Title: A Little While Longer
Disclaimer: My Sister's Keeper © Jodi Picoult
Rating: T to be safe, for mentioning some explicit content
Warning: Contains major spoilers if you haven't read the entire novel.
Author's Note: I thought this book was incredible. The ending made me cry so much. Honestly, I could go on and on about how much I loved this book, but I'll spare you the rant, and instead, I'll simply say that I hope you like this oneshot, and I really hope I did Jodi Picoult's characters justice. Please be sure to tell me how I did once you're finished reading. Thank you, and enjoy! :)
I wake up in the middle of the night in a daze. My—well, I guess, technically, it's still our—room is so dead silent that, for a split-second, I wonder if I've gone deaf.
But immediately after that, as I draw in a long breath, sucking dry air between my parted lips, the sound as I exhale in a long, heavy sigh shatters the deafening silence of my room. I blink once in shocking realization, feeling as though I've snapped back into the real world, even though I've never actually left it. I've been living for the past seventeen years now, fifteen of which any normal human being would never consider as really, truly living. My whole life, I've had to deal with all the stuff that comes along with having cancer, including chemotherapy, transplants, scars, hemorrhages, jaundice, diarrhea, vomiting, losing all my hair, losing a ton of weight…the list goes on and on. And, when it comes down to it, none of those things really fall under the category of 'normal,' wouldn't you agree?
But, such is life, I suppose.
Or at least my life, anyway.
I stare up at the ceiling, my eyes now wide open and unblinking. It's so dark in here that I can barely even make out the slight crack in the paint that's been there for years, ever since I was about four, I think, and Jesse was playing in here one day, and he 'accidentally' threw a tennis ball too high. I remember it smacked against the ceiling so hard that, when it came back down, I was surprised it hadn't left a dent.
Abruptly, I turn to my side, my bed sheets rustling loudly with the movement. I bring up a hand and tuck it beneath my head, spreading my fingers and threading them into my fine, pale blonde hair. It's strange having a full—albeit thin and still getting used to growing—head of hair, I have to admit. Especially since I haven't had this much hair for this long since…well, since before I was diagnosed. And I obviously don't remember those days, because I was so young, so I guess it makes sense that it's been taking me a little getting used to.
This is the very reason why, when I'm combing through my wet hair after I've just gotten out of the shower, I'm deliberately slow. I always stand right in front of the mirror each and every time I comb my hair, so that I can watch myself carefully, watch as the comb glides through my delicate locks. I can't help but feel an undeniable sense of relief when the comb reaches the bottom, and no large clumps of hair come out along with it.
It's moments like those that I cherish the most now, moments where I feel so incredibly and undeniably grateful for all that I have. I can't even begin to tell you how thankful I am that I've been given a second chance, a real chance to start living a long, healthy, normal life…
…all thanks to her.
A loud clap of thunder suddenly explodes outside, causing my entire body to jolt so hard that I nearly fall out of my bed. I shoot up from my pillow to sit completely upright, my heart now racing inside my chest, as my eyes start darting frantically around the room. It takes me a moment to realize that the soft pants that are now ringing heavily in my ears are coming from me.
I slowly reach up and place my hand just below my left breast, right where my heart is pounding away like a jackhammer.
God, what the hell is wrong with me?
I turn my head to look out the window, and sure enough, it's starting to rain. Not as hard as that day—not yet, at least—but I can hear the raindrops hitting against the window, the roof, the streets, washing away all the dirt for the night.
Washing away all the memories.
All of a sudden, I feel my heart plummet to the bottom of my chest, like when an anvil drops in those old cartoons, so fast and unexpected, letting out a loud bang once it smashes against the bottom. I let out a choked, quivering breath, unable to stop the tears from coming out and rolling down my cheeks. They feel cold against my skin.
And then, I find myself opening my mouth, as a single word escapes my lips.
"Anna," I whisper into the darkness.
Maybe it's just my tears that have managed to slip into the corners of my mouth, maybe it's the fact that, even though she's been dead for over a year now, it still hurts to think about her, because I still feel those same ugly feelings of utter guilt, and deep regret, and total disgust with myself, and just… pain.
