Of Linear Timelines and Infinity
Some infinities are bigger than other infinities.
– John Green, The Fault in Our Stars
It was on the third Saturday in March that my mother demanded I attend a support group.
Demanded is hardly the right word, though; it was more like persuaded. She insisted I'd meet more people 'like me'. As if. I agreed to go, though, mainly because of the fact that I was sick and tired of normal, Healthy people and I thought that maybe these kids would be different. I thought they'd be more like me.
Ever since 'the diagnosis', nearly everyone had treated me like I was some sort of ticking time bomb. This one kid I didn't even know came up to me on my very last day of school and said the whole school would miss me when I was gone. Not if, but when. Though I know the kid had good intentions, I couldn't help but think that kids like him do more harm than good. Honestly, I thought the Healthy people were supposed to encourage us and tell us to 'be strong', that we would make it through if we just believed. Most of the time, that didn't happen.
But I digress.
My mom dropped me off at the door to the building. It looked like a normal enough place, albeit a bit creepy – the vaulted ceilings were, in my opinion, slightly disturbing. I walked in anyway, because my mom had already sped off and no way was I hanging around a place like this by myself. Inside, it was cold, far too cold for a meeting place for those dealing with cancer. Didn't they know we had weak immune systems and were therefore incredibly sensitive to the cold? I rolled my eyes and followed the rather cheap signs till I found the room.
Everyone stared at me as I walked in, which I suppose I should've expected. Unlike most cancer patients, I had a full head of hair – streaked and highlighted to my pleasure – and it wasn't a wig, either, because I hadn't been started on chemo yet. They were trying me on some new medicine and holding off chemo till I got desperate, which would probably be soon. I gave a scowl to the room of ogling cancer patients and then announced, "Jade West."
"Nice to have you, Jade West," said a lady with an overwhelming amount of perfume on and a chubby smile. She was most likely the mother of some cancer patient, probably one that was already gone, judging by the circles beneath her eyes. It was yet another reminder of how terminal I was.
I collapsed onto the ground and drew my arms around my knees, hugging them close to me. Then I glared at the people who were still staring at me. Most of them withdrew their gazes, looking slightly embarrassed. Well, all of them except this one boy.
He had a full head of hair too, shockingly enough, and big brown eyes. He was slightly skinny, almost too skinny, but it was obvious that he had once had very developed muscles. Pre-cancer, he would have been shockingly gorgeous, but in that moment he just looked tired. He didn't look like he enjoyed coming to the support much either, I deduced. And he was staring at me with a piercing gaze. He didn't look angry or nostalgic; no, he just looked curious and well, interested. It was as if I was the most interesting thing he'd seen in ages.
I suppose I did look quite interesting. It was one of those days when I didn't care what anyone thought of me, so I'd piled on eyeliner, threw on a too-big shirt and a pair of dark jeans, and then strode out the door. I was a stark contrast to the other girls there; they all looked like the cancer patients that were too often portrayed in magazines – all with cute faces and big eyes, innocent but still 'fighting'. I didn't quite understand that saying. It wasn't as if we could really do anything to control our fates.
"Jade," the lady said again, and I realized then that she was talking to me. "What is your diagnosis, honey?"
Honey. I grit my teeth and gave a small, unpleasant smile. "Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, honey," I informed her with an 'innocent' smile.
The boy that had been staring at me burst out laughing. The lady looked shocked. "Jade West! That is not very nice of you. I know that you're upset about your diagnosis, but that doesn't give you the right to take it out on other people."
"Whatever," I allotted with a small sigh, crossing my legs as she continued to speak. Her next move was to go around the circle and force everyone else to share their names and diagnosis with me. I didn't really pay attention to anyone; the names all blended together – Alyssa Vaughn, Robbie Shapiro, Rex Powers – until at last the boy who had been staring at me spoke.
"Beck Oliver," he said, his voice confident. "Non-Hodgkin lymphoma. Stage 3."
Everyone stared at him, and I knew that we were all on the same page – this boy was, like me, a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at any given time. Despite the fact that he was only somewhere near my age of sixteen, he was near the point of death. I longed to speak with him, yet I resisted. I'm not exactly the friendly, people-minded type of person.
I zoned out for the remainder of the meeting. Once it was over, Beck Oliver came up and tapped me on the shoulder. "Hey."
"What do you want?" I asked. Instead of the usual defensive tone I used, my voice was filled with curiosity. What did he want? Money? Me?
"You're funny," he stated bluntly. "You're... different. It's sort of refreshing. I'm Beck Oliver, but I guess you already knew that."
"I did," I replied simply with a shrug. "Why do you have hair?"
It was a simple enough question, but he laughed, as though I was some sort of small child that had no idea what cancer actually was. Then he grinned, reached up, and pulled off his hair. Now, I'm not the type to scare easily, but this was nearly too much for me.
"It's a wig," I said in surprise, reaching out to feel the soft hair that made up his cancer wig. "You're in chemo."
"Yeah," was his eloquent response. "What about you? I mean, hair that pretty can't be faked." He shot me a winning grin, which annoyed me.
"Not a wig," I informed him. "I start chemo next week."
"Oh." He stared at me, then slowly reached out until his soft hand was rubbing against my colorful hair. I wanted to push him away, but I figured that this was a once-in-a-lifetime thing since all of it would be gone by next week. I stared for a moment at his bald (well, nearly bald, there was a bit of stubble) head, imagining myself looking like he did.
It was a rather scary picture.
"Good luck," he said at last. "I'm guessing you're scared."
"I'm guessing that you don't need to know," I snapped back, stepping backward so that he was no longer touching me.
He held up his hands, as if he could somehow show his innocence by his smooth, childlike palms. "I just – I just want a new friend, I guess. And you're different."
"I don't want to be your friend," I shot back. "You're going to die soon."
"We're all going to die at some point," he reminded me, looking weaker than ever – less like a sixteen-year-old boy and more like an old, shriveled man, past the point of no return. "And you're lonely."
"I am not," I retorted, but my resolve was breaking bit by bit. It was true that the majority of my friends had ditched me upon diagnosis, all except Cat Valentine, who was a great friend but got on my nerves nonetheless with her relentless peppy attitude. I had been craving the company of someone else my age, and good-looking Beck Oliver most certainly fit my criteria.
"Come over to my house?" he asked, twirling his car keys around his fingers. A car was one of the many things I'd never been allowed, and now it seemed I'd never have the chance to own one.
"Fine," I replied at last.
His house, much to my surprise, looked fairly normal. I blinked, taking in the ordinary brick walls, the white shutters, and the white front door. It looked like something out of a movie about a regular person. Surprised, I turned to Beck Oliver, who just grinned impishly. "More normal than you'd assumed, huh?"
"Yeah, I'd say so," I said, climbing out of his car. "I shouldn't have come here, anyway. For all I know, you're a serial killer, or worse – a serial rapist!"
"Don't I look like the type?" he asked curiously, flexing one of his muscles, much to my displeasure. It was obvious that the boy was once well-endowed, but now he looked weak and tired. I decided against asking him if he could still work out.
"Obviously," was all I said in response, giving him a weak smirk. "Aren't you going to take me inside?"
"I'll be a gentleman and escort you," Beck told me, extending an arm. I tried not to look at the darkness all over his arms, as if he'd been bruised, and I took his arm gently. He's dying, I reminded myself, trying not to think of the fact that we'd look very similar soon enough.
Arm-in-arm, we walked up to the door. Beck knocked quickly, a five-part knock that amused me greatly. When he saw the curious look on my face, he offered, "Try it." I did, but I failed miserably in comparison to him. He just laughed and showed me again.
"Be patient!" came a girl's voice from inside. At last, a dark-haired girl pulled open the door. She was all right looking, I suppose; she had dark wavy hair and very prominent cheekbones. With a grin, she said, "Beck, you didn't say you were bringing a girl home!"
Beck groaned beside me, and I had a feeling that the girl (his sister, I assumed) said stuff like this often. I wondered absently if I was just the latest in a long line of cancer-ridden girls. What happened to the rest of them? Did they...? I shuddered, unable to finish that thought. Pre-cancer, I'd enjoyed joking about death, but now the concept seemed too close for comfort.
Beck spoke at last. "If I had, you'd have prepared a four-course dinner. Anyway, Tori, this is my friend Jade. Jade West, this is my twin sister, Tori Oliver."
"Nice to meet you," Tori said brightly, grinning at me. She reminded me of Beck in some ways, but she was more bright and peppy, probably due to the fact that she was the very definition of Normal and Healthy. "I assume Beck met you at his support group. What's your diagnosis?"
Yes, definitely Normal. Beck's hand flew up to my shoulder, as if to reassure me that I didn't need to answer her if I didn't want to, but I didn't need his reassurance. I'd do what I wanted anyway. With a small half-smile, I told her dryly, "Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Otherwise known as a slow, painful death."
Tori looked shocked. Then she shook her head and said in a low, determined tone, "That's not true. Any type of cancer can go away."
