Lying on the mattress surrounded completely by darkness, Ryan slept soundlessly, and it felt good to be temporarily unconscious to forget about all that had happened. Until the phone rang.
The loud sound of it was what jarred him awake, and as his eyes wandered around the dark room, he could see that neither Jodi or Shirley had moved. The phone just kept ringing, and he was aware that Grandma and Grandpa weren't awake, either. The device sat on a shelf just in front of him, one that he never remembered being there, but he picked himself up from the floor and brought himself to it.
By now, it would have stopped ringing and went automatically to voicemail, but still it kept ringing. Ryan wondered why no one was waking up. Was he the only one who heard it? Pressing the black phone to his ear, he managed a simple "Hello?"
The first thing he heard was the sound of hysterical crying on the other end, and almost instantly, he could tell who it was. "Mom?" he said carefully. "What's going on?"
"Get here right now," she choked. "It's an emergency. Get your sisters and get here as fast as you can or I swear to God!"
She was yelling. She was actually yelling. On the rare occassion, she yelled, and this was one of them.
Without even planning his next moves or questioning her demands, Ryan threw the phone to the floor and shook both Jodi and Shirley as hard as he could. If it was just a gentle nudge, their eyes would barely flutter open and they'd only roll over. This time, their eyes flew open in a panic, and he didn't care if he'd startled them. Right now, all he needed to do was get to the hospital as quickly as possible. "Get up," he said. "We're leaving."
Just like Ryan, they never questioned, just went along with what he said. Once they'd bolted to the top of the steps, Ryan threw open the door and firmly gripped his sisters' hands, and together, they sprinted down the quiet road to the hospital up the street. They'd never run this fast before, and they kind of felt like Superman. Soon enough, they found themselves at the doors of Meadowview Children's Hospital, and they swung open without contact. Maybe they really had developed super powers.
The only thing Ryan could focus on was the panic swirling in the pit of his stomach. He didn't know how both his mother and Cody had suddenly ended up at the hospital, but he ignored his own questions as he rushed to the elevator, Jodi and Shirley in tow. It was difficult to keep up with them due to the fact that they were five and six years younger than he was, and much slower than he'd expected. As the elevator door opened, he shoved his sisters in first to assure himself he wouldn't accidentally leave them behind, and as the door began to close unexpectedly, Ryan hopped in after them.
Ryan hoped that Cody was okay. He just wanted him to be okay. It was all he wished for. Jodi and Shirley had no idea, but unfortunately, he did. Halfway to the twelfth floor, the elevator suddenly froze in place, which only increased his panic level. "What if he doesn't make it?" he said aloud. "What if he dies before we get there?"
The elevator still wouldn't budge. "Move!" Jodi screamed, banging on the door impatiently.
A loud sound erupted through the small space in the elevator on contact, and suddenly, they were falling. They didn't fall for too long before they bounced right back up and found themselves on the twelfth floor. "What was that?" said Ryan, puzzled.
Room 1204 sat in front of them, and there was a wild commotion going on. A security guard had hold of Theresa, whose hands were tied behind her back as she kicked and screamed. "Let go!" she screamed repeatedly. "Let me see him!"
"Mom, what happened?" Ryan asked, feeling the panic rise in his throat.
"Nothing, sweetie," she attempted to say quietly, but it came out as loud, almost angry.
The guard twisted her arms painfully, and she yelped. "You tell her right now!" he shouted, his deep voice echoing down the still hallway.
Tears cascaded down her red cheeks, and her cries only got louder. "Fine," she said, sounding defeated. "The leukemia got the best of him. He's gone. I'm sorry."
Ryan awoke faster than he could process what had just occurred. His heart nearly beat its way out of his chest, and his breathing was heavy as he clutched his chest. Where was Cody? Was he okay? His eyes darted to every corner of the room, but no one was there. Light streaked through the closed curtains on the small windows, and the nightlight was no longer plugged in. The basement was deserted. "Mom!" he called, still in a panic. "Mom, where are you?"
"I'm right here." Theresa came down the steps and peeked at him through the open area. "What's wrong?"
Ryan drew in a deep breath. "Nothing," he said. "Where's Cody?"
"Upstairs," said Theresa. "We're all about to have breakfast, if you want some."
Ryan rubbed his eyes and rose to his feet, still shaken up from the dream. At least Cody was okay, though. That was good. He was still very sick, but he was alive. That was good. Ryan followed his mother up the steps, and greeted his grandparents as they stood by the top of the stairs. "Good morning, sunshine," his grandmother said as she pulled him into a tight hug. "Did you have a good sleep?"
The nightmare was still fresh in his mind. Did he actually have a good sleep? "Uh, kinda," he said. "Up until just before I woke up."
"Oh, well that's never good. Breakfast is on the table if you're hungry."
