Within approximately an hour, the Wheldon family found themselves standing in a large hospital room situated on the twelfth floor of the building. The hospital was quite large itself, fitting more than a few hundred young patients inside between the ages of six months and eighteen years. Ryan figured that twelve floors was quite a lot, as the ones he'd seen on TV had between two to four floors. But this hospital was much bigger, and fit much more patients inside, meaning that there was also much more doctors. Cody was definitely going to receive excellent medical assistance here.
Gazing around the average-sized room, Ryan could see all the medical stuff that they kept in there. He was surprised to see that there was actually enough space to keep it all in one room, but at least it was for the best. There was one bed situated toward the corner of the room, which was where Cody lay as he slept off the stress and guilt. There was one small bathroom in the room, in case Cody was too weak to walk down the narrow hallway outside to find one. Ryan could tell that obviously these rooms were designed in the way that they could keep a family in here for months. But where would everyone else sleep? It wasn't like they were going to bring in a bunch of beds for the entire family to sleep on. They had to have some kind of plan in mind, or else they were seriously screwed.
The first signs of morning were gradually beginning to show as the minutes ticked by. It couldn't have dawned more perfect, the sky painted in its various shades of pinks and yellows. A few clouds dotted the colourful sky, completing the overall look. It was such a gorgeous view from where Ryan stood, twelve floors up and overlooking the quiet neighbourhood. The town looked like it could stretch on forever, streets and beautiful homes in every direction. Trees were positioned in just the right places, and bushes lined some of the front yards. Ryan could see a park off in the distance, the field so vast and the grass so green. He could tell that he was going to enjoy the town already, but the reason for being there in the first place wasn't enjoyable at all.
Theresa quietly slipped out of the room without allowing herself to be seen, as Jodi and Shirley would likely follow her. Digging her iPhone out of her jeans pocket, she dialed the number of her older sister, Mimi. Thinking of her sister made her smile, as she hadn't seen her in a while, and her fingers danced across the screen as she dialed the number she hadn't dialed in about a month or so. She couldn't wait to hear her voice, although the news she was about to break to her was going to scar her. Mimi adored her nieces and nephews, and for something like this to happen to Cody was absolutely horrific in the eyes of everyone in the family.
Mimi picked up after two rings. "Hello!" she said cheerfully. "How are you?"
Theresa gulped, swallowing the gigantic lump that rose slowly in her throat. Fresh tears swam in her eyes, but she still would not shed them. "Well... not so good," she said slowly. "Actually... there's something going on that I think you need to know about. I'm in town... at the children's hospital."
She heard Mimi draw in a deep breath. "Huh?" she said. "Here? At the children's hospital? What the hell did I miss? What's going on?"
"Well..." Theresa hesitated again. "Cody... well, he was pretty sick the other night and... they took him by ambulance to the hospital, and... they sent us here because..." She began to choke on her words, her tears finally flowing freely down her cheeks. "He's got cancer. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He's getting his treatment here."
There was silence on the other end of the phone, as if Mimi had fainted or something. But in reality, she was just speechless. "What the... oh my gosh, that is frickin terrible! God Theresa, is he gonna be alright?"
"That's why I'm scared," Theresa managed. "I don't know. Ryan was asking me that and I couldn't just say no because we don't know unless we wait. Ryan and Cody are both scared to death. Remember Eric? They're afraid Cody'll end up like him. I... I don't even know what else to say. I just hope he doesn't."
"Relax, it'll be okay. As long as he's got supportive family by his side, he'll pull through in no time. You're all great at supporting others and staying strong. This will definitely change you, and it will be a long battle, but it can be done as long as you believe in him. I know I do."
Theresa smiled. "I do too," she said. "Thank you so much. That honestly brightened my morning, Naomi."
Theresa loved to tease her older sister by calling her Naomi. Although it was her real name, she preferred to be called Mimi because as a toddler, Theresa would call her that when she couldn't quite pronounce her name. She'd become so used to being called Mimi that even the mention of her real name sent a cold chill down her spine and made her laugh. "Your very welcome, Theresa," she said into the phone.
Mimi promised to come over for a short visit soon, to catch up with what she'd missed over the last three months since they'd seen each other. After a quick goodbye, Theresa hung up and headed back into the room to check on her family. She slid the iPhone back into her pocket and watched as Cody attempted to roll over in the bed, still asleep and looking to be in a more peaceful state than he had been an hour earlier. Although he'd received plenty of sleep already, he was apparently still looking forward to more. The splotches on his face and arms were gradually beginning to fade, so he was looking much better, although on the inside, he was much worse. There was a doctor in the room with him by his bedside, and she didn't seem too concerned, but Theresa knew that one day this doctor would save Cody's life. She looked like an excellent doctor, and she'd heard from one of the nurses that this doctor had prevented a great amount of children from dying. Maybe Cody would look up to her someday as a hero, and would thank her for the rest of his life.
