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What Goes Unseen
“It was raining.
“It’s strange, isn’t it, that such a little detail can stick itself into your head and never let go? The only reason why I remember the rain is because that’s what woke me up when they were wheeling me to the ambulance.”
Lily smiles up at me, encouraging me on. She looks so small in her wheelchair, so fragile. But I know the bald six-year-old is anything but fragile. “What about your dad?” she asks.
“He was...angry. Angrier than he usually is. It’s been tradition, really, that he comes home to take out his frustration on me. I expected it. Every day, I knew I was going to get beaten in places nobody would see but places that I would be sure to feel with every step, with every breath that I took. It would be a reminder to me, a painful reminder, to make sure I knew that I was not supposed to exist. That I was never wanted.”
“And your mom?” Lily blinks her doe eyes at me.
“My mom didn’t know. She left when my dad came home, and he promised me the punishment of my life if I told her anything.”
“Did you tell her? Is that why you’re here?” She points to my body, which lies on the hospital bed next to me. Bandages cover my face—no, not my face, but my body’s face; my bruise body’s face—and dark spots decorate my skin. My bruise body’s lip is split and bloody, and both eyes are swollen shut. I look bad.
“No,” I tell her finally. “I didn’t tell anybody anything. I was too afraid.” I pause for a moment. “He beat me within an inch of my life. I woke up for about a minute on the ambulance, but then I passed out again, and that was it. When I—me, not my body—opened my eyes, my mom was right above me, and she was talking to me. She told me that my dad was going to get tried, and she said that she wished I told somebody about him abusing me. I tried to talk to her, to the doctor hovering behind her, and that’s when I realized that nobody could see me.”
“Except me,” Lily puts in quickly. I wag a finger at her.
“Hey, if you want to do this therapist thing when you grow up, you’re going to have to be a better listener.”
“Sorry.” She twists in her seat submissively, but a smile curls her lips. “I’m just excited I can see you when nobody else can. It makes me feel special.”
“Lily,” I say, “You are special.”
One year, two months, and seven days later:
We are halfway through Treasure Island before Mr. Barkley falls asleep and I can’t read on. Sighing, I move out of the room and float to the next floor. Lily, as I expected, is sitting in her wheelchair in the corner of the cafeteria, drawing a picture of a bumblebee on a flower. She doesn’t look up as I approach her, but she does smile. There’s a gap in the front of her mouth from her first missing tooth, and it makes me grin every time I see it.
“Did he get all the way through?” she asks.
“I thought he could make it, but unfortunately, no.” I sit in the seat next to her, my ghostly legs dangling under the table. “It’s a shame. I had such high hopes.”
“He is doing better, though,” Lily says pleasantly. “Better than most people after a stroke.”
“That’s true. Remember Mrs. Franklin? She never really got over it.” I bend over her picture and examine it. “That’s really good. You want to be an artist?”
“It’ll be my side job. People have those, right?”
“I still want to be a therapist.” She selects a silver crayon and draws a thin line on the bee’s wing. “I wish they wouldn’t refuse me colored pencils. Honestly, I’m seven years old. I’m not going to eat the pencils.”
I stifle a giggle. I have a theory that Lily is an eighteen-year-old stuck in a cancerous child’s body—after all, she doesn’t act like anybody else her age, and her vocabulary is far beyond mine when I was seven. Hell, she knows more words than I did when I was fourteen. “Are you sure it isn’t just a shortage of supply thing?”
She puts the crayon down and glances at me, shaking her head. “I saw several bins. But they only give them to the older kids. I’m stuck with all of the toddlers.” She jerks her chin toward a leukemic three-year-old.
“Kids these days, so ungrateful,” I say, and dodge her casually thrown crayon, laughing.
“Grow up,” she chides.
“Oh, so you throw the drawing utensil at me and I’m the one that needs to grow up?”
Lily glares at me, but there is no anger behind her gaze. “Clearly. Look, I wanted to talk to you, okay? Serious talk. Therapist lady talk.”
