All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
Okay (A Story of Tumours, Turtles, and Truth or Dare)
“Okay. Truth or...truth?”
“This game doesn't seem very fair.”
“It's a simple choice, Logan.”
“I think you're skewing the game to meet your own agenda.”
“I never said I wasn't.”
“Well, the choice is a tough one.”
“You're a tough cookie.”
“I get called many things, but a cookie usually isn't one of them.”
“What, you don't like being referred to as a delicious hand-held dessert?”
“Surprisingly, I don't.”
“Well, get used to it.”
“I picked truth.”
“Oh, right. I forgot about my question.”
“Have you lost interest in our game? Because I can leave. I can leave now.”
“Leave? Where would you go?”
I sighed, loud and long, and lay back on the carpet. “There are any number of exotic locales I could travel to, my dear,” I said.
“What kind of exotic locales could you afford? Because I'm pretty sure you're damn close to broke right now.”
“Now, how would you know that?”
Chloe stretched out on her stomach beside me, pulling her beanie farther down over her ears. Her head got cold but she refused to ever wear a wig; wearing other peoples' hair grossed her out, and I couldn't say I blamed her. “A woman knows,” she said, looking off into the distance. “Jokes, your dad was talking about you.”
“Aw, s***. What else did he say?”
“That you were a terrible human being and should apologize to the world for making it put up with you. Also, that you need a haircut.”
I punched her in the arm.
“Because you do. Need a haircut, I mean.”
I ran a hand through my hair. “It feels fine to me,” I said. “What's wrong with it?”
“Logan,” Chloe said. “You're on your way to a Jew 'fro.”
“I consider that offensive.”
“No you don't, you're not even Jewish.”
“I am offended on behalf of the Jewish people.”
Chloe rolled her eyes. “Why do I hang out with you?”
“Because you dig my Jew 'fro?”
She burst out laughing. “You caught me. Your Jew 'fro turns me on, Logan.”
“Good to know. I won't get a haircut then.”
She stopped laughing abruptly, turned to me with a dead-serious face. “No, Logan,” she said. “You have to get a haircut.”
“Because your Jew 'fro just turns me on too much. I won't be able to control myself in your presence.”
“I apologize for the inconvenience.”
“Well, it's in your power to remedy the situation.”
I looked over at Chloe, who lay on her back beside me now, her face backlit by the light coming in from the window. I listened to her breathing; slow, steady, but labored.
“Are you okay?” I asked her.
“Yeah. I'm fine.”
“Your breathing sounds funny.”
“It's no big deal. Just some fluid in my lungs.”
“That sounds like a big deal.”
“It isn't. Yet.”
“Okay. Well, keep me posted.”
“Weren't you going to ask me a question?”
“We were playing Truth or Dare. Or some altered version.”
“Oh! Right. Okay. Logan: what's something you've never told anyone else?”
“Ooh, deep. Um, I don't know. I'm a pretty open book.”
“What's that supposed to mean?”
“Nothing. Just think of something. It doesn't have to be that interesting.”
“Well, that's a relief. I think you know all of the interesting things about me.”
“Well. When I was twelve years old, I was obsessed with turtles.”
Chloe snorted. “That was unexpected.”
“That's because I have carefully hidden or destroyed all evidence of my turtle phase.”
“Most people don't have a turtle phase.”
“Tell me more about this turtle phase of yours.”
“Well, technically it started way before I was twelve. I really liked turtles for a long time. There was a brief period in my life where I wanted to be a turtle, and there was an even briefer period where I actually thought I was a turtle.”
“No. Way.” Chloe made her dark eyes go all big, her mouth dropping open. “There was a period in my life where I thought you were a turtle too.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“Okay, I will. So, did you, like, collect turtle memorabilia or something? Make a stop at every turtle souvenir shop in the area?”
“No, I'm not.”
“Yes, you are.”
“I am not a judgmental person.”
“You judge me all the time.”
“Not true. I judge you a significant percentage of the time.”
“Anyway. Yes. I did have a lot of turtle crap, and ninety-nine percent of it is gone.”
“That's me. Oh, stop it. So what happened to the one percent?”
“Like I'd tell you that.”
“Would I be able to find it? If I looked?”
“If you looked hard enough, I'm sure you could.”
“Challenge accepted,” she said, sitting up and grinning down at me.
“That wasn't intended to be a challenge.”
