Within the next few days, Cody's condition continued to plummet. His fever spiked up to 105 degrees, and he could barely walk on his own. His stomach lurched, and he was constantly vomiting and his head was spinning. With a weak immune system, there was almost no way he could fight off infection on his own. Certainly something was wrong.
Ryan was off to his very first baseball game of the summer, and Aunt Mimi had arrived to pick him up, considering he had no idea where the field even was. He worried about Cody the whole way there, and he hoped desperately that nothing would happen to him while he was gone. What if he came back and found out his brother was close to death? He tried to keep that thought off his mind, but every so often, it showed up again to play around with his nerves. All he wanted to think about was baseball, but it was difficult for him, especially with the knowledge that his brother's condition was deteriorating.
"What's going on in there?" Aunt Mimi knocked on his forehead lightly, and the sound of her voice derailed his train of thoughts.
He hadn't even noticed they'd stopped. But now that they had arrived, his heart sped up and pounded against his chest in worry. He'd have to meet his new team, and although he wasn't shy, that was a huge deal. There was the chance they could see how nervous he was and think him weird. "I'm fine," he answered to Aunt Mimi's question.
Aunt Mimi chuckled. "Well, we're here," she said. "I mean, your mom didn't pay eighty dollars to sit here and watch, so let's go out there."
Ryan hopped out of the silver van, fiddling with his glove and focusing only on the game this time. He'd do good, he hoped. They never had the chance to practice; they'd jumped straight into a game instead, and he wished his mother could come and watch him. They'd brought along Jodi and Shirley so they wouldn't bore themselves to death in the hospital, but it was good that at least he had some family there. Cody would never get to watch him, which was sad. He actually enjoyed both watching and playing baseball, but of course, the stupid cancer ruined that opportunity, too.
"Can we go to the park?" Shirley asked as they walked over to a sign labeled "Field 2," where Ryan's game would be held.
"No, we're gonna watch Ryan," Aunt Mimi told her. "He's gonna play baseball."
"Yeah, baseball." Aunt Mimi smiled. "You played t-ball once, and it was fun, wasn't it?"
Shirley nodded, although she probably didn't even remember. She'd just turned three when she played t-ball. "Is he gonna win?"
"That's the spirit," said Ryan. "Of course I will. If I'm a part of the team, we're gonna win."
"No," said Jodi. "There's other people too."
"I'm joking," said Ryan. "But you never know, maybe I'm right."
Once they arrived at the second field, Aunt Mimi pulled out her lawn chair and the girls sat next to her in the grass, crawling around and pretending to be puppies. "Go on," Aunt Mimi told Ryan, and he slowly walked over to the dugout, where a man with a golden moustache was handing out red jerseys.
"Hey there bud!" the guy said enthusiastically. "You on the Red Sox team?"
"I...I guess so," said Ryan.
"Then you're officially awesome." The man presented him with a surprise high-five before introducing yourself. "I'm Dan, and I'll be your coach. Can I have your name?"
"Ryan..." Dan scanned the list of players with his blue pen. "Ryan Wheldon?"
"Alrighty then, pick a number," said Dan. "I'm going to assume you'll need an extra small for your jersey. We have eight, eleven, and four."
Ryan didn't really care what his number was, as long as he got a jersey. "Uh, four."
"Perfect." Dan threw the jersey at him, and Ryan barely caught it. "You're officially number four, and a part of our team."
Ryan smiled as he threw the jersey over his black t-shirt. It fit him, although it was still a little big, but he could deal with it. Jerseys weren't supposed to be skin-tight, after all. "Thanks," he said.
"No problem kiddo." Dan clapped him on the shoulder. "You got anyone to play catch with?"
Ryan shook his head. "I don't know anybody here."
"Then I'll be your friend." Dan laughed. "Come with me to the field."
Dan reached into a large bag and rolled a lime green ball in his hand, motioning for Ryan to follow. Most of the team was scattered all around the field playing catch with their friends, while another male coach went through the list at the bench, so Dan was free to teach Ryan how to be a great catcher. By surprise, he tossed the ball at Ryan, who hadn't been looking at first but now had his full attention as the ball nearly hit him in the face. He managed to catch it, though, and it made Dan smile. "Star catcher, huh?" he said.
Ryan shrugged. "I don't know."
He tossed the ball back at Dan, who returned it to him quickly. "Played baseball before?"
"Yeah, for a few years actually."
"That's good," said Dan. "You never know, maybe you'll make it into the professional league."
Ryan seriously doubted that, but he shrugged anyway. "Maybe," he said.
The two continued to toss it back and forth at one another before the entire team gathered at the dugout to obtain their positions and organize the batting order. As Ryan prepared to head into the field, he caught Aunt Mimi's eye and smiled, noticing how happy she looked. She was certainly happier than his mother was, which made him feel a little relieved. Everyone was far too worried about Cody, including himself, but this was an opportunity for him to have fun and temporarily enjoy something while he had the chance. He waved, and Aunt Mimi returned the favour.
