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Only LIke a Brother Would
“Pass! Pass! C’mon man, I’m right here!” The player that had been yelled at looked up, panting, dribbling the ball all the while. His hand was put as if he were trying to guard the ball. The palm of his hand was covered in dark veins that stood out in comparison with his friends’. His eyes showed a twinkle of amusement. Sweat glistened over the top of his lip, and forehead, and the back of his jersey was drenched. Playfully, he said, “You gonna get the ball, Charles? You wan’ it? Huh? Huh? Then come get it!”
Charles replied, “Oh! You wanna go, man? You wanna take this outside? Let’s go! C’mon, let’s go!” The two tall boys laughed out loud in their deep, manly voices as Chris slam dunked the basketball, and the echo of ball hitting rim rang out across the court. The court was small, and closed, but it was outside, and this is what they loved about it. The air was musty, and when they stood close to each other, they could both smell the sweet scent of sweat lingering in the air between them. Chris had his hands on his waist, and was panting. His breath made a puffy white cloud when he breathed out each time. He looked away to spit in a patch of grass that had inconspicuously poked out of the cement. The spit flew out of his mouth, and landed straight in the middle. It looked like a yellowy mess of dew. Chris satisfactorily wiped his mouth with the front of his jersey.
Charles check-mated Chris, and they began another game of street basketball. The ball pounded the cement, and the only conversation that took place was with hands, steals, bounces, turns, and moves. They were a challenge to each other – they knew the same moves, they knew the others next thought, so the ball rarely got to even skim the net. The only sounds were there out-of-breath panting, and their shoes scuffing the pavement.
Although the two were both 15, they were different in every way possible. For one, Chris was black and poor, and Charles came from a rich American family.
10 years ago, Chris’ mom had begun working as a housemaid for Charles’ relatives. Ever since then, the two boys had become best friends the instant they had met each other. They would do everything together, from playing duck duck goose, to playing intense street b-ball. As the two boys grew up, though, their friendship began to reveal just how different they were from the other. They had been best friends for nearly 10 years, and they had thought that nothing would break this pact of friendship; they soon learned that they were completely wrong.
Charles’ family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Swanson, and Charles’ twin sister Charlotte. Charlotte and Charles had absolutely nothing in common. Charlotte had long, straight dark brown hair with specks of freckles sprinkled all over her oval face. When she smiled, two dimples on each side of her cheeks just below the corners of her mouth would peek out. She was shy, and had a soft, quiet voice. Charles, on the other hand, was outgoing, and had a loud, deep voice that anyone could pick out from over a crowd. His eyes would crinkle when he laughed his impish smile, and he was known for his mischievousness. He was an original comedian, but at the same time, knew how to be serious. Despite these differences, though, the twins were extremely close and had a tendency to finish the other’s sentence, Charlotte in her quiet voice, and Charles in his booming one.
Chris’ family was the exact opposite of Charles’. His father had been killed in a car crash when his mother was pregnant with his little sister, Sofia, and Chris only a mere boy of nine years old. One would have thought that this would have left the family broken and distant, but this incident had only brought the family closer than ever. Unlike Charlotte and Charles, Sofia and Chris looked exactly the same. They had the same twinkling, milky brown eyes with dark, curled lashes and a slightly pointed nose. They were both very shy, but not diffident in any way.
“You wanna come over to my house for dinner with your mom and Sofia? Charlotte’ll be there,” Charles said in a puckish voice. Chris grinned. Charlotte and Chris had been going out for about a year, now, and Chris was very content with this.
“Sure. I’ll just go home and take a quick shower. We’ll be there around 7-ish? Is that aiight?”
“Sure. I’ll tell Charlotte to get ready.” Charles winked, and passed the basketball to Chris. “Later, man.”
“Yea, see ya.” Chris headed home, whistling all the while. It was getting dark, now, and all he could make out were the silhouettes of people slowly meandering their way home. Illuminated faces would quickly come in and out of shadows, almost like ghosts.
It was drizzling lightly, now, and Chris shivered. He stopped bouncing the ball and stooped to tie his shoe. While doing so, he noticed a train of penny-sized bruises lined on the front of his leg. He pressed gently against them, but felt no pain at all. He murmured, “Probably got it last week when I fell climbing the stairs,” and gave no second thought to it.
When he got home, it was already 6:10, so he quickly explained to his mom that they were invited for dinner.
“So what time do we have to be there by?”
“Seven o’ clock,” replied Chris.
“Be ready to leave by 6:45, because I want to buy them some dessert.”
The family of three lived in a small, but cozy apartment. It was always tidy and everything had been carefully sorted in alphabetical order. The walls were painted with the lightest shade of green, and on one side was a bookshelf filled with books galore. There were picture books from when Chris and Sofia were kids, and joke books that Charles had gotten Chris for his birthday a few years ago. Alongside the shelf was a CD rack that had once belonged to Chris’ father.
