The phone was ringing loudly when Ryan awoke, and he rolled out of bed with not a care for the world as he stumbled out to the living room to answer. He fumbled with the receiver, his eyes threatening to shut once more as he pressed the "talk" button and barely managed a simple "Hello?"
"Oh goodness, Ryan, you're home!" the voice on the other end sang. It took a moment before Ryan finally realized who it was, and he sighed with annoyance.
"Quincy, what do you want?"
Quincy was his neighbour. His annoying, demanding, disgusting, immature neighbour. It had become a habit of his to call early in the morning, nine o'clock to be exact, and it seemed like he was emotionally attached to Ryan like they'd known each other forever. He used terms like "BFF," "bestie," and "buddy," to describe their so-called friendship. Ryan disliked being called anything remotely close to "best friend," as he was considered nothing but a neighbour, a somewhat friend. And as he awaited Quincy's response, he hoped he wouldn't ask to hang out or anything, because Quincy had not one funny bone in him.
But sure enough, "Wanna go to the park with me? We can go to the skatepark and hang out with the cool kids, and you can bring your skateboard. I'll bring my bike for sure."
Ryan rolled his eyes. "Dude, you're bike isn't meant to be used on the ramps. And I just woke up, for your information. Could you give me time to eat breakfast, brush my teeth, and all that other stuff normal people do in the morning?"
It was almost like Ryan could hear him nodding on the other end. "Of course," he said. "I'll be over in about twenty minutes." And the line went dead.
"So I guess I have no other choice?" Ryan said as he hung up the phone, knowing that Quincy hadn't heard. Ryan had usually played the nice guy when with Quincy, but now it had gotten to the point where patience wasn't even an option, and he had to be mean to make it clear. If he was Mr. Nice Guy, it went in one ear and out the other. The worst thing about Quincy was his attention span, and in order for him to really listen to someone's words, they'd have to get loud or say words that weren't so nice.
Ryan quickly pulled on a navy blue t-shirt and blue jeans, knowing well that if he didn't hurry, Quincy would come knocking on his bedroom door rather than the outside door. That was another thing about Quincy; his ability to wait. He was not a patient person, and Theresa could not leave him waiting outside because he would just barge right in and search the house for his "bestie." And he never used the side door; it was always the front door, the door that no one bothered to use. At a rapid pace, Ryan brushed his teeth, ignoring the fact that his new braces were getting in the way, and he headed over to the door to wait for Quincy's impatient knock. He would have liked to take Cody along with him to the park, but of course, the mono had gotten the best of him, and he was incapable of leaving the house.
Cody appeared in the doorway of their shared bedroom, rubbing the sleep from his eyes and yawning intensely. "Where are you going?" he said.
He looked bedraggled, his wild hair darting in every direction. The little bags under his eyes were barely noticeable, but they were still there. He was dressed in his pajamas as well. He'd just woken up, and he was still feeling ill after the hospital visit. The expression on his pale face changed when he heard the loud rattling on the door, watching the glass above shift slightly, on the verge of shattering. "Who's that?" he asked.
Ryan shot Cody a disturbed look. "It's Quincy," he said, keeping his voice low.
"Ryan, are you there?" Quincy called from the other side of the door. "Ryan?"
Sighing, Ryan swung the door open, and met Quincy's dark eyes. "I'm here," said Ryan.
"Are you going to the park?" Cody asked, suddenly going into a fit of coughing and sputtering. He was automatically assuming that that was where they were going, but he questioned just to be sure.
"Yeah, wanna come?" Quincy said loudly, his voice booming throughout the house. Theresa feared it might wake up Jodi and Shirley, and they'd come rushing out of their shared bedroom fearfully and cling to Theresa as if the apocalypse was soon to arrive.
"I can't. I'm sick. I'm not allowed to leave the house."
"That's a bummer," said Quincy. "I hope you feel better soon."
It was at that time that a little girl appeared in the doorway, shoving her way into the picture. Quincy nearly toppled off the front porch at the force, and he took careful backward steps to insure he wouldn't fall into the gorgeous flower bed Theresa owned. The little girl smiled brightly at the sight of Cody, pushing past Quincy as she kicked off her filthy Strawberry Shortcake runners and stepped through the door. "Hi Cody! You're home!"
