cancer, chapter one, Christie Cote, contemporary, debut novel, excerpt, leukemia, Rain, Romance, Teen, young Adult
I watched the rain hurl itself against my window. Every so often I would see a flash of light in the darkness. The weather seemed to know how I felt and was displaying my sorrow outside. I felt compelled to go out and feel the rain against my skin. It felt like the sky was crying for me, even though I knew in reality that wasn’t true.
I moved from my perch at the window and made my way out of my room, through the house, and out the door. I didn’t bother to put on shoes or a jacket. I stepped outside onto the cool wet grass wearing just my jeans and a light pink fitted t-shirt. I pulled out my elastic hair band and let my blond hair fall around my shoulders. I wiggled my toes in the grass; it felt freeing. The rain fell on me, beginning to soak my hair and clothing; but I didn’t care. I invited the rain to drench me and wash away my pain.
Closing my eyes, I raised my head up toward the sky and extended my arms outward; the drops soaked into my skin. As I stood listening, the only sounds I could hear were the rain pounding on whatever surface it touched and the occasional boom of thunder. Breathing in deeply, I opened my eyes and spun around and around in the rain like I had when I was a little girl. I usually acted like the rain would melt me if I got caught in it. I hadn’t behaved this way since I was around seven. It felt exhilarating and almost made me forget. Almost.
“Taylor! What are you doing?” My mother’s alarmed voice startled me. I turned toward her and saw her blotchy red face and sad eyes staring at me incredulously. She couldn’t hide that she had been crying. It was because of me.
“Mom, it’s not a big deal,” I stated, not wanting to fight with her.
“Taylor, you can’t just stand out in the rain. You have—“
“Mom! Don’t even say it,” I cut her off. “I’m well aware and can’t forget… no matter how hard I try,” I said angrily.
Her eyes began to fill with tears again, and I immediately regretted my angry words. This was hurting her just as much as it was hurting me.
“I’m sorry. I’ll come inside now.”
Her face relaxed a little, but the stress lines seemed to be permanently etched onto her forehead, and they wouldn’t be going away any time soon.
“Thanks, honey. I’m just worried.” She spoke sadly.
“I know, Mom… I know,” I said as I walked toward her and the house. As I reached the door, I turned around to look up at the sky one last time. It was an expansion of darkness, like the darkness that wanted to consume me. It was funny how one life-changing event could make you forget what happiness felt like. I brought my head back down as a light across the street in an upstairs window caught my attention. It was the only light on in the neighborhood, but I hadn’t noticed it before. The realization then hit me that I had been dancing around, acting crazy in the rain; people could have seen me. I felt my cheeks warm as embarrassment washed over me. I would have never acted like that before today.
I hurried through the door and shut it, leaning against it as I noisily exhaled. I looked down and saw water dripping on the wooden floor. Just then, my mom reappeared with a big white towel and put it in my hands.
“Here. Dry off and go change,” she instructed me with a forced smile. “I’ll make us some hot chocolate.” I nodded and wrapped the towel around myself before heading to my room.
After entering my room, I shut the door quietly before stripping my wet clothes off. A shiver rolled through me, so I quickly wrapped the towel back around my body and began drying off. After twisting the towel around my hair like a turban, I grabbed a large gray t-shirt and sweatpants to match. I put them on before slipping into my fluffy pink robe from the back of the door. I rubbed the soft sleeve on my cheek, loving the feel of the material. It felt like a stuffed bear was wrapping itself around me, comforting me.
I closed my eyes, inhaled deeply, and then exhaled slowly before I emerged from my room. As I made my way to the living room, I examined the typical white walls and the pictures of a happy, normal family displayed proudly. Yesterday, they wouldn’t have bothered me, but now they just seemed like a lie. Things were not normal, and they never would be again.
I tore myself away from the photos but felt their gaze burn into me, taunting me for taking everything for granted and acting like nothing could penetrate my perfect world and shatter it. I shook my head, pushing the tormenting thoughts away, and made the last few steps to the couch. I sat down on the soft brown cushion and pulled my legs up in front of me. I wrapped my arms around my legs then interlocked my fingers.
I just stared straight ahead at the black screen of the television until my mom walked in front of me and handed me a mug of hot chocolate with marshmallows—, my favorite. I took the mug from her hands without saying a word. She sat down next to me without speaking, knowing there was nothing to say. She was here for comfort so I wouldn’t feel alone. She was good at knowing when words wouldn’t help and supported me with her presence. In the past, she could depend on knowing that I would talk to her when I was ready, but I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready to talk about this. Saying it out loud would make it real and mean I would never wake up from this nightmare. I really wanted to wake up from this nightmare.