"Yeah, you go into remission and then, of course, you have to go in for checkups near constantly to see if the cancer has come back or not," I sneered in return. "Then afterward the cancer can come back without warning and you're done for. I'd say my chance of survival is very low." People like her, overly positive people that had never had cancer and thus did not know how very fatal it was. Everyone was going to die sometime. The only problem was that we would die sooner – and slower – than others, and not because of any bad decision we'd made.
Beck and Tori were both staring at me now, Beck in wonder and Tori in shock. Then, looking angry and confused, Tori stormed out the door.
"She's always like that," Beck said quietly once she was gone, running a hand through his hair (his wig, I mean). "So positive and optimistic. Sometimes, I just want to... do what you just did." He paused and bit his lip. "That hardly makes it okay, but... I don't know."
I glanced down at the ground and shrugged. "I'm going to die. It's okay. I've accepted it."
"Wanna watch a movie?" Beck offered. "Hopefully my older sister won't be down there, but if she is, it's easy enough to get her to leave."
I brightened up at once. Something about the way he said that last sentence implied that he was up to something that was, well, not good, and that excited me. Thankfully, Beck didn't seem quite as boring as most of the Healthy people I'd met. "That sounds like you're up to something," I teased.
"You'll see," Beck said with a grin. His cold fingers wrapped around my wrist as we walked up the stairs, which made me slightly uncomfortable. Only even during chemo, Beck was still very handsome, so I didn't mind all that much.
Once we got up the stairs, both of us were gasping for breath. One of those cancer perks, I guess you could say. We're always lethargic. I collapsed on the couch before realizing that someone was sitting on the other side, giving me a look, one that I never reacted well to.
"Hey, skinny girl, this is my couch," the brunette girl informed me. She looked like an older version of Tori, but with more makeup and more 'fashionable' clothing. "And I don't even know what you're doing here."
"I was invited here," I snapped back, but truth be told, I already liked her more than her younger sister. She wasn't treating me different because I had cancer. She was acting just the same as she would had I been any other girl, and oddly enough, I respected that. "You're Beck's older sister?"
"And you're some random girl with cancer," the girl retorted rudely, tossing her hair back, "which obviously does not give you the right to sit on my couch."
"Trina," Beck reprimanded, but he was obviously having a hard time keeping himself from laughing. I felt the same – the girl was most definitely annoying, but she was also fairly amusing in an odd sort of way. "This is my friend, Jade."
"Girlfriend?" Trina replied in an annoyed tone. "Because really, Beck, this isn't exactly the best time for you to start going on dates. I mean, after that disaster with Tori's friend, I would've thought you'd have learned – "
"Trina," Beck repeated, cutting her off before she could get to the juicy part. I'd have rather liked to know what 'disaster with Tori's friend' Trina was talking about, but obviously he didn't think I needed to know. Frowning, I decided it was better not to be offended. Beck finished with, "Ryder Daniels just texted. He said he'd like a date with you and for you to meet him at Nozu's in ten minutes."
"Really?" Trina grinned, flipping her hair. "Oh, I knew it! No one can resist the sexy Trina!"
"Yeah," Beck replied, plastering on a too-fake smile. I snickered into my palm, seeing his plan before Trina, but Trina took off anyway, pressing her hands to her glossy lips as she ran.
"Very evil, Beck Oliver," I stated plainly, staring at him. "I'm impressed."
"Thought you might be," Beck said as he walked over to the DVD cabinet. When he pulled it open, though, I must admit I was a bit surprised. The whole cabinet was filled with DVDs, all lined up in a pristine order. Awed, I walked over to the cabinet and ran my fingers along the line of titles.
"Are these all yours?" I asked in surprise. I hadn't really thought him the type to own this many DVDs, but then again, I didn't really know him, did I?
"I sort of collect them," Beck said sheepishly, sounding embarrassed. "You know, since there's only a limited amount of things you can do when you're confined to lying down for days upon days."
"I don't see you lying down right now, you rebel," I retorted with a smirk. "Breaking the rules now, are we?"
"They said I'm improving," Beck replied quietly. "That there's a chance I'll be able to live longer than they thought."
"Well, that's good, isn't it?" I said with a shrug. Finite, I reminded myself as he stared at him. He was so, so finite, so terminable, so restricted, so limited. Just like every other human, he had a beginning and an end, a straight timeline that went right from start to finish, and his was much shorter than other humans'. Mine was too. I wondered absently if our timelines ever crossed or if they were just parallel, doomed to never meet.
"Jade?" he asked with a smile. "What movies do you like?"
"Horror movies," I replied absently, tilting my head to the side. "Ooh, you know what we should watch? That one where those kids get cancer and end up becoming zombies."
"That's hardly appropriate!" Beck protested, but he was laughing anyway. Before he could try and stop me, I started rifling through the cabinet, looking for the movie.
"It's called Night of the Living Remission, right?" I called over my shoulder, knowing he would give in. He had to. I could be rather persuasive when I wanted to be.
"Yes," he said with a laugh, "but I'm not watching it."
"Yes, you are," I disagreed.
We ended up watching it anyway, of course. Like I said, I'm fairly persuasive when I want to be. Somewhere over the course of the movie – quite possibly, I believe, when the kids turned into zombies – Beck's arm made its way onto my shoulders. For once, I didn't shrug it off. Like that horrible song says, you only live once. Or, for me, you only live a few more months.
He offered to drive me home after the movie, and since I didn't have a car or anything, I accepted. I only hoped that my brother wouldn't come running out and terrify Beck, but I guessed he'd probably be in the bed at that point. We engaged in riveting conversation all the way to my house, and then he asked for my phone.
I gave it to him, though I didn't quite trust him. My narrowed eyes watched him the entire time he had it, but he simply called his mother to tell her he'd be a bit late and then pressed a few buttons. I gave him a confused stare and he handed it back.
"Aren't you going to ask for my number?" he said in a cocky tone.
"I would," I replied, "but I suspect you already have."
He laughed. "Smart. You see, you're already learning loads about me."
"Unfortunately, I fear I may have to unlearn all of this to make room for the important things," I retorted, watching as his face split into a grin. "I'll see you later, Beck Oliver."
"I'll see you soon, Jade West," he said in response. He didn't drive off until my mom had already opened the door and let me in.
As soon as I was in the door, interrogation procedure began. "Who was that?" my mom demanded, giving a stony glare. "Honestly, Jadelyn, first you get a piercing in your nose and streak your hair, now you're running off with random boys. I know the counselor said it was normal for cancer patients to rebel, but honey, this is going a bit too far."
"He's hardly a random boy, Mom," I retorted, rolling my eyes. "He was at my support group and I thought he wasn't so bad."
My mom relaxed a bit. "Was he really? What's his diagnosis?"
Such a Healthy question. I rolled my eyes again. Honestly, was every one of them obsessed with which type of cancer we had? "Non-Hodgkin lymphoma," I replied, gritting my teeth as I spoke. Hopefully she'd let me go up to bed soon; I wasn't in the mood for interview Jade time.
"Really," Mom replied, and then at last she was silent, which I took as a sign that I was allowed to go upstairs at last. Once I reached my bed, I realized that I was both out of breath and completely and utterly exhausted. Sighing, I fell into my bed and tried to find a comfortable position in which to sleep.
And that's when the pain began.
Pre-cancer, I was pretty much an advocate for pain. I guess you could call me masochistic. Anyway, I was always babbling on about 'the good kind of pain' and how sometimes a little pain was good for a person, and how people dealing with it just needed to man up.
This was most assuredly not the good kind of pain.
I was burning by the time I woke up. My whole body felt like I was being consumed by flames. I winced. If this was what I felt like pre-chemo, I couldn't even imagine what it would feel like after chemo.
Jeremiah bounded into my room then, his dark hair falling into his bright eyes. "Jade!" he said, obviously thrilled to see that I'd made it another day. My mom had implanted the notion that I would die any day now into his head. And, while I guess it could be true, it's still not all that likely. I'm not in the final stages of cancer or anything. I still have a chance.
Just not a big one.
"Hey, Jem," I said, patting the bed beside me. "You're looking really tall these days."
"That's because I am," Jeremiah replied self-importantly, climbing onto the bed beside me. He took pride in this, I knew, because he wasn't exactly the tallest kid in seventh grade. "But hey, thanks for the compliment." He flashed me a grin and a wink, like he was practicing for when he finally got a girlfriend.
"Wasn't a compliment," I retorted sharply.
Jeremiah was silent for a moment before he spoke up again. "Jade?"
"Yeah?" I asked, feeling kind of nervous about what he was going to act. Judging by his tone of voice, it wasn't something innocent like how tall the big rollercoaster at the local amusement park was. It was more likely something pertaining to my disease, something about how sick I was, something that he was better off not knowing the answer to.
