They always told me that I was a fighter.
Most people with severe, stage 3 cancer are bedridden and fragile. The usually end up succumbing to the disease before they hit stage 4, the doctors told me. Most people in this situation stop fighting, give up, and they start to wait for the cancer to kill them.
Not me, though. I had every reason to keep fighting this. Who cared that all of the odds were against me? So many others had been beaten down and weakened by this disease, and yet somehow they still found strength to pull through and overcome it. I was just as determined as they were. I wasn’t going to end my life as a sick teenager who never had any of the real, major life experiences.
I’ve had this for two and a half years.
At first we were so sure that it would go away from just using chemotherapy. After all, for other people it had usually worked. We did a couple of the treatments and then saw that from the results, the cancerous cells weren’t reproducing nearly as much as they had to begin with, so we thought that the treatment was working.
The doctors thought that, too. they let me go back to school with strict orders. There was to be no overworking, no stress, limited physical exercise that could exert me, and I was told to wear a lot of clothing at all times, to ensure that there would be no threats to my weakened immune system. Plus I was supposed to do several check-up tests and scans, as well as take a lot of medicine; the doctors all wanted to see if I was in remission and if my lungs would be healthy enough for me to be taken off of the portable tank of oxygen.
I was beginning to hope and believe that my life was on its way to normalcy again, like it had been before the cancer.
But then, last winter, I caught the flu.
Sure, for someone else it would have been no big deal. All they would have to do is drink some orange juice, get a lot of sleep, and take some nasty cough syrup. Then, voila! They’d be all good again.
Not me. Since my lungs were still weak, the congestion had made things even worse. I had to be admitted into the intensive care unit because the flu had rapidly advanced into full-fledged pneumonia. My lungs were slowly in the process of shutting down on me.
The doctors told my parents that there wasn’t much of a chance of recovering from this. They all tried to hide it from me, but I could spot the signs from a mile away. Just because I was sick didn’t mean that I was stupid; I knew it well enough by the time all of them started tearing up almost every time that they saw me. They were all treating me overly nicely and asking every two minutes if there was anything that I wanted so that they could go and get it for me. if that wasn’t enough of the context clues to tell me that they were giving up on me, then I don’t know what would have been.
A few days after that, I almost died. My breathing had stopped and my throat was closing up. My favorite nurse, Lizette, had been on her way to change my IVs and empty my bedpan when she saw me. in her words, my face was “bluer than the Pacific Ocean.”
She was the one to call the other doctors and nurses and gave me CPR, which saved my life in the nix of time.
A few days later, somehow, I was beginning to recover. The cancer was back, and it was a lot worse than the last time, but my lungs were kind of functioning again. So the doctors decided to give me another round of chemo and they put me on a new type of antibiotics and pain relievers with the hopes that they would finally push the cancer away for good.
And it did. I was able to go back home. I finished that year of school with flying colors, my grades much better than pretty much everyone else in the class. I had passed the year with a 3.76 GPA, way better than the rest of my class.
Not only that, but my hair was starting to grow back. One of the things I missed the most about my old life. It was from my mother’s side of the family, the Latin part of me. Without it, I just looked weird.
Things were really looking up for me. I started my junior year and I was looking forward to my 17th birthday. That was when the doctors had told me that I would finally be healthy enough to take the driving test, so I could at least get my learner’s permit. Not only that, but I was even considering getting a job like the rest of my friends.
And then, a few days after New Year’s, I started coughing up blood.
I had been home, alone, when it happened. I nearly passed out if it weren’t for me slapping myself to keep myself from falling asleep. I had called my mother immediately and she rushed home from work and we sped off to the ER, where Dr. Shay, my main doctor, met up with us.
While they attempted to get me inside, I passed out.
I woke up with so many wires and tubes inside me that I felt like I was 50% plastic and metal. My parents were by my side with tears in their eyes. And there were flowers everywhere, sent in by various friends and family members. The look in my parents eyes told me that they had been worrying that I might never wake up again, and I felt a little guilty about what my body was doing, as if I had any control over it.