By the time he awoke, a few doctors had already arrived to begin some medical tests to determine if leukemia was the right diagnosis. As they brought him out, his legs finally able to carry him somewhere, he began to cry and clung to Theresa. "I don't wanna go," he mumbled, which revived the memory of the very first night he'd gotten sick.
The entire family had no other choice but to follow, although they couldn't enter any of the rooms Cody was put into for tests. Just watching Cody walk down the hallway reminded Ryan of the time he had spent at the hospital when he was five, and the nurse hadn't been so easy on him. Although the nurses here seemed much more friendly, they would have no other choice but to be firm with him if he wasn't willing to cooperate, because this case was much more serious. So far, Cody hadn't been too bad, but now that it had come to leaving the room and getting needles, he'd turned on panic mode and refused to do anything for the doctors. Ryan was instantly reminded of his first hospital visit because he'd done the same thing, and he understood exactly how his younger brother felt. But he sensed it was a completely different kind of nervousness.
Theresa lowered herself onto the floor outside the room, taking one last glance at Cody before the door slowly and carefully shut behind them. "Why don't you three go play outside?" she said once it went quiet. "There's a big field out front for you to play on."
Ryan sighed. "It's just a field," he said. "What can you do in a field?"
"Play a game, roll around, do whatever. Just don't damage the property. Do you think you could find your way down there and back?"
Ryan shrugged. "I guess so," he said. He motioned for his sisters to follow him down the narrow hallway, and together they headed for the elevator, leaving Theresa all on her own to worry about Cody and his test results. As they stepped inside, Shirley immediately reached for the buttons and tried to press as many as she could, but Ryan gently smacked her hand away and pressed the single button that would carry them downstairs unharmed. The elevator began to gradually drop at a steady pace, one that felt smooth and gentle the whole way. Jodi attempted to count the amount of floors they passed, and Shirley joined in, tripping on some of the words but eventually being able to correctly count to twelve. Ryan knew she would excel in school, as she was already doing well with numbers and following in Jodi's footsteps. Having a sister only a year older was a great advantage to her because she could pick up on things Jodi had learned so far. She was already very smart, and Ryan was sure she'd do well in academics when she grew up.
"There was twelve floors," Shirley said carefully once the elevator stopped.
Ryan nodded. "Good job," he said. "Can you count higher than that?"
"Yeah," said Shirley.
Luckily, the design of the hospital hadn't been created to be too confusing to visitors and new patients. The three children stepped out of the elevator to greet a single hallway that sat almost directly in front of one of the main waiting rooms, which meant they were becoming closer and closer to the exit of the building. A stunning picture of a clown was painted flawlessly on the wall in front of them with a bold arrow pointing left toward the almost empty waiting room. Already, Ryan could tell that this was something he'd get used to over time. Jodi and Shirley would beg to go outside, and Ryan would have to follow the bold arrows that showed him exactly where to go. As they rounded a corner on the other side of the waiting room, they passed a young woman carrying her young daughter into the hospital from outside, and just by her appearance, Ryan could tell that the little girl had cancer. No hair, no eyebrows, small frame. That was exactly how Cody would look within the following weeks after beginning chemo. "Ryan, that girl has no hair," said Shirley once they passed, pointing at the little girl resting in her mother's arms.
"She has cancer just like Cody," said Ryan as the heat from the outside immediately consumed them. "Cody won't have any hair soon."
"Really?" said Shirley. "Why?"
Ryan didn't exactly know why, but he knew it was a side effect for chemotherapy. He knew it would gradually grow back over time, too. "It's just part of the treatment," he said.
An enormous parking lot sat in front of them, vehicles continuously driving in and out as time passed. Parents and their children entered the building, and some exited the building behind Ryan and his sisters. There was supposedly a field out there somewhere, a vast field that would allow them to set their minds on a different topic rather than spend each moment wondering how many days Cody had left to live. But instead, the only thing they found was people. Lots and lots of people of all different types, but all here for the same reason. Ryan's eyes darted back and forth around the parking lot, searching for the grassy patch of land his mother had described. He didn't even know how she knew it was there, but he knew she wasn't lying about it. It was there somewhere, and it was their responsibility to find it.
Theresa had trusted her children in wandering through the busy parking lot, and the fact that she'd sent them outside into a parking lot that large in size didn't really worry her. Cars drove slowly past the three children, drivers watching carefully, and she knew that no one would go tearing through the parking lot at high speeds around a hospital for sick children. Although the place was already immensely busy, she was able to trust Ryan easily in watching out for both his sisters and himself. He was very responsible for his age, and Theresa knew that he would never let anything happen to them. Besides, the field wasn't too far from where they stood in the parking lot, and it wouldn't take muh work to get there.
