Wild Ice

By: Rachelle Vaughn

Lauren went back inside and started a grocery list. She tapped the pencil against her chin and concentrated. She’d need more cat food, maybe some treats to lure Marsh out from his hiding place, some birdseed and suet for the birds, food for herself of course, peanuts for the squirrels, lots of sugar for making hummingbird nectar…

Lauren set the pencil down and got to work.





Chapter Three

Dust



JD Mason had met Darla Smyth at a charity fundraiser for kids. As cliché as it might sound, it was indeed love at first sight. Until he met Darla, JD thought love at first sight was a bunch of hooey fabricated by romance novelists and greeting card companies. But from the very first moment their eyes met over a crowded room full of kids, JD knew there was something uniquely special about Darla. She came up to him and introduced herself as the event coordinator, and as they say, the rest was history.

Their friends and family teased them about having the kind of love fairytales were made of and neither one of them argued. They were the ultimate couple. He had his burgeoning hockey career and she had her charity work. Numerous dates followed that first encounter and a few months later, Darla and JD were married in an intimate ceremony in Napa Valley.

Darla came from a wealthy family who spent their time giving back to the community. Her father made a fortune in the advertising business and his two daughters had devoted much of their time to volunteering for worthy causes. When their parents passed away, they left their fortune to Darla and Sloan, and the two sisters invested every dime back into the community. JD respected and admired what Darla did. It made him proud to have a generous wife who cared about others less fortunate than her. She made a difference doing what she loved and he got to play hockey for a living. The couple couldn’t have been happier. Except maybe if they had children to share all that happiness with.

After deciding they were ready to start a family, they began trying to get pregnant. It was the next natural step in their relationship and they couldn’t wait to be parents. Darla wanted to be a mom more than anything and JD liked the idea of having someone to pass his hockey skills down to. At first, the trying was fun, but then after a year of being unsuccessful, they became discouraged.

JD was tested and relieved to find he wasn’t shooting blanks. When it was Darla’s turn, the discovery the doctors made was not one of infertility or not, but much, much worse. The diagnosis was two ugly, unexpected words: ovarian cancer. Suddenly, their lives went from being about menstrual cycles and planning afternoon sex around her most fertile days to that of basic survival. JD didn’t care about her infertility. They didn’t have to have kids. None of that mattered anymore. That wasn’t a deal breaker. Losing Darla to cancer was.

JD was familiar with a challenge. More than once, he’d beaten insurmountable odds while playing hockey. His team had come out victorious against teams that were better and more prepared. He’d recovered from near career ending injuries. He’d come from behind when the scoreboard predicted the story of the other team winning. But none of those battles could compare to fighting surface epithelial-stromal tumors. Caught in the early stages, patients had better odds of beating the cancer, but unfortunately Darla’s had already progressed to stage four.

JD felt worthless sitting by while Darla underwent surgery and treatment. There was absolutely nothing he could do to help except make his wife as comfortable as possible. That was the hardest part—standing by. He was a pro-athlete type of guy with a take charge type of mentality who took action and asked questions later, if at all. He was never very good at standing on the sidelines or sitting on the bench. Putting his trust in a team of medical professionals wasn’t his cup of tea either, but he did the best he could.

Not only were the odds disheartening, but it was also difficult for both of them to give up any claim they had on their future together. They had spent plenty of time planning for the future—for a family, for their careers, financially with solid investments —but that all became irrelevant with that grisly diagnosis.

When she became too sick and had to give up her charity work, JD’s heart broke for her. He retired from hockey and he and Darla became teammates. “We’re in this together,” they said. “We can beat this.” It was Team Mason vs. Team Cancer. But the gimmicks and games were useless. They’d been in it together until the end and now JD was left all alone. A team of one.

Darla had been calm about the diagnosis. She’d hammered out a game plan with her doctor and fought the cancer the only way she knew how—with charts and graphs, numbers and figures. But all of those graphs, numbers and figures revealed a stark and negative truth: the cancer was winning. Round after round of chemotherapy didn’t have any effect on the cancer and Darla succumbed after five short months. No amount of time would have been enough to prepare JD for what life without her would be like. But five measly months? It was a blink of an eye. More like a practical joke delivered by Mother Nature herself than something that could happen in reality.