Apparently, Ryan had been born in this city. The beautiful-ish, open, and confusing Meadowview which, from what Ryan could see so far, had no meadows anywhere. Everywhere he looked, there were just buildings.
Theresa had supposedly grown up here, went to high school here, had Ryan in her last month of high school, and somehow discovered Rockwood, three long hours away. And everyone else in his family lived here – his grandparents, his aunt Mimi, his other grandparents. The only ones who had a connection with Rockwood were his two uncles, his dad's brothers. But still, despite being so close, they never came to visit.
It had taken a good hour before the Wheldon family found themselves standing in a large hospital room situated on the twelfth floor of the building. Usually, hospitals were only about four floors high, but this one had twelve, and of course, they were stuck on the top floor. The hospital was massive, fitting several hundred patients between the ages of a day old and eighteen years old, meaning that Ryan was going to have to learn which hallways were which sooner than later. He didn't want to be leaving one day and accidentally end up walking through an intensive care unit or something. Seriously, the hospital was big enough that he could have very easily mistaken it for a royal palace, although it didn't really look like much of one from the outside; it looked kind of new.
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. There was one bed situated toward the corner of the room, which was where Cody lay as he slept off the news of the stupid diagnosis. 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 someone 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, yellows, and oranges. 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 neighbourhood. The city 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 city already, but the reason for being there in the first place wasn't enjoyable at all.
By the time Cody awoke, a few doctors and nurses had already arrived in the room to take him away. One of them was pushing a wheelchair, and was wearing pink Mickey Mouse scrubs, her hair tied back in a low ponytail. “We're gonna bring you down for some tests,” she announced, to Cody. She gestured for him to get in the wheelchair.
Ryan's heart dropped. He tugged on his mother's sleeve. “Why does he have to get in a wheelchair?”
“They're just taking him for some testing,” she responded. “They need to make sure he has the cancer they think he has.”
Cancer. The word still disgusted him, angered him. “But he doesn't need a wheelchair for that.”
Theresa sighed. “It's just something they do, I guess.”
In front of them, Cody curled up in the hospital bed, pulling his knees to his chest. “Mommy,” he said, and started to cry. “I don't wanna go.”
Theresa left Ryan standing by himself with Jodi and Shirley to go see Cody again, and suddenly, he'd never felt so alone. He watched as she scooped Cody up into her arms and he shrieked, like he was three years old and being forced to leave the park. She set him down in the wheelchair, ignoring his desperate squirms. “Cody, you need to,” she said as she gently held him down. “The doctors need to find out what's wrong. It'll be fine.”
“But I don't want to!”
The nurse with the Mickey Mouse scrubs began pushing the wheelchair out of the room, Cody still squirming in it. He acted as if he was a dog about to be euthanized, with a little bit of a twist – he knew what was about to happen to him. Theresa walked beside the wheelchair as Cody still sobbed, and she reached out to him, their fingers interlocking. Ryan had to look away, for fear he might burst into tears or something. He decided to look somewhere else; at the paintings lining the walls, the tall giraffes and the cuddly lions, standing under towering green trees. For a moment, the paintings reminded him of being just a little kid who wished he could visit a real-life jungle one day. But when he took his eyes away, the magic was lost, and he realized that he still was a little kid. The only difference was that now he knew life wasn't rainbows and butterflies like it all seemed; it was scary. Anything could happen without notice, hitting someone like a bullet right between the eyes. His family could really prove that now.
Neither of them were allowed in the testing rooms, so once Cody disappeared, everyone just stood there in the middle of the hallway, staring straight ahead. “Mommy, how long is he gonna be?” Jodi asked, breaking the silence.
“It'll be a little while,” said Theresa. “Do you guys want to go play outside while we wait?”
Ryan furrowed his brow. What were they going to do out there, play chicken with the cars? “There's just a parking lot,” he said.
Theresa shook her head. “There's a field out front,” she said. “One of those nurses was telling me about it. She said kids go out there all the time.”
“But what would we even do?”
"Play a game, roll around, do whatever. Just don't damage the property. Let's go.”