“I know. But I like to look at everything as a challenge. That way you're in control, instead of sitting there crying like a b****. Like, when the nurse tells me that this drug's gonna make me sick, I'm like, 'Challenge accepted,' and then I try my damn hardest not to puke.”
“But aren't some things out of your control?”
She shrugged. “Not if you don't let them get that way. Come on, Turtle Boy, let's get us some food.”
“Give me a hand?”
“Give yourself a hand, Mr. Turtle.”
I got up and looked at Chloe, standing there in a pair of sweats that hung low on her hips and a lacy tank top that was just a bit too small, so that I could see a peek of her stomach between the hem of her shirt and the waist of her pants. Chloe didn't like to bother with clothes; maybe she had before I'd met her, but ever since she came to live here she'd been spending most of her time at a hospital, so I guess the need to dress up had pretty much left.
“Are you going to call me turtle nicknames from now on?”
“You brought it on yourself, Franklin,” she said, opening the door of her room and standing in the doorway, her back to me. “And besides, everyone needs a nickname.”
“You could pick something less embarrassing.”
“Yes, but what would be the fun in that?”
As we went downstairs, I noticed a spiraling design on the bottom of her back, near her hipbone; most of it was obscured by her pants. “What's the tattoo?” I asked, catching up to her.
Chloe tugged down her shirt and turned away. “It's nothing,” she said. “It's stupid.”
“You can show me, I'm not gonna think it's stupid.”
“We can't all be open books, Logan,” Chloe said. “Some people like to keep things hidden.”
“Now what would be the fun in that?”
Chloe turned back to me, a smile curling the side of her mouth. We looked at each other for a while; she broke the staring contest first, starting down the stairs again.
“I'll make you a deal,” she called over her shoulder.
“What kind of deal?”
“You show me some of your Turtlemania s***, and I'll show you my tattoo.”
We shook on it, and I kept her hand in mine for as long as I could, trying to memorize the shape of her palm and the feeling of her fingers. Her deal was a fair one, but I had to wonder why finding out anything about Chloe always had to be a challenge.
* * *
“Well, you look gorgeous this morning.”
Chloe rolled her eyes and picked up her backpack, swinging it over her shoulder. “You're such a gentleman, Logan. You really are.”
“Hey, who said I was being sarcastic?”
“Your voice did,” Chloe said as she climbed into the passenger seat. I got in and started the Yaris, backing it out of the Leaveys' driveway.
“I can't believe you drive a Yaris,” Chloe said. “It's such a Mom car.”
“Actually, it was my mom's car.”
“Oh. I'm sorry.”
No one was driving at this hour; the sky was still charcoal-dark, the houses still asleep. “I brought you coffee,” I said, gesturing to the center console.
“Thanks. Now I feel like an asshole.”
“Really, don't worry about it.”
I merged onto the highway and headed into the city, only passing a couple other cars as I accelerated onto the ramp.
“Do you seriously get up this early all the time?”
I shrugged. “Pretty much. I like it. No one else is awake. It's like you don't have to share the world yet.”
“Hmm. Well, I like sharing the world.”
“Sometimes I do, too, but it gets old.”
Chloe leaned her head back on the seat, closed her eyes.
“I like your hat.”
“Do you have, like, a million beanies?”
“Actually, I have an unlimited supply.”
“That must come in handy.”
“It does. Especially lately. Doesn't look like I'm gonna get any more hair anytime soon.”
“No?” I snuck a sideways look at her. She'd taken her hat off for a second; underneath, her head was bald and smooth, like there had never been hair there at all.
“Nope. Strict chemo regimen for the next three months, at least. Some of the chemo drugs let you grow back a bit of hair, but not this one, this one's fierce.”
“Yeah, whatever. I haven't had hair for a month. I'm getting used to it.”
The sky was starting to lighten as we pulled into the underground parking at the Childrens' Hospital. As Chloe got out I took her backpack, despite her insistence that she could take it herself; she looked tired and thin, and a little breakable.
Chloe and I took the elevator up to the fourth floor, where the cancer ward was. I hadn't been to visit her in the hospital before, but she'd told me all about it, so much that the yellow-and-blue walls, the posters featuring anthropomorphic animals, and the sunflower signs on the doors, each child's name written in Sharpie, seemed familiar.
I followed Chloe is she navigated the hallways of the 4 West wing to the room she'd be staying in now that she was an inpatient. We found Room 429 near the end of one of the hallways, across from some windows looking across the city. Inside, the bed was made with crisp white sheets and a waffle-knit blanket. “Can I have my backpack?” she asked me. I handed it to her, and she dropped it on the floor, unzipped it, and dug through till she found a purple patchwork quilt. She threw it on the bed and spread it out till it covered the bland hospital bedding.
