The night wind was gentle, a cool breeze bringing relief over the three children after spending the day in a warm hospital room. The air conditioning hadn't been turned on all day, and to have the opportunity to walk in the night as the sun dipped away was wonderful.
"It feels like my dress is going up," said Jodi, her hands smoothing down the ruffles on her blue and white summer dress as it floated in the breeze.
"It's just the wind," said Ryan. "Come on, let's cross."
He stared across the seemingly quiet road at their grandparents' brown one-story house, noticing the lights were on through the open windows. Grandma and Grandpa didn't go to bed until around ten o'clock or so, sometimes earlier, and it was just about nine, meaning they would be awaiting their arrival. They'd been so excited to see them the night before, and this night was no different. Maybe a lengthy conversation would help them catch up on each other's lives.
Shirley stepped out onto the road, but Ryan pulled her back by the arm. "Look both ways," he warned. "Remember what Mom said?"
Shirley nodded, and proceeded to crane her neck in both directions before smiling and saying, "There's nobody here."
"Alright, then let's go." Ryan took hold of Jodi and Shirley's hands, stepping between the two exhausted girls and looking both ways a second time before stepping off the sidewalk and onto the smooth road. There were no headlights in sight, which was good, and they managed to arrive safely on the other side.
Ryan opened the door without knocking, as his grandfather had instructed him to do the night before, and they were instantly showered with thousands of "hellos" and "how are yous." It made Ryan feel loved, and he knew that his grandparents would both be there for him if he really needed them. They were already excellent supporters of Cody's leukemia, and Ryan was sure he could count on them for comfort the whole way through.
He found himself tossing and turning not even an hour later, just like his younger brother. He could hear Grandma and Grandpa upstairs in the kitchen, and the light shone down the stairs, making him wish he were up there with them. Groaning, he rolled over once again, facing both his sleeping sisters and suddenly feeling very jealous of them. Still, they were clueless about cancer, but here he was, his mind invaded with haunting images of doctors and nurses rushing into the room to bring Cody back to life. The question of how long Cody would survive for never stopped crossing his mind, as well as thoughts of living life with another puzzle piece in the family missing. It would be great for Cody to finally see their father once more, but that would involve dying, and that wasn't good.
Ryan could hear footsteps coming down the stairs, and he rolled over once more, pretending to sleep. He peeked through slitted eyes to see his grandmother enter the laundry room, and she backed out only moments later, catching Ryan as he continuously rolled over and placed his hands over his eyes and rubbed them. "Can't sleep?" Grandma asked, forcing out her little-old-lady chuckle as she watched him.
Ryan finally sat up and nodded. "I don't know why, though," he said.
She motioned for him to follow her. "Come upstairs, and we'll talk," she said, using her other hand to smooth down her pink nightgown.
Ryan hesitated for a second before he finally convinced himself that talking about it was just what he needed. "Are you sure?" he said. "It's..." He pointed at the mattress where he slept, and trailed off.
"It's okay," his grandmother chuckled. "You don't have to come if you don't want to."
Ryan shook his head and followed her anyway. "It's fine, I will."
He followed his grandmother up the steps, a heavy weight pushing down on his eyelids as he realized just how tired he really was. The light from the kitchen was a little too bright, which made him squint when he entered the room, but regardless, he pulled up a chair and sat down next to her. Her smile was warm and welcoming, and she placed her hands on the round table, interlocking her fingers together as her dark eyes met his. "So, everything okay?" she asked.
She reminded him of a therapist. "I guess," he said quietly, nodding. "Not for Cody, though."
"Oh, I understand." She reached across and put her hand on his arm. "Especially after what happened to Eric when you two were younger. I know why this is hard for you. Cancer is a hard thing to go through, especially so young."
Ryan rubbed his tired eyes. "Yeah," he agreed.
"Do you think you'll be okay?"
"I think so."
Grandma smiled. "That's good," she said. "Any time you need to talk, though, remember that I'm here for you."
"Is there a conversation going on in here that I'm not a part of?" Grandpa's voice filled the room, and they both turned around to see him standing in the doorway.
