Rusty Cartwright pulled his luggage to his terminal. He saw his reflection in the mirror. He knew he looked paler and thinner. His cheekbones had suck in a bit, making his face look a bit lifeless. Only Ashleigh and Calvin had actually seen him since the diagnosis took over his life. Like him, they had both decided to stay in Ohio near CRU. Ashleigh had her own successful marketing company, and Calvin was working for a gay awareness organization. Rusty had perfected his wire and won a Nobel Prize for his work on it. He had given an interview he knew he wouldn't live to see in a magazine. Ashleigh had been stubborn, saying that he could stay alive as long he set his mind to it. Rusty felt weaker every day. Calvin had moved into Rusty's apartment to help and keep an eye on him. He made them swear not to tell anyone about what was happening. He wanted to die with being pitied. They only did because he asked them to.
Rusty sat down a metal chair. He dug into his pocket before finding his medication. It had started to have less of an effect on him each day. The doctor said he had a few months to live, but Rusty knew he wouldn't make it that long. The same doctor had also discouraged him from going on this trip. His two best friends begged him not to go, that they'd make up an excuse for his absence. Rusty refused. He wanted to go to Washington DC to see his sister and to celebrate Cappie's 32nd birthday. He wanted to hold his niece and see Dale, who was doing research there. He even wanted to hear Evan and Rebecca insult him. He wanted to say goodbye.
"Flight 15. From Cyprus to DC, boarding now." Rusty stood up. His whole body ached. Rusty swallowed his medication and took a sip of water. He grabbed his luggage and got in line. Ashleigh and Calvin had taken an earlier flight since Rusty had a doctor's appointment. He handed the woman his boarding pass. She smiled and let him go. Rusty found his seat easily. He had a first class ticket, the doctor's orders. Rusty grabbed a Kleenex and started to cough. There was a bit of blood on the tissue. This had become a daily occurrence for him. The women sitting next to him gasped.
"Are you all right?' the women asked. Rusty looked at her. She was around Casey's age with long brown hair and hazel eyes.
"Happens all the time," Rusty answered casually. Ashleigh would've shot him for saying that. She didn't like it when he played down his illness.
"Lung cancer?" the woman guessed. Rusty nodded. "Sorry," she added. Rusty shrugged.
"Dying doesn't bother me," he told her calmly. And it didn't. He'd had a great life, with wonderful friends. There was nothing to be remorseful about.
"You're lucky, then," the women responded sadly. They sat in silence the rest of the plane ride.
The doctor had been wrong. The plane ride didn't drain Rusty. It made him feel free and in control, something he hadn't felt in a while. It reminded him of his days at Kappa Tau. Rusty's main reason for staying in Ohio was that it was home. CRU was his home. He was probably the alumni that visited the most, every weekend. He hung out with the guys and got to know the pledges. He even helped them with the hazing. Rusty had set up a bank account for the KTs so that they'd get part of his estate when he died. He put in his will that they were to rebuild Vesuvius and then they could do whatever they wanted with the rest. He also set one up for his niece, Alana.
Rusty was looking forward to seeing everyone. Casey, Cappie, Dale, Beaver, Wade, Jeremy, Pickles, Ben Bennett, and all the rest of is Kappa Tau brothers. Their pledge class still hung out every few months, but it wasn't enough for them. He couldn't believe he was twenty-nine years old. Some days, he still felt like that nerdy freshman. Others, he felt like that Kappa Tau president. Rusty smiled at those memories. Under his presidency, Kappa Tau achieved the highest grade point average in their history. They also had the most legendary parties.
"We have now landed in Washington DC. Please wait for the signal before taking off your seatbelts." Rusty leaned back into his seat. He felt dizzy, but knew he just needed something to eat. Out of nowhere, a flight attendant tapped him on the shoulder.
"Sir, we have the pilot's request to help you off the plane." she said cheerfully. Rusty undid his seatbelt and stood up. He was in pain, but tried to hide it. The flight attendant smiled. "Right this way sir. We already have all your luggage ready." Rusty wasn't sure why he was getting such good treatment. Was it because of his accomplishments or because he was dying? He followed her out of the plane. He took a shuttle to where Calvin said he would be waiting. He searched around before he saw Calvin's head.
Calvin sighed at the sight of his best friend walking slowly towards him. Rusty kept reassuring them that he didn't feel much pain and didn't need to be confined to a hospital bed. Seeing him this way made Rusty's words sound like a lie. His disease seemed like it was starting to slow him down. Rusty had clung to his usual routine, working and hanging out with him and Ashleigh, and checking up on the KTs. Lately, though, Rusty had finished his latest project and published the results. He hadn't started anything since. Calvin had even found an odd folder in Rusty's office labeled Plans. He had opened it and found Rusty's will and a few bank statements about two new accounts, one in the name of Kappa Tau Gamma and Alana Ashleigh Cartwright. Calvin realized Rusty knew he was dying.