“Adding your own personal touch?” I asked her, coming into the room and sitting in a hard vinyl armchair.
“Naturally,” she said. “I'm gonna be here for a while. Might as well make the place my own.”
She went through her backpack again and took out a Ziploc bag full of photos. “I love this one,” she murmured, smiling at one of the pictures. She took out a roll of tape and stuck the photo onto the wall above her bed. “Technically, we're not supposed to put anything on the walls,” she said to me, “but they usually make an exception. I mean, who's gonna deny a dying kid some pictures of her family?”
“You're not dying,” I said, hating how casually she said it.
“Everyone's dying, Logan,” she said, taping up another photo. “Some of us are just doing it quicker than others.”
The door opened, and Sophie Davidson came in with a tray full of medicine. “Hey, Chloe!” she said.
“Hey,” she said, sitting back and surveying her wall of photos. “What do you think?”
“Hey, those look great!” Sophie, who wasn’t just Chloe’s nurse but was also our neighbor, came and stood by the bed. “That's a great one of Hannah!”
“Yeah,” Chloe said, her smile fading. “That was her favourite shirt, remember?”
“I do remember that. She wore it all the time. It didn't fit her at all.”
“No, it really didn't.” Chloe laughed. “It was from when she was nine, or something.”
“Oh, hi Logan!” Sophie said, realizing I had been sitting in the room the whole time.
“How are you?”
“I'm doing okay,” I said. “How are you?”
“Good,” she said. That was what Sophie said anytime you asked her how she was; it was only now, over two months after the death of her daughter, that I was starting to believe her.
“Do you have my meds for me there?” Chloe asked, taking out a sweater from her backpack and pulling it over her head.
“I do, unfortunately. Only a few right now. It's too bad you had to get in here so early, but they need to kick in ASAP. You really couldn't have come last night, could you?”
Chloe shook her head. “My aunt and uncle are away, and Logan wasn't here last night. I couldn't get a ride.”
“Where's Sinead right now?”
“Back at university. She left about a week ago.”
“What's she studying?”
“Classics. She wants to be an archeologist.”
Chloe took the glass of orange juice Sophie offered her and swallowed each of her pills, one by one. She held out her arm for Sophie to stab in an IV; the tube was hooked up to a bag full of blood.
“Transfusion?” I asked, pointing to the bag.
Chloe nodded. “First of many. They're a joy, but you get used to them. Come up here.” She patted the bed, and I climbed on and lay beside her, my head resting beside hers on the pillow. Sophie left, closing the door behind her, and we lay in the hospital bed, Chloe’s IV steadily trickling healthy blood into her wrist. I took her arm, the one that wasn't hooked up to a tube. Her fingers were cold, ice blue veins criss-crossing the back of her hand like roads on a map.
“Who's Hannah?” I murmured, stroking the lines on her palm with one of my fingers.
Chloe let out a shaky breath. “Hannah,” she repeated, looking up at the ceiling. “How can I even explain who Hannah is?”
“Was she here?”
“Yeah. She was. But I didn't meet her here. We met at Memorial. We both had ALL. She was always so...up all the time. Like, everyone in the hospital just loved her. She loved to play with the younger kids and tell them stories. She was so creative. She used to dance too, while she still had energy to.”
“How old was she?”
“When I met her? Ten. She came here last year, and then Childrens' got a doctor that my parents wanted me to see – she's the one putting me on this regimen right now – so they sent me here to live with Rob and Siobhan. So I got to hang out with Hannah again.”
“Yeah. It was.”
Chloe fell silent for a while, and I went back to tracing the lines on her hand.
“You wanted to see my tattoo,” she said after a while. “Do you still want to?”
“If you want to show me,” I said.
She rolled over onto her side so her back was to me, and pulled up her shirt a few inches. I could see the whole tattoo now: “Hannah Patricia Moore,” and underneath, two dates that spanned eleven years.
“Oh, Chloe,” I said.
She pulled down her shirt and rolled back over, burying her face into the pillow. I inched my face closer to hers and wrapped my arms around her. She shuffled closer to me so that she could rest her head against my chest, and I held her, the warm of her tears on my shirt, the raw sound of her muted sobbing muffled in the fabric. It was an unsettling experience to see someone crying who you always thought was strong, as if something true and constant had shifted so you couldn't rely on it anymore. Listening to her cry scared me, but only made me hold onto her tighter; the weaker she got, the stronger I had to hold on.
