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You know, it’s pretty rare for a fifteen year old girl to suddenly pick up cancer, so I hope you don’t go around wondering if every other girl who has green eyes or wears skinny blue jeans is going to die in six months.
I find it really bizarre actually, because brain cancer isn’t really a big problem amongst kids. Two thousand sixty-two kids were diagnosed with malignant brain tumors last year in the United States. My uncle died of heart disease last year, along with about one hundred thousand other people. That’s enough people to make my head hurt.
Gosh, I suppose I really shouldn’t be using that expression anymore, should I?
“What cha thinking about, kiddo?” my dad asked. My dad was only thirty-five and he was that guy you’d see at his kid’s baseball games. There were the parents that sat there quietly and there were the parents that sat there and yelled, but he’d be the parent taking notes on the sidelines, ready to go over them in the car ride home. And all I’d hear on the ride home was how I moved my back foot when I swung so I lost all my power and I needed to use two hands to catch fly balls and for Pete’s sake could I pull those bangs away from my face so I didn’t trip over my feet so much?!
By the end of the season I was batting fourth and started at third base, and when my dad took me out to ice cream after my first home run, I couldn’t even remember bawling my eyes out on the car rides home.
“Remember when I used to play baseball?” I asked. I looked at the window; it seemed to be the only thing in the room that wasn’t a bland old white. It was cracked open, letting in a bit of a chill, but I didn’t bother asking Dad to close it. I didn’t mind a little interaction with the outside world.
My dad smiled. “The only girl on the team.”
“I wasn’t thinking of that part. I was thinking about my first home run when you took me out to ice cream.”
You would’ve thought I’d told him his grandmother had just been run over.
“You liked that?” he smiled in an attempt to cover up the waterworks, but my dad was no actor.
“Yeah. It was fun.”
“I was so hard on you about baseball. Do you remember that?” he asked.
“No, just the ice cream,” I lied. I’d been doing that a lot these days. You’d think that if you were told you were going to die, you’d just tell people the truth because it couldn’t exactly come back to haunt you. Hell, I’ll be coming back to haunt it. But I swear, I’ve told more lies in these past two months than some people do in their whole life.
My dad liked that answer; he smiled. Whenever he smiled, he’d crinkle the corner of his eyes so much that you could hardly see the green irises. I wonder if I do that, but I don’t plan to spend my remaining days examining myself in front of a mirror. I’d never done that much before, and that wasn’t one of those habits that people pick up after getting a death sentence.
My dad left my hospital room with the farewell that he’d get me some water because I looked thirsty. He never asked, he just did. I think he just couldn’t stand the smell of this god-awful hospital room; it smelled like bleach. He sent my older brother in when he left – one of my brothers, anyway. The other one was off at college; he seemed to find that more suitable for him, and I wasn’t about to hate him for that because God knows what I’d do if the situation was reversed.
Ricky was a year older than me and although I’d never admit it out loud, was my favorite of my two brothers. The problem with Dale – my oldest brother – was that he’d say he just assumed things about you, when he was really always trying to do things for his best interest. He was a bit like my dad, actually.
Ricky was more like my mom. He’s the type of kid where you just know he’s going to come to the ten year high school reunion with stories of how he got the first people on Mars and negotiated a peace treaty with Saudi Arabia, all in one day. He played three sports and maintained his GPA above a 4.0, and he’d do it like it was a nice little stroll in the park.
He was the one who was most bummed when I decided to quit school after finding the diagnosis. Ricky valued school more than he valued oxygen, which is a pretty rare thing to find in a sixteen year old, but Ricky never stuck with what was normal.
“Hey, kid,” he said, sitting in the indent left on the chair by Dad.
“Hey, Ricky,” I said. He threw his feet up on the white sheets of the bed, not really caring if he’d muddy them up or if I cared, because he knew I wouldn’t mind.
“Did you hear Dale got a job?” he asked. Of course I hadn’t, because Ricky was just about the only person left in my family who would talk to me about Dale anymore, all because he wouldn’t come home from college to see me before my big surgery. Honest to God, it wasn’t the end of the world, not the way Mom and Dad escalated it to be. I don’t even know what they thought of it, but they thought I couldn’t stand him anymore, all because he’d chosen to take his finals instead of fly across the country to see me. Ricky knew I wasn’t offended, but his mentioning of my oldest brother’s absence reminded me of why I was here. And I didn’t care about the six month sentence, my God, a whole six months is an awful long time for a fifteen year old – I don’t know how long that passes. Half an hour is really quite a bit shorter.
“No,” I said, but Ricky could hear the thickness in my voice.
“Hey, Audrey, don’t worry about it, okay?” Ricky said. “You’re going to come out fine – hopefully, better than fine.”
“Statistically speaking,” he said with a grin. “You’ve got all of ninety-five percent chance of coming out of there with your head screwed on straight.”
Now there’s something my parents never would have said to me. Ricky was the type of kid who wouldn’t lie to anybody, which was sometimes reassuring, but the fact of it was, there was still a whole five percent.
“Do you remember how we used to play baseball?”
“In the fifth grade?”
“Yeah, I was in forth; you were in fifth.”
“Of course I do,” he said. He was the reason I played baseball – the reason I was the only girl on the team. I wanted to do everything with my big brother.
“Do you remember when I hit that home run?” I asked.
“Of course I do. Last game of the season, and I was exceptionally jealous. Well, until Dad took both of use for ice cream, then I didn’t mind too much,” Ricky was smiling, and I’d bet he was the only person in this whole hospital who was smiling.
“You ever think about playing baseball again?” I asked.
“Are you kidding?” he asked. “I already play football, hockey, and lacrosse; you really think I got room in my schedule?”
“No. I was just wondering.” I closed my eyes. “Would you get me some water?”
“Sure,” he said. He got up and left, and I hoped he wouldn’t run into my dad doing the same task down the hall. The reason I sent him away was because I just couldn’t stand to let him see me cry. I just couldn’t help but think about how many more at bats he had left in the game.