Like I said, I don't know what it is exactly, but for whatever reason, her name tastes salty and bitter on the tip of my tongue. Like dark chocolate, which looks rich and creamy just like milk chocolate, and when you first bite into it, it tastes pretty good, but afterward, you're left with an unsatisfying aftertaste.
"Anna," I say again, a bit louder this time, against my better judgment. My heartbeat has slowed down by now, so I allow my hand to fall off my chest and land on my soft comforter, my palm facing upward. I continue breathing heavily, my chest heaving in and out, trying to calm myself down.
"Anna…" I repeat one last time, my voice barely above a whisper now.
I suddenly feel exhausted all over again, and all I want to do is flop back down on my pillow and shut my eyes, shut out the rest of the world, and enter dream world, even if it's only for a few hours. I'm about to do just that, when I hear a noise that sounds like a thud, and I immediately freeze, like a deer caught in the headlights.
In a matter of no more than five seconds, I'm out of bed and rushing towards the light switch, and before I can stop myself, I flip it on, a burst of light spilling into the previously dark room, causing my eyes to involuntarily squint as they take a moment to adjust themselves to the sudden brightness.
And that's when I see it, after I've fully blinked my eyes open to look straight in front of me, so that I know I can see properly now, even if I think I'm losing my mind.
There, sitting on her once empty bed, the bed that's been vacant for so long now, the bed that I've occasionally curled up on, where I've wept into her pillows and sheets, trying to inhale their scent, to see if the smell of her was still lingering on them…
Because there, sitting on her bed with a shy smile on her face and her legs casually swinging back and forth, as if she's been sitting there for a long time and she finds it funny that it's taken me this long to notice…is my little sister.
I swear, my eyes go so wide that it feels like they're about to pop out of their sockets. I do a double, triple, quadruple take, staring right at her, staring at her face to see if I really am losing my mind, if I'm just that tired that I'm starting to hallucinate.
I'm preparing myself to scream at the top of my lungs, when, hesitantly, she opens her mouth to speak.
"Hi," she says quietly, and it's her voice, still young and full of life.
And she's still got all those freckles, and her hair is long and frizzy, just like it's always been.
"A-Anna?" I hear myself whisper shakily, unable to recognize my own voice.
She just stares back at me without saying another word. Her legs have stopped moving now. All I know is that, if it weren't for the rain that's still coming down outside and trickling against the windows, I would think that the earth has stopped spinning. That everything has stopped moving, that time itself has been frozen for a moment.
That, for some wild and insane reason that is way beyond me, God has given me another gift.
"Anna," I say again, with as much confidence as I can possibly muster. I begin walking towards her, my feet moving on their own accord. Before I know it, I've stopped just inches in front of her. She tilts her head up to look at me better.
And then, I do the only thing I can think to do, the one thing I've been wanting to do ever since the moment I found out she died.
I swoop down towards her, throwing my arms right around her back and pulling her flush against me. The action is so fast, and I'm guessing so unexpected for her, that she lurches forward and slips right off her bed, hitting the floor and taking me down with her. I'm unable to stop another round of tears from coming as I break down right then and there, sobbing uncontrollably against her shoulder.
She feels so…warm.
I don't know how much time passes before my loud sobs begin to turn into quiet tears and sniffles. I can feel her small hands pressing against my back now, one of them moving up and down in a comforting manner. As my breathing finally starts to calm down, I lift my head from her shoulder and wipe my runny nose with the back of my hand. I look right at her again, right into her eyes, which are shining with invisible tears of her own.
"H-How?" I whisper, because it's the only question I can think to ask, because it's the only thing my weak and wavering voice will allow me to speak at the moment.
But, mostly, because I know she'll understand what I mean.
She stares at me for a few seconds, although it feels much longer than that. She's got this serious look on her face as she blinks a couple times, before she finally answers me.
"God said only for a little while," she says quietly, and I feel my heart skip a beat. And, suddenly, I have so many questions to ask her, like what does God look like? What does He sound like?
Or, better yet, what's heaven like?
But, before I can say anything, she adds something else, a single word that comes out in an even smaller whisper than my own:
And, immediately, I understand.
Please, let's not talk about this right now. Please, let's just enjoy this short amount of time we've been given to spend with each other.