“Taylor!” I heard Liz yell from down the school hall. I immediately cringed, not ready to face anyone yet. I was not in the mood for petty conversations and drama. I tried to hurry up and retrieve my textbooks from my locker, acting like I hadn’t heard her. I turned the opposite direction, ready to make my escape, when I felt her hand wrap around my arm. I felt my body stiffen, followed by the impulse to spin around and punch her. I controlled my reaction and breathed in deeply, knowing it wasn’t her fault. This was normal. Any other day it wouldn’t have fazed me.
“Oh my god, Taylor, how did you not hear me?” she squealed excitedly. I turned around slowly as she released my arm, and I planted a huge smile on my face. I took in her slight frame and expressive blue eyes. Her shoulder-length auburn hair was layered and parted to the side; some hair fell across her left eye. Liz was my best friend; I didn’t really want to hurt her, but I also didn’t want to have to act like everything was normal.
“I must have been in my own world,” I lied
“Anyways,” she continued, not missing a beat, “we need to plan your birthday. It’s less than a month away and we haven’t made a plan. It has to be huge. We should totally invite Jordan and tell him to bring his hot football player friend. Well, obviously we won’t say it that way when we invite him. Oh, and you should have a theme for the party. All of the legendary parties have awesome themes.” She finally stopped and took a breath, looking at me expectantly while essentially jumping up and down.
“Liz, I don’t want a party.”
“But you have to!” She practically yelled. “It’s your sweet sixteen. You can’t turn sixteen without a party.”
I felt myself begin to lose what little calmness I had left. I sucked in a breath, trying to rein in my feelings that were about to explode. “I’m not having a party, Liz.” My voice shook.
“Taylor, what is wrong with you? We have been talking about our sixteenth birthdays since we were thirteen, and you always wanted a party,” she exclaimed with a confused expression on her face.
“Well, sorry to disappoint you, Liz,” I bit out harshly, “but instead of getting my license and a car for my sixteenth birthday like most kids, I’ll be getting chemotherapy.” I turned around and walked away. She stood where I left her, immobilized by my words. “Crap,” I cursed under my breath. “Screw this.”
I kept walking but turned toward the exit instead of my class. Just as I was about to reach the door, Austin walked in front of me.
“Hey, babe.” He smiled his perfect smile that put male models to shame. His short, dirty blond hair was spiked as usual. He stood confidently, nodding his head at the girls giggling and waving at him. I was used to this behavior by now; most girls had a hard time keeping their eyes off of his muscular body. I just rolled my eyes, wondering why they bothered trying.
“Hey, Austin,” I said, forcing a smile.
“Where are you going?” he asked as his deep blue eyes looked me up and down.
“Home. I don’t feel well.”
“But you just got here,” he stated while he wrapped his arms around me possessively.
My voice rose an octave. “And now I’m leaving.” A hurt expression instantly crossed his face. “Austin,” I continued, “I’m sorry, but I don’t feel well and I just want to go home.”
“Oh, okay,” he said, disappointed. “I just thought we could do something after school today; we haven’t spent much time together lately.”
“I’ll call you later, okay? Maybe if I’m feeling better, you can come over,” I said, knowing he would like that compromise.
Slowly, a smile crept across his face, and I moved forward to hug him. He embraced me warmly, wrapping his muscular arms around me. I felt myself melt a little, welcoming the comforting feeling even though he didn’t have a clue how much I needed this right now. I felt guilty because I wasn’t ready to tell him. I should have wanted to tell my boyfriend and best friend what was going on. If anyone would be there for me, they would. But I wasn’t ready to talk about it. I began to pull out of his embrace to leave before the bell rang.
“I’ll see you later,” I said as I gave him a soft kiss. His lips were warm and welcoming, and I could feel that he wanted more than the brief contact I’d allowed. I knew if I wasn’t careful, he would end up convincing me to stay; and I really needed to get out of this building. I smiled at him and headed out the door without another word.
I heard him say, “See ya,” as I exited the school.
I stepped out of the building and instantly felt better and could breathe more easily not being trapped in there. I felt the coolness of a soft, steady breeze as it blew across my face, and I could hear birds chirping in the distance. The weather was the complete opposite of last night. The sun was beaming down on me, and I could feel the warmth penetrating my skin. Only a few clouds graced the light blue sky, giving me a glimpse of serenity.
My mom had dropped me off, so I walked the mile and a half home. I was officially skipping school since I hadn’t been dismissed. I could have called my mom and had her dismiss me and pick me back up, but then she would probably want to talk about it.