* * *
I went home that night in time to make supper. Tonight, we were having stir-fry; Zach helped me fry up the veggies and strips of beef in the pan. “What were you doing down the street?” I asked him as I stirred up some sauce.
“Nothing,” Zach said, staring down into the frying pan as he stirred.
“You were doing nothing?”
“Were you doing nothing with Katie Jamison?”
Zach looked up at me, frowning. “No,” he said. “Why would you think that?”
“Oh, no reason. I just thought I saw you guys hanging out. I thought you didn't like her.”
“It's fine, I believe you.”
I poured the sauce into the pan, and Zach stirred the contents around, coating them. “This smells awesome,” he said.
“That's because it's gonna be awesome. Have you never tried my famous sesame-peanut stir-fry before?”
“Well then, Zachary Donahue, you're in for the supper of your life. Prepare to have your taste buds doing the disco in your mouth.”
“That's weird, Logan.”
“It's the truth, bro.”
Dad came in then, stomping his boots on the front mat to get rid of the snow. “Hey, Dad!” Zach called.
“Hey there,” Dad said, hanging his coat up and coming into the kitchen. “Smells great, guys.”
“It's Logan's famous sesame-peanut stir-fry,” Zach said. “Apparently. I don't remember it though so it can't be that famous.”
“Oh, on the contrary, my stir-fry is so famous that it's now only known to a select few; the members of an exclusive underground scene.”
“Or you just made it up.”
“Well, you can believe what you want to believe. Haters gon’ hate. Wanna pour the rice in?”
“Sure.” I handed the heavy pot to Zach, who tipped the brown rice inside into the frying pan.
“Did you get Chloe all settled in?” Dad asked me, taking plates from the drain tray in the sink and laying them on the counter.
“Yeah. She started her treatment as soon as she got there this morning.”
“Wow, that must have been a bummer.”
I dished up the stir-fry and we sat at the dining room table. “Is she going to be okay?” Zach asked, shoving a forkful of rice and meat into his mouth.
“Of course she's gonna be okay, Zach.”
“Well, she's pretty sick, isn't she?”
“That's why they have her on this new treatment plan,” I said.
“Logan's right, Zach. They know how to make her better. Her parents sent her here because they have a doctor who knows how to treat her best.”
Zach nodded and went quiet. I finished with my dinner and went upstairs. My phone buzzed, bouncing on my desk.
Heavy, slow breathing on the other end of the line. Heavy breathing directly into the
“I just wanted to remind you.”
“About bringing your turtle sh*t – I mean, turtle stuff tomorrow. Sorry, I'm in the playroom right now.”
“Yeah, I know, I'll bring some stuff.”
“Good man. You'd better not forget.”
“How could I forget something this important?”
“Kay. I've got to go. They're feeding me supper?”
“Why was that a question?”
“Well, it probably isn't real food, so I'm hesitating to refer to it as supper.”
“I'm sure it's not that bad.”
“Don't be so sure. See ya, Logan.”
I set my phone down and sighed, looking around my room. Evidently it was time for a trip to the basement.
* * *
“So, for the record, it's against the rules for you to judge.”
“As in, if you judge, all the turtle sh*t goes away.”
“Fine! I won't. Promise.”
I reached into my backpack and pulled out the first piece of turtle memorabilia: my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles alarm clock. Leonardo perched on top, looking pensive.
“Oh, man,” Chloe said, reaching out for the clock. She pushed down on Leonardo.
“Did you hit him to shut it up?” she asked. I nodded. “This is great. What else have you got in there?”
I took out a shapeless mass of green and yellow cloth and shook it out.
“Is that a turtle costume?”
“Not only is it a turtle costume,” I said, “but it is also pajamas.” I spread the pajamas out on the bed so Chloe could see the little sewn-on tail, the yellow shell, the hood with eyes stuck on.
“Oh my God,” Chloe squealed. “This is the cutest thing I've ever seen. Logan, you were the most adorable child who ever lived.”
“You say that because you didn't know me when I was a child.”
“No,” she said, “but I know you now. You're still adorable. But not the wears-a-turtle-costume-to-bed kind of adorable.”
Her face was near mine; I could smell the mint on her breath. “A different kind?” I asked her, my voice dropping to a whisper without me making it.