Jodi began to point suddenly, and quickly sped up her pace. "I see it!" she cried.
Although it wasn't much of a space, it was enough. It was located to the right of where they stood, various shadows casted over the grass from the little trees that lined the opposite side. Ryan judged that the grass was freshly cut, as it hadn't grown too long at all and there were little marks lining the lawn from the lawn mower. The girls followed Ryan down the sidewalk and into the grass, lying down as if it were the bed they'd barely slept on last night. Stains appeared on Shirley's hoodie almost immediately as she began to roll around in a sudden burst of excitement, while Ryan and Jodi only sprawled themselves out and gazed up into the glorious morning sky.
The view was beautiful. The little trees above them were positioned in a way that would not block their view if they were to watch the clouds, the healthy branches parted in just the right places and remaining still in their designated areas. A whisper of wind passed them by, bringing a refreshing breeze to their overheated bodies to complete the flawlessness of the dawn. The sun had risen to its peak and shone over the town, nearly blinding the children as they gazed up to admire the beauty of the sky they'd lived under since birth. Only a few large clouds made their way into the picture, but most were teeny and microscopic, so it was difficult for them to describe their appearances and make out their shapes. They would need to find something else to do.
Shirley had stored all of her energy from the night before deep inside her, and now was her time to release it. She attempted the somersaults she'd recently learned from her gymnastics class in the grass, only dirtying her hoodie even more but still enjoying her time. Jodi followed in her footsteps, proudly showing off her tricks using her best form. "Ryan, can you do a cartwheel?" Jodi asked, and when he shook his head, she demonstrated it for him, as if he had no idea what it looked like.
"That's cool," he said, averting his gaze up to the sky once more and then bringing it back down to watch his sisters. "But I can't do that."
He laid down on the soft lawn, wishing he owned a pair of sunglasses as he continued to look up into the sky. The clouds began to take their shape, and he began to wonder how it all worked out. How did clouds have the ability to look like other objects and living things? He figured he might learn that at school someday, but so far it hadn't happened yet. As he watched the clouds and took note of their appearances in his head, he felt two presences nearby, and it didn't take long before he realized he had a sister lying on each side of him, joining him in his own individual activity. "What are you doing?" Jodi asked curiously.
"Watching the clouds," said Ryan. "All you have to do is look at the clouds and say what they look like. Like that one." He pointed at one of the larger clouds as an example. "That one looks like an alligator, doesn't it? You just have to look at them closely and you might see something."
He heard Shirley giggle. "I see a sailboat," she said, obviously proud of her discovery.
"That one has a face!" Jodi cried, pointing at one of them. "It looks really scary."
"I see it," said Ryan. "The one next to it looks like a dog."
Jodi squinted at the intense sunlight that shone in her ocean blue eyes. "Where? I don't see it."
Just as Ryan was about to point it out, he was aware that their moment was about to be cut short when an excited voice called his name from the distance. Rising into a sitting position, he swiped the grass from his sweater while scanning the area for the owner of the voice. Whoever it was sounded oddly familiar, but he couldn't place where he'd heard it before. His eyes landed on a tall figure standing in the distance, surrounded by an even taller figure and five smaller ones. A pretty big family, he thought to himself. But why were they calling him? And which of the seven people had it been? And when Shirley opened her mouth, it hit him.
"Aunt Mimi!" She scrambled to her feet and bolted in her direction, arms outstretched and preparing to provide her with a great bear hug. Ryan and Jodi rose to their feet shortly afterwards, knowing Shirley should not be running through a busy parking lot by herself. She was surely a dare devil, that child, willing to take risks for literally anything. In the short distance between them, Ryan could see Aunt Mimi scoop Shirley up as if she were a feather, weighing nothing at all, and Shirley wrapped her arms tightly around her neck. "Aunt Mimi!" she cried again.
"Wow, you've grown!" Aunt Mimi slowly set her down on the sidewalk as she caught sight of Jodi sprinting towards her. "Happy late birthday, doll! Oh, hello Jodi!" Like she had done to Shirley, she swung Jodi as high as her arms would carry her and allowed her to attempt to squeeze the life out of her. "I missed you too."
Ryan stood next to her, holding his chuckle in at the realization that she probably wouldn't pick him up like that. He'd get a hug, but of course, nothing more than that. He was ten years old, not five anymore. As Aunt Mimi set Jodi down on the sidewalk, her dark eyes landed on Ryan, who, of course, was still too small for his age, like the rest of his siblings. "Hi buddy!" she said as she reached out to hug him. "How are you?"
