Rated T for character death and mildly graphic scenes.


miles from where you are

"Christopher Plovert?"

"Yes?"

"This is Kendra Block."

It seems strange enough that Massie's name appeared on caller ID when I picked up my phone not three seconds ago, but even stranger that Massie's mother, Westchester's resident MILF, is the one actually calling me.

"Hi, Mrs. Block," I reply. "What can I do for you?"

There's a pause in which I hear a bit of shuffling and a nervous giggle from Kendra.

"I'm calling on behalf of Massie."

Okay. I wait.

"Christopher, are you…aware of what's going on right now?"

"With Massie?"

"Yes."

Something's wrong with Massie?

"I'm not aware, actually," I confess. My mind can't seem to find the strength to start speculating and jumping to conclusions. It's frozen.

Kendra sighs on the other line. "Christopher, Massie is in the hospital. And she's not leaving anytime soon."

Oh.

Oh.

"I…"

"Christopher, Massie would like you to come down and visit her as soon as possible. Today, if you can."

"Why?" I blurt. Massie rarely, if ever, speaks to me.

"I don't know. I think she wants to talk to you about something in person."

"Okay."

Another pause.

"Which hospital?" I ask, groping on my desk for my car keys.

"New York Presbyterian."

"I'm on my way."

--

I hate hospitals. I really, really hate them. I hate their smell. I hate the way the nurses look at you when you cross paths. I hate the way other visitors size you up as you both wait, as though they're trying to assess whether or not your situation is worse than theirs.

I hate the needles.

I hate the way sick people look.

And I hate those stupid clowns that walk around trying to cheer everyone up.

But my hatred fades when I walk into room 126 and everything falls into place with a burst of intuition.

This is why Massie and her friends haven't shown up to a soccer game in months.

This is why people have stopped gossiping about her in the halls.

This is why Dylan Marvil walks around with a stony expression on her face.

Because one look at Massie Block, curled up on her stiff hospital bed, and I can tell that she's dying. And even I can't stop it.

--

Her parents leave the room and Massie adjusts her bed so that she's sitting up, facing me as I perch on the end of it.

"I'm upgrading to a suite tomorrow," she tells me, half-heartedly fluffing her deflated pillows. "Mom wants to be able to spend the night here comfortably. And Dad wants to be able to watch the game on a bigger TV. There'll be couches. And space."

"Sounds nice," I mumble.

"It is." She grins at me, and for a moment the bags under her eyes disappear, her hair isn't as dull and limp, and her amber eyes aren't as sad. "It's in a whole different wing of the hospital. Can you imagine? There's even a little tearoom for the guests! I haven't had tea in so long." The smile fades and is replaced by a deep, guttural cough that shakes the whole bed. She sits back for a moment, wheezing, appraising me silently.

"What do you have?" I ask when her panting subsides.

"Stomach cancer," she says like she doesn't even care. "By the time we got to the doctor it didn't look so good."

"Have you tried chemo?" The Massie Block I knew wouldn't be giving in so quickly. The Massie Block I knew didn't go down without a fight.

"It'd be kind of pointless," she says as she pulls at a loose thread on her blanket.

"Radiation?"

"Some." She shrugs her thin shoulders. I can see the bones sticking out.

"How much longer do you have?"

"Please don't be mad at me." Her tone is almost begging. I look up at her in surprise.

"I couldn't be mad at you."

"Two weeks."

A long silence.

"What?"

"I said I have two weeks to live."

"You can't die, you're sixteen," I say rather stupidly, even though I already know that it's inevitable.

"God has a reason for everything," she sighs. I shrug, not quite knowing what to say. Maybe I had never really known Massie Block at all.

"How long have you been out of school?"

"I went back for September…but then things started getting bad." She frowned and scratched at her hairline.

"Does everyone know?"

"Nope. Well, Alicia and Kristen and Dylan know. So does my family. But everyone else, no. If anyone asks, my mother—or the girls—usually tell people I transferred schools."

"Why?" I can't mask my horror.

"Because it sounds a hell of a lot better than saying 'my daughter is dying,'" she snaps, breaking composure for the first time.

"Then why are you telling me?"

"Because I need you to do something for me."

A favour I couldn't refuse.

"Chris, you write." It wasn't a question.

"Yes."

"You see things."

"I suppose."

"I have stories, Chris," she whispers, her voice getting urgent. She leans toward me. "Stories that just sit in my head all day. Stories about boys. Stories about me. I want to write them all down so I can show my mother and father that they weren't the only ones who loved me."

"Everyone loves you, Massie," I cry.

"No," she murmurs. "Less than ten people loved me enough to show it back. And I'm going to tell you about them. All about them. Every detail. Every story. And I need you to write it down."

A favour I really couldn't refuse.

"Okay." All the breath goes out of her in a triumphant sigh. "I'll write for you."

"Thank you," she whispers. I've never seen her so happy. "We start tomorrow. When I move into my suite."

"Okay." I feel like this is my cue to leave.

"Okay," she says back.

I don't want to leave. Her body is too thin, her skin too pale, her fingers too shaky.

I say goodbye to Massie Block. I didn't want to think about when I'd have to say it for good.