"Mom says you're going to die," he muttered quietly, his voice barely audible. I turned to look at him, but he was already hiding his face, as if he was ashamed of what he'd said. It was like he was ashamed of speaking the truth.
I didn't know why people found it so hard to tell the dying people that they were dying. It was like telling a blonde girl that she was blonde, except for some reason it was considered more rude. In both situations, you were simply speaking the truth.
And yeah, sometimes the truth hurt, but that was the way life went.
I decided it was in Jeremiah's best interest for me to tell him the truth. Obviously Mom was following the same strategy. Gritting my teeth, I reminded him, "Everyone dies sometime, Jeremiah."
"Then why are you special?" Jeremiah wonders, staring at me with wide eyes. "Why does everyone look at pity with you wherever you go? Why does mom say specifically that you're gonna die?"
"My time just comes sooner than most people is all," I reassured him, though really I was reassuring myself as much as I was reassuring him. "And also, most people's deaths are caused by bad decisions they make – by drinking too much or deciding to kill themselves or not taking good care of themselves. This type of cancer is one of the few ways that people can die where it's not a direct result of their bad decisions. It's also a long, incredibly painful process."
"I thought death was caused by sin?" Jeremiah questioned, looking confused. "And well, everybody's sinned."
"I said direct result, Jeremiah," I reminded him with a small frown. "Nothing I did directly caused me to get cancer." And this, I know, is true. It was always going to be a large roadblock, standing in the way of my extravagant future. Just another reminder that you can't always get what you want.
Jeremiah still looked confused, and he confirmed that he was when he cautiously asked me, "So does that mean you're going to die?"
"Yes," I replied honestly, closing my eyes so that I wouldn't have to see his reaction.
I could hear his crying before he even got up. Then he seemed to change his mind, because I could hear rustling. I still didn't want to look and see the heartbreak on his face, the heartbreak I'd caused. At last, something fell in front of me.
"Just because I'm sick doesn't give you the right to throw my things," I growled, but I opened my eyes at last.
"Your friend Beck called," Jeremiah sniffled, then he turned and ran out of the room. What? My eyes widened, and I scrolled down until I came to the menu called 'calls'. Surely enough, Beck Oliver's name was at the top of the list.
I blinked. Another wave of pain rolled through me. Despite it all, I still hit the call back button, not even bothering to question how he got my number. I figured that I would figure that out eventually.
"Hello?" I said nervously as soon as the ringing stopped. It wasn't that I hadn't called boys before; it was just that Beck Oliver was different. Maybe it was his blasé attitude or his blunt way of speaking or maybe it was the fact that he'd looked at me like I was the most interesting thing he'd ever seen. Either way, he was kind of one of the most unnerving boys I'd ever met. I couldn't decide whether that was positive or negative.
"Jade," Beck greeted me warmly. "Jeremiah said you'd call. He's such a cute boy – well, as far as I can tell through the phone."
"What do you want?" I demanded. I mean, I felt that was a fairly good question, considering he was calling me in the wee hours of the morning – well, eleven o'clock, but still. Far too early for him to be calling.
"I want to talk to you," was his immediate response. "No, well, actually, I want to see you."
"Can't get enough of me already?" I teased, but I was slightly worried. After all, no one wanted to see me. I was most assuredly a very interesting person, but I was kind of rude and blunt, which is something that tended to put people off. Obviously not Beck.
"You could say that," he said with an amused laugh. A sense of humor, I thought with a nod. Definitely a plus. He continued by saying, "I thought maybe we could go out to lunch or something. That is, if you're up for it. Just for a little bit, cause I wouldn't want to take up too much of your precious time."
I stretched out a bit, wincing at the aching feeling in my limbs. Was I up for it? I considered the alternative, which was staying home and resting and wincing at the aching feeling in my limbs, all the while feeling more alone than ever. "Yeah, I'm up for it," I told him at last.
"Great," he answered quickly. "Meet me at Maestro's at 12:30, all right?"
I paused for a second. "Living the big life, are we now?"
"You only live once," he said mischievously. "Or in our case, only a little while longer. So I say we might as well make the best of it."
I groaned. "Please don't say that you're one of those freaky optimistic cancer patients. Such a cliché, Beck Oliver. I'm ashamed."
"Well, then you'll be very ashamed of me." He laughed. I wondered what the heck he was on about. Before I had the chance to ask, he said, "Bye, Jade West," and hung up the phone.
Before she dropped me off, my mom was sure to quiz me more about Beck and ask me why I hadn't been hanging out with Cat lately. She was sure to add that while Cat may be irritating, she had been a 'great friend' to me. I simply dipped my head in understanding and told her I'd call Cat tomorrow. Probably I wouldn't, but it sounded good.
Once she finally dropped me off at the restaurant, Beck Oliver was already sitting there at a table, probably because he had his own car while I had to beg my mom for a ride. He smirked at me. The jerk.
"Nice to see you made it," he said in a polite, reserved tone that I normally only used for speaking to adults that I had to respect. "I was hoping you would."
"Well, I'm certainly not dead," I retorted, picking up my menu and glaring at him. "Sorry for the inconvenience."
"Apology accepted," he retorted with a cocky grin. I was suddenly overcome with the urge to smack him, but I figured from the sore state of my arms that it would hurt me more than it would hurt him, so I settled for one of those glares that could probably kill a human if glares could kill.
"I'm wounded," Beck said, shooting me a pity-me glance. I just glared back and he finally added, "Fine, I'll shut up. I'm assuming you want the caviar?"
"What is caviar?" I sneered.
"Fish eggs." Beck didn't even look scared, which, while reassuring, was also a bit worrying (I know, a contradiction, I'm full of those). Pre-cancer, everyone was terrified of me. I was popular, revered, and absolutely intimidating. Now even the definition of former pretty boy, Beck Oliver, wasn't even scared of me.
"People pay money for fish eggs?" On occasion, the stupidity of humanity was completely unfathomable. This was one of those times.
"Loads of money," was Beck's response. He glanced back down at the menu, then showed me the price. My eyes nearly bugged out of my head.
"What are they doing wasting money on something like that," I inclined my head to indicate the caviar, "when they could be spending money on something so much more worthwhile? Something like cancer research?"
Beck's only response was to blink and bow his head slightly, as if he was deep in thought. When he lifted it back up again to look me in the eyes, he looked so weak and vulnerable that my hand immediately flew up to cover his – reflexively, of course, I could hardly help it. When he spoke, he told me, "The thing is, Jade, people like you and me have to stick together and help each other out, cause very few others will."
I found myself staring at him, sort of in wonder, which probably made me look really stupid. What he said, though – it was scarily true, but at the same time, it was too close for comfort.
Clearing my throat, I said, "I'll have the macaroni."
In the morning, Mom made me call Cat to see if she wanted to hang out, which really was a bad decision on her part since I don't take well to people telling me what to do. I simply glared at her with my signature glare until finally she just shoved the phone into my hands and said, "I've already dialed. You're going, Jadelyn. Cat is a perfectly nice girl."
"I'm sure a lot of female serial killers were 'perfectly nice girls' once upon a time," I snarled in retaliation, but I took the phone anyway and stared at it, as if it would somehow disintegrate in my hand if I stared at it long enough.
It didn't happen.
Cat's voice came over the line. "Jade!" she squealed happily. "Oh em gee, I was hoping you would call! I was thinking about you today. Have you started chemotherapy yet? Oh, let me guess, you're already in remission!"
Remission, I thought bitterly, was such a Healthy Person concept. For me, it just meant my life was extended by a few months, perhaps longer if I was lucky, and the cancer might come back. There was always that possibility. They thought that meant that your cancer was cured and that it magically flew away, like a butterfly on the breeze. As if. People had such a weird concept of cancer.
"No," I retorted at last. "I'm not in remission. I haven't even started chemo yet, Cat." Her incessant optimism drove me crazy most of the time.
"Oh." Cat sounded remotely quieter now. "When do you start?"
"Day after tomorrow, Cat," I said in a halfway patient sort of voice. "My hair's going to fall out. All of that hard work on those streaks for nothing."
"Oh." Cat was even quieter now. I felt sort of guilty in an odd kind of way – I didn't usually feel guilt when I was mean to people, but Cat sounded legitimately concerned for me, which was something that I hadn't received a lot of after my diagnosis. "Why'd you call, then?" she inquired softly.
I thought about mentioning the fact that my mom had forced me to call her, but I thought that was a bit too mean, even for me. "I just wanted to know if you wanted to do something today."
"Yeah, sure!" Cat seemed to perk up immediately, much to my relief. "What do you wanna do? We could go swimming, or go to the beach, or – "
"Cat," I cut her off. "I know you're excited, but the thing is that I really haven't got the energy to do any of that any more."
"Aw," Cat replied, sounding truly sad. Then she seemed to perk up, judging by the excited squeal she gave. "We could go see a movie! I heard that the Legend of the Purple Giraffe is playing at the theater near us. Surely you can just go see that?" Her voice sounded pleading, and of course I could never resist. (While mean, I can assure you that I am surely not heartless.)