Cody managed a sigh of disgust,
his face twisting into a look of disapproval as she rushed over
and presented him with a powerful hug.
The girl's name was Tara, Quincy's little sister. She was only Jodi's age, but somehow she seemed to be attached to Cody in a way he'd never seen before. She fantasized about marrying him someday, and she enjoyed planning out their future together. They'd live in the forest together in a tree, and their food would come from the assortment of berry bushes. Cody couldn't be paid to ever marry her, as girls still had cooties, but he could not stand even the sight of her. And to think about marrying her was a whole different story, one that was fiction and would never be true. Maybe in her fantasy world, but not in his reality.
"Tara, I'm sick," said Cody. "You're gonna catch it if you don't let go."
Tara released, and smiled up at him once more. "Why are you sick?" she said.
"I don't know. I went to the hospital for it, and it's pretty bad."
"Are you gonna come to the park?"
"Tara, Mom said you can't come with us," said Quincy. "Cody can't either, he's sick."
"Okay," Tara pouted, scooping her shoes up from the floor. "Bye." She dragged herself outside, the tickling grass not bothering her bare feet as she crossed the yard. If Cody wasn't coming, she wouldn't either. Not without him.
Quincy leaned in closer to Ryan once he'd already made sure Tara was completely out of sight. Ryan backed away slightly, crinkling his nose at the pungent smell of body odour. "Actually, we're not gonna go to the park," Quincy whispered in his ear.
"Then why did you wake me up?" Ryan asked, shaking his head with disapproval. "You mean to say you're here just to say hi?"
"You can still ride your skateboard, and I can still ride my bike," said Quincy, pointing at his bike at the end of the driveway, which had already collapsed to the pavement. "But I was thinking we could do another competition on the trampoline, but Cody is sick."
Normally, Ryan and his family held little competitions on their trampoline to see who could come up with the best tricks. He didn't know why, but Quincy had always wanted to be a part of the competition, but according to Ryan, it was for family only. Ryan usually won, and Jodi and Shirley were usually in last place, but it was all for fun. He was always teaching himself new tricks, especially adoring back flips. He'd even taught himself how to successfully do a back flip by standing in the grass. It really impressed Quincy, but then again, anything Ryan did impressed Quincy. And more than anything, Quincy wanted to be exactly like him.
While the two boys headed off into the backyard, Cody threw himself down on the couch, the mono quickly taking over his body. He was weak everywhere, and his lungs were sore from vomiting so much. He placed his hand over his forehead, the heat rapidly spreading through his hand as he held it there. It felt worse than the typical summer's day, and although there was air-conditoning in the house, the sickness made it feel like he were lying in an open field with the sun lying next to him. Theresa knelt next to him, holding a clear, circular bowl, a spoon, and the haunting bottle of medicine. Cody turned up his nose at the sight of the red liquid, but if he wanted to get better, he'd have to take it sooner or later.
"Here," she said, pouring a small dose of the red liquid onto the spoon and holding it in his direction.
A little hesitant, Cody stared at the spoon for what seemed like days, his imaginative mind wandering everywhere. What if he took it and choked on it? What if it wasn't Tylenol, but blood? What if it really was tasty, and he'd actually enjoy it? If he enjoyed it, couldn't he just drink the whole bottle at once so he would feel better sooner?
Extending his trembling hand out, he took hold of the spoon and slowly allowed the liquid to trickle down his throat, sparking an unpleasant taste in his tongue. His face crumpled as if he had just attempted to eat a whole lemon by himself, and a deep shudder coursed through his body. Why couldn't they make medicines taste better? Maybe that was why people died when they were sick; the medicine was too much for them to bear. Cody certainly hoped that wouldn't be the case in curing his illness, as he was too young to die yet.
A lump suddenly arose within his throat, and the intense feeling of sickness returned to his body as he quickly reached for the circular bowl and held it below him as the medicine flooded back out. He felt as if his guts would follow, and he felt fresh tears stinging in the back of his eyes at the thought. He hated being sick. And he was worried. Worried that if he didn't digest the medicine, he'd die. And if he died, he would have to kiss his entire future goodbye. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, watching as Theresa shook her head in disbelief. It seemed there was no hope in ever digesting anything again, and he'd starve to death before long. Anything he consumed, he would throw it right back up.
