A/N: Hey all! Sorry it took a little while to update, I had a ton of studying to do for finals. I hope you enjoy!
I woke when I felt a sharp ache prodding at my ribcage. I ripped my eyelids open and looked around, noticing that it was probably the wee hours of the morning. Dr. Hilliard and Dr. Hardy were sitting nearby, asleep in their chairs. Grasping at my ribcage, I tried my best to keep my breathing steady but to no avail. I squeezed my eyes shut when I felt another wave of pain come over me. How was I supposed to live like this? I had already woken up twice during the night; once for the same burning sensation igniting my insides, and the second time because I was having cramps in my legs and arms. I prayed that this wasn't how I would spend every night.
As the pain persisted, I felt the dire need to retch. Despite the throbbing, I turned over onto my side and gagged excruciatingly. I grasped at my burning throat with my hands and coughed hoarsely, but nothing came out. Dr. Hardy shook his head a little and opened his eye, mumbling a few slurs of incoherent speech. When he saw me, he jumped and ran to my side, touching my shoulder.
"Marlin? What's wrong?" He asked urgently as Dr. Hilliard stirred from his sleep as well. I grimaced in pain and pointed to my ribs cage area. I heaved once more as he continued to ask me questions I couldn't hear. I sputtered and wheezed until I felt the doctor's push me onto my back once more and pour a vile-tasting liquid down my throat. Squirming and almost choking on the fluid, I felt a wave of panic come over me when I contemplated if this was the end or not.
But there was no time to even worry, for the liquid they emptied into my mouth soon gave me a warm feeling inside of my stomach as it almost instantly put me to sleep.
For once, I awoke in a state of comfortableness. No pains or aches, except for a dull burning feeling coursing throughout my body. For a second, I didn't even remember my little episode last night until my memory came flooding back to me. I didn't feel pain because the area surrounding my ribcage was anesthetized. The doctor's gave me a grim look when I woke.
"Good morning, Marlin." Dr. Hilliard said gravely. I felt that same panicked emotion as a cold sweat broke out on my forehead. Was I going to be okay?
"We have good news, and bad news." Dr. Hardy began, staring blankly at a chart. "The good news: the injection replenished a fraction of the protein that's missing. Not a huge fraction, but we're just relieved that it's working. Bad news: Your body shouldn't have reacted the way it did last night. The burning feeling is normal, and so are the cramps, but any sharp pains or aches, especially in the upper torso area, are not common and aren't supposed to happen."
I touched my rib as he said this, feeling a tiny tender spot amidst the numbness.
"Let's just say… it's a good thing we gave you the medicine when we did." Dr. Hilliard added on, giving me a concerned gaze. I didn't like the somber look engraved into his features as he spoke to me, so I looked away as I said,
They both nodded in response and went back to their charts, filling the room with a hefty silence that made me uncomfortable. As the words sunk into my mind like quicksand, I closed my eyes and decided to rest.
The doctors were definitely not lying when they said I would be exhausted. I slept for almost all of the day, and when I was awake, all I wanted to do was sleep. For some reason, I felt very elderly. My bones and muscles ached, I couldn't get out of bed, and it seemed like I was disintegrating before the eyes of my loved ones. It was definitely not a pleasant feeling.
And at the same time, I almost felt like I was being chased. Chased by my own destructive disease. Every action I made, every step I took… I had to be cautious. I was always peeking behind my shoulder, making sure that it wouldn't creep up behind me like a childhood monster and leave me breathless. I couldn't even do my own job without being wary of the outcome. And for that, I felt helpless. In my hospital bed, I was so vulnerable to everyone else, and I strongly disliked that feeling.
Exhaustion aside, I had to start inhalation treatment. The whole process was very new to me, for I had never had any treatment aside from what happened just last night. And thankfully, there was no pain involved with the treatment.
The antibiotic system is small, resembling a pen, and uses an existing spring-loaded device to distribute the drugs when I inhale through it. The feeling is very hard to explain, almost like millions of cold dust particles are swimming down my throat and expanding it. The first few days I went through the treatment, I coughed and sputtered horrendously, but after a while, it became normal. About an hour after that, I went through what the doctor's called 'down time', where my eyelids hung low and my speech slurred uncontrollably. I was still fully conscious, but I just felt completely sluggish.
Between the protein replenishment and the inhalation treatment, I still had some visitors. My friends from the Blue Bar came often to chat with me as if we were sitting on those bar stools, swiveling around the contents of our drinks and leaning our chins on our hands.
"Marlin, how are you?" Griffin had asked me the day he came to visit one cold winter day. Muffy hung around behind him, her thin arms behind her back as she tried her best to smile.
"I'm doing better." I said, my voice sounding thick with ache. Not long ago, I had woken up from a post-replenishment nap and I was still in a little pain.