Ryan nodded, cracking a smile. "Yeah," he said. "But it's just a bunch of cancer stuff, so it's really sad."
"Well of course it is." Grandpa pulled up a chair next to Ryan and sat down. "It's cancer, there's a lot we could discuss. Want some coffee?"
Ryan smiled. "No," he said.
"Well why not? Caffeine does the body good. It makes you hyper and excited about everything. 'Chemo is so much fun!'"
Ryan frowned. "But it's not actually."
"I know." Grandpa smiled and patted Ryan's head. "How about a shot of vodka instead?"
"Bernie!" Grandma shrieked, grinning and shaking her head. "He's ten years old, not forty. That stuff's for adults only." She faced Ryan. "And remember that."
"I will," said Ryan.
"We're here to talk about cancer, not alcohol, am I correct?" said Grandpa. "So what do you wanna talk about?"
Ryan shrugged. "I don't know."
"Well how about this: Cody's gonna get more chemo. Thoughts?"
"You're making me feel like I'm being interviewed," Ryan laughed. "But yeah, he's gonna get it for, like, six more days and he's gonna get really sick from it."
"So he won't get to come here and see his amazing grandfather," said Grandpa, and he grinned.
"Yeah. I think I'm gonna go back down and get some sleep now, I'm really tired." Ryan rubbed his eyes again. "Goodnight?"
As he rose to his feet to return to the basement, his grandfather stopped him. "Okay. You sure about not wanting the vodka, though?"
Grandma rolled her eyes, and Ryan shook his head. "No, I don't want it," he said.
"You're no fun," Grandpa joked. "Goodnight bud."
"Goodnight." Ryan was smiling as he headed down the steps. He could always count on his grandfather to cheer him up with his humour when he was down. Aside from the fact that Cody had cancer, spending the nights with his grandparents would make his summer that much better.
The rest of the week went by rather quickly, with harsh chemo treatments and Jodi's constant complaints about her imaginary headaches. The rest of the family hadn't left the hospital much, only to walk back and forth from their grandparents house. The rest of their days were usually spent cooped up in room 1204, spending more time with masked doctors than with the sun.
Cody was still a mess, and could barely sit up without the whole room spinning as if he were on an amusement park ride. He was slowly on his road to recovery, which was good, but it came with loads of nausea. The chemo was finally over for the week, and he cringed at the thought of having to go through it again several times. It would have been better if he received the chemo once, and it put him in remission, but no -- there were so many rounds to go through just to make sure the cancer was all gone. It was like racing through hell and then coming back for a few weeks only to return yet again.
He didn't even have an appetite. Every time Theresa presented him with food of any type, he'd either turn it down or throw it right back up. Nutrition was just what he needed to keep himself alive, but he wasn't getting enough. It worried Theresa, and she was sure the doctors were tired of her asking all those questions about what was normal, what wasn't normal, how long he'd receive treatment for, what the survival rates were, etc. It was difficult to have a child with cancer, and she was going to do all she could to insure he would get better soon.
"This is all giving me such a headache," she said, rubbing both hands along her forehead and covering her face. "I need this to end soon."
"Mommy, I have a headache, too," said Jodi, placing her hand atop her head.
Theresa rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Jodi," she said. "Are you sure you have a headache? Or are you just copying me?"
"It hurts," said Jodi.
"She's been complaining about it all morning," said Ryan. "Literally, all morning."
Theresa sighed. "I finally managed to get some tylenol," she said, pulling the bottle out of her purse. Dr. Hiru lent her a spoon to use, and she poured some of the red liquid onto it and held it out to her daughter. "Here, take this. It should help."
Jodi didn't hesitate to place her mouth on the spoon and down the contents immediately, which shocked Theresa. Jodi never liked medicine, especially tylenol. Why had she taken it right away? Was there something wrong? "Jodi, honey, are you alright?"
Jodi's face twisted. "It hurts," she repeated, bringing her hand to her forehead.
Theresa's eyes wandered away from Jodi's and met with Ryan's, and he could see the confusion in them. "Is that bad?" Ryan asked.