She acted more like his grandmother than his aunt, and he couldn't help but release the small chuckle he'd been holding in. "Good," he said as she released him.
All around him, his cousins and Uncle Scott stood, glaring at the three children as if they'd never seen them before. It was hard to believe that Aunt Mimi and Uncle Scott had had six kids, one out cold in Scott's arms and the other five surrounding him. They'd both always adored kids, especially Aunt Mimi. It was no surprise that they'd only had another baby a few months earlier, and this marked the very first time Ryan had met him. "So, are we ready to enter the hospital of doom?" he said.
"Yep, it's definitely leukemia," said Dr. Hiru, turning around so he was facing Theresa.
Theresa allowed her face to slowly sink into her hands. "No," she said. "No, it can't be." She was shaking her head in frustration. "No, that's cancer. My kid does not have cancer. God, please don't tell me my kid has cancer."
"About the only thing we can do is hope he will pull through." Dr. Hiru adjusted his glasses and kept his gaze trained on her. "The survival rate of childhood leukemia is about ninety percent. But it will be a difficult journey for you. Treatment hurts sometimes."
Cody's face crumpled. Why would he tell him that? What a great way to comfort someone when they were going to die anyway. "How?" he forced himself to ask, bracing himself for the answer.
"Well, first there's the chemo," Dr. Hiru said non-hesitantly. "Then there's lumbar punctures, spinal taps... it's gonna be rough, kiddo." He gave a little chuckle. "But you have a high chance of survival, as well as a high chance of relapsing when you're older."
"Please don't remind me of that," said Theresa, shaking her head. "Just let me believe that he will pull through without problems."
"That's not even possible. Now I know that I don't exactly sound too, you know, comforting, but I can tell you this. No one experiences cancer without pain and a tough battle. He is going to go through both good times and bad times. And you're gonna be at his side helping him, aren't you?"
"Of course I will," said Theresa, her voice rising up a notch. "What parent wants their kid to suffer alone?"
Dr. Hiru shook his head once more. "Of course," he said. "So I'm assuming you will. Now I heard you're expecting company soon."
Theresa nodded, her eyes landing on Cody now. "Aunt Mimi and Uncle Scott are on their way," she told him, grinning. "You excited to see them?"
Cody nodded, cracking a slight smile to cover up the storm that was raging inside him.
Room 1204 was crowded with people. In every direction Ryan looked, all he saw was people. People called relatives. People who wanted to know the latest knews. People who wanted to give their pity to the whole family.
But Ryan didn't want any pity. Why would he need it? He wasn't the one who was about to suffer from a fatal illness. And he wasn't the one who was about to give up all his strength just to be able to survive. This was all for Cody, and had nothing to do with the rest of the family. Even if Cody died, Ryan didn't want their pity. There was just no point.
"I think you've grown a little," Aunt Mimi observed, rocking baby Jacob to sleep in her arms.
Ryan shook his head. "No I haven't," he said. "I'm still small. And Cody will be even smaller by the time he gets out of this."
That was one thing he knew about cancer; you lose weight. And not just a little bit. Kind of a lot. Cody would be even more scrawny than he already was, and to top it off, he'd lose all of his hair. His gorgeous, golden brown hair. Ryan couldn't even picture him without hair. There was so much damage that the chemo would do just to allow him to survive, and he knew his brother would not be prepared for the challenges that were soon to come.
"So what exactly is leukemia?" Theresa asked Dr. Hiru. "Like, what should I expect with his recovery?"
"It's mainly a cancer of the blood and bone marrow," said Dr. Hiru. "It's going to affect both his red and white blood cells. His stem cells have become lymphoblasts, which are cancer cells, and that is the reason you're here; his treatment is important. This cancer will get worse much quicker without it. This is mainly because the leukemia cells don't fight illness very well, and the number of cells will increase. So he will have to stay in the hospital for a very long time, probably a few months or so, because anything he catches could be fatal."
That had to seriously suck. Spending the summer inside and suffering from freaking cancer. What kid would want to watch their summer go down the drain when they could be playing cops and robbers outside, enveloped by the sun's embrace? What would Cody do to pass the time by? Now Ryan felt terrible, seeing as he was able to go anywhere and experience freedom while his brother couldn't. All he could do was watch out the window from his bed and wish for a better tomorrow, if there was a tomorrow.
Theresa shook her head. "God dammit," she said. "Cody doesn't deserve any of this. Maybe if I had've donated my money to the Sick Kids Foundation when they'd asked me, he would be okay... Oh God. If only there was a faster cure..." Her voice broke, but she wouldn't cry again.