“Mature talk,” I say, “Got it.”
She squints at me, and when she approves, she starts talking, but the first sentence takes me by surprise: “Emory, we’re dying, you and I.” When I start to speak, Lily lifts a hand to silence me. “Everybody is dying, but you and I are dying just a little bit faster. Death comes toward us just a little bit faster. I don’t want to die, Emory. I don’t want you to die. It isn’t fair that we have to die before we live the extent of our lives.” She drops a yellow crayon onto the table with a small clatter and looks straight into my eyes, her own shining brightly. “Why can’t life just give us a chance? We entered this world as innocent children and we exit before we make our mark on the world. Life didn’t push us away because we were evil, so why did it?”
“Lily?” Annalisa Grant, Lily’s doctor, comes up to us and places a hand on the back of my chair. I move away—I could walk right through her without her noticing, but I don’t want to get into that habit if I ever wake up. So I avoid touching anybody but Lily at all costs. “Who’re you talking to?”
“Emory.” Lily scribbles antennae onto the bee and rolls her eyes at me. The doctors seem to think that her seeing me is a hallucination, a side effect of the cancer that she’s had since she was two. As much as Lily tried to convince them, they just gave her pitying looks and moved on with their lives.
“Your imaginary friend, right?” Anna gives her a gentle smile. Lily frowns.
“She’s not my imaginary friend. We’ve been over this before. Her name is Emory Lee Whyte, and she is seventeen years old. She’s been in a coma since she was sixteen, and she’s on the third floor in room 47B.” She pauses for breath, then adds, “Her dad beat her since she was really little.”
“Also, my favorite food is enchiladas,” I say. “That might be important. Tell her that.”
“Oh, shut up.”
“Excuse me?” Anna is a little offended.
“No,” Lily sighs, “Not you. Emory.”
“What did she say?” Anna is mocking her, and it bothers me. I stick my tongue out at the doctor. Lily smirks.
“She was just being annoying.”
“Your imaginary friend is annoying?”
“She’s not imaginary!” Lily pauses and clutches at her chest, her breathing labored. “Anna, can I go to bed, now?”
“This conversation is not over!” I call after her. She grins back.
At seven-thirty the next morning, I abandon the magazine-reading people and head back to the cafeteria to have breakfast with Lily—or, rather, to watch her have breakfast. But there is no familiar bald head floating in the back corner. So she slept in, I thought. She is going to get so much crap for that. I start toward her room, prepared to shout her awake, but then I feel a tugging sensation. What is that? Then it isn’t tugging me; the sensation is full-on dragging me through all of the walls and machines and dying patients and hopeful family members—all the way back to my bruise body. Now? I think, then my whole consciousness explodes in pain. Everything hurts, and I can’t breathe. I feel weighed down by gravity, no longer able to float, no longer free.
“Oh my god, she’s awake!” My mother wraps her arms around me, trembling with excitement.
“Ow.” Even speaking hurts. I cough weakly. The heart monitor, which normally has a steady, slow beat, is faster. Lily, I think immediately, we can finally tell them the truth. Pain explodes in my chest again, and I let out a scream.
“What’s going on?” My mom is panicked. She looks toward the doctor, her eyes wide.
“Her system is going into shock,” he says calmly. He looks toward me, then back at his charts, and his expression twists with confusion.
“I need Lily. Her doctor is Annalisa Grant. Please.”
“Okay, sweetheart,” Mom says, “Okay. I’ll send somebody to get her.”
Anna is here in two slow minutes, but she is alone. She looks down at me with a shadowed face.
“Lily?” I ask, “Lily?”
I have woken up to die. I know that, now. I only need Lily.
“Who’s Lily?” Mom asks.
“If she can’t make it,” I gasp out, “Tell her that I love her. Please, Anna. Tell her that I love her and that she is the best friend ever.”
“So it was all true? What she’s been saying? That she could see you?”