I walked down my street. Most of the houses looked similar; it was a boring, uniform neighborhood. The houses were nice but not like how houses used to be. They used to all be different with their own characteristics. Uniqueness had been destroyed in houses today, just like it had been destroyed among people.
I sat on the sidewalk across from my house, not wanting to go inside. My mom would usually be at work now, but I had a feeling she’d called out today. I didn’t have anywhere else I wanted to go; I just wanted to sit. It was a nice day; and it felt good to just be outside, not having to do anything. I wasn’t sure how long I had been sitting there staring at my plain white house before I felt someone come up behind me and just stand there. I twisted my body around and squinted up at him while shielding my eyes from the sun with my hand.
“Can I help you?” I asked, my voice filled with annoyance. I took in his thin frame. He was tall and had messy brown hair. His brown eyes were zeroed in on me, and I couldn’t make out his expression. He was in all black and had a skateboarder look to him.
“You tell me; you’re the one sitting in front of my house,” his smooth voice retorted. He stood confidently and crossed his arms in front of his chest.
“Actually, I’m sitting on a public sidewalk, which happens to be in front of your house,” I snapped back, still watching him while wondering how I had not seen him before if he lived across the street.
“True…” He dragged out the word as he arched his eyebrow. The wind blew, and I smelled his cologne; it wasn’t Axe, which was what most guys wore. It smelled really nice and had an earthy quality to it. The scent was like being outside after it rained.
“So you can go away now,” I said curtly as I turned back around.
“Geez, who’s dying? You’re a ray of sunshine,” he said sarcastically. I flinched at his choice of words.
“I am,” I barely whispered without thinking. I hadn’t expected him to be able to hear it. I was staring at the ground, and he rushed in front of me. I could now see the bottom of his black jeans. He knelt down in front of me, trying to see my face.
“Crap,” he cursed. “Are you really?” he asked, unsure. I peeked up at him without moving my head. His face had paled, and his forehead was scrunched together. He had never expected what he had said to be so true.
I don’t know why, but I told this stranger whose name I didn’t even know the truth. “Yes,” I answered quietly, looking him in the eyes.
“Wow.” He exhaled loudly. The shock was clear across his face. “I’m so sorry I said that,” he apologized, and I could hear the sincerity thick in his voice.
“Whatever.” I brushed it off. “Most people don’t think about what they say. It’s like when people make those your mom jokes without thinking about the possibility that that person might not have a mom.”
I watched him process what I’d just said; he looked a little surprised by my response to his apology. I think most people just thought I was a clueless blonde because that was the stereotype; and when I didn’t act like an airhead, people were surprised. Those reactions were great for my self-esteem; thank you, stereotypes.
“I’ll try to think about that next time.” His voice cut through my thoughts.
His voice rose. “I will.”
“People don’t change,” I argued.
“Maybe.” His voice was soft again. “But I don’t make it a habit to hurt people with what I say unless the person deserves it.”
“We’ll see.” A small smile crept onto my face. He stood up abruptly. I thought he was going to walk away, but he came and sat next to me on the sidewalk instead. I turned toward him and looked at him curiously.
“I’m Kyle,” he told me while a sly smile slid onto his face.
“May I ask why you are sitting in front of my house instead of yours?” he asked, nodding toward my house.
I held my breath for a moment, surprised he knew that I lived across the street. Letting out the breath, I responded, “Skipped school. Didn’t want to go home.”
“So you sit right across from your house?” He looked at me, confused.
“I didn’t really have anywhere else to go.”
“You don’t look like you’re dying,” he spoke softly, and his face sobered.
“Looks can be deceiving.”
“That’s true. Can I ask…” He paused. “What is wrong with you?” He finished carefully.
I bit my lip. I hadn’t said it out loud yet, but it felt like it would be easier telling someone I didn’t know. Like it wasn’t a big deal, no pressure. I had no ties to this person. I could tell him, and he would go on with life just the same.
“I have leukemia,” I choked out. A confused expression crossed his face. “It’s a type of cancer,” I explained. I saw the recognition in his eyes at the word cancer.
“There is a treatment, right?”
“Yeah. Chemotherapy, a fantastic poison that will make my hair fall out. I’m not even allowed to dye my hair, and now I’m not going to have any.” I met his eyes dead-on.
“Why would you want to dye your hair?” he asked. I was surprised that that was the question he’d chosen to ask.
