The Ones Left Waiting
Author's note: My mother inspired me to write this story. She worked as a chemo nurse and would often come home... Show full author's note »
FirthWhen I found out that Jackie had a brain tumor, I couldn’t believe it. Jackie was too good, too pure… Something this catastrophic could not happen to her. She hadn’t been feeling well lately, continuously getting headaches, but she was brushing it off. That was until October when she had a seizure in the middle of Science class. Jackie was rushed straight to the ER and the news wasn’t good. After a CT- scan, a MRI, and a PET-scan, the doctors diagnosed her with a cerebral butterfly tumor in the left side of her brain.
We were all crushed. Daniel, my best friend and Jackie’s twin brother, freaked out the day we were told. Everyone loved Jackie. But I loved her in a different way. Jackie was my girlfriend, and I’ll tell you something for nothing, I loved her more than anything else. Daniel and I had been friends since the first day of kindergarten, but it wasn’t until we were about sixteen that I started noticing Jackie and my visits to their house were primarily to see her. Then it took me a year and a half to work up the nerve to ask her out.
It turns out; she’d liked me for years. So we had a perfect four months, and I fell in love with her a little bit more with every passing day. But then she went to the hospital and everything changed.
Jackie’s tumor was on the left side of her brain. She had originally joked about it, saying she was a right-brain anyway, but I could tell she was terrified. Our entire town community was worried about her. Jackie was the town hero for the swim team. Her moment of glory was winning the state championship for our school. That was also the site of our very first kiss. I’ll never forget it. Jackie climbed out of the water, grinning in triumph. I jumped out of the stands and, before I could properly think of what I planned on doing, enveloped her in my arms.
Our moment was ruined when Daniel came over and pushed us into the pool and then jumped in himself. I can still hear him yelling to the crowd,
“It’s about time that happened!”
Everyone we knew came to visit her at some point. We all loved her. It was impossible not to.
On this particular day, I was on my way to the hospital where Jackie was getting a chemo treatment. Daniel was in the passenger seat, nervously drumming his fingers on the arm rest. Jackie’s illness had hit him especially hard. Well, they are twins. I cannot imagine having a twin with cancer. I imagine it would be like a part of me sick. Daniel glanced at me.
“I wonder how she’s doing.” He commented.
I gave a non-committal grunt in reply, my eyes on the road.
“She’ll be fine right?” Daniel asked.
“Dude, calm down.” I muttered.
“It’s just chemo. She’s done it plenty of times before. You’re making me nervous. Just chill.”
He suddenly punched the arm rest, and his blue eyes, so like Jackie’s, glimmered with unshed tears.
“Why Jackie? Why my sister? Who did this to her?”
“I don’t know Daniel.” I said tiredly.
“Because if I did, I go and probably kill them.”
He deflated, the tension leaving his shoulders.
“Look, I’m sorry, Firth. I know you love her as much as I do.”
“More.” I thought to myself.
To fill the silence, I switched on the radio. Jackie’s CD, custom made by me, came on. Her favorite song, Sweet Caroline, started and I grinned. We’d sing along to this song like idiots every time we heard it. I caught Daniel’s eye and he couldn’t help but smile. These definitely weren’t the good times, but happy moments, so rare in coming, were enjoyed all the more because of it.
We pulled up at the cancer center and went straight in. All of the nurses knew us by now, and they let us go right to Jackie. Nurse Katie winked at us as we passed.
“Having a good day, boys?”
We managed to nod and hurried to the children’s floor.
Jackie sat in a chair, dozing. Her parents sat on either side of her, listening intently to Dr. Hatt. I went and stood by Jackie. Her eyes fluttered open and she grinned up at me.
I stroked her cheek gently and leaned in for a chaste kiss.
The doctor cleared her throat and I pulled back, embarrassed.
“No need to apologize. I was just telling Mr. And Mrs. Bianco that there are other treatments available to Jackie-“
“What other treatments?” Jackie asked instantly. She hated chemotherapy. Jackie wasn’t vain, but she sobbed pitifully when her hair fell out. I immediately went out and bought her a bandana for every day of the week.