"Have fun," she mouthed.
Ryan gave her a thumbs-up and proceeded to second base, where he'd play for either part of the game or the whole way through. It was his decision whether he wanted to switch, but for now, he'd keep his position. He watched the pitcher toss a few practice throws before the first batter in blue stepped up to the plate. The ball never sailed in Ryan's direction, but he was fine with that. He'd get someone out soon, he was sure of it.
He knew Cody would have loved to see this. Baseball was his favourite sport, and when he wasn't playing, he enjoyed watching Ryan play. If only that stupid cancer hadn't gotten the best of him, he'd be here watching with a smile on his face. He'd cheer him on when he hit a home run, and would praise him with high-fives when he came back to the dugout. But instead, he was lying in a hospital bed, fighting for his life and counting the days as they went by slowly. He was being sent for bone marrow tests and blood tests, and he was watching the room spin as he sat up in bed. He was only eight years old, and he didn't deserve anything he got. If only there were a way he could...
"Ryan, get it!" A voice suddenly called out through the booming voices in his head, and he looked around to see the ball roll right by him. It was too late to get it, and he'd missed his opportunity. The other coach he hadn't spoken to yet threw his hands up and looked a little angry, and Ryan could feel his heart begin to beat fast. He'd just screwed up in front of his whole team, and the other team too.
Once three players had gotten out, Ryan and his team headed for the dugout once again, and the other coach approached him. "What was that?" he said.
Ryan's jaw dropped. "Uh..." was all he could manage.
"You didn't see it coming?" His face reddened slightly.
"I...I didn't know..."
"Never mind. Just pay attention next time, or you're benched." He pointed down to the gray bench next to him.
Ryan couldn't even apologize. This was exactly what he'd feared, and he'd screwed up. The thoughts of his younger brother's battle had consumed him, and he hadn't been paying attention. He would gave gotten a player out if only he'd been watching the game closely. He sank down onto the bench in defeat, avoiding the glares of the other teammates. He suddenly wished he were back in the hospital. He'd rather be there than at the field getting yelled at by a man he didn't even know.
"Mike, really?" said Dan. He patted Ryan on the shoulder. "You did good."
Ryan shook his head. "No, I didn't," he said sadly.
"Just don't listen to him," said Dan. "He tends to get a little too competative when it comes to baseball."
It was probably the most obvious thing in the world. Ryan nodded in agreement, though, and watched the first player on his team step up to the plate, ready for the first pitch. He wasn't sure who he was, but he was tall, probably the tallest player on the team, and he looked older than everyone else. Ryan watched the ball sail way out into the field, and seeing that reminded him of a time when he did that himself, and Cody was there to cheer him on like always. He was the happiest he'd ever been, and hadn't been sick at all. Ryan wished he could hit a ball like that, but at the same time he was dreading it. He probably wouldn't even make it to first base because the memories of that night with Cody would resurface.
"Hey, you're next." Mike hit him lightly on the shoulder. "Get your gear on."
Ryan caught Aunt Mimi's eye once again, and this time, she didn't look as excited as she had been moments before. She saw the disappointment in his eyes. He gave a small smile as he slid one of the helmets over his head and picked up a bat as his team member reached the third strike, and he turned his head slightly to catch another glance at his sisters before exiting the dugout. He'd do good, he hoped. No more haunting thoughts of Cody. Just pure concentration.
He held the black bat over his shoulder and eyed the ball as it sailed in his direction. He swung, and he missed. He could feel the panic rising within him, and he knew he couldn't disappoint his team yet again. He could feel the angry stares of his team and their parents in the bleachers, but for now, all he wanted to do was ignore them. The ball came at him again, and this time he didn't swing, and it didn't hit the plate, meaning there was no strike. He felt a little relieved at that, and as the ball came was tossed in his direction once again, he swung the bat as hard as he could, and heard the loud crack of the metal coming in contact with the ball.
It was truly awesome. He could hear the little crowd erupt in applause, and his coaches both screamed "Run!" He nearly tripped over first base, but kept running as he realized he could make it to second. His team was clapping and smiling as he stood on the second base, feeling proud of himself. He could do it, and he knew it all along. He was going to block out all thoughts of Cody's cancer for now, and worry about it later, when he was finished the game.
"How'd it go?" Theresa asked as the rest of her family entered room 1204.
Ryan smiled. "Good," he said. "What about Cody? Where is he?"
Theresa's face fell slightly. "He's downstairs getting a spinal tap," she said. "He'll be back soon, though. The good news is that his blood count seems to be improving."
"So he's getting better?"
"He's on his way there." Theresa grinned. "How were the girls?"
