Author's Note: We decided to a couple one shots describing things we've actually gone through. So here's the first. Names are altered, of course. Figure out which one of us is who.
His fingers laced through mine beside me and I had my eyes trained on the carpet as if there was something incredibly interesting in that rosy pink plastic fiber. Obviously, there was not but I had never been through something like this and looking up would have meant facing the inevitable.
"You're crushing my fingers," he whispered, rather loudly in an attempt to drown out the pitiful music that was playing in the background. It wasn't terrible. It was just that, given the context of the event, it was depressing.
I loosened my grip and glanced up at his face. He was staring at me expectantly for a long moment and then he looked away, his cheeks flushed, and withdrew his hand entirely, folding it in his lap and taking his turn at staring at the carpet. A few rows ahead, someone wailed and I winced at the keening noise. "I'm glad this isn't us," I managed.
He only nodded. He'd been to funerals before. In fact, he'd been through more funerals than I thought possible but I guess that's what happens when you're a military brat with a close-knit family. Lucas had been to funerals for people he didn't even know. This was a small bit closer to home than that. "That's the equivalent of saying 'Wow, I'm glad you're not dead too,'" he mumbled finally, glancing up and turning back to the carpet almost instantly. Unwittingly, my eyes followed his path up past the rows of mourners to Mel, in black, sitting in the front row, her hands clasped in front of a swollen pregnant stomach, her back stiff and her shoulders squared as if she was ready for the weight of the world to come crashing down on her shoulders.
I couldn't imagine what she was going through. I had not dealt, for three years, with a boyfriend that was slowly deteriorating before my eyes. In fact, my boyfriend was quite healthy (if a little bit insane at times). Also, Lucas and I made it a point not to become pregnant. I was also sure that if that happened (which I sincerely pray it does not) I'm sure Lucas would also make it a point not to die.
I looked back at him and recognized the emotion on his face. Guilt. Many would ask why we would feel guilty but the answer is easy. Lucas and I got along famously. There wasn't a fight in our history at all and we were Cody and Mel's best friends. We'd been there through the double dates and their explosive arguments and Cody's seizures. We were there through the debate over adoption, abortion, or keeping the child.
And Lucas was still here. He was breathing, raggedly I'll grant it, right beside me and he was healthier than he'd ever been. But Cody was in a casket at the front of the room, stuffed with cotton balls and formaldehyde, painted. I turned my eyes back to Mel, patted Luke's leg, and made my way up to her side. I didn't look at Cody.
I slid into the empty chair next to her where Cody's mother had been before. She was now in a side room, wailing her lungs out over her only baby boy. I put my hand on Mel's shoulder and she looked up at me, her face tear stained and red, her bottom lip trembling, her fists clenched in her lap. She opened her mouth as if to speak but no words came out. They didn't have to. I understood. What am I going to do?
I swallowed hard and though I had been blocking out the grief I understood that I had to accept what was happening. I felt sick over Cody's death and I had not expected it to come so soon. His doctor had promised at least six months. He'll get to hold the baby. Mel had loved that thought and it had been the driving force behind keeping the infant. I remembered Mel's frantic phone call the morning it had happened.
Lucas and I had been sitting at my computer. He was flopped down on my bed, his blonde hair a mess on top of his head and his eyes half closed. We'd been up late, working out a massive physics problem for his homework. We are an odd couple. Homework is a hot date. His phone was on his stomach and just as he was drifting off to sleep, the little slider buzzed annoyingly, scuttling across his stomach and he groaned. He grabbed the phone and lifted it, fumbling to his ear. "Hello," he said groggily. I could hear the voice on the other end, speaking so fast and so hysterically that Lucas sat up and grabbed my arm, his blue eyes wide. "Mel, slow down. I don't understand. Where's Cody?"
And then it was silent. I could almost hear his heartbeat skip and his throat close. No air went in. "Oh…Mel…" he whispered. "We'll be right over." The phone clicked shut and he stood, grabbing his keys off my desk. "We have to go."