Placing her hand on his blazing forehead, Theresa gave him a look of sympathy. "Why don't you try having another nap?" she suggested. "We'll see how things are when you wake up."
A single tear rolled down his left cheek. "I'm cold," he said.
He'd been hot only moments before. Concerned, Theresa reached for the thermometer she'd set on the coffee table, and quickly checked his temperature to insure his fever wasn't too high. 105° Fahrenheit, it read. It was the highest fever he'd ever experienced, and Theresa couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that he was cold when his body felt as if it had burst into flames. Regardless of the sudden spike in temperature, she rose up from the floor and descended down the hallway to Cody's bedroom, returning with a woolly blanket. "This should help," she said, placing it over his body and kissing him on the cheek. "Try to get some more sleep, okay?" she said.
"Okay," he responded as he shut his eyes, slowly finding himself drifting not-so-peacefully into a heavy slumber.
Meanwhile, Ryan discovered that his imagination was a good thing, as he fantasized of travelling to Cuba and overlooking the vast aqua waters while Quincy carried on about his life story for what seemed like years. He felt a yearning to be back inside the comfort of his own home, unconscious and temporarily living a dream life in his imagination as he slept. Quincy should have exploded from delivering his lifelong speech by now, but apparently he was invincible. "And he thought he had the right to talk to me like that? I hope he knows that I won't tolerate it."
I hope you know that no one's listening to you, Ryan almost said, but he kept his mouth firmly shut to avoid receiving another lecture about how he would regret the harsh words that left his mouth. In a way, he was almost willing to trade spots with Cody and be sick for a while to avoid boredom, but he knew from several experiences that being incapable of eating and sleeping and feeling like dying all day wasn't exactly pleasant. But at least Cody had a damn good excuse not to hang out with them.
In complete honesty, hanging out with Quincy and Tara was occasionally enjoyable, but others, not so much. Ryan could only tolerate immature behaviour to a point, and Quincy certainly didn't act his age. He was eleven, but his actions could be compared to a seven-year-old. Both children possessed a friendly personality as well, but they could have at least showered once in a while, and their odour sometimes drove Ryan away. But Ryan was grateful to have someone who lived right next door, and no matter how many times Quincy drove him insane, they'd still remain friends. He assumed that everyone had their faults and flaws, and that no one would ever be foolproof. Quincy would always be Quincy, and nothing could change that.
"So, do you suppose we head to the trampoline?" Quincy asked, gazing up at the round structure above them.
They'd been perched on the ladder for a while now, engaging in a barely-manageable conversation, and Ryan decided it would be best to begin their competition immediately, before the sun's rays of intense heat became unbearable. Ryan unzipped the net, crawling inside after kicking off his shoes, while Quincy followed. The sun shone down directly on the floor of the trampoline, stinging their bare feet as they raced across to the other side. "I understand why Cody wouldn't want to come out here in this weather!" Quincy shrieked.
Ryan rolled his eyes. "I'm sure no one wants to go anywhere when they're sick," he said as he sprung himself high into the air.
"So who wants to start first?" said Quincy, hoping to change the subject. He disliked talking about sick people, and was just grateful it wasn't him being shut into the house all day, unable to experience an amazing sunshine-filled morning.
"I guess I will," Ryan offered.
Once more, he began to jump higher and higher, preparing for his incredible first trick. Quincy watched with a giant grin plastered on his face as Ryan dove into a flawless front flip, landing gracefully back on his feet as if he were born to be a professional stuntman. To Ryan, he was used to being capable of performing such tricks, but to Quincy, it was as if he were watching a circus. He was dumbfounded at Ryan's abilities, and was even inspired. And as he stood up for his own turn, he drew in a deep breath, praying he wouldn't fall on his face or break his neck in the process. "Well, here goes nothing," he said.
"Dude, we're not in the Olympics," Ryan reminded him. "There's nothing to worry about. You just have to go for it."