I nod slowly.
"So how are Mom and Dad?" Anna asks me.
She's still sitting on the floor, only now her back is leaning against her bed, and her knees are curled up to her chest. I'm sitting the same way, directly across from her, my back leaning against my own bed. Our knees are practically brushing together; our beds are that close to each other. I guess I've just never really noticed before that there isn't much space between them.
"How do you think?" I ask, looking down briefly, as I drag my index finger across the carpet. Of course, I don't expect her to actually answer that question, so instead I decide to give her a real answer, "They miss you a lot, Anna." I stop dragging my finger and bring up my hand to rest it in my lap. "Daddy's only now starting to get back to work again. Before that, he was a complete mess. He'd hardly come out of bed unless Mom forced him to come downstairs and eat with us. And now, he's been spending more time at the firehouse like he used to, but I still think half the time he's just up on the roof, looking at the stars, trying to distract himself from the pain of losing you." I pause for a moment, soaking in the thoughtful look on Anna's face, wondering briefly what she thinks of all this.
If this is kind of what she was expecting to hear.
"And Mom," I continue, "she wasn't any better. I swear, Anna, she moved like a robot for the longest time. Like, up until a few months ago, when I was still in the hospital, she'd do stuff for me like she's always done, like fluff my pillows, or hold my basin while I puked my guts out, or feed me the hospital's cold and lumpy mashed potatoes, even though I was perfectly capable of feeding myself…" I stop here, realizing that I'm starting to get off topic. "Anyway, the point is, she'd do all that stuff for me, but it was like…it wasn't really her, you know what I mean? Like, she was going through all the motions, doing all the stuff she was supposed to do, the stuff any mother is supposed to do, but there was nothing behind it. No love. It's like she was…numb. She seemed like a robot, like I said. It was so weird, Anna, it really was. But now, she's been telling me that she's thinking about practicing law again. And I told her that I think she should go ahead and do it, if it'll make her happy. 'Cause I just want her to be happy. I want all of us to…"
But I don't bother to finish that sentence. My voice trails off right there, and it's like the unfinished words are floating around in the air between us now, waiting for one of us to collect them all and put them together.
I want all of us to move on and be happy.
I look down at the carpet again, feeling my cheeks grow hot in embarrassment, because I know I don't even have to finish that sentence anyway. I know Anna knows what I was going to say. Which is why, when I finally do decide to lift my eyes to look at her again, I'm surprised to see a small smile spreading across her face, as if she's telling me, 'It's okay, Kate. I get it.'
"What about Jesse?" she asks curiously.
"He, uh," I start, because I'm still a little caught off guard, I have to admit. I quickly clear my throat and start again. "He actually enrolled in the police academy not too long ago."
Anna nods her head approvingly.
"That's cool," she says, and after a pause, she asks, "That means he'll get to have a gun, right?"
And I don't know why exactly, but for some reason, it makes me smile, if only the slightest bit. Maybe it's because the question was so seemingly out of the blue, or maybe it was the way she asked it, with a bit of excitement in her voice.
Actually, I think it's because it sounded like an Anna question.
"Yeah, I think so," I reply, and now, the freaking smile won't go away.
"That's awesome," Anna says. "I'm sure he'll be great at that. Did you know that once, he told me he saw some creepy guy shooting himself up with heroin inside a beat up car parked in front of some old high school? Only the guy drove away before Jesse could confront him."
"Really?" I ask, intrigued. Jesse's never told me anything like that before. But then again, he hasn't really told me much about his life in general. I mean, I only found out about him smoking cigarettes a few years ago, when his lighter accidentally fell out of his jeans' pocket one day.
Which reminds me…
"He quit smoking, too."
"Pot?" Anna asks.
"And cigarettes," I add.
She ponders this for a moment.
"That's good," she decides.
"Yeah," I say, and a few seconds of silence go by, before Anna speaks up again.
I smile again.
"He just got engaged."
Anna smiles, too.
"Who else?" I ask, my smile growing.
"Just checking," Anna says. "So are you guys gonna go to their wedding?"
I shrug. "Yeah, probably."
Anna leans forward a little. "I wonder if Campbell will dress Judge up in a little suit and tie to match his own. That would be cute."