I nod. “Just...please...”
“Who’s Lily?” Mom asks again.
“She’s a cancer patient,” Anna explains. Her voice breaks when she speaks again. “She was a cancer patient. Lily passed away half an hour ago, Emory.”
“No.” The pain in my chest skyrockets, but this time it isn’t physical pain. I thrash in my hospital bed and scream. “No. No. No!”
“I’m sorry.” Anna starts crying, her thin shoulders shaking.
“She’s not dead!” I shout, “She’s going to be a therapist! She’s going to grow up! She’s... she’s...” Not dead...no, please, no...
“I’m sorry,” Anna whispers.
“She’s going into cardiac arrest!” somebody shouts. It hurts my ears. Everything hurts, in fact. I can’t breathe. My body seizes, my torso jerking high into the air.
Lily, no. I can see her bright smile, her little white teeth with the small gap in the front. I was there when she lost that first tooth, with her. I can see that, too—her look of surprise, her yell to get Anna’s attention. “Lily,” I moan.
“Stay with me, baby,” Mom says. She holds tight onto my hand and wipes a tear from the corner of her eye. She’s trying to stay together. “Emory, baby, stay with me. Do something!” she screams at the doctor. He lifts his hands in an I don’t know gesture and clicks something on his computer. I don’t know what he’s doing, but it’s not helping. I’m in so much pain. I don’t know what to do to make it stop.
“Emory.” My mom takes the sides of my head and looks me in the eye. “You’re a brave girl, sweetheart. You can do this. I promise we’ll get through this.”
Did I want to ‘get through this’? I’m not entirely sure. I’m not sure of anything right now.
“I can’t,” I whimper, “I can’t just please leave me alone. Let me sleep. I need Lily. I need my Lily, my Lily...”
“How does she know this Lily?” Mom looks at Anna.
“I’ll tell you later,” Lily’s doctor says quietly.
“Emory, can you hear me?” The voice is soft, with a musical lilt. It is so familiar. Lily. I twist my head sideways, puling from my mother’s grasp, and there she is, sitting in a chair in a yellow dress, a purple flower tucked behind her ear. She looks healthy—no longer emaciated, but slender. Black hair tumbles to her shoulders in glossy waves, and her blue eyes shine brightly. One side of her mouth lifts in a half-smile as she stands to walk toward me.
“I can hear you,” I say. “And you were wrong.”
“Sweetheart?” Mom’s hand touches my cheek. “Wrong about what?”
“Yes, wrong about what?” Lily tilts her head, studying me. I focus on my breathing before I answer her.
“You were wrong about how death walks toward us faster. Yes, we’re dying faster. But death is already inside us.” I catch my breath. “Death is inside all of us, and it’s eating us faster than it is everybody else.”
“You aren’t going to die, Emory,” says Mom worriedly. “Just hold on.”
“I hurt so much,” I tell them. “I hurt so much and I’m tired of hurting.” Even invisible, able to float through walls and people with nothing to worry about, I was beyond lonely, having only Lily, who was scorned for being able to see me. I only wanted to be seen, be a normal girl with a normal life. But I was never going to have that, was I?
“You don’t have to hurt,” Lily says, her face earnest. “Come with me and you don’t have to hurt anymore.”
“Baby, we’ll get through this.” My mother shuddered with sobs, shaking the hospital bed. She’s going to be all alone, I thought, Just like I was. Alone. “We’ll get through this, right? You can do this.”
“Come with me,” Lily says again.
“Leave me alone!” I scream, “Leave me alone all of you!” Lily’s smile falls. “I want to live! I want to live because I was never given a chance to and I want...I want...”
“You can, baby, just hold on.” My mom shouts something to the doctor, who fumbles with his equipment.
“I thought you loved me.” Lily sounds like she is accusing me of something. I squeeze my eyes shut.
“I do love you. I’m sorry,” I whisper, “I’m sorry.” I look at my Mom and when she smiles, I know that everything will be okay.