The kitchen was located on the opposite side of the wall, and a little opening in the wall led into it. The kitchen was a small one, barely five feet wide and seven feet long. It was old and had been used by previous owners of the apartment, but Chris’ mother had done her best to shine the counters with Windex and to scrub the stoves until they were gleaming.
To the left of the kitchen was a hallway that led to Chris’ room. Opposite his, was his mother’s and Sofia’s bedroom. Chris’ door was a plain white color with signs decorating it. One yellow sign read “Keep Out – Don’t Pout”, and a bright neon poster read “Make It, and Take It”, which was a basketball game that he and Charles frequently enjoyed playing.
Chris slowly pulled off his shirt, and glanced at his arm – a trail of bruises followed the path of his veins. That’s weird, he thought. But Chris continued to ignore the bruises and went to the bathroom to take a shower.
At 6:30 Chris was ready to go. He smelled fragrantly of shaving cream, and he had his favorite shirt on – a polo with green and white stripes running vertically.
“Honey, what are these?” His mother had a concerned expression on her face and was slowly tracing her fingers up and down his right arm. “Have you been-? We are going to the doctors, now, young man.”
“Maannn, you are in t-rou-ble!” Sofia laughed nervously as she glanced at the circles trailing Chris’ arm.
“Mom! I haven’t been shooting up! I’ve never even touched that kinda stuff before…”
“Chris, it doesn’t matter if you haven’t been shooting up – this doesn’t look normal to me.” Chris’ mother looked at him with a stern face.
“But mom, what about Charlo – I mean the dinner?”
“Honey, I don’t think it’s going to take that long, if we leave, now, so we’ll be able to make it in time – don’t worry. And you, Sofia, you can stay at home.” Sofia opened her mouth in protest but quickly shut it when she saw the expression on her mother’s face.
Soon enough, Chris found himself in the familiar family doctor clinic. It smelled faintly of a mixture between hand sanitizers and old air fresheners. As they waited, Chris repeatedly checked the clock while impatiently tapping his foot on the maroon colored rug.
“Mr. Blake? Dr. Jay is ready to see you.” The receptionist emerged in her navy blue suit, and glanced at him above her blue spectacles. His mother got up with him, and followed him into the hallway.
Once settled into the room, Dr. Jay appeared minutes later, and asked, “So, what do we have now? I think last month you had a sprained wrist. So is it a broken bone this time?” Dr. Jay playfully teased Chris.
“No, doctor, Chris has peculiar bruises running along his right arm, and his left leg. I thought they looked a little out of place, and Chris found no reason for them to be there,” Ms. Blake carefully explained.
“Well, then, lets take a look.” The doctor examined Chris’ arm, and leg, murmuring to himself often. “Okay, Chris, I need you to lie down on your back for me…” As Chris did as he was told, the physician slowly unraveled his t-shirt. On his brown stomach were multiple bruises, similar to the ones on his leg and arm, but bigger. Chris’ mom gave a light gasp. And Dr. Jay’s forehead creased into thicker lines. He sighed, and pulled out his clipboard. “Ms. Blake, I don’t want to jump to any conclusions, but… to be on the safe side,” he paused. “I would like to take your son into further tests because these contusions are likely symptoms of leukemia. Until further tests are given, I would suggest your son to go home, take a rest, and refrain from vigorous activities until the results are confirmed.”
Chris’ mom blankly looked from her son to the family physician. “A-a-are you telling me that my boy has cancer?!”
Dr. Jay sighed again. “Ms. Blake, I am not an expert on cancer so I do not have the expertise to make a direct conclusion about this situation. If we do take further exams, however, we will be able to take immediate action in order to prevent the cancer from spreading any further. That is, if there is any cancer.”
“When will you be able to take those tests?”
“I can take them right now if you’d like, but it will take a couple of hours.”
“That would be… yes, we’ll wait.”
An hour later, Chris went home along with his mother when he suddenly remembered, “What about the dinner?”
“Oh my goodness… with all the rush of things… I totally forgot… oh my…” Chris’ mom murmured under her breath. “I should probably call –”, and then she broke down. She pulled over, and sobbed into her hands. She was shaking uncontrollably. Her son had a likely chance of leukemia, and she could not do anything about it. She was absolutely helpless and heartbroken. How had she not noticed the bruises before? Would Chris be able to live through this crisis? Thoughts rushed into Ms. Blake’s head before she could even think about them. Seeing his mother’s worried eyes nervously darting back and forth, he affectionately squeezed her hand.
“Mom, don’t worry! It’s prob’ly all a mistake, ya know…” but as he attempted to support his mother, Chris’ own voice had betrayed him.
A couple days later, the family got a call from Dr. Jay. The test results had come out. His voice was sad, and melancholy when he spoke.