A few more days passed with very little improvement. The doctors issued so many tests on me for all hours of the day so I got very little sleep. The bit of time that I did have to myself, I couldn’t close my eyes long enough to doze off because the beeping sounds from all of the machines would often distract me.
I was exhausted. For the first time in my battle with cancer, I actually felt sick. I had felt sick before, obviously, but I always made myself stay positive and not think of it as what it truly was. Now I was beginning to feel like a cancer patient, and that made me feel like I was starting to lose the fight.
But that was when I met Cameron.
I had fought tooth and nail to finally be let out of my room. Dr. Owens, the notorious doctor of the ward, had said that it was way too risky for me, but I knew he was just as tired as I was of me being pinned up in that room. So, with a little help of the pestering Lizette and my parents’ permission, I was allowed to venture out to explore the rest of the ICU.
With my portable oxygen tank and Lizette at my side, I went out into the wide, recently painted pastel hallways.
The first thing I noticed about being out of my room was that it smelled lemony and clean, like someone had recently cleaned it with Pinesol. It was a nice, welcome change from the cloyingly sweet smell of flowers that everyone had sent me. And it was very nice to be able to get out of my hospital room and walk around, although if I had been given the chance, I would have preferred to go outside.
Lizette and I had light-hearted conversation, kind of like always. She told me about some of her other patients; we talked about the ones that she liked, the ones that she said were difficult to deal with, the ones she thought I’d like, and the ones she thought could use a lift to their spirits. I told her that everyone here could use a spirit lifter; it was just a matter of finding someone capable of cheering them all up.
We talked about my schooling, too. She asked me a lot about what classes I was taking, and if I liked them, things like that. She asked what other classes I still had to do in order to graduate next year, but the tone of her voice was uneasy. I knew she was trying to dodge the bullet with a lot of things, and school was an iffy topic.
She wanted me to get better so badly, almost even more than I did. I could see it in the pained expression in her face any time that I hunched over and started coughing and wheezing, hugging my chest from the pains. It hurt to see her look at me like this, and I wanted nothing more than to take her pain away. I could deal with my own, I decided, if only she was happy.
I could tell that there was something on her mind. The idle discussions had become boring for her and she was trying to find some way to slip what she wanted to say into the conversation.
Lizette led me down a powder blue hall, tugging my oxygen tank on wheels behind us. I held onto my IVs on wheels and gave her a weak smile, as if this were totally normal. Of course, for her, something like this was normal. She had to deal with sick patients like me every day.
“So,” she said after a brief silence. “Have you gone to a school dance yet?”
I shook my head no lightly. “I haven’t been healthy enough to yet. I was going to go to the Sweetheart Dance that’s supposed to be next Saturday but I don’t think I can now…”
I trailed off. I hadn’t really given the Dance much thought since I was admitted in here. The realization hit me a little after I had spoken it aloud; it was slightly upsetting, as I had really been looking forward to going.
“There might just be a chance that you can go, Maya,” she said. “I’ll have to talk to your doctors but there might be a tiny chance of it.”
“There isn’t.” I said, my tone steely. “I have no chance of getting well enough to be able to leave the hospital by next Saturday, much less be around a bunch of other people in my school gym.”
Lizette looked a little beaten down. I hadn’t meant for my comment to take any offense to her; I had never meant for her to take things personally. All that I was doing was being rational and logical. And, in perfect honesty, there was virtually no shot at getting better in such a short period of time. I knew that there wasn’t really any point in giving myself a false sense of hope.
“I wouldn’t think against it just yet. There’s still hope.” She smiled at me.
Right then, I tall, lanky boy came up to us. I had no idea who he was, only that he was a full head taller than me and that he obviously knew Lizette. The two talked for a few moments before either of them remembered that I was there, too, standing a little farther away like an awkward stranger.
“Oh! Cameron, this is Maya. She’s my other favorite patient,” Lizette smiled at him and at me.
“Nice to meet you,” I said softly. I clenched on to my IV post tightly. I wasn’t much of a social butterfly, and meeting new people was not exactly my thing.