“I’m sick of people thinking I’m stupid because I’m naturally blond. I figure if I dyed my hair a different color like brown or something, then I wouldn’t be instantly judged by my hair color. Unfortunately, my parents don’t agree and won’t let me.”
“Wow, that’s harsh. I wouldn’t think someone is stupid because of their hair color.”
I arched my eyebrow at him while I responded, “Your expression earlier said otherwise.”
“What?” I could hear the surprise in his voice at my accusation.
“When I said the thing about the your mom jokes,” I reminded him.
“I was surprised by your statement because most people don’t consider those things—especially when they don’t pertain to themselves—but I wasn’t surprised because I expected you to be a dumb blonde.” His voice rang with sincerity. I looked for an inkling of amusement or a hint of a lie, but his face was serious. He continued to look me directly in my eyes.
“Okay, I believe you.”
“Good.” The corner of his mouth twitched like he wanted to smile. I wasn’t sure why this guy who didn’t know me cared that I believed him. I didn’t say anything more, and we both sat quietly. It felt good talking to him. When I’d told him that I had leukemia, it felt like some of the darkness had lifted and some of the sunlight beaming down on us had made its way into me.
“I saw you.” The suddenness of Kyle’s voice startled me. I looked at him with a confused expression on my face. “Last night. You were spinning around in the rain.”
I instantly felt heat rush to my face, remembering the light I had seen before I had gone inside last night. I looked down self-consciously.
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to embarrass you. I just thought you looked free. Like nothing in the world mattered.”
“I’m not sure why I did it. I definitely wouldn’t have if I’d known people were watching,” I said, still not looking at him.
“It’s not a bad thing, Taylor. I was surprised when I saw you sad and angry today though. I thought maybe it was boyfriend trouble, but boy was I wrong.”
“If only. Nope, everything is good on the boyfriend front; although I would prefer that over the truth.” I frowned. Thinking about Austin made me feel guilty for telling Kyle what was going on when I wasn’t ready to tell him or anyone else I knew.
“What?” he asked.
“I haven’t told him yet—or anyone else, really,” I confided.
“Are you afraid of how he will react?”
“No. I just haven’t been ready to talk about it.”
“You told me,” he stated. I looked up at him then. I realized that he was partly right. I was afraid to tell people because of how they would react. I wasn’t ready for more people to be sad for me or hurt because they care about me. Telling Kyle also meant that I did want to talk about it but hadn’t wanted to admit that to myself.
“I guess…” I started. “I guess it was easier telling someone I didn’t know.”
“I get it,” he said with an understanding voice. “I worked at a grocery store, and I would ask, ‘How are you?’ because that is what you are supposed to do; and the normal interaction would be, ‘Good, you?’ And I would say, ‘Good,’ and then that would be it. I had some customers take it a little too literally and go into their life story. Like one woman went on to tell me that her husband cheated on her and she is pregnant and her life is ruined and men suck. I guess it was easy for them to vent to me because they would probably never see me again.” I couldn’t hold back my laughter at his story. I wasn’t sure why it was so funny to me, but it was.
“Did she realize the irony in her statement?” I asked, laughing. “Saying men suck while speaking to a man.” He smiled back at me, seeming to enjoy my amusement.
“I don’t think she cared. I cashed her out as fast as possible before she decided to throw something at me because all men suck,” he chuckled. I imagined some middle-aged, crazy-haired woman picking up a package of eggs or something and chucking it at him. I could see the slimy, yellow-and-transparent, goopy eggs sliding down his shocked face. I began laughing uncontrollably at the image in my head.
“What?” he asked. “I’m not that funny.”
“Pictured…crazy…customer…throwing…eggs at you,” I gasped out between giggles.
“Well, if that’s what makes you happy…” He smiled crookedly at me. It felt good to laugh; I didn’t think anything could make me laugh again, but I was wrong. I just needed someone to distract me and make me forget, even if it was just for a moment.
“Taylor! What the hell!?” Liz’s angry voice instantly stopped my laughter, killing the moment. I looked up to where her voice was coming from. She was standing in front of my house with her arms crossed, glaring. I looked back at Kyle as I stood up.
“I have to go.” He just nodded at me. “Thanks,” I said as I turned and began walking toward Liz. This was not going to be fun.
“Taylor,” Kyle’s voice came again, and I turned my head back toward him. He was now standing, watching me.
“Yeah?” I asked
“There is a flaw to your plan.” A sly grin crept onto his face once again.
My eyebrow arched at him questioningly.
“I live across the street,” he told me; and, without another word, he turned around toward his house. Then I realized what he’d meant. I’d told my problems to a stranger I would probably see again.
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