"Good to hear. Hey, listen, I wrote this new song and I was wondering if you would like to hear it?" Griffin asked, pinching the ends of his mustache carefully. I nodded as enthusiastically as I could. I loved hearing the endless plucking on that guitar; it was so smooth and easygoing. Smiling at me, he walked towards the front door where he had set his ratty guitar case down. Pulling out the instrument, he tweaked the tuners a little bit before he began.
The tune was very simple, but powerful in its own unique way. For a moment, the pain that pulsed throughout my muscles became unnoticeable, and all I could focus on was the soft music that flowed through the air. Muffy began to hum along quietly behind him, staring at the floor as she did so. He continued to pluck and strum for a while, until finally he ended the song on a beautiful and everlasting high note. I clapped with all of the strength I could muster.
"That was great." I garbled. He grinned genuinely.
"Thank you very much. I spent a lot of time on that one."
Muffy nodded from behind him, but she still hadn't really said anything to me since she came in. When I stared at her, I saw a little bit of Jill in her nervous demeanor and clear uncomfortable stance. She kept looking at the ground intently as if something incredibly interesting was held in the ashen stone flooring. And then she would tuck and untuck her hair obsessively, along with rapid blinking of the eyes. Every time she happened to look at me, she almost winced. It was all too familiar.
"We better get going, though. I'm sure you're tired…" Griffin said slowly, shoving his hands in his pockets.
"When am I not tired?" I asked, laughing without any humor. Muffy chuckled politely.
"We'll make sure to visit again." He promised, heading for the door with his guitar in hand. Muffy turned to leave as well, but then she stopped and whirled around on one foot. She approached the cot with caution.
"Get better, okay? We miss having you at the bar." She told me, speaking for the both of them even as Griffin was already out the door. I nodded at her and she smiled legitimately for the first time that day. And with a quick wave, she was out the door.
Gustafa visited somewhat often as well. Always smiling sanguinely, he would always tell me to hope for the best. Yeah, the guy was kind of a nut when it came to philosophies, but he had a lot of valuable advice to give. Often, he would come over when I was almost completely knocked out from inhalation treatment. But he would stay in spite of my condition. He would talk normally, knowing that I was listening even if it didn't seem like it, and he would always tell me that things would be okay. It was a pleasant feeling.
And then, when Winter was almost at it's end, I got a surprise visit from two people.
Two particular people that I hadn't seen in over ten years.
"Marlin!" Came a shrill voice one snow-white afternoon. The voice belonged to a head of gray hair (still with a tint of fading red in it) that was carelessly thrown into a bun. It was scratchy and sounded very weary, but it was a voice I would recognize anywhere.
And then came a grunt from someone else. He stood a little farther back than she with a hand on his chin and a scowl on his face. The jet-black hair that I remembered from before had turned to a dark gray tint, but his face remained almost the same. Wrinkles adorned his face like tinsel on a tree; one could clearly tell he did a lot of frowning in his lifetime.
These people were my parents.
I opened my mouth to speak but there were absolutely no words that could express my shock. I hadn't seen them since I moved out ten years ago, and we stopped sending letters at least eight years ago. And here they were, staring down at me as if I was a young child again waiting to be tucked in for bed.
"Oh, Marlin… you look so pale! Are you okay?" My mother asked me, inches away from my face.
"Of course he's not okay, Deirdre. He's sick, for God's sakes, did you forget why we came here?" My father said bitterly. I frowned outwardly; remembering the days when their marriage contained less 'I love you's and more 'go to Hell's (often accompanied with door slamming).
"Shut up, Theodore." She muttered under her breath before returning to her regular self. She smiled brightly, her teeth shining down at me.
"We heard about what happened and we had to come down," She began, tucking a piece of hair that had fallen out of her bun behind her ear. "I was so worried."
Slowly, my father approached the cot as well, shoving his hands in his suspender pockets. He glanced around the house with a look of aversion on his face.
"This town is… awfully small." He said simply. My father was definitely a big city type of guy. He was a painter (not a very good one, at that), and one would think that would influence him to move to a small town. But he opposed to the idea. He mostly painted portraits of people, and when he wasn't doing that, he loved to paint the city scenery. Sure, people bought his paintings, but it was a rare occurrence.
Ever since I was at least ten years old, my mother would tell my father to invest his time into something that could earn us more money, or at least put a stable roof over our heads. But he refused. I could tell that I inherited my stubborn attitude from him; he was always scowling and trying to make things work out for himself without anyone else's advice or charity. Of course, the way she nagged him made him almost insane. By the time Vesta was about a year from graduating high school, they were bickering every day about something completely irrelevant. I was thirteen at the time and completely naïve to what was happening. So, while my parents quarreled back and forth about what was for dinner, Vesta and I would stay locked in our room, lit only by candlelight, and she would read me stories from the various books we had on the bookshelf. It was almost like she was more of a mother than my own had been. And as for my father… well, he didn't have a strong interest in kids.
