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?"
"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 was his neighbour. His annoying, demanding, disgusting, immature neighbour. It had become a habit of his to call early in the morning, typically around nine o'clock, 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 friendship. Ryan disliked being called anything remotely close to "best friend," as he was considered nothing but a neighbour, a somewhat friend. He silently begged Quincy wouldn't ask to hang out or anything, because he really had not one funny bone in him, and Ryan didn't think he could handle his attempts at humour so early in the morning, especially after all the sleep he'd lost.
But sure enough, "Wanna go to the skate park with me? You could bring your skateboard, and I'll bring my bike.”
Ryan sighed. He couldn't say no, because Quincy probably wouldn't accept that answer. "I just woke up, so you'll have to give me time to get ready," he said. “I guess I'll be out soon.”
It was almost like Ryan could hear him nodding on the other end. "Of course," said Quincy. "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 sometimes patience wasn't even an option, just like now. He knew he wasn't going to be ready in twenty minutes, but Quincy obviously didn't care, as long as he had someone to hang out with.
Ryan bolted back to his room, tiptoeing as to not jar Cody awake, and 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 one thing about Quincy; his inability to wait. He was not a patient person, and Theresa couldn't leave him waiting outside because he would sometimes barge right in, despite her telling him, “He should be out in a few minutes.” 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 no, some sickness had interrupted all hopes of fun, 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, and he was dressed in his pajamas to complete the trainwreck-look he was unintentionally going for. The expression on his pale face changed when the door rattled, and the glass above shifted slightly, probably 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. "Come to the door!"
Sighing, Ryan reached for the knob and pulled the door open, meeting with Quincy's dark eyes. "I'm here," said Ryan.
"Are you going to the park?" Cody asked, and immediately went into a fit of coughing and sputtering. He looked like he might throw up again.
"Yeah, wanna come?" Quincy said loudly, his voice booming throughout the house. Ryan was desperately hoping it wouldn't wake Jodi and Shirley, because they'd come rushing out of their shared bedroom fearfully and cling to Mom as if the apocalypse was soon to arrive, or there was a burglar invading the house.
"I can't. I'm sick," said Cody.
"Aw man," 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 ensure he wouldn't fall. The little girl smiled brightly at the sight of Cody, pushing past Quincy as she kicked off her filthy Strawberry Shortcake running shoes and stepped through the door. "Hi Cody!” she squealed as she came at him with open arms.
Ryan stifled a laugh at Cody's sigh of disgust, and watched his face twist into a look of disapproval as she presented him
with a powerful hug.
Tara was her name. She was Quincy's little sister, who was a hundred times more annoying than he was. 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 so desperately wanted to get a kiss from him. Ryan knew that Cody was still at the age where girls had cooties, but she had seemingly gotten over it long ago. Cody supposedly couldn't 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, displaying a fine gap where her front teeth used to be. "Why are you sick?" she said, leaning into his chest like some kind of animal.
"I don't know. I was in the hospital, though, so 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 looked incredibly disappointed as she stomped out the door without bothering to slip her shoes back on, and before they knew it, she was out of sight, having already returned to the house next door.
Quincy leaned in closer to Ryan once there was absolutely no sign of Tara anymore. Ryan backed away slightly, crinkling his nose at the pungent smell of body odour. "I don't think we should go to the park anymore,” he whispered in his ear.
Ryan's brain began to build up with slight anger. "Then why did you wake me up? Wasn't that the reason you called me anyway?”
“We can go later,” said Quincy. “It's unfair to Cody, so maybe we should have another trampoline competition.”
Usually, whenever the weather cooperated, Ryan and his siblings held little competitions on their trampoline to see who could come up with the best tricks, and for some reason, Quincy always wanted to be a part of them. Ryan was the one who almost always came out on top, and Jodi and Shirley were usually in last place, but it was all for fun. It wasn't like they were getting a grand prize, anyway. He was always teaching himself new tricks, but his favourite was the back flip. In fact, he loved them so much that he had even learned how to do one in the grass, and he was working on teaching Cody how to do one on the trampoline. Of course, this really impressed Quincy, but then again, anything Ryan did impressed Quincy. And more than anything, Quincy wanted to be exactly like him.
While Ryan lay down on the soft backyard grass, he 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 God-knows-what for what seemed like years. Ryan 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 he hadn't, and he was still talking. "I remember once when Tara was sick, and she could barely walk,” he was saying. “She was actually worse than Cody, but my mom still let her play outside. I don't know why your mom won't let Cody come out.”
Let's see you bounce around on a trampoline after puking your guts out and spending the night in a hospital, Ryan felt like saying. 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 for days wasn't exactly pleasant. But at least Cody had a damn good excuse not to hang out with them.
Because in complete honesty, hanging out with Quincy was occasionally enjoyable, but there were times when Ryan wanted to rip his head off. He was eleven, but sometimes his actions could be compared to a seven-year-old. There were good days though, where Quincy could actually crack a pretty good joke, and he actually showered, and those days made Ryan glad Quincy was his neighbour. But today, he just wanted to get the sleep he deserved, without Quincy interrupting it.
"So, you wanna get that competition started?" Quincy asked, gazing up at the round structure above them.
He'd been perched on the ladder for a while now, while they'd engaged 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 forced himself to get up and he 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. “Now I kind of get why Cody wouldn't want to come out here!” Quincy shrieked once his feet connected with the floor.
"I'm sure no one wants to go anywhere when they're sick," Ryan said as he sprung himself high into the air.