Rusty walked toward Calvin. Calvin hugged him gently and they got in the car. "How are you doing?" Calvin asked his friend. Rusty didn't look good, and this worried Calvin. Over the last few months, Rusty had lost weight and grown paler, but his smiled always remained. Today, it was gone.
"Don't worry. I took some of my medication before I got on the plane. I'll be fine." Rusty assured him. He'd been doing a lot of that lately. He knew he was going to die soon, but he couldn't bear to tell his friends that. If they knew that, they'd tell everyone else.
Calvin nodded. "How much money do you what to bet that Wade shaved his mustache?" he asked.
Rusty's mouth broke out into a smile. "Twenty bucks says he did," Rusty answered. Wade had been growing a mustache on and off since he had been expelled. Last time they had seen him, Wade still had the mustache.
"I'll take that bet," Calvin said cockily. Rusty rolled his eyes. They talked the rest of the ride about their old friends. After an hour, they arrived at their hotel. "Oh, and when the hotel heard you were staying here, they gave us the penthouse suite free of charge." he added. Rusty shrugged it off, something Calvin marveled at. After all his accomplishments, Rusty was still humble. To him, nothing had changed. He was still doing what he loved, with his friends by his side. He was still just a guy whose friends called him Spitter. Except now, he could actually hold down tequila. Rusty's personality hadn't changed either.
The friends walked into the hotel. Calvin was carrying Rusty's bags. Rusty began to cough, a tissue covering his mouth. Calvin spotted blood on the tissue but decided not to push it. That was Ashleigh's job. She had become lRusty's nurse, always worried about his health. Before they left, Ashleigh and Rusty had a huge fight over him coming on the trip. Rusty said he wanted to say goodbye, which didn't please her. Ashleigh said that if he was careful, that wouldn't be necessary. She had eventually given in since he agreed to talk his medication regularly. Rusty didn't like the medication because it made him feel numb to everything.
They got in the elevator and went to the penthouse suite. There was a note stuck to the door. It said:
I'm over at Casey's. Come over once Rusty's settled. Make sure he takes his medication.
Rusty rolled his eyes. "She sounds like my mother," Rusty said sarcastically. Calvin ignored his comment. Calvin went to talk a shower while Rusty unpacked. Instead of unpacking, Rusty laid down on the bed. It was comfortable, like his bed at home. He couldn't bear the though of laying on one of those flat hospital mattresses with an IV stuck into his arm. He wanted to die in his own bed. He just needed to make it through this visit. If it went well, he could die in peace. Rusty opened a new jar of medicine. He took two and hoped they'd last through the night.
Calvin decided to be quick. He knew Rusty was anxious to see everyone. Calvin was afraid of how they'd react to Rusty. They'd all be worried. He was worried. Rusty had no appetite and always looked tired. He had no weight on him and his skin was pale. You could see the veins on his arms and his cheekbones had sunken in. Calvin wasn't sure if Rusty could handle the commotion of Cappie's party, but he knew Rusty would get through it with a smile. That was Rusty's way.
After Calvin got out of the shower and got dressed, he went into the living room where he found Rusty watching the Discovery Channel. Rusty looked better than he had a hour ago. He had more color to his skin and he seemed more lively. Calvin instantly knew Rusty had taken an extra dose just for the party.
The two friends left the penthouse and drove to Casey and Cappie's home. Casey had moved out to DC after graduation for law school. Cappie had followed her and became the house father for a branch of Kappa Tau there. Cappie proposed on Casey's graduation day. She accepted and they got married that summer. Rusty had been the best man and Ashleigh was the maid of honor. It was a wedding for the ages, with the wildest reception ever thrown. Rusty had brought his girlfriend of the month, Stephanie. He had become a more of a casual dater after his break-up with Dana. Cappie urged him to find the one, but Rusty didn't have much success. He liked to joke that the love of his life was science, and that no girl could top that. Cappie and Casey found out they were expecting Alana soon after. Alana was four years old and had Casey's looks and her uncle's personality. They were close, and Rusty was constantly sending her new microscopes and things to analyze. They talked about planets and stars. Rusty adored his niece, and had a picture of her in his wallet at all times.
The friends sat in silence as they pulled up to Casey and Cappie's house. "Are you ready?" Calvin asked his friend. Rusty nodded. They stepped out of the car.