“A completely different kind,” she said, leaning over the turtle costume and kissing me.
A shock ran through my body like I'd stuck my finger in a socket. I reached for her, touching her waist and pulling her closer to me. She ran her hands through my hair, pulling on my curls. I pushed her back into her pillows, and she lay under me, on her hospital bed, and our bodies were as close together as we could make them.
I opened my eyes and found hers open. I cupped a hand around her face and kissed her again, already addicted, already needing more. She curved herself into me, and we forgot we were in a hospital, waiting for the drugs to kick in, dreading the chemo that she'd have to start tonight. All I knew was the feel of her lips under mine and the feel of her skin under my fingers.
* * *
The bus came to a stop at the corner of MacLaren and Thompson. I got off first and watched as Chloe shuffled down the steps. Her legs were shaking. “I'm fine,” she said in response to the look I gave her.
I took her hand and we walked a block to the city park. Inside, a few children ran around the play structure, their parents watching from a metal park bench.
“The swings are empty,” Chloe said, grinning up at me.
“I don't think I even remember how to work one of those things,” I said, and she hit my arm.
“Don't be silly. I can teach you, anyway.”
We each took a swing, the rubber seats cold. Chloe pushed off the snow-covered sand under her feet and started pumping her legs, gaining height. “It isn't hard, Turtle Boy,” she said, curling her legs in, then pushing them back out. “I'm sure you can figure it out.”
I copied her movements and soon I was swinging; not as high as Chloe was, but getting there.
“How did you like the newbie?” Chloe said, going so high that her back was nearly parallel to the ground.
“The new nurse?”
“She seems okay.”
“Oh, God. Spend five minutes with this woman and you will see that she is definitely not okay. There's something seriously wrong with her. I can't stand her.”
“She can't be that bad.”
“Oh, Logan, that's where you're wrong. She is that bad. And a lot worse.”
“What's wrong with her?”
“She's so...she's so goddamn happy. It's like she's one of those scary clowns or something, like way too happy for the situation. She started singing as she was doing my scans.”
“Hey, scans make me want to sing, too.”
Chloe shot me a look that got me laughing. She stared at the ground, trying not to crack a grin.
“Beside, I don't think there's anything wrong with trying to be happy all the time. It's better than always being sad.”
“Yeah, I guess. But sometimes I think you have to be realistic. Like, cancer's not happy. It's f*cking awful. It does awful things to you and I wish Jenny would acknowledge that.”
“Give her some credit, Chlo. She's trying to make the best of things.”
“There's nothing to make the best of! Sometimes things just suck, Logan. Things suck and you can't do anything about it and people die and you have to f*cking deal with it. And it isn't fair but you have to suck it up because it's not suddenly gonna get fair. And putting a fake smile on and acting like life is one big happy musical is not going to help anything. It's not going to help at all.”
Chloe burst into tears and I reached out to her, but she hit my hand away. She had been on a new drug for a week or so that made her moods all wonky. She'd get angry and sad and didn't want any comfort. I let her cry as we sat there; our swings were barely moving now, the toes of my shoes scraping the snow off the sand.
“Sorry,” she said, after her breathing had slowed to normal. “I'm sorry. I've been so moody, it's probably been driving you insane.”
“Don't worry about it. It's those new meds, right? They're screwing with your moods.”
“I don't know,” she said. “I don't think so. I think my moods are just screwed in general.”
We took the bus back to the hospital, back to Chloe's room, which she'd made her own by now. The wall above her bed displayed almost fifty photos. The beige curtains had been replaced with green-polka-dot ones. She'd brought in a fuzzy beanbag chair so the people who came to visit her didn't have to sit on the hospital-standard vinyl chairs.
I came here nearly every day after school and spent most of my weekends here too. Chloe didn't go to school anymore and didn’t have the energy for a tutor, but she made me teach her something every day when I came from school.
“What about science?” she asked me on a Tuesday afternoon. She had a headache, so the curtains were drawn, casting the room in a cool green, like a forest after the rain.
Chloe lay under her quilt, her eyes closed, an IV dripping solution into her arm.
“What about it?” I sat with my back against the footboard so that I could see her as I talked.
“What did you learn about it? Like, today?”
“Um...I don't know if you'd be interested in any of it.”
“Well, we learned about the synthesis of DNA today.”
“Like how you make DNA?”
“Yeah. It's pretty cool, actually, the DNA copies itself. It's really smart.”