“True.” Quincy paused to pull a leaf out of his hair. "So who wants to start first?"
"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 as he stood up for his own turn, he drew in a deep breath, seemingly praying he wouldn't fall on his face or break his neck in the process. "Well, here goes nothing," he said dramatically, allowing his shoulders to rise and fall as he prepared for his moment of fame.
"Dude, we're not in the Olympics," Ryan reminded him. "There's nothing to worry about. You just have to go for it."
With another deep breath, 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. We don't have an audience watching us or anything. That's for the Olympics."
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 marvelled at the superstars he watched on TV during sporting events. Tony Hawk was his role model. He'd spend countless hours teaching himself new tricks cautiously, promising both himself and mainly his mother that he wouldn't hurt himself. There was the occasional fall that resulted in an ugly bruise – kind of like Cody's – but luckily, it wasn't ever too serious (if you didn't count the one time he ever so slightly skidded on his face on the sidewalk). He wanted to teach Cody how to ride one, although he'd never shown an interest in it, which Ryan could never understand. Clearly Cody had no idea what he was missing out on; Quincy, however, was a different story. Ryan was practically God in his eyes.
But, in all honesty, it was actually kind of fun being someone's role model.
As for Cody, he was too indecisive to figure out what he wanted to be when he grew up. 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. A farmer, coming from a kid who had never been within ten feet of a cow and had thought vegetables were made by hand in the kitchen. He was five when he'd mentioned it, but now he'd settled on a firefighter. Ryan wondered if it was in honour of their father or if it was just a random selection, but either way, eventually it would change once more. Unless he was one of those kids who practically knew from the moment they entered the world what they wanted to do. Ryan didn't think he'd ever understand people like that, although it actually wasn't a bad thing.
“Ryan, it's your turn now.” Quincy's voice filtered in, invading the peculiar thoughts that had now taken over Ryan's brain.
Ryan's head snapped up. He hadn't realized that he'd been hopelessly staring at the trampoline floor while letting his mind travel ahead thirty years. “Oh, okay,” he said, and let out a short laugh as he resumed his previous activity. “Sorry.”
Quincy backed into the net, as far away from Ryan as he could get. “Do your backflip this time,” he told him. “I wanna see it.”
“You mean you want to try it,” said Ryan.
Quincy smiled. “Kinda actually. But I can't do anything without falling on my ass, so I probably shouldn't.”
They both burst out laughing at the realization that Quincy had cursed. He'd said a bad word that would only get them a surprised glare from their mothers and possibly a lengthy grounding, but luckily, neither Theresa or Lynn were anywhere near to hear the words escape his mouth. Ryan laughed until he was pretty sure he was going to get six-pack abs, which was impressive, considering Quincy usually wasn't so funny. But breaking the rules – especially like that – was absolutely hilarious. It would be their own little secret, and they would never tell a soul.
“I can't believe I even said that,” said Quincy between laughs.
The familiar echo of tiny voices rang in the new summer air as they wrapped up their laughing fits, interrupting the humorous moment, 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, their new summer dresses floating in the breeze. "You can't just ruin our competition," Quincy whined as Jodi frantically scrambled up the trampoline ladder.
Ryan headed for the exit of the trampoline, past Quincy. “We'll just let them have it,” he said. “You brought your bike for a reason. Let's go to the park or something.”
The park wasn't even that great. It smelled of cigarettes and beer, probably from last night's teenage party, and the empty, broken 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 bodies for fun and littering a public skate park with what remained of their night. He knew for a fact that he'd never be that type of teenager. He would at least have some respect for the kids who lived nearby – he'd be an example of what a good kid looked like. Drinking and smoking was bad, as far as he was concerned.
Ryan and Quincy had only stayed about half an hour, casually riding up the ramps. Ryan did some tricks. He succeeded. Quincy tried some tricks, but wasn't as successful. 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 stomachs in the driveway, propped up on their elbows, using their 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 his sisters, 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 didn't even think he owned one.
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. The doctor had been right – who would he have been kissing at eight years old? Obviously not Tara, that was for sure. Climbing up the hardwood steps, Ryan peeked 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 was 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. It was gross. Ryan could see that his brother was weak to the point where walking was no longer an option, and he was probably jealous of the way Ryan could stroll through the room effortlessly. Any attempts at sitting up usually brought even more vomit to the surface, so Cody just lay there, his face crumpling like an aluminum ball at the wave of nausea that was passing through him once more.
Once she'd called Jodi and Shirley inside, Theresa made a simple lunch, 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 existence. 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 was making Ryan lose his appetite.
"It's supposed to," said Theresa. "His system just isn't agreeing with anything right now, 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, and instantly regretted it at the horrified expression on his mother's face at the words.
"In better terms, I think the hospital might be a good choice,” said Theresa. "You might have to go.”
"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 was lying in his own bed, blankets upon blankets stacked atop his highly-fevered body. Sleep seemed to greet 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?
It seemed like death would always be the answer, no matter what.
Theresa stepped into the room then, a sleeping 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 would be hardly noticeable because of the darkness of his eyes, he had the feeling his pupils were wide with fear, and his gaze made it back to his sleeping little brother. "Is that normal?" he said, pointing at him
"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 do it again. 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 all right. You've 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, as if it would shut out the world around him. Gradually, the sound began to worsen, and Ryan squeezed his eyes shut. This caused much more worry for him, but apparently it didn't seem to bother Mom, 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 beating 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 his mom 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.
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