I didn't really want to go see a movie about a purple giraffe. I'd have rather hung out with Beck Oliver, who unfortunately seemed to plaguing my thoughts more often than not. But I agreed anyway, because I didn't really want to explain to my mother and besides, saying no to Cat was like kicking a puppy.
After the incredibly boring movie, Cat took it upon herself to quiz me about my love life, which wasn't really something I wanted to talk about. It consisted mainly of Beck Oliver. Of course, I'd had a boyfriend before him – the ever-lovely Matt, who dumped me as soon as he figured out that I was going to die soon. I didn't really have a lot to talk about in the ways of guys, but Cat didn't really seem to understand that.
She continually gushed about her latest 'gem', a boy named Daniel who I was less than eager to meet. I figured he'd just be yet another of the shallow guys that Cat seemed to attract.
After a bit of this, though, Cat seemed to realize that I was less than eager to talk about my love life, so she switched to another 'interesting' subject – my disease. "How much longer have you got left?" Cat inquired. Her voice was low, worried, and I kind of hated it. I was doing this to everyone, causing them pain, and it wasn't even my decision for once.
"I don't know, Cat," I said, my voice strained. "I guess we'll find out after chemotherapy."
Cat was silent for a moment, staring at me. Her voice broke as she said, "I don't want you to leave."
"No one has forever," I reminded her, but I was starting to feel more than a little melancholy myself. I was hardly the insecure type, but in that moment, I felt the all-too-typical fear of cancer patients overwhelming me. Staring down at my chipped, black nails, I asked Cat in a strong tone, "Do you think I'm pretty?"
"Of course," Cat replied, smiling up at me with one of her typical Cat smiles.
"Will you think I'm pretty even after I lose my hair?" I asked, biting on my lip. Oh, I was turning into such a sap.
"Always," Cat said quietly. Then she was hugging me, and all I could think about was how much of a cliché I was becoming.
I went to Beck's house. I had no idea why I was so comfortable with him after just a few days, but I had decided to stop questioning things. As he said, you only lived once, and I wasn't about to waste my time sitting around. I was turning into such a cliché cancer patient. It was really starting to bother me.
Beck let me in on the second knock and then stared at me curiously. "Wasn't expecting you."
"Bad or good surprise?" I asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Good. But I've got a friend over, so as long as you don't mind a bit more socialization, I'll let you stay," he offered.
"Let me," I scoffed, crossing my arms. Then I considered it for a second. If the kid got along with Beck, he couldn't be too bad. At last, I gave a slight nod, but I was sure to ask, "Is he a Healthy kid?"
"Yeah, he's definitely not a cancer patient," Beck replied with a shrug. "But he and I have been friends for ages, so I let him stick around. I think you'll like him. He gets along with almost everyone."
He held out his hand as an invitation. Hesitantly, I took it. It felt rather weird to hold hands with a guy – it wasn't exactly something I'd done recently – but his hand was strong and warm around mine, so I didn't really mind all that much. Especially since I'd kind of shown up at his house without prior invitation.
Once we got upstairs at last, both of us out of breath, my eyes fell upon the boy in question. Dreads, dark skin, keyboard in his lap, I observed at once. He looked up, his eyes tracing me, and then his face split into a smile. "You must be Jade West," he said, standing up and walking toward me. Once he got close enough, he extended a hand, like we were in some old-fashioned movie or some chiz. I shook it anyway.
"Yeah, that's me," I retorted. "How'd you know that?"
"Beck never shuts up about you," the guy informed me with a chuckle, which caused Beck to flush red and smack him on the arm. This made me wonder a bit – Beck Oliver had been talking about me? What had he been saying? Hopefully good things, but I could never be sure.
I simply raised an eyebrow in response and turned to look at Beck, who simply gave me an adorable sheepish grin.
Ugh, I did not think the word adorable. I made a mental note to wipe that word from my vocabulary.
"And who exactly are you?" I asked, feeling it was rather rude of me not to ask, even though I didn't particularly care to know his name.
The guy just laughed. He seemed to be the type to take everything in stride, unlike most of the people that have to deal with me on a regular basis, which I supposed could be a good quality in a friend. "Andre Harris," he introduced himself at last and gave me a wide grin.
"Great. I'm Jade West, as you already know. Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to sit on the couch before I die of not being able to breathe or hyperventilation or whatever. If I go down, you go with me." Dramatically, I collapsed on the couch, smirking at the laughs I received from both boys. It did cause a bit of pain to reverberate through my body, though, so I noted that I should probably avoid doing that from now on.
Beck gave Andre one of those looks that said 'I told you so'. Andre simply chuckled before turning back to his piano. There was something all too familiar about him, as if I'd seen him somewhere before...
"Andre's a musician," Beck explained, jerking me out of my thoughts. I glanced up in interest. "He goes to Hollywood Arts. I'm not sure if you've heard of it, but..."
"That's where I've seen him," I exclaimed, probably shocking Beck (though I really didn't care). "You were in the year above me at Hollywood Arts. I used to go there, before my diagnosis." My voice got noticeably quiet near the end, but I hoped they wouldn't notice.
"Oh yeah, Jade West!" Andre said in recognition. "If I remember right, you've got a pretty killer singing voice."
Beck gave me a look that clearly implied that he hadn't heard anything about this (even though we'd only known each other for three days, which really hadn't given me enough time to tell him, anyway). Andre grinned at me. "Why don't you sing something for us, girl?"
It would be pretty funny to floor Beck Oliver, I had to admit. And I was definitely more than confident in my singing voice. So I just nodded, flipped my hair, and grabbed the fake microphone off of Andre's keyboard. "Play me... um, that song that you played at the Showcase. I think I know it fairly well."
Andre just gave me a surprised gaze, and I rolled my eyes. He started to play at last, much to my delight, so I began to sing. "Here I am... once again..."
Beck Oliver's eyes were on me the whole time. Perfect. It was kind of funny, flooring someone who had hardly ever looked afraid in my presence, but it seemed that he was absolutely hypnotized by my voice. He didn't take his eyes off of me the entire time. My throat was raspy and my voice soft – both side effects of the stupid experimental medication I was on, I guessed – but I was still fairly on-key.
Then suddenly I heard a voice, loud and clear, in my head. Someone saying 'She has no idea of the effect she can have.'
As quickly as it came, the voice was gone. I blinked, staring at the boys, who were both staring at me with wide eyes. I gave a small smirk. "Well? Are you going to say something or just stand there like idiots?"
Beck just stared at me for a moment. Then he said, "I want you to sing at my funeral, Jade West."
Not 'You've got a beautiful voice, Jade'. Not 'Sing more, Jade?' Not 'You should go on American Idol, Jade'. But "I want you to sing at my funeral, Jade West."
We were most assuredly some screwed up people.
"What if I'm dead by then?" I stated in response, staring at him. After all, it was a distinct possibility. One of us had to die before the other. It could very well be me that died first. I didn't really like either possibility. I was becoming more and more fond of deluding myself.
"Not likely, but," Beck chuckled, "if you're still alive. Please?"
"Why?" I asked in complete confusion. After all, it wasn't every day that good-looking guys asked girls to sing at their funerals. Then again, I guessed that we weren't exactly completely normal.
"Because you're beautiful," he said, no emotion in his voice whatsoever, "and you have a beautiful voice. I know that if I leave it to my mom, she'll pick someone who I don't think is good at singing in the least, so I thought it would be a good idea if I chose the person myself. And well, here you are..." He gave a small shrug and stared at me, his face unreadable.
I blinked. What was there to say? It was so obvious that he knew he was going to die soon. I didn't really want to think about that, didn't want to consider what life would be like after that, but I couldn't very well say no and see that disappointment on his face.
It would have been so easy to say no had it been anyone else.
Someone's strong hand fell onto my shoulder, and I turned to see Andre staring at me, his face shaped into a smiling mask. "I'll help you," he told me quietly.
"I can do it on my own," I sneered back. I mean, it was nice of him to offer, but it wasn't as if I would be paralyzed and unable to do anything on my own the minute he was gone. I didn't like feeling helpless, and he was making me feel like I would be completely useless at the funeral. As if.
"I know," Andre said simply. "I just want to be there anyway. For Beck."
"Is that a yes?" Beck jumped in with a smirk.
"That's a yes," I confirmed slowly, regretting my decision immediately after I spoke. "If I'm still alive."
Beck didn't say anything, but I saw it in his eyes. You will be.
I woke up in the morning with a feeling of dread in my stomach. I started chemotherapy the day after. My whole body was aching in fear, much to my displeasure. I knew that if I didn't get up and do something, I'd be lying in the bed all day, frozen with terror, so I made myself get up and get dressed. Jeremiah was already downstairs with a pile of pancakes sitting in front of him.
I managed a weak smile. "Didn't save any for your poor older sister, huh?"
"There are plenty," Jeremiah chirped. "Dad made them."