He flashed a lopsided grin. “The same goes for you, Maya.”
They proceeded in talking and I began to wonder if they noticed me here or not. At least Lizette had been kind enough to introduce him, so he was less of a stranger, but I didn’t really enjoy being forgotten about. Still, I was out of my room and there was interaction of some sort. It didn’t necessarily matter that it wasn’t with me.
I didn’t really listen to their conversation; as far as I could tell, they were discussing whatever he was in there for. That was private business, as far as I was concerned, and all I really knew about him from the snatches of them talking that I did pay attention to was that he wasn’t in much of a better position than I was.
It seemed like he had cancer, too, because he was toting around an IV with some of the same medicines and fluid that I had. Plus his head was shaved, but it had the stubble of dark hair growing back. I began to wonder what he looked like before he had to undergo chemo and lost all of his hair, and I wondered if maybe he went to my school.
These were questions that I was intending to ask Lizette later on, after they parted ways, but I found myself without the chance. Lizette’s pager started to beep, meaning that there was an emergency where she was needed. She looked at us, confused for a second.
“Cameron, would you mind helping Maya back to her room? I have to go.” Lizette’s tone was panicked.
“Of course,” he said. She smiled and darted down the hall.
“Bye Liz,” I said softly. But she was already gone and there was no chance that she had heard me.
Cameron grabbed the handle to my oxygen tank. “Which way do we go?”
I looked at the signs on the walls directing which rooms were where. I wasn’t necessarily sure where mine was; I hadn’t memorized the number, or the location. This was kind of the first time that I had been out of it in my entire stay here so far.
“Um, I really don’t know.” I said sheepishly. “This is my first venture out of my room and I didn’t really make sure to check the number.”
Cameron smiled. “That’s okay. We don’t have to go back yet, anyways. We can just wander around, if you want.”
“That sounds alright,” I said, not really sure what to say. I wasn’t very fond of the idea of being alone with some boy that I had literally just met, but on the bright side, there was no chance of anything bad happening. And if it did, well, we were in the ICU and there were nurses and doctors everywhere. That made me feel slightly better.
We started walking around a little slowly. I was okay with the pace, but he looked like he was struggling not to go faster. “We can go faster, if you want,” I said, trying to be polite.
“Are you sure?”
I nodded. The politeness was beginning to aggravate me, but I tried not to let that show. It wasn’t his fault, and it wasn’t exactly mine either. We were both just trying to be polite, as we were strangers that had been oddly abandoned.
“So, um, what school do you go to?” I asked, trying to make a gateway for conversation.
“West Bridge High School, home of the ‘Spartans’.” He laughed. “But we’re not very similar to the war-savvy city-state in Greece. What about you?”
I laughed at his honesty. “Jackson High and our mascot is bronco. Only, well, they spelled it wrong. They added an ‘h’ so it looks like ‘bron-chos’.”
We both laughed at that, even though it was nothing but the honest truth. It was weird, and I suppose that was what we had found funny. Plus the awkwardness of our situation had made things incredibly weird, and so maybe we were both thinking that the laughter would lighten things up. I can’t honestly recall what had run through my mind right then, but whatever it was, it ended up working out.
In a short amount of time we found ourselves out in the waiting room, laughing as if we were two old friends. We both had a few things in common, and Lizette being our favorite nurse was one of them. At that moment we were exchanging goofy acts that she had done in order to try to cheer someone up, and we had both agreed that she was a pretty great nurse.
And then, it was almost as if she had been summoned. Lizette popped up. She smiled at the both of us and asked us how things had been going and how the both of us felt. I suppressed a burst of coughs which made my lungs feel like they were going to explode, but I forced myself to soldier through it. We both replied simple terms like fine and great and she turned to Cameron.
“Cam, have you been to a high school dance yet?” she asked, sending me a mischievous smile.
He shook his head. “No, I haven’t been well enough to just yet. Why do you ask?”
“Oh, no reason, I was just wondering,” she said smiling. “Maya, I’d hate to break this up but the both of you need to go back to your rooms now. You both need some rest and it’s dinner time.”