Breakast wasn't much, just a bowl of Froot Loops and a small glass of milk for each. Cody was still too sick to eat much, and it was really all he could fit into his small body. He slowly moved his spoon through the mushy cereal in slow circles, watching as the cereal bits parted in several ways as the spoon came into contact with them. He liked to think of it as a train -- plowing through a guard rail or derailing into the grass and allowing the stalks to tumble down all around it. It truly was amazing what one's imagination could do. He felt it was his only escape from reality for now.
"So, you've got a big day ahead of you," said Theresa as she carefully brought her full spoon to her mouth.
Cody nodded uneasily. "I don't wanna have surgery," he said.
"It's for your own good, Cody. It'll be alright. You won't have to go through as much needles as you would without the port. That's a good thing. The doctors can administer the chemo through it."
"At least it will make you better," Ryan said, agreeing.
"We have to leave soon," Theresa reminded him. "The appointment is in about an hour. That is one thing you don't want to be late for."
Cody could hear the sounds of Mike the Knight from the television as he nodded in understanding to Theresa's statement. He glanced over the couch to where Jodi and Shirley lay, contentedly keeping their eyes locked on the screen in front of them, and then brought his eyes back to his mother. "When are we leaving?" he asked.
"In about five to ten minutes," said Theresa. "Everyone except Ryan is dressed and ready to go, and I don't imagine it'll take too long for him."
Upon hearing her words, Ryan shoved the last little bit of cereal into his mouth and placed his nearly empty bowl in the sink along with all the others. He quietly stepped down the stairs and tackled his suitcase, pulling out a small pair of khaki shorts and a baby blue t-shirt. He quickly threw them on and rushed through brushing his teeth, and just before he headed back upstairs, his eyes fell onto the cross necklace that laid on top of the fully packed suitcase. He couldn't help but wonder if maybe it could be some kind of good luck symbol, and if it would grant him with the opportunity to provide a sense of comfort and hope to Cody. Reaching out, Ryan allowed the necklace to slip into the palm of his hand, watching as it hung limply from his grasp. He ran his forefinger along the cross, feeling the lumps from the expensive beads that lined the outside of it. Whenever his eyes found the necklace, he was instantly reminded of his father, and this time was no different.
It was probably the only thing he had left of his father. The pictures on the wall had burned up in the fire and had turned to ashes, but they'd been lucky to leave their photo albums in their neighbour's garage. Ryan couldn't imagine what it would be like to have the photo albums burn up, too. He would never be able to show Jodi and Shirley who their father was and what he looked like, and it was all thanks to their generous neighbours that they'd been able to save them. The necklace was like a symbol, and it was an important part of his life. Ryan couldn't bear to think about losing it somehow.
He could hear the sounds of his family standing at the door just above him, but he didn't want to leave. He'd had enough with hospitals already. "Ryan, we're leaving!" Theresa called, and Ryan rolled his eyes.
"Coming," he said, and after staring at it for an extra few seconds, he slipped the necklace around his neck and headed for the door.
The room had fallen dark, and several surgeons hovered over Cody in a circle, medical masks hiding their faces. There was no way Cody could hide his fear; he was trembling all over. Fear coursed through him like a current, and he continuously attempted to scramble to his feet and escape, but the same surgeon would hold him back and assure him that everything would be alright. She slipped a mask around Cody's face, and he began to cry as his view of the world was cut off.
"We're going to press the button," said the female surgeon. "When I press it, I'm going to get you to count backwards from ten, okay? You won't remember a thing."
Cody could hear the button being pressed, and still crying, he did as he was told. He barely made it to seven before he passed out.
The waiting room was packed with people. All around them, people engaged in noisy conversations and allowed their children to horse around and scream random things at the top of their lungs. A group of four bald-headed children sprinted in all directions in an intense game of tag, and Ryan was instantly reminded of The Shark Game.
More than anything, he wished to have a lake around him so he and his siblings could play that game. They hadn't played it in a few days, and they were desperate to get outside and do something fun, anything water-related. Aunt Mimi had a pool, but The Shark Game was only allowed to be played in the lake. They had to follow their own rules. Ryan was disappointed at the fact that Cody would be incapable of venturing outside or playing games in the water. He was already in surgery, and from then on, he was to remain hidden from the outside world. Stupid cancer. Why did it have to ruin everything?
"Theresa Wheldon?" The woman's voice was barely audible above all the noise the children were making, but it was just loud enough that Theresa could hear it. She slightly rose her hand in the air to prove to the woman that she existed, and she gathered up her remaining three children and followed her down a narrow hallway and into a quieter room. They could feel the commotion slowly fading away as they travelled further from the waiting room, until finally silence was the only thing that surrounded them. It was peaceful.
The woman adjusted her white coat and shook hands with Theresa. "I'm Dr. Yelena," she said. "I'm going to be Cody's medical oncologist."
"Nice to meet you," said Theresa, smiling as she nodded her head and took a seat in a black leather chair.
"So this is only a little meeting we're having today, and I'd like to discuss a few things with you before we begin with treatment options. Were you aware of the symptoms of acute lymphoblastic leukemia?"