I froze at once, my thoughts racing beyond my control. Why was my Dad there? There was no reason for him to be there at my house. "Dad's here? What the actual –"
"He wants to go with you when you start chemo today," Jeremiah babbled, his eyes bright. "I mean, so Mom's letting him stay the night here so that he doesn't have to drive down here tomorrow so early in the morning..."
"Oh." Since when had I allowed my father to accompany me to chemo? I'd never even heard anything about this until today. "Why's he coming down today, then?" He only lived about an hour from our house, so Jeremiah and I had to stay with him every other weekend, much to my dismay. I didn't see why my chemotherapy session warranted a visit from him. It wouldn't take that long for him to get there on his own.
"Maybe he wants to see us," Jeremiah replied innocently, smiling up at me with a chocolate-stained smile.
"Yeah, and maybe I'd like to jump off a cliff," I retorted sarcastically, feeling all the more angry due to my father's sudden reappearance. Jeremiah's face fell and I suddenly felt sort of guilty, much to my displeasure.
"Don't you want any pancakes?" Jeremiah asked sadly, showing me the plate, stacked full of all the different kinds of pancakes that Dad used to make us when we were younger – blueberry, chocolate, strawberry, and of course the regular ones. Unfortunately, I really didn't want any pancakes. Ever since I'd heard that my lovely father had made the pancakes, my appetite had mysteriously disappeared.
"Not hungry," I replied sharply. Thankfully, my phone rang then, saving me from the torture of having to talk to Jeremiah about our father or worse, having to face my father himself.
The Caller ID said Beck Oliver. I nearly jumped out of my skin. He was calling again? This was beyond unusual. It was basically unheard of.
"Hey," I said once I was composed enough to pick up the phone.
"Jade," Beck greeted me readily, before quickly concluding with, "You know, there's a fair in town today, and I was wondering if maybe you wanted to – "
"Pick me up ASAP," I replied, not even bothering to listen to the rest of what he was saying. Bad habit of mine . I just wanted out of the house as soon as possible, and if he was offering to take me out, then there was no question as to what I would say in response.
Beck was silent for a moment, probably shocked. "Okay," he told me at last in an amused tone. I could tell he definitely hadn't been expecting this when he'd called.
"Great. Bye." I hung up the phone quickly and grabbed one of my coats off of the hook. Its material felt rough against my arms, and I tried not to look at the bruises that were starting to cover my arm. Wincing, I turned to Jeremiah and quickly said, "Jem, tell Mom I'm going out with my friends."
"And dad?" Jeremiah questioned.
"Tell him I fell off a cliff and not to call," I replied sharply, glaring at Jeremiah. "Bye."
"You seemed fairly eager to get out of that house," Beck observed, smiling slightly over at me as we got out of the car at the fair.
"Yeah, well, my dad has come to accompany me to chemotherapy," I informed him darkly, rolling my eyes. I wasn't sure how much he would know about that; he had a mother and a father that were still together. I'd talked to them after Andre had left yesterday and they seemed perfectly nice.
"You and your father don't get along?" he asked casually.
"You could say that," I drawled dryly. "You could also say that I'd rather like for him to move to New Zealand and stay out of my life."
"That bad, huh?" Beck inquired with a small frown. He looked like he was genuinely concerned for me, and for that I had no response. Not many people were genuinely concerned for me.
"Yeah," I replied at last, glancing up at him. "Anyway, we're at the fair. We're here to have fun."
"You don't seem like the type of girl to enjoy going to the fair," Beck observed, raising an eyebrow.
I groaned. "Well, yeah, not really. It's just that I needed to get out. Besides, I quite like rollercoasters."
Beck looked kind of scared once I said the word 'rollercoaster', which kind of amused me. After all, this was cool and collected cancer patient Beck Oliver, a survivor, a fighter, and here he was, looking scared at the idea of a mere rollercoaster? I bit my lip to keep myself from laughing. Weakly, I asked, "I take it you're not a big rollercoaster fan?"
"Not really," Beck said nervously. "Besides, we've got disease. Do you really think that they'll let us on a big rollercoaster in our respective conditions?"
"Yes," I said impetuously, reaching out impulsively to grab Beck's weak, brittle hand. "We're cancer patients. It's not like we've got some heart condition that will cause our hearts to stop spontaneously as soon as we go around some loop."
Beck's eyes widened. "Could that happen?"
"Come on, you idiot," I said, tugging on his hand. "Tons of kids go to Disney World for their Wish and none of them have had spontaneous combustion or anything."
"I've always wanted to go to Disney World, y'know," Beck told me casually, tightening his grip on my hand. "I don't know; I've just never been able to go before, and well, yeah..."
"That's so cliché," I complained, glancing over at him. It really was cliché. Every cancer patient was given a Wish, and most of them chose to go meet their idol or go to Disney World. Since I didn't really have an idol (I'm completely and utterly my own person), I hadn't made a Wish. "Please tell me you didn't use up your Wish on something that cliché."
"I haven't used my Wish yet, but I'm considering going to Disney World," Beck muttered, staring at his feet. "You should come with me."
"To Disney World? For your Wish?" I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Beck, who I'd known all of four days, was asking me to accompany him on his Wish trip, one of the biggest parts of a cancer kid's shortened life. And admittedly he was choosing a cliché Wish, but that didn't make it any less important.
"Yeah." Beck shrugged as if it was no big deal. I stared at him like he was crazy.
Thankfully, it was just then that one of the workers came down to collect our tickets and usher us onto the ride. Beck looked like he was going to throw up as we went up the hill, which made me laugh. I grinned mischievously at him. "I swear you'll be okay," I whispered under my breath.
"I swear I won't," he responded after a moment, but then he smiled so I knew that he wasn't angry.
Once we got to the top of the hill, the world seemed a million miles below. I looked around, took it all in. I realized how very tall I suddenly seemed. Everyone else was so small below me. There were hundreds of people down there, crowded into huge clusters of humans. It made me realize how very irrelevant everyone was.
I was so incredibly irrelevant. Who would mourn me when I was gone? I was but a speck in a starlit sky. Nothing special. Just Jade West, blunt and dark and so, so irrelevant.
Then we were plunging downward. I tightened my grip on Beck's hand with a smirk, trying to make sure he didn't go into a spasm and end up dead. Honestly, I'd hate to have been responsible for his death.
Of course, he didn't spasm or anything. He was actually laughing, holding his head back and laughing, like it was the best thing he'd ever done. I glanced at over at him and couldn't help but give a small half-smile as well, despite the fact that I hardly ever (if ever) smiled.
The ride was over less than a minute letter, and Beck held my hand still as we walked off of the rollercoaster. "That was amazing!" he enthused.
"What happened to 'I'm going to die'?" I teased, giving him one of my trademark smirks.
"I guess it just didn't happen," Beck said cheerfully. The grin on his face was almost enough to cover up the fact that he was sickly still. "I'm definitely still here."
"Yeah, well, I'm glad," I said, reaching over and 'playfully' punching his shoulder. "Just don't go spreading that around."
He smiled again, reaching out to wrap one of his arms around my shoulders. His arm felt a long stronger when it was on my back somehow. I didn't shove it off as I did most boys; instead, I kind of relaxed into it. You only live a few more months.
Beck only lives a few more months. Or less.
I bit my lip to keep from crying out. It was such a Romeo and Juliet sort of situation – girl and boy meet, get to know each other over a few days, fall in love, then they both die. I guess it was the cycle of life in a way, only we'd sped it up considerably.
"You know," Beck began casually, "they have rollercoasters at Disney World."
"You're serious about this?" I asked. It just seemed ludicrous that he wanted me to go with him, but it seemed so cruel to deny him something so simple, especially since he seemed completely sure that he was going to die at any given time.
"Completely," he responded, not missing a beat.
I stared at him, considering. Then I just put my head back on his shoulder and gave a small nod, wondering if he could feel the movement against his fragile skin. "Fine."
The rest of the day was pretty much your cliché day at the fair. He bought me cotton candy, despite my limitless protests, so I licked a piece of my cotton candy and stuck it to his nose. He played one of those stupid fair games and got me a stupid stuffed gorilla, and then we fought over what to name it. All of his suggestions for names were stupid, like Cenwig and Irma and stuff. In the end, we just agreed to leave its name unknown.
"We can name it when we get to Disney World," Beck told me excitedly. It was as if he was five again, so excited over some dumb amusement park. I didn't ruin his fun, though.
He dropped me off at home that night, kissing me lightly on the cheek and telling me I'd look beautiful even without hair. I spent some time staring at myself in the reflection, wondering what I'd look like with no hair and cancer patient features. I wrapped a piece of hair around my finger for what might be the last time.
You'll look beautiful even without hair, people had said, but they were obligated to say that. It wasn't as if they could come right out and say, "You're going to look so ugly without hair, Jadelyn!" I was a cancer patient, which according to some people was basically the lowest of the low. I had to be pitied and coddled like I was five again.