"I'm not sure." Theresa shook her head. "I just hope this isn't something serious. I mean, we've already got Cody in here battling cancer, I can't have this happen again."
"Yeah," Ryan agreed. "Imagine how hard that would be."
"It would be extremely difficult. I hope this isn't serious."
Ryan felt the familiar spark of panic in the pit of his stomach. If his mother was worried about something, usually the outcomes weren't too good. Usually it meant something bad. It had happened with Cody. What if it happened with Jodi, too? The family certainly didn't need any of this, especially after all they'd been through in the past few years, with the deaths of two close people they loved and cared for so much. Cody was battling hard to keep his life already, and they didn't need Jodi to be doing the same.
Cody lay upon the hospital bed, finally over the nausea and feeling quite better than he had before. It wasn't the cancer that was making him sick -- rather, it was the chemo. It was basically like injecting a bunch of poison into his body so it could kill the cancer cells and grow back healthy, cancer-free white cells. He no longer watched the room spin when he sat up, which was good, and he no longer felt the constant need to race to the bathroom to throw up. It was definitely hard for him, and like Dr. Hiru had said, things would only get worse before they could get better.
Setting his little feet on the floor, Cody looked up at Theresa and said, "Can we go somewhere?"
"If you're feeling up to it," said Theresa with a smile. "Where do you want to go?"
"I wanna go for a walk," he said. "I can't actually leave the hospital, though."
"I know," said Theresa. "It's good to get out, though. You're not going to get dressed today?"
Cody looked down at his red plaid pajama bottoms and shook his head. "No. Too tired."
Theresa took her four children just down to the end of the hallway, where Ryan pointed out a playroom full of little bald-headed children, who appeared to be enjoying themselves while they had their breaks from treatments. Jodi and Shirley both pouted when they had to walk past it instead of join in the fun with the other children, but Theresa promised them they'd go back another time. "It's not going anywhere," she told them. "Don't worry."
Cody took his time walking, as the chemotherapy had drained nearly all of his energy. Theresa held onto his hand as he slowly walked, and it felt as if he were a year old again, just learning how to walk. Step by step, he thought to himself as he brought one foot in front of the other. That was going to be his new motto: Step by step. That was how he was going to beat the leukemia; he was going to take it one step at a time. He'd make the best of his life while he could, because from that point on, things wouldn't be getting much better. Treatment would get harder, and staying strong would definitely be harder than it ever was.
Before they reached their room once more, Jodi staggered slightly and nearly toppled over, gripping onto Theresa's sleeve to make sure she didn't hit the ground. "Woah, Jodi, you okay?" she asked her.
"I'm dizzy," said Jodi.
Ryan caught the worried expression on Theresa's face. Maybe Jodi had tripped over someone's foot, or maybe she was just dizzy from twirling around so much, but Theresa looked skeptical of any of those options. Jodi had been acting quite strange lately. "Are you sure you're alright?" Theresa asked her.
Jodi nodded. "Yeah."
"Maybe she isn't used to the hospital," Ryan suggested. "Like maybe she gets headaches because she's in a big place? I don't know, it sounds stupid though."
"You might be right," said Theresa. "I mean, I used to get headaches when I was around so many people. Too much talking, I guess. Maybe she's the same as me."
Ryan nodded as they entered room 1204 once again, watching as Jodi staggered once more before regaining her balance. He shook it off and decided that his statement was true, that Jodi was just adjusting to her surroundings and was dizzy from pretending to be a ballerina with Shirley. He listened to Theresa's conversation with Dr. Hiru, and his last words before he reentered the room, which were, "I'd suggest booking an appointment for that. God knows what might be wrong with her."
Dr. Hiru wasn't the best with making situations any better, due to the fact that he could convince anyone that something was terribly wrong. He was brutally honest, which scared Ryan a little. He remembered how he'd said that Cody was probably going to die if he ever got his cancer back after going into remission, which only made him beg for Cody's life even more. He hated to think about the absence of his little brother, but sometimes things were a little rough. Cody was due for more chemo soon, in another three weeks or so, and he knew it'd be worse than the first round. He could only hope that things wouldn't get worse for his family over time.