I nodded. “Well, I’ll see you around Cameron.”
“Bye Maya,” he said, smiling. “Maybe we can meet up here tomorrow or something.”
I smiled back. “Yeah, maybe.”
Lizette took the oxygen tank from me and slowly led me back to my room. As we reentered the ward, I was greeted warmly by several nurses and doctors. It made me feel like I had been gone for a long period of time and was just visiting or coming back to say hello. I was almost disappointed to remember that that wasn’t the case at all.
“What plan have you got up your sleeve, Lizette? I can see it in your eyes, you’re planning something!” I said, trying to keep from coughing up a lung. It hurt.
“You and Cameron will see here very soon,” she said, right as we reached my room. “It’s a surprise.”
I shook my head. “I hate surprises,”
“Well, you’ll love this one!” she smiled. Now go lay down and I’ll bring you your food in a little bit.”
I did as she said and it seemed that the instant I got in my bed, I fell asleep. I hadn’t realized how exhausted I was from all of the walking. It hadn’t felt like I had done that much activity, but then I remembered that I was still very weak from being in bed for so long. It was almost a little amazing that I hadn’t collapsed or anything while we were out there, as I was so tired.
When I woke up, my parents were there, talking to my doctor. I didn’t know what they were talking about, but I didn’t want to be rude and interrupt them, so I took my Ipod from the nightstand next to the bed and put on some music. Then I laid back down on my pillows and drifted off to sleep to the sounds of acoustic songs.
The next day when I woke up, Lizette gave me my breakfast and told me that I was allowed to go out to meet up with Cameron again today. The only stipulation was that we had to remain inside the ward, not in the waiting room. Apparently my doctor had thrown a bit of a hissy fit when he found out that we had been out there, as that was further exposing the both of us to outside germs that could harm our bodies.
I felt a little bad about that but went with Lizette to find Cameron. We met up with him at a small little rest area that a few of the other nurses had made just for the two of us. There were a couple chairs and a table taken out of the cafeteria, along with a few magazines and a couple board games. He and I agreed that we both felt kind of special that we had our own little table, all to ourselves.
We spent the rest of the day there, talking and then playing the board games. As it turned out, Cameron was very good at Clue, but I still had him swamped at Monopoly. It was hilarious to see his face any time he would land on one of my properties; his face would scrunch up and he would bite his bottom lip as he doled the money out to me, saying “I swear, you’re gonna kill my bank!”
The next couple of days went in the same general plot as that day. We played games, we talked, and we would take a little stroll any time we got tired of sitting. Lizette had even arranged for our lunches to be sent to our little table, and if we weren’t there when it was sent, they left them there on warming trays until we got back.
Cameron had become my best friend. We had a lot of things in common, I ended up finding out. There were so many things that we could relate over, so many things that we were bonding over, and there were plenty of other things that we could laugh about. There didn’t seem to be anything about him that bothered me, which wasn’t the normal case for me when I made friends. I usually would tend to get a little annoyed with the small flaws that I would find in people out of habit, but with him, I found none.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I could feel myself starting to fall for him. It wasn’t very sudden; I could sense it very briefly when we would start talking about a subject that I really liked. And then it got more and more evident to me. My heart would start racing any time that I saw him, and when we weren’t hanging out, I would start thinking about him.
My parents teased that their little girl was falling in love, but I tried to nip their thoughts in the butt. I didn’t want them to know about it, and I didn’t want to consider the fact that I might have actually been starting to love him. Everything felt so confusing when I put them into terms that would involve the word ‘love’ so I tried to avoid it as much as possible.
I couldn’t help but wonder if he was falling for me, too. He was still as polite as he had been that first day, but it seemed like that was amplified now. Sometimes he would stop by my room on his way to his own, or he would meet me there in the morning rather than me going to the table by myself. Nowadays, Lizette didn’t even have to escort me, as I already knew exactly where I was going.
