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The Fighter's Dance
"I really don't want to dance," I told him, scrunching my face in an expression that hopefully seemed serious.
"Please, Jenny, it's no big deal. It's prom! You know that I'll show y-"
"No," I interrupted him, my cheeks blazing red with embarrassment. I looked away, into the distance, trying to conceal my humiliation.
I felt him scrutinizing my profile and after a few moments, I snuck a peak. As soon, as our eyes met, I realized I had made a mistake. His eyes widened in shock before he smiled at me softly.
"Jenny," he said kindly. "Do you . . . not know how to dance?" He looked at me wonderingly.
I turned away from his gentle eyes, trying to find something- anything else to look at. He reached out and turned my face so I was looking straight at him. My head pounded slightly, but I ignored it seeing as this was a constant problem lately. I distracted myself from the throbbing by staring at Parker's face.
"I won't push you to do anything you don't want to do, and I will never let you embarrass yourself. I love you Jenny, don't you know that?" My vision blurred, and I blinked hard a few times, trying to clear my sight.
Opening my mouth, I began to answer him but no words came out. I shut it, and tried again but still, nothing came.
Parker's eyes widened and he shook my shoulders. His mouth moved, and I knew he must be talking, but all I could hear was a high-pitched ringing sound echoing through my ears.
The last thing I saw before I blacked out was Parker's face.
The eerie, mechanical, beeping was strangely terrifying. My eyes fluttered open and I drew in a deep, ragged breath. I sat up too quickly, dislodging all sorts of tubes and mechanisms that were attached to me. The IV in my arm jerked painfully, and I grunted softly, leaning back once more.
At the sound of an astonished gasp, I had turned to stare right into his puffy eyes. The corners of my mouth tugged upward into a smile, but I winced when the movement caused me pain. In a flash, he was up and by my side, gently grabbing hold of my arm without the needle.
His touch was so gentle it was as if he thought I would break.
"Jenny," he whispered my name smiling sadly. I scrutinized Parker's features and was alarmed, to see the sorrow seeping from him.
"What's wrong?" I asked worriedly in a voice that sounded unfamiliar to me. My throat felt as dry as a desert as it crackled painfully. Without responding, he continued to blink back tears and stare at me.
"What. Is. Wrong?" Again, he didn't answer me.
I was starting to get very worried.
"Parker, please tell me. What is wrong?" A single tear escaped from one of his eyes and he began to shake his head sluggishly, offering me a small, sad smile. Swiftly, I wiped the moist droplet away with one hand. Immediately, however, more had begun to flow. Enormous tears rolled rapidly down his face. I felt helpless. Desperately, I wanted to take away whatever pain he was feeling and take it into myself. My own eyes began to fill with tears, and he seemed to realize that his misery was breaking my heart. He abruptly turned away, the planes of his face shimmering slightly as the tears steadily streamed.
The door crashed loudly, accidently hitting the wall with a metallic sounding bang. Although I jumped at the unexpected sound, Parker seemed oblivious, his shoulders still shaking horribly. A soft oath echoed through the room, and before I could inhale a single breath, my mother walked around the bend carrying a bag that smelled of what I could only assume was Chinese food.
"Hey, Parker honey, I got us some lunch. I hope you like-," her downcast gaze, shot up to meet mine. Eggrolls and fortune cookies splattered on the ground, as the bag slipped from her nerveless fingers.
"Mom," I said, trying desperately to use a loud, strong voice only to fail miserably.
"Jennifer. My Jenny! My baby! Jenny, Jenny, Jenny." She ran over to the opposite side of my bed, as Parker continued to try to get himself under control. Her arms fluttered around me as gently , as if she was afraid she'd hurt me. Finally, she gave up, threw her arms around me, and began to bawl all over my hospital gown.
I looked down at myself, frowning at my apparel. For the first time since I had woken up, I really began to wonder what was going on.
Clearly, I was in a hospital, but . . . what had happened? As the two people I loved most in the world, cried at my bedside, I leaned back against the thin, scratchy pillow and racked my memory. What happened? I remembered . . . talking with Parker . . . or rather arguing? He wanted me to dance . . .
I groaned in agony as a searing pain throbbed through my head. My brain was attempting to reject the memories. As if background music to the scorching sting in my head, I heard both Parker and my mother calling my name. I put both hands to my temples, and groaned again.
In seconds, the pain was gone, and everything was back to normal. It was as if nothing had ever happened. Like my brain hadn't just had its own mini implosion inside of my skull.
Silence penetrated the room, masking it all in an eerie calm, like the stillness before a storm.
It only lasted a moment. Then, a pudgy, older man with cold, dull eyes and a receding hairline burst into the room. A young pretty woman was trailing slightly behind him, trying to keep up with his speedy pace.
The silence continued as he bustled around me, checking the machines data for things I could only imagine. When he finished, he checked his clipboard and flipped through a couple of papers. He nodded solemnly as if whatever he'd been thinking was confirmed by what he was reading.
He gave each of us a somber expression before looking intently back at me. Then he told me news that changed my life forever.
I had stage-four brain cancer.
According to the doctors, I had a tumor in my brain the size of a tennis ball and only had weeks to live. That was the reason for the lack of concentration, the headaches, and the memory loss. The doctor explained that I had had a seizure at my junior prom due to the cancerous tumor invading me.
While they delivered the news, Parker sat at my bedside holding my hands and kissing my forehead.
Then, I understood why they couldn't tell me. How could my own family have told me the terrible truth? Sometime in the next few weeks, I was going to die. Although I heard the doctor and understood what he was saying, I wouldn't shed one tear. Maybe it wasn’t that I wouldn't, but that I couldn't.
