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Author's note: **Posted here for feedback and general appeal. Full book will be posted on inkpop.com on Valentine's Day of 2011. :)
If I could actually write a letter to you, I would tell you lots of things. Probably things that you wouldn’t care about, a couple random facts that I learned while perusing around on Google during Thanksgiving Break.
I figure that each love letter has three parts; the awkward intro where the person tries to find something to say, the part where they realize that the rambling has absolutely nothing to do with what they’re trying to say, and the last bit where they confess their undying love for the recipient. And it always ends with the L word, signed with a heart, sealed up and hidden in their room. Never to be sent.
If I were to write a love letter to you, I would tell you that I’ve already written you seventeen of them. They’re in a box underneath my bed, all addressed and ready to be sent. I think one of them actually made it into the mail box, but then I panicked and yanked it out before it could go anywhere.
All of them say the same thing- I start with a stupid joke and try and make up for it while asking you how you’re doing.
Then I go about recapping our friendship between us, the focal point being that one weekend while we were on a trip. We were both sleepless in Seattle, well, at least I was. Somewhere, in the fourth paragraph or so, I mention that it kills me every time you look at my best friend with that smile that only you can reciprocate. I tell you that I wish you could look at me the way you do her, and know that she’s in love with a guy she doesn’t even know.
Fifth paragraph always consists of me apologizing and explaining that I would much rather have you date my best friend. It would make you completely off limits to me, and I wish that you were that way. Because that would change my perspective on you. I would know that you weren’t available, and I could move on. I wouldn’t dream of you every night, heck; I might even have a chance of waking up in someone else’s arms. The second my best friend said yes I would back off. I would move on.
But it kills me, you see, when she’s off loving this jock that doesn’t deserve her and you keep pining after her. We’re really not all different, my best friend and I, and I just want a chance.
Sixth paragraph talks about that night you showed me how to dance and stepped on my toe. It might have only been for thirty seconds, but I still remember the feel of my hand in yours and your touch on my waist.
Seventh is consistently the same. It always goes as follows.
I love you, and I wish you knew it.
If I were to write a love letter to you, I would tell you that a duck’s quack never echoes. I would tell you that your eyes are bluer than the ocean and that your smile makes me melt more than a litter of basset hounds.
If I were to write a love letter to you, I would seal it with a kiss and put it right back under my bed where it belongs. And then I would start another one, hoping that I would eventually have my chance to let you read them.
Jon, I really want to tell you. About everything. We’ve been best friends for what, three years now? I know you’re dating Brittany—
I let out a frustrated sigh and crumpled the paper to shreds. This was stupid. He would hate me if I told him. Everyone would. I’m living a freaking lie, for crying out loud! No one understood, no one really cared—it was all about Katie and her disease, right?
My notebook fell to the ground with a loud thud when I chucked it away from me. There’s no point to this. Jon just didn’t like me. Not like I did.
I hopped off the bed and bent down to look underneath it. My hand rested on top of the frayed blanket my mom had made me before Kate started to get sick. Back when things were a lot easier.
Under the bed were three jars—one for each person that I liked to write to. I pulled out the one with the most letters in it and added the pile of shreds that had been burning a hole through my palm. That made eighteen long, proofread letters, minus the one that I had dropped into the mailbox on a whim two weeks ago and threw in the trash minutes later. After digging through other people’s mail for a few minutes, I really did not care to add the smelly letter to my collection.
I took out a roll of masking tape which had been collecting dust underneath my bed and ripped a two inch piece off of it. Taking the sharpie out of my mouth, I scribbled three letters onto the small section of tape. The final letter curved off of my pen neatly.
I scooted back and looked at my handiwork. Jon. His face appeared inside my head; his half smiling lips, his shining green eyes, his blonde hair—
Shaking my head, I scolded myself. Honestly, what kind of girl got so hung up on her best friend’s boyfriend? I thought life was supposed to be different from the movies!
My cell phone vibrated in my pocket. I took it out and flipped it open.
Katie’s blood transfusion went fine. We’re driving home now. We’ll be there in a couple of hours.
My heart did a little flip inside me, and I let out a huge sigh of relief. I may have told myself a million times that Katie had done this sort of thing billions of times before, but it never failed to make me nervous. Every time her frail body stepped into the car for another surgery, she could die—both of us knew that. Luckily, she was still hanging on for the time being.