It took me forever to drift off that night. I kept having nightmares that the chemotherapy went wrong and I just died, then and there. In my dream, I was dead, but I was still there in my body, watching. Jeremiah was crying and Beck was crying –
It was the most horrible dream. I was incredibly glad when I awoke at last.
Then I wasn't glad again.
Chemotherapy was the worst thing to ever be invented, in my opinion. They shoved an IV in my arm, much to my displeasure (and I was sure to let them know), and then they let this drug flow into me. I got so tired after a while that I let my heavy eyes shut.
After that, I remembered almost nothing. I did, however, remember opening my heavy eyelids for a moment. Through the blurry haze that was my vision, I could see a boy and a doctor. The boy was saying 'It can't' and the doctor was saying 'relapse... huge relapse... no time left'.
Then my eyes were closing again, and I was deep in sleep.
I woke up with a heavy head and a gross feeling everywhere in my body. I threw up a couple of times. On what must have been my fourth time throwing up, I realized that someone was holding my hair. Spinning around, I glared at my father. "Dad – " I had not the energy to finish my sentence, so I threw up again, my whole body heaving from exhaustion.
Obviously not feeling my anger, my dad carried me back to my bed. I didn't protest, probably because I was too tired. My whole body ached. I laid my head back, fisting my hands in the cover. I felt stupid and helpless, like one of those stupid princesses in the books.
"Beck," I managed to get out at last. "Is Beck here?"
"Who's Beck?" my dad asked curiously. "Your boyfriend?"
I glared at him intensely, something that I could definitely do without moving a single muscle. He seemed to take the hint and told me quickly, "No one called Beck has been here, I promise."
"Okay," I wheezed out before drifting back off to sleep.
They released me from the hospital later that day. My first move, when I got home, was to call Beck, much to my parents' displeasure. They felt I was getting too attached to the boy who, they so bluntly stated, was a walking corpse. They also said it wouldn't be too much longer till he was put back into his grave.
I gave them a few choice words and called him anyway.
He sounded more than delighted when he picked up. "Jade!"
"Hey," I greeted him, trying to sound casual.
"Want to come over or something?" There was a hint of desperation in his tone, almost like he knew something that I didn't, but I didn't bother questioning it, mostly because I really did want to go over there.
"Yeah, sure. Can you pick me up?" I felt like such a little kid, always having to be picked up. For my next birthday I was definitely asking for a car. And, well, lessons for how to drive it. If I made it that far, that was.
"Be there in five," Beck replied, and then he hung up. I checked my reflection again in the mirror.
Unfortunately, I looked incredibly pale, and my hair had already started to fall out, much to my dismay. I whipped on a hat and prayed Beck wouldn't think that I looked ugly. After all, most guys didn't find pale, bruised skin and bald heads attractive, but Beck was different, considering he had both of those things.
Once Beck pulled up, I jumped in immediately. He stared at me. "You're still gorgeous," he told me with a laugh.
"So are you," I said jokingly, but he ducked his head, looking oddly embarrassed and much like a little kid or a small, innocent puppy, which made me want to reach out and touch him. It was a strange urge – never had I actually wanted to touch someone before. Now I wanted to touch him. I wanted his touch.
Very strange indeed.
Once we got there, Beck's mom opened the door for us. She looked pleasantly surprised to see me, but Tori wasn't quite so enthusiastic.
"Jade," Tori said in a sweet tone. "Have a nice time with your slow, painful death."
"Tori!" Beck's mom exclaimed, glaring at their youngest daughter.
I just laughed. "Good to see you too, Oliver."
Tori grinned and sauntered down the stairs, swishing her hair as if to show how 'cool' she was. I simply rolled my eyes and followed Beck back up the stairs, though this time it seemed twice as exhausting. After climbing the million and one stairs up to the living room, I collapsed on the couch. He collapsed beside me, putting an arm around me.
It was scary how natural this seemed after just a few days.
"So, tell me about yourself," Beck commanded, sitting up slightly so that he could look at my face. "You've got a little brother, right? Jeremiah? And you don't get along with your parents?"
I arched an eyebrow. "Why?"
"Because I want to get to know you," Beck said softly, almost as if he was about to fall asleep. "Isn't that what people do on dates?" He sounded almost legitimately confused, as if he had never been on a date before. His words shocked me, though – a date? He wanted to be on a date with me?
"Is this a date?" I questioned, my mouth quirking up despite my attempts not to let it.
"If you want it to be," he told me, smiling softly over at me.
I did. I wanted it to be a date. I wanted forever with him – to grow old, get married, have kids. It was one of the many things I'd never get. Never again would I get the chance to be normal.
I just nodded simply and launched into the short version of my life story. He listened well, adding in well-placed 'mmhmms' and yeses. Once I was done, he just stared at me and grinned. "Jade West, you are definitely a different sort of girl."
Pursing my lips, I just nodded. "Now what about you?" I asked sharply, staring at him.
He just laughed. "Go for it. I'm transparent; I've got no secrets."
"Hardly mysterious," I muttered, but I drilled him with questions anyway. His favorite color was blue, he was originally from Canada (to that, I voiced my disapproval), and he enjoyed plaid shirts. He'd only had a few girlfriends before; he much preferred harmless flirting, but I was different.
When I asked him what he meant by that, he just shrugged. Of course, since I'd been called 'incredibly stubborn' on more than one occasion, I pressed him further. At last, he just stared at me in the eyes and said, "Jade West, if you and I had been born in a different universe, one where we weren't sick and had all the time in the world, I think that we could've had forever."
Then he was kissing me, pressing his lips against mine in a soft but rough way that was one of the best feelings I'd ever experienced, and I was kissing back. The only thought I could register was that I never wanted it to stop. He was an awfully good kisser.
Once he pulled away, he just stared at me for a second with a hint of a smile on his face.
I simply smiled back. For once, it wasn't an evil smile or a smirk, but a halfway genuine smile. He was one of the few people in the world, I realized, that could get me to smile like that.
"You know," he said breathlessly, sounding nearly as breathless as I felt, "we're actually going to go to Disney World. I've talked to mom and she thinks it's a good idea, so she contacted the wish foundation and..."
"How long?" I interrupted, flipping over to face him.
"Two weeks," Beck hummed, smiling at me. "It seems like ages but time flies, you know?"
"I know," I replied, leaning over to kiss him on the cheek. "I'm sure it will."
My hair kept falling out even more over the last few days. Not all of it had fallen out, either, so I looked especially odd. One of the cancer kid companies offered to send over a wig as soon as possible, so of course I accepted. It would have been stupid if I had refused. All I wanted was my hair back.
(Oh, and to prolong the lives of both me and Beck, but I had a feeling that was nearly impossible.)
When I wasn't in the hospital or being forced to spend time with my family, I was with Beck, much to my mother's dismay. I knew she thought it suspicious, since we hadn't known each other that long, so I invited him over for dinner one night just to show my mom that he was a perfectly normal, albeit sickly, guy. However, I had a bad feeling when I opened the door to see that he had circles under his eyes. I reached up to trace them as lightly as possible, then I said "Beck" in a scolding tone.
"I'm trying to sleep more," he said, frowning slightly. "Are you gonna let me in?"
"No, you'll have to stay out there in the rain," I responded sarcastically, but I moved out of the way to let him in anyway. "My parents are just thrilled to meet you. Unfortunately, they don't listen to anything I say, and my dad insisted on staying for this 'momentous occasion' so the odds are stacked against us."
"Aren't they always?" Beck quipped, walking in the door and running a hand through his hair in that way he always did when he was nervous.
I just gave a coy shrug and a smirk, then walked into the kitchen. Beck followed me. My parents stared at the two of us.
"Well, aren't you an attractive young man," my mother crowed. Jeremiah facepalmed and gave me a helpless look. I returned it, feeling even more helpless, and then I collapsed into the seat beside Jeremiah.
Beck gave my mom a smile. "I'd like to think so, but maybe not so much anymore." He laughed and sat down beside me, taking my hand in his below the table so that my parents couldn't see.
"Nonsense," my mom replied briskly. "Now young sir, do you like mashed potatoes? What about fried chicken? I sure hope you do, because we've got a whole home-cooked meal for you..."
And so it went. Most of the meal I just felt like hiding my face and crawling up under a rock, but Beck looked pretty amused so I guess it was all okay. It probably wasn't the type of family he'd expected me to have – back in middle school, I'd brought a friend home and her first comment was 'Oh my gosh, you live in a normal house? I thought you lived in a witch castle or something!'. Needless to say, we weren't really friends anymore, but I could understand the shock anyway. Rebel Jade West and a normal house with a halfway normal family (excepting my dad, who was the most horrible person in the world) didn't really fit.
At the end of the meal, I told my mom I wanted to show Beck my room. She looked suspicious, but told me to 'be back down in ten minutes'. Rolling my eyes, I agreed.
Once we got up there, Beck looked around in wonder. "This is definitely a creative room."