“What happens if it doesn't copy itself?”
“Well, stuff doesn't get done, and you die.”
“Yeah, not really.”
“What do you want to be?”
“Like, when I grow up?”
“Yeah, or whatever.”
“I don't know. I don't know yet.”
“That's good. You shouldn't know yet. I don't know either.”
“But if you could do anything –”
“Anything – what would you do?”
“Do I have to answer that question?”
“Just think of something. Anything.”
“I want to be a male stripper.”
Chloe's sudden laugh made me jump. “Do you now?” she said when she could breathe
“Yes, in fact, I do. It's my life goal. Do you have a problem with that?”
“No. No I do not. I fully support your life goal, Logan.”
“Maybe you should show me some of your stripper moves.”
“Right now?” I looked down at my clothes. “I'm not really in my sexiest attire.”
“Okay, well, you can do it another time. I'll be waiting. And I'll be imagining it every waking moment, and probably in my dreaming moments too.”
“Good to hear. If you wanted to be a stripper, I would give you the same kind of support.”
“You know what? I appreciate that. I really do. It's good to be in such a supportive relationship, you know, where we help each other achieve our goals.”
“Even when our goals are stripperdom.”
“Especially when our goals are stripperdom.”
“So, if I were a stripper, would you be a stripper with me?”
“Hmm. I'm not sure. Can you be a freelance stripper?”
“I don't honestly know if that's a thing.”
“Well, we could make it a thing. We could have, like, a stripper company. Rent ourselves out to parties and events and sh*t.”
“You know what, I don't know if stripper couples would be popular. Like, I feel like if that was something people would enjoy, it would already exist.”
“Don't be silly. People just haven't realized that this is something they would enjoy. Sometimes you have to tell people what they want.”
“Well, why don't you write up a business strategy and we'll work something out.”
“I like your spirit, Logan. I think we have a future together.”
Chloe was sitting up in bed, cross-legged under her quilt, her big brown eyes focused on mine.
“I love you,” I said, suddenly overwhelmed.
“I love you, too,” she said, and she looked down, laughing.
“I don't know. It's just that I didn't even think I had to say it. I thought it had already been said.”
She was right; it had been said before without needing any words. So we said it again, and again, not with words but with her lips on the space at the base of my neck, and with my fingers brushing across the skin of her hip, and with the air that we shared when our faces were so close that we couldn’t even see each other’s eyes.
* * *
“Your car stinks, man.”
“Stinks like what?”
“Um, like something that smells really bad.”
“Good descriptive language.”
“I've always prided myself on my eloquence.”
I took a whiff of the car but couldn't, in fact, smell anything. “Maybe the drugs are giving you some sort of spidey-sense.”
“Like, a spidey-sense for smell?”
“Yeah. It's a pretty lame superpower.”
“You know what, Logan? At least I have a superpower. Keep your judgments to yourself, please and thank you.”
I pulled into the driveway, which was empty; Siobhan and Rob were at the kids' parent-teacher interviews. I took Chloe's stuff out of the backseat and followed her into the house. Lately, although her sarcasm had gotten more biting, she'd insisted less and less on doing things on her own, like her body had admitted defeated but her brain hadn't, just yet.
“When's your family getting home?” I asked her, setting her bag on the floor as she slumped onto the couch.
“I don't know,” she said. “Six or something?”
Chloe lay with her head against the armrest of the couch, seeming almost to be flattening, melting into the furniture. I sat on the floor near the end of the couch and leaned my head near hers. I could hear her breathing when our faces were this close; each breath was shaky and weak.
“How did your appointment go today?” I asked her, speaking quietly. “With Dr. Malcolm?”
“Umm, not so good.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Nothing. It doesn’t really matter.”
“Chloe, really, what did she tell you?”
Chloe sighed. “She said my counts were really low, and they're not sure they can do anything about it.”
“What do you mean? They can always do something about it.”
“Not always. They’re going to start me on palliative treatment soon.”
“What's palliative mean?”
“Palliative means dying, Logan.”
“But you're not dying.”
“Yes. I am.”
“No you're –”
“Yes, I f*cking am, Logan! Why won't you f*cking admit it? If you would just accept that your girlfriend is dying and there is absolute sh*t you can do about it, it'll be easier on both of us!”
“But – but there's got to be something they can do,” I said. “They can't just give up. Doctors don't give up.”
“That's not true. Doctors give up all the time. They don't like to, but they'll do it when they know they have to. It sucks. But it's true.”