"I don't think Judge would like that too much, though," I say.
"Yeah, I guess you're right," Anna agrees. "So what are you guys gonna get them as a wedding present?"
I ponder this for a moment.
"Um…I dunno, a matching bathrobe set?"
Anna smiles wide, her pearly whites flashing at me for a moment, before she fully opens her mouth and starts laughing hysterically.
Why she's laughing, I have no idea.
But, for whatever reason, I start laughing with her, and soon, we're breaking out into an explosion of nonstop laughter. And it feels like the kind of laugh where you know you shouldn't be laughing, but something is so funny that you just can't help it. Like when your teacher yells at one of your classmates for calling out in class, or when your brother is doing something just plain stupid, like making fart sounds by blowing his lips against the palm of his hand.
It feels good.
And, somehow, in the midst of our giggle-fest, we both wind up falling on our backs, our hair sprawled across the carpet. We both start panting loudly, trying to catch our breaths.
Then, out of nowhere, I feel Anna's hand touch mine. I tilt my chin up to look at our hands, which are laying above our heads, both milky white, with slender fingers. Only my hand looks paler than Anna's, and maybe even a bit smaller too, if that's possible. My nails are also much plainer than hers, since she's got that same chipped sparkly purple nail polish on hers.
I slowly turn my hand over and loosely clasp it in hers. They fit together perfectly, like a glove.
"Hey, Anna?" I say quietly, because she's right here, so close to me, and before I can even give her a chance to respond, I just come out and ask her, "You know I love you, right?"
I feel her hand tighten in mine as her body shifts slightly. I turn my head to see that she's already looking at me, her expression unreadable. I stare back at her with scared eyes, feeling a familiar ache inside my chest.
"Yeah," she finally says, her voice just as quiet, "and I love you, too." Then she smiles at me. "Even if you did take my kidney without asking."
The ache replaces itself with a warm tickle as I grin back at her.
"Thank you," I whisper, "for everything."
"Just…take good care of my kidney," she whispers back, her eyes drifting shut.
I'm unable to stop my eyes from closing, too.
"Hey, Anna?" I ask again.
"Yeah?" she replies softly.
I bite my lip, feeling that ache again.
"You won't forget me, will you?"
There's a brief but heavy silence, and then:
And just like that, I'm smiling again, feeling warmth spreading throughout my entire body. And, again, it feels good. Amazing, actually. The kind of feeling you can't really describe in words.
"Goodnight, Anna," I mumble as sleep suddenly begins to take over my body.
"Goodnight, Kate," I hear her whisper. "Don't let the bed bugs stay up late."
I smile even wider.
"That's not how it goes," I tell her. "It's don't let the bed bugs bite."
"I know," she says, "but it rhymes with your name the other way."
"Yeah…you're right," I say, a faint chuckle in my voice.
Not long after that, I begin to drift off into a relaxed and peaceful slumber, my hand still comfortably cupped in Anna's.
I lazily blink my eyes open and stare up at the ceiling in a sort-of-confused, sort-of-relaxed daze. Daylight has flooded into the room, making everything look so bright. My body feels light as a feather as I lift my head off the floor and sit up. I sit there for a while, looking around our room, looking at the closet, the dresser, the nightstand. Just looking at all these things, but staring at nothing in particular. It isn't until my hand absently strokes my smooth comforter that I look down, and I stupidly realize that I'm not, in fact, lying on the floor anymore, and instead I'm sitting in my bed, underneath the covers. A single thought crosses my mind then.
A moment later, I've ripped the blankets off my body, and I'm already up and walking across the room. I stop right in front of the mirror that hangs from our closet door, staring at myself as I place my right hand on the hem of my shirt. I lift it up to expose my thin, pale stomach.
Slowly, I bring my other hand down to my abdomen, running a single finger across my jagged scar.
I turn around to look out the window, and I can see that the sun is shining now, and the sky looks so clear and blue.
You never would've known that it rained last night.
As I turn around to face the mirror again, my bright blue eyes staring back at me, I can feel a warm smile tugging at the corner of my lips.
Because I know she was here last night.
And I know she'll always be with me, forever.