Her black lashes dust her cheeks as she sleeps peacefully. Her tainted blood pulses rhythmically. How could she know that I lurk from inside as I swim through her veins, always one step ahead? Bailey Walcott is a sophomore at Carver high school in Atlanta. She is loved by most of her classmates, but some hate her because they are jealous, her family loves her, and she has an unbreakable relationship with her boyfriend. Cole, Bailey’s boyfriend, is 17-years-old, and also goes to Carver High School. She has an infallible best friend and she committed to the college of her dreams this fall. From the outside, Bailey appears to have an enviable life.
I have hidden in her body ever since she came out of the womb, while I wait for my turn. November 12th, 2003 is the day that I will reveal myself and change her life forever. I hold her, and I can release her.
At 2:39 a.m., on a night that seems no different than any other, Bailey wakes up with her lungs full of water, as though she is drowning. Practically swimming in a puddle of her own sweat, Bailey thinks the worst. She knows what I am; I took her mother’s life away. She knows I can do the same to her. I have always been inside her body, but now I will become a part of her mind and soul.
Bailey fears death, ever since her mother was prematurely taken from this world. Her face whitens when someone mentions my name. Now, as she learns the fate that she will endure, she feels powerless. Bailey takes what feels like her last wet breath and cries out in such defeat that the sound will replay in her father’s mind forever. He rushes in, immediately suspects it’s me because of her reaction. After watching his wife die painfully, he knew that his children, too, could become infected.
Bailey’s father wraps her in a wool blanket, rushes down the stairs, and speeds to the hospital, trusting the doctors to protect her life. There is no immediate cure; she knows she will suffer. I have arrived, and I will slowly begin to eat Bailey away from the inside. I have made her mine, and I will choose what happens. I have always been and will always be one step ahead. The results come back. She is poisoned. She is diagnosed with stage four Leukemia on November 15th, at 1:48 p.m. She will die. Now my fun begins.
Bailey will die, but I get to choose when. The doctors tell Bailey that her terminal illness suggests that she only has fourteen months to live, but most of the time she will be so sick that she will long for the day she dies. Bailey’s heart tears and then turns with the thought of telling her friends-- telling Emily and Cole -- that they only have one more year together.
Bailey texts Cole; “Hey we really need to talk, I just got home from Emory hospital, I’ll be there in 15 minutes.” She arrives at Cole’s house. Bailey’s heart aches, she feels as if the pain will swallow her whole. Cole comes outside and she cannot even look him in the eyes. Her heart cannot take it any longer. Her tears drown her. Each tear makes the cancer seem even more real. She finds the strength to look up. She can tell that he expects the worst. Unaware of the incident, his heart bruises for her. She can only utter four words before she breaks into tears: “I’m going to die.” Cole knows exactly what I am. Cole was with Bailey when her mother died, and ever since he has dreaded the same fate for Bailey. He cannot speak; his heart feels like a boulder in his chest. It weighs him down. Cole can only bring her into his arms; they each wish that all of this could be a dream. They stand there, feeling as if time will never fade away. Neither of them have the strength to move; both of them have to live with a reality too terrible. Bailey pushes him away, with an anger that was hiding within. He peers down at her, studies her, and he tries to find answers that are buried deep down inside. Suddenly he fears what she might do.
“I love you, but I’m letting you go,” she says to him.
He grabs her hands and begins to fight back; he will not let her push him away, not now, not ever. He looks at her and says, “I love you Bailey, and you can’t push me away. I’m not going to let you leave me because you’re afraid of hurting me.”
Bailey hesitates, loosens the grip of his hands, and then says, “Cole, having you near me will only do more damage to my body. Watching you be unhappy is a worse pain than the cancer. I’m letting you go.”
Bailey makes her way to Emily’s house, eyes puffy, and heart heavy. Emily comes outside and can immediately feel my presence, lurking from inside the pulsing blood of Bailey Walcott.
Emily looks at her and says, “Oh my God, Bailey! What is going on?”
Bailey looks up and struggles to speak. She is only capable of saying: “Em, I have cancer. I’m going to die, just like my mom.”
Emily feels infected, like she, too, will die. She does not cry because she wants their last year together to be filled with hope and adventure.
Emily squares her shoulders and says, “Bailey screw cancer, you’re not going to die, and if you do, I’m going with you.”
I have begun to be a reason for her to live every day to the fullest, until tonight. I decide to have a little fun myself. But I will admit I have begun to enjoy all of their adventures. I find myself slacking on my job, so I decide to let her fall. I drop her. There she is, asleep peacefully, and it happens again. Her lungs fill with oceans of water. She goes to the hospital again, with a hope of not receiving any bad news, but nothing happens like she intends. Her Leukemia has spread. Instead of fourteen months, the doctors conclude that she only has three months to live.
Bailey and her best friends check off every item on Bailey’s bucket list. They decide that four weeks of adventure will not be enough. So, they go on a road trip to Florida; where they sleep on the beach, dine at the finest restaurants, and Bailey falls in love. She loves Cole and feels closer to Emily than she ever has; just to let it all go. She only has one more month to live, and my presence grows each day. Bailey now hurts so badly that she longs to die, but cannot tell anyone.
Emily can now tell that Bailey’s attitude has changed so she asks, “Bailey why do you look so sad, are you not having fun?”
Bailey looks at Emily and thinks about ways to tell Emily the secret that she swore to herself not to tell. She finally looks up and says, “I want to die.”
Emily looks at Bailey and starts to cry, then she says, “After all the fun things that we have done together you’re just ready to let it all go and die on me? No! You’re going to make it through this whether you want to or not.”
Time passes by, she only has close to three weeks left. I can tell that something has changed, but I cannot quite put my finger on it. Bailey has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow, and I now fear the worst. Bailey has always been tough, and I fear that she might have beaten me. She wakes up the next morning and she feels better than she has in a long time; her head pounds with thoughts about why she feels better. She thinks, “Am I feeling better because I’m about to die, or will I make it through this?” Bailey goes to the doctor, with fear of losing of her life, and a hope of beginning what feels like a new one. The results came back, I do not show up anywhere in her system. I have disappeared. Bailey has fought me, and she has won. But do not fear; remember, I will always be one step ahead. I play a long game.
Flash forward fifteen years. Bailey and her husband Cole wrestle with their black-haired child, Elizabeth Corbin Adams. She erupts in a fit of giggles. At five years old, she has black hair just like her mother. She also has one more feature in common with her mother. I have always been inside her, one step ahead. On March 9th, 2017 Elizabeth’s lungs fill with water, just like her mother’s.