With the best of his abilities, Quincy gave it his all and decided to copy Ryan's trick, only to screw up against his wishes and turn it into a dive roll rather than a front flip. He lay flat on his back on the sweltering trampoline floor, allowing the sunshine to sprinkle its rays of heat all over him while he panted. "I failed," he said.
"No," said Ryan, "you didn't. It doesn't matter anyway. Like I said before, it's not like we're in the Olympics anyway, with a big audience watching our every move."
Quincy sighed. "Your skateboarding abilities could take you there someday," he said.
Ryan smiled at the compliment, although he wasn't sure it could even come true. He didn't think he'd ever seen skateboarding as a sport in the Olympics, but there was still the hope of showing off his skills somehow on TV for everyone to see. He marveled at the superstars he watched on TV during sporting events, and Tony Hawk was his role model. Just like Tony Hawk, he adored being airborne. He'd spend countless hours teaching himself new tricks cautiously, promising himself that he'd be okay and wouldn't injure himself. So far, nothing serious had ever happened, and he hoped to keep it that way forever. He dreamed of teaching Cody how to ride a skateboard, although he'd never shown an interest in it, and wished he could be another kid's role model (Quincy didn't count). If he could allow his dreams to become reality, he would be truly happy.
As for Cody, he could never be sure of what he wanted in life. But then again, he was only eight, and at the age where he assumed the possibilities were endless. He changed his mind every week it seemed, and Ryan could remember a time when Cody had said his dream job was to become a farmer. He was five when he'd mentioned it, but now his mind had changed and he dreamed of becoming a firefighter. Ryan wondered if it was in honour of their father or if it was just wishful thinking, but either way, eventually it would change once more. Jodi and Shirley weren't even aware of the many job opportunites out there other than being a policeman or a schoolteacher, and they may as well have been in the same boat as Cody. But it was good to know that they at least had something in mind for their future.
As the two boys tumbled around on the trampoline, the topic of the future was brought up out loud. Ryan had never actually asked Quincy what he wanted to pursue in life, but he hoped it was a dream worth dreaming for. "So, do you have anything planned for your future?" he asked out of curiosity. "Like, a job you want to do?"
Quincy lay back on the black trampoline floor, pondering. "There's a lot of things I like," he said. "At this point, I think I'm too young to know what I want to do for the rest of my life. I mean, I don't want to make a decision too quickly."
The familiar echo of tiny voices rang in the new summer air as Quincy wrapped up his talk, and Ryan sensed it was the girls coming into the yard to reenter their imaginary world. He could hear them squealing with the laughter only a young child could make, and three of them appeared around the corner, dressed in their cute summer dresses. "You can't just ruin our competition," Quincy whined as Jodi frantically scrambled up the ladder.
"Be reminded, I live here, and this is my yard," Ryan told him. "And they're my sisters. Tara is your sister. I think we should let them have the trampoline for now. I mean, you brought your bike for a reason." Ryan winked. "What do you say we make a trip to the park?"
The park wasn't even that great. It smelled like cigarettes and beer from last night's teenage party, and the empty bottles lay strewn across the grass, leftover liquid slowly exiting through the tip. Ryan wondered how the big kids could think it was so cool, damaging their lungs and livers for fun and littering a public skatepark with what remained of their night. He knew for a fact that he'd never be that type of teen. He would at least have some respect for the kids who lived nearby, and he wished to set a good example for his three younger siblings. Drinking and smoking was bad. He wasn't going to be that type of role model for them.
Ryan and Quincy had stayed for a maximum of thirty minutes, casually riding around like a normal person would do. They tried some tricks. They succeeded. Well, only Ryan succeeded, being the only experienced one of the two, but Quincy tried. The boredom had quickly taken over, however, and they forced themselves to leave.
With the use of his free foot, Ryan pushed himself up the driveway on his skateboard, waving goodbye to Quincy as he crossed through the grassy lawn and entered the comfort of his home. Jodi and Shirley were lying on their tummies in the driveway, propped up on their elbows, using their artistic imaginations to illustrate various images with chalk on the driveway. Of course, Cody could have been enjoying the sunshine as well, but the unfortunate hospital visit was really dragging him under. Ryan wheeled past the girls freely, determined to get inside for lunch and check up on how Cody was feeling. Well, obviously not good, but it was still worth the shot. Scooping the board up into his little arms, Ryan trudged through the tallish backyard grass, carefully placing it on the floor of the shed, and proceeding back to the house.