Ryan shrugged. He would have preferred to sit in the hallway and hear the results than play on a stupid field. He knew Cody was going to hate them for leaving him alone while everyone else had “fun.” Jodi and Shirley were ecstatic to be leaving, but Ryan wanted nothing more than to just disappear. As they stepped inside the elevator, 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. “We can't spend too long out there, though,” Theresa reminded them all as the door closed, sealing them off from the hospital hallways. “Some of the doctors might need to talk to me.”
“Good,” Ryan muttered under his breath. He hated that he was being so difficult, so mean, but he just couldn't help it. His sorrow had turned into anger.
No one responded, so he just continued to stare at the wall ahead of him, suffering inside his own head. The elevator began to gradually drop at a steady pace, taking forever to reach the bottom, as if it wanted to keep him in that tight little space forever. Beside him, Jodi and Shirley wouldn't shut up about what they were going to do outside, and for some reason, it was making him want to scream. Everything that had happened over the last few days rushed back to him, reminding him of the life his brother was going to have to live from now on, and it made him so angry, so sad. He just wanted Cody to be okay. He just wanted everything and everyone to stop stressing him out.
The doors finally opened to reveal a separate hallway on the bottom floor, which sat in front of a massive waiting room with plastic rainbow chairs. A stunning picture of a clown was painted on the wall in front of them with a bold, black arrow pointing right, toward the almost empty waiting room, and another one pointed left to direct them out of the building. Theresa led them in the direction of the left arrow, and they passed a young woman carrying a kid into the hospital from outside. If the kid hadn't been wearing a dress, Ryan would have thought she was a boy – no hair, no eyebrows, small frame. She obviously had cancer of some sort. That was exactly how Cody would look within the following weeks after beginning chemo, and the thought made him shudder. Cody would hate being bald. "Ryan, that girl has no hair," said Shirley once they passed, pointing at the little girl resting in her mother's arms.
“Shirley, don't point,” Theresa whispered, grabbing her wrist.
“Is that a girl?” Jodi asked loudly.
Cringing, Ryan stepped down the stairs leading to a wide doorway. “She probably has cancer,” he said. “Cody's gonna look like that soon, too.”
Shirley looked horrified. “Why?” she asked.
Ryan didn't know exactly why, but he knew it was something that happened to pretty much every kid with cancer. Whether it grew back or not, he had no clue. “I have no idea,” he said.
“It's part of the treatment,” said Theresa. And, as if reading his mind, “It'll grow back eventually.”
“Well he would like that,” said Ryan.
The heat from the outside engulfed him as he opened the door, welcoming him to the Meadowview weather. It made him regret wearing jeans and a hoodie – he felt like he was dying already. Even though it was seven o'clock in the morning, the sun was still bright and intense, making it feel as though it were midday. An enormous parking lot sat in front of them, nearly every inch of the pavement covered with parked vehicles. Cars drove in and out, stopping to pay for parking, picking up some nurses from work, searching the lot for an empty space. There was supposedly a field out there somewhere. But instead, the only thing Ryan could see for miles 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, but he still saw nothing. He didn't even know how his mother knew it was there (unless she mentioned something and he hadn't remembered), but he knew she wasn't lying about it. It was there somewhere, and it was their responsibility to find it.
Jodi began to point suddenly, and quickened her pace. "I see it!" she cried.
Although it wasn't much of a space, it was enough. It was located far to the right of where they stood, various shadows cast over the grass from the little trees that lined the opposite side. Ryan judged that the grass was freshly cut, since there were little marks lining the space from the lawn mower. Ryan led the way down the sidewalk, his mother and sisters following close behind. Jodi and Shirley immediately flopped down onto the grass upon arrival as if it were the bed they'd barely slept on last night, and began rolling around, staining their clothes. It was too late for their mother to warn them – she just stood there and watched them, shaking her head. “Ryan, are you going to lay down?”
He let out a short laugh. “You make it sound like it's nap time.”
She smiled and nudged him. “You know what I mean. Join your sisters.”