I stood up and brushed the dust and who-knows-what-else off of my butt and clapped my hands together a few times. The floor creaked underneath my weight loudly as I made my way down the stairs.
It was raining outside, which didn’t mean much considering my town sat right near the border of the US in Massachusetts. The city was consistently covered in a sheet of rain.
I opened the front door, leaving the screen closed and allowing the fresh smell to rush in and fill the house. Lately the house had smelt like something rotted down in the basement. Within minutes the smell of rain occupied the fill of the house.
Leftover lasagna had been wrapped up in the fridge from Tuesday night’s dinner, so I took it out and set it in the microwave. My family lived a good fifteen minutes off the beaten road, and even if I had driven over there to grab something to eat, it would have taken a good thirty minutes to find a parking spot by any one of the restaurants.
Lukewarm lasagna it was.
Before I sat down with my stale pasta and glass of Pepsi, I switched on the radio and picked up the book on the mantle next to the cherry wood table. I hummed along to the melody and opened to the page where I had left off.
Half of my lies and feigned surgeries had come from books. Someone in every single crap romance novel had some sort of disease—mainly cancer, which helped with my case. This particular one held the same plot. One boy, tragically in love with a girl who happened to be dying of cancer. Didn’t this happen in at least three movies that have been released in the past five years?
Huh, at least these characters had some depth. And if Jon ever broke up with Brittany, I would have a collection of ways to break the news to him. Some involved us making out on the beach with a gorgeous sunset behind us, and casually between kisses, I would mention my disease. Others could involve us in a car after a particular fantastic date, and I break down and tell him to find someone else. Love conquers all, right?
I sighed and put the book facedown on the table. I shoved a mouthful of lasagna into my mouth. Chewing slowly, I considered the possibilities of actually telling the truth this year in school. The full and total truth—not just the truths about doing my homework and not copying off of my neighbor’s, or the truth about my feelings towards the new miniskirt that Brittany had bought the weekend before.
It scared me, to be honest, to think about scraping off the armor of lies that I had spent years building up. I would be stripped of all I had ever known and become raw… and real. I’m sure if I lived in a perfect society, which, mind you, I don’t, it would be a fresh breath of air. Heck, if it were anyone else, I’d suspect that the transition would be just that. But I’m just a girl who’s spent the past nine years living a complete lie. A disgusting lie, at that.
The rain started to pound harder on the roof. Taking my plate of lasagna, I sauntered over to the screen door and watched the droplets cascade down from the sky. I pushed the door open and let my hand hang out there for a few moments. With each drop that landed on each of my fingers came a little more peace in my mind. There was nothing forcing me to tell all this year.
Doesn’t Jon deserve the truth, though?
Gah, I hated the voice inside of my head. It never shut up, especially during the times where I really wanted it to.
Yes, Jon deserved the truth, but the only side of me that he knew was the sick one. No one besides me saw anything but the sick person. The sick, shy person with small glasses that always fell off of her nose. Not the blue eyed, curious, sarcastic artist inside of me.
Although I had incorrectly diagnosed myself with cancer nine years ago, I knew that I could diagnose myself with one common disease. And that was your typical sickness known as self pity.
Tears began to fall down my face. I took a small step outside the door so it would blend in with the rain.
Lately, my life had been falling apart, bit by bit. Kate was getting sicker each and every day, and my lie became harder to tell with each new person I met. Within the first couple of minutes, they identified me the girl with cancer. They always asked me how I was doing. That’s what sucked about living in a town where everyone knew everything about each other.
Oddly enough, no one had known about my sister being sick, excepting a few people that were close to us. Those who had known just considered it an unfortunate coincidence that two parents had given birth to cancer filled daughters.
And the whole thing with Jon and Brittany. It was as if Jon had completely forgotten all about what happened on the family trip we had made to Seattle. I knew that it had meant a lot to me at the time—it still meant a lot to me—but having him coming back after that weekend and getting together with Brittany was like a stab right through my heart.
That night seemed to be right out of a chick flick. He walked into my room after I had changed into some unflattering sweatpants and grinned that grin of his. And then, slowly, the conversation changed to something serious. We started to confess our biggest dreams. When I mentioned that I liked to slow dance, he picked me up off the bed in the hotel and started to spin me around. He had conveniently taken a few ballroom dancing lessons beforehand, but still stepped on my toe. No music was playing, but I could have sworn that I heard an unsung melody sounding through both of our heads.