“F*ck it!” I got up and grabbed the ends of my hair with both hands, wishing I could rip it all out. “Goddamn it, Chloe!”
“What do you f*cking think? You thought you could just hold this little secret inside and just tell me when you feel like it? If you're f*cking dying, you've probably been dying for a while. You could have let me know a little earlier.”
“And you would have taken it better?”
“I don't know! Maybe! I just wish you'd be honest with me.”
“I have been honest with you. I am honest with you.”
“Well, clearly you aren't all the time. You obviously have tons of things you don’t tell me, like in the ICU, you wouldn’t tell me what was wrong with you.”
“Why would you even think that?” Chloe asked, standing, her legs trembling at first.
“You were acting f*cking weird the other day, and I know it wasn't because of the fever. It wasn't like you.”
“Well, how do you know what I'm like?”
I stared at her. “How do I know what you're like? Well, I would like to think I know what you're like. After all this time.”
“All this time? Logan, I've known you for about two months.”
“So you're picking right now to doubt how well I've gotten to know you? Really, Chloe?
This isn't really a good time.”
“When would it ever be a good time? I think my life is just a long string of bad times.”
“What a f*cking ridiculous thing to say.”
“It wouldn't seem so f*cking ridiculous if you'd actually known me through my life.”
“What's been so bad about your life?”
“Um, try cancer.”
“Besides the f*cking cancer!”
“Try my dad filling every Irish stereotype and getting drunk every single night. Try my mom and I leaving when I was eight because we were scared he was gonna beat us to death. Try my mom being depressed my entire life and basically living off of Prozac to keep us both sane. It hasn't exactly been a joyride, Logan. And this...this f*cking takes the cake.”
“I'm sorry,” I faltered. “About all that.”
“So am I,” she said.
We both caught our breath as we stood with a couch between us.
“I'm not going to apologize for dying,” she said.
“I'm not going to make you,” I said.
In that moment, she looked so incredibly healthy, so warm and flushed and full and alive, that when her legs gave out then and she fell as if someone had pulled the rug out from under her feet, I wasn't expecting it.
“Chloe! Chloe, Chloe, Chloe, what's wrong with you? Are you awake? Oh my God. Do something so I know you're awake.” Her eyes were half-open but she didn't look conscious; her head lolled around when I touched her face. “Oh my God, oh my God, what's wrong with you, what's wrong, f*ck, f*ck, f*ck.”
She coughed a little, opened her eyes some more, and turned onto her side. Before I could shake her, ask if she was awake, she began to puke blood all over the living room carpet.
The screams that came out of me were so unfamiliar to me that it didn’t feel like I was making them at all. I had to look away but couldn't look away as I watched Chloe's face turn paler and paler. I finally got it into my thick head to take out my cell phone from my pocket; I had a car, and that car could take me to the hospital, but it was a half-hour drive. What the hell would I do if she didn't make it half an hour?
In the time it took for the ambulance to get there, Chloe stopped puking and just lay there, shaking slightly, her face leeched white, her lips trembling. I lay beside her, the smell of blood saturating the air around me, holding onto her hands, wrapping my fingers around her fingers. I think I remember singing to her, though I don't remember what I sang. It probably wasn't very soothing. I wasn't in a mood to soothe; I'd never been much good at it anyway.
The ambulance let me come along for the ride, but I don't remember much of what the trip to the hospital was like. I remember them strapping Chloe down on a gurney, remember them hooking her up to a bunch of beeping machines and bags of blood and fluid. There was a lot of shouting around the ambulance, but a lot of whispering around Chloe, like they were afraid of being too loud. Maybe they didn't realize that she was completely out cold, that she probably couldn't hear anything they were saying even if they had been shouting in her ear.
Coming into the hospital was a frantic blur of noise and sound and light. Someone had a hand on the small of my back, guiding me through doorways and halls like I was a small child, like I was blind. I kept blinking to clear up my vision, kept shaking my head so my ears wouldn't feel so blocked up, but still, I couldn't take in the whole scene.
“What's wrong?” I kept asking, kept calling out to whoever was nearest to me. “Can someone tell me what's wrong with Chloe? What the hell is going on?”
Finally a doctor came up to me, put a hand on my shoulder. I knew he was a doctor because I could see the white blur of a lab coat in front of me; I had some sort of tunnel vision going on. I focused on the man's white coat; there was something comforting and sterile about the solid white.
“She's going to be okay,” is what I think he said to me. “Are you okay?”