It was little things like that which made me feel like maybe he was starting to fall for me, too. With him, it was less obvious than it probably was with me, but that was okay. I was perfectly fine with the subtlety of how he acted around me compared with how he acted around others, and it was the slight change between the two that made me feel special.
We were both curious about Lizette’s plan, too. The other nurses were in on it, too, and we knew that much well enough. Some of them would occasionally forget that we knew nothing and drop little hints or ask us questions, like “Are you excited?” or “What color do you think you’re going to pick?”
The both of us had a general idea about what she was planning, but neither of us wanted to let that on to anyone. We were okay with acting oblivious, because it made everyone else feel like they had a part in something secretive and special. Even though I hated to lie to people, this one was a good lie. It was hardly a lie at all, I justified to myself, because I didn’t exactly know what they were going to do.
I wasn’t even thinking about it when Lizette and another nurse, named Rose, came in one day.
“Do you know what day it is?” Lizette asked me.
I shook my head. I had only just woken up and hadn’t gotten the chance to turn on the television to see if there was anything important going on in the world. “No. Why?”
“It’s Valentine’s Day!” Rose said, smiling. “And you have a visitor out here,”
I got out of bed and pulled my IV holder and air tank behind me. Cameron was standing there in the hallway with a bouquet of lilies and roses, my two favorite flowers. He was smiling bigger than I had ever seen him smile before.
“Happy V-Day,” he said, handing me the flowers. Lizette took the oxygen tank from me so I had a free hand.
I buried my nose in the flowers for a moment, inhaling the sweet scent. This was the first Valentine’s Day that someone had ever given me anything. I mean, sure, my parents had always gotten me those little heart-shaped chocolate boxes that had cartoons on them when I was little, and then of course in elementary school when you got to pass out mass-produced cards to everyone in your class and you got little pieces of candy from your friends. But this was completely different; these were flowers from a guy who actually liked me!
“Thanks, Cam!” I said, smiling pretty big, too.
He grinned again. “Don’t thank me, thank them! I have no idea what is going on today. Not that I wouldn’t have gotten you flowers anyways, but it’s not like I’d have been able to otherwise.”
I laughed at his explanation. “That’s okay,”
Lizette came over and told us that she and the other nurses had planned the ideal Valentine’s Day for us, the ward’s favorite little couple. I blushed when she said we were a couple, as nothing was official or anything, but Cameron used it as an excuse to pull me close to him and wrap his arm around my waist. I would have pushed his hand away, except I kind of liked it….
The next thing I knew, she sent Cameron back to his room. She told him that he would find something waiting for him there and then he could come back a little while after that. I was a little confused, but he obliged and left. I didn’t enjoy the coldness that was left from where his arm had been when he was gone, but didn’t mention that to anyone.
Rose and Lizette brought me back into my room and put the flowers in a crystalline vase. They had me sit down on my bed and then called for another nurse. A few minutes later, the new nurse, Becky, came in with a cart that was covered with what looked like a curtain.
“You are going to have the perfect Sweetheart Dance, Maya.” Lizette said as the other two nurses uncovered the cart.
On the cart were several gowns. There were so many colors and styles, I was bombarded by the selection. My mind didn’t exactly compute at first. What she had said didn’t quite register in my brain, and then I thought about it for a moment. They were going to dress us up and give us our own Sweetheart Dance!
I smiled. “This is so nice of you all!”
“That isn’t even the beginning of it, hon,” said Becky. “Now pick a gown.”
I sifted through the pile of gowns, looking at every one of them before I chose. There were so many, and they were all beautiful. Some of them were long and skimmed the floor and others were short; some of the dresses were tighter fitting to show off curves that I didn’t have and others were loose and flowing, reminding me of a fairy princess or something.
Then I found it. The perfect dress. It was a full length gown and was the color of the midnight sky on a clear night. There were little gemstones all over it in thousands of different hues of blue. It reminded me so much of a starry night that it felt like someone had taken the night sky and turned it into a dress.
“This one,” I said, my voice faltering a little. “Please.”
The nurses smiled. “We all thought you’d like that one. It would look beautiful on you.”