Just like a movie.
And then, following the climax of the romantic scene, he came back home and hooked up with my best friend. How completely predictable is that?
Even though I could have seen it coming from miles away, it still cut like a knife.
The beads of rain pooled into my hand, their hues changing from clear to the cream shade of my skin. I brought my palm up to my nose and inhaled the smell of freshness overwhelm me.
Once my teeth started to chatter, I walked back inside my house and hiked up the stairs to my room up in the attic. By my choice, I had decided three years ago to live up there. It was a cozy space was above the living room. When I had first moved in, I used to listen to my mom and dad laugh at television shows through the floor. My ear would be red from being pressed to the ground for so long, but I continued to do so nonetheless.
I opened the closet in my sister’s room and climbed up the narrow set of twelve stairs up to the room.
When Jon had first come into my room, he had been surprised that the only way to get there was through my sister’s room. But she and I liked it, especially when Katie was really sick. I would stop every night and talk to her. On some nights, she could barely talk, but those were the nights where I could really connect with her. She would smile at nearly everything I said and turned on our favorite crime show.
My bed was neatly made with my teddy bear sitting smack dab in the middle. It may be childish to have something like that in the middle of my bed, but it was one of the few gifts I had received from my parents. Most of the time it was thrown on the floor, but on the few days I actually made my bed, it became the centerpiece.
I took it into my arms and clutched it to my stomach. A few tears dripped onto its ears and the nose. I sniffled and fell down onto my bed. I couldn’t stand days like this; the ones where I was alone with my thoughts. The lies always came to the front of my mind and stayed there until I fell asleep around midnight.
My cell phone buzzed again. Assuming it was a text message; I left it in my pocket and closed my eyes. Two seconds later, it buzzed again. Who would be calling me?
I grabbed it out and looked at the screen. Jon.
Okay, so maybe he did call me a couple times a week, but I knew he had been out in New Hampshire for the weekend with no cell service. “Hello?”
“Hey, chica, how are you doing? How are you feeling?”
That was the first thing he ever asked whenever we talked. How are you feeling? How’s your sister? What have you been up to? “I’m fine. You can stop asking that.” I gulped. “I’m in remission.”
“I know, but maybe today’s an off day. You never know,” he said cheerfully. “Anyway, I called you because I have some good news.”
I stood up and started to pace around the small amount of square footage my room had in it. “What?”
He chuckled softly, melting my heart. “Well, we’ve been out here for what, a few weeks? My parents decided to take me to a public music festival just for fun. When they opened the instruments up for everyone—“
“You went up there and dazzled the crowd, yes?” I asked.
“Not really, but almost. An agent came up to me and complimented me. He gave me his card, and wants to meet with me!”
“I am. But I did have a good time up there, and I got a standing ovation.”
I laughed and sat in the small plush chair on the side of my room; pulling my legs up to my chest. My toes were painted a deep turquoise. “So, what’s the real reason why you called?”
“I don’t know, Aspen, you’re just fun to talk to. I’ve been missing you and Britt a lot lately. Families aren’t that much fun when you’re with them twenty four-seven. Seriously, I’m pretty sure six year old brothers are from the devil. Speaking of siblings, how is Katie doing?”
“She’s coming home tonight. I think she’s doing well. I don’t know, I haven’t seen her in a while.”
“I still can’t get over how you and your sister both contracted cancer. It can’t be really plausible, can it?”
“Well, Jon, it happened. Can we not talk about her?”
He paused; a rustle echoed behind him in the house. “I’m sorry, Aspen. I just worry sometimes. Its gotta be hard on your family. Even though you told me not to tell anyone… I don’t know. Why haven’t you told anyone else about Katie?”
Jon knew. He was catching on. I was running out of lies to feed him, and he was too smart to believe anything I said anymore. “Jon… there’s something I have to tell you.”
“Shoot, Penny.” He had come up with that nickname the first time he met me. I hated it, but it stuck. Ever since I started writing letters to him, I signed it with his name for me.
“Well…” This was it.
But I couldn’t keep this from him for much longer. He already doubted me after he found out about Katie. I mean, one family never has two daughters sick with the same cancer during the same couple of years. Sure, it’s happened before, but it’s not normal. We’re a completely normal family living a fairly normal life.
