You are so pale. I know it’s the treatment that makes you like this, thin and paper-white and so weak you can hardly stand. That doesn’t make any sense to me, though. How is it supposed to help when it keeps you stuck in that stupid bed? I can see the veins under your skin, it’s so nearly translucent.
I trace them now. You sleep deeply, exhausted from the pain of the medication, your body attacking itself while everyone else tries to heal it. I hate it.
I remember you just a few months ago. You were so completely free of this beast, gnawing away at your resolve with that false hope: it’s gone, you’re safe.
‘Connor,’ you mumble. I tear my eyes away from the track of your veins. Your eyes are filmy, like someone’s painted over them with a layer of leftover grease from the bottom of a pan, but I can still see the darkness, the mystery underneath them. You glance up at the ceiling, frowning like it’s too bright, even though I’ve made sure the curtains are drawn and all of the lights stay off. You’ve grown more sensitive to it, these past few days. Then you push at the mattress, trying to push yourself up so that you’re sitting, but you struggle greatly with the simple task.
‘Here, let me—’ I start, reaching.
‘No!’ you command sharply, and I freeze. ‘No, it’s fine, I can do it myself.’
I look you solidly in the eyes for a beat, watching you struggle a little more until I hold out the remote to the bed. You immediately look abashed. I’m suddenly filled with guilt. I shouldn’t have done that. You have always been so independent, so wild and free; being restrained to this bed is like sacrificing part of your humanity. You are a slave to the sickness, that snarling beast they call Cancer. I hate it.
‘God, Connor,’ you say, interrupting my thoughts. You’ve moved the mattress up so that you’re sitting. ‘Stop it, just... stop coddling me. I can’t stand it.’
There’s a little crease between your eyebrows. I want to smooth it out, that and all of the wrinkles to come. Even the ones you won’t get to have.
‘Sorry,’ I say automatically, before I realise that’s exactly what you mean. I bite my lip, as if that will take the word back, but it doesn’t help. The beeping of the machines in the room don’t help. The bruises under your eyes, far, far too dark and large to be natural, don’t help. I can’t see clearly. No, no, no, you’re not supposed to see me cry. I try so hard; you don’t need any of my emotional turmoil. You have so much already.
‘Connor,’ you say again, the irritation drained out of it. ‘I didn’t mean—please don’t cry, it’s not your fault.’ I look away, trying to hide my face and my tears, but then you reach up, hands barely shaking, and force me to see.
‘You were sleeping, but the sunrise this morning was magnificent,’ I say, grasping for something to talk about that isn't the hospital bed, or the machines beeping and flashing, or the somber quietness of this wing of the house, like someone (not you, never you) has already died. ‘The sky was streaked with this mix of early blue and soft orange, like it was fighting itself for dominance. Blue always wins, of course, but today, the orange burned bright, proud in its temporary self.’ I sigh, thinking about it, and not about you missing the pretty picture; you’d always missed things like that, because you used stayed up half the night anyways to write or draw or paint or just to think. ‘Summer sun is always the happiest. Do you think the plants know that the sun is happy to be shining?’
You wipe at the tears on my cheeks. I know I’m not fooling you, with this watery smile I offer and my silly words. I can’t fool you. You’re too clever. But I can fool myself, with inane chatter, like this tangent on which I’ve gone off again. Irrelevant things, distracting things like that, they’re so insignificant. ‘Sorry.’
‘God, I love you,’ you say. There’s something foreign in your dark, cloudy eyes, gone clear and focused with awareness. They flicker up and down my face, and I feel numb, numb with shock and confusion, but I can’t open my mouth, can’t ask the simple question (What?) because you shouldn’t have the kind of eyes that could flay open a man to root around at his insides: those kind of eyes are supposed to be light, blue, so clear and cold that they’re nearly sharp. That’s what the stories say, right? It’s a great cliché of literature: Byronic heroes are dark and brooding, with hair to match their thoughts and eyes in impossible shades of blue.
Who ever said brown eyes were boring? Christ, I could lose myself in yours.
I finally ask it. ‘What?’ It comes out half-strangled, but it doesn’t matter; you’ve closed your eyes, stopped your attempt to burrow inside my head and dig out my answer without asking. There’s one heart-stopping moment where I think, That’s it, Connor, he’s gone, you let him die without answering, when I can’t breathe properly, either, because my heart is lodged in my throat and the blood is pounding behind my eyes and in my ears, drowning out everything else in terrifying, paralysing fear. But no; you’re asleep again. You’re so pale, and you breathe like you don’t really need the air to survive.
I watch it, the tiny rises and falls of your chest. You’re wearing one of my t-shirts: the plain grey one, the one that’s a little too tight for me but too big on you. I’d wondered where it had gone. I’m glad. You look comfortable in it, or at least as comfortable as you can get.
Is that a weird thing, thinking something like that about your best friend?
God, I love you.
God, I love you.
God help me, I love you, too.
What’s the estimation? Less than two months? It’ll be autumn. The trees will be gorgeous, Q. You’d know, you painted them, last year. You always have the most beautiful smiles, when you see vibrant colours in nature. Why do you hate them so much? Rare things are the most desired, Q. That’s how the world works. I don’t mind.
I can’t... I can’t think about it. Two months. Less, maybe.
I know how this ends. There is no happy ending. There is only a terrible beast, gnawing away at this connection between you and everyone else, everything we know. How am I supposed to respond to that, Q? How am I supposed to say it? I love you, too, even though you’re going to die, and there’s nothing I can do to stop it, no way to flip back pages in the calendar to a date where I could have told you that I loved you earlier and it wouldn’t be tinged with this horrible, cloying, suffocating dread.
What do I say, when you wake up?