The view was beautiful. The tree branches above them were parted in a way that would allow them to have a proper view of the morning sky, where light clouds dotted the cerulean area. A whisper of wind passed them by, bringing a refreshing breeze to their overheated bodies. The sun had risen to its peak and shone over the town, nearly blinding Ryan as he rested his head in the grass and gazed up into the sky. For a second, it was refreshing – he almost felt at peace, like he were about to fall asleep. He could feel his lids getting heavier as he looked up. He wasn't going to be sleeping for a while, though. Wherever he was staying tonight, he promised himself he was going to catch up on what he'd lost the past few nights.
The lack of sleep never seemed to bother Shirley, though. She attempted the somersaults she'd recently learned from her gymnastics class in the grass, only dirtying her hoodie even more but not really caring. Jodi followed in her footsteps, proudly showing off her tricks using her best form. "Mommy, look what I can do!” she shrieked, presenting by throwing her arms in the air.
Theresa clapped, not really looking that amused but still trying her best. “That's really cool!” she said. “We might just have a future Olympian.”
Jodi smiled, clearly proud of herself. “Ryan, can you do a cartwheel?" she 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 decided that it was better to look up at the sky and let his thoughts consume him instead of doing something fun. He wished he owned a pair of sunglasses – it was too bright, and he spent most of the time squinting. He wanted to watch the clouds, but he found his mind wandering, thinking about where Cody was and what was happening to him. He could be in one of the windows right now, watching his entire family have fun while he got stabbed with needles. Ryan's heart sank at the thought. His eyes went back to his mother, who was still watching Jodi and Shirley, looking completely lost in thought too; something they had in common. He felt the tears pressing at the backs of his eyes, but he forced them down, making himself watch the clouds. As he watched them take shape, 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. "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. 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.
"I see it," said Ryan. "The one next to it looks like a dog."
“I see the dog,” said Theresa, suddenly lying down beside them. It was funny, because Ryan had never seen her lie down in the grass before, and it made him stifle a laugh. She smiled at him and pointed in the cloud's direction. “It's right there.”
“Mommy, do you see the sailboat?” said Shirley, frantically pointing at her cloud, the one she was never going to let go.
“I do,” said Theresa.
Shirley squealed. “It's moving!”
Jodi squinted at the intense sunlight. "Where? I don't see it."
“It's right there,” said Ryan, his eyes finding it. It did, in fact, look exactly like a sailboat. He wished it were real, and could take him away from this city, from the shocking reality, but it was too far away. He suddenly felt empty, like there should have been another person lying in the grass with them in this moment, but he wasn't there. If Cody had been allowed to come outside, he would have had the strangest of observations – a dog chasing a cat, a monster truck, Spiderman's face...pretty much anything that made him weird. But they all needed a dose of Cody's weirdness. The thought of losing it made his eyes well up again.
No. He had to make them disappear. He wiped his eyes and bit his lip, still staring up at the sky. He was going to be strong.
Maybe somewhere, up in that endless blue sky, their dad was there, sending them all some kind of miracle. Ryan had heard that dead people could do stuff like that; grant wishes. Send luck, hope, miracles. It was like they were magic. Maybe his dad was watching them right now, hoping they could see him up there. He almost wanted to wave, but he feared he might look stupid. It was better to just pretend like he was there – it made things seem better, temporarily.
“I wish we could go home,” Ryan blurted randomly, without realizing he'd said it aloud until Theresa's face twisted slightly.
She sighed. “Me too,” she said. “But there's not really much we can do about it.”
“But I don't get why they can't treat him at home,” he complained. “And are they even sure it's cancer?”
“Ryan, I'm pretty sure the doctors know what they're doing.”
“Well they obviously didn't when they said he had mono.”
Her eyes welled up, and a pang of guilt shot through him, tearing at his heart. “They're pretty sure they got it right this time,” she said quietly, and looked back up at the sky.
The guilt was eating him away inside now. “Sorry,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure.”
“Well, we're going to find out the results soon. They're just taking some tests right now.”
Ryan wanted to do something, anything, that would cheer his mother up, make her forget the words he'd said. He didn't want to keep reminding her of her misery. Before he had the chance to say anything else, though, an excited voice in the distance called out his mother's name. He rose into a sitting position, confused, brushing the grass off his jeans as he searched for the owner of the voice. His eyes eventually caught sight of a tall, familiar figure on the sidewalk with his mother's hair, surrounded by a bunch of kids and pushing a rather large stroller. It wasn't until Shirley opened her mouth and shrieked that the girl's identity finally hit him.