“I just wanted to say that I’m grateful for your help through this. It means a lot.”
I couldn’t handle it. Stripping off my skin and letting out the real me for the first time in nine years—that’s not something I’m ready to do.
We couldn’t talk for much longer afterwards. My words came out choked and forced, and eventually, Jon simply didn’t want to talk with me. I couldn’t blame him; I just kept stuttering and trying to react to his petty attempts at small talk.
No wonder he was still with Brittany—I was such an idiot.
I stood up from my chair and walked over to my dresser; littered with numerous sets of nail polishes. The polish remover sat on top of all the other bottles. Picking it up, I went back to my bed and started to erase the blue coloring on top of my toenails. Underneath laid five toenails that had been neglected for too long.
I had given up on trying to take care of my fingernails. Somehow I had gotten into the habit of biting them while I was in the hospital, waiting for Katie. I vowed to care for my toenails, and ever since they had always been, except for the last couple of weeks. Usually they were clean, shiny, and if I had the time, painted some color. But I just hadn’t had the time or the initiative to do so.
The turquoise polish came off rather easily, and I took the nail file from my nightstand and started to work with them again. My knees cracked as I pulled them up to my chest, leaning my head against them.
After filing my toenails for ten minutes, I turned my head to the right and wrapped my arms around my legs. I sighed and looked at the nightstand next to my bed. A butterfly lamp dominated the majority of the space, but the parts that weren’t occupied by it were covered in pictures and notes from my friends.
My favorite picture had to be the one in the plain black frame. It was of Brittany and I, holding hands on the beach together when we were seven years old. Despite the fact that she was dating Jon, I loved her to death. I knew her like the back of my hand. We would laugh for hours on end, and I could basically tell her everything, well, besides the big stuff. She was the only person that didn’t mind when I didn’t tell her everything about my life. Brittany was perfectly content with being in the dark when it came to me.
A picture of Kate and I stood next to the one of Brittany and I. It was much more recent than the other; one from only a year ago. Katie had a tuft of gorgeous yet fine blonde hair with a smile that outshined mine. Her blue eyes sparkled in the light of the grassy backdrop behind us.
I stood behind her with a half smile and a mop of straight red-brown hair on my head. We had the same stature and the same eyes, and besides the hair color, we could be twins. Considering everything, we could be. I’d be the evil one, her the angel one with a pedestal right beneath her.
Downstairs, I heard footsteps and the deep rumblings of voices. I spread my legs out in front of me and stretched out before heading down to see my family.
I walked into the living room and saw Katie in her wheelchair, still smiling. Since the picture, her hair had fallen out from chemotherapy, but she was still the most beautiful person I knew. Even now, just after a blood transfusion, she was still grinning from ear to ear. Her eyes glittered in the dim lights. “Aspen, I’ve missed you! Come here, give me a hug!”
Although she was only twenty six years old, she looked at least ten years older than that. She had bags under her eyes and pale cheeks that were stretched against her bones.
Katie tried to live on her own while in remission. In fact, she lived a good hour away from us in Boston and had a job before she was diagnosed with leukemia again.
She wasn’t really well known over here in this town, making my situation even easier to deal with. Katie might’ve lived with us for the past year, but my parents hated talking about her. When people would ask how their daughter was doing, they would simply assume that they were talking about Katie. Often, my mom and dad were too tired and stressed to think about much else besides Katie and when she would get better. They both chose to stay oblivious about my deception.
I wrapped my arms around her and squeezed her gently. “Katie, I missed you, too. Are you feeling any better?”
“I feel like I just had a blood transfusion, which means no, I don’t feel very well. But I do love being home, you know.”
My mom stepped in between us and gave me a half smile. “You two need to go to bed. Aspen, can you help your sister up to her room?”
I nodded and took hold of her wheelchair and offered my hand for her to take. Katie winced as she attempted to stand up. She put on a brave face the moment her body was stabilized. “Come on, Aspen. Let’s go upstairs.”
I looked back behind us to say goodnight to our parents, but they had already left to go to their room. “Well, aren’t they in a good mood today?”
Katie shrugged. “The ride home was a little stressful. Some of the hospital bills are getting a little steep for Dad to cover. He tried to negotiate with someone on the phone, and when it didn’t work out, he was kind of pissed.”
“That sucks,” I said simply.