“But that isn’t the only surprise,” Rose said, coming forward with a circular box. “Obviously, you have to do something with your hair.”
That sounded like a cruel joke. I ran my fingers over my head; it was bald, or technically shaved. There were little dark hairs here and there, and it made me feel like a baby that was finally getting hair. But there was certainly nothing that I could do with the little hair that I had. There wasn’t even enough to call wisps.
Lizette chuckled at my reaction to what Rose had said. “We aren’t making fun of you, so don’t worry.”
She took the box from Rose and opened it. I peeked inside and saw a mass of dark brown hair. It looked almost exactly like what mine had before it had been shaved off. I gasped. So that was what Rose had meant; they got me a wig to wear for tonight!
Tears were coming to my eyes. “This is so nice of you; I don’t even know how to thank you!”
“Worry about that later,” Becky said, producing another box. “Here are a couple other surprises for you.”
She handed me the box. I took the lid off cautiously, unsure about what she was giving me next. It could honestly be anything, at this rate. They had already given me a wig and a beautiful gown. I looked inside the box and pulled out a pair of stunning silver heels.
“Now you might actually be able to dance with Cameron without having to look up to him!” Rose said, laughing. “This part was my idea.”
I smiled. “Thank you. I’m lucky that I actually kind of know how to walk in them!”
They all laughed. “Now go get the gown and shoes on then come out here so we can help you with the wig, okay?” Liz said gently. I smiled and nodded.
Taking the dress and the shoes, I rushed into the little bathroom and pulled off my hospital gown. It was funny, I had already been in a gown, technically. But the one I was about to put on was so much better on so many different levels.
I was bursting with excitement. Luckily, the dress didn’t have any sleeves or straps, so I didn’t have to worry about my IV tubes causing any problems. I was too happy to become self-conscious about how the gown made me look or all of the purplish-black bruises from the needles that had been moved or taken out. I didn’t even give them a second thought.
Putting the shoes on, I took a deep breath. I couldn’t wait to see what Cameron was going to look like, or what his face would be like when he saw me in all of this. Thinking about that made me even more excited than I had been before.
The shoes made me feel even taller than I thought I would, and the gown didn’t drag on the floor as much as it had before I put them on. I walked out of the bathroom and smiled as the nurses gasped.
“You look so beautiful!” they all gushed, coming towards me.
They all took me by arms and brought me over to my bed and made me sit down again. Lizette got the wig out of the box and gently placed it on my head.
It was so strange, for a second, it felt like it was really my hair. The wig had felt so real, I wondered if it was made out of human hair. It was even slightly curled, exactly like how my hair had been before. The only thing that gave it away was that this hair was so much softer and the color was more shimmery, whereas mine had always been a little duller and more confused.
They all smiled at me. Lizette pulled out a pin that looked like a shooting start and used it to pin the hair all to one side. I knew it was going to look amazing; I had seen this kind of hairstyle in a magazine before, and it always reminded me of a character out of a perfect Hollywood romance story.
Becky and Rose came over and sat with me on the bed, producing a few bags of makeup. Then they began putting it on me, trying to cover up some of the bruises and other various flaws and imperfections. The brushes they used were so soft, it almost made me giggle several times.
When they were done, they handed me handheld mirror so I could look at myself, but I almost dropped it. Not to toot my own horn, but I looked amazing. They had made me look like a normal human being again, but then at the same time, way more than that. My lips were a deep crimson shade, and my skin looked like a beautiful olive tone instead of the murky color it normally looked like. They had curled my eyelashes and made them look full, voluminous, and black, like one of the models out of a mascara commercial. Plus they had done a beautiful smoky-eye.
I looked nothing like my normal self, and yet I loved it. I almost wanted to ask if they could do something like this every day, if I could play pretend and let them treat me like a living Barbie doll. Even though I knew it would be more than fine with them, I kept from asking that. It would make me seem somewhat ungrateful for this, or maybe make me seem greedy. I didn’t want either of those things.
“Thank you so much! This means so much to me!” I gushed, giving them all hugs.
