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“I can’t believe you actually did it last night! And with Matt, too!” I only just refrained myself from shrieking out my friend’s most recent news. Apparently she had lost her virginity to her most recent boyfriend, Matt, after their date to the movies last night.
“Oh my god, Haylie, I don’t even care that it was in the backseat of his truck, he was just so romantic. I felt pleasure in ways I never thought were possible,” she whispered back to me, throwing both of us into a fit of giggling. We stopped talking about it then, mostly because the bell had rung and our teacher, Mr. Buford, had ordered the class to be silent. I looked at my guy friend who sat in front of me, James. We’d known each other since kindergarten and were still the best of friends. While Mr. B drawled on, I leaned forward and whispered into James’s ear.
“Hey. Are you still a virgin?” I was curious to see whether or not any of my other friends had done it yet. I hadn’t, because I didn’t really plan on doing that kind of stuff as a freshman in high school, even in Jenny had. He looked back at me with a raised eyebrow and a curious smirk. I just shrugged and motioned with my hand for him to “go on.” He nodded his head yes, and then whispered back, “Why do you ask?”
Once again I shrugged. “Just wondering,” I said nonchalantly. He rolled his eyes at me. “What about you?” he asked, looking genuinely interested. I laughed. “Yes! There’s no way I’m losing it before college.” He chuckled under his breath and our conversation ended at that.
Twelve days later, James wasn’t in school, which was odd since he had never missed school before. Ever. After school I called him on his cell, but he didn’t answer. Another odd thing because he always answered his phone for me, even the one time we got into a big fight in seventh grade about this awful girl he had been dating. Then I called his home phone. His mom answered it, like usual. “Hi Mrs. Greene, its Haylie.”
“Well, hello Haylie! How are you?”
“I’m fine. Is James there?”
It was silent over the phone for a little while and then Mrs. Greene answered in a nervous voice. “No, he’s not here.”
“Oh, where is he?”
“I’m… not sure.”
“Well, can you tell him to call me when he gets back home, please?”
“Of course, sweetie.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Greene. I’ll see you when I see you.”
The line went dead and I nervously answered my mom’s shriek of “dinner’s ready.” He never did call me back.
After my less than helpful talk with James’s mom, I was praying to God that he would be at school today. I didn’t see him in Mr. B’s first hour or in third or at lunch and I didn’t even see him in sixth or seventh, all of which I had classes with him. I was starting to get really worried as I walked to my last hour class, Drama, which I also had with him, when I saw in my peripheral vision, a locker door closing, specifically, James’s locker door.
I stopped in my tracks and ran over to my best friend. I instantly wrapped my arms around him in a hug, not even noticing how stiff he was. He cleared his throat and I let go of him, finally getting a good look at him. He was wearing his Boston Red Sox cap, his chestnut hair sticking out in all places, even through the little hole in the back. He was also wearing the gray aeropostale sweatshirt that was a favorite of mine to steal when the weather got cold along with his favorite light wash jeans.
“Where have you been? I’ve been out of mind worried about you!” I chastised him, taking notice to how emotionless and sad he looked. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” he replied coldly. I took a small step backwards in surprise. What was going on with him? He never talked to anyone like that, especially not me!
“James, what’s going on with you? First of all, you’ve missed two days of school for the first time ever, you didn’t answer your phone for me which you always do, and now you’re talking to me like I’ve got the Plague or something! What the hell?”
He looked away, hiding his eyes with the hair that peeked out from under his baseball cap. “I can’t tell you right now. I’ll call you tonight, I promise.” Then he pushed past me and raced down the hallway.
That night, right after dinner, my phone blared out James’s ringtone . I answered it with a shaky hello.
“Haylie, I don’t know how to say this so I’m just going to come out and say it. I’ve got stage 3 lung cancer.”
My world came crashing down in those tiny 5 seconds. How could James get lung cancer? It didn’t run in his family and he had never shown any signs of getting sick or weak or anything! Sure, he had asthma, but it was a minor case and hadn’t affected him since the second grade. So how in the world could he have gotten lung cancer?!
