Madeleine looked confused. "But they fight infection...don't they? Aren't they a good thing?"

"Yes, they do fight infection, and yes, their presence is part of the reason you're feeling so much better." The doctor paused for a moment, eying his young patient keenly. "But Madeleine, you must understand that there is only one type of virus that causes these particular antibodies to generate in the blood stream. We haven't had the firm test results back yet, but based on that, well, we're fairly sure we can make a diagnosis."

"And it's not good, is it?" Alarm flickered in Madeleine's brown eyes. "What kind of virus? Dr Peterson, what are you trying to tell me?"

The doctor looked pained, and at length he sighed.

"It's never a diagnosis I like to make, especially in one so young." He said slowly. "But...Madeleine, we're very much afraid you'll test positive for H.I.V."

Prologue: Flashback: University of Connecticut, Winter 2009
Chapter One: Starcrossed
Chapter Two: Tante Regine
Chapter Three: Flashback: University of Connecticut: Winter 2011
Chapter Four: The Poem
Chapter Five: A Shock
Chapter Six: Nancy Confesses
Chapter Seven: Flashback: Break Up
Chapter Eight: Blackmail
Chapter Nine: Conflict
Chapter Ten: Flashback: Assanti Meddles
Chapter Eleven: Pay Off 
Chapter Twelve: Stefana Gambles
Chapter Thirteen: University of Connecticut: Finals Week
Chapter Fourteen: Cracks
Chapter Fifteen: A Tiny Piece Of Truth
Chapter Sixteen: Flashback: Forever Changed
Chapter Seventeen: Secrets Will Out

Chapter Eighteen: Fall Out

Chapter Nineteen: Flashback: A New Life

Chapter Twenty: Darren Admits

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