“I told you not to give up hope on going to that dance,” Lizette said. “Now come on, your parents and your date want to see you.”
Lizette, Becky, and Rose escorted me out of the room and presented me to the small group of people that had gathered outside my room. There were doctors and other nurses, even some of the other patients and their visitors. Then there were my parents, and Cameron.
I was a little blown away when I saw Cameron. He wasn’t wearing a wig, but that hardly mattered. I could have cared less about that! He was in a black suit that had a dark blue tie that matched my dress, and there were little star lapels on the sleeves of the jacket. He was beaming at me, grinning that perfect smile that I adored so much.
My heart fluttered. Everyone kept smiling at me and started saying how beautiful I looked. My mother almost started crying.
“She’s growing up, Dan!” she said to my father, wiping away a couple of stray tears. “Who is this beautiful woman in front of us and where is our little girl?”
I smiled. “I’m still here, Mom,” I said.
Then everyone started snapping pictures of us on their phones and with cameras that they seemed to produce from nowhere. Cameron had come closer to me and placed our IV stands behind us, along with my oxygen tube, so that you could hardly see them in the pictures. He held my waist and looked at me with loving eyes, and for the first time, I was completely sure that he liked me. Maybe, just maybe, I thought to myself as everyone took even more pictures of us, he loved me.
After everyone had finished taking pictures and our parents had given us both plenty of hugs, the nurses escorted us out of the ward. They took us down to the first floor and to the main exit, where outside a large white limo was waiting for us.
Lizette opened the door and gestured for me to get in first. I scooted inside, careful not to knock over my oxygen machine that was in the seat next to me. Lizette had made the IV holder smaller so that it fit easily inside the limo, and she did that with Cameron’s holder, too.
She got in the front seat with the driver, who was actually Dr. Shay. Cameron and I exchanged looks that were mixtures of shock and excitement. We both never would have guessed that of all people, Dr. Shay would have been in on this, too. Not only that, but that we would actually be allowed to leave the hospital. In a limo, much less!
Music started blaring out of various speakers. I smiled at the selection; it was a lot of dubstep, and the bass was turned up on full blast. Lizette knew me too well. I had told very few people about my love of dubstep, and my all-important rule about how if you’re going to play it, you have to make sure the bass is the loudest thing in it.
Cameron smiled and took my hand. He squeezed it tightly and looked me deep in the eyes. “Will you go out with me?”
My breath caught in my throat. “Did they plan this, too?”
“Nope.” He said, looking a little nervous at the fact that I hadn’t answered the question yet.
“Then that makes it even better,” I said, squeezing his hand back. “Of course I will.”
He looked even happier than he had before, and I’ll admit, that was one of the best surprises I had ever gotten. I’d dated other guys before, but it had never meant as much to me as this one did. Maybe it was because all of the other times, it was just some other guy. Cameron was different, though, I knew that in my heart. He wasn’t anything like any of the other guys I had ever dated before, he was better.
We got to our destination a little while later. Neither of us knew where we were, and when we opened the door and looked, we were still incredibly unsure. Wherever it was, there were bright red rose petals covering the sidewalk. It seemed like a crime to walk on them, but we had to. Dr. Shay helped me get my oxygen tank out of the limo and I pulled my IV holder on my other side. With my other hand, I held onto Cameron.
Lizette opened the door. We walked in, and it looked like a big open gym. I understood now that this was probably someone’s garage, but it looked nothing like one. The walls were covered in circular mirrors and colorful lights. Above us, there was a classic disco ball that was flashing.
There were flowers everywhere, too, and it smelled amazing. Kind of like lily-of-the-valley and vanilla, but in a much better combination than you would think. I took a deep breath in and smiled at Cameron, who seemed to be looking for the source of the smell.
“It’s like one of those Febreeze commercials!” he whispered in my ear. I giggled.
“Yeah, but better.”
Right then, music started playing. It was loud, even louder than in the car, and pretty good. I didn’t know the name of the song, or who it was by, but that didn’t matter. I wanted to dance.