"Where's your helmet?" Shirley questioned curiously, rising up from the hot driveway.
"Probably in the store," said Ryan, half ignoring her concern.
He awaited her response, but didn't receive one. Twisting the knob, he stepped into the house once again, the air conditioning sweeping over his body and bringing him a refreshing breeze. The only sound he could hear was the torturing sound of vomiting erupting for the living room, and he cringed. It must have been terrible for Cody, to have to deal with some kissing disease that came from absolutely nowhere in particular, just kind of showed up and decided it wanted to ruin all hopes of basking in the sunlight and actually enjoying summer while it had arrived. Climbing up the hardwood steps, Ryan peaked over the sofa to see Cody still lying there, wrapped in a woolly blanket like a fajita, grasping a vomit-filled circular bowl.
Ryan gagged at the sight, tearing his eyes away. "Dude, how sick are you?" he said.
Cody said nothing, just looked up. It felt like a hurricane had washed through his body, the high tides slamming hard against every part of his stomach and allowing what remained of the water to flow out. He'd never experienced anything like this. He was weak to the point where walking was no longer an option, and jealously flowed through his body just like the sickness when he watched Ryan pace the living room without any difficulties. Any attempts at sitting up would bring even more vomit to the surface, so he just lay there, his face crumpling like an aluminum ball at the wave of nausea that passed through him once more.
Once she'd called Jodi and Shirley inside, Theresa made a simple lunch for the kids, passing out small bowls filled with Kraft Dinner. Although Cody was still in an unstable state, she still served him at the couch with a tiny bowl of the cheesy noodles, and he stared at it like it was manure. His shaking hand brought the spoon to his lips, but within minutes, it was replaced with the "vomit bowl." Ryan felt equally as bad for the bowl as he did for his brother, as it had probably caught more vomit than he and his sisters combined throughout their short years of existance. From the looks of it, the mono had caused his condition to deteriorate quickly, and there was the possibility of another hospital visit to follow. "Doesn't that liquidy stuff work?" Ryan questioned as he watched Cody grip the bowl tightly, preparing to throw up again.
"It's supposed to," said Theresa. "His system just isn't agreeing with anything at the moment, but if this continues, we might have to make another trip down -"
"No," Cody managed. "I don't like it there."
"Would you rather die?" Ryan cut in. Theresa shot him a horrified look, fearing Cody would believe what Ryan had said and throw a fit about the possibility of dying.
"In better terms, I think the hospital would do you some good," said Theresa. "You might not have any other choice."
"But why did they let me come home?" said Cody.
"In some cases, a patient will get better faster in their own home, I guess, but yours certainly isn't the case."
Evening was quick to pass, and before long, Cody found himself lying in his own bed, blankets upon blankets stacked atop his highly-fevered body. Sleep greeted him like an old friend, and he was out faster than Ryan could come to the assumption that what Cody was experiencing was not exactly normal. He felt like asking him if he was going to be okay, if he could predict his future and know what condition he'd be in tomorrow. Although that was a dumb thing to ask of someone who'd been puking his guts up all day, Ryan still wondered what it felt like to be that sick. Of course, he'd also been through a time of sickness equally as horrible, but he was only five then, and could barely remember what had happened yesterday let alone remembering the pain he felt five years ago. He felt like a major stalker, sitting at the foot of Cody's bed and watching him sleep, watching his chest rise and fall unevenly. At times, he even wheezed the slightest bit, and Ryan's heart would do a little flip-flop of its own. What if the mono stopped his breathing? What if he choked on his own vomit in the middle of the night, when no one was awake to bring him back to consciousness? These were only ordinary thoughts Ryan had, and it seemed like death was always the answer.
Theresa stepped into the room, Shirley slung over her shoulder and dangling awkwardly above the floor. "What are you doing?" she asked, ducking slightly through the doorway as to not jar Shirley awake by having her head smashed against it.