Chris did have leukemia. He had a rare disease called acute promyelocytic leukemia, otherwise known as APL.
When Chris’ mom heard the news, she collapsed on her bed and refused to come out. She was like a shadow of someone that everyone had known before.
Chris was the same. He had gone stock still, and had just walked out of the apartment. With his cell he had called Charlotte, and said, “Hey, baby. Wassup? Haven’t talked to you in a while, yea? I know, I know… I’m sorry, I’ve just been busy with homework, and… other stuff… look, Charlotte, you wanna meet somewhere? I’ve got somethin’ to talk to you ‘bout. Yea, how ‘bout the Café next to the ballpark? ‘Kay, see you there around 1-ish? Bye.” When he had hung up the phone, he was more than sure of what he was about to say to her.
He was already waiting when she appeared. He had been rehearsing what he would have to say, and he knew that he would have to say it no matter what – for Charlotte, it would be best for her.
She showed up 10 minutes later. Perfect – as always. Her hair shone in the sunlight, and her sparkling eyes danced when she caught sight of him.
“Chris! It feels like ages since I’ve last seen you!” She seemed so ecstatic to have seen him, but Chris had been dreading this moment. She leaned in to steal a kiss, but Chris stopped her.
“Charlotte, we got somethin’ to talk ‘bout… I…”, the next words came out in a rush. “I think we should stop seeing each other.”
There was a pause as Charlotte’s face turned from rapturous to stunned. “What are you talking about?” Her voice quivered “I guess… I guess if that’s what you want… You know what? I have to go. Bye.” And then she left.
“Why do you hang out with Chris all the time?” This was the question that Charles’ friends confronted with him, one day. Charles stiffened. It had been weeks since he had last talked to his “best friend”.
“I don’t hang out with him anymore. What’re you talkin’ about?”
The person who had been talking raised his eyebrows. “Somethin’ going on between you two?”
Charles wanted to scream, “YES!” But instead of shouting, Charles replied coolly, “I dunno.”
“Good. See, if you start hanging out with someone that’s not as cool as you, then your rep’s gonna go down, man.” The icy look on Charles’ face must have made the leader think twice about what he had said. He sighed. “Look, Charles, it’s this simple. Ditch the black kid, and we’re cool.”
Charles was about to say, “Sure.” But instead, he punched the speaker. Blood started pouring out of his nose, and he yelled, “What the –”, before Charles punched him again. Then he started sprinting until he stopped at the old basketball court.
He couldn’t understand himself. Why had he punched the guy who had just offered himself up as a friend? So what if he had insulted Chris? They weren’t friends anymore. Why had he stood up for someone who was too much of a coward to stand up for himself? “Coward!” He yelled out, and his voice echoed across the court. He hadn’t been here in a long time.
“Who, me?” A tired, but strong voice suddenly appeared from nowhere. Charles turned around only to find Chris, but bald.
“Dude, what the heck did you do to your hair?” Chris self consciously checked his shiny brown head, but ignored Charles’ question.
“I saw what you did back there.”
“Look, dude, just ‘cause I stood up for you doesn’t’ mean I wanna be friends with you, got that? I mean, after what you did to –” Charles stopped, and glared at Chris with a look of deep, angry, fiery passion.
“Man, I’m sorry what I did! I thought I was protecting her from what was about to come! I didn’t want her to get hurt… all this was for her… but I guess I gave you all the wrong idea…”
“Like heck you made the wrong impression! What did you think you were protecting her from? Your bald head?” The ball hit home. Chris, an almost full grown man, broke down and started crying. Tears slid down his cheeks freely, and he didn’t bother to wipe them away.
“Yea, you know what, Charles? I didn’t want her to see me like this! No, even more than that, I didn’t want her to go through what I’m going through right now!” That’s when it hit Charles. The bald head, the repeated absences, the tired voice that was always reluctant to speak up in class, and becoming a loner. Could all this be due to… some disease?
Chris looked up at Charles’ stunned face. He bitterly laughed. “Yup, I have cancer. I have a rare form of leukemia called APL.” He rubbed his eyes.
Charles found his voice again. “That’s why you’ve been doing all this? You gave up your social life just because you thought Charlotte would get hurt?”
Suddenly, Charles laughed out loud. “Chris, back there, I was completely pissed at you. But I just couldn’t tell those guys that we weren’t friends anymore. That’s the way it is with brothers, they never leave the other stranded even when the other person abandons you first. Oh, and don’t ever even think about leaving this world without me, because then that makes it the second time that my own kin has abandoned me.” And he winked playfully as his sharp, crystal blue eyes sparkled in the sunlight in contrast with Chris’ soft, milk chocolate almonds. That was enough for Chris to know that everything would be all right, and they fell onto the silky green grass laughing, because color or the mistakes he had made no longer mattered. They were brothers, and that was the only thing that counted.