I feel like I’ve just stepped out of my body. Suddenly, I couldn’t feel, myself anymore, I couldn’t hear my heart beating the life through me or the pulse pounding around my veins, pumping the life from the tips of my toes to the edge of my fingers. As I walked forward, I could barely feel the uneven ground beneath my feet, could hardly hear the buzz of summer around me. It was almost as if I was floating just above my head, watching over myself, like my very own guardian angel. Yeah, right.
The sun’s trying to cheer me up. It’s shining almost incessantly, annoyingly; it was trying to make a point. Life doesn’t have to be sad. Neither does death. The sun was lying.
You’re not here yet. I know it’s a good thing but somehow I feel alone. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that there was no one around. But it was usually empty and bare around here and even if I were surrounded by a thousand people I think I’d still feel lonely. Still feel abandoned. Still feel hopeless.
But then you arrived. At first it felt just like all those other times when I’d seen you walking towards me and my heart would seem to pull me forwards, it would call for you and when I saw your face I would smile. Even without thinking. But then I remembered what I was about to do and my heart dropped like a stone in my chest. I sank down a little and the very sky seemed to darken. When my heart started to beat again it thumped heavily, loudly, like trying to remind how these beats were numbered. Reminding me that each of these strong beats were leading up to the indefinite. But my indefinite was coming way too soon.
I should have known that you’d see something was wrong. You know me way too well not to notice if something was wrong. But I couldn’t tell you yet, I just couldn’t. I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful you looked when the sun hit your hair just right and the curve of your nose was angled straight against the water in the lake behind you. How, at a time like this, could I be thinking about how cute you looked? How, when the world could stop spinning at any moment, could I be marvelling at how, when the wind ruffled your hair...
“Hey?” you said, but said it like a question. Hey? What’s wrong? Why are you looking at me like that? Why do you have to tell me the one thing that could destroy me forever?
“Hey.” I said back and, I was proud to say my voice didn’t break or I didn’t start bawling. Not yet. “What’s up?” It was you who said that. And I really didn’t know. What was up? No, of course I knew the answer but it was the one answer I would kill to change.
“Not much, school sucks.” Good. General conversation was good, keep your mind off it, and put it off for another few seconds. Or minutes, if I’m lucky. You nodded and an awkward silence (they’re definitely the worst ones) settled over us like a fog. This had never happened before; we’d always had so much to talk about. It was like you’d already known and you were just waiting for me to say it. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t.
“Hayley.” You said. I looked up, realized I’d been staring at the ground for over five minutes and blushed. Stay out of the dark place, Hale, don’t think about it. You were looking really worried now. It hurt me to see you so confused and bewildered, I knew I owed you an explanation for my behaviour but I was sure that if I tried to speak, words would fail me. Or I’d fail words. You took a step forward and took hold of my hand. I almost laughed, it was your signature move, you did it the first time we ever kissed. It felt like a lifetime ago. It almost was. I replied with a look.
“What’s wrong?” It was a normal, easy question to ask. What’s wrong? But it could have so many answers. I felt like I’d just swallowed a stone, it got lodged in my throat and the water built up behind my eyes. No, no, no... “Hayley?” I pressed my lips together, trying to hold back the tears that were trying to escape. It was the first time I’d felt like crying since I’d found out and that comforted me a little. If I could last this long without crying then maybe I could be strong all the way through? But the fact that I was only crying because of you, made the situation so much worse. So much more unbearable.
Isn’t it funny how when I thought about telling you, the words got stuck in my throat and tears threatened to fall almost immediately, but when all I was concentrating on was keeping the tears at bay, the unforgivable words came tumbling out instead,
“I went to the hospital today.” I’d only paused for a second but already your face held a thousand questions and a million worries. I ploughed on, “I’ve known I’d have to go soon but I just... I just couldn’t tell you because...” I could not carry on, tears were flying down my face and the words got stuck again. Tell him, I told myself, tell him now... I really couldn’t afford to stop now...
So I told you. In truth, the look on your face was even worse than I could have imagined. The pain and shock you showed looked like you’d just been stabbed in the stomach by your best friend. I don’t even think you would have been capable of crying, let alone speaking. You’re eyes said all they needed to, though. That look, it quite literally killed me.
So the cancer didn’t have to.
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