Ryan glanced at his mother with worried eyes. Although it was hardly noticeable because of the darkness of his eyes, his pupils were wide with fear, and his gaze made it back to his sleeping brother. "Is that normal?" he said.
"Is what normal?"
"He sounds like an old man with an oxygen tube," said Ryan. "He'll stop breathing for, like, five seconds, and then continue. And when he does breathe, you wouldn't know if it was his breathing or Shirley trying to whistle."
Theresa shook her head. "He's okay," she said. "Since when have you taken to observing your siblings' sleep?"
"I'm not observing. It's just noticeable."
Theresa chuckled. "Well alright. You gotta get into your own bed and get some sleep. It's getting late." She laced her fingers through his brown hair and then headed out of the room, ducking once more through the doorway.
Before he crossed the bedroom to his own bed, he rose from the foot of Cody's bed, still watching, still listening to the audible snore-like sounds that came through his nose. At times, he even shuddered a little, and Ryan wondered if he was having a nightmare. He rolled slightly, creating a slow wheezing sound as he did so, followed by a barely-audible grunt. Even with the little bit of sympathy Ryan had for his brother, he wanted to laugh at the way he slept, but somehow he sensed that things were no longer going to be normal. He wasn't sure why he'd think something like that, but he'd never actually met a person who'd been so sick before. Keeping his eyes locked on his uncomfortable brother, Ryan stepped backwards sluggishly and crawled into his own bed, tossing the covers over his head to block out the horrifying sound of Cody's sleeping. Gradually, the sound began to worsen, and Ryan squeezed his eyes shut. This caused much more worry for Ryan, but apparently it didn't seem to bother Theresa, as she considered it normal for a sick person. Yeah, for a dying ninety-year-old, Ryan thought to himself.
The sounds continued on for only a few more minutes, and then silence. Ryan's breath hitched in his throat, and he could swear his heart stopped for a few seconds like it would when he sneezed, but then he relaxed. At first, he was alarmed, afraid that Cody had stopped breathing altogether, but the silence was followed by the soft melody of even breathing, breathing that would come from a normal person. Ryan sighed with relief, and for a quick second, he thought he could hear Theresa doing the same. Bringing the blankets away from his eyes, Ryan rose into a sitting position, peering over the foot of Cody's bed once more. This time, his chest rose and fell evenly. No unusual sounds escaped his nostrils. And there was no awkward twitching. All was well.
The nauseous feeling was what jarred Cody from his sleep. He stole a quick glance at the alarm clock, which flashed 3:00 AM in fluorescent red printing, before he sprung out of bed, nearly tripping over everything swallowed in the darkness of the house as he raced across the hall to the bathroom, stumbling as he attempted to run.
Of course, he'd forgotten to obtain the circular bowl which had developed into his best friend during his times of wanting to let everything unleash inside him, and he feared not making it to the bathroom in time. Fumbling for the light switch, he could feel the vomit rising in his throat, wishing to erupt like an oversized volcano. The light soon shone down upon him, and he'd just barely made it to the toilet before he vomited again, tears springing to his eyes and blurring his vision.
As far as he knew, he was the only one awake throughout the entire house, and in a way, he was almost relieved. He didn't want Theresa, Ryan, or even his sisters to hear him. He was sick of the sympathy, sick of being incapable of doing almost everything, sick of being sick. The thoughts that coursed through his brain caused more tears to leak from his tired eyes, and he could barely see in front of him. Not like he wanted to stare at his own puke, but he was so frustrated at everything, and he wanted to give up. His stomach swirled with even more nausea, and he dipped his face into the toilet bowl once more as he continued with being sick.
When his vision cleared at last, and the tears decided they wanted to evaporate, Cody could just barely make out something unusual. When he came to the realization of what was there, there was no stopping the loud gasp that escaped him. He and his weak body dropped to the floor as he felt a terrified scream rise in his throat, but he refused to release it. His head pounded in unison with the unsteady beat of his heart, and he feared a heart attack would follow. He thought he was going to throw up from the fear only. He propped himself up on his shaking elbows, trying his best not to cry or faint from the sight.
The toilet held the vomit that had spilled out of his throat, but it wasn't vomit. It was blood.