ON ANGEL'S WINGS
Chapter Eighteen: Fallout
So, here you are."
Madeleine turned, apprehension mingled with tears in her dark brown eyes as she took in the speaker. She drew her coat protectively around her, curling up in a corner of the pool house as he came to sit beside her. It was the next morning and, having risen early, the singer had grabbed her breakfast and taken refuge around the back of the Diablo estate, not willing to make contact with any of her inquisitive, shellshocked housemates.
"I've been looking for you all morning." Luca spoke quietly, his own expression unreadable. "Why are you hiding from me, Maddy?"
"So we don't have to have this chat." Madeleine said flatly, folding her arms across her chest. "What good would it do either of us, anyhow? Go back to the house, Luca. All you'll do is make it real for both of us. We don't need to remember this."
"No, I'm not going back to the house." Luca shook his head. "I'm upset, Maddy, and I want to know why you never thought to tell me. Something like this...did you think that I wouldn't want to know?"
"I don't care what you want." Madeleine's voice shook. "This is my life, Luca. It's my decision. My choice. I don't have to tell anyone anything. It's not your business. Now leave it alone. I'm not going to say any more about it."
"That's it?" Luca reached out to grab her wrist. "My best friend has a potentially fatal illness and all you can say is 'leave it alone?"
"Yes." Madeleine pulled her hand away, glaring at him. "And if I am so important to you, you'd respect that."
"Maddy, have you even the slightest idea how this makes me feel? That you didn't trust me...with something that affects your whole life?"
"Have you even the slightest idea how it makes me feel?" Madeleine flared up at this, pushing him away from her and getting to her feet. "Did that even occur to you, Luca? This isn't about you. It's about me! I'm the one with the damn virus. Not you! I don't care how it makes you feel. If you had any idea..."
She faltered, fighting against her tears, and Luca was on his feet, coming to put a hand on her shoulder.
"No." Madeleine wheeled on him, anger in her eyes. "Don't touch me. Don't play nice and tell me how sorry you are and how it sucks and how it's a tough break and all of that. All right? Don't. Don't say anything. If I wanted you to fuss over me and feel sorry for me, Luca, I'd have pulled the card out a long time ago. I've dealt with it. It's my problem and my business. I don't need you or anyone else trying to mollycoddle me or pity me. I dont need you reminding me of things I can't have, so don't even try. Go away. Leave me alone."
"No. Not in this state." Luca shook his head.
"Why not?" Madeleine put her hands on her hips. "In case I do something stupid?" A humourless smile touched her lips. "That would be ironic, wouldn't it?"
"Maddy, stop it! You're frightening me!"
"By telling the truth?" Madeleine demanded. "By telling you how I really feel for the first time since that day you damn well ditched on me to run home to your little sister? Is that what scares you, Luca? Or is it the fact that I'm not some helpless little girl who needs your protection or your help? Don't be damn stupid. I'm upset, I'm not suicidal. I value my life probably more than you ever will. Just because Stefana goes off the rails sometimes, it doesn't mean I'm next. I'm not her."
Luca reeled back as if stung. He stared at her, aghast.
"Since I...?" He trailed off. "Dammit, Maddy, have you been hating me as long as that?"
"I don't hate you, you stupid man." Madeleine sank down onto the bench, burying her head in her hands. "I love you. I've always loved you. You know that. But I came back to Connecticut knowing I could never have you. Never. And so I kept it inside. All of it. Always. I told myself that I didn't care if you loved Emily. Didn't care if you slept with Topaz. It didn't matter, so long as you were happy and so long as I didn't have to put myself out there, be pitied for feeling something I could never have returned. Now you know and you want to play the protective big brother and I can't deal with that! I can't have you feel sorry for me. Don't you understand that? That's the only strength I have."
Luca sat down heavily on the edge of the window sill.
"I had no idea." He murmured.
"And that's why I told you to go." Madeleine raised her gaze to his. "Because this is a conversation we neither one of us need to remember."
"No, I think we do need to have it." Luca shook his head. "Even if I don't want to hear it. I feel like there's a lot of things you haven't been telling me, and if I'm really as good a friend to you as I thought I was...well, I need to hear those things."