She led me to the staircase. All of her footsteps were labored, her breathing becoming wheezier with each one. “I hate to say this, but I’m completely out of shape,” she laughed.
I picked her frail body up and threw her over my shoulder. Katie was so light that I could barely feel her when I carried her up to her room. I ran up the stairs and dropped her onto her bed. “I have to tell you something, Kate.”
She grabbed her favorite heart-shaped pillow and pressed it to her chest. “Okay, I’m ready. Thanks for bringing me up the stairs.”
“You won’t get mad at me, right?” I asked hesitantly.
“Of course not.”
After the entire night of pulling my hair out for not telling Jon, I knew I had to tell someone before I exploded. Katie was the only person I could trust, the only person that wouldn’t scream and hate me forever if I told her.
Technically, I had already told her before. She was put under a couple of months ago and after her surgery, I went into her room, alone. I whispered to her about meaningless things for a few minutes before blurting out my huge secret.
When she woke up, she looked at me the same. That made me wonder if she hadn’t been affected by what I said, but when I tried to bring it up a couple days later, she shrugged and acted as if she didn’t know what I was talking about. “Katie, I’ve been living a lie.”
“Haven’t we all? I’ve been lying to myself for years that I’m going to be completely healed one day. It’s not going to happen.”
“That’s not true. You’ve been reacting well to treatments, you’ve stayed alive for a long time—“
“Aspen, it just hurts me more to have you say that. I know you don’t believe that in your heart. I’m ready to die; I have been for a while. That’s not to say that I don’t want to live, but I’m sick and tired and I just want all this to stop. You need parents, Aspen. And with me being ill all the time, you haven’t had the chance to experience life as it should be.”
I smirked and tried to lighten the mood. “Real philosophical of you, Katie.”
She half smiled at me and sighed. “Anyway, what did you want to tell me?”
“It’s more advice than anything. What would you do, in a hypothetical situation; if someone had lied so much that they couldn’t even find a shred of truth in their life anymore?”
“Uh, can you repeat the question?” Katie laughed.
“Like, if I were to tell you that I had been lying my entire life about something… and it just got out of hand. What would you do?”
“Depends on what you’re lying about. Aspen, I really didn’t take you to be that much of a liar—“
“I didn’t say I was lying,” I replied shakily. “I mean, just in general, what would you do?”
“Like I said, it depends on what you’re lying about. If you’re just lying about having some foreign boyfriend in order to have Jon notice you, then I would just leave it. But if you’re pretending to be someone else for a person, then I would come clean.”
“What if they won’t like you because of how you lied to them?”
“Aspen, what’s going on? Why are you lying to people?”
“That doesn’t matter, Katie. I want to know what you would do in the situation.”
She started to bite her fingernails; something she did when she was thinking about what to say. I had only seen her do this twice before in my life. The first time was when our parents asked her if she wanted to continue with chemotherapy after she became sick again, and the second when she was suggested that she go back to school for a GED. Whenever she started to do this, nervousness seeped through my skin. My palms began to sweat, forehead dripped—the whole nine yards. I couldn’t tell anyone exactly why this made me so nervous. Maybe it was because when she acted like she was truly thinking about things, she seemed stressed. When Katie stressed, I worried about her health. Stress wasn’t healthy for anybody, much less one with leukemia.
Five minutes later, she took her fingers out of her mouth and looked up at the ceiling. “I’m trying to figure out what to say. I know what you told me in the hospital… and I know what you’re lying about.”
My heart dropped down to my stomach. It seemed as if my whole word had crashed down on top of me and I was expected to hold the weight of it on my shoulders. Didn’t she realize that I expected her to hate me for this?
“The only reason why I haven’t brought it up is because I thought I had been dreaming. Obviously, I hadn’t been. I am pretty disappointed in you, Aspen.”
“Don’t even start, Katie. You’re my sister, not my mother—“
“I should be your mother! You know that Mom and Dad don’t give you enough attention, and I understand that. But faking cancer for attention? That’s not funny.”
I walked over to the rope that hung from her ceiling and pulled the ladder down. “You know what, Katie? I don’t want to hear it.”
She stuttered as I made my way up to my room. I couldn’t even trust my own sister with who I was. Katie couldn’t understand or help me.
I don’t think anyone understood. I was drowning in a tangle of my own lies, and even though it was of my own doing, I wanted out.