"Aunt Mimi!" Shirley scrambled to her feet and bolted in her direction, arms outstretched and preparing to give her a great bear hug. Theresa was soon to follow, for two reasons: 1) Her sister, who she hadn't seen in a few months, was standing right in front of her, and 2) Shirley was running through a busy parking lot all by herself, without looking where she was going. In the short distance between them, Ryan could see Aunt Mimi scoop Shirley up as if she were a feather, and Shirley wrapped her arms tightly around her neck. "Aunt Mimi!" she cried again.
"Wow, you've grown!" said Aunt Mimi, like a typical adult. “Happy late birthday, doll! How old are you now? Twenty? Twenty-two?”
Shirley laughed. “No! I'm four!”
“Really? I never would have guessed.” She slowly set Shirley down on the sidewalk as she caught sight of Jodi sprinting towards her. "Oh, hello Jodi!" Like she had done to Shirley, she swung Jodi as high as her arms would carry her and let her attempt to squeeze the life out of her. “Any boyfriends yet?”
“Eww,” Jodi giggled. “No.”
Ryan was the last to arrive and he just stood there, 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. "Hey, kiddo!" she said as she reached out to hug him. "How are you?"
He smiled, reminding himself to be social. “Good,” he said as her arms went around him.
“Nice braces,” she said when she pulled away, ruffling his hair. “They make you look older.”
He had to laugh at that one. He'd never heard that before – he was pretty sure he looked six years old. “No, they look terrible,” he said.
“Don't lie to yourself, Ryan,” said Aunt Mimi. Then, before he knew it, her arms were around Theresa instead.
All around him, his cousins and Uncle Scott stood, staring at Ryan's family 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, being nosy. 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. He waited for one of them to say something, but the only one who dared to speak was Uncle Scott. “Hey, Ryan,” he said. “Haven't seen you in a while.” His massive hand rested on Ryan's shoulder. “How are you?”
“Pretty good,” said Ryan.
“That's good,” said Uncle Scott. Then it was back to being awkward again.
It wasn't until Theresa spent five minutes cooing at the baby that they finally headed inside the hospital to see Cody.
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 news. People who wanted to give their pity to the whole family.
There was no need for pity, at least in Ryan's opinion, but there was no way to stop it from coming. No matter what, everyone was still going to feel bad for them, and everyone was going to tell them it was okay, even though it clearly wasn't. Escaping it all was out of the question, because someone always seemed to appear out of nowhere to make it worse. He just wanted to go home. Being social during a time like this wasn't too appealing.
“I think you've grown a little,” Aunt Mimi observed as she stepped closer to him, rescuing him from his own thoughts. She placed a hand on his head as if to measure his height. “Unless my eyes are playing tricks on me.”
Ryan smiled. “I'm still short,” he said. “Your eyes are just bad.”
She nudged him playfully. “Ouch. Well one day you'll be, like, six feet tall and towering over your mom. She won't even be able to carry you anymore.”
He seriously doubted it, but he shrugged and nodded anyway. To be fair, Cody was smaller than he was, but he was also eight years old, two years younger. And to think that he was going to be even smaller after his treatment...well, it was difficult to picture.
That was one thing Ryan 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 just couldn't see a bald and skinnier version of Cody in his head. Cody had always hated haircuts – Ryan could briefly remember being dragged to Theresa's work so she could cut their hair, and Cody would flinch through the entire process. The frown on his face wouldn't disappear for days. If he'd hated the look of himself with short hair, Ryan couldn't imagine what he'd think looking in the mirror to see nothing at all.
He stole a glance over at Cody now, who was sitting upright in the hospital bed next to his nine-year-old cousin Rebekah. Maybe he had no idea yet what was in store for him. Maybe he did. From what it looked like so far, other than the unpreventable hair loss, Cody was going to be stuck inside the hospital the whole summer, when he could have been at the Rockwood Beach playing the Shark Game. Instead, all he could do was watch out the window from his bed and wish for a better tomorrow.
If there was a tomorrow.
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Short Story / Thrillers
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