"Not really, no," Theresa answered honestly.
"We did happen to notice that he had easy bruising, which is a symptom of leukemia," said Dr. Yelena. "How long did that go on for?"
"I think for only a few days."
"Okay." Dr. Yelena typed up Theresa's answers on her oversized computer. "Any vomiting or fevers?"
"Yes, he was vomiting blood at one point, and he had a very high fever that day."
Dr. Yelena continued to type. "Alrighty." She clapped her hands once and spun around in her chair so she was now facing Theresa and her family. "So I bet you are looking for the best treatments for your son, am I correct?"
Theresa nodded vigorously. "Of course," she said.
"This type of cancer is curable, which is good to hear. The installation of the port will make it easier for us to administer the chemo and any other drugs he'll need in order to recover. I think it would be fair for him to receive chemotherapy treatments for about a week or so, and then he'll get a three-week break. That's called a cycle. Sound good?"
Theresa nodded again. "Yeah. What are some of the side effects?"
"A common side effect is fatigue, as well as nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Chemotherapy drugs can affect dividing and growing cells, so he will lose his hair and won't have much energy. But don't worry, his hair will all grow back." Dr. Yelena chuckled slightly. "If Dr. Hiru didn't tell you, Cody had a shortage of blood platelets, which caused the bruising. The goal here is to rid the body of all leukemia cells, and that is exactly what we'll be doing. The treatments can be difficult to deal with, but it's all worth it in the long run."
"So I've heard," said Theresa. "Everything sounds good so far."
"So just a little review, he'll have to stay in the hospital for quite some time before he can leave, so school may have to wait, depending on how bad his situation is. From the looks of it so far, it isn't too bad, but it can worsen quickly if isn't treated well. Another one of our goals is to prevent that from happening." She turned her gaze to the three children next to Theresa. "You three are going to want to wash your hands a lot. If Cody is exposed to any germs, he can get very sick, so it's important to rid yourself of any bad germs."
The three nodded, and Ryan held back his smile as he remembered what he'd told Jodi the previous night. He could tell Shirley the same thing, and she'd believe him. He was sure Jodi had understood what he'd said, and maybe he'd left her slightly scarred, and now the oncologist had proved his statement to be true (except for the monster part). Ryan already knew how much it must have pained Cody to be sick, and he knew that exposing him to germs would make him much worse, and maybe he'd end up like Eric. If Cody ended up like Eric, it would be a much harder blow. Much more painful than before. The last thing he needed was for Cody to die on him.
The meeting didn't last too long afterwards, but by the time they began to wrap things up, Cody was just coming out of surgery on the third floor, port installed and treatment ready to begin soon. When Ryan first set eyes on his brother, he noticed that he looked almost different in a way; much more sick than he'd remembered him looking before. It was like Cody's surgery had set something off in his brain, reminding him that this was the new reality, and this was how sick he really was. He figured eventually he'd get used to seeing his brother like this, and this was only the beginning. They hadn't watched him go through the excruciating chemo treatments and the short term side effects afterwards. He hadn't lost his hair yet, and he wasn't sick to the point of being incapable of walking on his own. That was to come soon after.
Cody was wheeled into a little recovery room, where he would stay for a few hours or so to recover from the surgery. The only thing he could do was stare up at the ceiling, his brown eyes looking empty and his face slightly paled. He could have tried to sleep if he really wanted to, but he didn't. He actually wanted to talk to his family, to let them inside and tell them about his feelings toward the cancer. The only words he managed to mutter were, "Cancer sucks."
"Oh, I know it does." Theresa stepped up to his bedside and pushed his light brown hair back, kissing him on the forehead. "We all hope you'll get well soon."
Theresa reached into her bag for the several get-well-soon cards Mimi had given her. Many relatives and family friends had sent their best wishes to the family, but had mailed the cards to Mimi because of the complicated system. Mimi had been their only option. "Here, I have these," said Theresa, pulling out a few. "This one's from Quincy and Tara, this one's from Grandma and Grandpa, and this one's from Madeleine and her family back home."
Cody finally averted his gaze away from the white ceiling and allowed his eyes to meet his mother's. "Can I read them later?" he said quietly, his words almost sounding like a moan.
"Sure," said Theresa, placing her hand on his warm forehead. "Whenever you feel better."
Cody cracked a smile. "Soon," he said.
"Your treatment starts tomorrow," Theresa reminded him. "Be prepared for it. You'll be sick, but you'll get better. And everyone who sent you these cards wish you the best of luck with your recovery."
"Tell them I said thanks," said Cody, still smiling.
"I won't forget," Theresa assured him. "It'll be rough for you, and their support and prayers will help you get through it all."
Ryan smiled, clasping the cross in his hand. It could mean something, and although he wasn't quite sure yet, his feelings for the power of the cross were strong. He twirled it around with his thumbs, feeling the texture of the silver beads. "Wish us luck," he whispered to it, knowing in his heart that it was certainly something special.