Aunt Mimi chuckled. "Entertained," she said. "They were kinda lost at first, and ever since Ryan hit it the first time, they pressed themselves up against the fence and shouted his name every time he went up to bat. They're his biggest fans, I guess."
Theresa glanced down at her youngest daughters. "Did you have fun?"
"Yeah!" said Shirley. "Ryan hit it and it went 'whoosh!'" She threw her arm into the air in a quick motion in attempt to act it out. "It went fast."
At that moment, the door opened slightly, and Nurse Beatrice and Cody entered. He looked so small and fragile standing next to her, and he looked dazed. His eyes were red-rimmed, and it was clear to Theresa that he didn't enjoy the procedure. "Did you have fun?" she joked, but quit smiling as she looked at his serious face.
Cody shook his head. "It hurt," he said quietly.
Theresa took him in her arms. "But now they can tell you when you'll be better."
Hope sparked in Cody's eyes as he pulled out of her hug. "But it doesn't look into the future," he said and finally smiled. "I wish it could do that."
Ryan chuckled. "Maybe in the future they'll have the technology to do that. 'According to these results, your cancer will be all gone in three days and it'll never come back.'"
Cody laughed. He actually laughed. "I wish it were three days. I would be out the door just like that." He snapped his fingers.
Theresa's mood lifted at the sight of her second son's smile. "Well, I'm going to go book an appointment for Jodi, but when I get back, remember I'm still your mother, and I have every right to be mad at you if you turn this place into a zoo."
Ryan gave her a mischevious smile. "We'll try our best to keep the animals out." He pointed at Jodi and Shirley. "But we can't promise anything."
Theresa swatted him lightly on the arm. "Behave," she said, and exited the room with Jodi at her side.
Once she was gone, Cody hopped back into the hospital bed and relaxed. "Ryan, do you ever worry about me?" he asked out of curiosity.
Ryan turned his head at the unexpected question. "Uh, yeah, I guess," he said.
"Like, do you actually think I'm gonna beat the cancer?"
"Well, I hope so." Ryan sat next to him on the bed. "I mean, I'll get to make fun of you for things without Dr. Hiru slapping me."
Cody laughed again. "And I'll get to make fun of you for being so worried all the time."
"But you won't know that."
"I have my ways. I can see it in your eyes." He pointed at Ryan's eyes. "Even if I die I'll still be secretly making fun of you in Heaven with Dad."
Ryan felt a chill climb up his spine at the mention of his father. "But you won't die," he assured him. "So I'll get to hear you make fun of me, and then I can do the same."
Shirley climbed up onto the empty bed space next to them and didn't say anything, just listened. Aunt Mimi had already left, and so had Jodi, so she had no one to bore with her imaginative stories. "Where's Mommy?" she asked.
"In Hell," Ryan joked, and tried not to laugh at Shirley's confused face. "She's downstairs, don't worry. I'm kidding."
Shirley smiled. "Jodi's downstairs, too," she said.
"I know," said Ryan. "They're booking an appointment for her head because she's acting really weird." He seriously hoped that Jodi would be alright, and he didn't mention his worried thoughts to Cody and Shirley. He'd only worry them, too. "She's gonna be okay, though."
It wasn't long before Theresa returned with Jodi, who looked as if she could fall asleep in the very spot she stood in. "The appointment's in one week," Theresa announced. "They'll just be doing some brain scans and all that fancy stuff, but we're hoping nothing's wrong. The lady downstairs said that her symptoms didn't really mean anything, so her headaches probably aren't a major problem."
"But what about what Dr. Hiru said?" Ryan asked.
Theresa shook her head. "He's just exaggerating, I think," she said. "You know how he is."
"Mommy, it still hurts," Jodi complained, placing her hand atop her head once more.
Theresa sighed, and averted her gaze up to the white ceiling, which was decorated in white swirls and cool designs. "It'll be okay," she assured her daughter as she brought her gaze back down. "They're just headaches. I have more tylenol if you need it, sweetie."
"Does it make your headaches disappear?"
"Of course it does," Ryan cut in. "It's like magic in a bottle."
Theresa grinned. "Something like that," she said. "It helped Cody when he got sick. Only, look where he is now." She bowed her head down as the horrifying thoughts consumed her. "But your condition is different."
"Different?" said Jodi.
"Yeah, different." Theresa's heart pounded hard against her chest. "You don't need cheotherapy like Cody does. Cody has cancer. He'll be getting more treatment in a few weeks."
Cody groaned. He hated to think about more chemotherapy. "Don't remind me," he said, rubbing his eyes and leaning back in the bed. "I'm still sick. I don't wanna think about it."
Theresa sighed in defeat. The family had way too much drama going on lately. Cody and his inevitable, life-changing diagnosis, and Jodi's headaches sneaking their way into the picture to make things worse. There was so much to worry about and little time to be happy and appreciate the lives they lead. They needed some kind of sign that things would get better over time. But as far as they were concerned, it wasn't coming any time soon.