"What happened?" I could tell in the tone of his voice that something was terribly wrong. I put the laptop aside and grabbed his hands but he jerked away and went to the door of my bedroom. "Luke, come on…what happened?"
He had stopped and was holding the doorknob so tightly his knuckles were white. His lips parted and the story tumbled from them. "Cody's dead," he mumbled, his voice breaking. "Mel found him this morning."
For a long moment I couldn't believe what had happened and my mind struggled to keep up with the things flying through it. I remembered Cody in the sandbox from my childhood, waving a plastic shovel, his black hair disheveled and covered in dusty white sand. I remembered him in eighth grade when I was still in seventh, sitting across from us and stealing my French fries. I remembered the jello eating contest and how he'd puked green jello for two days. I also remembered the seizures though and the hospital visits and the neurologists. I remembered the way he'd fallen off my porch into my pool and Lucas had dragged him up from the bottom, seizing and choking. We'd only known Lucas for two weeks then. That moment had glued those two together. "What?" I finally asked, pushing myself off my bed and blinking back tears.
"Ally," he said, opening the door and starting down the hall. He brushed past my little sister without so much as a smile and looked back at me. "He had a seizure in his sleep. His lungs burst. Mel…"
I imagined the scene though and burst into tears. I couldn't even fathom finding Lucas in such a gruesome, bloody state. I found out later how awful it had been, from Mel's mother. How he'd been on his side and from the door he looked to be sleeping but upon rolling him over, Mel had discovered the sticky, congealing mess that had burst from his throat.
Lucas slipped an arm over my shoulders and we went out the door to his Honda Pilot. I climbed into the passenger's side and off we went to console Mel and plan a funeral.
So here we were, sitting at that very funeral and I still hadn't looked at Cody, the little Italian boy I'd grown up with. "Ally," Mel mumbled, reaching forward and grabbing my arms. She was surprisingly stable for going through this at this time in her life. I held her hands and looked back at her. "I just keep telling myself that at least there's no more of this stupid pain. Everything will work out. Cody and I talked about this."
I was sick. I could see Mel and Cody discussing his imminent death. "Melissa," I started. "If you need anything, Lucas and I are here."
"Lucas and you have plans that don't include me anymore. You're going to college. He has basic combat training this summer. You don't worry about me. I'll be fine. I've got the baby to keep me company and to be part of Cody."
I swallowed and for the first time, glanced at the casket. Cody looked…like Cody. His cheeks were pink, his hair was still that messy black mop it had been in life. He was wearing his letterman's jacket with the bright gold N blazing on the shoulder. A scapular was pinned to the front, a rosary in his hands. He looked like he was sleeping and I wanted to wake him up. I was angry with him. He shouldn't have left Mel at a time when she needed him most and when I told that to Lucas he'd scolded me. "It's not like he had a choice, Ally," he'd snapped, the tip of his pencil breaking off as he pressed it to the homework he was doing. "He's been dying since he was seven."
And he had been, from a degenerative nervous disorder and epilepsy. Yet, Cody had lived a life full of things most boys couldn't imagine. He'd been loved and he'd left his baby for Mel, his only legacy. Everyone that knew Cody cherished the smiles he gave them and there were so many people at his grave the next few days that whenever Lucas and I drove past, we always saw someone. The track team, WPIAL finalists that year, left all their medals burnished and glittering on top of the fresh dirt. There were flowers that spilled over into graves beside his and three weeks later, a little picture of a bouncing baby boy adorned the front of the pile. "For Cody Lee, from Dakota Lucas Nighting," the back read in Mel's script.
I still hate to think of Cody trapped in a box beneath the ground on the side of Main Street in the Catholic cemetery so I try to imagine he's not there. I try to imagine he's with Dakota and Mel while she takes hundreds of pictures of him and bathes him in the sink and shows him pictures of his father as they sit in the grass of the backyard. There's a picture of him pinned above my bed now, from Prom when I'd first dated Lucas. We all look happy. That's how I like to remember him.