"It does have a lot of black," I agreed simply with a frown. "I like it that way."
"So what, are you like a closet Goth or something?" he teased, glancing around at my collection of butterflies and, well, other dead things. I'd always had a fascination with death, just not my own.
"You are such a cliché, Beck Oliver," I complained, walking up to him and pressing my lips to his. He responded at once, running his hands through my hair.
Once we parted, he whispered against my lips, "And you like it that way."
Of course, Jeremiah took that moment to burst in and yell, "Mom says to come downstairs!" When he saw the position we were in, he blinked and then made a vomiting noise. I had to laugh as he ran back down the stairs.
"Yeah, maybe it's time for you to go home," I said assertively, pulling away from his grasp.
"Probably," Beck replied, not seeming embarrassed in the least. "I had a really nice time today, Jade West."
"Yeah, same with me, I guess," I replied, smirking as he walked out the door.
Once he was gone, my mom turned to me. "Well, he seems like a responsible young man. That is, if you two can keep your lips off each others'. Jeremiah doesn't really appreciate seeing all of that."
I rolled my eyes.
The first time I mentioned him to Cat, she wanted to meet him, which didn't really seem like a good idea to me. After all, Cat was a bit, erm, different, and I wasn't too sure if Beck would like her. Moreover, I wasn't sure if Beck could deal with her and her limitless energy. Cat was always so enthusiastic and all over the place, and Beck was looking more and more exhausted by the day. I didn't really think it was a good idea, but Cat insisted, and after all, no one could really say no to Cat. I didn't exactly have a weak resolve but she broke through it anyway.
So that was how I ended up introducing my 'best friend' to my boyfriend. It was a bit of an awkward situation, to say the least. Cat was scrutinizing him, as if she was trying to see if he was good enough for me. Beck just looked a bit uncomfortable.
"Cat, this is Beck," I jumped in at last. "Beck, this is Cat, my good friend."
"Yay!" Cat exclaimed, clapping her hands like one of those weird monkey toys. "I've heard a lot about you!"
"All bad things, I'm sure," Beck remarked dryly.
"Oh, no!" Cat looked sad now. I guess I'd forgotten to mention to Beck that Cat took everything literally – pretty much the opposite of me and Beck, where everything with us was sarcastic until proven otherwise. "She has said a lot of good stuff too, which really is weird because it's Jade. And Jade says a lot of mean stuff usually."
I arched an eyebrow. "Are you calling me mean?"
"No!" Cat yelped, looking guilty. "I just meant that you said a lot of good things about Beck... which isn't really something you normally do!"
"Yeah, okay," I replied at last, turning to look at Beck, who had a grin on his face. I guessed he saw how fun messing with Cat could be. Obviously it probably wasn't a good thing to do, since Cat was all innocent and chiz, but I couldn't have cared less.
"I'm sure she says good things about me," Beck said, smirking over at me and pressing a kiss to my forehead.
Cat looked completely confused but happy. She grinned and clapped her hands. "Yay! Everybody's happy!"
I blinked and then just shook my head.
The rest of the afternoon went much like that. Cat made us a cake and then forced us to eat it, and neither of us even complained that she'd used too much sugar. We just sat there and talked about stuff. Despite my reservations, it was pretty nice, though of course I'd never admit it.
Cat hugged me when she left. Then she smiled, turned to Beck, and hugged him too. "Stay alive," she said innocently, and then she dashed out the door.
I'd like to think that was my first warning. Of course, I didn't really take heed. I just thought of it as typical Cat Valentine.
A few days later was the day I affectionately thought of as his 'Last Good Day'. He picked me up at around nine PM and took me to this place he called 'The Rooftop of the City'. I rolled my eyes, because it sounded kind of stupid, but I allowed him to take me anyway.
It was gorgeous. I knew it was a cliché thing to say, but it really was. We lay out on the hill under the stars, and it was almost as if we could see every single one of them. The star-dotted sky was sort of like a blanket draped over the two of us.
Beck put his arm around me. "This is what I'm going to miss when I'm gone."
"Don't say that," I muttered darkly. "Don't say when you're gone. It won't happen."
"I've relapsed majorly, Jade," he told me. "I'm in Stage Four. I'm going to die, and it's going to be soon."
I rolled over to stare at him, at the circles under his eyeballs, at the dark, sad look on his face. His skin was pale, his eyes dark, and he really did look like death. It was scary, almost as if I was staring death in the eyeballs. I bit my lip and snuggled closer into his arm, wishing this moment would never end. I didn't want to have to live without him. The concept seemed ludicrous. What would I do without the boy with the shaggy wig?
He kissed my cheek softly, then pressed his forehead against mine. "I understand if you... don't want to do this anymore."
This concept was even more insane. I stared at him, my mouth open in shock. "You think... you think I'm going to ditch you because you're dying? Beck, that's stupid. That's absolutely insane. You are the biggest idiot that I've ever met. Ever."
"You don't want to ditch me?" Beck asked, his tone playful but with so much of a deeper meaning behind his words.
"Never," I promised, pressing my lips against his. He tightened his arm around me, pressed me closer into his chest, and all I could think was if we laid right here forever, maybe we could avoid time. Maybe Beck's strong arm could shield us both from Death.
Of course, we had to go home at some point, because for whatever stupid reason life doesn't work that way. He kissed me again and told me that I was still the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen, no matter what. I was wearing my wig, so I guessed that was probably why.
When he left that day, I didn't know it was the last time I'd really see him.
Beck Oliver died the day before we were supposed to leave for Disney World.
Andre called me on what may have just been the worst day of my life, two days before we were meant u, sounding panicked. "It's Beck," was all he managed to get out. "He's at the hospital." Of course, I knew which hospital he was talking about – it was the same one I'd gone to a million times. I'd just nodded, realized he couldn't hear me, and then choked out an, "Okay. I'll be there as soon as possible."
I forced my dad to drive me to the hospital because it was one of those weekends, one where I had to stay with him. My dad wasn't pleased, but I guess from my expression he could tell that it was important to me, and it was. It really, really was.
Once I got there, Andre looked like he was about ready to collapse. "He's not doing well," Andre choked out, sounding horribly upset. "They said he doesn't have too much time left."
I stared at him for a second before nodding my head and biting my lip. His hand found its way onto my shoulder. "He's going to die. I'm not sure if you want to see him like that..."
"It's not about me, idiot," I hissed through my teeth. "He probably needs to see me. Even if he doesn't, I should give him that chance."
At last, Andre nodded. "All right. I'm sure he'd want to see you, but I really... I just can't."
"I understand," I said with a nod, and then I pushed open the door. The room was brighter than you'd expect, but Beck Oliver was lying in a bed. His eyes were half closed.
Once he saw me, he looked slightly guilty. One of his weak hands found mine and he sighed contentedly. "M'sorry... can't go to... Disney World..."
"It's fine," I said, giving his hand a squeeze. "You're dying. No time to think about crap like that, Beck."
"You used... to call me... Beck Oliver," Beck got out.
A wave of guilt crashed over me. I leaned in and pressed a kiss to his forehead softly, something that I felt would show that I was feeling vulnerable for once in my life, but I didn't know how to deal with it. It was scary, how weak he looked – pale face, too-dark eyes, a breathing apparatus, and an IV in his arm.
"It's... gonna... take a while," he wheezed out, closing his eyes.
"I'll stay with you," I informed him, stroking his head. It was coated with stubble – apparently, when you were dying, they wouldn't let you wear a wig. I can't say I minded.
"You're... good," he got out. "Too good... for me." He closed his eyes, wincing at the pain. I was feeling slightly nauseous myself, but I figured that it wasn't the best time to bring it up. After all, it was time to put aside myself and make his last few hours worth it.
"You're such a cliché, Beck Oliver," I whispered, stroking his cheek now.
A small smile appeared on his face. "You... love it."
His family came in then. All of them looked so melancholy, even Tori. Apparently the relentless optimist had finally figured out that her brother's terminal disease was just that – terminal. Tori bit her lip and came to stand next to the chair I was sitting in.
"I'm sorry," Tori said softly, both to Beck and me, I supposed. I just nodded, both for me and Beck, because it looked like Beck was drifting off to sleep. Not dying, though, not yet, judging by the gentle rhythm of his chest.
Tori pulled up a chair and then we sat for hours. After a little while, Trina joined us. His mom and dad sat on the other side. Andre would pop in to check on us every so often. Apparently, he and Cat were off in the waiting room. It was too hard to watch. I understood.
It was silent most of the time, except when Beck woke up for short periods of time or when the doctors came in. It was slightly uncomfortable, mostly due to the fact that I quite obviously didn't belong there, among his family. After all, I'd only known him a few weeks.
But he didn't seem to want me to leave from the tight grip he had on my hand. The monitor showed that he was still alive, which made me happy yet sad. I didn't want him to have to suffer. Most people, I wouldn't have minded, but this was Beck. He broke all of my rules.