"What are you doing for Christmas? Anything fun with your wife? Oh, I'm so excited to meet her." My mother asked me, ripping me away from my childhood memories.
"Um," I began, my voice thick with strain, "We don't celebrate Christmas here."
I had almost forgotten about the holiday, to be truthful. Ever since I started to live in the city a while ago, I had stopped celebrating Christmas. Who would I celebrate it with, anyways? I had no friends and I lived by myself… I was pretty content with forgetting about it altogether. It had never really been a huge holiday in my house, anyways. It always ended in yelling and/or tears.
"What kind of place is this? You don't celebrate Christmas?" My father asked accusingly. I was about to roll my eyes as if I was a teenager again but stopped myself. After all, it did sound sort of odd to people who didn't live here.
"Theodore, don't talk to your son like that. He's obviously not in a state to be questioned like this." My mother scolded him. Now it was his turn to roll his eyes.
As I felt the smoldering sensation ignite again inside of me, I felt another feeling as well. Anger.
Why hadn't they come to visit earlier? It was the first time they had ever been to Forget-Me-Not Valley, and yet I had been living here for four years and Vesta for seven. They never visited or sent letters for my birthday, or for any other holiday for that matter. It was infuriating. Now that I was practically on my deathbed, it was acceptable for them to visit after all of these years?
"Why are you here, anyways?" I inquired, glowering up at them. My mother almost looked caught off-guard, and her smile slowly melted from her face. My father's expression stayed the exact same; his face was hard and stern and he tightly clenched his arms over his chest.
"W-what do you mean, son?" She asked, looking hurt.
"Now that you learn I'm very sick, you decide to drop by for a visit?"
They both stared in awe at me, as if they had just heard me talk for the first time.
"What about when I moved to this village? Do you even know why I came here…? I was working on painting a two-story house in the city when my knees locked up and I fell off of a ladder. Where were you then? Where were you when they forced me to move here?" I asked, my voice growing louder by the minute. I felt my lips curl as they stood in a silence for a few moments.
"Or what about when I got married? Did you even know that Jill is pregnant?"
Their jaws dropped in unison but they quickly pulled them back up. I scowled angrily in their direction.
"I'm sorry, honey. We really tried, but… it was just difficult."
"Bullshit…" My father mumbled under his breath. My mother shot him a death look and opened her mouth to yell when the door pushed open, revealing Jill.
"I, uh… I can come back later?" She said, looking wary. Instantly, the smile was plastered right back to my mother's face as she practically squealed at Jill.
"Oh, Jill! I'm so glad to meet you!"
Jill smiled crookedly before being wrapped in a gigantic hug.
"I'm Deirdre, Marlin's mother." She said kindly, still gripping Jill's shoulder, "And this is Theodore, his father."
Jill turned towards my dad and shook his hand politely. He barely even smirked in her direction.
For a moment, the room was filled with an impenetrable silence. Jill stood awkwardly in between my parents and I, looking a little confused.
"So, um, what's the occasion?" She asked, taking off her farming gloves and setting them on a nearby table.
"Well, we were going to spend Christmas here, but we had no idea that you didn't celebrate it here!" My mother said cheerfully, although there was a slight bitterness in her tone. My father grunted in concurrence.
"Oh, yeah. That was a big change for me, as well." She commented. Again, the room was still, and the only sound to be heard was my dad shoving his hands into his suspender pockets again.
"Does Vesta know you're here?" I asked suddenly, almost forgetting about my sister.
"No, your mother insisted that we come here first." My father said in a hoarse voice. My mother grimaced.
"But we're going to visit her next, of course."
I nodded, remembering that they hadn't spoken to her in an even longer time span than I. She moved out as soon as she graduated, leaving me alone with my squabbling parents. I didn't blame her, though. She was going to go to college and finally do something with her life, but my parents were only bringing her down with them. They were in the midst of a divorce when she left, but she wasn't sticking around to see the messy ending. As far as I knew, that was the last time they spoke.
"So, Jill. We heard about your good news!" My mother squealed, pulling her into another uncomfortable hug. Jill laughed uncomfortably.
"Yes, it came as quite a surprise, but we're both pleased."
"Well, how are you going to raise a kid in these conditions?" My father asked. I narrowed my eyes at him.
"We just found out, there will be plenty of time for me to recover by then." I replied matter-of-factly, even if I wasn't too sure of this myself.
"And if you don't?"
"Theodore!" My mother scolded as I felt a pang in my chest. I looked over at Jill and I could tell she felt it too. It was tough being in this situation, and who was my father to make me feel worse?
"You are in no position to-" I began, but the conversation was again interrupted by a visitor. The door creaked open leisurely, revealing someone that I'm sure my parents weren't very happy to see. Vesta.
A/N: I know this is kind of abrupt, but I had to end it somewhere. I know that his parents coming in was kind of a twist but I had an idea for it so don't worry! Anyways, review please!