"What's the point?" Madeleine asked hopelessly. "You can't change them."
"No." Luca admitted. "But I can listen. And try to understand. If I can."
Madeleine drew a shaky breath of air into her lungs.
"I never chose to be in Diablo." She said softly. "It chose me."
"Harvard didn't reject me, Luca." Madeleine sighed. "I didn't mess up on my finals...I didn't miss the marks I needed. I got them. Right across the board. They accepted me. I still have the letter. Somewhere."
"What?" Luca's eyes widened. "But...why did you...?"
"Because two years at Harvard is still two years putting your life on hold." Madeleine reached up to wipe away the tears that spilled haphazardly down her cheeks. "I didn't know if I had those two years to spare."
Luca was silent for a moment, digesting this.
"So you came back to us because of that." He said softly. "You came back to Diablo because you were diagnosed HIV positive, and you decided that you couldn't spend any more time studying when you could be out there taking a chance."
"I wanted to experience as much of life as I could. I still do." Madeleine nodded her head. "Diablo's break has meant I've travelled the globe, met all kinds of people, performed in the best places..." She faltered, then, "Luca, I didn't want to be just another face in the crowd. Another headstone. I don't know how long I have. But when I do go...people will remember me. You will remember me. I won't just be forgotten. I'll have done something to make a difference."
Luca swallowed hard at the sincerity in her tone, shaking his head slowly.
"You're not going to die." He said quietly, then, after a moment's pause, "Are you?"
"We're all going to die, Luca." Madeleine said flippantly, but there was an edge to her tone.
"You know what I mean."
"Do you really want to know the answer to that?" Madeleine raised an eyebrow. Luca nodded his head.
"Yes." He said. "I want to know, Mad. You mean a whole lot more to me than you realise...the idea of losing you is not one I like."
Madeleine bit her lip.
"Honestly, I don't know." She admitted. "I've had HIV since I graduated, pretty much. I mean, it was Jared's little legacy to me. But it's unpredictable. The longer I can stay off medication, the better my chances of longevity. Once I start needing drugs, well, then it's on it's way south and I don't know what will come next. But for now...I'm not thinking of that. I'm just focusing on looking after my diet and my health and keeping my head above water. So far it's stable. And I'm fine."
"Jared." Luca's eyes darkened and he clenched his fists. "I knew he was a son of a bitch. I didn't realise he stooped that low."
"It might not be very Christian, but I hated him for a long time." Madeleine confessed. "I couldn't forgive him for ruining my life. But now..." She shrugged. "I guess I have, now."
"I wouldn't." Luca said grimly. "It's a good thing I don't know where he is. He'd get a new face out of the encounter."
"I told you I didn't need your protection." Madeleine said bluntly. "And besides, he wouldn't much care."
"He's dead, that's why." Madeleine said simply. "He died of pneumonia two years ago."
Luca stared, and she nodded.
"Yes." She agreed. "Exactly what you're thinking. It caught up with him, that's all."
Luca muttered a curse.
"I wish you'd told me about this from the start." He said softly. "I feel like I've let you down somehow...but I'm not quite sure how. That I've not been a very good friend...that none of us have. That if you felt you couldn't trust us..."
"Oh, stop being silly." Madeleine shook her head, impatient. "I told you already, it's not about you. It's about me. About my way of handling things. I need things to be normal, Luca. When I made my choice and came to Connecticut to commit to you guys, I decided that nobody who didn't already know would ever need to. Tante Regine knows, and my doctors. And that's all. Not even my mother or sister. What they don't know won't hurt them, and if they don't know, they can't treat me differently. Nor could you. And it's easier to believe something isn't real when nothing around you suggests that it is. Does that make sense?"
"I guess." Luca tilted his head on one side, considering. "Out of sight, out of mind?"
"But what if something had gone wrong? What if you...?" Luca faltered, and Madeleine frowned.