In a way, I was a bit relieved. I was glad I was the one dying and not Parker. I thought selfishly, At least you don't have to live while he dies. Now, you can finally be with your father and brother.
I knew it was wrong to think such thoughts but I couldn't help myself. According to the doctor, there was no hope.
The second the cold uncaring doctor left my room, Parker and my mom began to murmur comforting words about getting second opinions and the possibility that the doctor may be wrong. My mom sniffled loudly, but Parker looked like a completely new person. His eyes had hardened in way I couldn't explain, and his tears and stopped. He looked like he wanted to fight the cancer off with his bare hands.
The next day, I checked out of that hospital only to check into another. The new hospital specialized in cancer treatment.
The center was nothing like I had expected. I was brought to a bright, cozy, little room that looked nothing like a hospital. The doctors and nurses were cheerful and optimistic, telling me that I would make it through and even beat the cancer that invaded my body.
After observing me, my new doctor, a younger man with a kind smile and loving eyes, told me that I would make it through this; all I had to do was believe that God would take care of me.
The doctor said I had a life changing choice to make. I could choose to fight the cancer though I would have to have the tumor surgically removed and go through chemotherapy. My other option was to give in to the Cancer and spend my last few weeks on Earth with my family and friends.
The decision was mine alone to make.
I opened my eyes for the first time post-surgery to see Parker's grinning face. He was the reason why I had to fight. There was no way I could just give up without trying and leave him behind, no matter how easy it would be for me.
With every passing day, Parker had become more and more confident. He truly believed that I would make it through this. Even though he seemed sure, I didn't know what to think anymore. It felt like I no longer had control over my own life, but I would try my hardest to survive for him and for my mother.
There was no way that I could leave them both alone without a fight.
Minutes before I was going to begin my first chemotherapy treatment, I called Parker to my side.
"I can't do it," I cried, begging him with my eyes to understand.
"Yes, you can Jenny. You have to," he responded, his eyes hard with determination.
He must have seen the indecision in my eyes, because he roughly grabbed my face and forced me to look directly into his eyes.
"When your cancer is gone," he told me, his dark green eyes burning into my own, "I'm going to teach you to dance. I don't care if you don't know how, we'll learn together."
Parker's words gave me the strength to continue the fight. I'd fight to the death for him.
Eleven Months Later
Even though the maroon bandana felt irritatingly rough against my skin, I secured it on my head as tightly as my weak fingers would allow. I grimaced and sighed loudly in frustration when my clumsy fingers fumbled over the cloth.
Just as I was about to lose my patience, warm, slender fingers replaced my own awkward ones. She gently tied the bandana, making it look perfect as only a mother can.
In my chair, I fidgeted, tugging at places where the sparkling, red dress seemed too baggy over my bony limbs. The long, floor to ceiling mirror showed a thin, pale looking girl who had been once been pretty.
On the surface, her eyes seemed to gleam with excitement. If you looked closer, however, you could see those eyes revealed the scared, uncertainty she felt inside. I repositioned the bandana that covered my bald head and gazed steadily into my own eyes.
"You look beautiful honey, really beautiful." My mom sniffled once, but as I peeked at her in the mirror, she had a gigantic grin on her face as she squeezed my scrawny shoulder tightly.
A knock on the door interrupted our mother-daughter moment. My heart rate increased and I gulped loudly.
"I'm guessing that's for you," my mother explained, teary eyed.
"I guess so," I replied, smirking slightly.
My wheelchair bumped roughly, as Parker rolled me out of the car using the ramp. He apologized quickly, smiling broadly.
I smiled back feeling the anxiety creep back into me. What would everyone think? I hadn't seen any of them in almost a year. Would they even recognize me without my long blond hair and cheerleading uniform?
Parker seemed to sense my uneasiness, because he put on a brave face for me and straightened his tie. Taking a deep breath, he rolled me ahead of him into the school gymnasium.
All eyes were upon us when we entered the room. The music blared and the "Senior Prom" banner swayed above us, making the experience even more surreal.
After a few minutes of idle chatter, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. Ignoring his offers to help me there, I rolled myself over to the person hired to play the music.
Throwing worried glances over my shoulder, I prayed Parker wouldn't see me. I whispered in the surprised disc jockey's ear explaining what I wanted him to do. He agreed quickly enough and I smiled before spinning my chair around and wheeling myself back to Parker.
Sure enough, a few moments later, the loud, techno music had changed into Parker's and my song. Confused, he slowly turned to me, his face a big question mark.
I gripped both edges of my chair tightly, clenching my teeth in concentration. The back of my mind registered everyone's gaze locked on me, but I only cared about one.
Realizing what I was about to do, he tried to offer me a hand, but I chose to ignore it. I had to do this myself. Unsteadily, I stood on my own two feet for the first time in too long.
Uncertainly, I lifted my hand out towards his in a silent proposal. Without missing a beat, he grabbed it, and supporting both our weight, brought us to the middle of the dance floor.
Everyone gave us a wide berth as we began to slowly rock back and forth. This moment reminded me of why I'd done it. This was why I had fought so hard. It didn't matter that I was a horrible dancer, that I was bald, or that my bones were prominent looking through my skin. He would always be there to help me through the tough times. It was all for him.
"Parker," I whispered in his ear. "It's gone."
"What's gone?" he asked confused looking at me puzzled.
"The cancer," I whispered.
For the rest of the night, we stayed there, just holding each other and slow dancing to the rhythm of the music. Our hearts beat as one