“I'm okay,” I said, or that's what I intended to say. I found a bench somewhere and sat there, my hands tapping out a staccato beat on the wood beside me. The doctor had gone; I wondered who he was. He seemed nice enough. Maybe I might like him, if I could ever see properly again.
Someone sat down next to me; Siobhan, I figured from the red hair. “Siobhan?” I said. “Is she okay?”
“She's not okay,” Siobhan said, “but she will be. I'm sure she will be.”
“What's wrong with her?”
“I don't know. I've never totally understood what the cancer does to Chloe. Science was never my strong suit. I was a humanities student, after all.” She laughed; the laugh sounded so inappropriate that she stopped abruptly, and we both sat there in the worst sort of silence.
The hospital smelled like antiseptic, like the type they'd pour on the floor in elementary school when some kid barfed; and like flowers, but not real flowers; more like “floral scent” Febreze, a careful combination of chemicals created to smell like nature. The scent made me dizzy, and I leaned forward, resting my head on my folded arms.
“Are you okay?” Siobhan asked me.
“I'm okay,” I replied, wishing people would stop asking me that. Of course I was okay. I wasn't the one anyone should be worried about. Didn't they know that Chloe was dying over there, that she had vomited blood all over her living room floor, that I had no f*cking clue what I was going to do if I didn't get to talk to her again? I wished I was a doctor, I wished I had some sort of knowledge of cancer, of oncology and genetics and mutations and tumours and I wished I could do something to make this whole thing look a little less like hell. I wished I could do something to cut off the part of Chloe's life that had been a whole string of bad parts.
They wouldn't let us in the ICU. Doctors and nurses came in and out but only a few spoke to us; most of them were in a hurry. The doctor who had talked to me before, whose name I knew now as Dr. Jennings, came up to us at one point and told us Chloe was in a coma.
“Can you bring her out of it?” Siobhan asked him.
“Well, not easily,” Dr. Jennings said. “It wouldn't really be wise to right now, anyway. She's in a pretty bad state.”
“How bad?” I said.
“Bad. She'll pull through, but her blood counts are at a critical state. We're going to have to work hard over the next few hours to get her back to a healthy level.”
“But she'll be fine?” I pushed.
“I hesitate to use the word 'fine',” Dr. Jennings said, “but she will live, if that's what you're asking.”
“It is what I'm asking.”
“In that case, she will be fine.”
“Thank you,” I said, and meant it.
We sat on that bench outside of the ICU for hours. I didn't see Rob or the kids; Siobhan told me he'd brought them back to the house. Rob might come a bit later, if he could get Patrick to watch the others. I didn't know Patrick very well, but from what I knew, him and his brother Neil, who were only a year apart, liked to make things interesting in the Leavey house; personally, I wouldn't trust Pat as a babysitter.
“Just let me know if you want to go home,” Siobhan said at one point. I wasn't sure why she said it, because we both knew I wasn't leaving anytime soon. I would have pitched a tent and unrolled a sleeping bag if someone had given me camping supplies.
I sat back against the wall and curled my knees up to my chest. I considered the possibility that my shoes were probably caked with slush and dried-up mud, but as I sat there, my eyes closed, head leaning against the cool wall of the hallway, I realized it was probably a good thing if this place got a little dirty. There was something unnerving about a place so desperate, a place with so much blood and crying and death, and yet so clean. It was practically my duty to screw with the facade.
I fell into an uneasy sleep at one point; I only knew because Siobhan was shaking me awake. I stretched as I eased out of my uncomfortable position on the bench; my legs were stiff, my back sore and strained. “What is it?” I asked, voice thick and choked.
“Do you want a coffee?” she asked me. “You'll probably want to stay awake for the next little while. Dr. Jennings says they're making some progress. We might be able to see her soon. It's a big 'might', but it's better than what we've gotten so far.”
“What time is it?”
“A quarter to one.”
“Have you slept?”
I stared down the door of the ICU. There wasn't any window on it, nothing but a label telling us which room it was. So deceptively calm. Anything could happen in that room; people could die in that room, and you wouldn't be able to tell.
“Okay, I'll go get us some coffees,” Siobhan said, and then I was alone on that bench, feeling a little like Siobhan had tossed me a little life vest and told me to swim to the other side of some vast ocean; she'd meet me on the other side. It wasn't a big deal; oceans aren't that huge. I could learn to swim as I went; surely, I'd be able to teach myself not to drown.