I started to cry then, shouting out things that I can’t even remember. I think they were along the lines of getting James to not leave me. My mom came into my room and told James that I would have to call him back and hung up the phone before she started cradling me in her arms. I didn’t go to school the next day, but instead I went over to James’s house to talk to him.
We sat in his room all day, talking, crying, comforting, and just being with each other while I found out more about his cancer and how much time he had left.
“A month?! How can you only have a month to live? You were fine before you missed that day at school!” I was crying again, but this time they weren’t racking my shoulders violently, just running down my cheeks.
“I went to the doctor again last night and it turns out that instead of stage three I have stage four. My cancer worked really fast and went up three stages in a month, is what the doctors told me. So I have twenty days.”
“What about chemotherapy? Doesn’t that sometimes work?” Even though I would absolutely hate seeing James lose his beautiful chestnut locks of hair, it would be better having him bald than not having him at all.
“They said that since I’m so far into the stages that it won’t work fast enough for it to actually take effect.”
The rest of the night was spent nearly the same way, and I was allowed to sleep over at his house. The only problem was, while I was in the guest room, I couldn’t get my eyes to close no matter how tired I was. I tip-toed into James’s room, opening the door a creek and whispering into the darkness.
“Psst. Are you awake?”
“I was hoping you were too,” he whispered. My eyes got used to the dark and I could see him pat the space next to him on his bed as he lifted the covers. I walked over to him, got into the bed, and hugged him. He seemed to know that I needed this, to know that he was still there while I had him, so he put his arm around my shoulders and took my hand in his free one while I lay my head on his chest.
We sat like that for a while, just sitting and relishing in the fact that we could hold and be with each other. After about half an hour, we were still awake, and James spoke up for the first time in a while.
“Can you promise me something?”
“Anything,” I said, without hesitation. I could never regret doing anything for James.
“When I die, promise that you won’t forget me or replace me in any way.”
I was shocked. Did he really think I wasn’t already going to do that? I was soaking in every moment we spent together as we spoke and he thought I was going to replace him?
“How could you say that? I couldn’t forget you even if I wanted to.”
“Then can you give me another thing, please?”
He was silent for a while, about forty seconds, and then he whispered something I never could have predicted.
“Will you be my first?”
I didn’t know how to respond. He wanted me to be his first and me his? He was willing to lose his virginity to me, making us more than the best friends we were. I honestly had no idea how else to respond than how I did.
I leaned up, hesitantly, and pushed my lips to his ever so gently. His response was instant and his lips melded against mine as though they were made for each other. The kiss that started out soft and slow got deeper and faster and soon enough, I started to understand what Jenny had meant when she said that she had felt pleasure in ways she had never thought possible before.
Nineteen days later, I was in the hospital, holding James’s hand, watching him die right in front of me while I sobbed uncontrollably. His parents were on the other side of him, weeping but not quite as hard as me. The doctor came in calmly and talked to James’s parents, but I didn’t catch anything. I was too distracted by my best friend’s pale, pained face.
“Haylie…” he murmured my name weakly. I was far past words now, so I only nodded. “Haylie… I love you…”
I looked at him desperately, only just hesitating as I answered him. “I… I love you too, James. I always have, I always will. You know how I love you.” He smiled at me and squeezed my hand feebly.
“Haylie.” I looked up at Mr. and Mrs. Greene, dreading what they would say next. “You have to let him go now. The doctors are going to end his suffering.”
“No!” I screamed. I held James’s hand tighter, feeling on the verge of losing everything I had, which was pretty close to it. “No! You can’t do it! He can’t die! He just can’t!” I looked down at James, completely in denial that he would be leaving me all alone. “You can’t leave me, I need you! I won’t let you!”
He smiled and laughed, bringing his other hand to clasp mine in both of his. “I’ll miss you to,” he whispered, before he closed his eyes and his hand went limp. I was the one holding on now, and I would hold on every day of my life, just for him. For my best friend. My James.