Cameron and I started dancing around like dorks, not even trying to pretend like either of us could really dance. I mean, if I had been around more people, maybe I would have tried to look like a normal person and dance sexily or something. But it was just me and Cameron, plus Lizette and Dr. Shay on the other end of the room. There was no need to try to impress anyone.
One song became another. They were a great blend of slow songs and fast songs, and they threw in a lot of songs that had reminded me of when I was a little kid, like The Middle by Jimmy Eat World.
I lost track of time. It seemed like we were dancing forever, there under the flashing lights and the disco ball. A smile never left my face, and the same could have been said for Cameron.
One of the last songs played was a slow song, which was actually one of my favorites. When it came on, Cameron burst out, “I love this song!”
“Me too,” I said, wrapping my arms around his neck.
“Love of mine, someday you will die,
But I’ll be close behind,
I will follow you into the dark.
No blinding light,
Or tunnels grazed of white,
Just our hands clasped so tight,
Waiting for the hint of a spark,” the singer of Death Cab for Cutie sang as we swayed back and forth to the song. I rested my head on Cameron’s shoulder. He kissed my forehead; I smiled.
I looked up at him. He looked at me, too, and I could feel my heart beat quickening. I leaned in just as he did the same. The next thing I knew, we were kissing.
A little while later, Lizette came over with two champagne flutes. “Don’t tell your parents,” she said, giving us the flutes and her famous mischievous grin.
We took the flutes from her. Cameron handed me one and smiled. “To an amazing Valentine’s Day,” he said, raising it a little to make it look like a toast.
“Indeed,” I said, smiling as I brought it to my lips.
The taste was a little bitter at first, but not unpleasant. I giggled as he took a sip of his and shuddered. He hadn’t been expecting the initial potency of it at first, either, I could tell. But then we both sipped the rest of the champagne until it was gone, at which point Dr. Shay had come over telling us that it was about time that we head back to the hospital.
I smiled sadly. “Alright,”
Even though I didn’t want to leave, I let Cameron assist me with my oxygen tank. We all got back into the limo and started heading back to the hospital.
I don’t know really all how it happened, but the instant I got in the limo I knew something had changed. I couldn’t tell if it was for the better or for the worst, but it was something. My lungs started to hurt again, and I looked over at Cameron amidst the pain. He looked a little pained, too, and was rubbing his lower back.
“I think we partied too hard,” he said, chuckling.
I gave him a small smile. “Yeah, maybe,”
Then I Will Follow You into the Dark came on again. I was lulled by the words for a few seconds and then I turned to Cameron. We scooted closer to each other and he wrapped his arms around me.
“You looked beautiful tonight,” he said.
“Thank you. You looked pretty handsome yourself.”
He laughed. “Sure,”
We sat there in silence during the rest of the chorus. Then I looked up at him.
“I think…” I didn’t know how to push the words out. “I think I love you.”
Cameron looked at me, his eyes softening. “I love you, too,” he said, his voice gentle.
He leaned in and kissed me again. I’ll be honest, it was the best kiss I had ever had in my entire life. Right as he did, though, a few different things happened all at once.
They all happened so fast that there wasn’t any time to think things over or to try to make sense of them. Right as he kissed me, my lungs began to ache so badly that I couldn’t breathe. In fact, I stopped breathing.
At the same time as that, I found out a little bit later that Cameron’s heart seized up. But he had never stopped kissing me. In fact, he took my hand and squeezed it tightly.
Right as that happened, too, another thing occurred. Dr. Shay, the driver in the front seat, accidently ran a stoplight. A semi plowed into the limo, crushing us all.
As I closed my eyes and felt the life leaving me and Cameron both, I could still hear the song playing. The song that he and I loved so much, well, it was so perfect for this situation. Because I knew that he was going to be following me into the dark. I could still feel him on my lips and his hand around mine. I took my last breath and let go.
“…And the soles of our shoes
Are all worn down,
The time for sleep is now,
It’s nothing to cry about,
For we’ll hold each other soon,
In the blackest of rooms….”
© Copyright 2016 Coralie. All rights reserved.