After hours of the incessant silence, at around 1 AM, Beck started screaming. It was one of the most terrifying things I'd ever had to witness. Trina quickly pressed the button to call the doctors, and I squeezed his hand. Don't suffer, Beck, I whispered in my head.
Once the doctors got there, they told us in a sad voice that it was too late for them to do anything. In a broken, quivering voice, Beck whispered, "I love you, Jade. I'm praying for you."
I felt my heart snap in half, quite literally, except I guess it didn't actually break cause then I'd have died too. (Maybe it'd be easier that way.) Kissing his cheek, I whispered, "I love you too."
He craned his head to look at his family, then, to no one in particular, he choked out, "Take care of each other. I love all of you."
"I love you too," his family replied, one by one. I couldn't really hear them, so I assumed that was what they said. It was too hard to hear, so I zoned out.
Beck's eyes slipped closed again. After a minute, the machine flatlined.
My thoughts stopped. I would never talk to him again, never stroke his face, never tell him that he was the most cliché person in the world but I loved him anyway. I pushed my chair back, disentangling my hand from his. Trina had already burst into tears, but everyone else seemed to just be in tears.
I didn't want to deal with this. I couldn't. Quickly, I pushed myself out and dashed out of the room. Andre and Cat looked up in shock, and I just shook my head, which obviously told them what they didn't want to hear. Andre put his head into his hands, and I could see his whole body quaking with sobs. Shaking my head, I slipped down another corridor and pulled out my phone. With shaking hands, I dialed the number for the Make a Wish Foundation.
"This is Jade West," I told them once they answered, my voice trembling. "I need – I want to change Beck Oliver's wish. He – he just passed away, and I want them to bring him back to life."
"I'm sorry, honey," said the sympathetic voice on the other end of the line. "I understand the pain that you're going through, but – "
"NO, YOU DON'T!" I roared into the phone. "No one understands! Beck is dead and you have to bring him back, you have to –"
I hung up then, because I was sort of crying too hard to even talk. Quickly, I wiped my eyes. I didn't normally cry, and crying wouldn't bring Beck back, anyway. Nothing I could do would bring him back. Not even the 'Wish' foundation could bring back what I'd lost.
I wrapped my arms around myself and just sat there for a while, until Andre came and found me, then drove me home.
The funeral was scheduled for two days later. I really didn't want to go, but I had promised Beck that I would sing at his funeral, and it seemed far too wrong to back out on my promise to a dead man. Andre squeezed my shoulder and told me that he'd have my back.
I wore one of my many black dresses and a black hat, along with my wig, of course. The wig was dark black and wavy, so I looked even more terrifying. Good thing, too. I didn't want to talk to all the people that would indubitably be coming up to me to offer their 'condolences'. As if I cared. I already felt upset enough as it was. Why did I need their 'condolences' on top of it?
Both of my parents, Jeremiah, and Cat came to support me, though I told them they didn't have to. It took place at Beck's church. The first few minutes of the funeral were even more depressing than I'd thought. They sang typical funeral songs, like "Amazing Grace", and had this been any other time, I would've fallen asleep. As it was, I just bit my lip and tried not to cry. Weak, Jade, weak, I chided myself, though I didn't really care.
After all of that, it was my turn to sing. Andre walked me up to the front, and my heart broke as I laid eyes upon the coffin, but I mustered up all of my courage anyway and walked to the front. The song Beck had selected was called 'If I Die Young', which I thought was completely appropriate. I inhaled deeply and began to sing.
It was hard to sing with everyone's eyes on me, and I felt as if I would throw up at any given moment. The side-effects of the chemo I was on didn't help. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, reveling at the feeling of air in my lungs, and then I sang as if I was the last person on earth. I could almost hear his voice beside me, saying "You have a beautiful voice." I knew I was doing well.
I didn't cry, thankfully. In fact, it wasn't till I sat down and Cat told me, "You have a beautiful voice and you're beautiful" that I burst into tears.
Obviously I stopped after a minute of this; it was just too embarrassing. Some old lady stared at me, so I glared at her and snapped a little bit, which got her to lay off.
The rest of the service was people talking about him. I listened attentively to the stories – Beck throwing mud at girls when he was little, how he took it with grace when he was diagnosed, his good spirit and all around peace no matter what happened. They said he was in heaven. I hoped so.
After the service, they forced us all to line up and look at the body, then go express our condolences to the family. But once I took a look at the body, tears ran down my face all over again. He looked so healthy – so at peace. I was happy for him, but still upset that he'd left me behind to face cancer on my own.
Cat found me first. She hugged me with a small frown and said, "I'm so sorry, Jadey."
"Me too," I replied slowly, biting my lip. "Thanks, though. I'll be okay."
"No you won't," Cat protested, and I could feel her crying too. "I love you, though. As a friend."
"Yeah, you too." I bit my lip as she walked away. I really did care for her as a friend.
Someone hugged me from behind. I turned to face Tori Oliver, who was staring at me with a tear-stained face. "Your singing was beautiful," she told me quietly.
"Thanks." I stared at the ground.
"He loved you, you know," Tori informed me, like it was something I didn't know. "He talked about you all of the time. I guess I was bitter because you helped him more than I ever did."
"It's okay. Me too," I added. Then I said, "He loved you too," because he did, really, and it sounded nice.
"I know," Tori responded, clearly as uncomfortable with the use of the past tense as I was. "It's just... it's just hard."
"I get it," I told her.
It was then that my dad walked up, purposely positioning himself between me and Tori. I stared at him, my eyes wide. "What do you want?"
"I'm sorry for your loss, Jadelyn," my dad said, looking very uncomfortable. "He was really a good kid. It's so horrible that he had to go this soon."
"I know," I snap. "He was the best guy that I ever knew. I loved him. I love him."
"I can see that now," my dad said quietly. "I'm so sorry."
And then I was in my dad's arms, hugging him tightly as tears drifted down my face. It really was odd how much I'd cried today, but then again, I'd lost Beck. If things had been in our favor, we would have been at Disney World then, riding the rides and having the time of our lives. Yet there I was at a funeral, wishing I could live in another universe, one where Beck Oliver and I had all the time in the world.
Time, it seemed, was not on our side.
Once I got home, it was all I could do not to hole up in my bed and let myself die. Thankfully, Jeremiah came into my room to comfort me. He sat down beside me and stared at me with wide eyes.
"I'm sorry about Beck," Jeremiah said sadly, sitting down beside me. "He was a nice guy."
"What do I care?" I asked bitterly. "I only knew him three weeks. He's just a guy. I'm going to die soon anyway. It doesn't matter. Nothing matters."
"Jade," Jeremiah said, interrupting my rant.
I continued anyway. "We're all so insignificant. There are billions of people on this earth. Beck and I were just two people out of the billions. No one will remember us when we're gone. Nobody will remember us twenty years from now. We were just two small fireflies in a dark sky."
"Jade!" Jeremiah cut me off, then laid down beside me and wrapped his arms around me, a sweet move for such a little guy. I just cried silently, my tears staining my little brother's shirt.
"Thanks, Jem," I whispered quietly before I descended into complete darkness.
Dear Beck Oliver,
I'm writing to you from the hospital. I know you can't read it but still. I've just come out of yet another chemo session and I thought it was a good a time as ever.
Anyway, we took your trip. I hope you don't mind. Tori, Trina, Jem, Andre, Cat, and the parents – mine and yours – all went to Disney World. It was brilliant. You would've loved it. I'm sure you'd have ridden Expedition Everest with me. As it was, I went with Tori and Jem, both of whom were terrified. Hopefully you're more man than they are.
I loved you. I still do. I know we only knew each other a few weeks but I guess that's enough time. I miss you.
You were right, though. If things were different – if neither of us were sick – we would've had our own portion of forever. I guess three weeks was enough. It was our own version of forever.
Thanks for everything. You were one of the best things to happen to me. You're still really cliché, though. Like the epitome of cliché. (You would've liked that word. Epitome. I figure it's typical of you.)
I named my gorilla Cenwig. You'd be proud, you dork. Tori and I are on fairly good terms. I can't say the same for Trina, though. She's a freak of nature. I guess things do happen for a reason. I'm even on good terms with my dad now. I guess it took losing you to figure out what's important to me.
I was lonely before I met you. You knew that. Now I have friends. That's good. Thanks.
We all miss you a lot.
I watched Night of the Living Remission today. You never got your remission.
Yeah, that's it.
A/N: If you've read this far, you are legitimately brilliant. I hope you enjoyed it. It was based loosely off The Fault in Our Stars by John Green which is brilliant as well, by the way, and you should all read it. Sorry for the angst and terribly sorry for any and all inaccuracies XD Please, since you've read this far, I assume you have an extra minute to let me know what you thought of this crazy long fic. It would mean the world to me.
Thanks to Jessica for the encouragement XD
Please review and don't favorite without reviewing. All reviews are much appreciated.