Dr. Hatt continued,
“An operation to excise the tumor is possible.”
Jackie was nodding thoughtfully, but her parents jumped.
“But, what are the survival rates?” Mrs. Bianco asked, voice wavering.
“There is a 35% survival rate.” The doctor replied.
Daniel rounded on her then,
“So, now she’s a statistic? How many of these have you done that have been successful?”
“Daniel. Please.” Jackie said, sounding pained.
“I’m just worried about her, that’s all.” He muttered, looking at his beat-up Pumas.
“You are right in your worry, Daniel. But I have personally performed ten of these operations and eight have succeeded.”
We stayed silent for a few moments and the kindly neurosurgeon squeezed Jackie’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Just think it over. Take all the time you need.”
Mrs. Bianco stood up.
“Well, that doesn’t seem like something we’d be interested in-“
“No,” Jackie said suddenly.
“I want to get my life back. I want to able go to school without needing to go home by third period. I want to able to go out with my boyfriend. And most of all, I want this stupid tumor out of my head. And if this is the only way, then I want to go for it!”
Jackie’s parents looked troubled.
“Jackie, darling, you’re only seventeen. You don’t know what’s best for you.” Her father said.
“I’m turning 18 next month. If you don’t let me, I’ll be an adult by March 3. So I can my own decisions by then.” Jackie said firmly.
“We’ll talk about this later.” Mrs. Bianco said, standing up.
“I’m going to get lunch? Do you want anything?”
We shook our heads and her parents left.
Daniel and I sat back down beside by Jackie.
“Are you sure about this, Jac?” Daniel asked.
I took her hand and gave it a comforting squeeze. Jackie looked up at me and gave me a small smile in return. Suddenly, Jackie’s best friend, Mia, arrived in the room.
“Jackie!” she half-screamed, throwing herself down for a hug.
“All right. That’s enough. Don’t hurt her.” Daniel said, hauling Mia up.
“Okay, cretin.” Mia said cheerfully, tossing her book bag into his arms.
Daniel and Mia hated each other. They always had. The only reason they put up with each other was because they both loved Jackie so much. I didn’t mind Mia. She could be a bit over the top, but she made Jackie happy, so what did I care?
Jackie reached for Mia’s hair longingly. She was dreadfully envious of Mia’s long auburn locks and brushed them whenever she got the chance.
“May I?” Jackie asked eagerly,
“Knock yourself out.” Mia replied, tossing her a hairbrush.
So while Mia got her hair done, we filled her in about the operation. She shook her head doubtfully.
“I don’t know Jackie. It sounds pretty risky.”
Daniel threw his hands up into the air.
“Thank you! Somebody agrees with me.”
“And it’s surprising that it’s Mia.” I muttered in Jackie’s ear.
She grinned up at me and then addressed Mia.
“What happened to my wild child Mia?”
“I’m no wild child when it comes to your life, hon.”
“That’s the thing. It’s my life.”
I stared at her. Did she really not understand how deeply this affected all of us? Could she not know that I stay up half the night, every night, worrying about her and forcing myself to not call? That Daniel talked to a priest on a weekly basis just to keep it together? And how Mia had made Jackie the town poster child?
She felt my stare.
“What about you, Firth?” Jackie asked quietly.
“How do you feel about this?”
“I don’t like it, Jackie. But-“
She groaned and flopped back in her chair, covering her face with her hands.
“Does no one support me on this?”
I held my hands up in defense.
“I said but.” I reminded her gently.
“Carry on.” Jackie said from behind her hands.
“But, if you think it’s for the best, I’m fully behind you.”
“Thank you.” She said gratefully.
I leaned down and kissed her. She threw her arms around my neck and pulled me closer. Daniel and Mia laughed.
“Don’t mind us.” Mia said.
“Shut up.” Jackie said good-naturedly, kissing me again. She pulled back and stood up.
“Come on. Let’s blow this popsicle stand.”