"Do you think that, if it had, I would still have kept it from you?" She whispered. "When I'd need you all more than ever? No. But right now, I'm fine. I'm like you or anyone else. I'm healthy. Fit. Active. Capable. Nobody knows I'm sick, and nobody needs to. I need to focus on life, not worry about death. I don't know whether I'll see forty, or fifty. Or if I won't be one of the lucky ones in the long run. But that's the thing with life. Nobody knows that. And there was no sense in making you all worry about something that you could do nothing to change."
She sat back against the wood of the poolhouse wall, letting out a heavy sigh.
"But now you know, everything will change." She said sadly. "How could it not?"
"None of us are going to judge you, Mad. We're not going to suddenly turn on you because of this."
"No, I know that." Madeleine glanced at her fingers. "But it will change. You'll think about it. You'll look at me in a new way. Wonder at the start of each year if we'll all be together again next year. If you'll play in Christmas with me the next time around, or if, one time, I won't be there. You'll think of getting older...or getting married, and having kids...but somewhere along the way, you'll worry about me disappearing. Because now I'm not the only one who knows that I will. You know too."
Luca chewed on his bottom lip, struggling to fight against tears of his own.
"I guess that's so." he managed at length. "But it's only because we love you, Mad. You know that, don't you? If we worry, it's because we love you."
"I know." Madeleine nodded. "But it's worry you didn't need. I don't want it to colour the rest of our time together, that's all. Like I said, I might see fifty. Even more, if I'm amazingly lucky, or if they make huge advances in drugs in the next few years. But it could be a lot sooner. And I don't want to spend all of my life being watched for any sign of weakness. If something is wrong, I'll know it is and I'll tell you. Till then...can you leave it be? Trust me? Treat me as if nothing was wrong at all?"
"I can try." Luca said slowly. "It won't be easy, but..."
"But it's the one thing you can do for me, to prove how much of a friend you really are." Madeleine reached out and grasped his hand. "In that light...?"
"In that light, I'll do my best. We all will." Luca squeezed her fingers, standing and pulling her to her feet. "In the meantime, Mad, I am sorry. For what happened all those years ago - when Mom kicked Steffi out of home. For putting that rift between us then...and for not realising part of it was still there."
"Don't." Madeleine looked rueful. "In some ways it's easier to stay in love with a friend. Someone who you know you'll always have, regardless of his choices. It's safer. And the best I have, really. I can't exactly go out there and find a partner, not now. I won't marry. Won't have kids. So this is better. Diablo is my world...my life. Music is everything I have to focus on. The fact you're part of that is one of the things that makes me still love you as much as I do."
"You could find someone, you know. Not every man would judge."
"But I'd be afraid to put someone at risk." Madeleine said softly. "And in this particular example, my faith and my chances of romantic happiness are in conflict. I've seen how it can go wrong. Been there. Been used. I won't do that to someone else's life."
"You said you wanted to live your life." Luca pointed out. "Isn't this just a half-life, if you won't let yourself trust someone? I don't like to think of you on your own."
Madeleine was silent for a moment, then she raised serious brown eyes to his green ones.
"A half life is better than no life." She said quietly. "I'm not unhappy, Luca. Not really. I've come to terms. I'm resigned to it. My life has become what it is because of that...some of it has been for better, some for worse. It's how it goes."
She sighed pensively.
"God does everything for a reason." She added. "And I haven't completely worked out what His reason was for giving me this. But I think part of it was to stop me sitting back and taking life for granted. To go out there, be strong and independant and take what I wanted, rather than worry about falling back and failing. He wanted me to take a chance, to join up with you guys and be the singer in a band. I thought maybe I'd make a difference one day by getting involved in politics, and making a stand. But more people listen to celebrities than they do to politicians. I think this is why He pointed me in this direction. That somehow, being part of Diablo, I'm going to make more of a difference than I could have if I'd gone to Harvard. This is what He wanted me to do."
"That's kinda extreme." Luca raised an eyebrow. "I know you believe in that stuff, Mad, and if it helps you cope with it, then I guess that's cool. But I think you made the decision yourself, to make the best of what you had. Diablo has just rewarded your perseverance, that's all. You're a big part of our success. And one of the team. It would never have been the same band without you."
A slight smile touched Madeleine's lips.
"I'm glad you think that." She said softly. "Because now, I wouldn't
give up this band for the world."
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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